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Wednesday, June 29, 2011


We’ve moved on to Chicago. Mike and Christie Jones have invited us to stay at their beautiful 100-year-old house so we’re not really roughing it.

We walked Pi over to Lake Michigan for a swim. The lifeguard told us the water was too cold for humans and dogs weren’t allowed.

She said it in a nice way. Everyone we’ve

met in the Windy City is exceptionally friendly. What a difference a smile can make.

The weather is perfect, sunny and 72 degrees. It's like a drug that makes everyone happy.

Mike took us on a car tour. Everyone from politician to news stand vendors waved and say, “Hi, Mike!". He let us out to walk, to take in the wonders of downtown Chi' Town. Below is the famous Silver Bean. It seemed that people from all over the planet were gathering there to be One With the Bean. It made everyone happy too.

Miami could learn a lot from Chicago. 21 miles of the lake front is beautiful, green and open to the public. The bike trails are endless and the pizza damn good.

The Art Institute is one of the world’s great museums. It has paintings you’ve always dreamed of seeing like “American Gothic”, “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, and “Hogs Killing a Snake”.

After walking for hours we took a train back to Evanston. Today we’ll head west to visit rural western Illinois, the land from whence my mother came.


Today it happened. We had planned this trip to investigate new possibilities. We’ve been thinking, "Maybe Miami isn’t the best place to be” and “Maybe we should quit our teaching jobs if something better comes up”. The kids can be a pain.
Rounding a bend in the heartland we saw the “For Sale” sign. A business was up for grabs, the kind I had always dreamed of owning. Basically a turn-key operation, all it needed was a little fixin'. Francesca and I are now the proud owners of...

Come visit!

Dinosaur World isn't working out for us. Their appetites are unbelievable and a T-Rex almost stepped on Pi yesterday. Yikes. We're moving on.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Our new van amazes us as we begin our tour. Unlike our VW camper everything works! Our first leg took us to Lake Wales, Florida. Many of my relatives settled there in the 70's because of the Singing Tower, Spook Hill, and the opportunities to enjoy unique cultural experiences.
This afternoon the locals are going to try to set a Guinness World Record of having the most dogs married at one time.
I wish I was making this up.
Fortunately we are leaving this morning and besides, Pi enjoys being single and intends to stay that way.

The next day we headed north, visited friends in Gainesville, then tried stealth camping by a North Georgia lake.
Before dawn we drove eighty miles to breakfast with the ghosts at Chickamauga Battlefield.

A relative of mine, Henry Hawk, died there in the one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Havoc returned two months ago when tornadoes ripped through the valley. Just south of Chattanooga we saw splintered trees, crushed houses and heard the stories that went with them,. We were told that dozens had died in the storm. While sad it seemed small compared with Chickamauga's 47,000 casualties.

Three hours later we were descending into the caverns of Mammoth Caves National Park in central Kentucky.
Its evening now and we discovered that Austin, Indiana, has nothing in common with it counterpart in Texas.
Oh well, I can always blog.

Monday Morning
We wake up on the outskirts of Seymour, Indiana. The day is filled with possibility. A brochure says a local art center has the world’s largest collection of paintings by singer John Mellencamp.  
Sorry John, we've got to keep movin'.

Friday, June 24, 2011

MINIVAN CONVERSION, PART ONE -Part Two ("the details") is the May 28, 2018, part of my blog


     You can do it.  I started this blog in 2011 to explain simple ways to convert a van into a camper.  It's seen by hundreds of people daily, over 300,000 so far.  Some send photos of their conversions and I tack them on.  

    Here's wishing you a  summer of grand van adventures.  We will be taking our own 12,000 mile journey in June, '18 in our "new" van. 
    It's a 2012 Sienna and we are now turning it into a camper. I am posting details of my latest conversion now. Go to my blog
www, to check it out (Its my 5-28-18 blog). Here's a specific link,  paste it in if clicking on it doesn't work.

From Coconut Grove, Florida,
Glenn Terry ("The Grove Guy")  May 25, 2018

Now back to my 2011 conversion blog,

                                                                June, 2011

   We loved our old VW camper but the darn thing kept breaking down. Last month we replaced it with a 2004 Toyota Sienna van. At first it looked like the dozens you see on the road. Then, we tossed the back seats and replaced them with a simple bed frame.

Next, I covered the frame with plywood on hinges. There are four parts and each end lifts up to give access to the storage areas below. On the port side I built shelves and a cooking area.

At his point a small brown dog discovered our mini-camper and took up residence.

Francesca made curtains and our friend, Gina, helped us with cushions that allow us, to have either a back seat or a bed.

A table pops up for fine dining and the blue box to the right keeps the wine chilled.

We did this for $200. A California company ( can to the same thing [including a pop-top] for $20,000. There's another website ( than offers instructions on how to do cheap minivan conversions.

A little tarp and two bamboo sticks gave us a front porch.

