Bus RV Project (A work in progress)



Building a Metal Melting Furnace


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We've currently embarked on the conversion of a bus to an RV. It will provide a private space for our buddy AJ, who's moving in with us, and it will allow the three of us to take extended road-trips to obscure places without having to worry about hotel reservations or finding decent vegetarian food in East Bumfuct.

Buying a Bus 3/4/08

You'd think this wouldn't be too difficult, what with all the buses you see running around, would you? There are typically a dozen or more listed on eBay at any given time, as well as local companies selling them. The problem is finding one that you can afford, with the features you want, that doesn't have a quarter of a million miles on it (which is, believe it or not, not uncommon; that's the distance to the moon for gosh sakes!). If it's longer than 24 feet or weighs more than 26,000 lbs, or the person you talk to at the DMV is having a bad hair day, you apparently have to have a CDL (commercial driver's license) to operate it, and since all three of us want to be able to drive on occasion, we decided to keep it "small" to avoid that requirement. We had looked at a 40-foot "coach" that had seen better days, and man was it huge. I can't even imagine trying to maneuver that behemoth in traffic; I'd feel like I was driving the Jawa sand crawler.

After much searching of eBay and checking with local truck and bus dealers and used car lots, we hadn't still hadn't come up with anything suitable. Then, one day when we were on some errand or other, somebody pointed to the Volkswagen(!) dealership we were driving past and said, "Hey! They've got a bus for sale!!" We stopped and checked it out, and found that it had been custom made for the Omaha Public School District in 1993 for use as a mobile computer classroom. It came complete with carpet, built-in oak(!) cabinets and workspaces, tables, two air conditioners, five electric heaters, and a 10KW diesel generator to supply 110VAC when it wasn't on "shore power". The best part? It had only about 5,000 miles on it, and about 300 hours on the motor and generator. We fell in love at first sight. (Well, actually, I suppose it was more lust, but still...) After a trip to the diesel mechanic for a once-over (where it received a clean bill of health, except that the generator wouldn't start - but how hard could that be to fix?) and hours of intense negotiation (okay, okay - a couple of offers and counter-offers over about a week's time; they knew they had us hooked, and they knew we knew, but we still had to put up a little fight, didn't we?) we bought it and drove it home.

There's a Bus in the Driveway. Now what?!? 3/11/08

First off, we set about fixing the various minor problems. We replaced a couple of tail lights, a turn signal bulb, and a broken mirror. Fixed the broken fuel tank sender (the float had cracked and filled with diesel so it sank.) Chris spent hours working on the generator; it will crank and crank, but won't start. He determined that it was getting fuel and the glow plugs were working, but with no information on the engine, and not being a diesel mechanic, that's as far as he was able to go. There was also a problem with the steering shaking pretty badly when you went down the road, so we took it to the local bus repair shop to have it looked at. The steering problem was an easy fix, but the generator apparently has a problem with the diesel injection pump, and I've since received quotes for anywhere from $800 to $2,000 to rebuild the pump. Or... we could choose to order a new injection pump ($2,000!!!) from Japan which could take months. (sigh). So now we're either going to try to flush it out with something to see if it's just gummed up from lack of use, or we're going to chuck the whole thing and install a bunch of batteries and solar panels, which probably means no A/C unless we're on shore power. (sigh again)

Violence Isn't the Answer? Could You Please Repeat the Question? 3/19/08

We started out by removing some of the parts we weren't planning on reusing in our design, which was arrived at after much blood, sweat, and tears, and much shuffling around of little shapes drawn on bits of graph paper.

We also ripped out the industrial gray carpet, scraped off way too much old carpet glue, and patched and sanded the floor.

We then painted it with two coats of latex primer prior to applying floor tiles.

Chris got so carried away that he painted himself into a corner; we had to pass food in through the window until the paint dried so we could get him out. ;-)

Today on "This Old Bus"... 3/21/08

We installed the spiffy floor tiles AJ picked out, and are ready to take on... (cue ominous music)

...the shower!

