Have you looked at RV prices lately? They are through the roof. Expect to pay well over $100,000 to buy a new Class B campervan. Even $150K is not that unusual and some of the super high-end ones are closer to $200,000. Those high prices are one reason why lots of RVers are making their own vans, buying stripped down cargo vas and turning them into their own customized RV, with exactly the features and accessories they want. This week in our Topic of the Week interview, we’ll talk with a DIY van expert who has helped hundreds build their own RVs and even has an online course that shows you how to do it.

The featured image above is from Larry and Wendy, a couple I met this past weekend who built out their own van. I’ll have a video on their build and that of another DIY van-building couple we met in a couple weeks.

But Larry and Wendy used the expertise of Ross Lukeman, who has become a guru in the DIY van-building crowd and you can hear my interview with Ross in this week’s podcast.

But keep reading and listening as we have lots of other RV News, tips, travel ideas and more.

WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK

We’re just back from our annual winter campout at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsul

JENNIFER
So we’ve brought in the winter parkas and the snow boots and now we’re now packing, shorts, T-shirts and flipflops because we are headed to Tampa, Florida where we’ll be attending the annual RV Supershow there at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

MIKE
It’s billed as the Greatest RV Show in America and while some of the other shows may want to also lay claim to that title, the RV Supershow is huge. Every major RV manufacturer will be there, many of them introducing brand new designs for 2019. We’ll be visiting as many as we can and doing videos on the new models.

JENNIFER
I just looked at the press release and it says they will have over 1,500 RVs on display covering 26 acres. So there will be plenty to see!

MIKE
Not only new RVs but lots of RV-related accessories and products are being displayed by 450 vendors.

JENNIFER
The show opens to the public today, Wednesday Jan. 16 and runs through Sunday January 20. The cost of admission is $10 per Adult and each ticket good for a FREE 2nd day return!
Children under 16 are FREE.

MIKE
We will be all over the show so if you see us, be sure and introduce yourself. But we will also be hosting a meet and greet on Saturday from about 11 AM-3PM. You can find us between those hours on Saturday and we’ll be hanging out at the Roadtrek Motorhomes display. And for those of you in different parts of the country, we invite you to tune into a special Tampa RV Show edition of our weekly Ask Us Anything live stream on YouTube. Instead of our usual Sunday night show, we will do a special 3PM Eastern Time live stream on Saturday, direct from the show. You can find us at YouTube.com/rvlifestyle

JENNIFER
We can’t wait for the Tampa show. But if it’s too far from you, be sure and stay tuned to the end of the podcast and look on the shownotes page for this episode as there are a great many other RV shows held all across North America this weekend and we will tell you about all of them. Just check the shownotes page at Roadtreking.com/225 and we’ll put links to each of those shows so you can get all the details you need. 

RV NEWS OF THE WEEK

MIKE
 Trees cut down at Joshua Tree National Park, foundation raising funds, as fall out of federal government shutdown continues
Once again the damaging effects on America’s national parks from the federal government shut down continues to dominate the outdoor news. Last week Joshua Tree National Park made headlines after vandals CUT DOWN trees to make new roads, set up camp spots in places off-limits to camping, cut down chains to access roads that were off limits, and leave graffiti as a handful of rangers try to protect a park the size of Delaware. Also throughout the country volunteers attempted to step in, to help protect the national parks by picking up trash, among other things. And the National Parks Foundation, a charity for the federal park system set up by Congress, announced it was launching a fundraiser to help the parks during the government shutdown. Most parks remain open with skeleton staff and are subject to closures at any moment until the shutdown is settled.

JENNIFER
Dalmatian accidentally hits gears, causes RV to back into lake
We’ve all heard stories about the importance of keeping our dogs contained while driving so they don’t accidentally hit the gears. Well, a poor fisherman from Tennessee learned this the hard way last week when his dog accidentally stepped on the gear shift, hitting reverse, caused his 38-foot RV to back into a lake. The owner stepped out of the RV for a minute and was unloading his boat when Bodi, his 2-year-old dalmatian accidentally did this, much to his owner’s surprise. The whole thing was captured on video. We’ll put a link in the shownotes at Roadtreking-dot-com-slash-225.

