Friday, 31 October 2014

Bunk buddies!

It was quite novel to be on the road with caravan in tow! 

Nick had suggested we organise dinner in a thermal cooker but easy spaghetti bolognaise didn't seem all that special as a birthday dinner - and I'd been busy packing, so the thermal cooker stayed empty.

Our tummies felt increasingly empty also and I called for a stop at Ballarat.  I was hopeful of a park with a BBQ but it was hard to find one in the dark, so we drove on. 

Nick was finally encouraged to stop at Learmonth, which is described as being quite picturesque.  I'm sure it is - in daylight!  We pulled up at a park and quickly investigated the large picnic shelter.  As far as I could see there were no BBQs, so we set up our dual fuel stove with a Cobb Cooker BBQ plate. 

Our more elaborate planned dinner became chicken sticks and crunchy salad, served on wrap bread.  (On checking, it was quite similar to our dinner during our overnight Cobar stop earlier in the year, thankfully without the dubious microwave rice)!  Our wrapped innovation was declared better than take-away though of course, dining at 10:00pm does heighten one's appreciation of the evening meal! Typically, I discovered the free BBQ after packing up but given the wind was quite strong we were glad to have set up in the sheltered area.

Nick checked the van and discovered one of the edging strips had come away. Bandit's rope was utilised as a temporary solution and we continued on to our destination. We eventually arrived at midnight, extremely thankful that our beds were already made - and we could just roll into them!

Bandit often joined me in the caravan while I was sewing curtains and other items. He adopted the bottom bed as "his", so I'm sure he saw Erin as the interloper when the two of them became bunk buddies on the trip!

Relief driver!

Now that Nick is no longer working shift work, weekends and public holidays are available to us as free-time.  We're still getting used to that novelty!

As the Melbourne Cup public holiday was on Tuesday, (4 November) we cleared all our commitments for the preceding Monday - and so had four nights available for our first-ever caravanning holiday! Our original plan was to depart on Friday afternoon, soon after Nick returned from work and Vaughan finished school. Lucky we had a Plan B!

Nick had been laid-low with a lurgi earlier in the week, so hadn't achieved as much packing as he intended.  I was caught up with Halloween costume-making and also warding off a cold, which equally impacted on preparations. 

Added to those hindrances was the new-ness of caravanning and not being entirely sure what we should pack!

Erin's birthday was definitely overshadowed but on the bright side, she got a celebratory holiday!  She and I shopped on Friday.  I expected we would be without power for the trip so had a rough meal plan of options that could be cooked using our Cobb Cookers, thermal cookers or dual-fuel stove. 

There was still much to do when Nick got home and departure seemed a long way off when we collected Vaughan from school.  We worked away steadily though and finally left home around 7:30pm - before dark, at least!

We adopted Bandit from the RSPCA about a week after buying our caravan.  He was particularly chosen for his size because one of our dog-selection criteria was that he/she would need to fit on the back seat between Erin and Vaughan, so as to come away camping with us! 

Our new family member was not at all keen on car travel when he first arrived and was quite scared of our caravan also.  It seemed to us that he hadn't been taken out much as he wasn't big on his harness or lead either.  Obviously there were a few challenges to be overcome in the lead-up (hah!) to his first camping experience.  As you can see though, he was definitely eager to be on the road!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

'ello, Ada!

We definitely took the long road to Neerim's Unlock Australia rally - and actually travelled some stretches more than once! Of course we were not really lost, just reluctant to follow the GPS route as faithfully as she would like!

Driving through the forests was lovely though and I saw a number of signs for the Ada Tree along the way.

There was no other information, so on the way home I googled (as best I could given the patchy reception) and we detoured to see the tree for ourselves.

We took an easy walk through beautiful rainforest to see one of Victoria's largest trees.  It was a lovely afternoon finale.

Most information I've found states the tree is a Mountain Ash with a height of 76 metres and a girth of around 15 metres.  The age varies but is deemed to be close to 300 years old. 

When at the tree site, the official information gives the tree's age as being close to 400 years old - but what's a hundred years in the scheme of life?!  As big as the Ada Tree is, it doesn't hold the title of Victoria's biggest or tallest.  I've book-marked this interesting link and hopefully we can meet more of Victoria's giants!

What's with the "twisty tree" pics?  Prior to relocation we lived on the Central Coast of New South Wales and often visited the Watagan State Forest.  I have a family album of us through the years, posing with a very similar tree.  There was a fair bit of excitement in finding it's twin, so the album can continue!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Keys to happiness?!