Just thinking about it caused our cat, Buster, to have a nervous breakdown.

Your Papers, Please! 3/22/08

The title for the bus finally arrived in the mail today, and it's titled as "manufactured housing", so it looks like we might get lucky and not have to have the title changed like a lot of people seem to, in order to license it as an RV. Yay!

Just Another Brick in The Wall... 3/23/08

I started framing the wall for the bathroom today; you haven't experienced true pain until you'd tried to frame a wall with a curved top (and not just any curve, but some kind of compound non-euclidean spiral segment thing) on a non-level floor, using only a framing square and (often faulty) intuition. But I got it done, and it fits like a glove. Now I need to pick out and apply some kind of golden-honey shade of stain/finish to the knotty-pine bead board slats that will make up the outside of the bathroom wall, tack them onto the wall, and cut the tops to match the curve. I don't even want to think about what I'm going to have to do to get trim on it. Do they make rubber oak-veneered quarter-round? *twitch

Tanks for the Memories... 3/28/08

We bought a 76 gallon fresh water tank that the local RV dealer had in the back of their warehouse. It's just the right size to mount under the lower bunk.

Holes were cut through the inside and outside walls, and fittings and tubing for connecting to "city" water and filling, draining, and venting the tank were installed.

Generating Some Interest 4/3/08

Chris is a genius (but don't tell him I said so - his head is already swollen enough). He fixed the generator!! He had to take apart quite a few things to get the diesel injection pump off, and then discovered that one of the spring-loaded pistons inside the pump was stuck in the "out" position. This kept that cylinder from getting any fuel, and seriously interfered with the ability of other two cylinders to do so, as well. After a couple of days of liberal application of penetrating oil, followed by gentle pushing, pulling, and rotating of the piston, he got it freed up. He got the whole thing put back together (without even any parts left over!), turned on the glow plug for a minute, and pressed the "Start" button. It fired right up and purred like a kitten. After adding some air to the pneumatic mounts, and replacing a couple of rubber shock-mounts, it's back under the bus and running smooth. It's putting out nice clean 117 VAC at a solid 60Hz. We had it running both roof air-conditioners and it wasn't even working hard. Yay Chris!

Holey Floor, Batman! 4/7/08

We got the final location of the "twa-lette" and shower drain figured out, so out came my favorite tool, the "Sawzall", and in a matter of minutes we had two (sort of) round holes through the plywood flooring, the steel floor pan, and the insulation, thusly:

We ended up putting the toilet in the shower stall to save space as well as to give tall folks (aka me) a place to sit while showering, if they get tired of bonking their head on the curved ceiling.

Where There's a Wall, There's a Way 4/7/08

We were finally comfortable enough that things were in their final locations that we screwed a couple of the walls in place today as well. One morning recently, I woke up thinking, "Rope! That's the ticket!" We're going to use some nice thick hemp rope for trim where the bathroom walls meet the ceiling. It'll cover any... um... deviations... in the way the walls meet the curved ceiling, and with the knotty pine beadboard, it'll fit right into our nautical theme.

Wire We Here? 4/9/08
Here's the 12 volt distribution and fuse area, located behind a door beneath the driver's window on the outside of the bus:

I need to run some nice thick wires (4 gauge) back to the power control and breaker panel at the back, which will supply power to the fresh water pump, macerator pump, furnace blower, refrigerator, tank level monitor, etc. Through a happy coincidence, this panel fits perfectly between two of the shelves on one of the existing workstations, so I'm going to dedicate this shelf to the power panel, tank monitor display, and other "house" controls and indicators.

We're Sinking! 4/10/08

AJ figured out where we should install the sink today, and proceeded to cut and drill the necessary holes to receive the sink, the faucet, and the hand-sprayer. Looks good so far!

Plumb Crazy 4/11/08

The festivities continue as we plumb in the shore water connection, pressure regulator, "whole house" filter, 12VDC water pump, and cold water manifold.

