Our camper rig was scheduled for a SherpTek Truck Bed installation back in April 2020, but Mother Nature had a couple of negative votes and it was September 2021 before we made it out to Oregon with our replacement camper and repaired truck. Ironically, Truck Camper Adventure’s SherpTek installation was supposed to start the day we were scheduled to take delivery, but COVID-19 supply chain issues intervened, so our paths never crossed.
My wife knew that I would want to stick around and pester the SherpTek folks during the build/installation, rather than flying home and back. She already had her flight reservation in-hand when we got to the factory, wisely fleeing unending nerdly enthusiasm, leaving me unsupervised and then alone for the shakedown drive back to Maryland. Past “unsupervised” episodes have sometimes resulted in “mixed results” because it gives me lots of time to dream up fanciful camper and now flatbed mods. Some, however, have eventually garnered the coveted “Wife Approved” (WA) label. Fortunately, this prep table has so far made the cut.
SherpTek offers a slide-out grill option on their website, and as they say, “you can be grilling in minutes” after making camp. We discussed that before finalizing the bed order, but the chief cook’s preference was just a large, level and easily cleaned food prep space that might—at times—also sport either a propane grill or a camp stove.
One of the many benefits of the SherpTek design is the fold down flank. When opened each flank can be used as a long table. The inside of the angled flank may or may not be level as a function of how you’ve set up camp. You can pop-off an end of the gas support strut and re-twist the retaining ropes for some additional side to side tweaking, but often times we’ve been camped where “more would be better.” As much as possible, we try to level the rig fore-aft for comfortable sleeping, thereby eliminating one table adjustment axis and simplifying the design, but side-to-side maybe not so much. Compressor refrigerators don’t care, we just don’t want to be chasing food or adult beverages across the dinette table. So, my design challenge was to obtain the WA gold seal without horribly, forever disqualifying the mod on my first attempt.
The location for our new SherpTek grilling station is perfect. The passenger side of our camper has an 11-foot awning that spans from the rear of the side entry door forward to the jacks, extending close to eight feet out from the sidewall. Camper under-wing LED light strips are standard (or were, June 2020), plus a passenger side dual USB charging port. I changed and rewired that to a standard automotive 12 volt DC outlet to power our supplemental 45 quart Engel refrigerator-freezer, which now lives on the flatbed (instead of truck cab rear seat) on longer trips. With the dinette window right above the flank, we have a covered, level, well-lit work surface with pass-through access to the camper, room for food containers as one works, and handy slide-out rump bin for trash and recycling.
I tried to make the design and construction as simple as possible. My 35+ year old metal scraps kultch bucket helped with some 2- and 4-inch, 1/4 thick aluminum angle and aluminum bar stock. All the parts I machined are mounted in the flank side tracks, a one-time placement and adjustment. Stainless steel 5/16-18 bolts were cut down as stud material for the in-track nut plate assemblies which affix the shelf brackets. The nut plates are from 1-3/8-inch aluminum bar stock, threaded studs locked into the plates. Nuts were turned from 3/4-inch hexagonal bar stock.
The board is a 16×39-inch piece of 1/2-inch BC plywood with a couple of coats of General Finishes Exterior 450 polyurethane for some basic spill protection and easier cleanup, sized to be as large as possible. It only incorporates easily removable/reusable hardware—1/8 x 3/4-inch aluminum angle on three edges for stiffening and capturing possible sliding things—and four inexpensive barrel bolts that allow the board to pivot in the top brackets and lock into the hole patterns on the lowers for leveling. That seemed like the easiest way to compensate for flank side angles, and leverage the bottom side 15-degree tilt to minimize the arc of the hole pattern.
The table height is adjustable. There’s 3 inches of pivot height travel through three positions, so between that, the flank side straps and the truck leveling, we’re good to cook. If the board needs replacing, I’ll just cut out and seal a new blank then restore removed hardware. The board can either stay locked in the full-down position for travel (coincidentally protecting the flank from any accidentally unsecured gear) or just lifted out and packed with grill and 5-pound propane tank. It’s kept in the house with camper off truck. My current grill (and many similar) vents at the rear, but there’s still adequate clearance to the camper with the cover either open or closed.
This is an unsophisticated, hack-n-whack project. However, given I have machine tools and I’m not afraid to use them, I used both cut-off and band-saw for metal stock, lathe to make the nuts, and a milling machine to locate and drill mirrored lower support bracket arc hole patterns. All the aluminum was brushed on a fine wire wheel for a lasting clean appearance and additional deburring. If heavy aluminum angle can’t be sourced, just bend up similar size brackets from 3/16-inch or thicker flat stock. Total project cost was about $60, not counting “kultch stuff.”
We’re definitely looking forward to some quality time with our SherpTek Truck Bed this summer.
The Grill and Accessories
For those who are wondering, my grill is the Nexgrill two-burner in stainless steel. I bought it at my local Home depot. The only thing you need to watch for when using the grill is the rear clearance past the side of your camper, due to rear venting. I added the thermometer on the top and the gas quick disconnect (did a quick 3D print in TPU for its dust cap). I use the same valve/disconnect for my propane-converted EU2000i and a Wave 6 heater, so all of my gas “stuff” is interchangeable. Charbroil makes one under their Monument brand that looks nearly identical, although I’m not sure about the venting—plus it comes with a thermometer for another $40 or so.
I also added a Yoshi Mat for grilling veggies and such—not to mention pizza. You can find one at Lowes and Bed, Bath Beyond and most likely Walmart. They work really well, and keep the mess down nicely unless you’re doing juicy meat or similar.