Our $15 bargain door didn't have a fully functioning handle. We ordered one from eBay - for just under $75.00. 

Yep, the handle cost five times more than the door!

We were keen to receive the door handle, so watched the mailbox closely. In recent times our mailman started delivering quite late in the day, around 4:30pm. When I spotted him at the front gate, Nick and I drove down to check the mail - ready to drive straight into town if there was a parcel card.

We are regulars at the parcel collection office and there was some joking with the staff member on duty, who wants to issue Erin with an Australia Post uniform on the basis that she is at the depot nearly every day! 

Our parcel contained the new caravan door handle (with keys), which Nick fitted as soon as we got home.  The two of us then quite happily opened and closed the door repeatedly - locking and unlocking it also!  I know.  It really doesn't take much to make us happy!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Curtain call!

Our van came with curtains. Not great curtains but they were purple, which improved them no end! (I like purple)!

Someone had taken a pair of tab-top curtains, cut them into shorter lengths and then roughly hemmed to create window coverings.

How do I know they were originally tab-tops? Easy. The tops had been left on as a kind-of funky frill for the set that ran above Erin's bed!

The pics in the top collage were those used in the Gumtree ad for our van. 

The purple fabric was thin and not very effective for blocking light.

As much as I wanted to keep costs down by using up my fabric stash, I didn't have enough thermal-backed curtaining - so I bought two large curtains from the op-shop (for $6.25 each).  You can see my first curtain efforts here.  I avoided extra cutting and hemming by using the full width of one bought curtain for each of the long rear windows.  Both were lined with some light thermal-backed fabric from the stash but it was a scrimped effort and I wasn't entirely happy with the result.

The side windows were made from a heavier quality curtain, so didn't require lining.  (You can't see in the photos but not all the rods had ends.  We bought four packets from Bunnings and they cost nearly as much as the op-shop curtains)!

I've used a small piece of leftover (rear window) fabric for the tiny window above the sink.  It has a lace curtain as well, which was quite possibly salvaged from the bubble van I renovated as a young mother (with fabric leftover from house curtains made when I was about 21)!  The lace is strung along a piece of elastic tied to the rod holders - an idea I borrowed from here (scroll down for pics).

Erin bought a lot of the bright striped fabric for her caravan but didn't end up using it.  She donated the 8-metre roll to be used in this van, so it seems fitting that the curtains above her bed are made from it.  In making those, I discovered a better quality length of thermal lining in the stash.  I created a set of four curtains and they should pull across easily to allow light in or viewing out.  (The hems don't look level but I'm sure that is due to the curtain hanger, not the curtain hemmer)!

Based on the success of Erin's striped curtains, I re-did the set above our bed.  I cut the two longer lengths in two, trimmed a bit and then re-hemmed the sides.  As part of that process I removed the thinner lining and replaced with the same fabric I used for the front (striped) curtain set.  I'm much happier with the end result (which you can see in the bottom left of the second collage pic).

At this stage only one window remains - the one in our "new" door.  I'm working on a solution for that.  There's plenty of material.  I just need to decide what sort of covering will be most effective for ease of use.  In the past I've made roman blinds and it may be that one of those would be better in this situation - though I might yet have a better idea!


Our caravan is 40 years old. I'm pretty sure the floor is original and as you can see, it's had better days!

As well as the many marks and chipped tiles, there are some small holes near our bed where you can see down to the grass underneath!

On Friday I used some of our existing black camping mats to cover the rear floor area.  I was pretty impressed with how it looked, though obviously the holey mats weren't an ideal option inside (where dirt would fall into the recessed areas). 

Nick and I bought five packs of solid foam mats from Bunnings on Saturday.  There were just enough to cover the whole floor, so that's what Nick did.  I watched and took photos!

(One of the black mats was used to cover a floor vent).

Later in the day, I gathered the leftover edge pieces and offcuts.  These were used to cover the floor of the storage area beneath Erin's bunk, which should ensure a warmer bed.  Some of our carpet tile pieces were then laid on top to hold everything in place.  I'm not sure what will be stored in the area but it's now ready for use.

Nick made a couple of modifications to the doorway prior to laying the mats.  An aluminium strip was removed - revealing a lot of dirt and ten cents!  Extra screws were fixed into place and the door fits even better as a result.  The mats now sit flush to the doorway and are easily swept - as demonstrated by Vaughan!

Why camping mats?  Well, they are cheap - $8.70 per square metre - so our revamped flooring was achieved for $70.00.  They have greater aesthetic appeal than the 40-year-old lino and also provide good insulation.  We've used them for cold weather camping and were definitely warmer as a result.   

