First camper trailer.

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 15:30
ThreadID: 108724 Views:3001 Replies:4 FollowUps:4
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Enlightenment and other Follies

We had owned caravans before but on our return to Australia after a two year stint overseas we decided to give camper trailers a try. Rather than buy an unknown commodity new, we decided to buy a second hand unit, that way if we didn’t like it we stood to lose less and it should prove easier to offload. Looking through the paper we found just what we were after an orange and brown rear opener mounted on a 6x4 with 12” sides of around 1906 vintage. It probably weighed in on the under side of 300kg loaded. The door was at the end of the tent, also performing the function of a small awning when held up by poles, pegs and ropes. Although a soft floor the previous owner had manufactured a folding plywood floor, complete with carpet, which held the floor down so negating the need for pegging – setting up took all of two minutes and being an end opener, access into the trailer was from inside the tent area.

I knew absolutely nothing of off grid power setups that we take for granted now, having always stayed in caravan parks. Solar panels, deep cycle batteries and such like weren’t so easily available then (not cheap either) and camper trailers of this vintage were pretty well all 6x4 trailers with 12” high sides and a small tent on top. Anyway, I had an old car battery hanging around so I mounted that on the draw bar, ran some wires under the bed installed a couple of cigarette lighter plugs and that was that. As I now know, the purpose of life is to learn - and this system served that purpose well.

At the time we had a new Lancer which didn’t offer a lot of storage, so we searched around for a suitable vehicle and finally settled on a nice red Subaru Brumby with 110k on the clock. Workmates thought it a pretty good copy of a wheelbarrow and so we christened it ‘Kelso’.

I’d owned a Leone before and thought it a marvellous car, so was quite happy with our choice. The Brumby had just enough room in front for mum and me (we’re smallish) and the dog (smaller still). The gearstick in the Brumby must have been three feet long if it was a foot; so, I cut a foot or two off and remounted the gear knob – perfect. Replaced the seal on the oil pump (remember I had owned a Leone), replaced the tyres and gave ‘Kelso’ a service and oil change (weren’t distributors, points and carburettors marvellous inventions) and we were set.

Now as some know, the early Subarus were no power houses (the ‘Super Roo’ monicker from GT Falcon era certainly sounded familiar, but that’s where any similarities rightly ended), couldn’t pull the skin of a rice pudding in fact, but towing a 300 odd kg trailer – no problems.

A 6x4 trailer with 12” sides doesn’t offer a lot of storage options, much less room for a 40 litre Gott. This was prior to the Supercool fridge we bought later, so the Gott required plenty of ice on a regular basis and was secreted away in the brumby’s ‘cavernous’ tub, along with bedding, clothing and a few other items that wouldn’t fit in the trailer.

Brumbies weren’t fitted with tonneau covers from the factory, so most dealerships, fitted them prior to sale. Remember the rice pudding skin I spoke of earlier, well I think the dealerships fashioned the Brumbies tonneau from that – certainly it fitted as well and provided the same sort of protection: clipped to a flimsy aluminium extrusion behind the rear window and held down around the perimeter in the normal manner, it leaked copious amounts of rain water into the tub, soaking the bedding and clothing. This we found on our first shakedown weekend to Morgan, necessitating an hour or so in the laundry to dry our bedding for the night.

Remember the wiring under the bed? Well around this time I discovered a use for fuses: sometime during our first night the two wires shorted and set alight to our mattress - nothing better than being awoken by the pungent aroma of burning foam rubber at two in the morning. After replacing the wires the next day (with a fuse of course) and stuffing a cushion in the hole in the mattress we had quite a comfortable next night – well for an hour or so anyway, the drain from a 5” B&W TV coupled with a fluoro flattened the battery in short order, so we got to spend the rest of the night the old fashioned way: talking - how long since we’ve done that.

Car batteries don’t appreciate being run down to nothing and after being on charge for most of the next day, I found the battery was still only registering around 2 volts. Next day we pulled out our emergency light: A kero pressure lantern - where would we have been without these little gems? Perhaps the surrounding ground after lighting up would have been better off, but they did provide a nice ‘dull’ circle of light.

On this trip another Subaru quirk made itself evident: the windows, being frameless, rattled almost as much as the catalytic converter did - unless wound all the way up. Trips like this with your rear window to the sun also highlight the problem with single cab utes: sunburn on the back of the neck and head. The Sube was also using oil, I don’t remember how much, but enough to concern me and make daily checks necessary. This was another reason why I decided to off load it not long after and before moving interstate again. A decade or so later I spoke to a few Forrester owners in QLD who informed me their Foresters also used oil, perhaps just another Subaru quirk???

On return from our shakedown trip, I added another small piece of aluminium extrusion to the existing tonneau support with a couple of screws and sealed it with a little silicon (about 30 tubes from memory), replaced the now donut shaped mattress, threw out the battery and wiring and we were ready for our longer excursion across the Nullarbor.

We set off across the Nullarbor from Adelaide, down to Esperance and made our way up to Perth via Albany, Bunbury and Mandurah. Returning to Adelaide via Kalgoorlie, Norseman, the Nullarbor, and the Eyre Peninsular. Had no problems, save for a cheeky Cockatoo at the Esperance caravan park who tried to remove the rubber seal from the doors. A little over six weeks, this trip was one of the most enjoyable trips we’d ever done and endeared us to camper trailers for a good time afterwards.

