Want to take a ride?

-S. R. Hadden, Contact


Supplies | Co-Pilot | Worky Bits | Wishlist

I've owned several vehicles since I was old enough to drive, including an '82 cavalier, an 88 Thunderbird, and an 85 LTD, however, in March 2000, my fiancee and I made the investment in a Ford Aerostar minivan. It's been an adventure ever since.

My minivan is my pride and joy. Moreso than even the impressive GushiLan. It was a birthday gift from my fiancee, one of those gifts that keeps on giving (and taking...). So far we've done road trips to Edmonton, Canada,, Maryland to SmedleyFarm (numerous times), and upstate New York (also numerous times). I've acommodated up to 11 people, which was a miracle, in what I call "factory configuration". The ford Aerostar came with two bench seats in the rear, holding 2 and 3 people each. However, at a recent trip to SmedleyFarm, I was given a gift of the rear seat out of a GMC Minivan. The advantages were instantly apparent, as the new rear seats have individual armrests, can recline and flip forward, have a fold-down armrest (which at one point had cupholders in it but is soon to bre replaced by something more interesting).

I've thought about upgrading to a larger, more luxurious van, with more features, but it's been my recent realization that it would (A) only consume more gas and (B) cost more to maintain. The ford aerostar is out there on the market a LOT, parts are relatively easy to find.

There's an impressive slew of equipment that I carry onboard at any given time. Generally, there's a fold-down (third) seat that I only put in if I feel I'm going to need the capacity (I decided long ago that I'd rather transport 4 or 5 people in a lot of comfort than transport nine (again) in sardine formation. The following can also be found onboard (along with links where appropriate).

My Emergency Supplies:

I consider myself remarkably well-prepared in the event of a breakdown, sudden illness, or system failure. I am of the basic philosophy that one should carry enough of any given fluid to refill a vehicle from empty. To that end, I list all this stuff not really because I think you all care, but maybe some resourceful soul will realize the value of carrying this much stuff and follow suit. Case in point, rather recently I replaced the transmission in the van at AAMCO (Don't take your transmission anywhere else, folks!), and because of a bad O-ring, I started leaking fluid. Just that day I had restocked the transmission fluid with three quarts. People asked why. This is why. Because of that, I was able to make it home safely and get the vehicle to the shop for a covered warranty repair. Otherwise, it would have been a $150 tow that (likely) the warranty would not have covered.

Vehicle Rear:

Two milk crates rest in the rear of the vehicle containing the following:

Drivers Seat:

Certain Things should be kept within the reach of the driver, so here's what you'll usually find underneath my driver's seat:

Passenger Seat:

I hate to drive alone, and I DO NOT go long distances (over a 2 hour drive) without a competent co-pilot. The reasons for this are because I get bored, and lose track of time and tend not to recognize my own limitations. Accessable to the co-pilot are all of the following:

Under Passenger Seat:
The passenger seat on the aerostar has a locking drawer underneath, which contains all of the following:

Rear Seat:
The aerostar has nifty side pockets next to all the seats (built into the sidewalls). Within reach of my rear passengers you'll find:

Co-Pilot Requirements:

Ideally, a co-pilot should be able to do the following:

The folks usually at my side on the trips include Kat, Izzy, and Paul.

The Worky Bits:
Sure, anyone can throw a lot of useful supplies in a van, but I've done a bit more, added a touch of style and made a lot of people s
ay "damn, this is hooked up".

IBM ThinkPad 760 ED (Pentium I, 166Mhz, 32mb Ram, 800x600 display with composite in/out, SVHS in/out, onboard sound, onboard MPEG DSP, 8x CDROM, swappable for floppy (WHY!?). It plays music, it navigates the trip, and I can channel a VCR or other video source in and play it on screen. On top of that, the MPEG DSP (which also drives the modem and sound ports) allows it to play mp3s (which use the same compression scheme as mpeg movies) in an almost-native fashion. Generally, you can find a cd full of mp3 music in the cdrom, which I run through the extremely popular WinAmp software, patched into the vehicle sound system through an ordinary casette adapter.

Radio Shack's 220W DC-AC inverter. Yes, I've gotten the El Cheapo inverter that plugs into your lighter socket. This is the most powerful one I could find at the time, and it has performed beautifully, other than the fact that it's killed my battery more than once (it will auto-shutdown under 10 volts, but the large engine takes more juice than that). At some point I may upgrade to something by PortaWattz, (www.statpower.com) pending a complete overhaul of the electrical system, and leave the 220W inverter for my Mobile Configuration (see below). Between the driver and passenger seats you'll find a power strip, where most of the onboard 110v components are powered from.

