New Bumper / Re-caulked Roof

April 11, 2015 Categories Camper Van

Today was a pretty nice day out and I wanted to take advantage of the sunshine since it has been raining for the past few days, making it impossible to fix the She-Beast’s leaking roof or do much else. Some more of the packages for the conversion came in over the last couple days, mostly small stuff, and I’m hoping the bulk of the rest gets here in the next week or two.

First task of the day was installing a new front bumper, as the old one had a pretty gnarly dent in it and it’s a really easy thing to fix. There’s only eight 1/2″ bolts holding the bumper to the chassis and then another six bolts that hold some giant mounting bracket inside the bumper itself. There’s also around 10 metal clips that hold the bolts in place that I had to remove and insert onto the new bumper, followed by the giant mounting bracket, and then reinstalling the entire thing back onto the vehicle. Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, it was, but it still took me two hours to do it and allowed me to discover another thing I want to fix or get looked at. There seems to be a leak or something near the steering box. Anywho, I think the new bumper looks great and it no longer looks like I drove through a crowd of people.

My second task today was putting on new fender extension pieces, because both the driver and passenger side ones were broken. They’re relatively small, fiberglass pieces held on with two bolts, which happen to be annoying to remove because the door is in the way and I don’t have a ratcheting wrench. So, I removed the 2″ long bolts slowly but surely, a quarter turn at a time. At no point were they loose enough to turn by hand. The driver side piece is not fully on correctly right now, because the clip that holds the bottom tight won’t sit correctly in the sheet metal behind it. It’s something I’ll worry about a different day. Oh, and there’s a slight variation between the new pieces and the existing van color, but I don’t give a crap.

Finally, with the sun shining high, it was time to start tackling the leaky roof. Before I started on that, I wanted to determine the location(s) where water was entering. To do this, I removed the headliner to get a better look at everything. The headliner is falling apart and I plan to recover it, so this was something I had to do eventually anyway. With the headliner removed, I sat inside and had Mark spray the corner areas of the roof with a water hose until I saw water entering. This was not a necessary step, but I did it because I wanted to know for sure where it was that water was coming in. This way, after it was all re-caulked, I could ensure those spots were water tight.

Looking at the seam where the fiberglass top and original van roof meet, it was obvious to see that water would get in. Pretty much the entire seam had cracked caulking or gaps that had formed. Before laying in new caulking, I scrubbed the entire seam area to ensure the new caulk would have a good hold and not just be stuck to dirt. I also cleaned the rest of the fiberglass top to remove all the grime that had built up. Who knows when it was last washed. Here’s a picture to show how dirty it was.

Once everything was clean, I took the air compressor and sprayed down the entire seam to blast any water out and ensure the caulk would have a good hold. It took me a little while to work my way around the vehicle with the caulk gun. There are two joints around the top that had to be sealed. Once that was done, I let it sit for awhile and worked on some other projects. When I felt it was safe to get wet, I sprayed down the entire top with water, focusing on the areas I knew were letting in water before.

I’m happy to say that I no longer have water leaking down into the cab area. However, when spraying the rear doors, some water appears to have gotten through. I’m gonna try to pinpoint where tomorrow. I have a feeling it’s the weather stripping around the doors, but we’ll see.

I don’t want to start on the floor until I can stop any water from entering which is not supposed to. Especially since all the electrical components for my solar setup will most likely be sitting directly on the floor, under the bed frame. Last I checked, electricity and water don’t go well together and I’d prefer not to get electrocuted.

As a side task, I cleaned out the tons of leaves and dirt from the seam around the hood. I was amazed at how much crap was actually packed in there.

In the words of Porky Pig, Th-th-th-tha-tha-tha-that’s all, folks!

New Stereo

April 8, 2015 Categories Camper Van

Ok, I didn’t get the flooring started today, but I have a good reason and that reason is… umm… hey, look, a birdie!

I did, however, get the new stereo installed. The old AM/FM one was not gonna cut it. As I’ve said before, I almost exclusively listen to all of my music via a 32GB mini USB stick, so having a stereo with a USB port is a must for me. The only other feature that I “had” to have was the ability to connect a backup camera, which I still need to find one that I like. Stereo installs are pretty basic, so no fancy details today.

The stereo itself is actually really cool and I wish I had one like it in my other car. It has a lot of great features, which include: USB port, DVD player, “HD” radio, Bluetooth, hands free calling, Pandora, Sirius XM, video in (rear view camera), and video out. And I really love the visual, touch display. I’m greatly looking forward to getting a rear view camera and hooking that up so I can more easily back up the She-Beast’s badonkadonk.

