The Box Truck Project

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May 16, 2020
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After lots of studying and shopping, on Saturday I bought a 14' U-Haul box truck.  It's a 2007 Ford E450 Super Duty with 129K miles.  It's also a non-running mechanic's special, reported to have a blown head gasket.  I had it towed to my house yesterday.  

I removed the middle seat to clear the way to cut a pass-through.  Interesting that the whole back portion of the cab is some type of resin or plastic.  That ought to make it easier than cutting through metal, but the pass-through project itself will wait until after I swap out the engine and all the belts and hoses that connect to it.  This weekend I'll begin taking things apart.  I'll replace anything that needs replaced, shocks and suspension parts, steering parts, brake parts, new tires, etc.  I understand that part of the lifestyle is accepting the fact that the days of remaining life on each vehicle component is a mystery, and that one will eventually require expensive repairs while in the middle of nowhere, in the company of strangers.  That will still happen.  Guaranteed.  But my buddy is a master Ford mechanic and he's excited about rebuilding this truck.  I'm going to take advantage of that situation and install some fresh components.  I figure it will be a great opportunity to get smart on my truck's maintenance, for I currently have very little automotive knowledge.  

Today I cleaned my box roof.  I spread liquid laundry detergent up there and let the rain agitate it.  Later I went back up there and scrubbed it clean.  The aluminum roof looks to be in great shape.  I also cleaned the rest of the truck.  I wasn't able to get anything to leak.  I ordered both vertical and horizontal type Dicor putty to do a fresh caulk of the edges, and some Dicor elastomeric paint for the roof.  I also ordered some butyl tape to have on hand.  And, of course, I bought an Amazon Prime membership. 

How I love to have a project, and this one is many projects.  This is going to keep me out of trouble for months.  I would like to attend the next RTR.  I should be substantially complete by then.  I'll post pictures on this thread  when I have something significant enough to take pictures of.
Which engine? And you're replacing the engine instead of fixing the head gasket?
The engine is a 10 cylinder 6.8L gas guzzler.  We'll see what the solution turns out to be.  I have to suspect that this engine has deficiencies in addition to the blown head gasket.  We'll start tinkering this weekend and try to come up with a plan.  I also see an awful lot of vehicles of this type and similar mileage that have been taken out of service due to a bad transmission.   I may take this opportunity to swap out the transmission as well - I wouldn't bet on the current one having more than 10K miles left in it and I'm not in a hurry to turn the same bolts again.  We'll see.

I'm very interested in reading about anyone's experience with DIY re-built, re-manufactured, and new engines and transmissions.
I've never had full access to a shop to be able to fully rebuild a motor but I've removed several heads to have redone. Replaced cyls/pistons on old VWs (which is pretty easy). Also done timing chains,clutches,water pumps,more minor stuff,etc. I've junked several vehicles over the years when it wasn't practical to fix them. Or too expensive.

A friend of mine bought a rebuilt 350 for his Chevy pickup from O'reilly's that was fine for about 4 years (and not a lot of miles) but recently has found oil in the water. He has bad luck. His rebuilt GM 4L60E crapped out on him 2 months after the warranty expired.

Here's a link regarding rebuilt engines on the Ford Enthusiasts forum:
You've certainly thought this through very well!

By buying the 'Non-Runner' you'll presumably get it for a good price and having a friend whom is an expert mechanic on the brand and really wants to work on it is pure 'Make A Wish' territory - It doesn't get better than that!

Your decision to replace all the consumables (hoses, belts, bushes, etc) is perfect, as is your logic behind it!

Likewise, carrying spare hoses, belts and any other thing that makes the difference between the engine running and not running as you're sat in the middle of nowhere, without cell phone coverage is preferable.

I would also remove the fuel tank and clean it very thoroughly internally.

Simply put, you are designing in reliability and the prospect of being able to travel without the worry that 'something' will fail far from help.
So here's the truck.

