Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Swankie Bunk (bed)

In the beginning... finally, as a result of a insurance settlement... I have my new home... and since my last name really is SWANKIE, what else could I name it but "SwankieWheels?"   Now to make it mine, really mine.  The build begins.


Sorry this one is blurred, but here is my new van (in 2009) empty… a canvas waiting for a master.  Yes, it was already paneled and carpeted like this with a very nice felt pad and rubber mat on the floor.  It had been customized for a key maker, who then did not take delivery of it. Next a guy got it to haul his motorcycle in.  He only used it a year and it was pretty new still.  Only had 24,000 miles on it.  Chevy Express 2006 Cargo van.  With my trade-in, it cost me about $9,000.  I have not spent one dollar on it in five years now, except for regular oil changes, tires, and regular maintenance.

Note the nice wheel well boxes.  The lids lift off.  There was a huge speaker on the front of each box, which I removed and gave away.  The driver side box has a second air conditioner/heater… hence the vents on the front of the box.  Note the black hole below the left hand vent… that a cold air intake for the heater. I only looked at one other van before this, and knew this was the one for me… so I just got it.


With the lid off, you can see the AC/heater unit inside the box.


I needed to do two things first 1) build a bed and 2) get my desk into the van (that will be a separate blog).  So, seemed to me, all I needed to do was put a 2 x 4 piece on the wheel well boxes… and then plywood on top of that.  I drilled three holes to run bolts through, large washers inside the box and bolted the 2 x 4 in place.  Decided the wooden grills needed to come off so the 2 x 4 would be flush.  Then actually, if I need to run that heater, the air would get out better, since these spaces were now partly covered by the 2 x 4.


I actually enlarged the hole on the right, to let more heat out… but in four years, I’ve only been cold enough to use this heater twice and not for very long, just to get the inside of the van above freezing.


I did all this work, on the sidewalk by my friend’s house, in Monterey, CA… just four blocks from the Monterey Aquarium.  It felt odd, and a little embarrassing, but I had no other options.


With the 2 x 4s securely in place, I cut plywood to span the gap.  As it turns out, I changed the height of the 2 x 4s twice before I was happy with the height of the bed, but it was easy enough to do, just drilling new holes and bolting it all down again.


See the upright 2 x 4 under the bed?  That was to be a leg brace, but it got in the way of storing stuff and just didn’t seem needed since the bed platform was reinforced from underneath, so I removed that.  No sagging at all… because the span between the wheel well boxes is so short.

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I made the back section of the platform, a hinged piece that could be set up like this to be kind of a couch back… leaving room for tall things to stand up by the rear doors.  Cool idea, just didn’t feel the need for it that way and it seemed to be wasting a lot of space.  (that sheet was for a double bed, so later it became my bunk curtains)

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The bed in place, I now had room to lay down and be comfortable and begin sleeping in my own home.  I altered the desk and got it inside with the help of a couple of guys passing by (details in the Desk Post later).  I then began fitting other things in place and trying it all out.


The key maker had had nice hooks placed all over, so most stayed in place (see whisk broom?).  Here you can see the details of the couch back.  I like my wood well sealed with paint… so I can keep it cleaner and keep dust down.

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It was nice to have that space in the back for tall things, like chairs and tents, but I felt it was also not a good use of space.

Finally, I just left the back board down and it has remained that way for years now.  The space where the purple pillow is, now has my duffle bag of clean clothes, another bag for laundry, my DVD player and DVDs, and a stack of pants and jackets.  All that is level with my mattress, and my extra blanket lays on top of that and extends the width of the bed a little.  Everything is handy to reach when I get up to dress in the morning, or want to lay in bed at night and watch a movie.  I’m not feeling the need to change any of that.  There is now a cargo net across that back, at bed level, and netting over this door space.  I love to lay there with my head in the fresh night air.


Earlier view before the desk and cabinets went in. Note the painted 2x4 sticking out on the right side of the photo… I finally moved the platform forward to be even with the front ends of the wheel well boxes, giving me even more storage on top and underneath.  The bed platform is not screwed in to anything, it just rests in place and should I need to use the van to haul things, I could just remove the bed completely in a matter of minutes.

