Author Topic: Living in a van and a big thank you!  (Read 6579 times)

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Offline MadScientist267

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Living in a van and a big thank you!
« on: August 08, 2012, 09:07:35 PM »
Well, it's been a long time guys... And for good reason.

Long story short about how all of this started. Wife had enough and threw me out. 'Nuff said.

Let's leave some other priorities and details out of this, otherwise it will be Christmas 2027 before you all ever reach the end of the story. Those that know my articles know they're long enough as is. This one is NO exception by far... :)

Having gone around in desperation checking out things like shelters and the like, I decided they weren't for me. I stayed 4 hours at one the second night out, and realized that there are a lot more unfortunate individuals than myself. You see and hear about it, but nothing is as humbling as witnessing it first hand. That said, I ended up living in my car, and the "dream" that I had been working on with the solar theater all of a sudden no longer looked like it was going to happen. Ever. Well, at least not ANY time soon.

To say the least, sleeping in a car, albeit a full-size sedan, is for the birds. I tried all kinds of things to get comfortable, it just wasn't happening. I even had a jogger think I was dead as he was going by at 4 AM because I had both back doors opened so I could stretch out in the back seat (Im 6'2"). That's not exactly my favorite way to wake up; lemme just throw that out there. :(

Ok so fast forward a week or so, and I got wind that Wally World (Wal-Mart for those not "in the loop") is the place to be if you're sleeping in your car. If you pick the right one, there's little to deal with, and you might even make some friends. ;)

I was still sleeping in the car, and I noticed that each day, a younger female was going to and fro a van that was parked in various spots over the course of time. One night after a few days of this, and my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to go over and say hi and see maybe if I could gleen some tips and such. We ended up talking for about 4 hours, and her story made mine seem pale in comparison. She had been living in the van for about 4 months, and because the van had engine issues, she was walking over a mile back and forth every day to go to work at the local McDonalds. She had been pondering her out for a while, and decided that she was done with making minimum wage, living in a van, dealing with the heat of the summer (over 100F some days) and needed to get out.

Turns out, my timing was impeccable. She had a train ticket lined up to take her to the airport the following day so that she could go to Oregon to be with her mother. You could have knocked me over by blowing on me with a straw when I heard that. And after talking with her for even that short period of time, I realized I was dealing with a very intelligent, articulate, level headed girl. I say girl, she was 22. It was depressing to know that there would be one less worthwhile candidate for the gene pool on the eastern seaboard.

Now I told you all of that to tell you this...

I had offered to take her to the airport directly, and she said that she already had the train ticket. Ok, no problem. How about a ride to the train station then? She was reluctant at first (obviously, I would have almost been concerned for her wellbeing had she not). After about another hour or so of chatting, she said "I think I'll accept your offer for a ride to the train station."

Ok, we're all set then. We chatted a bit more, then decided it was time to crash for the night. We each went "home", to meet up again in the morning. That's when things suddenly got REALLY interesting.

She had mentioned leaving the van behind (duh!) the previous night, and I thought she was kidding when she said she'd give it to me. Hmmm...

So we're at the train station, and I just kinda non-chalantly mentioned the van, kinda just being a smartass. What happened next blew my mind. She puts down one of the two bags she had with her and dug out a title and signed it... :O

I couldn't really absorb what was happening, and there was an awkward silence afterward. I thanked her, and she reached out to shake my hand. Not what I was expecting, but ok. Then she drifted with silence off to the line for the train, never to be seen by my eyes again. Bitter sweet to say the least. I felt like I lost a life long friend even though we had only known each other for less than 24 hours.

I told you all of that to tell you this...

This is where you guys come in.

I have learned so much from everything I have read on this and the "other" board. The wisdom on here is absolutely unmatched and taught me more than you OR I may ever know consciously.

Even as early as about my first night (after trying the shelter) living in the car, I began to use what I had learned here and "there" to construct the foundation for living in such an environment. Nutshell? Shrink need, then apply force.

I had to discard "life as I knew it" to pull this off. And quick. I got a comment from a guy that isn't homeless, but refuses to pay for hotel rooms when he comes down here from Pennsylvania. He said "Wow, you've been at this how long? You've already got it figured out as far as I can tell." - He's been doing this for years.

