GOT SKY? The Pace Hilton
or How I came to like my Plywood Box on Wheels
Roland Culberson - February 10, 2004
At the end of 1999, several changes occurred for me. The first was my long faithful 1989 Bronco II died a sudden and unnatural death. It worked well as long as I had it, but had a small problem hauling around the 18 StarMaster that I had bought in the spring. So what if when the scope was in the truck, I had to sit on the left edge of the seat and couldn't move. Small problem, but I can deal with it.
When the transmission died at 145K miles, and the cost of repair or replacement sent me into cardiac arrest (OK, almost..), I decided that enough money had gone into keeping the faithful little Bronco alive and well. It was time to go find a new trusty steed (or perhaps another old mule!).
Enter the Double O Ranger. Immediately, I decided to make a carpeted cargo box in the bed that would keep the scope away from the air conditioner (so long to thermal problems after driving to a dark site). This was done with the help of Fred Blockland and a friend from the past who is an upholsterer, and who helped cover the bed box Fred and I built. This worked out superbly, and my plan to use the bed to sleep in when going to Star Parties was going to be great, or so I thought. It seems I overlooked the fact that weather changes, and more so, the fact that I would need to sit inside there in inclement weather…possibly with the scope not yet deployed. After our Star Party in 2000, I decided that I might want to get a trailer for a couple of reasons. The first was for storage of the scopes and assorted goodies that accompany them, as they all presently resided in my living room. The second was that even with the scopes in the trailer, I should be able to stay out of bad weather should the need arise. (Did I mention the gully-washer monsoon that happened within an hour of my arrival at the 2000 event? I was stuck in the back of the truck for what seemed like eternity, but was actually about an hour or so. I couldn't stand up for an hour or two after...)
Enter the trailer! I bought this nice 6 x 12 foot box to attach to the truck and pull to wherever my heart (and budget) allowed. While I had blown more on it than I intended, I figured it would be around for the long run, and I could do a little at a time to make it into what I wanted. I did set up housekeeping inside by screwing some large eyes into the walls and strapping down expensive, would be projectiles to stop some self-propelled destruction necessitated by dodging other lunatics on the road.
The Double O Ranger was sent to live with someone else after a poor demonstration of the laws of physics (two objects of equal volume cannot occupy the same space at the same time) and a subsequent bad repair afterward. A step up in power and comfort was found in the Vanilla Gorilla, the Blazer that replaced it. The trailer seems far happier behind it!
I went as far as to draw a plan up for the inside of the trailer, which would make storage and organization an easy thing to accomplish. The one thing not drawn into this plan began in November of 2001. The big "D", as in divorce. At that point I was not even sure I would get to keep the scopes, so the trailer was not a priority. I continued to use the trailer and try and keep life to some similarity of normalcy. The situation was ended at the end of 2002. Life continued afterward. Life is good.
Fast-forward to 2003, late in the year.
After taking several trips to Chiefland, 9 Mile Grade, Venus, and several other appropriate spots, sleeping (?) on a cot that offered little to no support for my rather large scale persona, I decided that a change was in order. I resolved to finally get the inside turned to a somewhat more usable and comfortable situation. One with an actual place that would support my sleeping habits, and put some organization into my gradually escalating collection of astro stuff. My biggest problem here was I didn't have any tools to do what needed to be done, and a VERY limited knowledge of woodworking left me with a pondering of who I could get help from. I had thoughts of taking it to a shop and having it done, but really wanted to be involved, and you know what happens when you want to help… the price goes way up! Remember, I am not a rich guy!
Welcome back to Florida, Dan Wickles!
Dan had moved to the north on the whims of his employer, and when the employer became the "former employer", he came back to West Palm Beach.
At one of the first sessions Dan attended after returning, I noted he had a really nice box in the back of his truck. I asked him where it came from, and he said he had built it.
Hummm... Wheels started turning, smoke started forming inside my head, and I asked him what he knew about building cabinets and stuff. He said he knew a little and had some tools. He lied. He knew a LOT, and has some very exceptional tools. Along with SKILL, these can prove to be dangerous things to possess.
As Dan had some time free, I asked him if he would like to make a (very) few bucks by helping me (OK, by pretty much doing a substantial amount) of constructive type stuff inside the trailer.
I showed him the drawings I had, and explained that I had done them 3 years ago, but not much had changed in the general concept, other than the fact it was still only on the paper he was looking at. He said he would help me with this. (Reality Check: Supervise, Cut, Measure, Etc...)
While I was off work after Thanksgiving for a week, we commenced the "Project A." This is the cabinet that makes up the forward twenty inches in the trailer. I learned a lot in that week, first and most important though was that my box wasn't one. A box would lead you to think rectangular or square. These two words do not exist in the same sentence as trailer, though the concept would have been wonderful. Roughly the entire week was spent on this cabinet, as each piece had to be hand fit to ensure that all of the doors would function properly. Dan is very patient (I'm still alive, that's proof!), as I made some silly suggestions as we went along. People with SKILL and KNOWLEDGE are a wonderful asset when doing something like this, as the original concept stayed the same, the practical application became slightly different. Dan understood that I wanted certain things a certain way, and darned if it didn't work out pretty much as I had envisioned. We did away with a set of cabinets that would have gone down the left side wall, as they would have stopped the storage door on the front cabinet from allowing it's purpose to be achieved. It needed to be big enough for the Star Atlas to go in and out of without a problem. It does so beautifully.
After this week (followed by a couple of odd weekends) that portion was done.
On to "Project B," the bench/bed/storage box. This will be a little different than I had planned, since there was no longer a cabinet to be overhead, we could now bring this height up a bit, raising the amount of space inside the box, and making it a little easier to sit on when necessary. This went in pretty easily, all things considered (remember the word square? Well forget it!) Again Dan made the things I had in my head come into the real world… 3D! As we were going on with this, I kept having more ideas about doing the rest of the interior while we were in this mode. George's Hardware and Home Depot got to be very familiar with the two of us plundering the stainless screws, hardware, red oak, plywood and paneling sections. I went ahead with the purchase and accumulation of the necessary items and off we went.
Over the week after Christmas we went on into the rest of the inside. It took that week, and some other odd weekends since, but the result is nice. Dan knows the woodworking stuff very well, and between his ability and my original plan, I think the end has been worth work that we did. Yes, I did do some of the work, I am a very capable screwdriver operator, have been known (as of late, and with Dan's miter saw) to cut and fit some trim pieces when left to my self. I also drilled a pile of holes, and most of them in the right places. There are approximately 300 stainless screws in the trailer, about 150 board feet of red oak, several sheets of plywood and a couple of sheets of paneling. It doesn't sound like a lot, but believe me, it is! The oak and plywood are finished with tung oil for a nice easy to touch up, finish. I think it is beautiful. (But then I might be a little bit partial...)
All in all, after sitting on the box/bed and looking around the finished inside, I have to say I could not have done anything quite this nice without Dan's help. I would have come out usable, but this is a bit better than that. This is first class! So, enjoy the photos, but if you happen to come to where this thing is pulled for an event, take a look. There are a lot of neat little tricks in it.
Then go tell Dan if you don't like it. He can blame me!