MogTug Build – Part 1: Cabs, Beds, Boxes & Subframes

When we purchased MogTug he came with a military style transport bed, which had bows and a canvas top.  While we had an awesome living arrangement using Goodwill furniture and a portable electrical system, that wasn’t going to be permanent for the future expeditions.

The Camping Set-up in Baja

Baja Camping

We decided early on that we wanted a design that would allow us to both live inside and outside.  So if it was raining or snowing, we could be comfortably inside the “box”. We set our sights on Radio Boxes from the military. These are boxes that house mobile radio transmission stations on the back of military trucks, and as luck would have it, my fellow Unimog brother in Albuquerque (James) had a friend who had an old radio box that he would basically give away for free! So with the truck recently mended from its oil leak (see Part 0) I headed to Albuquerque to meet new friends and get to work mounting the radio box.

The first order of business of course was to take the truck on a camping trip before we got down to work. James, and his buds were already planning to take a camping trip to the high desert in the area, and I met them en route. It was an awesome group and a nice opportunity to see how the mog would climb off road. On the way up to the camp spot, one of the guys’ trucks started over heating while towing his trailer up the steep grade. I promptly offered to hitch it to the mog and give it go. I could barely tell it was there. All in all it was a great trip.

With introductions and a little fun out of the way, we set to work. We cut off the pieces of the radio box I wasn’t going to be using, painted the back wall with Herculiner (www.herculiner.com), as once mounted it would be harder to get to, cleaned it out, and removed my existing bed. I have to say my buddy James came up with an ingenious way to get the bed off the truck, using his four post lift and under slinging it. It worked like a charm. Driving the truck around with no bed, felt odd to say the least.

With the bed off, and the box prepped, we had just one more major job. The challenge was to create mounts to mate this radio box (which was made for a 1960s Unimog) to MogTug (a bigger 80s mog). This turned out to be a huge job, and a ton of fabrication time. This whole experience humbled me to the amazing people you meet in a journey like this. Here I had arrived into an established group of friends, a stranger only 24 hours before, and immediately everyone was coming to my aid and rallied around the project. One of James’s friends, Philip, an expert welder and fabricator, built a set of mounts for the box, and with the help of a crane truck we got the box mounted up on the truck. And of course nothing goes perfectly to plan and we had to make some adjustments to the mount. But after a couple weeks, living in James’ garage, I was ready to hit the road.

Box Mounted Up

MogTug with old radio box

I drove the truck to VA and used the downtime while SyncroBo was sailing to Europe to continue the prep of the box. It was during that work of getting in and out of the box, and working hunched over that I started to realize that maybe this wasn’t the best idea.

The box was about the perfect length and height, but it was only 50 inches tall in the center, and 48 inches tall on the sides. This made it compact and the same basic height as the cab when mounted. But at 6’4”-ish it’s a rough go for me. The initial thought was that we would do it how the German military does it. Basically, they work from a seated position in the box; everything is designed to be used while seated. So you hunch over to sit down and then work everything from arms’ reach.  With time pressing, I pulled the trigger on the cabinets and a neat folding couch for the box, and headed to Europe to meet SyncroBo. Those items (cabinets, countertop, custom couch, etc) would take a couple months to be built and delivered, and we would have them to start the build when we got back.

The time living in SyncroBo in the dead of winter, in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, etc. taught us a lot about the need for a livable interior, and it put the final nail in the coffin for the Radio Box. There were simply times of the year and places we would want to go to, that living outside of the box would be VERY difficult, if not impossible. So I struck out to find a new solution, and I found it in the US Military Surplus site, http://www.govliquidation.com. They sell all sorts of military surplus items, and there I found it; A “transportable shelter”, basically a big rectangular box with a heavy-duty door. And there were some ending auctions a little before our return to the US. After a stressful bidding process, and a higher than average sale price :(, I landed a Gichner S-280 Shelter. It was about the perfect length and wide for the Unimog, and the height was better at 6’2”. I could work a lot better with that.

