Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lynnebago’s Maiden Voyage

Whereas the Winnebago started out with every comfort and convenience you could ever think of, the Lynnebago started its camper van adventures in a very minimal way (with my future plan to add features when they’re truly wanted and needed).

I wanted to bring the Lynnebago to the upcoming Midwest T@B Rally in Iowa, but that didn’t leave me with much time to get the new van ready for camping.  But I still had a few days to order some items online and run around to the local outdoors stores to fill in the gaps of my old tent camping gear that had been waiting patiently in the garage the past couple of years.


The weather in Iowa was absolutely perfect for camping—daytime highs in the low 70’s and evening lows in the upper 50’s.  No need for air conditioning, and a good thing, too, because I don’t yet have one!  Since my site had an electric hook-up, I did bring a small Pelonis ceramic heater, but only needed it one morning.  It managed to heat the van up within a few minutes on its low setting.

While I managed to get the old grungy roof vent replaced with the new Fantastic Fan, I ran out of time to get the electrical connected to it.  So, I just brought my old Eureka 12 volt tent fan and hung it from a ceiling hook to provide ventilation.  That was helped with 2 new screened window louvers that I got from EuroCampers.com.  These worked great to provide air flow inside the van (while keeping most of the bugs outside).



I got a very comfortable, lightweight, army-style cot at Gander Mountain that worked out well and bungeed securely to the van’s tie-down loops.  At 20” high, it was tall enough to stow lots of stuff beneath it (i.e. my plastic storage tubs of food, cooking supplies, an empty 7 gallon water jug, and my porta-potti), and yet the cot was still low enough to sit on as a sofa. 


I added my self-inflating camp mattress, my heavenly Big Agnes Clearview air pad (cooler and more comfortable than memory foam), and my twin-sized Travasak (oversized sleeping bag with real sheets).  It made for a bed more comfortable than what I had in the View, and even a bit better than my real mattress at home!

My kitchen was split between indoor and outdoor spaces.  On the inside, I bought a new cooler-style Danfoss compressor refrigerator that runs very quietly and efficiently on battery or electric (an Indel B 51 litre).  It can run low enough to be a freezer, so I figured it will be able to serve double-duty at home too.  It stored quite a bit of food and ran extremely quietly.


Next to the fridge, was a new 12-volt Duracell AGM Group 31 battery that I bought from Sam’s Club.  As I only have one 12-volt outlet at the dash (that I already use for my GPS and iPhone), I thought a separate “house” battery would be better to use for the fridge when traveling.

I brought an extra dishpan and extra 2 gallon water dispenser to use inside, but never really needed them, so next time will leave them at home.  Used more often was my 4 gallon blue water jug. When standing outside at the sliding door, the floor of the van made a convenient kitchen prep area and place to keep the water jug.


For cooking, I bought a new LP camp stove, a Campchef Sierra, that worked wonderfully to boil water in no time with it’s higher-output burners.


The biggest addition to my Lynnebago camping experience was my new 10x10 PahaQue Screenroom tent (shown in the first picture above with the side wall awnings rolled down).  This more than doubled our living space and Millie found it to be a delightful “dog house” to snooze in while I went off to kayak.


The screenroom packs down into a small and relatively light weight 23 lbs (less than half the size and weight of a scissor-style “EZ-Up” shelter).  While the smaller size is perfect,  the jury is still out on whether I’ll use this often in the future.  It was impossible for me to set up on my own and I had to recruit a couple from the neighboring campsite to help hold poles and get it standing upright.  Once it was up, it was wonderful to have, and the side walls and rainfly worked great to keep the rain out on Saturday night.  It was also very easy for me to disassemble and pack away on my own.

I think it will be most useful in the future if I intend to “base camp” at the same site for a few nights and be off sightseeing in the daytime.  Having this screenroom up will clearly show others that my campsite is “occupied” even when my van’s not there.  But if I’m in hyper-travel mode staying at a different place each night, I’ll likely find a roll-out awning (attached to the side of the van) more useful.

