Van Conversion: Weeks 3, 4, and 5

If there is a person out there who is an avid fan of this blog and could not wait for the third weekly instalment of the van conversion diaries, I do apologise for my blog upkeep sloppiness. Holidays, post holiday blues and bank holidays just got in the way. Three days before our trip to Cuba I got that niggle from the fame aspiring mini me blogger in my head saying ‘Sus, I really think you should be writing about how week three of the conversion went, not fretting that your summer and holiday wardrobe consists only of shades of blue, black and white’. The outcome of ignoring mini me blogger, multiple times, is that I have realised I do not want this blog to be a chore which, I fear, is perhaps maybe where it was heading. I really admire bloggers who can do weekly posts full of interesting and insightful, thought provoking content, sorry to disappoint but that’s just not my style, more importantly probably not in my capacity. Also as most readers of this may know my life isn’t overly exciting at the moment so that can’t make for good content either.

This blog therefore is mainly just for fun, to inform friends and family of the vans progression, and one would hope some amateur information about how to go about converting a van. Writing this now seems blindingly obvious, I think I was just over excited to begin with and forgot to chill. Mini me blogger has gone into a peaceful long slumber, her time will come another day. So after some serious three week chill travelling round Cuba, the best part of a week in isolation at home due to no car and then finally being reunited with Tina, my relationship with the blog is in a better place. So, avid fan, you’d better go make yourself a pot of tea because now you have week three, four, and five to digest, what luxury.

Let us cast our minds back to Easter Monday, April the 2nd, and this is where week three began. With 80% of the electrics installed we wanted the solar panel on and connected. Whilst my dad and Harry did more wiring for the solar cables in the van Eddie and I fixed the solar panel to a support of marine ply. My dad had also made some nifty steel brackets to fix the marine ply to the roof rack so all went swimmingly. With the solar panel on I began to finish some covers for the wheel arches I started about 10 days previous. It had become a running joke on Harry’s part that these wheel arch boxes were doomed due to various ill measurements and cuts, lack of concentration and passion, but with the gods on my side I finished them. And not wanting to blow my own trumpet but they have been very useful as temporary benches and storage spaces in the shell of a motor home. However, my future as an amateur blogger is probably far brighter than that of a carpenter.

When Harry bought the van it came with a raised floor which was supported by a metal frame (photos in previous post) and with some small modifications this would become the bed frame. My dad set to work at chopping bits off and very expertly and tidily welding them back on in different places to make the frame. It seems quite high in height but we need a lot of storage and the obvious storage option is below the mattress. With the mattress on we can just about sit up straight in bed so we may lower it a tad, we don’t have the space to go princess and the pea style and have a super high bed sadly.

The rest of the week was spent insulating the van with Celotex foam boards, old glass wool and water boiler jackets salvaged from the farm, and a thermal vapour barrier (similar to a space blanket). I had beautifully coated the majority of the van in the vapour barrier and was so chuffed with my efforts only for my joy to be squished later in week 4. Harry set about at making a cupboard for the electrics and oh the tables they did turn, soon this box became another running joke due to consistent modifications and changing of plans. Harry’s friend Tom came to lend a hand again so helped him, likewise his father, and about 10 days later it was done, albeit a beautiful utilities cupboard.

By this point I was too excited for our three week trip to Cuba so went home to pack and repack my blue, white and black wardrobe. And boy oh boy was Cuba amazing. Quite a few people were under the impression the van was coming to Cuba too which would have either been amazing to road trip around this crazy cool island, or teeth achingly embarrassing at how hideous Tina would have looked parked up with rainbow 1950’s Chevrolets, Cadillacs, and even some Rolls Royces. She stayed at home thankfully as I think we were both craving a break, so we focused on the other chapter of this blog, sampling caipirinhas. We had many, mostly delicious, so go to our other post to read more about that.

Giving up Tina for Cadillacs

Home safe and dry but with aching teeth at the quantity or rum, sugar and citrus consumed, the van conversion was back under way. Only for some though. The car my sister and I share was having a stint with her so I was very happily marooned at home. My efforts for week four included visa and insurance research and going to Bristol for a uni pals reunion. With not much to document image wise as Harry doesn’t really take photos of the progress, it’s usually me squeaking in the background ‘Harry where is your camera?!’, and Harry being phone-less as his phone was stolen/misplaced in Cuba I’m not too sure what happened that week! All I am certain of is that my beautiful thermal vapour barrier was taken down leaving a big mess of metal tape lingering, some excuse about having to adjust some of the electrical cables.

However, one good job started was the cladding. Help came this time in the form of lovely Roger, a friend of Harry’s father who is a dab hand at carpentry. The cladding design we wanted is what most van convertors choose which is tongue and groove cladding, cheap, easy and with a plethora of wood stains you can customise is quite easily. This could not be because Ford Transits have a slightly wonky bodywork but Roger suggested smart plywood and if we want we can put very thin cladding over that so this is what we have, a happy and very professional compromise! The lower sections of the walls are cladded and he is coming again soon to help us finish the walls and ceiling. Harry with help from his mother also installed the gas heater so some good progress. I was finally reunited with Tina on the Sunday, we had been to see Kumasi Washington with my family and we dropped Harry home and after about a month it was actually very nice to see her! She was looking fab and Harry and helpers had done a good job.

Week five began and enter ‘Mongol HQ’. I have now taken charge of admin and trip logistics and Harry has set up Mongol HQ, a spare room full of maps, route plans, van paperwork, visa paperwork, and piles of fun stuff we have bought for the van. For both Mongolian and Russian visa applications the embassies want route plans, exact border crossings and hotel reservations so we can tick the box as ‘tourists’. As you all know tensions are high between us and our Russian brethren right now so trying to find the safest and quickest route, (we only having 30 days to enter Russia, drive through, into Mongolia and out again, and all the way back through to the Russian European borders due to Visa constrictions), but also finding a picturesque route has been challenging. We will be posting more about the route soon as it is a work in progress.

Meanwhile Harry began to finish the electrics and on Tuesday, we had power! The solar panel was hooked up and all final cables and light bulbs and switches and electric stuff all finally connected. It was a very exciting moment as I was summoned down from HQ and Harry’s parents from inside for the big switching on. Harry had worked really hard at it, whilst I kept shying away from it, and the sheer joy on his face when it worked was very sweet. All science out the way and I resurfaced to help finish insulation and filling in gaps with expandable foam and begrudgingly tidying up the remnants of the thermal vapour barrier ready for a new one. The floor is also now screwed down so we basically have a finished inner shell of a converted van! To celebrate we went to apply for our international driving permits and to buy a low wattage toaster, we sure know how to party.

I again left for the weekend to see some friends in London and Harry went round a few places to get quotes for vinyl flooring. We wanted to use some second hand tongue and groove laminate planks that we found at the farm but this was going to be an utter ball ache to fit. Tina’s floor plan is an odd shape and without flat walls to help the planks push against each other it was just going to be a nightmare. So we have taken the easy and actually most popular conversion option of using vinyl carpet. So Tina has had a tremendous transformation since you last heard of her condition. It doesn’t look like much but we are perhaps half way through the conversion now. The next obstacle is making it liveable and pretty…

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