Monday, February 29, 2016

What is that fuzzy plug?

Yesterday I posted a slightly fuzzy photo of my new inlet in the side of the bus. Many of you will not have seen a connector such as that before. There's a reason for that - it's not sold in Lowes (hiss, spit) or Home Depot (cough). It is designated as a Nema 6-30I. 

The Nema designation means that it's an inlet (hence the I) and will handle 30A at 250v. Unlike the normal Nema connectors used in the US (Nema 5-15), this is a twist-lock connector. Now the twist lock means that when the connector is inserted, it can be twisted and locked into place. This has the upside that it won't fall out but the downside that it's easier to damage the inlet etc by simply tripping over the power cord.

On most RVs etc the connector used is the TT30 connector such as the connector I installed in m'lady's front yard. Here we get to the nitty-gritty! Hunting around I could not locate a TT30 inlet for less than $70. Thus I went for a different connector. It makes no realistic difference. It'll work just the same. The only difference is that if I have to replace the cord then I'll have to build my own cord like I have been. I can't use off-the-shelf cords.

The upside of off-the-shelf cords is that they're available at most RV outlets. The downside is that they're sold at huge prices. Cords are available secondhand (probably red hot too) but would you trust a cord of unknown capacity? I won't trust anything electrical or electronic that's secondhand. I've seen too many secondhand electrics and electronics bursting into flames.

A subsidiary upside of having a bespoke connection is that because it's non standard, it's not as desirable to those that would wish to steal cables. Now I'm not thinking of a masked bandit in a black and red striped sweater with a sack labelled "swag" over his shoulder but I am thinking of less scrupulous individuals that "forget" their RV cord and "borrow" somebody else's cord but never return it.

I can see a day when RVs will largely not have cables any more. Look at it like this - at $2.50 a foot for 30A cable - the cables are just ridiculously expensive. The standard RV cable is about 50 feet. That represents about $75 of investment just lying on the ground for somebody else to pick up and walk away with. If they figure they can get a bottle of beer out of it, they figure it's been a good day's work. Heavens I've even heard of people's house air-conditioners being stolen and they weigh up to a ton!

With the rising price of copper and the almost static cost of generators, there's going to be a convergence. It will soon be cheaper to slip a $300 generator under an RV than to put a power cord. I don't really see solar and wind power as being worthwhile.

Investigating solar power, to produce the 10A at 120v needed to power a microwave directly, I'd need 1200W of power. Solar panels are $1 per watt wich does not mean that I'd need $1200 of panels. Because of the poor light at times I'd most likely need $2500 of panels just to run the microwave directly at midday. 

Batteries seem like a good idea but the cheapest deep cycle battery gives 100ah of power which is a misnomer because you're only supposed to take a maximum of 55% out of a battery before the battery gets damaged. Thus a $90 100AH battery is about $2 per amp hour or 17c per watt hour. 

In order to run a microwave for 15 minutes (thinking about the lowest power microwave in Walmart that takes 15 minutes to cook a plate from frozen and which coincidentally rusts to bits in 2 years), 300 watt hours of power would be needed at 10A. Now those two factors are very important. Remembering the 10% power loss from using an inverter (and ignoring the $300 cost of a 2KW inverter), 100A at 12v would be needed for 15 minutes. Most 12v batteries can't discharge more than 20A for more than a few seconds without getting dangerously hot. To be safe, think about 10A. This means 10 batteries in parallel, each weighing 50lbs would be needed to power a microwave. That's 500lbs of battery.

How much would a system cost that could power a microwave? Well, $900 in batteries, $1200 in solar panels, $300 inverter plus whatever I haven't thought of. That's a minimum of $2400. Of course if you went for lithium batteries, you'd need less batteries and be carrying less weight but be paying 20 times more for the batteries. EG a 300ah lithium battery is about $3500 and has a maximum constant discharge of about 50A.

So, the cheapest form of cooking power is a plug-in for electrical operation. The cheapest plug is a Nema 6-30. But cheaper even than carrying a generator is a portable gas cooker with butane tanks just like you'd use for camping! 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Inlet socket

Today was spent utilizing the warm temperatures. Inside the bus it was a rather sweltery 82F and I sat in the bus to write today's blog entries. First off, the bad. Two of the $3.99 self-adhesive paper blinds that I installed are falling down. This does not surprise me one little bit. My experience of glue is that in general it's just not very good. Those things are helf up by a self-adhesive strip. I can see that I shall have to go back to Walmart and buy some proper roller blinds. Still, it's only 5 that I have that are self-adhesive so that's not exactly going to break the bank.

The main thing today was to work on installing the power inlet in the side of the bus. It took a while but I managed to drill a hole large enough to accommodate the Nema 6-30P inlet (rated 30A at 250v). Now that socket though it's rated at 30A should easily handle 50A at 120V. Having said that, my current cable is 20A and my planned maximum is going to be 30A. I just don't see any need for more than 30A - at least not in a motorhome.

Having drilled the hole, I slipped under the bus (how I detest being in such a cramped space) and painted primer on the inside. It's supposed to be a rust-killing primer so I'll have to see if it works on the small specs of rust that were on the bare steel. Then on with a mission for m'lady for about 30 minutes.

By the time I returned from my mission, the primer was dry and I managed to pop the power inlet cover temporarily into place. It looks pretty darned good, to be honest. There is orange paint on the edges of the cover from yesterday when I used orange spray paint to mark the outline. I love orange paint for just that purpose. It seems to scrape off with my thumbnail so that shouldn't be difficult to clean off.

The next order of the day was to drill a few more holes in order to attach the inlet directly to the side of the bus. The inlet will be secured to the bus and the housing I bought will fit over it. Really and truly, I could have done my own housing using PVC piping but I didn't think of that in time. There's a problem with the housing as only 2 of the 4 screws will work. Two shreared off during a test assembly. Two should hold it though. 

Having got all the requisite holes, I again slipped under the bus and painted the inside with topcoat. I'll probably put a rubberised spray over the inside later. Of course it follows that I also painted the outside of the bus too. Both times I used grey Rustoleum. Now if it peels off nicely primed, clean, dry, steel then we will have absolute proof how ghastly Rustoleum is. I await the results with baited breath!

