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Old 01-30-2013, 10:45 PM   #41
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Now we are out of the cold Indiana weather, down in Florida, enjoying living in Vanessa. Some rain moved in today so now is the time to post some photos. You can find detailed drawings with dimensions and model numbers for appliances on my site here: http://davidelmore.com/Sportsmobile.php.

Below you can see the awning out and the Camco Olympian 5500 gas grill mounted on the side of the van and connected to the van's propane tank. The grill works really well.



Below is the other side showing the TV antenna. We typically receive about 10 TV stations.

I am considering some graphics on the sides and back of the van. Suggestions are welcome!



Here is the huge storage cabinet in the back. From upper left to lower right: 3 gal pink liquid in case we need it for the gray tanks; toolbox; out of sight behind is a 5 gallon pail and our hiking boots; top center shelf has extra cables and hoses; below that are boxes for beverages; six 6x6x25 boxes for storage of rope, tools, and parts for things I still have to install; upper right is our 2-person inflatable kayak and behind that the pump and life preservers; the next layer down is the foot of the bed; below that the 40-gal water tank, folding chairs, folding table, spare tire, small step ladder, and leveling blocks. In the left door is the electric cable and in the right door is the hose. In the receiver hitch is a $26 step from Harbor Freight.



Below is the galley. Left cabinet, without a door, has water jugs and paper towel on the top shelf and a trash can on the bottom. This cabinet also opens outside so we can stow shoes from that side. Under the sink has adjustable shelves, next 4 drawers, and then a slide-out pantry. The 2x3 foot throw rugs are easy to beat against a tree or throw in the wash.



Across from the galley is the 7 cu ft Norcold electric fridge and microwave. You have probably noticed the prints on the walls. This is a new medium we print on at my company Redipix.com. It has a removable adhesive on the back, similar to a sticky note. You can easily remove from the wall and re-apply somewhere else.



The next few shots show the dinette/bed in various configurations. Here it is set up (almost, ask if you want the long story) the way SMB intended. We do not like to use the backrests, which double as part of the bed, because they are too wide resulting in a short seat and colliding knees.



So we slide the seat backs under the cabinet and use pillows to lean back on as shown. The table here is the same one I made for the front of the van. It is plenty large enough for two to eat on or to hold a laptop and mouse. The table is very lightweight and quick to set up.



Here is the bed configuration. The seats slide forward with a drawer glide and the seat backs drop in behind the seat. Although we can slide the seats to meet in the center, we prefer to leave a small gap as shown to make it easier to climb in and out. We plan to make fitted sheets (similar to a slip cover) that will stay on the cushions all the time. We use a comforter on top without a top sheet. The bed is 70 wide by 82 long (between a standard queen and king).



The bathroom turned out great. It is 24x48. There is a full mirror above the relatively large sink and no overhead cabinet. The faucet pulls out for showering. The lever on top of the faucet is very convenient and completely stops the flow so we leave the hot faucet open all the time. I have the tempering mixing valve on the hot water heater set to shower temperature so we never need to open the cold faucet. The cabinet below the sink holds the toilet paper and a waste basket for used toilet paper. We find this system helps avoid problems when dumping the black tank.



The marine toilet works well. Above it is a towel rack and storage cabinet. There are shower curtains to cover the window, door, and under-sink cabinet.



Up front we have overhead cabinets and Fantastic vent. The low cabinet on the left has a drawer and hot water heater with some storage room. The front seats are often turned as shown and I use the driver seat while on the computer as I am now.



This shows the water heater and tempering valve. Below that is the end of the black tank.



I have spoken several times about the hot water recirculating system. The valve that activates it is way back under the galley sink. Since we often want to open it for a short time to bring hot water to the kitchen sink, I made a cable extension for it. When the knob is pulled out as shown, the valve is open. Pushed back against the cabinet it is closed (see earlier photo).



