It takes a Village to Renovate a Van

Renovating a nearly 30-year-old conversion van from passenger vehicle to dog-hauling camper is not a simple task, especially when you have very specific modifications in mind and a limited amount of time to do anything. Between working in New York City and mushing upstate, progress has been slow going. Luckily, my family and boyfriend have been a huge help.

First step was removing the second and third row seats. Should be simple enough, just unbolt them and out they go. The catch? The bolts were rusted, corroded, and uh, nearly 30-years-old. My Dad and sister's boyfriend helped majorly in this step, leaving me with the job of holding the nuts (hah) underneath while they loosened the bolts up top. 

Dad butt #1

Dad butt #2

The middle row seats were harder to unbolt, so I paused on the interior to yank more stuff off the outside of the van. The spare tire had to come off, along with the metal step in the hitch receiver, so I could mount my dryland dog cart. This presented an unexpected challenge: lighting the license plate. My super handy boyfriend was able to help fix the wiring, and boom! We have illumination:

I rage-pulled the carpet up after a stressful day at work and took Rover to my mechanic to get the remaining seats out. He ended up lifting the van and blow torching the bolts off. Best solution? I don't know, but it got the job done. I threw the seats on Craigslist's free section and they were gone within 24 hours. I highly recommend doing this for free junk removal.

The plywood beneath the carpet was in mostly good shape, we just needed to replace one piece towards the back. I filled in some holes left by the seat bolts and began the process of de-gunking the carpet glue and fuzz. Initially I tried using a degreaser spray, but switched over to Citristrip gel. This stuff works wonders on ancient, disgusting carpet glue and grime. I left it on overnight and it did strip some paint, but I was planning to repaint the floors anyway.

After pulling up the carpet along the door frames, I discovered the hole.

The orange stuff is carpet glue and Citristrip gel

The orange stuff is carpet glue and Citristrip gel

It started as a small rust hole in the front passenger door step area. I started poking and the small rust hole became kind of a big, scary rust hole that I could see the ground through. Woof. I'm still debating whether to have it fixed professionally or hold off with a DIY patch job. For now, the area has been thoroughly cleaned, repainted, and will be doused with anti-rust spray until I figure out what to do about it.

Onto happier things. While I was at work, my Mom was nice enough to start on the laminate flooring. I initially bought the type that snaps together, but was warned that they would be nearly impossible to work with, especially in a van. I returned them and bought these 1' by 1' peel and stick tiles. They're cheap and easy to cut into all the different shapes I need to cover the floor. 

Tomorrow morning I fly out to Colorado for a few days, so most progress will be on hold. Once the floor is done, I'll be securing the dog crates into the back of the van between the wheel wells, leaving just enough space between them to store the spare tire and jack. My Dad has volunteered to help me build a bed frame over the crates, though I haven't decided how it'll be positioned just yet. I also put together a desk that will function as a kitchen area behind the driver's seat. 

Original concept for the bed frame/crate area

"Kitchen" - the storage underneath will be concealed with a curtain

The van seems to have a never-ending "To Do" list, but making progress feels pretty satisfying. There's still the roof rack to attach, a TV to remove, bedding to buy, and oh yeah -- a giant rust hole.

I'm the type of person who obsesses over projects and likes to get them done as quickly as possible. This renovation has been teaching me to chill the fuck out and enjoy the literal ride in between each step. Driving the van has proven to be more fun than I anticipated and I think I will always own a van from now on.

Oh, and these guys like it, too. And I guess that was the whole point.

Jessica Kizmann

Dog musher, New Jersey.