Following this, I bolted the flange on the inlet through holes drilled in the bodywork and through the socket cover that I'd bought. The socket back, I didn't have time to install though seeing as how two of the four threaded holes have bolts broken off in them, I suspect I might be wise to replace it or to follow a different solution. Indeed, the plastic tubing solution sounds lighter, more water-resistent, cheaper and though not squirrel proof, definitely worthy of consideration. Needless to say, I plugged a spare Nema 6-30 plug into the socket and it worked brilliantly.

I'm not sure I got the socket 100% square but it's pretty darned close. Somebody would have to be really anal to notice that!

Next week's task is to build on what I have done today, to install a socket backing and possibly some protective PVC tubing over my electrical cables. Once that's done, I can work on installing the main breaker. It'll mean yet more grubbing around underneath the bus and put me a bit further behind schedule but I want to get this done right! As I always say - a job's not done unless it's done right.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Unexpected achievements and a bad Kahr.

Today was, I had thought, going to be a day of zero progress on the bus. How wrong I was. I did most of the things I intended to do for tomorrow!

Work, which was scheduled for today, was to have been a full day of training but that was truncated at 1pm when two of the trainers were indisposed. Thus, being sent home early, I popped into Lowes (hiss, spit) for some plumbing pieces (of which more at a later date) and headed home.

Arriving home at 3pm, there were 3 good hours of daylight left so they got put to use. Last night I had been thinking about a handbasin for the bus. I considered the end of a small gas cylinder. I'd noticed there was such a cylinder on the junk pile. Thus, out of an abundance of caution, I placed it on the ground, ready to ensure it was empty. The cylinder said "helium" on it but it could well have been refilled with propane. Labels don't always mean what they say!

Not wanting to cut into a cylinder that might have propane in it, I decided on remote ventillation so I grabbed my (somewhat disappointing Kahr PM9) and fired a single shot from about 25 yards away. The shot did not immediately appear to have hit the cylinder to I aimed for another shot whereupon I discovered the blasted thing had jammed. Racking the slide, I found it kept jamming. In the end I put it away. That Kahr PM9 has been nothing but trouble since I bought it. I wish to Heavens I'd gone for a revolver rather than that stupid thing. Revolvers never jam! I would hate to be surprised by a bad guy when carying a PM9. I am pretty sure the PM9 would be more effective simply hurled at the bad guy. In terms of penetration the PM9 managed to get through one side of the (very thin) steel then totally failed to make an exit hole. I can hear the bullet rattling around inside. I'm going out on a limb and going to say that I just don't think the PM9 would penetrate a bad guy's shirt!

Putting the cylinder out of the way for the moment - the plan is to cut the top off to turn it into a handbasin - I proceeded onto today's work. I'll have to see if I can weld something this thin. That might present a significant challenge!

Today the plan was to complete welding the patch over the hole in the side of the bus cut by the hillbillies. That took me all of the remaining daylight. It was just a laborious process of building up steel and filling gaps until eventually the result was pretty good. It looked rough from the outside but it'll do.

I put the power socket cover over the area where it'll be fitted and sprayed with orange paint. Then I pulled out my angle grinder but instead of a cutting disk, I put a grinding disk. This worked surprisingly quickly and ground the excess welds flat to the point the socket cover fitted without rocking. It did reveal two small holes in the welding where the welding has not really filled the gap. These holes are minimal. I had thought 6011 rods would penetrate and fill holes but oh well. 

Next, the whole lot got cleaned up with a wire brush then painted with brown undercoat. This bus does not have to look perfect - it just has to work well. The undercoat went on well enough. Tomorrow I'll put undercoat on the back of the plate then paint the front with grey paint. But before I do that, I'll make the holes for the socket cover. With any luck - if the paint inside is dry in time, I might put a second coat inside and then install the remains of the underbody electrics. The main breaker inside will be installed at a later date. Some have asked why I'm putting a main breaker box. The answer is simple - the main breaker is there to protect the cable from overloading. Currently I have a 20A cable but I'll also make up a 30A cable and might get a 10A cable too. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly different sites offer different facilities and secondly, the heavier rated cables cost more per foot. If I can park close to a power point I can use my heavier cables and get more power. There is another thing in that the heavy cables being more expensive are more prone to theft.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What a day!

Two entries - would you even believe it? Yes - today has been exceedingly eventful. What with no electricity in the morning followed by intermittant electricity, I am much more inclined toward gas as well as my 120v plugin.

After breakfast/lunch/whatevertheheckitwas, I left to go to work. Arriving, I found the normal rooms locked up and the lights out. Then I found the boss. Apparently he'd tried to let me know that work had been cancelled for today but his letting me know had been to ring my phone and leave no message. That wasn't particularly helpful but anyway as nothing could be achieved at work, I turned around and headed back home, stopping off at the barbers on my way. It had been a couple of months since my last haircut!

Arriving home, after checking out the microwave I set to, working on welding the final patch over the hillbilly cable compartment disaster area. It took a while to trim the steel to shape and I deliberately undercut it this time in order to avoid the warping problems I had last time. 

Welding with 6011E 1/16th rods used a lot of rods and I had major problems - as before with burn through. In the end and because I ran out of 1/16th rods I turned to 3/32 rods. What a difference - these were and this is extremely counter-intuitive much easier to weld with. I began to fill the gaps where I'd undercut the steel but before I had quite finished, the daylight escaped on me. Had I had another couple of hours of daylight, I'm sure I would have finished the task.

Using the 1/16th rods I never had a problem with the welder shutting down to cool down. With the 3/32, rods I'd manage about two rods before the welder would overheat and need to cool. It has a 20% duty cycle. If I'd spent more on the welder I would not have the problem. On the other hand, I am happy that I didn't pay for more than I need.

By the time I had to stop due to darkness, I'd welded about 75% of the edges. I applied some black bumper spray since my Rustoleum anti-rust spray and my Rustoleum self-etching primer sprays didn't want to work and since I didn't want to use a paintbrush. 

As can be seen, I haven't finished welding the bottom left now the lower left side. My welds aren't pretty but they do work. I'll be glad when this operation is completed!

As mentioned before, I looked at the microwave. I pulled it out and wire-brushed the rusty parts inside. The more rust I removed, the more I found. The paint just peeled up and revealed yet more rust. It really wasn't very impressive for a microwave that I purchased in November of 2011 and used until May of 2014 then stored in a dry location! I don't think 30 months is a good life for a microwave!

