TOur Motorhome Construction Project Starts Here . . .
VIDEO
Welcome to the photo tour of our Peterbilt Motorhome conversion project! Thanks for taking a few minutes of your time to visit; we hope you will enjoy the picture story of our motorhome construction project. From a typical road tractor in commercial service to a unique custom designed motorhome, this album is a visual tour of our building progress. The finished product was 95% identical to the way it was designed on paper when we first started. We are really content with the way it turned out. We hope you enjoy what you see! Also, check back often as this project will never be "done"!
HELLO AND WELCOME to the story about building our motorhome. The original idea was to take a typical, over-the-road semi tractor, strip off the fifth wheel, remove one of the drive axles, and maybe lengthen the frame. Then, mount a dry van box on the back and convert it into the living quarters of the vehicle.
 
It took ten years of searching to finally find the "perfect" road tractor for our project. Constant searching local dealer's lots; pouring over countless web truck sites; and just driving around seeing what was sitting on the side of the road all were required to find our truck.
 
Finally, all that work paid off, and we found the perfect tractor; a 2003 Peterbilt 379.
LOCATION
THE PETERBILT WHICH  was to become the basis of our motorhome is a model 379, a "conventional" style tractor and a classic in its own rite. This unit was manufactured in the Denton, Texas Peterbuilt factory in July, 2002, and sold in September of that year, licensed as a 2003. In 2005 the tractor found its way "north" and was owned by a small trucking company in Sparta, Michigan. Its primary use for the next five years was hauling cheese from Michigan to the west coast. In 2010 it was put on a dealer's lot on consignment, where we saw it, thought it was perfect for our project, and bought it.
(Spring, 2010) 
THE TRUCK WAS  truly "best in class" and exactly what we wanted for our motorhome project. To be truthful about it, when we bought this truck we really didn't fully understand all the variations possible in trucks which all look basically the same. But, they are far from the same; each one is different and unique; made to order for a specific application.
 
Our truck: Caterpillar C-15 engine (6NZ) 550 hp single turbo; 18 speed Eaton-Fuller transmission; 3.36 ratio rear end; 265" wheelbase; 63" stand up sleeper-bunk; two 120 gallon diesel fuel tanks; Carrier 4kw auxillary power unit (generator/heater/air conditioning). Viper red and black; how perfect is that!     (Spring, 2010)
A BIT ABOUT the engine installed in our tractor. The C-15 Cat engine (6NZ model) is considered by many experts as the "best" road engine ever produced by Caterpillar. The 3406E Cat, their stanard road engine up to about 2004 had a few shortcomings. These faults were corrected with the C-15, their first engine designed from the ground up with computer control of injector and fuel management systems. Our Cat is the single turbo model; no "air polution control" apparatus. Reliable, efficient, dependable. Then, Cat introduced the twin turbo Acert model in 2005 to run cleaner and comply with stricter emission standards; but they were problematic and expensive to maintain. Cat went out of the road engine business in 2007.   (Spring, 2010)
THE FIRST PROJECT we attacked was the thorough cleaning and scrubbing of the cab and "sleeper" (hereafter called the "bunk"); When we purchased the truck it had 887,000 miles on it but the interior was in relatively good condition. The entire interior is a light maroon color valour. When we were done, the inside looked and smelled almost new. Knowing we would spend countless hours in the next year or so in the driver's seat learning to drive and shift this huge beast, bringing the cab and dashboard up to our design standard was important, and the next step in the conversion process.   (Spring, 2010)
THE GAUGE PANEL in front of the steering wheel has the speedometer and tach, as well as primary engine function read-outs such as as oil pressure and temperature, and water temperature; and a clock so you know when its time for a nap! The original dash panels were all replaced with custom made rosewood panels by Rockwood. Took about six months for them to arrive after they were ordered.     (Summer, 2010)
THE "B" PANEL in the center of the dash has gauges for all non-engine functions, including: fuel level, air cleaner restriction, fuel pump pressure, wet and dry air tank tank pressure, rear axle load air. voltage meters for the 1 and 2 banks of batteries, alternator output, manifold pressure, hour meter, and exhaust air temperatures. Switches on the lower panel are for the various functions on the truck such as mirror heat, load lights, Jake brake, cruise control, and other items.
 (Summer, 2010)
NEXT STEP IN the conversion process from commercial tractor to motorhome was probably the most difficult and expensive one in the entire task of building our dream vehicle: the removal of the front drive axle, or as its referred to by the truck types, "dropping the front drivers." The axle in the front of the tractor is called the steer axle; the ones in the back; the front drivers and the rear drivers.  This work involved removal of the front drive axle, building an additional drive line segment to fill the space occupied by the front drivers, and a specially constructed additional bearing hanger bracket.     This picture shows the rear frame area after the front axle had first been removed.     (Summer, 2010)
THE FRONT DRIVERS sits orphaned from their host, waiting sale to help offset some of the cost of this expensive conversion project. 
 