Winding-up (and out)!

When we purchased our van, it didn't have a flyscreen for the roof hatch. We bought a screen from the dump-shop as part of a $7.50 collection

Actually we bought two screens because the first was too small. It was quickly exchanged for a larger version, which Nick then re-sized to fit the opening. 

(A $2.50 packet of clips to hold it in place was purchased from Bunnings).  

The winder handles for the hatch and two windows were broken. Although some replacement parts are available for old Millard vans, window handles are no longer made.

Nick found instructions for making replacements and I reckon ours are even more flash than those in the photo!

The lovely Nammo has been cheering our caravan renovation efforts from afar and it seems fitting that something of hers features in them! Some time back she gifted Erin a collection of beads and among those we found several of a flattish variety that worked well (with two nuts) for our handles. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Progress ...

We made good progress this week on our newly-registered van!

Yep, she's now legal and ready for the road. Well, almost ready. We are keenly awaiting delivery of a new door handle assembly. Until that arrives the "new" door, like the old one, is tied closed with a length of plastic-coated wire.

It's not an ideal solution and on Wednesday, during the drive into the local VicRoads office, the plastic stretched and the door was opening in transit. Whoops!

We had sort-of plans to take the van on her maiden voyage this weekend but will wait till the door is properly secured.  I'm not greatly disappointed.  There are plenty of other preparations to occupy us - and it will be nice to have them ticked off before we head out of the backyard!

I made all the beds yesterday.  When I finished, I thought of using camping mats on the floor for insulation and improved aesthetics.  Shame I didn't have that bright idea before setting up our bed!  Anyway, I enlisted Erin's aid today and between us we manoeuvred the bed around the corner and out of the way.  Hah - that was a feat (and then shifting it back into place over the mats was even trickier)!

At this stage I've just done the back area, mainly under the bed.  I used camping mats that were already here and utilised the little-used edges also.  I cut two damaged mats to size and think I may have used the six non-matching mats for the larger area.  At least that's what I tried to do!  I'm pretty pleased with how it is looking so far, though will probably buy some solid mats from Bunnings to finish the remaining area - as they will be easier to sweep over etc.

Nick worked on fitting the door properly this afternoon.  It isn't quite the same size as the previous one, so the hinges have been moved a little.  It's in place now and looks good.  There is a slight gap at the top but that will be easily covered by a piece of aluminium from Bunnings.  Nick has plans to strengthen the flyscreen frame - and will then replace the flyscreen.  I'll make a curtain, once I work out how to fix it to the door!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Millard musings ...

I spent some time in the caravan today, cleaning the upper kitchen cupboards. 

In doing that I found two bottle openers and one very old certificate dated 31 May 1974! 

Bill had advertised the van as a 1976 Millard but I don't think he'd looked in the cupboards.

So, it seems our van has recently celebrated it's 40th birthday!  We're a bit too late for cake and celebrations but the old girl is holding up reasonably well, I think.

George Ladas writes about the history of Millard caravans on this post - and Nick found a short Vimeo clip, which he and I watched this afternoon.   There is a brown-striped van very much like ours shown briefly during the footage - and more information is given about the company's early days. 

Interestingly, many Millard (and Viscount) caravans were shipped to Darwin as temporary accommodation after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.  (From reading a thread here it seems they were 21-22 feet vans, so larger than ours).

Sunday, 12 October 2014

When one door closes ...

Nick and I were at the dump shop today, sourcing materials for a (non-caravan) project.

We were very chuffed with those efforts and were poking around a little (while Nick recovered from loading the trailer), when I made an amazing find.

You see, our caravan is a bit rough round the edges.  That's an understatement but you get the idea! The existing door has been repaired.  It's functional but no longer has a fly screen insert.

I was looking online last night at caravan doors. Wow! I was stunned at the prices for items but even so didn't spot anything suitable for us. 

Nick had also looked and confirmed today that he found a door for $1,000.00 - or we could custom order, which would be $2,000.00!  As those figures equal around 30-60% of the total cost of our van, we obviously weren't at all tempted to buy!

There didn't seem to be any caravan wreckers - local or otherwise - and I'd started looking at magnetic flyscreens (like these) as an alternative.  I found some on eBay for around $15.00, which seemed a far better solution more in keeping with our budget. 

Against that background, imagine my delight in spotting a caravan door (of the right shape and era) leaning against a wall in the dump shop!  We confirmed the cost - $15.00 - and handed over our money very quickly!

Of course, we weren't sure the door would fit but thought we'd take a chance - and if we lucked out, we could list on eBay.  Although I said to Nick on the way home that if the Universe was going to give me a door, surely it would provide the right one - and as it happens, I was (pretty much) right! 

