EarthCruiser for Extreme Off-Roading AND RV Interior Remodel with RV Education 101

EarthCruiser - an Extreme Off-Roading Motorhome

With the growing popularity of off the road four-wheel drive class B vans, this week, we decided to take a second look at a serious off the road motorhome from Overland Cruiser. Later, with more and more folks opting to purchase a used motorhome or trailer, we asked Mark and Dawn Polk from RV Education 101 to show us what's involved in remodeling and upgrading a used RV. This week, we bring you part one and two of this five-part series.

Jeff Johnston: RV adventure comes in all different types of sizes and shapes and intensities. Some people like to take their adventure a little bit farther than others. They go over the hill, they kind of push it to the edge. Or for that matter, they push it right off the edge and keep going beyond that.

If you're going to take that kind of an adventure, you need a vehicle that's custom built and specially equipped for that sort of activity. And the new EarthCruiser four-wheel drive adventure vehicle is just one such vehicle. The EarthCruiser is a unique breed of vehicle designed and build specifically for long-distance, long-term, self-contained, overland travel and expeditions.

Although technically a motorhome, it's as far from the average RV as a vehicle can be. Its design originated with the company's Australian factory, but is now also manufactured in its Bend, Oregon facility. That's where we spent some time and caught up with company owner and vehicle designer Lance Gillies. His worldwide travels in other vehicles provided the inspiration for the EarthCruiser.

Lance Gillies: We started EarthCruiser in Australia. And the reason behind it, my wife and I just love to travel. We have been fortunate to go and see some great places. And you want to sometimes go back and you want to do that in a little bit more comfort and style. There was nothing out there to buy. And my background and experience is in specialty vehicle building, that's what I do. And really that's where EarthCruiser came from.

And so, we started the company in Australia. Australia has very strict rules when it comes to what is called second stage manufacturing. You can't just build one of these in Australia. It has to be tested, it has to be proven to the minute detail and the modifications we make to the vehicle. So, we have a legitimate product. EarthCruisers are registered as EarthCruisers, not a Fuso truck. They are a vehicle in their own right in Australia.

It became apparent that there was an opportunity for us to build EarthCruisers in the United States approximately four years ago. We registered a company here, and just a little over three years ago, we started to manufacture them in the United States. So, right now, we have 17 people in our fabulous workshop here in Bend. And I got to tell you the quality of work that these guys and girls put out is absolutely phenomenal. It is a great pleasure of mine to go to work every single day.

Jeff: When you need to travel some seriously bad roads, you need a four-wheel drive, and the Fuso chassis does the job. This rig has driving capabilities well beyond those of most any conventional RV. Our video shoot didn't include any genuinely gnarly terrain, but we caught some of the flavor. There's no need to shy away from that truly memorable campsite due to bad roads.

Lance: The base vehicle for us in the United States is the Fuso factory four-wheel drive system. So, a six-speed auto, diesel engines, very economical. They're a commercial based vehicle, which we like, makes sense for us because we want them to be robust, we want them to be relatively simple in this modern world for maintenance. I mean, that's a bit of an oxymoron, I know that. But our intention is for the base chassis to be as robust as possible. So, what we have here is the Fuso, which is--the parent company is Mercedes-Benz.

Jeff: A look at the beefy transmission and transfer case revealed the heavy duty overkill nature of the powertrain. A custom roll cage protects the cab from tree branches and other hazards. A 16,000 pound winch up front is matched by one out back because you want to be able to back out of trouble as easily as you got into it. Tow hooks and other recovery hardware are standard. Sand mats and recovery tools are conveniently located on the rear bumper.

Tucked away in its own corner storage bay is an electric air pump for inflating the tires after a low tire pressure run through the sand, or after a flat repair.

Lance: Fuel economy for us on this particular one is between 15 and 17, which is kind of average, again, with the newer vehicles as well. You are not going to enjoy the huge horsepower of, you know, a great, big 7-liter diesel whatever, but interestingly, just go and have a look at the torque curve between those larger V-8 diesels and some very fuel efficient 4-cylinder diesels. You might be surprised.

The body is double-wall molded fiberglass, with a structural foam laminate to provide strength and insulation.

Lance: Our limit for the size of an EarthCruiser was to making sure it fit inside a shipping container. So, that was the first critical thing to talk about. And so, with those dimensions sorted out, the next thing we wanted to do is keep the profile of the vehicle, of the cab itself. As a driver, you know fatigue is the biggest killer. And if we can make it that the driver is more comfortable and has less things to worry about, and two can enjoy the view, and two can enjoy the experience, that counts. You'll notice that the EarthCruiser cabin is the same profile as the cab. The angle is almost identical. So, when you are driving through those trees, and you want to duck into McDonalds or Starbucks to grab a coffee, if the cab fits width-wise, you fit. And with the raised roof model, the roof of the camper is identical to the roof of the cab. And so, you have--it's just more comfortable for the driver.