(May, '14 note.  The 6x8 tarp is okay for shade but not the best in the rain. We're upgrading to 8x10')

Today's the Big Day.  Francesca, Pi, and I are going to jump in our rolling home and head for Chicago. After that we'll go west on the Oregon Trail.
We'll probably stop at every place that allows dogs.  Stay tuned for details.

Postscript, December, 2011
Our Big Trip:  49 days,  29 camping nights (we stayed with friends a lot) , and 14,000 miles in the last six months, we have no regrets.
We drove almost 11,000 miles around the U.S. last summer with no significant problems.
Our design works well and seems just right for us. If you have a question write to and I'll try to help you.

VAN CONVERSION II , August, 2012
     It's been a little over a year since we did our conversion.  A number of you have written to ask for more information and photographs.  Someone suggested that I write detailed plans and I suppose I might someday.
   For now I'll show you  a little more about the seat that converts into a bed.   It is made of a 4x8 sheet of 3/8" plywood.  There are enough supports beneath it to keep it from bending. It is cut into four parts (with a little left over).  

The front two pieces form the back and bottom of the seat.  They are hinged to each other but not to anything else.  The supportive bottom struts hold them in place (in their two positions).
 When you lift the seat ups you notice the support that keeps it from sliding forward and the folding leg that holds up the starboard side of the front of the bed. A simple cabinet catch keeps it folded away (a magnetic catch, I later learned, works better) :
 Here's how it looks folded down:
 The back of the seat is held up by two pieces of hardwood (about 1.5"x3/16"x16") .  I have had trouble with them splitting under stress and I may replace them with steel supports.   They are pinned on each side with a 1/4" bolt tied to a piece of thin bungee cord (a rubber band would probably work as well).  The cord loops around a screw head under slight tension to keep the seat back and the supportive strut pinned together. 
 Removing them for the bed conversion is a breeze.  When not in use we keep them in the beverage holder a few inches away.

 The bottom of the seat struts are hinged to a thin piece of 3/8 plywood that is attached to the side of the bed frame.  They fold out of the way when it is time to go into bedroom mode.
 The third piece of the bed is permanent, 6" wide 3/8" plywood strip and it helps hold the bed frame together.  Hinged to it is the last piece which we call "the basement door".  Lift it up to reveal the "basement", our large storage area in the back.   
    The removed upper seat belt holes make a fine place for a supportive bolt.  A string loops on the "door" (each side)and hold it open when you want access to the back.
 The basement revealed:
I hope this helps.   I'll write more later...

Update-April 17, 2013
    Our van's been chillin' for the last year, just occasion trips around the Sunshine State.  In June we'll take it on another big adventure, north to Canada.  We see no need to change anything.
What we created 22 months ago still works fine. 

Update, August 22, 2013 
      We're back from our 7000 mile trip to Canada.  It was great (and well-covered in this blog).
We still can't think of anything significant we'd change in our van.
I may build another one just for fun (and sell the '04 that we now have).
I am being encouraged to write some sort of van conversion book.
I may do that when things slow down. On the road, somewhere in Northern Michigan

Update, Nov. 19, 2013
  Brian wrote asking "with mini-vans having uneven floors, how do you figure out how long each bed leg should be to have a level bed surface?"   I replied,

  Actually, all of the mini-vans' floors are uneven.  What you do is to park you van in a level place.  Then, you decide where you want your bed to be (like, 1 foot above the floor).   Here are two methods to figure out how long the bed legs should be.
  A) Get a level and mark the inside wall making a level line with pieces of tape.  This is where you'd want your bed to "touch" the inside wall.  Then you measure how long the legs have to be to reach the floor.
   B) Another way is to build a simple frame for your bed, say, 6' x 4' with four cross pieces (I used 2x2 pine).  Place this inside your van where you want your bed to be, on top of boxes or milk crates.  Get it level using shims or whatever.  Now you can actually measure how long each leg needs to be in the place that it will touch the floor.

Update, April 24, 2014
     Hi Gang,
     The van's in the driveway begging for the next adventure.  No solid plans yet but Bill S. just wrote to ask, "What do you do when it gets too hot to camp?  I responded,

Hi Bill,
     I'm glad you enjoyed my blog and the Sienna conversion post.  I

that, by far, i

 How do we stay cool while camping in the summer?
 First, we bought a van with an AC that works great (unlike the VW's). 
      Second, we try to go where it is cool in the summer (The west coast and any mountains, work fine).  We might camp on the ocean were there is a breeze and we also carry bring "our own breeze".  We have a plug-in fan and one that runs on batteries (30 hours on four batteries!).  
       Obviously, making screens that keep bugs out is important as well (covered up above somewhere).   Also, you make shade with

tarps suspended from your van (also above) or from nearby trees.
If you camp you see people creating portable carports with very large tarps tied to trees, protection from both rain and sun.

       In west Texas three years ago we attempted to camp in 106 degree weather.  I told my wife, "It'll cool off after sunset" and after the sun set, the thermometer climbed to 107. 
    We got a motel that night.  How we snuck the dog in is another story.

