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FAQ about our FWC

A visitor to our blog suggested we create a page that answers some of the questions asked by readers, so:

Did you use an auxiliary battery?
Yes and we wouldn't go anywhere without one. This summer we jumped the truck battery with the camper battery when it lost a cell.

What is the drive like into Leavitt Lake? Could my 2WD truck make it to the lake?
I don't remember using 4WD on the road to Leavitt Lake but there were a few short rocky sections. The road conditions probably change from year to year.

Do you miss not having an awning on your second camper?
No, not really. We only used the awning three times in two years.

What is the coldest you have camped and did the furnace keep the camper warm?

We have camped many times in temperatures below 20ºF. (Lowest temp so far in the FWC was 8ºF. I have camped in temperatures below 0º but in tents far from any vehicle.) We use the furnace to keep the camper temperature around 50 degrees. When temps are lower than 20º we open the cabinet door below the sink and pull out the drawer under stove and place a bowl over the water tank drain spigot to prevent everything from freezing. The indoor/outdoor recording thermometer is used to check the daily highs and nightly lows. For extended stays in sub-32º temperatures we drain the tank and carry water in plastic gallon jugs so we don't have to worry about the tank and lines freezing. We keep one jug in the cab of the truck because once we had all the water in our jugs freeze solid.

In your Death Valley NP - April 2008 post you mention carrying two spare tires, how do you store the second spare?
It is in the front of the camper, protected from damaging the floor by a carpet sample and strapped against the couch with a ratcheting motorcycle strap. It has managed to stay put on some very demanding roads. We only take it when we are headed to very remote areas. Like the AZ Strip, where we were more than 100 miles from any town. I didn't take it on the DVNP trip because I mistakenly thought my friend's Toyota spare would fit my truck.

Where is your favorite out-of-the-way place to camp in the FWC?
This was a difficult question to answer because we like to camp in remote seldom visited sites and want them to remain that way.  So, I think that it would be good to use an old 'desert rat' rule: One person exchanges a special location for another. Here is an example of a trade I made: an abandoned underground Civil Defense shelter in exchange for a mine that you can drive your vehicle into for more than a 1/4 mile. (If you use this rule, remember that you only describe the place but don't give directions until the other person exchanges their description and you both agree to the deal.)
This is one of them.
Want to trade?

There are many places that we have traveled where we wish we would have had a Four Wheel Camper: Big Bend National Park in Texas, the Maze District north of Hanksville, the White Rim Trail, north of Moab and the ALCAN  highway come immediately to mind.

Is that photo of your truck crossing a river in Death Valley for real?
Yes, it is real and not unusual after a rainy winter. Several years ago in winter of 2005/2006 you could paddle a canoe on the floor of Death Valley at Badwater. Many of the roads were closed because of either high water or mud. In 2004 some roads were completely destroyed by floods.
 This is a photo of my Tacoma stuck in a dry lake in the winter of 2005/2006. (After deflating all four tires to 18 psi we made it to firmer ground.) The next fall we drove back to this location and the surface was as hard as pavement.

Has the camper limited your use of the Tacoma on 4x4 roads?
The Tacoma/FWC camper combination surprised me with how well it performs on 4x4 roads. The rear locker and extra weight seem to be a good combination. Only twice in the last four years have I decided to not drive a road because of the camper.

Did you install air bags to assist your suspension?
Yes, but on my next truck I may have a progressive spring system installed instead of using air bags.

How did the camper change your mpg?
I haven't actually calculated it but it seems the highway mileage decreased a bit and off highway a little more.
Why is your camper using external tie downs?
FWC does not use their excellent eyebolt/turnbuckle system to mount campers on a Tacoma Double Cab. They used four bolts through the floor of the camper into the floor of the truck bed. This probably works okay for driving on paved or smooth gravel road but not when driving on 4x4 trails. Cracks began to appear near the bolts and welds where the bed was welded to the bed/frame rails.

Could you describe the conditions of the Imogene Pass road? I own a full size Dodge.
The actual journey was not technically difficult but if you like airy drives on narrow shelf roads with 1000's of feet of exposure then Imogene Pass is for you. You will need 4WD in a some spots. I believe that the east side would be a tougher climb because it is rockier and had more snow and water. (We drove up from Telluride and down to Quray.) The size of your truck shouldn't matter except when you meet oncoming traffic. That will probably by your biggest concern on Imogene. It is open to two way traffic unlike Black Bear to the south which is one way through its airy narrow sections.

