sparr: (cellular automata)
I am approaching the end of the first month with the bus. Progress has been slower than I'd like, due roughly equal parts to my own laziness, sparse class offerings and a scheduling snafu at TechShop, first drafts of some of the projects not being acceptable, the bus being crowded with stuff due to lack of storage space, and slow delivery time on some of the components. I'm hoping to address at least three of those things in the very near future and speed things up a bit, due in no small part to having received my first parking ticket last night. The nominal reason for the ticket was a street sweeping violation, but they tacked on my lack of license plates. That triggered the start of a 21 day deadline to get it registered and avoid a $121 fine. Despite all of that, I am still making progress, and the space is starting to feel slightly more comfortable with each improvement.

The solar charger seems to be working, despite my not having a way to monitor the battery yet other than a multimeter. I managed to drain the batteries from 25.4V to 25.0V with all my gadgets running overnight, including the lights and fans for a few hours, and it was back up to 25.5V when I checked it after some sunlight. Note to self: Get a low battery alarm.

I built a prototype for the kitchen. It doesn't fit/work well. That's detailed in my previous post. I got most of the rest of the connectors to assemble the whole thing, wherever it ends up going. That included the foot pump for fresh water, the propane regulator and hose and adapter for small bottles, and a few other things.

I partially removed one of the window frames so that I could get behind a wall panel. A significant fraction of the window frame screws are seized with galvanic corrosion (steel screw into aluminum frame). I stripped a couple, and drilled one out. I gave up when I needed to drill out a second one, and will return to that experiment when I have a screw extractor later this week. I did get enough of the frame unscrewed that I could pull it and the wall panel away from the wall. That gave me a glimpse of one of the structural extrusions that I want to use for the table and bed frame mounting. Knowing where that member was allowed me to cut a small hole in the wall panel to get direct access to it.

Good news, the structural member below the windows seems to a similar extrusion profile as the ones in the ceiling holding the handrails. Bad news, it's oriented such that the load bearing channels face up and down, not toward the interior of the bus like they do for the vertical members between the windows. There's an ancillary smaller channel in the useful side of the extrusion, but I don't have nuts that fit it. I've ordered some that might, and will probably end up machining them down to fit. In the long term, this means I need to machine or waterjet cut some adapter plates to make solid mounts to the underside of those members for strong connections, and machine some T-nuts for the smaller channel for lighter connections. In the short term, this means I'm drilling straight through the side of the channel and using screws, effectively treating it like a 1/8" thick piece of angle aluminum. I feel better about this plan given that at least one of the existing installations, the rear upper level retaining walls, also used this connection method for one of their four attachment points.

I bought steel for the table, shower frame, bed frame, etc. I went with a variety of sizes (20ft each of 1x(1|2)x0.125 bar and 1x1x0.125 angle and 1x(0.5|1|2|3)x16GA square tube) which might leave me short for a couple of the final products but gives me plenty to practice with and make prototypes. I got some 1.5x1.5x18GA perforated angle for prototyping connections between my steel tubes and the bolts into the extrusion railes. I also bought a bit of lumber for the table, some 1x2 for the edges and 0.75 plywood for the tabletop.

I built a wooden tabletop and it came out pretty nice. Better than I expected for my first try, not nearly as good as I'd like for the long term. I didn't finish or paint it, and might not if I'm only keeping it for a month or two. I ended up using a lot of small screws to semi-permanently attach the table to the wall, rather than the temporary attachment I need in the long term to use the table as an alternative bed surface by lowering it. I need to investigate attachment methods for the next attempt at a table, since off-the-shelf door hinges aren't going to work as well as I had hoped. I'll probably just buy a commercial restaurant tabletop to replace my prototype eventually, for increased durability and finished-ness. For now, I'm happy that the prototype table is installed and usable. Having a place to sit and work on my laptop or with tools has made the bus feel a lot more home-y.

One side of one of the supports for the roof hatch has started to break. I may have been opening or closing it more forcefully than I should, or maybe it's just dying of old age. I've made a temporary fix with gorilla tape. A less-temporary fix with strapping tape or maybe an epoxy is probably warranted. Eventually I'll want to make replacements for those supports out of metal, once I'm a lot better at welding and a little better at machining. For now, the hatch still opens and closes and stays closed, so there's no rush unless I start going up there a lot more often.

I've ordered a Laveo Dry Flush toilet. I ended up choosing this one despite its higher up front and ongoing cost because I anticipate a guest needing to empty it and wanted to make that as painless as possible for them. This was the only option where the emptying process involves no exposure to human waste.

I received the hardware that I ordered for the overhead rails but half of it doesn't fit. I'm back to shopping around looking for the pieces I need, or cannibalizing parts from other rails already in the bus. I'm probably going to cannibalize in the short term, and then swap out for replacements later so I can put the original parts back where they belong.

