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JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/6/20 8:01 a.m.

Wife is finishing up the walls at the back of the bus. We ran out of recycled tongue-and-groove boards once we’d got the front walls and the driver’s side rear wall done; we probably had enough square footage to get it done, but quite a few of the old boards were broken or split from being removed from the house. We’d used all the good ones before we got the passenger’s side rear wall and the boxes under the rear windows. Seven 12 foot tongue and groove boards from the Big Orange Box hardware store got us going again. The boxes under the windows were a little tricky, as she had to figure out how to make the vertical face of the box interface nicely with the rear windows, which are sloped slightly in at the top, and find a tidy way to terminate the box at the door opening. She’s still working the window surrounds, but should be wrapped up with them within the next week. A couple of coats of paint and she called it done. She gets extra points for going with a nice wide windowsill; that’ll be nice back by the bed.

The front stairs are a bit steep and we needed to protect the exposed edge of the flooring where it dies against the stairs, so I made up a nice heavy steel cap for the top step, painted it and bolted it to the riser. Same kind of deal at the back door; since the front door doesn’t lock from the outside, but can lock/latch from inside, the back door is going to get plenty of use.

The front door is a little drafty, and isn’t set up to secure from the outside (yet). We have a couple of dogs, including one old gent (Bear; see earlier photos) who likes it cooler than anybody else does. He’d really like the front door corner of the bus. Figured we can give him that, help cut down on the draft, and keep the other dogs from falling into the stairs with a drop-in panel for the front staircase. Cut a pair of silhouettes out of plywood, one sized to just fit in the hole and one that is 2” larger in all dimensions than the hole. Screwed them together and got a couple of coats of primer on them. Final paint is to be determined; debating a couple heavy coats of something dark or a parquet paint pattern. A little foam weatherstrip tape on the underside of the lip should help reduce rattles/squeaks between the plywood and the steel step cap and keep the panel from wearing the paint off of the steel cap. We toyed with a hinged setup for the panel, but the irregular shape of the stair opening made it difficult to make the panel hinge from the floor. Instead, I’ll drill a couple of holes for a rope handle so it can be pulled out and stowed behind the couch when not in use.

I needed to build an additional support in this corner:

Didn't get any pictures of the corner support, but it will hold weight.

Gratuitous Bear photo, because who doesn't like a mascot.

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett MegaDork
2/6/20 9:38 a.m.

In reply to JohnInKansas :

You know, I'd seriously always wondered how you locked up a school bus...

This project is awesome BTW! My daughter is a "tiny house" fan & is always sending me links to converted busses & vans, so I may find myself in this same situation someday. 

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/6/20 9:58 a.m.

In reply to Pete Gossett :

A lot of newer/fancier buses have pneumatically operated front doors with a switch up under the front end somewhere. This one just has a mechanical detent that you have to operate from inside. The backdoor has a keyed handle that you can lock from the outside.

Figuring out how to secure it is on my short-short list.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/7/20 9:47 a.m.

Decided I’d better get the marker/clearance lights hooked back up before the weather gets less stable.

Did some digging online about what lights are required on long and wide vehicles before ordering a couple more lights. Hindsight: really should have done this right after the roof raise once we’d got the roof and sides water-tight again. As it is, I had to work around all the stuff we’ve put in that I don’t want to uninstall to get access. Additionally, there was the headache of having multiple service centers work on a vehicle. Chassis was built in Georgia, delivered to Wichita where the local dealer (not directly affiliated with BlueBird) installed the options as specified by the customer. For example: Left turn signal is a yellow wire. Right is green. Left rear upper clearance light is a green wire. Right is yellow. Why that would ever seem like a good idea to someone, I don’t know. 

The Kansas statutes on lighting requirements for large vehicles are kind of tricky to interpret. I don’t want to get harassed by the fuzz or cause any other drivers any trouble, so I decided my best bet was to defer to the mechanics (I found a local shop that services busses for the local school districts). I’ll ask the service station when I take it in for a check-up. 

