Sunday, August 28, 2016

Securing the front door!

A few days ago, I bought two strips of metal and painted them black. Then, after the paint had dried, I cut them to size. Today, I fitted them to the inside of the lower right pane of the bifold door. It adds some security lest some villain decide breaking the glass will afford easy entry. The photo was hard to do because it was very bright outside so I put a $7 LED lantern behind the door.
The plan is to put four bars on the right hand door. That will have to wait a while though as at the moment I am incredibly busy with work.

Speaking of work, I'm learning to drive a full sized school bus. The course is free and I get paid to work as a bus aide which gives me the opportunity to observe an experienced driver at work. Over the last week my alarm has been going off at 4AM and I've been arriving at work at 5:30AM in time for a 5:45AM start. From 6AM to 8:45AM I'm on a school bus. From 9AM to 11AM I'm on the road practicing in an official school bus. From 11AM to 1:15PM I'm out to lunch. From 1:15PM to 4:45PM I'm out on the bus as an aide. At 5:20PM I'm back home, exhausted. Needless to say, school busses have little to no air conditioning. Thus, it's very dehydrating and is essential to bring water to drink on the bus.

The course thus far is basic manovering. Starting off, stopping, picking up passengers, dropping off passengers, emergency pull overs, railroad crossings and turnabouts. It's all quite complex and doesn't apply completely to driving my own bus but it is very helpful.

Starting procedure
  • Walk the interior of the bus, checking for sleeping students, vandalism and critters then raise the out of use flag to signal the bus is in use.
  • Sit in the driver's seat and set the seat, steering wheel and mirrors to suit you.
  • Check the handbrake is on and the gear lever is in neutral.
  • Start the engine, keeping the brake pedal covered.
  • Check gauges. Fuel - sufficient for the trip, battery 12-14 amps, oil pressure 20-65 PSI, air pressure at least 100 PSI, engine temperature below 190F. 
  • Put the bus in drive and press the accelerator gently, thus testing the parking brake.
  • Check the door is closed.
  • Check passengers are seated.
  • Check mirrors
  • Drive off.
And that's for starting and does not include the walk around and inspections done as part of the full CDL test!

Stopping procedure

  • Hand brake on
  • Gear selector into neutral
  • Wait 2-3 minutes then turn off the engine
  • Remove the key from the ignition
  • Empty the air tanks
  • Walk the bus to check for vandalism and sleeping passengers.
  • Set the out of use flag
Then we get to the actual driving bits which are a lot more complex. I'm so glad to be doing this course. It really has built my confidence in driving such a big beast.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Radio a shack sale

My local Radio Shack is closing so they have a 50% off sale on electronics. Needless to say, I couldn't pass that up. Into my shopping cart went terminal blocks, battery holders, connectors and fuses. Their batteries were horribly expensive even at 50% off! Thus, I got my rechargeable batteries in Walmart.

The plan is to connect the solar panels via protective diodes and fuses to 8AA NiMh batteries in series. Excess solar power will charge the batteries while the batteries will ensure the fans keep running when there's not enough solar power. My calculation is that I shouldn't fry the batteries without a charge controller. I would have used a big bank of capacitors but Radio Shack charges too much.

No work done on the bus today. I'm just too tired what with my 04:00 to 17:15 work lifestyle. Especially since I'm training too.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Behind The Wheel.

As I progress through bus driving, I'll probably add more to this. Today though, I'm sitting on my bus where the temperature is 92F. Clearly I'm sweating!

I've been hunting for an adjuster on my steering column and have thus far not found one. Having found the adjuster on the driver's seat, I rather suspect that the adjuster could be a cobbled together fix. The seat adjuster is simply a long wing bolt. I don't think the bus left the factory like that though!

This is a note from the book I'm studying for the driving course...

Engine Start-Up:
Check for seat and steering adjustment
Check for mirror adjustment
Check to make sure that the parking brake is holding by placing the bus in drive then with the parking brake applied, slightly press the accelerator to show that the parking brake does hold.
Make sure that the bus is in neutral by moving the gear shift up and down and locking the gear in neutral
Check all gauges
Passengers seated
Door is closed

End of trip
Make sure the parking break is on
Place the bus in neutral
Lit it idle for two to three minutes then switch off the bus
Take the key
Check for students
Check for vandalism
Drain the air tanks

That's all about starting and stopping the bus. Now you can see why air brakes featured on the theory test. Having driven both normal and air brakes, I can't say that I can really see much difference in normal operation. Air brakes do have that extra safety feature however, where if the air fails, the brakes apply automatically. Right now all I'm working on is driving, stopping and starting.

