A Van I Call Home

Paul Draper
Mar 14, 2019

1985 was a pretty good year. Nintendo NES had just made it to the United States, "Take on Me" by a-ha was winning the hearts of many, and Michael Jordan was just named Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, this was also the year that the famous Route 66 came to an end.  At the same time a little automobile company by the name of Ford was producing many types of cars.  One in particular was the E350 Club Wagon XL.  

Let’s fast forward 32 years. This Club Wagon is on its second owner and has been with the family for over 25 years. While this owner kept the van running and the fluids moving, it hadn't been registered in about 4 years. This is when I first laid eyes on the van. I was lucky enough to work with the owner and knew him pretty well. One day, on our lunch break I asked him what his plans were with his van. His response was, “I don’t know, you want to buy it?” Without hesitation, my answer was YES!  

Right off, I knew it needed some TLC on top of the conversion I had planned. The previous owner had kept it running, but it was 32 years old, so some work was needed to be done. I’m no mechanic by any means, but I’ve always enjoyed being around and working on cars. This is when, once again, YouTube became my best friend. I started off with the easy things like changing the oil and replacing a headlight that was out. I was doing just enough to get it on the road. 

The first trip I took the van on was to the deserts of Utah near St. George. It was meant to be a sight-seeing, mountain biking and climbing adventure trip to start off our summer. The drive down actually went pretty well. The van handled well, drove straight and the cruise control still worked. It wasn’t until we got to the desert that I started noticing things.  Knowing the van is 32 years old, I kind of figured something would come up.  What it was going to be, I had no idea. The first thing I noticed was overheating issues. I was doing pretty well at watching the gauge, so I was lucky to catch it before it was too late. The last thing I wanted was to overheat the engine and cause serious damage while being in the middle of the desert. I was on my way into town to pick up some more coolant when my alternator belt broke about a half mile from the auto parts store. I was able to coast the last little bit to the parking lot. 

Growing up, my father was a do-it-yourself kind of guy. When work needed to be done on a car, he would try to do it first before taking it to a shop. Anytime he had a car taken apart, I was there to be his “helper”— in other words, “hold the flashlight right here”. As unexciting as that sounds, the things I learned from watching him are immeasurable. So, when the belt broke, I knew it was something I could fix right there in the parking lot of the auto parts store. 

After getting home, my list of general maintenance on the van got pretty long.  I actually got excited to do these repairs. Sure, saving hundreds by doing it all myself is always nice, but learning the inside and out of this van and being able to say I did it all myself was the most satisfying part.  It was interesting how fast my confidence grew when I started working on the van. Starting off with small repairs, you learn what certain parts do and how they work. So, every time I had to do a repair, I tried to learn as much as I could. This snowball effect gives you an amazing understanding of your car.  When I was changing my oil, I pulled my drain plug.  As I was sitting there waiting for all the oil to drain, I started looking around under the car. At the time, I didn’t know what anything was, but I was just getting familiar with things down there. So, when my starter went out, I remembered exactly where it was. It was right next to the oil pan and drain plug. 

I have an ongoing joke when there is something I need to repair: “Just rebuilding the van, one part at a time.” This may be true, but with how much I trust and rely, I need it running perfectly. I purchased the van while I was living in Utah. I had a place to work on it, people to help and a beautiful state to go exploring in it. The conversion to a camper-van took me about six months. After about a year of having the van, I felt like it was ready for the next big adventure — move into the van full-time and drive it to Alaska. But before I left, the van needed a name. She goes by Rose. 

Rose made the trip to Alaska without a single problem. She handled it amazingly. I always keep my tools and a few quarts of different types of fluid in the van in case something happens. I’ve been lucky enough to not have any big issues that left me stranded, but I have met people who were having car problems.  You’ll make someone extremely happy and be remembered forever if you give that extra gallon of coolant to someone who’s stranded. 

Rose now has 40,000 more miles than when I got her. She’s taken me to 11 different states and two different countries. She’s seen the northern lights in Alaska and has been to the beaches of Southern California. She’s been face to face with a bear and parked on the edge of a cliff. She’s climbed mountains, driven through rivers and gotten stuck up to her frame in mud. It’s been an amazing couple of years. What the next years have in store for her, I’m not sure, but I’m excited to be the one driving. 

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About the Contributor
Paul Draper
Mar 14, 2019
Hello, my name is Paul. Growing up in Utah, I fell in love with the outdoors. It was something I could never outgrow. I would spend any free minute I had in the outdoors. Mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking or just driving down long forgotten dirt roads. I decided that living a normal life wasn't adventurous enough. That's when I decided to grab my two dogs, jump in my old 1985 Ford E350 conversion I built and live in it full time in Alaska. Living my own Alaska life to the fullest. 
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