Monday, June 24, 2013

Regrouping and Rebuilding "My McVansion" - Moving Forward

Last September (2012) was the commencement of building in the living accommodations in "My McVansion." I began building in my '94 Ford E150, high-top conversion van. I got just so far then I decided to spend time living with the basic plan I had put together. After several months I determined I wasn't happy with the original plan, so I had some hauling to do and that gave me a good reason to strip it out and start from scratch.

This weekend was the appointed time. Of course, I appointed the time. All my hauling is complete. I removed some remaining steel plates and anchors on the floor. They were installed by the original van conversion company to secure the rear seats and couch that I will never reinstall in the van. I plugged the holes in the floor with nylon plugs and automotive silicone sealant. So once again, I found myself ready to start building in.

The following photos document this weekend's work.

Step #1 Build the basic platform for the bunk. I measured the inside height of the platform to be high enough for the items I plan to store under it. I made the frame from 2x3's and 2x2's. The solid piece on the far left is the right side of the desk/workstation and also functions as the support for the back, outside of the bunk. The 5/8" plywood on the top is screwed down and covering 1/3 of the part of the bunk accessible from the read doors of the van. The other 2/3 of the sheet is hinged to provide access to the storage below. 

This is a view from the read doors of the van. While this simple platform doesn't look all that sturdy, I can assure you, even at this stage of construction, it will easily support a 200 or more person. I'm not 200 pounds (anymore), but I like the security of knowing it will do the job. As I move forward it will become even stronger.

At this stage the workstation is in place. It is desk height and solid as a rock. The bunk and the desk secure each other in place. The plywood around the base of the bunk make the entire structure even stronger. They are both leveled surfaces (which is a bit tricky to do in a van that may not be on level ground). The work space is 36" wide by 24" deep, about the same amount of space I'm currently using in a sticks and bricks structure. I once occupied several very large computer workstations. Over the past few years I've continued to minimize the work space I needed to effectively get done whatever I was working on. This view is from the entry door on the right side of the van.

This view gives a little more detail of the desk and the bunk. This photo is from the back of the driver's seat. As you can see, the desk area is actually under the lowered section of the ceiling in the back of the van. There is storage in that lowered ceiling. Eventually, the plan is to mount some solar panels over that section of the fiberglass roof. You can also see that the raised roof allows for someone of my stature to stand pretty much fully erect in the rest of the van. Most likely, I'll be having the Fan-tastic Fan installed a little forward of the dropped ceiling section in the back.

Here is a shot of the storage from the rear of the van, again, with the workstation in place. I'm not sure whether the battery bank will be installed under the bunk on the left or if I'll put it under the desk. I'm thinking under the bunk and then putting a removable shelf over the batteries to allow for storage of small tools, jumper cables and similar. If access is needed to the batteries it will simply require removing a few screws from the bunk platform above, lift out the removable shelf and, viola, full access to the battery bank. The storage under the workstation should be ample for a small generator and an additional shelf above the generator, for things that don't require instant access from the interior of the van.

Here you can see how the forward 2/3 of the bunk platform is hinged and easily raised to allow full access to the storage below.

This view shows how much storage is available under the bunk in the forward 2/3. You can see the wheel well in the only obstruction. I've seen trunks in recent model year cars that don't provide this much trunk space.

Finally, here is the bunk with the 5" memory foam mattress in place. The mattress was originally a twin bed sized mattress that I cut down from 39" wide to 27" wide. It's about the size of a large camping cot. I could have left it wider, however, since I'm a solo traveler and I'll only be using the bunk to sleep for several hours at night, I'd rather have more open space available during the waking hours to make it a more hospitable environment. The mattress will be covered by a beige cloth, zippered mattress cover I'm having made for it by a company I discovered through a Google search. I checked with some local upholstery places and they all wanted a small fortune. This place in Michigan specializes in these kinds of covers and they do it at a very reasonable price. During the day it will actually look more like a seat cushion, so with the addition of some pillows, It will also be my couch.  
I'm very tired. It was very hot outside so I got to build up a good sweat. I have some new calluses, a few bruises, got to verbalize a number of expletives, ache all over and . . . feel great. There's something very fulfilling when you get something significant accomplished, no matter how many calluses, bruises, aches and how sweaty you got.

