Purchasing a preowned motorhome and making some updates and modifications has resulted in a comfortable coach customized for its occupants.
By Ralph Taynton, F314345
In our travels we often encounter fellow RVers who pine for a new motorhome, with dreams of varying features not present in their existing traveling abodes.
Mine is a case in point. Fifteen years ago I purchased a 1972 Newell motorhome whose size and basic layout satisfied our needs. It contained sleeping arrangements for six and more storage space than we had seen in any other 32-foot motorhome. It featured a dinette across from a couch, which provided a “conversation area,” and a bathroom with a large shower. Its heavy-duty gas-pusher drivetrain rode on 22.5-inch tires.
The customizing began with replacing the gas engine and generator with diesel. This seems like a rather drastic modification, but not when considering that diesel pushers weren’t as prevalent at the time, even in the 40-foot range. We built one of the first in a length suitable for backroad driving and dry camping. Additional features “” which included 100-gallon water and waste tanks, 100-gallon diesel capacity (to which we added a 50-gallon tank with a reversible fuel transfer pump), two basement air conditioners, two furnaces, a 5-foot C-band satellite dish, power steering, air brakes, and an Allison automatic transmission “” provided the basics on which to build.
Much of our customizing was driven by the desire to replace, redesign, or repair items that had been prone to failure. Some of it was motivated by the realization that there were features in the coach that we simply did not need. Over the ensuing 15 years we have modified or installed a number of items to make our travels easier and more comfortable.
Fifteen years ago, when combination microwave-convection ovens were relatively new, our installation of a small one provided relief from the heat emitted by the original conventional oven in the motorhome.
In the refrigerator, correction of poor temperature distribution and the requirement for frequent defrosting both were accomplished by suspending a small fan from the underside of the top shelf. This 12-volt fan runs continuously when the refrigerator is in operation.
Installation of an ice maker in the refrigerator’s freezer compartment satisfied our insatiable appetite for iced drinks.
The constant noise of dishes rattling while traveling was eliminated by construction of racks that secure the dishes in individual slots. Separating them each time with bubble packs is no longer necessary.
Our cooking entails frequent use of a variety of spices. Converting a shallow cabinet into a dedicated rack that captures spice bottles in a milled groove created the space efficiency needed to provide the variety.
A typical RV-type gas range allowed anything spilled or splashed to pass down to the inner workings. Construction of a new cooktop from parts acquired from a modern household range with sealed gas burners, surrounded by stainless-steel panels, provided relief from this malady. Electronic ignition also eliminated the need for a pilot light and the associated odor.
As an adjunct to the surface unit redesign, the no-longer-needed gas oven was removed and replaced with drawers for storing cooking utensils, including one deep enough to stow very large pots and an “antique” electric pressure pot.
As avid readers, we saw a need for adequate storage and display of books, and we also wanted VCR tape storage. Construction and installation of a large wall-mounted bookshelf with hinged rods to retain the contents satisfied both requirements.
Design and installation of aluminum covers to replace the ever-deteriorating and warping plastic covers over the roof vents has completely eliminated the need for frequent replacement. At the same time, installation of a manufactured fan unit over one vent has served to help cool the living space.
Particularly during the hot summers of North America and Central America, having the diesel engine situated under the bedroom kept the entire living area in the coach uncomfortably warm. Installation of a manual switch on the hydraulically powered radiator fan provided a means of cooling the engine by running the fan continuously while the engine is on.
Outside, clamshell air scoops alongside the driver and passenger seats go a long way toward keeping the coach cool when on the open highway. Air conditioning is rarely needed except during city driving, something we shy away from anyway.
A computer workstation provides for a variety of uses. Situated in the cockpit, the computer is equipped with mapping and routing software complete with real-time GPS location software. Navigation has become a no-brain, shame-on-you-if-you-get-lost operation. The computer also provides us the ability to access the Internet and e-mail through a cell phone without having to locate a landline.