"So why drop the front drivers, you ask?" Here are our reasons: 1> reduce weight of the vehicle and reduce capacity. Weights capacity drops from 40M pounds to 20M pounds, more than adequate for our needs. 2> Smoother ride; we were concerned about a rough ride, dropping the axle lessened that possibility. 3> Improved fuel economy due to less drag on the road; four tires on the road instead of eight. In fact, fuel mileage went from the 5-7 mpg range up to the 10-14 mpg range after the axle was removed. 4> Esthecically, the truck "looks" better with only one rear axle.     (Summer, 2010)
WITH THE REMOVAL of the front axle complete, the next step was the fabrication of the additional bearing support bracket, and the measuring and fabrication of the drive line extension. When completed, the drive line must transfer torque from the ouput of the transmissions to the input of the rear end, on our tractor all 550 hp of it. The driveline must be constructed and installed according to very specific "drive line angles" obtained by shimming the various components to very tight and exact tolerances. When done properly there is no clunking of the driveline, no wobble, and no vibration at high speed. We were glad we chose to "farm out" this part of the vehicle modification to the folks at our local Peterbilt dealership. Expensive but worth it.(Summer, 2010)
WITH THE REMOVAL of the front axle complete, the next task was sanding, wire scaling, priming, and repainting the frame. Peterbilt frame rails are infamous for rusting and holding up poorly in the elements. Before the box is mounted on the truck, it was appropriate to spend some time and effort in refurbishing the frame rails to put them in the best condition possible. A coat of red lead primer and two coats of gloss Rustoleum finished the job. (Summer, 2010)
ACCESS TO THE frame also permitted easy running of several heavy cables which provide power to the living quarters; feedlines for Amateur Radio equipment; and connections for tail lights and turn signals.     (Summer, 2010)
EVERYTHING IS PAINTED and looking good; cables are secured; the four foot frame rail extensions added to the rear of the truck are straight and true. All is ready for the installation of the "box"
(Summer, 2010)
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN you won't have to buy your entire seat becuase you'll be using just the edge! Get ready for the most major step in our motorhome conversion project . . . the installation of the dry van box which will be used for the "living quarters" of our motorhome.
 
Our intent initially was just to find and buy a used box; we figured that would be good enough. After looking at numerous boxes it became clear pretty quickly that a used box, generally, is a beat down, misused, damaged POS that wasn't worthy to be placed on the frame rails of our georgeous, classic Peterbilt 379.
 
On to Plan B.     (Fall, 2010)
IN JUNE WE  set the process in motion for purchasing a brand new dry van box. Checking with some experts in the field, we were told the "Cadillac" of dry van boxes was Morgan. So, off we went to our local Morgan dealer to check things out and talk turkey.
 
Becuase we were purchasing new, "our" box could be made any way we wanted. So we ended up with the following "custom items" on our box:
1> Adjusted height to match the overall lines of the tractor and bunk.
2> Stainless steel trim for corners and rear frame
3> Hardwood maple floor
4> Black skin exterior and painted stainless rivets.
5> Horizontal stringers to mount paneling. 
(Fall, 2010)
THE DIMENSIONS OF the box are 16' in length to match the framerail length of our tractor; 8' width, providing about 7' 6" interior width after insullation and paneling; and 7' interior height.
 
The box was ordered in June and was finally delivered in September of 2010. We learned the long lead time was due to all the special features of our box, and had to be assembled on the custom line at the Morgan factory.
 