Here is the finished plumbing system behind the spare tire. You can see a hole in the bed platform where I can reach down to operate the valves. The valve above the pump is for filling the tank from the city water connection or by pumping out of a pail with the coiled tube on the floor (I needed this when filling the tank before we left home in freezing weather). The 3-way valve below the pump switches the pump intake from the tank to the coiled line. This is also useful for pumping pink liquid into the system. Next to the coiled line is the tank drain valve. To the right is the tempering valve that stops the recirculating water once it gets hot at the end of the line.



So we are really happy with Vanessa! Going from a big rig to a class B and loving it makes us wonder why everyone needs all those slide-outs! Tonight we drove to dinner, changed clothes in the restaurant parking lot, returned in the rain to our campsite and never had to step outside.

David and Janet
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Old 01-31-2013, 12:07 AM   #42
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My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

I'm thinking SMB Indiana now has a new floor plan - The Llama Dave Edition! Well done. Enjoy your new adventures.
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Old 01-31-2013, 10:16 PM   #43
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Hi Dave,

I am interested in learning more about your thought process behind going with the diesel generator and furnace but not the water heater. The diesel generator and furnace are two rather expensive options. Also, what are your thoughts about going with a true platform bed with a really great mattress? Oh, one more question: How do you like not having any back window line of sight? Did it take you long to get used do totally trusting a back-up camera?

Thanks for being willing to share your SMB build information…

Jeff
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Old 02-02-2013, 01:57 PM   #44
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Jeff,

The propane furnace and generator use up the small propane tank that SMB uses pretty quickly. We like dry camping and winter camping and want longer stay times. It is much more convenient to fill up diesel than propane. The Onan propane generator will run 24 hours at medium power on a full tank and the diesel generator will run 100 hours on a full Sprinter tank (20 of 26 gallons). Hours for the furnaces probably have a similar 4x factor, only important in the winter. We use the propane for hot water, stove, and outside grill. We have used half a propane tank in about 2 weeks of camping.

The dinette has turned out great for us. We would never give that up for a full-size mattress. The dinette cushions are thicker than the platform bed part but we still find it quite comfortable to sleep on.

I have towed a large trailer for 12 years of camping. With that I had no rear view and no rear camera, yet did plenty of backing, usually with my wife directing back there. Backing the Sprinter with no rear view is much easier. Usually I can manage with just the side mirrors, but the rear camera is great for finding out when to stop backing. It aims down from the top so I can actually see the rear bumper.

David
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Old 02-09-2013, 01:00 PM   #45
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

We are back from our two week maiden voyage with Vanessa in northern Florida. We had great weather for hiking and boating and we had time for shakedown and organizing. We stayed at Walmarts on the way down and back, Florida state parks, and 3 days dry camping in the Apalachicola National Forest.

In a PM I was asked if there were any “Chumley” issues to report. Fortunately there were very few problems, and none so far that will require a trip back to Huntington. I will report on a few things that I have already fixed or will fix myself, and a few dimensions that did not match my drawings. But let me first say that overall their work was excellent and met expectations and they accommodated extremely well to most my special requests. Here is comprehensive list of things that were not perfect.

The dinette seats were narrower and higher, both by a few inches. They did not discuss this with me in advance. This helped them fit in the plumbing and electric in the back. There is still room for four to sit at the dinette, the bed overall is plenty long for me, and the vertical leg room under the large rear cabinet is smaller but not a problem. The good of all this is more storage room under the base of the bed and under the seats. Later I will update the dimensions in the drawings on my site (click on Vanessa below).

The dinette originally had supports for the backrest as shown here:



I don’t know how they were thinking we would have a comfortable bed with those in the way. I cut them out myself when I had the van home doing the A/V install over Christmas break. We do not use the backrest so they are completely unnecessary. In addition, the board behind the dinette that holds up the forward edge of the platform bed sticks up about an inch between the dinette cushions and the platform mattress, preventing us from closing the gap between them. I plan to cut off the top inch of that board.

