Northwood: Go back to wood!

May 11th, 2010

Well.. well.. well. What a fun day I’ve had. I spent about eight hours lying on my back in gravel inventing new curses to throw at Northwood after seeing the mess on the bottom of our camper. For future reference, according to the manual, Arctic Fox campers are not designed to be ‘lived in’, have the slide put out without jacks or have any water in any of the tanks while not in a truck bed. Also, their customer service folks have pointed out that ‘no one builds anything square, except maybe a picture frame.’

We had a few problems early on, but they seemed like just small issues. About a year ago, we were at the factory in Oregon and asked them to fix a ground bolt that had sheared off. The service tech pulled the water heater, replaced it and sealed it. He, however, neglected to actually replace the ground bolt. While there, we asked about the reason our camper is not actually square side to side and received the above quote as a response.

Two days ago, our fresh water tank fell through the bottom of the camper. Can you guess what I’m thinking about their overall design and build quality? I called them just to vent, not expecting more than the ‘we know that will break, so we put it in the owner’s manual’. That’s exactly what I got.

Northwood MFG bad weld!

While pulling off the bottom of the camper, I found broken welds in every support throughout the camper. In fact, there was a broken weld directly under… wait for it… nothing. Most of the supports had more than one broken weld… every one of them had at least one weld broken on the passenger side… where the slide is. The average number of broken welds per brace was roughly three.

Most of the broken welds were just broken beads. I only recall seeing a couple where metal had actually sheared. Speaking of the metal, I had to bend a few pieces to get the wiring out of it while working on replacements. I managed to SNAP a piece of the aluminum with nothing but my hands and feet.

So, I have lots of little bruises from lying in gravel, but all six broken and completely under-spec’d braces have been replaced with two by fours. Tomorrow, Jenn gets to help support some shower board material to replace the luan that had to be broken in order to come out and we’ll have an enclosed camper again. Hopefully, nothing moves into our sub-floor in the meantime.

Pile O' broken Northwood underside support crap
Our new underside - courtesy of Johnny!

So, if you’re thinking of buying from Northwood, ask them to send you an owner’s manual so you can read their escape clauses first… and ask them just how many days a year the camper is designed to be used. Sadly, I forgot to ask.

Home Improvement

October 1st, 2008

I posted back in April about our table upgrade that has saved my sanity, but I figure it’s time to cover a few more minor modifications that have improved our enjoyment of the camper. Also, we’re about to be engaged slinging fried chicken for a couple of weeks and we’ll probably be rather quiet in the blogosphere.

I’ve really got to say I’m still very happy with our choice of camper and options. We’ve looked at quite a few both before and after we made a decision and I still haven’t seen one (yeah, I know Paul will tell me to look at his Snowriver) that I would be happier with for fulltiming.

Added shelving to main closet

We had a couple of things customized on the camper that have made life a lot easier. One was getting a wet bath instead of a dry bath. For starters, it’s very easy to clean a wet bath. The only thing you really sacrifice is having a dry place to store towels and toilet paper. It’s also a good idea to buy a squeegie to swamp out the bathroom after your shower. But what we got in return for a dry bath is a wardrobe that’s two and a half feet deep, three full length drawers and a shoe cabinet.

After we quit work, I found I didn’t need hanging clothes anymore and built a cubbyhole system inside the wardrobe. Now, I have four shelves for clothes, a liquor cabinet and a handy place to store our bows which we previously had to squeeze behind the backseat of the truck. Rene has been asking me, for months now, where we hide the booze and I finally have a good answer. With some wiggling, I can get roughly eighteen liters of booze in the liquor cabinet. Just right for a couple of unemployed, homeless folks, right?
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Factory quality repairs on the east coast?

September 26th, 2008

This place is huge and everything is for sale, from welding equipment to bolts.

We had to have a few repairs done recently, and after talking to the factory out in Oregon, we were pointed to a dealer in Amherst, Virginia. I was getting a bit scared when the lady there mentioned that their repair guy only worked for them part time. However, she told me she had recently sent some folks up to the factory in Winchester for repairs. Now, this struck me as odd since I’d just got off the phone with the factory in Oregon and they’d confirmed that the Winchester factory was now closed. It turns out that three of the senior guys are starting a repair facility and are still working out of the Northwood factory for the time being!

I can’t recommend Bruce, Jerry and Roger highly enough. Between them, they’ve got something like 102 years of experience manufacturing RV’s for Fleetwood and Northwood. Both times we’ve dealt with them, they have been very professional and extremely fast while managing high quality repairs. In fact, I’ll go so far as to give out their phone numbers for anybody on the east coast that needs some excellent work done.

Phone: 540-542-6140

Cell: 304-268-2339

The RV Pros: Bruce, Roger, and Jerry.

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Tech Specs

July 23rd, 2008

Edited 10/20/2012. Blame Blars.

