Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tank Level Monitor Panel Move

Our 170 is equipped with what Roadtrek calls an "armoire" which is an optional full height cabinet and resides where otherwise there would be a third passenger seat. Because it is optional, it covers the Tank Level Monitor Panel which means to access this feature you have to open the cabinet door which can be inconvenient at best. This panel also houses the switches for the water pump as well as a disconnect for the coach battery. Located right below the panel is a switch that controls the outside "porch" light. I always wanted to move this panel to make it more accessible but didn't decide it was worth it until the shower re-engineering project began. The panel is on the outside of the bathroom wall which means all the wiring runs behind covers i would soon be modifying. This made the panel move necessary. The shower modification blog post will show more detail on that aspect of it.

This was the original location of the panel shown at left during removal.

The panels in their new location. The second panel is for the new Prosine 2.5 inverter. Details of it's installation coming soon.

I made this piece from a shelf that I removed from the bathroom that has the same finish, perfect for the job of filling in the recess the old panel location left!

The finished wiring after being re-routed and connected. You can see a hole in the wall at right where the wires run through, on the bathroom side of the wall, this is inside a channel that is boxed in around the black tank vent pipe. The wires for the light switch had to be extended, the rest were already at the right length.

This is the cover I created inside the Armoire to protect the wiring and the back of the panels.

Overall, everything has come out very well and works perfectly. The shower re-engineering project will be detailed in the next blog.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Married and living in a Van - Making it work!

I read a lot of forums and blogs related to living in RV's of all sizes both full and part time. One question that always comes up weather directed at us or another couple in a B is "How do you make it work?", usually followed by the comment "You better be a very close couple!". Well, I will do my best to answer that now for those who are wondering.

First thought is yes, you do need to be pretty fond of each other to live that closely without getting on each other's last nerve. That doesn't mean though that you have to be exactly the same type of people. Heidi and I are a lot alike in the things we want to do, the things we want to have and our basic goals. We are different in many ways as well. We often handle things differently, choose to do different things at different times and even have a little different belief system.

To make it work we rely on some very basic principles. First: We love each other and both agree that true love always means considering your partner's needs ahead of your own. That being said, we usually do a pretty good job of this. We are not perfect and have our days of course, but they are rare. The next principal comes into action at that point. Choose your battles carefully. There are enough things in the world to rage against that are a much better choice than to escalate an annoyance into a war between you and the one you love. Part of being in love we believe is allowing the other person to be who they are. I loved Heidi before I married her so trying to change her is just something I am not interested in doing. Having that kind of respect for each other goes a long way to making it work.

Now when it comes to just hanging out in the van, we kind of have our own separate areas we prefer. Once parked, we always turn the passenger seat towards the back which is where I prefer to be for much of the things I do. It is the perfect place to play my guitar, use the computer, read, work on jewelry(I have some tricks for doing this up there I will share in a future post) or even watch TV if we are both in the mood for that. Heidi prefers to hang out in back on the bed for her reading or computer or knitting etc. If there is something she would rather be in the front for, we switch. Of course we always try to spend time together reading or watching TV on the bed or any other various thing. Even sleep on occasion!

We also have our own jobs so to speak when it comes to taking care of "Taj". I handle the mechanical duties, she does most of the cooking, she prefers to handle the cleaning and I am quite okay with that! I just keep my stuff in order as much as possible and assist her if she wants. When we break camp, I shut off the LP valve, secure all the hatches, disconnect the electric if needed and do a once around checking tires and lugs etc. (usually just visual other than at fuel stops where I use a gauge). While I am doing my mental checklist, she is closing the roof vents, switching the fridge to 12V, securing anything that could fly around in transit, shutting off the water pump and putting the chair back forward.

For storing our stuff, we keep most of it in what we consider common areas, then each have our own cabinet we can choose to keep more individual hobby kind of stuff in. These are the cabinets over the bed on either side of the air conditioner. I have mine mostly full of jewelry making stuff and supplies, my netbook, and a few other things. Heidi keeps our knitting stuff, a rather large printer, and other various things in hers.