Where, exactly, was your camp in the Alabama Hills?
36°36'39.18"N, 118° 7'42.00"W (Yeah, I broke the desert rat rule but the Alabama Hills aren't really a secret.)

What started the fire that destroyed your home, Unimog and FWC? From what I gleaned from the news reports the source was an abandoned campfire at a location about three miles from our home.

Where did you purchase the basket mounted on top of your truck?

Would you please tell me how to get to Crystal Geyser?  Click here.
Is it a state park or something? No, just a cool thing happening out in the desert. We have been there twice and both times only encountered two other people, they only stayed a few minutes. (Broke the desert rat rule again but the directions are on the internet.)

Why did you choose an Eagle instead of the Falcon model for your Tacoma Crewcab? We looked at both camper models but preferred the extra space the Eagle provided. The refrigerator is on the passenger side of the Falcon reducing the couch to a small settee. The Falcon is a tight fit for two people, especially when one of them is 6'6".

I took your survey and was curious about what you think are the three most essential options? Refrigerator (never have to worry about ice again), auxiliary battery (peace of mind) and the screen door (keeps the bugs out while allowing the air to move). Other options we consider important are a furnace and electric water pump. Installing a digital furnace thermostat is on the 'to do' list.

Where was the photo taken that appears in Truck Camper Magazine?
On the summit of Imogene Pass in Colorado.

Did you spend the entire Oregon/Washington trip in the FWC camper? We spent the entire month camping in the FWC except for a few motel stays which are required by a matrimonial harmony agreement.

How long can you camp before refilling the propane tank? About a month running the refrigerator and cooking when camping in moderate temperatures. When using the furnace in cold camps propane use skyrockets. In temperatures below 25 degrees we need to refill every week.

On your Fish Lake National Forest, Utah July 2007 post I read you used satellite television. What system do you use? We purchased a collapsible dish, DISH receiver (with a monthly use card) and a small LCD TV for use that summer.
 There were many times that the dish could not 'see' the satellite because of mountains or trees. Our system did not work well enough for us to replace it after the original burned in the fire. I really want satellite internet but it is to expensive, for now.

I had to return to to locate how to contact you. You should enable your email address on the 'about me' profile widget. Done.

I'm in the process of ordering a FWC Eagle for my 2008 Tacoma and wanted to know who makes and where you got your trailer hitch basket that holds the outside gas cans and other stuff? Click here.

I found your website after searching for quad cab trucks and slide on camper combination's. Does the short bed and long camper effect your driving experience? Would you recommend a 7 foot camper on a 5 foot box? Our Tacoma short bed has handled the 6'6" camper but we had to install airbags to cure rear end sag and the frame has suffered fatigue. Off road it has performed very well.
My next truck will have a six foot bed with enhanced springs.
Seven feet really puts a lot of weight behind the axles on a five foot bed. Maybe bump up to a larger truck like a Tundra, F-150 or the new Tacoma which has a crewcab and six foot bed.

I have been interested in a 4 wheel camper for a few years and frequent their web site often, as I was searching last week for information I stumbled across your web page and blog site.  It has taken me two or three days to go through some of your adventures and travels.
First I would like to say how sorry I am that you and your wife lost so much in the fire that destroyed your home, books and memories that you have built over time.  I hope that you are recovering well.
We appreciate your comments about the loss of our home in the wildfire. A fireman would have an understanding of what it is like to lose everything. We have a fondness for firefighters as my wife's father is a retired captain.
About your camper set-up, does it live on the truck year round or do you remove it while not in use (looks to me that it is in constant use)?
When we lived at my house the camper was stored on its jack stands and only mounted on the Tacoma when we took a trip. Granted that sometimes it might be on my truck for a couple of months at a time. For the last 18 months it has be on my truck full time because we are living in an apartment.
And could you possibly take a closer picture of your winch set-up as it looks like it is removable, I am thinking of fabricating a removable winch set-up and like the way yours is mounted.
My father and I welded up the prototype 25 years ago. This is the third design.
A friend of mine wanted to use this type of mount on his Chevy Blazer back in the 80's and called Ramsey Winch to check if the design would handle the strain of winching. Three months after his call Ramsey was selling a hitch mounted winch. So it must be a viable design. I have used the winch with a snatch block pulling over 10,000 lbs and the mount handled it all without any signs of stress.

