Upgrades to the Toyota Camper Van

It was a busy winter filled with camping and fishing, just the way I like it. While going on these adventures I was able to continually add to a list of modifications I would like to perform on the van. There’s so much joy in using something and making tweaks to better suit your needs. The only constant is change, it’s cliche but it’s true. Let me not get stuck on how the way things are now but what they can become. Below is an incomplete list of modifications I’ve done on the van since the last update.

Went here:

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random free camping in the forest.

Got rained on. My ARB awning was stolen so my solution was to grab what wood
I had and attach it the racks. It protects the inside of the van from light showers. If it’s heavy sideways rain, it’s not going to work as well. Total cost $0

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Since you’ve been following so close attention, you may have noticed the new cargo rack on the top. It’s the one offered at harbor freight. I think it’s around 50 bucks. It’s pretty useful although it does make this van that much of a kite in the wind. I took off sticker and painted the wind deflector all black.

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Oh, well, will you look at that. I just gave away another modification. LED lights in the front now. No longer does it feel like an oil lantern in front of my van. I can now equally blind the other drivers who happen to enter my path. Jokes aside, the wires needed modification and my mechanic removed some of the working LEDs when the lights are in low. He said you would likely get pulled over if you kept all of the LEDs working on lo beam.

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Added this sick sticker, added at least 10HP. Contact Aaron Morrell.
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Got this console from my mechanic for free. Came through in the clutch, thanks Gustavo!

 

 

 

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Back up light installed. I drilled a hole in the side of the solar panel rail and ran the wires to a switch under the hatch. Below is a video of the light in action.

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switch for reverse light. will consider moving this switch up to the dash.

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Side light for the porch. Bought these lights off amazon for less than 20. They’re pretty bright and contain six LEDs.

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here’s the switch for the porch light.

My Lagun table mount, those things cost a fortune but I’ve seen some blemished ones on eBay at a discount. The table top I made out of sanded 3/4″ plywood. Came out real nice with two coats of stain and two sprays of marine varnish.

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surface is now covered by plexiglass.

I covered the folding table in the back of the van with plexiglass that was leftover from a project. This table typically gets covered when cooking multiple meals. The plexiglass make it really easy to wipe. Be careful when installing the plexiglass, it cracks easily. I used screws to hold it in. I drilled pilot holes and went until firm but not overly tight.

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phone holder for my toyota van.

 

 

I held off because I didn’t want anything on the vinyl or the window but I finally added a phone holder. Cheap one off eBay for six bucks. It holds well, I just hope it doesn’t ruin the vinyl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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usb outlets installed on my 1985 toyota van.

USB ports installed behind the couch. If running usb ports from 12v, you need to have a converter that converts the power to 5v.

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painted toyota van step.

Painted the step and installed the metal frame.

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LED light bar in the back of the van under the shelf.

I removed the old bright white light and replaced it with two warm white led bars. Having one below the shelf and above really helps when cooking. A lot of the light was blocked with only one light on the roof.

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light bar in the back on top.

TO BE CONTINUED…

I want to write a short post about my new layout for sleeping and lounging.

 

 

foldout bench seat that transforms into a bed

When designing this van I wanted to the ability to have a bench seat (i.e. couch) and not have the bed take up the whole van like so many designs. Although, it would require work to fold up and down, I like the ability to clear the space and sit up right. I thought this was necessary to work while on the road.

My brother found a design that didn’t involve any sliding or folding out legs. The only thing necessary was to flip what you’re sitting on. Once folded out, it provides a large enough space to sleep two.

Flaws of this design included:
1. The back rest can only be a certain height or else it will clip the ceiling.
2. The bench width needs to be under a certain length so it avoids clipping the sides of the van because the van is curved.
3. It makes storage a little harder to access.

The benefits:
1. Simple!

We built a frame around the wheel well and the back of the van.

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The frame around the wheel well.

We added a sheet of plywood to the top as one piece.

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Buster enjoying a place to sit.

Then it was time to attach the folding section. Note, there are spaces for storage in the back and the front of the design. You can see a cut out in the back where we installed a lid to access gear.

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Here’s a shot from the back. You can see that the side facing out the back can be folded up and turned into a table. This is nice because it has protection from rain with the back hatch.

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Fold out table in the back of the van.

Here’s the bed folded out.

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The bed folded out. 

