It was 0400, Monday, November 7. Monday mornings are usually a drag—particularly before daybreak—but not this Monday. This Monday would be extra special. The destination would be Woodland California, home of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers where we would take delivery of our brand-new Four Wheel Camper Grandby. The 630-mile trip would be made in 2003 Ford F250 sporting a 6-inch lift and powered by the legendary 7.3L Power Stroke Turbo Diesel. This Ford would be the Grandby’s permanent home. We spent the last four months getting the truck ready for this day. Aside from completing some necessary maintenance and repairs—as well as some minor body work—we invested in a new set of Nitto Ridge Runner 35×12.5R18 All-Terrain Tires, a Banks 4-inch Monster Exhaust and Banks Rear Diff Cover, a Raptor Grill, and a rubber Dee Zee bed mat. We also beefed up the old suspension with a set of Hellwig LP-35 Helper Springs and Timbren SES Aeon Bump Stops. To facilitate “easy” access to and from the camper, we also added an Easy Hitch Step.
The trip to Four Wheel Campers was planned months in advance. Six hours is a typical day for us on the road, but without a camper on the first day, and a hotel waiting, we decided to push through and complete the drive in 10 hours. Day two would be spent at Four Wheel Campers, while day three would be spent driving back home to Kingman. Google Maps recommended two routes to Woodland, one through Nevada, the other in California. The Nevada Highway 95-Interstate 80 route takes an hour longer, but offers cheaper diesel along the way and terrific views over the Sierras. The California Interstate 40-Highway 58-Highway 99 route through the Central Valley, provides the quickest route, but also comes with California-priced fuel (about $6 a gallon for diesel) and road construction near Merced. In order to save a little time and renew our acquaintance with “California’s Breadbasket,” we decided to take Highway 99 route.
This was the longest trip we had taken in the 2003 Ford and we were thrilled with how the 7.3L diesel with 312,000 miles performed. With an average speed of 65 mph, and tuned for mileage, we still got 20 mpg. With a 6-inch lift, the truck handled exceptionally well even on turns going downhill. No doubt, the heavy-duty Hellwig sway bars played a role in how well the truck handled, but we still had some level of trepidation since we had never driven a lifted truck before at highway speed. The only hiccup came courtesy of a bad batch of fuel at a Valero in Bakersfield, which caused the truck to stall a few times during a stop for lunch. In spite of this setback, however, we were able to push though with no additional problems during the trip.
Taking Delivery at Four Wheel Campers HQ
Even though Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers is now supported by several dealerships, we decided to take delivery at Four Wheel Campers in Woodland, so we could get a tour of the factory as well. To say we were impressed with the operation would be an understatement. The Four Wheel Camper facility is BIG with 140,000 square feet, a work force of 105, and a massive showroom showcasing all of the company’s models. Four Wheel Campers manufactures 25 campers a week for a whopping 1,300 campers a year. The composition of the Four Wheel Camper workforce also caught our attention. Half of the workforce is women. We’ve toured a dozen factories across the United States and nobody comes close to this number, not even nuCamp, which is staffed primarily by the Amish.
If you’re not familiar with Four Wheel Campers, they make a superior product that will last for decades. Every Four Wheel Camper features a welded all-aluminum frame with block foam insulation, overlayed with either smooth or ribbed aluminum skin, and topped with an insulated aluminum roof. Like an airplane’s frame, the Four Wheel Camper frame has the ability to flex, providing greater strength and durability off-road where we all like to take our campers. Of course, aluminum offers greater resistance to moisture as well. Four Wheel Camper founder, Dave Rowe, invented the roof lift mechanism in the 1970s and it’s still in use today. Instead of a complex mechanism prone to failure, he devised a simple articulated lift panel in the front and back featuring spring-loaded piano hinges. This provides a shear wall effect for exceptional stability in high winds and greater load support for snow on the roof.
Delivery and pick-up at Four Wheel Campers takes four hours. The process includes installation and a thorough PDI walk through. Four Wheel Campers uses a proprietary tie-down system consisting of four reinforced, eye-bolts providing 1,300 pounds of strength each, so these need to be installed in the bed of your truck before you can drive home. Unlike most truck camper companies, which use a standard six-wire plug, Four Wheel Campers uses a three-wire, heavy-duty “trolling motor” plug. Why only three wires? Because the truck’s tail lights are visible when the camper is mounted. This is rarely the case with a hard-side. The wiring also includes a heavy-duty alternator 8-AWG charge circuit that connects to the Redarc Manager 30 in the camper to the truck’s alternator. We’ve wanted to review the Australian-made Redarc Manager 30 for years and look forward to reviewing it on Truck Camper Adventure soon.
With a floor length of 8 feet and a dry weight of 1,400 pounds, the Grandby is the largest slide-in truck camper in the Four Wheel Camper catalog. Four Wheel Campers offers three floorplans for the Grandby slide-in: a rollover couch, side dinette, and a front dinette. We opted for the front-dinette floorplan to accommodate work on the road and the grandkids. The front dinette floorplan features an east-west queen-size bed with a pull-out extension, a large front dinette, a small kitchen with a pantry/closet on the driver side, and a refrigerator and toilet on the passenger side. Living in the desert, we opted for the Khaki color for the exterior. At some point we will wrap the truck and this will be the dominant color used in the wrap.
