Restoring 1968 Wheel Camper Ranch Wagon 8

wildep

Member
Mar 25, 2022
27
Mid-Michigan
Catchup Part 2: The Weekend before Labor Day - Sunday

Sunday was a huge turning point because it meant the beginning of major reassembly. I started with the floor. After cross cutting the 3/4" marine grade plywood to 78" (the width of the camper,) I (very nervously) routed out tongue and groove joints on the edges. the trailer floor is 78"x120", so I would have a little bit of extra, but I didn't have a ton to work with, and at $130/sheet, I really wanted to manage this with just the 3 sheets of plywood. Fortunately, it went alright. I measured carefully (and many times) and got the holes for the wheel wells to line up and installed the wheel wells with butyl tape and staples (just like OEM) and the tongue and groove fit together really tightly, so I feel pretty confident in the joints. It took a little figuring out to get the floor positioned correctly with a 1" overhang all around the trailer, but some scrap pieces cut to 1" wide and clamps helped me get where it needed to be. A bunch of nerve-racking self tapping screws later (including a few that missed the frame if I'm honest...), and I hade a trailer with a solid and (I believe) well-connected floor!
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Cutting out holes for the wheel wells, the first piece is sitting loose on the trailer.

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original plastic wheel wells installed.
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This is starting to look like a thing! (Fresh, brand new plywood is just a beautiful thing.)

The floor took me a lot longer than I thought it would, mostly because it was difficult to get the tight 78" tongue and groove joints to come together single handedly, and I measured and remeasured incessantly.
The walls, however, went very quickly, pocket hole screws, glue (I didn't paint the edges, so that I'd have a good surface to glue to the floor.), and a square clamp made quick and easy work. Suddenly I had not just a floor, but a box!
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I have made the world's worst least useful utility trailer! (but it's really starting to look like something! (You can see how I built the walls. The vertical supports are located where screws and other things will attach. Later I'll add more 12" plywood where other hardware or through hull (to borrow a sailing term) fittings go. This is one of the areas I chose to go more complicated rather than less. I went through a TON of glue, so I'm not worried about it delaminating. (Well, I guess I still sort of am, but hopefully that's not warranted. The siding and other pieces should also help with structural integrity...

and if not, well, I've done this once. Why not again!?!

As you can see, the shadows were starting to get long by then, but I was on a roll, so I kept going and started to install the flooring. It wasn't long before it was dark enough that I had to take a break and move inside. (stupid approaching fall)
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This is as far as I made it before my wife got home and I remembered that I needed to borrow an installation kit from a friend to be able to get the ends to snap together nicely. (There's a little claw like tool that helps you be able to hammer on the end of a piece that is up against the wall.

That was fine. It had been a very exciting and productive day, and I was feeling really good about where we were. I still would be able to work in the afternoons after work every day that week, plus all day saturday before our planned trip the Sunday of labor day weekend...
 

wildep

Member
Mar 25, 2022
27
Mid-Michigan
Catchup Part 3: The Week Before Labor Day

Crunch time. Here we go!
I worked on the camper every night after work except Thursday, and worked hard enough that I didn't take a ton of pictures. (sorry) I was trying to hurry but not rush and make mistakes that an amateur like me could avoid.

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The floor is finished and turned out really nicely!

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The rear curvy parts are installed. Notice the plywood "clamp" holding a piece of 1/2" plywood to the rear wall. This is where the spare tire holder will bolt on. (I know I could have clamped this better, but it uses bolts and washers, so I'm really not worried about that part moving. It's just to give me solid material.)

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I'd have to wait to finish that trim piece. Wiring for the marker lights goes through the void inside this front bulkhead. (One of my original plans had been to try to create some storage in this space, but I decided it was too complicated for the tiny amount of space it would provide.

