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The Birth of THE GREAT WHITE – Part 2 (Am I Insane for doing this?)

February 20, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

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Purchasing a second-hand 17,000 pound, ten wheel ex-mail hauling semi-tractor trailer truck and driving it over 200 miles to get it home so that it could be parked in our driveway for conversion into an RV was my first exercise in insanity.

The second insane exercise would be actually making all of the required modifications to turn it into a recreational vehicle, or as the Federal DOT calls it, a “House Car”, with nothing but your own ideas, tools and hands.   The conversion was required so that I could  legally register it, insure it, and drive it as something other than a commercial vehicle.

Normal folks wanting to move into a heavier and more powerful tow vehicle for their fifth-wheel trailer usually just buy a medium-duty Freightliner M2 or have one of several companies specializing in truck conversion build a body, install the new hitch, paint, everything, and then bring it home.

But I don’t do things the “normal” or easy way.  Shucks, I’m not even sure what normal is!  Nope, being a true Tim-The-Tool-Time disciple, I had to do this the he-man way to prove that I was still a man (despite my age) that was capable of undertaking and finishing such a conversion.

Typical Daytime Temperature Outside

Just to make it all more difficult, I elected to do this during the winter – outside!  The truck was too tall to fit inside my nice, cozy heated garage.

Requirements for making the transition from a commercial vehicle to a motor home will vary from state-to-state.  In my home state I had to complete at least five of the seven Federal DOT classification requirements, submit a form for a customized or modified vehicle, pay a $200 inspection fee and if approved I could get a new title and registration.  It all sounds easy enough.  But, when you are dealing with a State DMV and mountains of rulebooks, not to mention many differing interpretations of the print within, it quickly turns into a complex ordeal.  But, that is a story for another day.

Looking over the DOT list of requirements for a House Car (below) I elected to do all of them, with the exception of an LP gas supply.  I figured what the heck – if I was going to do anything, I might as well go for the full Monty.

  1. Cooking facilities
  2. Refrigeration
  3. Self-contained Toilet
  4. Heating or Air Conditioning that works without the engine running
  5. Potable Water Supply System including a Faucet and Sink
  6. 120V Power Supply
  7. Separate sleeping quarters

Cab area after addition of monitor screens and "personal" electronics.

Of course, none of this included the custom items I wanted over and above the federal requirements – TV and sound system, rear view and blind spot cameras and inside monitors, radio communications, “Trucker” GPS, new tail lighting, brake controller and wiring for the trailer hookup, a fifth wheel RV hitch, additional batteries that I could plug into the fifth wheel when camping off the grid, or a rear body.

Number 7 was quickly marked off the list.  The Volvo came with a set of bunk beds in the sleeper.  The mattresses were new and still wrapped in their original plastic covering.  Like the front air suspension seats with seven-way inflatable bolsters and lumbar control, the bunks were surprisingly comfortable.  In order to avoid driver fatigue on long hauls, trucker comfort amenities were not shortchanged in the original cab and sleeper designs.

120 Volt AC Power Compartment Components

I turned to the 120-volt power supply as my first conversion item.

I elected to hijack the driver’s side storage compartment under the lower bunk.  There I installed a shore power 30-amp connector, transfer switch, circuit breaker box, battery converter/charger, and a 1,500-watt battery to 120-volt inverter.  The empty area under the passenger door (covered by the lower fiberglass fairing) was large enough to accommodate four additional batteries and a 2,000-watt gasoline generator.  It took almost two full weeks to build, wire, and complete all of the equipment modifications needed for this part.  I think I could have completed it sooner if the first snow and ice storm of the season had not arrived at the beginning of the second week.

Rear lower bunk, refrigerator and sink behind driver's side seat.

With self-contained power, I simultaneously completed item number 2 with the addition of a portable electric heater.  This at least made working inside the cab and sleeper area more comfortable.  120-volt air conditioning would be added later.

Developing the kitchen area wasn’t too bad either.  I had to remove a cabinet bolted in behind the driver’s seat and there installed a small electric refrigerator.  It was properly braced and bolted to the floor and wall.  The fridge would be operated from the inverter and batteries when traveling.

