Growing family, big plans....Smaller Budget

Hi all, this is my first post on expedition portal, still new to the site. My wife and I are interested in building out a new adventure vehicle for ourselves and our growing family--In the last 12 months we've added Baby #1 and a doggo who will be adventuring with us whenever and wherever we go for the foreseeable future! We are planning on having at least one more little human, and possibly two :) We've been through a number of adventure rigs, ranging from a 2WD '01 4Runner to a '98 Tacoma 4x4 to a '97 Previa AWD SC van, and then decided to full time it in a 1972 Airstream after a brief attempt at a skoolie conversion. Quite the range of rides we've had! We still have the Airstream and we tow that with an '01 F250 7.3 4x4. Currently the truck also serves as our real expedition camper, with a cap that's built out with storage, kitchen, etc.

But--Changes in family and lifestyle are seeming to push us towards a new adventure vehicle. We like to mountain bike, rock climb, ski, backpack, and camp--obviously as far from paved roads as possible. At the same time, we'll probably be on pavement for 60-80% of the time, getting to and from trailheads in the American Southwest, and especially in the wintertime going to and from ski areas/backcountry trailheads.

Here's my wish list in terms of a new adventure vehicle:
-Must seat 5 passengers safely, including infant carseats
-Must be highway-worthy/comfortable at speeds of 75+ MPH, and for drives up to 6-10 hours long
-Must travel well on snowy, icy roads (4x4)
-Must sleep at least 4 humans comfortably, possibly 5
-Must be comfortable down to appx. 0 degrees F
-Must be reliable, and not require maintenance/work in the field regularly
-Must be comfortable to live in for 1 week between food/water stops and 4 weeks of full-time life on the road
-Must be easier to drive than an F250 with a 31ft trailer behind it! Must also be significantly quieter than a 7.3 motor (Ha! Most jumbo jets are!)
-Must have 120v power, solar charging
-Must have a toilet of some kind. Other plumbing optional for now, maybe someday to be completed.
-Once the truck is built out, we want the flexibility of possibly moving it to a new cab/chassis at some point in the future (10-20 years from now).
-Total budget at this time is appx. $20-25k, with an additional appx. $20k once we sell our Airstream. More to be spent as we go, but that's the major budget.

Skills we have from our travels and renovation projects:
-Basic Finish Carpentry (shelves, beds, drawers, etc)
-Plumbing
-12v and 120v electric systems (solar, wiring, inverters, etc)
-Simple vehicle repairs

Obviously, there are vehicles out there that meet the whole wish list and are ready to go. Earthroamers, custom built FWCs, etc all exist--But they also range from $60-300k+, and that's money we just dont have! So, here's my thinking/plan, and I'd love y'alls experienced thoughts and ideas if you're willing to share them:

Step 1: Buy a used Ford 450/550 Crew Cab 4x4 with a 12 ft flatbed on it
Step 2: Pay a welder to build out a rudimentary frame on the back of it, and start working on enclosing it. Also include a 4x12 folding deck
Step 3: Enclose frame in wood, insulate, and start the interior work
Step 4: Install systems needed prior to build out (12v wiring, vent fans, heater, water tanks, or at least locations for them, etc.)

Once we get to this point, it would be possible to sell the Airstream and shift over to this new rig as our only adventure vehicle. This would free up additional capital to finish the build out.

Step 5: Install kitchen, bed systems, drawers, bathroom completion, plumbing if desired, etc.
Step 6: ADVENTURE TIME!
Step 7: Add tweaks and changes and additions (A swinging hitch-mounted grill, you say? Bike racks and ski tubes? A roof top mini-deck? Outdoor shower?)

Attached is a design I've been playing with for the flatbed build. I'd love y'all's thoughts if you have any!

Pressing questions I have at this point are the following:
-Is it worth finding a 6.7 powerstroke truck, or is going with a 6.0 that's bulletproofed it good enough?
-How hard would a bed swap be in the future? Is this something that aftermarket flat bed installers would be okay doing once the rest is built?
-In looking at my design, do you think the 12 ft bed + a 2 foot angled overhang will be okay on a 450/550 DRW body?
-Are there specific VEHICLE upgrades (suspension, steering, interior, lights, etc?) that you think would be necessary for this type of build? It seems that a 450/550 will have a good enough suspension system for the weight, and while a lightbar or new push grill would be sweet, it's not highest on the priority list for now....)
-Am I totally crazy to be going for this big of a design and idea?

Long term life goals? Drive to Patagonia with the family when our kiddos are between 10 and 14 years old......It feels like this sort of a build might be a step in that direction.....

Thanks, in advance, for your thoughts or ideas or suggestions!
 

Attachments

Hourless Life

Active member
First of all welcome to Expedition Portal. Don’t have too much feedback for you on your specific questions. But I did want to say it is great to see another family on here.

I would add that if you are thinking of eventually taking the rig all the way to Patagonia, that you would consider overall height for shipping, and the fact that much of the world is not ready quite yet for low sulfur diesel.

Other than that however, I’m excited for you guys and glad to see you on here.

My very best,

Eric
 

DiploStrat

Expedition Leader
First of all welcome to Expedition Portal. Don’t have too much feedback for you on your specific questions. But I did want to say it is great to see another family on here.

I would add that if you are thinking of eventually taking the rig all the way to Patagonia, that you would consider overall height for shipping, and the fact that much of the world is not ready quite yet for low sulfur diesel.

Other than that however, I’m excited for you guys and glad to see you on here.

My very best,

Eric
Unless you have an older diesel that can take high sulphur diesel, save yourself a lot of aggravation and go with a gasoline engine. You may want to re-gear a bit lower for high altitudes, big tires, heavy campers, etc. You will be spending a lot of time well over 5,000 feet.
 
Thanks for your replies--Yeah, in terms of the Patagonia dream, it's so far out at this point (10-15 years, really) that I'd like to stick with a Diesel rig for now--The MPG is worth it to me, as is the reliability factor in the US (Queue Diesel vs. gas fight. But, it's where I am at least....). I definitely would be open to swapping over to a gas frame if the ULSD issue was still real when we start planning that trip for real.

In terms of looking at Ram or Chevy, I'm not opposed at all, but havent found anything even close to my price range (Looking to spend 12-16k on a cab/chassis, maybe up to 20k if there's already a flatbed in place). For that price point, I've found several 6.0 fords, and one or two 6.7s (one was even a 2015!). All of them have around 200k of mileage on them, and most would need 2-3k in upgrades (either bulletproofing or a new turbo) to be really super reliable at the higher mileage....

Total height of the rig should be in the 12-13 ft range, definitely under the 13.5 max standard in the US--I assume that's ship-able?

Good point in terms of being at high altitude--Here in Albuquerque I'm at 5,000 ft, and often go up into mountains around here in the 10-12k range already!

And Eric--Good to see another family, likewise! Thanks to all for welcoming me!
 

Hourless Life

Active member
So just a quick idea on height for shipping containers for when you do get that far. I’ll add a screenshot I just took. But it is accurate.

So with what you are planning to build you’d have to do a RoRo (Roll on Roll off) which can be pretty sketchy.

I know you are a long ways off from these considerations, just good to have the info rattling around in your mind as you spend your hard earned dollars on a build.

Would love to sit by a campfire with your family someday!



Hope that helps!

Eric


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

DiploStrat

Expedition Leader
Thanks for your replies--Yeah, in terms of the Patagonia dream, it's so far out at this point (10-15 years, really) that I'd like to stick with a Diesel rig for now--The MPG is worth it to me, as is the reliability factor in the US (Queue Diesel vs. gas fight. But, it's where I am at least....). I definitely would be open to swapping over to a gas frame if the ULSD issue was still real when we start planning that trip for real.

In terms of looking at Ram or Chevy, I'm not opposed at all, but havent found anything even close to my price range (Looking to spend 12-16k on a cab/chassis, maybe up to 20k if there's already a flatbed in place). For that price point, I've found several 6.0 fords, and one or two 6.7s (one was even a 2015!). All of them have around 200k of mileage on them, and most would need 2-3k in upgrades (either bulletproofing or a new turbo) to be really super reliable at the higher mileage....

Total height of the rig should be in the 12-13 ft range, definitely under the 13.5 max standard in the US--I assume that's ship-able?

Good point in terms of being at high altitude--Here in Albuquerque I'm at 5,000 ft, and often go up into mountains around here in the 10-12k range already!

And Eric--Good to see another family, likewise! Thanks to all for welcoming me!
Again, if you are thinking of the Andes, nothing in the US comes close. Not in altitude but more to the point, not in duration - that is, time spent up high. 5,000 feet is the low altitude to which we would evacuate heart attacks. In the Andes you can expect to spend weeks above 10,000 feet.

Make no mistake, I own a diesel truck, my second in fact, but at today's prices, gasoline is a much better deal.

As far as shipping goes, Ro-Ro is often a better deal and the best deals for South America may be from the continental US, not Panama.

As always, YMMV! ;)
 

ExpoMike

Well-known member
Working on my M1010 camper conversion and having read dozens upon dozens of builds, the one thing most all have in common is, it will cost twice as much and take 3 times as long. There are those who have built ones quickly but you find they have a fair amount of money to throw at is and it is almost a full time job building. 2-3 year builds are very common.

Wish you the best and hope you document what you build.
 

Korey H

Active member
Hey Matt

We’re a fam of six plus fur baby and are building on an 08 c5500 quad cab 4x former mobile command unit. This with hopes of a future panamerican drive. Tough to find just the right fit I look forward to seeing the direction you go. Good to see another family.

