sparr: (cellular automata)
The last three days of the trip we finally mostly got our shit together with regard to planning interesting stops. We successfully scheduled but unsuccessfully orienteered for some hot springs west of Denver, then spent a morning at Arches National Park. We delivered some furniture in Eureka NV while traveling along highway 50, the "Loneliest Road in America". There were more mountains, a snowstorm, and miles of people's names written with rocks in the sand on the side of the road. We stopped to explore a small old irish cemetery and an abandoned hospital. We made another delivery in Vallejo CA just before reaching our destination. One copilot was dropped off in Oakland, and the other copilot and passenger spent one last night in the bus in SF. We made a deal for them to unload the bus into storage while I was at work, then had dinner one last time, then parted ways so they could continue their west coast adventures.

This stretch of the trip we started seriously experimenting with more-than-one-gear intentional downshifting and engine braking, as well as manually managing the transmission for the long steep uphills. This resulted in far fewer "please stop" conditions from the engine computer, and a lot less shifting and stuttering on the uphills. I also started to use the alternative shifting mode after some further advice from people on the internet. Overall, crossing the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada was a lot easier than crossing the Appalachians, mostly through more attentive driving on our part, including going significantly slower on the 5%+ grades.

Nothing else of note happened with the bus in the last few days. Next post will be about actually making changes inside the bus.
sparr: (cellular automata)
Our trip continues! I am writing this post as we cross Nebraska and Colorado, approaching Denver for a morning hotel stop. A friend of mine from Atlanta met us in Chicago so now we have three drivers. This has led to more night-time driving and making up some lost time. We now have three hammocks hanging up, and have been time-sharing the queen size bed that *perfectly* fits across the front six seats (the inwards facing ones that fold up for wheelchair parking). We picked up the last of our furniture deliveries near Chicago as well, and the first dropoff isn't until Nevada, so our obligated travel is taking a ~2 day break.

We are considering a short detour to Arches National Park, which I saw on my previous trip and recommended for this one. We are slightly considering a longer detour to Zion National Park, which would be more appealing if there were more highways around here rather than having to drive the wrong direction for an hour to backtrack. I'm sure we'll pack a few more stops into the CO/UT/NV section of the trip as well. I'd like to make Eureka NV on Sunday morning, and get to SF on Sunday night, and that's feeling very doable at this point.

In the last few days we've stopped at a bird sanctuary, a gorge full of devonian fossils, a whirlyball court, some botanical gardens, and a couple of other places that have slipped my mind. I took some photos, but haven't posted any (including to go with my previous journal entries) due to mostly having little to no data service on my phone on this trip. Photo uploads will come next week when I'm in San Francisco.

We stopped at a big truck stop with a first-time-free tire inflation service. Their machine couldn't reach two of our six, but it let us know the other four were around 102-117 PSI. I asked to have them all inflated/deflated to 115, and I'll investigate the ideal pressure later (labeled max is 120 cold). Their shop had to get the last two by hand, due to the outer rear tires having their valve stems pointing inwards(!?). I also paid to have us weighed. We're at about ten tons on the back axle and four on the front. I look forward to unloading all my junk and re-weighing it empty; I might have two tons of stuff in here right now between all my books and board games, along with wooden furniture including my own and the stuff we're shipping.

We've continued to fight the air drafts. Even though we are finally reaching some comfy daytime temperatures, the nights are still dangerously chilly, and we'd like it to be comfortable inside rather than alternating hot heater air and freezing drafts, as well as losing less warm air overnight. A few more windows are taped shut, and we've gotten a little better at covering the holes around the doors, but there are still spaces that cold air just blows right in. Any solutions to those problems are just temporary; they will be permanently fixed when I get around to working on the doors and windows more seriously, including weatherstripping, double panes, etc. I did throw together a shop vac hose and some tape to get some heated air down to the driver's feet, which has been the most problematic area.

I got a call back from the company that made the advertising decals covering the bus. Sadly just from someone in sales, who told me to call them back next week to speak to an engineer who knows how to remove them. The spine art is pretty cool, and I'll probably keep it for a while, but the text has to go. Whether that means removing it or putting vinyl or paint over it depends on how hard and/or expensive each of those options will be.

