Sunday, June 13, 2010

Benchmark Time !

The Smart Car Bed for Clifford is finished!

Wahoo!  It's been a long time coming but definitely worth the wait.  I drove down to the welding shop in the Smart car, loaded it onto the bed by driving up the ramps and then drove home with $PRITE on the bed.

Lots to tell and it will likely take some work before I get it all documented in the way that I would like.

The bed design as previously documented is very simple. I had several points that I wanted to be clearly achieved:

  1. Simple design that could be built by a decent welder and a hands-on owner
  2. Drive on / Drive off system to eliminate complexity and limitations
  3. Full fender protection for all tandem tires to prevent possible car/trailer damage should a tire blow or a big rock get thrown by the tires.
  4. Use the existing commercial hitch with future option of air ride hitch
  5. Good tire traction during loading and unloading of the car
  6. Simple but secure tie down for the car. Make it easy access to lash it down for travel
  7. Bed should have easy access to most of the under-bed truck chassis and parts.
  8. Easy around the rim tie down lip for carrying other "stuff" on the bed.
  9. Aesthetically looks like it fits the truck and is not some hack job adaptation.
  10. Predictable expense to build it.
I am very pleased that we have achieved all of these objectives. Full resolution albums of the bed design and build are located on my photo site.
Below, I will try to provide a little depth to each of these points:

1 Simple Design

  • The bed frame is all built out of 2” x 3/16” steel angle iron with a few 2”x2” reinforcing steel tube stringers for stability. 850814508_VFvAT-Th[1]
  • It sits on 3”x5” Steel tubing rails that sit on top of the truck frame rails with a 1”x3” white oak strips that allow some flex of the frame without damaging the bed. The steel tubing is fastened to the frame rails by 6 U-Bolts and 2 steel flanges are welded to the sides of these tubes to prevent any rotation or side slipping of the bed on the rail in extreme conditions.
  • The loading tracks use the original cat walk sections to both raise the tires and to provide traction and drainage. 621880776_Z796k-Th[1] 859777631_EjWqj-Th[1] Gaps are left at each end to accommodate standard rubber truck tire chocks as end stops during loading and unloading.
  • Tire to fender clearance was set to 1” when the air bags are deflated.
  • Additional flexible mud flaps will be added to the bottom edge of the fenders to reduce throw back from the tires.
  • Most welds are full width of the contact points and done on all sides where contact occurs.

2 Drive on / Drive off system

  • The ramps are rated @ 2000 lbs and designed to be used separately or clamped together to make a single 38” wide ramp for loading/unloading motorcycles and/or ATVs or other “Stuff”. The rungs of the ramps are sharply grooved to provide better traction.
  •  881796575_Q5ZG9-Th[1]881797062_uw2UA-Th[1]881797024_hdsbp-Th[1]881796994_T82ct-Th[1]881796895_aeoz7-Th[1]
  • They are 12’ long with a 12 degree bend at the middle hinge point to reduce the break over angle when the car comes over the edge of the bed and off of the ramps. This has been a big issue with loading/unloading
  • The ramps fold to 6’ each and each weighs about 55 lbs
  • They are supported on the edge of the bed by a one piece flange that is pinned to the deck with drop bolts to prevent any movement or slippage. In this example, I was unloading onto an uneven raised hill so the ramp tangs did not seat in the mounting strips properly but the bolts pinned through the ramp and the mounting flange still kept the ramps solidly in place.  883532252_8K5re-Th[1]883532303_f6pJS-Th[1]
  • Space was designed in so mirror contact of the car and the truck faring would not be a problem regardless of the direction of loading or unloading.
  • Ramps are each 19” wide so there is some room for slight corrections.
  • The ends of the 2”x2” square tubing that borders the tire tracks was left open so that a winch setup could easily be added, if desired.  Some folks want to winch, others don’t but I am sure that there will be times for us that winching will be preferred and if so, that option will be available with a slide in support frame.

3 Full fender protection


3/16” steel plate welded between 2”x3/16” steel angles make these fenders very protective of the car and the trailer should a truck tire separate or road debris get picked up in or between the duals and thrown an any direction. 


The bed is made 102” wide to give more overhang on the sides for the tandems for better protection. 

4 Use Existing commercial hitch

A debate has long raged about using commercial hitches to pull RVs. Evidences exist on both sides proving their position but an air ride hitch is a very significant additional cost to some people and unless it is the right one, may not make any difference in the end.

