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Fantasy to realisation

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From fantasy to realisation

The fantasy ......

Express your fantasies, even if in the first moment they appear to be crazy.

 

In 1995 we went to Australia to gather our first experience with a 4x4-Camper (Toyota LandCruiser) and travelled through the Outback during 27 days.
Our journey began in Perth where we participated in an organized day trip to the Pinnacles, where an OKA (Australian off-road vehicle) was driven.
We were enthusiastic about this vehicle.

During the whole journey we fantasized completely without any reason how we would design a camper, what could be done better, what would be important to us and what non-relevant.

We also discussed what each of us sees as worthwhile destinations, what he loves, and what he hates.
Soon it became clear us that we both would love to undertake further journeys into the lonesomeness, far away from the civilization, also in partly inhospitable areas.

The dream ......

Live your dreams, don't dream your life!

Model a dream from your fantasies, which is constantly extended with new ideas.

Fantasies are the basis of each dream.
Let your fantasies run wild even if at first they seem absurd and exaggerated.
They could show you the direction you should head.

Try to convert your dream into reality.

The developing dream must be adapted to such an extent that it all involved parties can fully agree.
When dreaming also speak very consciously about all material, psychological and physical dangers connected with the dream as well as whether and how you are ready to deal with it.

By having such a dream negative experiences and stress can be managed much better in life.

Sometimes the implementation is not so far from the dream if one has a second look at it.
It is amazing what kind of dreams can be turned into reality if one believes in them and consequently works towards realization of them.

 

Our fantasies did not go away and became more and more concrete.

Our dream was:
To go into pension as early as possible, move to Australia and from then on without a permanent residence travel through Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania and later on further countries of the earth. The duration of the journey should be open upward.

1996, once again in Australia, we drew plans of our first camper based on an Australian OKA and spoke with manufacturers about possibilities and prices of building such a vehicle.
Caravan-manufacturer Bushtracker however advices us to build an off-road-capable 18-foot caravan, pulled by a normal Toyota LandCruiser.
Reason was that a camper with 4.5 - 5.5 tons weight it is too heavy for off-road and that it is better to distribute the same load on 4 instead of 2 axles.

Thus we also drew the first version of a caravan and thought about the towing vehicle.

The plan ......

Make a plan on how the dream could be realized.

If possible divide the plan into individual parts and put a realistic timeline on these partitions.

Stick to the plan for as long as possible, as flexibly as possible and constantly adapt it to new ideas and the real possibilities.

 

Our dream turned into a travel concept, which was divided in 3 "comfort stages":

Stage 1:

Travel as far as possible/as long as it makes sense in an off-road capable caravan. The caravan should be equipped as comfortably as possible and as it will be our actual home.

Stage 2:

For more difficult routes the caravan is left on a campground or at another safe place.
From there travelling will be continued with the towing vehicle only. This will be equipped appropriate for extreme trips up to 5 days length, plus 4 days survival emergency reserve. The main aspect here will be our security and the full autonomy over as much time as possible.

Stage 3:

For worthwhile targets which can't be reached with the towing vehicle a complete trekking equipment will be carried along, which depending upon climate and weather permits routes of several days by foot.

 

We started intensive calculations regarding the financing of the dream by our own means.
They have been refined, developed and adapted constantly to new conditions. Soon we found that the dream as a whole under favourable conditions could be realized approx. 2010 (Ruedi 60, Susi 52 years old).

 

End of 2002: Change in plan and schedule:

We change the plan and go for an off-road capable camper in favour of a towing vehicle / caravan combination. We are planning to travel continents where often there is only one road between two destinations and where this road is too rough to tow a caravan along.

A closer look to our financial situation shows, that it should now be possible to realise the plan already by the end of 2005.

The realisation ......

Realize the plan bit by bit and enjoy each part that has been accomplished.

This prevents total frustration should the dream as a whole however never be carry out, be it for health or financial reasons.

1999:

We bought our hiking- and trekking equipment. Since then each year we venture into the mountain fully loaded on trips of several days' duration.

Stage 3 has thus been completed and is used with great joy.

Due to very good stock exchange gains and to good course of business of our own computer technology company the earliest possible starting date could be shifted forward to the year 2006, briefly even to 2004.

2001:

We became high-spirited, designed our towing vehicle on the basis of a LandRover Defender 130 Crew-Cab and had it built in 2000 - 2001. The vehicle is a very unique construction: one lives outdoor and sleeps in the roof tent.

The "debut feature" had succeeded fantastically; the concept has proven itself many times in the meantime and is still something of the best we have seen in this category of vehicles.

