I’ve been getting to sleep at 9PM for the past couple of days in an effort to get over this cold. This morning was the first time I woke up with a clearer head and sinus system, although the tickle in my throat is still present. Another day of cold medicine and hot tea, and another good evening’s rest and I think I might be able to kick this thing. I don’t want to bring a cold up to Mom’s house for the holiday, and I would like to get some work done on the bus this weekend. Plus the family is volunteering for another food drive tomorrow morning, and I want to give 100% while I’m there.
It was 70˚ yesterday before the storm blew through so I took a quick break at lunchtime to hose the used CR-V floor mat down with Simple Green and blast it with the pressure washer. It’s definitely cleaner, but the smell of that car air freshener stuff is still present. I think
it’s going to sit outside for a couple of weeks to let the air and UV rays burn off the smell, I’ll wait for another warm day and try this trick, and then it should be ready for the car.
On Saturday morning we all got up early, dressed in warm clothes, and walked to the Knights of Columbus building down the street (semi-famously the site of the Catonsville Nine burning draft cards in 1968) to volunteer for a Thanksgiving food drive. There were three areas set up to receive, sort, and then box incoming food, manned by a swarm of older women confidently moving and arranging and directing. Cars drove up, the KoC guys would unload, and a group of volunteers would sort by expiration date. They brought the sorted food to one of two tables and a third group would move it to another long set of tables covered in labeled boxes: this is where it got sorted by type. I picked up a milk crate, joined the third group, and got to work. It was a cold morning that warmed up as the sun rose over the trees, and everyone was in a friendly, cheerful mood. I bonded quickly with my fellow runners, and we made light of jostling for “the good stuff” at the pickup table. Jen manned the first sorting table and had to deal with some strange donations—a bag of old duck sauce, an individually wrapped slice of birthday cake, opened boxes of food, ancient canned goods—and Finley worked as a runner with me. By 11AM we’d cleared the donations, and the dropoff line was quiet. A group of high school students appeared, looking to fulfill some of their mandatory public service time, so we walked back home in the sunlight and hunted for some lunch.
After several years willfully ignoring the mess that our woodpiles have become, I took advantage of the afternoon and started cleaning it up. We’ve burned through a little less than two cradles since I split everything before the Year of Cancer and they’ve sat empty since then, surrounded by weeds and the large rounds that were still too wet to split. I pulled everything off the mostly empty cradles and moved them out of the way, then got the Hi-Lift off the Scout and used that to jack up the sinking sides of the remaining cradles so that I could level them off again. I used my new impact driver to break down the older of the two empty cradles and got that out of the way. All of the good wood got restocked and buttoned up under tarps. Then I broke out the maul and took a couple of whacks at the big round on the lawn; one half of it blew apart easily, rotted from being exposed for so long. The other half—the knotted crook half—refused to give up, so I rolled that into the neighbors’ ivy patch (they never look back there) and raked up the lawn. I still have to break down the other cradle, but it’s nice to have a clean lawn and a tidy woodpile again.
It’s Sunday. I’ve been back from Chestertown since Friday evening, and my body is still sore. As of Friday, both roof racks are permanently installed, sealed with silicone and fastened with Grade 8 bolts through the support ribs of the roof. It took some time to get the aftermarket rack ready; it needed to be wire wheeled almost everywhere before it got new paint. We had to chop 3″ off the original support feet we’d cut and welded in order to get it as low to the roof as possible—and it still has only about 2″ of clearance from the top of the storage shed.
Inside, we washed everything down with Simple Green and removed all of the stickers and leftover Scotch tape. The interior has three coats of tough enamel paint over all of the flat surfaces, which makes a huge difference in how things look inside. I fabricated five window screens and aluminum clips to hold them in place, which will need a little modification before they’re perfect.
We’re at a stopping point now while we wait for the big items to start arriving; the popup tent is been manufactured, the seats are in production, and the roof hatch is on its way. Brian has the flooring ordered and we’ll see how long it takes for that to come in. We’re going to work out a plan over the next couple of months for me to drive over and put a couple weekends’ work in as things arrive so we can keep things moving.