MIKE
Officials make a human chain to rescue three hikers at Tahquamenon Falls State Park
As I write this, Jennifer and I have just left our winter camp out at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. But apparently, not long before our camp out began, some hikers were out late at night on a popular trail there and ended up stranded, and in need of rescue. The three young men were able to make a 911 call, and then were rescued by a human chain, on an icy spot, and by the time they were rescued, were showing signs of hypothermia. Winter camping or hiking does require special preparations. Here is a link to a video we did on tips to winter camping, and here is a link to the rescue story.

JENNIFER
Banff National Park sets record as it opens reservations system last week
Banff National Park in Canada opened reservations for summer campers last week setting a reservation record and causing the on-line system to freeze or crash at times. Some 13,500 bookings were made in the first two and a half hours, setting a record. Banff is a beautiful park, one Mike and I have visited. We were astounded by the beauty – as well as the crowds. (Click here to see our report.)  To read more about the reservations rush, click here.

MIKE
RV Class B sales up 28.5 percent for first 11 months of 2018, report says
Sales for Class B camper vans were up by 28.5 percent for 11 months in 2018, according to a report out by RVBusiness last week. Winnebago Industries Inc. led with about 40 percent of the class B sales, followed by Erwin Hymer Group North America with 29 percent. To read the full report click here.

 This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping 

LISTENER RV QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK

A listener is interested in renting an RV – We refer them to two RV rental sites… Outdoorsy and RVShare both rent RVs direct from owners.

The caller also asks on how to find dog parts in particular areas – We refer them to Bring Fido – https://www.bringfido.com/sitemap/attraction/ , also http://www.dogfriendly.com/server/travel/guides/dogpark/dogpark.shtml . If you’d rather use an app try the Dog Park Finder app for iOS Apple devices at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dog-park-finder/id372419544?mt=8 For Android users try the app called BarkHappy at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.barkhappy

RV TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Our guest this week is Ross Lukeman, who teaches people how to build their own RV campervans through a website called cargovanconversioncourse.com

Here’s a transcript of the interview:

Mike Wendland:           Ross Lukeman, thank you so much for being our special guest this week.

Ross Lukeman:              Sure. Thanks for having me.

Mike Wendland:           Let’s talk about what I think is a pretty rapidly growing niche in the RV industry, which is do-it-yourself van conversions. As more and more people are getting turned off by the high cost of an RV and finding that they can make exactly what they want for usually much less money. How much less money, usually, can somebody save off of a production model they buy from a dealer lot?

Ross Lukeman:              Well, if they’ve got the skills, it does depend on what they’re building and what kind of amenities they’re putting in there. But I would say maybe twenty to forty, fifty thousand dollars off of what it would cost to get one out of a factory.

Mike Wendland:           I mentioned earlier that I met two people this past weekend at one of our camp outs. I’ll have a video on their vans that they converted and made themselves. That was pretty much what they say. One of them had about the cost of the van, obviously, kind of an empty cargo van, and then one added another five, six grand and had what he wanted, and the other one probably almost as much as it cost to buy the unit. He bought a used unit, but saving fifty, sixty, seventy thousand dollars off of what you’d pay if you were buying it from a dealer. The question, talk us through that whole procedure of doing it, from choosing a van to designing it and actually doing the work. How much is involved, and is this for everybody? Can most people figure out how to do this?

Ross Lukeman:              Well, let me get to that question. Let’s start with the van. Most of the vans that people are using are Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter or Dodge Promaster here in the US. You choose which brand appeals to you and then choose your size. You can get the shorter wheel base or you can get the longer extended versions. Then as far as skill level, a lot of my students have some skill. They may be a woodworker or they may have electrical knowledge from working on their house, and they have a few areas that they need to expand in.