Here's inside the cab where I took out the jump seat.  Check out the plastic rear body panel.  Check out how filthy is it under my floor covering.   I'm going to tear all that out, clean and sanitize the whole place.  I might paint the floorboards with truck bed liner and put some floor mats down, skip the whole jute mat.  Please let me know if anyone has tried that and how you like it. 

I removed the garage door without damage or injury.  I was able to drill out the hinge rivets and pull the sections off one at a time.  I did burn up a couple drill bits.  Removing the vertical portions of door track was pretty straight forward.  The whole thing was mounted on a single piece of galvanized angle and bolted to the bulkhead.  I was able to grind off the bolt heads and pry them off after cutting the track off at the end of its horizontal run. The bolts through the bulkhead seem to be epoxy'd in place.  I cut them off on each side of the bulkhead.  The torsion spring assembly came off by removing some bolts.  The torsion spring mounting plates were each attached with 8 rivets, which surrendered easily to my drill.  

I had blown all my metal filings away with the leaf blower and was ready to do some measuring and floor plan taping.  The first thing I measured showed me that the horizontal portions of door track were going to be in my way.  They were also mounted on a single piece of galvanized and bolted on.  But the bolts go through the box board and the aluminum corners and I plan to leave all those bolts in place, maybe a dab of putty.  So I cut off the galvanized angle with a cutting wheel.

NOW it's a blank canvass.

The first priority is mechanical restoration.  But while I'm at a standstill on that, I'll work on the box.  I have rain this week, so the roof coatings will have to wait.  I'm sure I'll do some measuring and taping out my floor plan.  For the back, I plan to build a wall of 2x3's and 1/2" ply.  I'm planning 2 doors that swing outward to the edge of the box but not beyond, so close to 2 feet each.  That will be my vista window.  So far I'm leaning towards coating the whole enterprise with PMF and bolting it to the inside of the bulkhead, with the top edge extending the whole way up to ceiling height.   For my doors, I'd like to secure one door with slam latches, and the other door - with an overlapping portion - with a 3-point rod lock with a padlock-able outside handle and overriding inside handle.  Sourcing that hardware has been a challenge so far.


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It seems like you have a lot of modifying fixing to do. Congrats on this purchase, and have fun working on this build.
000_1037.JPG000_1040.JPG000_1034.JPG000_1036.JPG000_1044.JPG000_1045.JPG000_1032.JPG000_1042.JPGHere’s what I’ve done so far in the 6 weeks I’ve had this truck.  I’ve been taking my time and journaling my work.  Writing down my thoughts and ideas helps me to identify the ridiculous ones and research the plausible ones.
 I’m getting pretty close to being ready to pull the engine and transmission. 
I’m calling the roof done for now.   
A sea of white, I know.  Unless the sky is overcast and threatening rain I really can’t see a thing up there. 
I got the seats out of the cab, and that nasty mat, and sterilized the area.  The floor had some rust areas that I grinded down and hit with Rustoleum.  Some other spots I had to excavate and repair.
I’m not going to do anything else to the cab until the mechanical work is done.  But I know that once the truck is running we’re gonna want to put the seats in and drive it around.  But not so fast.  That’s when I’ll cut the pass-through, paint the floor with bed liner, and install a back wall with a sliding door.  I’ll template the back wall of the cab tomorrow and begin fabricating the back wall / sliding door.  So when the time is right, some of that will be ready to go.  

I’ve also been building the back wall / doors assembly that replaces the garage type door the truck came with.  . 
It’s 2x3 framing, skinned outside with ½” ply, inside with ¼” ply, covered with PMF and a few coats of paint.  I think that’s the industrial appearance I had in mind.  Wrapping the insides of the doors with PMF as well was an afterthought, and I didn’t have enough clearance for it.  I ended up sanding off the PMF on about half the edges on the inside.  The 3-point lock is from McMaster-Carr and I think it’s pretty sexy, so I dolled it up a bit with some paint and some acorn nuts.  Apparently I’m going with a safety theme for the back doors. 
I intend to add red and white reflective tape to the top and bottom of the doorway, and a safety strap of yellow 1” tubular nylon webbing across the back door just to make sure I don’t stumble out of the door while opening it. 

