The RV Project Trailer Build: Part 3

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The Main Takeaways

By Spenser Tang-Smith.

This is the third installment in a three-part series from Spenser Tang-Smith, one half of The RV Project’s dynamic duo. Along with his partner Vikki Glinskii, The RV Project is their adventure across America in search of the country’s best climbing and most interesting people. All photos courtesy of RV Proj. If #Vanlife has lost its luster, Spenser’s here to give you beta on the new-new: TrailerLife. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Since this is Part 3, I’ll break it into 3 sections of 3 items each. 9 items, express checkout-compatible. And if you don’t like it, then you are a scalawag, and not allowed to climb on our awesome climbing wall. 

3 Things We Would Do Differently 

1.1. Plan More 

Though we spent several weeks designing and strategizing, it was clearly not nearly enough. As evidence, I can cite the fact that we visited a hardware store well over 50 times. Sometimes it was a big trip to buy components for an entire system, but more often it was to get an extra sheet of plywood or some random adapter for a specialized tool. Besides gas, each trip would take precious time, and we’d often have to switch tasks for no reason other than lack of a few correctly-sized bolts. 

Next time, we’ll spend a few more hours planning and estimating our needs, overbuying supplies, and returning the excess. Little crucial items will be forgotten, tools will break, and return trips will need to be made, but I’m sure we could’ve shaved several days off of our build time. 

1.2. Proper Shop, Proper Tools 

This is HUGE.

The garage was also my aunt’s workout space, and she had a regular session 1-2 times per week. We agreed to clean up before her workouts, which sounded simple enough. It wasn’t.

Every time we had to breakdown the workshop, clean up the dust, and set up my aunt’s exercise equipment, it would take at least three man-hours. Then, setting up our shop and putting the gym away took another 30 minutes or so. This doesn’t even account for how much time you lose when your rhythm is interrupted and the locations of tools and hardware keep changing…It was a massive sandbag. (Then again, my aunt can do as many pull-ups as I can, if not more. She’s 63.) 

Partly due to space concerns and partly due to us being cheap, we opted to not get a professional table saw or decent jigsaw, both of which would’ve saved untold hours. We made dozens of panels and hundreds of cuts, each one requiring careful measurement and placement of a guide for the hand-held circular saw. A table saw would’ve been faster and more accurate, and we could’ve sold it for a minimal loss at the end of the project. This is only the most glaring example of being sandbagged by lack of tools, but the principle was illustrated many times daily.

1.3. More Power 

Dustin tried to tell us, and we didn’t listen. It turns out that 300W/400Ah is not enough power for what we need to do on a day-to-day basis. We’ve found that a full day of working on a cloudy day will eat up 25-40% of our battery bank, while a full day of sunshine will only put about 25% back in (and we’re talking about summer). If we find ourselves having to work a lot during a winter storm, our only option is some form of shore power, either via an extension cord or a generator. We have room for more solar panels, but without another battery or two, we’re still more dependent on the vicissitudes of weather than we’d like to be. As of this writing, we’re evaluating our options. 

3 Things That Are Even Better Than Anticipated 

2.1. Folding Bed and Table 

Okay, this thing is RAD. We can go from lunch mode to bed mode in about 60 seconds. And when it’s all folded up, the trailer is in yoga mode. Being able to stretch and move around when it’s miserable outside is, lemme tell ya, invaluable. 

2.2. Having a Fan 

We are chasing late fall, like all climbers, and we never thought we’d want air conditioning or a fan of any sort. We were convinced by the argument that if we leave Little Dude in the trailer on a hot day, the fan ensures that we’ll return to a happy dog instead of a dead one. And it was clearly the correct decision, because our first few days living in the trailer were in Idaho in July. The trailer was at least somewhat livable, instead of a swampy disgusting sweatbox. 

Now, Dustin and Liz have a fan in the front and a fan in the back, meaning they can basically blow a smoke ring and make it dance back and forth. We initially thought that was absurd, but after a few days of sweating through our clothes, it began to seem quite reasonable. We’ll hold out for now… 

2.3. Satisfaction Related to Little Details 

You’re probably familiar with the Ikea effect, which implies that even a little bit of building gives the owner of an object a greater sense of ownership and satisfaction. As we think back to when we were in the depths of this project, cursing about this or that, it was impossible to know how much pleasure it would give us months later, when we find ourselves saying time and again how much we love returning to our home on wheels. 
Right now, I’m typing from the dining table, and to my right I can look over at the underside of our aluminum bedframe. Prior to installing it, I remember spending 20 minutes or so with an angle grinder, putting some nifty little patterns on each cross member. Not a meal goes by during which I don’t marvel at the aesthetic value of that little touch, as each pass of the grinder created a new way for light to bounce around. 

3 Things That Were Much Harder Than Anticipated 

3.1. Disposing of Hazardous Waste 

The first sandbag with regard to waste disposal was not having separate receptacles for trash, recycling, and hazmat. However, that would not have done anything to mitigate the utter pain in the ass that properly disposing of spent spray cans and the like ended up being. 

3.2. Remaining Civil 

Sometimes the combination of fatigue, too much dust-breathing, construction setbacks, and no climbing becomes almost overwhelming. And then your partner reminds you of a task or decision that needs attention, and you have no attention to give. Your intentions are good, but suddenly you find yourself in what Jonathan Thesenga referred to as a “dynamic conversation” about some triviality or another. 

I found that, for such times, it was good to have dogs around to play fetch with. It was also good to have spare lengths of angle iron and pieces of scrap wood to hit very, very hard (I wore gloves, for safety). 

3.3. The Final Stretch 

You know how it is with any big project. At first, the task is so huge and the end so far away that you simply plod along, getting lost in the process. Then one day you suddenly notice that things are shaping up nicely, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. 

It’s at about this point that all the hours and hours of work on each piece of furniture can still be ruined. It’s at this point that all the little decisions about shelves and dividers have to be made. 

It’s at this point that, even though you’ve already built 95% of a cabinet, it’s worth absolutely nothing until you get those push-button latches installed on the doors. Because without those latches, it’s not a cabinet, just a shelf with swinging wood panels that will dump everything on to the floor as soon as the trailer starts moving.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about (and maybe even learning from) Spenser and Vikki’s trailer build journey. Don’t forget to visit them over at RVProj so you can follow them on all their adventures.