There was a kind girl named Cinderella. All of the animals loved her…
Wait, but this is about building a luxury RV. What about the RV? Well now, that brings us to the present day.
A Quest for the Extremes: Making the smallest RV to Appear as Largest as Possible
So how do you squeeze a 150 square feet of luxury home into a 16 feet by 7 feet box? These pictures from the inside view show you how. Neat huh?
Looking forward from a trapped position inside the bath area. See how everything are neatly packed?
For an extremely small footprint, this RV gives an enormous size impression of an RV twice its size when expanded. As you already have seen, the design departs from conventional RV slide-out design. The slide-outs of this RV are designed as an integral part of the RV body structure itself. The body of this tiny RV actually expands out when parked to provide an equivalence of a luxury hotel room and will contract in very compactly for travel.
Finally, the goal of creating a whole new class of extremely compact RV is being realized.
The Butterfly Effect
But like a newly hatched butterfly spreading her wings, the effects of expanding the slide-outs are simply incredible.
The Open Floor Plan
Checkout the views from the inside. Keep in mind that all this room is fully self contained inside a 7 feet by 16 feet box!
The primary design objective of this RV is to provide the occupants a sense of a home. Once you have stepped inside, you will think that you are inside a luxury home despite the fact that you may be in the middle of nowhere.
Fully Boxed Window Shades
The window shades will completely darken the room even in the mid of the day. Normally, you won’t need them because of the limousine tint of the double pane windows. However, if needed, they will help to completely darken the room for an afternoon nap or to reduce the strain on the air conditioner on the hottest days.
The Largest Bathroom for the RV Class Size
Check this out!
The plumbing is all copper and has been checked for up to 110 PSI. However, I still put a pressure regulator in since I wasn’t so sure about the RV water heater’s capability to handle such high pressure.
Check Out the Privacy Mode
The roominess of the bath area with plenty of cabinet and counter space for your toiletry needs allows for a relaxing grooming. No more struggling in a confined shower stall.
The Discrete Toilet
The box is fully sealed with a vent to the outside in the back of the toilet. No unsightly view of the toilet. No smell either.
Flash Back. One Day, a Messenger Arrived with a Special Invitation
There was going to be a royal ball at the palace…
A Case Study of the Street Side Slide-out Usage
I’ve been thinking a lot about the most efficient way of utilizing the street side slide-out. In the last blog, I’ve detailed a few ideas for the street side slide-out. It would either be a dinette, or a computer desk, or a day/bunk bed. In addition, I will have to have a flipped down sofa in place of the flipped down bed…then I’ve decided to do this: It will be a combination of dinette/sofa. One of the primary goals of the design is to minimize the length and effort to set-up and packing the RV for travel.
The goal of getting the RV ready for usage is just mere seconds of pushing a couple buttons to extend the slide-outs and nothing else.
I went through the scenario of a typical day of activities then realized that most of the time I would mostly need the use of the sofa during the daytime and perhaps an additional bed at night for my two fur kids. Eating will take up only a little time of the day and mostly enjoyed outside anyway unless when it rains. Additionally, having a flipped down sofa will necessitate additional set-up time and will clutter up the main floor making the interior claustrophobic.
There is Something Therapeutic About Wood Working
In my previous employment, I was trained to pour over technical documents which were sized not by how many pages but by how many inches thick they were! It took endless amount of patience to go over the technical details so that the end products would be functional and safe. Wood working requires pretty much the same amount of patience or even more. This is the first time that I’ve attempted to create “furniture” at this scale without any formal training. Mistakes were made. Lessons were learned. But unlike reading technical documents, I’ve enjoyed the process immensely. I hope to get better at it in the future.
From this simple box…
with this vision in mind…
Finally,…a completed product.
A Luxuriously Good Night Sleeping Under the Stars
Featuring a Queen bed with plenty of reading light for a quiet evening retreating from the wilderness.
My two fur kids claimed the day bed. I am so thankful for their unconditional love. Nothing is too good for these two little girls. Yep, in my family, the girls out number the boys, hence, the acute needs for glamping.
Nose Cone Storage
Linens and beddings can be stored here when not in use.
Suddenly, Her Fairy God Mother Appeared
With a wave of her hand, she turned a pumpkin into an elegant coach.
The Feminine Touch
Now that the home is actually taking shape. My dear wife has decided to set aside a little bit of her time to feather the nest with her own feminine touch. I am so glad for her involvement. These shots show the transformation of an ordinary pumpkin into Cinderella’s princess coach. I wish I was a better photographer but you will have to put up with me for now.
Let’s take a walk around, shall we?
Kitchen appliances and storage
Your luxurious hot shower awaits
Here’s a Collection of the Images for your Viewing Pleasure
Romance on the Road
A romantic candle light diner for two with a Desert Moon hanging low outside of the gigantic window. As I worked on the street side slide-out, I kept hearing these lyrics from Dennis DeYoung in my mind. Gee, I am showing my age:
Those summer nights when we were young We bragged of things we’d never done We were dreamers, only dreamers And in our haste to grow too soon We left our innocence on Desert Moon
I still can hear the whisper of the summer night It echoes in the corners of my heart The night we stood and waited for the desert train All the words we meant to say All the chances swept away Still remain on the road to the dune
A Bed Fits for a Queen
Ok, so I am very sorry for ruining your idea of cabin in the wood vision and your children story in one post. However, how do you like meeting this new twenty first century version of the cabin in the wood?
A Green Design
The fact that this luxury home runs entirely on 12 VDC with each LED light having a switch so that you can control the amount of energy usage is to provide the smallest carbon foot print possible. It is designed so that you can be off-grid for an extended period of time. I am making sure that the electrical design is solar compatible. I haven’t had time to look into a companion solar design for this luxury home yet; but rest assure that whatever the design solution is, it will be as innovative as the home itself.
Just to prove the point, the entire home is illuminated with a calming effect using one single 6 Watt LED light on the kitchen overhead. It is equivalent to a single 6 Watt incandescent night light bulb that you typically use at home. These unretouched low light shots truly demonstrate the criticality of strategic LED light placement.
The Transformation is Complete
Oh Cinderella…are you ready to go to the Ball and meet your destiny?
There’s still a little bit of electrical works for the interior, but my attention is now turned to the outside of the coach. Aluminum skins don’t buff themselves. Wait until you see the results of the buffing and a clear coat has on this pumpkin coach. The fairy God mother will be so proud!
It’s been a while since I’ve last posted but rest assure, I’ve still been working on the new model making sure that every square inch has a purpose. The system engineering phase of this project took far longer then I would have anticipated because I wanted to provide the most innovative solutions in the areas that mattered the most: the kitchen, the bedroom, and the working counter spaces. I believe that this trailer is the true embodiment of what should be an extremely compact trailer that can handle the wrath of Mother Nature and be the perfect accompaniment for a road trip of a lifetime. I imagine myself being able to enjoy a warm evening staring at the stars or cozy in on a rainy day in this tiny luxury home. Late last year, I put the final finishing details into my plan and began to build it. All along the way, I’ve been documenting my handiwork in a multi-part blog series starting with this blog post.
Introducing the Silver Fox
The Vision: An extremely compact Aluminum skin RV designed as a tiny home without sacrificing the luxuries of a residential home.
6’ 5 “
Fresh Water Cap.
Grey Water Cap.
Black Water Cap.
13, 500 BTU
Curb Side View
Street Side View
A Flip Down Sofa in Day Mode
No TV will be complete without a comfy sofa.
