Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mysterious camper wiring issue

Here is the issue.

The brake lights, running lights and turn signals work great... 
EXCEPT when the running lights or headlights are turned on in the truck. 
If the truck lights are on, then the camper running lights work, but the brake lights and turn signals do not.

This happens not just when connected to our truck, but when we connect to other trucks too. (Thanks for bringing your truck over today, Rob).

We've scoured the interwebs, and the advice is to:
1) check all the grounds (done)

2) check for a weak ground by adding a jumper wire from a good ground (on the frame)
 to each light assembly 
(that doesn't change anything, so a weak ground isn't the issue)
(but it did help us identify a weak ground in one of the camper running lights, which we fixed)

3) make sure there isn't an exposed or pinched wire anywhere in the camper.
Say what?

This is overwhelming.  David checked many places but how can you check them all? 
Has anyone experienced this? Or have a suggestion?

It's also worth mentioning that David hard wired a separate ground wire from the tail light assembly 
to the trailer frame. Those suckers are grounded.

This was all ok in summer when the days start at 5 am and it's light until after 10 pm.  But the days are getting shorter every day people! There will be a time soon when we need to pull the camper somewhere in the dark, with the truck headlights on.

Suggestions are welcome. Thanks.
Here's a relaxing photo of the last place we took the toaster camping. A cedar forest on the Kootenai National Forest near the Montana/Idaho border.  

UPDATE SEPT 11, 2013

Thank goodness for the Tin Can Tourist group on Facebook! People had several suggestions, which David tried, and now the problem is fixed! Huzzah!

He wired the lights backwards, I believe. He reversed the wires and now it works.  The internet is just amazing. Thank you friends! Now we can travel at night.  We are unstoppable.

Oven repairs (second attempt)

Things are going well. We've take the camper on many weekend trips. There are tons of beautiful places near Missoula to explore. Here's the toaster in the Bull River Valley recently.

We're down to three remaining issues, and they are proving a bit tough to solve.
They are: a wiring issue with the signal/brake lights (they won't work if the headlights are on), the oven, and the trailer brakes.  I'll leave the brake discussion for another time (it's been a long day), and put the wiring issue in a separate post.

Let's start with the oven.

The burners on the stove top work great. However we can't get the oven going.  Propane never seems to enter the oven. Today we took apart all the gas lines, blew them out, turned the propane on and off, while checking different points in the system, etc.  After a thorough investigation, it appears that the problem is either in the safety valve or the pilot mechanism.  Above you can see David warming up the sensor on the safety valve- if you do that, you can hear a CLICK and after that point you can blow through the supply line.  If there is no flame (ie the pilot light isn't lit) then no gas should be allowed through the valve.

The problem before that, then, is how to get the pilot light lit. Even after cleaning out everything possible, we can't get propane to come out of the pilot light assembly.  It may be easier to just replace this. Where can one get a 1966 Holiday Oven pilot light assembly? If you know, please tell us. I checked at without success.

It could be the safety valve too. If it were possible to replace both, it would be very satisfying. We will continue looking for repair information and/or replacement parts.

It is also possible that we are missing a step in the basic process of trying to turn on the pilot light. The control knob does NOT have a setting for "pilot", and it is not possible to push the knob in (some ovens have that).  There is just an on/off switch for the main supply. 

If you have some ideas about this, please leave a comment, or even email me if you don't like commenting on blogs.

We are perplexed.

UPDATE 9/10/13

David got the pilot light to work- it turns out that there is a little screw at the end of the assembly that opens or closes so you can adjust the flame size. It was completely shut, and hence no propane was coming out.  

The heater pilot also works. However the burners still don't come on.  So the remaining possibilities are 
*broken thermostat
*broken sensor on the safety valve
*broken safety valve in general

We did find some replacement safety valves on eBay but they are $80.  We may end up getting one just to rule it out... and who knows, maybe to just start hoarding replacement parts! I called a local RV service shop and they said it would be extremely hard to get any parts for a '66 Holiday Oven for a camper.


