Becoming a Home

How does a van become a home?  What makes our van different than the one your plumber or favorite creepy guy drives?

  1. Start with a Ford E-350 Extended Body van.  A van is small; many of us have closets larger than the van interior.  But, the van is a sturdy foundation.  A larger, more conventional motor home is too large, flimsy, and close to the ground to visit the off-road destinations we covet.
  2. Bolt on four wheel drive. Depending on where you’re going, consider structural upgrades such as a full floating axle, air lockers, and stronger tires.
  3. Add a fiberglass top to give over 6 feet of standing room and space for a loft bed. Most Class B (small) motorhomes have a rear sofa that converts to a temporary bed. This saves space, but involves remaking the bed every night. For full time winter living, a permanent bed is highly desirable.
  4. Add exterior storage and strength. Aluminum bumpers and racks provide storage and protection for the solar power system, vehicle rescue equipment, and tools. These items are optional, but very useful. While the bumpers can be added later on, the roof rack needs to be installed before the interior build. The roof rack bolts permanently onto the fiberglass, and then is reinforced from the inside. It is preferable to install all attachments to the fiberglass prior to installing the wall panels and headliner.
  5. Build the interior into a house. Electric wiring, insulation, and wood furring are installed first. Then, add decorative wall panels, flooring, and the fabric headliner. Next, install cabinetry, appliances, and lighting. Basic residential RV features includes spaces for sleeping, cooking, eating, hygiene, and work. Small RVs often have multipurpose or convertible furnishings to make the most of a small space. Check out this classic Disney clip for Katherine’s early childhood inspiration in compact living, and see grown up versions here and here.

Picking Up The Van — Trip Report

Day 0: Packing Up

The night before our departure, we enjoyed a lovely send off with friends in Tulsa. Leaving town was a bittersweet moment. We’re excited to head out on an adventure, but sad to say goodbye to good friends. We look forward to seeing everybody again the next time that we’re in town.

Day 1: Tulsa to South Dakota

We left Tulsa early in the morning. We headed north through Bartlesville, Kansas, and Nebraska. In Kansas, we were super excited to see a Tumbleweed Tiny House parked on a cornfield.  While we’ve read about these in the New Yorker, this was our first Tiny House sighting. Outside Omaha, we discovered 1 minor glitch with Google Maps. The map routed us across a Missouri River bridge that washed out in June in an extensive multi state flood. While I understand that it’s hard to keep up with road construction, this was a pretty significant omission. After a 45 minute detour, we were back en route. From there, we headed north through Iowa and passed Tulsa’s nearest “ski resort“. We continued north into South Dakota, arriving in Sioux Falls. The Sioux Falls downtown was a pleasant surprise. It was bustling and filled with many independent businesses. We got some (not so) spicy beef enchiladas at Mama’s Ladas enchilada and wine bar and then rested.

Day 2: South Dakota to Colorado

We headed to the South Dakota DMV to take care of a few logistics. Looks like we got there just in time, before an errant driver crashed into the DMV. Next, we headed south through central Nebraska and then west across Nebraska and into eastern Colorado. We passed a lot of Oregon Trail landmarks en route and saw enough wheat to activate all of our Catan knights for free.

Day 3: Colorado to Utah

We drove west across Colorado. It was so exciting to see snow! It was difficult to be so close to so many ski resorts but not be skiing. We continued into Utah, finishing the night in Salina near the Fishlake Wilderness.

Day 4: Utah to California

Salina, Utah to Tulare, CA via Las Vegas. We had a bit of car trouble and spent part of the afternoon at a mechanic’s in St. George.  A wiring harness under the hood had detached, and the fix was fortunately both quick and inexpensive.

Day 5: It’s A Van!

Finally, we met the van in Fresno, CA. So exciting!

The van is a Ford E350 extended body with a Fiberine camper top and Sportsmobile 4 wheel drive system. At this point, the van has completed 2 out of 3 build phases.

Sportsmobile gave us a tour of the van and 4WD system. We were excited to examine the 4WD systems and were a bit frustrated that our sales rep was not very familiar with the workings of most of the 4WD upgrades. The 4WD build foreman was much more knowledgable, fortunately. The accounting review for the purchase was also quite scattered, requiring us to cross reference 5 different invoices for 1 purchase. We found a minor leak in the rear door which Ford will need to address. The Sportsmobile-installed top was watertight, and we’re pleased with the clean way that the bolts were installed. The trim bolts will make more room for the loft bed installation.

The van lift is higher than we expected. This photo shows the relative size. We’ll definitely need to get a dog ramp.  The 4WD system looks nicely done, and we cannot wait to see what it’s capable of off road.

We toured other Sportsmobile vans including an original 1960s Sportsmobile Westie.

We also played with their demonstration models of 4WD parts such as the transfer case and air lockers. We also took a mini test drive of the van and learned how to operate all the 4WD parts.

We then left the van at Sportsmobile and headed back south to Barstow (again!).

Day 6: Barstow to Vegas, then Vegas to San Diego

Due to odd taxation law in California, we had to meet a driver in Vegas to get the van. Peter then took the van on its first shake down drive, heading back to California. Driving a large vehicle takes some getting used to, especially with windy roads and crosswinds!

Tomorrow, we’ll head south to meet with RVI and Aluminess for further work on the van interior. Once the van is built out, we look forward to heading east for skiing.

Shoving Off

Soon, we’ll leave Oklahoma and head for Sportsmobile West in Fresno, CA.  Sportsmobile is taking a Ford E-350 Extended Body van, adding 4-wheel drive, and a fiberglass top.  Next, the van goes to Aluminess for a roof rack and bumper.  Finally, we go to RV Interior and Custom Woodworking for the interior buildout.

Don’t miss the new “About Us” page for background on why we’re doing all of this.