You can also see I began some interior framing. That is the settee that pulls out to make a bed. I used the original parts for measurements, and did not intend to complete the cabinetry before camping. (Remember, the goal was "livable by Labor Day," not "Done by Labor Day") The main goal with this framing was to figure out where extra support pieces needed to go on the side walls.

So then came Saturday. My wife and I both worked on the camper pretty much non-stop from 8 in the morning to 9:30 that night. (She took a couple of breaks to get lunch ready and do some packing.) I worked straight through, except for lunch, and failed to take any pictures. (Again, sorry!)

I started the day thinking I'd get the trailer light wiring done first (in hindsight, "Ha!") I thought it would take about an hour and a half. (again, Ha!) It was a little difficult to figure out where I wanted to run the wiring without it being loose or inaccessible. There are amber tear drop marker lights at the front corners, and red tear drop markers in the rear corners, plus tail lights, a 3 light bar in the middle, and the license plate light. Once I got going, it went alright, but it was a lot of tedious work and a lot of figuring out. (especially locating the license plate, which didn't have a super logical location. I think on the original it mounted right under the left tail light, but I didn't buy a tail light with a license plate combo. The lights are all new, but I tried to stick with the original style, so large round tail lights, tear drop marker lights. I think it came together well, but it took most of my morning.

Then I started reattaching siding. The front and back were completed as part of the tail light project, but the sides were only partly on. A couple clamps and a little wiggling did the trick. Then I realized I forgot to put the foam board in the voids in the walls, so I started over on the sides. (Fortunately, I didn't have a TON to redo. just the short side in front of the door.) So I put the foam board in and got all the sides back together.

Next, I put rubber edge trim along the top of the walls, which looks really good, but now that I have more time, I'm probably going to replace with something a little thinner. (Because of its thickness, the aluminum trim didn't fit back on very well, and in turn the top doesn't close as well as I would like.

After that it was time for the aluminum trim. This got butyl tape on the back, and then many many stainless screws to hold it on. This is where the first major reason we weren't ready by labor day became apparent. I hadn't ordered enough screws. Way back when I ordered screws, I didn't want to over buy, and I thought I'd always have time to get more. Then int he final crunch I forgot and just figured I had ordered enough. I ended up going every other screw, because I figured it would hold for one weekend. (I still think it would have, but it's ok that we didn't go.) Like I said earlier, the aluminum trim didn't fit on as well as it should have because of the thickness of the edge trim making the box wider than the original. Now that I have time, I've ordered other trim, and will fix that.

I replaced the bolts in the roof poles, which was scary because each pole has a strong spring in it that is held in place with the bolts I was replacing. If I had lost one of the springs, I'm not sure how I would've reached down through the pole to get it back, but fortunately I got into a rhythm and didn't loose any!

Then my wife helped me lift the roof back onto the camper. (Which was VERY exciting because now it REALLY looked like a thing you could possibly live in! Reattaching the roof poles went well, and they held the roof up just fine.

But it was 9:30 at night. And we didn't have the canvas on. And we were out of screws to hold the end bunks on, which obviously needed to go on before the canvass could. So I hung my head and admitted defeat and took the final progress picture.
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Pictured: a camper that is definitely NOT livable with Labor day less than 3 hours away.

(But also pictured: a really satisfying culmination of a lot of hard work!)

So we went to bed and got ready to go tent camping tomorrow.
 

wildep

Member
Mar 25, 2022
27
Mid-Michigan
Even though we didn't have a camper, our Labor Day trip was still quite nice. We went to Straits State Park in Michigan on Sunday, walked the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day, camped that night and then came home on Tuesday.
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A cozy campsite, but just not as good as it would have been with our fixed up popup!
 

Oldspurs

Active Member
Jan 2, 2022
275
Central Texas
What an amazing project. A ground up rebuild is a task not many would tackle much less complete. You, Brother, have brought back to life an iconic PUP. IMPRESSIVE! We all are rooting for you. Great Luck with completing the project. See you on the trail.
 




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