1985 Starcraft Starmaster 21 suitable for off-road?

Discussion in 'Taking Your Camper Off Road' started by marksmatter, Jun 18, 2013.

  1. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    Hi Folks,

    Been lurking here for a couple of months learning and basically absorbing some great information. I picked up a 1985 Starcraft Starmaster 21 this weekend for next to nothing. It has a 10' box. It is a perfect candidate for either an off-road build from the frame up, or a utility trailer. Any wood in the camper is basically water damaged (including the roof), so repairs to the existing structure are out of the question.

    My question is, what are your thoughts on a 10' box on dirt roads, forest service roads, etc? Too long, or nothing to be overly concerned about? Too heavy? Would anything special need to be done to the frame to reduce flex? I'd really like to hear opinions before I choose a direction or start working on it. I am not talking about rock-crawling here - just a camper more off-road capable than most, and maneuverable enough in some fairly tight spaces.

    I have a wife, a 9 year old, and a 4 year old, so the camper seems to be about the right size for us (although they have not seen the inside as both rear lift cables have snapped).

    Thanks,

    Mark

    PS - I should add that new suspension, wheels, tires are in my plan. My primary concern right now is the frame and the box length.
     
  2. inthedirt

    inthedirt Active Member

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    Not sure if your model has the same frame and suspension as my 91, but if there is a torsion-style of suspension, I'd look to mounting the frame to a heavier trailer frame. You'll want something that can take articulation of more than a few inches, while still retaining the abililty to carry a load. I wouldn't put much faith in the original frame. It likely isn't fully boxed, but rather, standard lightweight C-channel. It works well for highway use, but not the greatest for off-highway. If you are just talking dirt roads, thats no big deal. But if the roads will require 4wd, I'd look to put the Pup on top of a better frame and suspension. You can't lift a torsion system nearly as easily (and cheaply) as a leaf spring design.
     
  3. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    It does have the torsion axle, and that was to be one of the first things to go. My plan was to replace the entire suspension with new leaf springs, a 3,500 lb Dexter axle with electric brakes, rims to match my TV, and Goodyear Duratrac tires.

    However, you're saying that the entire frame is probably not up to the job. It is indeed C-channel. I can appreciate that - since I think it was Atoyot that rebuilt almost his entire frame? I guess I'd better get some quotes once I tear this thing down. I can't weld, but already had a laundry list of changes I wanted done to the frame (new welded-on coupler, new stabilizers, new tongue jack, and new rear bumper). Sounds like the only thing I may be keeping from the frame is the VIN plate!
     
  4. sassy gopher

    sassy gopher Member

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    for what you will pay someone to do the welding for you, you can pick up a decent welder and practice. its not the back magic people make it out to be. and its actually quite fun.
     
  5. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    Thanks. That's actually the direction I think I'm headed in. I spent most of last night reading some online material from Hobart and others. It seems awfully complex at first, but I'm slowly getting comfortable with what is involved. I may even pick one up this weekend.
     
  6. phalynx

    phalynx Member

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    I don't know if you found my thread, but my 8' taos is fairly well lifted and built now.

    If I could do it over again and if I weren't so cheap, I'd scrap my leaf sprung axle and install a torsion. Dragging the axle is the #1 thing I worry about now when off road. For a trailer, there is pretty much no articulation because all the articulation is taken up at the hitch. The only function of the suspension at that point is to smooth out the bumps so things don't rattle apart.

    At a frame height of 2', I almost never have to worry about scrapping the frame or body. What I've found is the length isn't so bad, but the width is the most annoying thing. I'd imagine for a 10' box, you'd want similar height.

    I second learning to weld and how fun it can be, however I'd be hesitant to do something as major and structural as a trailer frame for my first project. It might be worth while to take a class first. On the other hand, if all you're doing is adding to the existing structure and not completely redesigning something, it's probably ok. If your welds fail, the original structure will still be there to support the load and you'll probably find the crack before it becomes too bad.
     
