This month we’ll discuss installing tie-down systems, and about the middleman that works between your tie-down system and the eyebolts that serve as your truck camper’s anchoring point. First, a bit about installing tie-down systems.
Putting Them In
When we got our latest truck camper we spotted a TorkLift advertisement in RV Life and gave TorkLift a call to do a little “brain picking.” While our questions for Torklift were centered on turnbuckles, the “whole story came out,” that we were planning on using a stake-pocket tie-down system. TorkLift staffers were aghast, and in the end, sent us one of their frame-mounted systems to evaluate.
As we mentioned last month, there are other tie-down systems: One kind are stake pocket systems, which basically “pop” into the truck’s stake pocket. Some bolt through the bottom of the pocket, others through the side. Here’s a simple matter of drilling the appropriate hole and torquing threads together. The other “bed-mounted” system is a flat, steel plate that mounts on the outside of the pickup bed between the cab and bed. Here the manufacturer provides a template. Tape the template on the bed and bore a couple of holes, and use the provided hardware to complete the installation.
Frame-mounted systems can be a bit more complex. Belly bar systems typically are a “drill and bolt” arrangement. Depending on the size of the bolts called for, you may or may not have the wherewithal to “do it yourself.” This was a problem we encountered with our Torklift system. For these, most pickups have a direct, bolt up, “no drill” application. However, we were dealing with an older model pickup where there were no “existing” holes in the frame. After we calculated the expense of the large bit—and associated large drill required—we simply hired the job out to a local RV dealer, who had the truck back to us in a couple of hours.
The Middleman: Turnbuckle Systems
Before we talk about our experiences with the new tie-down system, let’s visit the “middleman” between the truck camper and the tie-down system. Regardless of the tie- down system you choose, you’ll need that hardware to mate up the two parties. Our import truck and camper used simple, 6-inch turnbuckles between the camper eyebolts and the rope hooks. No, we’re not endorsing the use of rope hooks as tie downs! As was mentioned in our last column, we were just too dumb to know better!
If the distance between the eyebolts and the tie downs is too far, a simple chunk of appropriately sized chain with suitable fittings can be used. This is the “not so quick” and dirty system. Chain and turnbuckles will hold your rigs together, but “getting the slop out” can take considerable time when loading up. Another drawback? With the turnbuckles cinched down tight, there’s no room for pressure.
For example, with the turnbuckles snugged down tight to keep the camper from wandering around in the truck bed, let’s say you hit one of those Mount Everest speed bumps. Up goes the camper—at a different rate than the truck—and huge stresses are placed on the tie downs, eyebolts, and turnbuckles.
To respond to these pressures, tie-down manufacturers have marched out a system of spring-loaded turnbuckles that take the wallop out of some of those unfortunate events in physics. We’re evaluating the simplest, and least expensive of these systems, the “entry level” spring-loaded XL turnbuckle system from TorkLift. A hook at each end of a threaded rod connects to both camper and tie down, and in the center, a chromed cylinder holds the spring. To use it, we simply “eyeballed” the approximate distance between tie down and eyebolt, adjusted the turnbuckle length, hung each hook in place, and twisted the cylinder until it was snugged up.
Some truck camper owners disdain this “long winded” system. Admittedly, it does take a little time to adjust the length of these turnbuckles. If you have more money to spend, then there are “quick load” turnbuckle systems that do the same job, only faster. TorkLift has its FastGun turnbuckle system—instead of twisting a turnbuckle around and around, you pump a handle a few times and torque up your turnbuckles. Rival manufacturer, Happijac, produces its own QuickLoad turnbuckle system, based on a similar premise. Both outfits have “add on” kits that allow you to put this quickie technology on your old “hardware store” type turnbuckles. We haven’t tried any of these new shoot-’em-ups, and are thus far content to take the extra few minutes it takes to twist our turnbuckles.
On the Road with Torklift
When we bought the “latest edition” truck camper we went ahead and did the unthinkable: We brought it home without any tie downs. Of course we bought it only a few blocks away from where we were staying, so it wasn’t quite as dumb as it sounds. It did give us an opportunity to “feel” how the camper rode and to compare it with having the rig firmly tied down.
The difference was plenty dramatic. Instead of the stomach-churning “quick drop in an elevator” feeling that came with hitting road potholes, with our tie downs in place, our big rig definitely stayed in place. Our earlier experiences with “bed-mounted” tie-down systems, while not quite as dramatic, were still world’s apart. Instead of shuddering and white-knuckling when being buffeted by winds, we found the truck and camper were plenty happy together. When we “got to the other side” of a trip, the truck camper was still where we put it—no shifting around in the bed. We attribute this to the angle of the connection points using the TorkLift system—with our old “bed-mount” system, there just didn’t seem to be the correct angle to firmly tie down the camper without running the risk of practically torquing the bed out of shape.
Since the TorkLift system is like a “hitch receiver,” each of the “inserts” has its own specific receiver. TorkLift provides an adhesive decal to put on each insert when the install is completed to make it easier to put the inserts back in when load up time comes. We were a bit dismayed to see the RV dealer used a blind installer—only one of the decals was stuck on the proper insert. We’ll have to get a new set of stickers to resolve that one.
Choosin’ Your Own
Sadly, camper tie downs and turnbuckle systems are not the kind of things you can “try before you buy.” Beyond reading advertising material and listening to rants of folks like us, how can you determine which products to buy? Talking to those who’ve gone before is always helpful, chat it up with other camper owners, find out their experiences. Or tune in on forum discussions or ask your own questions. Here are some forums we found helpful:
• North American Truck Camper Owners: www.natcoa.com
• RV.Net Open Roads Forum: www.rv.net/forum and click on “Truck Campers” in the forum list.
• Truck Camper Forum: truckcamperforum.com
Whatever route you choose, make sure it’s a safe one. Don’t make the kind of blunders we did in our early days of truck camping. Looking back on some of the places we went with our early rigs and what we got away with, it makes us thankful that we’re here to tell the story. Happy trails!
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.