Sunday, November 29, 2015

Not my weekend!

I guess it's just not my weekend for welding! I woke with another fever and struggled to walk 3 loads of lightweight things 100 yards from one trailer to another. That exhausted me!

After a suitable rest to recover, and having completed my electrics yesterday, I fancied a spot of welding. Thus I cleared a spot outside of leaves and laid two pieces of steel tubing ready to do some practice welding.

Then I unpacked the welding box. I'd expected perhaps some gloves and a mask of some sort. Nothing of the kind! There was a paltry instruction manual that didn't explain what one of the strangely shaped pieces of plastic included was for. Nor did it explain the lower of the high-low settings on the welder.

Included was an eye protector for somebody with a single eye - perhaps some kind of cyclops? It certainly wasn't in any way adequate for anything I could envisage!

So, it looks like another trip to the store for proper protective equipment. I'm estimating probably another $100 there. By the time I can use the welder I'm estimating I'll have spent $250. It's almost looking cheaper to have paid somebody else to do the damn welding! Of course there would have been little to no satisfaction in that.

Still, I'm in this now so I have to finish. I'm going to have to teach myself welding. That might be a very useful skill to have!

Meanwhile, my eBay multimeter is giving strange readings. Yesterday it was giving me strange resistance readings on unconnected wires. Today it couldn't make its mind up whether my 12v solar panel was giving me 0.00v or 16.5v. It's really all rather frustrating.

Speaking of eBay, I had a communication from the seller of the heatsinks ordered from China: Thanks for your waiting, Please don't worry, everything will be fine.

This is confirm that we shipped out your item immediately on Nov 8th. As it is economy shipping way, free shipping, so there is no tracking number. The number: 33343918782 that you received is just a package bar code for us record, it cannot be tracked to be frank, but our shipping agent can locate the package position by using their interior tracking system, we can offer tracking number for each item price over $32 only , hopefully get your understanding,

According to our shipping experience, it normally takes 25 to 30 working days to arrive (weekends are not included, about 35 days).Sincerely hope you could wait for it another 2 weeks. Your understanding and patience will be highly appreciated. It should arrive soon.

if you have any issues, please let me know, i will be always here at your service.

Thanks for your waiting and have a nice day.
Clearly the seller's name is not Anne as their English is too poor. They're also talking nonsense because just about every other seller provides a functioning tracking number. It's also inconceivable that the heatsinks take longer to arrive than the 10 days everything else takes. I smell fish!

All I want to do is to work on my bus! Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Danger, danger danger!

This is why air conditioner engineers make extremely bad electricians! Look at the bare wire to the right. It looks like an earth wire but its connected to the right side neutral bus. Interestingly the live and neutral wires going to the air conditioner unit are both live. It looks like the cheapass that installed the air conditioning unit used 3 wire cable instead of 4 wire, running the two live lines through the live and neutral wires and the neutral through the non insulated earth wire. The result is shocking wiring. I am informed that the incompetents that installed this may well have been a South Carolina firm called Kabiner or something similar. I am apparently the first person in 5 years to open that breaker box! Let's just say I'm very glad I inspected, used a voltmeter and rubber gloves. Thus kind of horrendously dangerous electrical workmanship is far too common in South Carolina!

I still have to cover my conduit with soil but my 30A socket works. It's all correctly wired and working. Sadly, I couldn't bury my cables due to the fact nobody else has which would make putting a shovel in the ground somewhat hazardous. Dish Network for example, laid cable that looks like stitching with alternating above ground and slightly buried cable. The old phone conduit is largely underground but above ground in other places. There are various loops of cable of various types poking out of the ground, hence my decision to lay my conduit on the surface and cover it over. It is most definitely not the recommended solution but the only alternative would have been an aerial cable which would have had to be armored against squirrels.

The end result was a working socket. I tested it with a TT30 to 10-15 adaptor and a fan. Tomorrow, the big test when I plug my welder in. For now though, the electric cable that has been running under m'ladys front door for the past few months is now gone.

I'd been stressing over doing the wiring because I had to look everything up. Normally, I go by what was done before but what had been done before was so horrendously dangerous, it couldn't be used as a guide. As I said, normally I'd bury the conduit but what with it being a low to no traffic area being in a nook by the end of m'ladys trailer, I'm not afraid of foot traffic over the cables.

Friday, November 27, 2015

I braved the Black Friday hoard!

Well, not really. I didn't leave the house until 4pm. By the time I arrived at Lowe's (hiss, spit), the car parks were pretty clear and the roads about as busy or quiet as normal. It was pretty mundane in actual fact.

In Lowe's I found the Nema TT 30R that I was looking for. I looked for an adaptor to turn it into a standard household socket but they didn't have one. I would have left it at that but I spied a stand with 60W equivalent LED bulbs for 99 cents each. As bulbs are dying in m'lady's bathroom, I added four and then a flashing LED necklace to spice things up a bit at work over Christmas. I got out for $16.

Next stop was Walmart where I got the Nema 30TTR to Nema 5-15 adaptor and a can on black spray paint they had for 96 cents. I got out of Walmart for about $8.

Returning home, the mail still has not brought my cooling vanes for my Peltier cooler. This looks a bit suspicious! I ordered it on November 8th and the seller provided a tracking number that doesn't state the vanes actually arrived at the carrier. I'm suspecting they're hoping I won't notice they haven't supplied the product.

Tomorrow I hope to complete the wiring for my RV power socket. The adaptor I bought says "don't use for more than 15A" yet looks to be solid brass connectors. I'm putting 20A through it and will just watch to see what happens. I suspect they labelled it conservatively. Worst case scenario, it melts and catches fire. Not a big deal, where its located.

Maybe Sunday I can do some welding!

As far as the heatsink is concerned, I suspect I'll have to buy another elsewhere and try to get a refund off eBay!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The best laid plans of small marsupials and of homo horizontalis!