As soon as we got home, Nick set about fitting the "new" door to the caravan.  It'll need a few small modifications and a replacement handle but it should work wonderfully!  How good is that?!  We are absolutely delighted! 

You can see our other good work in the first pic.  Nick finished fitting the new ply to the rear wall.  I've made most of the curtains - using two thermal-backed curtains bought from one of our local op-shops.  They cost $6.25 each and yielded enough fabric to cover the three side windows and the larger rear window.  The existing long curtain rod was bent so a replacement was found at the dump shop last weekend, as part of our $7.50 haul (which included cutlery and a flyscreen for the roof hatch).  I have enough fabric left over to make tie-backs and a small curtain for the kitchen area. 

One of the curtains was quite smoky, so I soaked it as well as washing twice on a long cycle.  The smoke smell remained, so I googled and then washed the curtain a third time with two cups of white vinegar as well as the detergent.   Success - smoke smell vanished! 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Plying his skill!

When fitting the new tail lights, Nick discovered that our caravan's existing rear lining panel had rotted.  That patch-worked piece was stripped out and a sheet of replacement ply purchased.

The new sheet was run horizontally along the rear wall.  It was a little too long, so Nick cut it into two sections and overlapped them slightly.  The two pieces were wedged into place and left overnight to curve against the outer wall.

Nick trimmed the longer piece this afternoon.  It now fits neatly against the aluminium. 

The shorter piece will be similarly cut - and again overlapped into place.  (Nick wasn't confident of keeping the piece as one length and achieving a good fit).  There are a few more steps before the job is finished but at this stage it's looking good.  Of course, the schmick new piece is in sharp contrast to its aged neighbours!

We're keeping an eye out for bargain insulation. Fingers crossed we'll find some and then Nick will fit that too!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Measuring up!

Nick and I bought two single caravan-sized innerspring mattresses on Friday night. They seemed a bargain, so we hit the "buy it now" button without thinking too much! 

It later occurred to us that the seller hadn't listed the dimensions and we hadn't asked for any details. Call us keen!

The seller was away over the weekend, so Nick collected the mattresses after work yesterday.

They looked very long in the back of Elmer and there was much discussion as to whether or not they'd actually fit. (Rest assured there was a lot of laughter during the debate)! 

After Vaughan came home from school, the mattresses were unloaded and then manoeuvred into place.  Erin's fitted - just!  Vaughan's bed is slightly narrower, so as Max (of Get Smart) would say we - "missed it by that much"! 

Given we were greatly concerned that neither mattress would fit at all, we were quite chuffed to be proved wrong!  Nick removed the narrow side panel (just visible at upper left of the top collage) and will effect a minor modification to the bunk-base - after more fairly redistributing the head-space allocation for each bed.  

In a funny "six degrees of separation" way, when chatting to the mattress sellers Nick realised they were related to the lady who organised our wonderful lapidary field trip to Castlemaine!  How funny is that?! 

I was going to make the front window curtains my prototype because they would be generally less visible in the case of any errors - well, Erin would see them closely but no-one else would!   Nick's plan to lower Vaughan's bunk means the front curtain rod will probably change position, so I'll use a different window as my first mission.

One thing leads to another ...

We purchased our caravan without registration.

VicRoads have an unregistered vehicle permit scheme, where a permit is valid for up to 28 days. This short period enables the vehicle to be towed home and any pre registration work to be done.

Although the van's lights worked on the way home, they ceased to function soon afterward.

Nick investigated and found some of the connections were worn, which caused a fault.

He bought new tail-lights and is working on installing them, of an evening.

Vaughan did a unit on electrical circuits earlier this year and was chatting to Nick about that on Monday evening, before being called upon to assist the new wiring efforts.

As you can see, repairing the lights has highlighted - hah! - other areas in need of repair.  I had assumed the ply "patches" on the interior rear wall of the van were due to previous work being done on the tail-lights.  Nope.  They were put in place to cover holes caused by the original ply rotting.  Given that wall will now be replaced, there are plans to insulate the area as part of the repair. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sunday rocks!

Caravan camp-out aside, we were up bright and early on Sunday morning (the first day of daylight savings) keen for our lapidary club field trip. What a fantastic day!

We met the group at Castlemaine Botanic Gardens, where we had time for a cuppa and chat before moving off with our very knowledgeable tour guide.

One of the club members highly recommended the nearby Castlemaine Gardens Holiday Park.  We may well stay there in the not-too-distant future.

