Crazy thoughts and new concepts…

It has been one crazy week. It’s a reminder that anyone in public view, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a celebrity or a simple web master or blog owner, is going to eventually pick up some “constantly angry at the world”, irrational stalker who has nothing better to do than ruin a perfectly good day for someone else, even though the rest of the world sees them for what they are. But life’s too short for that, and so I have done some re-wording and removed a post that had nothing to do with this topic…. not for his benefit, because he doesn’t deserve the credit, but simply because it’s the right thing to do for ME.   No matter how we try to follow the laws and standard procedures of the internet, provide excellent service, and stay honest, there’s always going to be someone who finds a fault with it. That’s life. I see no need to stoop to their level.

Now on to the right topic…

I was thinking earlier of energy conservancy and small vehicles. I have been reading lately about some of the new solar panels that are so thin they can be applied like these vehicle wraps that you see on busses and other advertising vehicles. Just think of the possibilities that presents for things that have a lot of wide, flat surface, like vans and motorhomes. Also, there is a solar cell technology being developed by someone in Australia that will produce power (albeit limited) in total darkness! The increased efficiency would eliminate the need for worrying about which direction our cells were facing.

We could be seeing total electric recreational vehicles within  the next ten to twenty years! (Hopefully sooner rather than later!) Maybe rather than one big engine to haul their weight down the road, it could be separate individual electric motors on each wheel. That would also solve many of the problems with four wheel drive-trains, and heights of such vehicles. Also, instead of 500+ parts to worry about, you’d have one electric motor per wheel. If it goes bad, you would simply change the motor. Electric motors are relatively cheap as it is, and in mass production, the cost could be brought even lower. It would be no more involved than changing a front hub, and completed in less than half a day.

But let’s look at today’s readily available technology. Electric golf carts have been around for years already, and although some people may not know this, some are even street legal, with lights, turn signals, seat belts and everything else they need. Now think about this… we’ve all seen those LONG golf carts, like resorts use for shuttling residents to activities and such. Our park in Mesa had one, and the park next door had several.

If cars are large enough to camp in, then why wouldn’t a properly designed LONG golf cart that is street legal work just as well? Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about plastic or canvas sides on it. After all, we don’t want to have to worry about safety. It would obvously have to have some kind of hard sides and doors to make it secure, just like a car. But think about it. It might have only the one drivers seat (could even be a swivel seat, as some single travelers have indicated they would like), or it could retain the two front seats for couples, and the whole back part flat (probably over the batteries) and eight feet long, rather than having seats in it… wouldn’t that accomplish the same purpose as a camping car or a minivan?!

Most of us have seen some of the fancy golf carts that look like roadsters, vintage cars, and even Hummers.  I like the Hummer design because it also has high ground clearance and some tough looking tires! What if that Hummer design were extended, enough to allow for bed length behind the driver’s seat, had solid sides, and a nice flat roof like a van so that it could be filled with high output solar panels? It should be able to go (at least) “longer” distances if not indefinitley (I’m thinking at least a hundred miles of constant driving every other day, or indefinite short trips EVERY day) and use the days (and /or down time) in between to come back to full charge again… without plugging into anything!

Although it may be expensive to buy or set up the way you want, once it’s done, there’s no fuel cost! No pollution! And with the right tires, should even be able to go on those back roads in the desert to explore almost indefinitley, with no worry of running out of gas!

The motors, the batteries and everything on them are already designed to haul six to eight full size adults of about 200 pounds each. Surely, you can keep your camping and traveling supplies (and yourself) to a total of less than 1600 pounds! You don’t even haul that much in your compact cars! They wouldn’t hold it!

As far as speed… most golf carts are designed for power rather than speed, so it might require some minor modifications in the gearing, and maybe a slight compromise between speed and power. After all, you wouldn’t want to get out on the highway with a vehicle that can only do 35 MPH, would you?  I think a street legal vehicle like this ought to be capable of at least 60 MPH on the highway, just for safety. If it were designed for off-road use, too, all it would need is a two-speed gearbox for slower travel. The normal speed control on the electric motor would do the rest.

