That same day, the starter button stopped working. I can still start the bus by jumping terminals at the starter relay. That relay is inside the coach, so it's not hard to do, but I want to get this sorted ASAP.
Still busy trying to wind up our involvement with the doughnut/coffee shop business. We'll kick the conversion process up after we get the rest of our money. In the meanwhile, I'm still working on our utility building. Here's a shot of the new tile floor:
I've never enjoyed doing tile work, but I love ceramic tile. This floor needed tile, and I had saved most of the material from previous jobs. It's going to be a nice 8'x12' building. The new toilet is installed beside the shower stall, but no photo yet. I'm sure you're disappointed.
Been cold and wet here this week. Hope to get the walls insulated and the shower stall enclosed this week. A door would be nice, too, but I'm making that from scratch, and it requires dry weather.
More soon. Best to all.
Jim in North Carolina
Our system is properly grounded, but this installation contractor had never put cable in a place without mains power service. We had him terminate the cable and install the modem in our 8'x12' utility building which sits between the step van we live in and the bus we're converting. He had to call his supervisor who had to call his supervisor. Literally took two hours to get started. We previously had no electricity in the utility building (the ute), but I ran a 10/3 cable from the bus to the ute and installed one quad box receptacle in anticipation of the cable modem and our wireless router. I've since repowered both those items with 12v DC, but I'll come back to that.
Some may recall that our current house truck had been situated 200 yards away from the ute and bus conversion site. The sole reason we were so far away was that we had access to AC for the bit of movie watching we like to do most nights and for one 60 watt bulb. We heat and cook with propane. Since my last report, the ute has become useable with shower, toilet, sink, range, water heater and is ready for the washer and dryer. The only thing keeping us from consolidating everything in one place was a scarcity of electricity. I had the 4500 watt backup generator next to the ute, but we did not want that to be our only source of power. I've been storing four Samsung 255 watt solar panels since last summer, but we did not have the rest of the hardware. That changed early this month when we took the plunge and bought stuff. Like a MagnaSine 4000 watt inverter, a MorningStar 60 amp MPPT charge controller and four of the eight group 27 AGM batteries we will use in the bus. The other four are on backorder.
It's taken some thought to figure out how to mount panels on the bus. I think I have it figured out, but I don't have all the mounting hardware on hand. All the system is temporary at this point. At first, I leaned two panels against the back of the bus. After a couple days of this, I remembered an old factory push cart that I've owned for a long time. It took most of a morning to haul it here and grease the wheels, but four 2x4s and a few bolts later, I had this non-automated solar tracking ensemble:
I cannot believe how well this ugly thing works. We get substantial charging even on cloudy days. I'm new to solar, but this combination of 255 watt panels and the MorningStar MPPT controller is impressive. Part of the reason it does well is that I turn it toward the low winter sun several times each day. All four panels will, of course, be on the bus eventually, but this setup beats not using them. Especially since the bus is stationary these days.
Here is a shot of the guts of the system in temporary form:
Ragged but useful.
Here is a shot of the backup generator and another of the house it lives in. This baby will mount in the back of the bus, over the engine. It will eventually be replaced with a diesel generator, but that's a year or more down the road.
The two 8D batteries sitting beside the generator were left over from our last bus. For the past year I've been doing nothing with them but charging them occasionally. They won't quite take a full charge, but they're too good to scrap. I was using one of them to start the generator. After our cable installation, I put the other beside it and wired them parallel. A fuse and a simple pair of 14g wires running into the ute now powers our modem and our wireless router. Before that, I had to drag out to the ute at night and unplug both wall warts to avoid a phantom load that would keep our inverter excited all night. That's a useless way to suck batteries, but I'm learning a lot in a hurry. This generator has no provision for charging its own starting battery, but I have an Iota 12v converter left over from the last bus. It includes an IQ4 smart charger. I keep this plugged into an outlet downstream of the generator's breaker box. Whenever the genny runs, the two batteries get charged. I'll soon add a couple LED lights to this system so we don't have to light the propane lantern in the ute.
The big project on the actual bus right now is the door. Since this was a shuttle and not a transit, it never had a front door. The midships door looked like this:
Took more than half a day to remove it and its opening mechanism. The previous owner had already disconnected the air and part of the wiring.
The opening I have now is 5' wide by 6'8" high. It is has a sort of tee slot on both sides and the top that will hold the angle iron frame for the new door. I ordered some expensive tee nuts from McMaster-Carr, but they are not going to work. I'm in the process of making some specialized tee nuts in my shop, and that will the the topic of my next post.
Til' then, everybody be well and do good work.
