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Old 01-30-2012, 12:22 PM   #1
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The Family Conestoga

Conestoga. noun - a large wagon with broad wheels and an arched canvas top; used by the United States pioneers to cross the prairies in the 19th century
Well, there you have it, that's the purpose of our build. I actually started with a 1992 RB Ford E350 with a 460, but the old girl had 250k on it when i bought it, so it wasn't really a great canvas. We needed more space and better reliability and mpg for our purpose of seeing this great country we live in, a few weeks each summer, until we've seen it all. Then we'll start all over again. We live in Tn. and are 15 minutes from the Great Smoky Mtn Nat'l Park, but i love the big mountains out west, and the big, beautiful national parks, so we wanted to expose the kids (and ourselves) to this as much as possible on a family budget each summer, and travel around closer to home the rest of the year. Also, i have a 30' Airstream, a project for the last several years, but it's just too big and just too much to haul very far in my opinion. About 8 mpg as well, and not as fun as minimalist camping in tents/van in the really pretty, hard to reach places. I wanted a van that would pull the trailer when needed, but mostly i wanted to build a SMB-style home build to my own specs.
Here's what i found, a 2002 EB Ford E350 5.4 with only 130k. Pretty dang cheap and a club wagon package, all power, twin DVD screens, perfect shape. No towing package but i can add what i need there.

Since we live in muggy Tn, factory roof air was a necessity. I'm currently weighing the pros/cons between roof air and a pop top or fixed raised top, but first, i wanted to set up the van for immediate travel. My idea was to remove the 1st and 4th bench and have a cabinet/fridge behind the driver's seat with some open space, then a good open space for storage in the rear for cargo, leaving 2 benches for 2 kids. this would be their rooms, essentially. A full bench each to play, sleep, relax, etc. We are primarily tent camping but long days on the road call for a bench for kids to nap on IMO, or should i add IHO (in her opinion). I think that one will be used a lot here. If mama ain't happy.........
The van i found was maintained pretty well, but they had 8 kids, so out with the carpet and those mystery stains.

Next is where my first mistake was made. Even after researching all of the elaborate, insulated floors in this forum, i thought our warm season trips would only require some fresh carpet since i was keeping some of the original benches and wanted to be able to re-mount them easily. I added some foam underlayment from Lowe's and went with some indoor/outdoor carpet. It looks better but is crap and i regret this idea.

Since we were in a hurry to use the van, i did some stuff too hastily just so i could keep it on the road. This carpet will have to be redone, but it was cheap, so no huge loss. I put my 2 benches in the middle and hit the road for some short, local camping trips.
Our idea was/is to sleep in a tent whenever we can, and only use the van for sleep when absolutely necessary. I have always liked the idea of keeping a basic camping kit in it at all times instead of taking most everything out after every trip. I have several different pieces of roof racks, so i pieced together what i had and came up with this: Yakima 78" bars, rain gutter towers, and a huge Sportrack box which holds more stuff than you can imagine.
It currently holds a huge tent, 4 or 5 chairs, 2 bags, 2 cots, 2 thermarest foam pads, a table, a couple of stools, a lantern, and who knows what else. A great way do store the big crap out of the vehicle. Also, i wanted to put bike racks on the outside, or slide it over for and put the canoe beside it, which worked out great.
Before the rack went on though, i found some minor rust spots in the rain gutter, and also noticed how easy it is to dent a van roof while walking on it. I fixed the gutter with Vulkem polyurethane sealant and added some grip tape to the edges so i could safely load/unload the cargo box or bikes walking around the stronger edges of the roof.

To be continued
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Old 01-30-2012, 06:12 PM   #2
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The Family Conestoga

Beautiful looking van. It should bring you many miles of happiness.