And yeah, I’m painting everything before I install or fully assemble it.  Framing, the backs of panels, the undersides of panels – it’s all getting a coat of paint.  I have paint leftover from sprucing up my home, so I’m using it to stabilize all my wood. 

[size=medium]I also laid down some floor.  1” XPS under ¾” ply, staggered so that the edge of the plywood lands in the middle of a sheet of XPS.  Here’s my fuel pump access opening.  You can’t see the fuel tank in this picture because the ramp is in the way.  This will also be my floor vent.  I envision being able to remove a chunk of my floor to access the fuel pump, or to drop in a vent – really just a frame, with a bug screen on the bottom and a piece of aluminum with holes in it on top.  As a floor vent it’s already a blessing.  Somehow it’s letting in cool air from under the truck, which is nice right about now. 


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I haven’t accomplished very much on the truck.  No mechanical work for about 2 weeks, the engine and transmission are about ready to pull.  So I’m tinkering in the meantime.
I completed my wet room base.  I wanted to get that done before framing because the framing will be a little different around the wet room. 
I cut out some ¼” ply for the back wall of the cab.  That involved cardboard templating usually associated with vans.  I cut a hole in the floor for the shower drain.  I painted the plywood underfloor, still using leftover paint from my home renovations.  I put the first layer of 1” insulation on most of the walls. 
I cut the pass-through.  I was going to put it off, but I need that opening established before I do any framing.  Nice to have some more breeze blowing through there as I tinker.  I expect delivery of an accordion gasket any day.  I also padded out the 1” corrugations in the back wall of the cab with some 1” foam board.


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000_1065.JPG000_1066.JPG000_1067.JPGHere’s what I’ve done in two weeks.  I installed the accordion gasket in the pass-through opening.  The plastic rear wall of the cab was a little thick for the gasket to grab onto, so I tapered it down with the Dremel.  I massaged the gasket into the corrugations in the wall and attached it with silicone adhesive.  For the box side, rather than attaching a metal rim for the gasket to grab, I used a 7” wide gasket and attached it to the edge and to the inside wall with Dicore and ¾” lathe screws, then cut off the remaining inch of rubber.  Before I did that I painted the exposed plywood with epoxy.  I made the top of the opening rounded so that water won’t sit on top of the gasket.  The gasket ends join on a side, overlapped a couple inches and glued together with FlexSeal.  

For the framing I used split 2x3’s.  The ceiling joists are 2x3’s, with the curve on top padded out with scrap and a little Great Stuff. 

I framed up the wet room with 2x3’s.  I set the horizontal framing for the ends of the wet room off to the side (for months) until after I fit the big wall panel in there. 

I need to start ordering all the stuff that will go on and through the roof – solar panels, fans, wire box, wood stove, antenna, etc. 


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000_1068.JPG000_1071.JPG000_1073.JPG000_1074.JPGIn the last month or so I finished the cab floor with truck bed liner.  I installed the wallboard with Loctite silicone adhesive on the ribs and silicone caulk around the edges.  I thought that I had cleaned to white the plastic body panel back of the cab.  But next to my white wallboard it turned out to be that industrial flesh tone.  So I painted it white.  I finished off the pass-through on the cab side using Flex Paste to fill in over the exposed insulation.   I fabricated and installed [size=medium]sliding doors. [/size]

[size=medium][size=medium]I also installed all my roof gear, except for the Dickinson deck fitting chimney that I should get in a week or so.  Up there are 2 Maxxfans – one in the bathroom and one for everything else.  I have three 200W solar panels.  I used perforated angle for mounting rails.  I bolted them through the roof and through ½” ply using good bolts, washers, and nylock nuts, with butyl putty and Dicor.  I bolted perforated angle to the panels, and bolted them onto the rails.  I can tilt each of them.  Not sure how often I will.  The wires are oriented together.  [/size][/size]

