In October 2019 we set off for Amsterdam, choosing bicycles we made our way along the cycle routes of South Holland. Travelling slowly, cycling is meditation, a way of life and a way to reconnect.
From the early morning ride through the dunes towards Scheveningen with the lycra-clad speed freaks on carbon machines. Onwards to Den Haag and the cycle-shoppers with their baskets. Along the long straight roads that lead towards and past Schiphol airport and the deafening noise of planes from who knows where, into Amsterdam and Vondelpark and the chaos of cycling inner-city style.
A day to explore, the Jordaan of course, walking the streets and talking, making pictures and plans.
Leaving Amsterdam as the sun comes up, the wind is a mighty 45km/h full on headwind, 100km to go. Onwards towards Leiden, Den Haag and through the carefully constructed urban wilderness of the Haagsee Bos with commuters and prams. Approaching Hoek van Holland as the sun goes down, exhausted from the relentless wind. Satisfied.
This short film was made from the handlebars, conceived as a memory but so much more. Riding fills our heads with thought and mine with music, I remembered Seasons, this is Autumn but there are always thought of Spring and Summer. The serendipitous juxtaposition of the visuals with the early 70’s soundtrack is magical, at every musical juncture there is an extraordinary synchronicity with the hypnotic visuals, press stop at any point for a still, a silent moment in time on the journey.
This update has been a long time coming but I have had so much to do over the spring and summer I have had no time for updates, everything of interest has been on Instagram and Twitter, videos have been a bit slow to appear but as the nights draw in towards the closing of the year time becomes available to sit down and review things.
The first video update is from a trip we took to The Haut Languedoc at Easter this year. We took the VW T5 and spent 8 days travelling across France and back.
This is not a Van Life Video though, this is a document of a road trip. I like to see VanLife videos on YouTube and stuff on Instagram with people doing things and travelling with their chosen vans though these have become something of a cliché these days, the pained expressions of those who are catastrophizing about the worst case scenario of the predicament they find themselves in, the ‘big deal’ about travelling Europe in an old vehicle, perhaps even 30 years old, well I have a couple of those and it doesn’t phase me, I have probably been doing it too long, once upon a time we were called ‘New Age Travellers’ I suppose. How to ‘make the most of a small space’, simple, get rid of your stuff. The worst is probably the ‘chavs in vans’ type thing, no interest to me, I like to travel and see stuff, no supermarket Park4Night for me.
It has been a long spring and summer and most of it has been spent travelling around France, Belgium, Holland and Germany in the VW T5, the Mercedes Benz 608D Fire Engine Camper and the Renault 4, some work on the Citroen AX and a cycle around Benelux.
This is the first of a number of films made while travelling.
In this short film I document the main points of a road trip we took to the Haut Languedoc in April.
Leaving Cambridge and travelling through the Channel Tunnel onwards to Amiens for La Grande Réderie d’Amiens, on around Paris to Orleans, driving through the centre of France to Clermont-Ferrand and finally to the Haut Languedoc and Sète and the Mediterranean. Heading back we spent another day in Amiens and then the final afternoon and evening in the citadel of Montreuil-Sur-Mer.
This film has no talking, no explaining or how to information, it is just a document of 8 days spent travelling and being in France, April 2019.
So, here is the thing, February is in the winter, Looe is in Cornwall, I go on holiday to Looe in February, why is the weather always so good?
Last month I spent the warmest February days on record in Looe walking on the beach and The South Coast Path.
I took a section of my cameras to document things, my iPhone 6 128GB camera with the Rode Micro attached, the DJI Spark drone and an old GoPro Hero3. I have hours of material from the week, this video is from a short section of a walk along the rock pools to Millendreath and the Black Rock beach café.
Look out for more or watch more stuff on the YouTube channel.
The summer trip is over, it was quite a trip taking in the Port Eliot festival in Cornwall, a ferry from Poole to Cherbourg and then a couple of weeks exploring the Carentan peninsular of Lower Normandy and a drive back across northern France and home from Dover.
Great weather, some good food, some not so good food and a camper that covered nearly 2000kms without a problem.
Wow, it’s been a very busy four or five months. I have been away so much in the fire engine that I have had no spare time to update this stuff, so many conversations with so many people, emails to deal with an the odd show and meet too. I have posted quite a few bits on Twitter and some pics on Instagram too, some more things here, here is the run down….
The registration documents came back before the end of March which meant that I was able to drive the fire engine on the road as a camper van before I had planned, basic idea was to get it road legal for Easter but it was all done early.
First trip was a few days a Dobbs Weir near London, all went well and we tested everything.
Next trip was a few days in Montreuil sur Mer in France in May, a round trip on the Eurostar for a few days, all good too, had to explain the whole idea in French a few times but it was all fine.