Motorola's M3682 cell phone, service by VoiceStream. Because of recent suffolk county laws, a handsfree adapter is required when teh vehicle is moving. I generally prefer something big and over-the head than something compact that hangs out of my ear like some kind of booger, simply because I tend to wear it for LONG periods of time. I usually keep my phone mounted to the right of the steering column. I am working on acquiring the cellar adapter cable that will allow my laptop and cell phone to interface.

Also by Motorola, the PageWriter 2000x, with Nationwide Service by Skytel. This little baby gives me email access, anywhere on the planet, as well as a mobile fax address, voicemail address, and the ability to control my server on the fly. Thic can either be found chraging in its charger base (which allows it to sync data with the laptop), or clipped to my overhead visor, where it's easy to read even in fairly direct sunlight.

From Delorme, the EarthMate serial port 24 channel GPS reciever, a calculator sized device that sits velcroed to my dashboard, and after a two-minute startup delay to sync with the satellites, it can map me to anywhere on the planet within 25 feet (and often, as close as ten feet now that they turned off Selective Availability). The software I use, Street Atlas USA (version 7.0, there's an update out that I'm considering purchasing, though), can plot a course to anywhere from anywhere in the US (Not Canada, I was disappointed to find out), although it has the annoyance of either requiring you to download a lot of data to your hard drive, or have the CD in the cdrom. Features such as automatic notification and recalculation when you're off course, voice notification of upcoming exits and waypoints, and a remarkable amount of configurability (such as the ability to plot a course and avoid toll roads or to include the scenic route) are all standard. If you add an internet connection, the system is smart enough to highlight traffic and can even be configured to route around it. The new version also allows you to do clever things like voice CONTROLLED navigation "computer, state time to finish". Soon. At the present moment, I keep the eastern seaboard and new england on the hard drive, and the CDrom safely tucked into my visor.

Also on my dashboard, you'll find a nice 3-band radar/laser detector. I wouldn't say I have it for violating the speed limit, but I think it's useful to know when it's a good idea to follow the exact letter of the law. I mean, lets face it, minivans can't achieve 90 (well, mine can, but that's only because my speedometer is calibrated for kilometers), but I've had several friends recently busted for doing the exact same speed as everyone around them. And face it, when you have somewhere to be, nobody under tha age of sixty does the speed limit, exactly.

From Igloo, you'll find the CoolMate series of "Active ThermoElectric Coolers", which pretty much means waterless iceless noiseless refrigerators, riding somewhere within easy reach of one of the passengers. I have the 40 gallon version. I generally always keep it stocked and ready to go, but don't bother plugging it in during regular times, since you can't spit on Long Island without hitting at least two 7-11 stores. Generally standard stock includes: At least a six-pack of Coke, a 4-pack of Gatorade, at least 4 bottles of bottled water, some Parmalat (although I generally won't put that stuff in unless the fridge is powered up), and some Powerbars. In general, enough to sustain you for at least a day in the event of what I call extreme circumstances (for example an overnight breakdown on some deserted road in the middle of Saskatoon).

From Thermos, who you would expect a cooling product from, the wonderful portable Grill2Go. I picked this nifty thing up when the people I was living with threw a party and people brought raw meat. I said "Okay, I'm gonna go out to Home Depot and buy a grill". Nobody believed me. I don't bluff. At less than 1' x 2' x 4' the thing folds portably, cleans easily, and includes everything you'd need to prepare nearly a full meal. It's only in the van for road trips, you'll find it near the back.

I recently acquired a trailer hitch off of ebay. It should be installed whenever I next put the vehicle in for maintenance. I also managed to acquire a trailer hitch bike rack (of all bike racks, this type is arguably the easiest to load, onload, and work with), which lends an additional degree of fun to road trips.

Updated front console (NEW!):

My front console, where the laptop sits, has traditionally been a square milkcrate with a towel over it for minor shock absorption. ($5000 penalty for intentional misuse, EVIL!). I was considering getting a Jotto Desk for a while, but realized the limitations (no underneath storage space), and now I'm working on a new enclosure that will hopefully not only support my laptop better, but provide useful accessories like places I can mount additional radios (I've always wanted a CB, despite the fact that cell phones are the inter-vehicle tool of choice on a road trip), possibly add more gauges and controls, and (this is important!) add cup holders that can actually hold a double gulp (wal-mart has this nifty cup holder that's adjustable enough to hold anything from 2" to 6" in diameter, it looks cheezy but I've never found anything with function that compares. The thing actually clamps down on your drink!)