No build thread yet, it’s on the todo list.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Srpat

Observer
I can't add too much, but here's what I got. Safely seating any number of people is as simple as how many actual seats can be bolted in a safe manner through the floor. A 4 door pick up might not be what you need if you have actual seats in the cabin. For me, we have Ford transit seats bolted through the floor. It's secure. Actual seats with seatbelts for driving and moderately comfortable seats for me to sit in while parked. Maybe that can change options for you, maybe not. Personally, I like my kids 10 feet behind me where I can hear them, barely.

I went with a F550 for my build. I ended up being fairly close to my budget with the exception of regearing and going to a 20x10 rim with continental mpt81s on it. That was a big expense. Happy with single wheels, but was not expecting the price.
 

ben_j_c

Member
Looks like a cool build! We are on similar paths. Started with a 21 ft travel trailer, currently have a Grandby on a F250 6.0L, building a camper the mounts to the frame of a F550 7.3L (doing a bunch of noise insulation on it currently) crew cab with 60" rear axle to cab.

My wife and I have a 1 and 3 year old with similar long term travel the world ambitions and do a ton of camping here in the PNW.

One lesson we learned with the young kids is finding spaces that don't require converting the bed is a huge help and giving each of them their own space helps a ton with bedtime and nap time. In my new build the kids will sleep in a divided over the cab area and we will have a lifting bed over the dinette in the back.

Another thing that is now non-negotiable for me now is a lower entry point into the camper. We had our 1 year old squirt past us and fall/jump out the back of the Grandby at truck bed height (regular, not even flatbed) and tumble down the folding stairs. By far the fastest I have ever broken down camp and we raced to a hospital from the middle of nowhere. She was fine, but I decided not to do a flat bed build and instead make the stairs down exit the at the same height as the bottom of the truck cab doors. Your deck might help this or might make it worse depending on the railing setup and how you make steps come down off of it. (I am working on a plan to let me swap a flatbed with the camper fairly quickly, still figuring out the details though.

I would be a little worried about your folding deck. I have certainly parked my Grandby places where I would not be able to fold that out and therefore not get in the front door of the camper!

As for the shipping part I have not come up with much that will fit on a F450/F550 chassis that isn't a really short popup that will fit in a high cube door. I am trying to figure out a way to take the camper off and put it in the 40ft container with the bed over the cab now hanging over the bed of the truck. The trick is putting the camper back on the truck without renting a crane...something something 16.5k winch on the front, that is about how far I am at this point....

the other piece on the height is that some regions 10+ft is just too much. Here in Oregon lots of the forest roads have low hanging branches. Just try to keep it all as low as possible, helps the CG too.

We build a folding bunk bed in our Grandby, it works pretty well. I put a fish net style cage around the top one due to the toddler with no fear of heights.

The Thetford cassette toilet is working well for us so far, cheap and easy to use.

Having a 6.0L that I have paid a ton to get bulletproofed, I opted to go to a 7.3L for my new build. I just don't trust the thing, always seems like something is broken on that engine.

Are you going to keep DRW or move to SRW?
 
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Korey H

Active member
C5500 Mobile Command Family overlander

Hi Matt.

I look forward to following your build. I finally started a thread on ours for our fam of six. We have similar plans as well. So good to see and follow some family builds. Incredible inspiration and information here. Am sure you follow some rigs on IG too if not already be sure to follow Tom @lostbox, @bringles, @tanyatheambulance, and @driventoadventures. Just a few of my favorites.

Maybe get to see you on the road sometime.

Korey


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Wowza havent checked up on this in a few weeks, thanks for all the input and advice y'all! Korey, that is a super cool rig, definitely the vibe we're looking for.....Havent found the right platform yet though. Ben, good points in terms of baby-safety. I think the exterior deck would need to be for adults only at this point, but would (hopefully) help if the little escaped the inside and made it out the door. Good to hear your little one was okay though!

It seems that 4500/5500 series trucks with the 6.7 (either ford or cummins) are fairly easy to come by in the $25k range--Which may mean saving for a year before we can purchase something, realistically. Maybe I can find a slightly older truck with a 6.6 duramax, or something along those lines for less. But for now, it'll be on hold until a platform in our price range comes along!

Thanks for all of the input y'all!
 
Well, in a surprise turn of events.....the wife has green-lighted the purchase of a new truck at least! Found a used 2015 Ram with 209k miles on it for a decent price, 4x4 with the 6.7 Cummins drive train, and a 11.5 ft flatbed on it in the rear—should be a beast!

for now, the plan is to finish out some small renovations on our airstream and start gathering components for the new adventure build—hopefully by the spring we’ll be constructing the box for the back and building out the interior!

from a mechanical standpoint, for now we’re going to stay bone stock, run duallies in the rear, etc. we’ll be using it to pull our airstream for now also. Maybe super singles in the future at some point.... once I have the truck in hand I’ll throw up some photos!
 
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