(The white light on the side and the light in the stairwell come on when the front door is unlatched)

To finish the chassis wiring, I had to figure out the switch panels; somebody (the school district maintenance guy maybe?) hijacked both the light switch panel and the HVAC control panel and left all the cut wires loose in the fuse box. Because there are so many optional extras on school busses, wiring diagrams were a little tricky to track down. Fortunately, BlueBird keeps a database. Type in the body number (kind of like their serial number, I guess) on their website and they’ll tell you all kinds of specifics about the vehicle, including downloadable PDF wiring diagram files. Used the diagrams to pare down the wiring to the essentials, sourced replacement switches, fabbed up a switch panel and a decal for it. Also managed to get a usb and socket charge panel installed, the one I wanted was backordered so I wasn't sure I was gonna get it in time for this post (got it last night). There's no radio anymore, and I don't want to brave the 20 hour drive to Alabama witbout some tunes; I can only sing "the wheels on the bus" for so long before I lose what little sanity remains. This will let me plug my phone in and run BlueTooth headphones. Heater controls were a little trickier, as they were mechanically operated. 

Quick run to the local feed store to weigh in; 19,240 pounds, 90% complete, partially furnished and with no personal belongings moved into it. I figure with the bathroom walls, ceiling, and flooring, a couch, a bed, a stove, and some other minor furniture, the final curb weight should be around 20,000 pounds. Armed with that info, I visited the county treasurer to get my title updated (from “school bus” to “RV”), taxes paid, and tag renewed. Kansas taxes RVs by age and weight. This one comes to $126.50 a year for taxes.

Recon1342 HalfDork
2/7/20 2:07 p.m.

I was under the impression that the Fed DOT set requirements for lighting.
80" wide requires marker lights front and rear, lights at corners of flatbeds, forward facing amber and rear facing red. side facing must also be amber IIRC. Pretty sure that's it, though.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/7/20 4:57 p.m.

In reply to Recon1342 :

That was more or less my understanding. It is over 80" wide. Triple ambers on front, triple reds in rear. Three lights on each side, red at the back, amber halfway and in front. 

Pretty sure it ought to have a beltline turn signal on either side, and maybe some reflectors?

Recon1342 HalfDork
2/7/20 6:03 p.m.

In reply to JohnInKansas :

That's probably not a bad idea, but I don't think it's a requirement...

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/10/20 8:22 p.m.

Thus far each of these posts has summarized between 3 and 10 days of work, often spread out over weeks or even months. I have two more posts in this style written, but we're not quite done with the work yet, so the pace is going to slow slightly for the next week or two.

The shower was the next big trick. The campground I’ll be staying at has a bathhouse, and (largely due to the lack of sewer hookups at the sites) I intend to use it rather than the bus shower. So, not a HUGE priority, more of a convenience item (and the desire to get the stockpiled construction materials the hell out of my shop).

Wife was convinced that, as small of a space as it is, we’d need to put waterproof ceilings in the whole bathroom; showers won’t be long, as we have neither an abundance of fresh water nor of gray water storage space, and the spaces above and below the bathroom door should help ventilate the bathroom space a bit, but I don’t disagree with her. Better safe than sorry, we really don’t want to have to tear the bathroom down for a mold repair. The three inboard walls got paneled with ¾ inch plywood, while the outboard wall and ceiling got 1/8 inch plywood over furring strips. I’d planned on using furring strips on all four walls, but the curved profile at the top edge of the front wall left me without a stud to attach the outboard end of a furring strip to, so we opted for heavy plywood instead.

The walls and ceiling in the shower got thinset mortar, followed by Kerdi-brand waterproof fabric, then Kerdi-brand seam tape.

Once it had dried and cured, we cut and glued fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) to the plywood to finish the walls. We wanted to make the outboard wall and ceiling seamless to cut down on potential for leaks. Of course the total length was too long to make a standard 8 foot panel work, so we had to source a 4x10 FRP panel from the Big Green Box hardware store. Once the plastic was in, all the seams got flexible silicone caulk. We currently have the exterior wall and ceiling glued in; the other three walls will go in later this week. 

I paneled the remaining walls around the toilet with plywood and Mrs. InKansas applied a couple coats of RedGard waterproofing. RedGuard wants to cure for 72 hours without dropping below 40 degrees, so we waited on a couple of warm days in a row, and ran the space heater in the bathroom for a couple hours in the evening and again first thing in the morning. 

We have thoughts about paint themes for these walls, but we're thinking maybe we should wait to decide on how weird we should get until after we get some things moved in. In the meantime, I painted them white (today).

It needs another coat, but I was lightheaded from fumes when I got done, so that can wait for another day.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/11/20 7:37 p.m.