I've also ordered a stack of white cardboard sheets big enough to cover the windows. All of the windows have grooves in their frames that I should be able to slide panels into if I can get them cut to the right size. I may do it by hand, or I may do it on the shopbot if I can get my hands on a drag knife or even if I can't, or I may get certified on a laser cutter if TechShop has one big enough. Regardless of how I cut them, once they are installed I'll have privacy at night with the lights on, and nice big white surfaces that I'll need to find a friend to artify for me.

Next steps: Decide where the kitchen is going and buy a commercial cabinet to cut down to fit in that space. Install the sink and stove in that cabinet. Continue shopping for shower pan, and design the shower/toilet enclosures/curtains. Finish short term upgrades to overhead rails. Black out the windows with cardboard. Hang a less temporary curtain at the front of the vehicle, and disable the one overhead light that shines in that section. Make a more permanent set of supports for propping the windows open. Install some sort of temporary stuff storage. Shelves, stacked bins, etc.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I am seriously reconsidering the placement of the kitchen. I'm glad I went with a rough prototype first; I'd be a lot more pressured to keep the current plan if I'd already done the work in real cabinet+countertop materials. I got it put together last night and ran into a number of concerns that I had previously anticipated but underestimated the impact of.

The current location barely doesn't block the electrical panel door, but it does eat up all the useful storage space that I had closest to that panel, which is where all my 5/12/24V power is coming from. I feel like I'm going to want that space in the future for larger electronics, such as the sound system, video recorder, etc.

I like the sink and drain that I got, but they are nearly/barely too deep for the current location. I can make it work, but the drain and propane hoses and installation would be cleaner in a location with more clearance below.

What if the kitchen goes just ahead of the rear door? This will eat up a little floor space, but also even up the open space depth on both sides up front. The kitchen and door on one side would line up with the dining table and seats on the other side. This would move the sink closer to the bathroom, and the stove closer to the dining room.

What will it feel like if the kitchen is in the bedroom area, next to the shower? Too cramped? Too annoying when someone wants to cook while someone is using the bed? Having the sink next to the shower and toilet would feel good, but having the stove there would feel weird.

Speaking of the bathroom... I still haven't chosen a toilet. I'm pretty sure that I want the toilet to be waterproof so that it can go in the shower, both to save space and to provide a seat while showering. That will be important with the shower having a slanted ceiling with 58-74" of headroom. The hot shower component is entirely portable, so I can erect a curtain and platform outside the bus for showering while camping. The indoor shower will be used in the city and possibly while driving.

I think that what I want to do with the bathroom space is to give it about a 3x4ft footprint, with one solid 5ft wall on the short/window side. The wall will be hinged about 2ft off the ground so that the upper section will fold over like a box lid, being the top of the box whose bottom is defined by the shower pan. This will preserve the open view through the bus when it's closed, as well as provide a table-like platform when the bathroom isn't in use, and avoid the need for the shower curtain to completely surround the shower.

Brainstorming, experimenting, and actually accomplishing things... all continue apace.
sparr: (cellular automata)
No disasters this week! It's nice to start one of these posts without a "Today I Fucked Up" section.

I managed to give away two of the seats, and am going to give up on the rest in another few days. They are too bulky for me to store right now, and I'm striking out on finding people who want them. If I had a house I'd have already put them on the curb with a "free" sign.

I finished removing all of the unnecessary handrails. All of the verticals below the 6ft level are gone. The one under the kitchen is gone, along with the plastic box it surrounded. The retaining walls in the back are gone. They required getting under the floor, but fortunately there are access hatches at that level, unlike the stuff in the low floor that I need to crawl under the bus for. The only things left to remove now are the wheelchair backrest walls and the last of the wheelchair anchoring hardware.

I've ordered a couple of 90 degree elbows for the overhead handrails. Along with the other connectors I've reclaimed from the unwanted bits, that will allow me to add a second pair of horizontal bars above the living room seats. Eventually I'll want to be able to fold or remove the rails up there to make more overhead clearance in the living room area for aerials, suspensions, etc. I'm not sure how far in the future that is, which will dictate how much effort I want to put into extending the existing rails for short/medium term overhead storage. With two such bars on each side I can put a simple plywood shelf up there, eventually to be replaced with a light framed surface that can be used as a bunkbed. Extending that length further will add a third and maybe fourth and fifth overhead bunk / shelf.

Another round of hardware shopping got a sheet of thin plywood to make up to three prototype kitchen countertops. Hopefully I can hit the design I like, and then repeat it in hardwood (probably butcher block style). I also picked up the connectors necessary to connect the sink drain to the grey water aquatainer, although I forgot to get the adapters to insert my strainer trap. I'll have to add that next time. I haven't started working on the faucet yet because my foot pump hasn't arrived. I'm somewhat considering an overhead water tank at this point, although I might still want a foot-activated spigot to conserve water. I shopped for propane connectors and hoses but couldn't find what I needed and will have to check a specialty store or search online. Last item was a case of 6qt sterilite bins, which I'm going to consider standardizing on for the purposes of making racks and shelves for storing containers full of sorted and assorted stuff.

