Sunday, December 30, 2018


Our 2007 Airstream Interstate came with a closet door the inside of which held nothing but a small mirror.
Nice but unremarkable at best, horrendously inefficient at worst.
My husband tied a piece of monofilament (fishing line) between two wooden dowels and used that to "saw" through the adhesive on the back of the mirror so that it could be removed without breaking.

I then cut down an IKEA Stuk shoe organizer to fit the available back-of-door space, which made a 3 x 3 pocket grid.  I re-hemmed the edges that had to be cut.

I mounted the grid using this hardware:

I dismounted the door to do this work.  First I had to scrape off the old mirror adhesive and determine my desired pocket position.

In order to prevent the screws from pulling on the nylon fabric as they were being inserted, I first tapped holes in the fabric of the Stuk using a nail.

Then very carefully, I used a soldering iron to melt the edges of the holes, so that the fibers would not get tangled up in the screws.
Don't get over-zealous with the soldering iron.  You'll melt the whole kit and caboodle. 
I did a few test screwings (so to speak) before piloting shallow holes in the back of the closet door.  I used an electric drill for that.  If you do the same, make sure you don't penetrate through to the front side of the door.  That would be bad.
Test scrap of the Stuk, so this lower edge is not sewn.
This device did not require sixteen anchoring points, but I sort of wanted a riveted style of look, so sixteen it was.

This design works because the two shelves that I added to the closet are recessed.  The closet as built by Airstream only had one shelf up high.  That one was flush with the back of the closet door, but it could avoid it by setting the pockets below it.

Obviously not a lot of weight or bulk can be added to the door, but these pockets still hold a heck of a lot of stuff, including the following in this example photo:
  1. Two large dish towels
  2. Four wash cloths
  3. Six cotton napkins
  4. Sprinter owners manual and pens
  5. Half a dozen plastic laminated National Forest and National Park maps
  6. Trip log book and misc. computer supplies
  7. Luminoodle rope light
  8. Disposable barf bags (never had to use any yet, knock wood)
  9. Nylon grocery tote bags
  10. About 50 feet of paracord
  11. Aluminum foil
  12. Beer can coozies

That's a lot of stuff that was previously occupying other precious space!

And here's the hell of it - I actually prefer that original mirror being on the front of the closet, not the back.  It bounces light around and breaks up the long narrow aisle of the van.
Why didn't I think of this project sooner?!
I'm amazed that, after more than four years, I'm still discovering substantial new space wins like this.   Wowser.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


By way of explanation for this blog post, I'd first like to reproduce my corresponding animated entry from Instagram:

Rant:  Multiple times, I have challenged both local mechanics and online forums (more than one!) to HELP ME CREATE A LIST OF EVERY TINY PART THAT WILL DISABLE OUR VAN WHEN IT INEVITABLY FAILS DUE TO AGE.  I would gladly pay someone to replace ALL such parts preemptively, if only they could be systematically identified!!  But all my efforts to date have been an absolute failure in this regard.  Seriously – I’ve taken this van to an MB shop and explicitly said, “Please replace EVERYTHING you think might fail, because one way or another, I will be doing those replacements, and I’d prefer to do them in one fell swoop right now.” With all the expertise I’ve tapped to date, every set of suggestions has totally missed the mark, including at MB.  Our latest headache is the failure of this $10 part that nobody called to my attention previously – but it isn’t even a $10 failure, it’s really a 3-cent failure because it’s the o-rings *ON* the $10 part that are the real problem.  This despite paying MB for a transmission servicing just 16 months ago!!  How do I surmount this barrier to efficient T1N Sprinter ownership? Maybe @millionmilesprinter will be the one who develops that elusive comprehensive list and offers that preemptive service to those of us who don’t want to keep repairing, and repairing, and repairing, ugh (fingers crossed).  

This replacement has been covered by numerous YouTubers and forum participants (the offending part is sometimes called a nag plug or transmission adapter housing - see here).  I just wanted to throw in my own pics and observations to round out the efforts of those who have come before me.