But now with a new box, I needed to sort a new solution for mounting it to the frame. The experience of building the mounts for the current radio box, made me go search for a company that specialized in this, and I found them in Germany. http://www.Altas4x4.de they specialize in making expedition parts for Unimogs, and luckily they were based in Germany, which is where I would be shipping SyncroBo from to head back to the US. It was all coming together. I quickly collaborated with them to order a sub frame, and some other items, and had it shipped to the freight forwarder who was shipping SyncroBo back to the states. This would allow me to shove it all into the container with SyncroBo. I love it when a good plan comes together.  Through this process, I also met another mogger, Scott, who also needed a subframe, so we were able to load my container full. With the sub frame ordered, and the box won at auction, we dropped SyncroBo at port in Germany, and flew back to the US to start the build on MogTug.

We did the majority of the build in Twin Falls, ID as that’s where we had the most room and support from family and friends. We shipped the mog, packed with the new cabinets, counter tops, and other build materials from VA to Idaho. The sub frame arrived at port in NYC, and we took a frantic two-week road trip in a mini van to pick it all up and drive it back, and the box arrived and we used a forklift to get it placed in our work area.  We got the old radio box off and we were finally ready to get to work.

MogTug being prepped for shipment

MogTug on Truck

Look Ma no box!

Naked Mog

Paint & Surface Treatments

While the frame & subframe were accessible, we painted it in POR-15 and top coated it. We followed every single step and thus far it seems to be holding up pretty well. We repainted the cab, but decided against a full strip paint job. We figured it’s going to get a lot of battle scars along the way and I would honestly rather spend the 5K somewhere else. So we did the paint job ourselves, sanding, priming, sanding, base, and then clear. I got some horrendous orange peel on the hood because of a rookie mistake, but we had a blast learning and doing it ourselves.

Cab Priming

Shiny Cab

We knew from the beginning that the new Shelter wasn’t going to be a virgin box. It was structurally sound, and overall good condition, but it did have nicks, scrapes and cuts on it, and a few big dents on the outside. We went through and fixed the biggest offenders with some body putty and elbow grease, and then primed it and painted the outside with Herculiner, and then top coated it with a clear coat. I did a test before we left by painting the entire radio box (the older one) in Herculiner and it sat out in the sun, rain, and snow for a year, and it looked great when we got back. So I was confident this would hold up. The other nice by-product was that it also hid the imperfections in the box’s skin very well. The downside is that this stuff is messy to apply, and it’s not cheap. But overall we like it thus far, at the two year mark, we will check in with a review to let you know how it’s doing.

Gichner Au Natural

Partially Painted

For the inside, the box was basically empty, but there were some overhead conduits and a folding table that didn’t work with the design. Once we took all of that out, we discussed going back and filling and sanding all of the little holes in the ceiling and walls, and filling where the old paint had chipped. At this point we were tired of painting and we decided against it. We didn’t mind the rougher look. We did a basic sand, and then we primed the entire interior and painted the walls and ceiling a single stage metallic silver. This was a paint designed for farm implements and we wanted durability. We painted the floor with black Herculiner for durability and non-slip properties. We debated putting in a cool teak floor, but because of my height we couldn’t give up and more ceiling height.

Sub frame

The sub frame from Atlas4x4 (atlas4x4.de) came in a kit format to facilitate shipping and needed to be welded together. We found a local welder who was up to the challenge and the sub frame went together perfectly. The sub frame is using the 3-point design that Mercedes pioneered on the Unimog and mounted perfectly to the frame the first try. I was honestly amazed. the work and craftsmanship from the guys at Atlas4x4 is commendable. They also sell a range of modular additions for their sub frame, from tanks to battery boxes, etc. It’s a well thought out product.  Recommended.

Subframe

Mounting the Box

To mount our box to the sub frame we used a few different methods. The bottom of the box has three skids that taper down in width, like an n inverted trapezoid. We custom machines three steel channels that fit the shape of the skids perfectly and welded those to the sub frame. The box sits via gravity and friction into those channels and then its bolted and also attached via high tensile strength stainless steel cable. It’s a bit overkill, but wanted to be safe.Crane

Mounted Up

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