Anyway, I kept working on the rust with steel brush and scraped the paint away with a plastic paint scraper. After a while I noticed that the rust wasn't surface rust. It was rusted through in places. How on earth is this possible? There was so much rust that repairing the microwave just seems pointless. Certainly I can deal with rust. Looking at the holes in the bottom of the roller recess, it just seems to me that the microwave is beyond repair.

Sadly, I took the microwave out of the bus. I'll have to replace it with something else. So, for the moment it's sitting on the ground awaiting disposal or recycling.

I had hoped at least to get the electrical inlet hole made but still, I have made progress. Indeed maybe I might have made faster progress had I used 3/32 rods from the start. I didn't know that at the time for I am but a self-taught amateur welder.


My first meal

Today, just as dawn was breaking and the cock was crowing there was a power cut in m'lady's household. That, for her means no water, no light and no cooking. The water is pumped via an electric pump from a 100 feet deep well. Cooking is electric as if everything else.

Thus, to the rescue came my little Coleman gas cooker. It made tea and cooked breakfast. I notice the gas cylinder is lighter now so I'd imagine an 8.8oz cylinder might last a week. That's really not too bad though I might be well advised to look for a better gas cooker and a way of slinging a gas tank underneath the bus. 

Actually while in the land of Nod last night I was thinking about improvements. I suspect a 12v 100ah deep cycle battery will be all I will reasonably need. That could be charged from the alternator and feed into the starting circuit when the bus batteries are low.

Thoughts aremulling around in my head most of the time. Right now, the immediate tasks are to get the shower curtain installed, insert drawer partitions, complete my 120v power inlet and hang some waste-water tanks together with a release faucet.

This weekend looked like being a great weekend to do this but I have to work on Saturday so I shall be unable to work any day bar Sunday. Sunday - with luck - should see the welding on the side of the bus done and the power inlet installed. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

My first shower

Yes - I'm a dirty bugger - this is my first shower ever. M'lady's water heater died yesterday so there was no hot water last night. Thus, this morning I went to the bus to get my shower equipment. I could have showered in the bus but as the shower base is being used to store screws etc, I didn't venture use the shower in the bus. Mind, I also need to install a shower curtain.

The good - I had a shower and managed to wash my hair, my body and came out clean. 

The bad - the shower unit is new (only been used once for testing) yet the hinge on the battery compartment has broken already. The hose connection from the pump unit to the output hose leaks pretty well.
I wasn't really expecting to have to fix the shower unit on its first real use. Thank goodness I didn't pay Amazon's rip-off price for it. I paid $18 rather than $35 because I bought mine on eBay. Same exact thing that Amazon charges more for. Having said that, duct tape is cheap and fixed the problem. I think a more permanent solution will be to put an external battery compartment.

It doesn't look elegant but it works which is the main thing. For the leaky hose connection, I suspect duct tape might not be the best answer. It's too flimsy to crimp the hose too tightly so I suspect the best would be to use a piece of soft copper wire and twist it slowly until it's barely tight. There might always be a leak there.

To use the shower, I half-filled my 3 gallon cooler with cold water then put a kettle full of boiling water into it. The result was luke warm - I could definitely do with two kettles of water. Having said that, I did manage to shower quite successfully. The key to good flow seems to be to mnake very sure there are no kinks in the hose. It definitely performed better today - with far more power than when I first tested my shower unit.

Showering like this definitely takes a while as it needs time to boil a kettle of water. The cooker works very well and the floor underneath does not heat much. I'd say the heat transfer is about on a par with the heat from my microwave.

The Coleman cooker cost me $18 from Walmart and the gas cannisters are $3 each. That's really not bad at all. The shower unit was $18 too. 

In terms of use, I used about a gallon and a half of water to shower. My hair is long and takes a while to shower. The key is to wet it, rub shampoo in quickly then work on rinsing it out before proceding to lower parts. Crouching in the shower worked well. Now if I was some bald dude then I can well imagine using maybe a gallon or less of water. I'm not a bald dude though!

I can honestly say that I really quite like this shower setup. I had thought it might be irksome or problematic but it all went together very nicely. The biggest improvement would be for the pump unit and the battery unit to be separated. Now I have seen some 12v versions of this which would work well enough if I had 12v in the bus. Right now, my unit runs off 4 D cells. 

In conclusion, the shower unit's construction quality leaves something to be desired. The efficacy is good. The cooler worked very well and works as a very handy limiter on the amount of water used. The gas cooker was slow and the kettle didn't hold enough water. The shower I had was very effective and quite pleasant though luke warm due to my cooking up only one kettle of water. The cooker needs some while to cool before being put in its box again. I can't imagine lugging the shower and the cooker if I was actually on a backpacking camping expedition but I suppose somebody woud. The nearest alternative is a gas-powered shower unit that costs $140 or over $100 more. This setup represents very good value and I'll keep using it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Those damn hillbillies!

Today I looked beside my interior sub panel and discovered I have 9 inches of space between the panel and the woodwork. That gives me ample space to install my main breaker. This means that I now do not need an underbody compartment. The socket box can simply be affixed to the inside of the skirt and a hole made for the plug to pass through.
Had I realised this many moons ago, I could have simply riveted the old hillbilly compartment door over the hole after taking out their nasty compartment. I would have saved several months as I taught myself to weld and built two compartments that I ended up not using. The first compartment (bottom - in grey and brown) was simply way too heavy for my liking. The second compartment (top) is better but is unnecessary extra weight.
In the end, I could have saved all that time and effort by ignoring what the hillbillies had done. Every time I tried to make use of whatever disaster they concocted, I found I wasted time and just had to fix their attempts before doing it my way.

Originally, I'd wanted to have an entirely solar-powered bus. I've since discovered that solar power produces electricity of such an inconsequential amount that it realy is just a stupid dream. In fact, unless it's done on an industrial scale I'd call solar power rather much of a scam. For the price of two solar panels that might or might not make much power I could buy a generator. For the price of the batteries needed to store power I could save a lot of weight and buy several years worth of fuel for the generator. Were I doing the bus again from the beginning, I'd use many of the lessons learned and rather than putting in a 120v system, I'd put a small underbody 4.25lb gas cylinder and no 120v supply. 

