Monday, October 06, 2014

Astrolander Update: Rear-Door Mounted Fuel Carrier

When I first started building this van for overland travel, I figured I'd eventually end up with one of the ubiquitous massive steel bumpers with swing-away mounts for a spare tire and a collection of Jerry cans and other accessories. After a while, it became clear that any such device would have to be custom-made and exceedingly heavy and/or exceedingly expensive. There are a lot of reasons to relocate the tire out from undernearth the van in the stock location, but it is a difficult thing to manage on a van with the 3-part "Dutch" door system with the upper hatch and short lower doors - unless you can swing the tire away, you simply can't put a spare tire back there if you want to be able to open the rear doors. After spending a TON of time scheming and taking measurements, as well as gauging how I actually USE my van and what I really need to carry, I've come to the following conclusions:

Astrolander Update: Pop Top Hinge Replacement

Some dedicated readers may remember that when I originally transplanted the GTRV top from the donor van, I noticed that one of the pop-top hinges was slightly bent and thus was binding. I've lived with this for 3+ (holy crap, just checked dates: actually FIVE) years, but the net effect was that the top never quite seated correctly on the van roof. I had trouble getting enough tension on one of the forward latches and sometimes after dropping the top I'd have to climb onto the back bumper and manually pull down on the top to get it fully closed.

Early calls to GTRV for replacement hinges went unanswered. I eventually figured out (through a lot of catalog searching) that the hinges were Reimo-made, duplicates of early VW Westfalia hinges. Sourcing these directly from Germany was going to be VERY expensive, so I kept looking for alternatives. Eventually I found another hinges with a similar (but not exactly matching) geometry for another product. After some wheedling the manufacturer of those bartered with me for a set:
As you can see, the gold Reimo hinges are longer, so I had to make some modifications to get things to bolt up. I don't have pictures of the process because it was a bit sketchy with the top raised and supported by 2x4s, etc.
As a bonus, the replacements are vastly superior construction. The Reimo design is thin material and single-shear, whereas the new ones are thicker material AND double-shear:ImageImage

For some reason, I never took a photo of the top raised with the new hinges. It looks basically the same. :)
Knowing that the hinge-replacement was always on the horizon, and fearing I'd need access to the roof to change the hinges, I never got around to putting the headliner back in the van. I'm sometimes amazed that my wife didn't complain more about riding around in a van with the metal roof and all the ribbing exposed. With the hinges finally changed, I was able to start that job only five years later.
Step one was to put the headliner "mostly" up, and make a small access hole:Image
Reminds me of the early stages of this project, 5 years and 50+ lbs ago:Image
Anyhow, using the access hole, I marked the perimeter of the headliner against the hole in the roof:Image
Then started in on it with a razor knife:Image
And finally ended up with a big hole:Image
(Note, this is actually about 2/3 of the headliner - the Astro design has it in two pieces, the rearmost 1/3 is a separate piece and re-installed mostly without modification)
Given how thin the "side strips" are, and due to issues with needing to fit around the reinforcing ring at the forward edge, I decided to divide the headliner into two pieces. I'll need to make a new forward section from scratch. The "middle" and rear headliners are now currently installed, but the cut edges still show. I've already sourced new headliner fabric, and will need to strip the OEM fabric and re-cover at some point in the future to really finish it off. I didn't like how the old GTRV headliner was installed as one giant piece with the fabric from the headliner wrapped directly onto the upper roof and was glued down. This made it so you couldn't drop the headliner without peeling the glue, so I'm making sure I "fix" that method before I recover everything here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

W00tstock 4.0 Has Come and Gone

The now-annual San Diego ComiCon variety-show companion, W00tstock, has come and gone. As with years past, I went from excited anticipation, to reveling in the warmth of being surrounded by "people like me", to a sudden post-holiday like depression.

I remember some of my friends trying to explain to me what their youthful Church-going experience was like, and I find myself now using the same phrases and adjectives when I try to explain W00tstock to others.  It is very difficult to describe to someone who doesn't get it, except you can say it's a place where you feel safe, everyone laughs at the same jokes you do, and you relish the chance to be surprised and amused in a world where that happens all too infrequently.

Thanks much to the key players who've make this great experience happen for multiple years now:

I can't even begin to list all the Luminaries of Geekdom who made appearances last night, but I will say that the surprise appearance of Molly Lewis during Marian Call's last song made my night.  I'd have sorely missed her if she'd not made an appearance!