Shared Bath and Kitchen Area
Years ago, I had the chance to observe the works of an architect in Arizona when he designed the house my sister has just purchased. One of the noted design features was the openness of the floor plan for a relatively small home. In order to achieve this, the architect eliminated the walls and hallways to combine the kitchen, dining room, and living room into one large open living space all under a vaulted ceiling. Then, the individual living spaces of these areas were partitioned through the strategic placement of furniture, house plants, and working counter spaces. I can still remember the sense of openness of the home. Family gatherings were particularly fun when I would be talking to my mom in the kitchen, still able to see other members of the extended family eating in the dining room, while my brothers were watching the games in the living room. So here is my interpretation of the same concept in a 7′ by 16′ box! Some people may ask, “Why the obsessi0n with making a big deal out of a tiny space? Shouldn’t you be outside anyway?” Yes, while it’s true that the idea of camping is to be outside, you can’t really be outside 24/7. Nature can be a lot more enjoyable when you can sometimes just hole up in a cozy den and get recharged for a few hours. Especially, when it rains!
When you need the privacy for a certain task, there’s a sliding partition that can be used to block off the shared area and provides total privacy for the occupant. The blocked off area provides a full size residential style bath area of 4 feet by 7 feet with a 48 inch by 34 inch shower stall. With an equipped Atwood XT® water heater that runs on either propane or electric mode, you won’t miss your stick and brick home’s bathroom.
Of Love and Kindness, a “Peace” coin
Okay, so that was the plan. The execution is going to be extremely challenging. The smaller the unit, the harder it is to stack so many flooring levels (i.e. main deck, curb side and street side slide-out decks, hidden bed deck) while allowing for tolerances between each deck. Additionally, with two large slide-outs on opposite sides of a very narrow seven foot wide body, the tiny RV will have to make use every cubic inch of its interior volume to accommodate the slide-outs when retracted as shown in the computer model below:
I have had many days of spending countless hours on the computer with the frame design. On one of those fine days, my wife of many years was looking at me kind of funny but she wouldn’t say a word. All morning long, I just had a nagging feeling that I was being carefully watched. Finally, I could not stand it any longer, I blurted out in an agitated voice: “What?”
With the sweetest smile and yet a sulking voice, she said: “Today is a very special day!”
Suddenly, an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame has taken over me. Oh no, not again! How could I have forgotten that today is her birthday? As many years as we have been married, she has never forgotten my birthdays. On my birthdays, she always started with a special breakfast then all day long I would be treated with kindness and kisses then topped off with a special lunch and then a lavish dinner. No worry, no task, no to do list. For one day of the year, I would feel the carefree relief of being cared for, just like when I was a little boy. On the other hand, her birthdays would be a series of sometimes last minute planned dinners, some clueless gifts, worse yet, forgotten just like today. There are times I just had to wonder, why did she let me get away with it all?
With the most sincere voice of a truly remorseful offender, I asked her meekly not hoping for any chance of forgiveness: “Honey, I am so sorry to have forgotten your birthday. What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Well, since you have been pretty preoccupied and agitated with whatever that you have been doing lately and the day is mostly gone, I will let you off the hook this time but …not completely. I want you to give me a chip or more like a coin. Call it a “Peace” coin so that I can use it whenever you are irritated or sad or whatever that’s bugging you. With this coin, whenever I’ve decided to cash it in, you will have to set aside the day and completely forget whatever that’s you are working on, be pleasant and spend the day with me”.
Gee, a clean “Get out of jail free” ticket and a vision of a carefree day at the beach with her? It’s just too good to be true! Not quite, but rather I’ve just been thoroughly schooled in the art of gift giving. More often or not, we tend to take our loved ones for granted. We enjoyed lavishly the attention and kindness that our loved ones bestowed daily on us assuming that we are entitled to it and never a thought for reciprocation. Least we have forgotten that it is better to give than to receive. More importantly, the “gift” doesn’t have to be of a material kind. It’s the time and effort that really count… but I would gladly give a rain check today. Ok, so here you go honey, your newly minted Peace coin circa 2016.
I wish that I could solemnly promise that I will never forget your birthday again. However, with my past checkered track records and in addition to getting older, the promise would seem pretty empty. Perhaps, this coin will be my constant reminder for things that are most important in life more than any material things. Rest assure that the lesson was well received.
Well, that was a memorable lesson, now let’s get back to the task of building the RV.
One Integrated Steel Frame with Built-in Slide-out Decks and a Hidden Bed
Conventional travel trailers started out as a rigid flat frame on wheels, then the “house” is built on top of it; but to pack this much real estate into a box of 7 feet by 16 feet requires a completely different engineering approach to frame design. The frame has to be one integrated unit with all major components (i.e. slide-out decks, waste storage basement, hidden bed frame) built as part of the frame itself. See the squished down basement? No room for anything but thermal insulation and various electrical wirings.
The most tightly packed section of the RV is in the rear where the shared bath and kitchen sink is. What above hides a huge engineering challenge of fitting all hidden components underneath securely in their proper places. Gas and water pipes/hoses are the worst to keep them streamlined. The waste pipes connecting to the waste tanks were designed to be a mere few inches long to prevent clogging. They all have rubber connections to allow for vibration without the risk of cracking the connecting pipe joints.
The placement of the water closet equipment was so tight and critical that I had to use computer modelling to ensure that the fitting and the sequence of installation was correct. The above shot was taken after the initial installation. Computer model below may be able to show the fitting of the final placement but it wouldn’t be able to tell you whether your hands may be able to reach certain part easily or not.
Fully Insulated Floor Basement and Waste Tanks
The entire floor basement is sealed and insulated. Three inches of thermal and sound insulation, then Reflectix ®sheeting.
There is a separate compartment for the waste tanks which was also fully enclosed and insulated. Plenty of room for hose storage, too. Presently, the black tank is 17 gallon but the frame can easily accommodate up to a 39 gallon black tank.
Notice the steel deck for the toilet? The toilet is rigidly held by the steel deck and its wooden floor to support the weight of the occupant. Below the steel deck is a straight 3″ diameter rubber hose connecting the toilet directly to the black tank, hence, the elevated platform and a low profile toilet to maintain the same typical toilet height. The tanks are supported by a different set of steel frame. The design is intended to separate the toilet movement from the tank movement so that it will help to keep the rubber seal in the toilet from ever leaking. I don’t ever want to fix an old and leaky toilet, period!
40 Gallon Inside Fresh Water Tank
Fresh water tank is placed inside to maintain at room temperature. Right above the tank is the water heater and pumps. Space is premium around here.
At this point, both slide-out decks were completely checked out and calibrated. Water closet equipment and waste tanks were installed in their proper places. This is when I can take a relief breather knowing that the design is feasible although I still have many months of works to go.
When fully extended the cavernous interior provides an instant cure for any cabin fever. This picture was taken when both slide-outs are extended and the cabinets and toilets are tentatively in place for a fit check. This is the first time the structure truly provides a spatial sense of the interior space and it did not disappoint.
Residential Size Counter Space
One of the recurring theme about this project is the use of residential cabinets and furniture instead of irregular size cabinets and furniture that you will usually find in many typical RV designs. The main design objective is to give the occupants a sense of living in a regular stick and brick apartment instead of a cramped tin can.
