Meet Smokey II

For van dwellers, new van day is basically new car day plus new house day. That’s exactly what today is for me. I got a new van!!!

This is what my family and I have been working on behind the scenes for the past few weeks that I haven’t been saying much about. I could’ve fixed my current van and kept on trucking, but my parents wanted to give me an early inheritance, in the form of a newer, low-mileage van that I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking down on me or being too rusty for people to work on when it does need something. We’ve looked at a few options, and the one that almost worked out but didn’t is a story in itself that I’ll tell sometime soon. For now, though, let’s focus on the one that did work out.

Smokey II is a 2021 Ford Transit 350, high roof, extended. This is the biggest version of the Transit they make, which is ideal for my new home on wheels. It’s both longer and taller than my previous van, which will give me all kinds of room for activities as well as storage.

Best of all, this particular van, despite being two years old, had only 720 miles. I didn’t forget any zeros — that’s seven hundred twenty miles. The engine isn’t even fully broken in yet! It’s going to hopefully be a long time before I have to worry about any time in the shop aside from routine maintenance, fluid changes, and such.

I found it at Jarrett Scott Ford in Plant City, Florida. While most Ford dealers in the area have few, if any Transits, this dealer has about 100 in stock. They pretty much manage the fleets in central Florida, and this particular van is almost certainly a little-used lease that was recently returned. Despite being two years old, it’s basically brand new. And, being a Florida van, there’s no rust.

Yes, I did consider the Ram ProMaster. I know several people who live in theirs and are quite happy with them. But I stuck with Ford for a few reasons, and brand loyalty isn’t one of them. The ProMaster is front-wheel drive, not rear-wheel drive like the Transit, which makes it less suited for towing. Ford dealers are far more common than Ram dealers, so if I do run into trouble, I can almost always find a dealer nearby. This van is still within the factory warranty, so getting service at the dealer is actually still important. Finally, the Ram ProMaster is really a Fiat Ducato. Fiat isn’t exactly known for its stellar reliability — quite the opposite, though not as bad as the days when they said the name was an acronym for “Fix It Again, Tony.” The Chevy Express is an older design, and not big enough for my needs. The Mercedes Sprinter is nice, but expensive, and dealers that even have a tech trained to service it are few and far between. So the Ford was my choice.

This Transit is at least two feet longer than my extended E250. Unlike my old van, I can stand up inside. I’ll lose an inch or two to insulation and coverings, but with six feet, five inches of height inside, my six-foot tall frame will still be able to stand up and walk normally.

This particular van came with the optional full rubber floor from front to back. To my surprise, it even has insulation underneath. I’d already decided that the floor would be the first thing I tackle since everything else goes on top of it, but when I saw this, I decided to leave the floor alone. It’s already more insulated than the carpet tile floor I have in my old van, and it’s already a perfect fit. I don’t need to mess with it.

After bringing it back to my aunt and uncle’s place, I spent the rest of the day measuring and experimenting with interior layout ideas. I brought out some of my camp tables and chairs to start visualizing what will go where when I build it out. You’ll see these ideas once I start making them real.

This build is going to happen in stages. I didn’t plan to build a new van in Florida. It’s already getting too hot to work comfortably here. But I can’t drive off in a bare cargo van, either. So phase one, to be completed before I leave, consists of basically what I need to live in here for now, and little else. Insulation needs to happen, as well as ventilation and a basic electrical system, but I won’t finish off the walls right now. Many components and appliances will carry over from my old van. But I’ll need to install new solar panels on the roof since the ones on the old van are permanently stuck there.

Very little will be permanently installed at first. Instead of permanent cabinets, I’ll use plastic bins and drawers to get organized and move in more quickly. My camp furniture may see extended use inside for a while. I can also experiment with different interior configurations as I continue my travels. Do I want the bed on the left or the right? (Not across, like my old van — I’ll finally be able to stretch out comfortably!) Do I want a counter and sink overhanging the side door like I have now, or against the wall behind the driver’s seat? I don’t know yet. So I’ll try it a few different ways.

Later on, once I know what I want for a layout, I can make plans for a time, place, and weather where I can park, move myself and Lister out of the van temporarily and build out a nice interior. The van’s metal walls have many holes in them, some of them threaded, so bolting cabinets and furniture to the walls will be quite easy.

Speaking of Lister, he seems a bit dubious at the moment but should take more of a liking to it once it’s outfitted for our needs.

I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to my family for making this happen! I could’ve kept limping the old van along, but now I won’t have to, thanks to them. This is probably going to change my life as much as moving into the first van did. I have plans for the old van, but you’ll see what those are when I’m done taking what I need from it.

One comment

  1. So exciting. Yes, it’s work. But getting to apply lessons learned and get a new rig set up sounds like a lot of fun. I’d say… “run conduit” so you can easily wire up all the future things! 🙂


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