While going down the road, I am at the wheel and she has her netbook close at hand so she can check out the various neat things about each town we are coming into. Everything from restaurants, sites to see, places we might boondock or camp etc. Navigating from now on will be more likely handled by the GPS.

I will go more into to detail about how everything fits with pictures and clever packing methods in a future post. The main goal of this post has really been covered. The last few things I want to share is that this lifestyle allows us to get out into some amazing areas of the country and meet great people, sample a wide range of cultural scenes etc. Don't spend all your time in the van!

Finally, make sure to have fun and act like a kid once in a while! Like our sock monkey jammies? Sorry, the rest of this picture is classified!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A little history about Heidi and I

If you are going to travel along with us, you might as well know our short but fun history together. Heidi and I met on a Yahoo group known as Vandwellers a couple years ago. We both had our vans but were several states apart. After talking online for quite a while and figuring out just how alike we were, we decided to meet in person. So after 1500 quick miles, I found myself in Salt Lake City on her birthday(my clever plan).

This picture is of our vans on the first night we were together.

We spent the next month there while she finished out her job with Intel and then we drove back here to Port Angeles Washington to introduce her to my Dad and other family and hang out for a bit. About two months after, we headed South to SlabCity in Niland California to hang out with a bunch of vandwellers. We had stopped along the way and met up with Michael(another Vandweller) in Northern California otherwise we stuck pretty much to the coastal highways all the way down.

This painting was done by one of our vandweller family members, Charlene on one of the water tanks at the Slabs.

The "Slabs" is quite a place, and deserves a post all it's own, but I will save that for another time. What I did want to share about the Slabs is that I will never go there again. For me it turned out to be a big mistake. From the day we arrived until two weeks later when I ended up in the local hospital on a ventilator I was feeling worse each day. For people with breathing issues, seriously do your research before you head that way. Many factors exist there from the dust in the area to the smell of people burning garbage to the smoke from local fields burning and pollution blowing across the border from large industrial areas in Mexicali Mexico. Heidi and I spent the next month in the Hospital(she was just watching over me). The last three weeks of the hospital stay were in San Diego as they were better equipped to deal with the damage to my poor lungs. After we finally got out, we stuck around Carlsbad for a month then headed back up the coast to Port Angeles again.

We were married on the 20th of June. There are details and a few pictures on my other blog "Visionquest" in my links. Since the wedding, Heidi and I have been working on Taj and getting her all ready for the rest of the journey which begins at the end of the month. I will be blogging about all of the individual mods we have done and some of our packing strategies and general methods we have worked out thus far over the next two weeks.

Something smells!

Pictures are great, they convey so much information. The one at right is from the add on Craigslist for Taj. Everything looks pretty clean and upon arrival at the car lot, it was obvious they had just had it all detailed(not very well). I was picking up a very slight odor though but it wasn't enough to throw me off a deal like this so I looked further. I started noticing little white hairs sticking out of the fabric panels on the walls. I quickly realized that the faint smell I was detecting was from the previous owner's dog. Still not enough to change my mind so I went ahead and made the deal. The drive took an hour to get back to my Dad's place and the closer I was, the more I noticed the smell. This had to be the first thing corrected. It wasn't terrible, but it was there and it would definitely get to me. I am pretty picky about my air quality and truthfully, I have to be.

Within the first week of owning her, I took the rear lounge apart, took all the cushions out and noticed that the smell seemed to leave with them. Upon further inspection of those cushions, I found the padding inside them was stained and in need of replacement. I know a new set of cushions from Roadtrek would be over a grand so I started talking to local upholstery shops and eventually ended up going to the one my sister Lisa recommended. The covers were fine and after a trip through the washer and dryer came out quite nice.