We also attached the sink faucet to the manifold, and installed the shower faucet and roughed in the piping. We discovered yesterday that the 35 gallon agricultural spray tank we bought won't quite fit in the available space for the "black water" tank, and we weren't too excited about trying to move the 60 gallon diesel tank to make more room. After a bit more hunting, I found a 20 gallon plastic fuel tank at the Surplus Center that's a more suitable "cube" shape that appears to fit the available opening with fractions of an inch to spare.
We also found a nice door at EcoStores that's the exact size (24" x 69") we need for the bathroom.

Pump Up the Volume! 4/16/08

Look ma! Runnin' water! Pretty soon we'll have an indoor ter-let too! The pump is hooked up, and all the plumbing is done! We now have cold-and-cold (the water heater isn't running yet) running water in the sink. Since the grey-water tank isn't mounted yet, it just runs out on the ground, but - hey - it's a start! Coincidentally, the pump on our household well (conveniently suspended 120 feet below ground in a 250 foot deep hole filled with water) bit the dust. We spent most of the day without water while they pulled the pump and replaced it (with a bigger one - we can haz more pressures!) so it was kind of fun to be able to wander into the bus and wash my hands using its totally independent water system.

Steel Yourselves... 4/17/08

Chris whipped up these cool bed rail hangers (to hang the oak rails for the beds) and tubular steel rails with brazed-on brackets (to replace the cheap, crappy, this-thing-is-so-flimsy, we-had-to-put-a -leg-under-the-middle-of-it rails that came on our second-hand futon) using his high-falutin' "see-en-see" milling machine.

Oh, How I A-door You<sorry> 4/21/08

We got the bathroom door jamb and stop cut and installed, and the door hung (and well hung, too, if I do say so myself...) I think it looks pretty snazzy!

We've Been Framed! 4/24/08

The bed frames are now in place, using the nice brackets that Chris made, and the oak rails with pine cleats that I put together and AJ stained and painted. What a team! Now we need to cut a bunch of slats to length to hold up the mattresses, and we'll have a place to sleep.

It's pretty much a bunk bed or loft arrangement, with a queen-sized mattress on the bottom, and a long twin on top. (You can also see the on-demand water heater that's mounted above the headboard of the lower bunk.)

Mosey On Up to the Bunkhouse 4/27/08

We put the top bunk together today, and it looks great! AJ and I were both up there and it didn't sag a bit. I thought we were going to have to use a shoehorn to get the mattress in place, though. The queen-sized lower mattress may prove to be even more "interesting".

It's even attractive from underneath!

Big Brother is Watching! 04/27/08

Today I also installed and wired rear-view cameras -- one looking at the street right behind the back bumper and the other looking toward the horizon.

They display on a replacement rear-view mirror with two small LCD displays behind the glass. The cameras both send a "mirrored" image, so it looks just like what you're used to seeing in the mirror. The "video mirror" was intended to clip over a factory car mirror, which our bus didn't have. We looked around for after-market mirror brackets with no success. At Radio Shack, picking up some 12V power plugs (including one spiffy one that plugs into the cigarette lighter and terminates in two banana jacks) we found some bookshelf speaker mounts (on sale, even!) with a heavy-duty bracket with a ball joint. We screwed the bracket to the wall, and Chris machined a slab of aluminum with a threaded hole in the middle that matched the "speaker" end of the bracket. Works great!

No news is good news! 05/08/08

We're still diligently plugging away at the bus. I haven't posted any photos or comments lately because even _I_ can't get too worked up about fishing wires through walls, caulking the bathroom, and moving a heater. There'll be more posts when we've done something interesting to talk about.