     I see that some create van "air conditioners" with ice-filled coolers and 12v fans (see 'em on You tube).  Whatever works for you...or, you could plug in the real thing.
     I once ran into a guy camping in the summer heat of the Florida Keys (not as bad as Texas) who carried a small AC on the floor of his van.  When it got too hot he hung it in the right front window, plugged it in and had instant cool!   

    How cool is that?
I hope you find this information helpful.
In Coconut Grove where it's starting to get warm again (we're  making plans to leave for the summer),
The Grove guy,

PS:  A couple of reminders,
    -If you have a question you can write to me (the info is somewhere above but it's getting crowded up there).  My e-address is  I am Glenn Terry and my wife and I live in Coconut Grove, Florida.

YOUR COMMENTS-  It is hard for people to "comment" on this blog.  Apparently they make you sign up to do it.  It you do wrote a comment please do not ask me a question.  I am unable to respond to comment questions and hey, I can't see your e-address either.

    -I blog about all kinds of things at    Of my 600+ entries, the one about converting the van gets the most hits (260,000+ as of 9-17)

   - I am an artist and recently started my own "country", The Mango Republic.  Its a great place and you can be a citizen for free.  The ruler ("King Mango") is gracious, benevolent and tells good jokes.   
You can buy cool Mango Republic t-shirts by seeing the Facebook page, or dropping me a line,  and I'll send you the one-page "catalog".   They're perfect for camping.
Answering Dave's Questions, May 4, 2015

Welcome to the site, Dave.  It's gotten over 260,000 hits since I put it together six years ago.  I know it lacks specifics but I haven't had time to add a lot of dimensions, drawings, more photos or so forth.  I think its pretty good the way it is.

I'm going to add an introductory video one of these days. 

   Congratulations on getting through nursing school.  I squeaked through law school many decades ago.  Twenty years later, I left lawyering to become an art teacher.  Best thing I ever did.
There are too many lawyers and I did my part to correct that problem.

                           The Quick Version
  You start converting your van tossing out the back seats.  Then, you measure the area you have to work with (things like, "How far do I want the driver's seat to slide back or recline?" become important...)  Then, it's how big to I want the bed to be? (Ours is a little narrower than a full ("double") bed)  Make it an inch longer than the tallest person sleeping in it.   Then, you build the shelves and stuff around that.  
Now built it!

 Improvised changing room, Cataloochee Campground, Smokey Mountain National Park, a very special place.  Making this "room" is a rare thing for us (it's the only time I've tried it).  I guess I was changing out of wet clothes after being caught in the rain.

   Its odd but there is very little I would do differently if I were building the camper now.  I would make the two struts that hold up the couch back stronger (thicker/stronger wood or maybe metal) because they cracked a bit and had to be repaired en route (no big deal).  

   We're just happy with our set up.  It's simple.  I even made a tiny fold-up toilet which also can be a stool or garbage can!
       Your planned route for the summer sounds great.  Did you see the one we took?  If not , look at the blog entries from the summer of 2011 (beginning at the end of June, 2014.  It is similar to the one you are planning).  It starts right after the conversion piece.

(Response to a question on 5-18-14)
Hi Jordan,
    Great to hear you're going to be having some fun in your soon-to-be-built Sienna camper (it's the same year as ours).
Look at that third seat carefully.  Fat, tight, bolts hold it to the frame.  Remove them with socket wrenches
and the whole seat lifts out.  I think we put the bolts back in to fill the remaining holes. In many cases we used the bolts like this, slightly sticking out, to hold or fasten things.
   I don't think I mention it in the blog but I also removed the flip-up mini-table between the two front seats.  This gives you much more room to pass to the back.  We don't miss it at all.  Some wedge little ice chests into the remaining spot for "easily accessible snacks".  Some of these have 12-volt refrigeration systems.    Our "refrigerator" (an ice box right behind the driver's seat) works fine for us.       Your friends to the south, 
Glenn and Francesca


JULY 1, 2014   We heard from the Dave and Meg Ronsman, a couple currently touring the west in their converted Honda minivan.  Here's a note from them plus info on their blog and a short, descriptive video (go to the end, the first entry on their blog, "June, 2014") for the "how we did it" part.

Thanks Glenn,
  Our van is complete.  We made a few changes and additions as you can see on our blog:   Without your pictures and a place for people to post similar experiences it would not have come to be.   
   We now have screens cut to fit outside the windows that we attach with magnets.  Curtains are coming soon.  We put a plug-in cooler in the "trunk" which helps to limit the necessity of buying ice. 
We love our foldable table idea, a nice luxury.  All in all we are very happy with how we built our camper based on your general model.

   With that being said, Meg and I are on the road.  We've enjoyed the luxury that the van brings- like sleeping in downtown Aspen, CO undercover on a travel day after backpacking the mountains. 
There is great joy in simple living.  