I've been sitting in the bus for a while with the internal doors open. The solar fans are blowing warm air out of the bus. The battery fan is sucking outside air in. I can't feel a breeze going through the bus and the temperature has risen in the galley to 97F and in the bedroom to 95F. Outside it is apparently 90F. It is 4pm. I'm not expecting wonders from my ventilation system and I expect the next bit will be to install a small battery setup to power the extraction fans while charging them from solar. That could be 3.7v lithium cells totaling 11.1v or 14.8v though that might overload my 12v fans. With the amount of energy collected and expended, even at maximum power input from the panels of 20W, I'm unlikely to need a charge controller. At 20W (1.67A) for a theoretical 12 hours, the amount of energy collected would be no greater than 20AH or 20000mah.

Now take away what the fans are using which is about 160ma per fan for a total of 320ma. Let's take that away from the theoretical maximum and the amount stored in 12 hours would be 1.67a - 0.32a or 1.35a or 16ah or 16000mah.

Given though that the panels actually produce far less power, I'm thinking more in the region of 500ma or 6W, the energy produced in 12 hours would be 6ah. Take away what the fans are using which is 320ma and the excess storage needs only to hold 180ma per hour or 2ah. That's the realm of cheap NiMh batteries in an 8 pack battery holder. That and a pair of diodes and a fuse. The nutty thing is I already own those parts. In theory, 180ma per hour excess would power the fans for 11 hours. That could mean almost 24 hours ventilation.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Driver Training

For the past two days I have been training to drive a bus. This is the actual,mohysical, behind the wheel training. I'm training on more modern transit busses. These differ from my Carpenter in several respects.

  • Transit busses have the engine in the rear. The steering wheels are behind the driver's seat which makes for a totally different driving experience.
  • The engine on the transit bus is much more responsive, needing less foot movement.
  • The transit bus has an air tank with air powered doors, air powered wipers, air brakes and an air adjusted seat.
Yesterday I found my major problem was that because I don't drive often, I'm tense when driving which leads to over correction on steering and a consequential zig zag down the road. Today this was much improved.

Yesterday I had no problem with other road users. Today, 3 vehicles passed me in a no passing area in an area where they could not see oncoming traffic. Talk about suicidal! There would have been no way I could steer away and probably not much chance of braking. 

That was not all. One guy was so busy on a curvy downgrade that he was well into my lane coming at me head on. I braked but not hard enough to throw my instructor out the window. Fortunately the other guy woke up and steered back to his side of the road. Without a shadow of doubt, his little car would have been a crumpled wreck and the bus might have had a scratch in the paint on the front bumper.

Needless to say, there was more... A cyclist riding the wrong way up the road toward me as though in a bizarre suicide attempt. 

It all begs two questions.
  1. Has anybody in South Carolina ever passed a driving test?
  2. Have South Carolina drivers started drinking ethanol rather than putting it in the fuel tank?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Working on filling the hole in the floor.

for reasons known only unto themselves, a prior owner of my bus considered it a jolly spiffing idea to install a bathtub. That involved cutting a circular hole in the floor for the drain and then hacking it out  with a saw when it wasn't quite to their liking. Needless to say, I removed the bath. In itself it wasn't a bad idea. It was just too large for the bus.

Initially I'd covered the hole with a steel socket cover but then I tried making use of it as a vent. That didn't really work and was right in the middle of my storage space. Thus, it's time to fill that hole in. Before I did so, I had to make space. That involved moving boxes back to the back storage closet.

When I started, I had not stacked anything particularly tidily. This time I'm trying to be tidier with my stacking. It seems that two of my boxes are rather over large for the space provided. I remember buying those boxes in a hurry a few years ago when I thought I was going to have to move house in a rush. Needless to say, I bought boxes that really were too big. They're good and solid but I can think of smaller, more appropriately sized boxes in which to fit my clothes. The crazy thing is one of those boxes is empty!
Anyway, I'll replace those with more appropriate boxes and eliminate some of my smaller boxes. No point in wasting space when space is at such a premium.

