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Old 04-22-2014, 09:44 AM   #1
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Posts: 54
New member, restoring 1977 Class C

Hi, I've been browsing this forum for information to help in my Class restoration project for a month now and decided I should join in.
I'm a life long tent camper and backpacker but started enjoying the luxury of using a travel trailer 4 years ago with my then boyfriend. When we broke up 2 months ago he bought me out on our little 19' Road Runner and I realized I would really miss having all those conveniences for my road trips and kayak outings, especially since I have semi retired this year and plan to retire fully in 2015 and have so much time to work on my bucket list.

Since I would have been severely limited in trailer selection due to driving a Subaru, I decided to look for a Class C or B (both of which the ex and I had frequently rented on trips out West). I found a super-vintage 1977 Elkhart with less than 28,000 miles on it, built on a Ford E350 Chateau. The owner had made many upgrades in the 4 years he had it including a brand new large two door Dometic fridge, 6 new tires, 2 new deep cycle batteries and many tweaks and services (got an entire box of service records and reciepts going back to the 1955 pink slip.) Classic 1970's decor of burnt orange shag carpet, harvest gold bath and kitchen fixtures, floral wallcovering in the bath and lots of paneling. I plan to retain and enhance the retro look and it just needs a lava lamp to complete the ambiance. Runs like a champ. Of course there is always a rat in the woodpile somewhere and of course the issue here was the classic Class C demon, cabover leakage. The seller admitted it was "damp" in the bunk and I could smell some mildew, but he said he had sealed it the previous season. The price was so low I figured I would deal with it ($3,500) and we closed the deal.

As soon as it was warm enough to work on it I started tearing out the bunk area and discovered a real horror show. Someone had previously dealt with the soaked plywood by simply adding another sheet of plywood on top! I pulled that off, also cutting the warped and waterlogged MDF bunk slider shelf out and removing it. The original plywood below, which rested on the cab shell in the middle and had been screwed from below to the side wall framing to support the whole bunk, was 90% decayed to nothing but handfulls of wet blackened mulch. Removing the paneling from the walls revealed not just water rotted wood but that 40% of the 2 x 4 under the front window had been devoured by termites -- not my imagination as there was a pile of dead termites in the wall. I shudder to think of anyone sleeping up there as the smell of decay and the insects was disgusting.

But I'm a handy girl (have all my own tools and have worked in construction and completely remodeled my own homes for decades) and welcome a challenge, so I scooped and cut every bit of destroyed wood out. Weighed it before I set it out for the trash and there was over 250 lobs of decayed and waterlogged junk in there that was completely unsupported from the side walls, just resting on about 3' of the cab frame and mostly on the sheet metal, which of course had created gaps and tears at the seams on the corners of the exterior skin. Also saw while working in it during a rain storm that water was pouring in around the front window frame. I've been photo-documenting the demo and will eventually post a blow by blow of the rebuild.

The biggest challenge has been extracting the screws that held everything together Prior owners had used drywall screws through the skin to hold some added components in place so those of course had rusted to near oblivion. But what really bugged me is that the original factory build (by Elkhart) had used steel sheet metal screws with either hex drive or square drive and more than a third of them were so corroded that the heads no longer were usable for extraction. I had to use a bent tip needle-nosed pliers to grip the rusted blobs that remained and laboriously turn each screw, millimeters at a time, to get them removed from the sheet metal and what remained of the wood backing. i was appalled at the cheapness of the construction -- the framing looks like old shipping crate scrap, cobbled together with staples and rusted nails. And why the heck would a company use such water absorbing materials in an installation known to be vulnerable to moisture damage??

But now all the offending materials are out and I have the skin detached from the corner edge screw moldings and peeled loose from the seam over the windshield and up to the roof line. I have decided that the front window is just a liability for leakage and brings in too much solar heat. So, since I am not salvaging it and because all the edges of the outer skin wrapping from the roof to under the cab have holes and ragged edges from having all the rot laying on it for years, I plan to cut the sheet metal just below the roof line and have a sheet metal fab shop make me one big piece, with a 3" lip folded back under at the top and bottom.