A daily log and information for documenting trips is enhanced with a printer housed in a dedicated cabinet. The printer also provides us with copies of photographs taken with a digital camera.
Near the computer we keep a plethora of reference information contained on CDs. World atlases, in addition to the U.S. atlases used for navigation; a medical desk reference; U.S. phone books; encyclopedias; a dictionary; and a massive cookbook provide a library of reference information not otherwise accessible to RV travelers.
Utilities and Facilities
Anticipating an extended trip and residence through Central America and into Panama, we installed a complete multi-filter water purification system. A particle filter, followed by a charcoal filter for taste and smell, then slow passage through ultraviolet (UV) irradiation provides bottled water quality to everything going into the coach tank. Because the UV irradiation requires slow filling of the tank, a window was cut into the end of the tank to accommodate a float valve for an automatic shutoff, and it also allows for a visual inspection of the water level. This system was particularly useful throughout areas of Mexico and Central America where water was supplied to campsites only for short periods of the day.
Because the coach was designed for use in the northern United States, all tank compartments contain heaters “” electric and an engine hot water system “” that are thermostatically controlled.
Entertainment electronics consist of a TV, a VCR, an AM-FM radio, and a CD player. The original 5-foot satellite dish was removed and replaced by an 18-inch DSS dish mounted to the original positioner. The remote automatic position control, which was equipped with an automatic failure mode, was replaced by a custom-designed electrical position control and readout. The crank-up broadcast TV antenna is enhanced with a high-gain commercial distribution amplifier.
All electronics, including the computer workstation, are powered by a dedicated 550-watt, frequency-controlled inverter, and battery maintenance while parked is provided by a high-capacity marine Constavolt battery charger. Battery power is contained in four 6-volt golf cart batteries for the house and an 8-D chassis battery. To assure recovery in any circumstances, the 7.5-kw diesel generator is served by its own totally isolated starting battery.
The automatic entry step that came on the coach suffered severe damage several times after failing to retract, thus hitting curbs, rocks, and speed bumps. Removing the electric actuator and replacing it with a mechanism directly attached to the door ensures that the step deploys and retracts without fail.
As an adjunct to the installation of the diesel generator, overall diesel fuel capacity was increased from 100 gallons to 150 gallons by the addition of a supplemental tank. A reversible fuel pump can transfer fuel between both tanks to be used for either application. The coach’s 1,500-mile range has been very useful in managing fuel shortages and costs by buying where the price is low. Two additional fuel filters have contributed significantly to cleaning up the dirty fuel found in some of the backcountry stations south of the border. Placement in a location convenient for servicing the filters and the installation of input and output valves has made element changes easy.
A side-mounted radiator with a hydraulic-driven suction fan cools better with raw air from the outside and does not subject the radiator to stones thrown by the fan blades.
Several expensive repairs to the transmission directed better cooling for its oil. A marine oil cooler in the line from the radiator bottom reservoir to the engine intake keeps the oil in a safe temperature range under all conditions.
Single-use belts for power steering and for the alternator place less strain on each. All other engine-mounted accessories are gear-driven, thus not affected by belt failure.
Dash gauges provide readings of turbo boost, engine rpm, and speed, as well as temperatures of radiator output and engine block, engine oil, and transmission oil. Battery voltage of house and engine batteries and alternator output in amps are provided; engine oil pressure, fuel levels for both tanks, and fuel pressure to the main engine are displayed as well.
A recent modification consisted of replacing all stop, turn, tail, and clearance lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These 200,000-hour lights are hardwired, with no sockets to corrode, and require less than one-tenth the current of those they have replaced. A future replacement of all interior lights with LEDs will significantly reduce battery draw while dry camping.
A front-mounted bike rack holds a bike with no straps, strings, or ropes. The bike is secured in its rack by one padlock.
A tow bar designed for the towable allows the car driver to see the coupler during approach to place it directly over the hitch ball. No hookup is faster, safer, simpler, or as inexpensive.
All of these modifications have added to our comfort on board our “not new but nifty” home on wheels.