When they screwed angle brackets and other things from the inside of cabinets, some of the screws made a small bump on the other side. They use half inch screws into the half inch plywood so there is not much extra space there. I think this happened because they didn’t drill the holes deep enough so the screw pushes some wood out the back. These bumps are not too noticeable.

The aft middle of the bottom board on the huge rear cabinet started to come apart after driving on some rough dirt roads. I had told SMB that I planned to place lots of heavy stuff in that cabinet, including a 60-lb inflatable kayak, but they assured me it would hold up. I replaced one of the half-inch screws that pulled out with a bolt to fix it in the short term. For longer term I think I will add a steel beam across the back above the foot of the bed.

The walls and cabinet doors in the bath have a fairly thick vinyl sheet bonded to the plywood. When we got down in humid Florida the cabinet doors warped when the wood swelled, making the doors hard to close. A fix for this would be to not put the vinyl on the doors. The doors are protected by curtains anyway when we take showers. If this becomes a problem in our humid summers, I will have SMB make new doors.

I had asked for a drain on the hot water heater tank. Their reason for not doing it is that the van fuel tank is under the most convenient spot for the drain. When I winterized the other day I had to remove the anode rod from the outside of the heater. This requires a very large socket wrench and I have to add fresh Teflon tape to the threads each time. Since I expect to winterize after several winter trips each year, I want an easier way to do this. I will have to add this myself with a tube that goes to a hole over on the side of the van.

The air conditioner was moved forward of the dinette so I can hit my head on it while standing at the aft end of the galley. I think SMB had to do this to avoid a major seam in the roof. They were also limited on how far aft it could go by the large rear cabinet and the TV antenna.

I am adding to this list some design regrets for which I would not fault SMB.

The Norcold 7 cu ft electric refrigerator has two problems. The fan noise is bothersome, but not as much as the loud relay click when it cycles on an off frequently all night. The other thing is that in cold weather (teens and below) the refrigerator bottom froze things while the freezer did not keep things frozen. In warm weather when the setting was such that the bottom of the fridge was around 35, things in the freezer door still did not remain completely frozen.

Our fresh water tank holds just under 40 gallons. They told us that the largest gray water holding we could have is 20 gallons (about 10 gal on each side). I should have done some research on this because on looking under the completed van there seems to be plenty of room for a longer tank on the passenger side. I did extensive research on the black tank and found a 16 gal tank that fits after they initially told me we would be limited to a 5 gal tank. I know that the combined 20 plus 16 gal adds up to almost 40, but normally a smaller fraction of the water will go into the black tank.

We have two AGM house batteries. No room for more in the back, but there is room in the Sprinter engine compartment. After watching TV in the evening and with the fridge and furnace going the batteries would fall below 12 V in the morning. It will not be difficult to add the third battery up front. It will tie into the other two at the separator under the driver seat. We have a huge cable going from that back to the house batteries.

Finally I want to comment on the tables. The dinette cushions are so easy to change from the bed configuration that we do it as soon as we get up in the morning. The dinette table we decided on and SMB made for us is much larger than necessary and is quite heavy so we do not use it and left it at home. Instead we use at the dinette the very light weight table I made for the front. We set that up only for dinner (takes about 10 seconds) and put it away after dinner. Often we have lunch up front using only the small laptop table and the counter behind the driver seat. I do all my computer work up front. Needless to say when the weather is good we eat meals outside.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that we consider all the above problems minor or easily correctable and we really love Vanessa and are very happy to have worked with SMB Indiana. After Chumley’s experience I have heard more than one person say they would rather have a complex Sprinter build done in Indiana. I can say that I highly recommend the Indiana team. I hope that by knowing my above problems in advance you can avoid them for your build.

David
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Old 02-09-2013, 02:13 PM   #46
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Great run-down assessment.

I hope you provide the feedback to SMB so they can continue to improve their product.