Pounding of the RV pin box by the hitch is seen as having a very big potential for damage to the RV frame integrity. Some RVs can handle it and many can’t and start to have metal fatigue points in the structure.

My own view is that vertical pounding is only one of the forces at work to do such damage. Probably more damaging is the starting and stopping forces that the RV pin box may get when being controlled by a Heavy Duty Truck (HDT). Good driving techniques are, therefore, more important than hitch design in moderating these forces.

As for the vertical pounding, running tandem axles on the truck with 4 air bags inflated to less than 20lbs/sq in allows some absorption of these types of forces. Also, running duals doubles the tire contact areas thus often spanning potholes and bumps with a parallel tire. The tandem axles span wide road artifacts, like rail road crossings, dips and speed bumps and give more of a “crawling over it” dynamic to it.  This can easily be seen when crossing a speed bump in a parking lot. The front axle bumps up over it and the rear tandems crawl over the same obstacle  with much less vertical displacement thus “softening” the experience.

Another big concern is the single plane of articulation that a typical commercial hitch is limited to. It can tip forward and backward to accommodate vertical changes in truck-trailer angles but it cannot tip side-to-side to handle uneven surfaces, such as in some campgrounds and roadside areas such as entrances to service stations, campgrounds, etc.

There is a certain amount of play in the kingpin-hitch interface and there is a bit of flex in the design of any well built RV. The problem is where does the stress go when the truck and trailer are being “twisted” relative to each other. The truck frame is designed to twist…. some but that is expecting a lot more than the typical 3000 to 5000 lbs of a typical 5th wheel RV pin weight. It is certainly something to be concerned about for the long term integrity of the RV.

Would I like an air ride hitch, sure.. if it has enough throw range and damping to significantly reduce these forces in typical towing… and if I can ever afford one, I will get it. Some feel it is cheap insurance compared to the costs of fixing a cracked RV frame and I don’t disagree.

5 Good tire traction for Smart

The original design was to have the tire tracks in the bed made out of 3/16” diamond plate. Some serious thought was also given to adding expanded mesh over flat plate but each still left me with a problem of buildup of ice or mud or tree trash in these tracks which could cause tire slippage during loading or unloading.

I chose to look at using the catwalk sections from the truck with their very open but aggressive surface design to fit in the bottom of these tracks. 871836280_MSUkR-Th[1] They are 1” thick and help reduce the break over angle at the edge of the bed. Separating them into the sections to fit was not hard and then they were bolted down to the bed frame.

Space was left at each end of the traction sections to drop in a standard rubber wheel chock with a lip to prevent it from getting pushed off of the edge of the bed during loading.872902887_5bJJg-Th[1] 871837162_MAVeb-Th[1] These are already in use for chocking the truck and trailer tires so they are not additional stuff to carry.

6 Secure tie down for the car

Various folks have used various means to keep their smart car in place on the bed. Some have worked better than others and some have just not “failed” yet.

882189733_VunWm-Th[1]883531406_nXwYY-Th[1]   I use webbed tie down belts with strap baskets to insure the belts stay on the tires no matter what. These are the same commercial basket belts that tow trucks use for much bigger and heavier stuff.

883531215_6ZBcy-Th[1]To actually hold the tires under pressure, 4 load binding winches for flat bed semi trailers are used. Instead of being welded to the bed (or under it as in the original design) they are slipped in under tabs that keep them in place but allow some sideways movement during tie down to accommodate where the individual tire may be sitting in the tire track.


 883530720_PJsRT-Th[1]The front and rear tires have different track widths on the Smart and this was a concern for centering the tie downs for maximum security on each tire regardless of the side used to load it onto the Smart bed.   

The webbed tie downs are designed so that they can be secured with an offset to the center of the tire and still not have any risk of coming off.

This lets them align easily with the load binder winches as needed. 883531284_9aFFW-Th[1]Between the sideways adjustability of each load binder, the length of the slot for the strap and the way that the straps tighten up on the tires, a lot of tire offset can be accommodated.

Watching them being removed before unloading gives some perspective about how they hold the smart car down and how they work.

7 Easy access to under bed truck parts

For me, this was a really big item.  I try to do as much wrenching as I can for maintenance and repair.  Most truck beds completely obscure access to what is under them so full access is usually a matter of having a truck lift, a service trench or removing the bed with a hoist or fork lift.  Out on the road, none of these are options without first having a tow to the right shop.