I decided to throw planning and caution to the wind and install the solar panels sooner rather than later. I couldn't find any layout that I liked for all four panels so I installed just three of them across the rear edge of the roof, behind the hatch, in front of the air intake and exhaust. I put sheet metal screws straight through the roof material, which isn't as secure as I'd like but will do for now. I kept all the screws in 4 lines so it won't be hard to reinforce with long thin strips of steel later. I've also bought some VHB tape for reinforcing and sound dampening and waterproofing the connection points. The wiring is very haphazard, taped to the outside of the bus, with the charger in the engine compartment. Rather than get into all the battery management wiring this early, which is a project I am putting off for when I can get under the bus among other prerequisites, I just plugged in at the alternator, one of the few places that I'm confident there's low-resistance direct connection to get power to the batteries. As I write this, I haven't been able to confirm yet that it's actually working aside from it telling me my batteries are already fully charged. It's night time right now and I'm running the lights and inverter in an attempt to drain the batteries a bit, so that hopefully come morning I will see them charged again, or better yet catch them in the act of charging.

While installing the solar charger I found yet another electrical junction box and well-labeled wire nest, this time inside the panel in the engine compartment that has a few gauges and engine operation toggles on it. I feel like I'm asymptotically approaching at least having seen all of the wiring harnesses. There are still a couple mentioned in the operators manual that I haven't found, but I know where to look for those when the time comes.

I discovered that half of the electrical defroster/defogger in the front windshield works and half doesn't. I'm going to poke at it with a multimeter and see what I can discern. Fortunately the working half is the half in front of the driver, so this isn't a particularly pressing issue.

I got rid of two of the benches to someone at the East Bay Burners social who wanted seating for their shop. I gave the rest to a friend in Oakland who has some storage space and is willing to do the leg work to give them away to good causes. With them gone, the interior feels even more spacious than it did before, although also exposing a lot more floor that I need to clean, and requiring me to improvise a new lock for the rear doors. Aside from the last things I need to unbolt, those seats were almost the last big things to get rid of.

Conversely, I made my first trip to storage to put more things into the bus. I grabbed bins with tools, more blankets/sheets, and some more clothes. I'm finally back to the wardrobe that I kept in the ambulance, rather than just what I packed for the Boston / Road Trip trip. The difference in having 2-3 weeks worth of clothes vs 5 days worth of clothes is a big deal.

I've been giving friends, acquaintances, and strangers rides. It's as fun as I imagined. I also accidentally had a ~15 person party when I parked in front of the burner social and left the doors open. Even with all the stuff in the way, it didn't feel particularly cramped with 6 people sitting down and 9 standing. I take this as a good sign that 20+ will be a viable party size once everything is installed.

Next steps, in no particular order: Build the prototype kitchen countertops, install everything, and see how it feels/works. Order and install propane accessories. Build a working sink faucet. Continue shopping for shower pan, and design the shower/toilet enclosures/curtains. Choose and order a toilet. Finish short term upgrades to overhead rails. Figure out how to get into the walls below the windows to find/see/measure the structural rails there. Build a prototype for the dining area table. Black out the windows, with curtains or foil, for night time privacy. Hang a less temporary curtain at the front of the vehicle, and disable the one overhead light that shines in that section. Make a more permanent set of supports for propping the windows open. Add door sweeps to the front edge of the solar panels. Install some sort of temporary stuff storage. Shelves, stacked bins, etc.
sparr: (cellular automata)
Here are my options:

1) Laveo Dry Flush. This toilet works like a Diaper Genie. There's a very long mylar bag bunched up in the seat, with a small section filling a bucket. You do your business into the bucket, then a machine sucks out the air and twists the bag so the waste is sealed in a section, then it extrudes more bag to fill the bucket again. ~15 flushes later you remove all the waste, double-bagged, and incinerate or trash it. $500 for the toilet, $1 per flush. Zero smell. Zero exposure to waste during disposal. Fastest disposal option.

2) Cassette toilet. Basically a seat and bowl on top of a waste tank. Do your business, flush with a small amount of water, clean the bowl if necessary. Special chemicals deal with odors. Empty the tank every few days of usage by dumping into an RV waste tank or a toilet (multiple flushes) then rinsing and dumping again. $150 for the toilet, $0.05 per flush. Little smell. Exposure to unprocessed waste during disposal.