I’ll be going to Alabama solo; wife is staying in Kansas for work, and we will visit each other as often as time permits. As such, I’m going with an x-long twin mattress rather than our regular queen. Once we’re ready to start cohabitating on a more regular basis, we’ll upgrade, but for now the extra floor space will be beneficial. We’ve been really happy with our bed-in-a-box memory foam mattress, and it was pretty inexpensive, so I’ll go with one of those. As a bonus, they really don’t need a box spring, just good support underneath. I salvaged a workbench I built for the last garage to pull mattress support duties; I never successfully used it as a workbench at the last house (just as horizontal storage space), and there’s no good place for it at the new house (so it’s still doing horizontal storage). The single stipulation for the bedframe was that it be tall enough to slide footlockers or plastic totes under for storage; the workbench was designed to have 27 gallon plastic totes under it, and comfortably fits six in the original 4-foot-high configuration. I shortened it to make it more friendly as a bed and still allow three totes underneath. That put the mattress about a foot below the bottom of the side windows; low enough to not worry too much about being seen from outside, but still…time for some curtains. 

(With paint and demonstration totes)

(And one before paint, temporarily installed)

In addition to the privacy aspect, we really wanted a set of curtains that could help with climate control a bit. Power usage is just enough of a concern with the current setup that I can’t really afford to run electric AC or heat if I’m not home. I’d like to be able to leave windows cracked or fully open for extended periods without bugs invading, so we’re looking for some curtain options; blackout for privacy and heat protection, sheer for privacy without being real dark, and screens for when we have windows open. In the front half of the bus in particular, we really wanted to be able to pull the curtains all the way to one end to maximize visibility while driving and maximize light in the space when we want it. As such, we needed a rod that could support its own weight and the weight of the heaviest curtains over a span of about 16 feet without sagging too much. Decided that steel rod was going to bend too much, and that tensioned steel cable was going to be difficult to anchor sufficiently. The tidiest option was curtain tracks, like they use for room dividers in hospitals, but the best price we could find was around $350 to set up the tracks for the whole bus. Everything is on order, and should be here next week.

Today's progress included another wall in the shower, another coat of paint on the bathroom walls, and completely unloading anything not bolted to the bus in preparation for a trip to the service center tomorrow morning.

AngryCorvair MegaDork
2/11/20 8:53 p.m.

All.  The.  Overhang!

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/12/20 8:22 p.m.

Well, first day without pre-scripted content.

It got cold today, and it'll be real cold overnight and tomorrow, so we decided it was a good time to be without the bus for a day or two while it gets a checkup. Shuttled it up to the service station this morning about an hour after it started snowing. Kept snowing all day.

We're both at a bit of a loss. What do you do when the thing you've been devoting so much effort toward is gone? We both feel as though there's an empty space in our lives where the bus should be. (There's a crass joke here somewhere about bus holes and how one could go about filling them, but I don't want to get banned)

Instead, how about a couch?

My sophomore year of college, I decided I needed a couch for my dorm room. I'd picked up an early C10 pickup, and my shiny new girlfriend (now Mrs. InKansas), really liked the seat. Furniture was a miniscule portion of my limited budget, so I tracked down a bench seat from another C10 and spent an evening with a handsaw and cordless drill piecing together a frame out of scraps of two-by lumber in my folks' barn. Twelve years and about as many house changes later, we still have it and still use it. There was considerable tension when we broached the topic of a couch on the bus; she doesn't really want to give up her couch and I don't really want to deprive her or the dogs of it.

Fortunately, my good buddy Joey happened to have a C10 that somebody hauled to his house for him to scrap, and for $20 in beer money, I hauled the (filthy) seat home.

Got the rat droppings and worn out seat covers pulled off, started deodorizing the foam, and pulled the adjusting rails. Took some measurements off the original couch, and made some minor adjustments to suit the materials at hand and the installation restrictions. Assembly went about the same way as the first one.


Bear approves.

This is where it'll live. I'll come up with some brackets to secure it to the wall later this week.

The arms are a couple pieces of the aforementioned red oak. They were too wavy and oddly-shaped to do much with otherwise, and they'll match the countertops, eventually.

AngryCorvair MegaDork
2/12/20 9:06 p.m.

Bear is wise.

Recon1342 HalfDork
2/12/20 9:17 p.m.

That's a really cool couch; made cooler because of the backstory!

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/13/20 9:51 p.m.

