Category: Expedition Truck

Our New Truck Has Arrived!

By the summer of 2019 we were getting impatient with the slow progress of our truck conversion. We had resisted putting too much pressure on the builders but we felt it was time to be given a firm Handover Date. Finally in July we we able to book our flights to Poznań and by mid afternoon we arrived at the living box builders, Camperspol.

Loading Supplies At Camperspol

We slept in the truck at Camperspol and the next day we were busy shopping for essentials and sorting out the inside whilst Camperspol finished various jobs on the truck, including fitting an intruder alarm. The following day the truck was booked into the Mercedes dealer to investigate a suspected fuel line leak caused when the fuel tanks were resited. The job took longer than envisaged and we ended up spending five nights in a hotel whilst the problem was sorted. This meant the Camperspol completion work was delayed and we felt we were wasting precious time when we should have been out and about, getting to know the truck and its systems.

We suspected we could have been at Camperspol for many more days whilst they finished off various jobs so we took the decision to leave for home at the end of that day and sort any outstanding problems when we got back to the UK.

There were several issues we discovered whilst on the journey home: the electrical circuit breakers kept tripping (needed a software update), the generator was cutting out showing an overload warning, this turned out to be an inappropriate fuse fitted in the line from the battery to the generator starter motor. The hydraulic tail lift, installed by a specialist company, Plandex, did not work and we later discovered that the hydraulic pump was too small. This was replaced in the UK with a larger pump and now worked perfectly.

On our return journey the weather was hot with temperatures up to 40° and, despite having air conditioning in the cab, it was uncomfortably hot. Upon our return we discovered that the cab had not had the specified engine insulation fitted.

We reached the UK without incident and, despite these setbacks, we were delighted with the truck. One of our first jobs was to get the vehicle MOTd and taxed. The tester commented that the vehicle was in remarkable condition for its year (2003) and he hadn’t seen a truck of that age with such a low mileage and so well maintained – thanks to the Dorset Fire Brigade.

Once we had the MOT we were able to apply for road tax and we supplied the DVLA with photographic evidence to prove a change of use from Fire Tender to Motor Caravan. The DVLA replied saying that information held on a vehicle record must describe what a vehicle actually looked like to enable law enforcement agencies to identify a particular vehicle. Therefore, they said, as the vehicle body could not be identified externally as a Motor Caravan, they could not change the body type description. The end result was that the vehicle remained, according to the DVLA, a fire tender and was therefore zero rated for Road Tax. We wondered whether we would be caught up in fire fighting duties on our travels!

Spot the Difference!

Poland – Again!

We left the UK in early October 2018 with the primary purpose of visiting Posnań, Poland to see how far they were progressing with our new truck and to get an idea of when the project might finally reach completion.

Habitation Box – galley on the left looking aft to “bedroom”

Galley on the right looking towards dinette

We were disappointed – but not necessarily surprised – that progress was almost nonexistent. The vehicle had been languishing at a truck fabrication company for many weeks having a hydraulic rack fitted and the habitation box progress was stalled because they needed the truck to complete the installation of  the various domestic systems.

It was very frustrating but we refused to be downhearted and, having sent a few grumbly emails, we decided to leave Poznań and head north towards Gdansk on the Baltic Coast.

From Wrocław To Poznań

We stayed overnight in Wrocław (pronounced something like Vrotswav) where we found a friendly, family-run campsite.  It was a sunny evening and our fellow campers were a jolly bunch – including a very chatty New Zealand woman with her Dutch husband, two Norwegian brothers travelling in convoy and an Australian couple from London “doing Europe” in a Toyota Previa.  Parked next to us were a young French couple and, as it was the day before the World Cup semi final, (when Croatia beat England), Tony kindly gave them a bottle of champagne so that they could celebrate when England won the World Cup!  I don’t know what was French for, “What a prat!” – but I expect that’s what they said, smiling politely.

The next day we arrived back at Poznan and our normally deserted campsite at Lake Malta was virtually full – such a contrast from our earlier visit when the site was deserted – but for one van that parked right next to us.

