Ramblings of an Extreme Man


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Savannah Way and King Ash Bay fishing club

From the Cape we made our way South west to meet up with my friend Kev for a few weeks.

We stopped at fruit bat falls on the way south from the Cape for a well needed dip.

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We then headed West from Artemis station towards Normanton.

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We stopped at Burke and Wills camp 119 on the way through. This was their last camp that Burke and Wills left the bulk of their party at while they made their final push for the Gulf.
**Spoiler alert**: None of them made it. They had to turn around before they could see the ocean due to heavy mangrove growth and they died on the way back of malnutrition. I couldn’t help but think if they had a handline with them they would have gotten back to Melbourne triumphant and fat from
barramundi.

The Savannah way was a good drive. It wasn’t quite as corrugated as the Cape but just enough that my spare wheel managed to rattle itself free from under the tray and become a free range spare wheel. If anyone finds it let me know!

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We’d chosen to stay for a few nights at King Ash Bay fishing club. It’s near Boorooloola on the McArthur river. I’m not sure if the words fishing club quite describe King Ash Bay, it’s more of a fishing town, or maybe a fishing cult. There’s a service station, a bar and plenty of houses. Tennant Creek and Alice Springs fishing clubs have permanent residences here as well. There’s unpowered sites along the river, so you can leave your boat in close to camp.

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We went fishing here twice, the first day we didn’t wander too far from the camp and mostly fished around some snags and rock bars within 10km of the boat ramp. There was a few fish around, plenty of long tom and small cod, a shark that did a backflip out of the water and we picked up our first size barra for the trip. I say we, because even though Kev technically reeled it in, he was but one part of a well oiled fishing machine. If it hadn’t been for my expert net wielding and superb boatmanship or Katies fist pumping and woohooing it would have undoubtedly gotten away. Great work team.

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Kev’s a dentist, so we can’t show you his face on television.

The second day on the water we decided to get up early and head out to the mouth of the McArthur river. We hadn’t really seen any of the other boats the day before and were surprised to find them all at the mouth of the river. Like most men it seemed the fishos of this camp liked to cast their rods in and around the mouth. This surprised me a little because it was an 86km round trip from the boat ramp. If you stayed at this camp and fished a few times a week, like it seemed everyone did, the fuel bill and tinny bum would really add up.
Having said that the fishing was pretty good with Kev and Katie both dragging in a few small Queenies in between the numerous sharks.

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FACTS:
How to get there:
From Boorooloola follow the signs to Bing Bong and King Ash Bay fishing club
Camping Cost:
$22 per night for 2 adults unpowered site
Boat Access:
There’s a good boat ramp and you can leave your boat in the water

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Camper Reno – Construction

The construction of the new camper internals started with strengthening the foundations. The camper fully loaded would have 2 x 30kg batteries and 80kg of water in the front section. I wasn’t sure if the existing frame was up to this so I welded in some supports.
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While I welded Katie lent a hand to paint the new floor and internal walls. 7mm structural ply was used for the walls and 12mm marine ply for the floor. These were all expertly coated in 3-4 coats of marine grade varnish.
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The floor was then installed in the camper. At this stage the walls weren’t secured, they were to be secured later by being sandwiched and riveted between the external aluminum cladding and the internal frame.
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The internal frame was cut and assembled outside of the camper. This made running of electrical cabling and water hose a lot easier. Approximately 70m of shs aluminum tubing was used to construct the frame..
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It was then slid into the camper from above and secured.
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A reasonably expensive road bike tyre of my father’s was cut up and wrapped around any bends that were likely to rub on electrical cabling or water hose, thanks for the suggestion Mick, I’m sure it won’t be missed…
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Gussets were installed at any critical joins for added strength.
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All the electrical components were installed on chopping boards to be slid above the batteries and water tank. This turned out to be reasonably neat.
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The switch/display panel was also made out of chopping board. The battery monitor displays the battery voltage, percent charged and the net input or output current. This is reasonably important as if you cycle a deep cycle battery below 50 percent you lower the battery’s capacity. Here you can see the front.
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And the back. Bus bars were used to limit the number of cables that needed to be connected between the different chopping boards.
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A large hole was cut out and framed to form the external kitchen. This would consist of a fold down bench secured with chain for cooking on, a small LED light recessed into the frame for light, a tap and enough space for a stove, dishwashing bucket, pots, pans, 12 secret herbs and spices etc..
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Other holes were cut in the walls to allow the external shower and water filler to be installed.
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Hose connections were used on each side of the water pump to allow the pump to source water from an external source, the intention being to heat water on the stove and pump warm water from a bucket through the shower.
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A little Bernoulli inspired hose tomfoolery was used to provide the water tank guage.
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After the panels that would form the surfaces of the frame were cut out and painted we began to attach them to the aluminum frame.

