Camper van build update: Challenges of rebuilding a DIY interior. Plus our new van helps us get back to camping basics

We thought we would take a little break from travel related stories this week and get you caught up on progress that’s been happening with our new camper van interior rebuild.

If you are new to the blog and just joining us, welcome! We appreciate you spending time with us.

As you have read, we sold Elvis, our 2019 Thor Vegas 24.1 small class A motorhome, earlier this Spring and purchased a used 2019 Ford Transit T-250 148 wheelbase High Roof van from a private seller in eastern Iowa.

You can get all the details by reading our previous post here on our website, or by heading over to our fledgling YouTube channel to watch the video. Here’s the link:

Motorcycle carrier gone, camping comfort in

Although the basic “bones” of the van’s conversion is good, the floor plan was built around hauling two motocross dirt bikes inside the cargo area, along with riding equipment, supplies and a place to sleep between races.

The former owner used conversion parts from a reputable van conversion company, Adventure Wagon out of Portland Oregon, but did many things DIY. There were a few areas that had to be addressed and changed to make the space more suitable for our style of traveling and camping.

We knew when we bought the van that one of the interior’s “pinch points” for us was a large jump seat mounted in the middle of our future “living room” floor. The seat was removable but getting the heavy-duty floor mounts unbolted would be another story.

Let’s just say it cost $135 to have a Ford mechanic reach underneath the van and break free three big bolts. After the initial shock over the charge for labor and parts, we were consoled by the dealership that “…at least the mechanic didn’t have to drop the fuel tank to get at the bolts.”

The other “pinch point” of the interior was the bolted-in kitchen cabinet complete with sink and running water and storage tanks. The cabinet was so big, it only allowed 11-inches of open passageway to enter the van from the sliding side door.

A 16-gallon freshwater tank was mounted vertically within the cabinet and because of the height, would not allow the bed platform to lower down enough to let us old and out of shape people to easily climb up and into. So that had to be modified.

JK struggled for several days trying to reach and unbolt at least eight or nine bolts holding down the cabinet and water tank. It seemed the gentleman who did the DIY conversion built the kitchen cabinet and installed the plumbing to never, ever, EVER anticipated having to removed it. After much cussing, a lot of sawing and a couple skinned knuckles, the cabinet broke free from the van’s interior.

Time to redesign

With a clean slate inside, it was time to redesign the inside living area yet try and use as much of the salvaged materials as possible.

We took measurements, made design sketches, taped outlines on the van floor to try and fit the bare necessities into our van. It was at this point we realized just how small the interior space is. Add to the equation two large dogs and two big people and the tiny space would fill-up even faster.

We have to give people who design and build camper vans for a living credit. We learned a valuable lesson: It might fit on paper, but it ain’t going to fit in the van! We also discovered another van designing rule: Think inches and not feet!

The previous owner built a long narrow box on the driver’s side floor that contains the twin lithium batteries and a maze of related wiring and electrical equipment to supply the van’s needs for lights and power.

The problem is the box takes up a lot the real estate in the living room. We considered having it moved to under the bed but resigned to the fact it would be very cost prohibitive to relocate that power system to gain a few inches. So, we have had to work around it.

Once we had a clean slate on the inside, the rebuild began

We have been working on getting the kitchen cabinet and additional storage solutions built and installed. What building materials and hardware we couldn’t source locally, we ordered online. Happily, shipping times were very quick.

We are adding more overhead storage compartments, some ordered, and some custom fitted and built by JK in our garage.

We did some repainting inside to freshen and brighten up the dark walls. Some cool wall decor to bring in the outdoors camping vibe without being kitschy are ready. Leftover residential plank flooring has replaced the rubber mat on the van floor to help with a homier feel. We will use some comforters, blankets, and pillows from our old RV to make the bed comfortable and inviting.