In several of your photos I noticed what appears to be a laptop above your dashboard.
How do you mount it?

Hello! I have just purchased a 2011 Tacoma to do similar adventures. Can you give me a short course as to why you now prefer "progressive springs" as a suspension support to air bags for support of a Four Wheel Camper. Thanks for posting all your experiences on line.
I installed air bags because they allowed me to manage the stiffness of my suspension and eliminate sag. My camper is not always on my truck so when it is off I can lower the pressure in the bags and have a softer ride. The problem is that the air bags place a great deal of stress at two points on the frame of the truck. The frame is not boxed above the air bags on my Tacoma. After a four years of offroad travel and a hard trip to the Arizona Strip (we hit a deceptively severe wash crossing that sent the truck bouncing high and crashing down and I remarked to Jan, "that is going to leave a mark." It did. I found crack in the frame above the bag on the drivers side and evidence of stress on the passenger side. My truck went to the frame shop for repairs. The owner said he could build a set of progressive springs that could handle the weight of the camper, give me a soft ride without the camper and spread the stress of the extra weight. I still am using air bags but will consider another type of suspension assist for my next truck.

My question is: With your tailgate down how do you get your spare tire off your truck?  I have an 02 Tacoma and I'm looking at a FWC Ranger which will require me to leave the tailgate down.
Great question and you saw the problem sooner than I did.
I access my spare tire two different ways.
The first time I needed the spare under the bed it came as a big surprise that the crank handle wouldn't work because it was now not long enough because the tailgate was down. So, I crawled under the truck and inserted the first two parts of the crank into the spare winch, clamped on a set of vise grips and cranked it down.
When I returned home I acquired another set of Tacoma crank tools and put the extra middle section in the bag with the original tools. The addition of another middle section gives me enough reach to extent beyond the tailgate and crank the winch. It is now easier to get the winch to work and lower the spare.
When we are traveling in remote areas we carry another spare inside the camper and then this is the first spare we use.

Two questions for you; First, how did you drive through all snow surrounding your camp in the Westgard Pass? Six inches no problem, 18 inches problem. The weather forecast called for 8 - 12 inches. We camped at a location that provided easy access to the main road which was plowed during daylight hours. Second, you seem to camp in remote locations away from campgrounds aren't you worried about your safety? We feel safe boondocking away from other people. Usually no one even knows we are there. 35 years ago a friend's cousin was murdered by a predator whose MO was to troll campgrounds looking for victims. Several times we have changed locations because I wasn't comfortable with the situation. We no longer boondock anywhere near the border with Mexico. Years ago, in Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande, I had a close call with drug runners, and can't imagine what it is like along the border now.

Where did you find the newspaper about the Gemini 6? Were there other old newspapers there? I found the newspapers at a very cool and almost completely undisturbed mine and mill site. Sorry, but I am not going to disclose it's location.

I've enjoyed looking at the photo essays on your blog. I'm planning to visit the Gold Bluffs, NV area this May. I' m wondering if you have driven from Whitney Pocket over to Wolf Hole on the Mt. Trumbull Loop Road and, if so had any comment on the road quality. Secondly there are apparently quite a number of petroglyphs in the area, did you manage to locate any of them and are they signposted. Traveling with a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The road from Whitney Pockets to GB was in good condition.
All the roads in the area were in good shape unless posted "road not maintained travel at you own risk."
From what I have heard the Savanic Mine Road and Grand Gulch Canyon Road are either difficult or impassable. We found Grand Gulch impassable in June 2010. Our detour route took us up Nutter Twist Canyon to the Shivwits Plateau. Good road.
Back in April 2010 we were near Wolf Hole and the roads were good except where they still had snow or were wet. Those AZ Strip roads can get nasty when wet.
The road from St George to Mt Trumbull is very good when dry. A stop at the Mt. Trumbull school is nostalgic. We did find some petroglyphs on the way to Little Finland.
Just remembered, we have also driven from Mesquite over Limekiln Pass to Shivwits Plateau and that road was good as well. Take extra fuel.

