Thursday, April 25, 2013

Solo RVer Kate Bright converts van

Solo RVer Kate Bright converted her 2012 Ford e250 Van  (Julianne G. Crane)

Kate Bright, a former teacher at a post-secondary vocational-technical school, enthusiastically took on converting her no-frills 20-foot 2012 Ford e250 cargo van into her own customed recreation vehicle.

She purchased this particular van because it came with a high roof already installed, but it was otherwise stripped down. "I really wanted to have a unique camper van, and doing it myself seemed like the best way to do that."

With the help of a friend, her first job was to put down a floor in the van's cargo area. "I'm not sure how well I would have been able to do anything else without first having that properly-installed floor."

Sitting on her new floor, Kate started looking at all the bare metal walls and panic set in. "What was I thinking," she reflected. "I didn't have the slightest idea how to start or what to do next. Finally, I got myself together and decided to just take the first trip with nothing finished but the floor."

She outfitted her bare-bones van with an air mattress, a mixing bowl that served as her sink, plastic bins for clothing and kitchen gear, an ice chest and a one-burner butane stove. That trip lasted two months, and Kate knew that "one way or another" she was going to figure out what to tackle next on her conversion.

She did know that she did not like feeling closed-up in a tight little space. "All the commercially built vans, whether Class Bs, or even campers, seem to have a tiny, narrow hall and teensy kitchens," said Kate.

Inside Kate's van. *Read details below. (Julianne G. Crane)
"My kitchen has a 6-foot counter, and my aisle is wide enough for a twin-sized air mattress."

She also didn't feel the need for a bathroom, and her 'toilet' resides in a small space under the fridge.

"I prefer the butane stoves to a built-in propane stove top. Now I have two of them. Whenever reasonable, I take them outside to cook my meals."

Kate decided to have some of her rig done professionally including the fridge and propane system; the batteries and the AC/DC electrical system; and a large side window.

Kate built all the cabinets, shelves, sofa bed, and everything else herself. She said her biggest challenge was the water system. "I installed a DC pump for my 3.5-gallon fresh-water tank and another one for my 3.5-gallon gray-water system. I also installed in-line switches so I can just flip a switch to start the water or the drain," she said. "It's definitely a unique rig."

Van's back storage space. (Julianne G. Crane)
The retired teacher, mother and grandmother said she took on the conversion because she is "a frustrated architect wannabee who likes a challenge.

"I love to play around with wood and build stuff. My expertise is creating piles of sawdust, but once in a while I get something right.

"I doubt I'll ever get her ("VANessa") totally finished the way I want; there will always be small projects that need fine-tuning. It's a lifetime project that's keeping Grandma off the streets."

When not traveling to national parks and boondocking ("I prefer that to hookups") on other public lands, Kate is home-based out of the Escapees' Park of the Sierra in Coarsegold, Calif., where she volunteers on the maintenance crew.

When on the road her favorite activities include destinations where she explores and day hikes. "I used to do whitewater canoeing and rock climbing," she said. "I miss both terribly, but it's just not prudent for an 'old woman' to do those things anymore."

Advice to other Women RVers: 

"Not everyone wants to tackle a big job like building your own camper van," said Kate, "but there is something for everyone out there.

"Make sure you know what you really want, and how that fits with your lifestyle," she added. "If you like to visit out-of-the way places, don't get a big rig. If you just absolutely have to have a hot shower every night, stay away from camper vans.

"Remember, there are plenty of women out there who are doing pretty neat things. You can be one of them. And for heaven's sake, do not feel like you can't do it on your own; you can. If you can drive, you can RV."

To read more RV articles by Julianne G. Crane, go to
Photos by Julianne G. Crane.

* Middle photo: According to Kate, this photograph “shows the sink (a $5 find from IKEA--on closeout), the sofa bed (a twin sized memory foam mattress from IKEA), and back (made of fence boards covered with foam mattress pad and upholstery fabric).  IKEA boxes are over the bed. Cupboards on both sides (unfinished on the left).  There is a microwave at the back of the cupboards on the right. Half the back curtains are finished. ‘Daisy Bear’ (on the sofa) is my traveling companion. There is a huge drawer under the sofa that can be accessed from inside the rig. The sofa back unsnaps and pushes all the way to the back of the rig for sleeping.”

1 comment:

  1. Great blog! I, too, want to go mobile when I retire. Looking at the van options and what I can do alone to make my apartment of of my van. Keep em coming!