Monday, January 16, 2017

The Story of the Blown Radiator

It was the summer of 2015, our second season with the van. Our goal, drive to the end of route 138 on the North Shore of Quebec. A 2 000 mile back and forth trip into the unknown above the 50th parallel. No idea if the 35 year old truck would make it but we set forth with tools, duct tape and bail wire. We made it.

2 weeks later I had cleaned, waxed and buffed my truck to go to a car show. We packed the truck the night before planning to camp in the night before the show so we wouldn't wait in line too long the next morning. All that was needed was ice so we stopped for some less than a mile from the house. out we come of the store and the van spews its coolant on the pavement while we walk towards it. Blown radiator. We headed back home and that was pretty much the end of the season for us. Our budget was already tight and parts for the repair would gobble up the rest of it.

Fast forward a month later, I have a radiator, new hoses, clips and fresh coolant. didn't buy a new thermostat, a friend gave me one new in the box (more on that later.). A pretty straight forward job, I proceed to do it. Turns out the truck had its original brass radiator, a disaster waiting to happen. Pulling everything out and putting it back in went almost flawlessly. Almost. While trying to insert the new heater chore hose, one of the heater chore's pipes pops out from behind the firewall. The word that came out of my mouth was loud and foul. Back to the web for more info.

Oh joy, I had to remove the entire dash in order to replace the part. 2 weeks later I managed to get the part and do the install with some help from Youtube. I had to get the truck ready as we had a final event to attend for the upcoming week end. A test drive revealed weird fluctuations on the temperature gauges which is usually rock steady whatever the conditions. Screw it, let's go. I made it to destination but it was about time, the temperature was starting to rise and worry me.

2 days later we headed back home. As we were rolling on the highway, the temperature started to rise steadily and was making a run for the redline. I pulled over immediately, waited for it to cool and proceeded again. I had to do this so many times that a trip that would normally be a 90 minute drive turned into a 7 hour nightmare. I couldn't drive into the city so I parked it at a friend's on the outskirts of town.

I had the truck towed to my trusted garage (American Auto Centre) and they found the problem right away, the thermostat was stuck closed preventing coolant from circulating in the engine. That brand new in the box gifted freebee thermostat was defective. Funny thing is there is a stupid simple way to check these which I had found in my research. Dump the thing in boiling water to see if it opens. Did I do it? Nooooo, it's brand new! So the job ended up costing twice the initial price by adding tow and time for the mechanic.

The lesson here? Check everything and don't take things for granted, ever. I'm not stressed over this, I learned something and the truck is back to it's solid self.

Lastly, if you don't have a temperature gauge, get one retrofitted. When that red overheat light comes on, it's generally too late. Shutting down prior to overheating saved my engine.

Until next time, living the vanlife.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Owning an Old or Vintage Truck

Choosing to own an old truck requires a few considerations. One does not just buy a vintage vehicle put in the key and go carefree like with a new vehicle. There are pitfalls and of course benefits.

Older trucks are cheaper and easier to maintain, especially ones lacking computers. However, this requires knowledge, the mechanical kind. thankfully in this day and age of the web, most if not all of the information is out there. Vintage vehicle owners are a proud bunch and many love to share their passion on Youtube or blogs like this one. Joining a Facebook group or a forum about your specific ride is also a way to access a treasure chest of information. Some folks will gladly help you out but do take the time to search these groups prior before asking about your specific problem. Chances are someone already did and nothing marks you as a noob like asking a question that was already answered over 25 pages of discussion a few months earlier.

First time doing this. Found most of the info online and managed to put it back together myself more than once.

Although information is easy to find, parts are another matter. Out of production vehicle parts tend to dry up at auto parts store after 20 or more years. Thankfully, the web is there again to help you out. If you happen to find parts that fit your truck but you don't need them right away, buy them. If you get them for cheap it's even better. Hunting for a part when you are in a jam just adds to the problem. Keep some spares. Another great way to keep spares is to keep an old part when doing preventive maintenance. Let's say you replace the distributor cap but the old one is still working, keep it. It might come in handy if you are stuck.

While you travel, keep an eye open for trucks like yours rotting away in fields or scrap yards. I have found a lot of parts for my truck that way on the cheap. It is also a lot of fun, kinda like a treasure hunt.

Sometimes you get lucky. I got this one from my local GM dealer. Found another one some months later for $10, i bought it because these get broken often.

