Saturday, May 5, 2012

Westfalia Improvements - Part IV

Another in the series of additions, improvements and modifications.  This is a never-ending quest for most Westy owners.  Any time I'm around other Westys, I'm always interested to see what's been done to gain greater convenience and comfort.  Online forums such as The Samba make sharing information easy also.  I've never encountered anyone (unless they have a patent and are selling product) who didn't mind sharing their ideas no matter how innovative and original.  Of course, my ideas tend to be more akin to re-inventing the wheel, but hanging around wrecking yards, hardware stores and puttering about in my shop usually helps keep me out of trouble.

Valve & hose for 1lb propane bottle
One day as I was having Westly's propane tank filled I thought about what I would do if it ran out while camping.  The tanks holds about 3 gallons of liquefied propane. I don't use the stove much and don't have a heater so the fridge accounts for the greatest propane consumption.  I always figure flexibility is the key to stress-free outdoor life, so if I can't cook inside and the refrigerated food spoils, I'm sure I'll figure something out and survive.  Besides, my trips usually last at most four days and anybody that can't put up with a little inconvenience for that long might be better off staying home (no, Dear I wasn't necessarily referring to you).

Still, it's always good policy to be prepared.  Bus Depot sells a kit of hoses and connectors that allow you attach an external propane bottle for extra capacity (or if your main tank runs out) and you can also fuel portable devices such as a bar-b-que or lantern.  But, in an effort to appear clever and resourceful (in reality - cheap), I stopped by my friendly Ace hardware and brought an assortment of fittings, valves, and hoses to the counter.   Then I recalled how adept I am at picking out the one part in the bin that somehow became separated from it's barcode, thus holding up the checkout line for 15 minutes.  But I scored on a heavily discounted (it had been returned with a missing part, which I didn't need anyway) natural gas grill quick release fitting, hose and regulator.

Back at home, I inserted a brass T fitting into the gas line that runs from the tank to the stove.  A ball valve (for shut off) went into that, then the receptacle of the quick-release fitting.  This is all inside the storage cabinet adjacent to the fridge, between the stove and sink.

The valve and receptacle in place
Important - use a valve designed for gas, not water
Very important -  check for gas leaks with soapy water (watch for bubbles) rather than using a flame!
Hose, regulator and adapter
Hose plugged in with bottle attached
The hose is long enough to place the bottle outside
Now, if the main tank runs out, I can close it's shut-off valve, plug the hose into the quick-release fitting, open it's valve and attach a one pound disposable propane bottle onto the other end which also has a regulator because the disposable bottles release propane at a higher pressure than the hose, and the Westy appliances are comfortable with.  I also made an adapter so I could use this setup with a POL (the fitting that works with the larger portable propane tanks).

By the way, some interpret POL as "Put On Left", referring to the reversed thread - it turns to the left to tighten, just of the opposite of "Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty" that applies most everywhere else.  The fact is though, that POL refers to Prest-O-Light, the company that originally designed the fitting.

That's a lot of text for one little project, and truthfully, I've not yet used it except in testing.  But it's there if needed.

Exhaust Fan
I had noticed some Westy's using 4" computer cooling fans in the window behind the stove/sink for ventilation.  These don't move a lot of air, but they are quiet, operate on 12 volts, and very inexpensive.  I just happened to have a pile of them in my shop salvaged from defunct computers and planned to install one as we like to chow down on pasta while camping, and cooking pasta produces volumes of steam.

One velvet morning while doing some gardening,  I found myself staring at a down-spout to drain pipe adapter (3X3X4 flexible pvc) with a rectangle shape on one end, round on the other.  "A 4" fan would fit nicely in the rectangle end with a spacer" I thought to myself (or maybe I said it out loud - I do that a lot) and leaving the Dimorphotheca Sinuata to fend for itself, I headed for my shop.  I made a couple of spacers from scrap wood, and cast about the shop for other parts I would need to bring my plan into fruition.

Downspout adapter
Computer cooling fan with wood spacers
Home theater speaker mounting bracket
Threaded stud with knob from an office chair
3X4 grill (see below)
Close up of the wood spacers
Switch with resister for high/low speed
The resister is inside some heat-shrink tubing
Front view w/o grill
Cell phone cord goes through grommet on the back
and is wired into the switch
Assembly completed
And installed above the sink
The fan/spacer assembly fits snugly in the opening and is further held in place by small screws through the sides.  The DPDT center off switch is mounted below.  I scavenged some resisters off an old Vanagon instrument cluster and tested them until I found one that would give a good range of high/low speeds.  The speaker mounting bracket went in the top and the threaded stud/knob passes through a small hole in the shelf and threads into it to hold the fixture in place while allowing re-positioning or removal.  The 1/4" power jack plugs into a corresponding 12 volt tap.  The grill finishes it off (except that the screws holding it on are ugly).  It came from Rockler Woodworking and was the only part I bought (there's one around the shop somewhere, but I couldn't find it).  The fan works well, and is especially useful when winter camping with doors and windows closed.  Of course, the window directly behind must be open a little so the exhausted air is removed from the van which led to...