Larrie
89 Ford 2WD penthouse
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Old 01-30-2012, 07:23 PM   #3
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Re: The Family Conestoga

Thanks Larrie, i've been meaning to get around to posting some of my build but i never take time to sit down. I broke two toes the other day and now have more than enough time to sit down, but wouldn't ya know it, i've misplaced a lot of my pics and the van isn't here to take more, plus i'm not real agile right now. I will continue on with the more interesting part of my progress as soon as i find them or take more. Mine is a pretty mild build though compared to the all out SMB guys.
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Old 01-30-2012, 07:43 PM   #4
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Re: The Family Conestoga

I don't like the idea of keeping my generator inside the van, it doesn't smell at all but i wanted to be set up to use it on the road if needed, or to charge house batteries while in a parking lot or something. I built up a wooden and steel rack which was just an experiment, and i definitely should share that it doesn't stay on the van unless i'm traveling. There is risk of it being crushed in a front end collision, but just as much risk if i mounted it on my rear rack.
First, i added a front receiver from Etrailer, then butchered an old bike rack for the tubing for the bottom, then bolted some 3/4 treated plywood for the base. This will be replaced by a square angle iron frame if i like how it works out.
I spray bombed it and wrapped some pipe insulation around the edges to save my shins if i walk in to it or bump it on something

Then i added a big cable lock which goes through the long vent hole in the bumper so there's no possible way anyone could walk away with it. I do realize people cut the handles on these and steal them anyway, but the cable fits so tight on mine, i don't think it could really go anywhere unless someone had a lot of time to work.
Also, i can't show this in pictures, but i ran some thick extension cord along the frame under the van and inside the rear door to where my inverter and power all ties together. This way, i can switch from inverter to generator power quickly and charge batteries.
This generator setup works great riding down the road or parked, and another reason i put it up front was so that the noise would be furthest from us while still being attached. One thing less to load/unload and move around.
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Old 02-02-2012, 03:05 PM   #5
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Re: The Family Conestoga

Here are some pics of everything i added from Etrailer. First, a front receiver, which i built for a generator rack primarily, but a priceless thing to have on a utility vehicle for anything from a plug-in step to a bike rack, or wiggling a trailer in to a tight location.

Also, i added a Curt 10k hitch and a nifty angled trailer plug
Of course, a Prodigy brake control is all you want to fool with these days. I know there are other good ones out there, but in my part of the world, this is always the answer you get if you ask anyone which one you need. I don't love the mounting location here, but i found the typical right knee location way too cramped in the van. In fact, i thought hard about cutting a big hole in that awkward lower dash cover under the steering wheel. There is really no good place for a brake controller on this year E350. I can reach the manual brake switch just as quick on the left as on the right, but my wife isn't too happy about her knee hitting it all the time since she moves the seat so far forward. Something to think about BEFOREHAND guys!!
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Old 02-02-2012, 06:20 PM   #6
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Re: The Family Conestoga

As i look at some of my pics, i'm realizing just how lousy the iPhone camera really is. How can this device do so many things so well and take such lousy pics? It's beyond understanding.
Ok, after much thought and research, i wanted to try a simple way to run a fridge, so after doing some reading here and on the Expedition Portal and the Open Roads Forum, i decided to try this. I bought a dirt cheap Cobra 1500 MSW inverter, a smart VSR (Voltage Sensing Relay) to separate truck and house batteries and charge both, and have successfully been using a bigger AC dorm fridge and microwave, run just off of DC power. It's working great! Many people said this would not work at all, that my two Walmart (Johnson Controls) batteries would only run this setup for 8 or so hours, but it's working like a champ.
I started with a voltage sensing relay and 80amp fuse with 6 gauge wire run from under the hood.
http://www.amazon.com/Battery-Isolation ... 377&sr=8-1


I had intended to just run this to right behind the driver's seat where i would have my fridge/outlets/inverter/etc. but after one trip with this all just sitting in the van, we realized one big problem. If you set up your van with an entire bench (3' roughly) taken out behind the driver's seat, you have a nice big space to walk in to, but on the road you have NO interaction with the passengers in the back. Kids couldn't hear us, we couldn't hear them, which seems like sort of a blessing sometimes, but we quickly grew to dislike it. There is a lot of road/wind noise in a van on the road, and that distance paired with the noise pretty much means you can't even scream loud enough to talk to the kids/people on the benches back there. We decided to move the benches forward and just convert the back of the van to living/kitchen space. So i ran 6 gauge all the way to the back corner of the van and built a sealed, vented battery box there. It is actually working out housing the batteries in a sealed tote, which i hid all of my wires and even my float charger in, with 2 gauge leads coming out to the inverter, only about 2' long, as recommended.