When I started on this project, I was packing shorts and T-shirts and sweating through each day, swatting clouds of mosquitoes and drinking bottle after bottle of water to stay hydrated. By the end of the fourth week I had to start the Scout and let it warm up to burn off the dew before I could drive; I was nursing coffee until 11 to knock the chill out of the air and as soon as the sun dipped behind the trees I was putting layers back on to warm up.
One of the things I really enjoyed was working as a team with Brian. I think we complement each other’s skillsets well. He has, well, all of the knowledge in how to build stuff, and I have just enough experience to make myself useful and not get in the way. Together we’re smart enough to talk over possible solutions and come up with a plan to solve problems, and I think I was able to offer good ideas throughout the project. I also learned a lot from Brian just by watching how he did things—from measuring the storage boxes for installation to welding to what tools he uses daily (cordless tools are my new religion.)
And having the right tools is key. Brian has a full set of 20V DeWalt cordless gear—drills, saws, grinders, impact drivers, etc. and the benefit of not dragging cords around is huge. My drill is the 12V version but I could easily see myself investing in a bunch of 20V gear in the future as I phase out the older tools. That having been said, the tools Dad left me were absolutely clutch for the work we were doing. We used the mismatched second-hand socket set I got from him extensively and I was glad to have it. After struggling with a dull ceramic diamond blade to cut through the box steel, I invested in a Diablo metal blade and it went through the steel like butter. And the safety glasses I bought for the job were perfect—I could wear them all day and not worry about metal shavings sticking in my eyes. Carrying my gear to and from the job site in the Scout was fun, but by the second week I was wishing I had a full-size pickup with lockboxes.
I also continue to have respect for contractors and what they do every day. My quads feel like Jell-O from climbing up and down off the bus all week. When I was young and doing it myself I was able to bounce back quickly from an 8-hour day of constantly moving, bending, kneeling, climbing, and lifting. At this age I can do about three days before it starts catching up with me, and a full 5-hour week requires a lot of recovery time and a handful of ibuprofen. I think I’d be in permanent traction by now if this had been my lifetime career. I don’t know how Brian does it.
I’m grateful for him asking me to work on this, and I worked hard to make sure I didn’t let him down. I enjoyed almost all of the time spent in the bus (if I’m honest I could have left chiseling the rubber floorcoating off to an apprentice or helper) and the time we had together just fucking around figuring out how in the hell are we gonna do this? And I’m extremely thankful to Jen for taking on the house and the dog and Finn and her work while I got out from behind the computer and stretched my brain in a different direction.
On Monday, Brian and I finished making a platform for the tent that will go on the schoolbus roof. This involved a lot of wire wheeling, welding, grinding, finishing, measuring, more welding, and painting. I got to his house at noon, and we finished up at about 6:30 with no breaks.
But that meant all we had to do Tuesday morning was throw it on his truck and head to Rock Hall; we pulled his truck up next to the bus and carefully hoisted it on to the roof.
It fits perfectly. We drilled holes for the legs directly into the support hoops built into the bus, which will keep things from taking flight unexpectedly. The hatch lines up perfectly with the cutout we built. The legs are +/- 2 degrees but mostly sit flush with the slope of the roof; a set of rubber gaskets help with the fit.
Finn’s birthday was Tuesday of last week so I spent the first two days at home with the family. On Monday I scratch-baked a chocolate cake, and then attempted to make “ermine” frosting, which tasted delicious but didn’t look as satiny as all the pictures showed. Finn seemed to be pretty happy with it, though. After dinner, cake and presents, I headed over to Brian’s house to hit the ground running on Wednesday morning.
Wednesday’s job was to haul the three storage bins out to the shed, pull the bus out, measure the void spaces, and cut access into the sides for each. Then we measured out the mounting points under the bus, transferred those to the bins, and drilled each one out. Using Brian’s floor jack, we got the bins up into place, and with a little coaxing got each one mounted up. The front passenger side bins need some adjustment but overall we’re really happy with how they’ve all worked out.
Thursday was Generator day. This was a lot more difficult because the mounts are on the side, angled outwards, and dropped below the top of the box by about 4.5″. With some trial and error we got the channel cut down and in place, bolted in two places through the floor itself, and set up the brackets.
