Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bus Sold!

I'll get to more details later, but I just wanted to stop and thank you guys for all your support over the past year and let you know that the bus has sold and successfully transported the new owners back to Florida.
They love her (who knew?) and have even named her.

I'm busy at work in Chicago, getting ready for the opening of Platform Studios, and maybe, just maybe a kickstarter project!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bus for Sale!

So, as the family and I get ready to settle into the Chicagoland area for a few years, we decided to take and chance and put our labor of love up for sale.  She's been great to us and is a treat to drive, but our two little boys need a bit more room while they are young.  Instead of just letting our bus sit, we figured someone else could keep her on the road.  Check out our ebay listing: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=130557078602#ht_1250wt_1165

Friday, July 29, 2011

Back to Illinois

So the family and I are back in Illinois and I'm setting up show at Platform Studios on Hubbard.  Whoo!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Break

I apologize for the break, between having a house (bus) to work on, children, a business and traveling, it's hard to sit down and switch completely into writing mode.  Maybe I'm just getting lazy...

Now, we've made it to North Carolina and are parked in a driveway on top of a mountain surrounded by  two-hundred acres of lush vegetation and rushing streams.  Besides our family, the property houses: a gun collecting Buddhist monk, a motorcycle riding yogi, a chainsaw-loving mountain dude, born and raised in Philly, two small dogs, one of whom loves fetch to the point that he brings home stumps of trees twice his size, and our host who, in herself is a careful blend of garbage warrior and ninja masseuse.

Yes folks, the story goes on, and I'll do what I can to get you caught-up quick.

Here's a little sheet-mulch garden we put in for our hosts:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bus Blog 27: The Drive 1

A sprint across the icy parking lot, children in arms, we ducked into the lobby to see the final seconds as the teams both crouched, ready to attack, then suddenly let their straight backs soften, go lax.  They stood up, some smiling, others not.  It was done.

How I came to miss the Superbowl was simple.  I had been piloting the bus, across Alberta on the Highway 1.  I was comfortable driving the massive bulk of the bus and didn't want to stop.  There was so much going on over the past week that I simply forgot about football all together.  We wouldn't have stopped at all, if the lights hadn't started going dim 50 kilometers from Medicine Hat.

The bus was getting easier to pilot.  A few miles into the journey, the snow legs kicked in and it became almost as simple as driving any other vehicle on questionable roads: correct slowly, brake well ahead of time, check your mirrors, take wide turns.  The roar of the engine as we accelerated beyond 100 km/h, had grown comfortable, part of the architecture of the space.  I was alone in my cockpit separated, from Kirstin and the boys.  We drove forward making fast tracks on the snowy asphalt.

The bus is equipped with clearance lights that shine like periodic yellow stars down its lengthy frame.  The way is illuminated by 2 high-powered halogen bulbs, bright when set on normal, blinding when kicked up to full blast.  To deal with the combination of frost and over-sized windows I ran both front defrosters, to kick a little heat to the kids, the fan to the back of the bus was set on high.  When I flipped on the built-in mirror defrosters things started to get a bit dim.

I didn't notice it right away, but after a while my eyes felt strained, like they had to work harder than normal to see.  I blinked and rubbed them repeatedly.  I was starting to squint a bit.  Then more.


I was losing visibility by the minute but made up my mind not to stop until we made it to a big town.

I squinted hard and put the pedal down.

By the time we made to Medicine Hat, my eyes were beat and there was a hollow feeling in the bottom of my stomach.  The bus was running fine, healthy, hearty but I couldn't see the road ahead, couldn't read the dials, and every time a truck passed in the other direction, it took me a few seconds to see anything other than stars.  I was relieved when we made it to town, and after a short drive through a few side streets and several flashes from other drivers, my teeth finally began to unclench and feeling started to return to my hands, which didn't quite leave impressions in the steering wheel but should have.

A cursory look under the hood didn't yield any answers.  So we pulled the bus into the first hotel we saw, where drunken rig hands stood smoking in their super bowl attire just outside a wall of tiny hotel rooms.

"Fuckin' Pack's up.  We got time, we're gonna come back."  One of the hands, drunk and swaying in an over sized curly wig, shouted.  I had just finished plugging the battery charger into one of the winter outlets that surrounded the parking lot, poking up from the drifts of snow like skinny tombstones.

"How long's left?"  I shouted back.

"Couple minutes," a sober companion chimed in.

"Aaaalllll the time in the wwwooorrld," the drunk added.

I ran an extra cord from the back of the bus to an outlet and brought an arm load of firewood to the front.  I climbed the stairs.  Kirstin had head the exchange, and when I opened the door, she had both boys in coats, ready to make a run for it.  I smiled, "Sure, we'll get this thing figured tomorrow," I thought.  The four of us exited the bus, Kirstin and I each carrying a boy.  Then she started to run.


The next day after inspecting the alternator and discovering a loose wire, we were back on the road with full power.  We left Saskatchewan heading across the frozen world.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bus Blog 26: Last Minute

It was a few weeks after the big storm that blasted the midwest, depositing as much as 21 inches of snow in  some areas.  It was so bad that drivers stuck on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago were forced to abandon their cars, to walk away as the steel bodies turned to marshmallow silhouettes.

We were ready for snow, we could handle snow by the ton.  If a blizzard happened, we could stop, and let it happen.  We were insulated, the cupboards were stocked with food, we had extra water and any spare room in the back was filled with firewood.

A trip to Pick n' Pull gave us a few sets of Ford lap belts (Ford Bus, matching is key) which were bolted into the raised seating area behind the newly installed U Bolts which the boys' car seats would clip into. The computer was bolted to the desktop and accessories were secured using velcro tabs.  Everything in the rear shop area was secured with bungees and ratchet straps so tight they sounded with a high pitched "Poing" if plucked.