Our first stop was the anticline in Lyttleton Street.  Vaughan climbed over it and chose to sit on the top for most of our tour guide's talk. 

(Although our boy didn't seem overly interested, he had taken in a lot of the discussion).

During the course of the day we viewed beautiful scenery, very interesting granite formations, old gold mines and diggings - as well as lots of rocks. It was our first visit to Castlemaine and we are keen to go back for (at least) a weekend stay. It might be one of our first trips in the caravan!

Given how much bush we'd rambled through without spotting any larger wildlife, we were most surprised to encounter an echidna on the way home, attempting to cross the freeway!  Nick drove around the would-be explorer, then reversed along the tarred road-edge so as to effect a rescue.  Vaughan assisted the relocation to a safer area, where the spiky fellow could access an underpass out of harm's way.

Vaughan insisted on bringing home a scorpion for Erin.  As you can see, she was very excited by his gift!

Caravan camp-out!

We sometimes talk of camping at home but this was the first time we acted on the whim. It was a novel break on the final weekend of the school holidays.

Dinner was cooked over my Mother's Day fire-pit, using our Maxi BBQ. We cooked corn cobs (still in their husks) - and they were a huge hit!  Vaughan was in charge of organising coals away for the foiled potatoes.  He did fine work.  The spuds were nicely roasted, in sharp contrast to the burnt offerings we occasionally serve!  In fact the whole meal was a great success, eaten under the stars while listening to our neighbouring frogs.

We slept in the caravan.  Erin had two 4WD camping mats on her bunk, while Vaughan opted for one.  Although we'd snapped up a bargain eBay offering of two innerspring mattresses, we hadn't been able to arrange collection for the weekend. 

Nick and I found our bed comfortable, though there are plans to construct a built-in version with slightly smaller mattress (for ease of making). 

As first nights go, there were a few hiccups.  Nothing too major. A dimmer night-light was found in the early hours of the morning, which definitely increased comfort levels for the less-sound sleepers! 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Spot the bargain!

We stopped in at Aldi before our  Warrnambool whale-watching.

They had a sale on melamine picnic ware and I fancied having a dedicated set for our (at that stage still on the wishlist) van!

Many of the pieces were just $1.00 each so I was worried they might sell out.  There were several colours available but the green was almost a peridot shade, in keeping with our previous day's fossicking - and I thought it would be the best match for the thermal mugs we already owned. 

The mugs were a wonderful bargain, bought at a liquidation warehouse for $1.00 each.  As they retailed for more than $10.00 usually, we bought 20!  It may have seemed excessive at the time but means we have separate sets for camping, picnicking and caravanning - as well as some in our beverage case!

Nick and I visited our favourite dump shop on Saturday.  We came away with a swag of caravan stuff for just $7.50!  Our loot included two curtain rods, a fly screen (for the roof hatch) and lots of almost-matching cutlery with rather funky skinny handles.

I didn't buy knives as we have them in excess at home, having purchased a wooden box full from a building demolition shop when preparing for our wedding, long before our camping adventures began.  I use the box they came in for my journal cards.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

15-feet for fun?!

There was a lot of excitement this afternoon - Nick rolled up the driveway with our new caravan in tow!

When I say "new", I definitely mean new-to-us because our 1976 Millard has come a long way since first rolling off the production line!

You might recall in early September I spoke of my yen for a van?  At the time, I voiced my desire: 

"Nothing super-flash.  Definitely small.  Probably "vintage" due to (at this stage non-existent) budget!"

Yep.  That's exactly what we got! 

In the space of a month, Nick was paid an unexpected bonus.  We allocated some to "mental health" maintenance - hence we had a modest budget for a caravan, which meant we could start looking (at the bargain basement end of the market)!

Our choice is most definitely functional, rather than fancy.  A coat of paint will probably help and there are vague plans for modifications as time/budget allow.  Replacement mattresses are on the wishlist.  In the meantime though, we can use our 4WD camping mats on the bunk beds (rather than the 40-year-old foam).  I can raid my extensive fabric stash to make new curtains - and maybe custom sheets.  We have plenty of other bedding, so it should be possible for our caravan beds to be made-up in a state of readiness, ensuring quick getaways! 

I'm planning a backyard caravan sleep-out on the weekend, so we can test some of our theories.  Nick and I played caravan parks this afternoon.  We've chosen a garden view site, close to the "camp kitchen" and "amenities block"!  I reckon our caravan christening could be a great school holiday finale - and we might be able to crank up my fire-pit also!  (Erin seemed a bit bemused by the plan but then, she already has an on-site van)!