I must have been laying down on the job. The idiot at Lowe's sold me a Nema 10-50R when I needed a Nema 30-TTR socket. After battling all day to lay cables, I can't put the socket in place. Without the socket in place, I can't wire the breaker box. Without the wiring completed I can't do any welding.

Tomorrow I might have to venture out in the Black Friday melee to get a socket. Perhaps visiting the mobile home parts store nearby might be in order. Otherwise, its available "cheaply" online at $15 or in my nearby * hiss, spit* Lowe's for $8.

In more positive news I did discover the spare brushes for my angle grinder. I'll have to see if that solves the problem.

Laying the cables needed two people and the conduit isn't even buried yet! The big problem was sliding the 30A cable through 10 foot lengths of conduit. It ends up needing a thin wire passed through, pulling the thicker wire. Even with that, it needed copious quantities of WD-40 to make it possible.

By the end of this weekend, I want to be welding. Heaven knows whether I will be though. Everything this last two months has been characterized by unforeseen delays. Maybe by the 3rd coming of Christ, I might be ready!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Today started with my laying conduit on the ground from the outside breaker box to where I was going to have my plugin. Then I was going to erect a stake for the socket. The plan was to have the electrics completely done today but as with plans, little was actually accomplished.

The blower swiftly removed fallen leaves and the conduit was layed over the ground. The next stage will be to insert the cable and bury the conduit. I can certainly do better than the Dish Network people that didn't bother burying their cables. An ants nest was revealed and the scurrying ants blown away too.

When it came to cutting a point on the metal stake intended for use with the outside socket, I hit my first big problem of the day. My angle grinder stopped working. After some tinkering, I gave up on it as a lost cause and zoomed off to buy a new one. They're cheap enough at Harbor Freight for $15.

After returning home with my new angle grinder, I proudly plugged it in and it didn't work. Nothing I did could make it work. Putting it away and cursing Harbor Freight, I pulled out a hacksaw and completed the task. Then I drove the stake into the ground.

By then, the light was beginning to fail but I took another look at the angle grinder and found how to dismantle it properly. It seems one of the carbon brushes on the motor had broken. Looking around as I recall there had been spares, I found some that didn't fit.

Clearly either I found spare brushes for another device or Harbor Freight put the wrong brushes in the box. This is rather disappointing and frustrating!

As tomorrow is a party day, nothing will be done. Friday being shop til you drop day, should be good. Everybody will be out on the roads hunting non existent bargains. A good time not to go to Harbor Freight!

Even without an angle grinder, I can complete my wiring in order to run my welder. I fully intend to be welding by Sunday night!

In other news, the Peltier cooler arrived. The glue that fixes it to cooling vanes arrived a few days ago as did the solar panel to power it. I'm still waiting for the cooling vanes.

I've ordered a long permanent magnet to use with a home made coil for my door opening device. Failing that I did see a likely looking solenoid but I'd rather try building something myself first rather than going to a last resort of buying somebody else's junk.

This bus project is taking longer than anticipated. Were I starting again, I would definitely take a different route. Meanwhile I'll have another hunt for the right carbon brushes. Harbor Freight surely can't have been dumb enough to supply the wrong brushes?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mechanics Magazine 1853

In my quest to build a latch opener for my bus I had a brainwave and consulted Mechanics Magazine from 1853. Yes - a publication I downloaded as a free eBook. On page 52 was an article about an oscillating telegraph arm that used two magnetic coils and two permanent bar magnets.

The original telegraph machinery was largely constructed from brass. In my case, it'll be aluminum as I have quite a surplus of aluminum. Indeed, perhaps the permanent magnets I bought the other day sliding inside a plastic tube around which is a coil I could wind would be the solution.

I don't anticipate the plastic tube having an eternal life but tube and wire are cheap. I'd also estimate the tube lasting at least a few months until it could be replaced with copper or brass. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Today was another day of zero progress. Aside from stepping outside to check m'ladies chickens for eggs, that was the extent of my exertions. My virus had taken over. It's like a very light version of flu (I'm glad I had the flu vaccine). I'm getting tired of being ill at weekends and not being able to work toward completing my bus project.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How depressing!

Two identical electromagnets refused to repel each other. Today I wound an electromagnet all of my own. I put about 5 layers of coils on a bolt then put power through it. The result was that it picked up bolts easily.

Next I put a bar magnet on the end. Power was applied and nothing happened. As there was a spark when I connected the wires to the batteries, it was not lack of power. Clearly I had to reverse the polarity. Thus, the polarity was reversed and a spark proved there was a circuit. The bar magnet didn't budge!

That was rather odd. I have no idea why nothing is working. The identical magnets should have repelled each other. I tried a permanent magnet on the bought electromagnet with the same lack of effect. Next I tried a bought electromagnet on my homemade electromagnet and the same thing happened or rather didn't happen.

Now I'm rather depressed. I just don't know why what would appear to be fairly standard physics aren't working. Either there's a factor I'm missing or physics laws don't apply any more; possibly this is an indicator of the end tymes.

The only other thing to try is a bar magnet and a simple coil - if that doesn't work then I'll be totally stumped!

Haltering progress

As with everything bus, this weekend looks like being little to no progress. Half the things I need have not yet arrived.

Yesterday's shopping trip could have been better and I returned to Home Depot to see whether I could find anything better. I didn't and none of the sales staff seemed to want to do anything other than chat amongst themselves. No point in making a stink about that - they're minimum wage dross who probably can't find a real job. There are a lot of people stuck in worthless retail positions because the mythical masses of jobs just don't exist. The US is still in a very deep depression while the leaders are pretending its not so.

The plan was to bury my cable in conduit. Looking at the ground, although it's sandy, there are an awful lot of tree roots. I had an idea that I should just use a 100 foot 30A extension cable instead. It turned out that would have cost $150. A 20A extension cable 100 feet long was equally costly. While a 15A cable was better priced, it would not have sufficed.

