Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Beginnings

Today being the first official working day of the new year of 2014, this is the perfect time to set up the blog for our new adventures...namely, preparing to head out around the first of June, 2015 to travel full-time in a converted (and somewhat "stealth") cargo trailer, pulled by an equally stealth conversion van.

OK, so why a cargo trailer? Many reasons...
  1. The main reason is because we wanted a sort of toy hauler, mostly for my wife's spinet piano. None of the ready made rigs we have seen so far will suit our needs as well as we would like them to, and since I was a builder (of many things) it was easier to start with an "empty box" and build it the way we want it. We have a portable keyboard, but the piano has sentimental value as a family heirloom. If it doesn't work out to keep it in tune, at least we can say we tried. 
  2. The trailer/van combination was the best compromise on fuel economy and space. We have owned everything from a pop-up trailer to a 40-foot motorhome in the past, and we knew we didn't want another gas guzzling monstrosity, yet we still needed sufficient space for two people and our planned lifestyle, which may include out of town visitors now and then.
  3. Although the trailer itself, and even our towing rig may change after we get on the road for awhile, having two separate units suits our needs better. The trailer will be our main "overnighting" quarters, but we can also leave it parked if necessary, and head out on short trips with just the conversion van, which will have everything we need for shorter overnight stays. Also, the conversion van can serve as a "second bedroom" for ourselves or visiting guests, as it will have most of the same amenities as our main living quarters, and yet be fuel efficient "enough" to serve as a daily driver for our sightseeing.
  4. A cargo trailer is extremely flexible in design. Ours has a ramp door, and will be extremely handy for loading and unloading anything in the rear storage area. Our original plan called for a removable bulkhead which would leave a 20-inch deep cargo area in the back for bikes and other things, while still keeping the living area separate. However, the actual build will require a 24-inch deep cargo area and a fixed bulkhead wall. The piano will have to be loaded through the side door, and it likely will not be removed unless we plan to get rid of it. But if and when that time comes, the former piano space could be converted to a 12-inch wide tall pantry/closet with a Splendide washer/dryer combo unit in front of that and then a 18-inch wide dishwasher between that and the side door, with a countertop over the appliances...or...simply a small table and a couple of chairs. On the other side we have a 48-inch counter, a 34-inch tall refrigerator, a bar sink, a convection microwave, a propane stove, a catalytic heater, 46-inches of closet space, a porta-potty, a portable shower, and even a dedicated place for Sharon's accordion, my guitar and a 24-inch deep legal-size file drawer. On top of that, we will have 8 gallons of fresh water, 15 gallons gray water storage, and maybe a small electric water heater. How many 6 x 12 trailers of ANY kind have you ever seen with that many amenties for full-time traveling? Besides, the trailer is designed with the weight evenly balanced from side to side and just in front of the wheels. If the 360# piano goes, something of similar weight must replace it. Don't worry, it's all very well thought out.
  5. A smaller cargo trailer (up to 7 x 14) isn't usually going to draw any complaints in areas where camping isn't allowed, because it doesn't look like a camper...unless you make it look like one by adding windows, hookups and other access covers to the outside. Some people feel "closed in" unless they have windows, but a skylight works just as well, and is practically undetectable from ground level if done right. For side viewing, there is anything from door "peep holes" to electronic viewers and even full blown security cameras that you can add to the outside without drawing attention, and still see what is going on around you. In fact, I already have the cameras for both the back of the trailer as well as the back of the van. When not being used as a monitor inside the trailer, that camera will be piped up to the van so I can see what's behind me at all times. Most people will just think the trailer is a contractors work trailer, and not give it a second thought. This opens up the possibility of many more "free" overnight parking spots (as though we don't have enough already)!