So, I emptied the back, swept the floor and stacked boxes tidily. That allowed me to move forward to the bedroom where I marked out the square I was going to cut out. I'd marked that around a square of plywood I'd cut the other day. Dripping in sweat for it was 108 in the galley and 100 in the bedroom, I set the circular saw to cut half an inch deep only. That cut the wood but nothing else.
As you can imagine, cutting in such a confined space, I undercut the hole which means I'll have to shave a bit off the panel intended to drop in. That, I can complete but I cannot rivet the underside panel in place with aluminum rivets. In order to do it with steel rivets, I have to replace my broken harbor freight riveter.

For today, that's my lot. I have a 4am alarm clock for tomorrow as work starts with a crack of dawn start at the bus depot.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The farcical day.

Today was a little farcical. I started by not being able to find my keys then after I found them, I found the fuse for my cigarette lighter socket had blown. I have no idea why that would have caused that.

The day started with my squirting more foam insulation into the left hand flasher bay at the front. That went reasonably well. I'll have to buy more foam but now that I know it's cheapest in Walmart, I can stop off in Walmart on Monday.

As usual I put my solar panel to work, charging the bus battery. I'd forgotten to switch the charge controller off yesterday so I hope it hasn't depleted the battery. As luck would have it, the postman delivered my plug in voltage meter. I plugged that into my cigarette lighter socket after replacing the fuse. Replacing the fuse was a simple matter of releasing and tipping the switch panel forward then switching the fuse out.
 As can be seen, the voltage reads 12.3 volts. That's not too bad. I'll have to see what it reads in a few days if I just leave the panel plugged in and in place.

The back of the bus still gets pretty hot but I feel the insulation is delaying the heating process. I can regard that as a success though I would like to inject yet more foam. I have a feeling though that I might need to raise my game a little and use a bigger foam injector.

In an attempt to remove detritus from the bus, I removed the redundant 8 way flashers and flasher control, putting them in a cardboard box to go in the shed. I have no possible use for them so after listing them on Craigslist, I also listed them on eBay starting st 99 cents with local collection or buyer arranges shipping/collection. As it was a free listing, I don't lose out if it just doesn't sell. Honestly, I cannot imagine anybody would want them though I suppose there might be some that would.
Meanwhile, I compared my LED lanterns. All are cheap from the dollar store bar the one on the right which is the least bright of the lot and came from Walmart. That's the only one that has broken too and yet it cost the same as the other three combined!
Looking at my Harbor Freight riveter, it seems the jaws of the bit that grips the rivet seem to have jammed. I have no idea how to fix this. I soldiered on using Herculean effort and a hand riveter. Thus, today I have two cargo tie downs - one pair on each side of the rear door. This means that the top box won't shift. That's a huge step forward!
As can be seen from the photo, the jaws seem to be very misaligned. That was compounded by some of the nuts holding the whole device together, coming loose. Harbor Freight can be hit and miss. This, I'm afraid is not one of their hits.

So, with the cargo tie downs in place, I have security bars to add to the folding door windows, the hole in the floor to fix and insulation to complete. Then there're extra solar panels as well as a thorough cleaning. I'd like also to add a main breaker box - basically to protect my cables.

It was 100F inside the bus today which made work rather challenging. I thought about the portable air conditioners. I'd looked them up last night and found some that would fit in existing cupboards. It's interesting but not, I feel, something I will pursue imminently.

Amazingly, there were mosquitos out in force despite the heat. I don't know how many times I was bitten, working outside the bus. I cut a foot square sheet of plywood to put over the hole in the bedroom floor. Next I'll have to mark where to cut the existing plywood on the bus floor to make room for the new piece. It overlaps the hole sufficiently that it should not bend. I'll fill under the hole and fill the gap between bottom and top sheets too. It's going to be solid.

As an afterthought, I tried my cigarette lighter socket volt meter in my car (which has been idle for several days) and got 12.2 - 12.3 volts. That makes me feel good about the bus batteries! Thinking about power, my little CPU fans were whizzing around earlier. Clearly sometimes they have surplus power. I don't want to add complications though. Having said that, with the pending closure of Radio Shack, perhaps I could see my way to buying a battery. The problem is that Radio Shark is so darned expensive that even with 40% discount, the goods are still higher than elsewhere!

Talking about expense, I popped into the dollar store today, expecting to see a pair of D cells for $1. They were out! Clearly a popular item.

Friday, August 12, 2016

It was bloody hot today!

