How I Turned a Camper Disaster into a Positive

My plans for Honeybear, the tiny Scotty camper, two weeks ago: paint, wallpaper, redecorate, new floor, and maybe—if I was still feeling crafty after all that—make a new bed. I worried that with work and blogging and only three months to go before my take-off date, I might not have time to make everything as I envisioned. So, I started scraping old wallpaper from the walls as soon as the camper returned from the mechanic.

Tearing off the wallpaper seemed like a big project at the time.

Tearing off the wallpaper seemed like a big project at the time.

The dining area wallpaper came off easy enough but working around the bed frame proved to be a pain. I tossed the bed cushions and plywood out into the lawn. With the area laid bare, I noticed a spot to the right of the back window where the wall bubbled, like paper that’s gotten wet and been left to dry again.

Perched on the bed frame, I picked at the spot with my scraping tool. A small, thin section of wood immediately detached from the wall. I poked the corner of the scraper behind it and another section flaked from the wall. I wondered, “Did I remember that spot feeling damp after a hard rain when I lived in the camper?”

Water leaks are kryptonite to aluminum campers; the only solution is often a complete rebuild. If you leave a leak to continue eating at your camper frame, you could find yourself flying down the road at sixty miles an hour only to see your camper fold in on itself through your rear-view mirror. “No, definitely did not remember that,” I decided.

The first signs.

The first signs.

But the wood still needed replacing, so I snapped a photo of the flaking wall and posted it to the “Serro Scotty Camper Enthusiast” Facebook group with the comment: Any advice on replacing this wood stuff?

The Enthusiasts all came to the same conclusion—water damage.

  • The First Response: Is the exterior swollen or popping anywhere? Usually, any water tracking inside requires you to pull the skin and rebuild from the inside out and re-butyl the windows.

  • The Second: You should pull the window so you can see how much area has been affected. You don’t need to pull the skins just yet, you need to cut the inside panels to expose the wet area? Remember water travels down so need to follow it and see where is coming from take some photos stepping back a bit so we can see the window out. Good luck!

  • The Final Response: Complete rebuild

I refused to believe them. I was not going to completely rebuild the damn camper; it survived for thirty-five years, now I just needed it to last one more. That weekend, I decided to replace the section of the wall, re-caulk around the window, and call it a day. I’d finish the whole project in time to see Captain Marvel at the drive-in.

The Final Response: Complete rebuild

I cut the bubbly wall out with a box cutter. As I sliced along the corner, brown, rotten wood fell to dust from the corner brace. “Ok, it’s minor water damage,” I thought. “Really, I knew that before I began.” Replacing the brace looked simple enough. I pulled back a little more from the corner to determine how long the replacement wood needed to run and found more rotten wood on the vertical support piece— then the to beam going across the back, and then the second beam, and then the bottom corner, and then I poked a screwdriver at the floor and had to catch myself as my whole hand disappeared through rotten plywood. Everything within six of the camper’s ten interior feet needed to be pulled out and rebuilt.

The Repair:

Fixing the Structure:

Along the right side of the camper, almost every piece of wood needed to be replaced. In the bottom right corner, the wood had deteriorated so badly, a thin strip of plastic meant to round-out the corner was the only thing keeping the adjoining wood in place. The left side fared better, but also needed a few pieces popped out and replaced.

“Popping out” the wood meant battling with buckets of concrete-thick wood glue and thousands of construction staples. At many points, I was forced to gain leverage with a pry bar in the semi-rotten wood so I could force the healthy sections out from the grip of the staples. In other sections, I sawed the wood in half and smacked it with a hammer until it flew out of place.

*The Positive: The deconstruction taught me everything there is to know about the camper’s structure. I know which stretches of wood can be depended on to hold weight and what is simply keeping the aluminum in place. The reconstruction has made me confident. If a problem comes up on the road, I can steer myself into a Lowes parking lot and fix most (some) problems.

Replacing the Floor:

Getting the old floor out was harder than I first imagined. While in theory, I should have been able to unbolt the wood and carry it out, the bolts were sealed into the metal trailer frame with Flex Seal. A few of the bolts, I managed to cut off with a hacksaw, but most of the floor was torn apart piece by piece. My mother and brother joined me in the camper (all thirteen feet) and we attacked the floor with handsaws, prybars, and a big ass hammer. After about a day of mayhem and four stitches sewn into my mom’s ankle, the floor lay in shreds on the grass.

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*The Positive: While the metal trailer was exposed, I sanded off the surface rust and resealed the crossbeams supporting the camper’s structure. I also sandwiched an insulation board between two pieces of plywood, which makes the floor feel noticeably more stable and will help manage temperatures inside. Once the walls are painted, I plan to put down fresh laminate floor to make the space feel homier.

Putting Up New Walls:

The insulation board and fiberglass ready to be covered.

The insulation board and fiberglass ready to be covered.

Everywhere the leak led me, the walls were destroyed. I took four trash bags stuffed with chunks of wall and old insulation to the curb for the garbage. The job of replacing them required a lot of precise measurements, a skill I’ve never quite picked up. So, I measured, cut, measured again, cut again, and then forced the new walls into place with my feet as I screwed them into place. A few ugly seams between pieces remain visible but will be hidden behind wallpaper when I’m done.

*The Positive: The old insulation only created a very thin barrier between the exterior and interior walls (and was probably filled with asbestos). I replaced that material with new fiberglass insulation. Hopefully, as I travel through deserts, and mountains, and every other climate the United States has to offer, I will notice the new insulation keeping me comfortable and look back on those frustrating days spent measuring and cutting and know they were worth the effort.

What’s Left To Do:

Paint, wallpaper, install new floor, redecorate, and make a new bed—so I’m basically back to zero.

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