Chinook Demoliton Part 1, Not That Simple
November 2015 - January 2016
The first time I looked inside the Chinook, perhaps the first hundred times, I planned to keep the interior intact for my upcoming travels. I would update a few details but leave the camper in all it’s seventies majesty! The couch cushions were original brown faux tweed, untouched by mold or mildew, the walls were in good shape, the “kitchen” on the driver’s side, though it had been edited to make room for an air conditioner, cooler, newer propane furnace, and tiny chemical toilet, was mostly intact, with fake wood and orange countertops, a little sink and stovetop.
And the shag, oh the shag! Simultaneously glorious and revolting, classic seventies, with long red-orange fibers, like an army of cancerous sea anemones refusing to surrender. This “wall to wall” rug was protected by clear plastic floor covering of the type you’d have found under a nineties rolling office chair. What was hiding in that ancient shag? Would I be able to keep it clean and dry, living in the little truck full time with my dog? We’d be outside running and hiking daily, and in such a small space keeping a rug clean seemed an impossible task.
It was clear after my first overnight voyage in Boots Kimiko, as the Chinook would affectionately become known, that the bed design was far from ideal. A table and extra panels set into the couch area to make a wide bed. During travel, these were stored above the cab, on a “birds nest” loft area which was originally an upper bunk for a child. These pieces were out of the way during the daytime, but were heavy and bulky to move around. Performed on a nightly basis, turning the couch into a bed would be at the very least a small annoyance, or more likely, a huge hassle. Fully assembled, the bed took up the entire interior of the camper, but folded away, the bench itself was not wide enough to sleep on. If I just wanted a nice afternoon nap by the beach, I would end up sleeping in the sand. Not a bad thing in itself, I support nap sites in any location, but it did seem to defeat the purpose entirely.
Still, it was only upon making up the bed for friends after a rather alcoholic thanksgiving celebration at my home in Seattle, that I decided to make a change. The following weekend, holiday guests gone, I spent an afternoon tearing out the bench frame and pulling up the rug. I thought that would the end of it. Build in a new bed, lay down some bamboo flooring, and hello, this truck would be ready for adventure! Well. That is not what happened at all.
Every task led to another. Beneath the bed was a steel frame with ancient seat belts for passengers to sit sideways, which I would never use, and had to go. The seat belt bar, and in fact the entire camper body, were attached to the underside of the Toyota’s frame with massive carriage bolts. They were rusted and unruly and would need to be replaced. The bed was out, but what about the closet? It made sense to rebuild the entire passenger side to fit my needs, using lighter materials and utilizing all available space. Pulling out the closet I found my first evidence of water damage and mold, and discovered the walls did not extend all the way to the rear, they were a flimsy wood composite, held up only by the window frames and ending abruptly behind the cupboard area. In some areas, between the fiberglass shell and the wall panels, blocks of stiff foam were adhered to the shell, but for the most part the Chinook was not insulated at all.
The carpet was a process, some pieces came up nicely in big swaths, but most didn't. Underneath the fibers, glue and padding had disintegrated over the years, clouds of crusty seventies dust went airborne. I pulled hundreds of individual fibers with pliers and scoured them off the plywood floor with a chisel scraper. It was 6 months later and I was already in Montana, before I pulled the very last of the shag.
A major turning point came after I gutted the bulk of the passenger side (bed) area, exposing the rear floor and door frame. I could have chosen to leave the opposite side essentially alone, twiddled with a few electrics, and moved along to building the new bed, rear closet and floor. However, the carpet extended under the cabinetry on the kitchen side, and I suspected the water damage that I’d found on the lower floor was not limited to one area. Boots Kimiko sat idly in my driveway for a few weeks, this was the rainy season in Seattle, I was working long hours at my job as well as finishing a few other projects. But the transformation had begun, and I would continue to pull apart the Chinook bit by bit.