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Easy Van Conversion

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By Vern

A Conversion Van is a can of complexity when it comes to making it into an RV. But it can be done and turn out comfortable and completely self-sufficient — except for gasoline and WalMart. Mine is a 1994 GMC Vandura 2500 Tiara conversion van. That amounts to a 3/4 ton truck running gear and additions that really comes out to two and a half tons of metal and creature comforts. The engine is an adequate 5.7 liter EFI gasoline V-8. Four speed automatic transmission with overdrive, and 3.42 rear axle. The sticker said 18 mpg highway fuel consumption. I’ve never gotten better than 16. But it’ll generally do 16 mpg up mountains, down hills, pulling a 5,000 pound trailer or anything less. As you can likely surmise, we’re good friends, my venerable van and me. Converting it to a travel-in and live-in RV has been done with an eye to being able to restore it to its original configuration any time I needed to. I’ve picked and done all modifications with that goal. And, thanks to modular furniture units and the wide selection of plastic storage bins and drawers and such, it all came together rather nicely. It’s taken me to beautiful Provincial Parks in Canada and isolated stretches of the High Plains and Edwards Plateau from Kansas to west Texas plus a lot of places and parks along the Gulf of Mexico and the East coast.

On the curb side of the van, two Sauder units hold cooking and eating supplies (I use paper plates, cups and eating utensils as much as possible for ease of storage, lack of cleaning need and quick disposal). A spare shelf from one of the cubes became a folding shelf for use as needed in food preparation and serving.

Behind the two right side cubes is a table in matching oak finish that was purchased in the furniture section of WalMart. To it, my 750 watt microwave, also from WalMart ($70), is attached with “L” brackets and metal screws. On the shelf below the microwave is my dish washing basin, soap dispenser and such. Below that, hidden by the rubber shelf mat material, is a two gallon Portapotti.

The table and cubes are screwed together (note 4×4 base and 2×4 above). The unit is bolted to the base of the seat that was positioned there with a section of board to which the lower cube is attached.

The folding back seat of my conversion van has become my bed, with a memory-foam top. Future plans include removing the seat hardware and replacing it with a piece of plywood as a better long-term foundation for a bed. For my height, the width of the van is about right to stretch out on. For six-footers, a side bed arrangement likely would be better. Four couples, a Tear Drop trailer would beat that.

Behind the bed comes two plastic drawer towers, also from WalMart (hey, my mailing address IS Arkansas). The towers contain folding clothes on the street side and towels and such on the curb side. Keeping the drawers shut when they are not full of stuff are roofing nails through holes drilled in the drawer bottoms’ leading edge. Roofing nails through holes in the sides of the Sauder cubes are used where needed to hold doors shut. Cheaper than anything else I could find and works fine.

Beneath the bed are stored an LP two burner stove and other bigger pots and pans and plastic storage for things not needed daily. Most nooks and crannies are filled with what ever else fits. And a feature of the cubes is that behind the street side, I can store security files and fire-safe storage with window screens windshield and front side window sun screens covering them. Ahead of all that is the solar battery and charger, inverter and the AC strip which is screwed to the door post. Wires for it are routed in behind an existing Tiara book holder where access to the outer van skin allowed cutting for a 2-pole, 3-wire weatherproof male motor base electrical connector found in a catalog from McGaugh RV Center, Springdale, Arkansas, (part #11156) for 120 volt connections. It is fused and has a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) connected ahead of the AC strip.

Two other interior modifications to my conversion van have to do with warmth and communications. To keep the interior livable, I use one of two electric heaters of the oil-filled type. If I know I’m going to be in below 25-degree nights, I take the larger, 1500 watt version (mine is Lakewood brand, from WalMart, of course) and I then seek out state parks with electrical hookups. I find the 600 watt setting is usually adequate at half to two-thirds settings, with a 30-degree sleeping bag. In more moderate places, a smaller 700-watt oil-filled heater (WestPoint model HO-0227) works fine.

A custom made wood cabinet between front seats holds my communications center. As an amateur radio operator, that means a 200 watt AC/DC High Frequency Single Side Band transceiver and its attendant tuner, and AC power supply for shore-power or generator power locations, plus two 50-watt VHF/UHF transceivers for use on the road and where amateur repeaters are available. Two digital scanners also are on board, to keep up with weather, sheriffs and police, EMT, park ranger and other emergency communications.

Day/night shades  have replaced all the gauze original shades in the back of the van (all windows behind the front seats). Source was for perfect fit, quality shades complete with all new hardware.

Here’s the van on its way somewhere (picture above). The trailer serves as the overflow closet. Three large Sterlite plastic tubs hold bulk foods, cleaning materials and the like. A more sturdy tub holds spare oil and other van fluids, hoses, electric cords and trailer hitch hardware. Beside that is a Honda EU2000i generator and a can of gas. Also in there are a folding metal table, folding camp chairs, Coleman catalytic LP heater, and depending on length of trip, containers of spare clothes and such. For season-long tours, my HughesNet tripod-mount Internet satellite dish and its feed horn ride back there also.

The trailer is a Wells Cargo MW-6 4 by 6 foot Mini-Wagon model. It was selected for sturdy construction and 16 inch wheels. Decal was added by me from the wide selection and excellent directions of the Sign Specialist in Tennessee.


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