Sunday, November 15, 2009

Installment #3: The Camper Caper and Infamous Frito Lay RV

OK, no more $30 tents. So what do two newly-weds w/snow on the roof and limited funds do? Others in our Saddle Bags and Saddle Bum group drove big RV's more expensive than my house. Out of our budget!

Our answer was to buy two old truck campers from EBay. Both were eleven-footers. We asked a couple of people whose judgement we trusted that these would work with our horse trailer. Our game plan was to use one for horse camping and sell the second to pay for the first. The first we bought in Minnesota. Hubby accompanied me that time in a rushed trip between his driving assignments and a couple of days of vacation.

It was pretty nice. The second I went after by myself. Well, it wasn't quite as advertised but didn't look that bad. And real fun driving it through windy Kansas.

Unfortunately, I learned we had made a bad mistake. The eleven-footers were just too dangerous to use with a horse trailer in tow. We made the decision to sell both and get something different.

After a lot of hard work, we managed to sell one. The other had developed a really bad leak in the ceiling and just wasn't repairable at any salable price.

That's when we spotted an old 20' 1980 Frito Lay stepvan, commonly called a "bread truck", on EBay for a good low bid. We discussed it and thought we could tear up the bad camper to build a small RV with this van.

The ad said, "You can drive this truck anywhere!" We swallowed the bait like a couple of brainless fish and bought it. I bought a Greyhound Bus ticket to California to pick it up and contacted a longtime penpal for a visit as well. This was all in far northern California where I probably would have driven on my own through mountains to get there or to come home.

The old Chevy van started overheating about 2/3 of the way to my friend's home. So I was shutting it down every few minutes, letting it cool down and restarting again to get there. A call to the jerk I had just bought it from didn't get me very far at all.

Lucky for me, my penpal's husband is one of these amazing men that can perform engineering feets of magic with a glue gun or a screw driver. He traced the problem down to a leaking radiator and used "glue" to repair it. He said it would either not hold at all or hold forever. He also put a fan switch on it to keep the fan blowing either on auto or manually or off altogether. I'll forever be indebted to them both for their help as well as their hospitality.

They also advised me not to go back to Texas the route I'd planned. That would have been through mountains and some pretty desolate areas. They directed me to drive the length of California to Bakersfield and then head south-east to Texas.

BLESS THEM! The truck began overheating very badly in Bakersfield again, this time it seemed to be a different kind of problem. It was late at night. I was in a strange place. It's the only time my auto roadside service couldn't help me immediately. Instead they located a Chevy dealer and said I best "limp" over there in the morning.

OK, the van was enclosed. You couldn't seen in. I had a light blanket with me. No coat. It wasn't that cold, right? I tried to sleep on the bare metal of the van. And wondered why in sunny California I couldn't get warm. After shivering on the bare metal with only a pillow and light blanket, I learned the nighttime temperature had dropped into the 20's. I can pick the greatest weather to rough it, huh?

Next morning, I managed to "limp" the truck to the Chevy dealer who diagnosed a bad water pump and he didn't know if he could find one for a bread van that old. I was having a nervous breakdown in the waiting room as they made the effort. Praise God, they found one! Many hours and about $500 later, I was on my way with no more overheating problems.

The other interesting thing I learned was the old van had a speed regulator on it, probably to keep their Frito drivers from speeding in the city. I couldn't get it faster than 54 mph most of the time, all the way back to Texas.

The old diesel bare-metal van, no a.c., was one noisy, hot ride all the way back to Texas but I made it!

For almost two years, we stripped the old camper and built the RV conversion. I did what I could, the carpeting, gluing in the insulation, the siding, the ceiling, but most admittedly was on poor Hubby to do on his 30-hour breaks. But we were very proud of our creation and it was pretty darn economical with a 4-cylinder diesel cummins engine. We had a few fun horse camping trips out of it before it sat and began gathering dust.

It was our recreational vehicle only. We lived in my city home of some 29 years. We had little reason to visit the farm as the horses were in a nearby stable, and if we so desired a weekend in the country, we still had Hubby's old house trailer at the farm, right?

Well....stay tuned!

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