Then we jacked the generator into place, roughed in all of the bolts, and made sure it all looked good before tightening everything down. When that was complete we put the panel back on with stainless piano hinge for easy access. It took a lot of creative thinking and even more difficult work in tight spaces (we bought a 1/2″ box wrench for the express purpose of cutting it in half to tighten one difficult bolt) but the result is pretty spectacular. Then we threw most of our tools, the welder and tank, and all of the metal we’d cut down last week into Brian’s truck and called it a day.
Friday I laid out and cleaned all of the metal for the roof rack in Brian’s driveway while he moved some stuff around in his electrical panel to give us a 220 plug. We did some test welds on scrap metal we’d brought back with us, and then we got to work tack welding the rack into place. He’s a much better welder than I am, so when it came time to square it up and burn everything in permanently I asked him to tackle that. Then we took a break and ran down to Rock Hall to re-measure the roof for feet placement. We’re putting them where the main ribs of the roof land so that it’s bolted to something sturdy.
We re-measured the angle I took last week and then hefted the aftermarket rack we’d bought on Craigslist to the front of the bus to measure feet for that as well.
Then we went inside to triple-check the seating measurements we’ve been working with (he ordered them on Tuesday) and made sure we’ve got the clearance we need, which all looks great.
Back in Chestertown I started cutting the feet with the angle we’d calculated but I was having a hard time getting a clean cut with a circular saw and a dull diamond blade. By then it was about 4:30 and I was powering down, so we got his driveway cleaned up and I headed for home.
The plan for this coming week is to get the feet and the rest of the rack welded tight, and then I can wire wheel it all, clean everything with acetone, and hit it with etch primer. There’s a bunch of stuff to be done on the bus itself—more work on the floor, adjusting the bins, and finishing screens. With the rack finished we should be able to mount that up this week and maybe even put the plywood down.
I posted a quicker version of this to the ‘Grams last week but I figured I’d add it here as well. Last week ended strong but this coming week is going to be better; we’ve got a lot of stuff to tackle. I drove 6 hours on Saturday to and from Richmond to pick up a school locker and Brian made a side trip this afternoon to pick up a steel roof rack. Hopefully we can get the large roof rack (for the tent) welded up, and get all of the storage boxes hung.
I’m sitting on the couch at home Friday afternoon, enjoying some downtime to catch up with Jen. I put in a solid four days’ work this week, pausing only because we’re out of things I can do myself and Brian is jammed up with other paying work that needs to be done. But we made some solid progress this week.
I rode out to Chestertown on Monday and met up with Brian to pick up the keys to the shed at noon. By 1PM I’d pulled the bus out and dusted off my trusty Hitachi hand planer—the one I used to plane the floor in the kitchen all those years ago—and got the whole floor leveled off. Then I cut and built a couple of screens for the windows; Schoolbuses don’t come with screens and they’ll need them where they’re traveling.
On Tuesday Brian and I made a plan to get the materials we’d need for the floor and for the roof rack, which required a trip to Wilmington, Delaware to pick up raw steel. After a tasty lunch at a taqueria, we grabbed the steel and were back by the early afternoon. We unloaded the steel, plywood, and other stuff, got the tools out and cut the rack together.
We’ve been chasing vendors for various elements for a while now, and finally got word back from the rooftop tent guy who will be starting production soon. The seats have been the other big question mark, and the original vendor there does not offer specifications or any detail on the website other than an eye-watering price. We did some more digging after dinner and I found a competitor who offers multiple sizes at a much lower price point—with measurements and specifications. Imagine that!
Wednesday we took that knowledge back to the bus and mapped out different seat sizes in blue tape on the floor. Brian hooked up the generator to the welder and attempted to tack the rack together but he wasn’t getting enough juice, so we punted on that. Matthew and Robbi came by to look things over and we agreed on a size and layout which gives us a direction; with this and the size of the rear bedding we know how much space we’ve got for the rest of the area. We continued cleaning up the interior to prep for the floor install until quitting time.
On Thursday I was on my own, but that was fine; I loaded up some podcasts and got to work installing plywood over the original floor. By about 12:30 I was done, and broke for some lunch out by the water to cool off. Then I climbed up onto the roof to measure out and find the angle we’ll need for the feet on the roof rack. When I knew that I hopped back down and built two screens until I ran out of supplies. It was 3:30 and I was hot and sweaty. Things were supposed to cool off after the rain but with the humidity it was still in the low 90’s. I closed things up and headed back to Brian’s, where we examined three steel storage boxes that arrived via UPS, and looked like they’d been dropped off the back of the truck. After cooling off, we agreed there wasn’t much else to accomplish until we had more supplies and Brian had time, so I loaded up and headed back home to see the girls.
