Solar decisions.

We were never totally sold on doing solar power right away, but after a few days in Salmon ID, we made the decision to move forward with the project now, not knowing when we'd get another chance to be in one place and have a spot to work on the vehicle for longer than a few days. The truck batteries and alternator run on a 24v system, but after some thinking and some great advice from the forum folks at real4x4forums.com, we chose to run a 12v system for the house. This will let us run a greater selection of domestic US 12v accessories, as well as use a larger amp hour (versus larger volt) battery bay.

The Pinzgauer alternator is strongly built but not terribly large. It pushes around 35 amps at 28 volts when its running well, and it charges a dual battery bank that allows for a 24v starter to turn over the engine. Our battery bank is going to run a 24v Samlex America 300 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter. The inverter isn't as big as it could be, but we like the brand and the build quality. The very traveled van dweller Glen of tosimplify.net uses his to power a mobile saxophone recording studio (but his inverter is WAY bigger!!!! Buy the right sized inverter!).

The inverter transforms 24v of DC current to 110v of AC current to power what is probably the coolest piece of hardware we bought this week, a NOCO Genius GENM2 8 Amp 2-Bank Waterproof Smart On-Board Battery Charger. The NOCO charger will keep a 12v bank of batteries (probably around 2x100ah) topped up while the engine is turning. The battery charger can be ran by shore power, if need be, but won't be the only, or even the major source of house charging capacity.

The house batteries will primarily be charged by 2x100 watts of RENOGY® monocrystalline solar panels. The solar power will run through a handful of 12 gauge cables and then through a mid-range RENOGY® ViewStar 20 Amp Negative grounded PWM Charge Controller with LCD Display. This will provide the majority of the power coming into the house battery bank, and we will (hopefully) be able to cheaply build a tilting panel mount to maximize solar power when we park correctly in multi day damp spots.

More to come later. We'll show you the a basic wiring diagram, some mounting solutions, and hopefully give a shakedown report in the coming weeks!

Shakedown drive and Layover day!

Polebridge Test Drive

With the windows and stove installed, and most of our gear packed away, we were in need of a test drive. We'd slept in Little Foot in the campground at work for a few weeks, but we hadn't driven anywhere and then lived out of the rig. A test or "shakedown" drive is a very important baby step on the way to on-road living.

Our friend Dre invited us to celebrate her birthday in a little town called Polebridge on the very northwest corner of Glacier National Park. The town is accessible only by improved dirt road, it borders the pristine North Fork of the Flathead River. The local mercantile has killer baked goods (if you visit, forego the overrated huckleberry bearclaws and get the poppyseed and chocolate pastry…or just get both!). Dirt roads, no crowds, and baked confections? We're in.

Just a little Austrian/Swiss military surplus van finding his way through the foliage!

Just a little Austrian/Swiss military surplus van finding his way through the foliage!

The drive went well, albeit slowly. The road was at times so rough that we were slightly fearful of rattling the contents of the box apart as we bumped across washboard sections with an unavoidable minefield of potholes. Amazingly, nothing of the sorts happened. The fridge walked it's way to a different spot about an inch out of place (which was easily remedied with another strap) and we lost the hitch pin to the pintle hitch on the back. Luckily, Chelsea's photos and videos provided evidence of when and where we lost the hitch pin, narrowing our search from 20 miles to ~6. We found it the next day driving back by looking HARD.

Posing.

Posing.

We got up to Polebridge early with the intentions of going on a walk, so after touching base with our friend Dre, we headed up to Bowman lake to get some fresh air and enjoy being out and about for the first time in a while.

It was a gorgeous fall day and the short few mile walk couldn't have been better.

It was a gorgeous fall day and the short few mile walk couldn't have been better.

After our walk, we headed back to Polebridge to find a free camp spot on National Forest land… one of our favorite traveling past times.

Free camping at the river launch.

Free camping at the river launch.

Getting the fire started for the cookout.

Getting the fire started for the cookout.

Dre and Caleb organized a superb campfire potluck, with dishes coming out all night, all cooked over coals. Brats, lamb, asparagus, root vegetables, shallots, and more.

Dre and Caleb organized a superb campfire potluck, with dishes coming out all night, all cooked over coals. Brats, lamb, asparagus, root vegetables, shallots, and more.