Stage 2 of the dream had consequently also become reality.

After the crash of the stock exchange and the building of the towing vehicle, which had turned out to cost 50% more than planned, the possible starting point of the journey had to be moved back again to earliest 2010. We were rather frustrated and for quite some time had no more desire to engage in any further detailed planning.

Beginning of 2002:

Beginning of 2002 however some lucky coincidences brought us back on track:

  • The worsening economic situation forced us to give up our own company and to seek permanent employment.
  • Ruedi, like Susi had already done, got employed in a company, where one is already retired at age 62 instead of the regular retirement age of 65.
    Also the pension fund allows an even earlier retirement starting from 57 and allows fantastic, partially tax-privileged possibilities for additional financing of one's own early retirement.
    It also offers the prepayment of an intermediate pension covering the gap in payments between the age of 62 and 65 until the Swiss old-age pension (AHV) starts.
  • Ruedi had a new idea regarding the financing:
    the pension should no longer be based on the pension fund and the retirement age but a private insurance should prepare a pension plan based on the available financial means (own capital, pensions, roll-over funds, etc.) becoming available in the years to come.
    The financing model was reviewed with the accountant and the old age pension insurance discussed with insurance experts in Switzerland.
End of 2002:

We went to Australia once again to clarify in the detail among other things the following issues:

  • Vehicle import, registration and insurance
  • Customs formalities for vehicle and household items
  • Costs for a property and a house (required contingency funds)
  • Subsistence, travel and vehicle-maintenance costs.
  • Health, accident, liability and property insurances
  • Conditions of private, Australian pension insurances
  • Tax situation in Australia
  • Details, expenses and dates regarding the building of the planned caravan

Result of the trip to Australia:

  • We must forget the usage of our already built towing vehicle.
    The vehicle can be converted to right-hand drive and can be registered, but insurance (liability and collision) cannot be obtained for it.
    The vehicle is for Australian standards too expensive and besides that it is a European import and for the insurance the liability and repair costs would be not foreseeable.
    Besides that the car was already too heavy to take over 220 kg additional axle load from the caravan.
    The frustration once again was complete.
  • In Australia privately financed pension insurance can start from age 55. Capital insured and pension are practically tax-free.
Beginning of 2003:

At the beginning of 2003 the financing model was adapted again and the attained insights adopted. Much to our surprise the earliest possible starting date could thus again be shifted forward to 1.1.2005, in an emergency even to 1.1.2004. This however was under the condition that we did not intend to ever again live in Switzerland, as financing a life in Switzerland would not be possible with the available pension. The expected costs were calculated till the year 2025.

Due to many discussions with other travel-experienced and because of our own, long-term itinerary, the variant "Caravan- towing vehicle" was dropped. Despite some disadvantages we have now decided go back again to the original plans being a camper-van on the basis of an OKA and therefore also reduce the travel concept to 2 stages. Main reasons for this resolution were:

  • To travel through South America with a towing vehicle and a caravan can hardly be done
  • Towing vehicles without a solid cab to live in are unsuitable for longer journeys in the cold areas of South America, Canada, Alaska etc.
  • A towing vehicle with pop-top roof or roof tent offers very little protection in bad weather, large animals and uninvited visitors (humans).

When reviewing the plans for the camper-van with one of the many builders we find out that the law in Switzerland to drive such large vehicles will change 1.4.2003 and one would have to pass the full truck drives test if the learning permit was not ordered before end of March 2003.
They just manage to get it done on time.

Mid 2003:

The definite travel starting date was specified to be the 1.8.2005 and officially communicated.

August 2003:

Ruedi receives the immigration visa for Australia inclusive work permit.

September 2003:

We pass the driving test for C1 vehicles according to the old Swiss law.
That means that we from now on may drive professionally vehicles up to 7.5 t as well as campers with unrestricted weight in Switzerland.
The maximum weight of the OKA is 6.4 t, inclusive trailer 9 t.

October 2003:

Intensive medical training (CH: Atlas Health Academy lead by Pro Valetudine, Samariterverein)

December 2003:

Ruedi immigrates to Australia, even if only for 3 weeks.
We flew to Perth to measure and order to the OKA and organize its shipment to Germany.
OKA has been promised to deliver the truck to Germany begin October 2004.

Spring 2004:

Susi and Ruedi draw several versions of the camper back-section and discuss it with Alu-Star. Every version get's better and simpler but with more features.
The 5. version finally is what everyone agrees. Never less there were 3 "final versions" to be drawn to implement small detail changes.