I got an email back from Luminator about paying them to reprogram the sign or for hardware/software to do it myself. They forgot to include the price sheet, though. Hopefully I'll get that soon. I might end up hunting down someone who already has the hardware/software and getting them to do it for me.

I've started to brainstorm how to add locks to the doors, ignition, fuel tank, etc. It's a bit tricky given the existing hardware designs. I'll probably do that roughly quickly, with plans to revisit it later in a prettier fashion. Security against break-ins will also be electronic, in the form of an audible alarm that also sends me text messages. I've got the system, I just need to get a SIM card for it and add a solar charger for the battery so I can keep it running indefinitely.

Someone pointed me towards an expired auction on EBay in Canada for an operators manual for a bus model very similar to mine (1 year newer, different engine from the same manufacturer). I've sent a message to the seller to see if I can get it from them. Even though the engine part will be partially inapplicable, a lot of the other details should be the same. Fingers crossed on that. At least I know what the book looks like now!

We have now driven through enough of a snowstorm to solidly cover the windshield outside of the wiper zone with slush/ice. It behaved just fine, except that the driver's view of the passenger side mirrors is blocked, outside of the wiper zone. That's a serious design wtf, and I'll be considering how to address it for the future. Also some of the front light housings collected enough slush to dim the lights. The headlights kept their housings melted just fine, but the high beams and turn signals were covered due to not being on constantly. Relatedly, the windows are all huge and flat, making them tedious but not difficult to wash and squeegee.

We passed the 2000 mile mark of the trip, bought our fifth tank of fuel, and I finally put my fuel receipts into a spreadsheet. We're doing a little better than 6.5MPG, and I think we've mostly been doing 55-60MPH. Since we're in a hurry I don't want to try it right now, but I'll put a full tank through at 50MPH next time I make a trip and see how that works out. For now, I'm happy with 6.5 on the highway. I don't look forward to finding out just how bad it gets in the city, though. I definitely won't be driving this beast around as much as I did the ambulance, even ignoring the parking concerns.

That's all for now. Next post will probably come Sunday night after we get to SF and I deliver all my passengers to their destinations. At that point I'll have delivered 1-2 of the 3 pieces of furniture we're carrying, with 1-2 left as well as my own stuff to unload into storage. That's probably a job for Monday evening, if I can find a few extra hands and a bigger and more easily accessible storage unit than I have now.
sparr: (cellular automata)
We spent most of the second day driving through PA, ending up in Cleveland OH. Our original plan was to head due west past Pittsburgh, but we committed to a detour to make a bit of money doing furniture delivery, which is a thing we're doing along the way to recoup the cost of the trip. Dropping that shipment off was exciting, including a cop following us along a meandering trip through a mostly-closed warehouse complex. We decided to call it a night in Cleveland, where I am currently writing this post the next morning. This stop put us a bit less than half a day behind schedule, which I think we can make up.

We got to see a huge old prayer house in Brownsville PA that is being renovated by a woman and her partner. It's a small town, presumably/apparently supported by the local coal industry. The building might be 200 years old, with original wood almost-everything, perhaps 4000sqft in two floors including 14ft ceilings in the basement. She got it for $7500!

We stopped at an adult novelty shop on the highway. This was primarily because one of the passengers never had. However, oddly enough, we actually needed provisions of a non-sexual nature that they could provide.

Good news:

We've put 500 miles on the bus and it's still going. The oil leak I was warned about has not made itself apparent yet. The dipstick depth hasn't changed noticeably, the oil pressure gauge hasn't moved outside of its apparently normal noise, and I haven't spotted a puddle. I'll be checking for a puddle again after parking it on clean pavement for the night.

I forgot to mention yesterday that the bus came with a mostly full tank of diesel, perhaps 60 gallons. That's $100+ off my expected trip cost right there.