The test drive was great. As we said before, the dirt road out to Polebridge was moderate washboard, had a few sections of potholes, and gave us a good idea of how the stiff off-road suspension handles rough road driving (It doesn't do well going fast). On the road to Bowman lake we had a chance to climb some minor hills. I stalled out once, and subsequently got to practice a moderate hill start maneuver, using granny-1st gear, and shifting the Hi-Low transmission on the fly. I even put it in granny-1st in low gear, and it was awesome! Little Foot crawls in this configuration at only a few miles an hour at 1/2 throttle.

Layover Day

We've driven around the country a few times in both the Campbulance and Stubbs the bus. Before each trip, we promised to take it easy and enjoy days off while driving, and inevitably we don't make that happen. Inevitably we blast past stuff we want to stop and take a look at, only to keep a self-imposed and often arbitrary time-line. I think, in a way, this is a coping mechanism. Perhaps by rushing ourselves, we feel less like homeless vagabonds, and more like the rushed masses of modern, socially acceptable civilization. The drive to stay in line with the norm is strong.

Rocketing  along the Swan-Seeley highway with some evidence of controlled burns around us. The silhouette of the portal axels is profound.

Rocketing along the Swan-Seeley highway with some evidence of controlled burns around us. The silhouette of the portal axels is profound.

We had a long day of driving, with Rusty tailing Little Foot down the Swan-Seeley high way, through Missoula, and out to Hamilton. Chels found a beautiful free campsite at the Blodgett Creek campground in the Bitterroot National Forest. As dusk was fading into darkness, we were commiserating over the radio about not making it to the site in time sunset, when Chels said, "Why not take a layover day?" Why not indeed?

Loulou and I getting used to home on the road.

Loulou and I getting used to home on the road.

Layover days are definitely as important as test drives and shakedown trips; they are the whole reason we travel! The Bitterroot NF is amazing, and this little Blodgett Creek Campground is the best. The camp host mentioned that the area earned the nickname "Little Yosemite of Montana," and while he wasn't far off. The creek valley we hiked on our layover day bore many similarities to Yosemtie, albeit on a much smaller scale.

A big shout-out to Chris the camp host for recommending the hike.

A big shout-out to Chris the camp host for recommending the hike.

A great hike at a great time of year.

A great hike at a great time of year.

Our turn around point was Upper Falls.

Our turn around point was Upper Falls.

The Layover day was perfect, and got us ready to head out the next day for what would HOPEFULLY be out last day of driving separately for a while. Rusty the Samurai and a lot of our stuff is being stored in Salmon, ID as we travel, and from there on out we should be each other's copilots in Little Foot, the terrestrial spaceship of our dreams!

Let there be light (and heat)!

We've fallen behind on blog posts yet again, but of course, you've probably all come to expect that. Our last week and a half in West Glacier was a scramble to finish the projects we wanted to get done on Little Foot, transition our extra belongings into storage in Idaho and wrap up our life there in an effort to prepare to hit the road.

Installing our wood stove was a priority, as it's fairly useless if we can't make a fire in it. Luckily, the box came with two vents in the roof, one of which was conveniently located directly above where the stove would sit, allowing us to run the pipe through it. It was too large for the stove pipe and the deck fitting we already had for it, so there were some alterations and patches that had to be made to accommodate it correctly.

The stove assembled with a piece of galvanized steel beside it that would make the vent hole the correct size.

The stove assembled with a piece of galvanized steel beside it that would make the vent hole the correct size.

One of the other biggest (and scariest) projects that we'd been avoided was installing two windows in the side of Little Foot. Our friend (and resident company mechanic) Bill had procured a perfectly sized window from a dumpster a while back. He didn't have a use for it, but couldn't stand to see a perfectly good window go to waste, so when we told him we were on the hunt for a window he handed it over with pride.

The windows were a necessity for us, as the box only has one small one into the cab (only large enough for Loulou our cat to get through) and the two rear ones in the doors that don't open. We wanted more light and more importantly, ventilation.

There was a lot of hemming and hawing initially, wondering if the window was too big, but once we convinced ourselves that any compromising of the box's structure and strength was a problem we'd created in our head, we decided to go for it.

We taped a giant trash bag around the space for the window to contain the mess as we sawed into the side of the box. It worked extremely well.

We taped a giant trash bag around the space for the window to contain the mess as we sawed into the side of the box. It worked extremely well.

The first cut is always the scariest.

The first cut is always the scariest.