Other random observations from my first camping trip:

  • I bungeed a cargo net across the stuff in the back of the van (miscellaneous small camping & paddling gear, my extra leveling blocks, shoes, tote bag, duffle bag of clothes, etc).  I didn’t like having so many “unsecured” items on the floor, so know I’ll want some overhead cabinets and maybe a tall floor to ceiling storage closet too.
  • Still not sure if I want a window behind the driver’s door (opposite the sliding door).  While the added view and ventilation would be nice, I also liked the how nicely insulated the carpeted plywood wall was next to my bed.
  • I need to get some nicer curtains made soon!  For this first outing, I used the fabric shower curtain that came with the van to block off the cab from the rear living space, and then re-used some pieces or Reflectix to cover the rear and sliding door windows.  Quite a “Hillbilly Hilton” look, but at least it provided the necessary privacy to sleep at night!
  • Hated using the grungy campground showers (although my new $5 K-Mart flipflops sure did help!).  I’ll need to start figuring out a way to rig up a portable shower of some kind.
  • Really loved how peppy this van traveled now that it was not towing the Tracker!  Driving 70 mph in wind, I still managed to get 20 MPG which is much better than the 12-13 MPG I’ve usually gotten with the View.

I’ll keep tinkering with the camping gear and layout for the next few camping trips until I settle into something that feels like it will stick long-term, then I’ll be ready for the walls and ceiling to be ripped out and the real solution to finally be built!

Any tips or suggestions from you van dweller or small-camper pros, please comment away!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First Mod Done! (new roof fan)

After the exciting road trip to Georgia to pick up our new van, it was time to start evaluating Lynnebago more closely to list it’s must-haves, nice-to-haves, and maybe-someday-haves.
Before jumping into major modifications, my plan was first to get it mechanically inspected by the Mercedes Sprinter dealer, and then to only do minimal mods the first few months until I get a better feel for what I’ll want to do with the interior.
Lynnebago’s first visit to the Sprinter dealer went pretty good!  No major problems, just a few minor issues, and some “better safe than sorry” maintenance recommendations (since we don’t have a full understanding of it’s service history). Looks like I’ll have a very solid foundation on which to build!
So, that completed, I moved on to the first “must-have” modification this week— replacing the roof fan. 
The original dealer website photos never showed the interior ceiling of the van.  The salesman told me there was a roof vent, and that it looked “rather cheezy" (white cover painted black), so I anticipated replacing it soon with a proper fan.  Once I got the van home and inspected the top of the roof more closely, I noticed the cover was, in fact, cracked and being held together with a few strips of black duck tape!  This mod now moved to “urgent” status!
I’ve been very pleased with the Fantastic Fan in my View, so I ordered the same model 4000R featuring the reversible fan for the Lynnebago (I didn’t see the need for the remote control and automatic rain sensor features of the Model 6000, but I can always add those on later if I change my mind).
Reading the various forums, it sounded like replacing the fan would be a fairly easy mod, so I opted to give it a try myself rather than take it to an RV dealer.  The biggest debates seemed to be what kind of sealant and gasket to use. 
Some guys suggested using a butyl tape gasket (rather than the foam gasket pre-supplied by Fantastic Fan).  I thought about doing that, but worried about the corner seams and challenges of getting the 4 strips of butyl aligned just right to the fan lip.  So, I decided to just use the Fantastic Fan gasket as it was one single piece that perfectly fit the lip of the fan. 
The next decision was sealant (caulk).  Some recommended Sikaflex, others said to use Dicor, and still others suggested Proflex RV.  The closest local RV dealer recommended Dyco C-10 (a self-leveling sealant similar to Sikaflex and Dicor that would work on metal roofs), so I gave it a shot.
Finally, I stopped by the local home improvement store to get piece of plywood (to better distribute my weight while sitting up on the roof), some Goo Gone and caulk remover sprays, and a couple of scrapers.  Hoping I had everything now ready, I laid out all my supplies on the ground first:
(from left to right:  kneepads, microfiber cloths, a screwdriver, cordless drill, socket wrench, sealant caulk, caulk gun, gunk removers, and utility knife, scrapers and a tac cloth, and a pair of work gloves.
My roof sitting platform consisted of the following:
a spare 2x10 piece of lumber, a 2x4’ sheet of plywood, and one of Millie’s fleece dog blankets (to protect the wood from scratching the roof!)
Now how to get all this stuff up to the roof of the Sprinter!  I didn’t want to make dozens of trips up and down the ladder, so I resurrected an old canoe trip’s drybag backpack and stuffed everything in there!