It seemed hit though the temperature was only 95 inside the bus. I dropped with sweat but got a few small things done. It wasn't a day of spectacular achievement.
Isn't that a boring photo? There's nothing there but that really is the point. I'd peeled off the sign that gave rules for bus riders. Today I finished scraping off the no guns sign. Now that is gone, I have a clean area. I'm not sure what I'll do with it but I didn't want the sign there any more. It's not as though it is a school bus any more. Removing the last remnants took quite a few minutes. Possibly half an hour. I think I've been chipping away at that sign for weeks - it really was that hard to remove. A quick wipe with paint thinner and the glue was gone.
While I had the thinner out, I cleaned the circuit diagram that Carpenter pasted on the inside of the back of the top compartment. I can read it more easily now, even though a lot of it isn't really relevant now, what with the bits I've removed.

Needless to say, I squirted insulation in on one side. The other I have not tried yet. I do need to buy more foam. I don't think the foam squirted into the back is making a huge difference but I'm sure it is making a difference.

Another small task was that I put two cargo tie downs in place. I really need to do a third on one side and about the same on the other side but was beset by tool failure. I'd bought a long handled riveter from Harbor Freight and it decided not to work. I'm not really sure what the matter is. The jaws seem to be unable to release the rivet shaft. I have to hit the thing with a hammer just to get it to work. Clearly not well designed!
Then I checked the 5W solar panel that I'd set to charge the bus batteries. The second tool failure happened. My multimeter stopped working. I'm not sure if it just needs a battery but honestly, it has always been a little funky. When it isn't measuring voltage, it was giving a positive reading!
As can be seen, nothing is being measured! Voltage measurements seemed a little random which is why I bought a meter that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket. I'm not sure if my solar panel and charge controller are helping much due to this.

I still need to patch the hole in the floor and finish the tie downs. Then there's the insulation at the front and possibly solar panels. Then I have to clean the bus inside. While I'm at it, there's paintwork that needs touching up and I'd like to put bars over the lower door window.

Meanwhile, I looked up the portable air conditioners. They seem to have an 18 inch by 18 inch base. I've been racking my brains trying to figure where I could put one. More importantly, where I could store one. It looks like an impossibility to be honest. The only place would be my storage closet where the cool air would be pumped straight out by my solar fans.

I suspect that since the portable unit pulls 8 amps, I'd do well to calculate the power usage of a unit built from Peltier elements. 20F cooling is a big thing! It'd take 106F to 86F. Basically. From very uncomfortable to comfortable. At 60W per element and 8 amps being 960W, I could put 16 elements though with losses from transformers and fans, 12 elements is more likely. Now 12 elements would fit very nicely in a window unit or in a box mounted under the bus. It's something to think about!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The idiots that make electronics need to be lynched!

I am heartily glad that my bus has minimal electronics. In fact, the fuel pump is mechanical so the fuel supply has to be killed in order to stop the engine. As you might have guessed, I have a healthy dislike of unnecessary electronic garbage.

The other day I bought an LED lantern. Just like the other lantern, I turn it on and have to cycle through umpteen dimness settings before it's barely bright enough to be worthwhile. There's almost acceptable, unacceptable, wholly unacceptable and what's that dim glowing object? What is it with these dimness settings? LED lanterns need two settings - on and off. I see no point in gradations of dimness. They're not very bright to start with!

Anyway, today I picked up two more LED lanterns at $7 apiece. They're pretty bright and have a hanging hook built into the handle. Now that's a significant advantage! I can, with three bright lanterns, have the galley well illuminated and visit the bathroom. If I put another hook in the bedroom then I can have the bedroom fully lit too!

Today, I picked up some more foam insulation from Walmart and it was a dollar cheaper per can than Lowes (hiss, spit). Thus, returning to the bus, I sprayed insulation into the middle bay. I'll have to put foam board where I cannot spray foam due to cables.

Needless to say, before I'd had a chance to take a photo, the sky darkened, thunder rolled, lightning flashed and I raced into the house in just enough time to avoid getting drowned in the torrential downpour that ensued. There really isn't a whole lot more that needs to be done inside the bus for now.

Yesterday, a lady came to trim milady's dog. She had a ratty old van with a portable air conditioner unit. It stood vertical on four casters. Now that was interesting. It needed to be plugged in and used 9 amps but it looked like something I might at some point be able to employ. At the moment my air conditioning relies upon it getting naturally cooler at night.