We have a slide out chest freezer/refrigerator, and a custom-built enclosure with slide out toilet. Under the bed (commonly referred to by vanners as the “garage”) provides ample cargo box storage for camping gear, cooking supplies and racks to hold our portable water containers.

The only real luxury we are planning on add will be a 12V rooftop air conditioner.

The only real luxury we are planning on add will be a 12V rooftop air conditioner. This will help keep the dogs and us comfortable during the hot summer months. All our interior lights and electric outlets are powered by the Lithium batteries.

We can plug into “shore power” to source electricity and recharge the batteries. We are able to go “off grid” and don’t have to stay at campgrounds or RV parks. Our van is wired for solar power, but we do not have panels installed on the roof yet.

Back to our camping roots

The main reason for getting a small van was to return to our camping roots. Our first camping trip together was up in the Sierra Mountains of California.

We loaded JK’s old K-5 Blazer 4×4 with a tent, sleeping bags, Coleman stove, a lantern, a cooler full of ice and food and some firewood. We had the time of our lives that weekend.

We both realize our RV camping lifestyle had started to get a little out of hand. We had so many creature comforts in the motorhome, we seldom ever went outside to enjoy nature and the places we camped at. We didn’t need to go outside. We could cook, sleep, take a shower, go to the bathroom, play games, read, or lounge within the air-conditioned all from the comfort of the RV.

Because of the storage capacity of the RV we packed clothes and food for a month, even if just heading down the road for a weekend at a county park. Anything anyone could ever need or want we carried. Much of the stuff was never unpacked or used, but we had it “just in case!”

Of course, some of you are saying to yourself, “Ahh yah! Now that’s my kind of camping!”

RV campers have a need to not be without

We are all used to having all the creature comforts and all the gadgets and gizmos we want. RVs today have residential size refrigerator and freezers, full-size showers with massaging shower heads, four burner cooktops with ovens and microwaves, walk-around full queen bed and multiple televisions and remote-controlled fake fireplaces!

At camp we set-up the smoker and the Blackstone griddle. We pull out the corn hole game boards, the zero-gravity recliners, the dog playpen enclosure, the cute camping signs (Camping Hair, Don’t Care), flowerpots with real flowers and we string up happy camper chili pepper party lights.

When does it end? With our last motorhome, we were closely approaching this magnitude as well. It was the “We have room in the lower storage bay, let’s take it,” mindset.

If that’s what’s really necessary to do just to have a relaxing weekend camping trip, we are all missing the boat here. It’s no wonder we are all exhausted Monday morning heading back to the office.

If we honestly look at it, we aren’t sure if we were ever comfortable doing the mass paved RV site, stare at the other RV’s bedroom slide out from five feet away type of camping. Something always was missing. And no, it wasn’t the inflatable hot tub!

Opening our eyes to a new way of camping

The whole #vanlife and #truckcamping movement has opened our eyes and shown us very clearly, we can have a great time, with less worries, less hassles and lots less work by going back to the basics of camping. You might say we are the get away from the crowd kind of campers.

Our new van has all we hope to need while out on the road camping and exploring.

We’ll have a good-size bed, a chest freezer/refrigerator, a porta-potty, and a kitchen counter to place a small gas camp stove. We have several methods of making coffee, which is very important to any camper.

Looks like we are ready camp and have fun, get a good night’s rest, and have a minimal impact on the environment.

Plus, the great part is when it’s time to leave our campsite, we toss our camping chairs and folding table into the “garage” under our bed secure any loose items inside and we are ready to go on our next adventure!

Now that the warmer camping months are just about here for us in the Midwest, we plan on seeing our activities increase. Summer is a busy time of year for our professions as well. With a health number of posts in the hopper, we have a pretty good start to our new blogging venture.

With that said, new postings to our blog with drop down to twice a month starting with this post.

We’ll continue to keep you updated on our van’s progress and all our exciting travels in the camper van through all our social media outlets, so watch for updates and new videos!

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