Monday, October 06, 2014

Astrolander Update: Rear-Door Mounted Fuel Carrier

When I first started building this van for overland travel, I figured I'd eventually end up with one of the ubiquitous massive steel bumpers with swing-away mounts for a spare tire and a collection of Jerry cans and other accessories. After a while, it became clear that any such device would have to be custom-made and exceedingly heavy and/or exceedingly expensive. There are a lot of reasons to relocate the tire out from undernearth the van in the stock location, but it is a difficult thing to manage on a van with the 3-part "Dutch" door system with the upper hatch and short lower doors - unless you can swing the tire away, you simply can't put a spare tire back there if you want to be able to open the rear doors. After spending a TON of time scheming and taking measurements, as well as gauging how I actually USE my van and what I really need to carry, I've come to the following conclusions:

  • A custom swing-out bumper just isn't in the budget this year or next. Eventually maybe I'll be able to afford to have Aluminess build me a custom aluminum dual-swing-away bumper that won't overload the rear suspension, but no time soon. 
  • For now, I'm actually fine keeping the spare in the stock location. The larger tires I'm running still fit underneath, and the chances I'll need the spare tire while simultaneously getting severely stuck in a deep obstacle that blocks access to the underbody are slim enough that I'll risk it. I have also found a way to mount a water tank inside the van, so I no longer need to repurpose that area for mounting a tank. 
  • I really need to be able to carry at least 5 gallons of extra fuel, preferably NOT on the roof rack. (Van is top-heavy enough with the lift, pop top, solar panels on the roof, etc.) 
  • I also really want to get the propane tank off the roof. I won't carry it inside the van, for safety reasons, and I can't find a reasonably priced RV tank that will fit under the body (unless I remove the spare tire!), so I'm sticking with a portable 5lb tank, but need someplace better to put it. 
  • As much as I want to keep the ability to swing the dutch doors through the full 180° arc, the solution I've devised for mounting stuff to the door hinges just won't let that happen, therefore I'm resigned to only hanging stuff on ONE side. That way I can keep the other door swinging all the way out. 
  • 10 gallons of fuel would be great, but starts to get impractical if I add up the weight of the fuel (31lbs), the can (~7lbs), and my extra-heavy-duty 10g steel jerry can holders. 

So given all that, I decided to just get off the fence and build a simple rack to hold one jerry can, my propane tank, and (as a bonus), probably a Trasharoo.So, the beginning of the build:I started with a $5 junkyard tire rack that looked a lot like this, only more rusty, and the tire holder was bent out of shape.

To my horror, I realized I don't have a full picture of the rack before I started modifying it, but here's the manufacturer's label.

Step one was to tack in a reinforcing strip close to the vertical pieces so that I could keep the spacing rigid when I did the bigger cuts.

Next comes the hinge hangers. Top of the image is one of the original hangers, post-removal. These fit over the big external hinges on older vans - Ford or Dodge, I think, and the long bolt passed behind the hinge and sort of held the carrier to the hinges. My system would be similar but much more compact. New hangers started with layout fluid on a couple of clean bars of 1" x 1/4" cold-rolled 1018 steel. Hot-roll would have worked, but the nice square edges and clean surface made doing the layout and holding some tight tolerances on assembly much easier.

The hardest part of this whole project was removing the door pins. The most common method I see mentioned is to put a thin hacksaw blade between the hinges and cut the pins, then drive them out later. I really didn't want to do this, especially since I was keeping the doors and body-side of the hinges. I just wanted the pins out. From my perspective, this is the best way to remove the rear door hinge pins. Minimal hammering (and none hard) is required, so there's minimal risk of body damage. No bumper removal is required, though that's only a few extra bolts. The only change I might make next time would be to put some cardboard between the door and the tool...

Here's the magic: 1 6" C-clamp, my smallest 1/4" socket (to push up on the tapered end of the pin), a 5/8" socket (goes over the head of the pin), and the extension tube from my bottle jack to provide additional leverage for the c-clamp. Note that I did BEND an identical c-clamp out of parallel early in this process while I experimented with different things to push up on the pin. Not sure if it was a bum unit, or if some of my attempted setups allowed too much flex and caused things to get out of square. In either case, the key to making this work seems to be to keep everything as short/rigid as possible, and lined up vertically. Use your smallest socket, and the most rigid C-clamp you can get in there. A small ball-joint press frame might also work, if you can rig it to work with the sockets.