Enjoying the journey,
Dave and Meg

July 10, 2014
     I read that the Ronsmans (above) had begun their journey by driving from Wisconsin to San Francisco.  My wife and I are visiting the Bay Area too so we invited them to come see us in Berkeley. 
          It was so exciting to see them drive up in the '06 Odyssey, tricked out much like the one I built in this blog.   They've done a few things differently, like putting a plug-in cooler in "the basement".Dave is a happy camper

     They're a wonderful couple and we gave them the Berkeley tour.  Here we are in hills looking towards the San Francisco bay and the Golden gate bridge.

Francesca and Meg chillin' in the mini-camper.  
    This is the first time that I've seen the results of my minivan conversion blog in person.   It was a thrill.  We wish Meg and Dave many more miles of smiles on the road.

August 9, 2014             A new friend, "Ninh", wrote today.  She's about to go camping in her Sienna and asked about AC converters and lights.

Hi Ninh,
   Good to hear from you.  We just got back from a three-day 1000 mile trip in the van.  It worked perfectly, even at 120,000 miles!
  We sometimes use an $20 AC converter (Radio Shack) that plugs into the dash or the rear plug hole.  We use it for the computer, to re-charge the phone and camera, and other simple tasks.  
  How much light do you need?  For lights at night we use the van lights (there are many), electric lanterns, flashlights, and the little headband lights.  We have a propane lantern but don't take it with us much.  It is good for  creating a lot of light, at group gatherings and such.  
   Some people install a second battery in their vans to run lights, accessories and to not have to worry about running down the main engine battery.  Using too much of the main battery's power has never been a problem for us though.
     Most campgrounds have electricity so we keep an extension cord, small clamping desk light, an electric heater and fan in "the basement" boxes.
      Also, consider living without electricity for short times. Use candles or see what its like to explore "the dark".   The un-illuminated night an be an exciting place. 

  I hope this helps.  Let me know if you need any other assistance.

October 21, 2014


     Ninh Drozen wrote to me last summer for a few tips on his Sienna conversion and I was happy to comply (see above). 
 Last month he and his wife completed their first adventure, a long awaited trip from the Bay Area to Seattle in their camper. 

Here are his thoughts about his project.

We just came back after almost 2000 miles from the Bay Area to Seattle.  The bed and shelves served us well.  We learned a lot more after the trip and some modifications are coming:

1. I'm going to reduce the bed length from 72" to 67" to gain some space behind the front seats (I am only 5'7", it's all we need))
2. Cut the width of the bed by 6" to build more shelves.  We found the shelves were so useful that we will build more.
3. Add an AC inverter to cook rice or hot water while we were driving.
4. Buy camping cookwares to save spaces as the handles from our home pots and pans are so awkward and take too much room. 

Also, the little table was great to have a a cozy meal while it rained outside.  There was a lot of rain on our trip.

My wife and I just spent the weekend in the Florida Keys in our converted Sienna.  See:
"  " (10-20-14 entry)
for pictures and commentary.                                           Glenn

 2-19-15      Last month we took the van to North Florida to explore our state's "Forgotten Coast".   We swam with manatees and camped on a windswept island.  You can read about it in my January/February '15 blogs.   
    Terri M. , from Sebastian, Fla., wrote today about converting her '09 Sienna.  Here's my reply:
Hi Terri,
    Thanks for thinking of my van conversion as "awesome".  My wife and I have certainly had some great times using it these last four years.
    I really don't have "specs"  on my van.  I started out by getting rid of the back seats then carefully measuring what spaces I had to work with, then worked from there.  We tried to  make it like a VW van, only better in many ways.  Sure, the top doesn't pop up to add another crummy bed and rarely used standing space, but that 's okay.  The gas fridge kept breaking down, etc.  With the Toyota you get much more comfort, more safety, and best of all, reliability.
    I'll try to answer specific questions should you have them (many converters write to me with questions).  You're welcome to come to Miami to see the van and to take measurements yourself.    
Good luck,
Glenn Terry,

 4-13-15    BED DIMENSIONS
    Today I went our to visit our camper in the driveway with  camera, note pad, and measuring tape in hand.  
    A new friend, Hugh Andrews, wrote to ask, "I just bought an '05 Sienna and am ready to convert it. Could you measure the bed top for me?".
I did this, described the building process (with photos) and sent them along to Hugh.  Now you can see them too.  
The Grove Guy 
( I live in Coconut Grove)
       To:    Hugh Andrews

Hello Hugh.
   Congratulations on your purchase.  You're going to have great adventures in your converted van.  Looking elsewhere on the Grove Guy blog, you can see that since 1911, we've taken our van all over the place.

Here are some suggestions and the measurements you asked for to help you build the top of the bed.

   Use good quality plywood, just thick enough (I used 5/8") to keep it strong but light. One 4"x8' piece of plywood will do. I had the lumber yard cut it as their saws make these long cuts clean and easy (and are well worth paying the cutting fee).

