Removing the Internal A/C Compressor
May 6th, 2012 | View Post
After spending a few days in Kansas City, it was nice to get home on a weekend and put a little time into the bus. I started working on building out the interior when my neighbor, Danny, stopped by to help me out. He had taken out the radiator for me while I was out of town and wanted to know if we could work on the engine some more. Since I'd spent about 3 hours trying to figure out how to trace the contours of the roof onto wood (quite the challenge), I thought it would be nice to have a little change of pace.

Since I had already removed the rear air conditioner from the vehicle, we went ahead and removed the front-cabin a/c compressor just to make more room under the hood. This in turn allowed us to cut a handful of hoses out of the equation as well. Removing the compressor was a little tricky. I first had to remove a few steel plates that protect it. Unfortunately in order to do that, I had to first remove the radiator fan. Once all of that was out, there were four bolts on the underbelly of the compressor. One of them was particularly difficult to reach, but I eventually managed.

We're going to remove the front air conditioning condenser next, just to entirely clear up the front of the van.

A look at the engine after removing the air conditioner compressor.

The old radiator and passenger air conditioner compressor.

Once we finished up and I got back to working on the internals of the bus, I went ahead and installed the first wall and the first row of seats (without padding of course). It's starting to take shape!

The first wall and the first bench installed.

Billings Oklahoma Tornado Enforcement
May 2nd, 2012 | View Post
Over the past few days I have been helping my good friend Dave G. move his life from Houston to Kansas City. After loading his rental truck in Houston, we took I-45 north to Dallas and jumped onto I-35 for the remainder of the trip. It's not the fastest route, but we figured it would be easier to stay on the interstates with a U-haul (technically a Penske).

An image of the massive cell that developed in about 2 hours time. The blue line on the right of the cell is I-35. We were in the immediate path of this system.
We stopped in Norman, Oklahoma around 7pm to grab some dinner and started noticing a rather large cell forming towards Wichita, KS. We figured it would pass before we got that far north. Continuing north on I-35, we started noticing a storm forming in the distance; computer radar confirmed the storm was rapidly expanding to the south. After we saw an actual "StormChaser" vehicle fly past us, we figured there was a pretty legitimate system up ahead. We would later be proven very correct.

As it turns out, an enormous system formed about an hour west of I-35 just south of the Oklahoma and Kansas border. The lightning started getting to the point where there were no breaks in it and the wind was picking up. We turned on a local weather station and evidently EF-2 tornadoes were touching down 20-30 miles northwest of us in the town of Medford. It seemed like a prudent time to pull over. We stopped at a Conoco Station on the SE corner of I-35 and Acre Road, mostly thinking the storm would move due east. Unfortunately the storms soon turned and started heading directly for us. We fueled up and left the truck at the pump to wait out the storm. Dave even adjusted the vehicle so that it was more likely to take the wind head on.

A view from the back of the storm shelter where about 30 of us were packed into a small hallway.
About 30 minutes into this, the place had really started to fill up with people seeking shelter. When the storms finally landed, the attendants started frantically yelling for everyone to get inside and to the storm shelter (really just bathrooms, showers, and storage space). Eventually the first wave of weather ripped over us and produced some of the strongest rain and winds I've ever seen. It was at this point that a Billings police officer walked into the store.

The officer was an older gentleman, probably in his early 60s and a little heavy. Although the rain was coming in sideways and there were reports of tornadoes all around us, he did not seem particularly concerned with anyone's safety. In fact, he started telling everyone in the store that this was a private business and that cars could not be left at the pumps. He said he had no way to gas up his cruiser (despite the outer pumps being vacant). He even went so far as to tell the crowd that if the cars weren't moved, he was going to start calling in license plates. I think most of the people in the store at this point were just dumbfounded. Best we could tell, nobody from the store had made this request; the gas station attendants had been trying to corral people into safety.

I turned to Dave and jokingly said, "Dave, I'd love to say something to this guy. I'd love to put my hand on his shoulder, look him right in the eyes, smile at him and ask, 'Hey, you know how people sometimes think cops are dickheads? Well this is why.' And then just walk away".

When the cop finally went outside, we assumed he was taking off. But in reality, he started slowly driving across the parking lot stopping in front of parked vehicles. I assume he was actually taking down plate numbers, but I have no idea what he could have possibly been doing with them. Dave was concerned about the truck and decided to move it. We spent the remainder of the storm sitting in a giant moving vehicle in front of the store. Fortunately no tornadoes came our way.

Special thanks to the officer in Billings, Oklahoma for reinforcing why I should not trust law enforcement, even in the most disastrous of conditions.
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.

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