While I had the dash ripped apart, I took the liberty of giving that area a more thorough cleaning. I even broke out the Q-Tips and cleaned all the little slots in the vents. I’ll tell ya, it was all pretty nasty and definitely needed a good scruba-dub-dub. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a rubber ducky so it wasn’t as fun as it could have been.

Unrelated to the stereo, I did some running around today snapping up “deals” off craigslist. I want a rustic, yet simultaneously modern feel to the interior and part of the rustic look I want is to use reclaimed wood. I want scratches. I want dings. I want imperfections. I stumbled across an ad for some old silo doors; they’re more like hatches, really. They’re roughly two feet squares and I bought up seven of them. I plan on trimming them down just a tad and lining up a couple together to use as my counter top for my sink and stove. I might rip apart the others and use the wood to build the rest of the cabinet, otherwise I’ll use them for something else. Here are some pics; they’re a little wet right now, but they’ll look a lot better once they dry out.

One of the other really cool finds I came across was a set of long, metal drawers for use in a truck bed or cargo van to haul around tools or whatnot. Even though I have a “massive” 66 square feet of living space, I have a feeling storage space will be at a premium and I’m trying to plan ahead now to save hassle later. I think these drawers will work great in the back of the van, which will mostly be covered by the bed anyway.

They look pretty bland right now and definitely need to be scrubbed down. I plan on giving them a coat of black paint, which I’ve already bought, and then lining the bottom of each drawer with that rubber or foam kitchen cabinet mats. Each drawer is 12″ wide and the entire unit is 57″ long. They’ll be great for storing muddy shoes, camping chairs, jumper cables, tools, all sorts of things.

The only other thing I did today was email a couple people who had ads to sell used barn wood. I think some reclaimed wood would look perfect lining the walls and will really capture the essence I’m trying to achieve. It’s also just cool to give new life and a new purpose to something that has been around for longer than I have. Once this sunny weekend gets here, I’m gonna try to pick up around 250-300 feet of it.

Tomorrow is supposed to storm all day and I know I won’t be getting any work done on the van. I’m gonna go out and take more exact measurements and start making some layouts so I can figure out where I want everything and possibly start designing the furniture. I have rough ideas, but I need to figure out the logistics and mechanics to get it done, as well as what materials I’ll need to purchase.

Eight Punches (and a New Grill)

April 7, 2015 Categories Camper Van

I decided to start today by heading to Home Depot to find some possible flooring material that fits the look I want to achieve on the interior of the She-Beast (van). It rained last night, so the day was already off to a less than desirable start. I headed out to the van, opened the door, and before doing anything else, I noticed a puddle on the floor right in front of the driver’s seat that was big enough you could probably throw a goldfish into (not a live one, but definitely the cracker kind). I looked up and noticed that the corner of the roof was dripping (which explains some of the headliner damage). The seal around the high top and the roof appears to be a little worn and is letting water in (that’s what I hope it is, at least). So it looks like I’ll be re-sealing the entire top, just to ensure it is water tight.

So with the morning just beginning and already haven been given two punches to the gut (the rain and the leak), I decided to fix it later and head off to Home Depot because I really wanted to get started on the flooring. I turned the wipers on to clear the rain off the windshield and noticed the blades aren’t really wiping much rain away. They’re old, worn out, and pretty much useless. Punch number three. But it’s ok! I could see well enough to make it to Home Depot and the rain was only a sprinkle at that moment, despite the sky screaming “Get out of my house!” Then, punch four! The driver side wiper blade stops moving, then starts again, then gets jammed under the passenger side blade and somehow folds itself in half. So much for driving in the rain.

I ditched the idea of taking the van and decided to take my car instead. I thought to myself “maybe if it clears up later, I’ll go back to Home Depot with the van to get the plywood I need,” as that was the only reason I was gonna take the van in the first place. I got to Home Depot and headed to the flooring section. Linoleum was my first choice because it’s cheap and I like the idea of having one, giant waterproof sheet covering the entire floor. However, I have a particular look and feel I want to achieve on the interior and the linoleum just wasn’t gonna cut it. The design patterns just didn’t appeal to me. On to the laminate wood section! For the most part, I thought the selection was crap and it all looked too “manufactured” (can you sense the irony here?).

Then I noticed the bamboo flooring. BINGO! We have a winner. It’s called “Strand Woven Distressed Dark Honey.” The boards are not too dark, but not light either, and the edges are blackened making the borders really vibrant and when connected together makes each board really stand out. These are the pictures from their website. Honestly, the pictures don’t do it justice. It looks significantly more appealing in person.

