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.

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!

Why I chose a Toyota Van for my Camper Van

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Toyota Van Wagon Camper Conversion Part 1

Since the last time I posted, I bought a van. A 1985 Toyota Van, yes, that’s the model name, Van. Oh, the simpler times. The purpose of this van is a camper, a weekend getaway machine. Will I live in it? Probably not long term, maybe short term but this is more of a weekend machine. Sorry #vanlife Nazis, if this isn’t hardcore enough, move on.

Vehicle: 1985 Toyota Van 2WD
Odometer Reading: 195,xxx

This post will be broken into three sections.

  1. Why I chose an 80’s Toyota Van.
  2. What mechanical work I’ve done on it.
  3. An update on where the conversion is at the moment.

Why the heck did I choose a 1985 Toyota Van? 
1. Looks like a spaceship, number one reason, yup.
2. Toyota’s are known to be reliable. You see many Toyota’s with 200-300k miles.
3. Widely available in stick, the only way to go in my opinion on these older cars with 4 cylinder engines.
4. Good space inside the van.
5. Pretty cheap to buy, got mine for 1500. Beats blowing  a ton of cash on a sprinter.
6. Parts are widely available, great when hopefully traveling to Baja!
7. Pretty good clearance for 2WD, I can give it an oil change without putting it on a jack stand.
8. Rain gutters for easy rack installation.

Some of the cons I’ve noticed.
1. To access the engine, you have to lift the drivers seat up and access in general to certain parts is restricted. It limits what you can do behind the seat and the seats can’t be made to swivel towards the back.
2. Depending on the previous owner, you may need to replace some parts initially.
3. Stock temp gauge can be inaccurate.
4. Obviously not as much headspace or space in general as a Sprinter or pop top.

What mechanical work have I got done on the van since purchasing it?
1. Clutch was toast, if the person won’t let you test drive it, there may very well be a reason. Replaced the clutch, always go OEM with these Toyota Vans. This was done by a mechanic in a shop.
2. I thought the van was running hot and I didn’t know if the fan clutch and water pump were fully functioning (turns out they were fine, the temp gauge wasn’t reading accurately). So, I replaced the water pump and fan clutch, got that out of the way and at least I know that’s new. Thought about doing this myself but just had a mechanic install the parts for me.
3. New aftermarket digital temp gauge that told me my van was running at a perfectly normal temperature. I installed this myself.
4. Replaced the spark plugs with iridium plugs.
5. Gave it an oil change right away, full synthetic.
6. Coming soon – Needs a new brake master cylinder, just need to pull the plug on this one before I do any extended driving.

Next post will be about the flooring…

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.
solarpanel

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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coffee shops, a gypsy’s best friend

espresso coffee shops amongst other things are a great place to sit down, relax, catch up on emails and complete work while on the road. of course, there are places like starbucks but i prefer the hole in the wall shops. the places that have only one location where the owner isn’t far from the espresso machine. think about it, wifi nowadays can cost you around $80 a month. let’s not include a cell phone plan but you could use google voice and cut out your cell phone bill as well. so,  let’s say you were to get coffee every day and your drink cost $3 (i’m not one for fancy drinks, i’m usually getting espresso or coffee with the occasional latte). you go every day for a month. 30×3=$90. only ten bucks more and you’ve got coffee and high speed interenet. and you probably won’t be buying coffee everyday either. sometimes i’ll  go to a location and get the wifi password and then the next time park, make my own coffee in the camper and use the interenet. so here’s to all those coffee shops around the world provided caffeine for the masses along with a chill workplace and an awesome place to people watch and see the locals.

optimism, anxiety, and living on the road

IMG_0530 put it out to the universe and you shall receive. maybe not exactly the way you planned, but it will happen. it’s been a while since i last posted and things have changed quite a bit in my life. i’m no longer living in the camper shell, i have a new camper. i have a partner that i’m very excited about and i’m no longer being held down by a stationary job. i’ll be the first to say that happy people used to annoy me, i couldn’t understand how someone could be happy all the time (or it seemed like it). i set out to examine habits in my life and how they affected my happiness. i quit habits that were not life serving and gave more energy to the habits that were life serving. life serving for me, means that it provides happiness or contributes to happiness in some form (i.e. a job that provides the money for you to travel). as mentioned in my blog posts earlier such as ‘not buying anything for a month‘ and ‘reducing my possessions‘ were ways i could tackle some of the habits that weren’t life serving. i found out what gave me the most anxiety and tackled those problems, that was alcohol, weed, and tobacco. i examined my communication habits not only with others but also the self-talk. i incorporated non violent communication into my life and i can highly recommend marshall rosenberg’s non violent communication book. this may be something i cover in a later post because there is a lot to talk about. so, ever since this mentality shift, good things have happened. some right away and some have taken time. i’m still adjusting to my new lifestyle and i do have the occasional anxiety breakdown but i’m in a much better place to make decisions and tackle obstacles that arise.

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about the camper and how it fell into my hands…

the camper is a cabover that sits on top of my 2004 dodge dakota. i called on memorial day about a camper that was for sale on craigslist. after speaking with the gentlemen for a few minutes, he be became upset with how many questions i was asking and started to use foul language. i explained that i was driving a long way and wanted to make sure it would be a good fit (there was a lack of pictures, only one of the outside). i said thank you for your time and hung up the phone. i received a text shortly after from his wife stating that her husband loses patience and he’s not out to make a profit. i responded by saying ‘i understand, i’ll be living in it and wanted to make sure it would be the right fit, good luck with selling the trailer”. a couple minutes later i received another text saying he would let me have it for free. so, i jumped in my truck and traveled three plus hours to the central valley in 100 degree heat to pick it up. the guy ended up being friendly and helped me maneuver the camper into the back of my truck. it all worked out and i’m very grateful for his kindness!

 

IMG_0327let the work begin….

my mom and i spent two days refinishing and sprucing it up before i had to spend my first night in it. cleaning was a big chore, it required a lot of elbow grease, goof off, and soft scrub (which cleaned the grease, smoke stained wall paper to new). i also had to set up my solar system, replace levers, refinish wood, remove a lot of rust from the stove, replace screws on the inside and outside, and i’m continuing to complete work like replacing lights, painting, and installing a new bed. to me, having a nice sleeping area is key to having success on the road. so, i splurged and bought a custom mattress that’s being shipped as i write this post.

IMG_0457living, finding parking spots, ramblings..
i’ve been living part time out of the camper for a couple weeks now.  i’ve camped out at a few places such as friend’s houses, schools i’ve attended, and the occasional state/regional park. one thing that i’ve realized and has upset me is the outlawing of sleeping in your car, to me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. isn’t it better than sleeping under a bridge? does the government expect people to all live in a house and pay ridiculous bills? i’m hoping to create a community where we can share car sleeping friendly cities, parking lots, and camp sites. i see a lot of people living on the road but no overarching community that helps each other thrive on the road.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetspace issues…what’s next?
i’m being very cautious with the extra space. just because i have the space doesn’t mean i need to fill it. i also have to keep in mind that my partner will be joining me at some point. i want to keep it to basic essentials. i think naturally, most people living on the road are minimalists out of necessity. otherwise, you won’t find anything, everything will be constantly cluttered and you will become frustrated. with that said, i’m constantly making lists of what will improve my living arrangements. i find this very helpful because at times, i think i will remember my thought but i usually forget in a few hours. stay tuned, i will be continuing to post on my travels. tell me what you would like to see more of! pictures? recipes? instructions? products? tips?