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How to Help Build Your Own RV

build8I was given a unique opportunity over the past few months. I had been hanging out at the Roadtrek factory last fall and this spring, and Jim Hammill the president asked me to help design and build a new Roadtrek which would include many prototype features. And, when we were done, I was going to drive away in it. Boy, did that get my attention.

It was going to take something special to get me out of my 2003 Chevy, which I had put hundreds of hours into customizing and modifying so that I could fulltime and boondock to my heart’s content.  Everything was all set up to run my electronics, we had our storage figured out so that we had everything we needed and a way to get to it easily, and we were just comfortable in it. It was home. But I had started with a completed unit when I fixed the 2003 up. What if you could start with a bare chassis and design it to spec, not modify it? That was the deciding factor.

Here's the chassis as I first saw it, sitting in the storage lot.
Here’s the chassis as I first saw it, sitting in the storage lot.

First thing to do is pick the right chassis. I had started with a 155 inch wheelbase Chevy one ton chassis, beefed up the suspension to carry the added weight of my batteries and other stuff, and attached a cargo carrier box to the rear to carry my bulky satellite dish setup. Why not get a chassis that would do everything, as built? That’s what we did. The Mercedes Sprinter 170 inch wheelbase extended body would carry both the weight and the storage volume, all in one tidy package, without all the add-on stuff.

Let's see... a chassis and a rack of components to install. This should be easy.
The chassis and a rack of components to install.

I was pretty much just a spectator as the process began and the stripping and cutting took place – this was no job for an amateur.  The bumpers and other components came off, the tanks and so forth were fitted and bolted in, and it was starting to look like a Roadtrek.   Sort of.  If you had a lot of imagination.  The windows were fitted and we were on our way to the assembly departments for further work like solar panel installation and leak testing.

The blue foam floor holds the Alde heating system plumbing.
The blue foam subfloor holds the Alde system plumbing.

After the wiring harness was installed, it was time to start roughing out the interior, and I could pitch in, working with the Roadtrek employees to assemble my new baby. The cabinets and subfloor went in, just to give us an idea of where things would be so that we could fit the interesting parts into the existing framework. Still a lot of loose wires and unconnected pipes, but it was starting to gel.  It took less imagination to picture yourself inside an RV now.

Davy performing electronic alchemy. We put him over in the far corner of the R&D area in case that sucker got loose.
Davy performing electronic alchemy. We put him over in the far corner of the R&D area in case that sucker got loose.

Once the basics were completed, we got down to the super secret stuff, and things slowed WAY down compared to the normal production process, which can build a complete Roadtrek in days. Instead of pre-assembled parts on a rack ready to install, we had strange things on pallets and a tape measure to figure out how they were going to fit onto the body. There was no wiring diagram – we had to wire things up as we installed them, designing circuits.  I was working twelve hour days with Kevin Ostermeyer the master mechanic and Richard Watts the expert fabricator.

It's simple. Put the cabinets in the chassis.
It’s simple, right?  Put the cabinets in the chassis. Piece of cake – NOT.

Kevin and Richard did amazing things – I have windows where no other Roadtrek does, thanks to Richard’s skill, and Kevin literally redesigned and rebuilt the entire back end of the components and circuitry of the standard design to accommodate the design changes. Tony and Davy, the exotic components experts, worked on the strange things that we were installing, getting them ready to go into the unit.  I needed a fairly drastic modification of the basic CS Adventurous design to allow for a permanent bed, storage for large satellite dishes, some *ahem* modifications to the fresh water storage system thanks to Phil from engineering, and an unusual climate control arrangement. It took weeks, but we figured it all out and got it installed so that it worked well.

The floor. I know where this goes.
The floor. I know where this goes.  This is the special shade of brown that matched Sharon’s eyes. Don’t ask.

