Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
You may have heard the expression “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” When I hear this expression I immediately think of an epic adventure or long cross country journey covering hundreds, if not thousands of miles. Funny thing is our destination (in mileage) thus far is in the exact same spot as the starting point, the driveway of a small home in Prospector Park located in Park City, Utah. The destination has been constant but the journey has been life changing. Who would have thought, I certainly did not, that over a period of 5 months Rachelle and I were going to transform this characterless old FedEx/Ryder van into our own unique space on wheels. This transformation has taught me many things, especially the ability of the human brain and body to evolve. We have this amazing organ in our skull with ability beyond our wildest dreams. Challenge yourself everyday to go after a skill that seems unobtainable. Completing the “Rambler” and feeling the satisfaction of concurring this massive undertaking without any prior skill or knowledge has given us a sense of empowerment. We set a goal, committed to the progress, and now we have the vehicle to push off on the next journey we have created for ourselves that will take us to many destinations. Go after your dreams with full focus because who knows, they might just come true.
So hear are the many final steps in the build out:
1. Electrical Wiring
With the help of Jason Ledyard, I learned how to do basic electrical wiring for a 12 Volt system. The decision was made to run electrical wiring to 5 different 12v outlets commonly known as cigarette lighters. These outlets we conveniently located to service the ARB Refrigerator, kitchen electrical items, charge phones, and other electronic devices. In addition I wired in a 1000 watt inverter so we could plug in 110v household appliances, even a magic bullet blender, oh yeah!. The inverter is powered directly from the 200 amp/hr AGM battery which is charged by both solar power and the alternator, via an isolator, when the van is running. We used 4 gauge wire in order to prevent power loss and deliver the correct amount of electricity. A distribution block with individual fuses was used so if an outlet has a power surge it will not blow all of the electrical. For lighting in the van, I installed a LED dome light in the kitchen and rear ceiling gear area. Each light has a switch so they turn on just like at home! For mood lighting and to see gear at night, we installed LED strips along the base of the bed angle iron to light the garage space. All in all I had fun doing the electrical except when one fuse kept blowing and I was pulling out my hair trying to figure it out. The thought of pulling down all of the paneling gave me nightmares so I ran a new wire to the unruly outlet…still didn’t work! Now I was officially not having fun with electrical. Fortunately, Jason and Rachelle finally figured out the glitch in the system, which ended up being a simple fix in the actual outlet. Needless to say I was happy to be done with electrical and on to insulation. Besides its a good thing 12v does not pack much power because I would have definitely fried some body hairs during this process.
Anyone out there contemplating building a van I would recommend insulating the van prior to running wire for the electrical. Some may tell you differently but it is best to have the ability to take paneling off and see wires if repairs need to be made. Yes! We did it in the wrong order due to confusion on spray foam capabilities, but was able to do some scrambling and retrofitting to make it work. The insulation process was one of the easier projects, however, less than exciting and time consuming. We were able to muster up some essential help from my fantastic mother, Colleen Wilstein, and our good friend, Lindsey Nick, to knock this out. As soon as we realized the necessary change of insulation plans, we did further research concluding to stay away from fiberglass insulation to avoid dealing with mold and vapor barriers. Our process involved a layer of Reflectix Bubble Wrap, Foamular 150 1” rigid insulation, RMax rigid foam for ceiling only, and spray foam insulation to fill the many cracks and gaps in the van frame. Upon conclusion we agreed that the van already felt warmer, maybe due more to a desired mental reward for the hard work. Thanks Lindsey and Mom!
This process was quite frustrating but after many tedious hours/days it came out great! Rachelle spent hours resurfacing the original battered plastic paneling with automotive headliner. This original paneling fit great before the bed angle iron was welded to the inside of the van, leading to challenges when we went to reattach the newly resurfaced paneling. Needless to say, we totally screwed up the paneling by trying to cut out spaces to slide around welded connection points of the angle iron. After feeling defeated and a nights sleep we came up with plan B. Plan B was to go buy more 4 x 8’ sheets of Kashmir paneling from Home Depot, originally planned to only go on the roof, and utilize it on both side walls to replace the paneling we destroyed. To make all the original hardwork justified, we used the remaining pieces of the original resurfaced paneling to create an accent strip at the top of the van walls. Fancy! The end result is the Kashmir paneling covering the ceiling and middle section of the parallel walls above and below the angle iron. Rachelle then used an all surface “Forged Metal” spray paint to resurface existing paneling on the sliding/upper rear doors, cut out paneling for areas that no paneling existed, and the dividing wall between the kitchen and cockpit. We re-used the self tapping screws that attached the original paneling but mostly screwed new holes due to difficulty lining up the new paneling with existing holes. Hundreds of holes later the paneling was secured and the Rambler started to look even more livable.