Now the only problem – there were no boxes on the shelf. That’s ok, maybe they had some hidden somewhere or I could just special order it. I kid you not, it took me 20 minutes to get someone to come over to the flooring department. Apparently there were only two people there who could help in flooring and they were both off doing non-flooring related things. After finally getting someone to help, I quickly learned that the earliest I could even get the flooring would be June 1st. That’s two whole months away! Punch number five.

I decided to look around at some other stores and maybe, hopefully, I can find something that looks like that bamboo flooring or at least find some other design that appeals to me. Next stop, Menards! I head to their flooring section and it doesn’t take very long for me to find a design I like, available in both light and dark variations. And it’s in stock!¬†Sweet sugar snake bite! It’s called “Rustic Allure” and looks like something you’d see on an old, beaten up barn floor. Here are the pictures of both styles.

The only problem was that I was still so hooked on the appearance of that bamboo flooring. I loved how the borders stood out so much. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I decided to keep looking around and maybe the Home Depots in other towns would have it in stock. I wanted to go to Best Buy to find a stereo anyway, so I headed off to East Towne Mall in Madison where there’s a Home Depot across the street.

I get to Best Buy and started playing with a couple different stereos that had a video display screen, as I want to hook a backup camera into it so I can see what’s behind me when reversing in the She-Beast. I really liked one model in particular, because the menu design was more appealing to me, it had two USB ports instead of one, and it only cost $10 more than the other one. I was set. I wanted it. Dear Mr. Best Buy person, I need some assistance, please. What’s that? You don’t have it in stock? Punch numero six! On the plus side, he told me that the West Towne Mall had it, all I had to do was drive across the city to get it. I stared at the other stereo for a good couple minutes, deciding if I should just get it instead. I convinced myself that I had already driven part way across the state, what’s another 25 minutes gonna hurt? West Towne Mall, here I come… but not before stopping across the street at Home Depot.

I was pretty much in and out. Went to flooring, found the one I wanted, nothing on the shelf. Punch seven. Though, it was a light punch… like fighting a baby with a learning disability.

I get to Best Buy on the other side of the city only to find that the model I was told was in stock there wasn’t even on display. Great. El punch-o ocho (my Spanish-o is muy excellent-o). And I had no way of referencing the item number because I didn’t take a picture of the one at the other store, I just assumed it would be on display at both stores. Screw it. I wanted a win and decided to get the slightly less cool stereo. It had all the main features I wanted, the menu wasn’t that bad, and I could deal with only having one USB port. I bought it, as well as the dash install kit, and a USB extension cable so that I’ll be able to access the rear USB port without having to remove the entire stereo from the dash (I listen to music almost exclusively from a 32GB micro USB stick).

Since I had already driven to West Towne, I decided to make a pit stop at REI to get a new 3L water bladder, as I gave mine away while on the Appalachian Trail. I had just over $34 from my yearly REI dividend to use up and REI was also having a 20% off one item for members, so I got a new water bladder for under $30 and then they paid me the remaining $4 and some change that I had left. WIN! Free stuff and money? This is why REI is awesome.

As I headed back home, I came to the conclusion that it was unlikely I’d find something similar to that bamboo wood design and there was no way I was gonna wait two entire months to start working on the van, so I stopped back at Menards and got three boxes (90 sq ft) of the dark Rustic Allure as well as some Reflectix foil insulation, a moisture/vapor barrier, and a roll of underlayment. As wide as the laminate boards are, I don’t think I need to install a subfloor. Each board is gonna have three or four of the sheet metal “ridges” underneath it for support, as well as the Reflectix and underlayment. I also plan on filling the gaps between the ridges with additional Reflectix, so I think it should be a solid enough base to build upon, which is great because I won’t have to spend money on sheets of plywood now.

By the time I got home, it was too late to do much. I didn’t get to start on the flooring today like I wanted to, but I did manage to finish the installation of the new grill. The old one was bent, cracked, and pretty worn down. There’s not much to the installation; four screws and some clips hold it in place, plus removing the turn signals and parking lights. I ordered new clips for everything, but since those parts haven’t arrived yet I popped the old ones out and reused them. They’ll do for now (granted, most of them are missing). I think it looks a lot better and once the new front bumper comes in, it won’t look like I ran someone over anymore. Here is a photograph for your viewing pleasure.

Tomorrow I’m gonna for real, almost certainly, probably, hopefully, maybe gonna start installing the flooring. Really.

Ok, Maybe.

I Bought a Van

April 6, 2015 Categories Camper Van

Yep, I bought a van. After searching online periodically for the past four months, I finally came across a van that fulfilled my basic desires for features: a high top roof, extended cargo area, not rusted up, and windowless paneled sides. It doesn’t have a sliding side door, which I would have preferred, but for $2,800 I don’t think I could have found anything better any time soon. I took a chance and went for it. The only catch was the van was in California… and I was over 2,000 miles away in Wisconsin. After seeing many pictures and talking to the previous owner, I felt assured that the van was mechanically well enough and merely had some cosmetic things wrong that don’t really bother me.