Once I rebuild the side framing (using rot proof cedar framing reinforced with aluminum channel to cantilever the bunk weight from the strong upright framing behind the cab doors) I will use double faced Eternabond to seal the overlapping roof skin to the new sheet metal (the preformed lip should block water being driven under as well) and shoot stainless steel square drive screws through the seam for rigid connection. Then I will wrap the solid metal down under the cabover and seal it the same way. Then I will wrap the 90 degree skin seams between the side walls and wrapped skin with 4" Eternabond and reinstall the aluminum molding over the seams with more of the stainless screws, driving into the new wood inside. The new deck bed will be a welded mesh shelf like a trundle bed flat screen (also custom built by a fab shop) supported by aluminum channel on the sides and front with a center support of cedar 2 x 4. Before sealing up the walls and floor with solid foam insulation ( to replace the pink fiberglass fluff that was just a hotel for insects) I will spray the inside aluminum with truck bed coating for insulation, protection and sound deadening. Instead of wood paneling, I have solid PVC to cover the internal framing. Will also build a fabric padded headboard with sewn in pockets for tissues, glasses, etc.

I'm hoping all this will make a "better mousetrap".

Has anybody here had experience having a metal fabrication shop create replacement skin sections or other components for their rig?

Anyway, hi to everybody and I have already found some great information on here for getting my "old girl" on the road. Looking forward to learning more.

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Old 04-22-2014, 09:52 AM   #2
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Welcome to the forum Willowleaf!!! Sounds like you have quite a project.(Pictures are always welcome) Please keep us posted on your progress.

Roger & Karen Johnson
2015 Discovery 40E
2010 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
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Old 04-22-2014, 12:14 PM   #3
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You sure have a lot of work ahead of you, but it sounds like you have a handle on it. Have you thought of using fiberglass panel for your front cab over wall ?
2014 Itasca Spirit 31K
2016 Mazda CX5, on an Acme tow dolly, 4 trips 5800mi
Now 2017 RWD F 150 with a drive shaft disconnect
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Old 04-22-2014, 12:22 PM   #4
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Hello and welcome to the group!
You may want a moderator to move this thread to the "Vintage "group for your questions and leave the other thread in the new members group. Some one in the vintage group will have a answer for you.
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Old 04-22-2014, 09:14 PM   #5
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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photos of demo

Here are photos of the initial cabover demo. Note the blackened termite damage directly under the left hand side of the rear window. I filled that trash can twice with decomposed plywood and MDF.
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Old 04-22-2014, 09:45 PM   #6
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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more views of the "old girl" (not me, the RV)

Here she is, before the teardown began. Since then I have scraped off most of the faded decals and cleaned up and painted the front left wheel white to match the other 3. Also replaced the rotted and delaminated plywood under the bumper mount plastic storage trunk with Trex composite decking slats. And, of course, peeled the front siding off from the lights down to the windshield. For a 37 year old Ford that has spent her whole life in western PA and eastern Ohio (road salt country) she is remarkably solid and rust free.
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Old 04-22-2014, 10:06 PM   #7
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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Photo of removal of skin from frame

Another photo of where the demo is at this point. Notice the side walls and lower skin are now separated. ALL the wood under the side wall framing was totally rotted away as well as the curved wood that shaped the nose of the extension across the front, meaning the plywood bunk was completely unsupported from the structure and resting on the sheet metal below. This is why nobody should just ignore leakage in the cabover and cover it up. Hiding it just makes it worse. It amazes me the whole mess did not break through the skin seam onto the cab windshield.
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Old 04-22-2014, 11:15 PM   #8
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A good sheet metal or awning shop should be able to duplicate the pattern in your exterior metal. I did that some years ago when I had to do similar work on a cabover camper. You've made a good decision to eliminate the front window.
Tim Bowman
Burien, WA
1994 Fleetwood Montara
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Old 04-27-2014, 11:08 PM   #9
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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got a new skin

I did find a great local metal shop with an amazing array of stock including sheet aluminum in every form imaginable. They cut me exactly the width and length I need of 0.040" (18 gauge) smooth aluminum painted white on both sides, with a plastic protective skin on one face, for $115. I think the smooth finish, rather than the standard corrugated stock, will look fine, and give me a nice surface for a custom graphic, if I choose to do that.

