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Lots of Oregon

Lots of Oregon

This route was over 6,500 miles and 106 hours of driving – over 18 days.
Oregon was the focal point with about a week spent throughout the state.

The trip out west took me through:

Custer, SD
Dubois, WY
Bridger – Teton NF
Grand Teton NP
Colter Bay Village
Jackson, WY
Wilson, WY
Salmon-Challis NF
Sawtooth NF/Stanley, ID
Deschutes NF
Bend, OR
Crater Lake NP
Umpqua NF
Salem, OR
Cape Kiwanda/Pacific City, OR
Cannon Beach, OR

And headed back east through:

Portland, OR
The Columbia River
Spokane, WA
Coeur d’Alene, ID
Lolo NF
Devils Tower Natl Monument
Deadwood, SD

 


My mobile drive-in theatre???

My mobile drive-in theatre???

I discovered the “smart projector” after trying to figure out the best way to watch movies in the van. The inside surface of the back doors is the perfect place for a screen that can allow for about 55 inches wide and 36 inches high.

After some trial an error with the screen I bought a shade from the hardware store that turned out to be a perfect fit (I think it was 55″) for the pre-drilled holes on both sides of the structure where the back doors are connected.

The current system is a quick rig job that I will eventually streamline but for now it works great and set up is minimal. The smart projector screws on to a basic tripod. Since I have hundreds of movies I have been connecting to a DVD player for viewing – but the smart projector has the ability to store movies or connect to a laptop as well. I also have a separate speaker for much better sound than the speakers on smart projector.  And voilĂ  – it’s like I have some sort of a mobile drive-in theatre!


Fans and A/C

Fans and A/C

I wanted two bi-directional fans installed in the ceiling – to allow for strong air circulation – and minimize the need to use the roof-mount A/C. The roof-mounted A/C is a 13,500 BTU unit installed almost exactly in the middle between the front and back of the van – and in between the two fans.

I chose two (2x) of the 14 inch Fan-Tastic fans and they do the job. I am surprised how strong yet quiet they are – and how cool the inside of the van can be with one or both fans running.

 


Windows

Windows

Simply put – I wanted windows that could be opened while the van is in motion to allow for circulation and to cool things down on hot days. Most windows in camper vans are either fixed (can’t be opened at all) or are crank-out “awning” windows (can only be opened when the van is parked).

After much thought about the number of windows, and which sizes would make the most sense, I ended up with a total of four (4x) of the 30″ x 15″ Hehr windows installed – two on each side of the van. This meant four cutouts made into the van – again two on each side – essentially with front windows installed at the highest possible position toward the front –  and back windows installed at the highest position toward the back.

The windows are sliders that can be opened while the van is driven, plus there are screens, that can also slide, which allows for windows to be entirely opened if I prefer. And each window comes with dual day/night blinds.

 


Cabinets and Storage

Cabinets and Storage

I wanted max storage while having essentially an open concept – which meant no floor-to-ceiling units of any kind.

I made the most out of upper cabinets and the lower cabinets (below countertop that is over 7 feet long). The upper cabs on the driver side have partitions between each unit – with each of the 4 units a little over 3 feet wide. The upper cab on the passenger side has no partitions which allows for storing items over 8 feet long.

Plus there is more storage below the 6 ft 3 inch bed. The cabinet on the driver side below the bed is ~80% unusable space because this is where the batteries and converter were installed. But the cab on the passenger side is 100% usable – except for where the wheel wells are.

 

 


Bed(s), sleeping and seating

Bed(s), sleeping and seating

pics up now – text coming later

 

 

 


Solar

Solar

I am still testing the 200 watt solar panel but I do know already it will never allow (for long term use of the roof mounted A/C or the space heaters (maybe a few hours for each with my 4x AGM batteries – when not plugged into shore power). However it does keep me at what seems to be breakeven usage or a little ahead during a sunny day with a basic draw on power (fridge, charging cell phone, laptop, both roof fans, and likely more). It’s the large A/C unit and space heaters which just devour the power.

