Monday, March 29, 2010


Heidi always tells me how much women like to nest. "We are nesters" she says and I believe it. As true as that is, this post is about a different type of nesting that does still have some connection to "Heidi Homemaker" (I am sure I will pay for that crack later!)

A friend requested a little info on how we squeeze so much stuff in our little vanhome. The easy answer is usually creative nesting. Take for example the next few images.

You can see a nice nested stack of pots here, but it doesn't show the true story. In that maybe one square foot of storage, there is a considerable number of hidden cooking vessels.

Heidi has a highly developed talent for packing many things into very small locations. In a van, even a well designed one, it is worth it to develop this talent and learn to adapt it as needed.

Nesting is especially suited to condensing clothes into well organized bins. This closet(Roadtrek calls it an "Armoire") holds an amazing amount of clothes in those bins. Not only do they provide a decent volume of storage, those nested bins also do a great job of keeping the clothes within them wrinkle free! Because of this efficient packing method, there remains room in the "Armoire" for two large drawers of food storage below and a shelf at the top containing our natural cleaning supplies. Well done Heidi Homemaker!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Inverter Control Panel

After being a little frustrated with lack of detailed information on the original control panel that came with the Prosine, I ordered this gem online. The LCD has two lines that give much more specific information about current flow and voltage of the battery bank, inverter/charger and loads on the system. This panel offers control over the inverter setup as well that overrides the dip switches on the actual inverter body.

As you can see from this image, the old panel was based on LED indicators to show the information. The problem with this approach is that the lights for voltage jump from 11.5 to 12.25 then up to 13.0. Depending on the brand and type of batteries, a deep cycle battery bank is recommended to only drop to a certain percentage before being re-charged. The average is 50%, which for a typical 12V Deep cycle battery is aproximately 12.2 volts and aproximately 12.7 for full charge. The numbers are a little different for AGM and Gel type batteries and possibly various manufacturers. To know for sure, it is worthwhile to find out for the exact batteries you have. The new control panel allows me to see with much more resolution at what state of charge I am at as well as other useful information.

Just one more small change to make it easier for us to keep track of our resources.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Picture Frame Mod for Taj

This is a project we have been wanting to get to for a while. Behind that picture frame there is an air conditioner we very rarely use that neither Heidi nor I find all that attractive. In an effort to both hide it when not needed and to make our vanhome look a little nicer inside, we enlisted the creative talents of Vickie at Sound Bike and Kayak who also runs a frame shop out of her store. She made the custom matting and frame perfectly to fit space as requested.

Mounting the frame was a bit of a trick, but I like these little design challenges and came up with an interesting and simple solution. Notice the tassel at the bottom right of the frame? To release the frame, all that is necessary is to pull that tassel gently downward.

Of course that thing in the background you see now is the face of that wonderful yet less than aesthetic cold air spewing device. Above it at the end of the cord is a very simple combination of a spring, 2 corner brackets and a modified thumbscrew.

I apologize for the low picture quality on this closeup but it should be okay to give a better idea of exactly how this works.

The final hardware is one more angle bracket to receive the "bolt" and the small piece of wood attached to the bottom of the frame to keep it snug behind the ledge on the cabinet. I should mention as well that we put a small foam square behind the frame to keep tension against the hardware and eliminate any possible rattling noises.

It was a pretty simple modification, but one that really makes the place feel warmer inside and allows Heidi a bit of decorating freedom. I should mention too that the frame was her idea! We have been collecting various sets of pictures to switch out with the first set to be put in tonight. Bet you were wondering about that :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rousted By Pizza!!!

The following is actually an old blog written by my wife Heidi before we got together. It is about a funny situation she was in when she was vandwelling as a single woman in Salt Lake City. I thought it was a good time to post it given the last blog topic. Enjoy!
Stealthy as defined by a van dweller: to endeavor not to be noticed. If noticed, you may get rousted.

Rousted as defined by a van dweller: to receive a visit (knock) at your van by the police. Most likely resulting in answering questions, having your license run, and told to move on.

I am NOT stealthy! I try to be stealthy. I follow all the
guidelines. Sadly, I'm not!