So what's the very first thing you do when confronted with the fact that your transmission has been leaking for an indeterminate period of time?  You check the oil level.  But guess what?  Mercedes Benz doesn't provide you with a dipstick.  Not if you own a T1N Sprinter, that is.

Why on earth would they not include such a basic piece of equipment?!
This is why.  "MB Workshop Only".  Which might not be such a bad idea if they were competent and could be trusted as a result.
It's because they don't want DIYers working on these transmissions.  But guess what??  I paid a Mercedes Benz shop several hundred dollars to service this transmission just 16 months ago.  Obviously they didn't do it properly if it began leaking fluid so soon.  
Listen to The Picard.
So then what do you do in a situation like this?  Well, having no idea how much oil leaked out of the transmission, you can't risk driving with too little, and you can't get it fixed unless you drive it to a place where it is fixable (I was not going to pay for a flatbed tow because of this fiasco).  So you take an educated guess.
Ultimately, our educated guess looked like this, which we found out several days later when an aftermarket dipstick arrived from Amazon.
Here's the description of that dipstick as it appeared on Amazon:  TRANSMISSION DIPSTICK TOOL w/INSTRUCTIONS & FREE LOCKING PIN Mercedes 722.6 Transmissions – Replaces OEM 140589152100

It takes a while to get the hang of this dipstick.  I can see why MB would not want uneducated DIYers trying to mess with it, because it's easy to get an erroneous reading.  But with enough iterations on both hot and cold engine states, you can get the "feel" of when you are getting a good reading.
It does not insert all the way in like an engine oil dipstick does.
OK, now on to the leak itself.  @MillionMileSprinter told me in an email that there was about a 99% chance that the pilot bushing was the source of the leak (with oil spread everywhere, we could not tell by looking).  So we ordered one of those.

Another reproduction from Instagram.  Why are we having to learn so much of what we know about our vans from a photo sharing site, for crying out loud?!  Theory says I should be able to pay one or more mechanics for that knowledge. 
By the way, failure of this $11 part is more serious than a loss of oil.  If the leaking oil wicks up into the transmission controller, it can put the Sprinter into permanent limp mode until fixed.  And of course, ours had to obey Murphy's Law and begin leaking in earnest shortly before a planned Christmas trip (we noticed it less than a week before).

Here's where that little device mounts on the curb side of the transmission:

Photo center.
It's a very easy job to swap this thing out.  Search for it on YouTube vids for more detail, but basically you rotate that thumb tab downward, pull out the black plug-like object with the wires attached to it, and unscrew the bushing:

Pop the new one in, re-tighten the screw, re-insert the wired module, and tighten down the thumb tab to seat it properly.

OK, so did the replacement of this $11 part solve our issue?  The proof is in the Christmas pudding:
Explain this crap - why couldn't Mercedes Benz have done this simple, simple thing 16 months ago when I paid to have the transmission serviced?
Either one of two things has to happen here in order to make the management of this issue professionally defensible:  Either Mercedes Benz has to include the replacement of such a common known failing part in their routine transmission servicing, OR, they have to tell customers, "By the way, it is not our policy to replace this $11 part on the transmission when we are doing a servicing for you.  You should expect that to fail shortly after you leave our shop."

Either one of those needs to happen to do right by customers.  But this example is just a symptom of a far wider phenomenon, and that is the paradigm of "We'll fix it when it breaks".  The paradigm is NOT what it should be, which is "We'll do what is logical and common-sense necessary to help you keep your van running reliably given that you are a paying customer."

As I said in my Insta-rant above, we are just not there yet.  Here's a screengrab from the resulting comment section, and I think this sums the whole situation up nicely.

"Local dealers are merely parts installers." Ouch.  But I have to wonder what the explanation is here.  This part commonly leaks on MANY Mercedes Benz vehicles - not just Sprinters (e.g., see here).  How could any MB shop either not know, or simply not bother, to replace this part as a matter of course?!

