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Half-Ton Camping: Part Two

Part II: Turn a 1/2-ton into a Hauler

John Cappa
Apr 1, 2012
Photographers: John Cappa
In the fall issue of RV Magazine we showed how to easily and economically prep your 1/2-ton pickup to safely handle the added load of a bed-mounted camper. In this installment we’ll finish up our ’04 Ram 1500 with the installation of the camper mounts, camper, and some other add-on components to consider.

Picking the correct camper for your 1/2-ton pickup is essential; however, you don’t have as many options as the 3/4- and 1-ton-truck markets. Lance Camper has been in the truck camper business for more than 45 years and the quality of the company’s campers is legendary. So we started our search at the local Lance dealer. The company currently offers two full-feature, 1/2-ton truck campers that can be made to fit a long- or a short-bed truck. The Lance 825 and 865 have slightly different floor plans and both have plenty of options to keep even the most finicky campers happy.
Photo 2/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two 2004 Lance 815
Unfortunately, these new campers were out of our budget, so we hit the used camper market. Eventually we landed in a ’04 Lance 815, which is also a 1/2-ton truck camper that fits both long- and short-bed trucks. And if down the road we decide to upgrade to a 3/4-ton or 1-ton truck, we can still use the 815 camper.

We were looking to mount our camper as safely and as solidly as possible. The best way to do this is with frame-mounted camper tie-downs. Torklift specializes in sturdy frame-mounted camper tie-downs. We also liked that the company offers its EZ Install mounts that don’t require any welding or drilling into the truck’s frame. The mounts simply bolt on. Here’s how our 1/2-ton truck and camper came together.
01. The Torklift EZ rear mounts for our ’04 Ram (PN 3102) came complete with all the necessary hardware and then some. The tie-down inserts are removable so they don’t get in the way when you remove the camper and need your truck bed back.
Photo 3/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two torklift Ez Rear Mounts
02. Our rear mounts are sandwiched between the bumper bracket, the frame, and the hitch. You’ll need to loosen a few of the bumper bolts to install them. Do only one side at a time to keep everything in line.
Photo 4/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two rear Mounts Between Bumper And Bracket
03. The Torklift EZ front mounts (PN D2106) come just as complete as the rears. The included chains are only needed if you are using short turnbuckle tie-downs.
Photo 5/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two torklift Ez Front Mounts
04. Our front mounts attach to the spring hanger using an existing hole and the spring pivot bolt. There should be at least 1-inch of clearance between the lower body seam and the Torklift mount once the hardware is tightened.
Photo 6/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two front Mounts Attach To Spring Hanger
05. The Torklift mounts and inserts don’t reduce ground clearance in significant areas, especially when the inserts are removed. They are perfect for trucks that see double duty as a 4x4/work truck and a camper hauler.
Photo 7/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two torklift Mounts And Inserts
06. To safely mount a truck camper you’ll need to remove the plastic bedliner (if your truck has one). For best results you can install a rubber mat. We found our made-in-the-USA, trim-to-fit, ProTecta Diamond Series Nyracord bed mat on the shelf at the local Pep Boys. Most Lance camper installations will require 15 to 20 feet of 8-gauge power wire (enough to run from the bed to the engine compartment), a 40-amp circuit breaker, a battery isolator or large relay, and a Lance-specific bed plug.
Photo 8/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two additional Supplies For Bedliner
07. We built a small bracket out of 1-inch strap steel to hold the circuit breaker and relay under the hood near the truck’s battery. The 8-gauge wire is routed from the positive battery terminal, to the circuit breaker, to the relay, and then to the camper bed plug. The relay switch is wired to a key-on ignition source. This isolates the camper battery when the trucks engine is not running, but allows the camper battery to charge when the trucks engine is running.
Photo 9/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two circuit Breaker And Relay
08. The taillight wires of the camper plug need to be tapped into the trucks wiring harness. There are several ways to do this. We didn’t want to cut up the factory truck wiring harness so we found a plug-in fifth-wheel harness at etrailer.com (Valley PN 30137) that we could modify for our ’04 Ram. The Lance bed plug is a little different than a typical trailer plug, though. Black is 12-volt power, white is ground, green is for the running lights, red is the left turn signal/brake, brown is the right turn signal/brake, and yellow is for the reverse lights. The power wire and ground should be at least 8-gauge wire, the running lights should be at least 14-gauge, and the signal and reverse lights should be at least 16-gauge wire.
Photo 10/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two tailight Wires
09. The TorkliftFastguns are lever-action turnbuckles that significantly simplify and speed up the camper tie-down process. Internal springs make sure the tie-downs maintain the correct tension. There are two styles: full stainless and powdercoated steel. We opted for the steel powdercoated versions (PN S9522). Both versions feature stainless threaded hooks to prevent rust. Use plenty of anti-seize on the threads during assembly since stainless steel is soft and can gall easily.
Photo 11/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two torkliftfastguns
10. To keep our Fastgun tie-downs from walking off we also ordered TorkliftFastgun locks (PN S9500). They were a little loose in the Fastgun bores so we cut 1/4-inch of 1/4-inch fuel line and slipped it over the lock shafts before installing them. This tightened up the assembly and keeps them from rattling.
Photo 12/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two torkliftfastgun Locks
11.0 All the big fancy motorhomes have back-up cameras, so we wanted one, too — only we didn’t want to spend a fortune on equipment and installation. So we opted for this Master Lock wireless back up camera (PN 4843DAT). The camera features a magnetic base and plugs into a regular four-prong trailer plug. The monitor plugs into a cigarette lighter in the cab of the truck. That’s it, no batteries! The image is sent and received via antenna. At around $170 it’s more than worth it.
Photo 13/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two trailer Plug
11.5 All the big fancy motorhomes have back-up cameras, so we wanted one, too — only we didn’t want to spend a fortune on equipment and installation. So we opted for this Master Lock wireless back up camera (PN 4843DAT). The camera features a magnetic base and plugs into a regular four-prong trailer plug. The monitor plugs into a cigarette lighter in the cab of the truck. That’s it, no batteries! The image is sent and received via antenna. At around $170 it’s more than worth it.
Photo 14/14   |   half Ton Camping Part Two master Lock Wireless Back Up Camera
So How Does It All Work?

