Tag: vanagon

Texas Busfest 2016

Rearview window.
Rearview window.

For the second year in a row, I attended Texas Busfest, although sadly without Melina as she was under the weather. Which was too bad, because the weather during the campout was, in fact, perfect. Temperatures were mild, skies were mostly clear, and nights were cool. It was a bit windy on Friday night, but that’s why you always bring a jacket.

It was good to see some familiar faces from the VW, and in particular Texas Vanagon communities. Word is that in total there were 85 VW vans, including a record 32 Vanagons in attendance. It wasn’t as big as last year overall, but still very well attended.

Olly ran great, and with his freshly painted bumpers, he looked pretty sharp as well. I used Rustoleum Bumper and Trim Paint, which is darker than the stock charcoal gray, but it has a satin trim that looks good. We’ll see how long it lasts. A number of other Vanagons had their lower rockers painted with Rustoleum Bed Liner Paint, and I think I’m going to go that route. I need to clean up some of the lower body seams, and then that should provide a pretty durable finish. Also on my mind are new seats. Sludge had some installed, and they are quite comfy. And leather! Shooftie has a write up, and if I can get the brackets made, it should be an economical option. I’m not crazy about black, but I could live with it for more comfortable seats.

I picked up some of Abel’s bug screens, and they’re quite nice. Very compact, and I think they’ll do a good job of keeping critters out when the front windows are open. Also, although  designed to be placed on the outside of the van, they’ll work on the inside as well, to deter theft. Now if I can get a three panel canvas for the pop top, and some darker curtains, we’ll be traveling in cool comfortable style.

Maybe you’d like to see some pictures?

 

Texas Busfest 2015

Last weekend Melina and I loaded up Olly and headed to the Busfest, a gathering of presumably like-minded Vanagonauts and Busnuts in central Texas. It was our first time joining the throng, and we were part of a crowd of over a hundred buses, 27 of which were Vanagons. I’ve honestly never see so many VW vans in Texas, and it was actually encouraging to discover it’s not all Chevy and Ford in the Lone Star State. Not that I have anything against Ford, what with Olly being Bostig’d and all. And for what it’s worth, there was even a Chevy-converted Vanagon present. It was quite impressive.

We took the canoe, and this was also the first time we’ve gone a significant distance with the canoe on the Yakima rack, and the whole thing worked wonderfully. I was able to load and unload the canoe by myself thanks to the Boat Loader extension bar, and strapping it down securely was easy. Only bad thing was that once tied down, the back hatch was inaccessible due to interference with the straps, but if I absolutely had to get in there, it would just mean unhitching the one rear strap.

Olly fared well otherwise, as he does. I kept the speed around 65 mph out of deference to the canoe, but we had the power to go faster. Unfortunately, with the van loaded down, the aging springs and suspension were made very apparent, and I’ve decided to elevate that to the next project. Definitely not something I’m looking forward to tackling.

Two upgrades bear mention.  The first was a new mattress pad for the lower bunk, bought on Amazon. The pad fits perfectly, and added so much comfort to the bed. Also, although it takes up a lot of space when we’re not using it, it’s much more compact than other memory foam type toppers I’ve seen some Vanagon campers travel with.

The second addition to the Vanagon kit is the Rear Hatch Shelter by Bus Depot, and it also impressed us. Having the rear hatch fully open kept the van much cooler both day and night, and it was an exceptionally handy place to change clothes, providing room with fewer obstructions than the main cabin. We need to get a better mat for the ground, but otherwise it’s great.

Of course the best part of the whole trip was meeting fellow Veedubers, who on the whole are a welcoming lot. In particular, it was great to meet the growing faction of Texas Vanagon owners, who have their own Facebook page. Visiting with others I learned a few things, although not most people’s names. Sorry if I can’t remember yours the next time we meet. Probably will remember your dog’s name, though.

