A few months back, we sold our much-loved fiberglass 2005 10.2-foot Classic Northern Lite slide-in truck camper and acquired a funky 1999 Rialta Classic 22Q class B van.
Jimmy and I purchased the Rialta for a really decent price and ever-so-slowly started making it our own. The original 22Q model features four captain’s chairs up front and a dinette in the back. Both the dinette and two rear captain’s chairs convert into sleeping areas.
We understand that one of the previous owners, an active 80-something woman in tennis shoes, primarily drove the Rialta to regional bridge tournaments with several of her women friends. The four captain seats were perfect for the traveling card playing quartet. The kitchen and dinette area provided a quiet get-away space for refreshment breaks and relaxation between matches.
Storage Space Need in Rialta
Because Jimmy and I have a far greater need for storage space than extra passenger seats, our first modification was to remove the two rear captain chairs. Temporarily, we installed five stackable drawers for storage, and a makeshift workspace for me with a folding desk and chair.
Then to our dismay, after only a one-night stay at a nearby state park, we discovered the 47-inch wide converted dinette-into-bed surface was too hard and extremely uncomfortable. In addition, heat from the refrigerator vented directly into my face.
We made several unsuccessful attempts to ‘soften the bed’ with Therm-A-Rest inflatable mattresses and down pads. A three-inch memory form mattress topper was not an option because of weight and storage issues. Because we needed the dinette for day-to-day living and eating space, we could not keep it as a dedicated bed.
We had a very brief flirtation with selling the Rialta and buying a small, hard-sided A-frame pull trailer. However, we love the overall concept of the 20-year old Rialta and decided to covert the former backseat passenger area into a bed with a much needed storage area underneath.
Rialta Conversion begins
With the two rear captain seats jettisoned, Jimmy began noodling how to make the best use of the available space into a bed.
Because of the van’s tapered interior walls, each support panel was precisely cut for the maximum use of space.
Jimmy chose 2-inch by 2-inch pine lumber for the frame and 1/2-inch plywood for the 45-inch (at the widest) by 74-inch (at the greatest length) platform.
With an eye to the overall gross weight of the rig, Jimmy was mindful of selecting lightweight materials when possible. All the wood surfaces were finished with varathane stain.
The bed’s open framework allows for easy access to the underneath storage compartment. Jimmy tacked on a one-inch lip to the bottom frame so that while traveling, the load won’t easily move or slide into the cabin space.
The memory foam mattress
Determining the bed area available, we headed to Costco and purchased an 8-inch double-size (54-inch by 75-inch) gel-plus memory foam mattress with cover for $199.
After getting the tightly compressed memory foam package home and unpacked, we watched it expand … and expand.
For the bed space, the 75-inch length was perfect, however, the 54-inch width was 9-inches too wide. Our next task was to take an electric knife to it and remove the extra width. The front side (near the seats) corners of the mattress also needed trimmed to accommodate the shape of the van. The result was an abbreviated 45-inch wide mattress.
We took a one-night dry-camping test run to the local casino. We found the mattress width to be very tight indeed, demanding frequent nighttime synchronized turning. If we wanted to get restful sleep, sometime had to be done.
After more head scratching, it came to Jimmy that after we stop traveling for the day and pull into a camping spot, we could easily slide the seats forward quite a bit, nine inches to be exact. This new found space allowed for the exact amount needed to re-insert the formerly removed piece of memory foam.
Two members of our Timber Valley SKP RV Park kindly designed and sewed a perfect blue flannel cover for the 9-inch (by 54-inch) foam insert. And yippee, we have (an almost) full double-sized mattress which provides a luxurious amount of space for our new dedicated bed.
Jimmy says his engineering and construction process is one of “flying-by-the-seat-of my-pants and trusting the creative process.”
— Text and images Julianne G. Crane