The Van:

2003 GMC Savana 2500

  • AWD. When we get stuck, we’ll be really stuck.
  • Positraction. I mean REALLY stuck.
  • Pro package. Next best thing to a tent, but with lights!

The Truck:

2001 Ford F-350 Lariat

  • Dual rear wheels
  • Crew cab
  • 4×4
  • 7.3L Diesel (International)
  • Timbrens
  • Front and rear receivers

The Camper:

2008 Arctic Fox 1140 (poorly constructed, no… really poorly)

  • Wet bath
  • Couch seating
  • Full-wall cabover wardrobe
  • 9k BTU Air conditioner
  • No oven or microwave (more storage!)
  • Thermal pane windows
  • For sale. Cheap.

The Bikes:

  • Trek RST 3700
  • Roketa MC-17-50T (Sicily) RIPieces!
  • Custom, ancient and venerable road bike. Because we spend our time on dirt roads?

The Internet: Ubiquitous

Sprint EVDO service (for now you greedy bastards!)

  • Novatel U727 EVDO card Fancy mini sd to USB storage adaptor with potential for alien technology. For sale.
  • Cradlepoint CT350 Wifi router
  • Dual-band Omni-directional external antenna
  • Wilson. 3 Watt Bi-Directional Dual-Band EVDO amplifier. How cool would this be if we were using alien technology? For sale.
  • Unix on a phone. Verizon. Google. Hey, almost time for a new wifi only camera/storage/gps/pocket gadget! Penny phones!

The Network:

  • Fujitsu Lifebook 1510
  • Dell Vostro 1500 Jenn smashed it lots of ways. I recommend bondo. For sale. Some parts still good!
  • Asus 1005pe. I love Moore’s Law. I still do all the really important stuff on the console. I mean, I have more spare crunch time on my old router than it takes to run a fair sized company. This is so much more CPU and memory than I really need. I bought it for the battery. 14ish hours. Very solar friendly.
  • Asus 1215B. Jenn can do some fancy graphics with this. I don’t understand her alien technology, but she seems to be happy.
  • ReadyNAS 600 (700GB RAID5)Massive power requirements for more performance than we need. Outdated drives. New drives and firmware would make it even more overpowered for us. Runs linux and is massively hackable. Might still have a wifi card stuck in it. Used this for storing captured video from MythTV network. Might be for sale if it can still be found. Firmware is modified stock. Warranty voided professionally.
  • 2 Cowon A2’s for random movie/music access. Still use these daily! I wish these were more hackable.
  • One of the most hackable linksys routers. Currently acting as a hotspot hijacker and repeater with automated p2p file sharing. Rarely use this, but just too many knobs on it to let the aliens have it. Would trade for even more unobtainable linksys router with an external antenna jack and at least 1 USB port.
  • Toshiba external drives. 2 x 1TB.
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It’s Official!

September 2nd, 2007

Yesterday, we put down a deposit on the camper. We added and removed a handful of things that should really optimize the overall comfort for two people.

  • No oven. Really, how often are we going to be baking cookies? A stove is plenty and Jenn wants to play with a solar oven anyway. Maybe we’ll pick up a small grill to go with the thermal cooker. We get a large cabinet where the oven would be.
  • No dinette seating. We opted for the couch instead. This should be more comfortable for general lounging. There is still a table we can set up in front of the couch, although I think we will probably build our own articulating desktops.
  • Wet bath. A lot of people don’t like wet baths. They do, however, provide a lot more room to move around by combining your toilet and shower space. Additionally, we get a very large wardrobe next to the bathroom by saving space. The only real downside in our mind is that the ‘bathroom storage’ is limited to what will fit in a medicine cabinet. But with all the extra storage we gain outside of the bathroom and the increased space to shower properly, it’s a net win.
  • Full wall wardrobe in the cabover. This was a bit more difficult decision. It cost us a nice window, but the extra storage space is considerable. For long-term living, storage is one of our most important concerns. Besides, the window on the driver side is a wide escape hatch instead of a narrow, divided window.
  • No skylight in the kitchen. The benefit of the skylight really seemed questionable to us as we stood in the unit on the lot. It added some light, but only in a limited area. It is one more potential leak and one more place to introduce heat and cold. We save a few bucks by getting rid of it as well.
  • No generator. The standard generator burns LP gas inefficiently, is rather noisy and costs about $3k. We can pickup a quiet, efficient gasoline unit for around $800. It won’t make quite as much juice and we can’t push a button to start it, but overall I prefer this route.
  • 7K BTU air conditioner. Hopefully, this will put an end to my search for the perfect AC unit. It’s a bit higher wattage than I’d like, but I’m more comfortable with it’s ability to cool the camper. Sadly, we actually had to pay more for a 7k unit than if we had gone up to a 13.5K unit. However, with this unit, we should have no problem running it on our downsized generator.
  • Thermal pane windows. They really charge a premium for these, but if we’re going to be in the cold weather, it’s thermal pane or storm windows. And just where are we going to store those storm windows when we’re not using them?

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