881796767_iTUUx-Th[1] 881796858_sKJBM-Th[1]

Designing the bed to be 2” x 6” wood decking that is retained in place by a flat steel strip on each end, allows easy access to any part under the deck just by loosening or removing 6 bolts and slipping the boards off and out of the way.

For cost, salt treated lumber was used but if I ever find myself where white oak 2” x 6” lumber is cheap, it will replace the decking in a heartbeat.

8 Easy hook bed edge for tie downs of “stuff”

I had envisioned a 1” x 1/4” steel strip to be welded around the bed with spacers to have a convenient edge to hook tie downs to but the 2” x 3/16” steel angle iron that supports the perimeter of the bed eliminated the need for that so this is even simpler.

9 Aesthetically acceptable to look at

881796317_CpeWp-Th[1]Though these are only numbered for reference this item is near the end of my requirements because it takes what it takes to satisfy the requirements of physics and safety and whatever is left available usually does not leave much room for aesthetic adjustment.


881796188_Ln2Aa-Th[1]In this case, it came together with all of it intact and, to my eye, looks very natural. It is subtle but present and integrates nicely with the truck cab and faring. Looks like it could handle a “woody” stake side added, just for looks. 

10 Predictable cost to build.

Actually, not that predictable!  The steel came in at about $1900. The welding work (as estimated by others) was expected to be under 10 hours. In reality, it took about 100 hours but that included not only the steel work but all of the wood work, painting (2 coats of primer and Black glossy epoxy) and “figuring “ that it took to solve some of the issues “in flight”. Up front, Scott was more realistic about the unknown time and effort it would take and just gave me a flat rate/hour. My own expectations of how many hours it should take were in error. The estimate for the steel was obtained prior to my committing the work to be done.

The company, Flores Welding, does steel fabrication over much of the southeast US. Russell, the fabricator that did this work, has been doing this for over 18 years and had some impressive examples of his work. Scott Holland is the lead estimator and did some of the actual work along with solving some of the problems and issues that came up. Together, they made it happen right.

All in all, it totaled about double the cost I was realistically expecting. Prior to this I was unable to get anyone to give me a firm estimate of costs to plan around but in the end, I got exactly what I really wanted, the way I wanted it.

Even though this was a first-off one of a kind, there was no throw-away material and no re-cuts due to errors or unanticipated issues during fabrication. What was cut and welded stayed welded.

I could have shaved some of the costs off by providing some labor myself. I had originally intended to do this but a combination of things including the weather, made this much harder to do that I had hoped. The shop was about 40 minutes away and this is in Central North Carolina going into the summer months and I am just not any good in the heat.

I could also have done some things, like all the unbolting and bolting, some of the drilling and the decking work and painting. When I saw how well Russell worked I just woosed out and let him do his thing and I am very glad I did.

Probably the biggest reason I didn’t work on it at the shop was that everyone there smoked and I am allergic to tobacco smoke, big time.  I would have liked to have hung around during the work a lot more. They were very agreeable to my assisting but there was more than once that my allergies took me out of service for a couple of days after a short visit to take progress pictures.

All in all, would I do it again? Absolutely!  I would just plan on it costing a good bit more on the top end than I had anticipated. I don’t think that I could have gotten a better job anywhere else at any price and I am sure that several of the places that I did attempt to give the job to would not have done anywhere near this quality nor completeness.

Now that these guys have built one they know what it will take in time and materials and I am certain that they can fabricate more of these in less time. They did say they were interested in building more of them and there is a full RV park less than a mile up the road from their shop. While it is not a resort, it is very convenient to the job site and only a couple of miles off of I-40 in Garner, NC should anyone be interested in dropping by and checking out the shop.

I am a happy camper!



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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finally! Something tangible to touch

Last week Clifford went to the welding shop to begin getting his smart bed built and the hitch moved back a bit. Actual work started on Tuesday.  I got a short movie of Clifford being backed into the shop to get started.

I went back on Wednesday with the smart car to triple check the tracking width and placement of the ramps. 

The bed frame and most of the steel parts were already cut and jigged up for fitting.  It was really great to finally see and feel something real after all the many months of just visualizing the bed.


The rest of the pictures are on Smugmug

Friday, April 16, 2010

EarthQuakes – A sign of changes to come

There are a number of things that shake one’s life up. Some big some unnoticeable, at the time, but all contribute to the future and how it winds away from today.

