For 3 days, I lived a camping nightmare. I was stuck in an old and leaky tent in the pouring rain with water coming in from the bottom. If I lay on my sleeping pad just right, I could balance in a way that would prevent either side of my sleeping bag from slipping into the rainwater, and this is when I thought to myself, “I’ll never do this again.” I maintained that commitment by purchasing a campervan.
Camping in a Class B seemed like the perfect way to travel. It requires minimal setup, gives you amenities in a small space, and you stay dry and off the ground. My dream came true when a friend decided to part with his 1991 Dodge Roadtrek 190 Versatile. The only part that functioned completely was the Dodge B250 engine. I bought the vehicle in the fall of 2021 and spent 9 months working on restoring its functionality.
Here are some of the fears I overcame and lessons I learned along the way.
1. Chase Your Dreams
An RV is ultimately a tool for experiencing the outdoors, spending time with family, and having the ability to travel in semi-luxury. Because of this, I think it’s valuable to tackle a vintage RV remodel by dreaming first. Dreaming can feel like the wrong place to start when the windows leak, water pipes need to be replaced, and the paint is peeling.
But the goal of owning an RV is to get out there. From my perspective, dreaming is what gives you the motivation to put in the hard work and overcome the frustrations of renovation.
My wife and I dreamed of long trips, off-grid camping, and being able to head out without a campsite and have the amenities necessary to make it work. Because of this, I knew I’d need solar power and a sizable battery bank. I began my RV renovation with this project. In hindsight, it may have been foolish to do the biggest upgrade first when I had more important things to tackle, but it helped keep me focused throughout the rest of the project.
2. Ask for Help
I’m a social studies teacher by trade. When I bought my RV, I didn’t know the difference between AC and DC power or how a 12-volt water pump worked. What I did know was how to ask for help.
I was invited to join a Facebook group for people who own the same type of RV as me: classic and vintage Roadtreks made between 1987 and 2003. I couldn’t have accomplished this project without the kind and knowledgeable people who answered my many, many questions. They helped me understand the ins and outs of the Roadtrek system and helped me find replacement parts.
If you’re starting a vintage RV renovation, tackling a van conversion, or just dreaming, chances are there’s a forum out there for you. People love to share their knowledge, so don’t think you have to figure out the whole process on your own.
3. Learn a New Skill
I came into this project with zero technical knowledge or skills, but I’m a fast learner, and many basic skills are easy to gain.
The single biggest skill I’ve developed is my understanding of the 12-volt electrical system in the RV. When I first purchased the RV, my solar power ambitions made me aware that I’d have to learn something about electricity and wiring. Though I was eager to try things out, I was a little nervous. Electricity is no joke, and I didn’t want to suffer any unnecessary shocks.
Fortunately, the RV solar power industry is growing fast—there’s an unfathomable wealth of knowledge available online.
4. Embrace Your Next Problem
Renovating a vintage RV can get frustrating—my campervan is 31 years old. That’s a lot of time for rubber seals to dry out, plastic to melt, and systems to fail. For a time, it felt like every time I fixed something, I added three new things to my to-do list.
The key to addressing this frustration is to assign each task a level of urgency. What must be done next to restore functionality? On a spring break trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, our fridge died. I knew I had to replace that immediately. When I replaced the 12-volt water pump, I had to disconnect all of the water tank level sensors, and they likely won’t be connected anytime soon. When working with a vintage rig, it’s crucial to manage the overwhelming size of the project via prioritization.
The RV community is huge and hobbyists across the country join it all the time. A great way to join is to find an older RV and fix it up yourself. The renovation process can feel daunting, but it can be doable, rewarding, and enjoyable for many.