Late May we went to Belgium by ferry and back through France, this trip was the first time we had rain, good news, no leaks or drips and there was no condensation problems either, the fire engine turned out to be a great place to be when it rains, the sound of the rain on the roof is great.
In July I went on a road trip through France, Belgium and Holland via Dover and back from Hook van Holland to Harwich, took the bike and did some rides around Vorne and Putten. The trip was just sunshine and 35 degree temperatures, sleeping in the van was fine and with all that sun the blackout curtains really helped with the early morning sun.
Later on in July we set of on our summer road trip, first to Cornwall then over to Lower Normandy via Poole, probably around 1800kms with no real problems, a few little bits to deal with, loose bumper, bent tow bar drop plate but nothing more serious, there is a video of the road trip coming up…
Now back in Cambridge I have Summer Update video…. enjoy.
Last couple of weeks has been spend finishing, well, almost finishing the kitchen, beds and as much of the interior as necessary to finally call the fire engine a ‘motor caravan’ in the eyes of the DVLA for import and registration purposes.
Now, a ‘motor caravan’ has a Class 4 MOT, so as the fire engine is 6500kg gross weight it is technically a HGV and would normally require a HGV MOT test. As a ‘motor caravan’ it will become a Private HGV and require only a Class 4 MOT and crucially £165.00 a year road tax, and of course the import fee this time too, £55.00.
The kitchen section is basically complete, just need a few finishing touches, the handles and catches on the doors, lighting and some switches to the pump and fridge would be good but basically that is done. The rear bed is done, mattress on and very comfortable too. Dining area with four seats is complete, I made a new table out of 12mm ply and a 1970s caravan table leg from eBay, that is ‘secured to the wall of the vehicle’ and can be removed if required.
You can watch the progress here, this is not a ‘how to use tools’ video, rather a ‘this is what happened after I used tools’ video.
28 February 2018
The big day. Snow, wind and ice happened this week and all of the advice was to not travel. Thinking about the fire engine, it would be the only chance I had to use the new winter snow tyres that are fitted to their full potential so I just had to go for the MOT.
Setting off it was apparent that the snow tyres did exactly what they suggested, it was if the snow wasn’t even there, up hill, down hill, breaking etc all done without any issues at all.
We arrived for the MOT in good time, in a bit of snow storm, heaters working very well and lovely and dry and warm inside. The fire engine got a lot of attention, lots of photos and the MOT chap even played with the flashing lights and sirens. Soon the test was over, passed of course, why take something that will fail to a MOT? We collected the paperwork and set off for home, another snow covered ride but good fun.
Paperwork has now been completed and send for registration. None of the German efficiency now, we are in the hands of the DVLA, took 5 minutes to register for export from Germany, probably 5 weeks to register for import in the UK, if I am lucky.
I am loosing count now, can’t keep up with the work that has been done, so much done and so much to do, this time another short video of the work I have done over the last few weeks.
You might think ‘another bloke droning on about his van’, you would be right, but it’s my van and it’s great.
All of the recent work has once again been quite small bits and pieces and largely invisible – except for the kitchen. The basis of the kitchen is complete, just another shelf, some doors and finishing to do.
The exiting tow hitch is off and a new tow bar extender, drop plate and new tow ball with step fitted. On the roof I have replaced the blue caps with new old stock orange caps, found the pair on eBay, could quite believe someone had two the same for my fire truck!
Coming close to the MOT time now…. Then I will be using it….
It seems unlikely that I haven’t posted anything on the site for over a month now, it’s been such a busy time on working on the fire engine, buying even more bits and pieces and building things, some of the bits have been on Twitter… Here come an update on the works over December.
Most of December in Suffolk has been cold, many days have started with frost and some with snow, when it has been milder it has usually been raining so much of the work has been inside the fire engine or inside the workshop.
One job that I have spent some time on is converting the original rear facing fireman’s seats into a pair of seats to go opposite the rock and roll bed to complete a 4 seat dining area, the seats also need to fold away when the bed is needed. To do this I needed to find a large section of 12mm ply to act as a back board support for the mini project, this came from the original partition wall, it’s good structural ply and happens to be painted in the same colour as the rest of the truck. The three seats where trimmed down to two and an elaborate folding leg contraption was devised and attached to support the seats when in the seating position. A little bit more fettling and the seats where fitted, they work well and fold away very neatly.
As it was so cold outside I though about insulation, this turned out to be a time consuming task, loads of aluminium bubble foil insulation installed, then covered with another layer of synthetic vehicle insulation, rather like a 2 inch rockwell but designed for automotive insulation, all fixed to the roof with contact adhesive and hope. I had originally though of covering the ceiling with hardboard but that didn’t look good, it felt like being inside a cardboard box so ply wood was the answer. Looking at the structure within the roof I knew that it was not going to be a simple job to cut a few large sheets and fit it. The main structure of the roof is basically level, the problem is there are so many additions to the inside of the roof, roller shutter mechanisms, runners and supports, the chances of a long run of ply wood are very slim. In the end I have opted for a sort of jigsaw approach, adding larger sections where possible and then filling the gaps and spaces, bridging sheets and voids with other sections of ply or machines timber to get a completely covered and insulated roof lining, this will now be an on going part of the project, the roof is lined with the larger sections, so are the rear walls but the smaller more fiddly parts can be done any time, no rush for that, there is more to do.
