Photo Gallery - The Platform

What do we have to work with?  2011 Chevrolet G4500, 6.6 L Duramax diesel/biodiesel. Let's take a look at the platform I'll be using to make my RV.


Two Fatal Errors

Where all the magic happens.
“There are two fatal errors that keep great projects from coming to life:
1) Not finishing
2) Not starting”
Buddha Gautama 

I stumbled upon the Skoolie community.  Those are folks who take old school buses and convert them into RVs. Some of them are fabulous. The idea was really appealing to me. I watched a hundred YouTube videos of people enjoying their decked-out buses with huge bedrooms and full-sized appliances. Some couples travel with their young children. Many of the Skoolie people have made the mistake of thinking you can make a living from Instagram. Anyway, you can pick up a good, retired school bus for cheap. Then I started considering the downsides.  Difficult and costly to convert. Costly to maintain. A set of tires can run nearly 3 thousand dollars. And again, a school bus, even the smaller 44 passenger versions, would be too large, too complex and, too costly for me to maintain. 

How about those small school buses?  The 15 passenger types for disabled or special needs students. A good compromise. But I learned most of those are barely 6 foot tall inside. I couldn't find one that's still in decent shape.

At this point I'm still researching but my options are running out. How about a cargo van, like a small U-Haul truck? Has the box on the back and the nose of a normal van. I found some locally with a 16 foot box on the back and a Ford van front end with about 150,000 miles. A good idea but the drawback? They all had the Ford V-10. Some say it's a good engine, others say it's junk. But everyone says it gets 9 or 10 MPG and that was a deal killer for me.

I found some other box vans at a truck sales lot here in Orlando. Ford's with the 5.4 liter Triton V-8. Some love this motor and some don't. I have one in my 2007 F-150 and I don't have confidence in it. I've heard about some cam gear failures and timing chain issues. It cost me 300 dollars just to change the spark plugs.

How about an old ambulance? Those are built like tanks. But the ones I found didn't have that much room in the back. And they have a lot of existing cubbyholes and cabinets that restrict your design.

I'm down to an airport shuttle bus. Small enough but also large enough. Good interior height. Many of those I found were Fords. But after searching and searching I finally found my new project. I bought a 2011 Chevrolet Express G4500, 15 passenger shuttle bus. It has the 6.6 liter Duramax diesel engine. Rated at 445 horsepower and 910 pound-feet of torque. They have been known to get 19 or more MPG on the highway. It runs on diesel or bio-diesel. It's not unusual for them to last 300,000 miles. Mine has 111,000 on it right now. It was owned by the U.S. Government. Retired from duty at the National Institutes of Health research campus in Durham, North Carolina. So, it's never seen salt. 

I'm avoiding the first fatal error. I'm starting. Since I bought it my mental health has improved 1000%. I've got a goal. This is going to be a huge job. I believe I'm up to the task. I'm so happy. I've got a project!

NEXT POST: Coming soon - Photo Gallery - The Platform



Wanting Something is Easy

Charlotte and Gavilinda 2014
“Everything is easier said than done. Wanting something is easy. Saying something is easy. The challenge and the reward are in the doing.”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience 

I'll be eligible for my full Social Security benefits at 661/2.  My three-year-plan is slowly coming into focus. If I can keep my job for the next three years, I'll be good.

A loose outline of my three-year-plan is:

  1. Elegantly unwind a 30 year marriage. Sell, donate or give away about 90 percent of the stuff we have accumulated. Be ready, if necessary, to easily sell my house in a 30 day window.
  2. Build a luxury, long-distance camper to my personal specifications.
  3. Maintain my job and health.
  4. All other things necessary to retire in April 2024.

For the last 20 years or so Charlotte cared for her horses. The last one, the one she loved the most, Gavilinda, had to be put down February 25, 2020.  If we wanted to go on a vacation or even a weekend getaway for a few days we'd have to find someone to look after those big, dumb animals. It was almost impossible to find someone who was trustworthy and who could come out to our remote farm location twice a day to water, feed and muck stalls. So, in 20 years we almost never went on a vacation together. For 20 years we never left the house together for more then a day on maybe 3 or 4 occasions. 

