Mello Mike’s Truck Camper Musings and News I

For December 2017

Truck Camper Adventure is proud to present Mello Mike’s Truck Camper Musings and News—a Truck Camper Adventure Editorial of sorts—about truck camper life and happenings in the truck and truck camper industries. This is a regular feature here at Truck Camper Adventure.

1. Thetford Cassette Toilet: We love having a cassette toilet in our camper. The freedom and convenience of being able to dump at county and city parks, campgrounds, trail-head pit toilets, and rest areas cannot be overstated. We dump whenever we get a chance and it only takes a few minutes, plus it’s free. We never have to pay to dump our cassette toilet.

2. Zamp Solar Suitcase: Having a portable solar power system that can be both tilted and aimed at the sun has proven invaluable to us as the sun gets lower in the sky and the weather gets colder. In the last month, our Zamp 160 watt portable solar power system (9.4 amps Imp) has consistently outperformed our rig’s 240 watt roof-top system (13.5 amps Imp).

3. Water Heater Failure: Our Atwood water heater failed recently due to a faulty ignitor board and it really sucked. Hot water is one luxury we often take for granted, but when it’s not around you really feel it, literally. Taking cold showers in November isn’t fun. Our advice? Carry an extra ignitor board with you. This is a common cause of failure. Don’t be caught without a spare on your outings. They’re super easy to remove and install. We recommend getting a ignitor board made by Dinosaur Electronics (we bought the UIB 64 ignitor board for our Atwood). They have a better track record than OEM boards, plus they come with a three-year warranty.

4. Outdoor Shower Use: Few things are more refreshing than a cold shower in hot weather. We weren’t sure we’d use this feature very much when we ordered it, but we were wrong. Due to the unusually hot summer of 2017, we used our outdoor shower more than we ever have. We also use it to clean the dog and to fill the cassette toilet’s fresh water holding tank.

5. Cold Weather Camping: We got the winter insulation package when we ordered this camper from Northstar. It’s a terrific option, but, unfortunately, we’ve discovered some weaknesses and gaps in the insulation as the weather gets colder. Underneath the Dometic CR1110 refrigerator is where we found the biggest flaw. Very little fiberglass insulation was used by Northstar to insulate the small voids around the refrigerator (this is something I’ll have to talk to Rex Willet about), as a result, wind gusts find their way easily inside of the camper through a narrow vent below the fridge. We are currently upgrading the fiberglass insulation around the refrigerator with block foam to eliminate these drafts. Doing this should help with the cooling efficiency of the refrigerator in summer as well.

6. Generator Use: It’s amazing how inconsiderate some RV owners are when it comes to running a generator. The pristine boondocking spot we were using recently in the Prescott National Forest was ruined by a couple who pulled in with a large fifth-wheel toy hauler. Sharing our spot wasn’t what ruined it for us, necessarily, it was the fact that they liked to run their generator ALL DAY LONG, every day. Hey, we understand the need to recharge your batteries, occasionally, but when you have to run your generator all day long, it’s time to start looking at getting a bigger solar power system with more batteries and an inverter.

7. RV Park Etiquette: To the inconsiderate @#%&*! next to us at the Quail Ridge RV park a few weeks ago who woke us up and fumigated our camping spot with diesel exhaust fumes while he let his truck idle for 30 minutes. Thanks! We really appreciated it and thanks for reminding us why we, in general, hate RV parks. There’s nothing like a lung-full of noxious fumes to start-off your day.

8. The Cummins 6.7L Turbo Diesel: We love the reliability, torque, and fuel economy of our Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel. We’ve had to climb the massive I-17 Camp Verde overpass several times recently and each time was effortless and quick. In fact, it’s kind of fun flying past big-rigs, passenger cars, and SUV’s as we climb up the steep overpass. Better yet, we consistently get 13-14 mpg’s hauling around our 3,000 pound camper. We’re also impressed with how quiet and clean this 2013 engine and exhaust system burns fuel. Yes, refilling the DEF tank is a pain, but having cleaner air around the truck is worth it, especially after being around a lot of older diesels lately (see #7 above).

9. The Ram Heavy-Duty Smart Brake: We love this exhaust brake. Going down steep mountain passes can sometimes be a white knuckle experience, but not with the Ram Smart Brake. It does a terrific job maintaining our rig’s downhill speed without having to use our foot brakes at all. We recently had our brakes inspected at Brake Masters and they were shocked at how well they looked after nearly four years of use. We attribute the great condition of our brake pads and rotors to the judicious use of the Tow/Haul Mode—which also helps with braking—and to the use of the Smart Brake.

10. Bugging Out: It’s been a bad year for natural disasters here in the United States. Hurricanes, floods, and wildfires displaced millions of Americans. Hotels and family members put up most of those who were displaced, but an RV makes a great alternative for emergency shelter. Few RV’s make a better bug out vehicle than the go anywhere, do anything truck camper. When we aren’t full-timing, we always try to keep our truck camper stocked up with clothes, food, and water and our truck fueled up, just in case. If you’re not already doing it now, this is something you should be doing on a regular basis,

11. Jeep Toad: We’ve been towing our 1998 Jeep Wrangler the last couple of weeks and it’s been great. It’s nice not having to break camp just to run errands. It’s also been great to use as a scout vehicle to explore new roads and to find new boondocking locations. A trip to Glamis with the Jeep is in our immediate future.

12. Alternator Charge Circuit: Our truck has a powerful, 180 amp alternator. Long road trips should completely recharge our camper’s batteries, but they don’t. The inadequate 10 gauge wiring used in the charge line circuit is the main culprit. A dedicated alternator charge circuit with beefy 2 gauge wiring, Phillips Industries Connectors, and a Golf Cart 300 amp Solenoid to prevent the truck’s battery from draining is now on our to-do list (it’s funny how this list never stops growing). We published a popular article on this modification by Cal Willis last year and this is what we’ll be referencing for the install.

Stay tuned for additional installments of Mello Mike’s Truck Camper Musings and News. This will be a periodic feature here at Truck Camper Adventure.

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About Mello Mike 523 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. He currently rolls in a 2013 Ram 3500 with a 2021 Bundutec Roadrunner truck camper mounted on top. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management, and now runs Truck Camper Adventure full-time. He also does some RV consulting, repairs, and inspections on the side.

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