Our favorite thing about the big window is that it came with textured privacy glass, so other than light and shapes, it's impossible to see into the vehicle. In this photo you can also see a small metal heat shield that we wrapped around the base of the bed for when we lower it when the stove is on or still hot after a recent fire.

Our favorite thing about the big window is that it came with textured privacy glass, so other than light and shapes, it's impossible to see into the vehicle. In this photo you can also see a small metal heat shield that we wrapped around the base of the bed for when we lower it when the stove is on or still hot after a recent fire.

The window Bill gave us fit the spot we had for it perfectly. It also reminded us of a smaller version of it that we'd found in the back warehouse of a local RV repair place down in Kalispell. We made a trip back down and grabbed the forgotten and dusty window to install in the side door.

It's amazing the difference a little light can make.

It's amazing the difference a little light can make.

The windows were attached to the box using a handful of screws. A weather-proof seal was created by backing the exterior trim with putty tape before attaching the window frame to the box. After the frame was screwed in, we added liberal amounts of silicon caulk around the edges. So far, watertight! (On the bigger window, we even went so far as to get a length of rv rain gutter to install above it and avoid whatever extra runoff onto the seal we could. The window on the side door is already protected by the rain gutter for the door that was already on the vehicle.)

A day late, but a bed is built!

A day late! We've been so good about posting on Mondays, but alas. We were busy from building, that will be our excuse.

We started building the bed platform last week. Our ideas were hatched before we had seen Little Foot in person, and for the most part they went unchanged. Our priority list determined our constructions plans:
1. Maximize available storage space.
2. Unfolding/deploying the bed should require as few moves as possible.
3. Construction must be strong and simple.

With that in mind, we cued the music and got to work.

Supplies and an outdoor workshop.

Supplies and an outdoor workshop.

Front frame. The hatch cover in the foreground is still accessible. It currently holds a petroleum-fueled space heater, but that will be removed soon.

Front frame. The hatch cover in the foreground is still accessible. It currently holds a petroleum-fueled space heater, but that will be removed soon.

One of the "T" shaped frames.

One of the "T" shaped frames.

The frame was constructed from white pine 2x4s, each one costing us a mere $2.69 at the local lumber yard. The frame is relatively simple, and held together with some galvanized framing braces. There are three separate frames that support the bed; the rear and middle frames are shaped like a "T", and the front frame is a rectangle. The front frame places all the weight on the fiberglass benches, rather than the floor, because it rests above an access panel for the transmission.

The frames were eventually anchored to the Little Foot's fiberglass box by riveting angle aluminum to the walls and floor, and then screwing the frame to the aluminum. It worked well, but I probably wouldn't have been happy spending the money on the materials if I had to buy them. Aluminum is spendy, but thankfully Little Foot came with a whole box of original fittings. I hacked up the original stuff to make my braces.

The bottoms of the frames were wrapped in neoprene to prevent chaffing on the fiberglass and gelcoat.

The bottoms of the frames were wrapped in neoprene to prevent chaffing on the fiberglass and gelcoat.

Looking through the frames. You'll notice the access panel under the front frame; the transmission is under there.

Looking through the frames. You'll notice the access panel under the front frame; the transmission is under there.

With the frames in, Chels could gingerly climb on top and test the load distribution. It was pretty good from the start, with minimal bowing in the 1/2 plywood. A few late addition braces helped what little flex there was. You'll notice that we should have just enough room to sit up in a hunched-over position. We thought long and hard about finding a proper balance between storage room and comfort while sitting, inches spent either way meant compromises.  

A birds-eye of the platform and the separate pieces of plywood we needed to cut.

A birds-eye of the platform and the separate pieces of plywood we needed to cut.

Measure many times.

Measure many times.

Cut only once.

Cut only once.

With a plan in hand, we measured many times before we cut even once. After converting two other vehicles, we've learned to measure many times, and measure well. We found construction in the Pinzgauer body to be difficult due to the uneven nature of the fiberglass. Nothing was level, nothing was on the same plane, and everything sloped. It's tough to keep angles at 90° when nothing lines up in the first place.

Finally we just clamped it all in place and started fastening everything together.

In this shot you can see the aluminum braces I riveted to the walls of the fiberglass box. I tried to minimize the number of rivets used, so as not to turn the box into swiss cheese.

In this shot you can see the aluminum braces I riveted to the walls of the fiberglass box. I tried to minimize the number of rivets used, so as not to turn the box into swiss cheese.

