Monday, July 2, 2012

Monkey Gardening and the Flip-top Camper Shell

Every homeowner, at some time, for some project, needs a truck... And not a polish-it-every-weekend-keep-it-under-a-cover-pretend-that-it's-still-new type of truck, but a real truck meant for getting dirty and accomplishing real work rather than being pretty to impress other people.

Fortunately,  I have a small beater truck that fits that description perfectly, especially the not-impressing-other-people part.  I bought it from a coworker many years ago for 1000 bucks, and I call it my "Home Depot" truck because it only sees service when I have to haul materials for the latest Monkey project.  It has served me well many times over the years, but before the latest project at my family's new digs, it needed a maker-style upgrade.

The latest Monkey House project is a fruit and vegetable garden to grow goodies like fresh melons, strawberries, tomatoes, and of course,... bananas.  For this, we needed to add about 5 cubic yards of soil.  In the past, I've hauled building materials in the truck by temporarily unbolting and removing the camper shell, and then using a tarp to cover the bed when traveling.  This was laborious and time consuming, however, so I've long wanted to use this as an excuse for building a contraption to make the process easier.

My idea was to hinge the camper shell so that it could flip up and forward toward the cab for easy loading.  I've never seen anybody accomplish this, probably because 1) most people are unwilling to defile their vehicle in this way, 2) it's ridiculous, and 3) the camper shell would just hit the cab in any obvious hinge configuration.

I originally designed a four-bar linkage mechanism that would raise and pull back the shell as it was tilted, but discovered in testing that if properly placed, only two simple struts were needed.  These struts would provide a floating pivot point for the top edge of the shell, and the bottom could carry the weight and slide back along the top edges of the bed sides.

The only tricky parts of the build were getting the strut placements right and finding a way to flexibly attach the aluminum struts to the camper shell and bed.  I attached the top front ends with hinges pop riveted to both the struts and shell frame.   For the rear facing ends, however, I need to support rotation from the side of the strut.  To do this, I re-purposed the twist hasp of a gate latch to make the odd pivoting attachment.

With the struts in place, and the addition of a pull handle and some locking clasps to keep the thing secure when driving, the total build was completed in a few hours.  The guys at the landscape supply yard were certainly surprised.  With a loader, they'd already dropped in two bucket-loads (one cubic yard) of soil and I was closed up and on my way before other customers had even made a dent in the loads they were manually shoveling into their truck beds.

Of course, I still had to shovel the soil back out of the truck bed, but at least for that I had Big Monkey to help me.

Little Monkey was somewhat less help, but made up for it with a high cuteness factor.

With Mama Monkey handling all the actual green thumbing, all I needed to do was add some irrigation...

and some border fencing (using landscaping poles, pressure-treated lumber, and galvanized post mounting brackets)...

and plastic garden lattice nailed with galvanized nails into the fencing (using my new cordless nail gun mentioned in a previous post)

And that's it.  The garden wraps around a large area reserved for the play structure I'm putting the finishing touches on.  Note the humble tree in the corner.  I can't wait to taste the bananas!