I decided to leave the new fan safely in it’s box until the removal job was complete:
I started on the inside of the van by removing the original plastic trim piece.  What a yucky mess between the plywood paneled roof and the metal Sprinter roof-- the previous owner used a silver Reflectix-like material to insulate the van which he attached with black sticky goop (my own technical term!)
Next, I donned the backpack and made my way up to the roof to start scraping caulk off the existing roof vent:

The cracked caulk and minimal silicone over the screw heads was pretty easy to remove.  I used a plastic scraper as much as possible to minimize scratching the roof paint, but there were times where a flexible metal scraper could not be avoided.

The original screws were very quick and easy to remove with my rechargeable drill, and once out, I could finally remove the old vent cover.
Some sticky goopy old butyl tape was beneath the old vent.  It came up fairly easily, but I did have to use Goo Gone to clean the adhesive residue off the roof.

My new skylight!
I brought a water bottle and extra towel up to give the roof one final cleaning, and then went down to get the new Fantastic Fan. What a difference!
It seemed to be going all too easy!  But, of course, mods can never be that easy…  The new fan just barely did not fit into the hole.  There were a few corners that had not originally been cut straight and needed a bit more trimming.  Fortunately, my cordless Ryobi power tool set came with a jig saw, so down the ladder I went to retrieve it. 
One is far less nervous about cutting into their Sprinter’s roof when it’s already a large, gaping open hole!  My jig saw was able to quickly trim the edges to allow the new fan to fit.
I aligned the new fan and lightly drilled the new screws into place reusing the original corner screw holes.  The biggest challenge was then to get the remaining 14 screws into the roof.  The original vent had a total of 22 screw holes, so these did not align to the new fan’s holes.  Trying to drill the new screws directly into the roof was pointless—the screws were not self-taping on a metal roof!  So, down the ladder I went to retrieve a small drill bit to make “pilot” holes for the screws.
Back up to the roof, I started to drill the first hole and the drill bit broke in half.  “Shoot”, “dang”, “darn”!  Down the ladder to get another drill bit.  Up on the roof again, I got 2 holes drilled before the 2nd bit now broke as well.  Now, major expletives were muttered!  There was only about 1 more hour of daylight left, but I knew I’d need to make a trip to the Lowe’s store to get better drill bits.
Thirty minutes later I was back home again with my new wiz-bang Cobalt drill bit, and was easily able to drill the remaining pilot holes and insert the remaining screws within about 5 minutes.  I could then finally, start running the caulk before sunset!  The C-10 went on easily and started self-leveling as advertised.

Back inside, I tested opening and closing the vent and attached the interior plastic trim piece.
I decided to run the fan wires “exposed” along the ceiling for now (as burying them behind the paneling would have required removing both the ceiling and walls which I don’t want to do just yet).

The van currently only has a chassis (engine) battery, so I’m installing a new, separate, AGM battery to power all the camping/coach accessories.  I’ll initially just wire the fan directly to the battery (and then recharge the battery via a 120v battery recharger or my portable solar panel controller).  When I decide on a final floorplan, I’ll get the permanent electrical and plumbing done when the walls, ceiling and floor are removed for that.
And now for the final before and after shots--

Farewell, you old piece of crap roof vent!
Hello, lovely new Fantastic Fan!


Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Lynnebago to-be!

While my blog WinnieViews has followed the adventures of our Winnebago View motorhome, this new blog will track the transformation of our new adventure vehicle, a 2005 Freightliner Sprinter van, affectionately called the "Lynnebago" (as it's a blank-slate camper waiting for me to design and build it).

Initially, the Lynnebago will be a multi-functional van serving as a cargo hauler to move stuff between houses (as I'm doing an in-town move this summer), but it will also do weekend duty as a minimalist camper van (so my old tent camping gear can get some use again).  I might even try some "stealth" camping with it in the city to be easily positioned for sunrise photo shoot.  We'll see how that pans out!

A longer-term dream for the Lynnebago is to become my international travel vehicle.  Since it's the 1st-generation Mercedes Sprinter, it does not have the additional pollution controls that newer diesel engines (like my View) require.  That means I can drive it in countries that don't yet have ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel like Mexico, and those in South and Central America.  Mercedes has sold these Sprinters virtually worldwide, so there is a decent parts and service network internationally, and the engine/chassis is extremely robust (often logging up to 500,000 miles by some FedEx trucks!).

So, who knows!  Lynnebago might one day make it to Mexico, drive the Pan-Am Highway to Argentina, or be shipped to Europe to caravan there for a year!  With it's 20+ mpg fuel economy, stealthy-looks, and smaller profile than a motorhome, it's ready to take me to some new and unusual places!