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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Repairing major body damage

In our last post we spelled out the damage done in a dumb-RVer trick when a corner jack was left down on pavement and the driver pulled away. Since that post much of that damage has been healed. Several of you left condolences, and we appreciate that. Incidentally, to clarify for some: RV dump stations at Flying J truck stops are for the use of RVers and are generally located in an area inaccessible to 18-wheelers. Does this writer feel stupid about the whole event? Without a doubt, one of the major dipstick moves of the year for me.

Our contractor buddy, on hearing of the damages, told us without even seeing the damage that he figured we could put things to right in a day. Sounded pretty cockeyed optimistic to us, especially when the appointed day came and Contractor John wasn't even available until noon. But we started out, removing that "dislocated" corner jack. Prying back the fiberglass siding panels revealed not only damaged timbers, but some amount of dry rot. All that needed to go, so off came the most damaged panel.

As many truck camper folks have ruefully learned, the "wing" area behind the truck's rear wheel is a common site to find rotten wood. Ours was no different, so that damaged piece of wood was pulled out. John rummaged in his scrap pile and located a suitable board for replacement: Straight grain Douglas fir. Beautiful stuff, hugely expensive, and all to be hidden away behind a side panel! We're not talking about Doug fir plywood, but rather a panel of fir. John also tossed in some nice oak timbers for added strength and because they were available.

When the jack had been rudely pried away from the corner of the camper, it also yanked pretty hard on camper's rear bumper. Sliding underneath we found the bumper was largely held in place by lag bolts, running up through the bumper and into the TC's flooring. Quite a number of lag bolts were absent without leave, and we blew new holes through the bumper and installed fresh lags for security.

While several of the fiberglass panels had been damaged in the incident, the lowest side panel had taken the worst "hit" of them all. One of the local RV dealers had a panel squirreled away in their back room. John at Coumbs RV gasped when he saw the damages, and generously donated the panel to the cause. You meet the nicest folks in the trade. The panel was cut to replace the old one, and worked in fine. That still left damage to one other side panel, and a couple on the rear of the rig. We could have opted to try and replace those as well, but with the door, a couple of windows, a roof ladder, and other accessories all in the way, we had to come to a decision.

The camper was most recently in the hands of a family who, after putting the rig away for the winter, never gave another thought to the rig until the next summer rolled around. Sadly, the rubber roof had been damaged along the line, and the fierce rains of winter had taken a terrible toll. They "unloaded" the rig and their pickup on an RV dealer who figured the primary value was in the truck. As a result, he "fixed" some of the water damage, largely by covering it up, and sold the TC to us at a below-rock-bottom price. We knew coming into it we were buying a "project" camper, but wow, what a project it turned into.

With all that in mind, we determined that we'd try repairing the fiberglass panel damage. In another life, Contractor John had worked in a fiberglass boat factory, so his experience came to bear. After we replaced a damaged piece of aluminum angle that serves as a major corner support, we brought the fiberglass panel corners together and applied fiberglass mat and resin. This effectively filled in the missing pieces of panel, and joined the side panels and rear panels together as one. By this time, day was ending, and we were putting out lights to see by.

After then fiberglass cured, we sanded extensively, smoothing up the fiberglass. After that, the "bodyman's friend," Bondo, was brought to bear. More sanding followed, and more Bondo, until finally, John declared the body damage fixed. All that remained for that session was to mount up the jack brackets, hang the jack, and send me home--at 10:00 pm. John was pretty close to correct--a "day's worth" of labor and the worst of the issue was handled. We're still waiting out the rainy Northwest summer weather to apply a shot of paint and reinstall a couple of chunks of trim, but that should go pretty fast.

I didn't have the heart to ask what it would have cost to have a professional RV body shop to do the work involved. Maybe it's best I not know. My heart would only take so much.


  1. So does Contractor John take bribes? Sounds like a person we all would like to have in our circle of friends. Really nice write-up. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice job....wish there was a finished picture!
    Nice to have friends like that!!

    Happy Camping