1968-2013 Full Size Vans Econolines. E150, E250, E350, E450 and E550

Converting a 1999 Ford E-250 into a camper van

Old 10-29-2015, 09:35 AM
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Here's a couple of short subject posts.

While the mountains in West Virginia might not be the highest in the U.S., reason being they are the world's oldest, the difference in pressure is still enough to cause a problem I didn't foresee. Constructed the drawer that holds the Porta-potti to just be a little taller than needed.

After previously cleaning and filling the Port-potti at home (1000 feet) I drove to and set up camp at 3800 feet then found that I couldn't open the drawer. The Porta-potti had swelled so much in size it's top was hitting the bottom of the fridge.

A temporary fix was to remove the mounting screws on the front of the fridge then slide it out enough to get the drawer open. Then I could open the gate valve that separates the two parts of the Porta-potti and relieve the pressure so it returned to it's normal size.

That worked for the weekend but for a more permanent solution I've removed the small vent grid from the bottom front of the fridge.

This should give enough clearance so it doesn't happen again.

Next subject is the electric sofa-bed. Last time I updated the controls I didn't post about it. I've revisited it recently so time for a quick update. The two actuators that drive the sofa bed are run by DC motors. To change the direction of the motors you reverse the polarity by swapping the positive and negative power leads.

In the photo below you can see the first of the control boards on the right. It used mechanical relays (numbered 1, 2 and 4) to do the swapping of the power leads. The number 3 relay failed and was replaced by the larger automotive style relay at the bottom. There are two computer chips. The one at the top is an Atmel microcontroller. This is the "brains" that controls the sofa-bed. The second chip is a Darlington transistor that uses the 5 volts that the microcontroller outputs to switch 12 volts which is needed to drive the mechanical relays.

I hadn't kept up with the technology so didn't know this way of controlling the DC motors was "old school". There are now better ways. Started having trouble with another one of the relays so decided to make a new updated control board. On this new board the "brains" is supplied by a Arduino Nano microcontroller. In the picture below there are two ICs numbered 1 and 2. These are "H-bridge motor controllers". Each chip takes the place of two mechanical relays and also the Darlington transistor. The H-bridge chip can swap the polarity of the power going to the DC motor. It takes two 5v inputs from the microcontroller and uses that to indicate how to switch the 12 volts outputs from the H-bridge.

Here it is all wired up to the middle support on the sofa-bed that also holds the actuators. The disc in the lower corner is a piezoelectric buzzer to remind me to turn off the power to the sofa-bed when it's reached final position.

The microcontroller requires some inputs to know the current position of the sofa-bed as it moves. In this photo you can see a potentiometer (variable resistor) that's wired to the microcontroller. One of the actuators lifts or lowers the back of the sofa-bed. As the lifting arm moves that small piece of spring wire will rotate in line with the potentiometer. The small white nylon cap causes the spring wire to move the potentiometer and the microcontroller reads the change in resistance and translates that to the lifting arm's position. Since the potentiometer is not perfectly in line with the pivot axis of the lifting arm the the spring wire slides slightly as it rotates so the nylon cap can't be too tight.

The position of the of the other part of the sofa-bed is indicated by three limit switches. The controller only needs to know if it's fully open, fully closed or in the middle so only the three switches are needed.

Here's a video that I posted a couple years ago that shows how the actuators work when under power. It also stars my dearly departed old friend Tiger.

Old 11-07-2015, 08:50 PM
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Looks like a good time. ( the camping pics)

Last edited by wiskeyVI; 11-07-2015 at 08:57 PM. Reason: Wrong referance
Old 11-09-2015, 12:52 PM
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This was an awesome read! It took me several days but it was well worth it! I just bought a 15 passenger van but have some ideas for modifications. Specifically I want to do a backup camera and an inside camera. Reason being is the guy before me installed a 32 inch LCD TV which blocks the rear view mirror from being useful so I thought a backup camera would help plus making a kid camera would be fun too. (got to see who is hitting who!) Any specifics for the camera's you used and if you still like them would be great!

You've also inspired me on a few other projects outside the van that I've been stumped on. I guess I'll have to get me a thinking stool too.

Old 11-23-2015, 08:05 PM
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Looks like you've made some progress since I last looked at your build process. I'm hoping to start on my build once I finish putting mine together and get back from my Christmas family trip. First thing to do is put insulation up and get some sheet metal.
Old 12-04-2015, 11:48 PM
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Mrmattmann asked me a question about a month back and I apologize for not getting an answer back to him sooner.

I installed two backup cameras on the van.

I called the top one the looking back camera and the lower silver one the looking down camera. Sorry to say that over time the looking down camera had water get into it and it eventually stopped working. The other camera is still functioning fine and I've gotten by without the failed camera. It's replacement is on my list of things to do.

Bought both cameras and the monitor from ebay. They are all inexpensive no name China brands. I'll replace the failed camera with one who's design is similar to the working camera.

A couple months ago I helped a niece move from D.C. to Roanoke and the van was the largest vehicle we had access to. I literally stuffed it full to the ceiling so there was no visibility through the back windows. The looking back camera came in real handy on the drive. The van has me spoiled. On long drives I'll catch a quick nap in the back. On this trip there was no room.
Old 04-04-2019, 09:32 AM
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Say good-bye to old Hal.

Say Hello to New Hal.

And no I never have stopped messing with the build.
Old 04-04-2019, 02:33 PM
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Did you remove the components from the old van?
Old 04-04-2019, 03:22 PM
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That's the plan. Just got the new van last weekend.
Old 04-04-2019, 03:43 PM
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Nice improvement!

Glad to see you're still going at it
Old 04-05-2019, 09:02 AM
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Dude you Brain is a wonderful place, your capacity to react to a challenge is impressive as well as your improvisation skills, but you are also a very hard core planner with a very good understanding of working jigs, muckup and prototyping..

I teach Industrial Design for years and I be happy to have you on a class as a teacher..

Also is very refreshing to witness a project that is not a "Credit card burner" like you see daily on the expedition portal and places like that, I'm sure by now you know every nut and bolt on the van, my most sincere thank you and congratulations for such elastic brain matter..


Since you are a Bicycle guy, I present you "Chainring bolts, they are flush on both sides, the come in a variety of lengths, they have a big diameter and if the material you are holding together is solid/rigid they work extremely well..

And if the [email protected]#$ hits the fan is always "Plastic Surgery" using safety wire (Race shop kind of wire)
Old 07-11-2019, 02:54 PM
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I have been reading your posts and updates for years. I have 2 1998 Vans.

Do you happen to have the measurements for cutting the hole in the floor to access your fuel pump? I need to replace the fuel pump in my 5.4 van. I have the 4.2 liter as well. The 4.2 has never given me any problems!
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