Tidbits and Systems: Inside the Tramper

Temperature Regulation

While renovating the old beast I knew it had to provide a comfortable safe haven from all weather.  I towed it to the Catskills and tested the Wave 3, catalytic furnace in the original trailer without insulation.

Wave 3

Wave 3

This little furnace is 93% efficient, it burns propane on a catalytic grid and emits only CO2 and water.  No carbon monoxide, just need to keep venting in a little air.  Pretty handy in a space this small.  The old flame, blower, and chimney propane furnaces are less than 30% efficient. And considerably bigger.

The Wave easily established and maintained the interior just above 50 degrees Farhenhite.  Quite tolerable for a camp weekend, but needed improvement for a long journey.  Underneath the pretty amber birch walls I added 1 1/2″ foam insulation and, most importantly, foil-bubble-foil all around.  Similar to the stuff used for those silver windshield sunshades,  this reflects “our heat” back in where it belongs.  We are noticeably warmer with a lot less effort.  camper progress 035 camper progress 021No cold breeze over your shoulder.  Helps out in the desert or high heat areas too.  The inside never exceeded 80 degrees on a killer sunny Florida day or August in our driveway.

On this New Years Eve we experienced not only record cold more than 10 below zero, but also constant high winds.  We were cozy under our sleeping bag, a ZERO degree Teton bag capable of Winter tent camping.  So far we’ve only used it as a quilt though, one of two bags that can zip together if we were ever actually cold.

We could see curtain movement beside those lovely old jalousie windows.  To make a decision here we had to wait and explore our longer-term parking arrangement.  As we are now parked facing South, our two biggest windows keep the place “solar-warmed” all day long.  Really, arriving back from skiing on a 10 degree day, we have to vent out some heat.  I sealed all sun-facing windows with clear plastic sheeting to collect sun all day.  Thus retained the ability to insert our foils at night over them too for an inexpensive “triple-glazing”.  The North facing windows are only double-glazed with the foils taped directly into the screen frame.

Its so warm and cozy we had to leave the “kitchen window” unsealed so we can add or subtract the foil but not seal so tightly.  Its amazingly comfortable in the Tramper.  The only other addition I made yesterday was to carpet the whole interior.  We had only throw rugs, but now my feet are so much more comfy on the complete carpet.  $19 at Walmart for a 5 X 7 space rug cut in half and trimmed into place.  I even put down a free carpet pad a-la-cardboard.

Another 1957 trim update is the ceiling vent.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpon arrival home I had no cap or cover.  However, the roof did not leak so I was not anxious to buy a compete new vent and cut a square hole.  The Goodwill on Joppa road provided a deep aluminum frying pan combined with a foam gasket, some rivets and aluminum angle to allow protection, stop rain and house a new fan I disassembled and repurposed just for the purpose. (total spent ~50bucks instead of two fifty).   Besides, I really liked the aperture-like slides to open and close.

Food Storage

Lynn supplied me with a modern Propane/Electric fridge made by Dometic.

Lots of food space

Lots of food space

These things are quite expensive new, so his salvage saved me well over a thousand dollars.  A very neat design without any moving parts uses heat to boil ammonia in a double sealed system, and take advantage of the expansion/contraction cycle to create cold.  This thing works great!  All I have to do is watch the fridge temp and regulate the outdoor vent sizes according to ambient temps.

Right now it is running on campground electricity but barely uses any propane anyway.  It burns a flame barely bigger than what a pilot light would be.  Very cool system, I think it is an old Swedish design.


We knew we wanted solar, but knew nothing about it.  The first step in any system was defining our needs.  My estimate was about 19 Amp hours total per day.  Turns out we use lots less.  To plan, you figure in how many hours of light, how many of charging phones and computers, how much would a fan use for how long, the fridge (0), and what other electronics we’d need.  Then the Amperes drawn can be multiplied by hours, days, etc.

Constant information

Constant information

I shopped around and bought the panel and system online from the most helpful vendor who also happened to be in Baltimore.  (you can visit my “solar post” on Good Old RV’s for details)


In use, it seems perfectly suited in an overkill kind of way.  We knew we didn’t ever want a stinky, noisy generator so the panel is bigger than it needed to be.  It is a 130 Watt panel, able to deliver 10 Amps max in the perfect alignment.  When you look at output though, it is only optimal midday with all things perfect.  What we have found with this bigger panel is that we leave it flat, tolerate shade and clouds and have only charged our storage battery twice in over 110 days.  We probably didn’t really have to, but the plug was available and Hurricane Sandy kept us in shade for more than 1o days in a row.

Funny thing though.  Even on a cloudy, lightly raining day the system charges about .9 to 1.2 Amps.  All day long!  The water in the air must reflect some energy down all the time.  I guess that goes along with sunburn on cloudy days like moms always told us.  Anyway, it just keeps trickling in.  AND we don’t use much.


An original 57 yellowstone rewired with one LED “puck” inside


A chipped Lowe’s fixture with three LED “pucks”


An $8 IKEA, incandescent, with socket removed, yup, you guessed it LED “pucks” inside

LED’s use less than 1/10th of regular lights.  With all of our lights on at once, we use .8-.9 Amps.  Our computer sucks in 4 Amps to charge and takes about anhour to top off.  But if things have been borderline, we just charge it in the truck while driving.  The ceiling fan pulls an Amp on low, so the hotter nights of a desert may test us.  We’ve never been too hot in a tent though, without any fan.