Ok so anyway, I now have a van. Inside is of course all the basic stuff one might need for survival. A basic place to lay a head, some clothes, a can opener, you know... Camping stuff. From this, I built.



ila_rendered

Here is the van, a 1994 Chevy Astro. It has "personality issues" with the engine/computer that I have been able to tame somewhat with a little TLC, some parts, and a little inginuity. But it is still far from "road worthy", at least for any REAL distance. I've driven it about 100 miles or so, and let's just say one of my issues with it is that it's a little scary on the interstate. Back roads only. :/



ila_rendered

I spent one night in it, and ended up breaking the undercarriage of the bed. They were undersized wooden slats about 1/4 inch thick and a couple inches or so wide. My guess is to give some springyness. Well, 2 of them failed under my weight overnight, and apparently she had knocked a few out herself. I found a little patch job she tried to do. It worked for her, but was insufficient for me. What you see is the final result of what I came up with to solve the problem. As luck would have it, she had about 100 feet of nylon rope stashed away elsewhere in the van. I found it and gave it it's perfect application. It has it's issues; I have to retension it about once a week or so. Once I found out I would need to do that, I simplified how it was terminated. Works good tho. Comfy. ;)



ila_rendered

Here's the bed, made. I joke with my friends about sleeping with a pillow that has a rose on it, and a pinkish-purple "comforter". But let me tell you, out of everything I found in the fabric stash department, this was by far the softest, most comfortable item in stock. Joke as you wish; I'm comfortable with my sexuality. :P



ila_rendered

One of the more interesting items in the van was an old style oil lamp. I ended up getting rid of quite a bit of stuff that I felt I really didn't need, although it's not actually gone, it's still in my car. Anyway, I felt for some reason that the lamp did not fall into the "unwanted" category. I suspended the lamp by some erroneously purchased #18 solid black wire that I got from Radio Whack. I light it when I'm pondering what has been bestowed upon me, and particularly who and how. It's an inspiration when I start to lose focus. Behind it is a burlap curtain, separating the "cab" from the "cargo" for privacy.



ila_rendered

Here is the lamp, burning. Ghurd is no longer the only one with a toe either. :P



ila_rendered

Ok from here we head into the meat and potatoes of what I have directly learned and applied from all of you. This is my main battery, there are a total of 3. This one is a 12V 12Ah Lead-Acid SLA.

The other two consist of the set of NiMH that are in the satellite amp for the original theater, and the van's cranking battery. I had to involve the van's battery to get past Peukert's law and get things back inside "the window". Running the laptop prior to doing this was a major pain in the ass. Don't worry, I realize it's not for deep cycling, and I monitor it pretty closely while using it.



ila_rendered

Here is the "control system". From left to right:

    The "at-a-glance fuel gauge" for the SLA. This was put into operation as an attempt to reduce precious 9V battery consumption in the meters just to the right of it. It gives a rough idea of if the battery is full, if it is charging, roughly where it is in the charge process, is it ready for use, is it sitting at the "top of the hill" (~ 12.6V), and how close to 12.0V it is (far left deflection), should NEVER be allowed to get that low. If it does however, this little gem will warn me about it, at a glance. I also put a white LED behind the movement to illuminate it at night. Runs 24/7 @ 10mA. No biggie. :)

    The diagnostic meters. These monitor voltage and current flow for the SLA, and can do gross or net current display to find problems or discrepancies in the main storage system. I no longer turn these on unless I can't figure out why power isn't going where I think it should.

    The ceiling fan control. More on that in a bit.

    The main system distribution outlets. They are the most accessible for things that are removable or are otherwise may to need to be disconnected at some point.



ila_rendered

The ceiling fan. This is a 120mm fan with a 1W LED die below it. Both are fully variable. I need to do some tweaking as far as distance from the "ceiling" to improve airflow and such, but for now, it's hanging from one of the original dome light holders. Helps out quite a bit, and it's reasonably efficient, provided you don't throw the "turbo" switch on the fan. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. :/



ila_rendered

The heart of the sound system. Much of this (everything but the satellite speakers) came from the theater project. Irony places the original satellites that came with the sub back in tandem operation with it. This thing still sounds really good considering, and I would have used the speakers for the theater, but there just simply isn't room. Live within your means. :)


Continued . . .
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Offline MadScientist267

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2012, 09:24:16 PM »
Continued . . .



ila_rendered

My "Fridge". One of my biggest challenges out here has been staying hydrated. In fact, I've been battling really dark urine (that even turned cloudy at one point) for several weeks now. Needless to say, I started to really worry, especially when I just happened to get a message from a friend that she had ended up with a kidney infection, and that it is extremely painful. No thanks, that's the LAST thing I need out here.