David fixed it. The problem was that the heater pilot was coming on, but not burning high enough to touch the thermocouple (sensor) on the security valve.

So... the solution was simply to adjust the heater pilot. And the control for that is hidden behind this knob...

Voila. That's the adjuster, between 12 and 1 o'clock. Clearly labelled "HTR".

If we'd had an owner's manual the whole repair would have taken mere moments! 
Step 1, open pilot valve at the tip, and 
Step 2, adjust the heater pilot flame with the super secret lever.

I hope this helps someone else with their classic camper oven!

Let's bake some muffins!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Solo trip

I took the camper out by myself this weekend.  Meaning, without David or Miles. 
I wasn't by myself once I got there. 

I went to Montana Summer BOW, held near Missoula this year.  BOW (which stands for "Becoming and Outdoor Woman," which sounds dated but is Super Cool) is a program run by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  It's pretty much summer camp for adult women. You have a chance to learn various outdoor skills like shooting, archery, boating, fishing, natural history, in a supportive mostly women environment. 

 Here's the Toaster next to a 1959 Hiawatha.

And here is a cute little pop-up style camper.  It had large skylights for star watching. 

I enjoyed seeing others' campers. A mini-taste of how a vintage camper rally would go down? 
Most women were in tents or little cabins, but the campers got some love and we all gave some tours. 

I've done several of the Montana BOW workshops and they are always fun and educational.  I learned how to shoot a gun at BOW several years ago, and learned how to talk about the various calibers and what not.  This time I took  butterfly id, fly tying and birding. Lots of states and Canadian provinces offer BOW workshops and I suggest you visit the International BOW webpage and register for one near you.  If you are woman and you enjoy the outdoors, at least.

I had a good time at BOW, and relevant to this blog, I am really glad that I learned how to hitch up, drive, back up, and set up the camper on my own.  I feel lame when I have to rely on David for all those things, and fortunately for me, he is very willing to teach me how to operate and tow the Toaster. 

I didn't think I'd ever be able to hitch up the trailer, let alone without someone there to give me hand signals.  But allow me to show you my first ever attempt at solo backing up:

I KNOW.  Not too shabby. 
But a little off so I did it again. 
And then again until it was perfect.

It is taking practice and it's a bit frustrating.. But after a few lessons I feel pretty confident.  I didn't hurt the camper, and no one got hurt or killed. I'm glad I could this, and I think it's appropriate my first solo outing was to BOW, a program of women's empowerment. 

Thanks David for teaching me to do this! 

Oh and here's some flies I tied at "summer camp."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Maiden Voyage

Mission Mountains, Montana

The maiden voyage was a great success.

Here we are, all set up at Lake Alva Campground. We kept a list of things to make/get/improve for next time. It is a pretty short list because things went great!

FYI here is a close up of the "stepper" David made:

Made with some materials left over from the renovation, plus a door mat on top. AND the lid lifts up to reveal storage for the levelers and a level for the set up process.

Here is some built in organization David did. Those are the awning poles and a pulley (for when a person has to set up the awning alone). I sewed the bag out of leftover awning fabric to hold the tent stakes and guy line.

Magazine rack for maps and books etc. And notice the little tv (nights are long here in late autumn and early spring!)

The kitchen worked great.

The bed was cozy.

We hiked up to Cold Lakes (Upper and Lower) on Saturday.  We probably never would have done this hike unless we were camped nearby; it is a 2 hour drive from Missoula and usually if we are going to drive that far we would go on a longer hike (this was about 6 miles round trip). It was a perfect day hike, uncrowded, good for swimming, beautiful. Huckleberries.  

No real problems! We can't wait to take it out again.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Awning is complete

This is a follow up to my previous post, which has a lot of instructions about making an awning. Instructions I gleaned from other sources.  Glad to report that it is finished.

 Here is how it went down.