Ross Lukeman:              I would say for people that aren’t handy at all, that maybe have two left feet on the job site, maybe not. It may be more [inaudible 00:02:46] frustration than it’s worth. But if you’ve got some DIY skills and a few tools, you can often make your way through the process. Once you choose your van, you’re going to start to narrow down your design options, your floor plan, what you’re going to be using the van for. As far as the build process, should I go into the build process now?

Mike Wendland:           Yeah. I think a lot of us are very curious about how does it start. You cut the holes out, I guess, for windows. When you buy a cargo van usually they’re used for cargo, right? So you’ve got to put your windows in. What are some of those, those build process things that people need to know, that they gotta figure out how to do?

Ross Lukeman:              You’re going to start, you’re going to work from the outside in mostly. The roof is your first major project, or with my process that’s the first thing to be tackled. You’re going to design on your ventilation, air conditioner, roof vent fans, and then whether or not you’re going to have solar. And you’re going to lay that out, so the roof will have it’s own floor plan. Tackle that first, then you’re going to pop in things like short power jacks on the side of the van. Once you get the outside outfitted, you’re going to move in. The reason you’re going to start on the outside first is those things are going to punch through the shell, and you’re going to have to work around them in subsequent layers.

Ross Lukeman:              You’ll move in, you’ll do sound deadening and insulation, you go on to paneling, and then you just start infilling … Excuse me, there’s wiring and then paneling. You’re going to start popping in your cabinets. Some people have been able to adopt those store bought cabinets and make them work, modify them a little bit. Then others build cabinets from scratch. Once you get your cabinets in, you’re going to come in and terminate your wires for your end devices, your switches and dimmers, and things like that. Put in your refrigerator, connect the wire for that.

Mike Wendland:           Two things scare me. The first thing [crosstalk 00:04:57], oh, a lot of it scares me. My wife won’t even let me operate a [crosstalk 00:05:01]. I have to sneak in a … She doesn’t let me carry a tool box because I tend to make more [crosstalk 00:05:07]. But the things that I think that most people would say, whoa, wait a minute. What about the electrical system? That can get pretty complicated. Then the plumbing system. The electrical power system and plumbing and water. Is there help available?

Ross Lukeman:              Yes, there is. You’ve got your YouTube channels, and then there’s providers like myself that offer video courses and PDFs that you can follow to narrow down your options and get the exact installation steps for things like water tanks and power systems.

Mike Wendland:           Let’s talk about your course. Cargovanconversioncourse.com and we’ll put links in, the description of the video and show notes from the podcast so people can go and take a look at it. Tell us how that course came about, because obviously you did this yourself and you might tell us a little bit how you got into the whole idea of a DIY van. Then how extensive is this course, how many parts is it, and what people need to know about signing up and following along.

Ross Lukeman:              My story started back in 2014. I, like a lot of people, saw some of the van movement on YouTube and I had some role models. I was looking for a change in my life, I was bored with my job. I had a lot of skills. I have an architectural degree and I have a construction background. My job at the time was in electrical systems, so I applied everything that I had learned up to that point and documented my process of constructing the course.

Ross Lukeman:              The course itself, I believe, is about 130 short videos, 16 modules at this point. I’ve also got some bonus courses on selecting a van. There’s a deep dive on power systems, there’s another deep dive on a van design and making a lot of your design decisions. Then there’s a couple other bonus courses. I’ve expanded it, basically it’s been about four years I’ve been working with vans and several hundred students now.

Ross Lukeman:              The course itself, it takes you from an empty shell, like we said, the cargo van is pretty blank. Actually, that is the advantage of the cargo van, there’s not much on it, so it’s a great blank slate to add everything. It’s going to take you from that empty shell all the way through a completed camper. It covers the power system, and in my power system there are diagrams. In the course itself it’s got eight sample systems, and then there’s over an hour of instruction of me actually on camera wiring things up, showing how each step is done.

Mike Wendland:           The website is cargovanconversioncourse.com. All one word, and you can get to it. Ross, I’m curious about this. You actually lived in the van that you made for a while. Tell us that experience. How was that?