I enjoyed, but didn’t record the symphony of boxers I heard during the weekend. Here instead are a few pictures:

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Tripping the Light Fantastic

daI’ve long been in search of better lighting in the Vanagon. I’ve still yet to add an IKEA puck light LEDs to the cockpit area, but I was nevertheless able to make two more light mods that really brightened things up. First, thanks to fellow vanagonaut Harold Teer, I acquired a second overhead galley light and mounted it above the stove. The improvement is incredible; gone are the days of cooking in the dark.

The second modification was to upgrade the bulbs yet again since LEDs have come a long way since I first installed them in Olly seven years ago. With new, brighter and warmer LEDs from superbrightleds.com, the interior becomes much less clinical, making it far cozier. The new warm LEDs also match the IKEA pucks better, giving an overall more uniform appearance when all the lights are on. One installation note: I did have to slightly bend the prongs in the galley lighting to accommodate the oversized festoons, but that was easily accomplished with a pair of needle-nose pliers. This could be avoided by using smaller LEDs than the 6451‘s I used, but some light output would be sacrificed.

As a bonus, the whole thing looks very vanagonish, as if the light fixture was always there.

Goin’ Immobile

It hasn’t really been a good spring for Olly. He’s spent a fair bit of time in the garage, which is better than being in the driveway, but he hasn’t gone much further than that. That makes him (and me) a bit sad.

On the bright side, I’ve managed to do a lot of things to Olly while he’s been in the garage. It all started with an idea to replace the heater/vent fan before summer rolled around. Of course, that necessitates dashboard removal, so since it was out anyway, it was a good time to take care of a number of other tasks, like some rust mitigation, wire management, heater box restoration, speedometer cable replacement, brake cylinder replacement, sound proofing, and relocation of the power window switches. While I was in there I removed the stock cruise control hardware and lubed up anything that I could. While I was waiting for parts, I took the seats out and repainted the swivel bases with POR-15 and rattlecan Rustoleum top coat. The bases are much nicer looking now, and turn smoother as well. The passenger side could use some new bushings, but I just couldn’t justify spending $70 for a few pieces of plastic right now. At any rate, pretty much the entire front cab was gutted in the process, and all told that kept Olly off the road for a good month in March.

I also transferred the my existing wiring harness and gauges to the instrument cluster I’ve restored. I love having actual tabs to connect the cluster to the dash. It’s the little things, you know.

Here’s a few notes for future reference, in no particular order:

  • I bought the master brake cylinder from Van-Cafe, and it came with the brake light switches pre-installed. Unfortunately, they are 3 prong switches, so I had to cut out the middle terminal and bend the outer ones inwards slightly so that I could keep the stock connectors.
  • The sound deadening material I used was from SoundDeadenerShowdown.com. I like his products and website, although he doesn’t have a proper online store. Everything makes a dull “thunk” noise when hammered instead of sounding like the inside of a trash dumpster.
  • The padded elements of the dashboard apparently can be removed. This would make painting and restoring it so much easier than the masking that I did.
  • I moved the power window controls to the dash a la GoWesty, but without their million dollar kit. I actually did a lot of research looking for the ideal switches, and would actually have used the stock VW switches if they weren’t so durned expensive. So I found a kit made by SPAL Automotive sold by A-1 Electric. The switches are stock size, and so fit into the VW bezel, and they are illuminated unlike the GoWesty kit. On top of everything, they look appropriate to late 80’s automotive styling, so they don’t feel out of place. I did a bit of splicing to utilize the stock wiring as much as possible, and the result is wonderful. Both windows raise and lower without problem. The switches require a slight lean across the cab from the driver’s seat, but it’s not uncomfortable what with my gorilla arms.
  • I’d like to get some stock fuse holders to add to the fuse panel for a few accessories: the Bostig MIL indicator and the radio.
  • Also, still need to create some kind of filter for the air intake to keep Olly from collecting butterflies.
  • The steering wheel shaft has a bit of play in it, and I assume it’s due to some bushing wearing out in the upper column.