We strengthened the far lip of the fold-out foot of the bed with a 2x6, and then mounted the stow-away support legs to that. I am a large man and I can sit on that 2x6 with no bowing in the wood. 

We strengthened the far lip of the fold-out foot of the bed with a 2x6, and then mounted the stow-away support legs to that. I am a large man and I can sit on that 2x6 with no bowing in the wood. 

Our solution to maximizing sleeping and sitting room was to have roughly 20 inches of the bed hinge out of the way during the day time. Chelsea came up with this idea, drawing from her year spent living in 1979 Ford Econoline/Okanogan camper in San Diego. Part of her bed hinged up and out of the way, and that solution fit well in out design for Little Foot.

The moveable part of the bed is attached to the platform with 48 inch piano hinge. The hinged side is supported by a 2x4, but the very foot of the bed was left hanging in space. We knew we probably needed some sturdy legs, and found them at S&S RV Supply in Kalispell, MT. They were supremely helpful. If you're in northwest Montana and need some RV equipment, head to them.

Chels grinding away, making custom bed legs. We had to cut them to size, and Chels reminded me often that, "Its easier to take away metal than it is to add it after its gone." Very true. Measure, measure, measure.

Chels grinding away, making custom bed legs. We had to cut them to size, and Chels reminded me often that, "Its easier to take away metal than it is to add it after its gone." Very true. Measure, measure, measure.

Frame and platform installed, legs and all. The legs are designed to stand at a slight angle, don't worry.

Frame and platform installed, legs and all. The legs are designed to stand at a slight angle, don't worry.

A leg, standing tall and proud. They're strong, and we are satisfied.

A leg, standing tall and proud. They're strong, and we are satisfied.

With the legs in place, the bed was finished. It took a lot of work. Days of measuring, and more importantly weeks of thinking, went into this small part of the conversion. However, now that its over, we know our spacial limitations and can start work on the outdoor kitchen, the drawer storage, the heating solutions, and so on. Look forward to more building in the coming weeks.

11.11.15 - Last Day of Work - Day 15.

Today was a stressful day, to say the least. With plans to leave tomorrow, it was the big push to finish any nit-picky projects up and get the bus loaded.

The first step of the day was getting the bed base fitted into the bed frame. It took some sawing and a little hammering, but once it was in, it looked great!

Mindy, the supervisor, always keeping an eye on things.

Mindy, the supervisor, always keeping an eye on things.

We knew rain was coming, so we decided to get a group photo with Willie and Mindy in front of Stubbs since today was our last day in his yard. I doubt he'll ever read this, so I can gush a little bit about Willie. Without him, we simply wouldn't have gotten this project as far along as we have. He offered up his space and that alone was immense, but what we got was so much more. He was constantly digging tools out of his house for us to use when what we had just didn't cut it. He always stepped in to lend a helping hand when we couldn't accomplish something on our own. He was, simply put, a godsend.

The biggest thing on our to-do list was to go to the tax assessor and dmv to register and retitle the bus. Embarrassingly, it slipped both our minds that it was a federal holiday (thank you veterans!), so the offices were closed. No big deal, we'll go in the morning before we leave.

With that chore being put off, we decided to head to Lowes for a piece of wood to make into a temporary countertop for the kitchen. As always, what was intended to be a simple project turned into a hassle. After mulling over the plywood options, we ended up deciding to just go ahead and get the wood I wanted for the final countertop. This meant we needed stain and poly as well as fasteners (we got two 12-in pieces to put together to use as one counter). Once again, we spent way more time in Lowes than intended.

As we were out shopping, the sky opened up and it began to downpour. Christian worked to get the countertop in as the daylight quickly faded into darkness and we both felt our frustrations with having not accomplished much start to float to the surface.

Luckily, the timing seemed to work out slightly in our favor, because when we finally made our way home with the bus to start loading our belongings, the rain was finally starting to let up. After a quick dinner with the family, we began toting our stuff out into the bus with hopes of shoving off earlier than later tomorrow.

Because so much of our storage isn't built yet, it was a challenge finding places for everything. We still have a lot of lumber to use for upcoming projects once we're settled in Texas, so on top of everything else, we have to live with that in our space for a while.

The beginnings of loading our stuff…

The beginnings of loading our stuff…

We worked loading and organizing until nearly midnight and would be fast asleep if I weren't so dead set on keeping my perfect record of documenting every day of this whirlwind conversion.

I don't have any photos of what the interior looks like almost completely loaded up, so I'll take some tomorrow before we shove off.