In this picture you can see the beautiful hardwood floor. All the mountiung holes have been pegged. We thoroughly sanded the floor and then applied several coats of stain. The resulting floor is beautiful and smooth, and will give good service for the life of our motorhome.     (Fall, 2010)
OUR PETERBILT AND dry van box sitting together for the first time on the lot at the Morgan dealer. In addition to setting and securing the box on to the frame rails of the truck, we also contracted for them to finish the fabrication of the rear bumper/hitch; and the installation of the two rear windows and access door we had bought at a  RV surplus dealer in White Pigeon, Michigan.
(Fall, 2010)
THE FIRST STEP oin setting the box was installing the 2x4 strips on to the top of the framerails. These strips provided a non-slick surface for the box frame, and some compression to hold the box in exact alignment as the frame clamps are tightened. Pressure treated lumber is not used in this application due to the shrinkage factor, and the resulting loosening of the frame clamps.
(Fall, 2010)
SETTING THE EMPTY dry van box on to the framerails was a simple matter of just picking it up with a forklift and placing it down into position. Then, the box was secured to the truck using large U-bolt-type clamps which went around both the frame rails of the Peterbilt and the support rails of the box.    (Fall, 2010)
THE REAR WALL of the box is complete, including the windows and the entrance door we provided the upfitter. This was the last major step in the conversion of the "road tractor" to our new motorhome, "Optimus Prime" (after the Transformewr movie series using a Peterbilt 379, a favorite of my wife's), nicknamed, "OPie".         (Fall, 2010)
CONSTRUCTION OF THE rear bumper and receiver hitch was also part of the box purchase project. We were really pleased with the way this turned out; if we ever want to pull a "toad" begind our motorhome we are all set. 

Fabrication of the entrance steps and the installation of two 4' and one 2' cargo boxs along the underside of the dry van box was all that remained to be done before OPie was done with the heavy stuff!        (Fall, 2010)
THE REAR BUMPER was designed to accomodate a full-width stainless steel tail light bar and stainless steel center light panel. We wanted high visibility at the rear of the motorhome, especially at night. Here, both panels are mounted and the wiring of the LED lights is being completed.    (Fall, 2010)
WINDOW INSTALLATION WAS the most difficult and time consuming task for us to do of the entire conversion process. We installed seven windows total; each had to be carefully measured and the box wall cut away to exact size. We decided to rivet each window in place to accent the rivets already used by Peterbilt on the cab and bunk structures. After drilling holes in each window frame for the rivets, the box wall was then drilled and the rivets set after a liberal application of sealer around the frame. We had a few leaks we had to come back and fix, but generally this method was quite effective. Then the window frame was painted so the rivets matched those on the outside of the box. The aluminum box siding was cut with a fine tooth sabre saw. 
(Fall, 2010 to Fall, 2011)
BY FALL, 2010 the box was weather tight and we started camping in it. We had finalized a layout for the box, so these early camping trips gave us an opportunity to "field test" our layout. The bed was the first item constructed. In addition, we built the other major components of the layout, like the kitchen area, the back bench, and the pantry using cheap strand board. This gave us an opportunity to actually "use" the layout and make sure it was just to our liking before final contruction in the expensive birch hardwood plywood was began. During these camping trips we also found a number of leaks in the box from the factory which showed up when it rained. It was fortunate we discovered these leaks before starting the paneling!      (Fall, 2010)
WATER FOR OUR motorhome was designed as a pressure supplied system. The water pump was located under the kitchen sink. Fresh water and gray water storage was in a tank mounted under the side of the box. This tank was constructed from two "junk" Peterbilt fuel tanks, cut down and MIG welded back together to form a split capacity of 50 gallons fresh water and 50 gallons gray water. The split tank was pressure tested after welding to insure there was no cross contamination. The tank was then mounted to the vehicle using original Peterbilt tank straps. The center strap covers the weld where the tanks are joined. When finshed and mounted this tank looks identical to the fuel tanks mounted on either side of the tractor.     (Spring, 2011)
NOW ITS TIME for the final construction of the living quarters to begin! The layout had been "proofed" and we were happy with the way all the design elements worked together. Time to stop talking and start working!