In the picture below you can see how the back rest was framed. 3×2″s were used to support the back. img_1873

Below is flip out storage underneath the legs but it also doubles as a coffee table. 56211149368__d47e37b8-e687-41cd-bc33-72d160622064

Next step is to make cushions for the seats out foam and fabric I have bought. The cushions should not cost more than 100 total to make. Although, it will take some time to stitch them together. I will post progress as I follow through with making the cushions.

installing vinyl floor in camper van

It was time to create the base for which would be building our masterpiece. Everything starts with the floor and from there you build up. Since there were slats that ran down the van we needed to install some planks in between.
This way we could lay a piece of plywood on top and lay it in. This also helped us not put screws into metal. Anytime I’m cutting or putting screws into metal it makes me nervous. Not to say that it can’t be done but sometimes I just don’t want to do it if I don’t have to. 

We installed the slats by using construction grade adhesive. Don’t be shy! Smother that stuff on there like you would pour syrup on a waffle. This stuff takes some time to dry and become strong. I think we waited 24 hours before trying to install the piece of plywood. We pre-tapped the holes and my brother had this handy drill that would flip from drill to screwdriver. It had the ability to set a countersink which made the screws fit flush. Real nice!

We had to do the floor in two separate pieces because of the size plywood comes in. My brother is the measure so I followed his lead and we cut each piece one at a time. There are all sorts of weird bends and things to cut around so I was really impressed when our pieces came out and fit so well.

Here’s a pic of both plywood pieces installed.

Next, it was time to lay the vinyl floor that looks like fake wood. Yeah, it’s a little overplayed but so what, I think it will look classy with the white bench. Maybe not but you only live one life. We needed to cut it before applying it to the ply wood so before we installed the plywood pieces, we created an outline on the vinyl.

After it was cut, it was time to apply. The guy at Home Depot, yeah, that’s right, I found someone who would actually help me there. He said that this double sided tape would work just fine when attaching vinyl to wood. So, that’s what we went with. I bet the floor would have had less bubbles if we used a puddy but overall, it was really easy to apply and it sticks very well.

Look at that beautiful floor!

Easy Solar Panel Set-Up for your Van, Truck or Homestead for Less than 400 Dollars!

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So, you’re looking to go energy independent. You want to power that Macbook and recharge your headlights so you can blog and explore the night. It’s not as hard as you think. Let me say that again, it’s as hard as you think. There is plenty of sun power to charge all your devices. Powering your vitamix and microwave at the same time may not work but for most of your basic needs, setting up one solar panel and deep cycle battery will be enough to run lights and charge cell phones. Disclaimer: I’m not a professional electrician. This how-to is more of a story of how I’ve set up my basic solar panel installs. You do not need to follow my steps 1 by 1 and I suggest maybe you don’t. I want to give you an idea on how easy it is to get running off solar energy. I can’t perform the complex mathematic calculations, all I tried to do was get enough power to charge most of my devices and power my lights. I can tell you right now that I never ran out of power in California but I was always mineful to not leave the big screen tv on all night. 😉

The three things you will need.

  1. Solar Panel
  2. Solar Charger Controller
  3. Deep Cycle Battery

Optional : Extension cables for your solar panel.

Ohhh ahhh! Those solar panels are shiny. They’re getting more efficient each year. You’ll need to determine what size you’ll need.

100 watt solar panels are cheap, you can get them with a controller and extension cables for less than 200 dollars. Here is one on Amazon for sale.
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What does the charge controller do? It limits the rate at which electic current is added to or drawn from electric batteries. It prevents overcharging and may protect against overvoltage. Some people will add a fuse box for an extra level of protection but I was fine without a fuse box.

For the deep cycle battery: Get as many amp hours as you can get for the price. You want a deep cycle battery, not a standard car battery. Deep cycle batteries are built to withstand the constant drain and fill associated with a solar panel system. There are plenty of 12v deep cycle batteries on ebay and amazon for a cheap price.

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Here is one with 100Ah for 159.99 and free shipping. I have used this brand of battery and have had success.

What to think about when installing?
Don’t put it in a place that will be shaded. Try not to have surfboards covering any part of the solar panel. You don’t have to mount it, you can store it inside and bring it out during the day, just make sure you have long enough cables from the controller to the solar panel. If installing on a van, cabover, or RV, make sure to be careful about having a water tight seal. RV putty will help with that. I’ve installed solar panels on a cabover camper as well as a regular camper shell.
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That’s the basics, each install will be a little different. Please leave any questions or comments below and I will attempt to answer them. Thanks for reading!