Think the temperature made it all the way up to about 15 degrees today. No word from the shop, hopefully they call tomorrow. We have recieved the last big push of parts today, so as the weather warms up this weekend, I'll have plenty to do.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/17/20 7:18 p.m.

Well, we got it back this afternoon. Miffed that it took as long as it did, and that it was a pretty fantastic weekend as far as February weather goes, but nothing I can do about that now.

I'll write up today's progress tomorrow morning at work.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/18/20 8:02 a.m.

So here's how the last few days went.

Dropped the bus off at the service station on Wednesday morning, with the implied/suggested estimate that they'd have it done at close of business Thursday, give or take. This would have worked great, because it snowed Wednesday and was miserably cold Thursday, and warmed up progressively to a high of 60+ on Monday afternoon. So I waited patiently by the phone all day Thursday. And all day Friday. And half of Saturday. Closed on Sunday, so I spent a truly frustrating afternoon with my brother coming to the unhappy conclusion that the Challenge car needs a pretty serious teardown before it'll be right. Service station called first thing Monday morning, said they'd looked it over, fluids all looked good and hadn't found any glaring issues with brakes or suspension, what else did I want done? Asked them to try to track down a leak on the transmission. Figured it would be a pretty quick fix and would have it done by noon. Waited by the phone all day, finally called them an hour before close to find out if it was done and was told it was. Great. At least they got the transmission leak fixed, and they didn't find any other issues, so we'll call that a win. Hopefully the bill isn't a rude surprise; I'll watch the mail and report.

Meanwhile, we had accumulated the last big push of purchases, including about 60 feet of aluminum curtain track and associated hardware, another underbody tool box, four screw jacks for stabilizing, a set of pop up orange cones, a mattress, a couple sets of sheets, drain fittings for the black and grey tanks, a sewage drain hose, and a nice heavy duty garden hose.

As soon as we got the bus back home, we loaded all the furniture. Fridge, then couch, then stove, then bedframe. Couch went in through the front door, everything else went in the back. Had to hike the stove up and over the hallway cabinet to get it to its spot. Mrs. InKansas set into making it feel like home; got the mattress unboxed, made the bed, hooked up the stove and made tea, put a set of covers on the couch, rugs, pillows, etc.

We've still got plenty of finishing to do, but if you squint your eyes just right. you can just about imagine what it will look like. She had kind of a long, crummy weekend at work, so getting the bus back and moving stuff in helped give her a quick win and regain some momentum.

I charged into the drain fittings while I had some warm weather left. This is what $250 worth of McMaster-Carr fittings looks like:

The picture really doesn't give a sense of scale; those are 2 inch ball valves opening into 3 inch female cam fittings.

Turns out the threads on plastic barrels are kind of tricky to get started. I spent most of an hour getting the first one threaded on straight. I ran out of light and patience on the black tank fittings, and called it off for the sake of my sanity.

Plan for this afternoon is to finish the drain fittings and hang at least one section of curtain track so my wife can start looking at potential curtain fabric options. She's got a date with a nice woodworking shop this week to get a hand rebuilding the drawers for the kitchen cabinet and to finish the paneling for above the windowsills on the back wall. We're going to hold out for slightly warmer weather later in the week to wrap up the shower walls, then we can set flooring in the bathroom. I got a day or two worth of work getting the underbody box mounted and trimmed, and a day worth of work building mounting brackets for the furniture and appliances so they don't migrate during transit. Then finish the trim and baseboards, touch up paint, and move in? We might be done before it's time to move. About 18 days left. We'll see.

the_machina Reader
2/18/20 8:31 a.m.

Looking like a real place to live!

03Panther Reader
2/18/20 11:59 p.m.

Glad to see this. Great work, and BTW , I'm loving Bear!

If you run into any problems at the campground you picked out, we've got a place we park our rv that's nice and flat. 25x60, with 50amp plug in and water. Just bare red clay, but it's flat. Sewage we would just need to run, but it's down hill to the septic tank! And a not so flat spot with hookup by the house for when we're loading / unloading, so we can easily move ours. 

And I'm ( actually my wife, the tool room worker)  finally getting my shop set up, so I've got any tools ya need to work on her once you get down here.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/19/20 8:57 a.m.

Wife spent the day prepping for her woodworking appointment; got the drawer openings in the kitchen cabinet measured and sketched out for reference, and made a template for the plywood surrounds around the back windows.

