Betty White Got New Shoes!
Casita travel trailers are pretty simple little campers, and that’s a big part of their charm. You’ve got a top and bottom hull, both molded fiberglass, glued together and bolted down to a steel chassis. Cut some holes for windows and a door, throw in some basic appliances, and you’ve got yourself a pretty stout little camper ready to go just about anywhere you’re willing to drag it.
Each trailer is made by hand by the fine folks at Casita in Rice, TX. As a company, the folks at Casita don’t really offer much in the way of customization when you make your order. You have a small list of possible options you may select, depending on model and floor plan, and that’s about it. You don’t like the position of that water pump switch? Tough cookies. Want two king beds? Buy two of the Independence model. Want a couple of extra 12V outlets? They can probably help you out on that. Here’s the list of options we selected when we ordered Betty White, our Casita 17 Spirit Standard (Standard = bunks instead of bathroom/closet):
- Furnace – big enough to heat two or three Casitas
- Fiamma awning – love it, use it often
- Vinyl flooring – carpet on walls and ceiling is quite enough, thank you!
- Outside shower – with our porta-potti and this, we basically have a bathroom
- 25 gallon fresh – upgrade over the 16 gallon standard size
- LED lights – inside and out
- Range cover – locks in the open position to make a nice backsplash
- Sink cover – don’t waste your money
- High lift suspension package – Dexter axle with 10-degree down and 15″ wheels
- Roof A/C – Coleman Mach 1
- Water heater – 6 gallon, gas and electric
- Solar prewire – wires run behind carpet from battery to upper cabinet
- Decal delete – so fresh and so clean, clean
- Gray cushions – does anyone order the other option?
Because the standard list of options is pretty short, many folks turn to aftermarket solutions for customizing their new and used campers. Small manufacturers like Orbital Machine Works (OMW) are making some great upgrades for these sweet little campers, and folks like Larry at Little House Customs work hard to see that Casita owners come away pleased with a trailer that suits their most specific needs. We picked up Betty White at the factory on a Friday and had an appointment with Larry the following Monday to get a list of modifications tackled.
OMW Lift and Bolt-on Shock Kit
The first couple of upgrades I wanted would give our Casita improved stance for getting off the beaten path while smoothing out the bumps along the way. Both the Shock Absorber Kit and the Dexter Axle Lift Kit are manufactured in Texas by Orbital Machine Works. The lift kit gives us three extra inches of ride height over the high-lift axle option, which was just enough to clear the new wheels and tires. While the extra ground clearance will come in handy for light off-road exploration, the shock kit works to reduce much of the vibration and bounce from the torsion axle under normal operating conditions. Many owners who have added the shock kit report fewer reorganized cabinets and popped rivets, so it landed high on our list of upgrades. Be sure and check out the video here that provides a side-by-side comparison of a stock Casita along with one that has the shock kit installed if you are giving some thought to this upgrade for your camper.
OMW Propane Rack
Another Orbital Machine Works upgrade, the Over-tank Utility Platform provides a bit of stout storage space just above the standard propane tanks in lieu of the plastic propane cover that comes standard . Many folks use the rack to lock and store their generators, but I reckon it will work just as well for firewood while providing vertical space on each side to mount 5-gallon fuel cans. I have a few ideas in the works for this rack – stay tuned.
Auto A/C Upgrade
One of our favorite upgrades, this replaces the analog thermostat that only functioned with the furnace with a more modern digital thermostat that helps the air conditioner maintain a set temperature over the always-on settings on the A/C unit. In general, when it’s hot out, we leave the A/C on ‘High Cool’ with the temperature knob set at it’s coldest, and the new thermostat tells the A/C unit when to run in order to maintain the set temperature. Should things cool off, you can use it to also drive the heat strip within the A/C unit by turning the knob to heat, or drive the furnace by turning it on with a separate toggle switch included in the upgrade. I have probably made it sound more complicated than necessary, but it all becomes natural after a day of use while you enjoy the relative quiet of a unit that no longer runs non-stop.