Light Weight Aluminum Curb Side Slide-out Frame
Aluminum Street Side Slide-out Frame
Residential Size Shower Stall and China Toilet
Finally, the shower pan and shower surround are placed in for fit check. These items are the same ones that typically used for stick and brick homes. It took more than two months to order them.
Hidden Bed in Deployed Position
Unlike many Tiny Home designs, at my age, I refuse to climb any staircase and sleep in a loft with the ceiling inches away from my face. I want a restful night of sleep. I want a residential sized 60″ x 80″ Queen bed that I can walk around. I am an early riser but I do not wish to disturb my wife’s sleep at 5 AM. Here’s the bare frame built as part of the chassis flipped down for clearance check. The bed frame and its expected mattress height of 8″ clear the ceiling by mere inches!
Flip-down Bed Frame built as part of trailer frame
When the bed is not in use and in the upright, stowed position, there’s a 62″ flip-down sofa in place of the bed! Hmm, the only missing item is a computer workstation. I need one to design the next RV while camping. Okay, maybe the booth dinette will have to do for now.
Curb Side Exterior Aluminum Skin
Like the previous design, the RV is fully covered with aluminum skin. I don’t use rivets except maybe for a few strategic locations. I wanted a smooth exterior look. Can’t wait to buff her up and give her a clear coating. Oh, how this baby will shine!
The following pictures show the curbside slide-out in operation during a fit check. I have limit switches on both the extend and retract operations of the slide-out so I can set where the slide-out will stop.
Street Side Exterior Aluminum Skin
The entire street side slide-out is graced with a huge 60 ” x 36″ window. Like the previous design, all windows are double pane with dark limousine tint for maximum comfort.
When not in full hook-up mode, the door panel is fully closed and locked. The entire waste storage area will be tightly sealed all around with 1 1/2″ Styrofoam insulation. I plan to add a 1 1/2″ Styrofoam panel with cutout holes for water spigot connection and waste drain port so that even when the flap is open, the waste storage will still be completely sealed just in case I am camping with hookup in the Winter.
Windows fit checks
I’ve ordered these windows months ago based on the initial design calculations. They were very expensive but their quality is top notch. They were also non-refundable! The frames were built based on the initial dimensions while the same dimensions were provided to the window manufacture. Steel was welded. Aluminum sheets were cut and mounted. Any mistake will wreck havocs into the design. So you can understand my nervousness for this step.
First up, the kitchen and the rear bath windows.
So far, so good. Aren’t they gorgeous? It’s just too bad that I am such a pitiful photographer. The pictures I took don’t do justice for the RV in real life at all. Next, the street side window.
There was a little hick up since the manufacture has used pan head screws in some locations along the edge instead of the flat counter sunk heads which has caused some fit issues. No matter, they were easily replaced. This huge window is gorgeous both from the inside and the outside. The double pane and a limousine dark tin features will allow you to enjoy the outside views in comfort no matter what the outside weather condition may be.
Checking out the newly installed kitchen appliances
Let’s boil some eggs, shall we? Since I am not constrained by counter space, I installed a 21″ three burner range. My wife loves cooking and I love to eat. We are a match made in heaven. There’s still plenty of room for a full size microwave next to it. There is a 20 lbs. propane bottle in the slide-out storage accessible from the outside. I did not want to risk tethering the rubber propane hose to the slide-out fearing there’s a remote chance of slicing the propane hose. Years of working on airplane has taught me to leave no room for error when it comes to safety matters.
Plenty of 120 VAC outlets for the small kitchen appliances. There’s another four outlet box in the storage area accessible from the back of the slide-out and the through hole on the counter. The through hole on the counter allows the TV and the microwave to be mounted on the back of counter with all power lines hidden from view.
Kitchen Storage Galore
Pots and pans storage racks ready for action! Utensils are stored on the top drawer. There’s even a pull-out 13 Gallon trash bin right next to the kitchen sink.
Testing, testing…calling all LED’s
I am very particular about my interior lighting. The “warm” color has got to be just right. I simply can’t stand the “greenish” tone from many of the LED lights claimed to be “warm” color. I bought and tested many different types. Most ended up in the trash bin! To pass the visual test, each LED was mounted about 3 feet above my head, I then held a page of white paper with texts and pictures from a magazine. The page has to be easy to read and the paper does not reflect harshly to my eyes. I then look at my own skin tone, I shouldn’t look like a gremlin with greenish skin tone color. Then, it’s a pass! Could it be anymore unscientific and easy? The tests were conducted at night so that sunlight wasn’t interfering with the test. Yet, so many have failed the test and subsequently relegated to the trash bin!
I was looking for a true warm color of about 2700K – 3000K which would be closest to the familiar incandescent lights and the LEDs must have a very high brightness. However, a lot of the available high brightness LEDs tend to be in the “natural” white with a greenish tint. Some even flicker intermittently due to overheating when operating for an extended period of time. This issue manifests itself quite often with the round bulbs encasing in a plastic housing since there’s so much light is concentrated in a small area without a means to conduct heat away effectively from the LED bulb. So, I tend to stay away from this design.
I had quite a few quality issues since almost all LED were originally made with little or no quality control. I threw away quite a few LED bulbs and LED tapes before I’ve found one LED tape that has met my visual criteria and had a very good operational reliability. As for quality control, I am my own QA. I cut and discarded any defective sections that I’ve found. Not a happy camper with that but I don’t compromise on quality.
What I ended up doing was building my own LED lights from the selected LED tape using another part vendor’s Aluminum casings. It took a bit of time but it’s something I was happy to do. Here are what I’ve ended up with.
The warm color lights has a clear transparent cover to provide maximum brightness. The casings were 1 Meter long and made of Aluminum so that it can dissipate the heat effectively. The RGB mood lights and the light bar in the street side slide-out have oyster white covers to soften the effects. The mood lights have a remote control for changing the color and dimming. Both are indirect lighting at a 45 degree angle, hence the requirement for high brightness. In a small confined space, it is important not to subject your eyes to intense direct lighting so that you don’t feel like you are in a torture chamber. I wanted to “flood” the interior with a nice and even indirect lighting for a comfortable feel. Each of the light bar is 1 Meter long (or roughly 3 feet 3 inches) , although, I do have some that are 1/2 Meter long, too. As tested, the 1 Meter warm color bar draws about .87 Amp at 11.9 VDC or about 10 Watts. The 1 Meter RGB mood light bar averages about .362 Amp at 11.9 VDC (4.31 Watts) for each primary color (RGB); however, when all colors are on at max brightness, the light bar will consume roughly 10-11 Watts max. Perhaps, it’s a function of the LED chip controller? In any case, I’ve made a bunch of these.
This easy to reach light switch from the outside is used to illuminate the stair step for safe entry at night.
There are two light bars to flood the curb side slide-out with a warm and even light. They have separate switches to allow you control the amount of light desired in the interior of the living quarter. The reflected light from these light sources will cast an even tone throughout the living area of the RV.
The street side slide-out has its own light bar with an oyster shell cover to soften the effect since the area is small. I don’t want any harsh light overhead while I am enjoying dinner or working on my computer. The dinette will be doubled as a working desk. The 45 degree lighting angle will help to keep the light out of the direct field of view vision.
The kitchen sink has its own light bar directly overhead embedded into the base of the overhead cabinet so no direct light shining to your eyes yet the sink will be fully illuminated.
I plan to have two rows of indirect mood lighting on each side of the ceiling medallion, running the length of the RV at the middle of the roof. Each set will point outward to the side walls of the RV. When on, the entire interior of the RV will be illuminated with a pleasant light color of your choice. The ceiling medallion is still in-work so no picture yet.
