Once the bed base was in place, I knew what I was working with, space-wise, under the bed. And while, yes, in theory it would have been good to plan out the storage and bulkheads completely *before* the bed base went in, in fact it was necessary to have the final, as-built height and dimensions to work with. And so my next step was to build in storage compartments and two bulkheads, one each behind the fridge and the water tanks.
But immediately there is a problem: if I’m going to go building stuff behind the water tanks, they will no longer be accessible from the rear. And even though all the plumbing fittings are open to the front, where they peep through the kitchen cupboard base, there’s also one fitting along the sides of the tanks that needed to be in place before I sealed it all up. This is the sender arms, a device that links to a tank monitor that tells you to what extent your tank is full or empty. Useful, so you don’t run out of water out in woop woop – because it’s pretty dry out in woop woop. To fit these, I needed to use a smaller, 22mm, hole saw to drill a perfectly round and not at all ragged or fucked up hole in the sides of my precious, $80-each water tanks. This was scary. So I made my dad do it.
Once each of the sender arms was in place, tightened with a rubber washer that sits behind the fitting (but not too tight so as to break the thing: again, delicate) I covered each one with an ingenious (bahahaha, evil genius) solution that would protect the fitting a little. This was good as I’d be moving e.g. folding chairs and other stuff alongside the tanks and I didn’t want anything to snag the sender arms fitting as it went. The solution was not high-tech. Not pretty. But practical. It was this:
Ideally, I’d like to have tested the tanks and the sender arms at this point, before sealing the tanks away, but I hadn’t done the plumbing yet. Part of the difficulty of a project like this is the project management of it all: where do you start and where do you go to next? What things do you need at each stage, and what things, if missing, will hold you up? What things need to be done in a specific order, and how can you know the ideal order in advance? (You can’t, mostly.) Lots of this was trial and error.
And so, despite some misgivings, I built a very basic bulkhead behind the tanks, just enough to hold them in place as the vehicle moved. They were also strapped in around the belly and at the front, in each spot with a ratchet strap screwed down onto the tank frame/plinth with washers over it to stop it pulling the screw through the fabric. So the tanks were pretty securely in place. But still I wanted a removeable bulkhead because it’s entirely conceivable that one day I’ll have to remove, to flush out, or otherwise access the water tanks. So I ended up with this:
The storage for longer, thinner items, like chairs, was going to be deep down over the wheel arches, but that’s not ideal for something you’re constantly moving in and out, as that’s when things get caught up. So the next thing I built, on the other side, alongside the fridge, was a chair sling.
Andrew and I troubleshooted this at length. How about a piece of wide PVC pipe? How about a couple of buckets, with their bases removed, taped together to create a rigid, circular container? But the space was more nebulous than that. I needed something that would flex around the side of the fridge as it moved in and out on its slider (it opens into the front, main floor area of the van, to be accessible when I’m cooking). In a perfect harmony of a seating option for my seating option, what I needed was a chair hammock.
I built this with two strips of pine and a piece of Mexican oilcloth that I had lying around at home. (Oilcloth is an amazing, sewable and waterproof fabric that I’d used to make a spongebag and some outdoor bunting previously.) It’s virtually untearable but super flexible.
As with so much else, building one thing necessitated building another, and now the front of the chair hammock needed something over it. As I reckoned that more rather than fewer bed-support points is always good, I added a front leg to the bed too.
OK, so back to the rear bulkhead. I wanted to be able to carry storage boxes, which in turn would hold all my camping, cooking, clothing, and other gear. There were already two, deep storage compartments inside the central van area (middle of the pic above), which I’m planning to use for kitchen stuff and for clothes. And of course there’s some storage space in the kitchen cupboard, even with all the gas fittings and plumbing and the portaloo going in it – that’s going to be for pots, plates, cooking utensils and the likes. Coffee plunger. The essentials. So there’s quite a bit of storage space.
But from the back of the van I wanted to have more space for things that I don’t use every moment of every day. This includes a diesel jerrycan (not because I’m planning to run out, but because in the outback diesel is expensive). And my folding solar panels (on which, much more an a later post).
I also want to be able to bring my hiking gear. Some people travel with surfboards; hiking is MY thing. This means a hammock setup, hiking backpack, hiking stove, and a few bits and pieces of hiking gear like my hiking boots and clothes (of course, warm, wicking clothing and sturdy boots, can also be used more generally, too). This camping setup includes my hammock and straps, underquilt, bug net, rain tarp, and sleeping bag. This is the super-comfortable self-contained hammock camping system that I used on the PCT and elsewhere when I was hiking-camping. But not everywhere in Australia has trees, so I also need my tent and mattress for sleeping on the ground (not nearly as nice as a hammock, but on somewhere like the rocky, deserty Larapinta Trail, there’s often no other choice). The reason for all this is that, although at the moment I can’t hike because of my heel injury, one day again I want to be able to park up at a trailhead and take off into the bush with my lightweight camping gear for an overnight closer to wild nature than a campervan lets me get. So I want storage space to be able to bring that stuff along.
It’s interesting how the design evolved along the way, inspired by what I was seeing on other blogs and videos, but also based on how I wanted to do things. As I got more confident with the jigsaw, and with thinking through campervans, I realised this was truly becoming my OWN design, to my own specifications, something that I couldn’t really have planned right from the start.
So I built a bulkhead behind the fridge compartment. See how I just blithely say that? Now this kind of thing was starting to feel easy. I want a bulkhead there? Cool, just build one. You want a shelf? So add a shelf. Need it to curve around the chair sling? Fine, just cut that out. I’d replaced the jigsaw blade with a better one, and now it felt like I was cutting thru tofu, rather than my effortful first attempts, hacking away at thick plywood. But the big change was in me: I’d figured out it, acquired the knack, gotten confident. I knew what I was doing.
With all this brimming confidence and new-found can-do, here’s what I now realise: I should have sourced my storage boxes BEFORE building the shelves and uprights of the storage compartment, because retro-finding boxed that would exactly fit the spaces took AGES. But you live and learn. In the end I figured it out, mostly, and the result is a more-or-less elegant storage solution that I can access from the back of the van.
To this, I added a slider table that pulls out (whether for cutting wire or cutting onions, it’s useful to have a standing-height table at the back there). In the centre space, I also built the battery box for the enormous battery (on this and the 12v setup more generally, more in a future post). I gave my jerrycan a drip tray (a re-purposed window-washer squeegee bucket, which fits PERFECTLY). And I threw in the other bits and pieces that fitted into the spaces: the groundsheet that will eventually be the floor of my awning/gazebo area, for spreading out my campsite around the van, and the yellow box that fits the top storage compartment above the battery. And the result looks like this: