Lee has made numerous upgrades to our Open Range 386-FLR Fifth Wheel and I wanted him to share them here. Some are simple and others are more complicated but they have all resulted in an easier, more comfortable living environment.
Window Push Bars
Our rig has three kinds of windows that will open. We have some small sliding windows, which has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, so forget I even mentioned it. Then we have 4 “pairs” that are side by side. On one side they are the crank open style that are hinged at the top and open at the bottom, and only open about 4″, which is ridiculous. That’s not enough to really let air flow through. The image below shows the how much the windows open. Clearly not enough.
On the other side they use the common push bar made by Hehr. These are the emergency exit windows, and that’s why they have the push bar. The bar is designed to fold in and latch when closed, and to open, you fold them out and push them out, and then the bar has a little indentation that rests on an edge of the hole plate that the bar goes through. This design allows you to push the bar through the hole in order to push the window all the way open to escape in case of a fire. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering for an escape window, and the only reason that the push bars are so short is so that the window opens the same amount as the crank open style which is right next to it. I didn’t like how small the opening was, so I took a look at the design of the crank window to see why it only opens a small amount. It turns out that the design is just flawed. When you turn the crank, it pushes out two arms that in turn use rollers that are fit into a channel on the window. Inside the channel are small blocks that basically prevent the arms from going past a certain point, so I removed the blocks to allow the window to open much farther. That worked beautifully. Except. The window wouldn’t close. There’s the design flaw. The weight and angle of a window, once it gets past a certain point, causes the roller to bind up, and that window is open forever. I had to remove an entire arm and crank assembly to close the window, and that required destroying it, so I had to replace it. So I focused on the push bar style on the emergency windows. When you push those windows up in an emergency, there’s a point, just before the window is open to 90 degrees where the hinge will lock, holding the window open. I tried this a few times, and it made a terrible noise, and when I pulled it back down it made an even worse noise, so I got concerned that it might not be designed to do this over and over. So I determined that just below that point would be the target for how far I could safely open the window. I drilled out the rivets holding the push bar to the window and the latch tab. I purchased some 1/2″ aluminum flat bar and cut it to the length I needed, about 20″ for each window (as opposed to the 4″ length on the original push bar) then drilled holes in each end and used a rivet gun to attach to the window and the latch tab. The image below shows the newly riveted push bar where it attaches to the window.
And this image shows the new push bar riveted to the latch tab.
This worked really well, and allows us to open the windows as far as possible, and gives us much better air flow. After a few uses, I noticed that between the weight of the window and the fact that the aluminum is pretty thin and lightweight, a slight curve started to bend into the bar. But once it “settled in” it didn’t get any worse, and the radius of the curve actually looks better to my eye than a straight line. So I’m calling it a design feature as opposed to a result of physics.
There was a small problem that had to be fixed. The longer push bar changed the angle of the latch tab, so it often wanted to slide back through and slam closed. Below image shows the notch in the latch tab, where the angle was causing it to fall, especially when the washing machine was on the spin cycle.
I just drilled a small hole through the latch housing and latch, and we use a straightened cotter pin to hold the window open. It’s a little more trouble, but it’s worth it to know the window can’t close on its own.
Both of us work in the rig, so we knew when we first started looking at rigs that we would need a real work area, not just a tiny little laptop surface, or a makeshift desk. The rig originally was designed with two couches in the living room slides, which faced each other and both folded out to air mattresses. This is the show model of the rig we purchased.
We knew we wouldn’t need two couches, so we ordered ours without the passenger side couch.
This is what it looked like as delivered:
The small pieces of wood on either side of the slide out box are what the couches are usually bolted to, and I’m really glad they left those in. It gave me twice as much thickness to attach my pedestal drawers, and it also allowed me to space the pedestals, and gave me a working space between the wall and the pedestals to work with. It also makes a nice little cubby for a power strip and whatever else we can cram in their. I found the perfect pedestal drawer solution, four Storex archive storage drawers which are designed for long-term archival storage. They are very heavy-duty without being heavy at all, and they’re a full 24″ deep, which brings them right to the edge of the floor of the slide. They also have a unique ribbing in the corners because they are designed to be stacked up to 10 high (!) and they can hold up to 100lbs of weight in the drawer. The ribs in the corners allowed me to mount them directly against the rear wall of the slide out, but still leaves a channel to run cables through. The pedestal drawers are bolted to the floor and rear wall of the slide out.