So, Many things have been shaking since I last posted.

1. Clifford is now at a welder’s shop getting fitted for his Smart Car bed.  Work is beginning as I type.

2. Katie the cockapoo went 40 days without a seizure!!!! longest period before this was 18 days and the longest period before that in the past 2 years was 14 days.  Big milestone for her.  We will see if this next gap can beat 40 days.

3. Sister-in-Law has finally admitted to herself that she is not going to be able to live independently and has agreed to go into assisted living until she can prove that she does not need it anymore… but, she is back in the hospital, again, initially from a bad fall, but while there some notice has been made of a “spot” on her heart so we are just waiting for more tests to see what it is.  A search back over her records from a year ago showed that It was there at that time, too but no one bothered to mention it?  We will see what we will see.

4. Daughter-in-Law, Christi has started a new job. Seems to really love it and is certainly well suited for the work, too.

5. Likewise, Daughter Carol has really been enjoying her job at Coke since January and is really blooming in it.

6. The other “kids” are all employed and succeeding and seem to be happy so things in the jobs department have stopped quaking for awhile.

7. Merrily continues with her work. Last fall she moved to a shortened work week (35 hrs) and has stayed with that by choice if we can keep our chins above the debt level in this tank.  It has really made a difference in her attitude and her comfort at home. She does not seem so tired all the time and this has been good given the other stresses of her sister’s predicaments.

8. We have a week vacation planned at Hatteras in May. Clifford is supposed to be ready for the trip according to the welder and Merrily and I are clearly already “ready” to be there.  But with the way things seem to rock and roll around here we will believe it when we are there.

9. City Inspector just came by and claims that someone complained that someone is living in our RV in our back yard.  That’s gonna leave a mark!

Lots of other little tremors but so far nothing to knock us off of our feet… but it does take a lot of paying attention to stay upright.

More later,


Friday, January 15, 2010

Whoops! Where did the time go???

A new year is already in progress and I am still fretting about “catching up” 2009 stuff.  Boy, it is a real burden to make today seem like just today and not  2 weeks ago. I guess an update to this blog is in order but first, a few words about maintaining a blog.

There are a number of very dedicated people that chronicle their daily lives in their blogs. Howard and Linda’s RV-Dreams blog, Nick Russell’s Gypsy Journal  and Mike and Pat McFall’s  Mike and Pat’s Travels.   Like poems, each has its own rhythm and rhyme and I look forward to gleaning the good stuff from each new post.  Nick’s life as a newspaperman has him dedicated to a daily diary that is only 1 among several that he manages to keep up with (Bad Nick’s blog, and several other blogs and sites based in Motorcycles, guns, and other topically interesting info centers). 

But Nick is an exception. I do occasionally read others blogs, some daily, some not, and most are more homebody centric than focused to a particular theme or life interest. The content really is more like a diary than a news story of the day and that is not a criticism, just an observation.  The general impression is that most are interesting to a fault and can consume most of my day just staying “well read” in them.

Maintaining this blog and a few others has me torn between reading and writing..  just not enough time to do both…. regularly.  My original intent with this blog focused on what life is like just trying to get on the road in a transition to living a full time lifestyle.  Its not always about RVs and RVing and often is about seemingly unrelated things.  Those “things”, though, are the nuts and bolts of our lives and when moving to a completely different lifestyle like full time RVing, some of this infrastructure has to be dealt with to make it happen.  Little of it is turnkey, though, and I find that the closer we get the more effort I have to spend just figuring out how to engineer the results we want from today’s starting position.

I mentioned the other blogs because Mike and Pat have started theirs on the other end of the blogging routine. They were publishing once a week but always on Sunday.  Now they update on Sunday and Wednesday due to demands from their readers.  However, Howard and Linda have finally, after 5 years, eased their commitment off from every day to every few days, due to the demands of their own life on the road.  Nick is still doing his daily update and it stumps me how he is able to maintain all that he does and still run rallies, travel and publish an RV centric hardcopy newspaper.  At my age, I can’t get a whole daily blog post done without having to take a potty break and that usually means that I have to do a reread of my writing because the break caused me to lose my train of thought.

From what I have done, tried to do and observed others doing there is no slack time in a full time RVing lifestyle.  It is every bit as busy and consuming as any other way of living.  It just has different choices available but they still have to be considered and executed. I doubt that anyone doing it stays laid back and relaxed for very long. So, until I can get both feet either in the boat or back onto the dock I am going to have to admit that I cannot keep a daily post running at this time.  Maybe in the future I will be able to get back to that level but for now, it will have to be…… intermittent, at best.

