Electrical upgrades

Finding new batteries for Tulák took time and some research on-line. Scott Ingham at Expedition Imports in Vallejo, California was most helpful. He led us to Napa! 

After a quick trip to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho and an easy border crossing we were home with two new lead-acid batteries that fit the Unimog battery tray perfectly.

We’d always intended to install a battery cut-off switch for the “house” batteries but somehow had overlooked it. A Blue Sea model with a simple ON/OFF switch for a single circuit met our needs. Tucked up behind the house “Lifeline” batteries the switch is a great safety device enabling work on the “house” system.

Next up? It’s time to get the differential leak fixed.

 

Tulák’s southbound

“Inveniemus viam aut faciemus”

Governed by Hannibal’s quotation (“We will find the way or we will make it”) the transformation from ambulance to camper is complete – for now at least, until experience during our trial run indicates modifications are in order.

Accompanied by our mascot, the Good Soldier Švejk we’re headed to Independence, California and wherever else the road takes us over the next four months. We’re southbound for some warmth.

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The hunt for a heater

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After testing a Mr. Buddy heater we realized this type of catalytic heater would give us condensation issues. At the other end of the price spectrum a diesel heater would have been ideal but was eliminated given its difficult installation. To drill for a fuel standpipe, you’d have to drop the diesel tank. Without a shop, this job just wasn’t doable in the back lane during a Canadian winter.

So when you have a problem, talk about it to everybody. It was during one of these chance discussions that an alternative came to light – the Propex HS2000 – a propane, thermostatically controlled, blown-air heater.

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With forced air combustion and a two stage stainless steel heat-exchanger, this heater is touted to be a clean and highly efficient way to heat a camper. As it exhausts all products of combustion externally there’s no carbon monoxide and no moisture in the “house.” As cabin air is re-circulated instead of using cold air from outside the heater’s efficiency is improved. They’re also apparently very efficient on electrical current consumption.

Propex Air Heaters Canada had a 24 volt version in stock so the order was placed. About the size of a shoe box, the heater will be installed inside one of the dinette seats.

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Go to it Laddie! With help from Tony at Alpenglow RV Services the job was completed without any leaks.

With a turn of the thermostat dial we have heat. Now, we’re good to go south.

 

 

 

The Dinette

With the driver’s side storage unit in place, fitting the seats and table for our dinette was the next challenge. The pieces came together well. There’s great storage under the dinette seats.

Laddie’s “shoe” for the table leg will keep it secure while underway. The tabletop can be lowered to create a lounge area. In fact, Anne’s so short she could sleep here.

Custom cushions from Wheeler’s Upholstery complete the job.

 

 

 

Basic plumbing for water

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Two water tanks store 220 liters (48 gallons) of potable water under the bed platform. Fill connections are accessed from the side door.

To fill the tanks, a drinking water-safe hose with an in-line 100 micron filter will be used. The filter will reduce bad taste, odors, chlorine and sediment in the water going into the tanks and should also help prevent bacteria growth in the tanks. As the tanks can be filled independently, in the event a water source is questionable we’ll only fill one tank so that any contamination is isolated to one tank.

At the galley sink, water is pulled from the tanks with the use of a foot pump.

All drinking water will be purified on a daily basis using the MSR Guardian water filter. “Grey” water from the sink goes directly into a canister below.

The galley is good to go.

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For simplicity we opted for a non-pressurized system and no hot water. What are we to do for a shower? Well, we’re going to give this portable camp shower a whirl.

Shower

Electrics

Our first decision was to use the on-board 24 volt system in the “house”. A second independent alternator was fitted for charging two Lifeline deep cycle “house” batteries exclusively. Joined in series, these 12 volt batteries will produce 24 volts with a total 100 amp capacity for the “house”. Mounted on a sliding tray they’re accessible from the side door for servicing.

The first junction in our electrical layout is a bus bar which transmits power from the the batteries to the fixtures.