Diamond in the Rough
Here she is. A blank canvas ready for furnishing and painting.
There are four sets of ceiling lights, each consists of a pair of light bars mounted on each side of the ceiling. The light switch at the kitchen sink controls the area in the rear. The next three sets are controlled by the switches at the electrical/battery storage box. Each ceiling light bar is 1 Meter long projecting light at 45 degree angle to the ceiling. See how nicely they illuminate the interior of the RV without any hash light directly at your eyes? All the lights have their own switches so that you can control the amount of light desired and to control your energy consumption in case you are boon docking.
Looking toward the front
an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind
It’s been a long journey. It started out as a hobby to satisfy my itch for traveling and to ease myself into retirement. However, I’ve found out that I could not stop working! I’ve approached this project with the same work ethics and mental discipline as I have always been in my previous employment. Along the way, I’ve learned the values of failures as opportunities for improvements and the continuous mental capacity to learn new skills. The project has been quite a challenge in terms of design complexity and the physical demands it would take to fabricate the first article. Unlike many projects that I’ve done in my previous employment, the one luxury that this project has is TIME. Without a hard deadline, every design aspect, no matter how small, was hashed out in details for an appropriate solution as evident in the final outcomes. These design details took time. However, years of working for an aircraft manufacturing company has taught me well on how to deal with complex designs. Patience and focus have always yielded the desired solutions. I am quite happy with the compactness of this design, although, I think I have far exceeded the design weight goal of 3,000 lbs. Some last minute changes in frame structure, addition of new furniture and cabinets, bigger wheels, and some large appliances may have helped pushed the design past the weight goal. Did I forget to mention that this baby will have a nine cubic foot dual-mode propane/electric refrigerator? At the last estimate, I think my baby is already at 3,800 lbs. and counting! Ouch! Drop that donut, girl.
As you can see, I am almost done with this design. I intend to complete it shortly so that I can scale back on the working schedule to prepare for the running season again. There will be one or may be two more blog updates where you can see the final design all decked out with fine furniture, appliances, and all LED lighting. As far as electrical design goes, the design is centered around two modes:
Full hook-up or generator power so that you can use the available 120 VAC electric to run air conditioning and electric heating together with all appliances, or,
The 12 VDC battery mode whereas an inverter will provide 120 VAC for small appliances. The refrigerator is a dual mode running on either propane or electric. All lightings are LED and run on 12 VDC battery. There is a provision for an extra propane gas valve at the base of the refrigerator. This extra gas port is reserved for a catalytic gas heater, furnace, or both. I am leaning toward just a catalytic heater. I haven’t thought about solar panels and the RV does not have the space for a generator. A generator will require frequent accesses for refuel and maintenance. I don’t want to stuff the generator into a spot where it would be exceedingly difficult to service. For now, the generator will have to be in the tow vehicle. As far as solar goes, the electrical design can easily accommodate the solar option. The solar panels themselves will require some planning. I will work on that later if I feel like I need to have one.
So what’s with the “Obsession”? Well now, as you’ve known, I have missed out on a deal for a tow vehicle. As a result, this project was conceived. However, I’ve been thinking about designing my own tow vehicle using a commercial truck chassis. Uh oh, here we go again. I can envision the reaction from my wife. As tolerant as she is, I may have pushed past the boundary with this one…but I can’t get it out of my mind. If you are curious about the design of the tow vehicle, please go back and look at my first post on the Yellowstone project: Building the Frame Part I. I’ve envisioned that it would be something that will be used for sightseeing and exploring the primitive campgrounds and will allow you to overnight for a couple of days, if necessary. I have a design concept on paper and I have been looking at the commercial truck chassis available. Although I like the chassis offerings from Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, GM, etc., I haven’t been able to find a suitable 4 x 4 commercial truck chassis. I guess “4 x 4” and “commercial” normally don’t go together. May be I will call up the Big Three or the Big Five and see if they will work with me. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like I haven’t gotten hung up on the phone many times before!
Well, if “4 x 4” and “commercial” don’t mix, the military is certainly not shy about it, I can surely envision this bad boy as my tow vehicle! It’s not exactly what I have in mind, but the aggressive design philosophies are inspiring. I can just see a camo color scheme on my little RV to match with it. Right now, I just hope I don’t have to join the Army to drive it:
Concept of operations – …describing the characteristics of a proposed system from the viewpoint of an individual who will use that system.
The other day a friend of mine who is still in the rat race came over for a visit. He was quite taken by the design, however, he was puzzled and asked “Why a tiny travel trailer?”. I took the opportunity to explain to him the concept of a retired person being the middle of nowhere, you can press a couple buttons, then presto, a luxury home to stay in for few days! When you’re ready to move on, just press the buttons again to pack up and head to the next exciting destination. He was deep in thought for a moment then spoke excitedly: “I can totally see having this at my employer’s parking lot for five days then tow it home on Friday night for the weekend. They have a large parking lot that practically empty most of the times.”. You see, my friend commutes up to two hours one-way to his place of employment and over the years, it has really taken a toll on him. Hmm, how many other uses can this Tiny Home have?
It’s been quite a lengthy post. Due to the compressed working timeline, I won’t be able to do incremental updates. The next post will be the final design looks. Check back to see how polished she will look in the end. You won’t be disappointed. Only the finest materials and furnishing will be used. In the mean time, I am making preparation for the next project while finishing her up – Designing a tow vehicle. If you have a favorite chassis to recommend, please do so. I would really appreciate if you would share your reasons for the recommendation so that I can better understand your view.
See you next post.
Options, options, options,..
Since most of our travelling will consist of just the two of us, the dinette seems under utilized. I am thinking of other uses for the street side slide-out space. Here are some of the considerations:
Once a year, usually around beginning of Spring, I would make a long road trip. It seems like after a long Winter hibernation, even us humans have the urge to venture out to celebrate nature’s renewal. This year, I’ve had a chance to visit Arizona’s best kept secret: The Kartchner Caverns.
No camera was allowed so no picture of the cave itself. However, you can get general of information from the Arizona State Park site. Reservation is required and can be made online:
Normally, I am not a fan of caves. However, this is an extraordinary cave for the fact that it is “live” and the people who have discovered it took extraordinary measures to preserve it near-pristine condition. To enter the cave for the tour, you will have to go through a doubly-sealed steel door entrance so that the inside cave environment is completely isolated from the outside. The cave was discovered in 1974 by two amateur cavers, Randy Turfs and Gary Tenen. They kept it as a secret until 1988 when the cave was announced to the public after protective measures were well established to protect it. Thanks to their foresight, we now have an opportunity to view the cave as it has been for millions of years.
Aside from the cave itself, the park also has RV camping sites. All sites are full service with hook ups. I didn’t use the RV site during my visit so I can’t tell you how good or bad they are. However, the desert theme landscape of the Discovery Center and the hiking trail are quite beautiful:
A lot has happened since the last time I updated the blog. I’ve built the street side slide-out as planned. The work was pretty much straight forward since it is fairly similar to the curbside slide-out. After the completion of the street side slide-out, I took the completed trailer even without windows out for a spin. The windows are custom ordered so they do take a while to arrive.
With the outside trailer completed, once the windows are installed, I can concentrate on the inside of the trailer. I ordered tons of materials and equipment to furnish the trailer. The equipment selection process is lengthy and laborious. Just to decide which equipment (i.e. water heater, furnace, water pumps, etc.) took quite a bit of time. When I tried to order them, I ran into problem from a certain web site which advise the items I need. When I placed the order, the credit card was promptly debited but the items weren’t delivered. Instead, I’ve gotten an email telling me that the most expensive item is either not available or back ordered. I will need to order similar item which are available at different price! Trying to get refund wasn’t easy. After a while, I’ve developed a “black” list of these sites. Never again! I will vote with my dollars!
I recently had my heart broken
A friend of mine had a very well maintained diesel truck that was for sale for a very reasonable price. I had all but sure that the truck will be mine. My friend did not advertise the truck for sale so no need for me to hurry. The truck will be perfect to tow my 6,000 plus lbs. trailer. Heh, heh, life will be good! I had imagined a life of us together. Travelling the back roads of the beautiful U.S. We will be spending time gazing at the stars on the moonless nights in the middle of the desert without a soul within miles. Birds will be singing to celebrate glorious mornings while we are sipping our favorite coffee watching the sun rises from the horizon. Then out of the blue, I was informed that the truck has been sold to someone else!
What’s just happened?
Like a jilted lover, I meekly took stock of the situation. How could I miss all the signs? Did I not paying enough attention to her? Did I take too long to tell her of my intention? What am I to do now? I could go on and look for another heavy duty truck. My momma always says there’s plenty of fish in the ocean. Or, could it be done I wondered…built another RV specifically for a full size SUV as a tow vehicle? When it comes to automobile toys, boys always be boys. I am gonna built another super light weight RV so that I can use my SUV to tow it with. She will have to be very lean and athletic looking. She’ll be the envy of all other RVs! I’ll show ’em!
So, I started with a blank sheet of paper
First of, she will have to shed 3,000 plus lbs. so that her dry weight is less than 3,000 lbs maximum. She will be thinner and shorter in both length and height. So the overall specifications look like this:
Sleeping Capacity 2 – 4
Overall Length 19’ 11”
Exterior Width 7’
Exterior Height 9’ 7”
Interior Height 6’ 5 “
Dry Weight < 3,000 lbs
Fresh Water Cap. 40 Gal.
Grey Water Cap. 39 Gal.
Black Water Cap. 17 Gal.
A/C 13, 500 BTU
As small as she will be, one thing is absolutely certain: She will be designed to be more like a tiny home with all the comfort of a home.
Honey, do I look fat to you?
“Of course not, honey!” I shot off without hesitation.
“You are lying!”
Hmm…wrong answer again! If your spouse or girl friend has ever asked you this question, you know you are in trouble. I have hypothesized that there will never be a correct and appropriate answer to this question. For as long as I can remember, I have never successfully answered this question. If I hesitate a bit or answer too fast, I will be accused of lying or not caring. The closest to success was one time a female co-worker of mine asked me a similar question. Without hesitation, I replied:
“Fat? Just so you know, the other day Justin Bieber asked me if you are available. I hated to do it to him, but I had to gently tell him that you are way out of his league. So no, off course you are not fat.”
That really put a smile on her face. She offered me a cupcake claiming that she doesn’t really need it. Score! But as I walked away from her cubicle with the spoil, I was thinking I may have been duped. She really didn’t want the cupcake, she just wanted me to “earn” it. That’s another one of my hypothesis. Women will entice and train men just like training their puppies. We will be unwittingly enticed into doing whatever they want without ever realizing that we are being told to do so. Now let me digress back to the issue of trailer weight. Well, if your trailer is heavy, you will be brutal.
“Off course, you are fat! Girl, you need to loose some serious weight before I can take you to places.” So, how do you shed 3,000 plus lbs. on the design?
Streamline the overall dimensions for SUV towing by reducing the over all dimensions of the trailer. The new design will have a box of 7 feet wide and about 16 feet long. I wanted to reduce the width of the trailer so that I don’t need the extension mirrors on the SUV. One less item (actually two extension mirrors) to care about. However, with only 7 feet wide to work with, the floor plan is extremely challenging to design.
Reduce frame weight by eliminate basement storage. This is quite painful but necessary to reduce the overall height. It is nescessary that the trailer does not project too far above the SUV in order to improve stability. Additionally, making the trailer frame as a single box design to spread the weight along the frame. Typical trailers have a very rigid frame consisting to either heavy I-beams or heavy gauge tubes. With a rigid frame built using these rigid beams, the rest of the trailer is built on top of the frame. This is fine and dandy, but if you’re gonna lose some serious weight, you will have to start with a lighter frame. As any first year engineering student will attest, instead of using one heavy duty I-beam, one can substitute the I-beam with a ladder (struss) design by using a lighter tube for the basic frame then run a parallel lighter tube on top of the frame forming a box. This approach is very conducive to trailer frame design. In the previous design, this approach is used to provide basement storage. In this design, the box is squatted down to only a few inches. Just enough to provide space for running electrical wires and gas hoses.
Even with the draconian mandate to lose weight, there are a few things that I won’t give up:
Full size resident shower stall
Regular Queen Bed
Full size toilet
With these specifications defined, off to the computer modelling shop I went.
This is what has been keeping me busy for the last few weeks.
Murphy Bed and Booth Dinette Close-up
The Disappearing Toilet
I have a secret love affair!
Perhaps with a much lighter design and an extremely small foot print, this trailer will allow me to explore even the remotest areas while retaining a comfort of a Tiny Home. Years ago when I was still a young teenager, I have camped all over the Sonoran desert in Arizona. Back then, camping meant tent camping. Out of those experiences, I’ve developed a deep love for the desert. The desert is like a beautiful but firm fairy. Her best appearance is at dusk. You will be enchanted by the most spectacular desert skies at sunset. However, if you are patient and quiet, look deep around you and even at your under foot. The desert fairy will reveal to you a host of her inhabitants. Reptiles, insects, birds, and mammals all coming out when the sun is no longer in command of the hour. Look but don’t touch. Some of her inhabitants can be quite deadly.
PBS recently re-ran a film about the Sonoran desert – Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert.
This is not your ordinary wild life film. It is an artistic visual treat not to be missed. The review can only be described as: “mesmerizing”, “stunning”, “powerful”, “incredible”, “spectacular”, etc. Keep in mind that I don’t get paid to endorse this film. Consider it my extremely condensed “movie” review.
When I first start this project, I’ve always known that the design will evolve as I’ve gained more experience. In my past experience working for my employers, the first built unit was always referred as T-1 or Test Unit #1. T-1 article provides engineers with invaluable knowledge on what’s working well and what needed to be improved upon. I don’t want this post to be the conclusion of the Yellowstone Project but rather a temporary pause. I plan to complete the new design then go back and continue to furnish the current design.
The new design is a whole new different approach with the emphasis in light weight while giving up on some functionalities. Starting with the next post, I will provide a much shorter but condensed progress of the new design. See you soon with the new design adventure.
There are something growing and I’ve been watching them closely. My next task is to build the slide-outs, but occasionally, I’ve been distracted. Spring is around the corner and I can’t wait. I can already feel the stir of nature as Spring is approaching. I have certain tasks to do but I am too anxious to do them. Remember how the slide-outs will be built?
“The gigantic slide-outs. Each slide-out runs almost the entire length of the trailer body. The slide-out will be made entirely out of Aluminum. When installed and in the extended position, they will balance at the edge of the trailer wall with half of the slide-out extending beyond the side wall and the other half stays inside the body acting as counter weight. This is where the design departs from the norm. Each slide-out is a whole body section by itself. The two slide-outs are nesting into each other. When extended, each one will balance half way at the edge of the opposing side walls.”