Following has been agreed with Alu-Star:

  • Building starts in October 2004 at Alu-Star.
  • All work complete at begin of May 2005. Truck ready to be used.
  • Attending the biggest German Off-Road Exhibition "Off-Road Adventure" in Bad Kissingen as exhibitor for OKA and Alu-Star by end of May
  • 4 weeks of testing in June in Greece

It was also decided to drive to Australia by a Container-Ship via the Panama-channel. The turn has been booked.
Start is at September 9 in Hamburg, arrival in Sydney will be October 24.
The OKA will be shipped separately by RoRo and is planned to arrive shortly after our arrival.

October 2004:

OKA informs us that the car will not arrive in Germany until earliest March 2005 with a possible additional delay until end of June 2005. The new model is delayed and not to be released for the Australian market before end of January 2005. This delay get's all of us in a very stressful and unpleasant situation.
Worst case scenarios are discussed and the back-section is slightly modified so it also would fit to a 4x4 Mitsubishi Canter or an Austrian Mantra. Just in case ....

Never less we agree that Alu-Star starts building the back-section, based on factory drawings from OKA, the results of our investigations and measurements as well as the many photos we shut last December at OKA's factory.

December 2004 - February 2005:

The majority of the parts for the back-section like solar system, fridge a.s.o. have to get organized. Part of it was ordered in Switzerland and Ruedi exports the parts him self to Germany. This is quite a nightmare and he learns all about German/Swiss customs officials. It is unbelievable what an amount of nonsense these guys produce. Every trip trough the boarder is different and needs between 2 - 2.5 hours.

The empty back-section is ordered and gets delivered in January. Alu-Star uses now an external, professional builder which results again in an increased quality as these factory press sizes the Aluminium sandwiches and uses Aluminium from bobbins to avoid walls to be made from multiple sheets. The result fully convinces.

The floor heating is built. It's the first time Ruedi can really help building the camper. It is very complex work and has to be done very precise to avoid future leaking, as they would be nearly un-repairable. Alex works very exact as ever.

We give notice to our employer to leave the company by end of June (minus vacation and overtime).

March - April 2005:

OKA finally confirms the delivery of the truck to Alu-Star until end of June.
The floor heating is now installed and Alu-Star works on the furniture. The Solar-Panels are mounted on the roof and all wires connected.

May 2005:

The windows, the windows-covers and part of the water-system get installed.
Even though the cabinet is by far not as complete as planned, it is shown at the biggest European Off-Road fair in Bad Kissingen (Germany). We are guests of Alu-Star at the fair and proudly enjoy three very hot days. The cabin is well accepted by other builders and guests mainly due to its superb quality and insulation.

June 2005:

OKA sends first pictures of our truck - but no truck. It is further delayed and should arrive in September. This voids all our plans and we know already that we will not start travelling once in Australia. We will have to come back to Europe to finish our camper.
Building the furniture turns out to be more complicated as expected, so we also have delays on the back-section Ruedi now works full time on the back-section at Alu-Star mainly in building walls and doors for the furniture. A never ending job!!

July 2005:

The furniture are more or less completed, the curtains are mounted. Ruedi installs the electrical equipment and all the wiring. Susi makes the Mozzy-screens. As the Defender has now finally been sold we live in the back-section when we are in Germany at Alu-Star.

August 2005:

Since the back-section still lacks wheels, it has to be loaded onto a truck to get to our big bye-bye party in Illnau. During these days the solar system shows its strength. Even with slightly increased consumption and with clouded sky, the system is able to refill the batteries within less than half a day. Everything which has already been completed works as expected.

November 2005 - January 2006:

Begin of November we arrive in Perth on board of the container vessel "CMA CGM Matisse". OKA informs us that the truck is further delayed and will be ready by end of January only. Based on this we decide to ship the back-section in a container from Germany to Perth and complete the whole car at OKA's factory instead of sending the truck to Germany for completion. The work in Perth will still be done by Alu-Star. The additional costs will be paid by OKA.
Before the container leaves Alu-Star has to complete all the outstanding work on the back-section, organise the shipment and adapt themselves to the changed situation. We are fully busy to generate a complete detailed inventory of all items and deal with customs.
On the 6th of December the container leaves Alu-Star and on the 15th of January 2 people from Alu-Star and we fly to Perth.

February 2006:

As we arrive at OKA the truck is by far not finished.
Due to a logistic error by the transport company the container containing the back-section arrives one week later than planned and only arrives at OKA on February 10th. This generates enormous timing problems because Alex and Manfred from Alu-Star have to be back in Germany latest by the end of February. Thank God Thomas, the former owner of Alu-Star, consents to help us and interrupts his trip through Africa to give us a hand. Since he is able to stay as long as required he is flown in from Tanzania.