I could see sizing down to something smaller than a minivan for travel camping if it were something this efficient. Think of the fuel (and dollars) you would save, and still be able to be on the go every day, seeing this beautiful country! I could make a few sacrifices, and even add on that rear tent I had talked about to make things really comfortable!

How about it, some of you engineers and retired engineers, and “would be” engineers! Anyone up for a project, to show what really can be accomplished?! Let’s hear your ideas!

And for those who would love to have standing room without a rear tent in this, a minivan, or even a full size van… stick around. I have a project coming up that will allow you to have that “Westy” style pop-top for as little as (hopefully) about $500 in materials, if you are willing to do the work yourself!

As with this minivan creation “concept”, I will present the idea and how to’s first, and then later on provide a set of working plans for it. In fact, I will probably do it on our own T&C as an experiment (hey, how much could I be out of pocket with a ’94 van, right?) By the time we wear out our van, the top will be well worth having!

But we have to stick to one project at a time. The plywood for the minivan furniture is being purchased this week, and although we have to make some room in the garage yet to work on it, the weather is finally starting to cool down a bit… at least in the mornings. Hopefully, within the next month I should have the detailed plans complete… and pictures… and videos…HURRAY!

Let’s hear some thoughts!

UPDATE! 9/4/11 6:33 PM CST:  Did you think I was kidding? I just read a short PR report from Riverside, CA about a Chinese battery maker wanting to build the first electric RV that will go 180 miles on a charge! Couple that with the new solar technology and we’ve got a winner!  Here is the report, as follows:

Hey, I don’t care where they come from, or who makes them… we NEED them!



7 thoughts on “Crazy thoughts and new concepts…

  1. Hey, John….downloaded your ebook and found it helpful. I bought a 2010 caravan this summer with stow and go seating. Took a month long roadtrip with the dog, and slept on the floor with all the seats stowed. I found this to be not to my liking, came home and built a bed platform about 32 inches wide, with storage underneath. Part of it folds up because I do need a third seat to transport grandkids. I bought one of those battery thingies with the inverted to power laptop, etc. This van is set up pretty basic, with a porta-potty. I am waiting to see what you are doing. Long time since you posted, and hope you are still continuing with your project.

    • Yes, and I apologize for the delay. We had hoped to be much farther along by now, but “life” as well as many other things get in the way. After we moved back here in 2005, I started doing specialized home repairs (since there are no robots in this part of the country) and as a result of that, we ended up with many “leftovers” from that trade. Since retiring from that last year, and finally winding down what was already on the books, we are now in the process of a huge garage sale happening on the 26th through the 28th of this month, to get the garage cleared out so I can work in there again. I took a few pictures yesterday and will try to post an update this afternoon. It takes a lot of time to sort through stuff, organize it, and get it priced, for an event like this. As soon as all this is gone, I will get back to work on the minivan project. Thanks to all for your patience.

  2. Thanks for the replies! I did download your E-book and am diving right into that, I’ll definitely give you feedback too! Yes, like your suggestion, my plan was to build a bed frame that is smaller than a twin, and then buy a foam mattress that I can custom cut/fit, and have storage underneath. And your comment about the heat spell in your neck of the woods…I’m in Quebec, and we had that heat spell too the last few days, went over 40C and stayed that way for 2 days. We typically get that kind of weather all summer too, which is nice. But, it got me thinking about a/c. The mini-van I purchase will have a/c, but I will have to think about a unit for comfort’s sake too when I’m living in there. I have so many ideas, but until I actually get the mini-van it’ll be hard because I won’t have exact measurements, but I’m giving myself about 3 months before the trip to convert it, I think that should be enough time. For me, it’s the simple basics: bed, chair/seat, table for my laptop, a kitchen “station” to put my camping stove, cooler, food/water supply, porta-potty for when I can’t reach a public washroom, electricity for a few small appliances, ceramic heater for cold nights, and now..well, a/c, but I have lots to research, I’m leaning towards the deep cycle battery/inverter route, but I have no clue about any of that – yet! I’m also thinking I will need a ventilation system, but again, have to learn more about that. I found some neat ideas for screening the windows too…I have so much to learn, this is so much fun! Thanks again!