Voila'! You can see the problem - the pins are splined, so once seated in the hinge they are really "in there". When these finally come loose, they "POP" with a pretty loud bang. After this point, some light tapping with a pin punch and a small hammer was all that was needed to get the top pin out. I've had the pins in and out a number of times now doing test fittings (partially seated, not to the splines), and I've used two different methods to get the bottom pin out without removing the bumper. 

First, I used a slightly undersized pin and a c-clamp to press the pin out (deep socket needed at the end of this. Second, and easier, was to use the flat bar part of this pin-removal tool set to drive the pin up from the head. Note that this "tool" is basically some bar stock with a notch in it. Once the pin is pushed up past the splines, this is enough to tap it the rest of the way upwards, and you can keep the hammer head well away from the body.

Here's my new over-hinge tacked up and trial-fit. Using slightly undersized 21/64ths punch from my transfer punch set as a temporary pin since the lack of splines and a head made it very easy to just drive through for repeated fittings. The nominal OD of the hinge pins is .342", or close to 11/32".

I got busy and didn't take many photos, so here we are several changes later. I removed the bent and rusty mounting plate that served to hold a tire, then cut the "U" bend and added 7" of extra 1" tubing in the middle to stretch it to the width of the Astro door. The bottom over-hinge has been tacked in place to the rack, and I've got the upper hinge held with a clamp while I align pins in everything. I was able to remove the pins and tack the hinges on the workbench, which was a relief, as I didn't fancy doing even tack welding near the van. I tried to shroud everything in my single welding blanket and realized the chances of showering the van in slag was too high...

After the main hoop was tacked and re-fitted, I cut up and re-purposed the original mounting plate as well. This was originally "Z" shaped and attached to the outside of the van door with two big bolts right through the door skin. Ugly, and a bit too permanent for my tastes (says the guy who cut the roof off a perfectly good van). Eventually, I may be able to afford a full swing-away bumper so I don't want to put any big holes in things if I can avoid it. This simple angle piece will let me keep the holes on the side of the door instead. These really just keep the hanger moving with the door - the hinges should take all the weight.

A little parts-bin engineering solves the hinge pin problem. These pins have the same OD as the original hinge pins, but are 4.2" long to allow for the extra 1/2"+ that I've added with my over-hinge brackets. Dorman Part#38400:This pin has the correct length and includes matched bushings. I wanted to include the bushings since my training tells me hard-on-soft is better than hard-on-hard, but in this instance, it may not matter.

The rack getting a final coat in my high-tech "spray booth"

Starting the final alignment of the over-hinges and pins.

Checking things with pins 90% inserted before driving them home.

And we're locked in, now. I had to take a big swallow of my pride before posting these, as it reveals some of my worst welds. Still getting the new welder figured out at this point. Most subsequent welds didn't look this bad, but they should hold, so what the hell.

And driving in the bottom pin. Needed to use a pin punch to get to this one, not much clearance in there for a hammer.

My Adventure Trailers Jerry Can holder bolts to the rack w/ stainless hardware. AT propane bracket bolts to the can holder.

And there we are.

Fully loaded, the door-check will just hold the door open, even on my VERY slanted driveway, but it's close. Any more weight, and I'll need either a door-stop, or to park somewhere more level!

I feel pretty confident about how this locates the weight on the hinges, especially when the door is closed - it feels very solid. I even experimented with standing on the rack to be able to reach the roof rack. So far, it looks like I may not need a rear ladder now!

Had a small miscalculation on the clearance for attaching at the side of the door - the shape of the right hand door makes it easy to clear the lower screws, but it's tight on the upper hole. Probably don't need three fasteners since the weight is on the hinges, but I wanted to seal the hole I drilled so I put a pop-rivet in there. Nice and low profile.

Part of this design was to also have a place to mount my Trasharoo trash carrier. This is why the rack sits relatively "high" on the door and the fuel cans "hang" down below the rack.

The upper bar of the rack also takes the straps of the Trasharoo. If I mounted everything low on the door, the Trasharoo would sag down below the bumper.

And finally, after some creative swapping of surplus gear and a timely discovery of a ForSale post on ExpeditionPortal, I was able to exchange the heavy steel carrier for an aluminum version that shaves 12+ pounds off the design.

1 comment:

Janet Camp said...

I thought of doing something similar, but am concerned about the result of a rear end collision. How dangerous would that be? It looks pretty well-protected, but I’m still wondering about the risk.

Many thanks.