Also in the new console, I'm planning a 2" thick layer of foam rubber, with strategically placed heatsinks that will rest against the hottest parts of the laptop (the 760ED is IBM's hottest running laptop EVER, it's the highest speed processor without a cooling fan they've ever made). Naturally, they HAD to make it black. And had to cram ALL the computing components into a space the size of a deck of cards. With no vents. The only thing they did was put this "oh crap don't burn my lap" insulating
pad on the bottom of the thing. I'm also considering embedding the VCR into this console. As far as materials go, basic plywood (with a half-decent looking finish), or I may feel the need to carpet the thing.

Update:Dronnia, AKA Paul, AKA Madman, has built me the new console. It is approximately 27 inches long, and has two flat plateaus, one at 8" high, one at 10", with a slope joining them. Each segment is about 8" in length, and the whole thing is about ten inches wide, narrower than the milkcrate, but making things easier to get to. All this sounds complex until you see pictures. The material of choice was 3/4 inch plywood, which we then covered with a sliced up doormat from Home Depot for $10, held in place with ordinary roofing nails (the panel where the laptop rests also got two layers of carpet padding for shock absorption), and then most of the sections were finished off with basic right angle flashing (which we pre-drilled and nailed into place. My inverter, power strip, and 3-way 12 volt tap now have been mounted to the inside walls, leaving plenty of space free for storage. We drilled 4 1" holes at the front of the thing, I may drill a fifth for a large cooling fan.

I may also embed some 12-volt outlets into the rear of the console (facing the passengers), but I'd really prefer to wait for the electrical upgrade for that.

I have plans to embed electrical systems controls into the top of the slanted section. This will probably be done by slicing out the carpet and a rectangular section of plywood, adding more flashing, then putting a piece of brushed plate metal on top, which is easy to drillpress to add switches.. The total switch section would probably be about 1.5" from top to bottom, enough to accomodate a single row of aircraft style switches (you know, the red things with the safety shield?) I would of course paint the things black and put some neon blue flecking on top.

I've also seen a console for about $600 at the local Sam's Club (warehouse store) that has a 5" CRT-style screen, as well as a DVD player built in. This may be an option as well, giving me a screen to use for the second computer (coming soon).

Secondary OBC (coming soon):

Yes, I'm planning to add a second onboard pc. If I do so it will run FreeBSD. Why? More reliable, faster boottimes, oh and by the way it lets me work from the road more easily. Here is my wishlist:

Upgraded Electrical System (coming soon to a GushiVan near you):

Currently, the Van's electrical system is pretty standard, but recent upgarades have forced me to realize that one standard starting battery is simply not enough.

After all, I'm running a full power strip of 110v accessories, including the laptop, and whatever chargers I use, plus my cooler, plus a VCR, plus the possibility of adding anything else. To this end...

A battery box located under the rear driver's seat (that's the first row of backseats, driver's side) will contain a deep cycle battery, running across a set of heavy cables to the Hellroaring Technologies Battery Isolater and Combiner. This very unique device allows me to charge both batteries, but keep them separate, and keep the power systems stable (most
other products have problems doing this because of the way they isolate things). An optional remote module (optional for most people, a must for me) allows me to switch over the batteries in case the main dies out for any reason, or in case the rear needs more power, or to completely cut off the rear system.

I am searching for a reasonable dual-battery meter, with a double throw spring loaded rocker switch (center being off), but I have been unable to find one of these reasonably priced (although I am told HellRoaing Technologies is considering making one), so I may go for a dual-meter setup in my extended console, with a single momentary switch to enable the meters (basic two-relay circuit). I may also rig it such that vehicle accessory power enables the meters, but such a thing requires cracking the dash and tapping the radio's accessory circuit, not difficult but if I do that I have MANY other things I can do, such as build a bunch of otherwise unavailable equipment in.

Mobile Configuration:

As part of my emergency supply kit I carry a century battery starter, which is enough to start the car ON ITS OWN (don't suggest you test this, but it's been done). Since I always keep it in the vehicle fully charged, and it comes with two 12v sockets on it, I've on occasion attached my inverter to it so I could use the laptop (or any other 12v device) anywhere. (No, the damned laptop battery doesn't work). Sometime in the future I plan to switch over to the Thinkpad 12v Adapter, but a portable 120v outlet, anywhere, has made life rather convenient at any point.

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