It really has us re-evaluating the normal way everything works at home on the grid.  We are thinking solar for our house.  Probably swap a bunch of lights for LED’s.  IKEA has more selection than most other sources, this I learned while planning the Tramper systems.

100_6752Another funny free add-on has been salvaged computer fans.  Free is a good price and they too use less than an Amp.  I’ve employed one to vent the hydrogen from the charging battery.   One to vent above the stove.  And Finally placed a pair at the coils of the fridge for assist on days over 90 degrees.  (I found this need in the driveway in Towson, not much on the road yet).


The Tramper had an old system within that included a porcelain toilet, galvanized steel drain pipe, a black water tank and sink.  Its water pressure was created in a sealed tank with compressed air like a car tire.  It worked for my test trips but needed serious upgrading.

The old tank is galvanized steel, 18 gallons and didn’t leak.  I just couldn’t bring myself to throwing it away.  But I wouldn’t drink from a 50 year old trash can either.  So we carry plastic gallon bottles and dedicated 5 gallon jugs as needed. (Another Lynn sourced item lies on the back of the 4Runner; blue is water, red spare gas)   The goal is carry only what we need, water is heavy!  If we know we’re headed for a park with water we drain it all except a few liters carried to drink.

The tank now leads to 1/2″ PEX tubing, reputed to survive freezing well.  I tested a loop with a connector in my freezer at home with success, but still arranged all plumbing indoors a foot away from the walls.  There being no way to see the water level in the tank, I put in a T, added a stop valve, and some clear tubing.  With the Tramper leveled, I added 2, 4, 6, etc gallons and marked these on the cabinet next to the clear tube.

There is a 12Volt pump, an expansion tank, an 8 gallon water heater that lights itself easily with a switch.  It quickly heats all that water in about 10-15 minutes from a cold start.   This I placed strategically under the foot of the bed,  on Jane’s side.  Subtle extra warmth all night.  Its even warm in the morning though I turn it off all night.

The idea of a toilet and effluence was eliminated.  We have a porta pot, but prefer the bathouse, restrooms etc.  Don’t want the weight or ordeals.  No black water. Enough said.

What we needed was a shower.  I got a 24″ square shower pan and built a new closet around it.  Our shower is about 4″ smaller than the toilet room, this left me room to add a delightful little bookshelf.  I framed the space as thinly as possible, making dadoed joints like furniture to strengthen the walls without taking space.  Lots of clamps.

Lots of clamps...no shellac yet...

Lots of clamps…no shellac yet…

Lots of making it up as I went along.  Make a piece, define the space, measure to make the next piece.   The inside of our shower is now lined with FRP, Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic.  Its bumpy and white, I’m sure you’ve seen it in some commercial bathroom, if you “bothered” to notice.

The sprayer has a button on it to stop the flow.  Once regulated, the temperature stays the same.  So, just wet down, turn it off, soap up, turn on and rinse.  I have measured my own use to be about 2 gallons this way.  In warmer camps we could hook up and run “normal” shower amounts, but have come to prefer this efficiency.

Again, our off-grid experience has us questioning our home and what “everyone is accustomed  to”.   Not sure what changes are in store; you know they say travel changes you.



There were cabinets within the Tramper when I brought it home, but we’ve redone as needed.  the new fridge is about an inch wider and 4 inches deeper than  the 1957 version.  I built an entirely new unit on that side.  Then added shelves with the bottom one engineered around our 2 ski boot bags.  Each of us has one basket to contain “all clothing for the whole trip”.  We minimized over and over to get to this point and wash small items regularly, hanging them to dry for the next use.  Here the air is so dry, things dry amazingly fast.  Rosendale, NY during the cold, dank Fall was a little different.  We had to aim our heater at the laundry lines.

The "Glove box" final assembly done in Gardiner, Maine along the voyage

The “Glove box” final assembly done in Gardiner, Maine along the voyage

Another small but invaluable addition was a little, wedge-shaped box I was initially calling a glove box.   Its tapered to provide headroom, and allow sitting in front of it.  What it has become is an electronics catch-all.  All chargers, wires, shavers, instructions, cases etc have landed there and can consistently be found.



Fire extinguisher, conveniently at the door, and a smoke detector.

Sleeping Accommodations

The "Couch" in back

The “Couch” in back

The back of the trailer has a “couch area” that flattens out into our bed; “80X43”.  that makes it bigger than a Twin, smaller than a Full.  We have air mattresses from camping and some thin pads to round it out.  This choice was based on weight, foldability and comfort.  Two separate mattresses works out well, I can climb out of bed without raising the other side like a trampoline.  We honestly sleep comfortably!  We’ve even declined beds in houses we’ve visited.


Our “range” was found by my friend John.  He forwarded me a Craigslist picture, I called the seller, and rushed over and bought it for $40.  It is an Avocado delight with three burners and the cutest oven since Easy Bake.  We have made pizza, banana bread, zucchini bread, brownies and, of course, Toll House Blondies.



2 responses to “Tidbits and Systems: Inside the Tramper

  1. This sounds less like tid bits….and more like Research and development for a NASA program ! 🙂
    Live and Love it….
    Later Jason

    • You saw a lot of it…Would love to have your input into future projects! Glad you’re enjoying.
      – David
      I’ll have to get you on skis sometime so you can enjoy that NY Winter…You should take a fun day, go down to Belleayre near you and take a lesson or do it as a date with someone we know…

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