Old Camper, New Tricks
Bill Cramer took a 45 year old Tiltin’ Hiltin truck camper, gutted the unit, restored the interior with a 50’s-style, and then flipped the script with a state-of-the-art computer sensor and cellular communication system. Old camper, new tricks.
When I got the 1972 Tiltin’ Hiltin in 2013, I knew I was facing an uphill battle. It had been sitting in someone’s backyard and looked like it had been used as a kid’s playhouse. The interior was a complete wreck. The windows and roof vents had been left open for years and the wall paneling was pretty much history.
Fortunately, the exterior was in good shape except for some faded paint and a few small dings in the aluminum siding. More importantly, the roof had no leaks.
Before bringing it home, I did a ton of web research to find out if restoring the camper was even a good idea. During that research I discovered Truck Camper Magazine. From reading camper restoration articles on TCM, along with various other internet sources, I learned that the potential cons of such a restoration far outweighed the possible pros.
In spite of everything I read about how the restoration was a bad idea, I decided, “I can do this!” and brought the camper home.
After gutting the interior, I found that the wood frame was in surprisingly good condition. With the walls open, I added wiring for additional lights, an audio/video system, backup camera, and an alarm system. The walls and roof were then insulated and covered with fresh 1/8-inch wood paneling.
The original cabinets, double sink, and stove were then re-installed with a new counter top. The seating area was changed as you will see and the bathroom was enlarged by about eight inches to accommodate a porta-potty.
In the cabover the flat panel television is now on a swivel mount and can be seen from the bed or seating area. The LED light strip is on a dimmer as are the lights over the seating.
The black and white 50’s theme for the interior was my girlfriend’s idea. Wanda did all of the interior decorating.
I added a shelf with storage in the sleeping area. The doors on either side of the center panel flip up for access to the storage area. It also holds the pillows and one’s back at just the right angle to watch television or read.
The stove, sink and cabinets are original. The cabinets were sprayed black. The oven still works well after all these years. I did add electronic ignition to the burners. It’s the black push button to the left of the controls.
If you look to the far left you can see my one of a kind canisters. They are Folgers coffee containers with labels held to the backsplash with industrial velcro.
I kept the original icebox and propane lamp. After adding insulation to the icebox, a 20 pound bag of ice will last about three days.
The propane lamp is not connected, but was kept for its classic look. The audio/video receiver is at the bottom. It has full surround sound and plays DVDs through the television. Just below the lamp is the motion detector for the alarm system.
I changed the dinette seating to one long bench in order to gain space to enlarge the bathroom. It’s only two of us, so the additional dinette sleeping area wasn’t really needed.
The platform was redesigned so that the base for the pedestal table could be recessed and for more storage space. Simply lift out the stopper in the middle of the picture and insert the pole for the table. Panels on both ends of the platform lift out to gain access to the storage area.
This idea came from looking at some diner pictures. These are LED strip lights mounted one-half inch above the floor in an aluminum channel. The lights run from the back door to the cabover step.
The LED strip lights are dimmable, can be set to any color in the rainbow, and are remote controlled. They create fantastic mood lighting at night. The camper’s batteries are in the truck bed behind the door on the upper left.
This picture shows the 120 to 12-volt 20-amp converter (the box with the holes).
When plugged into shore power, this converter turns on and the batteries are automatically disconnected. Everything in the camper runs on 12-volts.
The circuit board below it is a PWM solar charge controller I built from a kit. The upper switch is used to charge either the camper’s batteries or the truck’s battery. The lower switch is for main power disconnect.
Above: The LCD display mounted above the sink on the wall
The “smart” stuff monitors the camper systems and will send me a text or call our cell phones if required. The top circuit board is a computer that monitors the battery voltage and current, inside, outside, and ice box temperatures, fresh and grey water tank levels, and the alarm motion and door/window switches. Old camper, new tricks.
The smaller circuit board with the white sticker is a complete cell phone, minus the keyboard, display, and case. The computer can tell it to send a text or make a call. For instance, it will text me if the battery voltage is low or it will call our phones if the camper alarm is triggered.
Here is the top of the grey water tank along with the level sensor board. This is located on the right side of the step to the cabover. The camper originally did not have a grey water tank. Water from the sink ran out a hose located at the back of the camper.
The clear tube is filled with air and connects to a fitting at the bottom of the tank. As the tank fills with water, the air pressure in the tube increases. This is read by the circuit board and is displayed by the computer as a 0% (empty) to 100% (full) value. The technical name for the oval shaped device on the board is a differential pressure sensor.
I was unable to find a fresh water tank of the proper dimensions, so I chose two five gallon totes. The tanks fit nicely side by side and I swap the pickup tube from one tank to the other when empty.
The clear tube is connected to another level sensor that displays fresh water level. You can also see the water pump to the left of the tote. The original 20 gallon tank that came with the camper was full of pinholes and the original tiny pump was burned to a crisp.
I modified the step up to the bed for two reasons. First, to accommodate the fresh and grey water tanks. And second, to make it a bit easier to get into bed.
Everything can be turned on or off from one place. I can turn on the backup camera from inside the camper and see who is at the door on the TV. The porch light also has a motion sensor in it so it doesn’t stay on all night.
Finally, after a full year of restoration and renovation, we are camping!
Our first trip was to Calico Ghost Town. The UFO looking thing at the edge of the roof is an HDTV antenna. It has a range of about forty miles.