I own a 2004 double cab Tacoma trd and am considering getting a fwc  eagle camper. I know that you had some trouble with your frame and I am concerned that I will have the same problems. I plan on boxing my frame and adding another leaf to my rear leaf pack.  I already have an OME rear suspension setup. What are your thoughts on this? Would you do it again? 
I believe that if we just drove on paved roads with the FWC on the Tacoma no frame problems would have occurred. When used in more demanding situations stresses are placed on the frame and that leads to problems. We have driven our Tacoma/FWC on some fairly difficult roads and have been surprised at how well the setup handled the trips.
If Toyota would have boxed the frame beyond the axle a Tacoma would be a much tougher rig. We double cab owners are trying to have the best of both worlds and are asking a lot of a small truck. Boxing your frame before traveling with the FWC should prevent the problems I experienced. In hind sight I should have seen the problem and reinforced the frame. It is reinforced now.
Adding a spring should eliminate the added stress of the air bags focusing on one point of the frame. I went with air bags so we could have a normal ride when the camper was off.

I would like to acclimate for a hike in the Sierra and wonder if you could tell me what is the highest elevation in Southern California that a person can drive to and camp?
When preparing for high elevations in the Sierra I usually acclimate close to my trailhead. The White Mountains have many places to camp high with a vehicle. Anywhere over 8,000 feet will help and the Whites provide locations up to 12,000 feet. A bit north of Los Angeles Mount Pinos, Cerro Noroeste (Mount Abel) and Frazier Mountain are over 8,000 feet. The San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear have many summits over 8,000 that can be reached in a vehicle. A peak that I used to prepare for Mount San Gorgonio, or Old Greyback was Onyx Peak, at 9113 and may be highest drive up in SOCAL.

Did you or can you soak at Diana's Punch Bowl? The first time we visited this hot spring I looked around for some sort of soaking pool outside of the bowl itself and found nothing. I walked around the hill on a second visit but found only a warm cattle fouled stream. With a rope or ladder it would be possible to enter the bowl.

We enjoyed reading about your drive on the transcontinental backcountry byway but we have a question, would our two wheel drive Explorer be able to drive the road? I don't recall engaging the four wheel drive on the Tacoma while driving the byway. The road was dry and fairly well maintained but there were sections that could get scary muddy when wet. Some of the trestle bypasses had evidence of being very muddy in wet conditions. I don't think that I would drive it in the winter or spring without another vehicle along as backup.
One more question about the byway.  How many miles will we have to drive from gas station to gas station? Did you carry extra fuel? We filled up in Wendover, Utah and drove north about 50 miles to reach the byway at Lucin. Following the byway to Promontory is about another 100 miles. Fuel is about another 25 miles after Promontory near Interstate 15. We left the byway several times to explore side roads. One a 40 mile side trip down the Fingertip. On remote treks we always carry extra fuel so we can explore. An estimate of total miles between gas stations on the route we drove, excluding side trips, is 180 miles. Remember that your mileage will be much lower driving slowly along the graded gravel byway.

Found your blog by googling "bill and jan johnson four wheel camper" after we saw your winning photo at Truck Camper Magazine. Very nice photo but I am interested in your camp at Funnel Lake back in 2008. We have wanted to camp and fish there but have heard that the road into the lake is tough. What did you think? and how hard is it to get to Rocky Bottom Lake, very many people visit while you were there?
Sorry for having to google, TCM could have linked to our blog. (They probably didn't want to provide an exit link.) The road from Bishop is an easy dirt road that does get a bit steep at times when driving up to Coyote Flats. There are two ways into Funnel. We drove IN using the southern road, from the landing strip, which was rocky and bouncy. We drove OUT on the northern route which was much smoother. Neither road is very difficult. Rocky Bottom was about a 20 minute hike from our camp. We camped on the south side of the lake under the trees. Only five people visited Funnel during our two night stay at the lake. I hiked about a mile over to the lake at N 37.18232, W 118.49988 and found a disappointing body of water. The other tarns on the way were dry.

Why don't you allow people to make comments on your blog?
When I started the blog comments were enabled but two people posted a vulgar argument and I decided to hide the comment boxes. I had forgotten all about the hidden comment boxes until your message. It is probably time to enable them. Thanks for reminding me.

How many nights a year do you spend in your camper?
Excellent question and we have never totaled it up.  In 2011 we spent 44 nights in the camper. More that I thought before counting. Makes us curious what that number will be when we retire.