Again, I made my bed as long as I am tall, 6'1".  Our bed is 45" wide.  Note:  In May, 2018, I built a second bed that is 50" wide.  That's as wide as you can go with a 2011=2018 Sienna.  My wife wanted more room.

      First, the 5/8" plywood is cut length-ways to make it 45" wide.
Then you make horizontal cuts of 30", 5", 17", and 21".

Here's how they break down.  Imagine you are looking into the van from the back.  You've already built the bed frame from 2x2 pine.

Below you see the inside of the bed from the back with the four pieces of plywood marked.  In this position Piece #3 is ready to fold up to put the seat back in position.  

Here is the same thing seen from the front right side. (yes, it is blurry but what the heck.  That's piece #4 on the bottom with piece #3 on top of it, ready to fold up on its hinges to create the seat back.

1) As you look into the van from the back, just in front of you is the foot (bottom) of the bed. this is where the 30"x45" piece goes.  It will be fastened by two hinges to piece #2 and it will be the door that you lift up  (see photo to the left) to reveal the "basement" storage area.


2) The second piece, the 5" strip, is glued and screwed to the frame above piece #1.  This adds strength to the bed frame and it makes it more rigid.  It is the only
piece of the bed top that does not move.
Detail of right side corner where #1 and #2 attach in flat bed configuration.  #2 does not attach to #3 as #3 has to be free to "swing up" to form the seat back.

3) The third piece, 17"x45" plywood, will be the back of the seat that the bed converts to. It has a piece of 2x2 attached to the bottom (where it meets #2) to give it strength and allow a good place to attach the struts that hold it up in the seat position.  It is attached to #4 with three hinges (you can see them here).

4) The fourth piece is 21"x45" and it is the "head of the bed" and bottom of the seat. It moves forward when converting the seat into a bed. It has Two 2x2  on the bottom to add strength to the plywood and to prevent it from sliding forward when in seating position. The "south'' one goes next to the hinges.

You add these four length numbers and they come up to 73".  Amazing, 6'1", just like I had planned.

Here is what the top of the bed looks like, from the front right side, when all of the piece lie flat for the bed configuration.  #3 & #4 are attached by three hinges.  The middle one is a brass piano hinge (but most any thin hinges will do).  

 That's about it.
Good luck on your project. Glenn


 I added this photo for its entertainment value.  I got hit in the head by a falling papaya last week.  Hopefully, it will knock some sense into me.

May 5, 2015
    Hugh Andrews just finished his camper and is on his first mini-camper adventure (New River Gorge, WV)  How exciting.
     He built his so he can easily put the seats back in when camping season ends.  The bed is wider than ours (my wife loves this.  "I'd like that room to stretch out", says she.  What a craftsman, that Hugh. Check out the pictures he sent along:

He built the frame in his garage.  Below is the finished product.The "side table" probably bolts to the frame above. The right side of it holds the front left side of the bed.

 Lots of room here to stretch out

This is Hugh's "strut set" (with custom pockets to store them), the arms that hold the bench back upright.  I chose to attach mine permanently to the bed frame (they fold down when not in use).

 And now for a little levity in the tedious world of van conversion.  My old friends and I experienced our high school's 50-year reunion last weekend.  It ended with a Sunday softball game in which my buddy, Terry, caught a line drive in the face.  He swears it isn't as bad as it looks but, as you can see, I have my doubts.

And now, back to serious business,
Good work Hugh, and thanks for sharing your project with us.

Mr. Andrews is raising the coolness level of his van to new heights.  In the photo you can see his new tent extension that mounts over the raised back door ( a DAC Explorer 2, about $140) and and ARB 2500 awning (around $300).  He also considered a Tail Vail ( which is a similar rear tent that extends to the ground.

 These should keep the sun and bugs out....and speaking of bugs,

    We were recently surprised to see evidence of termites feasting on our van's interior woodwork. 
These piles of poop (and the bugs that were making them) had to go. We tried spraying termite poison in their tiny entrances and we gassed the van with a bug bomb. 
   We think these didn't kill the eggs because they were back in weeks.

    Extreme temperatures kill these critters too.  It never snows in Miami but it sure gets hot.  We learned that termites die when the temperature gets to 140 degrees for an hour. So, here's shat we did...
We put a meat thermometer in the window and a heater (and a big thermometer) on the floor.  We parked the van in the Miami mid-day summer sun. 