MAXXAIR Vent Cover
Not much to say about this upgrade that hasn’t probably been said elsewhere on the internet. If you want to run your fan in the rain or have an itch to leave the vent open while going down the road, this little vent cover has your back.
Battery Cutt-off Connector
Having a simple way to disconnect the battery is handy when putting your camper up for storage because it eliminates the chance for parasitic drain that will leave you with a dead cell next spring. The Anderson disconnect, shown above, is a great upgrade offered by Little House Customs because you can simply pull apart the connector, and you are left with a battery that can then come out easily for service; no need to first pull the battery before disconnecting cables. This upgrade also comes with a terminal block, just visible to the left of the battery, that simplifies addition additional power leads. For ease of maintenance and peace of mind, it’s a no-brainer.
Just between the battery service door and the hot water heater, you’ll see a round black connector. This is an SAE connector with positive and negative leads that terminate on a terminal block that was added with the battery cutoff upgrade. With this connector, we can now easily deploy a portable solar panel with integrated charge controller to keep the battery charged when dry camping. We are still planning for our solar power needs, but this should simplify things so that we can get playing with solar soon. The connector can always be repurposed should we decide to run an on-board charge controller with additional panels, but I think it’s best to start small and build a system that addresses our actual needs.
If you’ve ever had to clean out a furnace vent after mud-daubers have moved in, you understand just how valuable a simple upgrade like this can be. It’s pretty straight forward: little mesh screens go over things you down want most critters getting into. We have them over the furnace vent (above) and over the hot water vent (previous photo).
BAL Scissor Jacks
We had one of the standard Atwood stabilizer jacks break on us during our second week with Betty White, so we begged Larry to see us again before we left north Texas. On this visit, we had four BAL scissor jacks installed — one on each “corner” — to give our Casita a rock-solid foundation when parked. I didn’t realize how much I would appreciate this upgrade. I’m still cranking each jack out by hand, but it doesn’t take long, and within minutes we’ve got a very solid little camper. As a bonus, the jacks are so stout (each one capable of 5k) that they can be used to jack up the trailer while it’s connected to the tow vehicle for easier tire changes.
Amber Lens Covers
Who knows if these things will actually cut down on attracting bugs (I kid you not, there are three little suckers crawling across my screen as I type this – really pushing my patience, dudes), but I figured they were cheap enough to try. I have also come to find that I prefer the softer shade of light they put out at night, so color me pleased.
Betty White got new shoes! I couldn’t wait to upgrade to some meatier rubber along with more stylish wheels after getting the lift kit installed. For whatever reason, the folks at Casita elect NOT to balance the wheels and tires they install on their new trailers. That first week or so, I would watch the driver-side wheel shimmy as we went on down the road. I didn’t want to get them balanced because I knew they wouldn’t be around long. So, I ordered up some 31×10.5R15 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires to be mounted on 15×7 American Racing wheels, white letters out. This is the same tire that came on our Ram Power Wagon, and as an LT tire, is perfectly suited to light trailer duty. With the upgraded tires and lift kit, we have about five more inches of clearance over a standard Casita (about three inches under axle), and I no longer have to watch wobbly wheels in the rear-views! Betty White gets so much attention now.
And last, but certainly not least, I added a multi-zone thermometer that we had used in the previous rig. Now, I can keep tabs on the temperature and humidity outside (1), in the freezer compartment (2), refrigerator (3), and inside the Casita. One really neat thing about this unit is that you can configure it to trigger alarms at high and low values for temperature and humidity for each zone independently. I have this one configured to beep at me if the freezer or fridge get too warm with the hope that I can either sort out what’s wrong or move our food to a cooler. We have it mounted just by the door, and I look at it no fewer than eighty-five times a day. I love my data points. Oh, did I say it tracks max and min values too?
Well, there you have it, a brief list of Betty White’s upgrades so far. I’m sure there will be more, so stay tuned. Until then, hope to see you out there on the road. As the doormat says, let the new adventures begin!