Back in 2003 I bought a 1994 G-20 Chevy van which had a Gladiator conversion package. I called it, appropriately, “The Gladiator”. I had no intentions of using that van as a “camper van”. It had a rear seat that went down flat and was power-operated, which I thought was pretty cool and high-tech lol. I took the Chevy exploring and I decided to sleep in it to save on lodging. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but it did provide an inexpensive and safe night’s sleep.
On these trips, I’d take along extensions cords and power strips and use a campground’s 120 V power to power my electrical needs. I’d run the cord into the van through the bottom of one of the side doors. Me and The Gladiator took many trips together, and we covered many many miles throughout Michigan’s U.P. (Upper Peninsula).
But everything in life gets old and tired and worn out, and The Gladiator was no exception. I began searching for another vehicle.
My requirements were high, but funds were low. I knew that I wanted to do more traveling and exploring, and sharing those experiences with others via my website and through my photography. So I needed a vehicle that would help me to do that. A vehicle that I could also somehow use as a mobile office for my photography and while out exploring. And still, because of finances, it also had to be my every day vehicle. So, I began shopping around, not expecting to find a vehicle that would satisfy all of my needs at the price that I could afford.
I saw a 1995 GMC 2500 Vandura with a Geneva conversion package for sale on Craigslist. It had a high-top (hey, more head room I’m thinking!). It was located in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Wow. That’s like 3-1/2 hrs away from me! Anyway I talked to the owner, and decided to take a chance. With cash in my pocket, I left Menominee on March 19, 2011, and headed for Baraboo.
After all of these years, The Gladiator sure was worn out and in pretty bad shape. I had a loose tie rod and bad front tires due to needing an alignment. It was burning oil, and it had a coolant leak. But if I was going to get another vehicle I sure wasn’t going to put any money into it.
On my way to Baraboo, I was white-knuckling it. The steering wheel would shake violently if I went over 45 MPH. I was worried about being stranded, or worse, something breaking and causing an accident. I said some prayers for safe travels as I pushed it to 55 MPH. I said a LOT of prayers… for REAL… for I really didn’t think that the ‘ol Gladiator would get me to our destination. I also prayed that the vehicle in Baraboo was as decent as it was described and had looked in the photos, because I honestly did not think that The Gladiator would have made it back to Menominee!
I pulled into the address where the GMC was located. More like “limped” in, actually. My first impression of the GMC was “MAN is THIS van HUGE!!” It was a bit longer than the The Gladiator, and as I mentioned, it had a high-top. There was a heck of a lot more room in it than in The Gladiator. And it certainly seemed well cared for.
Immediately, I began envisioning the potential of the GMC… a vehicle for weekend photo excursions, using it for exploring and photos during my vacation time, and for using it as a mini mobile office while on other photo shoots. And of course as an everyday vehicle, as like I’ve said I still had to work a full time job until my business could support me.
I checked it over, inside and out. The engine sounded good and strong. No fluid leaks. The oil looked and smelled ok. Tires looked good… almost new. It rode nice. It had a remote start and remote lock/unlock. I wanted to have the van checked out by a mechanic, but the garages were closed because I had arrived too late. So needless to say, any decision would be based solely upon my own inspection. And, as you know, I bought it.
The Gladiator could be left there and then picked up in a few days. I was going to save it for parts. I just didn’t want to let it go! I ended up deciding to donate it to charity though, and I went down a couple days later, on March 20, 2011, to get some photo gear and tools that I had left in it. It was sad to say goodbye to the ‘ol Gladiator. VERY sad. I had had it for 8 years. And it had served me well.
On the way home I was on E and I fueled up in Appleton. What the heck?!? 31 gallons and $125 to fill it up?!? Surely the gas pumps were off and I was being ripped off! Nope, I wasn’t. Unbeknownst to me, the size of the gas tank was 32 gallons. Wow. I was wondering (and worried) what I had gotten myself in to. Will I be able to afford the fuel for this thing?? When I got home I filled up again, and I calculated 15 MPG. Ok. I can live with that. I felt a little better now.
I named my GMC “The Beast” because it was big and it looked beastly lol. I couldn’t wait to take my first trip in it. I would have some basic needs while out exploring and searching for photo opportunities, one of which is electricity. I would need electricity for a lamp, charging camera batteries, charging my laptop, for a small electric heater, a fan, and a microwave. But I wanted something a little more permanent and safer than the set up I used with The Gladiator (extension cords), so my first mods (short for “modifications”) was to provide a more practical means to use AC (campground/household) electricity inside of the van. I began extensively researching products.
Next chapter: Camper Van Mods (Coming Soon!)