  6. Without windows, it gives you much more security, by preventing break-ins. Ours still has the cam-bar lock for when we're away, in addition to the normal RV door latch for when we're occupying the trailer. The lack of windows also gives you more flexibility on how you use the inside. You have more usable wall space for hanging things to make it feel more like home, and aren't limited on where you place permanent fixtures like cabinets. LED lighting provides plenty of low current lighting for night time without worry of draining the "house" batteries (yes, we will have more than one. I'm planning for at least two, maybe three deep cycle AGM style batteries of up to 225 amp/hours each...and eventually solar charging for extended boondocking time).
  7. Because a cargo trailer is much lower to the ground, no steps are needed to get in and out, something us "old folks" with leg issues can appreciate. And in turn, the roof is also low enough in height that the whole trailer is garagable with an 8-foot door height, and there are definitely no problems with low bridges! Because it is lower than the van, it has less wind resistance when going down the road, and the 6-foot width also lets you see around it with standard mirrors on the van! And there's no question of far greater maneuverability, even in tight city streets (which we plan to avoid like the plague). By staying under 4,000 pounds, we also save money by not needing a weight compensating hitch or sway bars. Those alone can cost over $1000! These are all great advantages over most travel trailers!
  8. Even if we knew exactly what we would want in a more livable unit (a Damon Daybreak model 3272 Class A seems to have the best floor plan for our needs without getting "too" big), they are never around here, in rural Arkansas. And to waste plane fares trying to fly out to look at various ones where they "might" be, and then get back here and rush loading up after the house sells, is ludicrous. We can't buy the motorhome "until" the house sells, and maybe not for a few months after the fact, so why would we want to go through that kind of hassle? It would mean having to move out to a rental, and then move again into a motorhome if we found one, and even then, we would still have housing payments! Our trailer and conversion van are both paid for. When we leave here, we can start out debt free, and not have to worry about whether the house has sold or not. That fact isn't going to be a deciding factor for us! If it takes a year to sell, we don't plan on waiting around! The realtor can mail the paperwork to us! After we get somewhere that we can find a good selection of RV's (like the ten mile stretch between Mesa and Apache Junction on Main Street where dealers are practically next door to each other) and have a little time to regroup, we can make a trade at our leisure, and on OUR terms!
  9. For those who would say that they could never live in a cargo trailer, even for a few weeks, you should ask yourself...who cares? Is it just you, or are you worried about what other people think? And if so, you have to ask yourself...are they adding anything of value to my life if they are going to criticize where or how I live? Are they putting money in my pocket to add to my traveling and ability to go out and see the world? Are they friends with me because of me, or because of the kind of house I live in? If they aren't contributing to the enjoyment of living my own life on my own terms, then why should I worry about them? They aren't going to be traveling with me. They aren't adding value to my life that I can spend. They aren't adding security to my life. If they are going to criticize what I want to do with my life (saving money while seeing the rest of this great country, as well as being eco-conservative in using it's resources) then why I do I need their negativity to drag me down to their level? I will be out having fun and seeing the country, while saving money (over $1100 per month in our case, as opposed to trying to maintain real estate) and being a conservationist to earth's resources, while they are still stuck in their jobs, tied to houses that are way bigger than they need to sustain their lives, and buying more useless junk to fill those houses, only so they can continue to work to make more money to pay for all that useless junk, just so they can look "respectable" and impress others in how much stuff they try to prove that they can afford to own! Think about it. Are you really going to play that game? Been there and done that way too long already. No more! And to be honest, I have more respect for people who have the will power, and courage to follow their dreams, rather than lead a dull, boring life tied down to real estate!