  7. zjrog

    zjrog Member

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    I was once told the best way to learn was to do. And once you have the stuff gathered to weld, work with the various settings to you get a good sizzle sound, like bacon cooking. Then its just a matter of finessing your technique. I now have a 220 MIG machine (off brand, but not Chinese) and an older 110v stick welder, I need to buy more sticks....

     
  8. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    Spot on. So far, some of the best instruction I have found is the series by the University of Irvine on youtube. Good stuff. Also a list of resources here:
    http://technotopian.com/tech-education/8-great-welding-resources/
    That page includes a link to the UOI stuff for anyone else interested.

    I'm a mechanical engineer and pilot, so I understand the need for penetration and proper welding technique (and the consequences of not achieving either). I think after some practice, some welcome constructive criticism, I should have some mad welding skillz. I have wanted to learn to weld for a few years now.


     
  9. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    I have spent many hours studying the builds of you, TheThom, Atoyot, and others. Your build looks great! I'll be putting 285's on mine. I see your point about the additional clerance of a torsion axle, but I have not seen any (that I can recall) offroad trailers, or popups with a torsion axle. Plus, even with a lift, the limiting factor is going to be the ground clearance on my Xterra as well as the approach/departure angles of the popup itself.

    I know what you mean about the width - it is a bit daunting. It is about a foot wider than my TV. I am seriously considering ways to narrow this popup. It may not happen, but it is getting some thought. That would shed a bunch of weight also.

     
  10. teejaywhy

    teejaywhy Active Member

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    Now I have no knowledge of the specifics of an 85 Starcraft Starmaster 21 but here are some general comments:

    With the planned use as described, I don't think the 10' box is any impediment. Ideal, in fact.

    Arizona is blessed with vast areas of public land open to dispersed camping. I can tell you that I have seen all manner of camping vehicles in every corner of the forest, from popups to Class A motorhomes, most are dead stock, but the spring over axle mod is quite popular.

    The trick is to go slow on rough roads. Simple. Go fast and you will break stuff.

    We camped for years with a family that had an old Coleman popup. It had the tiny wheelbarrow tires and no lift and they dragged that thing everywhere. Yeah, it scraped bottom and sometimes things broke off, but that is what it was for - camping!

    With the simple lift and some larger tires, you've taken care of 90% of the issues. Again, go slow and pick your route through the rough spots.
     
  11. zjrog

    zjrog Member

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    Of course, welding is a lot more complicated than I described...

    When I do get my trailer set for offroad action, I'll build a subframe that will add strength to the trailer, give it something solid to put a real bumper on the back with a little extra storage. And possibly extend the tongue. I SHOULD cut the sides open and build new structure to reinforce it. Build in fenders so I can use the same size tires on my Jeep. But thats a dream for now...
     
  12. sassy gopher

    sassy gopher Member

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    I worked as a welding inspector in the pressure vessel industry for 5 years. I mainly took xrays of weld seams. From that i learned its not about the pretty little dimes on top, it whats underneath that really matter. I have seen beautiful looking welds fail xray and goose poo welds pass. Now these were multiple pass seams. Granted its still good practice to make asteticly pleasing as well as strong welds. Personally i prefer stick welding for frames , suspension parts, and bumpers. While not as user friendly i find it less brittle than mig.either way going straight for a 220 welder is the way to go. If you do go 110 make sure it has a good duty cycle. I had a 110 clark with gas. Did a decent job but while building bumpers i would be at full power. That meant 3 min of welding 7 min of beer drinking. Lets just say by then end the welds suffered from the 7 min intervals :)
     
  13. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    With the amount of work that I'd have to do to this camper, I am seriously thinking of using the frame as a utility trailer, and building a PUP from the ground up. Al lot of the hardware from the PUP can probably be re-used.