A 1/8" x 4" steel header had been installed along each side of the box to provide support for the roof areas where the windows were installed. Next, all of the permanent wiring was run inside the walls. This wiring provided 120 VAC, 12 VDC, and other control wiring to the living quarters.   (Summer, 2011)
ONE INCH FOAM  insulation was secured between the wall studs. Electrical boxes were mounted using specially constructed wooden brackets, and then the wiring was run, as needed. Multi-strand flexible copper wiring was used throughout to handle the movement and shifting of the vehicle, as opposed to solid copper wiring which could possible break and fail. All 120 VAC wiring was 12 gauge. (Summer , 2010)
HERE THE MULTI-LAYERS of the wall construction can been seen. First, the layer of 1" pink foam insulation; next the electrical wiring runs; a layer of 3/4" white foam insulation; and finally the painted lower Wainscotting and the upper level stain and varnished birch plywood. This construction is typical of all the interior walls in the box.      (Summer, 2011 to Summer, 2012)
DETAIL OF THE wiring. All of the various electrical runs enter the box in the lower front right corner and are routed to the AC service box. Other wiring runs were installed for future potential uses, such as air conditioning.

An important note regarding AC wiring. In typical AC wiring the white neutral and green ground are conbined on a common buss in the service panel. The block is thoroughly grounded. However, in a mobile/RV application there is no true AC neutral. In order to insure that a short does not cause the frame or vehicle body becoming "hot", the neutrals and grounds are kept separate in all connections, junctions, and boxes. This is termed "floating neutrals".        (Summer, 2011)
THE WIRING OF the AC service panel at two stages of wiring. A standard Square D service panel was used; GFI protection is provided to the kitchen outlets and all external outlets. Note that all the AC wire used in the motorhome is 12 gauge stranded copper. Typical rubber coated flexible heavy duty extension cord cable purchased at Home Depot.      (Summer, 2011)
HERE IS THE DC control panel installed in the bunk area of the motorhome. This panel includes swtiched circuits for the tractor/bunk areas (for lights, media devices, fans, etc.); high current outputs for the pure sine wave inverter; an auxillary high current 12 VDC output; and a 100 amp output for my Amateur Radio transmitter. The lower section of the panel includes a Renology MPPT Solar Controller; digital control panel, and battery conditioning monitoring readoutout. Also included is a Zantrex 40 three stage battery charger for the 4 6 VDC flooded golf cart batteries which provide power to the living quarters.
                                                          (Summer, 2015)
HERE IS THE detail of the aluminum chair rail molding which separates the upper stained hardwood birch paneling and the lower painted bead-board Wainscotting. It was contrructed from two strips of 1 1/2" angle joined together. I runs around the parimeter of the box.                                                                                        (Summer, 2011)
ALL OF THE "furniture" and wall panel fabrication was done in our shop in the basement. Panels were cut to size. If there was additional fitting required, such as cut-outs for windows, these measurements were taken from the box and then transferred to the panels and cut. The each panel was sanded, two coats of Minwax stain was applied, and three coats of gloss urethane varnish, sanded between applications.                                                                               (Summer, 2011)
OVERHEAD CABINETS WERE also made in or basement shop. The design and construction of the units matched the overall esthetics of the interior of the living quarters.   (Summer, 2012)
CABINET DOORS WERE oconstructed from 1/8" aluminum sheet, using industrial grade handles. Stainless steel piano hinges were used to attach the cabinet doors.      (Summer, 2012)
THE PANTRY WAS made from two roll-cab side units purchased from Harbor Freight. The lower cabinet was cut in half and attached to the full upper unit to result in the required height of the pantry to fit the overall height of the interior of the box.                                                     (Fall, 2012)
THE INSTALLATION OF three Fantastic Fans provided the primary method of cooling and air movement within the box. Cutting the first hole in the one piece alumunim roof panel was a bit unnerving, but the installation of the three fans (plus one more in the fiberglass roof of the tractor bunk ceiling) was straight forward and was completed without any difficulty. Fans run on 12 VDC and move significant amounts of air when all three are running.     (Fall, 2013)
SO HOW DID five years of hard work, and expense, turn out? Starting with an empty dry van box, we designed and constructed an enjoyable motorhome of unique appearance and function. When initially visulizing this project, we wanted something a bit "different" from typical motorhomes, and the pleasure of constructing the vehicle exactly the way we wanted with quality which would never fail. We are certainly happy with the results!

