Finding the Right Vehicle
Knowing that the best vehicle for Central America is a 4 wheel drive diesel I began hours (and hours) learning about diesel engines, 4×4’s, and which type of vehicle would make the best cross countrie(s) model.
My first pick was an x-german military truck called a Unimog. The age was perfect for finding parts and it was MADE for moving through difficult terrain. After intense on-line research I found one that had been converted for camping and it was headed from Chile back to San Diego.
How perfect could that be???? Apparently too perfect. I had arranged to meet the owner in San Diego at the end of February. I was working on airline tickets from New York to San Diego and working out the details for getting my van back to Seattle when the owner backed out of our deal. I was very disappointed and frustrated but put my energy back into researching an alternative plan.
My next brainstorming lead me to researching x-ambulances and working on how to convert one into a ‘camper.’
I found that there was a small reservoir of old used 4×4 diesel ambulances on the east coast. Again…. how perfect! I was still in New York so I started to arrange appointments to look at some. I drove to new jersey to see some through an ambulance dealer. I just didn’t trust the guy. I saw two x-military ambulances in Connecticut and finally found one in Vermont that fit the bill.
The price was right and it was owned by a voluntary fire department so I trusted that it was well taken care of. Only disappointment met me there when I had a Ford dealer run a pre-purchase inspection and they found that the entire ‘air support system’ was rusted out. I drove back to New York frustrated and ready to give up on my second idea. After looking at a bunch of Rust Buckets, I realized that I had to go the regular route and look for a Camper, or I’d never get this trip started. It was now three months past my planned departure date and I not only didn’t have a means of transportation but I was going to have to start educating myself on a whole new vehicle. For the record, an ambulance would have fit the bill perfectly. They’re already set up for all the necessary electrical configurations, insulated, pass-through from living space to cab, small foot print, and all kinds of working lights! ;^) In the end, I decided to look for an older diesel truck and a smaller slide-on camper. The image I had of myself driving down the road certainly took a twist. From hipster in an Unimog, to a unique creative ambu-camper to an old lady and her dogs driving a camper.
I found the truck first on Craig’s List. I was afraid it was ‘too good to be true’ because it fit every criteria I was looking for. Even the mechanic who did a thorough inspection had been spectacle at first. It is a coveted 7.3 liter engine, 6 cylinder, 350 liter 4×4, duely, crew cab power stroke Ford. Yeah! Can you believe it?! I brought it to a very skeptical mechanic for a thorough going over. I could tell on the phone, when I made the appointment, that he thought I’d bought a lemon. He couldn’t believe that I could have found 2000 7.3L Powerstroke with only 69,000 miles. For sure the odometer had been turned back and I was buying a Problem. By the end of the week, the three mechanics who had worked on it were raving about the truck and it’s condition. I couldn’t be more relieved. I really had found my diamond in the rough. Next step was to find the right camper. It took another month of searching RV dealerships and searching on Craig’s List but I finally, I found Mz Foxy. She belonged to a very nice couple in Ferndale, Washington.
So to make a long story short…..
and for those who are curious……here’s tour of the inside:
(patience please, it might take some time to load)
I did some modifications on the cab of the truck to accommodate the poodles.
I took the back seats out and built in a platform so the poodles have a comfortable place to travel.
First I made a paper templet of the space
Then, I cut the plywood to fit (almost perfectly) in order to reduce the risk of loosing something between the front seats and the platform. There’s nothing more frustrating than for things to get lost underneath.
Made a base
and inserted into the empty truck. I had to take out all four seats to get the large piece of wood in. I also lined the floor of the truck with thick rubber/vinyl to make clean-up easier.
It is actually three levels so I can store things under the dogs. It’s worked out beautifully for the trip.
By now my vehicle search had taken almost 7 months and my departure date had been moved from the early months of the year to the hottest time of year in Mexico. I realized that it would be brutal for both me and the dogs to start the trip in August. What to do?
Well.. that brings us, FINALLY, to the start of the trip. Me and my 3 poodles in a camper hoping to drive the Pan American Highway. Instead of heading directly south from Seattle, I decided to first head North to Inuvik, NWT, Canada. How far north it that? Well as far north as one can drive in Canada, second only most northern road on the continent to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, USA.
So here starts our journey.