I added fuel for the first time. I confirmed that the gauge does go up to 100%, and seems at least vaguely linear. My first estimate of our fuel efficiency is 6MPG, which is better than I feared and not as good as I hoped. I will have more accurate numbers on the second fill-up. I am hopeful that more efficiency can be gained by not climbing mountains, and by aiming for 50-55MPH more often than 55-65 as we seemed to want to do over the first two days of driving. I'm also much-more-vaguely guesstimating that it's burning one gallon of fuel for every 40 minutes of high-idle time.

I got some initial measurements. The interior width is about 94". The height at the ceiling peak up front is 98", estimating 86" at the walls which I can't measure at all yet due to ducting/conduits. The rear walkway is 16" shorter and the rest of the rear area is 22" shorter. I've taken a crack at measuring the length of various sections, but all my storage stuff is currently in the way. Roughly speaking, the rear "room" is about 9ft long, the rear door area is 5ft, the front "room" has 10ft of floor-to-ceiling length and 4ft above the wheel wells. Another 4ft for the front door, 1.5ft above the dash, and there's approx 2ft of rear window bay. Allowing 1ft for the bumper and accepting the nominal length of 34ft there's about 2.5ft missing from these measurements, so I missed something. Overall, I am very pleased at the amount of space, which amounts to about 14x8x8ft for the living room, 9x8x6ft for the bedroom, and 3x5x7ft for what I currently plan as storage+shower. If I give up the rear door entirely, that gets me another 3x5x7ft space.

Bad news:

Twice while climbing the Appalachians the gauge cluster complained with an unlabeled red indicator and a displayed icon that I failed to photograph due to not being at the front of the bus at the time. We stopped for a minute, rebooted the bus (ha!), and it went away each time. It did not recur after the mountain climbing portions of the trip. I predict we will see this behavior again as we climb the Rockies, and I'll pay more close attention then.

The bus is extremely and exceptionally drafty. At highway speeds in freezing weather, especially with snow+sleet and 20MPH+ crosswinds, we could not keep the interior comfortably warm. Some areas were uncomfortably cold and windy, including the driver's feet. I identified and closed at least two legitimate vents bringing in cold outside air, despite the primary heating system being fully engaged. I found one window that won't stay closed on its own and taped it shut. That leaves a lot of mystery leaks around the "dash", the walls holding the wiring panels, the edges of all the windows, and worst of all the doors which not only have wide brushes as sweeps but also have fist-sized gaps. I'll be trying to cover a lot of those with tape, cardboard, plastic, blankets, curtains, etc along the way, since it looks like we've got at least three days of cold driving ahead of us before reaching relative warmth around Denver. I'm also going to attempt to figure out if and how the baseboard heaters work. Despite being passive, every bit of heat will help.

We are spending more time on comfortable overnight stops than I anticipated. I decided that I am quite willing to spend the ~$400 it will take to keep us in hotels every night. However, hotel stops tend to involve hours of not-driving that could otherwise be spent doing interesting things along the trip. I'll be bringing this up with my copilot(s) and passenger(s) to see if we can find a mutually beneficial solution.

The bus refuses to idle for more than 30 minutes. This might be a simple timer, or it could plausibly be some over-threshold condition like overheating. I don't see anything on the gauges that is rising or falling before the shutdown, so I'm leaning towards the former, thankfully. Annoyingly, regardless of the cause of the shutdown, there seems to be a ~5 minute off-on-cycle lockout on the climate control system, which means 1/6th of the idle time is spent with no heat :/
sparr: (cellular automata)
I left Boston on Sunday evening in a UHaul truck full of my stuff. Logistical shenanigans delayed the departure, but we eventually got on the road. With me was Natasha, who is one of my bus copilots, and Ben, a friend in need of a ride. We dropped Ben off elsewhere in Massachusetts and proceeded southwest. I had forgotten that the NYC tolls are mostly one-way, so we got across the bridge without paying the $26 that I recalled from my last trip in the other direction. We did encounter one New Jersey toll that was $1 for autos and $6 for 6-wheel trucks, the largest ratio between those categories I've seen. We picked up A, a friend and road trip companion, along the way, and made it to Lancaster PA after dawn. Some negotiating with the hotel clerk got us a room until 1PM, and we napped away the rest of the morning.