Last minute tasks were completed.  The alternator was checked and found to be putting out only 12 Volts, so I pulled it and after pricing a new one at $600, decided to have it rebuilt.  While that was happening I donated a ton more stuff, took a mattress to the dump and had my friend Jesse Henderson hang onto several boxes of shop equipment for me. (Thanks Jesse, you're a good man)  His small shop is now considerably smaller.

The weather maps I had been checking obsessively showed that there would be a short window of nice weather heading across Canada and into the States, at around the same speed the bus would be traveling.  I decided we were leaving then, and hauled ass getting the last few jobs taken care of.  The in-laws watched the kids as Kirstin loaded the last of her belongings into the bus and I installed the rebuilt alternator.  I checked the lights, the tires, everything.

We left a day later than I had hoped.  But we left.

After a round of goodbyes and well wishes, moments before snow began to gently drift from the sky, we headed East, out of town.  The kids were strapped in, watching a movie on the computer, Kirstin looked over a gossip magazine which she affectionately calls "Smut", while on the other side of the wall, I gritted my teeth, held the pedal down and checked my mirrors, jerking my head around much the way nervous prey might if suddenly surrounded by a marching band in the middle of a peaceful forest.

We were finally on the road.  My feelings were a mix of excitement, nervous tension and something further away, disbelief but more like laughter.

1599 miles to Illinois.  How crazy was this?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Green Edge 11

The project we've been working on is up and ready for you to see:  Green Edge 11

It's been tons of hard work, and we're not quite finished, but we think we're finally on to something.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blog Pause

Sorry folks, but I'm working hard on a totally sweet new project that I'll be announcing Friday of this week.  Thanks for being patient, we'll start the story of the journey across the Canada and the States and our eventful border crossing next week.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bus Blog 25: Off with its Head

One of the definitive elements of a rocket stove is that the fire takes place just inside the opening of the stove.  This forces the air around the fuel to compress and move faster as in the venturi effect.  This air delivers more oxygen, faster to the fuel creating the conditions necessary for it to burn fully so less, almost no, soot and creosote are carried with the smoke and deposited on chimney walls.  This is why it is possible to run 20 feet of exhaust pipe through your house to harvest heat without worrying about high levels of maintenance.  Rocket stoves are built to burn fuel effectively and clean, so a lot more is possible with them, than, say, a salvaged wood stove.

Sometimes we only learn if it's the hard way.

My first, the lazy, solution was to try and unclog the chimney, so I slid across the icy roof of the bus on knees, removed the chimney cap and attempted to wriggle a drain snake to the bottom in order to attach a wire brush and pull it through.  No luck, the snake would go in a couple of feet and stop, too many kinks in the pipe.  I tried jamming sticks in, pencil rod, beating the chimney with a hammer, even swearing at it didn't help.  The more I thought about it, if I was able to clear the choked chimney, wouldn't I just be fixing a symptom and not the actual problem?  Wouldn't I just have to unclog it again?

"Screw it," I thought, "Off with its head."

Kirstin, none too please with the idea of metal dust coating the new interior of her bus made sure I surround the stove with a wall of tarps.  It looked like a really frustrating kids' fort.  The plan was to pull the whole chimney out and install a replacement made of single wall stove pipe but after seeing how well the bit of pipe that went through the roof had protected the surrounding area from heat, I decided to chop off the bottom and link the replacement to it. The thing was solid anyway and would make a good anchor for the thinner pipe I intended to install.

The chimney came apart in a shower of sparks and was hauled outside.  It was full of creosote.  Jesus, what was I thinking?  I was thinking it was a rocket stove, that's what.

Of course, no one in town had a replacement pipe for my stove and anything that was close, that I could make work with a couple of adapters and a lot of luck, was ridiculously expensive.  I made a lot of phone calls, saw a lot of web pages.  Of course, only when I went to the auto parts store to see if I could order exhaust pipe to cut and weld in, the guy at the parts counter asked, "Did you check Ribtor?"

Ribtor Warehouse is located in SE Calgary, just outside Inglewood in a big tan building.  Remember the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark?  The one where the ark is being shuffled off to some corner of a giant warehouse amongst thousands of crates and boxes?  Imagine all those boxes open and you pretty much have an image of Ribtor.  There are aisles upon aisles and shelves upon shelves of all manner or dusty military surplus, industrial equipment with ancient factory grease coatings, uncharacteristically colorful camping gear, utilitarian cookware and all manner of miscellany.

Of course they had the stove pipes I needed.  Of course when I approached the register they guy at the counter said, "Five bucks."  I didn't know why I hadn't thought of it myself, I'd only been visiting the place monthly for the past four years.  Oh well.

Back at the bus, the installation was quick and painless.  The pipes were joined and the whole works was sealed.  We were ready for a test.

With crossed fingers, I lit a piece of cardboard that sat under a pile of kindling.  A moment later I added a few large pieces of wood.  As the fire burned, the front and back doors started to work again, the floor warmed.  Soon enough, the bus was hot, I stripped to a tank top and shorts.  I smiled and looked through the windows as people outside, bundled against the cold, hurried past.

I once heard someone say that the quickest way to learn to make good decisions is to make a lot of bad decisions, you either learn what went wrong real fast and fix it, or give up.  I haven't heard many truer things said.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bus Blog 24: Ready, Set, Why's it so friggin cold in here?

Once the floor was done, we began the thrilling job of further downsizing and packing the bus.  I ran around finishing up all the little projects which needed doing before we could leave.  A table went up in front of the raised seating area, an inverter was connected to the batteries and solar panels in the back, shelves went in the closet, and Kirstin began loading all the things necessary for modern life into the bus.

