Reviving Vannie - Interior Project - Spring & Summer 2015
From our travels during the 1980s. A photo from Wyoming.

One of these days, we will do a full page on Vannie and her history. Vannie is a 1975 Dodge Maxivan camper that has been a venerated member of the family since 1981, when we bought and converted a six-year old dog grooming van. Our travels covered almost all of the western USA, plus a foray into Canada and Vancouver Island. The van was our home away from home and it treated us very, very well.

Several years ago, we made the decision to resurrect Vannie from her slumber and to restore and renew her to her former glory. Every warm weather season we do a bit more to get there. Our mechanic has given the vehicle a thumb's-up, and we look forward to as much enjoyment and adventure as possible in Vannie's golden age.

This "before" pic shows a pretty torn apart van, as Wes was investigating how to tackle the refurbishing of the cabinet around the van refrigerator. This view is typical of Vannie's worn interior. The paper-faced, fake wood, masonite paneling was dirtyand damaged. While most of the understructure held up very well (it is redwood), the visible facings and trim really needed replacement.

While the cabinet framing around the sink and refrigerator was very well constructed and square, the rear wall with the step-through folding door was hastily constructed and not that square. Instead of tearing out the wall, Wes decided to build another square wall directly in front of, and attached to, the old one. A truism in van construction is that there are very few straight walls in a van. An elaborate design of framing and using plastic lumber cut with kerfs to form the curves, provided the skeleton for the new wall.

One inch thick sheets of foil-faced foam insulation board were cut and pieced into the openings in the framing.

After the insulation was in place, the entire frame was taped and sealed with metalized duct tape. This work paid off this year in the spring, as the van was noticeably warmer during the cold nights.

The restoration project was triggered when we found two full boxes of high-grade bamboo laminate flooring at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore in Bend ($20 total). Each piece of laminate is 5" wide by five feet long, and the pieces can be interlocked. Each bamboo plank is one-of-a-kind, and often quite beautiful.

This material is much higher quality than typical bamboo laminate. In this magnified cross section photo, the layer of bamboo at the top is 3/32" deep. Typical bamboo flooring has a wafer-thin layer, about a third as thick, that is easily damaged. The stuff we were lucky to find, is super durable, easily cleaned, and easy to work with.

This shows the refurbished area around the back hatch door. The trim for the entire project was either ebony-stained hemlock or oak. After staining and mounting, the black wood is given a coat of paste wax. The side trim is a foam cord covered in black vinyl upholstery material.

Pic at about halfway through the project: The sink counter was a major undertaking. Removed were the old sinktop, faucets, a 20-gallon water storage tank, and some mighty ugly facing and pegboard sliding doors. The interior shelf height was changed to better accommodate new storage boxes. Brown Acacia flooring with a lovely fiddleback grain pattern is used as the new backsplash.

This is a closeup of a corner of the sinktop showing the ebony-stained oak edge with stainless steel screws. The entire top is designed so that it can easily be removed and the surface replaced.

A closeup of the black stained oak trim at the corner of the sink counter top. The screws are stainless steel. The entire top is designed so it can be easily replaced with a new surface.

The under sink storage areas were very complicated to design, and took a lot of time to build. There is a double-duty table top mounted on a folding shelf bracket, The surface also serves as the side cover for the upper storage area.

Note the storage bins with the permanently mounted hinged tops and the latch and bottom-hinged cover to the lower storage bin.

While the original van had lots of storage, it lacked readily accessible space for oft-used items. Now there is lots of readily accesible storage, especially for the small stuff.

This is a nice view of the sink counter, backsplash, surrounding bamboo walls and black trim. Note the table/cabinet cover seen folded down into the cover position. The recessed opening in the wall is a wall pocket. We removed the water faucets and electric water pump (more trouble than they are worth). When we travel, we lean on a five-gallon cubitainer placed in the right-hand sink, and voila! – running water.

This is a nice view of the sink counter, backsplash, surrounding bamboo walls and black trim. Note the table/cabinet cover seen folded down into the cover position. The opening in the wall is a wall pocket.

A view from the open side doors of the van. The opening on bottom left is to a cubbyhole that houses the camp stove, work gloves, ratchet straps and other utility items.

A view from the open side doors of the van. The opening on bottom left is to a cubbyhole that houses the camp stove, work gloves, ratchet straps and other often used items.

A view of the refrigerator cabinet. The fabric on the front panel is Japanese, and we have had it since the early days. Nice to carry over a few things from the old van. Note the opening to the left of the cabinet...

This open storage area was also part of the original van and holds the camping table, fly rod cases and other bulky gear.

There was never enough counter space in the old van for inside meal preparation, especially during bad weather. Going to love having this table!

An ongoing necessity is Internet access through Verizon mobile broadband. Having this setup allows Wes to manage the WadaWorks business while out in the wilds.

Can't forget this...

A full season of work on the rear interior. In the future, we will add some shallow shelves, a mirror, accessories and Japanese and fish-themed decor. We are finding the Japanese-style to be really soothing.

There are a number of options to replace the old self-stick tile floor. That will come late in the remodeling process.

It's impossible to describe how satisfying this project has been, as we have a real emotional attachment to Vannie. Next year, we will tackle the front interior of the van, including side walls, the headliner, an expanded audio-visual control area, high-end speakers and enclosures, and more.

That should be a much easier task than this year's work. Meanwhile, back to camping and fishing!