Lemke’s Vintage Truck Camper Rig Wins Top Honors at TCA Rally

It’s no secret that we love classic trucks and campers here at Truck Camper Adventure. Over the years, we’ve published several stories featuring restored Avions and Alaskans. We’ve also published stories on newer rigs using restored classic trucks. Today we shine the spotlight on yet another vintage rig consisting of a 1966 GMC truck and a 2020 Arctic Fox 865. Built by Todd Lemke, the California-native went all out. With the help of his father, the aging truck got a major overhaul in the form of a new Ram 3500 chassis including a new Cummins diesel. He also gave the camper a classic look and feel by wrapping it with a corrugated aluminum pattern. The result of all of his work is impressive. As a matter of fact, we were so impressed with Todd’s rig that we gave it the “top rig” award at the recent Truck Camper Adventure Rally in Quartzsite. To learn more about this awesome build and how it evolved, Todd was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Thanks, Todd, for talking with us. Tell us a little about yourself.

Todd Lemke: I was born and raised in San Diego, California. I have a younger brother and sister. We have always been a very close family. We grew up going on family vacations ; snow skiing in the winter and river or house boating trips in the summers. Traveling has never left my blood. I love seeing what this great country has to offer and will choose traveling on motorcycle or camper truck over airplane any day; only choose air travel when there just is not enough time to drive to where we want to visit. I’ve never been married or had any children. I have been with my better half for nearly 15 years now and she shares the same passion for camping, boating, and motorcycling.

What do you do for a living?

Todd Lemke: I service heavy equipment. Have worked for the same company for over 35 years. Operate a Fuel/Lube truck and go to our job sites and maintain the equipment. I LOVE working on equipment and LOVE driving so it is the perfect job for me. I take great pride in anything I drive and my work truck is no exception. It’s a Peterbilt 389 Long Hood, and although it works in the dirt daily, it doesn’t show. I do a few big rig shows a year with it. I always take “The Toaster” (camper trucks name) to all the shows. We show both trucks together. Pops always drives the Toaster and we always have a great place to sleep and more importantly have our own bathroom. A couple of years ago I even went all the way to Denton Texas. Peterbilt Motors has a show each year with only 50 invites, and we were chosen to go.

How long have you owned your Arctic Fox 865 truck camper?

Todd Lemke: I ordered it in early 2019 and took delivery in late 2019, so it’s a 2020 model. Did not really start getting good use out of it until last year. The truck has had a camper of some sort since 1966. The previous camper had been on the truck since 1992. The Arctic Fox ended up being a lot heavier than the old 1992 Lance (the camper is over 4,000 pounds loaded). Even though the truck handled it fine, we were now exceeding the tire limit for the tire and size I prefer to use, so we made some really big changes which resulted in not getting any use out of it for the better part of the first year of having the new camper.

Can you tell us about your AF 865 and why you chose that particular make and model?

Todd Lemke: Well, we had worn out our old camper, but since we are always towing and there are really not many options on new campers that don’t stick past rear bumper, it took a while. I spent about five years looking for a like-new condition Lance that was exactly like my old one (yea, I’m not a big fan of change). Even though it was a lot to ask for, I just was not willing to give-in to getting a new camper. Then I was on the Internet and saw the layout of the Arctic Fox 865 and fell in love with having the kitchen in the back corner and bathroom midships. I wasn’t thrilled with it sticking past bumper nor the height of the unit, but once I learned about the huge holding tanks, I decided to go for it. Before finishing the order we went to a graphic designer to see if they could wrap it and make it look like the sides were corrugated. They assured me it would be no problem, so I went to the dealer and finalized the deal.

Todd’s setup now with a wrapped 2020 Arctic Fox 865
Arctic Fox 865 Interior
Arctic Fox 865 Interior

With the retro wrap, I tried to keep it looking as close to the 1992 Lance as possible. We were able to get that classic corrugated look as well as add stripes similar to the old camper. The wrap also included a fake front window (another thing near impossible to find on new campers). It was really important to me to still have the look of an old camper on an old truck even though in reality neither are what they appear to be. Any place where the old camper said LANCE, I replaced it with LEMKE, so driving down the road or even sitting your eyes will just kind of read Lance. Since the camper is an Arctic Fox, we worked with the designer in finding a Arctic Fox to put in front window, then we put a cowboy hat on him with the Arctic Fox logo on his hat.

It looks great. What mods, if any, have you made to your truck camper to make it more livable?