Preventive maintenance is the key. Keep track of what is going to go and make yourself a replacement schedule. Your trusted mechanic should be able to tell you what is about to go. this will give you time to find parts if unavailable and set aside the cash. Do not be cheap on oil, filters (oil, air and gas), spark plugs, fluids and electrical. A word on gas, older vehicles were not made to run on fuel with Ethanol which is present in most gasoline these days. Make sure you add fuel stabilizer in your tank if the truck won't move for more than a month. This will prevent the fuel from separating and the Ethanol to create moisture in your fuel lines and tank. This can create rust in them which will set you up for more expenses.

Owning an old truck is not all that bad, it's pretty cool actually. you just have to keep in mind that they require more care than a modern turn-key econobox. Lastly a word for those with OCD, a vintage ride will never be perfect and it will never be done. You have been warned. :)

Until next time.

Living the Vanlife


Monday, November 14, 2016

End of Babbit experience and nasty surprise

Week 2 of the Babbit experience of living in the van went smoothly but going to work turned out to be a pain in the ass while doing this. We figured we learned what we needed and left for the comfort of the house. Mind you, I sleep better in the truck even with traffic roaring by.

The van was emptied of all its content and unplated. It will sleep in the driveway this winter as we work on it. The plan is to gut the interior to the sheet metal. This will be great to do a proper insulation job and the cabinets will be moved indoors for finishing work. Some mods will be done as well for our electrical like proper wiring and setting up the fridge to run off the auxiliary battery. A table or two will also be in the works.

The bottom leaf spring shouldn't move like that.

While under the truck for a routine inspection, I found the source of my right front tire being eaten away prematurely. The centering bolt on the right side leaf springs sheared off and now everything is off whack. The shop that did the leaf spring job never bothered re-torquing the U-bolts after 30km and now I'm stuck fixing this since it's been more than a year, no warranty. Oh well, live and learn.

There is also some mechanical work lined up and re-arranging of the cockpit. I will keep you posted on the work being done.

Living the Vanlife


Monday, October 17, 2016

Almost full time, week 1 done.

She's doing fine  :)

Well one week done in the van and it's been interesting. We have yet to try and kill each other, that's good. Territory in the van has been established, she gets the bed and I get the passenger seat in the cockpit during waking hours. The bed is used as a couch-living room when watching TV and outdoors is pretty much out of the question since it's getting cold out there.

One thing that did come up last friday was Celine getting sick. The experiment was put on hold for a few days until she got better. Which brought up another thing to consider when making the move full time. Being sick in such close quarters isn't going to be any fun. Fortunately we have a plan B for such a situation. We'll be renting a Motel or Hotel room until either crew is back in top shape. This is what the emergency funds will be for, not just mechanical emergencies.

Talking about mechanical failure, only one break down in the van so far. The adapter for the LED light bar in the 12 volt socket died. It's the 3rd one that quits on me but this one lasted a lot longer. Guess I'll have to shop around again for a better one.

Next week end we are going mobile for the last trip of the year before parking the truck for the winter. Celine will have the van pretty much for herself during 2 days while I sleep in the woods giving survival training courses.

Until next time.

Living the van life.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Living full time in the van...almost. The Babbit Experience.

"We store our vans in 3 weeks, what if we lived in them full time during that period?". So this is the conversation starter that got this going last week with 2 of my buddy vanners. We talk about living full time in our vans but can we actually do it? Now right off the bat let me say that we are nowhere near what some real full timers are doing out there. For various reasons, each one of us is not ready to make the jump just yet. However, we figured that even though bragging rights wise it's pretty much poser level, at least it would give us an idea.

All 3 of us are at different stages of readiness when it comes to full time living in the van. I'm certainly not ready since I am missing some key elements like solar panels. So we each decided to tackle the challenge in our own way with the basic concept of living and sleeping in our trucks full time. As for the rest, each one would adjust the simulation according to his means.

For me that represents parking in my driveway, plugged into the wall and using my home's bathrooms. Meals, sleeping and free time all being spent in the van for 3 weeks. I know, it's weird.

The main goal of the exercise is not as much a challenge as it is a learning experience. The ultimate test of our set-up as far as long term usage is concerned. It will also answer other questions like what do you do of your free time on a rainy day amongst other things.

Thankfully the wireless network works fine.

As I'm writing this, we are about to spend our 4th night in the truck and so far so good. We sleep better and deeper than in the house even though we are right next to a busy boulevard. Keeping the place warm in a steady way is turning out to be a challenge. Too hot or too cold, will be working on that.

I also upgraded our set-up with a bar fridge since we are plugged for the duration. I didn't want to buy ice every 2 days. However, I realized by putting it in the van, it could act as a great ice box when power is not available better than the old unit. Best part, it was already paid for.

Bar fridge added

I'll keep you posted on our progress and on the lessons learned.

