Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why do you want to live in a van? part 1

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

This is my rough guide to choosing a mobile lifestyle and what your options are.

First and foremost, ask yourself these questions Why you want to live/travel in a van? What part of this is appealing? What are the downsides? What are your needs/wants?

These questions need to be answered first because they dictate what type of van would be ideal for you. If you happen to be a retired couple wanting to visit state parks and need a queen size bed with full shower and TV then prepare to start your search with a traditional full size Motorhome. A full size motorhome comes with a different drivers license requirement, different and more expensive insurance, limitations to where you can park your motorhome as well as really bad mpg.

If the big bed, shower, and TV are not very important but you still want to travel around in comfort then consider a pull behind trailer like an Airstream or pop-up. Some have showers and toilets while smaller units do not. This option requires a tow vehicle capable of pulling the trailer as well as registering and insuring the trailer but has better access to locations across the states. Expect the tow vehicle mpg to drop due to the extra load, also extra maintenance due to increased stresses on the motor and other parts like brakes and tires.

At the basic end is car camping where you load up all your camping gear into the car and drive to a campground where you unload everything in the dark and try to sleep on the ground. As cheap as getting a tent, sleeping pad and bag, and a cooler. I have had fun doing car camping and also some hike in too. No shower, stove or toilet but the mpg is what you get when you drive daily and you already have one. I would recommend starting here to see if you actually like being outside, if not please leave my blog and go buy stuff at the mall and stimulate the economy so my stocks go up.

Finally we come to what is known as a conversion van and although technically the VW Westfalia is closer related to camper it fits in very well with the conversion van category because it really was a converted van. Conversion vans were made by most auto manufacturers at one point so if you have a brand preference then start searching. The defining characteristic of a conversion van is that it still looks like a regular van on the outside but contains the comforts of home in miniature scale but still has regular car insurance. Very few will have showers or toilets but all have water, cooking systems and relatively comfortable beds. Conversion vans can be taken anywhere, some come with 4x4 abilities so you could really venture into the wilderness and the best part is they have similar mpg to a regular midsize van and look the exact same.

What is so great about conversion vans if they do not have showers or toilets? the simple answer, Stealth. Park a 30ft motorhome or trailer in front of house or city street for a few days and someone will notice, put a normal looking van and it is easily ignored, even better if you advertise a generic business on the side like plumbing. However, having said that it is very important to maintain the exterior because appearances are very important, beat up and broken are noticeable but clean and shiny isn't.

Being able to live anywhere allows you to live near work or travel to a new job if you are unemployed or simply to stop paying the monthly housing expenses. Party too hard on friday night, sleep in your van right outside the club. :) If retired you get to stay with friends and family for longer periods without being an inconvenience or burden.

This is part 1, in the next part I will put the mods necessary to improve the Westfalia.

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7/21 weekend progress

A lot of stuff happened with the van but the photos say it all, everything I posted for my weekend goals were accomplished and then some. All panels in and primed, interior of new panels painted and soundproofed. AC leak sorted and also installed new foam to improve airflow. The new grey water tank arrived and I was able to put it in on Saturday, tires also arrived but I won't put them on till the van is fully loaded and ready to roll. The reason is that I need to get the front suspension realigned as it is wearing unevenly and pulling slightly. I want the van to be fully loaded so the alignment is set properly, if I did it with the van empty and then loaded it up the alignment would be incorrect.

Window tinting will happen this week and once that is done I can put the entire interior back together.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

7/21 weekend goals

I like posting my goals for the weekend, not only does it keep me focused but it also reminds me of things that I may have forgotten by the time the weekend arrives.

Last night I glued the passenger rear quarter panel in place. It was a bit of a mess at first but now I know what to expect and will do a better job with the kitchen panel. I want to bond the kitchen panel tonight and since Friday is my day off I will try to get the slider fitted and glued by Friday night but I also want to open up the upper cabinet to get to the AC unit and sort out the leak so that will happen during the day and Friday night I will glue the slider panel. On Saturday, I get to do the driver side rear quarter panel and start priming the new steel panels. Sunday will be a day of sanding/priming the outside and applying quitecoat soundproofing on the inside. I have some white appliance paint that I will use for the interior of the panels but outside I may use black, without my compressor and sprayer there is no way that this repair will look perfect so I think it would be better to use black and have it obvious. I will take care of it when I get back to Denver unless I happen to meet someone with a garage, paint sprayer, and compressor down here.

Ive been thinking about my stuff and there are quite a lot of items that need to go back to Denver. Since I don't know when I will be heading back there and I don't want all this stuff in my van I am very tempted by the idea of renting a small storage unit if I can't store some items at a friend's place.

Monday, July 18, 2011

New steel and I am Jesus

If you were a dog, what type/height of grass would you want to crap on?

The headlight project is complete, need to take a photo of the covers. This is the second set I made and they came out significantly better then the first set.