It was nerve racking to try to cram our lives into a small, portable home.  What could we actually part with?   What would we need?  What would fit?  I'm still really not sure, though I can say packing every book you own isn't really as necessary as it seems.  "But what if I have to look-up..."  Don't you own a computer?  Seriously, why do I have all these books?  Have I looked at more than a couple in the past month?  Nope.

Fights broke out between Kirstin and I on the topic of what to pack, what to store and what to donate.  She has a tendency to hang onto things, while at times I'll donate the shoes from my feet.  After clearing out my old shop, I was leaning heavily on the donate side of everything (except for tools, I mean c'mon) especially those things which I had no sentimental attachment to: Kirstin's.  She wasn't having any of it.

There's nothing more a waste of energy than two stubborn people arguing.  So to break-up the tension and say a few goodbyes, we invited those who'd been asking to see the bus over.

To make matters more interesting, the wood stove was acting up.  After messing around with the chimney cap and finally ordering and installing an expensive wind utilizing version I thought the stove was done.  But it seemed to be kicking out less and less heat than it once had.  By the time that a few of our friends came over to check the bus out, the stove wasn't producing much heat.  Of course, as events tend to conspire wholly for or against, the temperature decided to move on down to -30C.

Sitting on the raised bench, leaning over the table, sipping a beer, I wasn't allowing myself to feel cold.  Everyone was in jackets but me.  I walked across the cold floor between speaking, trying everything to get the stove to kick out more heat.  I was distracted and the bus I had worked so hard to insulate from being cold, was.  Every attempt to open the adjustable register to full released ribbons of smoke into the air.  I tried to engage myself in conversations, but felt incredibly self-conscious.  I had spent all this time and money and sweat to fail?  Shit.

Once everyone had gone, I went about closing the bus up for the night.  The front steps had taken on a sheen of ice, and I almost fell down the stairs.  The icy temperature hardened the door sweeps so much that the front door was suddenly near impossible to close all the way, and the back door was stuck shut.

It seemed like everything I did was wrong.

I was miserable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bus Blog 22 1/2: A Quick Desk

I need to back-up a second here.

Just before the floor went in, we built and installed a desk directly across the bus from the raised seating. The positioning was perfect, we could easily play and watch movies or listen to music while blazing down the highway.

The height of the seating area dictated that the desk be high as well, which turned out to be an advantage because we could incorporate more storage closer to the bus's centre of mass. Storing anything in a moving object has added complexity because any weight you add is going to have an impact on the way the vehicle reacts to the road. Too much weight too high makes for less than a smooth ride...  More of the wobbly sort.

The plan was simple: buy a tall desk, or make one and install it.

The interfaith furniture store is really a medium sized building and yard in NE Calgary, though the masses of furniture and lamps and books and tools and randomness spilling from the building into the yard make it seem like an empire. It's one of those places where you can go and if you're not careful, you can easily spend an entire day poking at piles and sifting through shelves.

I was in the neighborhood, so I stopped by and had a look for something that would work as a desk.

Something that never, in all of my previous visits happened, did.  I found my query in the first minute after mounting the tired old staircase that led to the second floor. It was an old coffee table that someone had decided to trim, none too precisely, with a circular saw.
Ignoring the blade-scarred side, the table was in great shape and I could easily remove the legs to replace them with cabinets and best yet, it had two large sliding drawers. Twenty dollars and it was mine.

The December 15th Deadline for leaving had long since passed, and daily guilt spurred me to build quickly, to not necessarily take everything to a polished finish. This was the way with the desk build, it was to be quick and sturdy and just high enough to fit my favorite raised chair.

Adding twelve inches for leg room to the height of my chair, I got the measurement for the cabinets. Twenty four inches were allowed between the cabinets for movement, and the boxes were built to the remaining dimensions. For strength and lightness of being, plywood was used for the boxes. The great thing about building your own cabinets is that you can customize them for all they will carry. As such, the shelves were built to hold the printer and notepads and books with a little room to spare.

After a test, the desk was assembled and secured with a dozen screws, and for now, it was complete. We could smooth the ply and add veneer or paint the desk as we (Kirstin) liked. For now, it held what we wanted and stayed in place, that's all we needed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bus Blog 23: Classing Up the Joint

The part that stands-out about our bus is the floor.  It's nice.  It's commercial grade red hardwood and it cost absolutely nothing.

I spotted a box sticking out of a dumpster near a construction site I was working on.  Not being particularly shy when it comes to exploring the contents of dumpsters, I climbed-up and stood on the broad steel lip.  Below, amid a pile of the not quite garbage you get when storage lockers are being cleaned-out, sat five unopened boxes of hardwood flooring.  The foreman was kind enough to let me load the back of his truck with the boxes and they eventually made it home.

Though initially a source of excitement and possibility, the boxes sat for months, they moved when we moved, they because part of the homogeneous mass that threatened to over-take my in-laws' garage, then part of the pile I had to constantly walk around in the bus.

And now, it was finally time to use them.

Any reformed pack-rat will agree, moments like these are exciting: a mix of cleaning house and accomplishing a to do list.

I set-up my nailer and compressor, primed the silicone gun and turned-up the Ipod.  Because the flooring was to be applied to a moving surface, it seemed wise to add a little bit of silicone to the underside of each board to help deal with the flexing and twisting of the bus chassis as we drove.

Except for the inevitable knee pain induced by using a finishing nailer to do what a flooring nailer should be, the install was a dream.  I started against the driver's side wall and laid the flooring outward.  Gluing and nailing as I went along.

I was happy putting the flooring in, cut-offs in the stove kept the temperature nice, the planks went together easy and the book I was listening to was great.  I didn't want to stop.

I did, eventually, get carried away and took the flooring all the way to the back of the bus, through the bathroom.  I haven't seen many bathrooms with hardwood floors and I'm guessing the fact that wood expands   greatly in the presence of high moisture levels may have something to do with this.  But I was having so much fun, and the joint was starting to look classy.