    Building an entirely new frame would allow me to narrow the width somewhat. I could narrow it even more if I could arrange the bunks to be longer so that people slept with their heads towards the camper box. The roof needs to be rebuilt anyway, and could be built to any size needed. I am playing with some floorplan options in my mind. If anyone can think of similar builds, I'm all ears (or "eyes" for a forum, I guess).

    For the lift system, I am seriously considering the C&R Universal Lift. Even with new cables, I'm not sure I want to base a build on old lifters and a winch. Cripes - if the winch breaks, it is $800 for a new Starcraft one! The C&R system is far simpler, and I don't mind lifting (can always use the Hi-Lift jack if I turn into a wus). The only thing I don't like about the C&R system is the external lifting arms. There is a lot of brush and trees where I tend to go, and I'd hate to see anything catch and get ripped off. Anyone got exerience with this system?

    As far as welders go, what do you guys think of a Hobart Handler 140? Seems pretty good as far as 110V goes. If I had to use 220V, I would probably have to drag everything down to my FIL's place in Florida to use his gear (read: operate his gear with him looking constantly over my shoulder). I swear he thinks I'll just smear one side of the joint with molten metal and then try to "stick" the other side to it...
     
  14. sassy gopher

    sassy gopher Member

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    that's not a bad welder getting gas makes a world of difference. As for building from scratch, have you looked at the original tent trailers like apaches. they do not use any complicated lift systems. simple hinged tentpoles. livinglite has brought this simple idea back again. my camper is a 65 and I love the simplicity of the tentpoles
     
  15. phalynx

    phalynx Member

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    That sounds like a fun project but a lot of work.

    As for the welder, for your purposes I'd still go 220V.
     
  16. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    I'll have to check those out for ideas - thanks.

    No doubt it'll be a big job. I figure it'll take me about a year or so. But, I'll have exactly what I want.

    The 110V vs. 220V question has been nagging at me all day. I guess to be 100% safe and have no regrets, I'll be loading my supplies on my "new" utility trailer and heading to Florida at some point.
     
  17. phalynx

    phalynx Member

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    Well, what I'm pushing for is that you buy your own 220V welder.

    Back when I built my rockcrawler 4runner, I did it at my friend's house which was 1.5 hours away. My other friend and I would get to his house at 8am on Saturday morning and wouldn't stop working until about 5pm on Sunday. Saturday would be a 14-16 hour day and this went on for a good 5-6 weeks. It was a pain in the butt.

    We had to do all this because we didn't want to make that drive for too long. It wasted gas and our time. Now that I have my own house and my own metal working tools, it's soooo much more convenient to work on things at my own house.

    It takes way longer to fabricate things than you think, and with you being an engineer, you're going to analyze everything and it's going to take even longer. Just cutting off my trailer axle and welding on new perches took me 2 weeks, but that axle is on there straighter than factory. [:D]
     
  18. zjrog

    zjrog Member

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    If you have an electric clothes dryer, then running 220 to your garage shouldn't cost much. The previous owner of my house was an electrician and ran 220, but some of his work wasn't great. I have friend that is an electrician, and we've brought everything back up to code. I just wish I'd ran an extra 220 outlet...
     
  19. sassy gopher

    sassy gopher Member

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    I lucked out with my panel being in the garage and close to where I wanted my welder. about 40 dollars worth of parts from lowes and I was in business.
     
  20. marksmatter

    marksmatter New Member

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    Thanks for the input all. :)

    That right there is key. I move house on Tuesday, and I don't know what is where at the new place. Will check it out this week for sure though. We are going to rent our existing house out and rent this new place, so that limits how much money I'll throw at another 220V outlet for the new garage. I know the landlord won't have any issues at all with it. FIL will be visiting and he was an industrial electrician, so it'll just be the cost of materials.

    After 12 years here, I forgot how much I hate moving! A couple of kids since we moved in, and 12 years of collecting stuff sure makes it all add up. Day 2 of packing boxes coming up...
     

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