The original plan was thus resurrected. It was suggested to me that rather than digging a trench, I could just lay the cable in a conduit and simply cover the conduit with dirt and rocks. As the conduit would be in an area nobody would work or walk, that would probably work.

Meanwhile, I looked around for the scrap angle iron I'd seen the other day and couldn't find it. That's 100% due to annual inflation in the leaf economy (Autumn). I did find another suitable piece of steel though. I even found steel plate that looked suitable for a battery compartment floor!

Looking around further there was even a rust free carriage bolt that looked usable as the electro magnet I need in order to spring the front door latch. With sufficient coils, the door should open easily. I can't wait to be able to get in and out of the front door.

Today was hindered by a virus. I'm going to take it relatively easily this weekend. Laying cables in overland conduit sounds like a nice light task, the same as making an electromagnet.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Yes. I might have to lie down in a darkened room for a few weeks. I went shopping and it was expensive! My 10-2 electric cable was double what the price of 12-2 cable would have been. Still, I now have a cable suitable for outdoor use and capable of carrying 30 Amps.

While I was out I picked up some plastic tubing and connectors. Not so much as to keep the cable dry underground but more to protect it from an errant shovel.

Next on the list was bolts to make an electromagnet but while I was in the store, I picked up some "super strong" magnets instead that I thought I'd try with the existing Chinese electromagnets. And of course a sledgehammer.

Needless to say, when I tested the super strong magnets against each other, they repelled nicely. Putting them on the electro magnets did nothing. Whether the current was forward or reverse, the electro magnet did not repel the super strong magnet. It's all really rather odd and seemingly defies the laws of physics.

Needless to say, when the total topped $100 I needed to go for a lie down! The electric cable was the most expensive part. Thinking about it though, with the way my motorhome is set up, I could get away with just 20 or even 15 amps. I could have put a 20A outlet in the yard and saved the $30 on cable but had to spend $20 on a lower rated breaker for the bus. Given the saving would have only been overall $10 I went with the bigger cable.

I had a look at solar panels and lithium batteries online. Then I sat and did some calculations. My maths for my microwave is wrong. I'd been reckoning on needing to use it 3 times a day and to cook a plate full of food from frozen which takes 15 minutes. As there will be only a cooler in the bus and not a freezer, nothing will be frozen. Thus, it will likely take only 5 minutes per plate.

5 minutes per plate is around 8 amp hours. Given the microwave will pull less than 100A then a smaller lithium battery should do. They can put out 100A continuously without breaking a sweat. Still, even a 30A lion battery is ludicrously expensive at around $200-$300. The low weight is very tempting as is the long life.

Thinking about power, I really don't need much. The cooler can be kept cool overnight using freezer blocks and powered straight from solar panels as can ventilation. It's only cooking that needs battery power. That and charging cellphone batteries. I could probably be very happy with 40AH.

Looking at solar panels, it seems an expensive way of doing things. It seems to be $2 per watt for solar. Given that a 40Ah battery would contain 480 watt hours and that would be about what is used in a day, I'd need to generate about 500wh. That means two or possibly 3 solar panels to be able to use the microwave three times daily. That's an expenditure of $600 on solar panels plus $300+ on batteries. Add in other stuff such as charge controllers and inverters and the cost would top $1,000!

Going back to minimal power usage, if the cooler was powered solely from solar panels then a smaller lead acid deep cycle battery would do all my cellphone etc charging. Thus, I could potentially get away with just a 20ah battery. Cooking would have to be done with gas and there'd have to be a battery powered extraction fan to eliminate the steam.

Again, solar power looks like being way too costly. I'm wondering again about wind power. Now that I have a welder, it shouldn't be hard to put together a wind turbine, even if it only runs a bicycle dynamo. That should still provide ample power to charge such small batteries.

Thinking more about the microwave, since a $3,500 lithium battery would hold 300ah, that would probably keep my minimal 30-40ah daily going for at least a week. Plugging in once a week would eliminate the need for solar panels.

Now, given 5 hours of half sun per day, the power needed to fill a 300ah battery would be 3,600Wh which would be 1,500 Watts of solar panel or 15 panels at a cost of $3,000. Basically, the perfect electrical system would be around $7,000. Now you can appreciate why I put a plugin for the microwave! Look at the prices of lithium batteries.

So, to recap, I'm probably not going to use much in the way of battery power since batteries and generation are expensive. I'll probably get more solar panels but rig them to hang inside the cockpit where they'll be protected and will afford added privacy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The boobytrapped meter?

Today my new multimeter arrived today. It looks good and seems to work. The message on the back is a little puzzling though.

"Wear ANSI approved safety goggles when changing battery". How puzzling! Does this mean that my meter has been boobytrapped by the Chinese sounding seller in Texas? Is it all part of some inscrutable Chinese plot to take over the world? Is the infamous Dr No involved?

Perhaps I should refer this to the NSA as being a suspect package? Maybe it's a former lover getting her revenge in a sneaky manner? Maybe it's the husband of a former partner, finding that he has quite something to live up to.

Now that I've seen such a dire warning, I just had to open the back to see just what diabolical mechanism was lying inside. Retreating to an open space at the back of the four acre lot, I pulled out a screwdriver. The good ladies of the trailer were warned to check for nuclear fallout should the resultant explosion decimate a substantial area of the potato patch.

I must admit to being bloody disappointed! After opening the back there was no explosion, no shrapnel, no flying springs nor sailing banshees. There weren't even flying pixies rushing out of the case. It was boringly mundane!

Perhaps the oddest thing was the name of the battery!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Power solutions

Today I saw the perfect solution to my power problem. Lithium ion batteries look perfect. Looking at microwave usage at 1000W power consumption plus 10% loss from the inverter I'm looking at needing 1100W. Dividing 1100W by 12 volts gives 91.7 amps.

