Friday, April 8, 2016

Getting Started or How Much Wood Can A Woodtruck Truck...

Ever notice those ungainly looking campers that seem to have overtaken the backs of pickup trucks, swaying down the highway at breakneck speeds? Dr. Streagle and I did a few years ago and we decided to keep a sharp eye out for a chance to investigate and planned to obtain one at the earliest opportunity. Fortunately our years-long wait and endless internet search for the perfect slide-in camper is almost over.

K likes to call them "turtles" since we will be carrying it on the back of the truck. Just why we wanted a slide-in (hereafter known as "Turtle") can be a discussion for a subsequent post, so watch for one to come along soon. Since the choice of RV type had been made, the shopping and culling of countless used campers yielded a result we found somewhat disturbing for us. We just didn't want someone else's funky camper that was a total compromise in cost, convenience and clean condition. When I say clean I mean that to also include structural integrity and condition, as in a "clean bill of health."

The internet, which is the font of all human knowledge and experience, has countless tales of woe regarding used campers which have hidden catastrophic problems ranging from rot to pet funk. You can read about our experience moving into our Idaho home to see why pet funk is not high on our list of fun things to clean up.

Ranger Tim and Dr. Karren's Westward Ho! Blog

A new camper can be purchased easily by almost anyone with a social security number or driver's license. All you have to do is be willing to make payments for the rest of your natural life or until the debt can be transferred to your offspring upon your untimely demise. Piece of cake. Another way to justify this incredibly rash financial faux pas is to continue to say to yourself, "The interest is tax deductible! It's a mini-mortagage!" Somehow that makes it okay. The mere thought that you might be cheating Uncle Sam out of some revenue is a strong motivator.

So then the search for a brand spanking new turtle, er, ah, camper begins. Perhaps the best place to do research on turtles is on the truck camper forums at, a treasure trove of incessant babbling about everything under the truck camper sun. These people have absolutely NOTHING else to do except talk and play with these contraptions. Luckily for me there are mountains of dialogue there, enabling one to distill some fairly common threads about manufacture, dependability, quality, availability, history, etc. into useful advice. Once in a while you will even discover an actual truck camper guru that even makes complete sense!

"Oh TC Guru, what is the meaning of life?"

"Young Grasshopper, you must find this secret for yourself inside a turtle of your own..."

Another great place to find shopping help is at That site is chock full of info on new campers, reviews and great advice on camper matching.

Okay, enough preamble. The next part of this post will read more like a Tom Clancy novel in that it will deal with the drudgery of truck-camper matching, circular thought patterns on weight capacities, and other mechanical junk. (Dr. Karren, you should probably stop reading now and rejoin 5 paragraphs below)

Our truck is a 2006 Ford F350 long bed, single rear wheel crew cab with the King Ranch option package and camper package. This makes it weigh (unloaded and empty of everything, even people) 7860 lbs. total. This is called the Gross Vehicle Weight, or GVW. I weighed it at the local CAT scale at the Flying J, with a full tank of fuel.

Our truck is listed on the Ford factory info pages as having the following specs:
Rear Wheel (each) 3525 lbs.
Our tires (each) 3650
Rear Axle 10,000

If you do the math our rear wheels together have a 7050 lb. capacity, so this becomes the limiting factor, not our tires or axle ratings.

Our truck's rear end weighed 3140 at the scale. Subtract that from 7050 and you get 3910, or the most payload that I can safely load onto the rear of the truck. Now this does not take into consideration that I might have been slightly forward on the scale or the curvature of the earth or some other nonsense, so I am happy using this number. However, there is a document that came with the truck that quotes a maximum camper weight of 2815. Huh? Buzzkill! I feel comfortable that I will be close to that weight (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

The truck is rated to carry 11,500 pounds gross weight, so we will be somewhere close to that too. Our camper is predicted by the RV gurus to have a weight somewhere between that of a toaster and the space shuttle. My best guess is just over 3000 lbs. That is where I leave the weight discussions for now, the scales will tell the story in the end.

(Start reading here Dr.) So what have we done so far? We visited a dealer in Boise and found a camper. Both of us struggled with the choice between hard side or pop-up for months, and we found prime examples of both at Nelson's RV. Wolf Creek (a brand of Northwood, they make the Arctic Fox) has two models, a rear bath and a mid bath, both hard sides. Northstar makes some of the best quality pop-ups on the market, so we wanted to see them too. These were brands we liked, but the pop-up was a specific model we had not considered before.

Wolf Creek 840 looking out the rear

The Wolf Creek 840 was the obvious choice for us between the two WC models. The mid bath has a 180 degree view around the rear of the camper and has a layout that suited us. There is something magical that happens just going and sitting in a camper for an hour that tells you whether or not it is the right one for you. Just sit there and talk, meditate, play cards, whatever. Yea or nay becomes apparent quickly. Either that or it was the one you wanted all along. Want, want, want!

When we looked at the Northstars I expected just a cursory glance, since I thought there were none on the lot to fit a long bed. WRONG! Turns out the web browser cuts off the description of the models and does not include "or long bed trucks." This threw a wrench into the decision making process. We really liked the openness of the pop-up, the workmanship, the features, and especially the lower center of gravity when closed. The Northstar 850 is a sweet camper! In the end it boiled down to accessibility issues for the Dr., bath privacy, and kitchen cabinet placements. I really believe we could have made this work and work well if we had been less than 35 years old, but we are no longer able to run or jump, so a more (ahem) comfortable camper was a better choice. Middle aged fat people need accommodations!

The Wolf Creek 840 was our choice. An hour later we were deeper in debt and rolling down the road toward home with a delivery date in two weeks. What! No camper on the truck? No silly, you can't just rush these things. They take time and planning if you want to drive away loaded. There are all kinds of things involved -- things like tie-downs, suspension modifications, dealer walk-throughs, gnashing of teeth, moments of indecision, and more.

So the search for the perfect truck camper suspension mod begins. On to the next posting!

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