Now I just have to figure out a way to rig a work platform over the cab hood so I can get up there and cut the old skin cleanly across a couple inches above the forward window. From there I will replace the interior framing, then screw, pop-rivet and Eternabond the new metal in a seam to the old skin coming off the roof, and wrap it down and around the nose to overlap and seal above the cab. Probably rent a pneumatic stapler to fasten the corner seams prior to screwing the angle trim back on.

Gonna rain ALL this week so the project is on hold until next weekend at least. I hope the tarp and bungee job I did sealing it up for now keeps the birds and bugs out of it until then. It's a drag not having a garage or driveway for this project.
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Old 04-27-2014, 11:14 PM   #10
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Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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tips on freshening up the rig

Does anybody have tips for freshening up the mustiness of the RV? It is much better since I removed all the mildewed wood and paneling and aired it out as well as leaving the blinds open to get sun in on several bright days. But the previous owner did smoke inside a bit and there is some residual sort of moldy smell to it. I was planning to scrub down the panelling and other surfaces well with orange oil cleaner and maybe spray the carpeting well with Febreze. I managed to eventually freshen up a car I bought from a heavy smoker years ago with that protocol, but any other suggestions would be welcome. I'm sure seasonal mustiness is a not uncommon problem with stored RV's.
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Old 04-28-2014, 02:01 AM   #11
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The best way too kill all odors is with an ozone generator. Like an air purifier. Most are crap on the market. You may be able to just rent one. The ozone will break down all smells, it may take some time (days) but it will work. If you want too buy one and keep it, check out rgf.com and see what small units they have. Their "Plug in Plus" unit should work very well. This one is good for use after you are done with your rehab, a stronger one, of the ozone type, is needed first too kill all the mold spores etc...
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Old 04-28-2014, 06:31 AM   #12
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Your rebuild sounds like a good project. Good luck! It sounds like you're doing a good job. Keep the final weight in mind though. Those older C's don't have a lot of leeway between empty and gross weights.

Standard drywall screws, square drive, and 1" crown staples are the norm. SS screws will make any later work easier. My early 90's C is a sandwich of 2x2's, 1 1/2" foam, with 1/8" luan for the "bread".

Some years ago I "discovered" the Kreg jig that drills pocket holes for butt joints in wood. It avoids running screws into weak end grain. It's worth a look.

A couple of years ago I redid my entire back wall in Youngstown-in January. I just replaced the rotted framing with standard hem/fir. Everything I found that bonded well to rot resistant lumber ate the foam. That bond to the foam provided a lot of the walls's strength. I did find a place just north of Youngstown, OH that carries 1/8 " luan- all interior grade though.

A pneumatic brad gun, 1/4" crown stapler and a small air compressor are good investments. The Harbor freight versions are likely good enough. The combo brad nailer/ staplers are not so good. Some of my tools are left over from my contracting days but most newer stuff is HF.

I'm doing a cabin rebuild just up the road from you in "beautiful" Carroll county Ohio. That means I have to go to Mc Donalds for wifi!

Oh, if your spare tire is on the back, keep and a close watch on it. My spare caused flexing going down the road which resulted in the leaks that destroyed the back wall.

You might want to look at Lowes/HDep and look at a peel and stick flashing material. It is like Etermnabond but cheaper and has foil on one side. I applied it to the walls below the floor level before I reglued the fiberglass skin as extra protection.

mangy dog
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Old 04-28-2014, 03:50 PM   #13
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Keep in mind that unlike metals connected together will create their own corrosion through electrolytic action. Make sure you get some barrier between the aluminum and galvanized steel.
Bill Lynch
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Old 04-29-2014, 10:23 PM   #14
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I find Lysol stray and Febreze really help with those moldy odors. Our old 1993 Class-C still has a bit of moldy rotten wood odor and we've decided to just live with it.

Retired. RVing with one husband and five cats.
1999 32' Fleetwood Southwind Class-A. Ford V10.
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