There is a very nice battery available that weighs just 28lbs. The size is right. It'll give me 100A output which is excellent for a microwave. How much heat is lost and how long it'll run at 100W without temperature shutdown is unknown.

Being a dream battery, its also a fantasy price. $1300 does look ridiculous. On the other hand, if it fulfilled all of its promise then it might be worthwhile. To get 100AH one would need two lead acid 100AH batteries. To get 100A from lead acid batteries I'm not sure how many would be needed. My best guess is about 5. That would be around $500 plus the weight penalty. Each battery would be 55lbs for a total of 275lbs.

Clearly going down the lead acid battery route is a bit like using an abacus instead of a calculator. Knowing this better technology is available confirms my existing plans to use minimal 12v battery power.

I'm pretty sure that I'll use solar panels to power a dehumidifier directly and to power a ventilation fan directly. At night that isn't so important as its cooler and generally lower humidity.

I definitely need to charge some battery that can recharge my phone though. Perhaps a simple 6v lead acid battery. I'll have to give that some thought.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Walmart had a sale

In that sale there was a roll of foam bedroll for $8. Very useful stuff! I bought a roll and will use it to make a honeycomb to put in my drawers in order to protect my crockery. I prefer real crockery as its easier to get clean than plastic crockery - particularly when its handwashed!

Meanwhile, a tragedy struck a couple of days ago. My old Sonicare toothbrush died. The batteries in them degrade over time until they finally just won't hold a charge. As they're sealed unit batteries, nothing can be done. It's quite frustrating and I really didn't feel like spending $100 on a brand new unit. I liked the small head and the way it really worked.

The problem with the old unit was that the charger ran solely from mains voltage. That would have meant a big battery and an inverter in the bus. I'm not a fan of inverters as they waste power.

Bravo! It seems there's a Sonicare battery operated tooithbrush for $10. I got one. I'd been wondering how I was going to work around my toothbrush needing mains power. It takes two AA rechargeable batteries. Now those can be charged from solar power!

By now you'll have noticed two things. The first is that the sink unit isn't very clean. The second is the water dispenser. Underneath the sink is a bucket - just like the one destined for the bus. Yes, I do live in a low rent place!

Since batteries are expensive, the plan is to make a compartment that will carry two batteries. I might put a single battery just so that I can charge my phone etc overnight. As much as possible will be manual. This will be a low power consumption motorhome.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Progress this week was minimal

I'm waiting for things to arrive which is frustrating. I'm also waiting for my next paycheck before I buy anything extra. I cannot go over what I earn without reducing myself to such a low level that life would be intolerable.

Today got off to a slow start but I replaced the countertop on the bathroom vanity. It just seems more sense to have a countertop and a plastic bowl when I need to use water. The bowl can be tossed into the shower when its not in use.

Aside from trimming that top to shape (its not rectangular), I looked around and found a cigarette lighter plug. That can go into the cigarette lighter socket in the console with the other end connected to my solar panel. In theory that should put some charge into my bus batteries. With luck, more than is lost.

I looked at the welder instruction sheets and found a very useful information sheet on how to weld. It doesn't mention hitting the cooled welds with a hammer to check for failure but it looks very useful.

On the other side is a setup instruction sheet. That looks equally useful. I gather the handheld face mask probably isn't that convenient but unless I really need to use both hands, I'll use it. From a safety point of view, one hand employed holding the mask seems better.

I believe I mentioned yesterday reading the instructions for the welding rods. As can be seen below, they are very informative and useful. I wouldn't mind betting that people writing negative reviews of the Harbor Freight 70A welder haven't bought the right rods or used the right power supply.

Meanwhile, I'm definitely finding the cooler weather makes for a chilly experience, working outside. I must be getting soft in my old age!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

An interesting day!

The primary goal of heading out today was to get my car serviced, which happened this week. Now I don't have to worry about it all. Sure, they were on about rotating tyres and the age of my battery and radiator flushes. My tyres rotate quite well as I drive down the road and anything else gets done when needed. In other words, the battery gets replaced when it stops starting right away.

Speaking of batteries, two of my purchases arrived today. The first was a 5A solar panel and the second was my enamelled copper wire. I'd have got on with making electro magnets had I not completely forgotten to purchase appropriate bolts.

With this wire, I should be able to make far better electro magnets than the Chinese supplied and make sure they work with my setup! I could have saved a lot of time by doing this from the start.

The solar panel is 12v, 5A and is intended for use as a battery keeper. A quick test using a 12v panel lamp proved the panel works well even out of direct light. Note that the panel is sitting on a shaded step on the bus with the lamp connected. The plan is to put a cigarette lighter socket plug on it, put the panel on the dashboard where sun will shine on it and to plug it into the electrical system. That should slowly trickle charge the battery and ensure it doesn't go flat.

Another thing I got was a 70A welder. Looking at the reviews, it seems most of the complaints come from people that can't read. Looking on the sides of the welding rod boxes, amp ranges are specified. A rod for 25-45A will work well as long as the power is turned down. A rod for 45-90A will work well. A rod for 90-135A will not work. I was pretty careful to read what it said on the boxes!

Now the next issue is the welder needs a 20A power supply. That doesn't exist right now. It will have to be installed on a separate pole outside. Fortunately I have a suitable box. The first task though was to hack my way through a jungle to get to the box.

Having reached the pole, I investigated the box. It's going to be "interesting" wiring it up with a potential 200A running through it all. Fortunately there are spaces where breakers have been removed and there's a hole in the bottom of the box. There's plenty conduit taken from the hillbilly installation that can be used.

As the conduit is a bit of a funky shape, there will need to be a separate pole for the new outlet. Clearly I'd have to buy more electric cable. It's all doable though it might be next weekend before I get started. Right now I have several projects all needing extra parts or preparation work. It's a little frustrating!

