Framing the Interior
April 24th, 2012 | View Post
I only snapped a few photos of this process, but the easiest way to build out a bus conversion or RV is to frame it with dry 2x4s. The entire floor already sits on 3/4" ply, so it's a pretty trivial process, not unlike the second story of a home.

I used Google Sketchup to model the bus and create a basic layout of what I was going for. This in turn allowed me to figure out exactly how much wood I needed to use for the various areas. Normally I wouldn't care so much, but the biggest concern with this project (or any vehicular project) is with respect to weight. Fortunately I've calculated the entire conversion shouldn't weigh more than 500 pounds (figuring that dry 2x4 is about 1.5 pounds per board foot). That might seem like a lot at first, but it's considerably lighter than all of the steel framing, rubber flooring, bench seating, fans, and A/C units that have already been removed from the bus. It also factors the new portable A/C unit, TV, and stereo. The net result should be slightly lighter than the original.

After I got the drivers side framed out.

The next day after I got both sides framed out. You can see from further back that the driver's side looks angled a bit. This is true, but fits the contour of the bus.

Removing the A/C Compressor
April 18th, 2012 | View Post
This was no easy feat. The units were underneath the bus, bolted to a frame that was welded to the chassis. The frame was pretty rusted and the entire unit was terribly heavy. It's not the sort of thing you want to be under when it falls. My dad gave me the idea just to use a reciprocating saw with steel-cutting blades to cut the frame out (namely since the bolts were rusted tight), and then to use a stand to catch the unit when it fell.

The platform I built to catch the unit once it's cut.

Two of the steel bars cut all the way through with the help of a reciprocating saw.

Once I had cut through all four of the bolts, the unit somehow managed to stay hovering in the air. One of the steel beams had caught over the muffler pipe, and one of the old freon hoses had caught over the axle. I was very surprised that the two were able to suspend it in place (given the weight), but it seemed okay. I used a hammer to slowly rock the unit until it fell on the board I had set down for it.

The unit dangling by a few threads.

Finally with the A/C completely out and ready for Craigslist FREE Stuff!

With the unit out, I could finally disconnect all of the hoses and drag them out the front of the engine compartment. They'll be removed next.

Removing Coolant Hoses
April 17th, 2012 | View Post
As a non-mechanic, there has definitely been some interesting learning here. Basically I've learned that the way most buses work is that they run long insulated automotive tubing from the engine towards the back of the bus. Some of these hoses contain circulate coolant for heating the bus, the others carry air conditioner from the compressor in the back to the front.

Well since we're modifying the bus, none of this is necessary. The old A/C compressor is huge, heavy, and unnecessary. I basically spent the entirety of my bus-working day removing all of these old tubes and wires.

This is what the mess looks like from the back. You can see the A/C box towards the right.

This was the fan in the center of the bus that I removed last week. Little did I know at the time that one of the hoses connected to it contained coolant. Fortunately the bus had been off.

Just a side view of the bus at sunset.

You can actually see the tubes hanging out the bottom on that last photo. In all, I'm guessing I removed about 140 feet worth of tubing, and probably more than 1,000 feet of wiring. The only thing left to remove is the A/C unit itself. I'm going to have a welder create a custom box there to house the generator (a lockable cage of course).
Old Air Conditioner Removed
April 16th, 2012 | View Post
I really don't know exactly how this very primitive-looking A/C unit worked, or IF it worked for that matter, but it had to go. The only real convenience it offered was a relay switch near the steering wheel (for powering it on and off). The downside is that it's 30 years old and doesn't really do anything. Admittedly the fan does work, but I'm not sure it pumps out cold air. Additionally, and because it's been half-assedly connected to the front alternator, it's a huge drain on the electrical system.

A photo of the old A/C.

This old A/C consists of 2 condenser units connected to sewer-grade PVC pipes. Each unit has a Freon tube that pumps into it and small fans that push the air out into the PVC. The PVC is then routed into a tube that runs the length of the bus and evidently is supposed to push the air. Presumably the air towards the back would be much stronger than the front, but I never really tested it that thoroughly.