Ow... 05/11/08 Okay, kids. Let this be a lesson to you. I was using a 4" steel hole cutter in a hand-held drill, trying to cut a hole in a piece of galvanized steel to mount a heat vent for the bus. Just as the thought, "Gee - maybe I should put this in the vise," had formed in my head, the jagged piece of steel caught on the hole cutter and became a whirling blade of doom. So I wandered into the garage with my thumb wrapped in a blood-soaked paper towel and asked Chris and AJ, "So... do you think this should have stitches...?" The answer was something along the lines of "OMFG! YES!" So we piled in the car and went off to visit the local urgent-care facility. I walked into the waiting room, where a bored receptionist started to say, "You'll need to fill out these forms and wait until we call your name". I held up my blood-soaked paper towel and she said, "Okay. You're next - go right in. You can fill out the papers later." I'll have to remember that trick. Seven stitches later, I decided the most painful part was the multiple novocaine injections to the thumb, followed closely by the giant aching, throbbing lump on my arm the next day from the tetanus shot. Although I did make the doctor laugh by asking him if patients who spoke using sign language slurred their words after getting novocaine injections in their hands. And it wasn't a total loss - I made the guys let me buy them ice cream on the way home. :-) Here's what it looks like all cleaned up a couple of days after the fact. They talked about possible nerve damage because it was so deep, and/or the need for a skin graft if the reattached tissue didn't survive. Luckily, I still seem to have normal feeling in my thumb, and the sewn-on bit seems to be maintaining a healthy color, so I think I dodged that bullet. In any case, remember - don't try to drill stuff that isn't securely clamped down in some fashion!

It's a Gas, Man! 05/12/08

AJ and I spent most of the day working on finishing up and pressure testing the propane system. Hunting down slow leaks is a pain, but it's always satisfying when you find a bubbler (you brush the connections with soapy water and look for bubbles to indicate leaks) and crank the connection down to eliminate it. We have a small gauge between the tanks and the regulator that shows the pressure in the system, so you can just open the tank valve, wait a minute, close the tank valve, and see if the pressure has dropped after a few minutes.

By the end of the day, we had the furnace and the range running great. The water heater is hooked up and ready to go, but I can't test it until I cut a hole in the roof and install the chimney for it.

The box to the right of the range contains one of the 1,500 watt electric heaters, as well as a vent from the gas furnace, so regardless if we're on "shore power" or using only the onboard systems, there'll be heat coming out. I ran the furnace for a while tonight - it was nice and cozy! :-)

AJ and Chris have been doing a great job cutting and welding up the tank support frames. AJ has become quite proficient at arc welding in just a few days; I'm truly impressed!

Chris also whipped up another batch of "bed rail" brackets for me on the milling machine tonight. I'm going to use them to mount the "toe kick" panels under the front and back sides of the bottom bunk to hide/protect all the junk installed under the bed, and to give me a place to mount another furnace vent.

Classy Window Frames 05/21/08

The windows originally had aluminum frames with some kind of nasty, curled up self-adhesive white vinyl fabric lining the opening. Obviously, this won't do for a classy operation like ours, so I built solid oak frames to cover them.



I also installed fiberglass insulation in the bathroom walls (to muffle any... err... distasteful noises) and started cutting and installing the 1/4" plywood sheathing on the outside of the walls. More knotty pine beadboard will be attached over it.


Woe is me. I've apparently been unceremoniously removed from the Yahoo SchoolBusConversioNuts group, for the crime of pointing out (politely) to the moderator (one "arkansascajun") that he was being a little harsh and negative in his responses to some of the users (not me, in the following examples).

To wit:

"reviews are often written by people who don't know thier ass from a hole in the ground. who either have little or no electrical experience ( thus hooking the system up incorrectly ) or expecting too much from it. so i'd appreciate the links so i can REVIEW the REVIEWS. as for it being modified sine wave and it not working for sensitive equipment..... thats a perfect example of BULLSHIT that i refer too. MONKEY HEAR MONKEY SAY. same ole same ole that is the reason all the CON ARTISTS don't live here any more."


"another thing mr. frikkenknowitall you asked who has batteries that can put out 300 amps? answer ANYFUGGINBODY! you're obviously a dinosaur."

and one of my favorites:

"ya right! all the manufacturers are fullachit but you're right. RIGHT? not to mention a bunch of us who are routinely running AC's on 1500/3000 watt inverters. BIIIIG DIFFERENCE between THEORY and REAL WORLD! read the manual. DUUUUUHH! it's #00 wire for under six feet. even your THEORY stinks."

