In the 1970′s I was an avid vanner. Starting with a 1969 Chevy Van, I have had several others throughout my adult life. Each one I have customized, and added extensive “gadgetry” to. Besides a hobby, this experience, and experimentation served me well as I have built custom interiors for several other people’s vans, as well as created and installed custom electronics for many more.
The “gadgets” I have designed, built and installed in all of them have been “state of the art” – at the time. Of course, extensive audio systems, but also interior and exterior lighting, including “steerable” and retractable lights, “fancy” colors, dimming and remote control systems for the interior lighting, as well as often having to make the lighting fixture itself. Sensors have always fascinated me, and I have had some of the first backup video cameras, low light cameras, weather monitoring and ultrasonic “parking aids” in most all of them.
Aircraft, and especially systems, have always been a fascination, and all of my vans have had such “useful” instruments as altimeters, gyroscopes (before GPS), artificial horizons, etc. The usefulness of these was not necessarily in their use (inertial navigation was overkill), but in the opportunity to learn how the systems worked, how to install and enable them in the van, and the actual physical construction and modifications to make them fit, look good, and be usable. Over the years, I have scoured surplus and salvage stores (including the North American Rockwell surplus store, how I miss you) to collect bits and pieces of airplanes – instruments, mechanical parts, hardware, wiring, and actuators – especially actuators. I learned the correct way to make aircraft control panels (cool), learned how to do wiring, (yes, I can lace a harness) layout, plumbing in an aircraft way, and how to use aircraft hardware. All while building a “project van”. My vans had lots of aircraft wire, aircraft bolts, aircraft brackets, aircraft plumbing, hoses and everything else I could scrounge and make use of. I also started collecting, and learning about, aircraft hardware, and I now have quite an extensive collection of that. Most everything I do uses AN nuts, bolts and hardware.
And, I learned about power. Scroungers cannot always be choosers, and many of the aircraft bits and pieces I obtained ran on 28 VDC, or 400hz AC. So very van has had provisions for supplying those types of power. Since the use a lot of energy, I have made extensive study of 12 volt systems, batteries, charging & discharging, proper wiring and layout.
I have also learned a lot about metalworking, building things like gearboxes, machining, plastics, and how to impliment them to make the various “gadgets”. How to mold fiberglass (I needed a shroud), how to mold colored light lenses and plastic brackets, and how to use aluminium, and the proper techniques to apply it.
Again, all because I was building a “project van”.
One of the major advantages to this hobby, for me, has been the chance to experiment and learn about electronics and electrical systems in a vehicle, and how to design them, and make them stand up to the rigors of vehicular life. Not always an easy task. However, I have learned a lot about the vehicle environment, what is necessary to make the stuff operate, and survive, and how to deal with everything from shock loading to gobs of moisture, road grunge and rain. I learned that heat can be dealt with (and has to be), but it is cold that stops things, well, cold. Oscillators wont oscillate, flip flops wont flip, actuators wont actuate and mechanisms wont mechanate – when they get cold enough. I have had to literally rebuild many consumer things from VCR’s to Computers because they didn’t like the cold.
I have learned that dashboards get REALLY hot under there, and everything under the hood is not only going to get wet, but get covered with that road grunge – even worse, and acidic gasses. I have learned that it is better to move the water where you want it to go, than try to make something totally waterproof – a concept I learned long ago from my dad in construction of houses. I have learned that hitting a pothole can be the same as whacking your new device with a hammer, and that cheap components often fail with the first pothole. I have especially learned that the 12 volt electrical system in a vehicle is a really nasty environment – electrically – and if you don’t take pains to allow for that, your gadget wont live long.
And, along the way, I have had a tremendous amount of fun. Learning, building and creating as I putter around the shop in my spare time, dream up new gadgets, and figure out how to make them real.
So, vans, and making things for vans, have been be “raison d’etre” to do these things… Again, all so I could build a custom van.
Alas, we get older, and other things take precidence. I got married, settled down, and the van project faded into the “someday” background. It has also gotten much harder to “top” the newest gadgets in cars. As fun as it might be, I am not going to take up integrated circuit fabrication in my garage. So, that era lingers in the background.
I have pictures of my 1969 van and my 1979 van, but I have to scan them (“someday” ). However, my 1982 van is still “following me around” waiting for that day I may finish some of it. Mind you, it has mostly sat in a rural environment for the last 10 years, and, it is a product of the 90′s – before GPS, antilock brakes, ipods and ipads. But, what follows are some pictures of how it sits today…