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Over 300 pop rivets were used in the renovation of the camper. If you are going to do something similar and don’t want a wrist sore from over use I strongly suggest you get one of these.
The accordian style rivet gun was reasonably useful too.
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I installed a gland plate for the cables that charge the batteries from the cars alternator and from the solar panels.

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I installed large gussets in each corner to transfer some of the torsional load from the top of the legs that support the camper when it’s not on the back of the ute to the steel frame under the camper.
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The bench top was then cut out of 16mm melamine, edged and attached to the frame. This lined up quite nicely with the top of the fridge providing a reasonable amount of internal bench space.
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The last step was to install the table. This could be used in three ways, firstly as a table:
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Secondly as a bed: (judging by the cushion covers I think the previous owner of the camper may have liked cats.)
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Or thirdly it can be folded out of the way to provide more space.
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With the renovation compete, all that was left to do was to fill the fridge with beer, hook up the boat and start driving north.
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Camper Reno – Demolition

With hammer and chisel in hand the demolition of the old camper internals began.

I removed the battery, stove, gas bottle and sink then it was time to start smashing.

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You can see the hole in the floor pretty well in this photo. It turned out that only the visible ply wood had been painted. This meant that everything you couldn’t see died a slow damp death.

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It was at this point that I realised that one of my key assumptions had been wrong. I’d intended to just replace the floor and leave the existing walls, but it turned out the walls were as moist as a 14yo girl at a Justin Bieber concert and had to be replaced as well.

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Floor coming out after removal of the walls

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After cleaning what was left of the frame up the demolition was complete and it was time to move onto construction of the new internals.


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Camper Reno – Detailed design

The detailed design was split into 3 sections, structural, electrical and water.

To design the structure I used a free computer program called google sketchup. This program is basically a user friendly 3d autocad. Taking the constraints of the existing internal structural measurements I set about drawing up the internal structure that would fit the components from the high level design within an aluminum frame. This let me see the layout from a 3d perspective and make any minor adjustments before construction.

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Fold down outside kitchen:

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Internal bench top view:

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I made the height of the fridge framing so that it would line up the fridge top with the 16mm melamine bench top. This would increase the usable bench space.

To design the electrical side of things I relied on my trusty blue book and favorite mechanical pencil. With these in hand I first worked out the number of end points
-1 x Fridge (12v cig outlet)
-1 x 12v cig outlet for a fan, for those steamy nights
-2 power locations; at the camper entry and the inside seats, with an option for a 3rd in the kitchen. Each one of these would have a 12v cig outlet, usb outlets and 240v outlet
-12v water pump
-240v inverter
-Inside light
-Outside light
-Kitchen light

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I chose to feed these endpoints from a central switch panel with resetable fuses. The battery guage would also be located here.

To take care of the myriad of charging options I chose the ctek ds250 and smartpass. I coupled this up with a Nasa bm1 compact to act as the battery guage and an AC to DC convertor to charge from mains power. This was against ctek recommendations, they recommended a separate ac charger for ac charging, but I saw this as a double up of charging circuitry and bloody expensive. I cranked the dc output up to 15v and fed it into the solar input on the ds250 as only one of these would be used at any one time.

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I also chose to mount all the electrical components on chopping boards which would slide into the space above the batteries. This would also let them be able to slide out for troubleshooting.

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The design of the water side of things was the hardest for me. I had no experience in this area and was really shooting from the hip. I was really making it up and wasn’t too sure if it would work or not.

I decided to use a small 12v pump to supply the water from the tank. This needed to be able to self prime, and needed a pressure switch to cycle on and off. The pump would provide potential or pressure to what I thought of as a water ‘bus’ with the water outlets all connecting to this bus. I also wanted to be able to use the pump to pump from other sources into the bus, for example to supply water that had been heated on the stove from a bucket to the shower. This meant that a few interchangeable connections would be needed at the pump.