We all work 6 days a week, and many hours per day, to get as many tasks as possible done until the German crew has to fly back. The spare wheel carrier, the crane-arm on the back wall with the reversing camera, the roof rack, the air operated stair, the roof hatches and the floor heating get made.
We find a leak in the underfloor heating. This is one of Alex's most stressful working days he has ever had. Thanks to up-to-date and very accurate drawings he finds the hole in the tubes fast and can repair it relatively easily. Had the plans not been available the back-section would have had to be scrapped and we would have been forced to start from scratch! The furniture is glued and riveted in it and removing it would not be possible without its destruction.

On February 22nd our OKA has its first drive around the factory. We are all pleased with the noise level of the new engine.

End of February Alex and Manfred fly back to Germany. They have never seen the final product.

March 2006:

The back-section and connecting frame are glued and screwed together and finally mounted to the OKA's chassis. Also all other prepared parts are fitted to the OKA.
The back-section gets spray-painted.
The underfloor heating and the OKA's motor cooling system are connected. Nevertheless Thomas doesn't get it to work until he also leaves Australia.

A big shock hits us when we weigh the truck on the weigh bridge. The OKA weighs 6.4 t without our gear loaded.
This is about 1 t more than expected!!
We have no clue how so much extra weight was accumulated. The OKA will only be licensed to 6500 kg. We have a very serious problem.

By end of March all major work is complete and Thomas, the third man from Alu-Star, returns back to Africa to continue his trip.

April 2006:

An external company modifies the truck so the GVM can be legally increased to over 7 tonnes. Air springs are added on top of the leave springs and the shock absorbers are replaced with stronger types.
The modifications require official approval and an additional break test will have to be performed.

After the beautiful and expensive spare wheel carrier is scrapped to reduce the weight problem we are back on track.
The camper is more or less ready to be used, but OKA still struggles with the final steps on getting the compliance plate for their new model.
We spend the time working on a lot of detail-work.

May - June 2006:

The driver's cab is beefed-up, additional gear like PC, GPS, 2-way radio, Sat-phone, is installed and connected.

Since the OKA can only be driven with a dealer plate until the compliance plate is issued Ruedi is officially hired by OKA as a test driver.
We test the camper for one week around Kalbarri. The truck rides well and life in the back-section is comfortable and pleasing. We are very satisfied with the exception of the performance when driving in soft sand. The heavy weight of the fully laden camper will always be a handicap.

Back in Perth the rustproofing is done. The company doing it tell us that the airbags seem to be slipping and are not in the original positions any more. Ruedi takes the OKA back to the suspension company and they change the setup.

After extensive investigation Ruedi finds the problem in the very complex underfloor heating. Some pipes are not connected in the correct sequence.
After some changes the heating works flawless.

The compliance plate is still not issued. Additional tests have been ordered and OKA doesn't pass all of them in the first instance. As long as the compliance plate is missing, we can not do the additional break tests necessary to upgrade the truck to 7260 kg. Without completion of these tests we are unable to licence the truck and get a licence plate.
The continuous delays are bad news for us. We have to start our trip to Alice Springs latest on July 1st to be able to meet a Swiss couple there on time. We have planned to travel together during their holidays and we are supposed to bring them some equipment. We can by no means shift the date, it is too late. Slowly we are getting very nervous.

July 2006:

As expected the OKA doesn't get licensed by Canberra in time, even though meanwhile all the tests have been completed. Depending when this will be completed they will then deliver the Camper either to Alice Springs, Broome or Darwin.

OKA organises an old Toyota Landcruiser (ex. Britz Bushcamper) for us so we can start our trip in time. It is very cramped but will have to do for the time being.

Once the plates from Canberra have been received OKA finishes the break-testing. During the testing again one of the airsprings shifts, hits the muffler and blows up. OKA takes the truck back to the suspension place and has the bag fixed. The break-test is passed and OKA licenses the truck for us.

August 2006:

The truck dealer in Alice Springs organises the truck for the transport of the OKA but does not consider the height of the back-section, it should have been a low-loader. As organising a low-loader would lead to another delay of at least one week we change our plans one last time. We drive from Alice Springs to Perth (2951 km) within 3 days, pick up the camper, reload all the equipment from the Landcruiser to the OKA, drive in 3 more days to Broome (2145) and continue our trip with our friends.

After all, except for one heart attack, three nervous breakdowns and several short stays at the local mad house, building the camper was a great experience :-))

 



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