Group camping for just a day or two can take a lot of work to gather up all the items we need, load up our vehicle, and then come home and unpack. Over the years we acquired more and more gear and kept it in storage boxes. Packing up that gear was a lot of work.
Even though we really love tent camping, we decided that we would like to have the ease of keeping all our gear in one place. When we go camping, we choose places where we can enjoy the outdoors and explore the area. We like to bring bikes, a canoe or aluminum boat, rafts, and other sporting equipment like fishing poles. As the amount of people in our group grew it was more work to bring all these items. Our camping trailer is what allows us to go where we want to go and do what we want to do. Most camp trailers are like mobile homes, but at a lower price. A person could go boating at the lake and come back to their trailer and watch t.v. But, a camping experience to us was not about having the comforts of home but having a totally different experience.
We came up with our list of needs and what we would look for in a camper. However, what we found is that none of the campers out there were made to fit those needs.
Here is a list of what we wanted:
1. To have enough sleeping space for our family of five with indoor storage for our sleeping bags, blankets, etc.
2. Be able to use air conditioning or a heater whenever needed (Oklahoma summers are hot).
3. We did not want to cook indoors, (no reason to heat up beans on a small burner inside our sleeping area).
4. Have a full functioning outdoor kitchen to be able to cook for a group of people.
5. Have storage space for all the gear that we like to have with us.
6. We wanted a removable boat rack in order to be able to bring a 10 to 14 foot aluminum boat.
7. We wanted the trailer to lightweight and less than 16 foot long so we could store it in our garage.
8. We did NOT want an indoor bathroom.
These points launched our first conversion camper project. This project was something we knew little about since neither of us had ever made a trailer! Due to the expensive cost of professional help we took on the challenge of doing it all on our own! Luckily, there were plenty of people who had tried conversion projects like ours, although most of them did not have the goals we had, precedents really helped us through.
Here are some pictures of how our first conversion ideas came together.
We found this 2013 Jay series sport in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors won it in a drawing at a fundraiser and since they did not camp, they stored it in their backyard and never used it. We paid $2500.00 for it.
We found this 15'6" trailer on Craigslist. It had a 5200 lb axle. It was from a 1962 holiday rambler camper, so it was already made as a single axle trailer and designed to hold the amount of weight we needed on a single axle. It had surface rust but it was in great condition. We paid $250 for it. This is the picture of what it looked like when we bought it. The camper and floor had already been removed.
We took a wire wheel to the trailer and removed as much rust as possible. Then we painted it with Rustoleum primer and black paint that we had from left over from other projects. The children really enjoy painting and they were eager to get involved.
We put the camper on blocks and removed the axle and leaf springs so that we could slide the new trailer underneath and find out how to make it fit.
Here is a picture of the axle and leaf springs that was under the Jayco Sport. They were small 13inch tires and the axle looks like it was rated at about 1000 pounds.
The axle that came with the holiday rambler trailer was not long enough. The tires would rub the inside of the wheel well of the camper. So we took some measurements and bought a new axle online. Here you can see the leaf spring brackets hanging down from the Jayco where we removed the springs and axle.
With some help from Dad we measured and bought a new axle for $119.00 online and we installed the new axle. We did not put electric brakes on it yet. Because we wanted to see how it fit first.
The Jayco camper has a lift system that is installed underneath the frame. In order to place the Jayco camper on the new frame we would need at about 2" of clearance so that we would not crush the lift system.
In order to place the camper on top of the trailer without accidentally crushing the lift system, we bolted 4 x 3 pressure treated posts on top of the leaf spring hangers of the new trailer and then lowered the camper on top of the 4 x 3 posts. This method helped us to position and take measurements to make sure the camper was exactly where we needed it. Later we made heavy duty metal L brackets to weld the Jayco on top of the new trailer.
With the camper lowered in place we now have the right clearance, we used a 2 x 4 for a spacer between the camper and trailer.
In the next step of the project we cut metal sides and bolted them to the new trailer. Then we cut exterior grade plywood to help us see the layout the front and back storage boxes. We also wanted to figure out the weight distribution so that the trailer did not sway.
Now that we have the storage boxes designed, we welded in metal frames as the " bones" for the storage boxes. The back box will hold the kitchen.
The front box will hold gear. We will put drawers in the front for things like extension cords and tools. We will also have a main area to be able to store tarps, lawn chairs, and other items.
We made a removable rack to carry an aluminum boat on top of the camper. (Notice the metal frame over the top of the trailer) it came from an old metal frame that was used to carry equipment on a trailer. We also paid $25.00 on craigslist for an aluminum truck camper top. It was a made for a smaller truck like a ford ranger. we will use the doors from the side of the truck topper for our front and access doors on our storage boxes.
We found old horizontal file cabinets for free. We will removed the drawers and drawer slides from these to make drawers in the storage boxes on our camper.
We decide not to remove the hitch on the camper since the lift system and crank is part of the hitch. We decide to keep the system manual instead of using an electric one. We will extended the crank to the outside edge of the box by installing a rod on some bearings.
With some professional help from our tire dealer we were able to find a set of aluminum rims from a ford for $50 each. We also bought new 8 ply bias trailer tires for $100.00 each. We liked the bias tires due to the design of the tire and side wall. Radials can hold a little more weight but they don't have much protection for the sidewalls.
We also found an old roll-top desk. We removed the drawers from the bases to use to outfit our kitchen. We would rather have aluminum but we have not been able to find any aluminum or steel drawers. We will change to aluminum at a later date after we get some use out of the camper.
We built a wooden box on the front deck to cover the tongue. We will build drawers to hold items like extension cords and camping equipment. The top will be used to store things like our canopy and lawn chairs.
We installed the doors from the aluminum camper topper on the front and back end of the trailer.
The children love to be involved in the process.
We made door frames for the all of the side boxes.
We also made welded in a space for taillights and drawers slides.
After the welding we done the next step was to install the 500 lb drawer slides and build the kitchen slide out. Drawers will be made and installed where needed to fit.
Installation of the doors was a little more tricky. We used a roll of garage door seal and glued it with 3M super trim Adhesive to the frame. Then we pop riveted the aluminum on. Here we screwed on wood top then glued on some rfp board, then finished it off with aluminum trim from Lowes.
The storage boxes are installed now they need handles and to equipped with the drawers needed.
Starting to work now in the inside and the gear storage areas. Here are some pictures of the drawers for the slide out
Installing the sink and shelf for the camping grill
Putting in the door handles and stocking all the items needed. Everything turned out great and we are excited about using this for years to come.