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After looking up the prices of water guages on eBay I quickly talked myself out of installing an electrical water guage and instead relied on some tricks an old mate of mine Bernoulli taught me. I decided to use the 2nd blank water tank outlet to connect to the hole in the top of the water tank and the breather on the filler, this would be with clear plastic hose so that I could see the water level.

With the detailed design done it was time to finalise the bill of materials, get ordering and look forward to demolition.


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Camper Reno – Requirements definition and high level design

Being the socially awkward engineer that I am I know that the best method to kick off any time consuming, knuckle scraping endeavour is to first define the requirements. There’s no use swinging a hammer if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve by swinging.

I spent some time thinking about how the camper will be used, which will be mostly for weekend getaways and occasional week/month long roadtrips. I then listed what I thought were important requirements to fit the intended use, below. Some of these were inherent to the existing structure.

1. Self sufficiency – Enough water, food and battery power for up to two weeks away from civilisation

2. Sturdy – It needs to be able to withstand the rigours of four wheel driving by a hack driver that tends to rely on the conservation of momentum method of four wheel driving

3. Outside kitchen – Camping is no fun if you’re cooking inside

4. Ability to sleep up to 4 people – usually only 2 people will sleep in the camper, but occasionally it may be up to 4

5. Quick to setup – the camper usually takes under 5 minutes to setup

6. Ability to be taken off the ute – it usually takes a little over 5 minutes to take the camper off the ute

With the requirements defined I then started the design. Requirements 5 and 6 were already satisfied by the existing structure and didn’t need to be further addressed in the design stage. From a high level design perspective I decided the camper needed the following things to meet the outstanding requirements:

Req 1, Self sufficiency:
– 80 liter water tank
– 80 liter fridge freezer
– at least 200 Amp hour of deep cycle battery to run the fridge and lights
-approximately 300 watts of solar panels to recharge the battery. I already had 140w of solar panels and found this wasn’t quite enough. It’s no fun if your battery goes flat and your beer gets warm
-usb, 12 volt and 240v outlets to recharge phones, laptops etc
-ability to recharge the battery from the cars alternator while the car is running
-ability to recharge the battery from AC mains power
-a guage to determine the amount of water remaining
-a guage to determine the capacity of the battery remaining
-a shower to assist relationship harmony. I’ve found there’s a strong positive correlation between the number of days since I’ve had a shower and my girlfriend having a headache before those moments of outback amour
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Req 2, Sturdiness:
-Aluminum framing for the internal structure using plastic joining sections. These are called connect-it by some hardware stores or qube-lock by others
-gussets for reinforcement at important joins

Req 3, Outside kitchen:
-A fold down bench on the outside of the camper that opens into a storage area for stoves, pots, cutlery, herbs and spices etc
-lighting to cook in the dark
-a water tap plumbed to the water tank

Req 4, Sleep 4:
– Seats and table that could be folded down into a second bed

Next up, onto the detailed design


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Camping, glamping, utes, vans and not showering.

A few years ago I bought a slide on camper which attaches to the back of my ute.

I decided that this was the way to go after doing much research during an 18 month trip around Australia. This research usually involved me standing awkwardly close to other peoples camp-sites in silence with the characteristic facial expression of a socially awkward engineer trying to work out how something works and if he could build it himself. I saw all kinds of contraptions, but decided the tray-on type of slide on camper was the bees knees, but a little pricey for the average man.

I ended up buying something similar to a tray-on camper that I found on gumtree for a steal.

The main reasons for a slide on camper on the back of a ute over other methods of camping/touring were:

1. I could still tow a boat on a trailer.

I’ve previously had a boat on the roof, and found the added overhead to put the boat in the water meant that it didn’t get used anywhere near as much as it should have. The number of grey nomads with a 12ft tinnie on the roof of their 200 series Landcruiser that has only been used a handful of times is ridiculous.

2. It could be taken off reasonably easily to leave at a campsite while going to put the boat in the water or go into town for supplies.

I used to have a van for camping and although awesome for a sneaky getaway, it proved frustrating having to pack up camp completely whenever I wanted to drive somewhere.

Out with the old:

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In with the new:

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The camper has definitely served me well over the last few years, but it has has degraded to the point that there is quite a large plywood rot hole in the floor. On the positive side this has at least helped to keep the damp musty smell that emanates from within under control.

With a trip up north planned I’ve decided that a camper renovation rescue is in order. More on this to come.