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Our needs are basic: lights and ventilation fans. Some of our “appliances” don’t have switches and require a distribution panel. The first line from the bus bar goes to this 6-gang distribution panel that has in-line fuses.Distribution Panel

From this panel, using the rocker switches we’ll control two muffin fans and the pre-existing ceiling light/ventilation fan. Bonus – the panel also includes two USB ports, a 12V DC socket and a voltage readout.

Other “appliances” including two LED cabin tube lights, a gimballed cabin fan and a LED goose-neck reading light have built-in switches. From the bus bar, the second line goes to a fuse block. From the fuse block, lines go to each of these “appliances”.

 

InverterCharging 110V appliances such as a camera, laptop and flashlight batteries demanded our electrical layout include a pure sine wave inverter.

The inverter, directly connected to the house batteries is also grounded to the vehicle chassis. This 350 watt inverter won’t handle the load a toaster requires but it’s more than adequately sized to meet our needs.

For safety and to keep wiring tidy, surface conduits are used throughout the “house”.

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With a great deal of help from our friend Steve, the electrician we can see light at the end of the tunnel. 

Entry & Exit Extras

The existing stairs at the rear of the mog were not adequate for safe entry and exit. The first step was too high off the ground for us short-legged folk and the treads were very narrow. Wider custom treads were welded in such a fashion that the unit still retracted.

Next we had to overcome the distance of 24 inches from the ground up to the existing stairs. As both weight and stow-ability were concerns, it took some time and on-line research to find the right solution.

The Hailo “Mini-Comfort” was made for the Mog. It very conveniently stows inside the mog’s rear door recess. It’s lightweight and has two large aluminum steps with non-slip ribbing for support.

To lend-a-hand, a folding assist rail was installed on the bulkhead.

Now we can enter and exit “the house” with confidence!

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Driver’s Side Storage Unit

The width of the ambulance box provided an opportunity for storage together with the dinette opposite the galley. On the driver’s side, from the bed bulkhead to the back door it’s 64 ½” long and 12” deep. From the floor it rises up to the “crease” in the ambulance ceiling to 54 3/4″ in height.

This space was divided into three levels. The bottom level (the garage) is accessible when the rear doors are open.  Long bulky items such as our folding camp table and chairs will be stored here. The “crane” for the spare tire also fits.

Since the dinette bench seats will butt up against this storage unit and the table will be affixed to its center, access to the next level had to be unique. We settled on open access holes. If necessary cargo nets can be used to restrain the contents.

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The upper level has doors on hinges and are self-supporting in the open position with some skookum struts.

Here again surface bolts are used to secure the cupboard doors while under-way.

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Next up – the dinette.

 

Galley rehearsals

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Our galley is very basic. No oven, no micro-wave, no toaster. We’ll cook on a propane 2-burner stove.

Omnia

In our research we came across a product designed in Sweden called the Omnia Stove-Top Oven. Also known as a “Wonder Pot” it’s for baking without a conventional oven.  So we ordered one from    Sea Dog Boating Solutions

 

Our first attempt was to follow the recipe for Thyme Bread included with the unit.

The silicone liner inside the pan was prepared with pan release and sesame seeds. The dough was mixed by hand in a simple bowl and shaped to fit. After rising for an hour it was placed on the stove top.

For our first trial we were impressed. And our taste buds agreed. This is going to work.

Voilà – it will also roast chicken thighs.

Bottom line: The Omnia stove-top oven is small, light and easy to use.

The Galley

a28d73e1909d8d5c81b034958e4336a4Our galley will be very basic. From the bed bulkhead to the rear door we only have 64 ½” to work with. A good-sized sink was considered essential. As well, space had to be dedicated for the stowage of several items:

  • a 2-burner propane stove
  • water canisters, a cooler
  • and the foot pump for water.

 

Storage space for food items and kitchen utensils was also on the list. And where would the porta-potti go? Check out the high-end casters on the throne’s dolly/cart.

The day the counter-top was fitted the galley started to take shape.

With plumbing hoses and valves installed behind, the essentials fit. A modest galley to be sure but we hope to be cooking and dining outside a good deal of the time.