My original source of cold water (which sticks with you better than warm) was free refill after refill of the "large" cup of ice from McDonalds within Wally World. Up to 3 times a day, I would go in and get my refills. It got to where everyone knows me, and I don't even have to ask. They just nod their head. Very generous. But alas, it just simply wasn't enough. I was sweating it out faster than I could put it back in. :(

The cooler was an attempt to do the McDonalds cup on a much grander scale. There was an "incubation" period, where the water I was getting was dismal at best, but after about 24 hours, it spooled up and began producing a continuous supply (as needed) of ice cold water. Depending on outside temperature, I add a 10 pound bag of ice to it somewhere between every 24 and 48 hours. This works very well, and I highly recommend it to anyone in this situation. In fact, don't bother wasting your time with any other method; it simply isn't worth the risks associated with severe dehydration. For the cost of a 16 ounce bottle of "spring" water, I can get a couple gallons of some decent tasting water, and it stays cold. Why pay more?



ila_rendered

Ok, here's the pinnacle of the entire process. Here, you can see the panel mounted up on the roof of the van from a moderate distance. I ended up cutting off the patched areas of my original lead-in cable where the dog had decided it made a tasty chew toy. Bastard. Turns out, I didn't need the whole length, and I ran it up along the molding inside the van, notched out the third brake light assembly at one end and sealed it up, and used good ol' fashion duct tape to keep the cable in line as it runs up to the panel.

Now, I must pause here for a moment and tell a story about epic failure in orders of magnitude on my part. During the development of the theater, if anyone recalls, there were originally two 30W panels in the design. 24V nominal. Well, I was going to split them up, and have two different 12V systems in the van; one dedicated to the laptop, the other to support everything else.

One night, I was tired, wasn't thinking straight, and was trying to get some engine sensor issues figured out via the doghouse of the van. I went to take the van for a test drive, and as I got up on the main road, I punched it (trying to find shift points). I went around a curve, and well...

I totally forgot that BOTH panels were up on the roof, and were not tied down by ANY means whatsoever. I heard something shift and then a couple of strange sounds coming from behind the van. Immediately it hit me what had happened, but was there anything left of my one and only source of power?

Let's just say it's just a good thing that it was so late that night. I did one of the messiest "3 point" turns I have ever done in my life and headed back from whence I came. One laying in the lane I was just in, the other directly in front of the van. I stopped and got out, saw pieces of the frame from one of them, and picked up what was left of the panel the parts came from. It might just as well have been a warm slice of mozarella; I couldn't even look. It was totally destroyed. I immediately flung it off the side of the road, and kicked the remaining frame pieces off the other side. Somewhere in there, a lot of explatives came out, I was pretty pissed at myself.

Along about this time, I stepped back over in front of the van. Now keep in mind, I hadn't had this thing but a handful of days at this point and had no idea where many of the controls were. I didn't bother looking for the flasher switch, time was of the essence! Only the taillights were glowing on the back of the van. Along about this time, an SUV (of undetermined type) flew around me in the opposing lane and yelled "ASS HOLE!!!" as he went by. I realize that he had no idea what had just happened, but my immediate thoughts were that I really didn't give two $#!+5 what he thought about me; I had just crumbled a hundred or so bucks worth of PV. Screw 'em.

I looked down, and to my amazement, the other panel looked to be intact, but I couldn't tell - it was laying face down. I picked it up, turned around with it and got in the headlight's beam, and I have NO idea WHY, but it was intact! The connections had been ripped off of the tabs, which I later fixed, but other than some scratches around the frame on the cell side, it was all there! I'm still puzzled by this. Amazing!



ila_rendered

Here it is, from the back. You can see the handy dandy duct tape engineering at work here, along with some non-UV resistant zip ties. Sue me, I don't have much cash. I'll fix it as soon as I can.

ila_rendered

Here it is from the front. Here you can see the over-abundance of RTV sealing up the screws/brackets (as well as helping as much as it does with adhesion). What can I say? I love the stuff. The panel aint goin' nowhere, I promise. You can also see where the lead-in runs into the brake light, with a similar sealing scheme. Redneck engineering at it's finest. :)

One other worthy note about the story itself: I did not drop ONE DIME "after the fact" into putting it all together. I managed to pull everything together from things I already had (most from the theater project) and thanks to me finally learning a lesson about "standards" and modularity, everything is plug and play. Need a diode? Throw it in there. A buck converter would be better than a direct connection right here? Drop it in and tweak the pots. It really is that simple.

Ok, with all of that being said, I want to show my appreciation to each and every one of you that has helped me directly or indirectly by providing me with the knowledge and prowess to pull this off. I'm not going to mention any names specifically; not because I don't want to give credit where it's due, oh contraire! I don't want to leave anyone OUT!

So thank you to all of you, some of you know who you are, and others may have no idea, but I have read a lot of posts and have become that much wiser from all of your experiences. I wish I could somehow repay you; maybe this is the only way - Returning the knowledge and wisdom back to the pool for someone else to use.

I want to specifically endorse the IRC channel however - Real time chat can get you some quick answers sometimes when you're up against a wall and baffled by something. Plenty of wisdom in there to help as well as on the forum.

Thanks to all of your help, I'm actually ENJOYING this experience! Believe it or not...

Again, Thank you!