20190203 EDITWe checked the transmission control module to see if any oil might have gotten into it from the previously-leaking bushing described above.  Not a trace was seen.  This examination has been well-described by other sources, but here's a reference pic anyway:

Saturday, December 15, 2018


After more than four years of Airstream Interstate Class B campervan ownership, I am routinely amazed that I can still discover new modifications that result in large efficiency gains.  This is one of them - a valuable capture of roof space that has historically been underutilized.
When I first posed this question to Air Forums Sprinter and B Van Forum, I was envisioning perhaps mounting a storage device in the space shown, using the referenced clamps.  My solution turned out to be even simpler than that.
I found a storage device that fit this space like a glove, but it's not what I had originally envisioned.
It just so happened that the ATV Tek ASEBLK Black Hunting and Fishing Expedition Cargo Bag fit the space like it was made for it.  
I used one of my favorite products as the underlayment on the roof, to allow for air circulation and drying, so that the ATV bag would not trap moisture next to the metal.
I cut a 1' x 3' strip of a Taskmaster rubber restaurant mat, which is the same product I cut down for our wet bath floor mat.  This product is officially known as the A1HC 35.43 in. x 35.43 in. Anti Fatigue Rubber Restaurant/Kitchen Mat.
Bonus with the Taskmaster: it could be pulled off the roof and used as a traction assist device if I ever got stuck.  I used a third of one of these mats to underlay the ATV bag, and I'll probably find another reason to put the other two thirds up on the roof eventually.

Here's what the ATV bag looks like positioned to fit:
It covers the raw open end of the solar panels on the rear end, giving it a more finished look.
I mentioned above that I didn't need to use the referenced clamps that I originally thought I would need.  Given the way the thing butts up against the 8020 solar panel frame, and given that existing hold-down straps were mounted on the bag in key areas adjacent to the frame, I decided to use screw eyes instead.  My husband sourced stainless steel eyes and also bolts that were compatible with the 8020.  With those in place, I simply attached the bag using 175 pound zip ties.  Here are a few pics.
Eye bolted into the underside of the 8020 solar frame, right next to one of the carrier clasps.

View underneath, showing the zip ties connecting the eyes to the existing bag straps.
Gratuitous pic of dog in the process of solar recharging.
Detail of how this attaches:  

(1) The bag is attached to the Taskmaster rubber underlayment mat using the straps that would typically attach it to the back frame of an ATV.  

(2) The rubber underlayment, in turn, is attached to the roof rack using 175-lb zip ties.  This commercial grade rubber mat is extremely strong and it would take tremendous force to rip through it (these mats are so tough that one of my professional clients uses them in a petrochemical plant application).  I don't anticipate any issues with it.

(3) The upper edge of the bag is attached to the solar 8020 frame.

Like this. 
Now, you may be wondering two things.  First, what the heck do I put way up there?

Answer:  Necessary junk that would otherwise consume valuable space inside the van. Nothing expensive that it would hurt to lose if a thief got his nosy self up there (which is unlikely).
Like these painting supplies for a renovation project we are working on.  I'm transporting the paint itself, 3 gallons worth, inside the Yeti that this is sitting on.  I don't want paint inside the van. 
Secondly, how the heck do I get up there to load and unload the bag?!  It's ten feet in the air!
Using my Telesteps 1400E, ladder of a thousand uses, which I have secured to the hitch platform.
I have a dedicated very-tight bungee so it won't slip.  And if I'm really struggling with anything in the bag, I can also bungee the top of the ladder to the roof rack itself for added stability.  
The hitch platform is covered in non-skid tread, plus the ladder is secure.  It's actually safer in this configuration than it is when I'm using it on open pavement.

Anyway, I'm delighted with this mod.  Glad I found an appropriate bag to create this most unlikely combination.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


On a recent trip, my husband and I each needed five pairs of shoes.  Dress shoes, manual labor shoes, shower shoes (flip-flops), hiking boots, and casual every day shoes. 

That means storage for ten pairs, or twenty shoes.  In a van.