Sounds like someone was frightened by an honest question as a child, and has had some deep-seated issues ever since. Guess I'll have to muddle through our bus conversion without the benefit of his scathing wisdom. Here's hoping a rabid possum crawls your tailpipe and dies, Arkie!

A panel discussion... 05/24/08

Chris laid out the aluminum mounting panel for the solar collector charge controller, the battery bank monitor, and the fresh water/grey water/black water/propane level display, and cut it out very neatly on his milling machine.

I'd been wanting to try out "powder coating", which is basically like painting, except instead of paint you spray a finely atomized polymer plastic powder in the color of your choice, which is electrostatically charged as it exits the spray gun, and is thereby attracted to the grounded workpiece, where it sticks. You then "cure" the piece by baking it at 300-500 degrees for 15 minutes or so, which melts the little particles into a solid coating. I picked up a cheapie powder-coating rig at Harbor Freight this afternoon, and was fairly impressed with the results. Here's the panel after it was sprayed with powder, but before being cured in the kiln:

I didn't think to get a picture of it in the kiln; it looks about the same, only hotter... ;-) After it was cured (and after fixing a couple of "oopsies" in the finish by sanding off and re-spraying the bad areas and re-curing the panel in the kiln - we're new at this, after all) it sported a very durable finish; it took a pretty determined effort to scratch through to bare metal using a steel scribe on a "test" piece I coated and cured to get the hang of it.

Chris mounted the various controls and displays to the panel using black Allen-head cap screws in the mounting holes he drilled and tapped in the panel. That Chris is pretty handy to have around sometimes... ;-)

Here's what it looks like installed in the bus. Pretty sexy, huh?

AJ and I have been busy installing the remaining tongue-and-groove knotty-pine bead board around the outside of the bathroom...

... and through much stuffing, cramming, shoving, and sweating were also able to get the queen-sized mattress installed in the lower bunk, for which AJ had already cut and installed the slats.

Here's a look at the headboard end (with two spiffy 12-volt lamps installed)...

...and a view out the window at the foot of the bed.

AJ also cleaned the place up quite a bit. It's starting to a lot like a place you'd want to stay.

Power to the people! 05/26/08

I'm pretty excited; I got the PV (photo-voltaic) charge controller wired to the batteries, and to a cable which will connect to the PV panels on the roof. I ran the cable through the hole for a still-to-be-installed drain pipe and out onto the ground next to the bus so I could play with it on the ground. Even though I've played with PV and wind systems a bit in the past, and have a wind generator on our house, I still get a thrill from propping a big blue/black rectangle on the ground, hooking up a couple of wires to it, and getting 4 or 5 amps at 12 volts from it. It's like magic!

We also installed the 500 amp shunt for the TriMetric 2020 battery monitor in a nice steel box under the bus. The ground cable from the batteries, which had been bolted to the chassis, was moved to one side of the shunt, and a heavy jumper cable was run from the other side of the shunt to the chassis, so that all current to and from the batteries flows through the shunt. We're hoping 500 amps will be enough; we measured 368 amps when cranking the starter on the bus engine, but that will typically be a very short duration, so it should be okay even if it exceeds 500 amps momentarily when starting in the winter. If nothing else, when it's cold outside, the shunt will be able to dump excess heat much more effectively too.

Now that I'm satisfied that I can do what I want to with the charge controller and the PV panel, I've ordered three more 64 watt panels and mounting hardware to attach them to the roof of the bus. On a sunny day, that should give us 16-20 amps at 12v, which is enough to run the solid-state refrigerator, the vent fan, the water pump, and a laptop computer or a radio with power to spare. Most of the time there should be plenty of extra power to charge the batteries for nighttime use.

