2014 Dodge Ram EcoDiesel Van Conversion
- Interview By: Brock Butterfield
- Van Conversion By: Laura Patton
This van conversion includes a love story with a happy ending. Van life led Laura to many destinations and a hitchhiker along the way that just happened to steal her heart.
I met Laura in Moab, UT in 2015 when she was traveling with two friends and their two dogs seeking out some rock climbing and even some skiing in the La Sal mountain range. She started life on the road living out of the back of her Honda CR-V and soon upgraded to a Sprinter van and completed her first van conversion build. With living in a small space on a daily basis and lots of hours behind the wheel you start to think of ways you can make the small space that much better.
Laura debated on rebuilding her original van conversion but decided that starting fresh with a new van was the way to go. Seasonal employment provides the funds for her to travel around with friends and her two dogs while creating adventures all over including Alaska.
With a Goal Zero Yeti and Dickinson Solid Fuel Stove, Laura can be off-grid and exploring for days on end without having to make a trek to the nearest town. Take a peak below at her van conversion with lots of photos to give you inspiration to complete your own van conversion!
-Model: Promaster 3500
-Motor: 3.0L EcoDiesel I4
-Interior Square Footage: Approximately 72 square feet in living area
-Current Location: Skagway, AK
-Purchased From/Location: Reno Dodge in Reno, NV
-Cost in materials for the conversion: ~$5000
-Is the conversion complete or still in progress? Mostly complete. We will do a few updates before the winter
-Does your van have a name? Pedro!
This is your second van conversion now. What made you want to do another one?
The whole process of converting vans is a ton of fun. From conceptualizing and planning the space to the actual building process, I love it all. My first van was converted as quickly and cheaply as I could manage and after living in it for over a year, I had lots of ideas for updates. I contemplated rebuilding my last van, but decided to get a whole new van so I could have a higher roof height and front wheel drive for better performance in the snow.
Silas the Sprinter. First van conversion.
Oh hello Pedro.
Tell us a bit about how the idea to build a van into a home on wheels came about.
Since I began climbing back in high school, I've spent a ton of time on the road. After traveling for a while, you realize that it would be convenient to be able to sleep in your vehicle and to have a place for all of your gear. I spent a decent amount of time living out of the back of my Honda CR-V with my two pups and my best friend Chelsea. Eventually I decided I needed more space and made the commitment to live on the road full time or as close to it as possible. That dictated the need for a van that I could turn into a home. When I got my first van, it felt like living in a mansion after the CR-V.
Who is involved or part of the crew with your van?
The stars of the show are Titan and Star, my two adventure pups. They are with me all the time and are always up for whatever is next, whether it's a two week backpacking trip, a bike tour, a day of SUPing, or hanging out at the crag. In addition to the furbabies, Pedro will be the full time home of my boyfriend, Brian, and me. My best friend and OG road trip mate, Chelsea, will be along for lots of trips too. Although he won't be living in the van, I definitely have to mention my brother, Mike, who helped us out on the build. We literally could not have done the build without him, so he will always be an important part of the van.
What materials did you use during your build? Any reclaimed/upcycled items?
Although we romanticized about using all recycled materials, when the time came and we had ten days to build the van, it was faster and easier to use mostly new lumber. We did panel the walls and ceiling with Beetle Kill Pine from Colorado, which is beautiful. Other than that, we used mostly pine plywood for the cupboards and rubber horse mats for the floors. Our insulation is done with denim.
Insulating the van. Note the use of Reflectix which is becoming the norm for insulating vans.
How many can the van sleep and how is the sleeping arrangement designed?
Titan and Star really dictate who will fit on the bed. They like to sprawl. Right now we can comfortably sleep two humans and two pups. We could probably squeeze someone in on the bench and someone or two could definitely fit on the floor if they felt so inclined! So if we were trying really hard we could probably sleep 5, but I doubt most of those people would be super comfortable! Our bed platform goes across the back of the van, and it is wide enough for us to sleep widthwise. Having a full time bed is key to our storage arrangement and also a requirement for me because I'd rather not have to swap my setup at night to get in bed.
What is your kitchen and cooking setup?
Cabinet doors are using push button catches to keep them shut during transit.
What is your power source?
Do you have a heat source for colder weather?
We have a Dickinson Marine Solid Fuel Heater (wood stove), which is built for sailboats, but we didn't have time to install it before we headed up to Alaska. We will put it in before this winter. The dogs are fuzzy and warm too!
Do you have a way to stay cool in the hot summer months?
We installed two windows with sliders and screens, which we love. We also have a Fantastic fan. In general we tend to stay away from places that are consistently super hot.
Cutting in the Fantastic Fan Vent for keeping cool.
What are you doing for water source?
Do you have a bathroom solution for the "rumble guts" hit? We keep a 7 gallon jug of water in the van and have a hand pump faucet to dispense it. We don't have a bathroom in the van. Usually we use the great outdoors or we park near a bathroom. There have been a couple times when we've had to wake up and start driving immediately to find a bathroom, but thankfully that's rare!
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
I think the most unique part of our van is our story. I spent all of my time in my first van, Silas, traveling with my best girlfriend, Chelsea. It's pretty rare to see friends living and traveling in a vehicle for extended periods, but our lives revolved around the next road trip and getting outside as much as possible. On our last trip, I met my boyfriend, Brian, when I picked him up off the side of the road after he had finished kayaking. It was basically love at first sight and we decided to build our own van-home together, and Pedro was born.
What do you do for income while living in the van?
Unfortunately, we haven't found a great way to make money while on the road, so we work seasonal jobs. Ideally, we can work a seasonal job and then take the following season off to travel. This season, we are living in the van full time while working full time, and we hope to be able to make it through next winter without working.
What do you do for Internet while on the road?
For the most part, we use coffee shops or libraries when we need internet. We also have a Verizon MiFi wireless hotspot that we can use in places where there is cell phone service. In addition, I have a sweet bluetooth keyboard that I can use with my phone. That makes emailing and blogging much easier and allows me to use my phones data when needed.
What is the hardest part about living van life?
For the most part, I feel like van life is just as glamorous as the Instagram posts make it seem. I love my little space and feel lucky to be able to come home to it each day. Living in a van allows me so much more freedom than any other option. But, sometimes you do have moments of struggle. In my past van, it was all the repairs and break downs. When we first got to Skagway, it rained all day for a week straight and I was convinced that myself, my dogs, and everything I owned would never be dry again. That was tough. During those moments you wish you had somewhere to escape to and fantasize about a couch with warm blankets, popcorn, and a movie, and you think about having a dryer or a place to hang wet clothes. But then you get back to reality, the sun eventually comes out, and everything is wonderful again.
Where can people follow or find out more about your van? (social media, website, etc.)
Please excuse the fact that I'm having a bit of an identity crisis and all of my social media handles are still named after my last van. Here they are: