Monday, August 19, 2019

Converting the Van on the Cheap - Part Two

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you go through them to make a purchase I can earn a commission.  But I only link to products that I recommend based on my experience with them, not because of the commission. :)

Now that I finished the main parts...insulation, walls, ceiling and floor (see last post), it was time for the fun stuff...

I decided to build a 'chest' type structure around the right side wheel well.  This was to hold some of the van essentials, like antifreeze, oil, tools, gas can, etc, as well as my shoes.  I used the 2x2's to make the frame and the 1x4 against the wall to secure the lid to, and I used the remainder of the plywood from the floor to make the outside of the structure.

Building the frame for the van essentials/shoe compartment...

Maybe not perfect, but it is done and it totally does the job!
Next was the shelving for the other side.  I wanted it to include a countertop space to prep food, as well as a spot to inset some kind of water catch receptacle and attach my 5gallon water dispenser. Below I wanted to have some shelving for regularly used items, cleaning products, etc.

Building out the frame for the counter and shelving. 
I was super lucky in that a friend gifted me a nice chunk of butcher block that fit perfect as the food prep surface. (You can kinda see it in the upper right corner.)

I didn't get any pics of the shelving installation, but basically I made a cross support on the initial frame and then laid my 1x2's along these to create shelving just over the wheel well and under the food prep area.  The butcher block took one end of the counter and then plywood for the rest of the counter.  I made it not super tall, as I can't stand in the van anyway, so I can sit at the counter fairly comfortably.

Then I took my 5 gallon container and found this little trash can that fit perfect as a water catch.  I like that it is deeper than most of the other receptacles I was looking at.

Coming together!

As you can also see, I got a 3 tier utility cart like this that worked perfect as my pantry.  I just left the wheels off and put my heaviest jars, etc on the bottom shelves and have found it to be quite stable.  I have gone over some bumpy spots and it has shifted a little but never turned over.  And of course a little Ikea rug!  

I found a little tiny wood crate sort of thing at the thrift store and it fits 3 8oz ball jars that contain my toiletries now and I mounted that up on the wall, as well as a little wooden paper organizer.  

Then it was time for decorating! <3

I will say that Command hooks and strips are the best!  I used these strips to hang my pictures. I used hooks for all kinds of things, like jackets and towel and garbage bag.  And I found the Command Mirror which was perfect.

I added some Ikea hanging containers to hold a few plants and my kitchen utensils.

Did I mention that wet and dry erase markers work on the wall?! :D
I took a couple weeks at this point to live in the van and see what else I might want and need.  My friend had pulled out some drawers and I realized they would be a perfect fit under the bed!  So that was the next part of my build....

Drawers in!

The lower drawer now holds my dishes secure, and the upper some clothing like socks.  Then the rest of the clothing is in the plastic tubs and my camp grill fits securely next to the drawers.

As you can see, there is still some finishing stuff I can do, and a few things I still want to build out.  But those will be an update later!

I think that I spent about $600 on all the building materials and other goodies for the van.  So with the van itself, mechanic repairs and supplies and conversion, I spent less than $2500.

I have now lived in the van for a couple months and I am loving it.  It forces you to downsize and really see what you use on a weekly basis.  It also forces you to be organized, which is great, too!

I also joined the local gym to have access to showers, and so it forces me to use the gym, which is a seriously awesome motivator!

Thinking of converting your vehicle, even if just for road trips here and there?  Do it!  And if you have questions, I am always happy to help!

Happy travels, friends!

- Ash

Friday, August 2, 2019

Converting the Van on the Super Cheap - First Steps

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you go through them to make a purchase I can earn a commission.  But I only link to products that I recommend based on my experience with them, not because of the commission. :)

It's about time that I start telling you about my Van Conversion!

It was a cool challenge to do my van conversion as cheap as I could but still accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish for the van. I'm sure if you have looked at van conversions, you can see that it can be done on the cheap all the way to quite spendy. Of course, if you have the resources, you can have someone convert your van for you, but I had almost no resources, and I was not going to let that get in my way!