The Lost Ranger
"Who was that masked man?"
I realize that this doesn't look like much, but that's because you can't imagine how difficult it was to figure out the approach and get ready to do it. No — wait — most of you folks have done conversion work, so you do know how long some apparently simple things can take. Anyway, here is yours truly feeling smug about finally getting this bit of work into concrete form:
The problem was that this assembly needs to be removable. I have to remove it to finish it, I might need to remove it to get large furnishings into the bus (you never know), and if we're ever teeboned on the right side, being able to remove this assembly will make repair possible without starting from scratch. Keep in mind that I'm attaching a mild steel door frame to an aluminum body. Can't merely weld it in place.
The opening in the bus body had a type of tee nut slot on both sides and the top. Looks like this:
The opening in this slot is 13/16" wide. I put time into researching sources for tee nuts this wide. I finally found some that I thought would work on the McMaster Carr web site. Spent a considerable amount for 11 of the little beasties. The ones I ordered were actually for a 3/4" slot, but I figured they would be wide enough, and the 13/16" nuts were outrageously expensive. Besides, they required a 3/4" bolt. The ones I got use a 5/8" bolt, and I knew even that would be overkill.
When my tee nuts arrived, I was dismayed to find that they were too deep to fit my slots. They require 7/16" clearance, and my slots only provide 3/8". They are too hard to machine with a high speed mill (don't ask), and it would have taken many hours with a grinder to make them fit. Besides, they would still require 5/8" bolts, and I figured out that the size of the bolt heads would interfere with the rest of the structure.
The original door mechanism was held at the bottom of the slots with tempered aluminum nuts that look like the bottom one in this photo:
I figure they might be proprietary for Gillig. I could not find a source, and I had no tempered aluminum to work with. I did, however, have some 3/8" thick mild steel. I ended up making eleven nuts for the project. It involved much grinding, boring, tapping and finishing, but you know the drill. (Pun intended.) Here are a few shots of the process:
This is the way the first one looked on trial fit:
The next problem was challenging. I knew that I wanted to make the outer frame of 2x2x1/8" angle iron. I could have merely bolted these pieces to the sides and top of the opening with my new tee nuts and the 5/16" bolts that fit them. I could even have removed such an assembly. The problem would have been getting it back in place. Once the frame was welded together and the bolts were removed, it would be impossible to get the bolts back into the tee nuts. I suppose the nuts might have been glued in place for future removal of the assembly, but this did not seem like a good idea to me.
The solution I finally devised was to make brackets to secure a 3x1/8" base plate to the top and both sides. The angle could then be welded to these base places, and the brackets would allow the entire assembly to be unbolted without disturbing the tee nuts. The brackets look like this:
The additional layer of steel welded on the end is to compensate for the thickness of the heads of the bolts that hold the tee nuts in place. Here is a bracket bolted in place:
I put four of these on each side, and three on the top. Here is a base plate bolted in place:
Here is a shot of the framing clamped in place before welding:
You can see in the last photo that the bus sides have an angle that is not apparent until you place a long straight edge along the door opening. Time will tell if I am able to match the steel skin panel to this angled frame and the straight door jam. The jams are also made of 2x2x1/8" angle.
And that's how we got to the first photo in today's post. Here's a little number I picked up recently to aid the conversion and other areas of my life:
In case you can't tell, it's a drill press, milling machine and metal lathe combo. The lathe will turn a 14" circle, but I will have to add a separate cross slide to get anywhere close to that much clearance. It's Chinese, but still a pretty sweet tool.
To give you an idea of how busy I've been, this new Rheem demand water heater has been sitting in the bus unopened for more than two weeks. I got it out today so I could show you a pic. It will mount in the area above the engine where the air handler used to me. These are supposed to be terrific:
That's all for now. I believe I have all the steel to complete the door. I have to go out of town for a couple days, but hopefully more door pics are only a few days away. In the meanwhile, everyone be well and keep up the good work.
EDIT: I just realized I forgot to mention the instant hot water thingy. I bought one too but havent found the time to change out the gas fittings etc. to match my old school propane set up. My heater requires flow before it will light off so I am considering a recirculating device to allow the heater to warm the water without wasteing it down the drain--what are your thoughts? J
One thought: Might want to check out that HWH sooner than later just in case. I've been bit by getting in parts and appliances and not touching them for a few weeks (or months) only to find there were problems that it would've saved a lot of yelling if I had looked them over right off and got back at the supplier at the time.
