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Creature Comforts

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Cargo Area. Cargo Area.

Being comfortable in your truck is the key to wanting to stay out on the road.

 

 

I began my expediting career in a short wheelbase Ford E-350 cargo van. I lived in that for a long time, using a double-height twin air mattress that I would inflate and deflate on a near-daily basis. After 3 months or so, the mattress would get stretched out to the point where it had to be replaced. With even one pallet on board, there was no room to inflate the mattress, so it made Friday pickups for Monday delivery kind of a pain.

I learned in that van just how important it is to be comfortable out here on the road, and the importance of getting good, quality sleep. If you’re not comfortable in your van or truck, you won’t want to spend any time in it. You’ll want to go home as often as possible, most every weekend, and you’ll lost load opportunities on Friday, over the weekend, and when you come back out on Monday you’re at the bottom of the list so you miss Monday’s opportunities, too. You end up working three days a week, wondering why you can’t make any money.

I insulated that Ford, put in a roof vent fan, installed a house battery with an inverter, and tried to make it as comfortable as possible. It didn’t take long to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and what I wanted in my next van.

After a couple of years in the Ford I moved to a Sprinter.  The two things I wanted most was a permanent bunk so that I could sleep while loaded, and the ability to stand up, because living on your knees got very old very quickly. The first thing I did with the Sprinter was to install the roof vent fan. Then I insulated the Sprinter like crazy, as if I was gonna live in it. I filled the walls and ceiling voids with Styrofoam boards and canned foam insulation. I had to be careful with the doors because spray foam would expand and cover the door opening and locking mechanisms. I covered everything with Reflectix® bubble-pack insulation, and sealed each panel with silver reflective tape. Then I measured out nine feet for cargo, and used everything else for living space. That left me room for a 30-inch bunk and 30-inches for living space with which to comfortably get dressed and move around a little. I laid down the plywood deck and E-Track, and installed side boards on either side of the decking to protect the wheel wells and to afford a place to store stuff like ratchet straps.

 

 

Then it came time for the bunk. It is a permanent bunk, raised so that it has plenty of room for storage underneath. The lid rises for easy access to the storage area. The bunk was designed so that it would hold batteries of a certain height. Got to plan ahead for this stuff. The bed itself was custom made, as it’s not a standard size. I had an upholstery place make me a 6-inch thick foam mattress, and op top of that I have a 3-inch thick layer of memory foam. It’s more comfortable than my bed at home.

 

Next came the Espar heater. I did my first winter out here without one, and I’ll never do another without. Because the bunk is solid (enough that it will act as a partial bulkhead to prevent freight from sliding forward if I fail to properly secure the freight), it also prevented air from flowing through it. I installed the Espar heater between the bunk and the passenger side rear wheel well, with the hot air output duct passing through the bunk to the front. This resulted in plenty of heat in the living area, but no heat below bunk level in the rear of the van (warm air rises, and all that). I installed a “Y” piece of ductwork  inside the bunk that allowed me to split the output between the front and rear of the van. I also installed a piece of duct hose on the cold air intake that opens near the rear of the van, to draw the air rearward. This keeps the heat more evenly distributed throughout the van, with fewer hot and cold spots.

Under the bunk, in addition to the heater ductwork, I have room to store clothes, and room for a house bank of deep cycle batteries. The batteries are charged by the vehicle’s alternator and are used with an inverter to power  110v loads like computer, printer, TV, fridge. I’ll have future articles about batteries.

 

I removed the passenger seat and installed a desk of sorts in its place. On the desk I have shelf-like cubby holes for storage. The top is used for the computer, television monitor, dinner table, and junk drawer. I have the Qualcomm and CB mounted to the side of it. I have external hard drives, USB hubs, satellite receiver box, CDs and DVDs, facial tissue, all kinds of stuff in there. 

 Behind the seat I have a fridge, microwave on top of that, and a printer/scanner/copier on top of that. I cover my windows with a high tech insulating material that not only affords privacy, but is a great thermal barrier that keeps the cold out and keeps the hot summer sun from turning the windshield into a magnifying glass.

 After a year in the Sprinter I added shelving along the rear walls that allows for additional storage, things like tools, spare parts, oil, filters, clothes, whatever.

 I don’t have an air conditioner, nor do I carry a generator. There are times, of course, when I wish I had both. But with the weight of the bunk and the shelving, and the space in which they occupy, I don’t have the room to carry a generator, nor the weight available to install one externally.

 I realize that by allowing for only nine feet of cargo space that I may be giving up the occasional three pallet load, but after doing careful research on it, and monitoring it over the years, it only costs me about 4-6 loads a year. As of this writing, the research still holds true, that most expedite loads are one or two skids, or more than four skids, so the three and four pallet loads are not nearly as ubiquitous as many people may think. There will be times when a three pallet load is available, and no other loads are there to be had, so nine feet will cost me that load. But more often for every three skid load I miss out on, there’s a one or two skid load that I get. The ability to sleep while loaded, to get quality sleep when I need it, for me more than outweighs the few loads in which I get three skids or nothing. The newer Sprinters and some of the other larger vans allow for three skids plus a permanent bunk, or for four skids. I’d go for three and the bunk, myself.

 Basically, I drive a freight-capable RV.

When you add it all up, it’s comfortable, and livable for extended periods. It works for me. Make sure you do whatever makes you comfortable. It’ll make life on the road much more enjoyable.

 

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Ken Slaughter

Ken Slaughter is an owner-operator expediter with a Sprinter cargo van. Like many expediters, he has a varied background. His previous vocations and avocations include music, the culinary arts, restaurant management, photography, information technology and computers, dry cleaning, and carpentry. He also delivered daily morning newspapers on his bike as a kid.
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