Now, what you really came here to read.

The holiday season left us feeling good about our whole family. The kids are all grown and nicely growing into their own family lives. They are all employed (a good thing) and they are all happy (a rarer thing these days). As Merrily and I move closer to being on the road, they are all communicating more amongst themselves and depending more on one another for help and advice than on us.  This is very heartwarming for me to see this growth in them all.

Our return from our vacation to Disney and the shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral resulted in a plan to go to Wilmington, NC over the New Year’s day holiday.  Its only a couple of hours away and we did enjoy it last summer. However, Merrily and I came down with some bug and though she was only down for a few days, I continue to struggle with the respiratory issues so we postponed the Wilmington trip to this weekend for my birthday.  I turn the magic 66 which puts me at that full retirement age according to SOME government agencies. The biggest advantage is that I can now make whatever $$$ without it causing my social security income to suffer. Since I started receiving it when I turned 62 the little amount I get has hinged on a very limited amount of “other income”.

Merrily is still working and sometimes gets discouraged because it is taking so long to get on the road full time.  Intellectually, knows that she is still under the full retirement age and we have to be able to sustain a lifestyle once we leave here.  Emotionally, she is more than ready to take off yesterday.  The 3 weeks on the road and in Florida in November proved that she has the mindset to do it full time.  I think that though it improved the confidence factor that we can do it, it may also have made returning to her job a good bit more difficult in the long term.

The Smart car bed building project is still in process, too. I have found another guy that does this sort of work but his workload has also picked a lot from last year and trying to find the time and energy to tackle my bed project is difficult.

I recently exchanged emails with Red Dog, the folks that drive their Smart up the ramps onto their HDT.  He said that they switched to winching it up.  I suspect that the difficulty of crawling in and out of the passenger side door every time was just too bothersome for his wife. This is another reason why I want to try loading and unloading from the passenger side of the HDT.  It puts the driver’s door to the rear of the truck making it easy to step in and out of the smart.

Beyond that, we finally have a frost free water hookup for the RV so I don’t have to run out and drain 100’ of hoses and water lines every time the temps are going to dip below freezing.  Thank you Emery and Sebastien.

Since the November trip I have been fine tuning the “must haves” for our life. I Just swapped out the toaster oven for one that takes up less counter space and is more convenient. A few other convenience improvements were adding to our X-10 system for remote control of our lighting, Switching all my banking to E-Statements from paper and switching from Microsoft Money to Quicken for our personal financial management program. Microsoft announced that they are discontinuing their Money program and support so I had to switch to something that is still viable.  Quicken is the only real contender these days.

I have also gotten the signup information for switching our residency and registrations to South Dakota.  This will be a bit more convenient for handling our mail as well as less restricting as far as vehicle registrations go. We are ditching the Taurus but still need to hang onto the Aerostar for awhile longer due to the smart car not being suitable for carrying much cargo or people.

The last few trips in Clifford have seen an intermittent FUEL TEMPERATURE SENSOR error pop up on the diagnostic display. That is something I need to attend to when it gets a bit warmer.  I don’t work well in the cold.

I have also had a strange anomaly with my exhaust stack on Clifford.  Ever since the muffler was replaced I find after a long trip that the section above the muffler manages to rotate so that it is blowing directly into the top of the side faring. I have already turned and tightened it twice. I guess we will see if it does it for this weekend’s trip.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Catchup TIme

It has been awhile since I posted here.  I may go back and fill in some period information but so far I am just trying to stay on track.

Once the plans for the Smart bed for Clifford were done enough to start finding fabricators, I found that the fabricators I had previously spoken to about the project, had all gotten a lot busier.  The primary one said that hunting season had just started and his main man was going to be gone until mid December.  Two other fabricators begged off with concerns about liability and too few employees at the moment to tackle it.  Pook!  They were all ready to jump on it 3 months ago without a second thought.

So, Merrily drove Sprite down instead of renting a car.   Since we were simulating a typical full timers traveling style we were not intending to move more than a few hundred miles a day.  This and the cost and trouble of renting something once we were at our destinations, was enough incentive to try it out.   After all, a lot of full timers drive in two vehicles when moving locations so how bad could it be.

