Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bus Blog 2: Knowing where your wind shield wipers are before you drive.

It happens to everyone once in a while.  We get excited about something and just do it without checking off every item on our lists.  I made certain the vehicle was insured and registered, that I could actually drive it, I checked oil, transmission, brake and power steering fluids.  I adjusted the mirrors, checked the lights, again,  and all in all made sure we were good for launch.

I pulled the bus onto the skinny little highway, a bit nervously at first, and put the pedal down.  After a few hard turns I grew accustomed to the rolling bounce of the chassis and resonant roar of the engine.  I actually started to like it, even though still enveloped by humidity and the smell of mildew, I found the driver's window easy to open and a cool, grassy wind blew across my face as I bounded down the highway in my new (to me) yellow missile.  Even though the radio was inoperable, looking as if it had been used as a teething biscuit by a bear cub, the sound of the wheels licking the asphalt and whine of the turbo were enough.  I was enjoying myself.

Then a speck of rain struck the wind shield and rolled down.  The second drop hit, then it began to pour.

The design of the particular highway I needed to take, is truly intestinal.  Like many rural highways there's not a lot of budget for or interest in moving all the earth necessary to provide a smooth, easy drive.  The fact that antiquated property lines and laws don't allow roads to take the path of least resistance through some areas doesn't help either.  My neglect to identify the 2 knobs on the 20 knob panel to the left of the steering wheel which control the wind shield wipers, coupled with the desire of this particular storm to get it all done with at once, didn't help my driving.

I slowed the yellow behemoth to a crawl, pulled as far to the right as the road would allow (12 inches), flipped the hazards on and tried every switch and knob on the control panel.  The sound of the rain on the steel roof of the bus and occasional roaring of a fan or chug of a pump as I pulled the knobs and flipped the switches, all while attempting to focus on the road (which I really couldn't see, at all) filled my head like a gallon of water fills an 8 ounce cup.  As the road slowly turned and dipped I tried to maintain my position in the lane by watching the shoulder, or lack there of, from the windows in the right side door.

All options exhausted, and ready to start flailing at the controls, I ran my hand around the console in desperation.  Just then, I felt a pair of knobs hidden from view behind the half-pulled out carcass of the stereo, I pushed them and a jet of fluid shot-up from a busted hose on top of the hood.  I turned the same knob, the passenger side wiper waved back and forth with a jitter.  I turned the second knob, and I could see.  Grateful and embarrassed, I put the pedal down and roared on.

I think it's necessary to point out that the rain which poured so richly from the sky ceased entirely less than a minute after I found the wiper knobs, life's all the better for irony, but either way: lesson learned.

I stopped the bus at an RV station a few miles down the road and filled the tank.  My wife, who had been following close behind in her car asked, "Are you drunk?"
"Squirrel in the cock pit."  I tried to look serious.
She just looked at me.
"Well, at least I'll never forget how to turn the wipers on."
"I'll bet," she smiled.

The rest of the ride was comparative cake.  The narrow rural highway widened and straightened so driving became, well, easy.  The long, straight frame of the bus wants to do what every missile wants to do: go straight, so if you take into account a wider turning radius, longer acceleration and deceleration times, you're halfway there.
After a few attempts, I pulled the bus into a parking spot behind my buddy Jesse's house, switched her off.  For now, she was home.

Note:  Before buying a bus find a vehicle inspector or super-experienced mechanic to do a thorough inspection, local (small) insurance companies are often great resources for these guys.

Check the vehicle driver's licence requirements of your State or Province before getting on the road with your  bus.  Yes, sometimes you can break the rules and get away with it, but do you really want your new bus taken away?  Don't let the licence requirements hold you back if you've found the perfect bus and have a parking spot, heavy duty towing is available in and around larger towns and usually starts around $50 an hour.  Why not spend a few extra bucks to work on your bus while getting licenced to drive it?  It's no overnight project and odds are you'll have the proper licence by the time you're ready to hit the road.

Recommendations:  Bus Conversion Floor Plans While not as data rich as other books, this text gives you a peek into real, habitable converted buses.  It's a great resource for showing you what works and what doesn't.