I got Olly reassembled long enough for him to star in a movie. I was able to enter Bostig’s spring contest and will post a link to the video once the contest closes.

Olly’s mobility was short lived, however, and ended when I decided it was high time to tackle the wheel bearings. Suspension and wheels scare me, I don’t know why. Probably because these can be really tough jobs to do without a lift and a press of some sort. Also, screwing them up can be really bad. In any case, Olly’s wheels came off so that I could replace and lube all 4 bearings, and none of it was actually that difficult. The job got drawn out when I decided to replace the brake hardware while I was in the neighborhood. I also encountered a snafu involving a broken rear bearing case. It was remedied by Ken Wilford at Van-Again, who is really a great guy. I posted my problem to the Vanagon list serve, and he volunteered to help. A call the next day resulted in a quick payment transaction, and a completely rebuilt rear bearing case was on its way.

For what it’s worth, I have no real complaints about any of the various parts vendors, and use them all. Ken does deserve special mention because he’s very knowledgeable and down-to-earth in his explanations. I’ve also found his YouTube channel to be a nice supplement to Bentley for some quick-and-dirty guides to some dirty jobs.

So now the van is running on all four wheels again. This is a good thing, as I decided to fix the broken window motor in the Bimmer, so now it’s holed up in the garage. The joys of owning 80’s automobiles.

Palmetto State Park and the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail

Last weekend the clinic was closed and Melina had off on Friday due to the county fair, so we were able to take advantage and get a couple quiet nights at Palmetto State Park. We left home on Thursday evening with the goal of paddling the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail on Friday. I’d never carried the canoe on Olly before, so this was a bit of a learning experience for me.

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Olly wears a hat.

The park was, of course, pleasant as always. Since it’s so close to home, it really provides a nice quick getaway. I can’t really recommend anyone go out of their way to visit the park, although the CCC building on the river is lovely. The main attraction of the park for us is that it is familiar and easy. Also, I’m not certain, but a high point along the park road might provide some interesting sunset photographic opportunity. Olly’s new cabin lights performed perfectly, and I want to install at least one more in the cockpit area. The only trouble we experienced was a bit of intermittent behavior from the fresh water pump. I fussed with the fuse and got things working again, so I suspect that I need to give the fuse receptacles a good cleaning. And of course the blower fan is still out, but other than that, the van ran fine.

With Melina’s help I managed to load the canoe on top the van, strapping it down fore and aft. I threw a midline strap on as well, strapping it to the pop top just to keep the boat from shifting. Using a set of foam blocks I was able to keep the boat off the roof and get the boat snugged down quite well. I’m confident I could travel across country that way, and keeping speeds to about 65 mph, I didn’t really take a hit to the fuel economy (about 18 mpg). Nevertheless, it was somewhat inconvenient. First off, loading the boat isn’t easy to do with a 5’4″ assistant, and I scuffed the roof a bit. Secondly, there’s absolutely no way to pop the top with the boat up there short of removing the canoe. So I’ve purchased some Yakima towers and the Boat Loader extension bar. I’ll need to add some struts to the poptop facilitate the lifting, but in the long run, it’ll be a better system if we want to take the canoe with any regularity. Plus, I will be able to throw the basket up there if I want to carry other things as well.

The paddling trail is a 6 mile stretch of typical central Texas flat water on the San Marcos River outside Luling. Luling City Parks operates a shuttle service, which ported our boat and us from the take-out to the put-in. I arranged the shuttle by calling 512-227-1724 a few days before to confirm the staff would be around, and then when we actually arrived at the Mill. We had the river to ourselves, and the water level was high enough to provide decent paddling. We enjoyed some peanut butter and honey tortillas for lunch, and returned to camp afterwards for a leisurely afternoon.

IMG_1144
Melina wears a hat.