 The sun alone can take it up to 115 degrees inside.
It took two hours for the van's interior to reach 140.  An hour later we unplugged the heater and let our sweltering camper cool down.
When opened her up there were about 40 winged termites dead on the floor.  We could not detect any heat damage to our van.
We swept up the bugs and dumped them in our pond. The gold fish love baked termites!
 Lobster tails on the grill. Camping on the ocean in the Florida Keys

6-12-15  Unless we add pontoons our van will spend most of the summer in the driveway.  We're off to France.
     A friend sent me a video of someone who has converted a Sprint work van into something like a lush yoga temple,
     We kept our project simple and let the wilderness surrounding our van be our "temple".
     We spent this summer exploring three European countries.  We counted the (mostly uncomfortable) beds we slept in (twelve).  We concluded is that one of the coolest things about traveling in a van is that you have the same bed to come home to every night.
   If you want come on this adventure join up at 
    In van building news, Mark of Alaska sent me photos of a very simple van conversion project. It's a box with a front flap that rests on the folded middle seats.  A friend of his built this for $70.  It doesn't have a couch that converts to a bed or much storage.

It does allow you to switch back to passenger mode easily.  
  Last week my wife and I visited one of the sacred places for all who love, or have loved ( and probably suffered with), Volkswagen campers. 

   "GoWesty" is a thriving business on the central California coast (Los Ossos) that takes 86' to 03' VW vans and makes them like new.  Their mechanics go from bumper to bumper replacing every worn part.  They're not cheap.  Prices range from $30,000 to $70,000.
Note: "Westy" is the affectionate name for VW Westfalia camper vans.
     Their vans are for those who have dreamed of owning a VW camper and who can afford the best.            That's not me but,

check 'em out at . 

We used to own (and often repair) one  like this, an '87 VW Westfalia camper. 

In Europe, California, and Hawaii you can rent them.
My brother-in-law and his family are now living in one for a week as they explore Yosemite National Park. 

   I had to laugh at this cartoon in last Sunday's paper.  It captured the  troubles we had with our '87 VW camper.

     Now in the fall of '15 our Sienna camper is running great, begging for the next adventure.


      Our van spent months in the South Florida heat this summer (we were looking for cool weather in Europe).  We dusted it off last weekend and headed for a spot in the Keys. 

You can camp just ten feet from the Great Atlantic and Havana is just over the horizon.
More on my 10-12-15 blog, "30 Feet of Beachfront, $40".


Nov. 3, 2015
 This just in from a new friend, "Jim".  I'm not sure just what he did with all the drawers sliding here and there but he seems very happy with the results.

 Brilliant design! I copied it for my 2007 Sienna. I used an single IKEA pine bed for the base turning the headboard upside down.
I  used a 2' drawer slide to slide in for the seat and out for the bed. I used 3/4 ply for the bed hinged like yours. I made the seat back low enough to see out the back windows. 
   With only a few inches left, I hacked an IKEA small 3 drawer one foot wide x 3 foot chest in to a sink with a large stainless steel bowl, a grey water tank and two small drawers. This is mounted on flat mounted drawer slides I can slide forward with the front passenger seat. there is a folding shelf that folds out the side door for cooking if there is no table.
   For privacy I made refletex window covers with black fabric sewed and glued to one side. These have grommets which hold clear plastic suction cups that attach to the glass.
   Your design is the best I've seen for a minivan. I'm so inspired! on MINIVAN CONVERSION

(Thanks Jim.  Your enthusiasm is contagious!)  G

JUNE, 2016    
     Here we go, getting ready for another 11,000 mile trip from Miami to Berkeley with many, many stops along the way.
The van's been thoroughly checked out. She's got new tires and a bigger awning.  We "spread her wing" today for the first time.

This one is bigger and white (to reflect the sun better).  Stay tuned to for more stories from the road!
July 29, 2016
                           SECOND CROSSING 

   Many people look at this blog to see how we have converted our van into a camper.  That's  great but what you are reading is just one of 500+ entries in my "The Grove Guy" blog.
    If you want to see where we are traveling this summer just go to .

    We are now 5000 miles into another cross-country tour of the USA. Except for replacing one set of wheel bearings ($300, Lexington, Va.) our van has been behaving perfectly.   
  A camper van can take you to many fantastic places (like Rocky Mountain National Park) This is my wife, Francesca, watching a distant moose!

      We met another couple (Larry and Melanie) in Canyonlands NP last week.  They had converted their 2001 Sienna as well.  Incredibly, it has 281,000 miles on it and they say they've had no serious problems.  
  This happy couple retired early. They spend the summers van- camping and their winters on a 46' sailboat in  Mexico.                       Above, Larry giving the thumbs up for his Sienna        
I'll tell you about their conversion later. It is more simple than mine.
Wishing happy trails to you this summer,
Glenn & Francesca                                       

8-2-16,  Headline seen this morning: 


Maybe we're on to something.  Below is a link to an article about folks who live in their vans all the time. 
It's not our American dream but the folks described are living in rolling homes are a lot like our camper van,
       9-16-16   Hello van fans.  We've been on the road for three months now.  Two weeks ago I went to my first Burning Man (the 8-day festival in Nevada's desert) 

and after that, the van was thrilled to be visiting Yosemite NP again.  We're in Hurricane, Utah, at the moment, about to plunge into the wonders of Zion National Park.  I'm happy to report that our Toyota camper ("The Amber Rambler") is carrying us everywhere with a smile and no problems.  We'll be back in Florida in two weeks.