I have done all the calculations and modeling. But…what if the design fails? The whole design is based on one single nesting slide-out concept. If it doesn’t work, the entire RV will be a ginormous thousand-pound paper weight and I don’t need a paper weight. I am no longer an office worker!
I often found myself deep in thoughts in our little backyard garden. Oh no, what will the neighbors think? Have I become Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” sculpture in my own backyard? Well, sort of. This is what I’ve been watching while I was contemplating about how to build the slide-outs.
They were just a couple of tiny eggs in a nest about the size of a ping pong ball blowing in the wind. It’s been very windy lately, and every day, I’d often check on them. They are growing fast. I had to be very still in order not to disturb mom. If I could, upon completion of the slide-outs, I will put a couple pictures of these babies onto the slide-outs. The parallel is incredible. From a tiny concept born a big idea which will take flight someday.
Curb Side Slide-out Modeling
The slide-outs are actually whole body sections which nest into each other. They are heavy because they will bear the loads for all necessary furniture and occupants. Each slide-out will have to move transversely from the main body. They will be supported by two slide-out tubes driven synchronously by a single motor.
Here’s a sequence of computer model screen shots to explain the design concept for the Curbside slide-out.
The Curb Side slide-out is supported by a slide-out support frame acting like a tray which attached to the two slide-out tubes. As the tubes move in and out, the tray will move with them. The support frame will also be the attach point for the entrance steps and will bear the load of the steps and the occupant. This approach will allow the slide-out bodies to be built separately using different material other than steel, i.e. Aluminum for weight saving.
The Curb Side slide-out frame will be built separately and will be mounted onto the slide-out support frame.
Street Side Slide-out Modeling
Similarly, the Street Side slide-out will have its own slide-out support frame and two slide-out tubes.
The Street Side slide-out will also be built separately and will also be mounted onto the slide-out support frame.
Upon completion of the slide-outs, each slide-out will have little more than 100 living square feet. There are quite a bit of basement storage underneath the slide-outs. The floor plan layout is as follow:
The floorplan layout adheres to a rigid philosophy:
Retain the use of the most necessary facilities even when the RV is in a fully retracted mode. Meaning, the bedroom and the bathroom will be fully functional at all times.
In order to do so, each piece of furniture has to be accurately modeled into the CAD software. So, here’s the planned furnishing for the Curb Side slide-out
Here’s the planned furnishing for the Street Side Slide-out. The bed will be able to accommodate a standard Queen-size mattress of 60”W x 80”L and there is still room to walk around it. The sofa is a folding type with removable seat cushions.
The million-dollar question is:
Can the Slide-outs be retracted without interfering with each other?
Fortunately, with the advances of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, the answer is a resounding Yes!
Look carefully at the placement of the cooking island. This would not be possible without today’s computing powers available to ordinary folks like me.
The Calvary is Coming
With the amount of work planned, it is impossible to do them all by myself. It is time to call upon the posse. These young hired guns were willing to do the work just for burgers and fries! Psst, it helps if you are related to them.
Various frames for the slide-outs were fabricated by different guys. I am keeping my fingers crossed when they are finally assembled together.
This young and good looking guy is an expert in welding. He also has a precision of an engineering scientist to match with his welding skills.
As I watch the Curb Side slide-out slowly extending with a couple guys still standing on it. I can’t help but overcome with emotion. It’s been a long journey just to get to this point.
The shear size of the Curb Side slide-out dwarfs the trailer body itself.
They worked until dust. We are on a tight schedule for final assembly.
So what’s happened to our little friends? I found myself rooting for them. They seem too tiny and fragile. I am rooting for their jest of life. I am rooting for new adventures not knowing what the future may hold. Everyday, I would check on them. They have been practicing flying. Take flight young ones, for we shall never fear the unknown, because the unknown is life itself.
I had a hot date on my Valentine’s day. She’s hypnotically beautiful. She’s very athletic and she likes to play rough! In fact, my wife even likes her.
No silly goose! We are not the swinger type. It’s the LA Marathon on Valentine’s Day this year. Once a year, I try to do at least one marathon and the LA Marathon is my only choice for now because I like its course. It goes from the Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier. I pay a small fee to join the LA Roadrunners. It’s the best money that I have ever spent. For the pittance amount, the club provides training from around September through February or March whenever the LA Marathon will happen. The training fee includes training materials, running coaches for the group, parking during group runs and the LA Marathon admittance fee. All they ask in return is for you to wake up early and be at the Santa Monica pier at 6:45 AM every Saturday and run with your group of choice. What a deal! Did I forget to mention that you have to do “homeworks” by running during weekdays, too?
No, I don’t get paid for pitching the LA Marathon or the Roadrunners club. The reason I brought it up is because this project is fairly similar to the marathon. It really takes such monumental endurance to tackle a project this size by yourself. As you recall in the earlier post of my sense of overwhelming and despair? I knew how big this project may be, but I have way underestimated the scope of the tasks involved. There are times when I’ve taken a look at the next tasks and wondered if it’s worth it to continue.
Building the Roof
Remember this frame plan? In the next frame building phase, I needed to build the upper half of the frame and it was easy enough. Then, I needed to build the roof and the nose cone. This is where a major decision has to be made. Originally, I wanted a roof and a nose cone which will be made out of fiberglass. Each piece will fit into its allotted section as a single unit.
I have talked to a number of local fiberglass making shops regarding fabricating a one-off roof and nose cone articles. Some of the quotes I’ve gotten were prohibitively high. I haven’t given up yet, but I needed an alternative design to proceed, so here’s what I’ve come up with. The roof and the nose cone will be made out of Aluminum sheets. They will not look as sleek as those that are made from fiberglass, but they will work just as well.
So off I went to make the roof and nose cone items.
Here’s the frame for the roof. It’s a one piece frame with a channel in the middle for heating and cooling ducts.
The roof was fully insulated with Styrofoam insulation. I planned to spray expanding Styrofoam liquid to fill in the gap.
Finally, sections of Aluminum sheets were used to fully cover the top. The roof looked rigid and water tight but heavier than I would like it to be. It took a team of seven young guys to lift the roof over the frame structure so that I can weld it in.
I had to make a platform for the guys to stand on in order to lift the roof onto the frame. Unfortunately, I was also doing the heavy lifting so no picture was taken of the roof installation.
Fabricating the Nose Cone
Next up is the substitute nose cone. So, here is the plan for making the nose cone out of Aluminum sheets.
Internally, the nose cone has a rectangular metal frame that acts as its skeleton. I expected a lot of stress from wind velocity so I’ve planned for the worst.
It took quite a bit of effort to fabricate this nose cone due to the sheer size. The overall dimension is 72” x 102”. Although the nose cone looked acceptable, when I do find the right fiberglass supplier, I may replace it with the fiberglass nose cone to get the right looks. Or may be not.
This is what the substitute nose cone looked like when installed onto the frame.
Now back to my Valentine’s hot date. She was waiting for me somewhere at a distance. The lady of sport. So beautiful, so desirable, yet so…painful to reach for her. Here I was somewhere at the 25th mile. My body racked with pain. My mind could no longer think logically. Breathing was heavy and shallow. Pulse rate was in the 150 plus. Sexy as hell you would think. Oh no, far from it. I was on the verge of dying from pain. This is when your training kicked in and guided you. It commands you to take another step and then yet another step despite everything else in your body begged for mercy. My date played rough!