3) Composting toilet. A seat on top of a larger waste tank, plus a separate bottle for urine. Flip a lever when switching from urinating to defecating. Add sawdust and good-bacteria to tank occasionally, turn a lever to stir the waste after each usage, clean the bowl if necessary. Empty solid waste with a shovel every couple of weeks of usage, preferably into a garden. Empty urine into a toilet or as fertilizer. $500-1000 for the toilet, $0.10 per flush. Little smell, more dirt than poop. Exposure to urine and compost/humanure during disposal. More labor involved in disposal.

The cost comparison is obvious. The ecological impacts are relevant. The comfort of my guests, both in using the toilet and in possibly being tasked with emptying it on longer trips, are relevant. I'd appreciate feedback on these options, especially from anyone who has used one of them before.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I'm making a habit of starting these posts with tragedy and repair. Early in our trip we asked "is the passenger side mirror shaking?". Later, that became "It's definitely shaking.". After getting to SF the upgrade to "It's shaking a lot, I should check that out" was short lived, soon to be replaced with "Oh shit, the whole thing fell off!". Fortunately it didn't fall far; the wires responsible for the power mirror on that side caught it, so all ~30 pounds of metal and motor and mirror just hung there as I slowed down and stopped. I couldn't make effective repairs in the dark and rain without supplies, so I dropped off a passenger and hurried to Home Depot while traffic was light. First thing in the morning I went in and bought some steel tie plates and somewhat beefy self-drilling sheet metal screws. They weren't up to the task of getting through the 1/8-1/4" cast aluminum body of the mirror housing, so I pre-drilled the holes up to almost the right diameter. An hour later, having juggled tools and fasteners and holding up the mirror, it was repaired, and only a little uglier, although a lot more industrial looking.

I made the last delivery from my commitments from the trip, leaving only one friend's stuff still in the bus needing to be handed off. It's just about down to me and my stuff and no one else to blame for how cluttered it is inside while I'm working.

I removed the last of the vertical bars that are coming out early in the project, the ones in the rear that had been folded up near the ceiling in order to more effectively attack my forehead. This leaves just four vertical bars installed, the two up front that are currently part of the overhead bar supports and the two in the back that are part of the divider wall for the "upstairs". I removed 7 more of the benches, including the doubles and single in the back, and flipped one of them around for what will become the dining/office table area. There is now a pile of benches and supports blocking the rear door that I am eager to get rid of. I've posted on FB and EPlaya and Craigslist in the hopes that someone will want them for an art car or tiny house. The last things to remove are the walls behind the wheelchair positions and the remaining vertical bars, which is pending getting certified for the metal shop at TechShop and finding some fittings.

With the dining benches in place, I am not happy with how much space that area takes up. The table will be 3x3ft which is great for board games and four-laptop office time, but much farther across than a normal four-dining booth would be. Including the angle of the seats, the whole dining area is about 7ft long. I think that I want to try to modify one of the benches so that it reclines flat. This would allow me to narrow the table and move the benches closer together without sacrificing the necessary length when converting it to a bed by lowering the table. I'll probably end up keeping one of the benches as a spare if I am seriously considering this plan by the time I get rid of the removed benches.

Removing the rear seats let me finally get a feel for how the bed would line up if it filled the back window bay. Unfortunately, this turns out to be too close to the ceiling. I'd have just the center of the bed for sitting up, even with a 2" thick mattress, so that plan is right out. The next lower candidate height gets me an extra 15" which feels comfortable for sitting and a close call for kneeling. The bed plan has thus shifted again, and I am now contemplating something like an ikea pull-out sofa with interleaved slats. The bed will default to narrower-than-twin, and expand to approximately full size with two mattresses side by side.

I'm still contemplating what I'm going to do for small item storage. Natasha threw together a bunch of cup holders and phone holders from cardboard and tape on the trip, and those are helpful, but eventually I'm going to want a bunch of small travel-safe shelves, pockets, etc. There's a lot of dead space behind the driver where I could store paperwork, and space I don't currently have a plan for overhead in the kitchen and other wheelwell areas. I'm considering a "back of the door" sort of organizer, as well as bulkier solutions with drawers.

I also went shopping. Offline first, at Home Depot and Target. I picked up the first half of the cleaning supplies that will be required for a thorough cleaning once all the unnecessary furniture is gone, and a few miscellaneous containers and organizational items. I bought a relatively small shop toolbox with a lock, which means thieves will either need a crowbar to steal my tools or the ability to run off with a hundred pound toolbox, and that second option will go away once I bolt it to the wall. I probably won't keep it forever, as I expect either more or fewer tools in the long run depending on whether or not I take the space in a workshop-y direction, but it will suffice for the first few months so that I can stop leaving tools in all of the seats.