Plexiglass Side Window Rain Shields
The Westy comes fully equipped with a couple of sliding side windows with screens.  Due to the curve of the body (yes, Vanagons do have some curves - actually "angles" would be more correct) if the windows are open while rain in falling, some rain will join you inside, dampening your party.  And, since the exhaust fan above requires a window to be open and is most effective in wet weather, some means of shielding the open window from precipitation is necessary.  I searched the online forums and found that, fortunately, more clever minds than mine had already addressed the problem, and the solution was simple.

The rain shield in place
A piece of 1/8" Plexiglas, cut about an inch taller than the window opening, with corner notches (increasing the height will result in a greater arc - more air flow but some rain finds it's way around).  Here's how it works - open the sliding window, bend the Plexiglas into a curve and insert it into the upper and lower window track, with the notches up against the leading edge (this leaves a little overhang beyond the opening), then slide the window back to leave as much as you want open. The shield is completely transparent and allows ventilation while deflecting rain.  Pretty cool, huh?  I happened to have some Plexiglas scraps around my shop and made a couple.  When not in use, I store them in an old pillowcase to prevent scratching.  If the rain is blowing hard sideways, some will still find it's way in, but in that case you may want to think about packing up and heading home anyway because what you are experiencing is called Foul Weather.

As often as possible...
Refrigerator Air Circulator
While rummaging around in the shop one day, I found this little fan, left over from another era when I had a muy grande camper sitting on an F350 diesel, double cab, dually pickup.

The truck, with camper in the background
I averaged 16mpg on trips with the camper on - not bad for such a behemoth
The fan that was in the fridge in the camper on the truck
The fan is called the Fridgemate, and it circulates air around inside the fridge for about 30 days on 2 D cell batteries.  If placed where it can blow across the cooling fins in the fridge it's surprisingly effective at keeping the contents cooler.  I see they are still available and as the beleaguered Dometic RM182 fridge can generally use all the help it can get, I recommend it as a worthwhile investment.  There's also a model that you can hook up to the 12 volt wiring and not have to replace batteries.  But if I was going to go that route, I would use a computer cooling fan attached in there somehow (I still have a pile of them).

I picked up these Hella 500 driving lights at last weekend's
PNW Springmeet Show & Swap
and devised a cunning way of using Simpson Strong-Tie connectors to
mount them without drilling any holes. Not wired in yet - details forthcoming....

See more of my modifications here...

Or, if you're weary of this piddly crap I've been doing and you want to see some really cool stuff, check out the Vanagon mods on this blog:
This guy has loads of good ideas, a shop full of tools he's not afraid to use, and seems to be a prolific writer as well with interests other than Vanagons!

Perhaps you're curious to see what happens when you cross a stretched Vanagon Westfalia with a wrecked Tesla?  I mean, who wouldn't be?  Well there's really only one place to go:
Absolutely captivating reading!


  1. Nice to meet you and Westly at the Lake Lenore Caves this past weekend! I checked out your blog and love the improvements you chronicle.

    We might borrow some of these ideas...esp. the spare propane canister hook-up. Our Westy doesn't like to be refilled until the propane tank is completely empty!

    Our round-the-country trip in our Westy is chronicled at

    All best!

  2. I started reading your travel blog, but it will take awhile - what an inspiring adventure! Hope to see you around the Coulee again sometime, it's one of my favorite places to explore. Do borrow all the ideas you want, and let me know how they work out for you. If you ever need a place to hang out this side of the Sound(near SeaTac airport), you're welcome here.

  3. is the exhaust fan for when you're cooking/frying something? I have a skylight w/exhaust in the roof of my 84 but it's not the stock roof so maybe it wouldn't work for you...

  4. Hey JW, yes, it doesn't move a lot of air, but is useful when cooking, especially in weather where the doors & windows are mostly closed. Westly doesn't have a skylight/vent, I guess some early Westies didn't. There is a place molded into the poptop for it and I've thought about adding one but they're a little pricey for the OE version. I have seen Westies where a standard RV skylight was put in. Of course it requires cutting a large hole & I'm not ready to do that just yet! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Here is an adapter to allow a refill from a 1 lb. canister when you run out while camping -

  6. Thanks Anonymous, that's a great idea and much simpler than the way I accomplished it. Thanks you for checking out my blog, and commenting!

  7. Doesn't the "plug in" 1lb disposable tank push propane back into the VW tank and toward the burners simultaneously? The "T" connector diverts the gas in both directions doesn't it? I'd love to do this. Looking for a little more direction. external tank is removed right now, and was considering not replacing it.