Finally, seconds away from her open arms. As if her appearance wasn’t dramatic enough, she was all shrouded in the mystical coastal fog of a glorious morning.
A kiss on the cheek in the form of a cheap looking medal and we parted ways. I promised to come back and see her next year. I told you, I had a hot date for Valentine’s!
Next post, I will have to tackle the most challenging part of the design: The gigantic slide-outs. Each slide-out runs almost the entire length of the trailer body. The slide-out will be made entirely out of Aluminum. When installed and in the extended position, they will balance at the edge of the trailer wall with half of the slide-out extending beyond the side wall and the other half stays inside the body acting as counter weight. This is where the design departs from the norm. Each slide-out is a whole body section by itself. The two slide-outs are nesting into each other. When extended, each one will balance half way at the edge of the opposing side walls. I am anxious to get started, but for now, I will have sit out for a couple days and wait for my body to heal and the pain to subside.
I have been doing a lot of design reviews lately and the actual work on the trailer took a back seat a little. It is often beneficial to, once in a while, pause what you are doing and review the progress, take notes of lessons learned, and they are plenty.
The Economic Costs of Owning an RV
One of the most often asked question from my friends and readers would be: Why build a travel trailer? Travel trailer is probably the most cost effective way of owning an RV. Yet, travel trailers conjure up an unflatter image of neglected dwellings as we often heard the derogatory term “trailer trash”. Please accept my apology in advance for the term mentioned if it has offended you. Believe me, that wasn’t the intention.
Let’s get back to the question why a travel trailer? Like I have mentioned in the previous post, the travel trailer is designed to be the “home” part of the RV. Unfortunately, not a lot of innovation has happened to travel trailer design as those of Class A RVs. I believe it is simply a matter of return on investment. Travel trailers are considered low margin goods; therefore, not a lot of investments were made to make them better. I do, on the other hand, think otherwise. A well designed and properly manufactured trailer will serve your travelling needs well and will retain the value much longer than a motorized RV. The engine of a motorized RV costs as much or more than your family car, but it can only be used for a single purpose, RV travelling. In our previous searches for our own travel trailer, I’ve looked at some of the high end travel trailers with Aluminum design. While we were smitten with the retro good looks, we had wished that the design is more updated with modern conveniences such as slide-outs and residential refrigerator. But enough of that, let’s get back to building the frame because it’s more fun.
I built the second layer of the frame then clamped it onto the main frame. This is the tricky part. It was really hard to properly keep the corners squared in three dimensions. Especially when you started to weld, the heat from the welding caused the frame to warp slightly despite the fact that the entire second layer was tacked welded completely to prevent such warping. I had to weld at alternate ends so that the metals would have time to cool off. A whole lot of clamps were used. You can’t have too many clamps!
After the second layer of the frame has been welded together. This now became the floor for the slide-out to reside on. The next step is to wire up the trailer in accordance with federal and state laws then taking the frame out for numerous test drives. You really do not want to proceed further until the frame has proven itself to be reliable and correctly built. There is another purpose for pausing here as well: I need a general purpose utility trailer in order to purchase more materials. I am tired of paying for “Lift gate” services for home deliveries. They were extremely expensive. For example, to carry a certain component from the side walk of my house into the garage (a whole distance of about 40 feet), a certain well known carrier has charged me for $ 300 USD for it!
Trailer Wiring to Meet Federal Mandated Safe Operation
Let’s start with what we know about our trailer: The GVWR is 7,300 Lbs. and the width is 98 inches. Looking at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requirements, two parts apply:
FMCSA Part 393.43 Breakaway and emergency braking:
(a) Towing vehicle protection system. Every motor vehicle, if used to tow a trailer equipped with brakes, shall be equipped with a means for providing that in the case of a breakaway of the trailer, the service brakes on the towing vehicle will be capable of stopping the towing vehicle. For air braked towing units, the tractor protection valve or similar device shall operate automatically when the air pressure on the towing vehicle is between 138 kPa and 310 kPa (20 psi and 45 psi).
(a)(1) Lamps and reflex reflectors. Table 1 specifies the requirements for lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment by the type of commercial motor vehicle. The diagrams in this section illustrate the position of the lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment specified in Table 1. All commercial motor vehicles manufactured on or after December 25, 1968, must, at a minimum, meet the applicable requirements of 49 CFR 571.108 (FMVSS No. 108) in effect at the time of manufacture of the vehicle. Commercial motor vehicles manufactured before December 25, 1968, must, at a minimum, meet the requirements of subpart B of part 393 in effect at the time of manufacture.
Given the above requirements, here are what I’ve decided to do:
The trailer will have 7-way wiring scheme
All four wheels of both axles will have electric brakes.
There will be a Tekonsha Prodigy RF brake controller mounted right on the tongue. I like the design of the Tekonsha Prodigy RF a lot. It allows me to carry just a small RF controller module in the tow vehicle.
There will be a Hopkins Break-away Engager to satisfy the FMCSA Part 393.43 Breakaway and emergency braking
Here’s what the wiring plan looks like:
These are the components that I’ve used for this project. Each picture is a property of the respective owner(s) which I have captured and embedded into the pictures themselves.
Trailer Lighting Wiring for FMCSA § 393.11: Lamps and reflective devices
Part § 393.11 calls out Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 49 CFR 571.108 (commonly known as FMVSS No. 108). The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 49 CFR 571.108 lighting requirements for trailers can be found here:
You can cut through a lot of jumbo mumbo if you just look at these two Figures from the FMCSA Part Part § 393.11:
In the Figures 8 through 18, additional equipment for trailers exceeding 2.032 m (80 in.) applies. So in addition to the Areas 1 – 4a and 4b, we will need lighting for areas 6, 7 and 8.
Figure 15 shows the locations of applicable lights and reflective devices to our trailer. The wiring took about a couple of mornings. The tedious part of the job was cutting and stripping the wires then bundling them up into nice and neat harnesses. All those years of designing wire harnesses for airplanes have ingrained in my brain regarding wire chaffing due to vibrations. You simply can not stop chaffing from vibration. You minimize their impacts over the life of your vehicle is the objective here. I used split wire looms on all wire harnesses. I’ve also welded metal wire clips along the trailer chassis where the wire harnesses will travel then secure the wire harnesses to them. So the approach is pretty straight forward:
Bundle all wires into harnesses depends on their travel paths. Multiple wire stiffens the overall wire harness
Keep all distances shortest possible in order to minimize voltage drop
Don’t mix high voltage and low voltage wires into the same bundle. Luckily they were all 12 VDC wires
Use correct wire gauges for the expected maximum current loads
Use black split looms or similar wire sleeves to protect the harnesses from chaffing
Weld metal clips along wire harness travels to hold them in place
Now if you have gotten this far, you will either appreciate the geeky things that engineers will do or you will have turned glassy eyes. So, how about some nice pictures of Yellowstone scenery to make up for it?
When all wiring is done, I took the trailer frame to DMV for a temporary license. By doing so, I am also committing to finish the trailer for the final inspection in three months. In the meantime, I can freely use the trailer as a utility trailer.
Here’s the trailer frame with the “utility box” in the back.
Here I am at the local metal store. I’ve used the trailer to carry a couple of thousand lbs. of metal. So, the frame has gotten a thorough checkout. I was quite satisfied with the load carrying capacity and the tire installation. There was no premature worn out, a sure telltale of improper axel alignment issue.