The work surface is a custom cut counter top that is a stock item from Home Depot and is bolted to the pedestals and the rear wall of the slide out.
I had some drawer fronts made (I can’t cut wood straight to save my life) by a cabinet-maker who also used a router on the drawer edges to match other edges in the rig, and stained the wood to match the rest of the rig. I was lucky enough to find drawer pulls that perfectly matched the other hardware in the rig as well.
The large monitor on the back left is mounted to an Ergotron LX articulated arm, which is bolted into the counter top and can be strapped into place during moving. They’re kind of pricey, but they securely mount the monitor to the desktop with 4 bolts, and allow you to position the monitor pretty much anywhere and it will stay put. You can even rotate the monitor so that it’s in portrait mode instead of landscape. We use a buckle and strap to secure it on moving day.
Originally we used a screw through a hole in the side of each drawer to hold them closed during transport, but that was clunky and annoying. I got some straps and buckle components at West Marine and that’s a much faster solution. If we’re just stopping for an overnight, we don’t even have to unsnap them, and if we are going to be a while, we can unsnap them and also disconnect them from the metal loops so they aren’t just dangling and ugly.
We use the same solution to anchor the PC in place, and that has worked really well too. It can’t slide or tip in any direction.
And here’s the finished project:
A Better Couch
Trace hated the couch that came with the rig, so we decided to replace it. I removed the original couch, which came apart in quite a few pieces, making it easy to get out of the rig. I kept some of the “leather” fabric, just in case I needed it for something.
Most slideouts sit at the same level as the floor, plus the thickness of the slide out floor. Ours are actually 5″ higher. So when I bolted the new couch to the slide out, there was a significant amount of overhang, enough that it threatened to pull the bolts out of the wood whenever anyone sat down or stood up, putting weight on the front edge. The only issue we had was the couch was wider than the previous one and sits on a slide out. In order to bridge the gap, I built the box you see on the bottom and then used that “leather” from the previous couch to upholster the box. I also put some furniture slide pads on the bottom of the box, to help it move. I then bolted the front edge of the couch to the box, and now the couch and the box slide in and out with the slide out. It still sits a little higher than most couches, so when you sit back in it your feet dangle like a little kid, but we think that’s just part of the charm.
This may seem like a little thing, but it is actually another one of Tracy’s favorites. We use our PC to watch downloaded TV shows and movies, so our PC is plugged into the TV for video and audio. This has had numerous applications including watching movies from the computer, having a big screen we can both see when planning our travel on the computer, and most importantly for Trace, showing our electronic family album on the big screen. I created a screen saver on the computer that cycles through our pictures and since it is connected to the TV we can have those pictures running on the TV when people come to visit or just when we are missing the kids. So the HDMI cable, a data cable, and audio cable are snaked together and run from the PC to the TV. I hid it as much as I could, but because the slide out has nearly 36″ of travel, there needed to be some slack. So the best I could do was create a hole in the entertainment center trim for the cable to pass through, and add a grommet to clean up the look a little. I’m still trying to figure out a way to completely conceal it and still allow it to stay unplugged in and move the 36″ it needs to when we bring in the slide.
The camper came with mirrored wardrobe fronts in the bedroom, but Trace really hated them. (Who wants to look at themselves first thing when they wake up? Not me!! – Trace)
Home Depot carries a product called ArtScape Window Film that is easy to apply and comes in many patterns. We chose the etched leaf pattern, but they had several really nice ones.