Back in 2015, I described assigned storage for four pairs of those shoes (here).  That became my most heavily-viewed blog post of this entire 4-year series. 

Four pairs down, six pairs to go!!

This became my next shoe conversion target - the recessed space in front of the hot water heater cover.  I first converted the panel itself to a neodymium magnetic attachment system (Airstream had screwed it into place, which made winterizing a real pain).

Obviously, anything else I built into this little space had to be just as easily removable.  Furthermore, I had a rule for this project:  no purchasing of materials.  We have SO MUCH MATERIAL that we have already accumulated during the course of doing four years of van projects.  We need to find creative ways to use up that stuff.  Everything I built here, I had to source from our garage.  There are many different ways to complete a project like this.  Mine involved the use of scraps and residual hardware.

In order to maximize that void space, I needed a shelf.  But in front of that pull-off panel, there's a cabinetry cross-piece, so I couldn't build a simple 3-sided shelf.  I had to make the "legs" less wide.
Like this.  This is a piece of scrap plywood left over from our dog's front seat platform project.  
Here you can see what I mean:
See the cross-piece in front?
Now, obviously I could not attach that shelf insert to the cabinetry, because I'd be right back where I started in terms of inconvenience in reaching the hot water heater valves.  But there was also the issue of shoes tumbling out of this shallow space when the van is in motion.  I know this happens, because we use that space for shoes now, and I'm constantly tripping over them when they fall into the aisle. 

In order to contain both the shoes and the unattached platform that would segregate the pairs of them, I went with a variant on the bungee cord theme.
See those two little neodymiums screwed into the lower cross-piece?  Those are key to this simple design.

Also, because I had to trim one of my Flor tiles in front of the door, I friction-fit a remnant from that piece into this slot, to give it a more finished look.  That, too, can simply be lifted out - it's not attached. 
I cut pieces of a bungee cord to length so that they would stretch between the top and bottom surfaces.  I used four small angle brackets for this attachment job, but rather than permanently attaching them at the bottom, I used more neodymium magnets, so that the cords would be removable.  They hold like this:

Next it was just a matter of sanding, painting, and assembling the shelf for final use.  Because we are in the month of December and it's too cold for paint to set up properly, I sprayed and then baked the pieces in my kitchen oven so that they'd dry quickly.  I may go back later, when the weather is warmer, and repaint them in the Sherwin Williams color-matched gray shade that I've used elsewhere in the van.

First coat sinks in well.  I typically use my kitchen oven about six times a year - once to bake a Thanksgiving turkey, and five times to bake Interstate parts.  It's not a bad practice if you don't mind your house smelling like xylene. 
And of course, the money shot:

Hopefully I will never again find my husband's malodorous Topsiders in the driver's seat.  That's where he has been storing them at night, because he had nowhere else to put them.
I don't know that this is my favorite design that I could have come up with, but it's a danged sight better than what was there to start with (which was nothing).  On with the road testing.

Saturday, November 17, 2018


See Part 1 for a description of why I chose Flor carpet tiles for our van.

Given that I want these tiles to essentially constitute three free-floating mats, I decided to try 2 mm cable ties to lash them together at the corners.   That process went like this:

Arrange the visual pattern, flip the tiles over, and mark the drilling locations.
The carpet backing is so dense that I don't think they will pull apart even if force is put on them.

I fitted a cable tie to figure out which was the optimal drill bit size, given that I need the ties to lay flat.
Drill, baby, drill.
The snippers are pointing directly at one of the cable tie heads inserted and looped through these holes.  Can you see it?
Probably not - it's a disruptive carpet pattern with black in it.  Plus I can kind of "fluff" some carpet fibers over the cable tie where it emerges on the front side.  
You are probably wondering about the obvious question: if we step on those cable tie heads in bare feet, won't it hurt?