A small microwave oven that could also be operated from the battery to 120-volt inverter was added inside an overhead cabinet.  A small coffee pot sat above.

This completed the kitchen cooking and refrigeration requirement.

Close-up of the mixing bowl sink and pump handle water faucet.

The self-contained toilet was also simple.  All it took was a porta-potti with a separate, detachable waste holding compartment and a fresh water compartment for rinsing and flushing.  This fit nicely in the open area under the middle of the lower bunk.  It was retained in place with an  elastic net.

The last item to tackle was the potable water supply and a sink with running water.

Water Tank Installation

The DOT requirements did not specify the size of the sink nor the capacity of the water supply tanks.  Separate heated and cold water supplies were not mandated either.

I had enough room behind the starting battery compartment and the driver’s side fuel tank to place two 7-gallon water tanks – one for potable water and the other as a gray water holding tank.  Both tanks required some modification for draining and filling.  Added fittings were made of brass and attached with RTV sealer and brass nuts and bolts so as to avoid corrosion.

The sink was a re-purposed stainless steel mixing bowl with a drain installed in the bottom.  Since the bowl had a rim it was easily glued into it’s counter support.

Addition of a generator and extra batteries below the passenger side door (normally hidden from view).

Rather than install an on-demand electric water pump, I simply used a seesaw handle armstrong pump to pull water to the sink.  It worked surprisingly well and provided plenty of flow for hand washing, teeth brushing and dog watering.

Once these modifications were complete it was possible to have the conversion inspection completed and obtain a new title and registration showing the vehicle was a motor home.  My insurance company readily wrote a RV insurance policy for the vehicle.  With RV registration, I am not required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in my state and I am exempt from having to stop at commercial vehicle weight stations or maintain a driver’s log.

The next big step would be building the rear body enclosure, installing a RV type hitch and completing the needing wiring and controls for the attached fifth wheel.

A considerable amount of additional information pertaining to the purchase, conversion, maintenance, and use of class 8 HDT vehicles for RV use can be found online in The Heavy Hauler Resource Guide .

The “Great White” was well on its way to a new life despite my frozen fingers, nose, and toes!

Oscar and Me at the end of a hard day's work on the conversion.

Happy and Safe Camping Trails to All!

Do you camp with a pet?  Please visit my No Pet Add-On Fees website at http://vastateparkscamping.com/ or by clicking on the blue highlighted and underlined text above for information regarding camping with pets in Virginia State Parks.

Private e-mails can be sent to:  RandynNancyageeatgmaildotcom (substitute a @ symbol for the bold at and a period . for the bold dot when entering the address into your e-mail program).
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Comments

2 Responses to “The Birth of THE GREAT WHITE – Part 2 (Am I Insane for doing this?)”
  1. Jon del Pozo says:

    Hey there Professor95,
    Many years ago, like in the middle 70′s, a neightbor decided to purchase a long nose Pete with a 5 speed main and a two speed brownie box. It was a rather long chassis with tandems. He then came over and enlisted my skills to drop one rear axle and help him in mounting a 18 ft. Wilderness pull trailer to the chassis. This was a project from hades to say the least. We did get the unit mounted and it actually looked rather good. Then I proceeded to build all the basement cabinets. The basic structure that is. Used angle iron and it was all welded up. He then boxed it in with plywood and glassed the outer sides for weather proofing and then I added the steel doors with the “Delta” latches.

    Actually this was about 1977 when this contraption was built. He was into show horses and had like 5 kids. He had a long slant trailer for the horses and that was slightly modified as well. It had a dressing room in the front. I can’t remember ever seeing anything like this running down the highway. It was all painted with matching graphics in his drive way. Old school talents still abounded at that time. By the time this thing was completed, half the neightborhood men were involved “just because” as we had told our wives.

    I suppose this is American Ingenuity at its best? His cost? What ever he bought and scrounged and what ever we as his neighbors had to offer. His cost to us- – - lots of hanburgers, hotdogs and beer.
    Stay with it, you’re not insane, just enjoy every minute of it!

  2. Floyd says:

    Prof,

    Once again, your writing talent hopefully will continue in covering the life and equipment of the RV world.

    Classic: The picture of the Professor and his dog!

    Floyd

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