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Here are some panels I installed on my roof rack of my van. I ran the wires down the rain gutter through the back door.

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Governor Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan has its Critics

Water has always been a hot topic in California. Historically, California water districts have drained and damned large amounts of water from across the Sierras to support California’s ever-growing population. Governor Brown has devised a plan to send more water to Central and Southern California from the Delta under the Bay Delta Conservation Plant (BDCP).  The BDCP’s website declares it as a “50-year habitat conservation plan with the goals of restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and securing California water supplies.”  According to the BDCP, Californian’s risk a loss of safe and secure drinking water, damage to the statewide economy, and further degradation of natural resources including extinction of local species if no action is taken. Opponents that include California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) and Restore the Delta state that it’s a costly project with severe ecological and environmental consequences from construction and water removal from the Delta, that will ultimately support big agri-business and not the majority of the California public.

Owen's Lake in the background. It was drained of water to supply Los Angeles in the early 1900s.
Owen’s Lake in the background. It was drained of water to supply Los Angeles in the early 1900s.

The most hotly debated topic of the BDCP is the plant to install underground “twin tunnels” that would pump water to Central and Southern California, as far south as San Diego. Along with the Twin Tunnels, the plan includes to restore and protect 150,000 acres of habitat along the delta.  One of the environmental impacts includes the likely killing of endangered species when the state gets an exemption from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That exemption would allow for the project to kill Endangered Species for the first 50 years. Other impacts include reducing the water quality of the delta not only through sediment but saltwater intrusion and reintroduction of heavy metals such as lead into the food chain.

Proponents of the BDCP say the plan would help species over time and the United States Fish and Wildlife would not authorize a take permit (defined by the ESA as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect) for a threatened or endangered species if they thought the project would cause an extinction. Backers of the plan also state that the money being spent will improve waterways and breeding grounds for salmon that are currently damaged and in need of repair. In the long run, whether the Delta’s habitat will improve or not is a concern of many, with both sides of the argument having their reasons.

With environmental factors aside, the BDCP will not be an inexpensive project to implement.  Paul Rogers reported at Mercury News that the project may cost as much as 67 billion dollars to implement. Karia Nemeth with the California Natural Resources Agency writes that the state and federal water contractors will only foot part of the bill for included conservation measures and “public funding would pay for the conservation measures or portions thereof that will produce statewide public benefits”. With the state already in a financial predicament, the costs of this project will add to the state’s deficit. Although, sometimes it’s justified for the state to spend money when there is already a substantial amount of debt for the greater good of the California public (i.e. education, healthcare), opponents say there are more efficient and financially sound ways to secure water and protect Delta habitat than the BDCP.

Other options besides the BDCP include water conservation, reinforcing existing levees, recycling water, storm-water capture, and improved irrigation and farming techniques. Water has always been the key to success in California through the gold mining days to the explosive growth of cities like Los Angeles and California’s booming Central Valley agriculture industry. It’s important to look at what happened historically to the watersheds that those cities have drained and the costs that have occurred both financially and environmentally. Reexamining the use and treatment of our current water supply may be a healthier option for our environment and pockets then building more water infrastructure like the “Twin Tunnels.”

The plan is currently open for public comment, to learn more you can visit the official site for the BDCP, and environmental groups like C-WIN, and Restore the Delta.

 

Oats

Reading about Henry David Thoreau, living a life of simplicity near his lake in “Walden” or John Steinbeck, traveling with his dog across America in his truck ‘Rocinante’ in “Travels with Charley:In Search of America”. And my own pursuits of living a more simple and less complex life have brought me to talk about oats. Yes, oats. Oats can be prepared in many ways, it can be grown by oneself, it’s healthy, provides energy, and is not expensive (even the organic oats). A mason jar of oats can prepare breakfast for weeks. Add a few strawberries, maple syrup, maybe dates or raisins, there are so many possibilities. Don’t have access to hot water? If you blend the oats before a trip, you can just add any nut milk and let it sit for four hours or longer then the oats will have absorbed the water and be ready to eat. That is what I call ‘overnight oats’ (view my recipe below).

tea is a great way to consume the health benefits of oats.
tea is a great way to consume the health benefits of oats.