Online, as usual it was all Amazon all the time. I'm giving up on converting the camp stove that I bought and am instead getting a small two burner cooktop designed for an RV. I'm getting three 7gal aquatainers, one for fresh water and two for grey water (sink and shower). I'm going to try to improvise a height adjustable faucet for the sink by using an adjustable showerhead arm. For the sink I decided to try a small rectangular one meant for small bar prep areas which seems like it should fit pretty well. And, the most unusual item I decided to get, a metal spray can meant for showering, made by Zodi. This is a big departure from my original idea of a pump and on-demand hot water heater, but it's a lot simpler and more versatile, with fewer dependencies. Showering will involve pre-heating water on the stove, but I think I can live with that.

I did not order a toilet. I'm still waffling on whether I want something with a black water tank or the kind that wraps up the waste to be thrown away in a bag or a composting toilet. There are a lot of pros and cons to each approach. I asked a few questions on Amazon listings and will probably ask a few more before I decide. I'm also going to reach out on a few subreddits and forums. With the lower headroom, I am even more motivated to put a waterproof toilet inside the shower, to act as a seat.

Once the hot shower hardware arrives I'm going to need a shower pan and curtain. I'm working on figuring out how I want that to work. With my current plan to put the shower in the upstairs area, headroom is at a premium, so I need to get the curtain to conform to the ceiling a lot more closely than I originally planned. It's looking like I'm going to store the grey water tank in the shower, and move it downstairs for drainage while showering. If that plan doesn't work out, there's room between the upstairs short wall and the back door to hang a flat-ish grey water tank when it's not in use.

Having ordered the cooktop and sink, I can start to lay out the countertop and figure out where the cutouts will be, where the faucet will go, and where I'll have some tiny amount of clear surface. The first draft countertop will just be plywood coated in some non-flammable waterproofing. Later I might try something fancier.

I've reached out to some friends and found someone who I can pay to clean the interior for me. Not that she'll be doing it alone; I expect to do as much work getting access to the nooks and crannies and moving stuff around as she does on the cleaning. The end result should be that I won't have to worry about dust and dirt and grime getting on me and all my stuff as I'm installing nice new/clean hardware.

Having so much of the furniture and so many of the bars removed has made it feel even more open inside than it originally did. I am very happy with how spacious it seems, looking from the front to the back. So far all of the plans are on track to keep that sight line almost completely unblocked. There's a lot of small tasks ahead for temporarily securing/installing all of the necessities, but it's enjoyable and I can see the light at the end of the [first] tunnel now. I expect to have a comfortably livable space in the next few weeks. Once I reach that point, then I can start making longer term plans for bigger renovations, like the floor, windows, walls, insulation, roof deck, etc.
sparr: (cellular automata)
It's been 4 days since we got to SF and I'm calling this the end of my first week off the road. I know, 4 days isn't a week, but Friday feels like a good day to summarize. Maybe I'll post twice a week, to separate weekend work from weekday work? TBD.

Last/worst news first... Last night I made my first serious driving mistake. I turned left from a right-curb parking spot too sharply and the tail of the bus got intimate with a nearby tree, leaving both a bit worse for wear. The upper rear corner of the bus lost two running light covers, which will serve as an excuse to take off a good one to measure for spares. Good news, I now know that some of the solid curvy rigid bits of the body are fiberglass. Bad news, I know that because there's now a ~12in section ripped away from the top corner. Good news, Gorilla Tape repairs seem to have been mostly successful, and will probably hold until I get around to sawing out the edges of the rip and patching with a bunch of fiberglass tape.

I installed a security system from Fortress Security Store. It came with motion sensors that I'm using already, and door/window alarms that I'm not yet. It has an audible alarm (currently inside the bus, to be moved to a secure location outside) and also sends me text messages (or calls me). So far I'm mostly liking it. The alarm functionality seems great. I'm minorly confused/annoyed about how the "call the alarm from my phone so I can arm/disarm or use it as an intercom" functions work, but those aren't essential. The backup battery life is a bit low, but that should be easy to rectify with a larger battery. This will be one of the few things on the bus with its own dedicated power backup.

I cut and peeled off a bit of the textual portion of the side decals, near the ground. They all peeled off easily. The one on the front has nice even paint behind it. The ones on the sides, not so much. Also, the sides were longer cuts, which got a little uneven as I went along. I'll probably end up covering those areas with more vinyl to be drawn/painted on. Additionally, removing the vinyl near the ground revealed the bolts that hold the bus skirt panels on. I need to get inside those to see what's behind some of the lower walls inside, as well as to get under the bus for various reasons.

I mostly installed two deadbolts, one on each of the front doors. I say mostly not because I had to use shims to account for the thinness of the doors, which is easy to fix later, but because the bolts don't span the gap between the door and the jamb. This is the first time I've ever had to install a lock in a place where the door doesn't touch *any* of the surfaces around it. There's a 1-2" gap between the door and the floor, jamb, and ceiling, and a 6" gap between the two doors (which is filled with rubber bumpers). I'll soon be making a steel extension for the jamb where the deadbolt is, as well as steel reinforcement for the door and the jamb. Both need to be stronger if someone tries to kick the door in, and that's on top of the need to repair the structural weakening I did by drilling through the door.