As I mentioned before, the van I found was $800 and I put about the same amount of work into it with the new catalytic converter (a little more expensive due to regulations in CA) and radiator replacement.

Step 1) Mechanical Fixes

This go 'round, the radiator was first and foremost.  I's not really supposed to do this....

Can you see the spray of coolant?!
I replaced it all by myself, and I will say, ladies (and gents), you got this shit.  Get on the YouTubes and look up your make and model and get your hands dirty.  I was so freakin' proud of myself for just going for it myself.  And even with a few small hiccups, it only took me a couple hours or so.

Old radiator out and other pieces parts...
New one in and just in time for the rain!

Step 2) Cleaning out the Van...

Next was to clean out the van.  While I was on the road, I made a huge mistake...which, by God, I learned from.  I left a few food items out. My first few nights back in my van were riddled with cleaning mouse poop and even mice running across my foot. (There may have also been panicked texts to my mom asking what the likelihood of me dying from hantavirus was.  I was sure I was a goner.)  Needless to say, after I got everything out of the van and cleaned up and mice eradicated, I made damn sure I put every single food item in a plastic bin or glass jar.

With that taken care of, it was on to the actual build. I elected to leave my already installed bed/couch in place.  But generally you would remove everything that existed.  In a previous post I showed my dad and I cutting out the welded in shelving, so all I needed to do was remove the carpeting and rubber mat.

Tearing out the bed lining stuffs...
After I tore all that out, I got to discover an access hole that was cut into the floor above the gas tank...

Surprise! Wait....That's not supposed to be there....
For some reason they cut a piece of metal out I assume as a make shift cover, but didn't secure it.  So I took my liquid nails glue and applied a heavy coating to it to try and keep moisture out.

I then vacuumed out the van and cleaned the floor as well as I could.

Step 3) Insulating and installing the sub-floor...

The next part was buying all the goodies to start the actual build.  I decided to go with rigid styrofoam insulation for a couple reasons.  First, they are resistant to moisture, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I know condensation can be an issue.  Second, it seemed like it would be pretty user friendly...just cut to fit and use a little glue to keep in place.  And third, it's quite affordable. I actually only used 4 sheets of 4x8 1/2in thick insulation.  I think this trip to Home Depot cost me about $250 for almost all my initial supplies.

Insulation, plywood, white backer board, 2x2's, 1x4's, and 1x2's
First I needed to secure the boards to my subfloor.  Every couple feet I laid down a board cross ways and opted to secure them to the van with liquid nails.  I alternated 1x4's with 1x2's for reasons that I now realize I cannot really tell you.  It...just seemed right to me. I added 1x2's along the sides, too. Then I cut the insulation to fit the gaps.

Oh...and what about tools to cut the wood (and in the next step, screw in the wood)...?  I used this Porter Cable Circular Saw and Drill Set.  Not only are they affordable for a cordless circular saw and drill, they are also quite compact.  They had no problem doing literally everything I needed to do!

Step 4) Insulating walls and ceiling and installing the hardy backer board...

My next step was cutting insulation to fit between the metal supports on the walls and ceiling.  I just used the existing metal supports rather than adding wood.  So I glued insulation pieces into the spaces and then used spray foam insulation for the gaps. (I also learned that spray foam is super adult utilitarian silly string...)

I opted for white hardy backer board for the walls and ceiling, again for price and I like the white look and could shape it to the van.  Added bonus!  You can totally use dry or wet erase markers on it!

Backer board on the ceiling and a peek at the insulation on the walls.
I wasn't strong enough to hold an entire piece of the backer board up AND screw it in to the metal, so I cut pieces the size of each metal support.  I used 1/2in self tapping screws and have to admit I had to put in some serious muscle to get those to go in.  For those ladies doing this, my dad offered the advice to get all phillips screws, and a size 2 gold impact screwdriver bit which doesn't strip out as fast or easy. I got these Impact Gold Number 2 Phillips Insert Bits and it worked better than the alternative for me for sure!