A teamwork approach was utilized to embrace the multi-faceted, tedious exterior needs. Thanks for your help Colleen Wilstein (again!) and Mike Chambers! The lower portion of the exterior was further prepped with a Rustoleum rust dissolvent, plastic paneling sanded, metal frame cleaned with Acetone, and the body taped off. Two coats of Herculiner Truck Bed Liner were rolled onto the lower portion of the exterior, including the plastic paneling and some interior panels. Goo removal and Acetone was utilized to remove remnants of FedEx/Ryder stickers and Rustoleum rubber spray came in handy to seal remaining rust spots. The combination of the rust/stickers removed, truck bed liner, and Jake Smith connecting us with slightly used Hankook Dynapro ATM tires to replace the badly worn original tires, the look of the van really changed from a work (or some have said "molester van") to a now slightly rugged/outdoorsy appearance.
Upon completion of the paneling, Rachelle stained all additional bare wood projects (rear cargo shelves/wheel well encasing/toe kick under tool chest/bike hanger/shower hanger/battery cover) with the same waterproofing wood stain that was used for the floor. She also cut out 6 inches of tempurpedic foam for the bed mattress. Now was the time to install all the pre-built items and really start to see things come together. This was also the point where we felt a real time crunch since we had a going away party the very next day and wanted the van to be somewhat done to showcase. Chris Bova lent a helping hand and build the toe kick for the Husky Tool Chest (aka Kitchen). He had similar engineering challenges as Rachelle with leveling, but the end product works great with the tool chest weight on it. Thanks Bova, it truly was helpful and we really appreciate it! The next install was the small table the ARB refrigerator sits on with additional storage below, followed by installing the awesome bench Rachelle built. L-brackets were used to secure the table to the floor, slotted angle iron with lag bolts for the bench, and multiple long lag bolts for attaching the tool chest/toe kick. The best method for attaching furniture would be to bolt each piece through the body of the van but I opted for the easier route of more lag bolts through the wood floor. Most likely the furniture attachments would not pass a safety inspection but they feel strongly connected, however, we kept the kitchen/cockpit divider in place specifically for these safety reasons and doubt in our securing abilities. To wrap up, Rachelle and I re-installed the stained shelves, cut off the metal rod excess from bottom of shelving, secured the bed panels with bolts, threw in the bed foam/curtains/clothes storage, and headed to the big party!
My parents hosted a killer stone oven pizza party at their house on a beautiful spring day. All in all about 50 of our friends showed up to wish us farewell and check out the Rambler. After several fun packed hours, I headed to "The Follies" play I am in every year, with many friends to follow suit soon after. The evening wrapped up with friends hanging in the van on Main Street outside of the bars. We want to thank everyone for coming it really meant a lot to us. It is extremely difficult to leave family, friends, and home.
7. Rear Cargo Shelves/Kayak Storage/Shower
After we took Sunday to chill for the fist time in at least a month, we got back to work on the van first thing the next morning. I fabricated a rear cargo shelving unit which doubles as kayak holders. The two large containers for gear storage fit below the rear cargo shelf. Our paragliders and camp chairs/table fit on top of the shelf. The kayaks rest upon each of the wheel well encasings that I built and the cargo shelving system has vertical pieces which holds the kayaks in place. The kayaks fit so tight that no other securing device is needed. In addition, I built a box around the battery to protect it and clean up the look. Rachelle finished up her building with a conceptualized shower design of PVC, paracord, O-rings, zip ties, shower curtain/rings, and metal bin. The shower hangs on a swinging arm that is attached to the other rear door and all folds away compactly for storage.
8. The Big Finish
The glorious day of completing the van finally occurred on Saturday, May 9th, a week after the party. Now it was time to pack the van with all the toys that are necessary to embark on the many adventures ahead, as well as the other living, kitchen, food, and clothing supplies. This task proved to be all encompassing and, again, time consuming. We managed to complete all packing and errands by 5:00 pm on Monday, including the minor detail of registering the Rambler. Now it was time to hit the glorious road! Only 5 days behind our original departure date of May 6th.
Stay tuned for The Big Finish: Part 2 which includes events of our 10 day test trip in the desert and on the river. Followed by our hectic return to Park City to embrace much unfinished business, packing our house, and many entertaining and almost mishaps.
Author: Jeremy Wilstein
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