She hung up the first section of curtain track shortly after I got home from work. The track came in 8 foot sections, and the stretch between the stove and the driver's seat is almost exactly 16 feet. Two sections of track with a splice in between. We talked at length about curtain material choices and I think we're more or less in agreement. Looks like we ought to be able to get all the windows (aside from the windshield, driver's window, and front door) with 10 yards of fabric.

I wrestled with the black tank drain fitting until I finally got it to thread in. Managed to not get a photo, but it looks about the same as the one on the grey tank. The cam fitting ends about flush with the mudflap, so I'll have to tuck the mudflap up and out of the way to connect the drain hose.

Speaking of which, I did test fit the hose on the grey tank:

Also threw the jacks under the frame rails and snugged them up. They don't do ALL that much at "snug", but the ground is pretty soft, they don't have pads under them, and I'm pretty sure I'd need to get kind of brawny with them to actually make a big difference in stability.

While I was under the front setting up the jacks, I found one of my long-lost vice grips. I have been bitching about not having vice grips since November, so I got a couple of sets for Christmas. That's always a neat feeling, finding a tool you mislaid.

I moved the underbody tool box back to its rough location and started marking where I'll need to cut the skin to make it fit. That'll be a job for tonight, I think. Ought to be able to get it hung before dark, assuming I don't run into any major malfunctions.

And we made the first hot water last night.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/20/20 9:52 a.m.

Mrs. InKansas's drawer-building appointment got pushed back to Friday. She found a deal on fabric for curtains, and got 15 yards ordered for under $100.

I spent the afternoon offloading the furniture again...

The military will pay to move me to Alabama, or they'll pay ME to move myself. For a one year school, there's no reason to bother moving very much, so it's not much trouble to move myself. The pay is based on mileage and weight, so the only real documentation I need to file a claim is certified weight tickets. I got a weight ticket a couple weeks ago when I had the title adjusted, but the ticket was somewhat less than legitimate-looking, so I figured for the sake of getting paid for the 500-ish pounds worth of appliances and such, I had better go get weighed again. Fortunately, the scale is close, and I talked my dad into helping drag the furniture back out.

Unfortunately, while I was inside getting my ticket and paying the fee, the bus made a basketball sized puddle of engine oil on the ground. Leaking from halfway up the left side of the block, at a fast dribble, probably two quarts an hour at idle. Drove it home keeping an eye on oil pressure, never dropped below the middle of the gauge. Called the shop, they hadn't fooled with anything over there, and were non-committal about when they'd be able to get it back in. Gave me a tip about another local who is reportedly good with Cummins engines, so I may give him a call. Looking online, I'm pretty sure it's the rubber seal around the tappet gallery. I'd do it myself if I had the time and patience, but I'm more than willing to pay someone who knows what they're doing to do a good job so I don't have to muddle my way through it.

Since we don't know yet how soon we'd be able to get in with a mechanic, we opted to leave the as-yet unsecured furniture out of the bus; if we find out it'll be a week before a mechanic can get to it, we'll put the furniture back in as I get brackets done to secure the furniture to the walls.

Two steps forward, one step back.

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/20/20 12:40 p.m.

This is going to be a $2000 repair. 


Stampie UltimaDork
2/20/20 12:43 p.m.

In reply to JohnInKansas :

That's like a whole Challenge car or two in my case. 

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/20/20 1:01 p.m.

In reply to Stampie :

I know. Makes me slightly sick to my stomach.

wvumtnbkr UberDork
2/20/20 1:53 p.m.

What's wrong with it that it costs 2k to fix on a running engine?

JohnInKansas SuperDork
2/20/20 4:01 p.m.

In reply to wvumtnbkr :

90% sure its the tappet cover gasket. Fuel pump, fuel filter, injection pump, fuel lines have to come off at a bare minimum, and all that with access through an overhead doghouse. At least $200 for parts, 10-12 hours of labor, plus tax. This isn't the end of the engine by a long shot, but I can't drive it 1000 miles like this. I could probably do it myself, but it would take me a lot longer than that and I'd rather have a quality mechanic bless off on it than hope I do a good enough job. Peace of mind.

Good news though, I found a licensed Cummins shop a little farther afield that says they can do it in under 8 hours, albeit at $130 an hour. Should keep it to under $1200. Diesel techs are expensive.

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