               HOME AGAIN-  We made it back to South Florida without any problems.  The American southwest is fantastic as ever. If you want to see details they're on the blog in the August/Sept. 2016 section.

NEW FRIENDS FROM CANADA                                      Dec. '16
        Isabelle and Hubert drove down from Quebec in November to 
spend a month in Florida.  Here are some photos of their Dodge Caravan conversion,

 Didn't they do a great job?  Isabelle reports that, since South Florida campgrounds are so crowded and expensive, they're often finding refuge in Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lots.  Apparently, the CB folks are okay with overnight camping. 
    Our Quebec friends are now passing through the American southwest on their 6-month tour.  We wish Isabelle and Hubert all the best.


May 1, '17
Joe Timm wrote asking me about the dimensions of each piece of the 1/2" p-wood bed.  I covered them earlier in the blog but here  they are again:

The " basement" piece of 1/2" plywood  (at the rear) is 30" deep, the next (the one that is permanent) is 5", then 17" (back of "couch") then 21" for the couch
seat.  When they are flat and next to each other (in bed configuration) they add up to 73" (6'1", my height). 
All are 45"wide.  They (and the bed) can be 50" wide in a Sienna. Wider means a little less shelf space. We chose 45" as it was the width of our old VW camper bed.  I will make the bed wider the next time. I will make my wife very happy.


May 1, '17
  Lisa has asked questions about the tarp we attach to the van to protect us from the sun and rain.  The little blue (6'x8') one you see at the blog's beginning was okay but a little small.  We now carry
two, one for rain and the other (larger for shade).  Here's my response:
Hi Lisa,
   Good questions, welcome to the van life.  I attach the shade tarp to the van roof rack by attaching a pole to the rack in a "permanent" way with rope. On end of the pole are small rope loops (attached to the pole through holes that I drilled). I attach the tarp to the loops with small pieces of rope.  Another way is to tie one end with rope (or use and "S" hook) and
the other end with a small bungee cord. You can put a rope tie in the middle of the tarp as well using a middle
grommet hole.
    The easiest poles to obtain are 2x2 pine (actually 1 1/2" sq. on end).  Round 1 1/2" wood poles (curtain rod mat'l) look
nicer.  I like bamboo because it's everywhere in South Florida and it looks cool.  Metal or fiberglass poles
are an option too.
   If you live in a forest, go find (and cut) the natural wood poles!
   My rack pole was bamboo but it is now a fiberglass extension pole used to clean pools or trim trees.  People here throw them out all the time so mine was free. Since it changes length (from 8' to 14') I can use different size tarps.  I glued pieces of broom sticks
into each end (with tough epoxy) to make the ends stronger.

  We use a smaller, blue one for rain (8x10, I think) and a large white one for serious shade ( 10' x 12'). 
 Let's discuss the "outside corner poles" now.  Ours are 1" bamboo with 1/4" wooden pegs glued into the ends to go
through the grommet holes. There are two poles, one at each corner. Mine are 6'6" tall. The poles are a little shorter that the roof rack pole's height
(mounted on the van) so there will be enough slope allowing the rain to drain off.  We carry a third pole too as sometimes it is
needed to support the middle to drain off heavy rain. These poles are tied to roof rack when not in use with rope or straps.
   You'd think rain would come down the side of the van but on our Sienna, it does not.  The roof is designed to channel it off the ends of the roof. I suppose this means the outer poles could be taller than the roof rack pole with the water draining on to the roof. I haven not tried that option.
     We put our ground rope loops over the outer pole pegs and fasten the other end of the ten-foot ropes to the ground using tent stakes or 1-foot nails.  If you camp near trees we also consider tying onto them.


 In the distance you can see our "shade tarp" erected at out campsite at Long Key State Park. The umbrella helps too.

                                         Forty feet on the ocean, forty bucks a night.



  Every couple of years we take everything out. We clean, vacuum, and throw out things never used.  People sometimes ask for more explanatory photos. Okay, here's what parts of the van's interior look like "bare" six years after the conversion:
It hasn't changed much. Here's how we fasten the back of the couch to the bed frame.
 This is what it looks  like with the "couch" portion of the bed removed.  Below is what we 
store below the couch. The two plastic boxes pull out like drawers when it is covered.

What we call the "basement door" (the bottom of the bed which lifts up).
I like this feature a lot, a drawer filled with kitchen
gear that pulls out both inside or outside.

  July 29, 2017
    I'm spending the summer in California.  There is no shortage of cool campers here. Here's one I saw in Santa Cruz recently,

In other news,
    I just got a note from Trina L. asking, "How can I put a simple toilet in my van?  I don't have much room and I don't want to go the
5-gallon bucket route".
   My solution is something like a bucket that folds up.  I replied to her,

Hi Trina,
For starters,  we rarely need a potty (there are so many public bathrooms and bushes in the world!) so we went "minimalist".
We, like many campers, have a $12 folding plastic stool.  It's a great design and takes up little space. 
We open it up, put a plastic bag over it, and put a toilet seat* on the top.  Viola!
It's like having a bathroom that's the size of a book.