I gave up on trying to borrow a grinder and purchased one. Yes, I know that I just added one more item to get rid of but right now I needed it and my friends with grinders were too slow.
Sunday was spent in the garage grinding away at the bad panels. I was amazed at how thick the body filler was on some spots, stupid lazy "professionals". This is why I never want other people to do things for me. By mid day I had the kitchen side panel cut out and was test fitting the new panel. The fit is very good but I still had to do a bit of tweaking for it to sit properly. With that side looking good I switched to the slider door side rear arch. This side took a hard hit and it required a lot of grinding and hammering to get it into shape. The patch panel is trimmed and I need to do some more panel beating before I can fit the patch to the body. Next is the slider door, there are some spots that I need to hammer down but this side should go quickly as the patch panel fits over the damaged area easily. I think my panel glue arrived on saturday but I missed the fedex guy, if so I will try to get the kitchen panel bonded this week, then the slider side panels and then the kitchen side rear arch by the end of the weekend. If all that stuff happened by next sunday I would be in good shape for my move. The rest of the body work is paint stuff but at least I could reassemble the interior.

The trip to the a/c shop was regretful. Bunch of hacks, I wanted to do a leak test and all they did was use some soapy water on the fittings, ya this will work but I wanted the fancy uv test. I wanted a vacuum test to further my leak search but apparently "vacuum test" means to vent the remaining r12 to atmosphere, put a vacuum on the system, and then refill with r134a. Who trained these monkeys? Anyway, now I have r134a running through the system but, as expected, it works poorly. I never wanted the new refrigerant as it is being banned in europe. I wanted to either get r12 and keep everything the way it was or open the system up, clean out all parts and replace the drier and o-rings in preparation for redtek. Anyway, not all is bad, I discovered that the a/c unit has a drainage issue and I will need to drop the rear cabinet to sort it out as I can't have water dripping on my rear bed.

In other news: my neighbors think in Jesus. Some new people moved in below me and got to see me working on the headlight lenses on saturday, I showed them what I was doing and then went back to the garage. On sunday they met some of the group that I would hang out and bbq with, apparently there was a lot of talk about me and they came to the conclusion that if the world was ending, I was to be their leader. I guess being able to make fire and purify water has its advantages.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The one pot and pan plan

Thursday after work was spent on "The Purge". I found the box for the spice rack and have decided to eliminate the cooking set I have and stick with just one pot and one pan. The pot/pan I brought with me from CO and after thinking about what I eat/cook it became clear to me that the only reason I have a larger set of pots and pans is to cook larger amounts of food. I've never even used the saute pan. I will miss the glass pot tops though, it is so nice to see what is going on in the pot without disturbing the heating cycle.

This transition would be less stressful if the van was ready to go instead of a pile of parts. I ordered panel bonding glue and need to borrow a grinder to be able to replace the rusty/damaged panels. I wont have access to a compressor so I will have to finish them with rattle cans, maybe black paint, and wait till I get to CO to paint the final color. Once the panels are painted I can then reinstall everything and begin moving my stuff into the van. Tires are on order as well, once installed I need to have the suspension aligned.

I will be seeing an air conditioning shop on Saturday. My diagnostic on the system is that is just low because the radiator fan kicks on and the compressor clutch kicks in when you turn the system on which means that there is enough r12 still in there to keep the low pressure switch from keeping the system from turning on or the low pressure switch is broken and the system is empty. I've taken both front grills out as well as the cover for the evaporator so the techs can have full access to all fittings. I assume the day will start with a leak test with uv dye, if no leaks then Ill get to find out what R12 costs per oz. If it is crazy money then I will pursue the alternative refrigerant, redtek r12a. A lot of vanagon owners are using this with great results but all have done it themselves as shops wont put in the redtek stuff. If I do it then I need to get access to a compressor and the special manifold gauge setup for doing A/C work.

Normally I wouldn't bother with the A/C system because my plan is to be in cooler areas but I don't know how long I will be in Houston and right now it is hot.

A very interesting thought came to me while buying groceries today. My bill came out a bit higher then ususal, $45, normally it fluctuates between 30 and 45 so this didn't phase me, however, what did was the fact that my current monthly rent of 900 would cover 20 weeks worth of food and in the almost two year I have lived here I have spent the equivalent of 8.7 years of food

How may weeks of food would your monthly rent buy for you?

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Sweet Tea induced Hyperglycemia is the only way to get through a Thursday at work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The art of letting go

"The art of letting go is to have a goal that is so important that you will do anything to achieve it." ~Me

Hello everyone, I am back from vacation and ready to work even harder on the van. Got to see lots of friends and family, It was fun and I didn't want to leave. It is really depressing coming back to my apt and job

Some observations from my time at home:
Getting rid of stuff is hard. Really hard!!

Paperwork is easy to part with, like brochures from my college and old bills, etc..

Technology is somewhat easy to sort through, I found a really old laptop that I want to keep due to its ancientness but the other 4 laptops were in various stages of useless to broken so they can all go. I couldn't help thinking that I may need the transformers for some future project but shear willpower overcame this and allowed all to go to the recycle pile. The same goes for the broken dvd player I had kinda fixed. I should get rid of the console tv and digital tuner but my parents seem to think that there is a need for it.

