UPDATE #2:  We traded in our 5th for a 2001 Fleetwood Caribou.  I’m sure that will mean more posts in regards to truck campers.  Here’s my initial post about this new to us camper.
UPDATE: At this time we are no longer using a truck camper.  We traded it in for a smallish 5th wheel which the only thing we like about it is that it’s bigger.  With a 1 year old, this has provided us with more play space and it’s a better refuge when the weather gets ugly and everyone is inside (we’ve got an 80 pound dog as well).  I don’t like the 5th very much due to lack of maneuverability.  I feel pretty conspicuous driving it through town or whatever.  I think that in a year or so we’ll pick up a new truck camper.  The little guy’s gotta get potty trained first.
This page gets LOTS of hits.  So if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
There are some great pages out there that have helped guide me in our adventures with our Lance camper.  Hopefully I can also share some knowledge with those out there doing this truck camper thing.  Enjoy!

History – At the end of 2004, we shopped for a truck camper for almost 3 months.  We originally were looking for a pop-up, but the good ones were really expensive.  I was hoping to stay around $5,000.  We found decent Hallmark Cuchara, the largest of the pop-ups, here in El Paso, but it needed new fabric and a lot of work inside.  I was being wooed by a Lance owner in Colorado who I think needed some money pretty bad.  She called me twice and emailed me several times.  They had an 815 which would have been great, but it was out of my price range.  Some how I found an ad for a used Lance at a dealership in Moriarity, NM.  It was a big one, but I thought we’d be fine since we had an F250 diesel.  I pulled our pop-up trailer up to Moriarity, just me and the dog, on a Saturday.  We worked the deal and headed back south.

It tended to sway a bit, so I drained all the water out and that helped.  It still kind of freaked me out, so I ended up installing some Firestone Ride-Rites on the rear.  That was a pretty easy install and it helped a bunch, but you had to be on it when driving the thing in wind or near 18 wheelers.  We finally got tired of dealing with sway and the fact that our truck was super old, got bad mileage, and smoked like the Kuwaiti oil wells during the Gulf War.

After shopping for about a month on Cars.com, I found a sweet ’02 Chevy 3500 Duramax in Phoenix.  We got a great deal on it.  At the time is was a 3 year old truck with only 25,000 miles on it.  We quickly got rid of the OEM tires when one decided to develop a large tumor on the sidewall on our way out Phoenix in 100 degree weather.  Unable to access the spare tire lowering mechanism, the tire change was a bit difficult.  As soon as we got home I hit Pep-Boys for a larger set of house brand E load rated tires…7 of them.  I also cut the tube which you slide the jack handle through to lower the spare so I could access it from underneath without having to raise the camper.  This guy did a much better job at this project than I did, preventing the need to crawl under the vehicle to lower the spare.  If I could do this with my truck I would, but there is no way to get the jack handle through the frame.

Our Chevy was a great truck until this summer when we melted a piston.  91,000 miles and we really babied it.  The only thing I think I might have done wrong is use Rotella Synthetic.  It’s a 5w40, so the lower viscosity at start up may have caused excessive wear, but I find that hard to believe.  Not having an extended warranty was also a mistake I’ll never make again.

With one week left on our summer vacation(’09), we were stuck in an RV park in Cheyenne, WY with a dealer that was reluctant to put in a new motor.  It would have taken 2 weeks, so we shopped for another truck.  We found a slightly used ’07 GMC quad cab 3500 that had been repo’d.  We towed the Chevy down to Longmont, CO and purchased the “new” truck.  We had been thinking about a quad cab for a while, so the loss in our savings didn’t hurt quite that much.  I feel grateful that we had choices.  I think that one of the main problems with owning a large truck camper is that you are limited in what vehicles you can use.  If we had a trailer, we could have rented another vehicle, hitched up, and headed home saving our search for a new vehicle from the comforts of home.  We got lucky in that the RV park had good wi-fi and cell coverage, making our quest for a replacement vehicle almost too easy.

I could instantly tell a difference in power between our old truck and the new one.  The newer motor has something like 65 more horsepower than our ’02, and I can tell.  The 6 speed Allison isn’t any different than the 5 other than the “manual” option.  If anything, it doesn’t feel like it is broken in yet and is a bit choppy off the line.  The truck only had 7,000 miles on it at the time of purchase.  The new truck sits MUCH higher and the bed is deeper.  Jen noticed this when I started mounting up our tie downs.  I put the camper on in the dark and didn’t notice that it was sitting on the walls of the truck bed until we headed back down to Colorado the next morning.