Just for laughs, today I bought a solar battery charger from Harbor Freight. I really don't expect much from this but if it recharges my AA NiMh cells then it will work on D cells too. I almost went for the suitcase solar panel on the basis I could probably rig that to charge either the LIon battery packs that'll recharge my tablet and phone or AA/D cells. Now the panel on the side of the box wasn't all that promising, to be honest but I thought I'd give it a shot.
I got it home and found it was somewhat of a challenge rather akin to the act of passing a camel through the proverbial needle to put AA batteries in the holders. Getting them out after might pose a significant challenge! I did not intend it for use with AA batteries but rather for D cells. If it works for AA batteries then it might be worth getting D cells because my LED lantern and my shower unit both use D cells.

12.5 hours for a single D cell looks pretty forbidding. That could mean several days given the fact I'm not likely to have optimal (middle of the Sahara) light. Given the size of the solar panel, I think this is more of a gimmick than something genuine. It's designed to catch the pennies of the curious rather than to provide worthwhile power.

Given that the battery holders are not that great and have a serious problem with gravity, I don't forsee a long life for this unit. Stripping it down to copy it, however, could be interesting. It should be possible to identify all the components in order to build a bigger, better charger that I could use to charge a realistic number of batteries. I have no problem with using NiMh cells as a power source!
As can be seen - this is the underside of the charger. How they expect the flimsy (I had to fix one already) contacts to hold batteries up, inside the unit remains to be seen. I rather expect that the contacts will snap fairly soon.

Meanwhile I relocated my butane torch and my butane refill cylinder. The torch would not take a butane charge. I suspect that the valve might have frozen. Given that I haven't used this in 5 years, it would seem likely. I pulled it out because I thought I might be able to use it to do some light brazing but sadly it appears this is not to be. It's not worth buying another - not at the current price of $18. When it was $10, it was fine.
While I was thinking about it, I almost bought another main breaker box out of sheer laziness rather than cut and rivet steel plate over the holes I'd already made in it to situate it underneath the bus. I thought more of my money however.

Diesel is now $1.69 a gallon. I really need to get that 120v system sorted out before the price rises. I can probably put another 30 gallons of diesel in the tank. I need to be able to move the bus before I can do that though and with the main breaker attached by a cable to the bus and dangling on the ground, that's not currently possible unless there was a way to tie the whole affair up so it didn't drag on the ground.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Probably the worst welding in the world!

Yesterday I was reminded of my 2 year anniversary of meeting m'lady. Needless to say I'd had subtle reminders for the past week or two. I'd been finding notes written in Sharpie on my dinnerplate that I'd discover after doing my usual plate-clearing feat. I found notes in my lunch bag, reminding me of it all. So yesterday it was suggested that as it was forecast for 20% rain for Sunday, maybe we should head out on Sunday. That would leave me with all day today to work on the bus.

Well, today I started by cutting the steel for the infilling for the old cable compartment. That was pretty easy and after a little careful grinding, it was just the right size.

The plate, usefully, kept succumbing to gravity so in order to counter the effects of gravity which seems to be somewhat of a problem, I used existing hillbilly holes, some of my defective 10-24 bolts, washers and nuts. That held it all in place quite nicely.

Being mindful of the speed with which I can cut through 15 gauge steel with my 6011 1/16th welding rods, I worked quickly to weld the steel together. Now the steel I am welding in comes from the sole surviving seat back that the hillbillies left in the bus. That has been really useful supply of steel as it has been used for several things. Needless to say, I achieved the feat of cutting holes in the steel without too much problem.

I did get better as I went along though I had to pick up the pace a bit in order to complete the job before I ran out of welding rods. It was touch and go most of the time! I managed to burn quite a few holes and then had to sit there and build up the steel in order to fill the holes.

I don't think my welding will win any awards - aside from the booby prize. Maybe a Rotten Tomatoes award for ugliness. It does work though even though it looks nasty.

The biggest problem I had was that the steel sheet warped and moved a bit. It's nowhere near flush which might or might not be a problem. I might have to trim my compartment in order to fit it around my wonderful workmanship.

As it was getting gloomy - it had been overcast all day and I'd had to try a whole load of different tactics to be able to see what I was doing. My welding helmet is a little too dark to be honest. It's fine in bright sunshine but not in cloudy weather. In the end I found the hand-held eye guard worked best as it allowed me to see the area around the weld while blocking the really bright light.

Having put all my tools away, I wire-brushed the welds on the outside and slapped some primer on everything. Needless to say, as soon as I'd done that, the 20% rain arrived a day early.

With luck the rain won't harm the paint. I need to get underneath to prime the steel on the back. Judging from the smell of burning rubber when I was welding, the back of the bodywork has some rubberised paint on it.

With luck, I might be able to get the compartment installed tomorrow though I'm not counting my chickens. Today's welding took rather longer than I had anticipated to be honest. Had the weather not looked like rain then I would have welded the final strengthening pieces on the compartment. I never thought to check whether my main breaker box will fit nicely beside my distribution panel. If it does, perhaps it might be simpler just to finish infilling the hillbilly compartment and simply putting a socket box there instead. 

Meanwhile, my screw eyes arrived today. Too late to do anything with them today though. I now have everything I need to be able to complete the shower curtain fittings. Well, perhaps almost everything - I might need some S hooks.

Friday, February 19, 2016


I had opportunity to continue thinking today. Normally, I just don't get a chance to do my own thinking so I have to buy pre-prepared thoughts from Walmart in the thought aisle. Usually I prefer the Indian spicy throughts with a side of Nancy's Nook. Anyway, I left Walmart with a couple of bottles of ideas in an unmarked brown paper bag.

Today I looked at different ideas for cooking, power and ventillation on the bus. That was prompted by the fact I am about to close-up a large aperture under the bus and that as it is, two compartments could replace the existing one compartment.