While we're on the subject of power systems, I'd like to throw out a big plug for Backwoods Solar Electric Systems, from whom I bought the PV panel, charge controller, etc. Their prices are good, they shipped fast, and most impressive to me, the kit included things like the big thick (2/0) 12" cable with connectors that you need to install the shunt, as well as 30 or 40 feet of 4-conductor cable to go from the shunt to the battery monitor, a couple of terminal strips, and mounting screws, all of which made the job go much more smoothly than if I'd had to scrounge and/or make that stuff myself. I'd seen their ads in places like Mother Earth News and Home Power Magazine for years, but this was the first time I'd ordered from them. It seems as though their reputation for being knowledgeable, friendly, and highly competent is well deserved. Needless to say, I ordered the additional PV panels and brackets from them as well! Thanks guys!

Chris and AJ are still hard at work on the mounting for our grey water, black water, and propane tanks. Today, they were cutting and welding the pieces for the heavy-duty brackets that will hold the tank frames to the chassis of the bus. Looking good, guys!

(This isn't a very flattering picture of Chris, but I was afraid to expose the sensor in the camera to the welding arc, because I wasn't sure if it could be damaged by the UV the same as our eyes can, so I took the picture from behind him. You can see the reflected light and smoke from the welding to his left.)

I Need to Vent... 06/07/08

...the water heater. So I hacked a big hole in the roof of the bus (always a scary thing to do) with the Sawzall (did I mention I love my Sawzall?) and stuck some double-walled stovepipe through it. I painted it flat black using high-temperature grill paint, and mounted a snazzy little vent cap on top using a waterproof "boot" made of high-temperature silicone rubber. Like a dope, I decided to paint the boot, too. It looked great until the rubber flexed and all the paint started falling off. *sigh Maybe it'll just be its natural color (which is a fairly bright reddish-orange; hence my desire to paint over it.) The water heater works great; the second you turn on the hot water, it detects the flow, opens the gas valve, and lights itself with a spark lighter. You get hot water at the tap in about four seconds. As soon as you turn off the water, the heater closes the gas valve and shuts itself down. It runs on two "D" cell batteries; supposedly for a year on a set; we'll see, I guess.

How's It Hanging? 06/08/08

Chris and AJ have finished the frame for the grey water tank and the propane tanks, as well as the "L" brackets (made of 1 1/2" x 2 1/2" rectangular tubing welded together) which will attach everything to the bus chassis. They spent most of the day under the bus, using a magnetic drill press to drill mounting holes for the brackets in the chassis. Here's AJ "stress testing" the brackets:

And here's the completed tank frame:

You Light Up My Life! 06/09/08

Assembled the racks for the PV panels and mounted the four 12V x 64W panels on them. We mounted the whole mess on the roof of the bus today too, but it got dark before I took any pictures. In the meantime, here's what one rack of panels looks like on the ground:

Let the Sun Shine! 06/10/08

I spent a (very hot, bright) afternoon installing water-tight flexible conduit and heavy-gauge stranded cables from the panels on the roof to the charge controller in the "galley". Once everything was wired up, it was reading between 20 and 22 amps at 12 volts in full sun. Woo-hoo! That's enough to run our cooler and all our 12v lighting and still have 8 or 10 amps left over to charge the battery bank.

You're Going to Put That Where?? 6/12/08

Chris and AJ have determined that getting the grey water tank assembly in place is a simple matter of... uh... jacking the bus up about 6 inches to let it slide under the side skirt. After that, there's loads of room (okay... about 1/4" all around) to maneuver it into place and bolt it to the frame.

When the Cat's Away... 6/15/08

Chris has gone off to EMC Fest for a week of geeking-out over CNC software and hardware, and left the two of us in Nebraska, slaving over a hot bus. (You'd better bring us back something good - you hear me, Chris??)

AJ welded the support arms to the tank frame, and has been making and painting the sides to complete the box for the grey water tank, with a little help from me.

(We had to take a break from working on the bus to replace our mailbox, which some drunken idiot apparently ran over in the middle of the night last night. It looks like they high-centered on the post; I hope they made a hole in their oil pan.)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 06/17/08

I can't decide if it reminds me more of the "Pleasure Organ" from Barbarella, or an alien from a low-budget 60's sci-fi movie, but here's our grey water tank out of its plywood and steel shell.