Yet another small job has been to add the seat belts, on the face of it an 8 bolt job, oh no! I had bought a 3.5m seatbelt for each side at the front, they eventually fitted ok and are long enough and secure enough. I couldn’t find much information about the belts a truck of this type would have had new, they appeared to have adjustable belts but not inertia reel belts. One major issue was the passenger seat, there was nowhere to secure the belt buckle so I had to fabricate and weld a plate onto the seat base, straight forward enough and I even managed to use some of the thicker steel plate that I removed from the rear of the fire engine.
During a brief spell of cloudy weather I fitted the new old stock Britax Fog Light, it’s a period fog light, just need to run the cable for that to the front and find a 24v bulb for it, the fire engine came from Isabe with about 30 bulbs, so should be one there somewhere.
On a cold bright day with snow all over the place I decided it was a good idea to make my way onto the roof to put the blue beacons and siren back together, it turned out to be a simple job and Isabe had labelled all of the connections with some coloured tape and supplied all of the original screws and washers. The Martin horn was connected in the same way and then IT ALL WORKS, the siren is SO loud, I love it. This was clearly the wrong time to do this work, I was quite excited about it and forgot about the cold, then my fingers became so cold and painful I could hardly move them, back to the workshop for a warm up.
Another job I had been waiting to do was to remove the vinyl covering the original signwritting, this actually came off quite easily and it’s great to have the original wording on the doors, only a small amount of paint came off and I will fix that when the weather warms up.
A couple of weeks ago the new custom rock and roll bed arrived for the fire engine conversion.
Before I could move it into place I needed to finish the work on the floor, fitting a few extra sections of 12mm plywood with the help of some Sikaflex 221. This finishes the centre section of the floor, there are some areas that need finishing at each side but as they will both have different functions I need to finish those in a different way.
I have installed some bubble insulation on the rear walls, here I used non-adhesive insulation, it works quite well and is easy to push into the more tricky voids, some is stuck on with aluminium insulation tape. Most of the areas have two if not three layers of this stuff, should keep the temperature up or down depending on the outside temperate, will also reduce the general ‘rumble’ of the metal panels.
The rear walls, new partition and sides to the kitchen are 9mm ply, spent some time measuring and cutting the sheets to fit the angles of the bodywork, this proved to be quite easy and then became much harder. Cutting with the circular saw, finishing and varnishing the ply is straight forward, cutting and fitting around the numerous bits and bobs of roller shutters, metalwork and straps is something else, this will surely be a longer job that I though, more on that in the next video.
With all of the major messy work in the fire engine complete I cleaned it up, swept out the dust and accumulated other crap from the grinder, saw, drill and sander then washed it all.
Time had come to get the new rock and roll bed into the back, it’s quite heavy and reasonably awkward to move, not to mention that it had to be moved inside while in the ‘flat’ position. We decided to take the upholstery panel off, that was a great idea, with some cardboard and blankets on the floor the bed frame was soon inside, a few screws replaced and the bed in there. The seating position is perfect, just the right height, same as the front seats, and the view out of the panoramic front window is great..
Watch the progress here….
This last weekend was spent with a roll of self adhesive insulation, heater and worklight to insulate the many voids in the roof of the rear section, not a spectator activity really, just repetitive measuring, cutting and sticking, a few clips of that in the next instalment…
Now for more painting, cutting and fixing plywood here and there, probably a bit more cleaning too.
Although it’s been referred to as a Fire Truck I think it’s time to use the English description for it, it’s Fire Engine, so there we are, a new name.
Last week I got hold of the plywood for the floor and other dividing walls, spent some time measuring, cutting and sanding the boards to fit the forward section of the living area.
The original floor in this area was mostly made from 12mm plywood anyway, no sign of a metal sub floor, the smaller area to the rear where the partition wall once stood was only 5mm checker plate, so it all had to be levelled and insulated.
I chose the aluminium bubble insulation for the job, seems to offer some good insulation for the minimal thickness. I used some aluminium tape to secure the edges, a good staple gun to fix it in place and some careful trimming to make it fit. The smaller area was raised a little with some off cuts of 9mm ply and secured with Sikaflex EBT+, solid but slightly flexible.The same treatment to the wheel arch to make an insulated secure base for fix the furniture to.
Once it was all fixed I gave it a light sand and a cost of Ronseal exterior varnish for a real watertight seal.