As you can see in the pic, I will eventually need to put up some trim to cover my seams, but for now, ceiling is up!

Walls were next and a little easier to hold up, so I kept them in larger pieces.

Walls up.  Don't mind the mess on the bed. 
I knew I was building in some shelving and cabinets, so I just stopped the walls at that point.  It would likely add some extra heat regulation to go all the way down, but all my stuff helps insulate...right?

Step 5) Floor...

Well...the last pic sort of spoiled it. But while I was installing the ceiling and walls, I took a couple sheets of plywood and painted on some polyurethane (this is what I used but I'd assume any polyurethane finish would work).  I chose this cuz it is waterproof and seemed like it would be best for flooring.  I went back and forth on what type of flooring I wanted, but I actually really like the look of plywood grain (I got just the cheaper CDX plywood at 3/8in thickness) and it seemed like a more cost effective and easy to install flooring. Surprisingly (as if I actually knew WTF I was doing) it was the perfect width for the floor of the van.  As for length, I just had to add about 3 feet of an additional sheet of plywood to get the desired length.  I used 1in wood screws to attach the plywood floor to the 1in subfloor supports.

Floor in.  My trusty Porter Cable tools at my side. 
Next time in "Converting the Van"...

With the most important parts of the van done, its time to figure out what I needed for storage and counter space! Stay tuned for the next installment! ;)


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hitting the Road... Part 3 in the New Adventures for Fiberton Saga!

After I returned from Australia, I took two weeks to hang out with my parents and friends in my little town of San Miguel, CA. At that point, I had already packed everything up for the most part, so I worked on deciding next steps in my crazy little adventure.

December gardening with friends in Cali!

Winter on the Road...

I decided I'd first make my way down to visit family for the holidays in Prescott and Prescott Valley, AZ where I was born and raised. This was a perfect maiden voyage, as I followed my parents from San Miguel to there.  We were able to address bugs with the van as a small group, as life on my own for the first time was quite intimidating.  I didn't really want to let on...but being a single lady on the road by myself was a big change from my 17 years of marriage in a house or RV.  I knew I could do it, and was excited for it, but I welcomed not doing the first leg of my new life on the road alone.

Jazz Hands! (Thanks, Dad!)

The van did well overall, and I even spent a few nights sleeping in the cold AZ nights in the van to see how it might be. At that point it was not insulated, and, while I found out that I could do it if I had to, the cold outside and the heat from my body created condensation on the metal that was pretty significant.  That would have to be addressed for future comfort for sure.

Following mom and dad to SLC
After a great week or so in AZ, my parents followed me as far as Salt Lake City.  There we parted ways after (another) tearful goodbye and I decided to head to Colorado for a bit.  I had heard that there may be some shearing work over that way, and I wanted to check it out.

Wyoming in late Dec.

It worked out that I could help out with some bison shearing while I was there, which was a total trip.  During my time in Colorado, I generally stayed in AirBnB's rather than the van.  I did stay in the van one night and woke to this...

Meh...what's a little snow and negative degree weather...?

Needless to say, without the van being converted yet, it was not super nice to stay in it in the winter months.

Try and make the best of it! 

Springtime Travels...

After Colorado, I got the super cool chance to go on the road with Shorn Shearing again, this time getting to go first to the Southern Loop (FL, GA and AL).  I've always wanted to go to Savannah, not only did I get that opportunity, I got to do it during a tornado warning.  I felt like this was so much more authentic!  As Audrey Hepburn says in Sabrina (my fav!), "You get yourself, not a drizzle, but some honest-to-goodness rain..."  That's what Savannah gave me!  It did not disappoint me one bit.

I <3 Savannah!

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is one of my very fav books and set in Savannah!

During shearing I got to see a lot of the country that I had not seen... mountains and valleys, rock formations and rivers, animals and much, much more.  It just reinforced my love for the road and getting to travel and experience as much as I can.  Van life was looking more and more up my alley.

I got to practice some llama shearing at Ranch of the Oaks in AZ

Prescott, AZ

Navajo Monument in AZ
Moab, UT area
Pretty river in Utah.
So now what....?

Upon my return to Montana in early June (where I had left my van to go on my shearing adventures) I jumped straight into truly converting the van. And that, folks, is where I pick up next post!


PS - In future posts I will cover some of the places I camped that were super cool, like the Navajo National Monument! Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Australia bound...New Adventures for Fiberton Acres...part dos...

So where did I leave off....

Hitting the road in my sort-of-converted van!

Well...let me back up a little.

After my split, I had decided to begin a whole new career. As you are well aware of if you follow my blog or social media (or Etsy shop), I am an avid yarn crafter and love working with animals.  About 5 years ago or so, I met an alpaca shearer who I was quite impressed with at a shearing day and I caught the bug.  I asked to help out whenever he came through the area.  It was fascinating work, and it dovetailed so well into my passions for travel, animal husbandry and fiber arts. And it was a physical challenge that I loved.

And in 2018, I was invited to be the worker for Shorn Shearing on all of the California and Arizona loops of the shearing season. It was an eye opening experience, and I was excited to begin learning to actually shear.  I sheared my sheep at the time, and then those of a friend with a small herd.  I was slow and it kicked my butt, but I loved it.

Shearing Champ, my wether ram...very slowly...

Then I got the invite of a lifetime for a girl who wanted nothing more than to see the world and do this work.  Working with the shearer at the largest recorded alpaca farm in the Australia.

Me?!  Could I do it?  Could I keep up and work with 150 lb alpacas all day long for close to 4 weeks straight?  I knew I could, or at least I knew I was stubborn enough to do everything I could to make it happen.  There was no f'ing way I would let this opportunity pass me up.

So that is when I quit my day job, made the difficult decision to find loving homes for my animals, and made some tearful goodbyes to family and friends.

I took a train from Paso Robles down to LAX and then boarded my 15 hr Virgin Australia flight to Sydney one late October evening.  Is there a word that means scared/excited/self-doubting/eager/proud all wrapped into one?  Because that was me. (Scexselfdoeagpro...? No...that sounds like something weird you'd find in an unsavory location online...hmmm....don't google that. lol)

Soon enough I found myself on a new continent for the first time in my life.  I got into a car on the wrong side, and drove down the wrong side of the streets, which was both exciting and terrifying after sleep deprivation.

A cool alley in Cooks Hill, New South Wales
Merino sheep sculpture/building!

I spent my time there getting to do some sight seeing, as well as working the hardest I had ever done.  I liken it to running a marathon (which I have only done a full marathon once) question what you're doing (and why) over the course of it many times, but you feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment at the end.  My hands were swollen to the point where I had to cut several rings off and I was exhausted but I grew quite a bit stronger, both mentally and physically.

My first day...and first view of a truly full shearing shed. Soon to be much cooler alpacas!

After cutting my first ring off...

And after the first week and an empty shearing shed!

Our biggest day!  113 alpacas sheared! 
I also proved to myself and those in the shearing shed that I could do it. (I was the first female worker they have had in there in that capacity...) And I made some awesome new friends.

It was bittersweet heading "home"... I knew I was going back to the uncertainty of my new a packed up van ready for new travels but to places I was still unsure of.  I was also excited to see my friends and family back in the states and recount some of the of the crazy (to me) animals I saw, and the lovely beaches I relaxed on and the great food and show off my new muscles.

Beach in Terrigal, NSW

Just a normal sized lizard to Australians...

And a 'small' spider...

At the zoo...these are like seagulls over there!

Sydney Opera House

Blowhole rock feature in Kiama, NSW

A koala at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney

So was then I hit the road...

More soon!