Monday, February 21, 2011

Bus Blog 5: Wipe and Seal

Pressure washers are squirt guns on a mix of steroids and brown-brown.  It was summer and hot and the back-spray from the water cannon I held in my hands was welcome.  The machine uprooted remnants of rust and adhesive from the floor, destroying years of dust, dirt and homogeneous sticky goop that had accumulated, concrete like, in various parts of the interior.
My wife, Kirstin, took a turn and blew the stairs clean with a few sprays of the gun, then shrugged her shoulders, unimpressed.
I took it back from her gladly, using the jet of water to scrub the floor, the lower walls, under the dash, the heaters, the engine, the tires, the windows, I eradicated dirt in every crevasse, crack and hole I could reach.   This went on for a while.  It was only when I climbed back into the bus and began tearing the numbered stickers off the tops of the walls with the jet of water while giggling, that I got a look.  "Are you done yet?"
Water dripped from every surface, it pooled on the floor, ran down my legs, "Gotta use it while you got it."
She maintained her gaze.
"Well, I guess, yes I'm done."

Being the height of a dry summer, water began to evaporate immediately.  With a few whips of a mop and blasts from an air compressor the accumulated puddles disappeared and we broke to let the bus air out.  Later, I patrolled the interior wire brushing, then applying rust converter to anything that had even a reminiscence of an orangish hue, until dark.

The next step, was to roll the steel floor with tar.  Tar is strong, water-proof, flexible, acts as an adhesive, is easy to apply and doesn't cost much.  Several coats of it have the benefit of helping to deaden sounds that would normally reverberate across the bus.  And, what the hell?  If the bus was to be our travelling house, why not invest the extra $40 for a bucket of tar and roller to keep rust away for good?

Kirstin was the obvious choice for applicator.  She is not an artist by any means, she draws things that look like clouds crossed with puddles of vomit and insists on calling them "Dragons", but she can paint like a pro.  While I mainly spill paint at things, my wife can do an entire apartment in one evening, barely mask anything and not spill a drop.  It takes me hours and a box of rags to clean-up after myself; she's done in minutes.  Did I really want to tangle with one of the stickiest substances on earth, or leave it to the professional?
I chose the latter, clad in a tank-top, baggy pants (with two specks of paint on them) and skate shoes, she got to work.  The paint roller and extension whipped up and down the length of the bus depositing a layer of thick, viscous tar with each pass.  There's no messing around with the black goop, it sticks and won't let go easy.  It sucked on to the bare metal floor, for good, we hoped.
If you don't allow water or air to react with a ferrous metal surface, it won't rust.  That's the theory behind tin and galvanized steel, behind nickel and rhodium plating, behind paint and well, tar.  If you don't let the metal breathe, it will stay metal.  If you let it breathe, it will crumble.  We aimed to never let this floor breathe and Kirstin made sure to roll the tar on thick.

While there are a great many benefits to using tar, it stinks, is difficult to wash off, isn't entirely eco-friendly and takes forever to dry.  Our quest to seal the floor properly before construction, cost us a week and a half of drying time, but saved us money compared to other sealing and waterproofing methods.  If you're converting a school bus, check out all the options before deciding.  This blog isn't a 'how-to', it's a 'how-we-did', learn from our successes and failures and things we're too stubborn to admit were bad ideas, then do your own thinking.