New Addition To The Vandom, For Real

In light of Helga’s failing transmission, which becomes more and more imminent every day (I swear, huge amounts of smudging and singing to it were all that got us through Canada), I found a new van. It seemed at first to be exactly what I wanted: a ford econoline with the 351 engine and a bus body that you could stand up in, insulate, heat, and fill with shelves full of food and herbs. I saw it on craigslist for $3000 and I called even though I didn’t have the money.

The guy who answered the phone told me regretfully that the transmission had gone out that morning. The bus was in a remote area, and he was willing to tow it out to a main road, but not as far as a big city. His construction company was done with their job in that area and he needed to get all their equipment sold or shipped south in the next week. If I’d take it off his hands I could have it for a hundred dollars.

Luckily, the remote area it was in was very close to my mom’s house, so he towed it there. On arrival, it turns out that it has a diesel engine (the 7.2 or 7.23, it’s unclear) and I’m just not sure. Like, glowplugs? Is it going to start in the winter? People tell me it’ll be okay. It’s direct injected, so I should be able to run it on veggie oil, tho I won’t attempt that in the winter.

Hopefully I’ll be buying land and throwing up a cabin before winter, but if not I’ll have this spacious new home. Even if I do get land, this van/bus will be my home away from home when I go to the cities to make money. She’s got a wheelchair lift and everything. I’m planning on insulating her (reflectix? building out 2×4’s?), putting in a nice loft bed with lots of shelves and storage underneath, a wood stove, a big cushy chair, a rocking chair, a kitchen counter with a propane stove and a metal bowl sunk in as a sink, and lots of bookshelves and herb and food shelves.

Here she is:


  1. hey Tara, i’m not sure what kind of trans i have, but i just took it in to a tran place, thinking i had a problem (i didn’t), but he looked it up and quoted..1800-1900 for another, or re-build i guess and puttin it in, etc…but that was back in Los Angeles, so…

  2. I’d say that you scored big time with the new van. The 7.3 (whichever one it is) will likely get better mileage than a V8 even with the higher price of diesel. The Ford diesels (by reputation) start better in cold weather than the Chevy’s but the Chevy’s (thinking 6.2 here) get better mileage.

    The only thing you’ve lost is some stealth ability.

    For some ideas (wet dreams) what can be done with a diesel vehicle wander around here when you get a chance:


  3. Im very happy for you. I hope this works wonderfully, and that it makes as comfy a home as your current residence! You are a huge inspiration to me, and in a year or so I hope to set out cross country in similar housing.

  4. Between you, freedomvan girl, and Jessica (a year in a car for no apparent reason blog) I’m just going to have to get a van like ASAP! Cool wheels….

  5. the ski resort i work at uses these all winter as the resort shuttles… they never have any problems starting them up, even after they have been buried in several feet of snow. you should be fine in the cold.

  6. Woah, dude. I so expected another Astro. I’m dying to see how this all pans out and gets set up. That’s a lot of space to work with. 1000 pictures when you get organized in there, please. I picture a recliner and a floor lamp. That thing is big enough to BE a cabin if you get land. Is there a downside to that? That’s kinda my plan on the horizon. Vehicle cabin. Wood heat. Christ, that’s a fucking big van. $100. HA.

  7. Woooah. It’s beautiful! And humungous!

    Diesel will get you better mileage, won’t it? How long will it take you to build the kitchenette/living area, do you think?

    Congrats on your sweet deal.

  8. McVansion! Hilarious!! And, if you’re in the lower 48 cruisin’ round, using bio-diesel, you can filler up on french fry oil and really stick it to ’em!

    Congrats Tara!!

  9. I just spent a week up in SJC on retreat, I come back, and Helga is OUT! Damn … I missed a pretty busy week in here … I met a van dweller in the canyon where I was though … told him about your blog. 😉

    Anyway, nice van, kiddo… Happy trails, Tara … ~ Irish

  10. Ghost, that’s awesome. My pal Chris let me know about your blog, and I keep up with it.

    But yes, congratulation on the new vehicle! I’m a huge fan of diesel engines. Having dicked around with minor repairs on a Ford Diesel, here’s a few tips for things mechanical:

    Around ’93 or ’94 (I think) was a switchover year for Ford as far as which engines they used in Econoline 350s, and the litre designation makes it a little confusing at first, as both International and Ford had 7.3 litre engines. If your shit says “Power Stroke” on it, you’ve probably got the direct injection Ford built engine.

    The earlier models used engines built by International, both 7.3 and 6.9 litres, indirect injection. If you’re planning on running recycled oil, I think the general consensus is that these engines are the shit for that, and I believe that the International IDI engines were simpler, less prone to problems.

    Anyway, I hope that was helpful to some degree. I spent a good bit of time researching these engines, and anything useful I found is saved at:

    Hey, good luck dude!

  11. tara, yay! that van looks awesome. you got the chateau beat now! you should find a mechanic who’s willing to trade some transmission labor for some dances:)

  12. Holy fuck, that’s awesome information, Nat. Thanks. I got the ford dealership to run the VIN for me, and it’s a 7.3 IDI, so I guess it’s the international? C-6 3 speed transmission.

  13. niiice. I’ve been reading for a while, but i must note that bus living is fabulous. You Might be well off to replace some center windows for winter/summer – we did ours with a steel-styro-steel sandwich that we can replace during nice weather with the originals…… it makes a big difference in heat/ac/insulation though.

  14. I’m mighty late and catching up on my reading here but I have to say: Tara, she is absolutely beautiful!!! I hope you get her to work so you can drive around in her as well, as opposed to having her sit somewhere. The Goddesses clearly put this vehicular goddess in your way, I’m sure they’ll make her work 🙂



  15. Sweet digs!

    There are some folks up here (in the cold, cold ‘Banks) working on getting biofuel to run in -40. The guys at Simard Auto are experimenting, and Chena Hot Springs are using them to see how they work. Might be worth giving them a call when you get that far … or when it starts getting cold …to keep things running.

  16. Cool! How long is that van? What’s the problem with diesel? Do glowplugs not work well in the Alaskan extreme cold? (she asks from a temperate climate).

  17. Well, maybe more than that. I don’t really know, which is why I’m worried.

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