Ross Lukeman:              Well, it was quite an experience. It was from 2016 to 2018. I’m in this apartment here now, which I’ve only been here about a month, but it was just about two years all on the road, and some of that was exploring. I went all over the western United States. Then students began calling and asking if I was available for builds, so I did several builds out on the road, which gave me a lot of experience with the Mercedes van, the Promaster, and the Transit.

Ross Lukeman:              After a couple of years, it became hard because I essentially run the publishing company, and a lot of students requesting engineering documents and things, so I needed a place to draw, I needed a place to edit the video, and I couldn’t really grow the business and do what needed to be done from the road as easily. So I did decide to get a home base. At this point, I’m just using the van for excursions. That’s really the customer that I’m now serving, is people that have a home base that just want to do vans for extended travel.

Mike Wendland:           So not full timers, not so many full timers as they are Rvers, or people who want to have their own van. What are the differences that you see between a production or commercial RV van conversion, Class B van, and a DIY unit? And what are some of the things you don’t see on those production vehicles that you can’t understand why manufacturers just don’t put them in?

Ross Lukeman:              Well I think, depending on your price range, I think I like a lot of the vans that are coming out of the factories. I think they’ve got good design ideas and I think they are working out a lot of the design kinks. I think you do see just a little bit more personal flare. I guess when you’re producing 10,000 or 5,000 of the same RV you have to pick colors and design choices that most people are going to like. You can’t have really unique … It’s like in home building, there’s builder beige. Everything’s beige because it kind of pleases everyone. There’s no blue houses or pink houses, and so with the DIY vans you do see a little bit more of that personal flare. It’s kind of like maybe the tiny house movement, where you’re able to put your vision and put your dream into the end product, and it’s not such a cookie cutter outcome.

Mike Wendland:           I want to get to the tiny house thing in just a minute, because that is another hat you wear with your website alternativehomestoday.com. But one of the things that I don’t see a lot on the commercial off-the-lot production RV Class Bs is insulation and sound dampening. On the DIY vans I’ve noticed, they all seem to ride quieter, and to stay cooler or hotter, depending on the climate, longer. Is there a reason besides, I guess, just production and saving money that the DIY vans seem better that way?

Ross Lukeman:              Probably. Insulation is a boring part of the build that you never see again once you put the wall up, and if you’re going to be living in that van, in that vehicle, you’re about the best person to really put the effort, put the money into putting in those things that are going to behind the scenes that no one’s ever going to see but you’re going to experience as far as the performance later on. So I would say yes, I think it’s the same in home building.

Ross Lukeman:              I met a guy that builds his own home and he was on the site every day. He was able to do that and they said this is going to be one of the best, they said this is one of the best homes I’ve ever seen, and it was because he was there watching the process. That changes things. So I’m not saying that all the production builders are going to [inaudible 00:12:25] on the insulation. Some of them are going to … when no one’s looking. But that is an area that’s hidden behind the walls, and the DIYers have a vested interest in maxing out insulation.

Mike Wendland:           That, I would think, would probably go too for everything else. You put in the amount of solar that you want, not that a dealer’s trying to sell you. You put in the electrical system and the batteries, the kind of batteries that you want instead of having to take what they offer. Let’s talk about the tiny house movement. I’ve always found a very close relationship between the RV trends and people living in vans, and full time Rvers, and the tiny house movement. Tell us a little bit about what alternative homes today is all about.

Ross Lukeman:              That was my original site and the vans kind of spun off from that. I started that site in 2012. I had gotten laid off in the architecture field during the recession back in ’09, and I discovered a book called Shelter. It was written in the ’70s I believe, by Lloyd Kahn and it had home types from all over the world that used all sorts of native materials and things we’ve heard of, like adobe. There’s also straw bale, which a lot of people have heard of. I just went down a rabbit hole. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t teaching these things in school. We had hundreds of options, and why weren’t we looking at, why weren’t any of these options available to build for people? I started that site to research that topic, and several years later during my research I began writing a book for that site.