The Freon tubes connected to the unit.

I wasn't really sure how to deal with these things. I tried unhinging them, but they had just been set for too long and wouldn't budge. Finally I just wound up cutting through the lines. I was terrified for a second as a pressurized gas leaked out, but it was just for a second and whatever pressure was left was entirely drained.

The wiring harness of one of the units.

I also had to go in and cut and cap all of the wires. I figured that they're on a relay from the front, so may as well keep them until I am certain they're not useful. I also kept the condenser tubes in place so that I have the ability to hook them up to a new A/C unit.

And finally a last look:

MUCH cleaner looking without that old A/C unit in the back. It's a little harder to see, but we also finished removing and wire-capping all of the light boxes that had been on the ceiling.

Hardwood Floors Installed
April 14th, 2012 | View Post
So continuing on with the wonderful bus conversion, we finally have hardwood floors installed! It wasn't quite as trivial as I thought it would be (even having installed a few floors before). The problems mostly arose from the slight curvature of the 3/4" plywood surface, the occasional screw or bolt that had not been fully countersunk, and the glue. I've learned my lesson, I will NEVER glue a floor surface on ever again. The epoxy is not what I thought, is incredibly difficult to work with, and it gets everywhere - including the skin. But fear not because wood glue is one of the easiest glues to remove from one's skin and this is wood glue, no?

I read the safety sheet AFTER the installation and discovered one is not supposed to work with NA-8500 adhesive without proper gloves. I actually went so far as to call poison control late last night just to ask if there was anything I could do to get the glue off of us. Unfortunately "wait it out" was the official answer (soap, detergent, vegetable oil, mineral oil, and gasoline did not work). So here I sit actually looking a bit like a leper as I type this, my hands burned and peeling from this ├╝ber adhesive glue. Be forewarned should you decide to wood glue your hardwood installation. On the upside, it's probably pretty damn effective.

Here are a few pics:

Caroline spreading some of the glue with our 1/4" x 1/4" glue trowel. MUCH harder than it looks. For reference, always apply the glue orthogonal to the direction of the wood grain

Mike Crockett was helping us to install the floors and took care of all of my wiring issues as well. There were cheap reading lights all over that I had removed and capped (the wires are good, so may as well keep them handy and accessible)

Almost there!

I finished the front half of the bus myself this afternoon. Relaxing after a lot of back breaking work. The gluing really takes it out of you.

The final wood surface. Unfortunately it got late by the time I finished, so I couldn't grab one in the day light.

The New Bus
April 13th, 2012 | View Post
So I've been interested in getting a bus of some sort ever since I toured New Zealand in a camper van back in 2003. It was just such a great time that I have always wanted to do a conversion myself. The dream has always been alive, but has just never come into full fruition - until now.

Caroline and I started chatting about the idea of having a bus and so after tons of research and a lot of poking around, I found a relatively inexpensive Ford Econoline E-350 Private Bus. She's definitely a sight (of some kind), but I think with some hard work, and some fresh paint, we can definitely convert her into a cool little toy.

A first look at the bus in my driveway

The original back of the bus (the front rows of seats are just behind me in the shot). You wouldn't know it from looking at it, but all of that rubber on the ground probably weighs almost 200 pounds!

Caroline removing one of the passenger seats. They were quite a bit harder to remove than one might imagine. Not to mention, the steel frames they sit upon are heavy as all can be.

There were some pretty old wires in the engine compartment, so I started replacing them one by one. This is the new terminal lead I installed today

The inside of the bus after completely stripping it down to its 3/4" plywood shell

As I was finishing removing an old kitchen exhaust fan this evening, I disconnected a rubber hose from one of its two vents. I assumed that the hose was just for air exhaust, but evidently it collected water as well. As soon as I pulled the hose off, the dirtiest water I have ever seen started gushing from the spout. I managed to redirect most of it outside, but I can't imagine the parasites that entered my body through the initial 20 seconds or so of trying to stop it from squirting.
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