Before I begin, I feel a sense of obligation to provide you all at least some sort of explanation as to why we've been absent this past year.
The whole “van life” thing, however exhausted or cliche it might be, has been a dream of mine and Jenny’s for a long time. When we bought Beetlejuice almost three years ago, we had intended to hit the road almost immediately. But in the months leading up to the trip, some mechanical problems and good work opportunities got in the way - as is the nature of these kinds of things - and the dream was postponed.
However, we recently decided to bring the dream back, and we concluded the best way for us to make this a reality was to sell Beetlejuice and opt for something a little more reliable. So over the course of the last three months, we sold Beetlejuice, bought Howl, stripped him down to bare steel and built him back up again. It has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride and a small miracle that we were able to pull all this off in such a short time span. But everything is in order, and we’re now planning on hitting the road next week! So without further ado, here’s Howl.
Howl is a 2006 Ford Econoline E-250 and is a retired Sheraton hotel transport van. He has a young engine at only 54k miles and has been well cared for and regularly maintained. We knew he was the perfect candidate for our conversion the second we saw him. We also liked the extended fiberglass top and school bus style windows.
When we bought Howl, he had a full vinyl wrap that had to be removed. This was an enormous task and not something we’d ever want to do again. But on the bright side, since he was wrapped straight out of the factory, the paint has been well preserved over the years and still looks new! We painted an orange stripe on the roof to give him a little character and then called it a day on the exterior (for now at least).
Due to our time constraints with this project, we knew we had to keep things simple. So we immediately forgot about this plan and began ripping everything out until he was bare metal. We learned how much work keeping things simple really is.
We're lucky to have amazing friends, though, and we could not have finished this project without the help of our friend Sean Mikol. This dude is incredible, and there's zero doubt we'd be living in a hollowed-out tin can if it weren't for him.
One thing Beetlejuice didn't have much of was storage space. So we wanted to make sure Howl had enough. For those of you who don't know Jenny, she loves to read. She has so many books she could probably start her own library. And this library would probably rival many libraries in the area. So we needed enough shelves to store some (a very small percentage) of her books.
With shelving in the back, all around the ceiling, a large pull-out drawer and other various nooks and crannies, there is plenty of storage space for books, cooking supplies, groceries, clothing, camera gear and most of the things we will use on a daily basis inside the cabin. However, the bulk of our storage will be under the bed, which is only accessible from the back of the van. We decided to just leave the framing exposed and will use Rubbermaid bins to store things we don't need every day like extra clothes, blankets, tools, some camping gear and other miscellaneous items. It doesn't look like much here, but compared to Beetlejuice, Howl has storage for days.
We went with a 50 liter Dometic fridge on this build which uses a metal track to slide in and out of the galley. It is plugged into a cigarette lighter at the back of the galley (as opposed to hard wiring it to the fuse block) so we can easily take it in and out of the van if necessary.
We decided to not install a stove and just use our trusty Coleman two-burner instead. It stores nicely in the cabinet above the fridge. This little guy has already done more traveling than most of this country's population!
We also decided to go simple on the electricity. Rather than wiring everything up to the alternator and solar panels, we opted for a self-contained system that only uses solar panels. We might decide to connect everything to the alternator later on, and that is fine. But I'm not really counting on it.
We went with two 145W semi-flexible panels from Overland Solar. We heard about them from Jessica and Jorge of Live Work Wander and are super stoked about them so far. They are light, efficient, and you can't even see them on the roof. They connect to a 30amp MPPT charge controller (also by Overland Solar), and then to a Lifeline 150ah deep cycle AGM battery.
We might post a more detailed overview of this setup in a later blog post. But for the sake of staying on track, please refer to our blog post on how we set up Beetlejuice's off grid system if you have any questions in the meantime.
There's certainly more to Howl than what you can see here - such as his sink and passenger seat swivel base. And we will touch on some of these things in later topics. But I wanted to keep this one at a simple introduction since I have a history of writing infinitely long blog posts.
Overall Jenny and I are thrilled to be done with this build, and we're even more thrilled that it came out halfway decent. Another huge thank you to Sean for the help and to our awesome families for all the love, support and free rent during this final month.
We're hitting the road in about a week to put this thing to the test, so stay tuned for more and thanks for reading :)