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Divco conversion - Ray's dream

Forum member MildewRay discussed his notion of converting an old Divco milk truck to a small-scale motorhome. " The bodies are all but indestructible, the later models all have Ford innards, for which parts are readily available, and methinks it'd be just about the campiest dang thang on the road, especially if painted in Holstein cow colors" commented Ray. He was not contemplating full-timing since he had a few years to go before retirement, but planned to use the rig primarily to travel to The Great North, i.e. Yukon, northern BC, and Alaska.

For Ray, the ideal Divco would be the long wheelbase model with the hotplate refrigeration; "The bodies are very heavily insulated, and a simple, 110 volt plug-in provides superb air conditioning on even the hottest of days" noted Ray. He acknowledged that Divco bodies are so tough that cutting holes for windows, conduit and pipes would be quite a challenge.  But he felt the final product could be a real hoot. On the issue of reduced headroom in the back, Ray was not bothered, noting that he and his spouse were fairly short.

Gary & Linda Thompson's great advice was "Follow your dream, make it happen. So many folks share such dreams, but wait so long to bring them to reality".

Ron Marabito, a retired architect and interior designer, cautioned "it's cheaper to make mistakes on paper than on the rig.  Take your time and think it through well.  Make sure it meets the codes or campgrounds will keep you out".

George Jannini suggested a look at The Busbarn for pictures of "some very imaginative bus conversions". Ray himself recommended the Divco Club website. "They're those pot-bellied milk trucks that were everywhere back in the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up" said Ray.

Although nothing was cast in stone, Ray had some specific must-do's for his proposed project, including the fact that the kitchenette and the shower were going to have to be placed in the right front stepwell, the only space in a Divco with unobstructed standing room. Ray also proposed putting the hotplate and sink up front, under the right side of the
windshield, with the reefer behind, mounted so that its rear could be vented through the sidewall.  A floor drain, a circular or oval ceiling track for the shower curtain, and a shower extension of the sink faucet  would complete the setup there. Ray noted that potty room would be squatty, due to reduced headroom, and that the use of a porta potty would obviate the need for a black water tank.  Ray did, however, want a fresh water tank, water heater and electric pump for the shower.

He proposed to put a minimum 5 foot wide dinette across the back, convertible to a queen size bed.  Back doors would be removed, and replaced with a single, insulated, aluminum-skinned panel with large window.  That would also allow easy installation of components "they won't all have to fit through the side doors" noted Ray. The bi-fold side doors would be replaced by single, piano-hinged doors with large, sliding sceened windows, and the driver's seat would be replaced by a
"proper captain's chair". 

Commenting on the need to re-geared the rear end, Ray made the observation "these things are geared ultra low for stop and go driving with a heavy load, no speed over the highway and they drink gas.  Since the load as a motor home will be
piddling compared to a full load of milk, the engine should handle the longer rear end nicely". 66-86 models had either the 240ci (short wheelbase) or 300ci Ford six, both of which are reliable and easy to get parts for. Ray saw no reason for powertrain changes save for re-gearing the rear end.

Reefer Divcos already come heavily insulated and with a hotplate fridge system that runs on 12v or plugs into ground power.  Noting that Divco bodies are sturdy and tough, Ray believed the hardest part of of the project would be cutting window and access port openings; He was considering having a shop do that.

As for interior finish, Ray asked "ever been in an Amtrak superliner car?  I like the way they're finished inside.  The walls are lined with a very linear (oriented horizontally) loop carpet in a light brown.  Would be a great sound deadener".  Upholstery had to be first cabin, and Ray proposed to use wooden slat blinds.  Interior cupboards would be built to order, faced in Formica for a neat, easy to clean exterior.  Every door and drawer had to latch.  Ray was clear that "a closet is planned to be at least as large as the potty room, and there'll be storage every place it can be crammed.  One other thing I insist on is bookshelves (with safety rails); if I'm going to be roaming around the great North for six months on end, I want my books with me".

A friend of Ray's who has worked in Alaska suggested that he drop the Divco idea and instead try to get a surplus USAF ambulance, the big advantage of that being 4WD.  Ray had to admit that some of the places he wanted to visit pretty much require 4WD to get in and back out without having to walk. Ray said " I'm considering it, but the Divco is just so cute and campy, especially if painted in white with big black patches like a Holstein cow.  Put a nice shine on it, maybe use some chrome lugs to spruce things up, and it should be the conversation piece at any RV park or campgound we visit".  Ray also noted that the Divco would be a sidelong salute to his dad, a milkman.

I wonder if Ray ever realized his dream and if today he's travelling around in his Divco. If anyone bumps into him, drop us a note here on the forum. Better still, have Ray come back and tell us all about it.

This article was extracted from messages posted in the RV Forum around December, 2000 discussing a Divco  conversion. It includes extracts from messages posted by MildewRay, George Jannini, Ron Marabito, and Gary & Linda Thompson. The article was edited by Tom Jones, April, 2002.