Below are images of the portable panel and the two different units for monitoring power usage and charging.

 


Batteries and power systems

Batteries and power systems

After assessing all the ways to generate power and store it without the use of fuels – I decided on a system that included:

  • Four (4x) AGM batteries in an array (this does not include any factory installed batteries under the hood)
  • One 2,800 watt inverter
  • One 200 watt solar panel (portable not roof mounted)

 

I wanted the benefit of the modified alternator – which would allow batteries to charge faster while the van is driving. However the Sprinter needs a bracket installed for this modification and after speaking with folks at a few Mercedes dealerships I learned that the alternator modification works best when the bracket is installed at the factory – and that results are mixed when it is done later. The Sprinter I ended up with did not have this bracket installed at the factory and I did not want to take the chance of installing it after the fact.

I spent a lot of time learning about batteries, AC and DC power, solar, inverters and controllers. AGM was my  preference even though I looked into lithium. I wanted something proven even though AGM is less efficient when compared to lithium.

I convinced the conversion shop I hired to install 4x AGM (100 amp hours each)batteries even though the most they had installed in the past was 3x. They main reason they had previously installed a max of 3 was largely due to the fact that there wasn’t enough room for 4x due to layout designs and other installed components. I went with the highest watt inverter available from my conversion shop – 2,800 watts (as opposed to their 2,000 watt inverter). I went for max watts with with the 200 watt portable solar panel that I can plug in to an outlet on the left side of the van’s exterior. I am happy to share more about why I chose the power system I did.

 

 


No Plumbing!

No Plumbing!

After experiencing a variety of issues with with plumbing built into a camper van – I decided to have none at all in my conversion. Also – there is plenty of portable gear that allows for water storage and running water used to drink, clean items and bathe – all without the issues of plumbing for the same built into a vehicle that might be stored in cold climate and can travel 80+ mph!

 

Plumbing issues include:

  • Cold weather and water freezing. Living in the northeast and the need to winterize and de-winterize, sometimes numerous times during the season when using the vehicle during the winter. When leaving for a warmer place during the winter, I had to de-winterize during the trip and winterize it again before arriving back home. Additional issues arise when you pass from warm weather into cold weather while on the road – which could freeze water in the tanks and internal plumbing. Finally when there is a built-in water heater it must be winterized.
  • Most water tanks built into an RV are large and heavy – usually 20-30 gallons which is an extra ~200-300 lbs with the tank. This affects fuel efficiency and creates a clearance issue since these large tanks are placed outside the van, underneath the chassis. This does not include extra tanks for gray water and black water.
  • Dirty water needs chemical treatment and should not be stored for a long time. Most standard RV plumbing is separated into fresh water, gray water and black water – each with their own (usually externally installed) storage tanks. Gray water is the water that is used to clean dishes etc or from an on board shower. Black water is created from an on board toilet and requires chemical treatment – plus should not be stored for any long time.
  • Most plumbing is inaccessible. When there is a leak it can not always be detected until damage has been done. Sections of plumbing built into an RV can often be hard to access – which makes leak detection and repairs a challenge.

 

Will add more later

 

 


No Propane!

No Propane!

I have had quite a few unfortunate experiences with built in propane systems. Even in a brand new camper van I owned previously I experienced leaks – sometimes quite serious – which created a fire hazard and could have been harmful to the health of those on board – humans and animals. Some times these leaks were discovered after waking up in the morning – which means propane vapors could have been leaking throughout the night.

I also had issues with built in generators – in part due to faulty propane systems and because they are often hard to access when repairs are needed.

As a result I decided against propane systems and a built in generator. This commitment also applied to diesel and gas for power generation. I am happy to share more about my reasons for deciding against all these items.

With such a commitment to avoid propane and built-in generators – power can be generated a few different ways:

  • Solar
  • Alternator modification

Also – using batteries to store power can be helpful for continued power consumption when not plugged in to shore power. More about this in my post about Batteries and power systems.