We ordered several options for the camper. The Grandby already came with a 20 gallon fresh water holding tank, two 10-pound propane tanks, a two-burner propane cooktop, a kitchen sink with a 12 volt water pump, and mechanical jacks to load and unload the camper, but we also opted to outfit the camper with a Dometic 12,000 BTU furnace, a Dometic 85L DC Compressor Refrigerator, a Thetford C223 Cassette Toilet, and a Girard 2GWHAM On-Demand Water Heater with outside shower. We also had the camper outfitted with the latest tech, including two Dakota 12 volt 135 amp hour lithium batteries, a roof rack, two Overland Solar 160 watt roof-top solar panels, and a Redarc Manager 30, which handles multiple battery charging inputs. The only thing the camper lacks is an inverter, something we will add later.
So what are our initial impressions of the Grandby? Overall, we love it. The Grandby is surprisingly roomy for a pop-up, no doubt helped by the 8-foot floorplan, large dinette and the spacious amount of headroom. With its solid plywood/birch veneer cabinets, “Caprice Truffle” seat cushions, and contrasting dark countertops, the Grandby’s interior is both rugged and attractive. Storage is a major consideration in any truck camper and the Grandby has a surprising amount of it for a pop-up. Storage cubicles can be found underneath the dinette platform, in the dinette seats, behind the toilet, and above the refrigerator. There’s even a compartment large enough to use as a pantry near the door.
We particularly like the Thetford C223 Cassette Toilet. The toilet stays hidden behind an attractive curtain and hinged counter top until needed. Having owned three truck campers previously, we prefer the cassette toilet over all other options and wouldn’t own a camper without one. The cassette toilet gives you much more freedom on where you can dump. Rather than limiting you to just RV dump stations, which are sometimes difficult to find, the cassette can be dumped practically anywhere, like at a campground pit toilet, city park, or interstate rest area bathroom. This freedom on where you can dump also means that you no longer have to deal with the excessive cost, the waiting lines, and the mess associated with using an RV dump (obviously, you can still use an RV dump to dump your cassette, but it’s no longer mandatory). Moreover, the cassette dumps quickly, is easy to clean, and doesn’t leave a nasty stench in your camper like the traditional black tank is prone to do.
Having owned only hard-side campers before, several things will take getting used to with a Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper. For one, there is no grey water holding tank. We will need to carry a storage container to hold the grey water and dump it when we dump the cassette. Another big thing, of course, is the pop-top. Quick stops in a hard-side camper are a breeze. Just get in and out. No so with the pop-up, which will require raising and lowering the top each time we need to use the camper. As for the jacks, they’re mechanical, meaning they need to be raised and lowered manually using an 18 volt driver. The camper will reside on the truck most of the time, so we won’t have to do this often. Some have reservations using a pop-up in the winter, but honestly, we don’t see that as a problem. We are impressed with the thickness of the soft-sides and wrapped window screens. We have several friends who own a Four Wheel Camper and they say the interior stays warm and toasty during the winter. We shall see. Look for a detailed review of the Four Wheel Camper Grandby in 12 months.
So how well did the Ford F250 handle with the 1,400-pound camper mounted? Honestly, we didn’t even know it was back there, though this shouldn’t be a surprise for an 8,000-pound diesel truck. We’ve only owned hard-side campers before and hauling a lightweight, low-profile pop-up is a completely different experience. Sure, we got “pulled” by a few big rigs on the freeways, but the “pull” was far less that what we’ve experienced before with a hard-side. As expected, the mileage was better too. Hand calculated doing about 70 mph, we got 16 mpg, though we can probably eek out an additional mpg or two going 65 mph. By comparison, our 2013 Ram 3500 hauling a 3,000-pound hard-side gets between 12-13 mpg. There’s no doubt about it, having a 2003 “pre-DEF” diesel makes a world of difference when it comes to fuel mileage. We can’t wait to take this rig out again.
So what does this new rig mean for the Roadrunner? The Truck Camper Adventure fleet will have two truck camper rigs. One centered around the Ram 3500/Roadrunner, this one on the Ford F250/Grandby. The Roadrunner will be used for less aggressive off-road excursions, while the Grandby will be used for more extensive off-roading. Different campers for different types trips.
More upgrades for the Ford F250 are forthcoming as well with a Rugged Radio GMRS 45-watt radio, Rancho RS9000X shocks, and a Buckstop TrailReady Front Bumper. The only thing up in the air at this moment is whether we will be retaining the 6-inch lift. Even though it looks great for shows and driving around town, it might be too high for our liking off-road. Only time will tell.
Interested in seeing the rig in person? The rig will be on display at the 2023 Truck Camper Adventure Quartzsite Rally, February 9-12, 2023.