    • The free book will answer your questions about portable air conditioners. Hopefully by the time you need one, I will have them back on my site again. As for heat, the best heater that I have seen is the Mr. Heater brand in propane heaters. The drawback is that they say it will only run continuously on one small tank of propane for about 5 hours, not quite enough to get you through a cold night without changing the bottle and retstarting it. Of course, you can always get a hose kit and attach it to a larger tank outside. I’m always open to suggestions on anything better.

      If you’re on electric, then almost any small cube shaped ceramic heater will do. We have a Pelonis right now, which is nice and quiet, but I don’t like the thermostat on it. There’s not enough variation in the settings. It comes on very early in the dial rotation and then tends to stay on beyond that, no matter what the temperature. I will try a different brand the next time.

      Your input is great, and we appreciate you taking the time to write something “meaningful”. We can only hope that others will join in and tell of their projects and experiences.

  3. Hi John! First of all, you can’t avoid the internet trolls, I know exactly how you feel. Too much negativity in this world! I just wanted to say that I found your blog through a web search “mini-van camper conversions”. I live in Canada and am planning a cross country trip in the summer/fall of 2013. RV’s would be too pricey for me, but I can find a used mini-van, I’m thinking a Grand Caravan 2007, or 2008 with the stow and go seating. I was all over the camping sites, seeing people post photos of their van conversions, but thought, why couldn’t I do this with a mini van? (and also how the heck am I going to pull all THAT off??) I’ll be reading through your site and requesting your e-book! Thanks so much for offering that. I love the idea of the design being impermanent. I’m particularly interested in your expertise in electrics. Thanks again, keep blogging! 🙂

    • Welcome, and I’m glad you like the site. It sounds like our concept would be perfect for you! I agree, a later model with the stow and go seating would be much better than what we have, where we have to remove the seats. Also, from everything I have been reading, the Chrysler vans are about the only choice in a totally flat floor. The Honda rear seat folds, but leaves a hump in the back of the van, and the Sienna leaves a sliding bracket on the floor, at least, in some models. Plus, I always liked the luxury of the Town & Country vans, although the Caravans also have plenty of bells and whistles these days.

      As far as electric vehicles, I am by no means an expert, but have always had an kean interest in the technology. I am a master electrician and robotics technician, though, so I have some rough ideas on what may be possible in a vehicle, especially with the new solar technology and batteries. A lot of things are going to be possible in the near future that were not practical before.

      As far as “creating” your own minivan camper, you can get by without the fancy reclining couch/bed and side storage cabinet units that I am working on. Everyone’s needs are different. If you don’t need the rear seating, then a piece of plywood over some supports (to allow storage under) might be all you need. Try to keep the storage to about 8-inches high, though, or you may not be able to sit comfortably and have enough headroom. The 48-inch wide bed might be a difficult find for some people. It’s technically (by trade terminology) a 3/4-size bed, and somewhat rare. If it needs to fold, then a regular mattress is out, and air mattresses can sometimes have problems. For ours, we ordered three cushions, that we will have to cover with seating fabric, and the couch/bed unit will be suitable for sitting (for two) or lay down into a bed. At 75-inches long, it will leave about 21 inches behind the seats for other things, and in sitting position, when the front pushes back, will gain ten more inches for the front. But most of the book talks about “generalities” and offers choices. It gets the reader to thinking about what is possible for their own use.

      But let me know if you have any questions or suggestions about anything at all. The links in the present book went to my main site pages and was supposed to go to product links, but since Amazon pulled their Associates program from Arkansas, we have had to regroup and find other alternatives, which we are still working on. But we have replaced “catalog pages” with a lot of good, useful information about the topic or product, so check that out, too. It’s a work in progress, and will grow as it ages!

      Thanks for subscribing!

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