Overall, we’re very pleased with the performance of our 1/2-ton camper. Surprisingly, the combination of the firmer Bilstein shocks, heavy-duty BFG tires, and Firestone airbags allows the truck to really rail around mountain corners with very little sway while still maintaining a comfortable ride.

When we originally purchased the ’04 Ram 4x2 Quad Cab we had planned on towing a lot so we tacked on the Hemi V-8 option and the 3.92 axle gears. This gave us an 8,900-pound tow rating. All of the Lance 1/2-ton campers come in around 1,800 pounds so the hauling weight is not all that significant for a modern-day 1/2-ton truck. We can still get up and go on even the steepest grades. With the camper and our added modifications our truck is actually significantly less of a handful than when towing our 4,000-pound-plus trailer with an empty bed.

The Torklift frame mounts and the Fastguns keep the camper planted solidly in the bed. And when it’s time to remove the camper, the Fastguns are a welcomed addition thanks to their quick and easy use. Another item we highly recommend is electric remote-controlled camper jacks. Our camper came with manual jacks. Even though we built an adapter to allow us to use a cordless drill to drive the jacks, the ability to raise all four jacks at once sure would be nice.

The Firestone air bag pressure can be adjusted depending on the load. We vary our loaded pressure from 45 to 65 psi. With an empty bed we drop the pressure to 5 psi. For tire pressure we typically run the LT245/75R17 BFGoodrich T/A All-Terrains at 70 psi in the rear and 50 psi up front.

Since our truck is a short-bed, the camper overhangs in the rear. That’s fine and all but it reduces the usefulness of the factory hitch. Unfortunately we haven’t found a hitch extension for a 1/2-ton truck that looks solid enough to handle a trailer. We wanted to add a hitch-mounted bike rack so we ended up welding together our own hitch extension using 0.250-wall square tubing. However, we would never attach a trailer to our extension; it’s strictly for a bike rack and maybe for use as a step to get into the camper. If you have a long-bed truck this will not be an issue with the Lance 1/2-ton truck campers since they fit cleanly inside an 8-foot bed.

Our factory mirrors leave a little to be desired, mostly on the passenger side. We may add a mirror extension here. One small thing we really appreciate is the Master Lock back up camera. Even though the monitor screen is little small and it flickers from time to time, it’s the one addition we recommend for any camper that doesn’t have a rear camera already installed.

Sources

Bilstein
Poway, CA 92064
858-386-5900
http://www.bilsteinus.com
BFGoodrich
877-788-8899
www.bfgoodrichtires.com
ETrailer.com
Wentzville, MO 63385
800-298-8924
www.etrailer.com
Torklift
Kent, WA 98032
800-246-8132
http://www.torklift.com
Master Lock
Milwaukee, WI
800-464-2088
www.masterlock.com
Lance Camper
661-949-3322
www.lancecamper.com
Pep Boys
800-PEP-BOYS
www.pepboys.com

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