IAN DOW: CONVERTING AN AMBULANCE INTO YOUR HOME

By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 5/15/17

For the thirty second installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas, we are very happy to speak with Ian Dow. You may know Ian from his Instagram handle, ian_dow_travels.

Ian and his new puppy Dino, are currently converting a used ambulance into a fully functional adventure hub. Ian’s attention to detail and craftsmanship are immediately noticeable.

I love the idea of re-purposing these once proud, life saving vehicles into adventure mobiles. Giving them second lives helping others live out their travel dreams.

After he completes his current build, Ian will be heading out on a trouble shooting mission / adventure trip into Mexico. He is leaving in just a few weeks. He is using this trip to learn about his ambulance conversion with plans to make adjustments and improvements; Converting more ambulances to adventure rigs in the future.

Once he has his official web site up and running, we will certainly update this piece to include it and point you in the direction of Ian’s creations. If you would like to rent or own a converted ambulance of your very own Ian will be the guy to see.

Ian is a terrific reminder that life is meant to be lived in the present. Planning for the future is valuable but nothing is more valuable than making the most of the day.

What do you consider to be your place of work?

I’m unable to consider work a part of my lifestyle therefor the ways I earn money must be through things that I enjoy. Because of this and my addiction to travel, my place of work is wherever my hands are at the moment.

Tell me about your vehicle. Did you name it? What do you call it? 

My vehicle is a 1994 Ford E350 dually type ll Osage ambulance. I’ve converted her with the highest quality materials I could find and did all the work myself to satisfy my high standards and low budget. As for a name, she’s commonly referred to as Ambi for now, I think that might stick. Ambi also has two tenders, my Suzuki DR650 (Suki) that hangs off her rear and an 8ft inflatable Avon (tender to Ambi?) that stows on her roof.

When and how did you get it?

I bought her on Ebay after crashing Suki up in northern California. It was a wet and very slippery road covered in pine needles, I went down pretty hard and the first thought that went through my mind was “oh shit, I need an ambulance”… so I got one that night, HaHa. She was at a good price, so I just threw a bid at her without really intending to win, a few days later I was in St. Louis, Missouri picking her up and driving 2000 miles back to California for her first road test.

What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?

I was looking at all types of van and convertible options, but honestly the Sprinters were my main focus. I even tried to buy one on craigslist but after driving 12 hours to meet the guy and make our transaction he backed out. Needless to say that’ll be my last big purchase attempt on craigslist, but it was a blessing in disguise, because I’ve spent the same amount of money on my entire ambulance project as I would have just to buy the basic shell of a sprinter.

Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?

To the vehicles mechanics itself, nope. I fixed a few hoses, squeaks and bearings, changed the belt and replaced a bad pulley but from the tires up on the outside she’s almost the same. It’s the inside where I did my work. I have a convertible L shape couch/Queen size bed, a kitchen with subway tile backsplash, magnetic knife, dish, and tool racks, solid teak hardwood floors, African paddock moldings, an aromatic cedar lined closet (for hanging my tux), 4 self-closing full length drawers, storage galore, indoor surf rack, hammock points, circulating fans, and 2 power vents for the kitchen and main room. There are two pull out cutting boards, a 3 section spin, the fold out L shape, 4 person table with a hinged telescoping leg that’s topped with amber veneer and rimmed with Brazilian cherry and guitar inlay. I chose to trim my “bar” in purple heart wood and skin my closets with Bubinga wood, while using guitar inlay to cover imperfections and accent my work where I thought it necessary. There’s a trash porthole in the kitchen so my trash stores outside of my living area in the externally accessed closet that also houses my propane, water heater, drinking water reservoir and shower. On the starboard side I have a storage spot for my generator, air compressor, jack, gasoline, oil, BBQ, outboard motor and a large hinged bamboo and teak table. At both rear doors on Ambi’s box, I have pull down screen doors to keep out the bugs and up top there is 30 gallons of water storage that I compress with air for high pressure throughout the system. The roof is also where my passenger Dylan will mainly live on this trip, he plans on pitching a tent up there and unrolling faux grass to lounge on under Ambi’s roof top umbrella on a hot day in Mex.  I could go on here for ages and will always continue to add things to Ambi.

What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?

Thinking outside of the box. This project has tested me in so many fields. I’ve battled in lock-smithing while carving my own keys to fit lock barrels, mechanic work on a big diesel engine that’s new to me, woodworking, metal working, electrical, designing, engineering, upholstering and even sewing. It’s all there.

What is your least favorite part about it?

Not having any money to really do it right or splurge on the few things I want but can’t afford.

How many miles have you put on your truck?

So far only about 5,000 but I’m only just beginning.

What is the best place you have taken it?

I took her to the dessert last weekend for a regional burn party called Perky de Mayo. There were a lot of serious campers out there and they loved seeing my rig. So that was a great feeling. Also the hot shower on a cold morning in the dessert was seriously unbeatable, I was doubting the necessity of the water heater until that moment and now I’ll never turn back.

Is there just one?

There will be many

Favorite road you’ve driven?

Ho Chi Minh trail on the Vietnam and Laos sides on separate trips. Go to Vietnam and buy a motorcycle then go get lost, you’ll not regret it.

In one word, what describes your approach to life?

Tranquillo

If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living out of a vehicle what would you tell them?

If you’re the right person for it then you’ll love it, if not you’ll hate it. Which you are is for you to discover.

It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people?

I used to be a snowboarder, I would live for the sport and moved away from Newport Beach to live in the mountains when I was young. One perfect day, on a brand new board, I jumped off a cliff and landed on a rock breaking my back. I knew at that second I wanted more, I wanted to go explore the world. Since then (after recovering), I traveled almost nonstop visiting 65 countries and only just getting back to that states last year, after 10 years on the road abroad.

You have found a strong place in the community of travel. What values do you think your home instilled in you, that you take on the road? 

To chill. I’m from a mellow beach community in California that doesn’t take anything too seriously. My parents were well traveled and wise, filling my head with images of abroad from a young age. I used to surf and fish a lot as a kid and that fueled my infatuation for the ocean and its creatures. In my travels, I always love exploring the ocean.

I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourself as somebody who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?

I think people who followed society’s norms and work for someone else in an office, to pay overpriced rent, and sustain life are the ones taking the leap of faith. I don’t see how I could work every day in hopes that one day it will all pay off and I’ll be able to retire and THEN live the rest of my life. I will live my life now and whatever happens will happen.

Where do you want to go next?

I will leave by the end of May 2017and drive my rig to Costa Rica and back on a 3-6 month test run. When I return, I will build my machines and happily rent one to anybody who craves a taste of this lifestyle.

4 replies
  1. Jennifer Shough
    Jennifer Shough says:

    My husband and I are living in a converted ambulance (Ambo to us) too! Love to see what you did with your interior, ours is very similar. Cheers to you and your adventure. Maybe our paths will cross one day!

    Reply
  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    Great interview. I agree completely that living the ‘traditional’ lifestyle of working for the Man and putting off life for that ‘Safe’ style of living really runs the risk of missing out and leaving a lot to chance.

    Also, that rig has some really nice touches.

    Reply

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