What the hell?  Maybe there's a good way to water-proof the flooring in the bathroom, maybe I'll have to cut-out that section and replace it with linoleum.  Until the plumbing's done, it doesn't much matter and besides, it's not like it cost anything, just a little jump in a dumpster.

Note:  Dumpster diving is the cheapest way I've found to obtain construction materials.  Though you can find anything in dumpsters all year, spring is often the boon as it's the season to not only clean house, but move.  The key is to not be shy, climb-up and have a look.  If someone asks what you're doing, tell them.  Most people won't care and sometimes are even willing to help.  As with all things: The worst thing you can do is not try.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bus Blog 22: Cabinets and Walls

The next week of construction passed like the montage from an eighties movie: there was music, action and a lot of self satisfied back-patting.  I managed to pick-up a partial set of cabinets and a coffee table (which became a desk-top) from a couple of thrift shops for a total of 60 dollars and set to work installing them.

I really wanted the cabinets to be a surprise for Kirstin, as I was unable to find a decent set until now and the cabinets I found had a built-in butcher's block and spice rack.  I hid them in my in-law's garage and under the cover of night, installed them in the bus.  They set-in easily and with an additional trip, I added a lower bathroom cabinet for the sink.  This way the kids could use the sink at a younger age and, well, start doing the dishes sooner.  The cabinets were topped with ply for the time being and I was ready to spring the surprise.

In hindsight, I've never actually heard anyone say, "Used cabinets!  Just what I always wanted!" and so, should not have been disappointed when all I received was, "Cool."

"Are you kidding?"  I pouted for a while but eventually gave up realizing that everything about the build wasn't always grand or interesting or a big surprise to all parties.  Though the idea of repurposing an old school bus was infinitely fascinating to me, the structure, the integration of needs and function, electrical, proportion and spatial relationships, to others it sometimes seemed I was just screwing boxes together.

 It's often impossible to effectively explain why something is interesting without making it wholly uninteresting.

I forgot it and kept going.

A brand spanking new membership to Audible fueled me through the next few steps.  I nailed together an enclosed shelf from OSB scrap I had laying around.

Then covered it, and the walls with 1x3" spruce strips.  The wood was on sale and for about 50 dollars, I was able to get enough to cover the whole front section of the bus.

I powered-through this phase, rapt in the awe and glory that are audio books.  My nailer was cranking almost continuously as I fired nail after nail through the planks and into the wall behind, pinning them in place for good.  When I was finished, the place looked a lot more like a home on wheels.

Note: There aren't many pictures of this phase as by very definition, the phrase, "Powered-through" has, "no time for any of that nonsense".

If you're looking for an inexpensive way to cover your walls, wood planks or better yet, lath strips can be employed with a little bit of silicone and a finishing nailer.  Less expensive than tongue and groove planks, they go up quick and can help make the inside of anything look a little bit more like a log cabin.  They smell good too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bus Blog 21: Raised Seating

As more and more of the living area in the bus was built, the space shrunk.  We had yet to build the kitchen area, desk or raised seating, and the space we had left was half what it had been before the walls went up.  It was even more of an imperative, moving forward, to design toward efficiency, making single structures serve multiple functions.  Thusly, we designed the raised seating like designing a cheap swiss army knife out of plywood.

Before starting the seating area, we pulled a heating duct through the front wall, to provide heat to the living area of the bus during long drives.

We wrapped the duct in insulation, then covered it with the original housing and hooked-up the original blower fan (after a tune-up).  We decided to build this heater into the seating.

Next, we threw together a quick frame, securing our joists sideways and reinforcing the undersides with angle iron.  We chose this simply because every inch counts and we had a bunch of left-over angle iron, so what the hell?  We gained another 2 inches of storage space and ended up with stronger joists than we would have otherwise.

The frame was then covered with ply in which we cut an access hatch should we ever need to repair the fan.

We built the bench frame just under 16 inches high and 15 inches deep and set the seat back brackets at around 120 degrees from the plane of the seat.  

After testing the seats out with a board, we decided to raise the brackets up and out to compensate for back height and lumbar.  120 degrees was still a good angle for reclining, it just needed to start out just above the lower back.  It also was helpful not to have to open the window when you lean back.

The whole thing was covered in plywood and we were done for the time being.  Our raised seating didn't end-up being that much work, it not only hid the heat vent but gave us a place to sit, eat, store things and stow a mattress underneath.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bus Blog 20: A brief pause for context

It seems like a good time to take a brief pause and give you a better picture of the layout.  

If you've been following, you know that the shop and driver's areas are at the rear and front of the bus and are separated by doors.  We chose these spaces to work as buffer zones between the extreme temperatures of the outside and the mild of those we hoped to maintain within.  Just like adding a enclosed porch to a house, these rooms greatly increase our ability to retain the temperature we desire inside, while reducing the amount of space that requires heating/cooling.  

Directly in front of the shop, we positioned the bathroom and toilet, we plan to add a composting toilet when the time is right and add a skylight above the tub to both increase head-room and ventilation.  With a few modifications to this area, we should be able to add a 60 gallon fresh water tank and hide an 'on demand' pump in the walls.  A plan is in the works to outfit the bus with collapsible gutters to gather rain and we can always cart extra jugs if need be.

Ahead of the bathroom, are the bunks and closet.  The bunks are attached to the wood stove to gather a bit of radiant heat through the walls.  The stove, with its built-in hot plate is directly across from the kitchen area equipped with a sink, cabinets and counter-top.  

On the front wall is the desk and computer across from which is the seating area, equipped with under-the-butt storage, a dining table and seat belts for the drive.  The whole thing sits on a raised platform that makes an excellent, if tight, mattress storage area.  A pair of windows give passengers a view of the road (and the back of the driver's head) while engine sounds are closed off by a wooden door.