[size=medium][size=medium][size=medium]I also mounted a cable entry box and a TV antenna.  I suspect that these items will be among the most frequently replaced, as the sun renders the plastic into dust and they crumble off.  To aid in easy replacement, I attached a piece of ¾” ply against the underside of the aluminum roof, attached to the aluminum roof supports.  So, along with the standard goops, these plastic accessories are essentially wood screwed into plywood. [/size][/size][/size]

[size=medium][size=medium][size=medium][size=medium]The next phase is plumbing.  I’ll order plumbing appliances this evening – tanks, pump, accumulator, and heater.  Lulls in actual plumbing progress will be filled tinkering with bathroom stuff.  I’m making a triangular countertop for the bathroom sink.  I’ve made the bowl from a stainless steel mixing bowl.  I’ll post a picture of that after I epoxy it.[/size][/size][/size][/size]


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Very cool project! Thanks for all the pics. You'll have a nice ride when it's all done.
Nice job! Love the pass through that you made! Unfortunate that you need to replace the old crappy drivetrain. But now you can throw in whatever you want!
[ATTACH=full said:
29535[/ATTACH]000_1077.JPG000_1076.JPG000_1079.JPG000_1082.JPG000_1084.JPG000_1078.JPG000_1085.JPG000_1088.JPG000_1089.JPG000_1092.JPG000_1093.JPG000_1090.JPG000_1091.JPG000_1087.JPG  000_1075.JPGI’m having lots of fun with this project.  I accomplished most of the plumbing phase.  I installed the water heater.  That whole assembly sits on a drip pan with a drain to the outside.  [size=medium]I finished the water tank closet.  The bottom of it is also a drip pan.  I Bondo’d the bottom edges and epoxied the bottom and surrounding framing.  It also has a drain out the bottom.  The wall panels end about an inch above the floor.  When my plumbing leaks, I want water to exit without damage, is the idea.  I installed a 60-gallon water tank.  I started with a blank tank, and used Uniseals for the gravity fill, access port, vent, and pump.  The water closet is also my bed support.  I finished its framing on that side, and added a storage shelf above part of the tank.  Hot and cold water run discretely along the bottom of a cupboard directly to the wet room.  I installed the propane box, also vented out the bottom. 

While waiting for a plumbing component or just pondering how to proceed, I mocked up the bathroom.  I had lots of fun making the shower / sink fixture.  The sink is a bowl with a drain.  The counter is finished with blue epoxy.  I dry fit the wall panels.  The cabinet is really just a shelf with door sliders. Under it is a shelf that folds down, so that one can set on it whatever one has pulled out of the cabinet without turning around with full hands - there's no room for that.  I constructed the toilet box.  It will not be portable.  It will be easy to disassemble and remove if I or a subsequent owner want a different type of toilet.  I haven't constructed the vent system for it yet because the little fans I ordered are on a cargo ship in the port of LA.  No hurry.  The bathroom is something I work on "in the meantime." 

The next phase is the electrical plant.  I've ordered several components, and will be ordering many more, for awhile.  As I work through that, I'll disassemble the bathroom.  I'm going to epoxy all the wood you can see in there to resemble Carrera marble.  I'll epoxy the wood you can't see in plain white, just because it's so sanitary and easy to clean. I'm also working on a cabinet for a window unit AC.

[size=medium]I did a dry-fit installation of my Cubic mini wood stove.  I had to add some framing for it.  I’ve got it all ready to go – just need to cut the hole I’ve marked on the roof and hang the unit in place.  I will install the chimney whenever I need a break from thinking about electrical.  I won’t install the stove until almost last.[/size]


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Great work! I put all my water stuff in one location, but I didn't do a drain pan. Wish I did because leaks are a matter of when, not if. You're doing it right!