 

Sleeping accomodations

Every inch inside Tulák counts. Since we’re relatively small people we decided a standard double-size bed (54” x 75”) could work for us.

Now that the bed platform is complete, it’s time for the first layer on the plywood –   HyperVent

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When we sleep we exhale water vapor.  In fact one person asleep adds a cup of water to the air overnight. This moisture from expelled breathing causes condensation. The colder it is outside, the more condensation inside. If the condensation can’t evaporate it may lead to mold or mildew. HyperVent, a special 3/4″ material that will not compress elevates the mattress so air is able to circulate under. This circulating air promotes the evaporation of any moisture. Boaters and RV’ers attest to its effectiveness in preventing mold under mattresses.

For the mattress we opted for two layers – a 6” high resilience (HR) foam and a 2” latex topper. HR foam is the highest grade of poly foam available. The on-line Canadian supplier we chose to buy from states that HR foam contains a rubber compound that gives the mattress a gentle bounce and superior support. Since there will be some storage space under the bed platform that is only accessible by removing the mattress we had the supplier cut this 6” HR layer into two sections lengthwise.

 

For additional comfort we selected a 2” Organic Dunlop Latex topper that contains no synthetic rubber or any harmful chemicals.

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Upon arrival the mattress layers were assembled in our living room. We can report that there was no off-gassing odors. We can also say we were both very pleasantly surprised at the comfort and support these two layers provide. Best of all, measurements were right on. Everything fits inside Tulák.

Now it’s time for a road test. We’re off on an overnight sleepover. For those of you not from our neck of the woods check out our destination:  Glacier Creek Regional Park

Laundry

“The most memorable days usually end with the dirtiest clothes.”

Laundry Day

So how will we tackle laundry while overlanding?

  1. Wash Bucket approach – A bucket with a lid that Tulak will ‘agitate’ while underway will be our first approach. Our trial run on Tuesday to Nelson worked wonders for underwear and socks.
  2. The coin-operated procedure – If coin-op shops are available we’ll use them for sheets, towels and larger items.
  3. The Laundry Lady – In the past when we traveled in both Costa Rica and Ecuador laundry service provided by a local entrepreneur worked well. Items were bagged and weighed to calculate the price which was most reasonable in both countries. A couple of hours later we arrived to pick up our clothes – washed, dried and folded.

Water – the 1st must have

Storage of potable water was Job #1 for Laddie inside the ‘house’. Plumbing will be basic as we have settled for a cold water, non-pressurized system. As we wanted the weight of water as far forward as possible the bench had to go. A zip cutter and hours on the knees got the job done.

This project relies heavily on CAD (cardboard-assisted design). A mock-up of the water tanks demonstrated that we had a problem with the floor.

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The frame of the former bench had to go. A gaping hole in the floor was fixed with an aluminum plate and a sub-floor.

 

Two water tanks to provide us with 220 liters of potable water were ordered. Now the challenge was to figure out the fittings.

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As a precaution a ‘water box’ was constructed to surround the tanks and plumbing fittings. If anything ruptures or leaks, the damage will be contained inside this box. The box is fitted with a drain. To keep creepy-crawlers out it has a cap.

Wall boards, varnish and paint do wonders.

And now the beginnings of the bed platform.

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Propane Predicament

“Sealed to the inside of the cabin and vented to the outside”

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Which necessitates the construction of a compartment gas-tight to the interior of the living box.

Job # 1 – a compartment, accessible only from and vented to the outside that we can access  by way of the side door of the ambulance.

    Or so we thought.

When we spoke with propane specialists they were more than hesitant and reluctant – suppliers wouldn’t even sell them a thru-hull fitting which is what would be required to do the job safely.

When our dilemma was presented to a friend he took one look at the situation and presented us a solution. Mount the propane cylinder on the outside of the vehicle. But where?