UPDATE 2:  5/1/15! If you'd like to see the floor plan and elevations for our cargo trailer, you can go to our other blog by clicking HERE, and then go about a third of the way down the page to find the download links which I have both revised and added to. The first is in an OpenOffice(dotorg) spreadhsheet program, using the drawing tools, but can be read by MS Office Excel, also. (Sorry, but Blogger won't let you insert download links in their program...yet!) I have also added three new drawings in pdf format for those that just want to view without changing or working with the spreadsheet version.

UPDATE AGAIN 1/7/14! If there are any doubts as to how fancy I could get with cabinetry or anything else, I just put a new site online that talks about some of the projects I did before retiring. You can see it at The name just seemed to fit. Even though we live in the next city, I did a lot of work in Hardy, too.

OK, so why a conversion van to pull it, and not a fully outfitted Class B RV?
  1.  The cost of a fully outfitted Class B is ridiculously high, for one thing, even in "highly used" ones. Anything below that is just plain junk. Conversion vans, especially the high-tops, have the best compromise of standing room and amenities, without all the expense of fancy cabinetry and mechanical systems.
  2. The problem with most factory built RV's is that very few are ever laid out exactly as we would like them to be for our own uses. To find "exactly" what we want often takes a lot of searching, or else settling for something "close enough", whereas with a conversion van, you can start with the main items (high top, comfortable reclining seats, and a sofa bed) and add whatever you need without the expense or time of having to build it. No small motorhome was ever designed to live in 24 hours a day. Most of our day times will be spent outside or sightseeing because we will be traveling with the good weather. It doesn't need to be a mansion. It's a place to get us down the road in safety, reasonable economy and comfort, sleep, have a bathroom (porta-potty) handy in emergencies, and a place to get out of the rain when necessary. Nothing more.
  3. Some may argue this point, but I like the flexibility of arranging things to suit my needs, based on how I'm using it at the time. The bed, for instance is only a bed if you need it to be, otherwise it is a very comfortable reclining couch. Usually, middle seats are removable, and even the couch can come out if you need to do some serious hauling. As a daytime "escape pod", a conversion van is much more practical. Adding cabinetry and mechanical systems only adds expense and more weight to the rig, and then costs more in fuel. A cooler, a portable sink, something to cook on, a table and chairs and a porta-potty can all be portable, which saves time and expense in other ways. If you need more room, there are all sorts of rear tents and side tents available, which can keep when you trade vehicles.
  4. When you get ready to trade vans, why spend time and money on systems which are only going to depreciate with the vehicle, and then have to let them go with the vehicle when you trade? Many of our camping items we have had for over thirty years, and many of them are like new today. We simply remove them from the vehicle we're trading (usually in 15 minutes or less) and put them right back into the next installation necessary!
  5. A conversion van doesn't have all the unsightly access doors and hookups around the outside, and most people don't even give them a second look as far as suspecting that anyone might be sleeping in them, unless they see a windshield curtain on the inside. However, a privacy curtain behind the front seats isn't nearly as noticeable, nor is it anything unusual. By making provisions for both, you can arrange your curtains according to how and where you are parking. 
  6. They aren't subject to the complaints of "RV's" being parked in certain communities, because they are considered a "daily driver".
  7. After considering how and "if" we could use the Dakota, the two main reasons we didn't is that it wouldn't have the space we need, and also the frame wasn't heavy enough to pull a travel trailer for the long term. Although it was powerful enough for the overall weight, the Class C hitch we had on it was already starting to lean down at the back because of too much tongue weight on it. By going to the larger van (which happens to be only a G-1500 half-ton) it is much more capable of handling the tongue weight, and also has the advantage of a slightly larger engine. Because it has a true truck frame, we can always beef up the rear suspension if we have to, and still be well within limits for the size trailer we are going to be using. And as stated earlier, for this size trailer (under 4000#), we won't need anti-sway or weight compensating bars, which again will save money.
OK, now for this blog itself...why a free Blogger site instead of a custom domain?
  1. The best reason of all is that we are retired for all practical purposes, even from online marketing, so why pay the expense of something we don't need? In the 14 years we have been marketing online through our site and many others, we have learned a lot of things about sites and blogs. A site of your own requires a platform of some kind from which to build it (i.e., a site building tool or software). Some of those require expense to buy it, use it, or maintain it through hosting fees or "user" fees. Even if you install a site/blog builder which is free (like Wordpress), they not only come with a lot of advertising restrictions, but they also come with a lot of additional plug-ins, which YOU must then update every time they change one of them. That can require nearly every-day maintenance in order to keep it operating properly. When using a free blog, like this one, Google takes care of all the updates. We have had some Blogger sites for years, and have yet to do any maintenance to widgets, gadgets, or plug-ins. It simply "works". So while we are out traveling and enjoying ourselves, we don't have to worry about it.
  2. Some may wonder about restrictions on free sites, but I have read the rules on both Blogger and Wordpress, and whereas Wordpress won't let you use any other advertising than what they provide, Blogger has no such restrictions. We have been selling things from both affiliate advertising as well as drop-shipped physical items from our Blogger sites through our own PayPal buttons for years, and have never had an issue. The only rule that nearly every blog goes by is that it must be first and foremost a means of communication, with comments allowed. If you were to put a static sales page on it with nothing but sales hype, they would likely shut you down. But as long as you provide interesting and useful content, and allow for conversation to take place first and foremost, you should never have a problem. But Wordpress won't allow even that, so that is why we aren't going to use them for this purpose.
  3. One thing that everyone should adhere to is simplicity. Although Wordpress (being an open-source platform) has endless versatility, the average blogger doesn't need all that, especially if they aren't selling anything or promoting anything. Nor are most people trained for that much technology, nor are they interested in learning. Some people just want to put their ideas and pictures down where others can see and read them. If they do any affiliate sales, that's a secondary bonus. They don't need to create some huge marketing campaign which is going to milk the public for every penny they can get out of it. They just want to write. Having used Wordpress and other site builders, I am fully aware that some of them are so complex that they take forever to learn, and have so many options that the user gets lost in the tool of the trade and loses site of why they are there in the first place. Very few people need that much versatility. There is a basic rule in sales work, and that is to not give customers too many options, because it actually hurts making the sale. People become indecisive. I liken that to people who decide to build their own RV, and spend months on cabinetry and systems, which all take away from why they are wanting something to camp in to begin with. Keep it simple and effective, and you will get out there sooner and enjoy it more by having it remain flexible. If I wanted cabinetry and systems, then I might as well stay home and enjoy them!
What you will find here going forward...