That morning I had to return to Big John’s RV for some parts that were missing from the happi-jac bumper tie down kit.  John recommended that I use 2×4’s to space it up.   Glad I listened too him because the camper now sits about 1/2″ off the walls of the bed with the 2×4 spacer I built in the parking lot of the GM dealer in Longmont.  He also gave me some tips on how to repair my tie down points on the camper as they were pulling the camper apart.  See below for more detail on that.

Hopefully this new truck will give us many years of service.  I’ll be buying an extended warranty when ours runs out.  At about 20,000 miles a year, we aren’t scheduled to hit 100,000 until around 2014, two years after the factory warranty runs out.  Extended warranties do cost a bit, but I think it will be worth it as our old truck was fine other than the blown motor.

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How we roll – As serious mountain bikers, our summer travels are focused on races and camping in locations that have stellar mountain biking.  The Lance is almost perfect.  When we start to have doubts, we look at the methods of travel our competitors use and they rarely are as good as ours.  Those with huge rigs are limited in where they can go and they are saddled with some pretty expensive payments/responsibilities.  They frequently have to stay in large RV parks which cost a fortune.  Other friends stay in condos which are either very expensive or they just plain suck….sometimes both.  And then others do it college style by sleeping in their van or in a tent.  Not a terrible way to go, but it doesn’t come close to having a hot shower waiting for you after the race or having your own toilet pre-race.

Here’s a list of the what we travel with:

  • 5×8 Pace trailer – carries 10×10 easy up, 4 bikes, spare tires and parts, camping chairs, air compressor, Honda 3000 generator (mounted to tongue), bike workstand, and Nomad washer.  Having the bikes enclosed is crucial to prevent theft and to keep bikes clean and well protected from the elements.
  • Tool box (stored in generator cabinet on the Lance) with enough tools for all major bike repairs.  This includes deraileur tab straightener and bearing removal/installation tools.  I’m able to do front suspension overhauls on the road if necessary.
  • 3′ Reese hitch extension.  The new truck has a stock Class V hitch allowing the use of this simple extension.
  • Custom hitch step.  I brainstormed for a long time on this one after my dog had knee surgery.  She didn’t do stairs well and kept hitting her knees everytime she jumped in.  I wish I had thought of this earlier as it is really nice to have this small platform to stand on when exiting the camper, lessening the wear and tear on the bumper.  It also allows the next item to be used with the trailer.
  • Leveling blocks.  For every one that I’ve lost, I’ve found others.  Having the “low” position on the transfer case makes leveling a snap.  Here’s a pic of us at Curt Gowdy State Park on a big stack of blocks.  The next morning we found the additional blocks which may have kept us from having to use the jacks to get level.  These are cheap and easy and fit in the generator cabinet with my toolbox and water hose.

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  • The Lance is tied to the truck using Happi-Jac turnbuckles and the Happi-Jac bumper attachment.  Up front I use the Tork Lift tie downs.  These are much easier to install compared to the Happi-Jac front tie down system, but it doesn’t center the camper well.  I have some dents in the bed of the new truck due to shifting of the camper.  I’ve got a few ideas for centering….I’ll get it fixed soon.
  • Two 7 gallon aqua-tainer water jugs.  The big blue ones.  These fit perfectly on the camper floor next to the camper’s water tank.  30 gallons in the camper will get us 3 nights pretty comfortably, but if we are doing big rides, we usually need more.  I also keep a 5 gallon water cooler jug in the trailer.   The Nomad holds about 3 gallons.  Living in the desert makes you a bit paranoid about water.

Repairs/Modifications – Our camper is a ’94 880 Squire with extended cab-over.  It’s been around.  It’s in pretty good shape and I think that with patience, I can keep it going for few more years.

Spare Tire Hoist Modification – Instead of cutting the tube like I did on the ’02, I was able to yank out the the tube completely on the new truck.  A 13mm socket fits perfectly on the end of the extension allowing the use of my socket wrench to lower the spare.  I still have to crawl under the truck, but it sure beats having to remove all the camper attachments and raising it off the bumper.