This particular vehicle, the floor plan and the system is based around comfortable travel for two people. I want to get across the point that this vehicle has just come back from Malaysia, and that's why the raised roof. That's why you can see there's so much light that comes in here because we are looking for a vehicle that gives us the opportunity to enjoy the outside.

The floor plan, the way everything works, the systems, everything is based around one simple premise. And the premise is that we want to get out and enjoy the world as much as we possibly can because what matters to us is that we want to be able to maintain the vehicle quickly, simply as possible, and get on with what we really want to do.

The bed is out the back, and it's just a little under a queen size for the bed. Tons of storage underneath the bed. With the roof down, you can still comfortably sleep. And this is important because some people like to stealth camp. Some people lift the weather-- for whatever reason that makes sense. So, from when the roof is down, it's 24 inches from the top of the mattress to the bottom of the bed. And that will be very familiar for a lot of people with truck campers.

Drawer storage is the most efficient. Cupboard storage we find inefficient. This is an off-road vehicle, so we pay a lot of attention to making the drawers shut and stay shut. You'll notice there are no drawers forward facing, where they could open and then become a hazard when you're off-roading. Those sort of things matter to us.

The forward dinette, we have the heating system underneath one seat. We have a laundry under the other for just to dry your clothes out as you're traveling. Kitchen bench is--again, it's fiberglass. It's with a hard surface, easy clean. You'll see there's no sharp edges. Rubbish bin in behind it, twin sinks. Silly things, but we think they matter. Twin sinks with the plugs at opposite ends, so if you are a little bit out of kilter, it still drains. Purified drinking water, not just filtered, but it is purified so we can pick up water from anywhere, critical for what we do. The refrigerator we use is marine fridge, stainless steel. It has some inherent features that work for us, being a marine style compressor fridge. So again, it's 12 volt. Most importantly for us, it'll work at a level-- out of level at a very low current draw.

Jeff: Overhead, there's a microwave oven attached to the ceiling. And like other 120 volt appliances, it's powered by the inverter. A central system panel contains most of the vehicle's electrical circuit and appliance controls, and monitors for the furnace, solar charger, and so on. Dometic, European style windows include vertically deployed shades and window screens. And the window's hinge at the top to avoid water intrusion in bad weather.

Lance: What we also have is access through to the cab. And so, what you can do with an EarthCruiser, there's a row of switches beside the door. You can close the roof, pull the awning in. The catch on the outside of the door is internal. Well, kind of internal. So, you can grab the door and close it. So, you don't have to exit the vehicle to leave. This matters because the security aspect is enormous. We can easily jump through if we want to, start the truck, and be on our way. It doesn't matter if it's crocodiles, kangaroos, and mosquitos out there that you don't want to have to deal with. Everything can be closed up and gone in about 27 seconds, and you're out of here. And that's why we have access to the cab, it's critical.

Jeff: The EarthCruiser is not for everyone. It's a comfortable, but serious vehicle with every feature chosen for its intended use, which is long-term adventure travel with no restrictions on getting there.


RV Education 101's RV Interior Remodel - Part 1 and 2

Mark Polk: Hi, and welcome to our RV interior upgrade project. The RV getting the upgrade is our fifth wheel destination camper at the beach. When we were looking for an RV to put on our lot, we didn't want a brand new one for obvious reasons. What we found was an older fifth wheel that was in excellent condition for its age.

After situating the fifth wheel on our lot, we added a 10x20 4-season patio enclosure to expand our interior living space. Dawn quickly got busy furnishing and decorating the patio enclosure to give it that beachy look and feel.

The problem was the interior of the fifth wheel was showing its age. The carpet was old and worn, the window shades were outdated, and the furniture looked the way you would expect old furniture in an RV to look. Our plan is to upgrade the RV interior with a modern-day look and feel. The way we're going to do that is by installing some new MCD American duo day-night roller shades, new Infinity luxury woven vinyl flooring, and new RecPro furniture. But before we can do any of that, we need to remove all the old furniture, flooring, and shades. That's our plan for today.

The first step of the interior upgrade project was to remove the old furniture and the dinette booth. That will give us better access to remove and replace the old flooring and shades, and eventually install the new products.

When you remove RV furniture, start by removing all of the cushions to see how the furniture is secured to the walls and floor. Using the correct tools, start removing all of the screws and other mounting hardware. Screws typically used in RV construction are either combination screws  like this square and Philips head screw, or just a square head screw like this. Square or Robertson bits come in three sizes, so make sure you use the correct size bit to prevent stripping the screwhead or the driver bit.

We started by removing the dinette table for better access to the dinette booths. Some booths can be removed without taking bottom drawers out. If not, you can remove the drawers by releasing the clip on the drawer guide. Next, we remove all the screws securing the booth to the wall and floor. Then we remove the dinette booth. Roxy was concerned about what was happening to her favorite bed under the dinette table.

