Dolphin hits the home stretch

It’s been nearly three weeks since the car accident outside Tepic. Jacqui and I have been working hard everyday to put our beloved home back together. Today we reached a major milestone! With the installation of all exterior paneling and the door, it's excited to see how close we are to getting back on the road.

We have tried to recycle as much as possible, but have still gone far beyond throwing her back together. I can happily say, even unfinished as she is, the Dolphin is much sturdier than the day we bought her, or the day we embarked on this journey. So now, a bit of review is in order.

When we first started disassembly on the Dolphin, it was very disheartening. The further we tried to remove things damaged by the accident, the more rot and corruption we were finding that had already been there.

Even rolling off the factory floor in 1985, the Dolphin was essentially made of toothpicks and staples (yes, literally staples), which is true of almost all RV’s, even today. They’re naturally flimsy things, and with good reason. The vehicles they are built upon have limitations, and every extra pound puts stress on the suspension, engine and robs fuel mileage. So when your RV gets to…let’s say, 29 years old, there is bound to be a combination of problems that you’d find in poorly constructed homes AND in old cars.

When we finally gutted enough out of the Dolphin to make sure we were going to have a solid foundation to work upon, this is the sight we saw:

Some construction was already complete in this photo. Namely the box and structure around the wheel.

This is looking at the passenger side of the vehicle after quite a bit of work. A whole new wheel well arch was cut out of plywood. Rotted beams were replaced and held together with screws instead of flimsy staples. All wood that would be exposed to road conditions received a rubber coating to protect from rot.

This is post construction on the driver's rear corner of the Dolphin. The accident jarred the old girl so hard that this area, which was already weakened by dry rot, split and bulged out. Luckily this area didn't require excessive amounts of work since the rot hadn't spread too far.

This is a good look at how much floor we replaced. The entire structural integrity of the Dolphin depends upon anchoring everything to the floor, so this was a necessity. The bottom of the floor was sealed against water and double layered with plastic to make sure we won't get any rot. Finally, we reinstalled the bathroom wall, you can see its structure in the middle of the floor.

The walls of the Dolphin were dislodged and moved left during the accident. We used a come-along attached to the frame to pull the entire structure into alignment. Once everything was situated where it belonged, our new floor became the anchor point for all the walls. Heavy duty brackets, screws and bolts now make sure everything is as sturdy as can be. 

You can see the ratcheting wench (come-along) pulling everything to the right. Under the umbrella is John, a retired cabinet maker, who has been instrumental in repairing the Dolphin.

With everything bolted in place, all exposed wood under the vehicle was coated for weatherproofing, then the siding went back on.

Even with the driver's side of the Dolphin looking nice, there was quite a project left just around the corner. The door and its frame were mangled so lot's of hammering and creativity went into straightening the door, siding and trim pieces. At the same time a new entry step was constructed, and the combination dining seat/entry cabinet was reconstructed trying to reuse as much of the original as possible.

Hard working couple.

The project was definitely drawing the attention of fellow RV'ers. This is also known as RV TV.

Entry step built and entry cabinet reinstalled/repaired. 

The back side of the entry cabinet, which doubles as the dining seat backrest, which sits on top of the wheel well and also serves as a cabinet. Everything multitasks in an RV.

The professional sider hard at work reinstalling all the Dolphin's skin.

Doorjamb finally going into place after hours of straightening.

All of the exterior siding that could be salvaged was installed. But a few pieces were mangled beyond repair, and some were just outright missing. So we made a trip into Mazatlan to buy raw sheet metal, cut it to shape, and primed it for installation. 

The wood around the wheel well was coated with a rubberized spray before the metal was installed. Then our new metal was wrapped around the inside of the wheel well with a little finesse and persuasion from a mallet.

Freshly cut piece of sheet metal receiving some primer for rust protection.

Finessing it into place, then sealing it with silicone. 

With a block of wood, a pair of pliers and a hammer I could shape the metal around the contour of the wheel well. 

All wrapped in place and the wood underneath received a rubberized coating to protect from water.

At last the Dolphin takes shape again. While still being far from done, she looks full of promise.

You can still see the tire mark from the other car on the door.

After a hard day's work we got ourselves some Licuados (Mexican milkshakes) to go. Of course in Mexico they have special 'to go' cups.

Nothing like a milkshake in a plastic bag.

Somebody is relaxed after a hard day's work.

And an extra special thanks to John. He managed to escape from most photos, but he's been out there every day helping us rebuild the Dolphin. As a retired professional cabinet maker and carpenter, he's brought on a level of professionalism to our Dolphin construction that neither Jacqui or I could have ever done by ourselves.