For the two sets of three Flor tiles bound together down the center of the van, this is not likely to be a problem because the ties are pushed to the absolute edges of the carpet tiles.  That leaves the pair in front of the slider door as possible issue in this regard.  I stepped on a head in bare feet, and while I could feel the head, the carpet cushioned the experience, and it wasn't like stepping on a pebble or anything.

I had to trim the fore-most (as opposed to aft-most) pair to size, and Airstream's squaring of the cabinetry opposite the sliding door was atrocious.
It was off-square by 1.5 cm over a span of just 19.7".  
But I was able to fit the area by measuring carefully and cutting the carpet tile with a razor blade.
Wide angle GoPro shot from above.  Freakish.
It's hard to tell from the wide angle, but the Flor tiles are virtually identical to the width of the wet bath door.  The placement was obvious.

Anyway, these groupings are fairly heavy now that they are cable-tied together - they tend not to slide around.  Next I will road test this assemblage and see if they need any additional measures to keep them in place. 
Another wide angle shot.

Saturday, November 10, 2018


I have a feeling this will be a multi-part blog post.  Ultimately, I'm not sure how I'll configure these tiles in our Airstream Interstate - that answer will come with trial and error. 

Background:  I wanted a mat or carpet solution that would be easy to remove from our rig for cleaning purposes.  We almost always boondock, we are often chain-sawing and hacking our way through the wilderness, and I cannot use a vacuum because we don't have shore power for weeks at a time.  I have to remove any mats or rugs I use, and get the dirt out of them the old fashioned way - by beating them. 
I am not the very last person on earth to remember this Les Nessman quote, but I'm really, really close, as evidenced by the fact that I can't find a decent meme of it, or even a complete reference.
To this end, I did NOT want a conventional fitted rug such as this one:
Look at that - it can't even be kept clean long enough to do a quick YouTube video.  And what would I do with the likes of this without a vacuum?  It's too cumbersome for me to remove and beat.

Floor shot of the new Interstate 19, as uploaded by YouTube user John P.
Whatever I put in there has to be removable in pieces and has to stand up to being beaten, scrubbed, and sprayed off with a garden hose.  Conventional carpet cannot be treated that way, but Flor carpet tiles get pretty good reviews in that regard.  They stand up to a lot.  

One caveat on a Flor installation in a van like ours:  The tiles are stiff and will not conform to the shape of table receivers if you have them installed in your floor.  Ours had two in the rear section, but I stopped needing them when we installed our Lagun table (see here).  So I first had to remove those:

And I'm glad I did, because the chassis holes need some remedial attention.
Hey, there's the label on the Onan generator which was installed under this section of floor.
Ugh... the usual good OEM job on sealing the subfloor and chassis frame itself.  Thanks, Airstream. 
Rodents would have a name for these holes - "Stairway to Heaven".  I'll have to get thin sheet metal patches while I figure out what to do with them longer term.  
So here's a few shots of my initial configuration.  Note that I have two tiles overlapped in front of the slider.  I have to cut one of them down to size, but I haven't done that yet.

You can see that the edges of the cabinetry are not continuous all the way from the front to the back.  There's a jog in front of the curbside couch, and another jog aft of the wet bath (photo right).  It would be difficult to fit a single unbroken rug in this area even if I wanted to.  

They coordinate with the existing cab carpet, even while adding a bit of pattern to what is otherwise a design composed of solids.  I think they suit the van. 
I don't mind the discontinuous appearance - it does break up the long linear hallway.

The remaining question is -- how am I going to attach these, either to each other in three groups, and/or to the floor?  How will I NEED to attach them?

I'm not sure yet.  The carpet backing is very dense and they are not very slippery, even as loose individual tiles.  Watch as I try to scoot this one around:

If I can figure out an unobtrusive way to bind them to each other (in groups of 3, 3, and 1.5, the last being in front of the slider), I may not need to attach them to the floor at all.  They might stay put by themselves without assistance.    

Anyway, that's a recap of stage one of this process.  I'll figure out what to do next by using these carpet tiles in practice and seeing how they perform.  
WKRP is so old that it hasn't been meme'd decently at all.