To add to the frustration, my multimeter has indeed died. It seems the needle is sticking. I have no idea why as it has been stored dry, never abused and not used a great deal! It worked a few months ago. Clearly I need to replace it as its now unreliable even if I did get it to work again.

It's probably had a reasonable innings since I bought it about a decade ago. I remember buying an inexpensive meter. EBay came up trumps. $4.99 got me a replacement with a digital display, shipped from Texas. I'm not in a great hurry for it so I can afford to wait a week. There's plenty else I can do without a meter.

My latest plan is to continue on with eliminating the handbasin in the bathroom, turning the vanity top into a straight countertop. That makes far more sense to me. I can use the counter for a gas cooker or for a plastic bowl to do my washing etc.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Power Budget

The reason I'm putting in a 120V plugin is because solar and battery power are so horribly expensive. The reason I'm going with a bucket and Jerry can approach to water is based on cost also.

In my eagerness to proceed, I've forgotten my underlying principle of low cost. I've also allowed myself to be trapped by the hillbillies into following their ideas and plans. The electrical box the hillbillies put in was ludicrously large for just a cable compartment! It looks kinda sensible to use it for batteries.

The microwave would use 1200w at 120v. That's 10 amps! Without even considering the losses from using an inverter, running the microwave for 15 minutes would burn up a lot of power. Converting 1200w at 120v to 12v would be 100 amps. Given that a full battery holds just 105 amps, discharging it in 15 minutes would probably melt it!

While it would be possible to provide 100A at 12v, it could take quite a few batteries. Certainly more than the planned two! Thus, where the battery compartment is planned probably isn't the best location.

The big door put in by the hillbillies is a huge red herring, in my opinion. Far better to rivet the hillbilly battery door closed, make a smaller compartment and door for the 120v supply.

As far as electricity generation, solar panels seem quite pricey. As the roof is curved, flexible panels make the most sense. At $200 for a 100w panel, solar isn't cheap!

In terms of other power usage, I'd be charging my phone, batteries for my lanterns etc. No heavy usage save for possibly a fridge. If it was a Peltier fridge then the usage would be 5AH or 60W.

Although I don't like gas, it looks like being the sole solution for cooking unless the bus is plugged into a power supply. Refrigeration, small battery charging, ventilation etc could all be run straight off solar with a cool block in the fridge to maintain coolness at night. Perhaps a small 6v battery to maintain cellphone charging capability at night.

Looking up NiMH cells, it looks that once one goes beyond AA and AAA cells, prices rocket. That is rather frustrating!

Looking in another direction, generators have a place. A well installed 1800W generator could charge a single battery while providing power for a microwave. The trick there is to set the generator for remote start and remote stop.

Whichever electrical solution there is, looks like being several hundred dollars. The cheapest is gas and no electricity. There is, of course, no reason at all why gas couldn't be the initial solution then electricity later.

Meanwhile, I'm reconsidering welding. It might be fun to have a go at some welding.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

More thoughts

The cheapest way forward would be to use a small camping gas stove and a small gas cylinder. Thinking about where to put the stove, the easiest place would probably be the bathroom countertop. Its also the safest as there will be no flammible curtains in the bathroom. Instead, squares of shower curtain will hang over the windows, attached by Velcro.

Do I really need to have a 12v electricity supply? Can I get by with just solar panels leading to USB charger sockets? That would keep my phone and tablet charged during the day. Maybe even my D and AA cells too.

I think my big question is whether I really need 24x7 electricity. There's no way batteries can produce sufficient power to run any form of cooker. No cooker I've ever encountered uses less than 1,200 watts. The lowest power consumption fridge uses 138 watts which seems quite high compared to a 60W Peltier cooler. Indeed, using all 12v equipment means I can eliminate the need for an inverter and its associated power loss and cost. It just makes life simpler.

60w at 12v is 5A. 24 hours at 5A is 120AH. Given that solar panels should produce power for at least 6 hours, the amount used should not exceed 18 hours or 90ah. That means the battery should be at least 180AH.

Looking at batteries, lead acid batteries are available but they're about $300. Lithium batteries are around $1200. That's pretty disappointing! To be brutally honest, the thought of hanging 200lbs under my bus makes me nervous, particularly when its in front of the rear wheels. That's where lithium batteries sound good as they're lighter.

Having looked around, the best seems to be to get a pair of 105ah 12v deep cycle batteries at $85 each. They're 55lbs each.

This is, of course, the time I'd really like advice but there's just nobody to ask. At one point I was on Facebook and there was a group that claimed to be building their own bus conversions but when it got to anything remotely technical, they didn't seem to have any ideas. Similarly on forums, nobody had a clue when it got remotely technical. I rather suspect few were really doing their own bus conversions. The really interesting thing was that the one person who was at the point where he was going to register his bus as a motorhome never reported back as to his success or failure.

Onward and upward. I'm hoping to have the conversion completed by January. Only a year behind schedule!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Underbody storage!

A few days ago, when I was in Tractor Supply, I casually picked up a couple of their flyers. Today while sitting in the car waiting for time to go into work, I read that flyer.

Imagine my surprise when I found people were selling ready made underbody compartments. Most seem to be 18 inches tall which would hang 4 inches below the skirt. I've seen busses with storage compartments dangling down. Still, it gave me ideas.

I'm going to put the replacement compartment in for the existing hillbilly cable compartment. I've built it to take two batteries. That should provide all the 12v power I should ever need.

I'm tempted to put extra storage under the bus but I'm going to stick with just the rebuilt compartment for now. The goal is to be operational not perfected.

Noting the wetness in the front of the bus, I looked into getting a dehumidifier. It seems dehumidifiers start at $60 and go up. The $60 model is a Peltier system. Reading further, the Peltier system works by transferring heat from one side of the Peltier element to the other. The colder side attracts condensation that drips into a collection tray while warm air wafts out of the other side. Many Peltier dehumidifiers use fan cooling but given clever design, the fan can be eliminated and convection used to circulate air on the hot side. The other side should not need circulatory assistance.