I removed almost all of the wheelchair restraint hardware. The parts connected to the divider wall legs and to the floor hardware came out easily. The floor hardware (sideways telescoping steel channel bolted to the floor) did not, due to rusted bolts that I need access to the bottom of. I'll be figuring out how to get under the bus some time soon; that will probably involve parking with two wheels on a high curb. The hardware on the wall of the bus was the best surprise, giving me a peek at the vertical structural members of the body. Apparently the vertical sections between the windows house more aluminum extrusion channel, with more T-nuts for attachment. This is wonderful news.

I took out the five vertical poles that stood alone, which makes the middle section of the bus feel much more spacious. That included removing the stop request buttons from all of them. It also meant getting inside the air/power/etc sections at the top of the bus for the first time, to get to the mounts at the top of two of the poles (one side) so I could remove the stop request wiring for those. Those mounts attach to the extrusion channel in the ceiling, again with T-nuts. One of the mounts, out of the five I checked, is inexplicably wobbly, despite appearing firmly attached. That bears further investigation. The three mounts on the other side still have their wiring wrapped up and tucked in until I get inside the ceiling on that side. I also removed a bunch of the connectors where the poles meet the handles on top of the seats, and discovered they are adjustable for different angles. I'll be keeping a few of the seats, probably mostly with handles, so I've got the option of doing something semi-structural with poles and connectors based on where the remaining seats end up.

Being up in the ceiling gave me a lot of new info as well. I've now seen the climate control ducting, and discovered that *everything* up there outside of the climate control unit itself is coated in a fine black powder/dust. I need to find out if that's intentional or incidental or bad. I've gotten a look at the door actuation mechanism, the coolant hoses to the climate control, the electrical wiring, and the fluorescent ballasts.

I happened upon a queen sized cushion (calling it a mattress would be a stretch, despite its size, due to its thinness and stuffing) at IKEA in the as-is section, 50% off for no reason I can discern. I grabbed it. It might not have a home in the bus in the long term, or it might get deployed across the living room seats for the last few sleeping slots, or it might get cut in half to make two smaller sleeping pads. Regardless, it's my bed for the duration of phase 1 of the build, and much more comfortable than the cheap hammocks I picked up for the trip. It's thin enough to fold in half or thirds, so it isn't much in the way. I also bought a small succulent plant, which is currently living in one of the front corner windows.

I opened up the camp stove that we bought but didn't use on our trip. At first glance, it doesn't look like it will be easy to flip the propane feed to the other side to make it fit in my kitchen space. I'll take a deeper look inside it once I have a sink, and either fix it or replace it before I cut out a countertop to hold them both. That project is on the agenda for this weekend or next.

I have safety/usage certifications scheduled at TechShop for the metal shop and MIG welding next week. Once that happens I can start working on the bed platform, a table for the dining area, hard points for the ceiling and walls, etc. I've got the shape of the bed platform down on paper and just need to lay out a precise design so I can dimension the parts. The table, which I want to be height adjustable to convert seats+table into a bed, is still on the drawing board. The hard points will probably just be 1/4" steel plate for now, with an eye to something more svelte in the future. If I can get certified on the waterjet cutter in time, I'll use that. Otherwise it's all about the band saw, drill press, and grinders.

I've been on the roof a couple of times now, for various reasons. My step ladder is tall enough for a precarious climb out the hatch. I probably need to get something more sturdy and safe eventually. Maybe something that works both inside and outside? I could make an 8ft ladder that attaches to the back of the bus for storage and exterior use, and can be brought inside and hooked into the hatch (protruding past the top) for interior use. That will probably happen around the same time I'm putting vertical bike storage on the back of the bus for travel, which is probably a project for phase 2, in April or May.

I've gotten word from my agent in South Dakota about the requirements to register the bus as an RV. I detailed them in another post. The short version is that there are 7 items on the list, and I need to have 5 of them. I already have 2, and expect to have 3 more in a week or two. At this point I'm waiting for him to send me the paperwork and let me know how I need to prove that I've fulfilled the requirements.

That's about all that's going on so far. I hope to post again on Sunday night or Monday morning with updates from the weekend.

PS: I didn't mention it last post, but I've started uploading photos to Flickr and Facebook. That includes all the investigation and improvements and damage I've done so far.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I've been trying and failing to get in touch with anyone at New Flyer, who bought NABI, who bought Optima, who manufactured my bus, who might have access to any sort of documentation on the bus. I posted to a few bus forums and someone pointed me towards an expired ebay auction for an almost-right operator manual. It's off by one year, and possibly wrong in other subtle ways, but I'll take what I can get. I contacted the seller and found they had re-listed it. I bought it, and it was waiting for me when I got back to San Francisco tonight. This post is me live-journaling my discoveries as I peruse it for the first time.