Although the project will never be totally "done" all the big pieces are in place and now we can get on the road any time we want and have safe and reliable way to do it!   
​                                                           (Summer, 2014)
HERE IS THE sleeping area of the finished box looking forward towards the front of the vehicle. A full walk-around bed is the key feature here, along with the bedside table using a tool cabinet from Harbor Freight. The lamp in the corner is made from an antique ship's red portside latern we had stored in the basement for 30 years. The headboard on the bead was constructed from upholstery matching the dinette cushions, surrounded by the same aluminum angle stock used for the chair rail.                        (Spring, 2015)
THE KITCHEN AREA features a stainless steel counter area salvaged from an old piece of printing equipment furniture used in my business. It was given to me by a good friend, long since gone, so it's not only a good counter top but also has some sentimental value to me as well. The refrigerator is a "cheapie" from Home Depot (120 VAC only) but has low current draw and works nicely when we are plugged into shopre power. I run this refrigerator from an inverter when shore power is not available.
                                                               (Spring, 2015)
THE RIGHT REAR area of the living quarters. The pantry is mounted against the wall next to the entrance door.  A small rack mounted on the side was constructed to hold DVDs, and books, and other "stuff" we want to keep handy.     
​                                                               (Spring, 2015)
LIGHTING PLAYS AN important roll in the appearance of the living quarters, particularly at night.    Several different systems were installed for our enjoyment. First, there are three LED 12 VDC center lights turned on with a wall switch for providing some utility light when first entering the camper. Ten under cabinet "puck" lights surround the living area, suitable for general illumination as well as bright enough for reading. Up above the cabinets running the perimeter of the box are LED rope lights which, when illuminated, reflect off the satin finish of the ceiling and provide an enjoyable "glow" in the area.                               (Spring, 2015)
IN 2015 WE decided we needed more informal type seating and a comfortable place to sit and eat. This was the first major modification to the camper as it was originally designed and constructed, but our motorhome project is always dynamtic and never complete!. This included converting the full-width bench seating area to a small dinette area complete with stainless steel top table. In addition to the two side mount scounces already in place, we added a hanging light over the table with an old-fashioned Edison Bulb.                                                      (Spring, 2015)
HERE IS A  picture of the various liquid tanks installed on the vehicle. There are two diesel fuel tanks, one on each side mounted just behind the tractor doors with a capacity of 120 gallons each; 240 gallons total. This gives us a cruising range of more than 2500 miles! On the driver's side of the vehicle behind the fuel tank is the fresh/gray water tank. This tank was constructed from two "junk" Peterbilt tanks cut in half and then MIG welded togther to make a dual configuration: 50 gallons fresh water and 50 gallons gray water. The tank was pressure tested after assemble to insure there was no cross-concamination between the two sections. As we don't have a bathroom on board there is no black water tank.
                                                               (Spring, 2011)
WITH THE STAIRS  folded down and the door open, we are all setup for some camping. A small utility stool is needed under the lower step to comfortably climb up the stairway into the camper. You can also see two of the three storage boxes mounted under the box where we keep general supplies and items needed when we camp.     The Auxillary Power Unit generator (APU) is also shown just forward of the front utility box directly behind the fuel tank.             (Spring, 2010)
ALL SET UP and enjoying some camping! This is what this vehicle is all about . . . most of all the comforts of home right here with us. We enjoy sitting at our campsites and taking it easy and enjoying a relaxing fire, but we also enjoy chatting with the many folks who stop to ask about our unique camping vehicle.                     (Spring, 2015)
NO KITCHEN IS complete without a window over the sink! Lots of room on the counter for all our stuff, and a great view out the window when camping. Each window opens to permit fresh air, and a screen to keep the pesty critters out. Lights over the kitchen counter provide lots of illumination. Also, Louveleer blinds over each widow can be closed at night for privacy, or adjusted to let in just the right amount of light.                                                                      (Spring, 2015)
SO COME ON  up here to the driver's seat as we cruise down the road looking for our next adventure. Of all the enjoyment and pleasure of designing and constructing our motorhiome OPie nothing beats rollin' down the highway and enjoying the scenery. With 550 hp under the hood and 18 speeds in the tranny, driving this vehicle is the most fun of all! This is the view out the driver's window; sitting up high so you can see way out in front of you, remembering to keep the hood swan pretty much aligned with the right-hand lane stripe.                                                                                                                          (Spring, 2015)
HOPE YOU HAVE enjoyed this picture tour of our motorhome conversion project. We will continue to update this site with new additions and changes to our best friend OPie as they are implemented, so check back every once-in-a while to see what's been done. 

Check the "Vehicle Specification" section for a listing all the technical data for the vehicle. If I have left something out you want to know let me know. If you have specific questions or comments about this vehicle I can be contacted at:

speedhighway46@yahoo.com

Thanks for looking and thanks for your time.
                                                               (Spring, 2016)