Category Archives: DIY and Van Mods

Loves, hates, updates and improvements, issues

Roadtrek Communications Upgrade

For my upcoming extended trip out west, I plan on boondocking in some fantastic spots with gorgeous views and wide open country. However, that leaves me smack in the middle of nowhere. No matter how high I hold my cell phone and recite “Can you hear me now”, there will be no response. I’m fine with that. Cut the cord for a while and just enjoy being unconnected.

However, in an emergency I’d be alone. Literally all alone. No lifeline. No one to call for assistance. No help on the way.

I do have an amateur radio license,  and those radios can talk around the world under the right conditions. But they are usually stationary stations due to the size and type of antennas required.

While talking around the world would be nice, I really just need a range of a hundred miles or so. VHF radios on the 2 meter band work well when there are repeaters within 30-50 miles. Out west the repeaters are spread thin in the boondocks. They will be useful when present, and I have a VHF/UHF radio installed to call for help on those repeaters if needed.

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The above shows the radios for 2m/70cm/10m and CB bands. These are fed through two antennas mounted at the rear of the van, one for 10m and 11m, and the other for both 144mhz and 440mhz. These radios cover communications up to a 50 miles radius.

For day hiking, I will setup the VHF/UHF radios in the van on Cross-Band repeat. This allows my portable hand held radio with a limited 5-6 miles range to communicate with the radio in the van, which will then re-transmit my signal using higher power and better antenna and on a longer range frequency. Any responses received and will be transmitted back to my portable. This effectively gives me the same long distance range as the higher power radio in the van as long as I am within 5-6 miles of the van.  The solar panels and battery bank in in the van has the capacity to power the radios indefinitely when sunny, or a solid week in the dark. It’s a good backup emergency communications plan.

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The recent update is a Yaesu FT-450D (abov) that will cover the high frequency bands for longer distance communications. Using this radio I can reach out easily for hundreds of miles, across multiple states, or across the country. Even with a less efficient portable antenna, I should be able to communicate in a two hundred mile radius from my location. The portable antenna could quickly be deployed when needed, and would be packed and stored to be used if needed for long range communications.

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Along with the handheld radio and spare batteries, I’ll also have my pack filled with the essentials. I’m looking forward to exploring, hiking, and mountain biking out west. Its been a long time since I’ve been out of the wooded Northeast and into something more flat and desert like of the west.

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“This can’t be good!”

I checked the mileage on the van for the tire technician. “You’re not going to like this” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “66666” I added. We joked about driving it around the block a few times to add a couple miles and lower the danger and risk for both of us. In the end, we just installed new tires, and 4,000 miles later everything is still good.

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I went with a full set of Michelin LTX Defender M/S tires. A bit more pricey than all the others, but a rock solid reputation. They ride well, are fairly quiet, and seem to grip well in rain and mud. If they give the expected mileage, I’d give them a 9 out of 10.

Front Table Upgrade

I modified the front table in the van to be more useful, and will be doing the same in the rear. The front table originally folded out from behind the drivers seat, which worked ok but was very limited.

The original table was left in place, and I installed a second swivel table available from Lagun. This allowed for many different configurations, and was also height adjustable. Its probably the best livability upgrade I’ve done on the van. Having both tables adds so much flexibility, as well as more counter/table space when needed. Both tables can be folded up and out of the way for a clear seating space.

[UPDATE 3/2017] The table worked out so nicely that I rarely use the rear dinette table setup anymore, and configured the rear as a full time queen bed. I’m making a custom wood table to replace the white Formica table shown, but it will have a very similar layout. Look for a new post on the custom table in the near future.

Here are some images to give you some ideas on the versatility of the layouts.

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Table stowed, open three way seating

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Table positioned as a coffee table for all three seats

Since the table can swivel to be used from any of the front seats, it allows me to sit in whichever seat has the best view out the windows and still have a table, while the other seats serve as a foot rest. So much versatility in the seating arrangement for one or two people, that I’m glad Roadtrek didn’t try to fit in a standard small dinette.

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Table positioned as small dinette seating

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Table with fold outs for use as extended dinette seating

I’m not fond of the flip up extensions because of their odd shape. When building a custom tabletop for this area I will build the top with less rounded corners on both he table and extensions.

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Table with all fold outs extended and original table deployed as a large project work area for someone in passenger seat

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Table swiveled to use for kitchen prep. Lower left shows auxiliary counter extended as well

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Another view showing table and auxiliary counter extended for kitchen use

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Another table configuration for kitchen preparation use

Roadtrek 190 Popular details

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My rolling office, a Roadtrek 190 Popular Class B RV

Since many have asked, here are some details on the van;

Road trek 190 Popular, Class B RV, built on a Dodge Ram 3500 Van chassis.  Fully self contained w/40gals fresh water storage, 6gal hot water, 12gal black tank, and 26gal gray tank. 30lbs propane on board for cooking, hot water, and heat. Bathroom and stand up isle shower. Two burner gas stove, 3 way refrigerator/freezer, and microwave for cooking. Air conditioning and furnace for cooling and heat. Dual batteries providing 185Ahr, with a 600W inverter for 120V current from the house batteries. 2800 Watt Onan gasoline generator providing 120V AC power and draws its fuel from the RV gas tank. It could literally run for weeks on a full tank of gas. Class II trailer hitch and a 5000lb towing capacity. Dodge 318 5.2L V8, bullet proof reputation, tons of power for tackling the hills.

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Kitchen on the right, bed and dinette in the rear with table, bath/shower is on the left.

Yes, they pack a lot in very little space.  It is a full featured RV carefully and elegantly packed into a very small package. The considerations in its design to be functional, comfortable, and not waste any usable space show. For systems that are used a very short amount of time in a day, they are given the least amount of space. For things that will be used for long periods, they have priority on space. They have designed the van to have standing room for anyone 6’ or less by lowering the floor and raising the ceiling.

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As seen from outside the dual side doors

Based on those design goals, for example, the bed being used long hours each day can be made into a king size, short queen size, or two full size beds. The bathroom, only used a few minutes each day, is tucked away in a side closet. The shower also used minimally each day, utilizes a isle shower setup (clever and very functional). The dinette, side seating, and rear couch areas are comfortable with good padding in the cushions and ample space. Counter space is short on supply, but there are three slide out tables that provide additional counter space on demand, and tuck way when not needed. These types of considerations are evident throughout the van.

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Front seating area setup for working with swivel table which is also removable

The on-board systems are enough to camp anywhere and be fully self contained for a week for one person, or about 5 days for two. We can extend another day or two if we are careful. If we dump the gray and black tanks once a week, and take on some water, we can go for very long periods of time without issue. Solar will be added in the very near future making the van self sufficient for power requiring the generator only for the air conditioning or microwave use.

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Second monitor/tv for dual monitor editing being fed by a 4TB media raid system.

For more serious editing, I installed a second monitor to be used in a dual monitor editing setup. It is being fed by a 4TB Raid system with a duplicate of the original media back in the edit suite. Its good enough for most work other than critical color correction and grading, which is done back in the edit suite. The monitor also doubles as a entertainment device allowing DVD or downloaded content, as well as picking up OTA digital HDTV. If I need serious power for 4K video, I bring a workstation along.

Being able to work on the road easily is such a huge factor in making it fun to go to work every day. The view is ever changing outside the window, and the chain to the office broken. Refreshing to say the least.