In our case, it has been fine. Sure, it would be nice to have my honey by my side but this is working for now and it takes the pressure off to get the Smart bed built too quickly for its own good. It also has the advantage on these short junkets of having the Smart readily available when we want to spontaneously jaunt off track.

Katie loves it, too. She rides with Merrily in the Smart car and does fine.  She was having periods of angst when riding in CLifford.  I think now that it was due to her not being able to see Merrily.  M rides behind Dakotr so Katie can look out the front window and see Dakotr up ahead and goes back to sleep.

We spent a week camped in Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground in site 542.  It was a good site and the whole rig plus $prite fit into it still hooked up. Although we were there for the week we were only in a theme park for 2 days.

The first was the Animal Kingdom which was interesting but not particularly memorable. Part of the difficulty is that so much of it needs daylight to experience the animal aspects so it closes about 5pm and we are not early starters.

We went to Epcot on Merrily’s birthday and she got in for free.  That was nice and saved $80 or so. Katie spent the day in doggie day care at Ft Wilderness and did fine.  We closed the park… in the rain but saw the entire Illuminations light, fireworks and laser show.  It was worth the effort and the drizzle. We were in Epcot the first month it was open in 1982 and again in 1985 but not since then. It has fleshed out a lot more but still the same basic good times everywhere.

We also attended the Cirque Du Soleil – La Nueba show at Downtown Disney on our anniversary, 10/30. Great show. Pricey tickets but worth it for a one time experience. Not sure I would pay that to see it again, though.

Beyond these few specific items, we just enjoyed the Ft WIlderness campground experience.  Sometimes, its more about just being there than doing this or that.

Here at Jetty Maritime Park in Port Canaveral, it is also more about being there than what we are doing.  The intent in coming here was to see a space shuttle launch but this not a bad campground for a beach front campground. Rates are reasonable and there are some trees. Some big rig spaces work out, too.  Its a little light on the power/sewer connections mostly because the 50 amp sites are not sewer prepped.  The weather has been cool, though, with temps in the low to mid 70s and windy. Today was the first non-cloudy day and it was a gorgeous one. 

The shuttle launch is set for 11/16 and we plan to leave 11/17 for St Augustine Beach to visit family for a day or so before starting back to Raleigh.

This 3 weeks of simulated retirement has been  great.  We are both very happy, de-stressed and ready to do this full time.   Just have to get the ducks to walk in a row and wrap up the expense issues before we can take off.


Friday, October 9, 2009

We Have a Plan! … for Clifford and the $PRITE

With a great deal of help from friends and in particular, Mark Shelley, we now have a tangible plan for the Smart car bed and a means to load the car up on there.  Basically, this design lets us just drive it up and tie it down.

I had a few constraints:

  1. The deck needed to be 102” wide
  2. The car should be loadable from either side, driver or curb side of Clifford
  3. It should be a “drive-on” solution so no special mechanical, pneumatic or hydraulic dependencies to get it onboard.
  4. The design of the bed should be for ease of fabrication and only intended to be for carrying the Smart car.
  5. The bed should also allow for full and easy top side access to the truck chassis and parts for maintenance as well as future alterations should they be desired.
  6. The bed should be designed so that construction costs should be as low as possible and within reasonable reach of most HDTers.
  7. There should be ample protection for both the smart car and the trailer from damage caused by the truck’s tires throwing stuff into them or losing pieces of tread.
  8. Tie down of the smart car should be simple and easy to secure and very safe.

A few basics:

Clifford is a 2000 Volvo VNL64T770 with just under 600,000 miles. It has a Detroit S60 Engine and an Eaton 10 speed gen I Autoshift (with clutch pedal). It came from the US Express Fleet and was an owner/operator truck for a short time.

The wheel base is a little longer and I am keeping it tandem but dropping the outer tires on the forward axle. It has a full sliding 5th wheel hitch on it with an extension that allows it to be positioned nearly to the rear end of the square frame of the truck.


Truck Modifications to be made:

Only 1.  The frame will need to be extended to allow the commercial 5th wheel hitch to be positioned far enough back that the forward corners of the towed 5th wheel will not contact the side of the Smart car when it is loaded onboard.

I am considering putting an ET Jr. air ride 5th wheel hitch on it at some time to replace the commercial hitch.

Although I am using the ideas of others to load a Smart car crosswise on the bed of the truck, this design is significantly different than what many of these others have implemented, so far. It has no storage or skirting designed into it but should be fairly easy to add  some lockers in the future, should that be desired. Here are a few pictures of the designs of others that are carrying Smart cars on their trucks.