We went on to another five campers after this original (1906) version, gradually improving to the stage where we had fridges, solar panels, Deep cycle batteries, generators, TVs and stereos. We moved down to a caravan then back up to a camper trailer again a few times; but, unfortunately a Cub Weekender, a youth spent thinking my body was indestructible and the years now intent on rushing at me have made my bones weary, and my fondness for this type of camper is now spent. We now subscribe to ‘easier’ enjoyments, an Avan Aliner…

I sold the trailer, the Subaru and the Lancer a little while later and bought a Vitara and a small caravan (which I very quickly dubbed the ‘Misery Package’) for our move interstate. Equally as quickly I got rid of that lot in favour of an absolutely marvellous on road Towtel camper trailer and a not so marvellous Hilux and bagan readying ourselves for the Gibb and other interesting places with a Northern exposure., but that’s another story - what is yours?
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Reply By: Mudguard - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 17:24

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 17:24
Our Trailer story
Back in 1985 having progressed thru the tent camping faze and with No.1 son now on board (22mths) we opted up to the Camper Trailer scene.
It was originally just the basic fold off the side tent on a standard chequer plated floor 6x4 trailer, the first trip was to Darwin/Kakadu on the then “old “Stuart Hwy, after 4 weeks covered in mud, dust & buffalo stuff, the wife was starting to look longingly at a caravan!
Once back home and determined to get back on the right track (so to speak), a lot of R&D went into designing a better more capable trailer, not a lot of choice was around back then, so we came up with the 2nd Model and did a lap around Tazzy, now with No.2 son in the back of the Nissan 720 D/cab ute.
OK, so that one didn’t quite go well, now SHE was really looking at those caravans!
Back to the drawing board and we came up with the now present unit, same trailer, still has the chequer plate floor only beefed up and gusseted, turned the tent 90` so it now folds of the back, one piece machined axle with Rancho shocks, 60lt Stainless steel tank, 12/240v power, recovery skid & points, fold spare tyre, and many other enhancements.
The trailer is now 28yo, still with the original canvas, although the floor, zips and flyscreens have been replaced, its still waterproof and comfortable it may not look as flash as the ones on the market at present but its quick and easy to set up and has travelled a lot of Kilometres criss-crossing the country (the Telegraph track to name a biggy, ).
So with its ongoing upgrades when required (LED lights next) we’ll keep on travelling. Cheers
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Follow Up By: Tony H15 - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 17:59

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 17:59
I'd like to see pics of that one Mudguard.
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Reply By: Katiecamper - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 17:51

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 17:51
Great read, had a good laugh!
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Follow Up By: BassetBruce - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 19:15

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 19:15
Great read - thank you.
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Reply By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 21:24

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 21:24
Hi Tony,

Your first camper sounds very much like my first one. But it was built by me in 1976 not 1906. Are you sure?.... 1906??
It was a 6'x4'x12" too, but yellow trailer with brown canvas. End opener with the end door becoming the awning. Soft floor. A kitchen unit pulled out from the end of the trailer. The whole shebang lifted off to become a suburban garden trailer.

Its first trip was our honeymoon. Up the Alpine way in the first week of June behind a TC Cortina. The canvas being 'A' shaped trapped our rising hot breath (it was a honeymoon) which condensed on the inside of the roof and rained on us. Had to rig a blanket as a ceiling. That worked but later fitted a roof vent.

Halfway up the Alpine Way on a beautiful day I wound the window down to be greeted by a loud squealing noise from the trailer wheel bearing. Had to leave it at the roadside under the protection of my new bride while I drove back to Khancoban to get a mechanic. Upon my description he loaded the oxy set in his ute and needed it to cut the seized bearing inner from the axle. He wielded that oxy torch like an artist!
It survived that trip and went on to tour much of Australia. Ripped a spring hanger off in the Flinders Ranges and broke two springs on a trip to Cairns however.

Several years later with the advent of a couple of young sons we found it a bit small so I set to and built, from the axle up, my concept of a SuperCamper. It was a step-up, two pullout double beds, internal kitchen, table, bench seats, water tank, electric pump and all.The top was custom moulded fiberglass which was raised by a hand crank and cables. It truly was a SuperCamper.
On the first trip we set up and prepared lunch. Sitting inside at the table and peering out through the PVC window we said... "This is not camping". "This is not what it's all about".Well we endured it for several years then flogged it off to a couple who thought it really was a SuperCamper. Then we bought a secondhand Cub camper, very much like our first one but with hard floor. The kids were no longer coming with us camping so there was plenty of room. We cooked and ate outdoors so it was real camping and we had lots of fun with it until Olle came along! (Look at the number plate)

Upon retirement we opted to travel remote to The Deserts and the trailer behind a Camry simply would not cut it so the Troopy came to live with us. Olle has been just great but this thread is about camper trailers so I won't go on about the wonders of a Troopy. Suffice to say that it was the trailers that brought us to this point.

You sure it was a 1906 version Tony??


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Follow Up By: Tony H15 - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 22:43

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 22:43
I'm not really sure how old it was, could have come out with the first fleet for all I know, I think they just replaced the steel trimmed wooden wheels with steel rims and pneumatic tyres and replaced the horse hitch with a tow coupling. It didn't have a kitchen but It did have a brand name patch sewn into the wall by the door, for the life of me I just can't remember the name. Canvas was predominantly orange with brown Trim around windows and doors, etc, and a brown trailer.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 22:51

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 22:51
Wooden wheels? Sounds like they were salvaged from an old Capitol Chev or something. (Yeah, I had one of those once too!)

Orange canvas? Well it wasn't mine then.

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Reply By: pearson496 - Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 22:57

Sunday, Jul 13, 2014 at 22:57
Great read, what a hoot. We are in the early stages of planning our around Oz trip for next year and this site is such an inspiration. A new adventure for us and a big departure from our usual caravan/camp-site holidays.

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