The rig also came with a terrible hanger rod in the hall closet. It’s a strip of metal with notched positions for each hanger. It keeps hangers from sliding, but it also seriously reduces the number of hangers you can put in. Since we lost half of the closet to our washer dryer, I removed the stock rod and put in a standard rod, doubling the capacity.
We also discovered there was no standard space for a clothes hamper. Since I had regained so much space in the closet, I decided to use one of the wardrobes as a hamper, and hung stretch cargo netting there, and it works wonderfully. The netting looks a little goofy along the top, but it works really well.
I took a 24 pocket canvas shoe cloth holder and cut it up and staple gunned it to the base of the bed. Each section holds 4 pairs of shoes and I used two sections per side of the bed. The remaining pieces I hung in our closet. I know that is a lot of pairs, but Trace just couldn’t give up all of her shoes. (We are not living like animals here…I mean seriously. I did give up some of my shoes, just not the really good ones. Now we have a one pair in, one pair out rule for shoes…not cool!! – Trace)
The insides of the cabinet doors were wasted space. I hate wasted space. We have spice racks, measuring spoon holders, zip lock bag container, and cutting board holders. This wall freed up valuable drawer space and made the items much easier to access while cooking.
One of Trace’s favorite customizations is the cargo netting he cut for every cabinet. I installed small metal hooks (sort of a “J” shape, for securing coax cable) on the inside of each cabinet and she simply hooks the netting to each hook in the four corners. This ensures when she opens the cabinet after moving things don’t fall on her head. Highly recommend this, the initial install is time-consuming but once the hooks are in and the net is cut you will have it for a very long time. (This really works. Recently I forgot to latch one section and found a glass jar of apple cider on the floor after a bouncy travel day. Thank heavens it didn’t break, but can you imagine. This netting really gives me an extra level of comfort. – Trace)
We were keeping our kitchen knives in a drawer, which I hate, because it’s bad for the blade, and also I don’t enjoy rooting around in a drawer for something that I know is razor sharp because I sharpen those knives all the time. So we put up a simple magnet strip, which works, but we still take the knives down for travel. I don’t want to fall off and damage the counter.
Trace started collecting magnets from each location we stayed in when we first started camping and wanted to keep the tradition going, but there was no where in the rig that had metal to hang magnets. (Our refrigerator has a wood front). I knew this was important to her and finally came up with the solution to have a piece of metal custom cut (by a local metal shop) and mounted it to the inside of the closet door. Not sure what we will do when the places we have visited out paces the room we have but for now it was a creative solution. (He earned huge best husband points with this one -Trace)
Our friends Red and Pam had this idea and it works great! We bought a white adjustable clothing rod , the kind that has a spring inside and you just rotate one end and it gets longer or shorter, and placed it in our shower above the trim. It doesn’t get in the way when we shower and holds wet towels out-of-the-way while they dry. It also works for wet bathing suits, etc. Very inexpensive and multi-functional. (This is one of the easiest things we did and has the most day to day impact. You have to hang wet towels up every day and it really works great. -Trace)
A little extra power….
When we had our solar system installed by RV Solar Solutions, it involved locating and removing the old converter/charger. We found it in a nice big unused space (that I was able to convert into additional storage, but more on that in the “Outside” section!) and it was on its own dedicated 20amp breaker and circuit. As you probably know, RVs are notorious for having poorly planned wiring, and there’s hardly ever any “extra” power anywhere. The circuits are usually full, and there’s not generally room for additional breakers in the panel. One of the things we discovered when we started full timing is that electric space heaters are great to heat the rig when we’re on full hookups, but space heaters eat up a lot of power. We have an electric fireplace in the living room, but since our front living room is higher than the kitchen/dining room, it doesn’t do any good with heating the kitchen, which is also where the entry door is. So I was thrilled that not only did I now have a free 20amp circuit, it just happened to be located behind a wall in the kitchen. Moving that outlet box was a piece of cake, and now we have an outlet in the kitchen with it’s own 20amp breaker for that space heater.
That didn’t solve the problem of the bedroom, however.