One idea I had was to put a gas bottle compartment for cooking and water heating. Lowes has some 4.25lb propane cylinders that are 9 inches tall by 12 inches wide. That sounded pretty interesting. Obviously it would have to be well ventillated so some kind of mesh would make the floor and sides. I have some mesh too though it's very rusty. New mesh is cheap enough. In the end though, I decided against this route as I don't really see the need for extra gas power.
For electricity I was thinking I might use those external cell-phone batteries and charge them from a folding solar panel rested against the windshield from the inside. Now that would charge my phone, tablet and mifi pad but not my camera batteries. Well, that's what I thought until I saw this website Actually, having discovered that site, many of my power problems are solved. Basically, I realised the only things I really need power for are my cellphone, mifi pad and tablet. Lighting is taken care of with an LED lantern powered by D cells. My toothbrush and hair clipper both run off AA batteries. My shower head runs off D cells too and in the event the batteries are dead, a manual option can be employed for all but lighting.

For ventillation I had the idea of using a fan to pump air from the ceiling in the bedroom out through a hole in the floor created by the hillbillies. That would be complicated. Better to close-up that ridiculous hole and make a roof vent instead. Now I looked for roof vents and found some interesting ones on the Amazon British website. They were horribly expensive though and only worked for single-skinned vehicles. Going further and back to the electric fan option, there are some solar fans. Perhaps mounted on the outside of the bus with suitable ducting and filters, they might be the solution. They'd need an on-off switch but would be a zero power option. They're also dirt cheap.
So, I don't need an underbody compartment for batteries or gas cylinders. This means I can just weld a plain sheet of steel over most of the exisiting hole. Had I realised earlier that I could have put the master breaker inside the bus, I could have just had steel conduit taking the cable to the power socket and done away totally with the underbody breaker box. Of course, one lives and learns. I didn't know anything about most of the things I have done before I started work. I am not a handyman. I am an office worker. I am prepared to persist and am not afraid to try new things.

Thinking ahead about water, I did see somebody else's conversion in which they had a handpump to pump water from a 5 gallon bucket under their sink. I deliberately have not installed a handbasin in my bathroom or kitchen. In the kitchen, it seems so pointless because everybody washes their dishes in a plastic bowl as it retains heat better than a metal sink. As for water disposal, I can simply chuck it down the shower drain. In the bathroom, the handbasin can be replaced by a bowl and a jug of water. Again the water can be chucked down the shower drain. I have thought about using a footpump to pump water out of an underbody tank. Now the downside of an underbody tank is that they freeze. I'm not worried about that with the waste tanks because 90% of the time, the drain cock will be open and it'll be draining to the ground. The waste tanks are just there for times when an open drain isn't desirable. The upside of an underbody tank is it can hold more. The upside of 5 gallon jerrycans of water mean it's unlikely to freeze as they can be stored inside.

Going back to ventillation, solar powered ventillation over the cooking area and the bedroom look very possible. The downside is they only work during the day and they will look a little odd from the outside. 

In terms of electrical supply, I have already experimented with a $5 USB charger and found it lacking. The other day I ordered a much larger capacity USB charger from eBay for about $9. If that works well then I have my power solution. I didn't realise I was so close to being completed!

In other news my rivnuts for the shower curtain supports arrived. I forgot to pay for my screw eyes so they will be a few days late as it was a few days before I remembered to pay for them.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What a disaster!

The angels wept today and did drench the surface of the earth with their tears. Menwhile, an icy blast and possible Snowmageddon quietly began. Yes, folks, today was bitterly cold and wet. Not a good day for doing anything on the bus. Thus, today was mostly a shopping day.

In Walmart, I picked up a couple of things, the most interesting of which was for $10 a miniature cordless electric drill. It seems to charge off 6v. 20 years after everybody stopped putting NiCad batteries in things (aside from the Chinese) and it has a NiCad battery. Now normally I use a full-sized electric or cordless electric drill. Most of the time that's just fine. For my breaker box compartment it's just too big. I can't get the drill in, in order to get the holes in the right place to attach the compartment to the frame. I figured if I takes an hour a rivet hole, that drill will be worthwhile. I only need it in order to install 6 - 8 rivets! There was a better version available at $15 but I figure if this little fellow can do the job and since it's a job I probably won't have again then there's no point in spending more.

After I weld the next bits on my breaker box compartment I'll have to replace the paint that burns off so I bought more paint and some cheap brushes. At 68 cents a brush, it really isn't worth wasting gasoline on them to wash the paint out. While on the paint thing, I also got some appliance paint. I figured I can try derusting my microwave, spraying it with rust killer and then appliance paint. I know it still works - it just doesn't look pretty!

Remembering what the guy I read about the other day had said, I bought some paint thinner. The grey paint is peeling off quite well in some places. I can simply brush the loose paint off and wipe down with thinner before repainting. If the fellow mentioned online was correct then it might be the solution to problems like this:
I shall be rather glad to be in a position to register this bus as a motorhome. I feel that's getting ever closer. I could have done that with the old hillbilly compartment but wanted to redo it anyway. I am waiting on delivery of my screw eyes and rivnuts right now. These will help me to complete the shower. Then I will have a shower with a funky water delivery system but a shower nevertheless. Other than that, water disposal is taken care of with a bucket but I want to go to stage 2 and have at least one underbody tank. The proper breaker box compartment is a huge step for electrical supply and having seen the old compartment was probably little short of essential.

A 12v electrical system is not as yet planned out but the concept is there. Ideally, rather than a battery, I'll use a supercapacitor setup. That kind of thing can be left alone and it'll be just fine. No worries about overcharging nor about the cells wearing out. 

I said last year that I wanted this bus done by April. It definitely looks like being this April rather than last April. If I can only get a good weekend then I can get the underbody compartent done! It is literally a tiny bit of welding, a tiny bit of painting and some rivetting and bolting away from being done. After that it's a tiny bit of plumbing, some riveting and application of restraints and the waste water system is done. Then there's erecting the shower curtain, cleaning inside and it's done.

For the future I'd want to install my 12v system, possibly an underbelly water tank and way off in the future, possibly a black tank. Then of course there's the bedroom and kitchen ventillation and that is all that I can reasonably hope to want. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

New ideas keep hitting me!

Two members of the genus Sasquatch strolled past as, wrapped up against the arctic cold, I stepped into the freezing outside world. The aim today was to work on the breaker box compartment with a sub aim of marking the steel to cut to infill the rest of the hillbilly hole.