Steve
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Offline dang

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2012, 11:02:58 PM »
Go drop $10 on a 'hush button' style smoke detector and install it with fresh batteries.
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Offline rossw

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2012, 12:39:24 AM »
Steve, over the years I've tried to tape cables into small ridges like you have, on vehicles. (I used to do a lot of foxhunts etc and had all manner of antennas temporarily rigged in various vehicles).

Tape across the wire as you have it seems logical, but I've usually had it come off fairly quickly (especially at speed) because it's directly across the airflow, and you leave lots of cable unsupported.

I've learned that (if you can spare the tape), to run it ALONG the wire. The wire is then held in the channel all the way along and doesn't flap about, and the tape tends to stay put. A piece across at either end (start and finish) helps keep it down too.

Offline bj

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2012, 06:45:43 AM »
Steve, you are obviously pretty adaptable, fast on your feet.  You will do alright.  Some good luck would help,
and that is what I wish for you.
"Even a blind squirrel will find an acorn once in a while"
bj

Offline striider

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2012, 07:18:40 AM »
Awesome set up!  Good luck to you, sir.

Offline madlabs

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2012, 03:38:39 PM »
Many years ago a similar kind of thing happened to me and I wound up living on a boat with a blown engine anchored out. I had an inner tube to get out to the boat at first and then later upgrade to a plywood dinghy.

You are already living better than I did after a year! Congrats on be flexible and adapatable! I scrounged and worked my way back to a better situation and you obviously will too.

But I second the smoke and CO detector. I have been a volunteer fire fighter for 12 years or so and I have seen at least 6-8 deaths in vans and small trailers. And the lamp, while awesome, is putting CO out and even low level exposure for prolonged periods can cause permanent neural damage. At least have a couple of windows open.

Good luck!

Jonathan
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Offline dang

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2012, 08:01:16 PM »
Quote
And the lamp, while awesome, is putting CO out and even low level exposure for prolonged periods can cause permanent neural damage.

Good catch on the CO detector, I only thought about it this morning...  NOTE those Marlboro's are giving low level CO exposure already so a smoker in a confined space is much more susceptible - the smoker is already at 10,000 feet elevation as far as blood oxygen capacity is concerned...
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Offline Norm

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2012, 06:58:13 AM »
convert that lamp to a couple of yellow/orange LEDs while not very bright they
are cozy and safer....please?
One of those tent (flying saucer with 20 leds + 1) gives plenty of light a phone
charger with switcher diodes gives the right amount of current and voltage 5.2v I
think (thanks Ghurd) (more on that project some other time)

and I had exactly the same color 93 Astro goofy fuel injectors....had to start it
every day if you didn't do it just right it would flood and would have to take the
dog house off and disconnect a wire .....that would stop it from squirting in more gas
until the flooded engine started then connect the wire again bad computer I guess.

Duct tape deteriorates in time and weather.....
Norm.

Offline tomw

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #9 on: August 10, 2012, 09:38:57 AM »

Duct tape deteriorates in time and weather.....
Norm.

Indeed it does!

I have some Gorilla Tape that has been exposed to the weather for going on 3 years and still looks like new under the dust and bird $#!+e.

I don't even use the gray stuff anymore. If it lasts one season you got an extra good batch!

Gorilla Tape has generous stickum and resists sunlight so worth the extra cost. I got mine cheap in a case lot for about $4 a roll at a surplus outlet not the $10 plus it sells for now retail. I am stocked up until the world ends (for me).

If its called "Duck Tape" you may as well leave it on the store shelves. Real Duct tape is a tad better but the monkey tape beats them all hands down.

Just sayin.

Tom
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Offline Norm

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #10 on: August 10, 2012, 10:49:29 AM »
Yeah Gorilla tape crossed my mind when I said it real life experience with $1 a roll
duct tape used on an old car left a lot to be desired....to say the least.

Duct tape used by someone for the riding lawnmower seat told the story of
what not to use....

Norm
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Offline WooferHound

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #11 on: August 10, 2012, 10:50:36 PM »
----- W o o f e r h o u n d -----
My Renewable Energy Projects

Offline Norm

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2012, 10:38:35 AM »
thanks for the enlightening info Woofer
Norm

Offline jvnn

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #13 on: August 11, 2012, 05:39:02 PM »
Wow Steve!
I'm new here so I haven't seen your other posts.
It's good for those of us clinging onto the "middle class" lifestyle to know what it's like when you fall through the cracks.
If you are willing to tell more of how your day to day goes - I for one am interested.

About the business of tensioning up your bed ropes - I think that's where the saying "sleep tight" comes from.

Hang in there & best wishes  - Joel

Offline bj

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Re: Living in a van and a big thank you!
« Reply #14 on: August 11, 2012, 06:53:22 PM »
   Damn---I learned where the term "sleep tight" originated, and all about Duck/Duct tape all in about
five minutes.
   Love this place.   ;D
"Even a blind squirrel will find an acorn once in a while"
bj