At my age, 6 AM comes very early when you’re doing manual labor day after day, but I dragged myself out of bed and kept on working. One sure sign that you’re having fun is when the day flies by, and some of these days were over before I realized it. Everyone was packing up their tools and it was time to go, but I would keep at it to get ready for the next day. The most amazing thing were all the fabrication resources available – metal fabrication, thermoplastic molding, paint and body work, custom sewing and upholstery work, anything you need to get the job done, and available within hours of your request.  The Roadtrek factory is the place to be if you want to create the RV of your dreams.

Finishing touches in the paint shop.
Finishing touches in the paint shop.

Now that everything is finished and I’m moving into my new Roadtrek, I can truly appreciate how much work really goes into these vehicles,  and the effort and foresight necessary to have the ergonomics that many owners just don’t realize are there. It’s how the cabinets are arranged so that you can stand in one spot and access everything. It’s the esthetics of the layout. It’s a million different small things that forty years of experience has taught the people who make these vehicles. I am truly a very happy camper, and very grateful for the opportunity that Jim Hammill and everyone else at Roadtrek have given me.  It’s a good thing that these Roadtreks last forever, because I’m not ready to go again on a project like this anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “How to Help Build Your Own RV”

  1. Excellent article and photos. I was happy to see how the Alde floor heating was laid in the floor. Please, do a video (in depth) of your new Roadtrek with Mike.

  2. Very cool. I want pictures.
    What a great opportunity. Of course if they worked with me I would be no help at all. There has to be a knowledge base first.
    Pictures, please.

  3. Debbie Broadstreet

    Awesome! Yes…please show us all the features – pictures or video! This is amazing.

  4. Congratulations, can’t wait to see pictures or a video tour. I hope the Chevy found a new lucky owner.

  5. Wow! Your skill and abilities were clear from all the past work you have done on your Roadtrek. It is no surprise that Roadtrek chose to bring you into this build. And future buyers of Roadtrecks will benefit from this great combo of Campskunk and Roadtreck. I have not yet taken the plung into rv’ing yet. But me being a tech type your articles along with Mike W’s stories have sold me on Class B’s. Who knows……. Maybe I’ll someday own a production model of THE CS Campskunk.

    I wish you many years of enjoyment with your new home on wheels.

    Dean

    1. Sorry for the test. I posted a message but I must have done something wrong because I didn’t see it posted.

      Wow! I have followed your posts and messages about work you have done on your Roadtrek. It is no surprise that Roadtrek chose you to work with them. The combo of Roadtrek and Campskunk is sure to produce a great rv. I being a tech type have enjoyed your writing along with Mike W’s writings and all the others who contribute to roadtrecking.com. I have not yet made the plung into rv’ing but ROADTRECKING.COM has sold me on a Class B. Maybe some day I will own a production model of THE CS CAMPSKUNK.

      Good luck and many years of enjoyment in your new home on wheels.

      Dean

  6. First, congratulations on your new Roadtrek ;). I have been reading your posts for many weeks now and I have to say you are truly an inspiration. I came with the idea of full-time RVing few months ago and, after doing many researches and reading your posts, the lifestyle looks very appealing to me. I’m from Montreal, Canada and I work as a video technician and video-jockey on many events and festivals. With my job I get to travel a lot and with the Roadtrek lifestyle, I’m hoping to reduce my expenses (apartment, current car and utilities) so that I can work on events and travel/explore in between. I plan to purchase my RV for next spring but I’m not quite sure which model I should take yet. I’m concern about fuel economy and maintenance cost. How would a Roadtrek 170 or RT compare against the sprinter RS or SS agile? I know Sprinter is more fuel efficient but it must be more expensive to maintain while the Roadtrek cost more on gas but must be cheaper to maintain? It may be too soon for you to tell actually since you just got your Sprinter but if you could tell me in the long-term it would be great. Space isn’t the concern for the moment, otherwise I think Sprinter would win right away.

    Thank you and I really hope we meet someday along Pacific Coast 🙂
    Kevin

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