Ok, here's the deal: I currently ride a 1992 Trek 1200 in 58cm with downtube shifters for all of my road duties. I should be riding 56-57cm, but 58 works just fine for now. Downtube shifters are fail, but again, beggars can't be choosers, and I got the whole bike for < $300, so no complaints.
I would like to get into touring and commuting to work, but have very little extra cash to spare. So I'm looking for a way to get into a touring bike for cheap, and I figure I have a couple of options:
1: I could ghetto-rig a rear rack to my 1200 (it has bottom braze-ons in the back, but not top ones), and just upgrade a few things as I get the money... get some bar-end shifters, then a set of 36 spoke wheels, etc. It's cheap, but keeping the panniers off my heels is likely to be difficult, and fenders will probably be a pain.
2: Nashbar currently has a touring frame for sale for $125. I think I could buy that, gank all the parts off of my 1200, sell the 1200 frame, and put everything back together with the Nashbar frame. That would be cheap for now, solve sizing issues, leave me with a usable bike, and I'd be equipped with a frame that will grow beyond 7 speeds once I have the cash. I'm not sure if I buy parts one at a time on eBay if I can get this option to be cheaper than option 3, but if I can, that's what I am thinking I should do. I can do all the work myself besides pressing in a headset and installing a bottom bracket. Those two I've never done so I would probably have the bike shop do it.
3: I could save up for a LONG time and buy a Long Haul Trucker, Trek 520, etc. Probably the most expensive route, some of them don't come in my size (the Windsor Tourist looked nice until I saw it only comes in 54 or 58), but it would make sure I end up with all components that work together. Plus, I like to tinker, and I don't get to tinker with this option.
What are some of your thoughts, as people who have faced these kinds of decisions before?