Last night, as I dreamed of things to be, things that might be and things that couldn't possibly ever be, I had an idea. Why not add brackets to the back of the box in order that extra securing points may be employed. Thus, the first order of the day was to locate some suitable steel, which I derusted manually, welded into place and sprayed with rust killing spray.
While I was at it, I re-welded the seam that was a bit loose that I'd welded yesterday. Yesterday I tried using my welder at the lower amperage setting since I was using thin rods and having a problem of burning through steel. That kinda-sorta worked. 40A was too low to be really useful. 70A is a bit high because extreme care needed to be taken that the rods didn't burn a hole in the steel.

Hunting around, I found my white paint. I set to and gave the assembley a white topcoat, hoping that it really won't matter much that some of the undercoat got burned off by the welding process. As rain is forecast for tomorrow, I placed an upturned planter over the assembly.
Then, looking at the sheet steel I placed behind the hillbilly aperture, I realised that it would probably support the edge of the compartment. I also realised that by being very careful I could probably stitch weld the steel into the hole after it's cut to size.
At least I found a use for the duct tape I had in the bus. It was well on the way to not being at all sticky! The steel for this operation was donated by a seat back from the bus that the hillbillies had not removed. Those with longer memories will recall that I removed it and the handrail that was attached to it in around April.

I sprayed around the perimeter of the aperture with orange paint in order to make an outline for cutting. Then, mindful of the fact rain was forecast and this is probably not galvanized steel, I sprayed inside with white paint.
The loose breaker box and cable are resting on top of an upturned trash recepticle underneath the bus. I must admit they look a load better since they were taken out of the nasty environment of rotting wood. Speaking of rotting wood, I did find some light surface rust where the wood had been in contact with bodywork steel. I treated it with anti-rust spray.

The next step will be to mount the breaker compartment in place and secure it from the front and the back. I had planned to drill holes in the tops of the sides but there isn't room to get the drill inside the box to be able to drill vertical holes. That's as of right now. In the future I might find a smaller electric drill and be able to do it.

If I put the steel infilling behind the bodywork panelling then I could weld it to the edge of the flange on the compartment and it would act as a support. I could rivet the steel over the front of the aperture too. That would solve the problem and old vehicles do have patches riveted over them. This bus is a splendid example, what with all the patches I've rivetted over hillbilly foolishness. I could butt-weld the whole patch into the aperture with the aperture (albeit with a cutout for the breaker compartment).

As far as locating the inlet box, that could be placed under the compartment or to the side. At the side, it could point downwards or go out through the side of the bus. The advantage for going out through the side is ease of access. The downside is it looks like a power socket. On the other hand, from 20 feet not many people would really notice anyway - particularly with a grey vehicle.

The paint is definitely peeling in places. I did read that somebody prepped their bus by wiping down the paintwork with paint thinner. That sounds promising and I might try that where the paint peels off. In fact that sounds easier than brushing down to bare metal, priming and painting. I can try it and if it doesn't work, I can try something else. It's not as though it has to be instantly perfect. It has to be comfortably livable inside - which it will be when the shower curtains are in place and it's all cleaned up.

12v electricity is a long-term project that will be installed at some future point. After infilling the hole in the side and installing the breaker compartment I might move on to installing the waste water barrels. I have considered various options and come to the conclusion that nylon cargo straps are the way to go. There seem to be three ways of securing barrels. I have seen some ideas that use plywood cradles but that just seems nuts having seen the way plywood under the bus just rots. 

The three ways are to use chains anchored to the skeleton and wrapped around the barrels, to use nylon cargo straps and to use plumbing strap. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Cargo straps are pretty universal, easy to install and easy to obtain. Chains are equally easy to obtain but harder to tighten and install. Plumbers strap probably needs a special tool to apply that I don't have. 

Discounting plumbing strap, I'm left with chains or cargo straps. Chains are excellent and very strong but only as strong as the weakest link. As the tanks will be pretty close to the back wheels (unless I can situate them further forward) then there is a possibility that the chain could drop down and get wrapped around the wheel with catastrophic consequences. Nylon straps would just snap at 300lbs pressure. They'd also be kinder to the plastic barrels. Thus, catastrophic failure is not as likely. Some question how well the straps will last but protected from UV and kept dry (the only wet will be road spray) there is no reason why they should not last a good long time. Doubling them up would add extra security. The attachment points for the straps could easily be steel plate with a hole drilled in it that's simply riveted to the body skeleton.

Tomorrow, if it's raining as promised, it's unlikely I'll be able to do much outside the bus. As far as I know, the rivnuts and screw eyes I ordered on Friday won't be here tomorrow. Those will complete the shower curtain attachments. Another thing that could be done is to work out some way of raising the 3 gallon cooler that forms the basis of my shower in order to increase the efficiency of the impeller pump.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Fighting real nastiness

Today started with my cutting and welding into place, the sides of the new breaker box compartment. My first side was cut too short but I welded it in place anyway. Then I realised that was actually fortuitous. Being 1/2 an inch too short meant that instantly I had a solution to my drainage problem. Welding was problematic but the first side went on well enough. The second side isn't as secure as it really needs to be but as it's just a side that protects against spray rather than being a side that performed a structural function, it's not worth seating over.
Really and truly, I got a bit fed up of welding today. I spent an inordinate amount of time welding before I found dropping the power of the welder down to 40A meant I was less likely to burn through the metal. I might return to welding tomorrow. It's probably going to annoy me that it's not done as well as possible!

After completing the compartment the next order of the day was to paint it and stand back to admire my handiwork. Having suitably admired my handiwork and run around in circles in the yard yelling "Yay. I am the champion", it was on with the next task. The dreaded hillbilly cable compartment.
As can be seen, the wood looks a little suspect. The cable of my electrical system has acquired a nasty lot of white mold on the outside. Needless to say the whole compartment smelled badly.

Removing the compartment was a huge battle. Just about every bolt was badly rusted. All the screw heads stripped trying to turn them so in the end they all had to be removed using my angle grinder. Having done that, it was already dusk but here's a photo of the now empty compartment.
The wood that made up the old compartment was in truly amazing shape. I'm totally baffled as to why it hadn't just fallen out on the road a long time ago. I have a hard time believing that compartment could ever have held anything heavier than a fart!
The wood is not fit for anything other than a bonfire. I didn't go underneath the bus to see if the bad wood had caused rust - that's a job for tomorrow. I did however try the new compartment in place and it fits in very sweetly. The power inlet will hang down a little below the bottom of the skirt but not hugely. It'll make easier access. I did think about using a proper TT-30 inlet but for some unknown reason, TT-30 inlets are either unavailable or horribly expensive. I'm sticking with my NEMA 6-30 twist-lock inlet instead. I could probably go down to a 20A inlet but to be honest, I think if I am plugged in, 30A will give me more and better options. I don't need huge amounts of power but I can see that a microwave could well use up 10A leaving very little room for anything else.

