You know the saying, All Good Things Must Come to an End!
With a little sadness and a lot of excitement we are announcing it is time to retire our trusty old travel companion, The Adventure Wagon.
She’s been real good to us. We’ve gone on many adventures together between 2018 and 2021 and you’ll continue to hear about them for some time as we get caught up writing about our past and current travels. She’s still mechanically sound and looks almost as new as she did when we bought her 12 years ago, but as we get older we find we need just a little more space. So we bought a 2008 Ford Econoline E350 Super Duty and slightly modified the interior.
The van had been commercially used as a cargo van for Satellite/Cable installations. She was a filthy little pig inside when we got her, but that was nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t tackle and she cleaned up very well. Giving the outside of the van was in such good shape – I’m not complaining!
We started looking for a van a couple of years ago and we went back and forth several times on the pros and cons of buying a cargo or passenger van verses buying a Class B and believe me there were a lot of options to consider either way.
With a Class B she is ready to go. With shore power and the potential to add solar we could have all the comforts of living at home while we are on the road. We’d have our own shower, bathroom, kitchen with working refrigerator and organized storage. Most of all we would have reliable heat and A/C which would add months to our travel calendar.
But with those comforts also comes a lot of maintenance to make sure the vehicle is always safe. There is the potential for roof leaks around the a/c, fans, solar attachments, etc. Water could get behind your walls and in your ceiling resulting in the inevitable black mold. Not to mention the potential for other plumbing and/or propane leaks. Any RV owner can tell you that things just rattle loose and break while you’re on the road and once you commit to an RV you can’t just pull everything out and use it for a cargo van when you need that extra space to haul something. Lastly there is the eventuality of aging wiring and tracking down where that pesky little field mouse has gotten into your camper and shorted something out behind all of those beautiful walls and cabinets.
We test drove (or tried when they actually started) a handful of newer and older used models and found that the above concerns were fairly common among units that weren’t really that old and most of the older units in our price range were complete nightmares. So we decided to go the other way.
Mr. McGee is a former Marine – Infantry – enough said. I grew up camping in the woods or on the banks of the St. John’s River out of a tent with little more than a Gerry stove and a sleeping bag. Sometimes my trips would last for over a week. I guess you could say we are both very comfortable roughing it. In some strange way it makes us “Feel Alive.” So when we started camping in the SUV we always felt like we were cheating a little. Eventually we realized that as you get older (we are both past that half century mark) it’s okay to want a more comfortable bed and to bring a few more creature comforts with you when you are on the road. So we got over our idea of “real camping” and accepted that our needs had changed then and are changing again.
Now let’s get to the pros and cons of the van.
First off you are probably wondering why we bought a vehicle that is so old. Well, she’s in great shape. She only had 80k for mileage and these things are built to go past 200K without much maintenance or mechanical issues. The body was straight and clean; no accidents, no dents and only one tiny little ding. We did have to replace a cracked windshield, but that repair was less than $400.
We wanted a passenger van vs a cargo van so we could have rear a/c for those unbearable nights when we just need to crank the engine and cool her down a bit. And it had to be extended. Hubs is 6′ tall. He needs to sleep the long way. The only way to accomplish that is to have a full size mattress, but we wanted the bed to stay behind the side barn doors. As you can tell from the picture below, we have plenty of room between the bed and the front seats. And best of all, with the exception of my camera bag, our cooler, and a portable toilet, everything we need to camp, hike, cook, clean (including a 2 room shower tent, regular 6 person tent, a table, and 2 chairs) all fit underneath the bed with enough extra room to store 4 weeks of hiking clothes each. You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to discover that we didn’t need to have bags of “stuff” stacked up on the floor behind the front seats!
Another positive for us was that the seats had already been removed. Because of this we got a really great deal on the price and it saved us the labor and hassle of trying to figure out where to store them. Being a Super Duty she is one tough beast. Hence my daughter coining the name The Beast as soon as she saw her.
She’s a little top heavy, as most vans are, but not as top heavy as a sprinter or other high top van so she takes the wind pressure of passing semi-trailers and gusty days pretty well.
We were fortunate enough to find one with a factory installed tow system, so if we ever decide to buy a little travel trailer, or the SUV goes down and we need it to haul our 19′ Skiff, we are ready to go.
We had our mechanic go through the vehicle from top to bottom and he said we got ourselves one solid vehicle and believe me, he was probably trying to find something to fix. LOL!
Now for the Cons
At almost 6000 lbs. empty and with a 5.4 L V8 she’s thirsty. Combo driving we get around 14 mpg. City driving around 12 mpg and we’ll have to update you on strictly highway driving after her maiden voyage.
Another downer is the lack of ventilation. Other than the front windows there are only two vented windows, one on each side, which is why we made screens for both sets of barn doors. Neither of us want to cut a hole in the roof for a fan and solar, nor do we want to carry a heavy battery bank, so we are still debating how to increase airflow. For now we have a box fan for our campsites with electric. This helps a lot when the doors are closed, but doesn’t help when we are dry camping. So we’re open to suggestions if you have any. For the time being we will continue to travel with the weather.
Lastly we are going to miss our 4WD. Due to her age and mileage Quigley will not install a 4×4 package on this van. Having an AWD (all wheel drive) vehicle with 4 high and 4 low was a huge comfort when traveling down some of those unmaintained forest and desert roads. Needless to say we won’t be taking any chances in this vehicle until we are very familiar with what she can and can not handle.
Because our build was simple we can unload the van, bed, frame, curtains and all in under 30 minutes. So when we need that cargo space to haul something large, we still have the capacity and ability to use her as a cargo van.
As you can see, without all the fancy stuff that makes camping as comfortable as staying at a hotel, our purchase & build combined was very inexpensive coming in at under $15,000.
- $9600.00 Purchase price
- $1016.00 5 new tires & tire sensor
- $1824.12 Road Ready Service: New Battery, belts, hoses, Amsoil, Ice 32, Full Flush & Fluids, etc.
- $ 721.66 Tax, Tag, Title, Registration
- $ 342.37 Windshield Replacement
- $1129.04 Simple Build: Mattress, Bed frame, Curtains, Rugs, ReFlectix, Bug Screens, Storage Bins, etc.
$13504.15 Total Vehicle & Maintenance Cost
$ 1129.04 Simple Van Build
Total cost $14633.19
I’d say that’s not too bad for something that will serve as a camper/cargo van/everyday driver and even haul our boat if needed.
In all, we are really happy with our choice. We found a comfortable place between roughing it and a little luxury without breaking the bank or having to change the fundamentals of who we are. With any luck she will last us until we hit retirement when we will be looking to upgrade one more time. And who knows, by then there will probably be new designs and technology in the camping industry that we haven’t even dreamed of yet!
We hope you enjoyed this look at our upgraded adventure mobile and found something useful in the discussion of why we chose to go this route. And don’t worry, we still have plenty of little adventures in the Old Adventure Wagon that we haven’t told you about yet so you’ll still be seeing her for a little while. And when we get all caught up there, we’ll have taken a few journeys in the New Beast to work the kinks out and let you know of the successes and fails that accompanied our decision to forgo the Class B for our extended van.
Until next week…
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