Todd Lemke: Before ever even using it, the first place we took it was my friend Scott’s shop La Jolla Audio in San Diego. They installed a couple of TVs, one in bedroom the other in hallway. They also installed a power inverter to run coffee maker, TVs etc, without having to use the generator, and installed a camera off the back of camper. We can watch the camera feed from either our phone or iPad mounted on the dash of the truck. It also has the option of recording as well as infrared. When we ordered the camper we had roof pre-wired to run off road lights on four circuits. We haven’t installed lights yet, but they installed a switching station so from a remote you can control any of the lights you want. We also wired a circuit so the truck alternator is charging camper anytime truck is running. We also had them install controls to run the generator from inside the camper along with a shore power switching system.

Do you use solar power or a generator to keep your truck camper’s batteries topped off?

Todd Lemke: I run both systems. The camper came with, I think, a 45 watt panel and I added another 125 watts I think it was. So far I’m not overly impressed with the solar system. I’m looking forward to talking with people that have knowledge in this area.

What kind of batteries are you using in your truck camper?

Todd Lemke: I currently just have a couple of deep cycle acid batteries. I’m strongly considering upgrading to lithium batteries. I just need to learn what changes I need to make to make it the most beneficial.

We love your 1966 GMC truck. Can you tell us more about it?

Todd Lemke: Thank you. We call it The Toaster. The most often question I get asked is why you call it The Toaster? The name actually came from the original owner. He had a huge car/camper cover he used to keep over it. The little kids in his neighborhood told him it looked like a giant toaster. The name stuck and it will forever be The Toaster. Right now we are in what we call phase three of The Toaster’s life. When I purchased it we called that phase one. It’s a 1966 GMC 4WD, and used to have an injected 427 Tall Deck truck motor, turbo 400, one-ton axles. The truck was built really well. The weak link of the truck was the frame. I was breaking/tearing the frame past the rear spring perch due to heavy trailer loads etc. One of the conditions of buying it…. I promised him I would never sell it. That was an easy commitment since I pretty much never get rid of anything; even still have my first car—which coincidentally is a ’66 as well and now even painted to match the Toaster.

Dually axle
Todd’s GMC newly-outfitted as a dually.

Anyway, so in 2012 Pops and myself decided it was time to upgrade the truck a little. We special ordered a 2012 Ram 3500 standard cab dually 4WD with the 6.7L Cummins diesel. I wanted a straight front axle and Cummins engine so the Ram was a easy choice. Then phase two and what we thought was final phase of Toaster life was to begin  We took delivery of it, backed it in the shop and unbolted anything that would unbolt and cut the roof off. Our first cut was in the same month the truck was assembled. We made a commitment to each other we would not take on any other projects or go on any vacations till truck was complete. We worked on it every night after work and most weekends and did it in under a year.

How long have you owned it?

Todd Lemke: I have had it since the early 2000’s

What was involved in your truck’s restoration?

Todd Lemke: Starting with a “new” truck really simplified things, since everything was new all we had to do was make it all fit. Not having to rebuild anything or even clean things for that matter really sped up the process. There were countless hours of measuring and putting together a game plan. Since the newer truck cabs are so much bigger than the trucks of yesteryear, we ended up having to extend the GMC cab by 13 inches. We left the ram floor, firewall and rear bulkhead in place. This really simplified things since we didn’t have to mess with the steering, pedals, air conditioner, heater, and wiring harness. We also had to extend the front fenders and hood by 8 inches. I personally think it looks much more balanced now than how the original long-beds looked. It now has the same proportions as the short-beds do.

The truck looks fantastic. Did you make any modifications to the suspension?

Todd Lemke: Yes, before even driving it, we installed the Kore front leveling kit with a progressive spring as well as a set of air bags for the stock 3500 suspension. The truck has the camper on it 100 percent of the time. With the old Lance I ran the bags at 50 psi. We also made a sway bar system for it since for whatever reason the dually in that year did not come with a sway bar and was not even an option. I have to say the ride of the rig is incredible. I would say it was one of the best riding vehicles I have ever been in, not just trucks but cars as well. A good friend of mine, Dewey Gopp, was a big help installing everything and getting everything right.

Then the new camper came along and all that changed drastically. Because of the added weight, I had to run the bags at nearly 100 psi. The truck felt weird and floaty on the front axle and kind of porpoised after hitting bumps on the highway. This is how phase three of Toaster’s life came about. We were also exceeding tire limit. I run a 37×12.50×17 tire, which they don’t make a high load rating tire for. I do a lot of camping in soft sand and often need to air down. I like having a big sidewall tire and did not want to go to an 18-inch or 20-inch wheel, not to mention I LOVE the look of the Walker Evans wheel on the truck and it was only made in 17-inch. So when we took into consideration our new ride quality or lack thereof as well as being uncomfortable with the weight on a single tire, Pops and I decided to turn the truck into a dually while still running the Walker Evans on all four corners. This meant making our own custom inner wheel and getting rid of the leaf springs so we could move the inner tire as close to the frame rail as possible. We designed our own rear suspension using Hellwig Big Wig air bags and a trailing arm that is under the frame rails, so we could get the inner tire close to frame. So with our new wheel with a 13-3/4 inches off set and custom made 6-5/8-inch wheel spacer, we were able to make it all happen. I am very happy to report the ride quality is outstanding.

Todd’s rig as a SRW truck.

Do you have any regrets in any of your truck and camper choices? Anything you wished that you had done differently?

Todd Lemke: Definitely no regrets on choice of truck, the 6.7L Cummins is a real workhorse, and the hydra-formed frame is extremely strong. In 2012 it turns out the AISIN transmission only came in a cab chassis. The dealer told me the truck came with the AISIN and would have PTO ports on trans.. I had planned on running my winch and an air compressor off a PTO, but learned after taking delivery that was not going to be an option. So Far, I’m very happy with my choice of camper. I wish there were places to look at a variety of campers before choosing one. I went purely off of what I saw on internet and had never seen an Arctic Fox until I took delivery. The only thing I wish I might have done differently would have been to learn more about solar as well as inverters and batteries. I did not even know about lithium batteries at the time. I’m pretty sure I’m going to change to lithium soon. I just need to see what else I need to change or add to go with them.

What kind of mileage are you getting with your setup?

Todd Lemke: With the old setup I got 11.6 mpg towing and 12.5 mpg with no trailer. With new camper I’m getting about 10 mpg. I think most of it is just the added frontal area, and the other contributing factor is the extra two tires in the rear.

What wheel and tires do you have on your truck and what inflation values do you typically run?

Todd Lemke: I’m running Walker Evans wheels and a BFG All Terrain 37×12.50×17. As a non-dually I ran 50 psi on all tires. Have always had perfect wear patterns and great tread life. Now as a dually, I’m still 50 in front and experimenting with 45 on the rears.. When in soft sand I air down to 20 psi and can get through anything, as well as starting and stopping with out any concerns. I’m hoping with the huge footprint of the four tires in the rear that I can avoid airing down.

Your combo won the “best rig” award at the 2022 Truck Camper Adventure Rally in Quartzsite. What did that mean to you?

Todd Lemke: Just to have been listed in the top five was a great honor. Winning the award was beyond incredible. I cannot begin to express how flattered and appreciative I was. Bringing the trophy home to share with my dad meant the world to me. He helped me a lot. This award is extra special to me because it’s a purpose-built truck for off-road camping.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your rig that we didn’t ask?

Todd Lemke: The truck is home built, a labor of love. Even though it’s on a modern day chassis, it still has the feel of an old truck. We have a 15,000-pound Warn winch. We took the stock front bumper and turned it into two bumpers and wedged them out to tie into our winch and structure . We have two onboard air systems. The main system is an Oasis that is mounted under the drivers side, and the backup system is an Extreme Air Magnum mounted on top the the transfer case skit plate. Under the passenger side is a 10 gallon air tank. We built a lot of the custom stuff out of stainless steel. Everything from the steering column, the iPad in the dash, to the running boards and even the tool boxes were made of it. At the back of the truck you will see a custom built generator rack, a fold down porch, and swing-out staircase. We have a trailer behind us probably 90 percent of the time, so having stairs that go straight back are not at all useful for us.

Do you have a website and/or social media channels that our readers can follow?

Todd Lemke: The only social media I have is on Instagram and my name there is  @LemkeSpeedAndMarine.

At the 2022 Truck Camper Adventure Rally.
About Mello Mike 771 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a certified RVIA Level 1 RV Technician, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. A communications expert and licensed ham radio operator (KK7TCA), he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, holds a BS degree, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side. He currently rolls in a 4WD Ram 3500 outfitted with a SherpTek truck bed with a Bundutec Roadrunner mounted on top.

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