In February 2018 I was drinking a bottle of wine in New Zealand when I found a 2002 Toyota Tacoma on Craigslist in Colorado. A few hours later my brother drove across Denver, bought the truck, and I flew home to pick it up. In November 2018 I was drinking cheap beer in an apartment on the coast in Spain when I found a 1989 SunLite slide-in pop-up truck camper on Craigslist in New York. I called the owners, asked them to hold it for me, and booked a flight home to pick it up. That’s how I ended up spending a frigid winter in Indiana, remodeling a slide-in pop-up truck camper.
Note to self: For my next international trip, block Craigslist from my web browser…
I landed in the United States, disassembled the truck canopy home that I lived in over the summer, drove straight to Rochester and bought the camper, crashed my buddy’s wedding, and after an epic weekend with my RAAM friends, made the long drive back to Indiana to start the camper renovation project.
Editor’s Note: If you don’t like reading, you can skip the story and watch the truck & camper tour film on YouTube HERE. Or, scroll through the photos of remodeling a slide-in pop-up truck camper and play the video from the bottom of the page!
Once in Indiana I set to work in the unheated warehouse of my Uncle’s wood shop. I wasn’t too worried, I’d watched plenty of renovation shows on HGTV and figured the entire project would take about 5 weeks. I’d be able to spend the Christmas holiday with my family, and then take my new slide-in pop-up truck camper home out west and start adventuring.
I was ooooohhhhhh sooooo wrong.
Luckily, I had help. My step-dad Tom who helped me build my Tacoma home the year before was ready and willing to dive into this camper remodel project. If he knew how much work it would turn out to be he might have decided against it, but we started by removing pretty much everything and getting the camper down to bare bones for rebuilding.
Before Interior Photos
The HGTV fixer upper shows make demo day look fast and fun, but in reality, removing all the components and planning the rebuild took much much longer than anticipated. Most of the stock components would end up being reused, but we wanted to replace the utility lines, move a few parts, and add some new accessories to update the living space.
The rear mounted A/C unit needed to go, as I rarely plug into shore power. Once it was gone we constructed a wall where the hole had been cut, re-skined the camper with aluminum siding, and sealed the outer trim before painting.
Inside Tom built a custom cabinet at the rear of the couch to specifically hold my pots and pans, and I sanded and primed the walls and cabinets, painstakingly installed a peel-and-stick faux tile backsplash in the kitchen, replaced the 12 gallon water tank with a custom molded 22 gallon tank, ran new propane and water lines, and rewired the electrical, adding a new inverter for onboard power.
One of the most stressful projects was redoing the copper propane lines to install an inline water heater on the rear of the camper for outdoor hot showers. I did a lot of testing and checking for gas leaks and was pleasantly surprised when the propane system worked and nothing exploded!
We mounted two 160 watt solar panels on the roof, I stripped the decals from the aluminum siding, coated the camper with several gallons of roll on Herculiner bed-liner, painted the accessory panels, installed hasp padlocks on the utility doors and mounted 5 flood lights on the roof for security. We also added custom steel weather strips and locking doors to the sides of the truck bed and rear end that would seal the bed once the camper was installed, making the bed access storage weather-tight and secure. I also installed a battery isolater and connected the camper to the truck’s electrical system.
Ultimately, the entire remodel took nearly 5 months, a little longer than my anticipated 5 weeks, and there were ups and downs… lots of downs. It was the first winter that I’d spent in Indiana since moving to California 12 years prior, and the few days of -40° F with the windchill were Fahrenheitingly cold. I regularly spent $25 a day on kerosene to heat the warehouse and after months of challenges, I was absolutely ready to get out west for sunshine, warmth, and wilderness camping.
As the project wrapped up as the last few parts were reinstalled, the list of to-do’s got smaller, and I started to feel excited again. I spent the final few days working inside the heated wood shop, attaching the camper to the truck through custom mounting brackets, plugging everything in, and making sure it all worked.
My mom helped by sewing a custom couch cushion and some really awesome window curtains and accent pieces. I pulled up the old linoleum floor and replaced it with a vinyl peel-and-stick floor. The only thing left to do was move all of my stuff into my new home on wheels!
And with that, I was finally ready to hit the road. I tightened the camper tie downs, checked the air pressure in the Firestone air bags (those would be replaced soon with a custom rear suspension), and drove to the scales to check my overall weight. The Tacoma had gained a lot of pounds over the winter in Indiana (I might have too, due to mom’s delicious Midwest home cooking!), and though the rig was heavy, it felt good to be out on the open road. I thanked my family for all of their help, aimed west to test out my new rig in Utah, then a quick stop in Southern California before heading to Alaska for a summer under the midnight sun!
A huge thank you to my step-dad Tom for helping me with this truck camper renovation! I’d like to promise that I won’t do that to us again, but, I know myself too well…