We figured out where all the pipes need to enter and exit the box, drilled holes in the appropriate locations, and then cut holes in the tank itself to match. On the top, we have incoming drain connections from the sink and the shower, and at the bottom is the drain. We used flexible sump pump hose for the inputs, since a little misalignment and/or movement is expected relative to the incoming drain pipes. They're inserted into the tank through flexible rubber boots caulked and screwed to the tank to prevent water from sloshing out if we're under way with the tank nearly full. Since we want the grey water and black water tanks to have a common output, and possibly to be able to rinse the black water tank with the grey water, they need to be hooked together. Unfortunately, this would mean a 1 1/2" pipe extending half the length of the bus and hanging about 12" off the ground (lower than almost everything but the tires). Because I can see this getting broken/torn off every other week, I'm seriously considering buying a 12v sump pump at the Surplus Center and using it to pump the water from the grey water drain up through a flexible tube strapped to the underside of the floor pan to the black water tank. This would require a bit of attention to the order in which the tanks were drained and the positions of the dump valves, but it would allow a single point of connection to the sewer, and it would eliminate the need for the low-hanging pipe. We'll see what shakes out.

Operation Bus-Lift 06/18/08

Today, it was time to finish bolting the tank enclosure together, raise the whole thing up under the bus, and bolt the tank supports to the frame of the bus. Since the enclosure is about 4" taller than the distance from the lower edge of the bus body to the ground, something has to give. Chris used a couple of jacks and lots of sweat to raise the body of the bus sufficiently when they were test-fitting the tank. Chris isn't here this week, though, and I thought to myself, "Self - you've got umpteen hundred horsepower of diesel engine just sitting there. Why not put it to work raising the bus?" Accordingly (and despite AJ's misgivings) I stacked some chunks of 2"x8" plank in a rough pyramid behind the right-rear tires and backed slowly onto it with AJ's careful monitoring. Then we sat the tank enclosure on the mechanics creeper and rolled it right under the bus. Once it was in the proper position (fairly critical, since there's about an inch to spare on all sides once it's in place) I rolled the bus forward off the blocks and down over the tank. We then spent a fun-filled hour or two carefully jacking and nudging the (very heavy) tank enclosure into place under the bus, until the three big-ass (that's an English unit of measure) bolts on each of the tank supports slid through the holes Chris and AJ had previously drilled in the frame of the bus, and the nuts could be cranked down.

At the back of the tank enclosure is a little square platform where two 20lb propane tanks can be attached; you can see them peeking out under the skirt here. We were planning to (and probably still will) cut an access hatch in the side of the bus so we can swap out propane tanks, but in the meantime I found that you could lift the tanks up under the bus on their sides, roll them onto the platform, and then turn them upright. Not particularly convenient, but it works for now.

I picked up a 12v bilge pump from the Surplus Center today, to be used to evacuate the contents of the grey water tank through the black water tank and down the sewer. With the addition of a few carefully-chosen bits and pieces from the hardware store, it will attach to the drain pipe coming out of the grey water tank. I plan to bolt the pump to the back of the tank enclosure, and run a piece of heavy tubing from there to the black water tank. Switches inside will activate the grey water pump and the macerator pump on the black water tank as needed.

Some Finishing Touches 07/05/08

I picked up a batch of nice new oak cabinet doors for $50 on Craig's List because they didn't match the owner's kitchen. Of course, the next day, Eco Stores had a "free" day where you could buy a pass for $1 and take as much of the free stuff as you wanted, and naturally half of it was nice oak cabinet doors. *sigh. I've been "re-manufacturing" the doors (code for sawing them in half and other tricks to make them fit our needs), mounting hinges and handles on them, and installing them on the cabinets in the bus. Man - what a finicky job to get the hinges mounted so the doors fit nicely, line up, close correctly, etc. Whatever cabinetmakers get paid, it's not enough.

AJ and I installed the natural hemp rope we bought to use as trim. I think it looks very nice, and lends a nautical air to the place.

Chris is working on making a silverware drawer for the kitchen, and I'll cut down one of the oak cabinet doors to make a front for it.