The "Summary of Changes" section of the book describes the revision history of the book. This is good news, as it indicates this book does cover my bus, it just happens to be one year newer than my bus. Better yet, the 2004 revision of the book contains no content changes, just copy editing and formatting, which suggests the Opus bus wasn't changed in 2004, so this book should be an exact match for my bus, barring any custom changes that the RRTA requested.

I am apparently supposed to inflate the tires to 110PSI, so my instructions to the Tire Pass folks to aim for 115 was a bit high. I know better, now.

My turning radius is 31' for the tires, 36' for the body. Ouch.

My bumper to bumper length is 34'5", with a wheelbase of 18'1". The height, probably including the heater, is 10'4", and the outside wall width is 8'3.2" (no idea why this one gets an extra digit of precision).

I am supposed to have a 75 or 90 gallon fuel tank. My estimate based on the fuel gauge and fill-ups was 80, so now I need to actually figure out which it is.

The driver's seat is a Recaro Ergo Metro. Knowing this will allow me to find spare parts! Apparently it's missing a non-optional headrest, which I would love to find. There's also apparently a seat adjustment control that we didn't see and I'll be poking around for when I return to the bus.

The light inside the engine compartment is on an 18ft retracting cord, which is long enough to drag it to the side to see the fuel tank, radiator, tires, etc in the dark. Spiffy!

There is a button on the dash with the engine retarder icon on it, which we couldn't identify before. Apparently my transmission has a built-in retarder, and now I want to get on the highway and check out its function. It claims to augment engine braking for steep downgrades. I wish I'd known that 3000 miles ago.

There are seven electrical system multiplexer nodes. I only found ~4 of them in my initial round of panel-opening. Now I know where to look for the rest of them!

My Allison transmission is apparently a B300 or B300R. That narrows down the possibilities significantly.

The section on the climate control system is a tease. It identifies which system I have, but won't tell me what the mystery buttons/LEDs are!

It may be possible to raise the bus suspension above the normal not-kneeled height temporarily, for crossing things like slope peaks and raised railroad tracks. This requires further investigation of a particularly arcane set of conditions and button pushes.

Apparently I'm not supposed to idle for more than ten minutes. This is probably why there's an automatic shutdown. The suggested failure mode is "overcooling" which will result in carbon buildup in the combustion chambers in unburned fuel in the oil. The internet already told me that unburned fuel in the oil could result in the weird oil levels I've seen. This requires immediate investigation.

Also I'm supposed to idle the engine for a few minutes before shutting it off, to promote even cooling. Good to know.

"CAUTION: Do not allow the vehicle to coast in neutral. This can result in transmission damage."... Also good to know!

I need to learn more about safe amounts of engine braking. I tried to balance load on the transmission and brakes while leaving the Appalachians, Rockies, and Sierra Nevadas. However, the manual suggests that all the way down to first gear is acceptable.

Apparently the broken air hoses in my doors go to some sensors that are supposed to stop the doors from closing on people. I probably want to disable that functionality, for primary and secondary reasons. And I could probably save a bit of wasted vacuum or air pressure by capping those hoses.

For some reason, this bus sold to a transit agency in Pennsylvania apparently doesn't have the optional front defroster modules, which would have been responsible for turning the cold air coming out of the dash and driver vents into warm air. I need to get under the front dash and see if they are installed and just missing the controls. If not, at least I know there's room under there to add them.

Apparently the lit up /!\ button and indicator on my climate control indicate a fault, and I can get it to read an error code out to me. I'm not lucky enough to have a key for those codes, but at least now I know what that does/means.

Apparently my powered windshield defroster (which has such cute tiny wires running through the glass) is coupled with mirror defrosters. I hope I don't ever need that feature again.

I never tried the emergency door release buttons because I didn't know if I'd be able to reset them. The operator manual sheds no additional light on this situation. :/

Along with knowing where all the multiplexers are, I now know where 3 more fuse panels are. I should document them.

Additionally, I now have a pre-flight checklist, most of which I will ignore. I also have a few hints at weekly/monthly maintenance tasks, which I will not ignore. Overall, this is a lot of useful new info. Sadly, there's still missing operational info, such as how to engage the baseboard heaters, the specs on the climate control air filter, etc. Hopefully I can find a service manual some day to fill in the rest of those gaps.
sparr: (cellular automata)
I've been mulling over a lot of options while traveling. Now that I've got my hands (and tape measure) on the bus, I've started to narrow down the possibilities. I don't want a typical tinyhouse/rv style renovation, for both stylistic and practical reasons. I do want open space, lots of seating and sleeping room, and the necessities for living as well as for registering and insuring it as an RV.