Bill and Joan - Their solution includes the Ramps I will use .

They also have a minimal transport bed to carry the car. The ramps store under the car in a special compartment built just for them but it was a very tight fit.  

They are the new Big Boy II folding ramps from Discount and are 12’ long with a 12 degree bend in the center to ease the break over angle where they attach to the bed. They are light enough at 54 lbs to be handled easily and strong enough (2000lbs) to handle the weight of the Smart car.




Virgil built a minimal bed, too. He has a movie of loading his Smart. He chose 16’ straight ramps

Each of these folks use a winch to load and unload but some occasionally unload by just driving the car off their truck and down the ramps.

Although when I asked the question, “Why load/unload a smart car from the driver’s side?” I did not get any answers that gave a concrete reason. Some said it was because of winching it up backwards and there is only 1 tow eye attachment in the front of a smart. Others said that if stuck on the side of the road in the truck, anything on the curb side would make offloading to that side impossible.

My thinking has been that the curb side makes more sense because the truck can be positioned in front of a driveway, along a curb or other places without having to be parked on the wrong side of the road. To me, it is also unlikely that in any condition where the truck may be disabled on the side of a road that it would be possible to deploy 12’ to 16’ of ramp out into the roadway to offload the car.

However, it really seems more natural to load and unload the car by driving it on or off of the truck and preferable to be able to do this ambidextrously.  Theoretically, one could drive on from the curb side and then drive forward off of the driver’s side of the truck.  The only difference would be whatever difficulty the location and storage method of the ramps might add to the process.

Driving on from the curb side allows better gearing for the climb up the ramps as well as placing the driver’s side door towards the rear of the truck. This makes it a lot easier to get in and out of the driver’s seat of the Smart.

I am convinced that driving the car on and off of the bed is not as big of an issue and some people think.  I watched Red Dog’s wife, CarolAnne, drive their Smart onto their truck bed with only 105” straight ramps so it has to be a lot easier to do it with 144” ramps with a slight angle at the middle. He solved the problem of the sharp breakover angle at the edge of the bed by lifting the rails the car sits on when loaded, with a triple chamber air bag. Inflated, it allows loading  and unloading without a winch. Once onboard, it is deflated to lower the car flat onto the truck bed and then tied down.




The solution:

The overall view should look like this:

NashVolvoFullBuild NashVolvoFullBuildExploded

The frame is at its current length and will have to be extended to move the hitch back on it.

The actual bed is made of 3 deck sections and 2 tire troughs for the wheels to rest in once loaded and tied down and 2 fender units under the bed.  Each of these segments are independently constructed and then mounted together to form the whole bed.

NashVolvoFullBuildTopViewofDeck  NashVolvoMidDeck 

Each of the decks are constructed by creating a welded frame of 2” x 2” Angle iron. Specs show this as 3/16” stock but it can be upgraded to 1/4” if desired.

The wheel troughs are also made of 2” x 2” angle iron in 3/16” material. These run the length of the trough on each outer edge and are bounded on the outside with a 2” x 2” 3/16” square tubular steel rib. A full length weld is recommended on each of these seams of bonding the angle iron to the square tubing. NashVolvoTroughTopViewNashVolvoTroughBottomView NashVolvoTroughCloseUpView NashVolvoTroughFloorPlate

The floor of the wheel trough is 3/16” diamond plate steel, also full length welded. Althought the actual trough width needs to be 13.3”, 12” wide plate stock is a more common size so it should reduce cost per foot. It rests on the flange of the angle iron trim.  However, a preferable alternative may be rough expanded steel mesh to make the trough bottom. It would drain better and probably have a little more traction. It should be of enough thickness to replace the strength of the diamond plate. 

Some explanation about this plate structure is necessary. The floor of each trough is made of 3  separate pieces.   This provides slots through the floor that accommodates the tie down straps that go up over the tires and are winched down with 3” webbed straps on load binder manual ratchet winches. The cutouts at the outer end of each of the plates at the ends of the trough is where the ramps attach to the edge of the smart bed. The ramps have a tang under the upper end of the ramp which drops down into these slots and then is pinned to keep them from jumping out unexpectedly.

 NashVolvoTroughFloorPlateEdgeCovers3/4” steel tubing is used as a cover to protect the tie down straps from the sharp edges of the trough floor plate, provide a place to hook the free end of the straps and also to stiffen it against the forces of the straps.