So, what's next? I'll build in a chest of drawers on the passenger side. I'll also build an enclosure that will house a porta-potty with a built-in holding tank. It will only be used for convenience reasons when public facilities aren't readily available. On the driver's side of the van, between the bunk and the back of the driver's seat I'll install a small, basic galley. It will include a small refrigerator, a small microwave oven, a storage unit for dry, non-refrigerated food and cooking/eating utensils and a small two-burner propane stove.

I'll also be adding black out window covers, 12-volt DC and 110 volt AC power receptacles and LED lighting. My desk/workstation area will be wired and set up to operate efficiently and be connected to the Internet with public wifi or my own wifi from my wireless phone/data service. Additionally, I'll be changing out the radio for a state-of-the-art unit that will not only provide the standard AM/FM/CD and mp3 capability, but also Sirius/XM radio.

The cockpit will also be equipped with GPS capabilities provided by my new Hisense Sero Pro 7 tablet, other electronic navigation through the tablet and my smartphone and a dash-mounted video camera. And, since I've been an amateur radio operator for the past 54 years, I'll have on-board ham radio equipment, CB, FRS/GMRS radio, as well as the prerequisite wireless phone service.

I'm also planning to have a Fan-tastic fan installed in the fiberglass roof. I don't feel confident in doing that installation myself, so I'll that done by someone else who has both the experience and tools.

It appears that I'm going to have considerably more storage than I originally thought I would. The under bunk storage will be used for various things I won't need very often. The storage space in the rear of the van under the back part of the bunk and under the desk will be the location for the deep cycle battery bank used to provide the "house" 12 volt DC and the 110 volt AC with an size appropriate inverter. I may eventually include a small generator (Yamaha or similar) for AC power and to charge the batteries.

Something else I'm very interested in adding to "My McVansion" is solar power. I count it as very fortunate that I have a few friends in the van dwelling community who are extremely knowledgeable and experienced with solar power systems. Additionally, I've read all Bob's information in his book and on the and sites. Solar is a way to keep those house batteries charged during sunny days and don't have access to shore power.

Of course, I will be doing some interior finishing as I move forward to make the space more homey. I am having a custom cover made for my 5" memory foam mattress. Workspace counters will most likely receive a liberal coating of polyurethane. A blackout drape will be installed between the cockpit and the living area.

The only thing I may miss is air conditioning. Neither air conditioning nor use of a microwave oven is realistic without shore AC power. So, I'll have to think about using the microwave - short bursts only. Since I plan to spend winters in the warmer southern and southwestern regions and summers in the northern and higher regions, I'm hoping I won't need or, at least, miss air conditioning. Time will tell.

The balance of the build-in and refinements will be an ongoing process. The basic necessities for making "My McVansion" a habitable road machine should be accomplished by the early fall. Stay tuned and I'll continue to report the progress.


Linda Sand said...

Excellent start!

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Thanks, Linda --

I hope the second start is a charm. I'm pleased with this part, so far. Much sturdier than I thought it would be.


Wayne (Wirs) said...

Hi Ed. What kind of height do you have in your van? I'm shopping rigs now, but at 5'11" I'm not sure a conversion van has enough height for standing room.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

HI Wayne,

My van is about 5'8" in the center section behind the driver and passenger seats. At my age, I've shrunk down to right about 5'7", so it's actually very workable for me. It gets a little lower as I move to toward the read, so I have to hunch over a tiny bit in the back. But, since, by design, my floor plan has me either sitting or laying down in the rear section, it's not really an issue. You can find taller raised roof conversion vans, but you will have to really search for one. In '78 I had a standard height roof in a factory conversion van and it got old either being on my knees or bending at the waist to walk in the back. So, even at 5'11" you'll find 5'7" a huge improvement over a standard height van.

Good luck in your search and let me know when you find one and what to do with yours.


Wayne (Wirs) said...

Thanks Ed!

Gypsy Jane said...

glad to see you're getting to work on this. looks good so far. I'm amazed you can squeeze a desk in. I' still trying to find room for one in my motor home.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Thanks Jane,

That was the problem with my last layout. I got it partially built in and didn't love it - it wasn't working as I wanted it to. This is still going to be VERY compact, but it should provide a compact and reasonably efficient, usable workstation. I'm also ending up with more usable storage that I would have had in the last layout. Trial and error! Slow and steady! Yada! Yada! I'm sure, like everyone else, I'll end up making some changes and refinements after I've been on the road with it for a while.