Van Conversion with New Ideas

Each time I travel with my RAM Promaster 1500 low roof van, I seem to think of new ideas or projects. If you missed my earlier blogs about my converting this cargo van to a travel van, click here.

Two easy things to do…

One of my easiest ideas: purchasing 2 YETI Hopper Flip 8 Soft Coolers. I store what I plan to eat within the next day or so in one cooler. It sits on one of my sliding drawers in the back of the van. Remember the day of installing the sliding drawers? Here’s that van conversion work at this link. The other cooler holds food I plan to eat in a few days. It sits in the interior of the van. As a result, everything stays cold longer. The big plus is not needing to buy ice so often! With both coolers I have a foil piece on the inside cover of the cooler (those you receive perishables in from some companies). I like the foil also to separate some items I do not need on ice, but still to be kept cool.

Cooler with foil piece

The other ridiculously easy idea was to dry sweaty stuff. I do have a clothesline along my bed’s edge and I can string another line from one part of the interior roof to another. But the small items like bike gloves and socks were always falling off the clothesline, until I realized another idea! I flipped my small camp chair over and hung items there. Perfect!

Small stuff dry here!

Other ideas combine here….

My travel van has no additional heat, air conditioning or electrical outlet and all of that is okay. I refer to my van as a “glorified tent” because my sleeping area is above where my bicycle is mounted and no tent could accomplish that. You may remember my sleeping area is screened in. If not, check this link.

I began to think about charging my portable power station: a Goal Zero Yeti 150 while at a campground since electrical hookup is available and I like to plug my electronics into it while out in the field. Yet I did not want to be carrying the 12 pound power station around just to charge it at the campground. Could I find a place to keep it in my van and still plug in at the campground?

I realized some nights are very warm in the van and I may even have hotter nights to come. How could I charge my Goal Zero and run a small fan to move the air across my sleeping area? After some thought and purchase of a fan, an electrical extension cord, and some small hooks, I had an idea. I would run the electrical cord under my bed, on the side of the van where most campgrounds have their electrical post, and connect with my Goal Zero. My power station will sit on the bench I built inside the van. The fan is velcro-ed to the wall of the van and plugged into my Goal Zero. My needs have been met!

Electrical cord along the side of van and blue bag holds the bulk of the cord.
The fan blows over the bed and its cord goes down to Goal Zero.

Do I have a trip coming up? Yes … on the road to northwest USA! Follow my travels here at or maybe I will see you down the road! Safe travels all!

Memories and Madness… What a Day!

While visiting family in New York State, I drove to the northern tip of Long Island, specifically Orient Point County Park. It’s been more than decade since visiting here. Driving past what once were duck and potato farms and large agricultural lands, now were vineyards, farms growing fruit and raising goats, numerous small businesses and certainly none of the usual fast food joints! My youngest sister and I had tasted Long Island wine at some beautifully located tasting rooms in the past, but never out this far on an island that is 118 miles long. 

I had an elementary school friend whose family owned another property in Greenport, located on the north shore, where the rocky terminal moraine ended its movement eons ago. My family and I grew up in Suffolk County on the south shore created by the sand from that terminal moraine glacial melt eons ago. The geologic history of the island is fascinating especially regarding glacial movement.

The Long Island Expressway is more than half the length of the island, 71 miles, and always feels like a racetrack! The speeding and traffic is a horrible combination and increases on weekends, thus I plan my travel during the week. Once off the expressway there are smaller roads to the island’s tip where people can ride the Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.

On this day I hoped to see some unique, or new to me, birds along the stony north shore looking out to Orient Point Lighthouse. The day was cool and sunny, slight wind, with birds off in the distance. I was carrying my tripod with my largest zoom lens about a half mile and trying to capture photos of the birds in the distance, but even with my binoculars I could not be sure of their identification. I would have to wait till looking at the photos when I returned back to our family home. That’ll be okay.

And then …

I had a long drive to return to my Mom’s home so I headed back with plans to stop at a supermarket. I plugged my phone’s cord into the USB  slot and the radio indicated “no media connected”. Then my new van’s back-up camera started working as I drove forward!! I could not drive forward and see this camera showing the road behind me at the same time … distracting! Very weird! After a short distance I pulled off the road, turned off the van, started again and had nothing at the radio. Fortunately I had a service appointment for an oil change the next day at a RAM dealership so I headed to that location while simultaneously handling a spurting nosebleed! WHAT!?! Now I really was crazed… it’s been years since ever having a nose bleed … yet with nose pinched with fingers on one hand and other hand on the steering wheel I continued down the road.

I arrived at the dealership, pulled straight in to a parking space, and explained to a service advisor they would be looking at more than an oil change the next day. I walked out to the parking lot now realizing I pulled into a parking space and wondered how I would safely back up the van with no back-up camera. What happened? Everything is working!!

What a day! Sigh…..

Next day I brought the van in for the oil change and the back-up camera and radio were still working! Okay, so that is good, except they will not be able to diagnose the problem because at the moment there is no problem! My solution has been to not turn the radio off. I will do so when finally home and deal with whatever happens then … closer to a RAM dealership … yet hope I have no major issue as I still need to drive west to get to my home.