More Interior Lighting in Olly

The lighting additions I’ve done previously include a dome light over the front passenger seat and one over the sliding door. I’m using LED festoons to minimize the amp draw, and though the light is a bit diffuse and cooler than I’d prefer, when all are switched on, the cabin is lit well enough to enjoy a bit of nightlife. Reading is possible, but my eyes aren’t getting any stronger so it’s not entirely comfortable. So I decided to add some reading lights over the back passenger seat.

By day...
By day…

I picked up a set of Inreda LED spotlights from IKEA last year with the intention of mounting them in the cabin for additional lighting. Not only are they sufficiently bright to make reading enjoyable, but they’re also much warmer in color. As an added bonus, they pivot ever so slightly in their housings, allowing some small degree of directionality in their use. The lights are in plastic housings with an aluminum base. Like most things from IKEA, they’re not expensive (or expensively made) but their silver color and simple styling fit in well enough with the Vanagon aesthetic. The price of a package of four lights was around $45.

I decided to mount them on the cover for the Westy support bar so that they could be used as reading or task lights over the rear bench seats. Additionally, they are individually switched using rocker switches from Radio Shack. I mounted the switches to the sides primarily because there’s more depth in the air duct and shelf units that line the sides of the passenger compartment. The switches are simple and don’t look out of place in the van.

The wiring was straightforward: they are wired up in parallel with the kitchen light, so the lights can be turned on when the van is off, and I was able to do most of the wiring in the cover plate. Individually they each draw about 0.1 amps, so when they’re on with all the other interior lights, the draw is around 0.33 amps. I suspect that I’ll use the older interior lights less, as the light from the IKEA spotlights is plentiful.

The results are spectacular. Next I’ll have to mount one in the cockpit to better light that area. Also, I’d like to pick up some warmer toned festoons for the other light fixtures.

... and by night!
… and by night!

 

1600 Miles

A year ago I put the Bostig conversion in Olly. It has run spectacularly pretty much from day one, but it’s taken a bit longer to develop unwavering confidence in the engine conversion and my handiwork. A few weeks ago I made a lengthy solo trip from Texas to Nebraska, and I can now say that I’d take this beast anywhere.

Just before the trip, I got around to installing the HC oil pan. It’s yet another lovely piece of work by the Bostig boys and improves the clearance and (more importantly, in my opinion) the departure angle significantly. If you go Bostig, you’ll want one eventually. It has an oil level sensor (simple float type) built in, which connects to an idiot light you can install in the dash. It’s a great touch, but is hyper-sensitive. On brisk acceleration and strong (particularly rightward) turns, there’s enough movement of oil in the pan to cause the float to drop and trigger the light to flicker. I think I may be able to design a bit of circuitry which can dampen that “signal noise.” I don’t want to become so accustomed to tuning out the indicator lights that I don’t pay attention when something drastic happens. But that’s another project for yet another time. Everything works.

At any rate, I took care of a few loose ends here in Seguin, and drove northwards. I took SH-130 to I-35, allowing me to bypass the traffic-jam known as Austin entirely. As far as pieces of divided pavement go, it’s wonderful. There’s next to no traffic, the road is smooth and wide open, and even though the speed limit is 85, most people drive in the 70-80mph range. I kept to about 65-70, and never felt overly outgunned.

Once on I-35, it was pretty much on and off construction up through Fort Worth. That meant it was more congested, but on the plus side, kept the speeds down to 60, which is where the van really likes to ride. Combined with a bit of a tailwind, I managed to get 22.3 mpg through this stretch, my best tank ever in the Bostig. And the van, for that matter. (I broke that record the next day on a back-highways stretch through Kansas).

Oklahoma was easy going, and I was able to stop off in Ponca City to meet fellow Vanagonauts Maggie Dew and Larry Chase. We swapped some Vanagon and home improvement tales, and in the morning, showered and coffeed, I was able to continue northward. I stuck to US 77, since that ends up in Lincoln, Nebraska, my destination. Kansas was a pleasant drive, and I arrived in mid-afternoon. In total, I got 21.2 mpg for this northbound trip.