We went over to Camperspol where our habitation box was being built.  Progress was unbearably slow but we were reasonably pleased with what they had done so far.  The day was taken up in discussing what should be fitted where but we did manage to pop out for some lunch at a café where three of us had a delicious lunch with a beer for a total of £13.

Poznań, Poland May 2018

It was a pleasant drive to through France, Belgium and Germany to Poland.  The weather was warm and sunny and it was such a joy to be able to sit outside in the evenings and relax after each day’s drive.

The River Ruhr

We stopped overnight near Dortmund on the River Ruhr.  It was a bank holiday and the place was extremely busy.

 

River Elbe At Magdeburg

The next overnight stop was at our regular spot at Magdeburg on the River Elbe.  The last occasion we were in that city it was March and we struggled through ice and snow as we walked into town to get something to eat.  Now it was warm and sunny and we even stopped for a delicious gin and tonic at a sandy beach bar constructed on the banks of the river.

Poznań

Poznań

We arrived in Poznań the following afternoon and were soon out on our bicycles.  It was often sunny in Poland but we hadn’t known it to be so warm – almost 30° it was a real treat.

We drove out to the factory where they were constructing our habitation box.  They were in the process of fitting the windows but it was frustrating that progress was so slow.  We realised it was unlikely we would have our new truck before September.

Ania and Graham showing us the embryo habitation box

 

Back To Poznan

We returned to Poznan in time to collect the truck from the company who were doing the exhaust modifications.  Tony was delighted with the new stainless steel exhaust.  The Manager spoke excellent English and stood by when Tony carefully backed the vehicle out of the workshop.

Poland – Spring 2018

We left the UK in the icy jaws of “The Beast From The East”, travelling north east through France, Germany, The Netherlands, Germany (again) and on to Poland.  We spotted patches of melting snow by the roadside but the roads were dry and clear and we felt confident that the worst of the weather was behind us.

 

John and Sabina Stalman at Paterswoldsmeer, Netherlands

We made three overnight stops in Germany – at Bad Bentheim, Hatten-Kirchhatten and Magdeburg and arrived in Poland on the fourth day.  En route we called in to Groningen in the north of the Netherlands to say hello to John Stalman, a colleague from our days in the boat business who ran Van den Bosch Yachting for a number of years.  John and his wife, Sabina, owned and ran a beautiful marina on the Paterswoldsmeer.  It had been almost ten years since we had seen John but he hadn’t changed one bit.

 

Dorset Fire Brigade Fire Tender On Low Loader For Delivery To Poland

We were travelling to Poland to see the progress on our truck that was being converted into an expedition vehicle that would replace our current motor home.  The project had begun over a year ago when we purchased a 2003 ex Dorset Fire Brigade fire tender from a dealer in Preston, Lancashire and had the vehicle shipped by low loader to Poland where they began the conversion by stripping back the chassis, painting and servicing the vehicle.  They fitted larger fuel tanks, an air pressure system for the tyres and they removed the rear twin wheels and replaced with single larger ones.

 

Cab And Chassis After Re-Paint

After settling into our campsite at Malta Lake in Poznan, we went to collect the truck from the local Mercedes Benz dealership where they had been carrying out some modifications to the vehicle.  We were very excited as it was the first time we had seen the truck since the day we purchased it.  Tony was able to get behind the wheel and, after a practice circuit of the dealership, we drove the truck on a forty minute journey to the company who would carry out the exhaust modifications.

 

Habitation Box At Camperspol, Poznan

We then visited Camperspol, the company that was building the habitation box that would sit on a specially constructed galvanised frame attached to the chassis.  The habitation box was being constructed using a grp foam sandwich.  There would be a lot of work on this box over the next few months, fitting it out with all the paraphernalia needed to keep the Morgans warm and comfortable on their travels.

 

Expedition Truck progress

Well we no longer have a fire truck but the beginnings of an Expedition truck, Tomasz at the MAN dealership in Poznan has now removed the rear bodywork which carried 3km of flat hose together with a hydraulic flat hose feed device which was operated by a power take off from the engine, suspect the PTO will be very useful for some other bit of kit. They are now servicing the vehicle to ascertain what might need some attention, let’s hope the list ain’t too long!!

