My Hottest Blog Topic — Thanks, Gail!

As of 2:00 this afternoon, the three posts I’ve written on Gail’s homemade cargo to camper van conversion have received over 31,500 hits.

The vast majority of the hits, 28,447 were on how she actually did the conversion.

So, as a tribute to Gail, I’d like to share the history of how all of this came about.

Before her husband’s job moved her to Texas, Gail lived in Florida.  She and her husband bought several acres of land on a bend in the St. Mary’s River.  Their land was screened by trees from neighbors, and once you were on their property you could imagine yourself deep in the woods, although they were actually only minutes from shopping and all the conveniences of civilization.  Across the river were public lands that could never be developed.

Camping at Gail's house in Florida in a late, cold spring.

Camping at Gail’s house in Florida in a late, cold spring. None of the other flowers were out. And since they were in the throes of moving, I don’t have any good photos of the house.

Gail designed, and drew up the plans, for her dream house.  It was a Victorian style house with huge front and back porches running the length of the house.  The view from the back porch was spectacular.  The white porch had white wicker furniture with colorful cushions, and always there were overflowing pots of red geraniums in bloom.  They had huge windows and French doors, so although the house was not large, it felt open and spacious.  Gail originally designed it to accommodate large family gatherings.  It looked like a page out of Southern Living.

She and her husband planted orange trees and other fruit trees, azaleas, and all kinds of flowers.  They built a greenhouse, and he usually had a vegetable garden.  He loved canning the produce.  They thought it would be their forever home.

About that time, Gail became aware of the huge numbers of homeless women.  Many of them were older, and became homeless when they lost jobs or as a result of broken relationships.  She was also concerned about how she would support herself if she herself ever became widowed.

So she drew up plans to divide her house and create four beautiful little studio apartments utilizing the front porch, her former office, half of the huge living room, and part of the back porch.  She would have a common laundry area on the back porch.  She would rent only to women on Social Security because generally older, single women make better tenants. And with their Social Security checks, they would be able to afford the modest rent.

She checked the codes for her area, and as long as she was renting out part of the house she lived in, she could choose her potential tenants.

She was thrilled with her plans.  She couldn’t save the world, but she could provide a home to four women.

But then the company her husband worked for started scaling back.  In order to keep his job, he would have to move to Texas.  So they sold their house, moved to a small town in Texas, and bought a small house with a tiny lot in a suburb there.  Gail’s plans for helping homeless women were squashed.

But by then, I had visited Gail in my Aliner and infected her with the RVing bug.  One day I told her, “You know there are people who live full time in vans that they have converted themselves.”  So she started tearing the web apart looking at how people converted cargo vans to camper vans.  She wanted a camper!  And she wanted to build her own!

So she did.  And while she was building it, it dawned on her that a homemade camper van was another way homeless women could still have a pretty house with feminine touches.  Granted, it wasn’t an ideal solution.  But it beat living on the streets and was a lot safer.

So Gail and I talked about how to get that information out to people who could use it.  I suggested doing a how-to article on my blog.  We both prayed that God would use it to give hope and direction to homeless women who needed a pretty place to live.

We have no idea how many homeless women have benefited from the article.  We do know that it has reached a lot of people who want to build their own inexpensive campers.

And we like to believe that it has made a difference in at least a few homeless women’s lives.

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  1. Awesome! Yeah, that was a great project — very inspirational. And follows the philosophy I’ve been using for my own DIY truck camper, which is to “Just do it” and make it your own. If you get the idea out of your head that it has to be like a commercial RV, then it’s absurdly simple and inexpensive. 🙂


  2. Tim

     /  August 25, 2013

    Sharon that is a great story! I think Gail’s van is fantastic and surely has inspired many people to build something similiar. Thanks to your blog the word has spread. Keep up the wonderful service you guys are providing. You are deeply appreciated!!!


    • Tim, I’m a little sensitive that people will say how “great” we are. Like Gail said, she built the van for herself and the homeless aspect was an afterthought. But we do hope it does some good. 🙂

      As a longtime follower and helper with my projects, you are deeply appreciated, too!


  3. Carla

     /  August 25, 2013

    Wonderful to know the story behind the conversion.


  4. It was nice to hear that story. I, too, have studied much about homeless women….the throwaways in today’s society. It is amazing what some women have done , on nothing or little to nothing.


    • Your comment moved me because you obviously feel for their plight, too. I do so admire the ones who can summon the courage to try to build a new, alternative life instead of being crushed by their circumstances.


  5. What a wonderful inspiring story, Sharon. I remember reading your posts about your sister’s van conversion… absolutely amazing.


  6. Yes, now I know the “rest of the story” and quite a story it is!!! There are so many amazing women/people in our society. People that didn’t roll over and quit but found a way to keep going. I am thankful for people like you and Gail and others that help and inspire so many! Thanks!


    • Gerri, I am always awed and inspired by people who are able to make the best of bad situations without falling into self-pity. Rusty, the homeless vet that RV Sue wrote about, is one of those people. Living for years in a 70’s Ford truck with a home built camper on it. Until finally he got a voucher for housing. And what a thrilling day that was!

      But your praise is a little overwhelming. Gail and I haven’t actually DONE anything… just thought about it and wrote about it. 🙂


  7. Your hearts are so strong for others plights. It’s a great story and I sure hope it reach some of these unfortunate women. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know it really had an impact on some.
    I will be checking out Gail’s van build again as I will start on the truck soon. Of course the truck is much smaller than the van. But if you want it bad enough you do it.


    • We may never know if it helps someone. But it’s nice to think it might. 🙂

      The main thing is, you probably need some kind of insulation in it for when it’s really hot or really cold. The rest, you can just do as you go along and discover things that will work for you. 🙂


  8. Bill Brown

     /  August 26, 2013

    that’s a great story! Thanks for sharing!


  9. Enjoyed the story! And enjoyed reading all the comments. Still think that there is a lot of talent in your family.


    • Thanks, Lynne. I think we got a touch of the artistic from my maternal grandpa, and the gene to want to build stuff from Dad!


  10. MarciaGB

     /  August 26, 2013

    I think Gail’s project and your coverage of it is wonderful. Who knows, maybe there ARE folks out there who’ve been inspired to van living on a very limited income by reading your posts! I have a feeling that there are many more of these folks than we realize, since some of them live under the radar, so to speak.


    • Marcia, I know of some who moved into vans out of necessity on this forum: Some are just discontented with life and want a change. Others moved into vans following divorces and loss of jobs.

      I feel that Gail’s main contribution was from the perspective of making the van pretty and girly instead of everything being so utilitarian. And when you are down and out, having anything pretty — especially an attractive little home on wheels — has to be good for morale.


  11. That’s about the best idea story ever…what a dream! Super cool! A few girlfriends always said we buy a house together and pool our money for an adorable nurse and live together as one. Loved a high school trip to a commune I made once for a report…something about finding that togetherness to help one another. Gail sounds like the best sis ever. We are with my sis with MS helping around her home. Eating good…hauled the grill into her apt patio…been way too long since we have visited. Then later Sunday leave for Decatur…travel blog will start back up then. What are we without family and friends!!! xo


    • Gail has mentioned a similar idea for when all of us girls get too old to take care of ourselves. Sure would beat a nursing home! 🙂

      Enjoy the visit! Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. Looking forward to blog updates.


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