Bug Screen

Bug screen. This was one of the most complicated sub-projects on our build, behind only 1. Electrical 2. Heat 3. Galley Cabinetry. We bought small bug screen material at Lowes and ordered zippers and all weather fabric at sailrite.com. Neodymium Magnets were available at Amazon. We used the Rolef design as inspiration (as seen on Fit RV, Far Out Ride, etc.) The roughly 10-12 bar magnets are sewn in with rigid fiberglass rod spacers in between. On the vehicle side, a 6’ steel threaded rod (cut to size) is sewn in to complete the magnetic closure.

Complicating the design, and we wouldn’t do this for 2.0, is a design that allows the screen to be closed but the table/water access port to be accessible with the screens closed. Next time, we’d just go with a single roll-up panel.

Tools needed: standard sewing machine, upholstery/leather needles, medium duty nylon thread, plastic drop cloth for template, stick-on and sew-in hook and loop tape, self attaching hook and loop tape (hook on one side/loop on other). Total cost: just under $100, but many hours of work.

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Weight Watchers

We’re just over one week from heading out on our Really Awesome Tour of the Great American West (RATGAW), so we’ve got as much build done as we’re going to do, weight wise. For now. So off to the CAT scales we went today, to see how we’re doing and how much of our crap we can stuff in there. We bought a 350 Transit, so with a 9500 lb Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), I was hoping for good news. We had about 10 gallons of fresh water in the tank and a few items, so subtracted out that would put us at about 7600, with a OCCC (Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity) of 1,900 lbs. I’m happy with that. Yay!

The Big Scary Project

We bought a fancy German diesel powered heater made by WEBASTO. It works! Now to finish the installation. Here’s an update with under-the-van photos.

1. The unit is mounted underneath the van just behind the axle. There is plenty of space for installation.

2. There are advantages and drawbacks to outside and inside installation. For outside, 3 large holes have to be cut in the van. One is 100mm for air return (includes the water lines going through the air intake) and the other two are about 90mm (3 1/2”) and are for heated air coming into the vehicle.

3. We have installed a small fuel tank under the van with a quick disconnect from the mount so we can just reach under to fill it up. This is not the permanent solution but it’s going to be the plan for our upcoming BIG TRIP TO THE GREAT AMERICAN WEST that’s about 2 weeks away.

4. The ductwork is a combination of 3” semi rigid metal ducting and a 1m piece of Webasto 80mm ducting going to two registers in the cabin. The holes through the van were sealed with red high temp silicon. It’s near the exhaust, as you can see, so I’m a little nervous about CO seepage. I’m going to check the seals carefully and probably install a second CO monitor down in the duct space.

Another thing we had to do was reduce our water pressure because the Webasto limit is 2.5 bar (27PSI). We bought a pressure meter and were able to adjust a screw on our Shurflo 4008.

We’ve tested the unit and it works, and this project is finally drawing to a close. It’s pretty complicated and there are almost zero examples on the net of other van builders doing this DIY. The install manuals are available in multiple languages at Butler Technik. The quality of the kit and parts included is very high. It seems to have worked out for us, but I have to admit I was pretty nervous. Not for the faint of heart for DIY.

Escape

Our cargo Transit has a very low rear cargo Door
Opener, and with our platform bed we can’t reach it. I think it’s important to be able to have a rear emergency exit, so I fabricated an extension.
I pulled off the lower door panel, carefully removed the water barrier enough to put a bolt through the latch. I then bolted on a block with steel rod attached. The rod was bent to conform to vehicle curves. An eye bolt is attached with a piece of pen pipe to act as a guide for the steel rod. Then capped it with a golf ball as a release knob. Now it hides behind the mattress, invisible but quickly accessible. Note: this doesn’t work unless the vehicle is unlocked. I suppose we will keep a spare key back there.

Cellular Booster

In thinking about communications enhancements for our off-the-grid (but connected) needs, we thought about cell phone boosters, wifi extenders, and HF radio. For what we plan to do, we think extending our cell phone range is #1. The Wilson WeBoost systems get great reviews, but are pricey, at about $500. So I found a used system for for about 40% off that was essentially new but missing the coax cable the connects the antenna to the main unit. For $11 we fixed that problem. Then to the installation.

The system consists of an outside antenna that goes on top of the van, a main unit that requires a power supply, and an indoor antenna that your cell actually connects through.

The antenna comes with a bracket and a couple of U Bolts. We had a convenient mounting place on the awning brackets, so the U bolts were unnecessary. Modifying the holes in the brackets and it mounted nicely.

Next, the coax went through an existing van through hole and we used the supplied cap as an entry point and secured the coax on the roof and the entry point with silicone outdoor sealant and RV repair tape.

The antenna requires a ground plane, and since the roof is metal it is sufficient. However, since the bracket was not connected electrically to the ground chassis through the awning (tested with a multimeter) I added a ground wire (red wire) to help protect the system from damage through surges, static discharge, etc.

Inside, the main unit went into the equipment cabinet under the bench.

The unit draws about 12W when running, so I connected it to the small switch panel under the bench so we can switch it off when we don’t need it.

It’s hard to get a measurement of improvement, unfortunately, since my cell phone does not display signal level. But I get no signal here without it, and when it’s on I at least can make calls, but no data.

Booster mounted on awning. Not exactly stealth, but it’s not terribly massive, either.

Test Camp

With an abundance of great campsites very close to home we headed up to Mt. Pisgah Campground, a mere 20 mile drive from home. We should have checked. Opens May 17. Altitude does make a difference, I guess. So we settled for the even close Lake Powhatan Campground, which is even closer to home.

A stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway

This campground gets very busy but since it’s early in the season and a weekday we were able to secure a campsite and get a nice spot for only $11, thanks to our Golden Pass. I used the TRUMA app on my phone to gauge leveling needs. Backing onto our leveling blocks, we were all set to chill within minutes.

This was a first test with some of the new systems we installed last fall, mainly the galley! We’re very happy with some of our design decisions. The induction cooktop works great!

The table does get in the way if people are getting in and out of the van and we’ve ordered a 2nd table mount to allow us to easily position it behind the bench. That will be installed soon.

Arwen was happy with the camping, but not happy with the ride. We need a way to secure her and keep her happy and safe.

Plenty of battery juice left to rustle up a hot breakfast.

After running the fridge, the fan all night, lights and the cooktop for two meals, we had run the battery down to 65%. But after the 20 minute drive home the dedicated Nations Starter alternator had charged it back to 76%. We’re very happy with our electrical system and I think it will be great for our plan of extended off-the-grid touring.

The dedicated alternator brought us from 65% to 76% charge in only 20 minutes of driving
Powhatan campground now offers glamping tents!

Re-use

We’ve decided to re-use some of the OEM cargo flooring for our camper build. Here, for garage wall installation. This photo is taken from the rear. with the bed platform support rail in place but disconnected. Automotive Thinsulate insulation goes in first, held in place with 3M 90 adhesive spray.

Then the wall panel, 1/4” Birch is fit and cut (with two PlusNuts installed at rear as attachment points. We decided to cover the plywood with remnants of the OEM Ford flooring, but first I had to clear it of the denim backing. If you’re lucky, a lot of it just pulls off, but a heat gun and scraper helps. The flooring panels are cut to size and attached with Gorilla glue. A backing of Reflectix radiant barrier is stapled onto the back in the areas where the van doesn’t touch metal.

Finally, we slide the panels into place from behind the bed rail and attached. A nice finished look, all done with remnants.