The fenders are made of 3/16” steel plate, bent with two 45 degree bends to  extend down behind the tires of the rear axle. They are full length welded to 2” x 2” x 3/16” angle iron along the long edges to reduce vibration and to strengthen them against possible impacts from flailing tread should a tire failure occur. This should adequately protect both the car and the RV being towed. They are fastened to the boxed frames of all of the components of the bed.

All of these components are mounted to two 3” x 5” sq tube 3/16” steel beams that run the length of the bed. They are attached to the truck’s 2 frame members with 6 U bolts. A single piece of 3/4” Oil Soaked Oak (preferably white oak) the width of the beam, separates the beams from the truck chassis frames. This acts as both a shock absorber and allows some gentle movement between these supporting steel structures. This plate is very important to the continued integrity of the bed mounting system to the truck frame.

The Ramps should stow easily between the car and the back of the truck cab but will need to be secured against theft.

I have present pictures of my truck with measurements for planning purposes and quick reference available on my SmugMug area.

There is a lot more information available including more pictures and websites with bed building albums showing the different ways that others have put their smart cars on the back of their RV tow trucks.

This is the way we are intending to do it.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shifting Gears

No, this is not about mechanical things. It is about how things tend to reach a critical mass which results in a sudden dramatic change.  It seems to be a necessary part of the steps of life to occasionally “shift gears” in order to move along at a better pace or in another direction.

In this case, the critical mass is the contents of Dakotr. What is in here and where it is placed in this 400 square feet of domicile is a combination of what was in hand and where I was when I put it down.  I have already talked about the PIBWIB days (Put It Back Where It Belongs) that must come around occasionally, to restore “in use” items to their proper resting areas. But when loading a place with things for a new lifestyle there are a lot of questions of where “the best place” is for any particular item to be kept.

Obviously, Kitchen stuff should go in the kitchen, bath stuff, in the bathroom, etc. but the combination of limited storage spaces in those areas along with no real experience in this lifestyle there is little sense of how often an item might be used and how “handy” it should be. Early on in our preparations it was clear that there needed to be offline storage areas for things that were not used often enough to keep them close at hand all the time.  For instance, some kitchen items might be for use only at Christmas time so why keep then in the way the rest of the whole year?

We have lived in DakotR for two years so we have gained some experience with our patterns of use of various objects. Some were moved from the house about the time we moved but many were acquired after we discovered a need or an oversight of a future need for them. When brought into Dakotr they were usually put in a seemingly obvious “handy” place but time has shown that they did not need to be that handy and those spaces would be a better spot for things that really did need to be more readily available when needed.

If the use of the whole of the storage spaces in DakotR is looked at as a progression of convenience then each item has a place of specific priority based on its real value in being “handy”.  Each item that is not in its best location for its use is both in the way as well as preventing something else from being “handier” if placed in that spot. Each of these inconveniences adds a tiny bit more energy to the growing mass of disconvenience. At some point, the disconvenience will quietly convert to inconvenience which initiates a wave of functional frustration that carries a conscious element of discomfort. 

it is important to note that until the disconvenience of not quite having items in the perfect spot becomes pure conscious inconvenience, they will still subtly affect the attitudes and comfort factors of life in the RV.

Imagine that one day, for simple and perhaps short sighted reasons, one chooses to “fix” a small inconvenience. This could be as small a thing as cleaning out the proverbial (and ever present) kitchen junk drawer because it is so full things occasionally stick up and prevent the drawer from opening or closing smoothly.  A choice is made to just take out whatever keeps jamming things up and put it somewhere better. Once removed from the drawer there are only two things that can be done with it. It can be thrown away and life will move on as usual or it can be put somewhere else.

If the disconvenience factor has grown sufficiently, the latter choice may initiate a chain reaction of placements and relocations of other items to make space for them. If enough disconvenience has already converted to inconvenience in enough different storage areas, their contents may be removed enmasse to also be relocated to better spaces.

At this point, critical mass has been reached and a “big bang” will quickly take place. The result may look something like this:



I know this was the long way around to point out that things change because we don’t have perfect foresight and it takes us awhile to catch-on that not all is alright. It is easy to quickly find oneself in the middle of reorganizing many items and whole spaces all at one time just to make the kitchen junk drawer close smoothly.

If I had any sense I would just have thrown the offending item away…. but I didn’t.