Today marked a turning point. I'd had a phone message at 6pm that I saw at 9pm telling me to be at work at 7am. After doing an interesting course at work that finished at 9am, I headed to the DMV. It was an utterly ludicrous thing to do having had just two hours sleep but I did. The upshot is that I passed the passenger and school bus endorsements. There was a slight hiccup as the fellow behind the counter forgot to add my school bus endorsement but I discovered it before I'd driven away, returned and had it fixed. I'm not surprised. That office is very swamped so if the staff get confused and make mistakes, it's only to be expected since we are all human an therefore prone to human error. I like seeing humanity at work like that.

The upshot of the turning point is that I start learning to drive busses on Monday. That pretty much eliminates my current paid job but on the other hand, the same organization will be giving me a paid role to supplement my income. I'm grateful for that.

Remaining to do on the bus... Removing the last little bit of the no guns sticker and the glue residue, filling the hole in the bedroom floor, putting cargo tie downs in the back, finishing the back insulation and adding insulation in the front. Finally, more solar panels.

I'm still unsure about how I'm going to store power. I'm happy with D cell powered lighting. Some people get a bit anal about the cost of D cells but honestly, I doubt the LED lanterns themselves will last more than one or two battery changes. These things are churned out cheaply and not designed to last. My $20 fancy lantern is worthless with a broken handle and it's not as bright as my $7 bargain store lanterns!

So, D cells will power lighting. All that's left is the shower which again uses D cells. Then there's phone and tablet charging. Both of those can be done from the main bus battery as long as I can keep it topped up via solar power. There is no heavy drain device on my bus.

Looking at costs, it's really not worth paying $100 for a fridge, $100 for an inverter, $100 on a generator and $200 on batteries just to keep food cool when that $500 would pay for 200 bags of ice. My cooler says it'll keep ice for up to a week but even buying a bag of ice every 2 days, it'd still be 18 months before it'd have been worth setting up with generators etc. That's without mentioning that I could use a $100 fridge when the bus is hooked up to power anyway. It's not as though I'd be traveling away from hookups very often anyway.

Keep it simple! I say this with all things. After the difficulty I went through with my front door lock, the answer was simple and not electronic. It's my gripe with cameras too. Everybody uses a cellphone because camera manufacturers loaded their modern cameras down with so many options, nobody wants to be bothered carrying the manual.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Today's machinations and successes

The first thing that happened was actually yesterday. A message from a school district was left on my phone that if I wanted it, there was a position available as an aid on a special needs bus. That's fine. It all means money. I'd been wondering how I'd fit my existing after school care position around learning to drive busses. So, I went in and signed some papers while being warned I had 90 days to get my learners permit.

The next port of call was the DMV where the line was quite a long way out of the door. It was a cool day so I didn't mind. The upshot was that I went in and passed my general knowledge test. That means half the tests are now done. Next are the passenger test and the school bus test. Then I get my learners permit and have 180 days to pass the driving test.

Returning to the bus, I found my mirror needed to be hung on something ferrous as it had a magnet on the back. Thus, I found some galvanized steel, cut it to shape and removed the swarf then drilled it before screwing it to the bathroom wall - checking for level on the way.
I think you'll admit, it doesn't look bad and the color is very close to that of the wall. It hangs above the hand basin and a little to the right, which is fine. My lantern hangs just above and to the right. That should work just fine.

I squirted more insulation into the bays behind the access panel. On one side I squirted through holes. On the other I removed my screwed on panel and sprayed insulation against the sides and it stuck well. I used just two cans on that side. On the other I used 3 and I'm still unsure as to whether it is fully insulated. The center part seems bigger but seeing how well the insulation stuck, I think I'll just spray carefully and it should work just fine. The front compartment will be more challenging, needing two panels cut.
Finally I pre drilled the panel that goes underneath the hole in the bus. It's a lot of rivets but I want it secure. The next stage will be to make a wooden panel for the top, pre drill holes matching these through the floor then riveting the panel under the floor. After that, fitting and putting down the wooden panel.

I had a further look at the instructions for the bus. Mention was made of a steering wheel adjustment but I could not find a lever anywhere. Mention was made of various warning lights too. I'll have to get the electrics thoroughly checked out.

Meanwhile, I plugged in my small solar panel again. I'll have to see if it makes a positive change. It was relayed to me that my solar panels being vertical might not be the best orientation. I'll have to live with that. There are too many low branches that would destroy panels mounted on the roof. Mind, I don't particularly want to raise the height of the vehicle. It's already 10'6" or 11' (for safety).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Working on the CDL

Today I rushed off to the DMV to do the theory test for the general knowledge test for my CDL. The line was out of the door and it was a hot day. Needless to say, I decided to do that another day.