Why are books so hard to part with? All my school books are packed away in the shed, I know I wont be looking at them but I don't know what to do with them.
School supplies is another sticky category of stuff; What will I do with half filled binders, empty folders, piles of pens, pencils and reams of lined paper?

Here is a good example of the American dream, I own 4 cars and a motorcycle. Thats right, 5 gas powered vehicles but only 3 work. A 1997 classic mini cooper, 1986 VW Westfalia, 1992 Lexus sc400, 1969 Triumph GT6+, and a 1972 suzuki t250 hustler R motorcycle. The Triumph is in pieces as it was my project car before I left CO and the suzuki needs a lot of help to get back on the road (I don't have a motorcycle license or the title to the bike). I will sell the Lexus soon but the mini is like an appendage and I would need to be in dire straits before selling it off. I want to finish restoring the Triumph since it is a cool car but I guess I could sell it once done. Maybe I can get the Suzuki titled and running and bring it with the van as an escape pod vehicle.
Ya that sounds like a good idea, plus I can rationalize getting a motorcycle license. Wait a minute...silly mind is playing tricks with me again. I should get rid of the bike and use a bicycle, that will save me all the maintenance, registration, gear etc.. expenses and reduce the weight in my van.

Long post that just rambles, Ill try and put up something more useful later this week.

Note: I have tagged all previous posts, apparently that is what bloggers do to make their stuff easier to find, who am I to argue with that.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Vacation

Currently on vacation, will be back on the 12th. posting should resume around then unless I find a large block of free time or I just have to write something.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tearing open the emotional heart

"The mind is an amazing thing; it has the ability to tie emotions to inanimate objects preventing us from letting go " ~Me

Last night I was working on “the purge” and came across the camera stuff box. This box contains all the boxes, packaging, brochures, receipts, and advertising that came with all my camera gear. Why was I saving this stuff? I sorted the useless plastic and paper but couldn’t get rid of the lens and flash box or receipts. Why was I unable to get rid of these boxes? It is just a piece of printed cardboard and I am not using it, my camera stuff lives in a pelican case (which is guaranteed to survive anything except for shark bites, bear attacks and damage caused by children under 5? What?? Apparently they are just as dangerous as sharks and bears??) Maybe it is because I have seen empty lens boxes for sale on ebay or maybe I like the idea of having the original boxes for my stuff. I don’t know. For now it sits with flash box and camera box and all the instruction manuals and CDs. At least it has been thinned down to one main box and two emotional empty boxes. The boxes will go into the maybe pile. 

Woodworking stuff was next, the box of books and magazines I purchased off craigslist will be returning to the market, while the collection contains a lot of useful information it is simply too bulky to keep.  I know I can sell the table saw and extra blade, no reason to keep this since it was cheap and can easily replaced with a better one. The home depot clamps were next, yes these can go despite being very useful for bending metal and repairing the door panels. I have a set of two Groz hand planes, a set of Groz squares, and Irwin marples chisels with wet sanding stones and misc stuff like glues/stains etc... All are very useful and nice, I worked over the planes to make them flat and sharp, same goes for the chisels which you could shave with. These are tough to let go of, I know I can make some cool stuff with them but if the idea is to be free then why keep them around? Maybe it is because they are expensive and useful for me but I have no plans to make anything out of wood for a while. This stuff is going into the maybe/storage pile. A new vacuum pump I got to do some plastic vacuum casting must go too.

Old Technology: ugh. Printer is gone, Matrix one and two are out and really only one kind of works but hard to get rid of because of their design and usefulness. A stack of old software, misc ac adapters and some random pci cardslot adapters are all going in the technology recycle bin.  I will use the old laptop bag to hold my external hard drives and accessories for my main laptop. A camera I found on the ground that kind of works is going away, same for the iphone 3g that a friend gave me after he went fishing with it in the bay. The stupid stereo I have in the garage will be the last to go since it kind of gives me some tunes while I am in there.  The vintage westclox dialite clock is going into the maybe pile, I really like the clock and it would go well anywhere but I don’t have a need for it. The never-fails-wood-grained GE Alarm clock can go. I will include the pachinko machines in the technology list. Two of them ill put in craigslist when I return from vacation but the other two I will try to get to friends, the sanyo is the nicest one I have come across so I would like to keep it and maybe I will swap it for a lesser one in storage in CO. 

Furniture: director chairs, three can go but the one lounge needs to back to CO. My awesome hand built table has to go, same with the end table and ikea chair.  I am glad that I don’t have any other furniture to deal with. The bed, base and headboard can go to my friend’s spare bedroom, although I had visions of sticking the bed into the back of the van but after looking at all my stuff it simply is too big and heavy to go in so I will need to get a topper pad to make the rear bed pad more comfortable. 

There is so much more stuff, the motor on the van will probably explode once I have it loaded up. I’ve got all my buffing equipment and automotive tools, the spare van parts, the bose stereo and accessories.  A pile of clothes, linens, towels, golf bag, laptop with accessories, camera case, kitchen supplies, food. 

Ugh, this is insane, ive got so much crap. I feel ill. How did I ever move down here in my lexus?