...and AJ installed the our cool "anchor" towel rings. Amazing what you can find on eBay, huh...?

The captain is now on board, so we have to keep things ship-shape at all times...

Finishing Touches...08/18/08

We bought an operable window out of a scrapped travel trailer on eBay, and installed it in place of the fixed window that came on the bus.

I picked up a dining room table via the local Craig's List, and after a lot of stripping and sanding on AJ's part, and some creative sawing on mine, we have a nice fold-out table at the front of the bus.
I used "drop leaf" table hinges and pull-out supports from Rockler Woodworking to make it fold.

The propane tanks are installed on a platform under the back of the bus that extends off the rack holding the grey water tank. We used a standard two-bottle clamping setup, along with an auto-switching regulator to connect it to the rest of the system. AJ was a little concerned about this setup, so we also padlocked a chain around the handles of the tanks and the frame of the bus. That way, if they fall over, they won't hit the ground, and they'll be a lot harder to steal.

AJ has been stocking the galley with supplies, and we put our old microwave oven in the kitchen area under one of the counters.

To the right of the microwave you can see one of the power splitters; they split one cigarette-lighter style receptacle into two, and also have two USB-style connectors to supply 5V to charge or operate items made to plug into a PC.

Red Tape and Pink Slips 08/21/08

The first time we went to the DMV and asked about getting a bus retitled as an RV, we got a blank stare from the clerk, followed by 15 minutes of whispered conferences with her supervisor and mad paging through their rule book. Eventually they came back with a photocopy of a page that had a list of items that had to be done to qualify as an RV - like painting over yellow paint, removing flashers, etc. and installing "at least four of the following", followed by a list of the standard stuff you'd have in an RV. I guess they want to make sure you're not going to put seats back in it and open your own bus line or something. They told us to do that, then bring it down for the sheriff to inspect (they have deputies on-site to do title inspections). We did, and he did, and congratulated us on a nice job. He filled out some paperwork and sent us to the license counter, where they issued us an "RV" title and gave us license plates. We're official! Woohoo! (Now if I can just learn to drive it without polishing the curbs... :-/)

Here's a last look at the inside, taken from area of the driver's seat. Now we just need to figure out where to go in it first!

Our First Trip!10/12/08

Unfortunately, we were having so much fun goofing off that I forgot to take any pictures, except one when we were sitting on the bed inside at night playing "Quiddler" (excellent game, if you're into multi-player word games, by the way). We stocked the bus with food, snacks, and clothes, and drove it about 30 miles (I know... but it was our first trip!) down the interstate to a nice state park with camping and RV facilities, scored a nice spot with a 30-amp power hookup, and set up housekeeping. Unfortunately, although we had both a 50-amp plug and an adapter/extension cord I'd made to plug the bus into our 30-amp welder outlet in the garage, the park had yet another style of receptacle which neither of our plugs fit. If we were going to be there for more than a day, I would have gone out and gotten the parts to make another adapter, but as it was, we got along on solar power just fine. Just after we closed up the bus for the night, we fired up the generator and ran the AC's long enough to get it comfy (maybe 10-15 minutes). Chris made mac-and-cheese on the gas stove for dinner, and we had cold soda in the "Koolatron" solid-state fridge, so life was good. Everybody slept snug and comfortable. We had cereal (and pop-tarts toasted using the giant diesel generator to power the tiny, two-slot toaster) for breakfast the next day, hiked around the park some more, and then headed home. I was quite pleased to discover that using our macerator pump and bilge pump setup, we were able to dump the black tank, rinse it with the grey tank, and then dump that and be packed up and on our way much faster than any of the more conventional campers with their cumbersome 3" gravity-fed drain systems. Did I mention we were the only bus there? :-) Somebody down the line from us was watching TV on what had to be a 60" plasma screen bolted to one inside wall of his $250,000 RV. Who goes to a beautiful park and then sits inside watching TV? Anyway, we got home in fine shape and are now much more confident that we can handle a longer trip.