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Old 05-27-2016, 02:01 AM   #1
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PhoTow: A Transformer PhotoRig

Hello! I've been hanging out here for a bit and absorbing all the great information and help you folks have provided. What a great site!

So, I thought I'd start a thread for my very simple van build as it progresses and maybe someday it'll help another van newbie out.

Some history... I've been camping for 40+ years and slowly worked my way "up" from backpacking, to tents, to a little trailer about 10 years ago. For a good deal of that time, small van-campers would always turn my head. Fell in love with Sportsmobiles way back, but never seemed to win that lottery I was hoping for. So, a couple of years ago, I found a really nice all-aluminum 16ft trailer to pull with the pickup and we're all happy here on the camping front.

But I go out for long days and the occasional overnight with my photography work, and started dreaming about what it might be like to have a rolling studio where all my gear was safe and dry inside and I could go anywhere, anytime for my photo shoots, have a haven in the rain and snow, edit shots in my down time, and even sleep overnight if needed, without hauling the trailer. But, finances being what they are, the rig would have to be multipurpose: photo studio, family and trailer hauler, and even daily driver for me, to replace the Tacoma.

So, a simple van, with a few improvements, would do the trick. As much as I love all the internal "home improvements" possible, I need to keep the van light for trailer hauling. And, truth be told, I'm willing/able to do only a certain amount of work, which I'll blame on getting lazy with age. I wanted the van to be fun, in really good shape, and not just one more thing to burden an already busy life.

It's funny how you start seeing things once you make up your mind to do something. Suddenly the world was full of vans. They were everywhere! But which one should I/could I get? I drove a new Sprinter... lots of room and a great view, but by the time I added up the cost of new plus the 4WD I need for snowy mountainsides, and enough power to haul the trailer, my budget was already blown. Plus, I really had a thing for the Ford vans somehow. Then I happened on an ad for an 2014 E350 van, 12 passenger, nearly new, all finished inside, that I could make changes on slowly... Of course, it followed me home.

Now the fun begins. We took the van last weekend on its first trailer-hauling camping trip to the southern Oregon coast and it handled that task well. We really appreciated the dark window tinting the previous owner had done, both for privacy as well as sun-taming. The noise-dampening work was also nice. Now I'm having fun planning and doing a little buying.

My plan is simple. First, a 4x4 conversion, primarily for snow and getting in the backroads when I need to. Then some interior work to make the area behind the front seats an open work area with a removable table (swiveling seat(s) will be involved). On the other side of that, some reclining Sienna seats for passengers, work, naps and general goofing off. Behind the seats, room for cargo and a simple slide-in bed platform for occasional overnights. A porta-potty. Maybe a little sink. Loncoin or other solid flooring so I can just sweep out the joint. Maybe a house battery/some solar? for electronics. A killer stereo system with an Apple CarPlay touchscreen for music, gps, and communication. Roof rack, hopefully Aluminess. Nerf bars/steps. The rest? Well, we'll just have to see.

I've been driving the van around town, to/from work, etc. and really enjoying it. I like sitting up high, with all that big glass, seeing everything around you. I've taken the second row out and am already benefitting from the great space that provides. The pup likes it, too.

I'll post pictures as this project progresses. For now, if I can get it to work, I'll post a few. These are from the camping trip to the coast, just before and after I took out the second row seat and its mounts and laid down some temporary rubber matting.

Thanks all for a great forum.
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IMG_2470.jpg   IMG_4055.jpg   IMG_4143.jpg   IMG_3228.jpg  
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Old 05-27-2016, 01:10 PM   #2
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Welcome. Glad to see another Oregonian. There are several photographers here that use their vans as mobile studios.
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Old 05-27-2016, 05:24 PM   #3
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Welcome aboard!
Nice van. I have always wondered why more folks don't use vans to pull their trailers since there is so much passenger room compared to a truck. Looking forward to seeing the transformation as well as your photography.
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Old 05-27-2016, 09:03 PM   #4
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Thanks for the welcome! Skyrat, using the van to pull the trailer this weekend was a real eye opener. If you want something in the cooler, you just pull over, get up and walk around in the van. We enjoyed it a lot. And nice for the pup, too. She's in her crate for travel, but we let her walk around whenever we stopped for a bit. I think we're gonna like this.
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Old 06-05-2016, 12:15 AM   #5
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The PhoTow Rig: The Sienna Seats Go In

Starting changes in earnest now... Ordered a couple of Sienna seats for my second row and got them installed them yesterday, with the Ujoint mount designed by MG Metalworks. This is a temporary installation, since the plan is to install them later on an L-track system so they and other equipment can be easily installed or removed to fit the need. Photo-van, cargo-van, trailer-hauler-van, camper-van, etc.

I'll post a few shots below to show the installation. The seats, as anyone who has them knows, are beautiful, comfortable, supportive and great for napping with the footrests up. I think we're really going to enjoy these. Many thanks to Michael for being so persistent and sweating in that heat!
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1. Shipping Crate.jpg   2. Sienna Seats.jpg   3. Ujoint Mount.jpg   4. Removing Benches.jpg   5. Drilling Holes.jpg  

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Old 06-05-2016, 12:19 AM   #6
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The PhoTow Rig: The Sienna Seats Go In - part 2

More installation pics:
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6. Spacers.jpg   7. Bolting In.jpg   8. View of Mount Installed.jpg   9. Seats Are In.jpg  
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Old 06-05-2016, 04:10 AM   #7
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Where did you find the Sienna seats ? That's the color I'm looking for!
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Old 06-05-2016, 10:54 AM   #8
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Hey Otter, love what you did with the seats! And glad you made a thread to show us all your progress!

StillVanin - a guy out of Scottsdale, AZ sells them on EBay.
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Old 06-05-2016, 11:41 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stillvanin View Post
Where did you find the Sienna seats ? That's the color I'm looking for!
I got them from this seller: http://stores.ebay.com/fantazija11?_...p2047675.l2563

They have them on and off, it seems. And yeah, the color is really nice. Kind of inadvertent on my part... The colors are a little hard to distinguish in their pictures, so I didn't realize there was a lighter light gray. Glad I lucked out.
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Old 06-05-2016, 11:50 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jsweezy View Post
Hey Otter, love what you did with the seats! And glad you made a thread to show us all your progress!

StillVanin - a guy out of Scottsdale, AZ sells them on EBay.

Thanks, Jsweezy! They sure are comfy. Now I'll be found napping in the van, if anyone needs me.
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