The front looks like any other school-bus, just the floor's nicer.

Next week, we'll cover the construction of the seating area, cabinets and maybe desk.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bus Blog 19: The Stove

I picked-up a lot of things during my first permaculture design course, the heaviest of which was an old cast iron stove.  I found it half-buried in a hillside on the Mountain Waters property and Richard, the owner, said I could have it.
The stove was rusted, plates on the inside where cracked and burnt clean through, it was missing the range top and was loaded with dirt, ash and decaying plant matter.  It was beautiful.  A pair of fishermen were cast in the walls, pulling in their net and covering the various chimney ports were rusty seagulls.  The adjustable stove door read "ULEFOS".

 I got a little obsessed with the rocket stoves during my stay at Mountain Waters.  I read everything I could about them and the logic made sense: use controlled air intake to convert your fuel to fully burnt hot exhaust gas.  You can then channel the exhaust gas through a series of twists and turns of piping to extract maximum heat from it.  The more mass your piping possesses, the longer you can store and release this heat into your atmosphere.  Rocket stoves and heaters enable people to produce more heat with less fuel.  There's a great book the mass heating concept and how to do it here.  I wondered if I could turn the Ulefos into a rocket stove.

Further research revealed that the model of this stove had been in production since 1766 with no changes and was a huge seller until the 1950's when wood heating lost popularity to gas and electric.  200 years without a change in design?  It must have worked.

Not wanting to mess with two centuries of success, I tried my best to restore the stove to original condition and not to convert it.  First, I stripped the stove down to pieces, wire brushed and sand blasted each, then reassembled it using High Temp RTV to seal the unit.  The broken plates were replaced with 3/8" steel and held in place with refractory cement.  

To secure the stove in the bus, I anchored bolts in the studs I had previously placed beneath the fire-surround floor, then welded a series of washers to the stove's feet.  Once the stove was assembled and in place, I cranked washers tight to the floor of the surround with a pair of steel hex nuts, then locked them in by tightening the nuts against each other.  I tried to shake the stove loose, but the bus just rocked back-and-forth gently with all my efforts.  It was in.

Next came the chimney.  I had been pricing stove pipe all round town and if a store actually had my size (4") it was ridiculously expensive.  I made a mistake in this, for some reason I ignored all my junk shop/yard experience and searched only box stores and hvac places for the proper pipe.  Once I was sure that I'd go broke using a conventional chimney, I did what any cheap person would do.  I decided to make my own.

It took me less than 5 minutes at the scrap yard to find the pipe that would become my chimney.  It was 4" outside diameter with a 1/4" thick wall.  This meant that the pipe was heavy, but strong.  It also had a lot of mass to it.  While I decided against modifying the Ulefos to function as a rocket stove, it seemed I could still gain the benefits of thermal mass heating in the chimney.  The theory worked the same:  if I had a thick wall to capture a lot of heat from the exhaust gases and put a few twists and turns in the pipe to expose that heat to more surface area, I'd get more heat, longer.

I spent the next two days cutting, welding and grinding the pipe into a funky, yet serviceable shape.  After an initial pressure test, involving a bike pump and rubber stoppers, it seemed my welds were air-tight up to 15 psi.  It was heavy as hell, but seemed like it would work.  Good enough for me.

The ceiling was marked above the stove and anything flammable was cut-out and removed in an 8" radius around the pipe.  I cut the roof like dividing a pie into 8 pieces and bent each slice up and out.  The surrounding area was jammed tight with refractory grade insulation and closed with a piece of cement board with a chimney sized hole in the middle.  After working the chimney through the cement board, I climbed to the roof and sealed the chimney hole with a gasket and more high temp RTV.  I then bent the slices of steel roof down to the pipe, loaded them with more RTV and attached each with self tapping screws.  

Since the wall of the chimney was 1/4", the screws took a while to set themselves and I did a bit of swearing. People walking by were quick to look away.

We had a test fire the next day, and after sealing a leak or two, the carbon monoxide detector was silent.   There was heat.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bus Blog 18: The Crack of Destiny

The next step in bus conversion was for Kirstin to tile the newly built fire-surround.  After going over the boxes of mismatched tile samples, removing any missed glue or paper, we loaded the boxes into the bus and prepared.

As an adhesive, we chose Megalite, though it's one of the more expensive tile adhesives, it's strong and will resist heat very well.  Since the fire surround would not only bare the heat of the wood stove, but shake and vibrate as the bus roared across North America, it seemed smart to get the best possible adhesive we could.
Kirstin had all the proper tools, a couple buckets of warm water and, of course, a chilled Guinness.

While I find my work inspiration in a cup of coffee and thermos of black tea, Kirstin finds her in a can of Guinness.  Since she'd been watching the kids non-stop for the past, well, since they were born, she deserved a beer and some quiet work.

The first time I check-in on her work, I was pleased to see the bottom nearly complete, the mismatched tiles looked surprisingly good together.  Kirstin was moving along well and asked for another Guinness, she got it.  Like a real pro, Kirstin bent over her work.  Her loose-fitting pants hung low, revealing what I dubbed, "The Crack of Destiny".

The Crack, has made an appearance nearly every time I've worked with Kirstin.  She likes to wear baggy, loose fitting pants and old punk-rock t-shirts, and I like to accidentally drop pencils on an dive-bomb trajectory toward The Crack.  Whoops.

I was kicked-out of the bus immediately after taking the above picture.

I went inside and sat down to watch television with my father-in-law.  The kids were both asleep and time slipped past.

When buying the necessary materials for the tile job, I made sure to buy a sizable bag of 3/16" spacers for the walls.  While the tiles were all different sizes and shapes, I thought it would be helpful to tie them all together with even spacing.  The juxtaposition of even spacing with uneven tiles would work nicely.

