The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

Military M820 5 Ton 6×6 to Mobile Gentleman’s Study

My life is in a state of disquieting transition, physically moving from the beach adjacent megalopolis of Los Angeles, California to the rural farmland of Pennsylvania , and mentally shifting my personal expectations of and aspirations for life.  My temporary housing on the East coast is a lovely little house my mom has been fixing up for her retirement.  It is a pleasant space, but it is not mine, and only feeds the sense that my life is not my own.  In order to begin the end of my transition, to find grounding without ground, I decided to do the only thing which remained, create a mobile space which can be very much my own.

To that end, I recently purchased a 1971 AMC 5 ton Army Surplus M820 Expansible Van, the details of my trip to bring it home are described elsewhere.  My goal is to transform it into a mobile office for myself in the rough style of a Victorian gentleman's study.  It will be my daily space to work, but will have the added benefit of being able to move with me to land I one day own and to a house I one day build.  In the mean time it can also take me on working vacations throughout the states, back to California, through New England, and on to Newfoundland.  Some basic facilities will be included to make it a recreational vehicle, such as toilet/wash basin and hammocks enough to sleep four (which would be stowed unless needed).  Kitchen/cooking facilities may be left out of the design or may be very limited, as basic camping-appropriate cooking equipment would likely suffice and could be stowed away using very little space.

Below are photos of the truck, some Sketchup designs for the interior, and some notes describing features and obstacles related to the design of the interior of the expansible box:

  • The deep-looking book cases would be false; real books would be cut to be only a few inches deep and placed on fake shelves that simulate depth with dark paint hinting at shadows.
  • The computer monitor setup in the center is not fully rendered but the concept is to go completely deskless and have all the interactive elements of my computing station on a custom welded articulated arm suspended from the ceiling. The arm would be able to move throughout the center region of the room as well as be moved out of the way. There would be three monitors as my desktop and a fourth with touch sensitive surface below as a control panel, for placing controls which monitor things (servers, system, Internet widgets, etc.) and app launch widgets, etc.
  • The toilet would be an incinerating toilet (versus a typical water-based toilet).  This eliminates the need for a black water storage, and the need to dump that waste.  Ick.  The incinerating toilet is powered by electricity. A wash basin for the toilet will be provided and its gray water would be gotten rid of via a simple evaporative system on the outside of the vehicle.
  • The fireplace would likely not be functional (much as I would love to have a real fire), it would likely house a 21" monitor or something to display the video of real flames (I've got a few spare ones and I dislike the false look of those artificial electric logs).
  • The portrait above the fireplace would conceal an HD tv. The TV would have the framing around it and a light, removable styrofoam board would be placed on top with the portrait.
  • The couch shown is just a thought. What I need to do is add considerably more storage, but I'm not sure how to effectively do that without making the room feel smaller.
  • The box in which all this stuff is going has four windows and one door on each side which aren't used in the current design. Presumably they should be.
  • I like the idea of possibly cutting a large hole in the roof to make a skylight, especially if I don't utilize the small side windows.
  • The major challenge of the design will be that the expansible van operates by expanding out the left and right by three feet, with floor and ceiling panels for that section being stored against its walls. The items such as the false book cases/appliances, toilet, etc. would thus need to slide from the center outward, once the box has been expanded. As these items will be heavy this is no small issue. I may need to place the items on rails or something. Also, because the box may not be able to be expanded in all situations (because of parking space and/or the not insignificant work involved in opening the box) the interior space must be comfortably usable when not-expanded. The room will be much, much smaller, but it must not feel uselessly cramped.

Anyway, it's very much a work in progress...

^ Quinxy

Comments (7) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Dude, you have way too much fucking time on your hands.

  2. Mike,

    You could mean this in a neutral way or you could mean this in a dick-ish way. Nine times out of ten when someone utters the “you’ve got too much time on your hands” comment they’re being dick-ish and dismissive, making some value judgment on how another person chooses to spend his free time. What always boggles my mind is the dick-ish person saying the phrase is exactly the narrow-minded jerk who spends his own free time doing things of absolutely no productive, educational, or intellectual value, like watching sports, watching TV, going to movies, etc. We’ve all got free time, spend it any way you want. I know how I like to spend my free time, and can certainly justify that expenditure to myself and anyone who’s interested far more than I ever could if I was spending my available minutes watching football or Americal Idol or catching the latest flick at the movie theater. So, if you were being a dick, screw you and whatever you waste your time on. If you were just making some curiously neutral comment without judgment, then, umm, ok, thanks for sharing your opinion, I guess.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I’m bidding on the 900 version of one of these. I served as a mechanic in the Army for 18 years before getting hurt and being medically retired. I want to use it as an expedition rv. I can work on the truck but have never messed with RVs. I haven’t had much experience with the expando part so I don’t know how hard it is to open that puppy up. I’d like any advise or imput you can give.

  4. Early,

    Wish I had some useful information to share but my project has been indefinitely delayed until I can get my finances in order. I’m hoping this summer to at least start some of the work but it’s more than a little dispiriting when you know you can’t buy the things you need to make the significant progress you’d like. I haven’t yet expanded the sides out, but I do plan to in the next few weeks or so.


  5. Q,

    I was looking into the M820 as a desert running rig pulling a trailer with 2.5 kw deployable solar array, 100 gallons of extra fuel, water, and ATV’s. I was looking into a site They make concealable automatic murphey beds that would be perfect for the M820. These rigs can easily be converted to RV power systems and run fairly efficently by replacing the AC units to newer energy star rated units and LED lighting. You can even get a fridge, small washer, toilet and shower in there too. If you go the lavitory route I would recomend raised flooring and a flex coupling system for your blue, grey, and black water lines.

    Also, I have came across a few guys that retro fitted the RV expansion system to these units allowing for electronic automated systems. All in all this isn’t a difficult project. Work from the inside out. Replace existing wood pannels, upgrade the wiring, repair seams and replace rivetts with new steel ones, new foam insulation, repannel, and your ready to build up to your hearts desire. You can actually get this done pretty cheap using good materials too. Carbonized bamboo flooring can be had at $.98 a sqft. Lots of multi use furnishings out there to make this a man retreat not just a study.


  6. Fantastic info. Thanks!

    I was leaning more towards hammocks I could just hang as needed from the ceiling, partly because I like hammocks, but mostly because I didn’t imagine sleeping in my truck except on rare trips. But, clearly these sorts of beds would address space concerns I had, so I’ll definitely look more into that as an option. And I was still leaning towards some sort of incineration system as opposed to a gray/black water system. I guess I conceptually like the idea of not needing to carry or dump sewage. That said, I have zero experience with incinerating toilets, and from what I gather they are not odor free when incinerating, so that might put me right off when I actually look into purchasing.

    My own project is currently suspended, my financial situation changed (funding a start up project for work), so I won’t be able to move forward until at least next summer. Let me know how your project goes, or send me a link so I can check up on it myself!


  7. Realizing that I am arriving onto this thread at a somewhat late date, I was curious if you had made any progress on this project over the course of the past year.

    Understandably finances can be a major impact on any project, might I suggest that there might be ways to obtain certain necessary elements on the cheap? For example, a friend of mine is a landlord of multiple rentals. As such, he is regularly in need of construction materials. To alleviate some of the cost burden, he locates and recycles shipping pallets. These provide him with 2×4’s, 6’s, 8’s and 10’s, as well as the 1×4 – 1×6 stock used on the pallet surfaces.

    By watching sites where there is remodeling going on, many times he acquires used plywood, light fixtures, metal ducting, etc.

    Good luck to you on your project.

Leave a comment