The good news: I observed 3 new birds while at Orient Point County Park: great black-backed gull, long-tailed duck, and white-winged scoter with hopes I can eventually get better photos of each than the ones I have since I will be along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast, other side of the Long Island Sound, in the next week. But here are some of the birds:

Long-tailed duck
Double-crested cormorant and Great black-backed gull
Common loon

Retiree in Action: Part 8: Bench, Box & Van Work is Done!

How difficult can it be to build a box and call it a bench? Except, with this box I wanted a removable shelf, two lift tops and a way to secure items within the bench … and be strong enough for me to sit on it! Well, I did accomplish that!

Bench… done!

And another box … Ram Promaster vans have many places for water bottles, but lack storage space in the front area, thus I built a box … thank you mini Kreg pocket-hole jig … made that project easier!

Buy Kreg jig, not the mini, if you have a big project … lesson learned too late for me.

Small touches to add, but I am essentially done with this project! Kudos to the people who build out their van with refrigerator, stove, water system and other items to make their van a place to live in for months at a time! And kudos to those who do the conversion and have their final product looking professional! 

My work is done … not the prettiest, but will suffice for what I need … and I am proud to say, I did not make one hole in the van! Sixteen hundred dollars … due to the fact: I bought 2 ft. by 4 ft. pre-finished birch plywood for my bench and only one 4 x 8 ft plywood (which cost 3 times the price of a year ago). Also the 4 Aolisheng ball bearing lock-in drawer slides were costly, but I hope to enjoy their use! I do not have to many left-over pieces of wood, screws and nails. I am so happy I had bought an electric powered screw driver!

Where did the month go? For a 3 week and 5 day period of time, every day except for 2 days in that time, I put in 104 hours of work! This does not count the other hours I had been thinking, sketching, watching YouTube videos and at various stores to buy items, ask a million questions of those employees and buy other items on-line. 

With gratitude: I am so appreciative of my neighbor allowing me to borrow his power saw and he offered a few good ideas too. I am equally appreciative of my partner who delivered more than one lunch and snack to me during these weeks, helped me on my most awful day dealing with the sliding drawers, and provided insight when I needed it! 

Surprisingly, a few people did stop and ask what I was working on. I appreciated their positive comments. It also provided me time to talk about possible upcoming USA and Canada travels during the next 2 years. I am a world traveler who has put my international travel on hold for 2 more years with hopes the Covid virus will have died down around the world. Plus I wish for civility to return to humankind. There has been too much ugliness in attitudes and behaviors towards one another about a variety of issues and I just do not want to participate in any of it. Thus, solo travel right now is best for me to wander and see North America’s beautiful places, be outdoors and to follow the birds! Retirement is to be full of life while we are capable of doing what it is we wish to do. This year I enter another decade of my life and I want to live it. Never do I want regrets for not being active in the outdoors. Therefore, this year I will travel to meet others across our country, enjoy our national parks and monuments, bicycle some trails, visit birding hotspots and historical sites, and work on my sketching, writing and photography skills. I look forward to travel in Australia, Chile and Italy in 2024! Maybe I will see you on the road … stay healthy and happy and let me know when and where we can meet! Namaste.

Retiree in Action: Part 7: Sleeping in the Van … 

Was I feeling like an old person rolling out of my tent morning after morning? Maybe. The rolling part was easy; it was the getting up off the ground that seemed troublesome some mornings as I would mutter and ask myself “am I getting old?”.

With the van I decided a priority would be a mattress a few feet above the ground … even if it was just a foam memory mattress topper with my ensolite and Thermarest sleeping pads underneath; yes the same ones I use when tenting. So, I cut a full mattress topper to 43 inches width and kept the 75 inch length. I am high off the ground due to my bicycle stored underneath, thus less head space, so cannot comfortably sit up bed, but can scrunch enough to read a book in bed. 

I equate this “capsule” to the Japanese pod hotels at their airports where one can catch a quick night’s sleep. I will have a good night’s sleep, roll off the mattress to the floor and be on my way in the morning! (Remember I have the luggable loo to step down on, if I need it.) 

I even built a small shelf for a container to hold night time needs … headlamp, alpaca socks and other night stand items. I must admit, this van conversion is more than a “glorified tent”! 

For air flow in the van, I purchased air vents for the front 2 windows. No doubt there may be times I need more airflow so I also purchased a small fan to plug into my GoalZero. But the best air flow will be when the sliding door of the van or the back doors are open! Creating screens became a necessity as I decided to not use one product where you remove the van’s weather-stripping to install the screen and then put the weather stripping back on. Way to dicey for me to consider that option. Another company discontinued their manufacture of screens so I was left with my own creation for the rear of the van and am awaiting a purchase of the sliding door screen!

Nightstand blue box!
No screen below for easy access to items. When buggy the screen will be added.
Fiberglass mesh screen is staying in place by the mattress. Area below will be screened when needed.
Looking to the mattress from the inside … hop up via the loo!