The next time I went to check on Kirstin, it was, to my mind, complete bedlam.  The bag of spacers sat, unused on the table, same with the tile cutter, and for some reason, the straight-format wall-tiles had mutated into some kind of mosaic that threatened to over-take the whole wall.  It scared the heck out of me.  Instead of the organized dis-order that I hoped the tiles would become, there was just disorder.

Kirstin said something about breaking the tiles to make mosaic pictures.

I looked at her, eyes wide.

"You hate it."

"...I really like the bottom..."

"You hate it."

"No, the bottom's good."  I softened, "Maybe I can give you some help..."

She looked tired, having transformed from mother to tiler late in the afternoon.  It was now 10 at night.

"Sure, this is harder than it looks."

I didn't waste any time, squared-off the diagonal mosaic and, using spacers, set big tiles in succession.  Kirstin filled-in missing pieces in her mosaic, and after a short while, we finished the wall.

We have very different ways of working, different personalities, and while we occasionally collide like differing weather systems, for once we didn't have the juice to argue.  Though I was shocked to see what had become of the wall, she wasn't super defensive and any potential disagreement drifted away.  Kirstin let me fix a few things and I let her keep her design.  Though it turned out nothing like I thought it would, I like to think that her 'see how it turns-out' style added something to the layout I had in mind.

Though not entirely pretty in the picture above, when we added our grout the next night, all the gaps were filled and the fire-surround ended-up working out.

Bonus: no yelling.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bus Blog 17: Fire Surround Prep

For well over a year, I had 5 boxes of tile samples piled behind my shop.  To be more clear, I had five boxes of tile sample books behind my shop, the tiles not having been yet separated from the books due to being cemented in place by huge globs of hard adhesive that made the job a pain.
I wanted to throw them out.
I wasn't interested in peeling off the tiles, and was sick of seeing the orange cardboard books slowly turn to yellow in the sun, expand with the rain, and crack as they dried.

"We can use them," Kirstin reasoned.

"On what?"  This was well before the bus idea had come about.

"They're free and some are really nice tiles."

None, not one of the tiles matched.  It was a sample mix so included everything from floor tiles to crowns to mosaics.  She'd gotten them when hired to help clean-out an interior design supply shop that went under.  There were other things, but nothing that really irritate me quite like the tile did.  The other things: a set of wood blocks, a few carpet sample squares, some fabric all weighed considerably less than the tile and for the most part, had uses.  The tile, on the other hand, sat.  Weeds grew and died around the boxes, snow came and went, the tiles still sat.

During the permaculture design course I had taken in June of 2010, I managed to obtain an antique wood burning stove.  It needed some restoration, but not anything ridiculous.  It seemed like a great way to heat the bus, wood is cheap/free, easily available, puts out tons of heat, and can be a sustainable source of energy.  Besides, the stove was free.
After a bit of research, I found out that if I was able to build a thick fire-surround, I could use it to store the heat created by the stove and release it slowly throughout the night.  If I took the proper safety precautions, and maximized the efficiency of the stove with other additions, I could have a cheap, easy and stylish way to keep the bus warm all winter.

As I write this, I'm starting to realize that while I was the pilot of this particular project, Kirstin eventually got her way with everything.
We decided to tile the fire-surround with, you guessed it, her salvaged tiles.

The first step was to strip the tiles from the books, sort them and dispose of the waste.  A season of sitting outside managed to degrade the books to a point where the tiles tore easily away from the card board.  It was still tedious, but sitting around a campfire with beers at our sides made the job more enjoyable.  After separating the adhesive blobs from the backs of the tiles, we washed them and boxed them up again.

I chose to build the fire surround at the end of the bunks and back it with 2 sheets of cement board.  With a layer of tile covering the cement board, the surface would be dense enough to hold excess heat produced by the stove and release it slowly while the stove cooled.  As an experiment, we left the wall between the bunks and the stove empty, if too much heat came through, we could always open the panels and load it with the proper insulation.

In order to protect the wall and floor from possible heat damage, I built floor and wall boxes to house insulation.

The bottom was filled with refractory grade perlite and crossed with a pair of 2 x 4's to which I planned to bolt the stove feet.

The wall behind the stove was insulated with ceramic fiber rated to 2000F.  Both the perlite and the insulation were left overs from other work I do and while possibly being over-kill, cost nothing.

I sealed the insulated boxes with more cement board and handed the project over to Kirstin.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bus Blog 16: Walls

During the next week, walls continued to go up and were clad with plywood.  If I had any spare insulation, I used it to fill the hollow cores of the new walls.  Every little bit of sound deadening I could get would help.
I managed to box and seal off the wheel-wells after running a pair of 1" plastic pipes through them for potential plumbing or electrical lines and filled the rest with foam insulation.
It was going good, in a few days most of the walls were up and I hadn't yet blown the speakers on my little radio.

To give you a better sense of how things were moving along, here's a sequence:

The shop was at the rear of the bus, we built the bathroom next.  It included both a toilet and bath area that could be easily connected or separated by a free swinging door.  Here's a picture of the back wall and toiletry closet being roughed-in.

Next, the front wall of the toilet room. back wall of the closet is framed.

The front wall of the closet is boxed...

...and framed...

...And clad.

I chose 2x3's for the framing of the interior walls as they were cheaper, smaller and lighter than 2x4's without sacrificing a ton of strength.  Since the interior walls wouldn't bear much load and were clad in ply, they didn't demand standard framing, so I saved money and space where I could.

Once the walls were in place, it was time to focus on a heat source.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bus Blog 15: Tub Wall

The caboose-sized flower shop at the end of our old block had the habit of throwing out odd furniture from time to time.  Once a Plexiglas showcase adorned their alley, then the huge steel frame of a  Wielder resistance weight training machine, then a giant busted fish tank, another time there was a stack of old magazines that nearly reached the roof, then a water bed and a pile of stuffed animals.  It was the stuff you'd see behind huge tenement buildings on rare occasion.  The appearance of these objects was odd, intriguing and potentially useful.  I kept my eye on that alley.

