Hidden Utah

Mobile Living in Style, Utah

Billy Barghahn created a company called Vertical Vans. He takes Mercedes and Dodge Ram vans and converts them into mobile living units.

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Billy Barghahn and friend in front of one of his converted vans. Photos by John Taylor.

“I’ve got a great idea! Now what?” Make Salt Lake helps answer that question.

The collective at 663 West 100 South has a wood shop, metal shop, electronics bench and textile room that allows its 260 members to incubate their ideas in a communal setting.

One member is Billy Barghahn, who has created a company called Vertical Vans. He takes Mercedes and Dodge Ram vans and converts them into mobile living units. A mechanical engineer by training, Barghahn left the corporate world five years ago to pursue his project. The project allows him to be an artist and a craftsman.

So far he has customized 26 vans that sell for around $90,000. The compact interiors feature sleeping space, storage, and a sink and cooking area. A bathroom option can also be included.

“Unlike an RV these conversions allow people to live out of a van, not inside of it. You can have the comforts of home but still experience the open road,” Barghahn says. “It’s pretty elegant for most people. All you have to do is find a level spot.”

Solar panels allow Vertical Vans to be self-sustaining. “You never have to plug in for power and there is no propane necessary,” he explains.

The shops at Make Salt Lake are open to members around the clock, but heaviest usage comes on weekend afternoons. Membership held firm during the pandemic, but hourly usage may have gone down, said Tony Diaz, administrative coordinator.

The enterprise started simply enough ― four friends pooling their money over a decade ago to purchase tools to use in a garage space. Now, a $75 monthly membership (student and veteran discounts apply) allows artisans access to tools and classes.

The current location will hopefully be moving soon. A combination of growing pains and developmental pressure is behind a funding campaign to relocate the shops to  a roomier setting ― but not too far afield. “We want to stay true to our name, Make Salt Lake,” Diaz said.

Contributions to the development fund can be made to the website.

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