As for the Norcold, added insulation (if there is room), can help it cycle less frequently. A small battery powered fridge fan could help circulate the cold air so it's more consistent throughout the fridge.

Sounds like the van is about 90% of the way you want it. Not bad for a custom product, and you should be able to get it to 100% with just a few changes.


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Old 02-13-2013, 03:25 PM   #47
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

I told SMB Indiana about the above problems and also referred them to this thread. They did say they would put extra insulation around the refrigerator. The main problem was the freezer door anyway.

Then I noticed one more thing: They forgot to install the Magnum Battery Monitor Kit ME-BMK. I now will have to go back to get that and have them fix a few very minor other things.

This thread is about over. For the record (mine and yours) I documented most everything I could think of on my web site here: http://davidelmore.com/Sportsmobile.php. I am sure this is more than most of you want to read, but it should be a big help to anyone who wants a new Sprinter build similar to ours.

Over the next month I have lots of tweaks to do, most important of which is the screen door. I will tell you about that job when finished.

David
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Old 02-14-2013, 05:36 PM   #48
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by llamadave
.....For the record (mine and yours) I documented most everything I could think of on my web site here: http://davidelmore.com/Sportsmobile.php.
Hi David,

I (and no doubt many others) appreciate all the effort you put into documenting your build experience.

I'm still on the fence over which way I plan to go (started the journey looking at SM Sprinter, then on to a homebrew E-150 Wagon, then to 4x4 pickup with slide-in pop-up camper, now leaning towards pickup and shell with home brew set-up). Boy, this is exhaustng and I haven't even started the build.

I recall you had a large pickup prior to the Sprinter (F-550 quad cab long bed?). How do you compare the ride/drive between the two vehicles? TIA.

Cheers!
Mike
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Old 02-14-2013, 06:36 PM   #49
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Hi Mike,

The Sprinter is a much smoother ride and very pleasant and comfortable behind the wheel. Our finished and loaded SMB weighs about the same as our empty F-550 crew cab (10,000 lb), and both are duallys. When towing a 16,000 lb trailer the F-550 ride is a little smoother, but still a fair bit worse than the Sprinter. You most definitely should take a Sprinter for a test drive.

The only time the F-550 is better is when there is a strong crosswind. I recently talked to a woman who had a 2500 Sprinter and she said it was really scary in a strong wind. We got the extra stabilizer options and so I don't see this as a problem with ours; it just requires more concentration when driving in the wind compared to the 550.

The F-550 is wider and the same length with a larger turning radius, making the Sprinter much easier to park.

I also recently talked to a couple with a 4x4 pickup and slide-in pop-up camper. They were really happy with it, but camping is more rugged with no A/C, no generator, and only a cassette toilet. They needed a container on the roof for extra gear. Not for us even though we used to do a lot of backpacking. They said they liked having the 4x4 pickup when not camping. I need one too and so purchased an old one to use around my property.

You need to decide how important it is to you to have 4WD. Keep in mind that insurance, if you can get it, will be more expensive if you spend much time on 4WD roads. We like to park our Sprinter at the end of the good dirt roads, then hike on the not-so-good roads and trails.

David
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Old 02-15-2013, 11:23 AM   #50
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Re: My SMB Indiana Sprinter building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by llamadave
We like to park our Sprinter at the end of the good dirt roads, then hike on the not-so-good roads and trails.
That was pretty much my intention as well before I was seduced by write ups over on the Expedition Portal discussion board.

For me, it's all going to boil down to what I will be able to keep in my driveway without my HOA going into cardiac arrest. I may be stuck wth only stealthily modified passenger van or pickup w/shell (i.e., no visible hook ups, heater vents, etc.).

Cheers!
Mike

p.s. My wife and I both took test drives in a Sprinter 170 cargo van and both thought it drove well. But a ride around the block is not a good gauge for how comfortable it'll be on a long drive.

p.p.s. We get regular strong winds here (Santa Anas) and I drive through a wind corridor daily so that will be something I need to consider.
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