7 days and 3,055 miles in a 1968 13.5’ single axle “Canned Ham” travel trailer

The following is a guest post entry into our Survival & Preparedness Writing Contest.


Considering the nuances of bugging out from town to my off grid rural cabin I had an epiphany.  I would be better off if I could take my “home” with me in the event that it would be impossible to get to my cabin or other circumstances made it impractical to do so.


I recently acquired a 1968 13.5’ single axle “Canned Ham” travel trailer.  This old girl was used for hunting camp and over the years it had pretty much been taken down to a couple of beds and a roof.  Long ago the water system froze and broke, the recirculating toilet hadn’t worked in years and the electrical system in it was a rats nest.  However it was sound, no leaks and actually very well laid out and the interior had been remodeled making it quite comfortable and attractive.  It was time to get to work.


First thing was water:  I installed a 22 gallon water tank under the couch/double bed and with it a 12 volt demand pump.  With 4 valves the system it will work with pressure water from an outside source, pressure water can be used to fill the tank then the tank can be used for demand using the 12 volt pump.  New PEX lines were plumbed to the existing (cold water only) sink and to the disaster of a bathroom. The addition of the tank also gave the little camper some tongue weight which make towing it much easier.


The old airline type toilet was removed and new walls and floor put in to make the old toilet a shower.  With that complete, a tankless water heater was mounted on the shower wall, propane and water plumed to it to complete a very attractive and easy to use shower.  The shower head and flexible pipe was long enough to also be used to fill the tiny sink with hot water to wash dishes or other uses.


At my cabin I have been using a composting toilet for years.  For the “Canned Ham” travel trailer I keep a composting toilet outside in a shower tent.  It can also be employed in the shower area if weather conditions make going outside to a tent a bit of a bridge too far.  Convenient and complete privacy. Spare saw dust is stored under the couch by the water tank.  By doing this there was no need for black water holding tanks or wasting water for flushing.


There were remnants of a 110 volt electrical system that ran a couple of lights, an air conditioner and a microwave.  Trust me, they didn’t hire an electrician to do the work.  We then rewired the camper with a 35 amp service to bring it up to code.  There was also not much of a 12 volt system so work had to be done on that.  First, solar panels were installed on the roof.and two new marine 12 volt batteries were wired in. A small charge controller was mounted on a counter next to the couch.  Wires were strung for 12 volt lights in the shower, above the sink, above the dinner table and above the couch.  Another circuit was sent to the demand pump for the water.  The charge controller also has ports for 3v, 6v, 9v,12v cigarette lighter and usb.


The propane refrigerator (didn’t work) was removed and a low current draw electric was put in its place.  This fridge (about a third of the size of a large household model) pulls 125 watts when cycled on.  To run it when 110 volts is not available a small 400 watt inverter was installed.  As the fridge only cycles on for a few minutes every hour, the batteries and solar panels keep it running without a hitch.  This is handy for travelling as the fridge can do its business while heading down the road.  In the evening if electric is available it can be plugged into the 110 service. If not, I have a propane generator and a small gasoline generator to run the a/c current and recharge batteries if needed. So far that hasn’t been necessary as with the fridge stocked full its current draw is minimal.


Now the “Spam Can” was ready for a test drive.  I spent a week traveling from Arkansas to Virginia taking photographs of covered Bridges.  The trip was 7 days and 3,055 miles. No problems other than having to install a valve on the water tank’s overflow tube.  The rocking motion of the trailer while moving splashed out nearly all of the water from the tank. The valve is closed while traveling and opened to vent the tank when using the water.  


The last addition was a $98, 12 volt, 18 inch flatscreen TV and a $25 digital antenna,  The TV pulls 25 watts right off the solar panels and has beautiful color and reception. Of course there are 12 volt DVD players, cassette players and radios.


In the event that I can’t get to my cabin, I have a light weight, easily towed, wheeled cabin with me that easily sleeps 4.  In the event I can get bugged out, I have extra living quarters and all of the extra supplies that are stocked in the trailer.  I look at it as a win-win situation.

Building supplies: $120
Plumbing supplies:  pump, tank, pipe, valves $320
Tankless Water Heater: $100
Solar Panels & Charge Controller: $125
Light fixtures & wire: $28
Inverter: $55
Bugout camper:  Priceless


Wolf Grulkey

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12 thoughts on “7 days and 3,055 miles in a 1968 13.5’ single axle “Canned Ham” travel trailer”

  1. My family and I own a 27 foot camping trailer and it is very nice and all, but I have always wanted to take an older trailer and refurbish it to do exactly what you have described. You also have the added benefit that since you have refurbished it yourself, you know exactly where everything is, and how to repair it. This is a great example of luxurious practicality.

    I wish there were pictures of your BOT (But Out Trailer). Ever think of doing vehicle wrap to make it look like a can of ham? (just kidding I would do camo)

  2. Kind of reminds me of the many times we traveled from California to Illinois and back with five children in a six pac camper on a 1972 Ford Courier and the last trip in a seventeen foot Ventura totally refurbished behind a supercab F150 with just the two of us. What a difference being self contained and having enough room to live year round and just hook up and leave when ready. Finaal trips were with fiberglass fifth wheel Quantum 5 on a 92 Ford Ranger

  3. Just inherited a 1982 20′ BOT/BIT from my son who changed hobbies! Road worthy but needs a lot of TLC. DW says it’s my latest project that will never be finished. Everything works 90% so I’m hopeful. In Va even if I don’t bug out & there is a problem with the home I still have a warm dry place to go with lights, a stove & a fridge. Let them laugh I’ll be fine. And if I have to Bug out it’s good to go also. It aint pretty, but pretty don’t get it done.

  4. We lived for four days in the fifth wheel in the middle of the winter when the ice storm took down all of the power lines., It had a space heater that the fan ran on 12 volts and I had a small 1500 watt 12 volt generator that I used periodically to keep the batteries charged. I already had large propane tanks for the garage heater and it was parked under the overhang carport on the south side of the garage with straw bales around it. Sure came in handy then.

  5. As soon as I get her out of the paint shop I will post up some pics. It is great looking on the inside but rough on the outside. Should be done in a couple of weeks.

  6. WOW, I’m impressed with your project and the cost was so reasonable as well. I just bought mine new in Sept. of 2011, but it was a 12 model so it’s just now 2 yrs. old. My dog and I live in it. It was affordable after the husband passed away and it pretty has all I need so we live in it full time in campgrounds. The only setback actually is the installation. It’s very poor. There is a sign on the front of the camper saying that it is “artic ready”. Well, sorry to say that is not true information. If it’s cold out, it’s cold in, and if it’s hot out, it’s hot in. A few things have had to been replaced but all in all it’s not too bad and it’s probably as conservative as one can get.

    I wish I would have know a handyman like you before I bought this one which is actually 35 ft. long with 2 slide-outs. I would have hired you to fix up something used and probably would have fared better and still had a nice camper.

    Post us a picture so we will be able to see your “miracle camper”, and I’m happy that you are a happy camper. WK


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