By on January 10, 2010

into the woods

The last post on Mercedes campers got me thinking (wistfully) about the open road and how I have a grand total of four digital photos I could share with you from our six years and thirty-five thousand miles worth of travels in our 1977 Chinook. Like lots of amateur photographers, I have boxes and boxes of prints from our early years, and our first two kids. Guilt and a nagging wife kept me shooting film through our younger son’s childhood. And I took some nice shoots in a few dramatic places with the Chinook, on film. I transitioned very late to digital, partly because I couldn’t bear to give up the Canon 35mm rangefinder I bought new in ’77 and still works perfectly (I’m on my second digital, and the lens motor is already acting up). CC 35 122 800

Anyway, here they are, four shots of a typical five-day beat-the-occasional-summer-heat-wave trip to the cool coastal mountains. We find our way through US Forest Service Roads to obscure creeks and lakes, where there are pull-offs perfect for the dry-camping we favor. We can go for days with hardly ever seeing another car or soul, or paying a camp ground fee. The site you see here may not look very spectacular, but the creek was crystal clear and great for cooling off. Dead quiet, except for our Grateful Dead.

CC 35 124 800

We haven’t made any big trips the last couple of years, but a few years back, we took two trip down to Baja, as well as several large autumn loops around the southwest, and the Yellowstone-Tetons area. I’m usually pretty busy in the summer, and Oregon is almost too nice to leave, so we prefer to hit the road int the fall, when the weather is ideal, and the popular attractions are un-crowded. October is the best time to hit the sights of the west.

CC 35 123 800

Stephanie is quitting her job this year, so we hope to roll again this coming fall. I just need to figure out the best way to stay connected to the web, so I can post the Curbside Classics I find along the way.

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8 Comments on “Van Sunday Show And Tell: My 1977 Dodge Chinook Escape-Pod...”


  • avatar
    jjd241

    The perfect getaway van. I’ve been looking for one myself. You got lucky for that price range. All the ones I’ve come accros for less than 2K are trashed. You would still be at the mercy of cell coverage, but MIFI might be the way to go. It allows up to 5 users to access the interweb.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    We are considering a van when we no longer want to sleep on the ground in a tent. It is unlikely to be a camper conversion since that ruins its utility. Specifications would be:

    At least enough room behind the front seats to haul 4×8 sheets of plywood or a riding lawn mower. That’s big enough to accommodate us on a camping trip.

    All wheel drive so that we don’t get stuck in winter or on back roads.

    Enough power to haul a horse trailer.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    A very nice write-up. Last year I bought a 1983 Dodge 250 Van for about $200. Engine ran well, interior was OK, electrics were a complete bastard and the tranny was shot.
    I put the engine in a Jeep, sold the tires seperately,  and had the rest sent to the crusher in return for the price I paid. It was a shame but I just couldn’t get the electricals working right and it simply wasn’t anywhere near camper model.
    Do you have any interior pics?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Steve, no interior pics on digital. It’s great for two, and it has a galley type layout: two couches/beds facing each other with a table on a pedestal that is easily stashed. The beds fold down into one giant bed or two singles. Reasonably usable galley, and a typical “wet” bath unit. Cozy but comfortable.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    My favorite driving van ever was the 73 Dodge Royal Sportsman that my best friend’s dad bought new.  A yellow and white passenger model (the maxi, no less) with a 360.  That van would scoot.  It was even better when he put the mag wheels with white letter tires on it and put a dual exhaust system with glass packs on it.
    My favorite feature, in addition to the accelleration and the exhaust note, was the tight, tight structure of that Dodge van.  The Chevys always rattled and the Fords always twisted and creaked.  But the Dodge felt like it was machined from a single piece of steel.
    It was traded on a 79 Ford, which though quieter, never drove as nice (or as quickly) as that 73 Dodge.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Beautiful scenery! I won’t see hues of green like that for another 5 months.

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    Paul, which Canon rangefinder did/do you shoot with? I enjoy rangefinders myself, having a Yashica Electro 35 GL and a (modern) Zeiss Ikon.

  • avatar
    wrybread

    Nice one. I love these old Chinooks, I have two, a 1973 and a 1978. The ’73 lives in Baja for surgical surf trips, and the other up here in San Francisco. Here’s some pics of my Baja one, The Wookie:

    http://wrybread.com/chinook/

    http://wrybread.com/wookie/jan2009/


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