During my time in Lincoln, my brother got to see the Bostig conversion firsthand, and was really impressed with it. He tends towards the “keep it stock” school of automotive restoration, and generally dislikes mechanical and aesthetic modifications. He thought the

power got a comfortable boost from the Zetec, and he even agreed that while it doesn’t sound like a WBX, it sounds right for a Vanagon. So victory on those counts!

Nebraska Storm

After the weekend, I headed back home. The southbound journey cut directly through a Great Plains storm front and into headwinds through Kansas that killed my gas mileage. The worst tank was at 15.7mpg, and overall I got 17.8. Still, once I got into Oklahoma I was able to draft off of the semi trucks and that put me back into the 20+ range per tank, even despite the headwinds. The best part of the southbound trip was that I drove straight through, and the van kept going strong through the entire hot day, with temps hitting the upper 90’s in Texas.

This may not have been the most grueling road-trip for a van to undertake, but it was two 800+ mile trips in hot weather without incident. Okay, there was the moment where the driver’s windshield wiper worked itself loose in the Nebraska storm, but a quick stop under an overpass and things were set aright. That’s not an incident. That’s just flavor. During the trip, I never checked the oil, never worried about coolant or overheating, never worried if the van was going to get me there or back. And never was I stuck.

I just drove. And driving felt good.

Paint Your Palette Gray (in your Vanagon, anyway)

I picked up a can of Rustoleum Painter’s Choice Satin Granite spray paint at the local Home Depot, and it is a surprisingly good match for the dark gray parts of a late Vanagon interior. I test painted an old ammo box and took some pictures. As a color nerd, I can say that the match isn’t exact, but is definitely close enough. I suspect most people wouldn’t notice a difference.

Probably going to pick up a case of this stuff to use on various parts of the van.

Galley area, ammo box at bottom. The frontpiece of the stove has yellowed a bit, but is tonally close.
Galley area, ammo box at bottom. The frontpiece of the stove and leg of the table have yellowed a bit, but are quite close.
Bench trim. The ammo box is at the bottom.
Bench trim. The ammo box is at the bottom
.

 

 

The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Trim: Solved

The Vanagon Westfalia t-trim molding used in the interior of the camper conversions is notorious for shrinking over time. As it does so, it starts to easily detatch from the tables, risking possibility of damage to the plywood laminate. I remembered a bit of discussion on the Vanagon.com list a few months ago about how to fix things and decided to try it out myself. A bit of work with a heat gun and some strong adhesive set things right.

The procedure is simple. First, pull the trim away from the table. I didn’t remove it completely, but just went about halfway down the sides of table. I then applied a bit of Gorilla Glue to the channel in the table.

While the glue was setting, I used the heat gun to warm up the trim, working it along the length of the side. After it starts to soften, you can tug on it gently and feel a bit of stretch develop. Once it gets to this point, I stopped and worked the trim into the groove.

Repeat the procedure with the other end of trim, again stretching it up to the corner.

At this point I had one side left to rejoin the trim to the table where the two ends meet. Same procedure allowed me to stretch the trim and close the gap.

Gorilla Glue is strong stuff, but it needs to be clamped for the bonding to do its work, so once it was done, I used a couple of bar clamps to hold the trim in place for a couple of hours. Once it had set, I was able to remove the clamps and let the glue cure on its own. Remove Gorilla Glue promptly for easiest cleanup. If the trim is a bit dirty or scuffed, Brasso does wonders for cleaning it up. Once finished, I had two virtually new tables (except for the legs, which need to be repainted). I’ll use this same procedure for fixing the trim that has shrunken in other parts of the van as well.

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The shrunken trim!
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Pulling the trim away before reattaching.
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Clamping it all down to set.
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Voila! The finished product, better than new. Should last another 20 years.

 

Pole Marking

20130323-115527.jpgI finished just a small mod to make life with the Bus Depot Ezy Awning a bit easier: the poles are marked. I used white and dark blue to denote the support and awning poles respectively. This should make setting things up a bit easier, especially when the light is low.