Thereby the paradigm shift. What we had always seen as a cavity to mount two diesel jerry cans, he saw as the ideal place for a propane locker. On second thought rather than sacrifice the jerry cans, let’s ditch the small storage box on the rear passenger side.

So now it’s off to Alfab Manufacturing in Nelson, BC.  Their aluminum dry box custom-fit to our exterior cavity will become the ideal propane locker.  Voila!

Yes we know we’ve sacrificed departure angle for propane safety but we’re confident that was the right choice.

The Floor Conundrum

“Usually, the main problem with life conundrums is that

we don’t bring to them enough imagination.”

                                                                                                Thomas Moore

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What’s under the attendant’s seat?

Heater

 

 

A massive over-sized military spec diesel heater that we heard was very loud and overkill for our purposes. So we had it removed.

 

Initially to remove the heater box we chose to cut it with a Zip-cutter.

What now remains though is a rough edge and uneven floor.

It’s time to re-think. And, get the box out.

Now look what we’re left with?

Solution: have an aluminum ‘fix’ fabricated by a professional.

 

The project begins

As we begin the transformation of the ambulance box to our mog- based living quarters we want to credit the folks at Tern Overland for giving our heads a shake. Coming across their website and communicating with David was a godsend.

“Among our core principles is the belief that the greatest luxuries are the ones you don’t have to carry, the systems you don’t have to maintain, and the widgets you don’t have to keep track of. Travel light, travel small, and feel the freedom it brings!”

Overall objectives for our project:

  • Durable, efficient, reliable, user friendly
  • Critical devices have a back-up option
  • Technical areas made readily and easily accessible for repairs and maintenance
  • Weights and dimensions should be suited to carry our living box and equipment      without being pushed to the limit.
  • Optimal balance of weight distribution

Unlike many expedition campers ours will not feature electronics or many gadgets. It’s back to basics and simplicity with a focus on necessity. With the actual ambulance box on hand it’s time to deal with the stretchers.

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Why bother disassembling when you’ve got a friend with a fork-lift?

Now we can obtain accurate measurements.

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Details, details……….

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

                                                  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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The dining room has become our situation room. Laddie is using his drafting skills and the eraser quite frequently these days. As we begin to specify our living box plan in more detail there are challenges to overcome.

Milk crateOnce the propane tanks, water tanks and batteries are placed under the bed there will be some valuable storage space. Milk crates may be the cheapest solution. They’re ideal. Ventilation won’t be an issue for items stored inside them.

Gourmet meals won’t be in the cards but we will have a 2-burner propane stove and sink. Since we intend to purchase marine quality fixtures we may be shopping on-line from sources in the USA.

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Keeping things simple we’ve eliminated a grey water tank from our plan. Water will drain from the sink directly into a durable military grade water can.

We’ve also decided that we won’t have a pressurized water system. This eliminated the need for a water pump but called into question the type of water filtration system to use. Luckily a friend mentioned MSR for pump-free freedom. Their Guardian portable water purifier is a true game changer that makes almost any questionable water source safe to drink. It removes viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.

From our sailing days we’re familiar with foot pumps in the galley. The Guzzler® Foot Lever Pump will meet our needs. Laddie even thinks it could be used to shower. He’d be inside pumping away while I’m outside in the tepid water spray.

Fortunately we can rely on a local source for upholstered cushions and a custom-size mattress.  Wheelers Classic Upholstery in Nelson, BC do great quality work. To calculate the size of back cushions for the dinette Laddie improvised a mock-up.

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But he’s getting anxious. “It’s hard to be in no-man’s land.” We need accurate interior dimensions. The count-down has begun – two weeks till the adventure begins.

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Camper Cabin Plans

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“….. the height of sophistication is simplicity.”

1931, written in a play by Clare Booth Luce

Space. How to use it? And how little there will be. How to keep things simple? How will the sun brighten the interior?

It was time to dream about the camper cabin’s interior. Fortunately we had some help. Ulrich Dolde’s book “Motorhome self-build and optimisation” includes a basic layout tool. It enabled us to put our ideas to paper.

Draft Plan