Jack, a recirculation loop would certainly work with your hot water system, and I'll look forward to seeing what you do. I''m not planning one. This Rheem is high capacity and instant. The only water loss should be in the standing line. I will insulate the feed to the shower and both sinks. In the old bus we were used to keeping a pitcher close to the tap to catch "warmup" water for other use. Probably should do that at the shower, too. The shower will have some sort of demand valve downstream of the mixer. We hate to waste water.
- Seasoned Nomadicista
- Posts: 337
- Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 12:19 am
- Location: Winlock, WA
Are you sure about the engine?
The DD Series 40 was for all intents and purposes identical to the IHC T444E or the 6.9L/7.3L/Powerstroke used in Ford trucks.
The DD Series 50 was a DD Series 60 with two cylinders chopped off. The DD Series 50 was good for about 350 HP. It was designed to be the replacement for the 6V-92T.
I hope you have the Allison transmission and not the Voith or ZF. Parts and service for the Allison are available all over. Not so much for the Voith or ZF.
I like the ideas you have for your tanks and and other mechanicals. Building the tanks in a heated space saves a lot of time and effort later tyring to keep them from freezing.
I would just make sure you have adequate ventilation for the batteries.
I assume the area above the engine is the former compartment for the factory HVAC system. Don't mess with the bulkhead between the compartment and the interior. It is a structural part of the bus and messing with it can cause really bad problems down the road.
Always great to have your input. The engine is definitely a Series 40, 8.7 lt. Allison "World Transmission" which I believe to be a B400R. Battery compartment will have plenty of ventilation with intake air from living space and exhaust port through bulkhead in front of rear axle. Inverter will live beside batteries, and the exhaust fan will be controlled by a thermostat. Using AGM batteries, so minimal gas issues.
If anything, the bulkhead in front of the original air handler will be stronger than original. I'm filling the hole for the air return with 3/4" ply and a sheet of SS. Also adding vertical bracing of steel angle or channel. Inside of that panel will be furred out with 5/4" treated decking strips and 1" polyiso board. Not yet sure what I'll use for finish wall. In the Flx, the bulkhead was the only support for the air handler. The Gillig has massive bracing above the engine at floor level in the rear compartment. I'm confident it will support my generator.
Progress on the bus has been slow for the past few weeks. My mother's failing health and my daughter's impending wedding are both taking time. I am getting some things done, however. Hope to have an update soon.
Mark, it was your input that helped me decide to give up on the Flxible Metro, and I appreciate it. Glad you think this project has potential.
Jim in NC
- Seasoned Nomadicista
- Posts: 337
- Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 12:19 am
- Location: Winlock, WA
In reality it is the IHC DT466/530 engine.
Since you have the 8.7L version it is the DT530 which is good for about 300 HP.
Either version is a wet sleeve heavy duty diesel engine design in a medium duty sized package.
The Allison World Transmissions are all equipped with overdrive gears. Depending on the model at least one and sometimes two OD gears. The B400R is a one OD gear transmission with a retarder built in.
You should have no problem going up any hill at a reasonable speed with reasonable economy.
Going down the other side you should be able to use the retarder to get you down with minimal use of the service brakes. Just make sure your trans temp gauge works properly. You can cook a transmission pretty quick if you spend too much time in retarder.
I am glad some of my experience has helped you in your decision making process.
My only serious trip with the Gillig was driving it 200 miles home. Power and highway speed were not issues. Neither was stopping. With the retarder engaged, this bus stops better than anything I've driven. With 8 air bags, it rides and drives like a dream. It's so easy to drive that I occasionally forgot about the bus. That's not a good idea, however, because with 40' of length and 102" of width, it doesn't take long to drift out of your lane, even on the interstate.
Writing about it makes me want to drive it. Not had it out of the driveway since I began building the door more than six weeks ago. Maybe later this week I can at least take it across town for supplies. We were planning to take it to the Pals of Palmetto rally in South Carolina next weekend, but instead we'll be tending my mother as she begins recovering from surgery. The bus is not ready to use anyway, but once the door and the floor extension are "useable", I believe the bedroom/bath/toilet area will improve in a hurry.
Truth is that I have little to report on the bus. Just too many other demands on my time and energy. My wife and I have become default caregivers for my mother, and her health has been poor for the past few months. Our youngest daughter is getting married in May, and that takes some time. Biggest distraction lately, though, is that we have decided to do some serious market gardening this season, and getting all that ready is a major operation. I've been fixing tractors and truck, gathering tools and supplies, and fighting with hard ground. Bottom line is that we've scaled back our plan for moving in from summer to fall. We still live in the step van and use kitchen/bath facilities in the utility building sitting between it and the bus. Our solar electric system has been delightful. The only thing we lack is nearby refrigeration, but that will get here in time.