Mike Wendland:           Do you see a growing trend in alternative homes, and then also what are you seeing these days in terms of how many people do you think are moving towards the DIY make your own van as well?

Ross Lukeman:              I do see people pursuing new options. I do think it’s kind of fueled by the internet in two ways. The internet is not only connecting us to people doing things differently, so we have our role models, but it’s also allowing us to connect with our families and work in different ways that weren’t available before. So I think there is a disintegration of maybe the old order and people are seeking and discovering new ways of doing things. As far as the vans, it has.

Ross Lukeman:              I think that Mercedes moving a plant, building a multi billion dollar plant in South Carolina to build their vans stateside is indicative of the explosion in the van space. They’ve even asked people. They’re not sure why they’re selling so many vans, what that market need is. But I do, I think it’s just changing times, changing economic conditions and the ability to make an income in new ways is having people question their old ways of living. Now, the van space is definitely blowing up and tons of new YouTube channels are just feeding the movement.

Mike Wendland:           Well, I’m glad because that’s what we do as well. [inaudible 00:15:46] Let’s take a Sprinter van, which you just mentioned, a Mercedes Sprinter. What should people budget time wise from the time they bring it home and put it in the driveway until the time they drive off on their first camping trip. How long does it take? How much time, how many hours does it take to build one, perhaps?

Ross Lukeman:              I would give yourself at least 500 hours. It could be a weekend project. I’ve had students, I’ve got a guy who’s in the Los Angeles area, he’s a set designer in Hollywood and he did this van in two months on the weekends, really fast. Then I have students that joined two years ago and they’re just now getting started with the construction. That’s not necessary to speed through a construction time, but sometimes people are in the planning phase for a while. But some of them take maybe six, two to six months.

Mike Wendland:           Two to six months. And do you help people find the products that they need? Where do you begin to look for them? I want to put a couple of articulating beds in mine, or a special desk so I can work on the road, or I want a better refrigerator. Do you help them source out the material that they need?

Ross Lukeman:              I do. Each module in my course has videos, but it has associated tools and products from the videos and that’s ever expanding. Then there are unique requests that haven’t been covered in the course, so I’ll get emails about different options for different air conditioner options, or different ways of doing things, or different rare components for a specific task.

Mike Wendland:           The cost for the course, so people have an idea what to budget? Add it to their price for buying the van. What is the course, the cost for the cargo van conversion course?

Ross Lukeman:              It’s currently $497 for 2019. That price may change. That includes the original course and then there’s five new courses that are in development here for 2019, covering [crosstalk 00:17:57].

Mike Wendland:           And once they are a student of yours, I would assume they have access to you all the time?

Ross Lukeman:              They do. They have email access to me. There’s also a Facebook community with quite a few students in there, and so they help each other and they can email me. So they get plenty of support as well as all of the course materials. It’s a lifetime access.

Mike Wendland:           Well, I am looking forward to running into more of the DIYers out there. I will have a video up in a couple of weeks. Two of the folks that we met this past weekend, that’s how i found Ross, because one of them had used your course, and I want to thank Larry and Wendy who will be stars on one of our YouTubes coming up in just a couple of weeks. After I heard about you, Ross Lukeman, I said I gotta get him on the program because there’s a lot of people very interested. Let’s face it, these RVs cost. To get one off the lot that’s new, you’re pushing $120,000 to $150,000 dollars on a major RV, Class B RV. Anything that can save money as dramatically as you have, and customize it the way you like it, that’s all a good deal. Ross, thanks so much for being our guest on the podcast, and for this special interview on our YouTube channel as well. You’ve been great.

Ross Lukeman:              Awesome. Thanks for having me.

Mike Wendland:           All right. We’ll put, again, we’ll put links to everything. Thanks again, Ross.

Ross Lukeman:              Thank you.