With the dinette removed, we can start on the sofa. This is a hide-a-bed, so you need to position it where you have access to the mounting hardware. Next, I remove the bottom skirt panel for better access under the sofa. Remove all the bolts and mounting hardware securing the sofa to the floor. To make it easier to get the sofa through the entry door, I removed the bolts securing the back of the sofa to the frame. Now, we can remove the sofa. The recliner is freestanding without any mounting screws, so it was easy to move out of the room.

Dawn: With all of the furniture removed, we can start removing the old flooring. Our plan is to use the old flooring material as a basic template to cut the new flooring, so we need to be careful taking it out. Let's see what's involved with removing the old flooring.

Mark: Tools that are helpful include a razor knife, a staple puller, and a pair of pliers. When you remove carpet, there are tack strips securing it to the floor and lots of staples. After a piece of carpet is loosened, you can pull it away from the floor
one section at a time. I planned to use the carpet from the steps as a template too, so I was careful removing it. It might appear that carpet goes under base cabinets, but if you remove the bottom trim, there is a good chance the carpet does not go under the cabinet. We decided to replace the old wood flooring too, so we removed it.

I mentioned I am using the old carpet as a template, but for areas of the room where there wasn't any carpet, I need to make a template of that space. I used an old roll of laminate floor underlayment to make the templates, and I made some notes so we would remember where it goes when we prepare to cut the new flooring. With everything removed from the floor of the RV, we can prep the floor for our new flooring. First, we need to remove all of the staples from the floor. Let's see how that goes.

Mark: Preparing the floor surface for installation. You can use a staple remover or a pair of pliers. Be careful working on your hands and knees, the staples are very sharp. The floor must be smooth, clean, flat, and dry with no dirt, dust, wax, glossy paint, or any foreign materials. Fill in any cracks, knots, or other uneven surface areas using a latex fortified product. After it dries, sand any uneven surfaces smooth. Glossy or metallic surfaces need to be sanded to a dull surface. The last step in the preparation is to clean the floor surface thoroughly. The wood must be clean for the new flooring to properly adhere to the floor. It was a messy job, but now we can start on the fun stuff, installing the new interior products.

Today, our plan is to remove the old curtains, mismatched blinds, and the pleated shades in preparation for installing
the new MCD American duo day-night roller shades. With this installation, we are keeping the original valences, but removing the rest of the window treatments. The first thing we need to do is remove the old curtains and rods. There's not much space between the wall and the valence, but if you reach up and raise the curtain rod at both ends, the rod will come off.

Next, we remove the old shades from the five windows we are installing the new MCD shades on. The shades are secured using clips, so all I need to do is put a screwdriver behind the shade where the clips are located and it pops right off of the clip. With the shades removed, now you can remove the screws from the shade tensioners and remove any remaining hardware. The MCD roller shades are custom-made for your RV. After following the measuring instructions, your custom-made MCD shades arrive in no time. We selected the American duo day-night roller shades. The MCD day shades offer excellent outward visibility and daytime privacy, and all nighttime shades are comprised of 100% privacy and blackout shade materials.

The shades are available in a variety of styles and colors to complement the interior design. Let's start installing some MCD roller shades right now. MCD roller shade installation. MCD Innovations, a division of Airxcel, is the world's largest manufacturer of RV window shades. MCD offers a good selection of day solar screen material, and night vinyl or decorator fabric. To complement our new flooring and furniture, we selected the coffee solar screen day shade and the country stone night shade.

Start the installation by mounting the clip to the top of the valence. For best results, the shade should be located as close to the glass as possible, typically 3/8 of an inch away from the window frame. But do not mount it so close that the shade can get caught on anything when it's lowered. The outermost clip should be mounted within two inches from the end of the shade assembly. Mounting clip tabs should be located towards the inside of the coach. Installation screws are not provided due to the variations in requirements. MCD recommends using number eight pan head sheetmetal screws. The most common length is one inch, but may vary due to the needs of your particular installation. Center the shade assembly, check for proper orientation, and attach it to the mounting clips. The shade assembly is mounted to the clips by placing the outside edge of the assembly rail into the clips and rotating the shade towards the clip tabs to firmly and solidly snap the mounting rail into place.

In most American duo installations, the clear view solar screen should be located closest to the glass. The night material should be closest to the inside of the coach. Installation tips for proper operation of the shades. The shade must be level. Solid spacers of the appropriate thickness placed under the mounting clips may be necessary. The shade may not bind to anything throughout its entire range of travel. Proper operation requires clearance around all sides of the shade in the upper position. The shade assembly should be evenly spaced left to right, and/or mounted so that it covers as much of the glass as possible when lowered. Repeat the same process on the remaining windows.

Dawn: The MCD American duo roller shades were the perfect addition to our RV interior upgrade project. Now, heat and UV rays from the sun is reduced, we have daytime privacy and nighttime privacy, but we can still see out. And look how easy they operate. For more information on the American duo roller shades, visit mcdinnovations.com. With one-fourth of our RV interior makeover completed, join us next time when we install whitewash wood planks on two accent walls in the RV. And remember, when you want to learn more about using and maintaining your RV, visit rveducation101.com.

Happy camping,

Mark Polk

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