I spent a while worrying about putting on the new door and putting the infilling up on the side, where the old door went before deciding it wasn't worth worrying about. I'll face that when it's time. For now the task is to install the new breaker compartment. The door can wait! Tomorrow there might be a holdup as I have to put more undercoat on some of the compartment and topcoat on the whole compartment. Ideally I'd paint it white but as I only have black topcoat, it'll have to be black. While the undercoat is drying, I can tape a sheet of steel behind the aperture the hillbillies cut, spray around the edges with orange paint and when that's dry, pull it out and trim the steel with my angle grinder. From there I can tape it into place and weld it in. That welding might well take all day or even several days.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The new monstrosity emerges

Just when you thought it was safe to let the women and children out on their own, my monstrosity emerged from the capable hands of my Harbor Freight 70A welder. Starting was much delayed due to my looking for a way to hold the pieces in place. I considered riveting but couldn't find my rivets. Then I tried to bolt the pieces together but the 1/8th drill bits all seemed pretty blunt. In the end I retrieved a tiny G-clamp from something I'd put together several years ago that utilised a G-clamp. That did the trick! It held the pieces together while I welded them.

There were setbacks along the route such as letting the welding rod linger too long and burn a hole in the steel I was welding. That delayed things as I had to make concentric circles, waving the welding rod around the hole like Harry Potter's wand while I built up the steel surrounding the hole until the hole was filled.
It's not quite rectangular but I'm not bothered - the simple act of riveting it underneath the bus will pull it straight. Once it's riveted into place I might weld it as well. I'm not sure about that yet though.

I have't painted where I welded yet as I need to put sides on the compartment and the simple act of welding burns the paint off. Watching the paint in flames was quite entertaining! The original plan was for solid sides on the compartment. The power socket could go underneath the compartment. That would simplify things considerably. The cable needn't go through any complicated routes.
Looking around, I found some steel mesh. It looks ideal to use as sides. That would have the advantage of allowing air to evaporate any water that seeped in through the compartment door. The whole point of the compartment is twofold - firstly to top squirrels from eating the electrical cables and secondly to provide somewhere to mount the electrical inlet. It would be nice to keep spiders out but they get in anyway.

Checking the bodywork steel, it seems to be the same thickness as the vast majority of the lightweight sheet steel that I already have. It should not thus be a problem to fill the cavity left in the bodywork by the hillbillies. Certainly moving the welding rod as swiftly as Harry Potter's wand means I should be able to weld thin steel. My welding has definitely come a long way since I attempted to weld two steel conduits together and burned right through them.

Tomorrow's plan is to continue with construction of the compartment and possibly to demolish the old wooden compartment as well as removing the aluminum compartment door. Like as not, there'll be some hidden nastiness there that'll need to be dealt with. I might even need to move the bus closer to the power supply in order to do more welding.

I can kinda sorta see why people sniff at the cheap Harbor Freight welder. It is pretty slow to weld with. On the other hand, I'm not in any particular rush. If I can get the breaker box compartment completed by the time I return to work on Tuesday then I shall be elated.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

poverty and homelessness

Today I was reading a Washington Post article about Los Angeles in which it appeared that Los Angeles had decided it wanted to fix the homeless problem. The problem was correctly identified as high rents that drove people out of homes and onto the streets. Combined with the continuing poor economy and the fake goverment figures relating to unemployment, this is a silent and growing problem.

The government likes to quote unemployment figures but they mean nothing. After 20 weeks, unemployment insurance expires and people just drop off the books. The real figure is the number of people receiving food stamps. That figure is far too big to sound good as government propaganda though. Needless to say, with the continuing unemployment crisis, people are driven onto the streets and into low-paying part-time work.

For myself, I was paying rent to a slum lord. My old job ended when the company closed the local premises and the only place where I could have transferred was in Vermont - over a thousand miles away. At the time I was doing a course in Medical Coding and Billing with Midlands Tech. Leaving to go to Vermont would have meant abandoning the course and the promise of a better job. Sadly and despite all the promises it turned out that the jobs were a myth and the college had taken my money and left me no better off. 

Having spent a while unemployed and living off savings, I eventually found a part-time position in an after school program. The work is school time only and only four hours a day. The wage per hour is OK but it would not pay rent. During a month when I would be paid for 5 days a week, every week then I'd make $195 more in wages (before tax) than my already low rent cost. That's not enough to cover the expense of getting to and from work. Even with the current $1.50 a gallon I'm spending $100 a month in fuel alone. Add in insurance, tax and other necessities and I was subsidising the local economy from savings. When the schools are not in session, I don't get paid and don't get unemployment either - that was exhausted in 2014.

As part of my solution, my dad gave me money to buy an old bus. I put all the work in, converting it into a motorhome, using my wages and remaining savings to do this. Meanwhile, food stamps help with immediate food issues. 

Of course, during all this I find Bank of America seems to have been deducting $12 a month from my bank account. I gather they call this a charge for having a positive bank account. Clearly they think somebody living on $6,600 a year can afford to subsidise them. Needless to say, they're losing me as a customer.

Now for those that wonder about whether I'm applying for jobs - yes I am. At least I think I am. I am not convinced that any of this online job application stuff is actually genuine. Nobody seems to take real applications any more. I could fill a book with copies of all the spam and junk these applications generate. I've learned not to proceed with adverts that look like they're from agencies as the positions advertised by agencies never actually seem to exist. Indeed, I won't go near agencies now - based on a lot of experience of their time-wasting worthlessness. Then there're the fake jobs advertised on general careers websites. Rejection emails sent after 10:30PM on a Friday night when the company is local and closes at about 6pm prove the futility of careers websites. Another example - I was talking to somebody in an HR office one day and somebody came in to enquire if their application had been received. The person asked checked and apparently it had not yet the application had apparently been sent on that occasion via Careerbuilder. I've applied for jobs on Careerbuilder, Dice, Indeed, SCWorks (which most of the time defaults to Careerbuilder) and a few other sites. In 2 years, the only interview has been for the part-time job I now do.

