An Older Roadtrek: A DIY “This Old House” On Wheels

trekWhy would a dyed in the wool do-it-yourselfer buy an eight year old Roadtrek 210 Popular just to work on it? It was cleaned, waxed, all systems were go and my friends all asked “why would you try to improve on near-perfection?” To make it my own, of course. In point of fact, we all want to make our vehicles distinctly our own. But D.I.Y. Folk like to make things better, to improve things just a tad more than others.

We all are drawn to the quality of design and construction techniques, and quality materials. We D.I.Y. Folk just make it our business to know how everything works.  What we are not told in the dealership or by those who sell us our units, we learn ourselves or with our online community at www.roadtreking.com or by poking and prodding around.

The desire and the patience and a few of the right tools is all it takes. The older Roadtrek models have a special draw as they often need updating and they are less expensive to modify than new.

Typical Roadtrek DIY's include refinished cupboard and cabinet doors, removed or replaced cabinets or seats, new curtains and upholstery, additional electrical outlets, replacement of older electric and electronic items with the new higher tech devices among many other things. And then there's the Ultimate Remake: Solar Panels and wiring. This sits at the top of most every Roadtrek-DIY wish list.

But what motivates someone to do that? Why buy a beautifully designed machine for the purpose of tearing into it just to improve it?

For myself, when I turned 40 I made it my practice to have my auto repairs done at a trusted shop, and I no longer searched to buy “previously owned vehicles.”   I spent the previous 25 years working on “P.O.V's” in the yard, with no garage, in all seasons; and at 40, my life was just too busy to fuss with all that.

About that time we began camping more and seeing a few of these very neat van conversions around state park campgrounds and rustic camping sites. Some of them even had a real neat set of three skylights which looked, so COOL.  But those really COOL ones were made in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada–which compromised my “Buy American Made” philosophy.

DSC_5838So I passed and bought my own van, remade it into a poor imitation of these COOL ones and enjoyed it for a few years. Finally, we were overcome by OUTSTANDING COOLNESS of an Roadtrek 210 and it came time to purchase, I rationalized Canadian was okay. After all, my wife and I have so many Canadian relatives on both sides of our collective family tree we are justified feeling some family allegiance.

I mean, our ancestors hopped back and forth across the Canadian-American border leaving “family droppings” for 150 years.  And I was honored that one of my uncles identified me as “one of the good Yankee Turds.”  Gotta love those Canadians. And so we made the leap.

Daniel BooneWe all have our own story, rationale, reason or compulsion to own a Roadtrek and to make it our own, and I suspect that at least one of Double P's of Pride and Pioneering are at the heart of them all. Neither of these ideas belongs to Americans alone, but they resound prominently throughout our history. Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, Pere Marquette, Conestoga Wagons, Prairie_schooner_(PSF)Little House on the Prairie, and Neal Armstrong* are wound through the very core of our national fabric and inspire us. Not too many public figures are so inspiring today, but if we admit it, our own personal endeavors often have these two ideals at their core.

But how does the DIY behavior come about? How do you take a complex machine, tear into it, tear it apart and put it back together better than it was? Experience. Homeowners have varying degrees of it depending how much maintenance they do themselves. Electrical, plumbing, carpentry, woodworking, even decorating are all skills which can give DIYers the courage to charge into the fray.

Along with the courage and skills, you also need tools.Elec Tools

SU-pex-pipe2When I installed the hydronic under-floor heating in my family room, I learned about PEX plumbing, bought the tools, spent the time and gained the experience working with the same materials used in the plumbing of the Roadtrek I would later buy. While I'm out in my Trek now, I don’t want a leak or a drip, but if I get one I feel confident I can handle it.

Electrical problems and projects around my house helped me deal with my RT as well. (My dad always told me electricity was safe as long as I only touched one wire at a time…it takes care, but it works.) I have since learned to turn off the power before beginning.  That lesson and my muilti-meter are my two most valuable tools.

I have owned fibreglass fishing boats, so came experience for the care and repair of the hull of my 210.

DodgeAutomotive? Well, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, when you could still work on a car without the hindrance of built-in technology, gave me the opportunity for experience in auto mechanics.

Note that I am saying “experience”, not expertise. Experience gives you the courage to try out something  in an area where you feel moderately comfortable. Expertise comes from experts. And experts can be found in person and on the interwebs and can provide information to make the going immeasurably easier.

And when insurmountable problems arise, you consult real-life experts in brick and mortar places. Brake jobs; mysterious relays and fuses which combine to cause erratic flashing and dimming; drips falling from a place inaccessible except by raising your 5 ton Trek overhead; and fiberglass cowlings crunched in by snow drifts that were really disguised ice mounds, have each sent me to real-life experts and turned out not to be DIY for me at all.

And not every project is DIY alone. Some are DIY-FIY. Do It Yourself Finance It Yourself.  These require much planning and consideration before their undertaking…and time enough to save your pennies to pay for it. Solar panels are like that. As I write this, my computer is recharging from my Roadtrek batteries which were topped off by my newly installed Solar Panel System from www.amsolar.com . I have one 135 watt solar panel and a solar panel controller and temperature sensor. Two more panels can be installed and a new battery pack and inverter may be added if I decide to make my trek go off the grid entirely.  How did all this happen? Experience in similar endeavors gave me courage, and I followed advice and instruction from the web, from AM Solar and from my many Facebook Friends on Roadtreking: the Group.

help from my friendsThis DIY thing is really DIYWALHFYF, or Do-It-Yourself-With-A Little-Help-From-Your-Friends

When you really think about it, our independence, our pride and our pioneering are woven throughout and within our community, and we all are better for it.  So like most all of us, DIYer or not, we get by with a little help from our friends and we all benefit from Doing It Yourself–Together.

 

 

 

*That “pioneer list” is far longer and wonderfully varied for each American. Who is on yours?neal armstrong

 

 





  • Darryl DeFreese

    Hi Jim — how did you attach your panels to the roof?

    • Darryl.. The panels come with four angle brackets with the side of the bracket which mounts on the Trek (the foot) measuring about 3/4 inches by 1 1/2 inches. They supply pre-attached 3M tape to hold them on and recommend that for installations on fiberglass roofs like mine. On corrugated or textured roofs they also supply two screws per bracket. To cover the whole “foot” of each bracket they supply a self-leveling caulk which seals it all up. Since my trek is older I used both the tape and the screws, pre-drilling for each screw as I went. The tape holds the bracket and provides a membrane to stop water coming in through the screws. The sealing compound is something very cool, and seals the whole thing up. It really isn’t hard. The toughest thing was getting the ladder up to the Trek so I wouldn’t scratch the sides.

  • Dale Anson

    Hey! I recognize my Roadtrek and my wife and my driveway in the photos in your article. I don’t recall you installing the solar panels on it though, I recall doing that myself.

    • Dale, I apologize for the mistake. I have many images of Roadtreks on my drive and I popped one in as a placeholder while drafting this blog. I should have rechecked the image but I didn’t and I posted your van by mistake. There is no excuse for the error and I apologize. Jim Phipps