Thank you for staying with me through this bone dry post. If you think reading about it is bad, try to actually strip the wires and hook them all up. It was not my most favorite thing to do, but it had to be done. Next post, building the rest of the frame and the roof.
If ever there was a place where it can literally touch your soul, it would have to be Yellowstone. It’s a magical place of sights, sounds and silence. The reason this place has such a personal special appeal is because it’s also the place where this project was conceived. A while ago, my extended family decided to take a long road trip from the sunny shore of Southern California to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The one-way distance of the trip is a little more than 1,000 miles. Although our vacation time was limited due to job obligations, we have decided to really take our time to enjoy the journey as much as the destinations. The trip was almost a month long. Our journey took us from Southern California to Las Vegas, where we stayed for a couple of days, then Utah, Idaho, and finally arriving to Yellowstone after almost ten days of traveling.
Our mode of transportation was a 36 foot long Class A rental Recreational Vehicle (RV) with two slide-outs.
Because of rental restrictions, we weren’t able to tow the family car. Hence, we had to rent a car at Yellowstone. Our extended family consists of four adults, two teens, and one fur kid weighing in at 9.6 lbs.
Here we were at a typical RV Park with full hookup. We usually drove only 2 to 3 hours starting in the morning. We stopped often along the road for sightseeing. Each day, after a long driving trip, okay so it wasn’t that long, it sure was nice to be able to enjoy the rest of the day starting with a hot lunch and a nice warm shower.
Yellowstone is a place of toxic eye candies. The thermal hot springs with their scalding water look deceivingly calm and soothing but signs were everywhere to warn you of their deadly effects.
Right next to Yellowstone is the Grand Teton National Park. The snow covered mountains with their jagged edges seems very eager telling you of their violent pasts.
Despite the harsh environment, in the right season, delicate faunas and florals were everywhere. The flowers’ delicate petals and their blend of pastel colors seems to beckon you for more of your undivided attention.
For city folks like us, spotting wild life became a sort of game. We challenged each other to see who can spot the next unseen animal first. Sometimes, it wasn’t that hard when all the traffic would stop and people jumped out of their cars to take pictures!
But I digress, while enjoying a camp fire at one of the campground fire pits, my dear wife with her indefinite wisdom has made a statement something to this effect: A perfect RV is a luxury Class A RV with two large slide-outs that you can cut into two: The “House” part and the “Driving” part. While you are driving on the freeways, the two parts are together so that you can enjoy the comfort of a luxury RV. At near your destinations, when the driving is often difficult and small unimproved roads are hard to navigate, you can check in the “House” part of the RV in the local RV Resorts or camp grounds and make that your home base. The “Driving” part of the RV can be used for sightseeing and exploring the primitive campgrounds. I knew at that instant that I’d take on the challenge. Perhaps, now you can appreciate the goals of this project.
What I am trying to do is breaking the conventional RV design rules and designing the most extreme compact “House” part of an RV.
So, what were the overall design goals?
1. The overall box dimensions are 18 feet 8 inches in length and 98 inches in width. The tongue will add in another 42 inches to the overall length. The height of the trailer is about 11 feet give and take a few inches
2. The Gross Vehicle Weight Capacity (GVWC) is 7,300 lbs. since I am using two Flexiride axles with a combined 7,300 lbs. capacity
3. The empty weight of the “House” is estimated to be 5,000 to 6,000 lbs. maximum. I am trying to hit the low end instead of the high end. Admittedly, these figures were very aggressive
4. There will be two slide-outs each having 15 feet in length and 7 feet in width. You will notice that there are about 2 feet of trailer body that are not occupied by the slide-outs. This was the last minute change that I’ve made since I wanted to have a dedicated space for the generator with sound insulation and forced air ventilation. This area is divided into upper and lower areas. The upper area is used for storage accessible from inside of the slide-out. The lower area is used for generator, fresh water tank, electrical boxes, and batteries, etc. So, although the trailer box is a little more than 18 feet, the effective floor space is as big as a 32 feet trailer without slide.
The basic trailer frame plan is as follow:
The frame will be equipped with two electric Ultrafab stabilizers one at each end. Each leg of the stabilizer can be independently adjusted so that you can level the floor even for very uneven surfaces. The frame has gussets and a “box” design so that there is almost no flexing. My dear wife won’t tolerate any floor flexing even a minute one!
With all materials purchased and cut to exact dimensions, it’s time for the rubber to hit the road.
Initially, all the pieces had to be laid out in their respective positions. Then a lot of clamps were used to hold them together forming the basic frame. When building the frame, you really have to plan out which layer has to be built first, then build the next layer, and the next layer in order to keep the corners square and the frame flat and the overall measurements to stay within design tolerances.
The initial feeling at the start of the project was a sense of overwhelming and despair. During my career as an engineer, I have done a lot of large projects. Many of which were hundreds times more complex. However, never before I am facing some of the components which weight as much as I do or more and I am all by myself!
The most difficult task of building the frame is to make sure that the corners are square and the whole frame makes a perfectly flat plane. In order to achieve those objectives, I’ve built two end tables with near perfectly flat surfaces using a table saw’s surface as the reference. The tables were placed at each end of the frame being built. Various parts are placed onto the tables then clamped together. Tape measures, levels, and squares were used to tripple check all dimensions and flatness. When all frame components were clamped together, I actually had to take a day off from the project, then rechecked all dimensions and flatness again before proceeding to the next task: Tack welding.
That’s my son helping with the welding. He took pity on me and volunteered to help despite the fact that he has never seen nor touched any of the welding equipment. Brave kid! This now has become a family affair. Later on, other family members also joined the fun. They all have passed a crash course in welding offered by…me. After only a couple of weeks, these young guns can lay some pretty mean welding beads. They can even weld better than I can. Not that I am that shabby. I actually took several classes for welding and subsequently certified for Aluminum and stainless steel welding. I took some solace on the fact that I’ve trained them well.
It was a bear to flip the frame to weld the other side. The placement of the axles was quite difficult. I had to build a special jig to ensure that the wheel alignments are parallel to the frame. Otherwise, you will destroy the tires in a very short manner. This was pretty much the recurring theme. We had to build all kinds of specialized jigs as the project progresses.
Those are nice Aluminum wheels. I had to special order them instead of the standard steel wheels.
Finally, the frame was professionally done. You wouldn’t think all this can be done inside a garage but due to the compactness of the frame, it was possible. Here you can see the front Ultrafab stabilizer.
This picture shows the rear Ultrafab stabilizer. This is now the basic trailer for the rest of the components to be built upon.
From this perspective, you can clearly see the added body section at the end where the lower half with its electronic tray was depicted. The generator will be located on the right looking from the rear forward, the rest of the lower half will be used to store fresh water tank, batteries, electrical panels, etc. There will be two large doors which can be opened so that the entire lower half is accessible for maintenance. The upper half is accessible from inside of the slide-out for additional personal storage.
We will stop here for now. Next post, I will show you the next layer of the frame and the trailer wiring to meet federal mandates. You may wonder why there was a title in the post referring to this project as “The Yellowstone Project”. In my previous career, many of the companies have some cool names for their teams or projects: Lockheed Skunk Works, Boeing Phantom Works, the Manhattan Project, just to name a few. So, I thought it would be so cool to name this my “Yellowstone Project”. Hopefully, for my next trip back to Yellowstone, I will be able to bring this baby to its birth place where the original idea was conceived.