* I made the small seat myself from plywood.  Four little squares on the bottom keep it secure, set inside the four legs, on the upside down stool. It is quite small but it works.

Feb. '17
(Response to questions about the plywood bed sections)

   I'll try to answer your questions:
When you look at the plywood bed base from the rear of the van,
you see four rectangles of plywood.
-The one closest to you is the basement lid.  It is 30" deep. It
has hinges and lifts up to reveal "the basement" storage area below.
-the next one is just 5" wide. and it is permanent, giving the whole
thing stability ('cause everything else "moves") and a place to connect hinges.
-the next one hinges too (connected, like the first one, to the 5" piece).  It is the seat back and it is 17" wide.
-the last one is closest to the front.  This part of the van bed is the
couch seat when converted.  It is 21" wide.
  You last question was "How high is the bed?".  The top of the bed baseis 11" from the floor.
   Our bed is 45" wide.  It could be wider or more narrow according to your needs.  Our former VW van bed was that wide so we got use to that.
I hope this helps,
June, 2018 NOTE:  See all your question answered in detail (and photos) by going to my June, 2018 blog "Chapter Two")
Hi,  I just rec'd this detailed note from Elizabeth M of San Jose. They used some of my ideas and others of their own to create
the rig that was right for them.

Dear Glenn,
I want to add my thanks to you for posting all the information about your Sienna camper.

I was inspired to remove the 3rd row seats and reveal the bug rear "basement" storage area, but I wanted to keep the option of removing the camping setup and using the van with the middle row seats in as a passenger car or with no seats as a gear hauler.

I used a purchased adjustable metal bed frame and tongue-and-groove deck wood for the platform of the bed,  We use a pair of Costco self-inflating camping pads with a Costco memory foam double-bed mattress topper to sleep on.  Very comfy and well insulated (a blow-up mattress lost too much of our body heat on cold nights!). Reflectix cut to fit snug inside the windows (with black fabric on one side and one side left foil-faced) gives us privacy and insulation. We also have no-see-um netting that I put on the roll-down middle and front windows from the outside with masking tape, so we can get bug-free cross ventilation with the Tail Veil on warm nights. 

The bed is raised enough off the floor of the center of the car for us to use the under-bed area as storage with a pair of Serilite rolling under-bed storage boxes that roll in from the rear, one for dry food and one for toilet/washroom gear. We set up a Tail Veil ( and a Pahaque Teepee shower shelter ( with an inflatable kiddie-pool and foldable toilet seat on its floor when we stay in one place a while. We love 'boondock' camping so we are set up with 'water bricks' for fresh water and for pack-it-in pack-it-out sanitation with a BLM kayakers style tube ( and a big polyethelene jug that kitty litter came in to use as our greywater collection container, to dump when we get to a vault toilet.

The space between the end of the bed and the front seats is enough to store the cooler behind the passenger seat (allowing the passenger seat to recline a good bit) and our Grub Hub camp kitchen ( on the driver's side. We love the Grub Hub! It lifts out of the van and sets up anywhere, giving us work tables, sink, stove support, trash bin, and hangers for a light and a water bag. We learned the hard way that it will weather 45 mph wind gusts IF it is staked down at all the stake-down points.  We no longer use "disposable' propane bottles; we have both 1 lb and 5 lb refillable tanks for the Colman propane stove that fits in the Grub Hub. 

We did a great trip around southern Utah in the fall of last year, but missed going into Escalante Staircase NM because of a three-day rainstorm. The Smittybilt awning we thought we'd use for sun shelter was instead put to use to give us a dry spot next to the car for the camp kitchen and two chairs!  

Again, thanks for the inspiration!

Elizabeth M

June 14, 2018
   I just finished my second Sienna Conversion. It took two weeks and a good bit of woodwork. I spent $120 on materials and about the same on the cushions for the mattress and couch.  See the whole, detailed process by going to my late May, '18 entry.
Here are some photos from my latest creation. It's a lot like the first one 'cept the van is newer and the bed, 5" wider.

  Now we need to put in the cushions load 'er up for the next adventure.  We begin a 10,000 mile cross-country trip next week.  We're excited!
Sept. 10, 2018 
   Hey, We're still excited.  We just drove our van from Miami to Canada and down to California.  8,000 miles of fun and everything worked perfectly.
   I took it to Burning Man in the Nevada desert two weeks ago and it kept the dust storms at bay. 

With our bikes on the back
 Banana jet at BMan
 My son, Ian, waking up. The van is sheltered behind him. If you want to learn about our BMan adventures, go to , Sept. 2018 .
   In two weeks we'll take the long road back to Florida.  I'm happy to report that everything has gone so well on this trip. Our camper van has been the perfect way to enjoy a long summer on the road.