The Peltier elements run best off 9 - 15 volts. In order to save bother, I've ordered 5a solar panel. Plugged straight in, that should run the dehumidifier at zero running cost. In terms of total cost...

The future dehumidifier will cost just $27.12. The solar panel can be retasked to keep batteries fresh too. I could even retask the Peltier into a diy fridge!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Things that don't work.

Sitting in the bus today, I reflected on things that haven't worked out. Not because of the waste of time and money but because things that haven't worked out have been minimal.
1. My cheap 10-24 bolts that broke under very light pressure.
2. My plan for barrels as water tanks. They're just not available!
3. My multimeter. I bought a multimeter in around 2006 and tried it today. It's totally dead. I tried changing the battery and the internal fuse but it is dead, refusing to move the needle even after twiddling all the adjustments. Yet another gizmo designed not to last very long and another reason not to buy expensive gizmos.

4. Rustoleum paint. This doesn't stick to anything.
5. Silicone sealant. This works well but doesn't stick to PVC. By the time I realised that, I'd already laid my PVC floors. Had I known this before, I'd have used latex sealant instead as that does stick to PVC. That would have meant I would not have needed a shower base. As for the roof, the silicone sealant works but doesn't lie flat. That could be a problem if a tree branch rubbed the raised seal off.
6. Latex paint. This looks good and adheres well. It's just not that rugged.
7. Interior. Were I doing this again, I'd probably do it very differently. I did it the way I have because I was aiming at an all electric installation. I think I'd put less woodwork inside and I'd put a pot bellied stove to compensate in colder weather. I've designed my installation as more of a home for extended periods. I'd probably have been better keeping it more like a weekend camper.
8. It looks like some of my NiCad batteries haven't survived. I tried charging them today.

9. My microwave. Sure it didn't cost much but it should have lasted longer than a mere 2 years. I used it daily from November of 2011 to April of 2015. By mid 2013 the paint was bubbling and peeling. I wouldn't use that microwave now. It's just in too poor condition.

10. Electromagnets - I'd just make my own rather than fiddling about waiting for them to come from China.

As far as I've gone, I'm happy. I need to thin out my stuff - I have too many clothes so I need to get shot of stuff that no longer fits. I might need to thin down on books to - perhaps go for ebooks instead? I've also got a pile of broken mobile phones, old chargers and general electronic wiring garbage - the kind you build up on all the time. I probably need to cut down in crockery too. I have a set of cheap mainstays China that cost me a princely $10.

Since my microwave has clearly died, I'm wondering whether I should go for something like a small gas burner and put an extraction fan in. That would increase water usage as I'd have to do more washing of saucepans but would decrease the need for electricity. That would put me squarely into boondocking territory. Having viewed the prices though, a replacement microwave seems better as well as safer.

Going forward the plan is - given a dry weekend - to redo all the bolts in my underbody compartment. This weekend was a loss because of the rain. There are a lot of dry weekend tasks to be completed, if ever there is another dry weekend. There seems to be somewhat of a plot against me these days as every weekend is wet. I blame the French! Only the French can be underhanded enough to inflict me with wet weekends.

Sealing or rather resealing the roof seams and repainting will all have to be done in due course. I'd love to have done more over the summer but what with heat exhaustion, it was rather hard. It'd be nice to be able to work under cover but building even the cheapest cover over my bus would be prohibitively expensive.

This weekend, nothing much was achieved bar a redesign of the plumbing necessitated by availability of supplies. With luck, next weekend will be better.

I'll have to do something about onboard humidity. 78% is high. Maybe I should get a Peltier dehumidifier and try to run it from a solar panel? If that works, it bodes well for a Peltier fridge.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

I might recover

Today started with the intention of taking my car for an oil change and getting a few things for the bus. That's when all the trouble started..

Reaching the dog food place I'd been told about, there were plenty empty 30 gallon open top barrels. Sadly they're too big at 18 inches diameter. I need 15 gallon barrels. Resigning myself to having to buy barrels at $40 each plus $20 shipping, I headed to Home Depot.

As normal in Home Depot, nobody could understand basic English so I spent the next hour browsing the plumbing bits. The plan was to sling a barrel underneath the bus using nylon cargo straps. It was then that I had an epiphany... Why not instead of using 15 gallon drums, use a few 5 gallon buckets with lids from Walmart at $2.50 for the bucket and $2 for the lid? I hunted in vain for a threaded tube with nuts that could be used with rubber gaskets to create a waterproof port through the bucket lid. This would have been ideal but bar a product sample display, nothing was available.

Abandoning the bucket or barrel idea, I bought some Allen keys that would allow me to disassemble my Harbor Freight grit blaster head in order to work on it. As 13/64 was the recommended drill size for a 1/4x20 bolt, I also bought two such drill bits with hexagon heads.

Moving on to Tractor Supply, I picked up a handful of nuts and a handful of stop nuts. Then I emptied the 1/4x20 by 1" bolt drawer into a bag. There weren't many left but they're all mine now. Checking for water tanks, they had a 30 gallon tank that looked very nice but it was way too large. I looked and they had better plumbing supplies than Home Depot but nothing that would make my bucket idea work properly. I left after buying just nuts and bolts.

The next step was the garage for an oil change. Sadly I was too late (at 3:00) as they were packing up to go home. Typical! From there I went to Walmart where I intended just to get a soft drink and some batteries. There, I had another epiphany. I realised that under the shower outflow, I could just put a bucket with a lid. Under the bathroom handbasin I could just put a bucket with a lid too. Tanotherr), I purchased three buckets. One for shower water, one for handbasin water and one for the toilet. This Walmart had no buckets.