I have done some things to the bus: The door is in place, but it is rough, still bare, and missing the fill panels on each side. I've also begun the floor extension platform on the inside. That involved cutting out the original SS step and forming a panel to weld in its place. I'll try to get those photos loaded later today.
Some irony involved. Late March/early April usually brings us a good bit of nice weather. This year did not. I'm having to cut/fabricate/weld outside, and a lot of the days I could have worked on the bus, it was too cold/wet/windy. Oh well.... Nature has her own agenda. Still cool here, but nothing like the frigid stuff we had a few weeks ago.
We're well and getting much done, but too little of it is on the bus. I will try to get a few pics up later today.
Believe I was working on the door and the interior floor extension when I last posted. The original floor had a step that looked like this:
Like all the floor pan of the bus, this step is made of heavy stainless steel, and I had hoped to leave it in place. It will be covered by the floor extension. Once I got started on the extension, it became obvious that the step would intrude excessively into what space I have available for holding tanks. I cut it out with a side grinder and formed a blanking plate from some heavy ss I have in inventory. I had to take the piece to an HVAC shop to have the two bends made. I could not get the two right angles with makeshift bending equipment. I discovered in the process that we no longer have a dedicated sheet metal shop in my town. We used to have several. The hole looked like this:
And the plate in place like this:
More on the floor extension in a bit.
The door is still far from finished, but I have managed to improve the frame bracing and install my new bear claw latch. After I got the basic door fabricated and temporarily installed, I realized that it came out too narrow for the opening. Best solution seemed to be to move the left side jamb closer to the door. In spite of my best efforts and clamping, the jamb bowed away from the door by a good bit during the welding. This method fixed some of the bow:
But it was not enough. As I stared at the problem from a few yards away, the obvious finally sunk in: it needed cross bracing. Most of you saw that right off, didn't you? A couple pieces of 1-1/4" by 16 ga square tubing (same as the door frame) solved the problem and considerably strengthened the frame assembly:
I did the same for the other jamb. Installing the bear claw was fun. I started by guessing at a reasonable height so that our little crop of grandchildren might be able to reach the handle from outside in a few years, then I cut a pocket into the door tube and welded a mounting plate to the outside of the pocket. The plate is actually several pieces welded together to get the thickness and position right:
Just realized that I have no photos of the installed latch or the beginnings of the sheet metal that goes around the door, but I'll try to shoot some tomorrow.
I figured out how I wanted to insulate and finish the outside of the bulkhead between the bedroom and the area over the engine where the air handler used to sit. It looked like this:
I filled the three major holes with 3/4" plywood like the original wall:
Then I furred it out with strips I made by ripping 5/4x6 treated decking in the middle. I discovered this approach while building our last bus. The strips are strong, have plenty of width, won't rot, and they allow a full inch for polyiso board insulation:
The gray thing is my new tankless water heater. We've been using it to heat water in our utility building beside the bus, and it made sense to install it where it will be staying. Then I covered the assembly with some light gauge stainless steel sheet from my collection. I secured it with hex head roofing screws that went through the furring into the original bulkhead. You might be able to see in the photos that I kept the new wall away from close contact with the muffler:
The 20 pound propane bottle you see in the last photo is in the approximate location where two 40 pound bottles will sit in the final arrangement. The space between the bottles and the water heater will be occupied by our generator. All the current wiring and plumbing is temporary.
I've made some progress on the frame for the floor extension. It looks like this now, and the batteries and inverter are moved back under it after months of being in the way of getting to the bedroom area:
I also have temporary flooring on some of the new framing so I can travel back and forth. I have a plywood panel blanking the window to the left of this area. Most of the solar components and the new breaker box are mounted to it, but I've not photoed it yet. Maybe tomorrow.
The best thing I've done is to get two of the four 255w solar panels mounted to the roof. It proved to be a larger job that I had anticipated:
I was amazed at how much of this I had to make up as I went along, but I'm confident it's strong enough. I have a different design in mind for the brackets that hold the crossbars to the sides of the bus, but I won't know how that works until I get time to mount the other two panels. Hopefully soon.
Our lives have been incredibly busy this summer. I'm gearing up to teach two classes on banjo building at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, NC, and we're trying to get musical instrument inventory together for the North Carolina State Fair in October. As an old friend used to say: "I've got more to do than I can say grace over." It's all fun, though. Maybe I can manage enough internet time to keep this thread more current. Sorry for the lousy reporting.
Hope all are well and doing good work.
Jim in NC
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