The new foam as you can see is dual density in the exact dimensions of the originals. The total cost to have these made was $480 which was very much due to the price of crude oil at the time.(over $120 per barrel) The labor of cutting and gluing was only $130 of that total price. Putting the covers back on was a little challenging, but it all worked out and smelled so much better!

The next part of this dog smell removal project involved getting the little hairs that were hiding all over out of the van. I pulled every cover and panel where hair could hide and vacuumed it out. Getting it out of the knit wall panels was accomplished with a lot of patience, the help of a friend, "twokniveskatie", and the sticky side of duct tape. After the hair was gone, I sprayed the wall panels with enzyme based organic odor remover for pets. It has a very light citrus smell, but faded quickly. Now there is no smell at all from the back. The air is fresh and Taj is a much more pleasant place to be.

Avoiding Confusion

In my last post I mentioned that I named our Roadtrek "Roadie". She kept that name for about a year but there was a point where it just seemed much to generic. Very recently, we decided she needed a name more descriptive of what we feel she has become. I put a challenge out to my friends and Captain quickly popped back with "Taj Ma Trek" and it really just fits. So from this point on, I will refer to her with her new name so I don't confuse everyone including me. Now I will get back to things in somewhat chronological order...

My start on the road.

A little over 4 years ago, my life was crazy busy. It is a common story probably. I was working like a madman to get the life I thought I wanted and getting very burnt out in the process. My health was really going down hill quickly even at only 37 years young. I have Cystic Fibrosis and all that work just was not good for me. Add that to my general avoidance of doctors, almost non existent effort to take care of myself and something had to give. So within a single month, I got rid of everything. I gave much of it away, sold what I could and threw the rest away other than the basic clothes and tools I might need for a life on the road that I was quickly heading toward. I had come to this decision based on a lifelong love of travel and a strong desire to live a much more simple and rewarding life. The fact that it would likely improve my chances of sticking around on Earth a bit longer helped too.

This picture is of my first real road home that I had purchased in that last month of crazy downsizing. I went many miles in it an had some great times. I spent the money and effort to install two 120 Watt solar panels on the roof, four 6V deep cycle batteries inside in a custom box with a 1750 watt inverter to make it a bit more self sufficient. This picture is actually from the day I sold it.

Of course this blog is named Vantramps for a reason. On a very windy road in New Mexico that had me fighting the steering wheel of that rolling sail I called home, I realized there was a better style of rig for me. Something a bit more streamlined, with a much more solid construction and better on fuel. So the search began. I looked at everything van related. Found the Yahoo Vandwellers group and learned a lot very quickly.

It took a year of looking for that perfect deal and one Saturday afternoon it showed up on Craigslist.

$4988 for a 1997 Roadtrek 170P with 117K miles. It ran and drove perfectly, everything worked when plugged in(coach battery was very dead). This pic at left was from the add on Craigslist.

I believe that the car lot selling this van had no idea it was a Roadtrek. It was not listed in the add or on the paperwork anywhere and you can see the previous owner had removed all the RT factory decals. I have put a lot of wonderful trouble free miles on this van and am always modding and adding to it. I will be detailing all of these things in future posts. At this point in her history with me, I called her Roadie. This name would change later to something less generic and more fitting to our relationship! We will get to that soon.

If you are considering this life and now hunting for the perfect rig, trust me when I say it is worth the time to check the local sources daily, have cash ready and don't hesitate to look at a bunch of them and walk away if they don't feel right. Also, do pretty vague searches and read them all. If I had failed to do this, I would never have found Roadie as well as many other deals you will hear about soon. Good luck to you!

Friday, January 15, 2010


Are you a traveler? Are you filled with a desire to wander and explore? My wife and I are! Our life is a fun one and we want to take you along with us! We live in a 1997 Roadtrek Van that I have done a lot of modifications to. We have many hobbies and interests and are always researching and experimenting with fun things. This blog will be filled with all of it. I hope that you will find some of it useful and maybe even entertaining! Stick around, the ride is just beginning!

-Mike & Heidi