 

 

 

The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new or used Roadtrek motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country. You can find Nick Schmidt from Sunshne State RVs at the Fleetwood IROK and American Coach Patriot display at the Tamps RV Supershow this weekend.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT

Patti and Tom Burkett

By Tom & Patti Burkett

Sandhill cranes at sunset, Wood River, NE

It was a windy, chilly late winter afternoon, the light beginning to fade, as we climbed onto a long wooden deck along the Platte River in Nebraska. A couple of enthusiastic photographers had already staked out tripod spots and were huddled in their coats nearby. As yet, the sky and the river were empty, but we had it on good authority that would soon change. The authority was the staff of the Crane Trust, just down the road in Wood River.

Back in 1978, the Missouri Basin Power Project was proceeding with plans to build a dam on a tributary of the Platte River. The state of Nebraska and the National Wildlife Federation sued to prevent construction, claiming that it would endanger wildlife and irrigation projects downstream. The final settlement satisfied requirements of the Endangered Species Act and provided funding for the Crane Foundation. Forty years later, the Foundation manages a vast network of feeding areas, viewing areas, visitor facilities, and research projects.

We’d made our way to the Big Bend area of the Platte specifically for this event. Every year, some time in March, sandhill cranes travel through this region on their way north. Some of them fly as far as Siberia, a journey of five thousand miles. More than half of the food they consume for this journey comes from waste grain in the fields along the Platte Valley.

The birds fly out from their wintering grounds in Texas and New Mexico in late February, stopping to feed as they make their way north. Here in the heart of the midwest they rest for several days, combing the cornfields by day and sleeping in huge rafts on the shallow river by night. After adding ten percent or more to their body weight, they depart again for their ultimate destination far to the north.

Dusk fell, and the birds began to arrive. A few, typically a family group, would settle in a shallow area of the river. Many more circled above, as if deciding whether it was safe to alight. Then, in a moment, they all descended to the water and took up roosting. The sky was dark with birds as far as my binoculars could see until full dark. By then, the river was full of birds, gray masses of sandhill cranes interrupted occasionally by the white of a group of pelicans or an even smaller group of whooping cranes.

During the day, we crawled the roads along the nearby fields. Nearly every field was populated by hundreds of cranes feeding on the remains of the autumn corn harvest. These are marvelous, beautiful birds–graceful, sassy, and about five feet tall with a bright red head patch.The visitor center offers displays, maps, advice, guided tours, and overnight accommodations attached to viewing blinds, should you wish an ultimate up-close experience. 

A smaller group of cranes travels the Ohio Valley flyway, leaving their wintering grounds in Florida for the same northern destinations. This group makes its big stopover in Wisconsin, and the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo provides information and viewing opportunities there. Socorro New Mexico hosts a crane festival when the birds return in November to the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge. Paynes Prairie State Park hosts the overwintering Florida flocks, which are in residence from late October until early March.

Each day during the migration, planes and helicopters fly over the Platte taking pictures. These are analyzed to determine the number of birds currently in the area, and the numbers are posted at the visitor center. On the day we were there, the count was six hundred and three thousand. More than a half million birds! The vast numbers we saw from our perch on the river bank were only a small fraction of that total and, even so, were enough to overwhelm our sense of scale.

This is one of the greatest wildlife migrations on our planet. As we stood watching the sky empty of birds, only to be instantly re-filled, we were reminded of the pioneer stories in which herds of bison passed for days on end. Those days are gone, sadly, but this spectacle is equally majestic and inspiring. When you come to see it, look down for just a minute and you might see us, Patti and Tom Burkett, out here off the beaten path.

This part of the podcast is brought to you by Harvest Hosts  http://rvlifestyle.com/harvesthosts , a network of farms, wineries, museums and attractions where RVers can stay overnight, for free.

When you become a Harvey Host member, you can visit and stay at any of more than 600 stunning locations completely free. Trade that boring and expensive $50/night campground for a unique experience and make lasting memories with your family and friends. The annual $79 membership fee pays for itself in just one night. But because you are a listener to the RV Podcast, we can save you 15% off that if you use the special coupon code HHFriends15 at check out. Go to our special Harvest Host information page at Roadtreking.com/harvesthosts for details.

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