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.

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Asheville Van Life Rally 2018

We took a break from building and attended the incredible Asheville Van Life Rally. This was the first year it was hosted as an overnight (two nights) event. Dozens of van’s , trucks, tents, and various campers came and made this quite an amazing experience. We really want to send out a big thanks to Micah Pulleyn and the event team for putting on a great, well-organized rally. A big shout out, too, goes to the June Bug Retro Resort. What a lovely, hospitable spot.

We snuggled in with our buds and van conversion inspiration friends Tay and Vicki in their 2005 Sprinter that Tay converted. It even has a recording studio built inside.

We got settled fairly early but the place started to fill up. Everyone was great and eager to share experiences and ideas. Lora and I were particularly eager to see what we could learn from others and from a more extended off-the-grid camping experience. After all the work on the electrical system, I was really curious about how well our Lithium-based system would perform. So here’s the report:

We camped off the grid for 48 hours, running the fridge/freezer, lights, and occasional use of the water pump and 120V one time for cooking eggs in the Instapot. When we left today, we had 35% reserves. We drove 35 miles and the dedicated alternator brought us back to 55%. Then I plugged into an outdoor outlet with a 15A limit on charging current from the house. After 2 hours, we’re at 80%.

Some observations:

I’m VERY pleased at how quickly the alternator charges. If we were on an extended trip, we’d likely be able to camp off grid without solar or starting the engine to charge for about 2 days. But a short 35 mile trip boosts us up 20%. Impressive.

A couple of hundred watts of solar would gives us a bit of extra staying power on stays 2 nights or longer. We’re wired for solar, and have a controller already installed, so all we need to do is buy the panels. I’m leaning towards two rigid 100W panels that will not be attached to the van so we can move them into sunny spots while parking in the shade.

Our 100ft outdoor extension cord is specified to operate at 15A. It’s slightly warm but not hot. I left part of it coiled up and it’s predictably pretty warm. Probably ok, but I uncoiled it. It appears to be quite adequate for the load.

Plus, did I mention?…..Lots and lots of fun was had?

And with that, I’ll end the post with a pic of one of the many amazing people we met: Victoria, who has been living for the last three months in her Sprinter she beautifully converted herself.

First test camping trip

First test camp in the van. No galley yet, so Lora made Bison stew in the InstantPot. Yes, it consumes a lot of electricity. It took our charge down from 100% to 87%. After running the fan (a little bit in the afternoon( lights, and the fridge over night, we were down to 78%. But, with the amazing 2nd alternator that can charge Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries at a high rate, we were back to 95% after the 23 mile ride home. We’re feeling very good about the investment in the electrical system. Most of the other RVs in the campground were running generators a lot, which can be pretty noxious and obnoxious. Another benefit of our electrical design. No generator! Well, technically our generator is the 2nd alternator, and it’s doing a great job.

Spudgers and van doors

A day doesn’t go by that you don’t use a product where someone used a spudger. “A spudger (or sometimes spludger) is a tool that has a wide flat-head screwdriver-like end that extends as a wedge, used to separate pressure-fit plastic components without causing damage during separation. This is commonly used to replace broken cell phone screens and integrated batteries.” I had a couple of spudgers laying about to work on computers and other electronics, but today it was pressed into service for automotive purposes. The auto industry doesn’t use such a cool name. There, it’s called a ‘pry tool’, or ‘trim removal tool.” I’ll take Spudger. It would be a good pet name, too. “Here, Spudger!”

So, I needed the spudger, or pry tool, to remove the door panels in the cab. Fortunately, I found a video that explained where to pop off various panels, unscrew this and that, shift, pull and rotate in various directions before finally disconnecting things like door locks and power windows. And finally, without a door, I could do my thing with Thinsulate (TM) insulation. And while I’m at it, I may as well upgrade the speaker system, which I did. A speaker adapter from Impact Products in Oregon fit perfectly, and the Rockford Fosgate speakers (with a significantly larger driver) slipped right in. Of course, nothing fit the Ford speaker connectors, so I had to solder the speaker wires. I think my dad probably would have said “it’s not a project until the solder comes out.” About two hours per door, and now after 60 feet of 3M SM600L automotive Thinsulate (TM), we’re almost done and almost out of insulation.

Door, sans panel:

Big difference in speaker driver size!

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Ready for surgery

Solid Floor & Bed platforms

After setting up some attachment points for the plywood subfloor, we screwed it down yesterday and it felt very solid. We were able to get the panel’s (4 to span the almost 14 feet of van cargo area)to line up smoothly in prep for putting in flooring. We opted for two different flooring materials. A very nice Marmoleum for the forward living are and the original Ford material for the ‘garage’ space beneath the bed. I had to use a heat gun to get some of the denim. Insulation off the back of the floor. It was slow and a bit tedious, but fortunately most of it was not glued down and pulled right off.The denim was compresssed where the van metal floor ridges are, so it wouldn’t work to just leave it on. But sans denim it laid down nicely and hopefully will endure gear being tossed in there for years to come.

Then, Lora cut the bed platforms to size (seen above, a test cut). They are Radiata ply from Chile. Very nice plywood for a great price (Home Depot had it). It was actually pretty exciting to see that board plopped into position. Woot!

Humble Pie and a few steps forward

Nate, of the tropical storm kind, blew through and taught us a thing or two. Three inches of rain in 24 hours showed us that two of the three holes we’ve put in the van were not watertight. Window #2, a CR Laurence all-glass-look beauty that fits the OEM style was not a surprise because we didn’t like the way it mounted. Instead of the garden hose test we figured we’d wait and see. We saw…..water.

We realized that we had probably overtightened in places and caused other areas not to be able to be pulled in enough to cause the gasket to properly seal. Once we understood what was up, re-installing the window was easy and we made it through another weather system with a dry van.

The other problem was the ceiling fan. After adding the aluminum bars to reinforce it we neglected to seal the space between the bars and the fan flange. Our oversight was ridiculously stupid in retrospect, especially after assaulting the outer edges with an entire tube of DICOR sealant. Now it’s caulked. And dry.

And now we turn back to the floor and getting that finished. Until now we’ve had the layers of closed cell foam (XLPE) with 1/2” plywood as a subfloor, but we wanted to get it fixed. Drilling into the van to secure the floor is a non-starter. We’d thought about using the designated Ford tie-down locations to fashion some kind of way to hold the floor down, and we figured the cabinetry and equipment we’re going to install would do the rest. But we need to get the Marmoleum flooring down on a flat surface first. Finally, I stumbled across a marketing video by Pleasureway, a Canadian maker of van-based (Class B) RVs. They glue just a few strips of plywood to the van floor and screw the subfloor boards into the strips. Sounds good to us, so that’s next, when the SikaFlex 221 adhesive arrives. Some of the stuff we need we just can’t find locally.

And finally, the back windows. The aft section of the van will be for equipment, storage, and sleeping. Todd Miller of Screaming Hot Iron fabricated a bed platform for us. It sits 30” high. Lora will make two platforms and two custom made 76”X33” mattresses will top it off. Colton Mattress Factory is making the mattresses. Our design has the bedroom area essentially being an insulated area within an insulated van, so we wanted the windows to have insulation qualities. After being unable to get Euro style Dometic windows in the US, we found a similar window called Eurovision sold by Tern Overland in Arizona. They came in yesterday and they look great, complete with integrated blind and screens, and awning style tilt-out. Installation begins. The windows require a minimum 1” wall, so we’re having to fabricate an adapter for the thin van body.

Cutting bracing off in prep to install the window.