Next week we’re going to install the storage boxes and find a way to hang the generator; that’s probably going to eat up a lot of time until we get the method down. Then maybe we’ll get the flooring in place.
On Tuesday, I drove over the bridge to Brian’s house, where I dropped some gear off, and then we went out to the field where the bus had been stored for a few months. It fired right up, and I followed Brian back to his driveway where he had a pressure washer ready to begin cleaning. He had to take off for another job so I set up a camera and got to work spraying several years’ worth of grime off of the bus. That didn’t take very long, so I climbed inside and started tearing sections of the interior out.
First came the bedframe in back, and then I worked my way forward to the seats. These were repurposed from a couple of minivans and mounted on modified bus platforms, so I had to do a lot of climbing up and down inside and out of the bus to get vice-grips on the fasteners underneath. At a certain point after I was hot, tired, and sick of the process I said fuck it, busted out the angle grinder, and cut the heads off the bolts. In retrospect that should have been how I started the process. All of the seats came out except for the two rows up front. The single seat by the door was also holding a platform connected to the battery inverter, charging unit, and fuse block. Since that was all still live and hooked to four deep-cycle car batteries in parallel I left it alone.
Brian made it back home at about 4 and I nervously pointed at a huge pile of debris in his driveway, but he was happy with the progress I’d made. We then drove the bus over to a rented shed in Rock Hall, backed it in, and called it a day. They’re putting me up in a beautiful travel camper they bought new last year; I have running water, electricity and air conditioning out in their driveway. I slept in a bunk above the hitch tongue with three screen windows providing a cool breeze all night.
Wednesday I drove out to Rock Hall, pulled the bus out of the shed, and got to work pulling the last of the seats out and stripping the floor. There was a layer of wood laminate down over the original rubber schoolbus floor, and all of that had to come out, so I was happy I’d packed a hammer, chisels, and plenty of podcasts. Some of the floor came up quickly and some of it fought me inch by inch. I took a break mid-day and found a lovely market in Rock Hall for a sandwich and an iced tea. The rental shed is about 1/2 mile from the marina, so I pulled into the parking lot, put the tailgate down, and ate my sandwich with the breeze blowing off the water, watching boats come and go. By 4PM I had about 2/3 of the floor up and piled in a corner, and my back was tighter than a guitar string. I headed back to Brian’s and his son handed me a fresh chocolate smoothie as soon as I got out of the truck. I could get used to that.
After dinner I had to cover the Scout with a tarp, as a big thunderstorm blew through the Mid-Atlantic that evening. Thursday morning I drove back out through a light rain and got at it early; by about noon I had the remainder of the rubber up off the floor and in two (heavy) contractor’s bags. Brian came out and we got some lunch, and then he deconstructed the charging/fuse system while I took measurements and cleaned up the workspace.
We then spent a couple of hours formulating a plan. We have a good spot for the diesel generator up between the driver’s side axles, and Brian ordered three locking steel storage units for the other free areas under the bus. This will give them 27 cubic feet of dry storage outside of the main living area—which is key, as there isn’t a lot of space inside. He has a guy in Colorado who’s supposed to be building a rooftop tent but dude been hard to reach, and we don’t have exact measurements for that yet either. We do have a plan for the platform it’ll sit on, and a way to get the kids up into the tent; one of our next big jobs is to source the steel and weld the platform together so that it accounts for the slope on the sides of the roof and sits as low as possible.
We’ve got a plan for the rear bed but the vendor for the new seats is being flaky and there’s no data sheet available for them to review. Without that information we can’t do much with the living space inside—it all hinges on how much space those seats need and how big they are when they fold down into beds.
We have the generator, and the steel storage units will be here on Thursday. I think we’re going to get the generator mounted first, and that’ll help us work out the plan for the storage units. I’m going to get busy planing the rest of the rubber off the floor to make it flat as possible, then cut and fit plywood to go over the floor that’s there so we’ve got a clean surface to lay checkerboard tiles on.