Some will ask about education yet this is not a problem. I am highly qualified with both US and European qualifications to graduate level. The problem is more basic than that. As far as I can see, there just aren't the jobs available. Just about every careers place seems to be filled with fake jobs and agencies advertising non-existent positions just to grab resumes. It's all extremely depressing and demoralising. This is most definitely not the American dream. Indeed, I have a feeling that the vast majority of Americans really are struggling. The Washington Post article on homelessness today proves that. They had a further article a few days ago in which provisions were being made in one area for Americans living out of vehicles and out of tents. 

My answer to my own problem is a motorhome built from a schoolbus. The alternative is the streets. At least if I can find a job in a different area, I can go and take my home with me. I have a feeling South Carolina is a rotten place to look for work given that 34% of the population is on some form of public assistance.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Meandering toward perfection

Not feeling much like doing anything today I started by gathering up most of the garbage in the bus and by putting it all out in a big cardboard box. Then I gathered all my tools up and put them in the tool box. Now I might be able to find things. I put together a box of consumables such as paints, sealants, glues and lubricants and a box of electrical stuff.

Next I ventured outsde and derusted then primed a piece of angle iron that I found yesterday in the bushes. That will make excellent angles on the new breaker box compartment. I didn't do any welding - pretty much because I didn't really feel like doing any.
After that, I took an old enameled steel table top that I'd found in a junk pile and cut the steel for the sides of the compartment. They're roughly cut and will have the final cuts next time around.
Thinking about filling the hole in the side of the bus left by the hillbillies, I remembered the remains of the seat back that I used parts for filling in where a window was missing. It should be the same thickness as the bodywork steel. In any case, it's about the same size and will need minimal trimming to get it to fit.

After this, things remaining to do...
1. fit the 120v inlet socket.
2. Install two or perhaps all 3 of my 15 gallon drums as waste water tanks.
3. Fit drawer separators so things can be stored in the drawers easily and so china doesn't get chipped in transit.
4. Install a 12v battery system powered by a 30W solar panel.  That could use a NIMH battery setup. In fact I prefer NIMH to both lithium and lead acid.
5. Tow hook and tow wiring.
6. Rewire the schoolbus flashers to be brake lights and indicators.
7. Install a front door unlocking system.
8. Weld some steel over the lower window of the back door as a security measure.
10. Install a shower curtain.

That's about it. After removing the I beam underneath the bus, I eliminated my step which made getting in and out more challenging. To aid me, I spent $12 on a set of folding steps from Walmart. They work though I have to put my knee on the floor of the bus and hoist myself up. 

In terms of registering the bus as a motorhome, I might as well complete the forms and get that underway.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

More welding excitement

Reading about welding last night, I found the difference between 6011 and 6013 rods is that 6011 is a penetrating steel that will flow into crevices and 6013 is a rod that will just lie on the surface. As it happens, I'm out of 6013 rods so I went to work on welding two of the pieces of roller shutter assembley together. While doing so, I noted that the 1/16 rod was much easer to work with than the 3/32. I think 3/32 might be a bit much for my welder. It took quite a while to weld the two pieces of steel together which was fine. I must say though that the bitter cold outside was more challenging than the welding.

The biggest problems when welding today were that the two pieces of steel moved slightly in relation to each other. That meant that it was slightly skewed. No matter - it should work just fine as it is. In fact, if there's anything I've built that's geometrically perfect, I'd probably faint! The other problem was that one of the pieces of steel warped while I was welding it.
The warping wasn't expected. The movement of the parts was something I hoped wouldn't happen. I'd wondered whether I should drill and rivet the two pieces together first but decided to wedge it with a brick. Clearly I rocked the whole lot at some point and movement occured.

The next stage was to trim the excess steel off and straighten the bent steel. The angle grinder made quick work of trimming off most of the excess.  Straightening the warped steel was straightforward too - I just pulled out Mohammed's screwdriver and whacked it back into shape.
Having done that, I'd had enough of the bone-chilling wind howling around me and the daylight - such as it was - which wasn't that good due to low hanging and ominous clouds began to fade. Apparently sleet is forecast. I hurriedly sanded where the paint had come off the steel due to welding, brushed the slag off the welds and slapped rust-killing primer on the metalwork. Interestingly, I'd sprayed some clean steel with Rustoleum zinc paint a week ago and it's now rusty. Typical bloody Rustoleum. I really wish I could find paint locally that's not utter garbage. I did idly try some paint with a rather suspicious name of "Miracle" a few days ago. The only miracle was that it was cheaper than Rustoleum. Let's just say it achieved a surface peel in 5 days as opposed to several months for Rustoleum.

Inside the bus I put up the two blackout blinds in the bedroom. One went on crookedly but it works. The other went on quite well and looks pretty good. It's more a privacy thing than anything else.
Following that I put the final white blind up and then on a window that it wasn't possible to put a blind on, I cut a shower curtain and stuck that up with self-adhesive velcro. I'll have to see how all this self-adhesive stuff lasts. I suspect not very long but only time will tell.
Tomorrow I want to try to complete my breaker box compartment and to replace the old cable compartment totally. Before that though, I need to experiment welding thin steel. I really hate that thehillbillies put in that dreadful cable compartment. In fact, I don't think anything they did with the bus was worthwhile. I'm wondering if they simply gave up and sold it when they discovered how half-assed their workmanship had been. 

The big thing is that after I have put the shower curtains up, everything else I do will simply be upgrades. I'll have to order some more 8-24 rivnuts and some 8-24 screw eyes. I did think about self-adhesive stuff but I'm pretty sure all this self-adhesive stuff will fail in the summer heat. I will probably replace the blinds with roller blinds and the shower curtain over the one window with a section cut from a roller blind that's screwed to the framework. I"ll have to wait and see though. 

Even the cable compartment will be an upgrade. The existing compartment is rotted. The new compartment will not rot. Underneath the new compartment I can install the holder for the new power inlet. I bought that the other day. Despite the fact the bottom inch will be visible, it shouldn't be that noticeable. I really didn't want anything hanging below the skirt but I don't think anybody will really notice one or two small things.