The bus seemed immense at first, and from the exterior still is but when you fill a space with the structures and forms which we define as comfort and necessity, it shrinks, lots.  I had put up the front and rear walls, filled them with insulation and covered them.  My world began to shrink.  I started to lay-out lines for more walls, smaller.  I walked to the front, picturing the raised seating, the desk, smaller.

Kirstin had been saying she wanted a bathtub in the bus since the beginning.  I'd been ignoring her for just as long, hoping that if I didn't say anything, didn't happen to find one, she'd forget about it.  "She's busy with the kids, she'll forget," I thought.
"We're getting that bathtub, " she strode into my workshop, "The kids are napping and we're getting that bathtub."
I looked up from my work, "Uh?"
"There's a bathtub in back of that flower shop down the street."
"Let's go."

We walked the half-block to the back of the flower shop, me dragging a skateboard.
"You know bath tubs are heavy, it'll throw our weight off..."
She looked at me.
"Alright, but if it's cast iron, it'll be too heavy and we'll have to leave it," I prayed for a defect, a rusted-out bottom, a crack running down the middle...

I had already made the back wall deep enough and was setting-up the second wall five feet away so the tub would sit snugly between.  Five feet is a lot of space when your whole house is twenty-eight feet long.  The average household tub uses 30-40 gallons a fill, where's that water coming from?  How much does 30-40 gallons weigh?
A bathtub just seemed like opening a can of grasshoppers, we'd spend so much time figuring out the details the bus would never be road-ready.  Besides, it seemed totally out of line with the aim of simplifying our lives.  I had to convince her it wouldn't work.

We reached the back of the flower shop.  I affected the manner of appraisal, squinting, looking hard at the tub.  The damned thing was stamped steel, rigid and light.  I looked for rust.  None.  Even the drain fixture was in good shape.
"It looks pretty good," Kirstin knocked on the gleaming white enamel surface which issued a "Bong".
I exhaled, "Haahhhhhh, yup."
"Alright," she lifted an end and pulled the tub onto the skateboard, "Push."

We rolled the tub down the sidewalk, Kirstin smiling at neighbors, me pouting.

Before building the second wall, I went to the back of my in-laws' house to check the tub one more time.  Maybe there was some defect I had missed, maybe I didn't have to waste all that space.  I pulled the tub up out of the snow, nothing, the enamel shined at me in defiance.  I dropped it, climbed the back stairs to the kitchen, grabbed the door handle, maybe I could convince her...  Through the window I saw Kirstin and the boys.  Jack was playing on the floor, she held Sawyer to her chest while bouncing to appease him, her neck was loose, head drooping.  Her form showed nothing but exhaustion in the warm light, everything about her slumped.  Sawyer, our second boy wasn't sleeping and neither was Kirstin.  She'd taken on the bulk of raising the boys while I worked, either out of town or on the bus and her job never ended, it showed.
I let go of the handle and headed back to the bus.  Maybe I could figure this tub thing out.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bus Blog 14: Layout, Level.

There is a reason why bus converters advise taking the extra time and chalking your layout on the floor of your bus.  Visualize it, walk in it, experience it before putting the thing together.  Taking time saves time, saves stress, strengthens resolve.
The plan was to separate the front and rear of the bus with interior walls and doors.  Limiting the living area, the area that demands comfortable temperatures year round, would make heating and cooling easier.  The added insulative value of a buffer zone between outdoor temps and indoor is also very high as long as we keep the sun out in the summer, not a problem.  That was my start: build a wall at the front and the back, put a door in the center.  Easy enough.
I framed the front wall with 2x4's leaving space to put a couple windows in.
The studs were glued and screwed into place and the frames went up,  I had cut the vertical studs a little long and though I had to pound them in place with a mallet, they were in, tight, kind of what I was going for.
 I left the door framing for later and headed to the back of the bus.  The back wall needed to be in place before I could put my flooring down and the flooring needed to be in so I could bring more of my tools in the bus.
I was starting to feel guilty about taking over my in-laws' garage and so was trying to get things out of there quick.

The most time expensive part of building the back walls was figuring out where to put them.  The second largest waste of time was putting the walls up straight.  These two things made a 30 minute job turn into half of a day.  I had kind of a floor plan and it worked in theory, but it wasn't specific, how much space did I need for the bunks, the bathtub, the bathroom, the closet, how thick were the walls?  I should have had these questions answered before I started construction.  Instead, I spend hours scratching lines on the ply floor, mumbling to myself and rubbing them out.  "How wide is the damned BATHTUB?"  I'd jump out of the bus, measure something, jump back in, scribble something on the floor, run back out.  It was ridiculous.  My advice: have a plan, do your math ahead of time.  Instead of kicking-back at the end of a long day, I should have been leaning over a pad of paper.

The second piece of hard-earned advice I'll give you is this: Level your bus.  It's a simple concept that makes your job easy.  I didn't want to roll the bus back and forth adding/subtracting sheets of plywood beneath the tires, didn't want to spend a whole day fine tuning the level of the bus.  "I'll just use reference points," I thought.


I could have been hauling butt through the project if I had done two simple things: Leveled my plane and planned, thoroughly.

It it possible to build straight walls without being on a level surface it requires a ton of string-line, big carpenter squares, and a lot of referencing.  Oh, and time, lots of time.

I eventually got the back wall frames up, and the rest of the rubber flooring in.  But life would have been easier, and more enjoyable if I had taken the time and done the extra work.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bus Blog 13: Help from Mr. Poops

My wife has threatened castration if I cut Jack's hair.  I think she's serious because every time it comes up, she somehow, magically, has scissors in her hand.  This is an argument, despite logic and functional reasons, I cannot win.