After a refreshingly long nap in the hotel, we proceeded to the bus facility. I had originally planned to pick up the bus in East Petersburg where it was being stored, but the owners moved it back to the Red Rose Transit Authority facility in Lancaster for storage. My trip partners dropped me off and they went to get food and otherwise kill time. I got a glimpse of the bus at a distance on my way in, and there was a minor amount of squee involved there. I met someone in their office to sign over the title and get a bill of sale. With the paperwork in hand I finally got my hands on the bus, escorted by their head of maintenance.

First up, there was much visual inspecting. I poked and prodded a lot of the parts, opened hatches, peered into walls and cavities, and otherwise pretended to know what I was looking at. I took a few exterior photos, for posterity (which is something you should do with *everything* expensive and used that you buy, in case there's a dispute later about the delivery condition). Then we tried to start it. Or, we tried to try to start it. He had showed me the battery cutout switch, and he knew it had started earlier that day, so we didn't think power was a problem. Despite that, we literally could not figure out the order of operations to engage the instrument cluster or the ignition. After a few minutes of being mutually stymied, he went to get one of the hands-on maintenance folks. That guy showed us the arcane ritual required to engage the ignition, which I will not reproduce here because that obscurity is currently the only security I have; installing a key interlock is on my to-do list.

At that point, I had a running engine and a bunch of free time while everyone else was out gallavanting. I flipped all of the switches. I turned the bus off and back on. I took a lot of photos, including every part that looked mechanically interesting and everything with writing on it (hooray for wiring diagrams and part numbers!). I got a couple of videos with audio of the engine running, including stopping and starting it from under the hood. Those photos and video will be online somewhere near this post in the near future.

This is the part of the story where I drive off into the sunset, right? Nope. Having learned the ritual for starting the engine, I found myself stuck on step two, engaging the transmission. I googled. I poked. I combinatorially attemped every one and two push or push+hold combination of the relevant buttons on the transmission controls. Then I gave up and called the guys inside. Once again the head of maintenance couldn't figure it out, and called in a specialist. He immediately recognized that the transmission controller flashing the current gear instead of displaying it steadily indicated an interlock condition; that is, some switch on the bus was open and telling it not to go. He shut it down and walked me through a checklist of about half a dozen things, which I suspect is actually less than half of the real whole interlock checklist. Having done that, it went into gear and he drove it to the far side of the parking lot. I was left with a driveable bus and departed to meet everyone else.

After a short drive we met up at the UHaul facility and spent a few hours cross loading cargo. I removed four of the rear seating benches so we could optimize our luggage tetris and was generally quite pleased at how easily they came out. The floor level bolts had rusted, probably from salty snowy wet passengers' feet. They were tough to start and required a ratchet all the way out, but none of them seemed even close to stripping or otherwise misbehaving. The bolts at butt level, both the cantilever attachment at the wall and the diagonal support on the bottom, came out like butter; none took more than 1/4 turn with the ratchet before coming the rest of the way by hand. The seats stack very densely when the diagonal support is removed.

Having returned the UHaul truck and made a quick thrift shopping trip, we set off westward. It was well after dark, and we were tired from sleep deprivation and moving, so we quit early. We got a hotel due to not having converted enough of the bus interior for sleeping yet. Natasha did get her hammock up, and engaged in some entertaining acrobatics to mount it, but we hadn't cleared enough floor space to put down bedding for myself or A. The hotel was accommodating, and we ended up showered, jacuzzi'd, fed, and comfy in time for a long full night's sleep. I am writing this in the AM of day two, as we are finishing breakfast and preparing to depart westward from Carlisle PA.

PS: This post will eventually have a prequel covering the details of the shopping, auction, and purchase process.

