Monday, December 26, 2016


We need to keep carrying these danged things because we do most of our overnights in boondocking locations that are never made-to-order flat, like a paid campground space would be.  But they take up one heck of a lot of precious Class B storage space under our couch.
The space-hogging objects of my love-hate relationship:  Fourteen Valterra stackers, two wheel stops, and two chocks. 
It takes all fourteen stackers to level our Airstream Interstate in our driveway.  However, I recently completed these four wooden ramps that were custom-made for home use with the Interstate - you can see one of them under the wheel in the pic above.  For that reason, I no longer need to keep hauling out the Valterras every single time we do driveway DIY - I can stash them and use them only when we set up camp.  For that reason, it was time to free up some interior space by finding most of them a new home.

To make a long story short, I searched the entire under-chassis area for the best nook for them.  I initially also thought about putting them on the roof, but my husband vetoed that idea.  This is what I came up with as best contender space for adaptation - on top of two of the outriggers that support our Class B's extensive OEM running boards and ground effects.
I've learned from experience that, if I want to sell my husband on an idea, I first need to produce convincing proof of concept.
Stackers and wheel stops balanced on two yard sticks for the purposes of illustration to show that they could be made secure there, and that they are far enough away from the muffler so that heat should not be an issue.
Spousal approval secured, I proceeded with design.
We had eighth-inch angle iron and steel flat bar left over from our custom hitch carrier project.  I picked out some pieces to fashion into a shallow tray. 
My very first metal saw cut.  I'm getting more comfortable with this stuff.  Not necessarily more skilled, but more comfortable. 
Here's what the tray looked like dry-fit, after I got done cutting the pieces.  It weighs about 8 pounds.  
My husband is focused primarily on our ongoing electrical re-wire and lithium battery retrofit (blog posts to come), and I did not want him to divert to this little project of mine for one minute longer than necessary.  Eventually I will be able to do the welding - I'm convinced that anyone who knows how to sew can also learn how to weld properly.  The whole metalworking process is very similar to working with textile - it's just that the "textile" is one hell of a lot more durable than your average broadcloth.  But in the interest of expediency, I did every phase of the project, including set-up and take-down, from concept through execution, except for the actual welding, which took about 30 minutes of my husband's time.  And then he spent another 30 to 45 minutes helping me to re-work some zip tie holes, which I'll describe a bit further on.  

After the welding was completed, I used an angle grinder to obsessively deburr the workpiece.  This tray doesn't have to look pretty because nobody is going to see it under the chassis, but few things irk me more than reaching to grab something and getting sliced by a steel hangnail somewhere.  It has to be as smooth as a baby's butt.  
I just found the most a propos meme of all time.  With our daughter out of town visiting other family and with our own Christmas observance having taken place a few days ago, I did almost all of this project on Christmas Day 2016.  And yes, right now my welds suck.  But I'll get better with more practice.  
After deburring, there came a couple of coats of Rustoleum.  And then came the attachment to the outriggers, at which point arose the first of two project confounds.  With DIY, there are always unforeseen project challenges that must be overcome, no matter how small the project.
Do you see where my finger is pointing at the top of the photo?  That is a down-dropped curved surface of the chassis.  For as long as I was loading and unloading stackers on two Lowes wooden yard sticks, that curve was not a problem.  But as soon as I added the "lip" around the shallow tray, a clearance issue manifested.  For that reason, I'm now anticipating reaching under and loading / unloading the stackers from the aft end rather than the fore, which is great if you're a left-handed person.  Maybe not so much if you're a rightie.  But I can live with it.  
The second issue took a bit more work to resolve.
I was originally planning to attach this tray to the outriggers in a very straightforward, fuss-free manner.  However I decided that my original plan wasn't sufficiently secure.  Therefore, I needed to drill holes through which I could run strong zip ties.  Here I am marking the hole positions with the workpiece in place.  
I said to my husband, "If I were really good at this, I would have anticipated the need for these holes, measured them in, and drill-pressed them even before this thing was welded."  He sputtered and replied, "If you were that good, you would no longer be a DIYer.  You'd be a professional and people would be paying you a lot of money."
You know the drill.  
See, this is what I mean.  Each zip tie will go around the structural member of the outrigger.

Ladies, if you do this kind of work, forget about manicures.  It's just not possible.   
My husband helped with a triangular file to square up the zip tie sides of the holes so that they'd be a little less likely to cut into the edges of the zip ties, as a circular hole would tend to do.  And I used a Dremel tool to smooth those edges a bit. 
After we got done punching these holes, I had to repeat my initial de-greasing of the workpiece and re-paint the scuffed up areas, and the new holes.  Labor, labor, labor.  DIY always takes more time than it seems it should.
It's important to get paint into the inner surfaces of the holes.  
These are the zip ties I used.
Over-spec'd at 120 lbs., but the stackers were going to be sliding by them, so I wanted them to be durable.  I cut off the long ends with wire cutters.  
In order to protect the 8 stackers (two groups of 4) from road grit, I wrapped them in scraps of tarp the way a grocer might wrap a couple of pot roasts in butcher paper.
I had the tarp scraps left over from the dirt cover I made for our hitch carrier.  Each piece was around 33 inches by 22 inches. 
Here's a close-up of the rack as attached to the outrigger by zip tie, and this pic reveals why I was so keen on using zip ties.  I have a large job ahead of me to sand down and re-paint the outriggers themselves, as they are rusting after a decade of environmental exposure.  When the time comes to do that job, I'll just snip the zip ties, remove this apparatus, and have unimpeded access to both the outriggers and the underside of the fiberglass ground effects, which I would like to clean and seal with a protective coating as well.
Into every Class B life, a little corrosion will fall.  Trust me on that one. 
EDIT MARCH 4, 2017:  I describe cleaning and refinishing of these grounds effects supports in this post.  Here below is a pic showing one of the pieces sealed using silver-colored POR-15, which is wonderful stuff.

We interrupt this blog post for a picture of our expressive dog, whose sour face indicates that she's sick and tired of me spending my time underneath this camper van when I really should be taking her on interesting walks instead.
"When are you going to get tired of crawling under that damned thing?!" 
This has to be the most un-glamorous money shot of all time.  Remember, it's the underside of a ten-year-old van.  It's a big rough looking.
The 8 stackers are wrapped like pot roasts and then held to the tray with bungee cords.  The two wheel stops are cinched in place to the tray with heavy velcro.  This represents a significant reclamation of interior cargo space. 
For the time being, I might keep the six other stackers inside the van for those times when I just need a quick, shallow lift in a Cracker Barrel parking lot, two stackers high, an application which doesn't call for wheel stoppers.  But for those other times when the Earth is hell-bent on being inconveniently curved, the rest of this kit will be here under the chassis waiting to be deployed as needed.
Well, I do, now.  Sort of.  

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