First of all, we already have our trailer...since 2004. It's a 2000 model year 6 x 12 Haulmark, originally built as a motorcycle trailer. We are starting to collect some of the material we will need to make it into a very comfortable "home". Yes, it will have minimal cabinetry and some systems (house battery, fresh water storage and pump, water heater, air conditioning, etc.) but for the most part, everything except the roof vents and skylight will be completely removable, so that if we trade trailers in the future, most of it can be pulled out and put right back in the new trailer. We will likely order a new one fully insulated and paneled with roof vents and skylight already installed, so that we only have to add our "portable" cabinetry, make a few updates in the electrical and plumbing systems, and be on the road again ASAP. We will be taking pictures of the progress as we do this "one-time" build (so we never have to do it again), and explaining why we are doing what we are doing.

2001 Dakota V8 Quad Cab and custom ordered Northstart TC-650.

We recently traded our V-8 Dakota Quad-cab and custom ordered North Star TC-650 truck camper, and bought a nice (although used) Chevy high-top conversion van with which to pull the cargo trailer. There will be some things we will be doing to it (new privacy blinds, windshield curtain, passenger seat swivel base, new 2-inch receiver hitch, etc.) that we will also photograph and document as it happens.

Hopefully, by next spring, we will be ready to head out with the van for some short, two-day trips, and we will also photograph those travels and document them. Postings may be random until such time as we can get out of here and full-time, but once that happens we hope to be posting with beautiful pictures nearly every day.

We still have many things to do here at home yet, the most of which is getting this place cleared out and pared down to only the things we will be taking with us or putting into temporary storage. We won't have to wait for the house to sell, but if it does (or soon after) that will be a bonus to our finances. Once the house is gone, we have projected that we should have roughly $1100 a month available over our normal expenses. Some of that will occasionally go toward camping fees, but we have enough experience to know that about half of our traveling (maybe more) will be boondocking, so the fees will be kept to a minimum...probably under $50 a month. The rest of the savings will be kept in reserve savings for future trades of vehicles, upgrades, etc., and if we can get to a point where we can do away with the temporary storage, that savings will also add to our reserves.

We have a membership in Western Horizon Resorts, with the upgrade to AOR and Sunbelt Resorts, also. In early June, we found out that our home resort at White Oaks on the Lake, at Monticello Indiana was closing, so Western Horizon moved our home resort to their home office resort of Blue Mesa Ranch, in Gunnison, Colorado.

We can stay at any of the Western Horizon Resorts for up to two weeks at a time, totally free of charge. If we use an AOR or Sunbelt Resort it will cost us $9 per night, and using Coast to Coast will cost us $10. And with being over 62, we also get 1/2 price at most state and federal parks, forests, Corps of Engineers parks, and much more. Most of the latter are under $20 at full price, so our price will usually be under $10 per night.

And then we are also charter members of (which currently costs $20 per year and has well over 800 private residence members who trade free stays with each other, but you don't have to own property to be a member). There is also (currently $40 a year for free nights at mostly farms and vineyards and a few other things). And of course there are millions of acres of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands and other free camping spots available, mostly in the west, but there are plenty of other free camping spots all over the country too, if you know how to find them. (We do).

So as you can see, we are very knowledgable of the options available, as well as the costs. With staying up to two weeks at a time at our resorts and other free places the majority of the time, our fuel costs won't be much more than we have right now. Most of our resorts are within 200 miles of each other, and many are much closer than that. Our major fuel cost will be in whatever sightseeing we do, and we have full control over all of that. Other than mail forwarding ($189 a year for full service) all of our other expenses are fixed expenses that we would have no matter where we would be. And those include decreasing term life to age 90, and Plan G Medicare supplement that pays all but $140 per person per year, no matter what or where.

So don't worry. We aren't choosing to live an a cargo trailer because we are destitute! We're doing just fine. But we have nobody that wants anything that we have, so we are making the best use of it for ourselves while we can, so we don't leave anything for people to fight over when we're gone! 

Those who have a curiosity to know how we are progressing, what we are doing or what's happening along the way are encouraged to follow along with this blog. Use the subscription form in the top right margin to receive notifications of new posts. Don't worry...that's all it's used for. I don't even see the subscriber list without digging deep into the Feedburner system, and to be's not worth my time. Let us know if you have any questions.

So until next time...stay well and travel safe.

1 comment:

John Abert said...

Welcome, BlackSheep! I'm glad to see there are others out there that I hadn't discovered yet. I checked out the first page of your site, and bookmarked it to catch up on later. We're originally from Northern Indiana, and have been through your home town many times. I'm sure we'll have things to chat about after I read more of your site. Stay warm and travel safe.