My fourth housetruck was built on a 1952 Federal 5-ton truck powered by a gas 427 cubic inch, 6-cylinder flat-head CMC motor. It has a 5-speed transmission, a 2-speed rear-end, and air brakes. It was originally a 5,000 gallon water tank truck built for the navy. I purchased it from a big-truck wrecking yard. The tank had been removed and it was painted bright orange.
After being parked all winter and drawing the plans, summer was here and it was time to begin construction. Not knowing how to weld, I asked a friend that did, to help. When the frame was lengthened the layout of the bed or sub floor was started, using 4×4 at 2′ centers.
Someone is always stopping by asking questions, and saying it probably won’t float.
Work continues with the 4×4’s being bolted to the frame. The deck is laid on top, giving a solid sub-floor. The sub-floor is tongue and groove 2×6’s. Before the floor was finished, the truck needed a new paint job. This is much easier to do before the house gets in the way.
If you are going to hang any propane, gas or water tanks on the undercarriage, you should install them before finishing the floor. It’s much easier to work from the top than lying on your back underneath a truck.
Framing is done using 2×3 studs. The first section of the wall and the skirt covering the tanks are sheeted with 1/2″ plywood at the same time. The 2×3 frame is on 16″ centers, allowing a 4×8 sheet of plywood to center on the studs. The use of plywood adds shear strength to the structure.
It’s best to have your entry door and windows before you start framing, so you know what size to build the openings for them. Walls are framed and covered with plywood, which go up in sections. Each section of wall is built laying down on the floor, then raised and nailed into position.
Leaving openings for the doors and windows, the outside of the walls and skirting are sheeted with 1/2″ plywood. The loft over the cab is next. Using supports from the ground, the floor of the bedroom is framed and covered with 3/4″ plywood.
Next, the bedroom walls are framed and covered with 1/2″ plywood. Then heavy 3″ pipe is used to support the bedroom overhang with steel platforms, bolted to the underside of the bedroom floor. The other end is welded to the frame behind each front fender.
Now with all the walls framed and sheeted, it’s time to start the roof. Using a 1×3 for the center board and 2×3 rafters, the roof is framed in. Now is the time to think of skylights, which are framed in between the rafters.
Starting from the bottom, the tar paper is stapled up, covering the sides. This goes fast. Next, the windows are framed in. Temporary scaffolding makes the work easier. Framing the windows takes time if you don’t want them to leak.
Corner windows are put on a 45° angle. A bay window is built out, and the roof of the bedroom is slanted back. These factors are a good thing to consider for minimizing wind resistance. I learned this first hand from having a housetruck with a flat front. Head winds would wipe me out!
With windows and doors framed in, the bevel siding is added, starting from the bottom and working up. Like long shingles, each piece has to be cut to fit around windows and doors, straight and tight. When you get to the top, you’re finished with the siding.
Here, the bay window is almost finished, except for its small shingled roof. The main roof is next.
The main roof is covered with 3/8″ plywood. The skylights are cut out, then framed in with 1×6 protruding up through the roof. Removable, hatch-like covers, with safety glass, are made to fit over the skylight frame. This gave me the ability to ventilate my house.
Once the skylights are framed in, the roof is tar papered and covered with cedar shingles. An old shingle hammer makes it easy to lay down straight rows. Flashing and sealer are added around the skylight frame. A leak in the roof is no fun when it’s raining outside.
Now that the outside is finished, any visible nails are bent over on the inside. This secures the outside siding and roof shingles tightly to the wall.
Insulation is a must! 3″ fiberglass foil insulation is easily stapled to the studs of the walls and ceiling. The floor eventually gets a layer of tar paper, then 1″ foam board. It is then covered with 1/2″ plywood and 3/4″ oak hardwood on top.
Starting around the bottom with 3/4″ tongue and groove cedar, the inside paneling goes up. The bottom area runs vertical, while the top half of the wall is horizontal. This breaks up the lines on the inside. A good old miter box was helpful at this point to make nice tight joints.
There are spaces left above two windows. When finished, these spaces will allow the windows to slide up and down into the wall. This method of construction eliminates the need to remember to latch windows that might swing open and break.
Finish work is slow, but before long the insulation gets covered, and things start looking better with new wood on the walls. This is a good time to clean up the mess before starting the ceiling.
With the ceiling and walls finished, the cabinets are started. The gas cook stove is put in place and attached to the propane tank under the truck using solid copper tubing. Cabinets need to be built so everything can be stashed away, neat and tidy and out of the way. This way things won’t fall and break while traveling on the road. In many ways a housetruck is like a boat.
I made sure to plan for enough drawers so I would have a place to put the things I used most often. It’s hard to find something you need if you have to dig around for it in the back of a cabinet.
When the floor was finished, I went back and completed the cabinets.
The entire interior, including the cabinets, was then finished with two coats of spar varnish. Once the varnish dried, I hung the curtains and moved in. Now, it was finally time to start the motor and enjoy the country.