Putting Uncle Gerald (the campervan) together

Putting Uncle Gerald (the campervan) together

Usually, I don’t name my stuff. Stuff is stuff. But, when I picked up the very white ProMaster City that I was going to make into a campervan from the dealership, it reminded me of my mother’s uncle, Gerald. He had very white hair, even as a kid. He sunburned easily, so he stayed out of the sun. He was a fair-skinned man with white hair. He may have had albinism, but for a family that spent little time with doctors, I don’t think there was an official diagnosis.

At first, I felt a little bad thinking about Uncle Gerald as I looked at this little van. But, as I thought about making the van into a camper and traveling across the U.S., it seemed appropriate to think about him. When I was a kid, Uncle Gerald told these fascinating stories of places all over the world. London, Paris, Cairo — pretty exotic to a kid growing up near Lake Superior. I told my mom I thought it was so cool Uncle Gerald had been to so many places. She said she didn’t think he’d ever left his hometown. He read a lot.

The inspiration for the van's name
The photo on the campervan’s visor

So, I decided Uncle Gerald would travel with me. The campervan is named Uncle Gerald. And, there’s a photo of Uncle Gerald on the visor. Here’s the thumbnail sketch of Uncle Gerald — born in 1895 in Washburn, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Superior. He lived in Washburn all of his life and worked as a janitor at City Hall. When his mother died, he lived with his sister (my grandmother) and her husband (my grandfather). When she died, he went to live with another sister, who was married to my grandfather’s brother. Washburn is a small town. Uncle Gerald died in 1974.

And, Uncle Gerald the van is a 2017 Dodge Ram ProMaster City. The plan was to install a Wayfarer Vans camper kit. Basically, the kit is a floor, camper boxes that bolt into the floor, insulation that attaches to the walls with magnets and a drop down table bolted to the wall. Nothing electrical. No plumbing.

The goal was to install the kit myself. Sort of a pride thing. Also somewhat out of character, since I have virtually no productive skills.

Installing the kit

The Fed Ex driver dropped off the kit at about 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Took a while to unpack it — well packed and undamaged. Forgot to take a photo of the van before installation. So, imagine a metal floor and metal walls, all white. Wayfarer Vans has great videos, so I knew to start with one of the floor pieces. Simple. Next piece of the flooring not so simple. It was wider than the door, and fairly heavy for me to lift alone. Tried and failed a couple times. Had to take the dogs for a walk and think about it. Got home and had it figured out. Got the floor in.

From there, it was fairly simple. The floor bolts to the floor of the van. Then the insulation for the walls and ceiling goes in. It attaches with magnets, and each piece arrived with a tag saying where it goes. Then, the boxes bolt into the rail on the floor. They’re wooden boxes, with hinged lids. Lots of storage space.

There is a box that goes behind the seats, which I will use for general storage. There’s a box that goes perpendicular to that box, which is the bed box. Plenty of space for bedding and clothes. Its top has two layers of wood, which are hinged. They fold open to be a four-foot wide bed platform. (Unopened, it’s cot width.) There are cushions for the storage box and the bed box. Finally, the kitchen box goes in at the end of the van. The kitchen boxes have tops that sort of “bat wing” open, along with a front that drops down. Clever! You can open them from the top or side. Finally, the drop-down table got installed/bolted to the wall. Needed to watch the video a couple times for that.

Did it all by myself! (Okay, there’s one caveat. Did need help a couple days before the kit arrived removing the D-rings that were factory installed in the floor. Thanks, Eric.) And, including the unpacking, thinking while walking the dogs, feeding the dogs and giving a tour to one of the neighbors, I had it done before dinner.

Here are the photos of the process:

The first adventure

In May 2018, Uncle Gerald and I had our first adventure: camping in three national parks in Colorado. First was Great Sand Dunes, followed by Mesa Verde and concluding with Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The van worked great! The only “problem” was that, with all the storage space available, I felt compelled to fill most of it. So, I brought way too much stuff for 11 days on the road. Next trip, less stuff! The first trip totaled 3,106 miles, including up and down mountains. The four-cylinder van had no problem with the mountains. And, it averaged 28.9 miles per gallon on the trip.

Here are the photos of Uncle Gerald’s first trip:

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