Returning home via a few stores, I found in Big Lots a couple of interesting things. The first was a lantern. I'm not sure how it compares to my existing lantern but it also runs off D cells and hangs from a loop. It's quite decent and at $7 seemed worth buying. My other lantern might be a shade brighter but the hanging loop broke. My old lantern felt better quality but that's very deceptive. Had it been better quality, the handle wouldn't have broken off. It just seems those LED things don't last so there's very little point in spending more than the absolute minimum on them.
I didn't get a picture in daylight but it seems a pretty good light. While I was in the same store, they also had a small magnetic mirror. The magnetic part is of no use since my interior walls are wood. The cool thing is this mirror is small and the surround matches fairly closely the paintwork of the bathroom. I'll have to see if I can fit a magnetic mount for the mirror in due course.
I quite like this mirror though I had not actively been looking for one. Who can pass on a $1.50 mirror though?

Moving on from there, the next stop was Lowes (hiss, spit) where five cans of Great Stuff were purchased. I'm experimenting on one side of the bus with spraying Great Stuff. There seems a lot of heat entering the back compartment via an uninsulated access area. Since that area is where the 8 way flashers used to be, I'm filling it with foam to see if it makes a worthwhile difference. If it does, I'll fill the other 3 bays.
Now, the center (above the back door) isn't going to be filled because it's an access conduit for lighting wiring. I might try to put some kind of insulation in there though, somehow.

Today I relocated my bus manuals and started reading them. The first was the DT466 manual which answered my question as to engine capacity which seems to be 7.6 liters. The second was the 3800 manual which gave me all the maintainance steps. Somewhere there's a manual for the transmission. I'll locate that at some point.

Meanwhile, today I started the engine and ran it for 10 minutes. That brought the battery back up a little. There seems to be a small power drain from something. I'll have to get into the habit of using the power cutoff until I can eliminate that power drain. Ideally though, I'd like to put solar panels on the front of the bus to keep the batteries charged. I'd imagine one 30W panel would do it while the second could charge my electronics. That's a $100 expenditure fir the future.

I was tempted to work on the panel that will go under the silly hole in the bedroom floor but was thwarted by rain. I'm hoping that I'd be far enough away from the wasp nest for them not to take an interest. I really want to get this bus in a condition to be able to retitle it.

Monday, August 8, 2016


The lights are on but is anybody home? Today I connected my 5W solar panel to the charge controller and connected the other end to the control panel via a switch and hence to the bus battery. According to the website I viewed, 12.3 volts which is what I measured on my meter, means that the bus batteries are at 70% capacity. Whether that website spoke with forked tongue is another matter entirely.

So, with my 5W panel angled through the driver window at the sun I had brief spurts of 3 glowing red lights but most of the time, just one. I'll leave it plugged up for a day or two to see if there's any measurable change with the battery readings. Indeed, it might be worth purchasing a voltmeter to add into the circuit. With that in mind, I ordered a voltmeter. Actually, one that plugs straight into the cigarette lighter socket. Now that's the socket I was kicking myself for installing when all I really wanted was a USB socket.
As can be seen, the solar panel really is quite diminutive in the driver window. I'm considering adding a bank of panels where the bus destination sign normally would live. While it's not typically the done thing, I don't really see a problem with using the bus battery to charge small electronics, especially if it's being topped up from solar power. Maybe, using a second charge controller on the rear panels, a small gel battery could be installed.

Meanwhile, I'm boning up today on the General Knowledge section of the Commercial Driver's License. I passed the Air Brakes test on Thursday. I still have the School drivers test and the Passanger test to do. I have a feeling these tests might get written out and installed on another page on this blog.

I'm definitely going to have to put some form of cool air circulation into the bus. Air conditioning is not an option however. The hot areas of the bus are those where there is no insulation. I'm going to try injecting foam though I'm not sure Great Stuff is the best option.