Then i mounted the inverter close to the door for easy access whether in or out of the van

AC wiring is run from the interter to a power strip up front behind the driver's seat, for charging of various electronic devices
(yes i know about the problems with MSW inverters and charging electronics, but so far everything of mine charges fine and stays cool). Also, a power strip is run over to curb side for microwave, fridge, and other kitchen needs whether in or out of the van

I have 250 amp hours with this setup, and so far have been able to run the fridge only for about 3 days without starting the van or charging batteries. I tested this early last fall when we were still having 90+ days, and no problems. Our general rule is to limit microwave use to only when van is idling, and only use when absolutely necessary anyway. The way that she prefers to travel means we will never be away from shore power for more than a couple or 3 days, and we have the on board generator to supplement that.
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Old 02-15-2012, 07:19 PM   #7
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Re: The Family Conestoga

Here are some more pics of my cabinet build, which i decided to do towards the back of the van. I put the microwave sideways to maximize space and the porta-potty lives underneath. This fridge i got is HUGE, i'm hoping i'll be happy long term with an AC only fridge.




The cheap white and clear plastic "pantry" we put back there looks horrible IMO, but it serves two purposes. It is easy to load in and out of the van at home (we fill it up in the kitchen, and just carry it out and sit it in the van), and since we don't have a pop-top yet, we camp more 'out' of the van than in it, so it's easy to open the back door and get to the pantry when cooking in camp

I chose to build my cabinets out of finish grade pine since it is cheap and light, but expiremented here with a couple of coats of KILZ and then a couple of coats of battleship gray exterior paint. It worked out pretty well but is easy to marr it if you hit something on a corner, so i used some clear stick-on drywall saver stuff from Lowe's

This shelf on the left is wide and doesn't leave us much walkthrough space, but it's actually a double bunk. My wife sleeps on top and daughter has slept in the middle once. It's VERY sturdy. Battery box, toolbox, and misc. camp stuff below

Here are some pics of my lights i used in the ceiling, and boy did they help! I'm considering painting the housings gray as well.

Most importantly, i had to build these shelves so i would have a good place to hang my skull & crossbones bottle opener

Things to do this Spring: door storage/fold downs
just bought a welder so i'm gonna expirement with propane tank holder underneath and water storage underneath
large firewood/cooler/bike rack build on 2 receiver tubes welded on outsides of the receiver
shelf above windshield/sunvisors
hide cords and make electric more 'permanent'
possibly replace 2 benches with 2 capt's chairs and build sink cabinet behind LR capt. chair
CCV top (when someone donates me $6k)
redo my floor and insulate behind interior walls
twin-post newer Ford towing mirrors
furnace
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Old 02-15-2012, 09:51 PM   #8
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The Family Conestoga

Lookin good. Where did you get the pine that wide? Did you us a biscuit?


Larrie
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Old 02-16-2012, 08:04 AM   #9
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Re: The Family Conestoga

Larrie, the wide boards are finish grade plywood, all the way from Finland! Lol, actually all the way from Lowe's. The frames and facer boards are pine. I wish i had the patience (and the tools) to do biscuit joints! The 4 posts of the left side bunk/countertop are actually 2x4s, for strength, but both sides are pretty strong and not too heavy. I think a child at least could sleep on the fridge side cabinet if needed, but it's usually got stuff stored on it when camping.
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Old 02-16-2012, 09:56 AM   #10
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Re: The Family Conestoga

There is one way someone can take that generator. The handle on the Honda is just plastic and can be sawed through easily. Then you can slip it out sideways not even having to deal with the cable that will still be locked. Just an FYI.... I bought this for my Honda 2000 for this exact scenario....

http://www.amazon.com/Honda-Generato...1&sr=8-1-fkmr2
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