I’ve had that problem of overdosing on oats. Yeah, there comes a point where the last thing you want to eat is a bowl of oats for breakfast. But, by mixing it up with different additions or doing every other day a bowl of oats, you can reduce the possibility of the dreadful OD on oats.

Not only, are oats great for eating but they are amazing taken as an herbal medicine. They are what you consider a nervine, the properties of oats (Avena sativa) work on the central nervous system to calm and relax the system. I take these when I feel I have frayed ends or under a stressful circumstance. Oats tincture and some deep breathing go a long way! Check out my ‘how to make a make a basic tincture’ post here.

Also, making a tea works just as well if not better than a tincture. Plus, the process of making tea is a natural calming process in itself. It’s important to know that buying oats for medicine is slightly different than buying for food. You’ll want oats that is picked during it’s milky stage which hasn’t quite matured to a viable seed. The milky stage is when you pierce the oat and a milky substance comes out. If you go to a local herb shop, all their herb will be (or should be) harvested at that milky stage. If you’re buying oats for food, well, you can go to local Whole Food’s or Co-op bulk bins.Either go to your local store to buy teas that contain oats or buy oats bulk through your local herbal medicine shop. If you don’t have a local herb store, Mountain Rose Herbs is a great place to buy online.

Recipe Time!
Here is a recipe on a pudding I like to make which involves oats, chia seeds, berries, and banana. It’s a form of overnight oats but thicker.

1 cup of oats
2 cups of nut milk or dairy
a handful of strawberries
1/2 a banana
2-3 dates
a tablespoon of chia seeds
optional-hemp seeds

overnight oat pudding

Blend the oats in the blender. Then add milk, strawberries, banana,dates and chia seeds. Blend those together. Pour into glass jar, sprinkle with hemp seeds and more chia seeds. Let sit for at least four hours.

vermicomposting (composting with worms) diy

Do you juice a lot? Drink coffee? Use a lot of vegetables and fruits? Where does your “waste” go? If you’re in some states, you can throw that stuff in your green (yard waste) bin and save it from going to the landfill. Vermicomposting is a way to use that “waste” which call a resource, at home. This is especially useful in areas with no yard waste bins. I see a lot online about people juicing and lining their pulp trays with plastic bags then throwing it out.

Red wriggler worms (Eisenia fetida) work great at breaking down fruits, vegetables, juice remnants, coffee grounds, and more. These worms are extremely efficient and relatively fast at breaking down these fruit cores and lettuce ends to a very rich nutrient compost for your garden. You can sometimes find  these red wriggler worms at bait shops, online, and soon through me! You can farm these worms at home with a rubbermaid container, a few pieces old wood constructed into a box, a five gallon container, a purchased worm farm kit, etc.. I find the more wide and shallow the structure, the better the environment for the worms. These worms generally live in the top 12″ of the soil while night crawlers can go much deeper into the ground. These bins for the worms must be aerated. At the very least, you want drainage holes on the bottom and a loose fitting lid for the top. Worms need oxygen too!

Here is a list of what you’ll need:

  • Newspaper
  • Sticks
  • A box for your worms
  • Worms!
  • Some soil
  • And some leftover food waste (no meat or oils)

Step 1-
Make sure your box is well ventilated. In my case, I drilled hole on the bottom and sides of the rubbermaid container with a 5/16″ drill bit.

diy worm compost vermicompost bin tub

Step 2-
Layer sticks in a crossing pattern. This will help the bin drain.

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Step 3-
Tear newspaper length wise and lay that over the sticks.

newspaper bedding worm bin compost vermicompost

Step 4-
Put an inch of soil in the box over the newspaper.

Step 5-
Lay worms on top of the soil.

Step 6-
Chop of the food waste into small pieces and lay on top. Tip: Don’t overload the bin with food scraps at first. They take a while to get going and giving them too much food may kill them and make your bin stinky! They generally take a month to get used to their new home.

Step 7-
Shred more newspaper length wise and lay on top.

Step 8-
Moisten the newspaper and attach the lid. You do not want an airtight lid.

Tips:

  • The worms don’t want to be soaking wet but they despise being dry. Think of a wrung out sponge!
  • You can replace the newspaper with leaves too. Make sure not to use conifer (redwood, pine, etc.) leaves because worms do not digest those. Those leaves and needles require fungi to break them down.
  • Do you juice a lot? That pulp is excellent worm food, you’ve done have the work for them by grinding it up like that.

I will be selling worms in about two months, ready for spring time!