The Story so far. for years I have thought about running away, or more to the point driving off into the sunset, in our flower painted VW van, basically just stepping off the world and to hell with society. I never really did fit in all that well, and my boy less so - but the thing is, we three, we are ok, its them out there that don't fit in with us!. so build a hermitage right? Except you don't get to see the world much that way, so a mobile one and we are away.
Those VW buses though.. well... they are pricey! and sought after!, and not ideal set up for a family of three, and then I would quite like to be able to walk around inside, upright, and everthing. and I am not sure I actually want to live (not compatible lifestyle with love of cats and garden) in the bus, perhaps just take off now and then when we feel like it.
so this is a campervan. ok. Do you know how much campervans cost?!!? Lets just say my first house was about the same price..... Luckily living around here, with that many hippies and travellers.. the solution was staring us in the face. Convert our own van.
After a bit of thought we decided on a Ford Transit - as Fords are around so much, there was hope of getting spare parts wherever we ended up, and there are plenty to choose from. What we chose in the end was a long wheel base high top transit.Now, admittedly, it does look like any other white van, but that cannot be helped. We found it easy to drive - with good steering lock. and big mirrors.
So we sat down and made plans. Our requirements were a double bed for us, and a single bed for my son. A kitchen area, somewhere for a loo to go, and lots of storage. I stumbled across a really useful website full of people doing the exact same thing, converting their own van - the self build motor caravaners club, SBMC and their forums were invaluable help. Also spent alot of time look at Jolly interesting's van conversion pages too. Very helpful people and although not everyone agrees, all the time! they help you make your own mind up of which way to go in your own conversion. Many of the conversions on those pages look very professional, however we were going for basic yet comfortable.
First thing we decided was windows. Clearly a tad dark in there without any, and initially opted to put some in the rear doors. In fact we made it part of the deal when we bought it. I'm not sure looking back if this was the right decison - at the time I was new to van driving and wanted to be able to look in a rear view mirror as I did with my car - however the reality was the rear vew mirror we bought kept falling off and I got used to using the wing mirrors. However, as these windows were next to the bed in the end, at least I could take a peek at the world when I woke through the curtains! Later we put a window in the sliding door too.
We then considered a sky light. We decided in the end it was necessary, for ventilation on hot days, to let out cooking steam etc. It later proved essential.
Most people on the self builders forums have put in their own, but we were terrified of ruining the fibreglass roof, and paid for someone to do it for us.
As you can also see, it had a floor but needed panelling out. So that became the next job.
It was a fairly time consuming job as, of course, nothing is straight in a van, and we had to make sure the battens we inserted as supports were straight with each other!
We then put our minds to the designs of the beds. For some time, I had envised a sort of fold down bed for my son, as the only way we could fit one it. it was not ideal, as we go to alot of festivals and wanted to be able to stagger back after the last event in the wee hours and fall into bed, not faff about converting sofas into beds etc. It was only when we were working on the panelling, and my son was playing in the van, that the solution presented itself, or more to the point, he climbed over the front seats and lay down to hide. I could make the front seats into a bed. Ok, it was not going to be easy, as they were made up of a double seat, the gear stick and handbrake bit, and the drivers seat.. and none of it was bed shaped. I based my design on the bean bag lap trays people eat their TV dinners on.
I made a sausage shaped bean bag, out of an old curtain and.. yes.. a bean bag. I made it faily loose so it could be shaped to fill all those awkward seat shapes. Then, with a lot of faffing about with cardboard making a template and then cut it out of fairly thick plywood. the bed could be assembled minutes after parking, first we disconnected the horn (least a stray foot in the night should all give us an early wake up call!) then in went the bean bag, then the board, then the sponge (also cut to shape). The lad was very please with his 'space pod' and he was certainly snug and comfy in there. Screens to cut out light and lend privacy, and a personal light finished the job.
So - the double bed. By now we had enjoyed the ability to go and fetch large items, and transport my son's trike etc in a larger vehicle, and were not inclined to give up this facility. So we designed the bed so that it could be removed easily for other transporting purposes. We made four posts, into which side rails slotted, and then slates, stapled onto tape could be inserted. On top of this went the sponge. We spent a fair bit of money on the sponge, and it was well spent - its not worth scrimping on your sleeping comfort! its fire retardant and very dense, so you dont feel any bumps! We made the bed by recycing an old pine bed, cutting it down to size.
Himself sorted out the electrics before the panelling, we opted for a big overhead light for that 'I dropped something' moment, and small reading lights on either side of the bed. We bought and fitted a leisure battery, along with a second battery tray - there is space in a transit for one. The easiest way to keep the leisure battery charged, without draining the main battery, was to fit a split charge relay. We found one that was entirely self contained and only charged the leisure battery whilst the engine was running ( it also has an output for driving a fridge).
Turning out minds to the kitchen area - we read up about gas boxes and made a sealed lockable gas bottle box, with a vent hole and lined with fireboard - you have to think carefully about safety with gas bottles during transport - and your insurance might not be valid. In time we planned to get a proper fitted hob - but initially recycled our camping cooker. We also decided to get a hand pump for a tap - a foot pump would have been fine but there was no room for it. We stayed away from electric as partly its a drain on the battery and having once borrowed a caravan that the electrics stopped working on.. no water was no fun. We ignored the advice of one of our more traveller minded friends and did not have the waste water empty out onto the road! but instead fitted a black jerry can for emptying, and a white one for clean water. We had a little trouble at first with the water tasting 'plasticy' - and eventually found it was the tubing sold to us by a caravan suppliers.. but once we replaced it, that was fine.
With a small box built to cover the loo, and cupboard under the kitchen counter,inside boxes acting as drawers, and a very useful cupboard built over the lad's bed in the 'luton' part , and insurance as a self build van from adrian flux- we were ready to go.
We have done a couple of years of various festivals, and weekends away, lots of day trips ( such as going up the moors for a walk then back for a mug of chocolate and a bacon sarnie whilst staring at the view) and a 'grand tour', where we drove through some of England and Wales partly on a home education field trip - partly on holliday. Its been alot of fun
A sad ending? yes and no.
Finally, after years of searching we found the house we wanted - its ideal for us in so many ways, it has character, it has space and land, its in a great community. But alas, the van, being LWB could not make the turn into the green lane that leads to our house. We knew this before we bought the place - and in the end decided we wanted the house much more than the van, and so sold it on, happily to a family who wanted a camper van.
Don't regret this adventure for one minute.. just now we are on a new adventure, as is our van!