Rear bodywork removed

Starting to look like a truck

Twin rear wheels to be replaced by large singles

Long way to go yet and a lot of specification to be decided, however Graeme and Ania are both providing input from their vast knowledge of past projects and no doubt we will together produce a great end result. Getting excited even at my age ?

Project Fire Truck

The second stage is now underway as our recently purchased fire truck is now on its way to Poland on a low loader having been collected from Preston on Monday morning it should arrive in Poznan on Friday. After a lot of searching we found an UK company to organise this with a Polish contractor although it could have been driven there it would have meant registering it as an HGV in the UK which would mean an MOT and a few other regulations and as we don’t intend to use it as an HGV we will bring it back when completed and it can then be registered as a Motorhome and have a less strenuous MOT.

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Return To Morocco

Our (Tony’s) new project, changing our Laika motor home for a heavy goods vehicle converted into an expedition truck, was gathering momentum.  The 2003 ex Fire Brigade tender we purchased from a dealer in Preston was being shipped to Poland in May 2017 and we reckoned the conversion would take six months or more to complete.

John Sharples’ Yard At Stockton

Meanwhile we planned to drive to Morocco, our fourth visit since 2012.  We left the UK by Eurotunnel in the middle of May 2017 and stopped overnight at Montbazon where the evening temperature was a balmy 20° and we were able to enjoy an evening meal sitting outside beside the river Indre.

Supper By River At Montbazon

We stopped briefly to have our wheels balanced in Poitiers before travelling on to Monségur to say hello to Caro and Charles in their sunny spot near Bordeaux.

The Lamb Residence at Monségur

Our next stop was at Navarrenx, an ancient fortified town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  We had just managed a brief walk through the beautiful old town when the rain started and it continued raining for the next 36 hours, making our crossing of the Pyrenees much less spectacular and spoiling our overnight stop by a lake near Zaragoza.  That evening it was 13° and we were glad of a burning log fire in the local café where we had a glass of wine and shared a pizza.

By the next evening it has stopped raining and we were able to enjoy a meal outside by the river Tagus at Aranjuez, south of Madrid before driving on to Córdoba where we stopped for three nights at Santaella, a site we have visited many times in the past.

La Campina, Santaella

Our expedition truck project

We have decided to spend more time travelling so are downsizing our home and building an expedition truck to enable us to travel further afield spending more time off grid. The last few months have been immersed in various books to compile a list of all the requirements to make this project come to life. To buy new, secondhand or have a bespoke build was where we had to begin and it soon became apparent that new or secondhand were either too expensive or too much of a compromise so we looked around for someone who could build what we wanted at a reasonable price, enter Gekkotruck in the guise of Graeme and Ania who have their living boxes built in Poland and are based in Germany, after many emails a trip to Poland was decided upon as we wanted to see the the build facility and look at a few ex Polish army Star trucks that were recommended by Graeme.

Star trucks were bought by MAN in the late 1990s and the few examples we saw were completely refurbished and looked “as new”, they were priced at around Euro 25k so represented good value for money, however they were 6×6 which we felt was overkill and had already decided 4×4 was adequate.

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The living box build facility in Poznan were converting a number of vans and the standard of workmanship was good although we were unable to view any larger projects that we were looking to undertake. Graeme & Ania had their Unimog on site which had a 3.8 metre living box attached and it was remarkable what they had managed to pack into it in the way of accommodation and storage.

After a lovely few days in Poznan we decided to head home and on reaching The Netherlands we arranged to visit BlissMobil in Breda, WOW, what an operation as they were building up to 30 living boxes annually at a very high standard but were outside our budget, we can but dream.

We were at this stage still searching for the right base truck and whilst travelling home we found on the internet an ex Fire Tender which had carried some 3 kilometres of flat hose to deal with forest fires for the Dorset fire brigade. It turned out to be a 2003 MAN LE 18.280 4×4 with an auto gearbox which had only done 11000 miles and was in excellent condition and the only compromise was the 6 man crew cab as we had felt we needed the slightly smaller sleeper cab which would allow a larger living box as we were trying to keep the overall length under 8 metres.