Later view of the bed space.  Behind the blue pillow, you can see the top edge of a Campers Closet, a very well designed canvas shelf unit with zipper closures and pockets.  It was hand, but I later gave it away, as it too seemed to waste too much space.  I’ve thought of having heavy vegetable bins in that space, but have not yet decided.

I decided to hang curtains with a bungee cord and cup hooks, so that I can close off the bed for more privacy or when I am up at my desk, I can heat the middle part of the van without having to heat the rear bed part of the van.  There are curtains behind the driver and passenger seat as well, so I am only heating 1/3 of the interior space, if I need heat.

Note the plastic drawers on top of the microwave… they are held in place by super Velcro and bungee cords… and have stayed secure for four years.  Amazing.  Note the green skirt on the desk (right side) my little one burner butane stove slides out from there, and heating up water for cocoa and hot cereal, heats up this center part of the van.


After three years, I decided to modify my bed because my mattress kept slipping off the platform.  Much nicer being able to do this in the desert near Quartzsite, AZ than on the streets of Monterey, CA.  No one thinks this is strange in the desert. So I dug out the tools, I've been thinking about how to do this project for three years... and finally worked it out in my brain.  I cut a piece of wood to fit between the wheel well boxes (width of van is 5’7” and I am 5’6 3/4”, width of the wheel well boxes is 12” x 2, so width of bed platform is about 3’7” or so).  I used L-brackets to fasten it to the bed platform and also to the wheel well boxes.


It worked splendidly, however after living with it a couple weeks, I decided it was too difficult to slide off over the board, and the board needed to be cut down.

That was fairly easy to do… I actually did it in place without removing the board.

And so here it is... my new bed rail/bumper and is now perfect.

My curtains also went from floor to ceiling, so I cut them down to just go to bottom of the bed. Sleeping better now and not feeling like I am sliding off the bed anymore.  Closing the curtains at night, keeps my body heat in that bedroom… and I love the coziness of it.
And that cost was for a couple 2 x 4s, some plywood, six bolts, nuts and washers, and a few angle brackets, and a little paint, which I already had.

Projects sometimes have to grow on you.  I sketch out my thoughts, then measure things, then re-sketch.  Then I think on it, sleep on it, and once I reach a level of comfort with the concept, I just build it.  Not always a fast process… evolving over a period of 3.5 years, but I think it will serve me well for years to come.  If not, modifications are easy and possible.  Not worries, mate.

For more details on my rig, click on The Rig tab at the top of the page.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  (Truly, life doesn't get any better than this, until tomorrow.)


  1. Wow!! Absolutely remarkable, Charlene!!!

  2. great story and well told, full of sage advice. thanks SW!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge on your van build. It's this type of information that will be of good help to those a few steps behind you in the process of settling in on wheels.

    1. Thank you, Michael. I can barely remember some of those first steps now. I'm been transitioning to this for so many decades, some of the past is beginning to blur.

    2. Wow, what an amazing build! It's just "perfect!"

  4. thanks 4 sharing im building my bed at the present time your ideas have helped me in my van project

  5. hi again - I guess I need to join... I'll call myself TampaChris for now. You didn't mention what type of mattress you used... I'm going through that decision now. Is it a big foam block? Regular mattress? What do you think of inflatable mattresses?
    thank you!

    1. TampaChris... I have two mattresses, the lower is a foam block that goes in between the two wheel well boxes, and the second is a Memory Foam mattress that lays on top of that block and also on top of the lids of the wheel well boxes. The foam is more forgiving and fits better, if can be a little oversized and still fit the space. A regular mattress with springs in it would fit, the space available with have to fit the mattress, not vice versa. I don't personally care for the inflatable ones, as they can also deflate and be punctured. I need something more flexible and durable. My bunk is tight, not too much head room for sitting up, not much toe room for stretching out, but the main purpose of a bed is a place to lay your tired bones down to rest... FLAT. Good luck.


Who is Swankie?

My photo
Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.