Here's what I've got in mind right now:

The bedroom will mostly fill the rear section, which has less headroom than the rest of the bus. This is the space I am least decided on, even for a first-draft approach. Both of my current plans require getting checked out on the metal shop and mig welders at Techshop. Plan one involves a steel-framed variation of the dual/trundle bed system from Hank Bought a Bus, which provides two twin beds and plenty of under-bed storage, and converts to a king plus a twin by sliding one bed into the aisle. Plan two involves facing "day bed" style seats, with fold-out cantilevered support across the aisle for sliding both mattresses down and together to span the whole section. I'm also still brainstorming other options. The bedroom will probably be the last step in the first pass of renovation. Prior to that, while I'm doing everything else, a mattress on bins will do as well as it always has.

The kitchen will be above the wheel well behind the driver, comprised of a sink in front of a camp stove. I've got a stove that might work if I can flip the propane feed to the other side, and even a small aluminum-box oven to go on it. A frame for the stove and sink will also be made in the TechShop metal shop. The pantry will be above the other wheel well, with some storage compartments and a cooler. That area will probably be made from wood in the short term, possibly indefinitely. Both wheel wells have a bit of dead space inside them, above and ahead/behind the wheel. One of those four spaces is occupied by a fire extinguisher in a recessed housing, and the other three might be reclaimable space. I can probably put my propane tank(s) in one of them, with some custom metal or fiberglass work.

The shower will be opposite the back door, relatively large and doubling as (bike?) storage. Its floor will be raised 4-6 inches and contain the grey water tank (pending a smell-blocking solution). The shower probably won't have solid walls, instead having floor and ceiling shower curtain rods for a wrap-around curtain. I saw a small on-demand propane water heater at a camping event a couple of years ago; I'm going to investigate how small those can be.

The position for the fresh water tank(s) for the shower and kitchen is TBD. I'm torn between putting them down low and requiring power or foot pumps, or putting them up high and letting gravity do the work but also having much more catastrophic failure modes. I've heard good things about some small powered pump+spray devices which might make my mind up for me. Either way, for now I'll be going with 5-7 gallon carryable containers, rather than needing to rig up a fill hose.

The front area between the wheel wells and rear door, the "living room", will have the original six folding seats, four normal seats with a table between them, and lots of open floor. Some of the original overhead bars will remain, some will be cut, many removed. In the long term I'll probably remove all of them so there's more room for hammocks, an aerial sling, etc, but for now I'll keep them because they are so much fun to climb on.

A key aspect of this plan is that it retains an unimpeded sight line across the width of the bus from the front to the rear, except for the pre-existing wall behind the driver's seat, which contains a power distribution panel that can't be easily moved. I really like this aspect of Hank's design, and I'm hoping to stick with it. I will add curtains or folding partitions for privacy, but their default position will be open.

I'm going to be removing the sandpapery flooring material and haven't decided what I want to do with the floor yet. Wood seems like a popular option for bus conversions. I like how it looks. I don't like that it usually requires an under-floor layer, which will eat into my precious headroom. I might take the easy out for round one and just put down carpet and padding for most of it, and whatever the modern equivalent of linoleum is for the areas around the doors and shower.

The exterior is... a big project. I'll be cutting out or covering up the advertising text ASAP. I'm probably going to keep the giant human spine art for a while, because it looks cool and keeping it is easy. Eventually I might want to cover it with a new custom wrap, or have it painted. That's another project for another month (year?).

The interior walls are mostly going to be left as-is until I decide I need some insulation. I'm not even sure that I need curtains on the windows that currently have decals on them; I'll be investigating how see-in-able it is in daylight and nighttime once it's sitting still. The doors need some work for security reasons, but I don't think I'll be doing anything decorative or design-y with them beyond that in the near future.

This plan gets all the necessities out of the way ASAP and leaves me a very open and flexible space for ongoing usage and improvement. Ten seats is plenty for most of my travel plans, and beds and hammocks will bring the sleeping capacity up to match, both very early in the process. I could be doing ten-person day/weekend trips as soon as April. The process won't be as impressive as a raw-to-finished-in-one-step renovation, but I think this plan fits well with my short and long term goals.
sparr: (cellular automata)
TL;DR: Personal project ruined by local USPS misbehavior. Follow-up and escalation might improve mail service for local homeless people.

Good news. I got accepted to present a project at FIGMENT Oakland 2015.
Bad news. The acceptance was at the last minute, so I need to build my project from scratch.
Good news. All of the components were able to get here with just enough time to spare.
Bad news. Berkeley CA sent one of my packages back to Virginia because they have some outdated and/or unsubstantiated policies about general delivery[1].

Read more... )


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