Wednesday, January 6, 2010

tiny plans

So in-spite of initially being turned down by Ford I'm still hopeful that maybe we can talk someone into giving us a deal on a Transit Connect. Before the dreadful rejection form letter from Ford's sponsorship web page I had been dreaming in three dimensions of all the swell modifications I could make to the back of the van to make it a little home for our camp outs. Before I get into describing all the details maybe I should say what we had in mind for accommodations for our trip.

2009 saw the a-go-gos on the road quite a bit. We packed in Death Valley, Owens Valley, Manzanar, Whitney Portal, Reno, Lassen Volcanic Park, Mojave National Preserve, Mitchel Caverns, Carrizo Plain, the California Poppy Reserve, Mono Lake, Valley of Fire, Bristlecone Pines, Schat's Bakkery in Bishop, Rock Creek in the Sierra, Bodie ghost town, and lots in between. With all that we developed a nice road trip stride and a simple bundle of junk that comes with us on these trips. We typically camp out in a tent when we can and stay in motels when dictated by weather or on relatives' or friends' couches where available. All this is great but we long for a vehicle that we can sleep in with more comfort than a tent (not to mention more weather and wind resistance). We have slept in the back of our marvelous little '99 Toyota Rav4. That works OK, but it requires that all the stuff crap and junk be stored outside while we sleep as our bodies take up all the available floor space and head room. Arranging all this is as cumbersome as setting up a tent at every stop. I love sleeping in a tent and I figure we will likely bring a small one even if we have a vehicle to sleep in. Our trip to the Mojave Preserve drove home the need for a cozy, reliable, and solid place to sleep when the tent wont cut it. The wind kicked up something fierce. Miraculously our cheap little tent held up just fine but a good sleep was out of the question. The gusts drove us nuts all night.

So, what to sleep in? We're not the sort to have an RV, not even a van conversion. Our need for fuel economy makes any of that too dear. I like the Ford Ranger pickup and it's little four cylinder engine can easily pull a teardrop trailer, so that is an option we are weighing. Used Rangers go pretty cheap but getting a teardrop will cost some $$$. New they are out of our range and used ones are very popular and get snapped up right away (yes, I have been looking). I may have the time and space to build one someday but that's out for now as we live in 450 sq. feet and have no garage. I like the Honda Element but it presents us with the same troubles as the Rav4, all the junk has to be moved out of the back before you can make the bed up and go to sleep.

This brings us to the Ford Transit Connect. It is little by all measures, and the idea of sleeping in it will be a pinch but I think I've come up with an attractive plan. I have proven my skills in light weight, durable carpentry for tight spaces with many previous projects. As an example when I was a bachelor I lived in dinky studio apartment upstairs from a hair salon in South Pasadena, CA. The brick building was from 1915 and had lots of quirky charm but the apartment couldn't hold much more than a bed and a bureau. The rent was right so I went to work. First, a Murphy bed. The bed would fold against the wall for the day and as a bonus I built into its base a table that folded down for the day. Built from recycled scrap lumber and engineered like a hollow core door, it was light weight and carried years of restless sleep, folding, unfolding, breakfasts, carpentry and painting projects. Later I added book shelves next to the entry door, and moved the clunky stove out of the tiny kitchen to turn it into a better art studio (cooked on a hotplate instead... hey, I said I was a bachelor. I was practically a hermit artist). My bike hung from the ceiling, I built small steps up to the window so I could use the roof as a balcony.... soon it was like living on a small boat. The only thing big about that apartment was the bath tub. Boy, do I miss that tub. There was no heat in the building and no insulation so in the winter (very mild in southern California, but at 45 degrees some nights it was cold enough for me to wear a coat and hat inside) I would take soaks in the huge tub to escape the cold.

But I digress.... back to the Ford Transit Connect. After test driving the Transit, laying in the back, and poking around with a tape measure I was convinced it could work. The best feature is the head room. The scribbly drawings above will be hard for anyone but me to understand but I worked out how to build a bed deck in the back of the Transit and still have more than three feet of sit-up head room. The bed space would actually be larger than the bed that mrs. a-go-go and I sleep in now. The deck would be high enough to stow all our stuff in bins that can slide out the back and side doors. The front two feet of deck would be removable (in fact it has to be to allow the front seats to have some recline while driving) and it would double as a kitchen table when the rear doors are open. Like the design of a teardrop trailer the rear door would function as a galley, and I would add a pantry cabinet above the foot of the bed. All this would give us that precious quick bed set up and not require all the clothes, kitchen equipment, bags, camera stuff, and more to be stashed outside.

Ramble, ramble, ramble. I better quit here before I wax on about a tent canopy for the back and other stuff. It's all moot if we can't get our hands on one. Maybe we can talk Ford into selling us one at cost. Hmmm...


  1. I have my fingers (& toes) crossed that a deal will happen.

  2. I am inspired by the teardrop camper idea - got to see where can get one here in Germany. Did you check out ebay for a used one, seem to be a fair amount & run about $2,500.

  3. My husband did a three month trip around the US after college graduation. He used a small pick up and slept in the back.

  4. Came across your blog and thought you might get a kick out of my van:



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