I had a look at further solar panels from the seller from whom I purchased my two 10W panels. It seems they have a 30W panel. Two of those would cover the front destination board area. The cost isn't bad at $100 for the pair. It would be possible later to add house specific battery later to be handled via a second charge controller. The possibilities for expansion and improvement are endless.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A ceiling vent

For time immemorial there has been an unpowered vent in the roof of the bus at the front. Today out of interest I coupled that vent to a CPU fan and powered the fan from a battery. Nothing is permanently affixed yet but things are looking promising. I went on the roof with a plastic bag that I held over the vent and the bag did indeed fill with air from the vent.
It's all held in place with tape but if the results are good, a bigger fan could be installed and powered by a solar panel. As can be seen in the picture, my 88 cent white foam board is in place and is cutting down on heat. Looking at the top right, the hard to remove no guns sticker is slowly coming off though it's a case of picking a little off at a time.

Working outside the bus, I cut a section of 1/4 inch thick aluminum to go under the hole in the bedroom floor. That's about as far as I can go with that for the moment. The wasp nest means I can't really work under the bus for the moment.

Inside the bus, I installed a charge controller then installed some wiring together with a 10A fuse. I'd about finished the wiring but messed up with my last crimp connector and then visitors arrived. The bus battery, according to my meter is about 12.3 volts which means it's pretty flat. That doesn't surprise me, given the fact I've not driven the bus in probably 5 months.

The plan is to install solar panels on the front of the bus, where the destination board would normally reside. I'm thinking about four. There will probably be one dedicated to the bus battery, one dedicated to an extraction fan and two dedicated to battery charging. Of course, if I can fit five panels then so much the better.

The interior of the bus rose to 99F today. The window unit was unused. The front ventilation fan didn't seem to help, which was odd. One would assume that extracting hot air would allow cool air to rush in. At least, that's the theory of convection, take the hot air off the top and let cool air come in the bottom.
Finding a screw connector, I installed my charge controller. This is the one that arrived with a broken mount as can be seen. I've added a 10A fuse and the whole thing is switched on the console. I like being able to isolate my additions via switches. That means that if one misbehaves I can just flip it off!

The next stage will be to put a pair of rods down from the solar panel connections to which I can clip the alligator clips on my small solar panel. That allows me to use my 5W panel and to be able to remove it when not needed. I have no illusions that a 5W panel will achieve much, if anything.

Sometime the supplier will supply a charge controller that doesn't have broken parts. I look forward to that! Apparently this controller has a maximum limit of 20A. 5 of the 10W panels will produce an absolute maximum of 50W and that divided by 12 is a maximum of just over 4A.

If I can power some ventilation and possibly phone and tablet charging from solar power then I'll regard it as mission accomplished. A few months ago I had aspirations toward running everything off solar power. Given that my roof area is approximately 7 feet by 24 feet or 168 square feet, I doubt that would be possible. Indeed, since the current crop of panels seem to be $100 for 50W and 0.075W per square foot or $15 per square foot, assuming no space wastage on the roof then the theoretical maximum power would be a maximum of 2286 watts. That would cost $4500 - more than the bus cost, which would be crazy. Assuming a generous 10% power production that would be 300 watts or 1500 watt hours a day. My microwave used 10A. That's 1200 watts! If the microwave (which took 15 minutes to cook a plate of food from frozen) was used 4 times a day, that would be about the total production of the entire solar array.

It is my opinion that solar power has to be used sparingly. As can be seen from the fact two 10W panels barely power two CPU fans, the claims on solar panels about power production are total bullshit. In fact, the economics don't really work out either. My $60 spent on panels would have bought 120 D cells at the dollar store which would have powered my original 3V fans for about a year!

Thus, I'm stopping at panels on the rear for now. I will put extra insulation in the rear panels though as where I put insulation, the steel is less hot. I'll have to see if I can do better than the little cans of Great Stuff though!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The final solution to the heat problem

This could be quite a way off, to be honest. I've had my window unit installed for a few hours today. There has been a difference. Not quite the difference that I had hoped, however.
As can be seen, the unit looks nicely inconspicuous though it needs more than just to be balanced in an open window. It shifts a lot of air although the air is not filtered.

When I started, the temperature in the galley was 104F and 97.4 in the bedroom. After half an hour, the galley was 102F and the bedroom rose to 99F. After a further hour, the galley was 100F and the bedroom was 97F. Outside the temperature on the second look was 89F according to Google.

Looking at two possible sites to install my cool air intake, it seems that on one side I'd be over the fuel tank and over the battery compartment on the other. Neither is therefore a truly desirable location. Given that the window unit does not have much effect, I'm not that inclined to commence work on either solution until I find a better solution.