It was time to finish the flooring in the entrance of the bus.  The next step would be to start putting up walls, so it made sense to get it done before I started limiting the space I had to work in.  Because we did a thorough job insulating the rest of the bus and a change in height might mess with access to the pedals, we decided to mimic the original bus floor by installing 5/8" plywood then covering it with rubber flooring.
The ply went in easily, and it was secured with PL and self-tapping screws.  As I worked, a familiar hand grasped the end of my impact driver and pushed down.
Jack insisted on helping and I was glad.  Though it was rather short-lived because when he saw access to the steering wheel, he forgot all about me, climbed on top of the heater and began to drive.
"Hey, what am I paying you for?" I asked.  "We're on a deadline here," I was entirely unheeded.   He began fiddling with the radio and rocking the steering wheel at the same time, "Eyes on the road," I said.  He looked at me briefly as if to say, "Stuff it Daddy," and continued his driving.

My wife corrects people when they compliment us on our precious little girl.  "He's actually a boy," she says flatly.  I generally shrug and do my best blank look, add the comment to my internal tally and hope that maybe, this is the one that breaks her and allows me to get him a damned hair cut.  "It gets in his eyes, face, mouth, needs extra attention...  He's a boy and reckless, let's at least give him the ability to see what he's about to run into," I reason.
Kirstin hears nothing, occasionally dresses him up in joke gifts from her sister, outfits from Egypt or Thailand, too colorful things with animals and odd shapes and sequins (hot climate full body versions of ugly Christmas sweaters), correcting each person who calls him a girl.  Seriously, she's as stubborn as a geriatric mule.

I finished putting in the plywood and it looked, well, like plywood.  I also covered the second step, but decided to leave the first step bare and just cover it with flooring to allow enough clearance for the front doors to open and shut fully.  Everything in place, it was time to apply the rubber.  The beautiful thing about working commercial construction is the access to waste.  I had scored, among a stock-pile shored-up in my in-laws garage, two sheets of hockey-skate flooring (1/4" rubber).   The flooring guys said it was pretty much indestructible.  It was heavy as hell, just like the stuff I had previously removed from the bus, and retailed for $14 a square foot.  I took it.

The rubber cut-up nice and was pretty mindless work, so my thoughts were free to wander.  I was trying to figure out how in the hell I could cut Jack's hair without being murdered.  Hands busy slicing smoothly through the rubber, I started thinking back to the first couple years as a courier.  One of the guys I worked with, Andreas, let his hair grow long, then cut it.  What was that for?  Cancer kids or something...

I dry fit the flooring, took it back, trimmed a little, dry fit again.  Love something...

I emptied my 25th tube of PL on the plywood flooring, spreading it evenly, smearing it with a piece of plastic.

Locks...  Locks of Love!

The flooring went down, I rolled it flat by standing on a pipe and walking it slowly across the floor.  I then secured the loose heater and left the access hatch and steps for later.  The flooring looked good.
Ignore the framing, we'll cover that later.

  The next morning, I laid out my argument, pronouncing "children," and "cancer," a bit slower than the rest of the words for added effect.  After a bit of back and forth, me maintaining a calm countenance, we struck an accord.  When Jack's hair reaches nine inches in length, we're going to donate it so it can be made into a wig for a child who, due to illness or treatment, is unable to grow their own.

Though the impetus for donating Jack's hair is admittedly self based, Locks of Love is a great little charity that makes a difference in the lives of a lot of kids, helping their confidence and self esteem during really tough periods in their lives.  If you're thinking of chopping your mop or know someone who is, check them out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bus Blog 12: Ply on the walls, masonite on the ceiling.

I ran a line of screws down the bottom plate of my wall framing, cut the ply to fit, set each sheet on the screws and tightened the ply down.  That was it.  The poorly cut insulation was pounded and stabbed into place previously and while some joints weren't perfect, a few additional screws made them work.  The ply was on the walls in a day.
I chose use plywood because of its strength, slight R value and resistance to vibration weakening.  Drywall just seemed a bad idea.  It's powdered and pressed gypsum, dust.  Visions of the walls shaking into nothing as I watched horrified through the rear view mirror kept me thinking, "Wood" for the walls.
I could use Oriented Strand Board, it makes great sheeting and is cheap, but compared to spruce ply is heavy and easily water damaged.  Nope, I picked plywood.

It was right around this point that I stopped working out of town, moved the family out of our house and began staying with my in laws until the bus was finished.  We planned to head down to Illinois to spend a few months with my folks and though I had to cram the whole of a house/shop move into one week, I was glad to be done with the back and forth.  Being paid to work and stay out of town is often lucrative, but having to condense your home life into 2 days a week is tough, especially when you've got a big project on your hands.

The next day I picked up 7 sheets of 1/4" Masonite and started pinning them to the ceiling with self-tapping drywall screws.  I was going to use wall paneling, you know, that 'classy' stuff with the stripes, but when I saw this stuff for under ten dollars a sheet, I grabbed it.

Due to the curvature of the ceiling, the eight foot panels fit perfectly, and once set against both walls, the panels basically held themselves in place.  Sure, it took a little bit of practice to learn how deep to set the screws so they were in and not pulled-through but it really was an easy process.

Easy things like this can be dangerous, however.  Because everything is fitting and there isn't a whole lot of messing around the job goes quick.  Because big panels are going up, it looks like a lot is getting done.  These two factors often give some people (me) a false sense of time.
My confidence was so high, that I estimated to have the bus road ready by December 15th.  It was December 3rd.  I told my family, a few buddies back home and committed to 16 hour days, intravenous caffeine and a nice little burn-out.

Did I make the deadline?


Not even close.