updates on the 1985 toyota van camper conversion

1985 Toyota Camper Vanwagon
Off Highway 89 somewhere.

If you’re doing a van conversion or some kind of camper conversion, I recommend creating a very basic set up to start with not a lot of screws or time spent doing it. This is what I’ve learned through various builds. You don’t know exactly what you want until you go camping, you spend time in it and become aware of your own needs. It’s hard to understand our needs in life and that’s the same for building out a van.

I realized I haven’t shared any updates on the my 1985 Toyota Vanwagon Mashin’ Machine. The van has undergone some changes since the original build. I’ve been lucky to take her on a quite a few trips this year and after each trip, I came back with a list of changes or supplies that needed to be added. This is another tip I recommend, when going on weekend trips, create a running list of what’s not comfortable, what would be nice to have, what you don’t need and so forth. You’d think you’d remember everything but after a few years of partying too hard, it’s best written on paper so I can revist when I’m back in a place I can make modifications.

I was able to keep most of the design from before (the folding bench seat and frame). I made a decision to keep the bench seat in bed formation all the time. This saved the hassle of not having to unfold or fold the bed every morning and night. I also gained a ton of storage room below. I made the drawer out of plywood and 2x2s then drilled a couple holes to put some rope through for a handle.

Bed Toyota Vanwagon 1985
This bed doesn’t interfere with accessing the engine compartment.

In the back of the van, I created a divider wall. This was now going to be the area for the electronics, fridge, stove, water, and other various supplies.

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Here is the back of the van, “the kitchen” with the divider wall.

Added 12v fairy lights, you can buy these anywhere from Amazon to eBay for 5 bucks or less. I really like them and I hope to put them on a dimmer switch. They are bright enough to read under, it also helps to run two strands across the van where you’ll want extra light. I did that in the back where the kitchen is and by the seats in the front where our heads rest and we can read.

Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights
Back of Van at Night w/ 12v Fairy Lights

58183079700__30657fda-ca19-4506-b305-392a7ca1a122Upgraded the stove from a Coleman two burner to a cast iron Camp Chef Ranger II Blind Stove. Stays in its place well, has a really night flame, and has a flexible hose for the propane instead of the rigid Coleman attachment.

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A mistake I often make is that before I participate in something, I get all excited about it and I start to research what I think is the best things to buy are and I start trying to figure out everything before actually partaking in that activity. For example, if you take up running, you may not want to research best running shoes, best water bottle, best visor (is that a thing?). Only after running will you realize what you truly need; shoes with more padding, a water bottle with a strap so it’s easy to hold onto, a visor instead of a hat because a hat makes you sweat too much. This relates to building out a van.

I have built out a truck camper shell (see other posts) and a cabover but each vehicle is different. Until I took enough trips in the van, I wouldn’t know what exactly I would need. Taking it slow and easy is the best approach, it’s about the process and not trying to get everything done immediately.

Complete list of revisions so far:

  1. Added a second solar shower (scored one for cheap on Craiglist). Also, it helps to have back up water as well as water to rinse dishes when dry camping.
  2. Added a shower nozzle to one of solar showers. (post coming)
  3. Created a divide for the kitchen and bed.
  4. Inserted plywood sheet to extend bed to the back of the seats.
  5. Made two large pull out drawers, one pulls out from the side and one from the back.
  6. Added a fuse panel. (post coming)
  7. Mounted the inverter.
  8. Added a storage shelf.
  9. Mounted an ARB awning. (post coming)
1985 Toyota Van Forest Road
Down some forest road.
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my tiny sailboat – 1971 newport 16

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My “new” Newport 16.

After selling the last sailboat, I really wanted to focus on getting boat that I felt comfortable learning on. I wanted a sailboat that had a cabin for overnight excursions but I wanted it small enough to tow and avoid berth fees as I learned. Heck, my friend even poisoned my mind with taking a small sailboat to the Sea of Cortez for some Baja excursions, now who wouldn’t want to do that?

The checklist for the new boat entailed having a cabin, a trailer, being light enough to tow with my 85 Toyota Van and in being good enough shape to sail right away with limited to no repairs. I looked at the usual suspects, a West Wight Potter 15, a Compac 16, the Montgomery 15, and the Newport 16.

The Potter 15s are a really popular boat, one owner had even taken part in a transpacific sail to Hawaii on his. There is a small group in the Bay Area called the Potter Yachters, it’s a tiny sailboat cruising community that despite it’s names, allows other boats as well but the boat really does have a cult following. The next was a Compac 16, the heaviest of them all but some consider the most seaworthy of the group. There’s the Montgomery 15, a really beautiful boat but you don’t see as many and they cost a bit more. The last boat, the one I ended up buying was a boat I didn’t know much about. It had a small cabin, it seemed in good condition and came with a trailer, the price was right so I jumped on it after looking the few articles that were out there on the web. Most owners seemed to enjoy the boat just as much as any of the other small boats out there.

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Me hoisting the mainsail.

Next begin the journey of getting in contact with the boat’s owner. I text the owner, I called the owner, crossing my fingers all along that it hadn’t been sold. People who have experienced the Craigslist buying experience before know that it’s sometimes just as hard to buy something as it is to sell something. I began to come to grasps that the boat may have sold, the listing was old, I hadn’t heard back in a few days and that I should probably look for something else. Not soon after this realization, I received a call and a text from the owner. He was busy and hadn’t had the time to respond. I said I’d love to meet up, just tell me the time and place.

I drove down the road to San Pablo Point Yacht Club where the boat was stored and quickly found the owner trying to blow up the flat tire on the trailer with not much success. I walked up and asked him a few questions about the boat, he seemed distracted, slightly annoyed because he had a task in front of him he was trying to accomplish before the buyer showed up. It was at that point that I thought it might be good to introduce myself as the interested buyer and he soon warmed up to tell me about the boat while the high pitch sound of the tiny 12v air pump blew its heart out with not much success.

The San Pablo Point Yacht Club is an interesting place, it’s off the last exit before getting on the Richmond Bridge to head to Marin County. You’ll pass by old army barracks as you drive a winding road down the yacht club past the gun and rod club. When I finally made my way down the steep descent to where the marina was, I saw goats on my right and a yurt. Where did I just drive to? It felt like this place shouldn’t exist in the Bay Area where land is outrageously expensive and developers are quick to buy any land not maximized to its full multi-floor apartment capacity.

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Before cleaning.

In between him lighting up a rolled cigarette with his butane stove, we did end up getting the tire to inflate, it needed more forced air than the tiny 12v pump he was using. The guys at the shop near the marina lent us an air compressor that did the job. I gave him the cash and didn’t bargain for a lower price because I believed the price to be very fair. I then hooked up the boat and cautiously headed home.

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After power washing the deck.

The previous owner has been very helpful since the purchase of the boat with answering my dumb questions as well as offering to help me take it out and to learn the ropes (oops, I mean lines!).

The Details

Year: 1971
Manufacturer: Newport
Model: 16
Two quarter berths, a hole for a toilet, a retractable keel with a big cockpit, a fancy new rudder, fishing pole holders, a mainsail and a jib. What else does one need?

The Plan:

Learn to sail on it. Take it on overnight camping trips across the lakes and the delta.