I was hooking up our rig one day and I just happened to notice that in this pedestal there was a connector for 50amp, 30amp, and 20amp. I realized that in almost every location we had been to, this was the case. So there was ample power at the pedestal. To solve the problem I installed a recessed male receptacle in the convenience center and ran the cable to a new surface mounted outlet box in the bedroom.
I chose a surface mount box so that neither of us would ever confuse the new outlet with the existing outlet, which is right next to it. This allows me to use either 15amp or 30amp (with an adaptor) power at the pedestal to supply power directly to an outlet in the bedroom dedicated for a space heater, or whatever else we might need to power. So far we have not yet found a situation where we were not able to use it. This was a great solution to a real comfort problem! You can see the added outlet on the left in the image below. It makes me a little crazy that the two are different styles, but I try not to obsess over it. Eventually I’ll fix it.
And speaking of more power….you probably noticed a silver plate and cylinder in that picture above. Well, another issue we discovered while boon docking was the amount of amp hours a 120v fan uses, especially when it runs all night. Trace can’t sleep without a fan on, and we were using it all night through the inverter, taking way more battery power than we wanted to lose overnight. The fan uses power, and the inverter itself uses power. We wanted to be able to go to bed with the inverter turned off. So I installed a 12 volt utility outlet in the floor of the bedroom, and powered it from the closest line, which was for the storage compartment lighting underneath the bedroom. We bought an endless breeze fan, and that solved that problem. (This may sound minor but it solved a major problem. Prior to this when boondocking we had to estimate how much power the fan would take all night and if we got it wrong, the fan would go off and I would wake up. Once I am up, I am up and being awake at 3am with no power is not cool. Can’t turn the generator on that early, so basically you are sitting in the dark waiting for the sun to come up and power. Never happened again once we got this fan – Trace)
I hate wasted space….
I really hate it. These rigs aren’t cheap, and while there are limits to what you can squeeze in without going overweight, I think most manufacturer’s waste a lot of space for no good reason. The entire center third of my rig has a secret basement crawlspace where the furnace and water heater and a bunch of wires and hoses and pipes are. There’s an access door, but it’s very small, and hard to get to, and plastered with stickers that say “Not A Storage Area”. Challenge accepted. See, the reason it’s not a storage area is that rather than properly route the wires and pipes and hoses, to make the space usable, they just ran them willy nilly and then closed the space. I use it. I don’t follow rules. I just secure everything that’s in there so it doesn’t move at all, and won’t interfere with any of the wires or hoses or pipes. I was recently in that space working on something you’ll read about in the “Outside” modifications page, and while I was in there, the battery portable light I was using died. I rolled over to check it, and I was amazed to see, from that angle, in the dark, that I could see a faint light coming from the far corner. I wiggled a little closer (it’s very tight in there) and I was further amazed to see that I was looking out through a slotted vent into my dining room at the floor level. This, it turns out, is the cold air return for the furnace. I got very excited when I got my light working again, because there was nothing around that space on the inside, it was wide open. I went into the kitchen and saw that the vent was on the front of the lowest stair. I got some tools and pulled off the top stair tread.
That one had some framing underneath the tread, but other than that lots of room inside. I did need to use a jigsaw to cut back the framing a little, it’s over-built, and one wire needed to be rerouted, but that’s a small price to pay for so much space. Our kitchen is light on pantry space, so this was like finding buried treasure. The second tread yielded a much more open space, but not as tall, obviously.
I got some piano hinges, and put it all back together and we filled it up with canned goods. It holds close to 40 cans, which freed up a lot of space in our cabinets, not to mention moving the weight from the cabinets to the more solid floor. And that allowed us to do some reconfiguring of our cabinets which will make it much easier for Trace to cook. (Cans have been a big problem. They are heavy and hard to see when in the upper cabinets. They have lives in multiple places in the camper and none of them worked very well. I am thrilled to give this a try and extra storage space is always a good thing! – Trace)
And while I was working on this, I discovered yet another very large area of wasted space that I will be converting into useful storage, but you’ll have to wait for the “Outside” modifications to read about that!
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