PPS: Carlisle PA is where I spent a couple of weeks in the company of my father in the late 90s as he was dying of lung cancer.
sparr: (cellular automata)
After parting ways with our Burning Man campmates we did some touristing and ran some errands in Reno. As we were deciding which way to go from there, a friend invited us to join her at Lake Tahoe, so we headed that way. A late night of cleaning playa dust out of the ambulance led to us arriving in Tahoe after midnight, so we crashed in the ambulance and met my friend and her campmate the next morning.

We spent a couple of days around Lake Tahoe. There was hiking, time on the beach, and gazing at the sunset. We had some good food, some comfortable decompression time, and the novel experience of a timeshare presentation (for free breakfast and $100 gift card!). One fun hiking moment had us choosing between paths to "Cascade Falls <--" or "--> Desolation", giving me a strong Choose Your Own Adventure / RPG feeling. We opted to avoid Desolation :)

Leaving Lake Tahoe involved driving back through Reno, where we spent another night. I played some poker again. In the morning we proceeded up through northeast California. We stopped when crossing the Pacific Crest Trail for Emma to do some hiking, with an eye towards a much longer PCT hike in the future. At Cave Campground we walked through a lava tube which was really cool. For our overnight we made it up to Eagle's Nest RV Park, a place that had advertised free post-burn camping for burners and whose website said they had metered electrical hookups, but upon arrival they cajoled us out of twenty bucks for a flat rate hookup. I was too tired to argue, but probably won't stop there again.

Around this point in the trip Emma started to do some serious planning of the stops she wanted to make in Oregon and Washington. Unfortunately, we figured out that most of the places she wanted to see had schedules that didn't match up with our travels at all. Many of the places were only open one or two days a week!

On the way from CA to OR we stopped at the Tulelake County fair, which was fun and silly. There were prize winning baked goods that we weren't allowed to eat, prize winning livestock that Emma turned into a five year old in the presence of, and the most appalling religious anti-sex propaganda booth I've ever encountered in person. I took one of each of their flyers, which Emma couldn't even stand to read, and plan to post about that separately. We continued north up to Crater Lake National Park and made it just in time for the last guided hike of the season. Fun fact: the non-snow season at Crater Lake lasts about three months; they have often-impassably-deep snow cover from October through June. We hiked up to a great lookout, learned some things about trees and birds, took some photos, and then headed north out of the park.

Or, at least, we tried to head out of the park. Switching from all-8%-up-grades to all-8%-down-grades quickly illustrated that my fuel gauge was misbehaving at steep angles, and we ran out of gas on the way out of the park. Luckily for us, I carry an extra gallon of fuel for emergencies. Unluckily, the nearest gas station was 16 miles away, and the nearest we were sure would be open was 25 miles away, since it was pretty late at night. Both of those numbers are significantly higher than my average MPG. So, in goes the fuel. We get up to speed, and I see the most beautiful sight of the trip... two signs, "Altitude 4000ft" and "4% down grade next 8 miles". Terminal coasting velocity for the ambulance on a 4% grade is about 45MPH. Plenty fast enough that I wasn't afraid of being rear ended by an inattentive motorist. Now, the scariest part of the trip... Driving the ambulance at 45MPH without power steering. The brake cylinders hold plenty of fluid for a complete stop, so I wasn't afraid of failure to stop, but having direct mechanical control of the steering was nerve wracking. On the bright side, the dead zone in the middle of the wheel was gone. We made it to the 16 mile station with the idea that we would just overnight there if we needed to. It turned out to be unnecessary as it was a ski resort in the off season with a phone at the station for calling a maintenance person down to sell us gas. He seemed cheerful and happy for the break in the monotony. We set out for western Oregon (having decided nothing in eastern OR or WA excited either of us enough for a 6+ hour detour) and spent the night somewhere along the way.

The next day we drove up to Portland, where we both had touristy plans and a friend had invited us to use their driveway. Next journal entry will cover Portland and Seattle.

PS: This entry covers September 9-14, 2015.
sparr: (cellular automata)
Yesterday (Friday) I tried to get a driver license in South Dakota, having [I thought] fulfilled all of the requirements for doing so. I failed, due mostly to incompetence on the part of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

Read more... )

Old affidavit form:

New affidavit form:


sparr: (Default)

June 2017

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