(This page is being posted on 12/21/14, and we will post pictures as soon as we can round them up. For now, it's just text, but stop by again later this week.)
One day in October of 2013, we picked up a sales paper at KFC and happened upon an ad for the 1997 Chevy conversion van. It has the space, the frame and the power to tow our Haulmark trailer or any other we might use, so we went to look at it at a local dealer's lot. Finding a conversion van at a dealer in these parts is extremely rare. We were amazed at the cleanliness of the inside. The body had a couple of minor issues, but nothing serious, and absolutely no rust. The fiberglass running board on the right had some minor but repairable damage behind the front wheel, and there was a broken plastic body panel just ahead of the passenger door, but nothing else was damaged. The rear right door had a minor pressure dent (no scratches) near the bottom hinge, but could easily be bumped out.
We took it for a test drive, and I could tell it had an exhaust leak, and also that the tires were bad and in need of alignment. By the date on the tires, they were 12 years old! When we got back home I searched for 1997 Chevy conversion vans on the web, and the cheapest ones I could find (even by private parties) was going for about $6,000. The dealer wanted only $3495 for this one, with 115,000 miles on it.
I went back the next day to drive it again, and take it to my local mechanic for a quick inspection, and then over to a nearby body shop for an estimate of the body repairs...which could be done for $868. Not much. So we closed the deal that night. We traded the Dakota (now 13 years old) AND the truck camper (now 9 years old) as a unit, and got enough cash back to replace all four tires AND get two new catalytic converters installed on the van (to replace the originals with rusted and split seams, which is where the noise was coming from). Then we had the wheels aligned and discovered that this van still had the original punch-out eccentrics still installed in the holes in the upper A-frames! This indicated that this van had NEVER been properly aligned (except at the factory) during its entire 16-year lifetime! Amazing! No wonder the front tires were worn out! I paid the extra $90 to have that done so the wheels could be aligned properly.
Anyway, it drives like a dream now...so quiet you can almost hear a pin drop. With the proceeds from the trade, we were also able to buy a new Reese 2-inch receiver hitch (with a new plug-in) to replace the existing 1-1/4-inch receiver hitch, and will have that installed before we leave here. We kept the old electric brake controller that was installed in the Dakota (for when we pulled the Haulmark trailer with it), and will also have that installed, probably this spring.
We probably won't get the minor body work done until we leave here and and have time to save up for it. We might get it done out west after we get out there for the next winter...as long as the price is comparable to what was quoted here. Otherwise, we may come back here to get it done.
As we trade tow vehicles, I will update this page accordingly. At this time, we have no plans to make any immediate trades. It will come after this house sells, and after we have gotten out to the Southwest states next fall, where there are far more RV dealers than we have here in rural Arkansas.
We haven't decided what we will go to next. We feel that getting out there for awhile with our existing setup will give us more insight into what will work best for us for the longer term. We have thought about another conversion van, although a longer one, hopefully with a slightly taller top, and considerably newer. We have also looked at a lot of Class B's and B+'s, and even some smaller Class C's, but we don't like the price for the amount of square footage you get. We have only seen one Class A that would currently work, but that could mean doing away with the trailer in favor of another towable daily driver. One thing is certain...we have a lot of decisions to to be made yet.