Rear Step/Dog Ramp attachment – This past spring our dog blew out her ACL.  A not so cheap surgery fixed her up, but we were concerned about her possible hurting herself when getting in and out of the camper.  I had a local welder make this platform which I wish I had long ago as I’ve almost fallen out of the rig more than once due to the tiny bumper.  This platform is perfect to rest the dog ramp on either from the side or directly behind.  We can use the ramp with the trailer still attached.  The mutt loves it.

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Bumper and rear jack repair – Not long after getting the camper I noticed that the bumper was coming detached from the passenger side rear of the camper.  The jack on that side was loose at the bottom attachment point.  The wood looked a bit dry rotted, but I wasn’t about to pull siding off and start repairing the wood.  I had a local welder put a tab on the bumper for the lower jack clamp.  I placed my floor jack under the bumper and did an ok job of securing it to the camper with some larger lag screws.  I should probably redo this as I didn’t do that great of  a job.  While I still had the jack under the bumper, I tightened the lower jack clamp to the new tab on the bumper.  This is a much more stable design as opposed to having the lower jack clamp almost a foot higher and bolted into the wood of the camper frame.  I may need to do the other side this way as well, but might not be able to due to the door on the sewer hose storage area inside the bumper.

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Dinette lift – Being 6’5″, I was glad to find a lance with 6’6″ interior height…even though I hit my head regularly on the a/c and the exit door.  I did not like the height of our table.  Before we got our trailer, our 10×10 easyup was stored in the overhead bunk above the dinette.  One day it decided it didn’t like it up there and fell on the table, shattering the sliding attachment.  This was a perfect opportunity for me to get an extra half inch out of my table height.  A bit of Gorilla Glue and some screws and I was able to make the table a bit more adjustable when sliding it in/out and I got a bit more clearance for my legs.

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Inverter – I purchased a cheap 1000W inverter to mainly use an electric coffee bean grinder, laptop power, and recharging of bike lights, cell phones, etc.  I drilled some holes in my battery box and ran the cables directly to the battery.  It’s mounted under my counter next to the sink.  I’ve used this to power my air compressor and a vacuum cleaner.  It’s a bit noisy every now and then, but it works great.

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Jack Tie Down Repair – For about 2 summers this problem persisted and I finally decided to do something about it.  After visiting Big John’s RV and the attached Outfitter factory, I had the knowledge needed to repair my front tie down points.  First I removed the ring bolt and all the screws and bolts in the area around the ring bolt.  Using a floor jack and some 2×4’s, I pushed the underside of the camper up.  I drilled the existing holes with a 1/8″ bit as well as some additional holes.  Using some 1/4″ lag bolts, large washers, and Gorilla Glue, I screwed the bottom wood of the camper side into the side wood.  The screws went in tight and didn’t spin, but the side still pooched out a bit.  Using some self tapping 12-14 x 1.5″ screws, I secured things from the side as well.  The driver side had one of the main screws next to the ring bolt spin on me.  This was a bit disappointing, but with the Gorilla Glue in the hole with the screw, I think I’m good to go.  I didn’t need to do any side screws on the driver side.  I reinstalled the ring bolts and gooped everything up with some sealer I had laying around that ended up with a blue tint.  Interesting.

 
Driver's side tie down point
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Back up lights – The weak back up lights on the camper barely illuminate my trailer and it is essential that I see the trailer as soon as possible when backing up.  If I start to see the trailer, it’s usually too late and I’ll need to go forward and straighten things up.  I bought some cheap fog lamps from walmart and mounted them to the bumper of the camper.  The wires hide underneath the bumper and I run another piece with a connector that is tee’d into the backup light wire at the hitch.   The connection is just a simple friction fit connector.  I used to have a separate line for these lights on my ’02 Chevy.  I even mounted a switch to the dash.  That was totally unecessary and I’m sure if someone ends up with my old truck they’ll wonder what’s up.
 
Shelf unit in main closet – Our main closet is pretty big, but we didn’t need a whole closet to hang clothes.  I partitioned it and put in some shelves.  So there is still room for hanging clothes as well as plenty of shelf space for towels and toiletries.  I just used cheap plywood, some 1 x 1 pine strips, Gorilla Glue, and my pneumatic stapler.

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Links I’ve found to be helpful:

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