While in Tractor Supply I had noticed blue plastic 5 gallon Jerry cans for $25 each. Walmart had two of the same blue plastic Jerry cans for $13 each. They don't now!

Moving swiftly on, the next stop was Radio Shack for some electronic gubbins. Four capacitors, two battery holders and a couple of other little things reminded me what an outrageously expensive place Radio Shack is! I should have ordered from China via eBay, waited 2 weeks and paid 10% of what Radio Shyster charged.

Next was fuel. That was a ripoff too. Last time it was $1.75 a gallon. Today it was $2 a gallon! Moving swiftly on after putting $20 in the tank, I visited the next Walmart for something not available at the first - the buckets. In that Walmart I got the three buckets and noticed the blue plastic Jerry cans were $15. Clearly different Walmarts have different prices.

Actually, the three local Walmarts are quite wild. The one in Red Bank has somewhat of a reputation for sleaze and gunfights in the car park. The one in Lexington has ladies of the night doing their shopping. The one in West Columbia closes at 10pm because they get robbed if they stay open later. That's probably the most dangerous Walmart as I've seen cars riddled with bullet holes in their car park.

So, I proceeded home. The first task was to work on the grit blaster gun. I cleared some clogs and enlarged some holes as suggested on the reviews of the grit blaster. If it doesn't work at all now then I haven't lost anything because it didn't work before.

The new plan for bus plumbing is to use the shower just as a shower, the bathroom handbasin as a handbasin and have the handbasin empty into a bucket. A different bucket goes under the shower outflow. That might benefit from extra plumbing in order to make positioning the bucket easier. Fresh water is carried in 5 gallon Jerry cans. There's plenty room to stand them in the shower when the shower is not in use.

The plan for the electrical compartment remains the same. I'll drill out the holes to 13/64 and put 1/4x20 bolts through. Meanwhile, if it turns out I need to cook and don't have electricity, I can simply use a sterno stove on a fireproof pad.

The 5 gallon Jerry cans were somewhat of a brainwave. They stand very nicely by the shower. Another will fit (when I get it) very nicely beside the bucket underneath the handbasin. I'm not too bothered about collecting shower water as I rather suspect that nobody will much notice nor care about it. Besides, I can always say somebody pinched the bucket!

I attacked the problem of the door mechanism next and put 6v from D cells into my electro magnets. They refused to repel each other. Clearly something is amiss there! I'll put those down as being cheap Chinese junk. I have never before encountered an electro magnet that would attract steel and attract another electro magnet but would not repel another electro magnet when the power, hence the fields are reversed or rather, opposing.

Next I put some numbers on the bus. Tractor Supply had the cheapest numbers at 48 cents each. I realise I could have sprayed the bumpers but since the Rustoleum garbage doesn't seem to stick to anything whether the surface has been prepared or not, I just used stick on letters rather than spending time with a stencil and a paintbrush.

Clearly I'm going to have to wind my own electro magnets. This, I can do. I'll have to buy some thick enough bolts but that looks like being the solution.

Plumbing has been downgraded to a much simpler and cheaper affair. Indeed, I wonder whether now, its better on several grounds. The cable compartment as is, kinda works. It's just not safe for a battery. Thus, rebuilding that is a priority.

Thinking about protecting crockery in drawers, another yoga mat could be sliced up in order to make liners and dividers. Clearly I need to tidy and clean the bus. The inside is pretty well done. I just need to clean the floors, put in drawer liners where needed, put up some curtains and shower curtains etc. One problem I had was that my bucket won't fit in the toilet side of my toilet unit. The square kitty litter box will, however. Clearly I need a second kitty litter container. I must have designed it like that and forgotten.

I'm definitely going to have to put some kind of solar panel to maintain the bus batteries. I can't have them going flat all the time! There's probably a power leak somewhere and that'll just be hard to trace!

I'll have to see now about registering the bus as a motorhome.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Thinking capacitors and barrels

I don't have any capacitors in my electrical gubbins box. Doing a little light reading, it seems that I could put a capacitor to charge from my 9v battery then discharge through my electro magnets.

Using my key switch, I have two positions. The first can be used to charge the capacitor and the second to release the charge through the magnets.

As I understand capacitors, they remember the voltage put into them and then build up to capacity with power. The 9v battery trickles power out at a low rate. The capacitor can dump it at a high rate. Thinking of it like a dripping tap, dripping into a bucket, the bucket will fill slowly. Emptying the bucket can be done faster. Indeed a bucket of water filled from a tap is my fail proof method of unlocking a blocked toilet!

So, the new idea is to keep on with the 9v battery but to add a capacitor to dump power into the magnets. I have no idea how much power I'll need so I'll have a look in Radio Shack for their biggest electrolytic capacitor. I gather a diode is recommended in order to protect the capacitor so I'll put one, even though the pp3 battery connector is unidirectional.

It could be that I'm barking up the wrong tree with those magnets. They could be junk but it's worth a shot. It's not an urgent task. Worst case scenario, I just say stuff it and wire the magnets via the bus 12v battery and see what happens. Given an adequate fuse, nothing should be that bad!

Meanwhile, I'm going to look for barrels tomorrow. Word has reached me via the grapevine that somebody locally has a pile of 15 gallon barrels for sale. That's tomorrow's task!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Aha or uh-huh or something like that!

On my way from the treadmill back to my bus, I paused as planned at the dollar store. Navigating around obstacles such as empty boxes, transport dollies, uncooperative customers, spilled nastiness on the floors and collapsed shelving, I located the battery rack.

The battery rack didn't have a great selection of batteries so I chose a PP3 9v battery. This was probably a mistake. I'd probably have been better off with 6 D cells though as yet I don't have a holder for 6 D cells.

The original idea for the magnet was to run two in opposition to lift the latch that locks the bus door. As 9v magnets were available, it seemed sensible to use 9v magnets and run them off a separate battery rather than use the bus battery.