Planning for next year's show must begin: NOW!

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Foodie Blog

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about food lately. Mostly amongst foodie friends and family, but also with non-foodie friends as I try to once-again emphasize Moderation in my eating habits.  More importantly, I'm hoping to strike a balance between eating-what-I-want and not-eating-too-much.  Since the majority of my readers are friends, family, or people who care about the latest camper project or robot hack, and the minority are foodies, I'll be taking the food stuff over to a different blog:  Herbie Eats...

It'll be strictly food-centric, a mix of my fun eating experiences, amateur reviews, recipes, and any thoughts I have as I try to reduce the quantity of what I eat while maintaining (and improving) the quality.  Hope you'll follow me there! Read More...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SoCal Desert Rendezvous 2012

After a long gap in posts, it's time to catch up on the Astrolander camper project. After the winter Science Olympiad season (whereupon the author loses all momentum on this and all other projects while he coaches high-school kids through some overly-complicated machine or robot construction), I finally got back in the saddle and started prepping the van for the next adventure.

A random visit to the Reserve America site had revealed an open three day slot at the San Elijo State Beach campground for the 4th weekend in March, so I grabbed it on instinct. Of course, just a few days later the planned date for the Expedition Portal forum SoCal Desert Rendevous was announced and guess what? Same weekend. After some discussion and in deference to familial harmony, we decided to aim for the beach camp. However as the date neared and the weather fouled, we finally decided that cold weather + impending rain + beach didn't mix and made a last-minute switch to attend the Rendezvous after all. It all worked out and we had a great adventure!

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

The setup for the Rendezvous was that just prior to the weekend, participants would be given only the GPS coordinates to a starting Checkpoint - further instructions would then follow.  We arrived late enough on Friday afternoon that the Checkpoint was no longer manned, but fortunately I'd been able to score the final coordinates a bit earlier and knew where to go.  It worked out for everyone because upon arrival at checkpoint we made some new friends who followed us in after everyone aired-down their tires.

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012
Annika was glad to have a few minutes out of her carseat and took the time to explore the desert, the tracks for the railroad that serves the nearby Gypsum mine, and to make a new friend.  More on that later.

The dirt track into the main camp area was eight or ten miles of mixed surface.  Some dirt road, some washboard road, and some very deep silt beds.  Probably not much of an adventure for most of the attendees, but this was some of the first real off-roading in our van, and Kimberley was not digging the journey, especially the parts where I had to get somewhat off-camber to stay out of the deepest silt ruts or change to another track.  I was glad I'd read-up and watched some videos on driving in these conditions so I'd known what to expect, but more importantly I was glad to have finally fitted good front and rear recovery points and that I'd brought along some Maxtrax traction mats.  Ended up not needing either, but "Be Prepared" is stamped on my bones decades after the scouts.  After all the silt, the van ended up looking like a powdered doughnut:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

After the adventure of getting to the Rendezvous camp, the rest of the weekend was relaxed and fun. There were somewhere around 60-70 rigs throughout the weekend, representing everything from Jeeps with trailers, Sportsmobiles, 4x4 trucks and Subarus.  There was even a 2wd Sprinter and someone managed to drag a pop-up tent trailer that didn't look like it had much ground clearance, so clearly the off-roading part wasn't THAT hard.  The guys from Overland Gourmet make their usual huge impression with a catered meal on Saturday, and the Desert Challenge and trash-cleanup events went pretty well (although our area was unexpectedly clean). I was able to get my kite photography rig up for a little while, although the wind was very inconsistent.

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

This one ended up being one of my favorites:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

But if you ask Annika what her favorite part of the trip was, it was making a new friend:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012
We met Joe and his Dad at Checkpoint 1. I was a bit more confident in my GPS and where I was going (since I'd been able to scout the route somewhat via Google Earth), so I lead them into camp. They were only around for Friday evening and Saturday morning, but long enough to make a huge impression on Annika - she's been talking about Joe non-stop since then!

Please click on any of the album-links in the above photos to see full-size images and a few more pictures from the week-end.

UPDATE: Two more can't-miss images from other forum members Tim and Bryon:
From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012

From ExPo Desert Rendezvous 2012