Truck Campers come in all shapes and sizes. From the stately hard-side to the nimble pop-up, you’ll probably find a truck camper that will suit most if not all of your needs. Of course, everything depends on the truck. A capable truck with the requisite payload is needed to safely haul one, but that’s only part of the game. Getting a truck camper rig with everything you want and need can be challenge. That’s why some are opting to build their own rigs. We will be featuring several in the coming months that will surely inspire. One such build is a low-profile, hard-side truck camper rig built by Curt Licolitz. Curt works as a steamfitter, so he already possessed the skills needed to build such a camper. But Curt went far a beyond than just build a camper, he built a fully integrated rig with a service body that looks and functions like a factory-built rig. In this fascinating interview, Curt tells us how he designed and built it.
TCA: Thanks, Curt, for taking the time to talk with us. First tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live and what do you do for a living?
Curt: I am a general foreman proudly working for the Murray company here in Southern California. I’m currently working at LAX airport, Member Local 250 steamfitters. I live in Long Beach, California. I am a part-time fabricator for Terrible Herbst Motorsports in Huntington beach and was a fabricator for Robby Gordon Dakar Hummer/GM/Monster race team in 2006.
TCA: We love your DIY camper. What inspired you to build it? Was it simply to save money or was it the challenge?
Curt: I started off remote camping on my motorcycle and wanted to up my game. A friend of mine would support our rides and he had built a Dodge 2500 4×4 service-bodied camper. It was that vehicle that provided the yardstick to be measured by.
TCA: Let’s start with the truck? What is the make and model and what are its specs?
Curt: I already owned a 2006 Dodge mega cab 2500 4×4 with less than 110,000 miles and a Cummins 6.7L turbo diesel, so that is where I started.
TCA: What upgrades, if any, were made to the truck’s suspension to carry your camper?
Curt: I added several things, including a full Carli 3-inch Dominator kit, and 3-foot King shocks with Deaver springs. I also added Firestone airbags with auto leveling, upgraded the Dodge steering, added a Borgeson steering box upgrade, and installed a Hellwig Big Wig rear sway bar.
TCA: What other upgrades were made to the truck?
Curt: Several things. An air compressor with storage tank for the bags, a new stereo, and I removed the screens in the AC ducting, which resulted in a huge increase in airflow out the vents. I also custom fabricated a gauge cluster for the air pressure gauges and air bag switches. Lastly, I installed an Interstate 4D battery where the spare tire used to live in a fabricated mount that also holds the air compressor and air tank.
TCA: Are the engine and transmission stock?
Curt: No, not at all. I installed a Billet transmission built by Mike at Inglewood transmissions, a Banks intercooler, a Six-Gun tuner with an I dash monitor, a Fleece in-tank fuel pump upgrade, and a 5-inch exhaust with a Donaldson muffler. I also added a custom fuel filtration system, a custom high bypass oil filtration system, a remote coolant filtration system, a modified CP3 fuel pump, a turbo upgrade, and a pyrometer.
TCA: Wow! Can you tell us more about the wheels and tires?
Curt: They are Method wheels with BF Goodrich 35-inch all-terrain tires.
TCA: Let’s talk about your camper. We love the look and your low-profile approach. How did you design it?
Curt: Honestly, I did it all in my head and a piece of cardboard! I had a good example to follow with my own tweaks! I bought a used service body that was too long and shortened it to fit the wheelbase of my truck. The front compartment was a two-door. I cut down the front box, removed the front bulkhead, shortened and reworked the compartment doors, and reinstalled the front bulkhead. I fabricated the box on the back and the custom trailer hitch. I also strengthened the support/mount to the truck, painted it inside and out, and piped the water system and the camper’s propane system. I also added a water heater, a propane system, a 2000-watt inverter, and a small sink with a grey water holding tank.
I also added a Partner Stove on a custom slider. Installed lights in every utility box, added an ARB dual air compressor, piped air to both sides of the truck and to the back as well, and added an Alu-Cap awning on the driver’s side. I also fabricated the tire swingers and a storage box, fabricated a Tembo Tusk “Skottle” knock-off and a support arm, built a mount for my Maxtrax traction boards, and fabricated a custom stainless-steel fuel fill. Honestly, outfitting the service body was more work than building the camper! All the fabrication and paint were performed at my house. Believe me, my neighbors were happy to see the thing done!
TCA: Cardboard? Wow! Most designing a camper like this would design it first on CAD. Can you tell us how the camper is constructed? How much does it weigh?
Curt: The service body and camper are around 1,800 pounds dry. The camper is a steel tube frame with .40 aluminum skin pre-bent to fit the frame to eliminate seams. The aluminum skin is taped to the steel frame using 3M VHB. The perimeter of the camper is 2×2-inch aluminum angle mitered and welded and 3M VHB taped on. Six bolts also help keep that frame in place. The camper is fully insulated and the interior skin is Balsamic plywood. All internal wiring is run thru the steel tubes and fully grommeted to prevent chafing. Electrical controls for the various camper systems are mounted in a fabricated panel inside the camper.
TCA: Impressive, Curt! Can you tell us about why you decided to build a low-profile hard-side?
Curt: I’m not a fan of roof-top tents for all the various reasons and I wanted just enough camper to be able to lay down, get out of the weather, and lock the door behind me. I can sit up on the bunk and can stand (albeit hunched) in the camper. Camping—to me at least—is not hiding in your RV. I sit outside with friends and enjoy nature.
TCA: What are the tank and electrical capacities of the camper?
Curt: The camper is outfitted to be used off-grid. It’s equipped with a 38-gallon fresh water holding tank, a 640 watt solar power system, and an Interstate 4D storage battery. The refrigerator-freezer is a 45L DC compressor model. The camper is also equipped with a Camp Chef tankless water heater, and a 2,000 watt inverter.
TCA: Is the camper equipped with a cassette toilet or a standard flush toilet? Does it have an indoor shower?
Curt: It’s equipped with a cassette toilet. No indoor shower, but it does have an outdoor shower featuring a Quick En-Suite Shower Enclosure.
TCA: Can you tell us more about your camper’s electrical system.
Curt: The 640-watt solar panels are connected to rotary switches to isolate them in case it’s ever needed. The camper runs on a massive 12 volt Interstate 4D battery. The camper is completely isolated electrically from truck. The service body boxes are completely illuminated as is the camper’s interior. It’s also equipped with exterior lights and 12 volt plugs for the fridge to be used both inside and outside the camper. The camper is also equipped with multiple USB charge ports inside the camper and in the service body boxes. There is also a 110 volt AC plug inside the camper with remote inverter shut-off inside the camper. I also added a 110 volt cord extension mounted on a 25-foot cord reel, and a charging station for my Milwaukee cordless chain saw and tool collection. Lastly, I installed a 110 volt toaster.
TCA: Very impressive, Curt! Anything else you’d like to tell us about the truck and camper?
Curt: One of my fabricator friends said after viewing it that I had completely “geeked-out” fabricating all the various parts and pieces. I take that as a complete compliment from a guy as talented as he is. I won’t say his name, but he is a regular on “Overhauling.”