As it turns out, the magnets do repel each other but the pp3 battery does not put out enough power to make the magnets work really well. As grippers, the magnets do an excellent job. They're supposed to be grippers. I need them to repel too though.

The next task will be to get 6 D cells and solder them together. That should provide ample power to work the magnets. Another idea would be to charge a capacitor from the 9v battery and use that to activate the magnets. That would involve fiddling around good a week or two with electronics and no guarantee of success. Keeping it simple seems best.

It might turn out that the magnets just won't work and I'll have to make my own. I'm hoping that's not going to be the case but it might have been better to do that from the start.

So, tomorrow's task is to get a pile of D cells. I can always use D cells for my lantern and my shower pump.

Meanwhile, I've got a slight dampness in the cockpit. I'm not sure where its coming from but I'll have to look at the roof seams again. Speaking of which, Eric mentioned roof flashing repair tape and yesterday I saw quite a selection of tapes available to repair roof seams. Some are quite expensive!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Ages ago I ordered an electro magnet that runs off 9v DC. It worked well. So we'll, in fact, that I ordered a second as soon as I'd texted it for strength. The plan was to operate both in opposition so that the magnets would repel each other.

Coming from China, the prices were cheap but the delivery painfully slow. The process was started on October 11th with the first magnet. The second, I ordered shortly after the first arrived.

Then the painfully slow process of waiting for it to arrive started. Today it finally arrived and it looks exactly the same. It even has the same M4 threaded hole!

With standard electro magnets, the wire is coiled around a magnetic core which is North at one end and South at the other. Reversing the polarity of the current changes the polarity of the magnet.

I put the two magnets together and put current through to find both magnets, predictably attracted each other. Reversing the current, both magnets still attracted each other. That being somewhat weird demanded more attention!

Returning to the bus, I found I'd left my lantern in the house. Fortunately I had a standard lamp in the bus and the electricity works. The lamp was located with the aid of the flashlight built into my phone then activated.

Sitting on the bus I put everything onto a breadboard. That allowed me to concentrate on aligning the magnets correctly. Everything worked as it should, attracting and repelling appropriately. Neither of the forces seemed that strong so I located my multimeter. A few moments more of hunting located the leads. Testing the meter proved the battery to be flatter than the average pancake!

It being a bit dim to locate my mini screwdriver, I ignored the flat battery in the meter and tried measuring the battery voltage. The needle swung a bit and stopped. Then I realised how old the battery in the meter was and how old the battery I was trying to use with the magnets was. They were both purchased in 2010 so clearly they have a perfect right to be dead by 2015!

Having discovered I now need fresh batteries, I paused to check my grit blaster which seems to be quite sticky. Looking at it carefully through a loupe, it was possible to see that it was indeed held together with Allen bolts. That makes life easier. I can enlarge the holes as others recommend, clean it up and try it again.

Obviously, tomorrow I need to stop off at Dollar General for some fresh batteries!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Yesterday's anniversary

A year ago, yesterday, I bought my bus. What a wild ride it has been so far!

That's what she looked like last year.

My word, how much has changed!

My original plan was to have the bus livable for January as Aerotek, the agency had promised me work in Charlotte in a medical office starting in January. Needless to say like all agency promises, it was hot air. I've learned from that and from other interactions over the past decade that agencies are just a bunch of liars and even written, cosigned contracts that have been witnessed and notarized are utterly worthless.

Needless to say, January has slipped a little. I've been promising myself that it'll be ready soon for so long that I've stopped making goals. It'll be ready when its ready.

The current hold ups are....
1. Electrical compartment.
2. Water tanks.
3. Miscellaneous items.
4. Reregistration of the bus as a motor home.

I'm quietly confident that some time in the next 12 months it will be ready.

The electrical compartment needs to be able to carry 120lbs of battery and be able to withstand the shock of sudden braking and bad roads. The water tanks don't yet exist. I know what I want as water tanks but am putting off getting them yet because of the ludicrous cost of shipping and because I might get them cheaper locally.

After all that is done, I could add batteries, solar panels etc but the basics have to be water with a manual pump and tanks. Electricity can be piped in from the outside or a portable gas cooker used temporarily.

I realise I could have done all of this a lot cheaper and faster but I've been trying to make the bus more of a restful, homelike place rather than something that reminds me how hard my life has become.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The new plan

Today I went onto the bus and fixed some warped hardboard which had warped due to the water ingress from the leaking roof last month. The door between the cockpit and the galley needed adjustment too. That had been badly warped but now it works correctly.

Thinking about the battery carrier problem, I realised I might have been overreacting. Thus, today I went ahead and got some more tools from Harbor Freight. I'd been in need of a better rivet gun and of some deep sockets so I picked those up. A welder was not on my list this time.

The rivets should have a sheer strength of 900lbs which means plain rivets should work. I'll have to see if the bolt holes are too big. If they are then I'll use 1/4x20 bolts instead. Otherwise, I'll try rivets.

Meanwhile, I'm looking into two other things. The first is super capacitors and the second is thermo electric generators. In order to power a microwave for 20 minutes, I'd need 1200w at 110v. Given the losses from an inverter of around 15%, the power supply at 12v would have to provide 12,650W. Given that my favourite battery would provide 500CCA, I'd need a bank of at least 14 in order not to overload any of the batteries. That would cost at least $1,000, weigh at least 700lbs and take way more space than there is space available.

Super capacitors can provide a lot of power quickly. They're not as energy dense as batteries but the idea is that if they could provide a 20 minute burst of power, they could be backed by just one lead acid battery. The task now is to find a super capacitor setup that can provide sufficient power.

As far as thermoelectric power generation is concerned, I have a feeling that like most non gasoline powered generators, its going to be expensive or worthless in terms of power generated. The two methods under current investigation are Stirling generators and Peltier generators. Stirling generators use magnets and coils together with a closed air system. Peltier generators use heat difference to generate power.