I shelled out some cash for a (one way) plane ticket and headed to the airport last Thursday, arriving in Los Angeles just before 3pm. After a 40 minute cab ride and $100 less in my wallet, I was finally there. The van pretty much looked as I expected, since I had already seen several pictures. After a quick test drive, I bought the van and headed to the nearest Walmart.

The cab area was pretty dirty and had a bunch of garbage in it so I wanted to get it cleaned up a little. Also, being a very long, windowless van, it was quite difficult (impossible) to see anyone in the blind spots. Being that I had to drive 2,000 miles to get the van home, I felt this was something I needed to address immediately. I bought some cheap, stick-on blind spot mirrors and they are just fantastic. They really made the drive home a lot easier. I also bought some cleaner and paper towels to give the cab area a quick once-over because it was fairly grimy and the trash was driving me insane.

Once everything was all cleaned up, I hit the road. Oh, did I forget to mention that the registration wasn’t even valid on it? Yeah, it had expired last year and I guess the guy just never renewed it. So, I was in a hurry to at least get out of California where I felt it was more likely law enforcement would notice the incorrect, color-coded year sticker on the license plate and possibly pull me over. I drove a couple hundred miles that night until I hit Nevada. I followed that with three more days of driving 600 miles each day, all the while listening to random country or oldies stations, or sometimes just static, because the van only has an AM/FM radio (for now). It was a very long drive, especially without cruise control.

By the way, North-Eastern Colorado sucks more than driving across West Texas. It was the most barren, boring, windy disaster of a place that I have ever been (and I’ve driven in 47 states). At least West Texas has tumble weeds! I was so glad to get to Nebraska and see the occasional tree. You heard me right, Nebraska was “exciting” compared to North-Eastern Colorado. That should say a lot.

Anywho, I got back last night and started ordering most of the major things I’m gonna need to turn this van she-beast into a manly-man cabin on wheels. The cargo area of the van was previously retro-fitted with plywood walls and some cabinets, along with a sweet zebra pattern carpet, and a divider wall to separate the cargo area from the cab area. Since I wanted to start with a blank slate, I spent today gutting all the old junk out and returning the van to a fresh, workable area that I can build upon.

Here are some pictures for your enjoyment, Internet. We’ll start with the exterior appearance. You can see some of the dents, specifically on the passenger side. I may or may not get it fixed. All the doors function, so I don’t really care too much.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of those beauty marks. Looks rough, doesn’t it? Maybe I can buff it out…

Ok, beauty is on the inside, right? Let’s take a look at the cargo area, a.k.a. my future living quarters. I didn’t take pics before I gutted it, but I wish I did so you can see how different (better) it looks already. In some of the pics, you can see the massive pile of wood and other junk which is everything I ripped out earlier today. The cargo area is about 11 ft long, 6 ft wide, and because of the high top roof, roughly 6’5″ tall. In other words, it’s massive for a van and will provide for plenty of space to do what I want.

The cab area has been used and abused about as much as you’d expect from a stripper who is only allowed to perform the early afternoon shows. The door panels are cracked and beat up, the headliner is falling down, the seats are tore up, the floor isn’t too bad, and the dash is fine. Ignore the bird poop. This morning, a bird decided to trap itself in there and made a mess everywhere.

And last, but not least, the engine bay. I won’t comment too much, but someone has done some redneck mechanic work here. Luckily, the engine runs fine, no weird noises, and the belt and hoses look fine. Other than the duct tape, the missing washer fluid cap, the washer fluid pump line being broken, and a slightly dented radiator, everything seems to be functioning as expected. I have a little bit of concern over some buildup on the oil dipstick, but we’ll see if that turns out to be an issue later. I’m for sure taking it to a shop to have all the fluids changed out since I don’t know how long everything has been in there.

There are a few other odds and ends I’ve noticed that bother me, but only because I’m bat-shit-crazy about small details. Like, the screw in one of the parking light covers is the wrong type of screw. The license plate screws are mismatched on both license plate mounts. There are some tiny clips and things that are missing. The dome light doesn’t work. The turn signals both work, but only one emergency flasher flashes. Stuff like that. Easy to fix, but annoying all the same.

So there it is, my new project: The She-Beast. I’m gonna post updates as I progress with the construction. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be installing the flooring, assuming Home Depot has what I want (I have a specific design aspect in mind). I’d like to have this project done within a couple months so I can take advantage of the summer weather and hit the road for some adventures.