Living the vanlife


Monday, October 3, 2016

El Campo, the last outing of the season

Go-Van organized a van meet in St-Raymond de Portneuf last week-end and this was the chance to attend a unique event. A bunch of people who see the van as more than a status symbol but a means to an end: freedom.

We started getting Tiki ready the week before figuring we had ample time to fix a bunch of little bugs and make some small adjustments. Sure enough, we still ran out of time and didn't get to finish everything. The truck looked even more patched up with bondo and duct tape filling a hole that requires a sheet metal patch but at this point I didn't really care. The insulation for the windows and the oh so important remote switch for the inverter were critical for a pet peeve free and warm week end.

Having no shore power on site, it was important for the auxiliary battery to be spared unnecessary drainage from forgetting to shut off the damn inverter because I was too lazy to do the acrobatics required to do so. A remote "cable" was hooked up and problem solved. Little things like that gets to you hard when living in a small place.

88 vans of all makes and their dwellers gathered in this magical region. It was a great opportunity to meet other like minded people and exchange ideas, tips and tricks. Everybody was cool and we had a great time. I think the lack of network contributed to better exchanges as people never had their nose in their phones.

Everyone had a great time around the campfire with live music from the gathering's talent until late into the wee hours. Weather was cooperative even though it was cold but nothing that couldn't be handled.

We are definitely going back next year as this was a fantastic way to end a superb season of adventure with our van. Great times, awesome friends old and new, what could be better?

Living the Vanlife


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Building the cabin

So when we got the truck and we were told that it had a great futon mattress and awesome blinds...not. What we got was a leaking roof vent that turned into a damn shower every time it rained, a mouldy/funky smell and cramped cabinets made of MDF that drank all the moisture and weighted a ton. This on top of the classic old American car smell that settles in all classic GMs. It's a hard to explain burnt plastic/dusty smell that no amount of detergent will get rid of, you just get used to it. Recently, a friend actually said the truck smelled like the 80's!

What had to be done was obvious, everything had to come out. Peeling off the old vinyl flooring confirmed my suspicions, black mold had formed on the underlying plywood, so we had to start from scratch. Thankfully the steel floor of the van was unaffected so we were starting on a solid foundation. We ripped every thing out and held back on burning the futon mattress and just threw the stuff away.

We replaced the plywood and decided to lay down some imitation hardwood flooring for the cabin and replaced the vintage shag carpet in the cockpit with artificial grass carpet. The stuff is cheap, comes in brown, dries fast and is a breeze to lay down. We used the original carpet as a template for the new layout. I took the time to shoot the floor of the cockpit with tar sealant paint to protect the steel floor from moisture. I had a leak somewhere I couldn't locate and this would help out until I did.

We kept the vintage wall covering vinyl as it was easy to clean and it also kept a bit of the vintage van look. At this point, we also found our main theme for the truck, Tiki style. The van is mostly brown inside out and the look is pretty easy to make as I would be using mostly wood. A rough finish would also go with the theme, so I had room for mistakes. After all, woodworking is my kryptonite. I hate it!

The first thing we built was the bed. No dinette-turn-into-a-bed-at-some-point crap. A straight and strong almost Queen size bed made from 1X2 and 2X2 lumber and plywood. The mattress is a custom cut foam unit. Next I built a cupboard from plywood and kept the original kitchen unit minus the icebox which I turned into a storage unit. The top cabinets were left as is and this is how we rolled for our first season. Usage would dictate otherwise.

Cabinets version 2.0. came to be out of necessity. After using the van for 2 seasons, its shortcomings were obvious. Not enough room and the looks were horrible. Also, the weight of the MDF was being felt, especially the ones at ceiling level, you could feel the truck wanting to tip on tight turns. I had to bring the Center of Gravity down. Skills learned while building model aircrafts would come into play.
The Plan

The only tools I used, nothing else.

We started by making our layout of what we wanted, took measures and made smart decisions. Part of the doorway on the side door was not really being used so almost half of it was sacrificed for storage. The ceiling cabinets would be made a little bigger, every inch counts. The side window behind the driver's seat would be condemned for a storage unit. I would also try my hand at building a custom icebox.

The construction method used was based on aircraft design, strong but small structure(1X2 pine) with light covering to hold everything in place (1/8 birch plywood). The gamble and lots of hard work paid off, I shaved at least 75 lbs of weight and gained 100% more storage room. The icebox is a partial failure with ice having to be replaced at least every 2 days and water drained before we move by hand. Storage has been a success and the truck doesn't feel as heavy as it was before. We still need to varnish and finish the doors and some modifications will be done. Keep posted for version 2.2 that will be done during the off season. I'll be adding some gadgets as well.

Electric, electronic and plumbing set-up will be part of another post.

Living the Vanlife