So, after being cooped up here for so long, the first thing I'd like to do after I retire is travel. I'd like to see all my friends I've made over the years scattered all over the U.S. Many of them have come to visit me, some multiple times, so I owe everyone a visit. I'd like to explore all the natural beauty of our country. As I've seen from my friend's many Facebook posts, the national parks are lovely. As an automobile race fan, there are so many races and tracks I'd like to visit. I'm looking at you Road America.  I'm tired of watching the Indy 500 on TV.  And I need to see my family, who I love dearly. What I need is an RV.

Some of you may have read about my previous project. Why don't I just use the travel trailer I built out of a cargo trailer?  It was designed for 2 people so it's too big. I feel uncomfortable towing it. I just don't like it. Fills me with stress to have that thing behind me. It's OK for short trips but I wouldn't take it on an extended trip. Certainly not from Florida to any western states.

Since Charlotte is gone now, one big part of my three-year-plan is to scale down my life. Get rid of all the clutter. I'm selling, throwing away or giving away so many things now. I'm also getting rid of my camper trailer.

At first I thought I'd like a camper van. I looked at some that are already built out. They're called Class B RVs. Talk about clutter! They cram everything and the kitchen sink into such a tiny area. Then, I thought I might build my own camper van. A great idea because I could build to my own specifications. Make it custom with just the amenities I want. This year I camped at Sebring in my trailer and I realized I really like the room to stand up and move around. I would like a little more room than what you find in a regular van. I did consider those wheelchair vans with the extended roofs and even a box truck. 

I looked at the next size up. Class C RVs. Most of those are 28-31 feet long. Way too big for just one person. Unless you buy new and special order, you have to take the design, appliances, amenities and other details they come with. I even looked at a few Class A motorhomes.  Way too big with complicated infrastructure that would be a nightmare to maintain.  A lot of people bought RVs and took to the highway during the pandemic so there is a bit of an RV shortage now. I'm just not impressed with the build quality. For me the poor workmanship of many RVs is a deal breaker.

I have a pretty specific idea of what I want and nothing off the shelf will be a good fit. I have the skills and desire to make my own RV.  I'm doing it. This is probably the last major construction project I'll ever do.

NEXT POST: Coming soon - Two Fatal Errors


Hope and Planning

New Year's Eve 2018
“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. ”
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

As one gets older the passage of time takes on divine and mysterious properties. One day you're in your 30s shopping for ceiling fans and you're working and struggling to get somewhere in life. It's easy to lose track of time. Suddenly, shockingly, it seems like two weeks later you look in the mirror and you're 50 years old and you're a bit offended when you get offered your first senior discount. Age is sneaky. It happens when you're not looking. Your first move: deny you're old. After all, 50 is the new 30. Hey, you're only as young as you feel. Up until December 2020, I knew I was getting older but I had given the least amount of thought to retirement.

My family are all notorious early-diers. All my grandparents, except one, died before I was born. My dad died at 56 years old. My mother died at 54. For years I thought I was paying into a Social Security system that I wouldn't live to benefit from.  By contrast my wife, Charlotte, comes from a family of long-livers.  Her father regularly biked and golfed until a few months before his death at 92. His siblings lived well into their mid-to-late 90s. Charlotte's mother, despite smoking and drinking, is still around in her late 80s.  

The only retirement "plans" I ever had were that at some point, if I lived long enough, I would stop working. Date undetermined. Charlotte, who was six years younger then me and in perfect health, would continue to work for 10-20 years while I keeled over dead. Then, suddenly in August 2019 Charlotte was diagnosed with stage four Colo-rectal cancer and 15 months later she was dead. To say I was shocked is the most unforgivable understatement. 

Charlotte's death was the worse thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life. I also died a little inside. I went a little insane. Charlotte and I were together for 30 years and we had the happiest marriage. In those last 15 months we were especially close which made her loss seem unnecessarily cruel. The first couple of months after that tragedy I walked around in a fog filled with grief and depression. My journey through hell deserves it's own essay but that story will be told another time. Two important concepts that got me through my months of hell after her death was hope and planning for the future.

Having hope for the future was the only thing that got Charlotte and I through the months of chemotherapy and her other agonizing cancer treatments. If you don't have hope, you've got nothing. If you can think about and visualize where you want to be and how you might get there you have hope. Now I'm on my own again. Alone. Her death forced me to confront my own mortality. It's apparent I need to make and execute a plan for today, for retirement, and beyond.  

NEXT POST: Coming soon - Wanting Something Is Easy