Rebuilding a 1989 Toyota Dolphin Motorhome

Bought a 1989 Toyota Dolphin micro-mini motorhome without knowing much about motorhomes in general (my first mistake) and then when I discovered extensive water damage I decided to try and fix some of it (my second mistake). Pictures and blogs that others posted when they were doing rebuilds was very helpful to me, so I figured that blogging about it may be helpful to someone else.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Glueing Walls Together

This is a contraption that I built to help press clamp the walls together while the glue dried. After the walls were framed, I used the "blue board" polystyrene from Home Depot and luan to create a wall sandwich.

(1/8" luan is difficult to find. You won't find it at Lowe's or Home Depot, and even most RV shops don't have it. I finally found some at a mobile home supply shop.)

The contraption you see is basically strips of 3/4" pine (1x3's cut in half) screwed to 2x4s on 3" centers (to match against the grooves in the fiberglass). I used 5/16 all-thread bolts to go through the window and tighten against some other 2x4s against the inside wall. Once the glue dried, the walls became quite firm and appear to be quite strong. "Synergy," indeed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reconstructing the Frame

After about a week we've rebuilt the frame to replace all of the old rotted frame that we tore out. It's slow-going due to the fact that we're having to replace wood for which we had no pattern (it had all turned to dust, so we had to re-measure and re-cut everything). We started with the wood piece that went from the passenger side door to the wheel well, then continued with the front side of the door (replacing a metal square tube that had completely rusted out) and then continuing with all of the cab-over framing.

I chose to use poplar for the framing since it is marginally better than the white wood that we replaced. Instead of using framing that is 1.25 x 0.75 inches, we used 1.5 x 0.75. This will add a little more weight, but it will be much stronger. The poplar was $5.50 for an eight-foot piece (pine was about $3.50).

The old joints were held together with glue and staples. We used Liquid Nails Heavy Duty and roofing discs (little 1" circles of metal) stapled into both pieces of wood. This allowed for a little more stability in the joints.

For exterior surfaces we used 3M 5200 caulking. From what I read online this stuff is the gold standard for caulking. It's a marine caulking that sets when it gets wet, takes 48 hours to be tack-free, and then cures in a week. It's supposed to be nearly impossible to remove without some pretty hazardous chemicals. I'm not planning on ever tearing this apart again, so I figured we'd use the best stuff available. (It was $15.99 a tube at West Marine. I could not find it at Lowe's or Home Depot.) The fiberglass is glued to the wood using gorilla glue.

The next step will be cutting the foam and luan paneling to fit and then clamping it all together until it dries. After that we'll build the bunk and that should finish up this project.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Deconstructing the Cabover

This is a picture of some of the visible water damage to the front driver-side cabover area. The wood was so wet that it was beginning to sag below the molding, mostly due to the fact that the wood edge had nearly turned into powder. The screws into the edging had rusted to the point they looked like nails.
This is the cabover area above the passenger side bunk bed. The walls in campers are really just sandwich board: fiberglass on the outside glued to polystyrene foam glued to luan and vinyl on the inside. What you're looking at here is the foam with most of the luan pulled off. The luan (underneath the vinyl) was rotted to the point it would nearly come off with a fingernail.
It was at this point that we realized the entire bunk would have to be torn out, as the sides and front were also rotted.

Another shot of the edge of the bunk and the door. Next to the door there are two 3/4" square boards with a 3/4" metal square tube sandwiched in-between. The metal tube was nearly completely rusted through. Apparently the water that had come in through the front had traveled along the fiberglass all the way back to the door (about 55" back)! Obviously all of this had to go.

Another shot of the same area with the luan removed that was backing against the fiberglass. All of this was originally covered with luan and then carpeting that was stapled on with enough staples to circle the globe at least twice. Whoever built these things sure was happy with the stapler.

My father-in-law and myself beginning to strip out the bunk. At this point we knew we had bitten off a lot to chew, but of course we kept on stripping because everytime we found a new joint we found it had rotted as well. The only place with good wood in this entire picture was the wood around the front window (which is a wonder, because that is usually where these leaks tend to occur).

Foam board stripped out, windows removed, bunk bed gone, and we're down to the fiberglass.
This is where we are now. Both sides and the bunk are down to the fiberglass. I've replaced the wood from the rear-driver's side wheel-well to the front edge, and rebuilt the metal bar from the bottom-front edge up to the top over the door. Instead of a 3/4" square tube and two 3/4" square sticks, we used a 1.5"x3/4" with a 3/4" aluminum angle iron and another 3/4" stick next to that. As long as it comes up to 2.25", then we're good.

I still have to clean all of the fiberglass and then I will begin to reframe the top edge. The roof edges are 1"x1" sandwiched between the vinyl ceiling and some sort of foam insulation on top (directly underneath the aluminum roof). I'm getting to that top corner on the driver's side by unscrewing and unstapling (again, some camper builder went staple-crazy) the aluminum roof from the bottom to the top and rolling it back as far as I can.

To get all of this stripped out took almost a week. I'm hoping rebuilding will go a little faster.