- I rotate my sleeping spots.
- I only go to my sleeping spot after dark when I'm ready to get
into bed.
- I've fixed my windows so no light can be seen from the outside.
- Before I go to the back, I look around to make sure nobody's
watching me.
- Etc., etc., etc…

Last night I had just fallen asleep when I heard a loud knocking on
a rear window. I fly out of bed with my heart racing. I plunk down
in my driver's seat ready to go through the ol' questioning routine.
However, nobody is there! This kind of scares me. Someone *was*
knocking just seconds ago! There are no cars behind me, and nobody
is on the street. I turn on the engine and start to pull away when
something falls off the back of my van.

I roll down the window to peer out at the pizza box that has landed
on the street. Then I hear a young boy (about eight or nine) yell
at me "We bought you a pizza"! He is standing in front of an
apartment complex across the street. I didn't know what to say! I
wanted the boy to feel uplifted by his good deed, so I yelled back
a "Thank you"! I exit the van and retrieve the pizza box. As I'm
getting back in, a second boy standing beside him yells "I hope you
like your pizza"! I wave and again yell "Thank you very much"! I
get in my van, pull up the street, and open the box. Sure enough,
someone bought me pizza!

I'd have to say that having pizza delivered to your van is NOT

I have got to be the only van dweller EVER to be rousted by Pizza!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is Stealth Important?

To say that in mobile/nomadic life, this subject comes up often would be an extreme understatement. So why if it has been given so much ink in the past would I bring it up yet again? Easy answer is because it is important and has such a huge impact on Vantramping and of course I have my own theories on it that may not be typical.

By "stealth" I mean being able to hide in plain sight, to blend in and thereby go unnoticed. The first question to answer really is do we need to concern ourselves with how stealthy we are?

In my very humble opinion, one of the most important factors that determine the need for stealth is the type of tramping one intends to do which takes into consideration, the locations they might find themselves in. The first thing to mention of course is quite obvious, there is no need to be covert when you are staying at an RV park or campground. That said, the following are a few examples of where stealth is actually quite important.

One of the more common situations is for those who have a job or other reason that keeps them in a specific area for an extended length of time. Usually, this would be an urban setting where available viable overnight parking areas would be limited. Remaining stealthy would be mandatory to preserve these limited parking spots for continued use over time.

Another scenario would be while traveling and coming into an area temporarily that is known to have strict parking enforcement and no available campgrounds or RV parks. Heidi and I dealt with this often during a time we spent in Carlsbad California during spring break. We were able to find available openings in the local State RV park only part of the time, the rest we spent in carefully scouted stealth parking spaces.

Finally, one last example that does require the vehicle to at least not resemble an RV is in the case where a HOA won't allow them to be parked at the house or on the street.

It is funny to me that almost without fail, the first style rig that people think of for stealth is a work/cargo van usually white with no windows or a box truck. I know the rationale behind it and for some purposes and situations I agree with that choice but definitely not all. Much like the critter in the picture above, to hide in plain site, one really needs to look like they belong where they are. If you are staying in a box van for example, any activity noticed after dark might prompt further investigation by law enforcement possibly believing a work vehicle is being broken into. Park a cargo van by a school or playground and you might also be scrutinized more thoroughly. Conversion vans are a common sight in all kinds of areas and can make for adequately stealthy rigs where needed.

Heidi and I do our best to look like tourists. Taj, even though she has no decals proclaiming her status as a Roadtrek RV, still has all the telltale signs of being a camper. The bikes on the back and the appliance vents and covers betray her attempts appear as a typical conversion van. Of course it doesn't help either that her occupants are not exactly quiet sleepers. Heidi sounds like a herd of chainsaws while sleeping and I have been told I make strange growling noises(though I am not sure there is any truth to that).

