A very bad idea


I hope that you are enjoying 2018. Me, I’m just emerging from 2017. The final carry-over task from last year was to rehabilitate an old camper shell. The good news is that this topic adds some outdoorsy grit to this space today. We can put on our work boots, light up some cigarettes, and pretend that we’re going to do some fixin’.

The bad news is that we’re not going to fix anything. In fact, I’m just wasting your time.

Well, why not? I already wasted a lot of mine.

Fiberglass camper shells are, of course, common accessories for pickup trucks. Until recently, however, I never gave them (shells, not trucks) much thought. I darned sure never considered how they were constructed.

But a couple of months ago I bought a used four-wheel drive truck. It had a shell attached to it.

I was conspiring to dispose of the shell, but my wife rallied to its defense since she does not like the concept of wasting stuff.

The front window of the shell was missing entirely. Though the rear window was intact, the locking mechanism was broken and the gas props were missing. As a result, the whole rear plane just sort of flaps up and then bangs back down when I drive over bumps. Owing to the missing front window, rain has been intruding for, apparently, years. There’s mold and moss growing in the bed.

The whole thing is pathetic.

I built a stand to put the thing on so I could work on it in the garage. After that I used plywood to make a cover for where the front window should be. Contouring the plywood took a long time, though, since there was an overhang on the shell that prevented getting a flush mating surface for tracing. I wound up cutting little by little with a jigsaw by trial and error.

Mounting the wooden plug to support slats on the inside wasn’t rocket science, but the slats had to be contoured in order to prevent their corners from punching through the fiberglass sides of the shell. Then I noticed that the fastener heads were sinking into the plywood face. In fact, a couple had punched all the way through the first ply. I had to take everything apart, put in some washers, and put things back together again.

By this point I had competing chores that needed the garage space. So I put the shell back on the truck and I tore apart the stand. I reasoned that the repairs to the rear area could be done while the shell is on the truck.

The field of vision out of the rearview mirror was, of course, a plank of plywood. During my road tests I realized that I didn’t really like being blind in that sector. I was afraid I’d back over some poor pedestrian in a parking lot or something, so I figured I should get rid of the plywood and put in plexiglass.

This entailed going to a glass shop so they could cut the plexiglass and mount it in the frame. For the glass to go into the frame, the frame had to first come out of the shell. The frame was held in by a series of quarter-inch head fasteners, which were easily removed, but it also had a rivet that I had to drill out, which would have been easy if I had the foresight to take a drill with me.

Once that little hiccup was addressed, it seemed pretty straightforward during the removal process.

However, the weather stripping was old, brittle, and obstreperous. A few days later, when it was time to put things back together, I just couldn’t get things to settle in correctly.

I’m not even six feet tall but being hunched over in the back of that shell for long spans made me feel like Goliath in a shoebox. Not just any Goliath, but a Goliath with about 80 kneecaps and elbows that were all grinding against the unyielding surfaces of corrugated truck-bed metal.

After an hour of fumbling with it, I accidentally dropped the frame, with its new, custom-cut plexiglass widow, between the rear of the cab and the front of the shell. The odds of it free-falling in that narrow space, without its plunge being encumbered by any proximate material, were about a million-to-one.

Hey, I finally beat the odds in something. The frame assembly is now in my junk pile.

As for the rear window area I needed to find parts that would fit. While I was researching this end of things I was airing out the dank and humid confines of the camper shell, having propped up the rear window with a length of 2-by-4.

That afternoon a stray dog jumped into the back of the truck and made it home. The dog is big and seems pretty moody.

And that is where I left the project.

Fortunately, I don’t need four-wheel drive capability this week. I can get away with driving my other car. That’s just what I’m doing. In the meantime, I’m updating the books for this endeavor:

Outflows: $200 and about 14 hours of time.

Inflows: One stray dog of dubious temperament.

Demonstrating to my wife that I’m not wasteful: priceless.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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