The Van Team

When an adventure is big enough, or has enough energy behind it, a team naturally grows.

The seed for this adventure was sown 10 years ago when I decided I would have an adventure at 50. But it was lay dormant until three months ago when a close friend sent me a link about a young woman living in her teardrop camper. The seed was watered and the sun has been shining just right over this project ever since. Energy started to build.

I found myself on YouTube, Pintrest and Instagram, exploring sites related to van conversions, nomadic life and tiny-houses. I started to feel part of something interesting and creative  and I enjoyed reading about and seeing the  variety of set-ups and possibilities for a conversion van. This exploration was like a rich compost and my ideas just kept growing.

Initial Mock-up of Van

Once I bought a van, I had the skilled help of a wonderful friend who created the adjacent  drawing for me. This was so helpful and he became the first official member of my team!  It clarified my vision, helped me correct a couple design flaws and allowed me to show others clearly what I wanted to do. ( actually very difficult to describe in words alone). Things have changed a bit since this drawing, but I feel very sentimental about it and like to reflect on where I began.

Carolyn (on right) and I, at VOS Trailers

With my groovy picture in hand, I went in search of a Van Wizard. The universe delivered me to the doors of VOS Trailers, in Stittsville, where I was offered  not just one wiz, but two!

Carolyn and her brother Gord run this family business with their father,  and helped me decide on products and clarify safety issues related to propane and in-house batteries.

I must have visited a dozen times and asked hundreds of questions and they always welcomed me with a smile. We would talk about a product one day, and it would magically appear in their shop the next. If something didn’t fit, they took it back. They were genuinely excited about what I was doing, which made visiting them a delight, even when I was parting with vast amounts of money. Thanks to their expertise I have a water tank that fits perfectly in my cubby, a little pump and a perfectly fitting sink, a regulator for my propane tank, portable but powerful solar panels, a safe battery and an inverter. I’m going to give them a little shout-out, because they are just that awesome.

You may not be able to get to my Van Wizards at VOS, but do search out someone equally knowledgeable about campers and conversions in your area. Someone you feel comfortable talking to. A word of advice – if you are starting with zero knowledge, visit your neighbourhood RV store during the off-season, or ask them when its best to come in.  Beginning in late April, things get pretty kooky with people getting their homes-on-wheels ready for the the season. Although I didn’t cultivate relationships at the Marine Supply Shop, I would also suggest you check one or two of these as well. They have loads of widgets and gadgets specifically designed for little spaces.

Finding the right builder was the next step,  and not an easy one. There is a tremendous amount of communication required for this sort of project and I had initial conversations with a couple of people before finding what I now feel was a perfect match. Carpenters come in many incarnations,  and each one has a different skill set. As someone with zero carpentry or design knowledge, assessing their skills can be very challenging.

Once again, the Universe saw fit to give me a two-for-one deal, and I was delivered a designer and  a carpenter! These two gentlemen came with a solid internet presence, excellent online reviews, many years of combined expertise and an equipped workshop I was able to visit before making a final decision.

Here is my build team – Marty Habicht, designer/engineer and Brainiac Extraordinaire and Justin Goto, whose brilliance I am soon going to witness. These two guys have gone into business together, with Marty as Contractor and Justin as builder.

All initial meetings have been with Marty, who skillfully  broke this project down into logical steps, putting me at instant ease. His comfort with project management and ability to meticulously measure and remeasure, think and rethink inspired confidence. My brain often gets tired trying to keep up with him! His consistent contact and methodic way of approaching tangible challenges has been awe-inspiring. I’m learning all the time. I haven’t told him this, but I like to think of myself as his apprentice. It’s been wonderful to work side by side with such a skilled engineer and learn the art of being systematic. Which I happen to suck at. We also laugh a lot and he tolerates my dumb sense of humour. Finally, neither seem to think I’m crazy to do this and I think they might even be sort of pleased to be part of it.

A week ago, after much design work (and the birth of Justin’s second child!) it was time to start the build. I handed the reigns, and the keys,  over to them at the shop in Carlton Place. Today I will make the 45 minute drive (in my rental car)  to visit the shop and see how things are going. After a month of working with Marty to draft the final plans, it’s now Justin’s time to do his magic.

Justin and Marty; using a laser leveller to design the floor
Marty with his trusty Lee Valley Catalogue

My adventure grew a Team. The V-Team.





4 thoughts on “The Van Team

  1. Greeting,

    OMGosh! You have manifested my dream! Just bought a 2014 Grand Caravan. Would be elated if you were able to share your building plan. Will gladly reimburse you for expenses incurred. You are my camping heroine! My OCD is all a twitter, a place for everything and everything in its place…so glad you’ve shared your journey!

  2. This is the most amazing adventure idea yet. My mother, may she RIP, wanted to do this in the 70’s when the kids flew the coop. As fate would have it, she got her van and then the dream fizzled when her aging parents became ill and decided to be their caregiver. Till their passing. Years flew by and as her health was failing she decided to rescue a dog, then a cat, then another one, then a pregnant feral cat and so her fur family grew till her sudden passing in 2003.

    It’s wonderful that you are doing this while you are young and able!

    Best of all your carpenter is my godson, who is very excited about this project. Justin will not disappoint…he is reliable, honest, dedicated to his craft and able to perform with superior workmanship. He will not let you down and will surpass your expectations. If he lived in TO, I could keep him busy with my planned kitchen and bathroom (2) reno.
    Best of luck to you as you prepare to embark on this amazing journey and much gratitude for trusting my godson to help you achieve your vision!

    1. Hello Candise. How nice of you to reach out and share about your mom with me. I can relate to her adventurousness, and also her ability to collect furry creatures along the way! ( sharing my home with two cats and a dog) They are such a comfort and pleasure. I’m fortunate in that my son is going to live here for a semester while I travel and take care of the boys (the cats), making this all possible. Pippa the pup is going to be thrilled, I think, to be along for the ride. I bet your mom enjoyed many good daydreams while she was taking care of the furries, and daydreams are a gift too I think. But my intention is to do this while I can. Seizing the day, and all that 🙂

      Anyway, about your godson. I consider myself very fortunate to have found he and Marty to help me bring this van vision and dream into being. He is such a lovely person to be in the company of, and to work with, and I’m going to be enjoying the gifts of his craftsmanship for years to come! It’s all coming together so beautifully. It’s a pleasure to have you along for the ride Candise. Drop in to say hi anytime, please. Ill be setting out in a couple weeks for a bit of northern travel. I hope you will come along.

I love to hear from you :)