I had a lot of help with this, as you can see. Natalie and Miles were there constantly to make sure everything went well. Also helpful: someone on the Tin Can Tourist FB page who mentioned the half off awning fabric sale at JoAnn- it was quite a score. Thanks. 

David made the template for the scallops, which was really helpful.  He traced the edge of a plate in such a way that he got exactly 3 scallops per pattern repeat.  It turned out really well- the only challenging thing about the scallops was that it is hard to get the bias tape all the way up into the "corner" between the scallops.  If I were to do another awning, I would use this kind of profile:

It would be easier to sew on the binding tape.  I heard on FB that has a special bias tape that is easier to work with than regular bias tape. That is the company that makes (or at least sells) the Keder line.

The completed awning is 75" by 60".  We put it on the camper and it looks great. However I forgot to take a picture, so it's almost like it didn't happen.  We have tent poles that we got on eBay for a few dollars.  David made a rack inside the camper closet to hold the poles and the stakes and pulley.  I'll sew a bag to keep the awning in for storage.  What else?  For the most part I followed the instructions.  A few changes (I will also note this on the previous post):
* I didn't encase the side seams in bias tape.
* Instead I used the French seam plus a welt stich to make it more rigid and strong.
*I added a grommet on the last scallop on the left hand side (closest to the camper when mounted) that can be used for the pull rope when putting the awning in place.

Can I just say that the hardest part of this whole project was putting in the grommets?  I spent so much time bonding with the awning and taking care of it, nurturing it to reach its destiny. And the final step is to cut holes in it and then hit it with a hammer. Ouch.  Of course it turned out fine.

More progress- bed and fridge

Here's a nice shot of the Master Bedroom, in progress! David built new framing for the new bed 
(he used 1x3s because it is planned for 1/2" plywood... always thinking of keeping the trailer light).
As in other parts of the camper, this project resulted in a more structurally sound and happier camper.  
Plus, look at the beautiful colors and the lovely scroll work below the bed.  Look at the pretty white ceiling panel! Notice the storage cabinet for seldom-accessed things, 
behind a cubby for stowing frequently-accessed things. 

As a reminder, here is a BEFORE photo. Kind of dark.

And here was the demo phase, wherein we discovered extra water damage and had to do more framing than originally anticipated.  We replaced that batt insulation with rigid insulation.

Speaking of batt insulation, David also spiffed up the ice box.  It was formerly insulated with about 1/4" of fiberglass insulation and some cardboard.  I think that was just to hold the fiberglass in place.  After cleaning the ice box, David caulked or possible "Great Stuff-ed" the gaps around various parts of the ice box, and now it fits so well in its little wall space.

Here's a picture FROM the bedroom:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Time to make the awning

Things are coming together for the awning. I'm going to sew it. Big thanks to This Montana Life for posting a detailed step by tuturorial. Here it is.  The author also makes custom awnings, and you can find out more about that at

In the tutorial she describes making her own keder rope (which gets sewn to the awning, and then run through the awning rail to connect the camper. But on the other webpage she says she uses keder rope bead.  So I emailed her since she seems very friendly and interesting, and is a fellow Montanan.

We got the fabric at Joann's, on sale thanks to a tip off from someone at Tin Can Tourists. 
It's Monteserra Sangria, I believe (photos forthcoming). 

Here are some keder rope sites, I'm putting them here so I don't lose them.

Well that's the main one I found that I like, I enjoy the YouTube videos. If anyone knows other sources or products let me know.  Thanks.  Here we go. (Just as soon as my fabric comes in the mail).

This is a helpful video about how to do a rope and pulley system to make the installation easier.

Another update:

I varied slightly from the instructions at

* I didn't encase the side seams in bias tape.
* Instead I used the French seam plus a welt stich to make it more rigid and strong.
* I purchased keder rope from, and it turns out that is what the author of the aforementioned blog uses also. She told me she doesn't make her own anymore.
*I added a grommet on the last scallop on the left hand side (closest to the camper when mounted) that can be used for the pull rope when putting the awning in place.