Heidi and I don't rely on being stealthy normally but in the event we need to, we always can fallback on the following proven tips. No matter what type of vehicle you have, keeping it in decent condition and looking decent will go along way in helping you go unnoticed when needed. When choosing a parking spot, consider how your vehicle looks and where it will fit in. We typically look for multi family dwellings where it isn't obvious which vehicles belong for example, near apartment buildings, hotels, etc. If you have a vehicle that looks like a work truck, a more industrial area might be well suited. Once the parking place is identified, make sure you are ready to sleep before you pull in for the night. If preserving the spot for future use is important to you, in the morning, you should get up and drive to a different location before getting active with breakfast and yes even coffee.

Overall, the need for stealth is dependent on the situation. Knowing how to be more stealthy if the need should arrise is just one more useful skill a wise vantramp can rely on to increase autonomy and flexibility.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Custom Rug for Taj

The dropped center isle of Taj has always been a bit of an area of experimentation for us. Seems trying to find the right rug or other floor covering is something many Roadtrek owners battle with. We have tried numerous cheap throw rugs and seen others attemp rubber matting and none of it really seemed right to us. In our shopping for Cork flooring material for the rest of Taj, we found a local flooring store that did custom rugs with bound edges and optional backing. We decided after looking through their choices that this would be a decent option for us. The finished rug is exactly the correct dimensions to fit the isle area. The rubber skid proof pad on back also improves the sound deadening and comfort. It is a little hard to tell from the pictures just how well this pattern and coloring go with the cork flooring and oak cabinets and our newly made curtains. It is really the perfect look!

The pattern is mostly dark earth tones with small hints of color here and there. Pictures never do justice to the actual subject, this case is no exception... When the rest of the cork flooring is finished I will get better pictures of everything.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Thoughts on Van Design.

I have a friend(really) that is going through the process of designing a van home and several questions have come up in our conversations that have inspired this blog. This friend who I will refer to as "James", has never lived in a van but has done tons of research.

The build James is planning is based on a basic passenger van with the goal of making it a full-time live in capable vehicle. This brings up the first step of designing the van. You can't really make any concrete design choices until you know what the realistic end use will be. Once that decision has been made, focus shifts to what the priorities are associated with that use. Recording all of the choices and decisions on paper or computer will help the process greatly. Making and adjusting a scale floor-plan will also really help to visualize your decisions.

Start by making a list of things that you feel you must have and prioritize them. The highest priority items get first assignment of the space available. For example the sleeping area. If you are able to figure out realistically how much space you will need for sleeping, where that area is and remaining available space is no longer as big of a question. There likely will be more than one configuration that will work within that space so the floor-plan is not necessarily set in stone at this point. It is important to keep in mind you are working with 3 dimensional space too which is easy to forget when illustrating your ideas into a flat drawing.

After all the "must haves" are processed, the "would like to have" list comes into play. Same basic method; prioritize, consider available logical space, record it. Finally the "would be nice to have" list is left to consider. While going through this basic listing system, James asked "how much space should be set aside for storage?". Well, this is a question that has a couple answers. It has everything to do with the overall use and what design features are a priority. For example, if you intend on doing much cooking rather than eating fast food etc, there will need to be storage for food, pots, dishes and other related gear. While designing, determine if there is associated storage for the various features you are wanting to incorporate and allow for it at that time. When all is said and done, every available inch that is not in use already is "storage". This available space may be dual use as well, for example, you may have things that can be conveniently stored inside the microwave when not in use.

I have been having a lot of fun helping James with the design of his van. It is surprising how much entertainment one can have trying to squeeze all the things a person would want in their home into the available space we have! Companies like Roadtrek and Coachman etc really are great examples to follow. In the end, you really can have most everything you could want and definitely everything you need with a lot of thought and creative engineering. This design phase of the build is where to experiment! Consider again the sleeping area, there is always more than one way to get to the same end. Ideas like hammocks, murphy beds, futons etc are all possibilities and could even be mocked up and tested outside the van before a single hole is drilled.

If you are planning your own build, keep your mind open and consider every idea you come across. Inspiration is everywhere! James's van is going to be quite a work of art when done! It will be interesting and comfortable and most of all, it will be his idea of perfection.

Final note, even with a prebuilt B like Taj, these same methods are all useful for making modifications and re-engineering. If you have any off the wall ideas for anything van design related, please feel free to comment about them here. I am sure James will appreciate reading them!