Retiree in Action: Part 6: Sliding Drawers … My Van Project Nightmare!

Will I survive this van conversion! Why did I have this bright idea of installing sliding drawers rather than simple built-in shelves? What was I thinking?

Most of my camping gear is stored in milk crates. One with backpacker stove, fuel, pots and pans on one side and paper towels, dish towels, etc on the other side. Another milk crate with cans or envelopes of food, coffee, tea bags, water bottles, etc. On 2 of the 3 drawers I plan to have a small Yeti cooler and 2.5 gallon water jug. The third drawer is a table top … another bright idea of mine … in case I want to have a table off the end of the van. Not having a tailgate as I did with the Honda Element I thought this would be helpful. Time will tell.

I did purchase a mini Kreg pocket hole jig and took time to figure it out. My thought was I needed stronger drawer joints since weighted items will be in the drawers. Pretty cool tool once you get the hang of it! (It would have been helpful to have this tool earlier in the project; oh well!)

I thought I was almost done with the drawer slider set-up when the top 2 drawers were done. They were not pretty but did work. Unfortunately when I installed the third drawer the top two were no longer in their track! Damn! Honestly I cried … so much hard work had gone into this entire project; I was not ready for any problem right now! I was tired of the work and wanted to be in nature for hours, not here looking at my crappy woodwork!

Do I know my error? Yes. In saving on wood weight I decided not to build a complete box which would have made everything square. Fortunately the next day when I was to solve the issue for the top 2 drawers it was raining here in Arizona … perfect time to work on my taxes and other computer work. Plus not looking at any of the van work needing to be done was a nice break in the action!

The next day I had to face reality and figure out how to get the top two drawers to work within their tracks. Fortunately my partner offered additional hand-holding of shims, etc so we could figure a way to have it all work. Frustration continued when we would think we were done and another drawer would be off track! Four hours later all drawers were in! No one touched them as we decided “time for dinner”! Yup, dinner with glass of wine was well deserved! We do have our priorities! 

They are not pretty, but they do work!

Retiree in Action: Part 3: Van Work Forces Me to New Decisions!

I never thought any of this project would be easy! Already my mental gymnastics in deciding what to do next, how to do it, and what is best, has my brain flipping! My main support for each side of the bed frame is a 2 inch by 4 inch by 43 inch board bolted into the van frame. Because I want no new holes in the van, I stick my fingers into existing holes and simultaneously put a bolt and washer through wood and another washer on the inside part of  the hole …  and blindly feel where I can put a lock washer and finally screw a nut on to hold it all together! I only have to do this eight times! Here is why people doing these constructions are creating videos of their work … I no doubt would be more clear with my process if I did create a video, but that will not be happening! A peek of what it looks like. These photos show one bolt, the bed frame bolted in and with bed slats and some additional framing, and how I kept D-rings exposed for future use: 

Retiree in Action: Part 2: Work on the Cargo Van Begins!

My new Ram Dodge Promaster cargo van is an empty shell! What should I work on first, that is the question! Since this van has wall liners already installed and it will become my “glorified tent”, I am not going to insulate the van. If I am cold, I have my winter sleeping bag. If I am hot, I can sleep on the ground under the stars or in my tent, which I will always carry on my travels … I was a backpacker!

For starters, I removed a few plastic rivets from the side wall to eventually bolt the bed frame to the van, or so I hope! (I did not want to drill any holes into the van, but instead to use existing holes.) Never knew anything about rivets, but a local person suggested I use a plastic tool to remove the rivets and thus not damage the van’s wall liners. Worked perfectly!

With the lower wall liners off, I installed noise deadening material and also did some of the roof to finish the one box of Klimat I had purchased. The noise deadening material was not a necessity. The wall liners were good enough, but with them off why not add the noise deadening layer.

Halfway through the noise deadening installation and not appreciating the upper body workout, I took a break to shop for wood needed for next steps in this construction. My ACE neighborhood store did not have all the lumber I would need, so to the big box store I went! (Apparently with building materials supply chain issues, larger stores get building materials before our neighborhood stores.) Other items I ordered online.

I am taking this project in sections; steep learning curve ahead for me. I wanted to build a bed frame with appropriate support and high enough to fit my bicycle underneath. Can I get my fingers into the holes to bolt the frame to the van ? Can I figure a way to have the bicycle slide out enough for me to unlock the fork from the tray and then lift the bicycle off? How does one install drawer ball-bearing slides? With my reading of various material, You Tube videos, and brain I hope to determine all that is needed. And then to put it all into action to complete what I need!

This is a low roof van, thus I need the bed frame and bicycle work to be accurate. While I can stand in this low roof van, when it comes to me eventually sleeping on the bed there is little room for me to sit-up. Inches are important in the construction of the framing for the bed and bicycle. This van barely makes it in height into our garage; 3 inches to be exact. The 118 inch wheelbase is okay for the garage too and I can fit into parking spaces just as passenger cars. The width of the van is huge…80 inches…75 inches within inside walls… allowing one to sleep from side to side in the van …. Nice!