Clearly the only work I can get on with at the moment is filling the hole in the bedroom floor. That's almost straightforward. It needs a 7"x5" plate riveted on from the underside. I can then cut the plywood on top out to a larger size and replace that too. It's in a closet so it won't be load bearing.

What the hillbillies did was all good ideas. The execution was poor though. Poorer than that was the question of longevity. Their stuff didn't last long.

Clearly I need some form of ventilation for cool air. How to achieve that is a bit of a mystery. There is a roof vent but I have a feeling it's more for exhaust than induction. I have no idea if there's even a fan connected to it. That could be a solution... Put a fan in there and use it to blow warm air out. My heat removing fans are working.

Today I saw online somebody's suggestion that using a single diode and a battery one could use the solar panels to keep the fan going. I'm not sure the panels really generate enough power for that though! As I always say... Keep it simple!

My goal is to keep the internal temperature the same as the outside temperature. Thus far I have not seen the excessive temperatures of last year but August and September are not yet done. Last year, the high point was 140F!

It would be possible to use my motor home as long as I stay out of it during the very hottest parts of the day. That's doable but means no very early nights etc. It wouldn't be possible to live in it and do night work, for example. I do have ideas for cooling via other methods, particularly a modified evaporative cooler.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Driving a school bus conversion

Today I just wanted to give my tips for driving a school bus conversion. I can't say much about mirrors because mirror systems vary between school bus types. I can, however say what they're like on conventional Carpenter and Thomas busses built on International/Navistar chassis.

  • Look ahead... Way ahead. Look about one city block ahead or at least 10-12 seconds ahead.
  • Remember you don't have antilock brakes and your stopping distance is longer.
  • If somebody is tailgating you, slow down and increase your following distance from the vehicle in front. Give yourself time to brake more cautiously in order to avoid having the tailgater run into you.
  • Go down hills 1 gear lower than the gear you used to go up the hill.
  • Use the braking effect of the engine to slow down on inclines. Your brakes will fade if they become hot. Set a target speed of say 35mph and when your speed rises to 35mph, app,y the brakes until you drop to 30mph then let the engine take the strain.
  • Know your route. Know where the runaway truck escape lanes are in case you have to use them.
  • If you have a rear puncture, the back will begin to shimmy. Press the accelerator until you regain co troll then brake slowly.
  • Always keep your thumbs outside the steering wheel. Rest them on it but never inside the wheel. In the event of a front puncture, the wheel will snatch and could break your thumbs if they're inside the wheel.
  • In the event of a front tyre blowout, the wheel will become hard to control. Press on the accelerator until you regain control. Then brake slowly. Steer into a skid.
  • Check your fluids before every trip.
  • In the event of a hydraulic brake failure, pump the brake.
  • It's unlikely but you might have air brakes. If you hear a buzzer or the pressure drops to 65psi, pull over immediately and stop. At 45psi the emergency brakes will come on, locking all your wheels.
  • Check your mirrors. The cross view mirrors show your front wheels. The convex mirrors show the entire of the side of your vehicle and the flat mirrors show the 200 feet behind.
  • If you're driving a Carpenter, like me then you will not be able to stick your head out of the window. Be extra careful on left turns.
  • Reversing - the best way to avoid reversing accidents is not to reverse. There is a cone shaped blind spot behind your vehicle.
  • Remember your height, length, weight and width. My bus is 10'6" high, 35 feet long, weighs 24,000lbs and is exactly 102 inches (8'6") wide from wing mirror to wing mirror.
  • Most car drivers do not understand vehicles bigger than their cars. They think that because they can stop on a dime, you can too. Give cars 100 feet following distance. Give big trucks 300 feet following distance.
  • Remember to carry your phone. If you have a puncture, you need specialist help. Bus tires are 85psi, are big and you won't be carrying a spare. You will need to call a mobile mechanic.
That's a brief note on driving busses. It's always worth taking the CDL A just for the learning experience. If you can do so then please do, it will give you these tips and a few more. The CDL B gives more tips and the S endorsement gives you school bus specific tips.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It rained!

This morning was a 5:15AM alarm after which I arrived at my bus driving class. Within 3 hours I'd been released and was on my way to the doctor for a TB test and a medical. With those out of the way, my next stop was the DMV. There, I found myself faced with 4 computerized tests. Two I'd never heard of before today so they didn't go well. The other two I just missed passing one. The air brakes test that I'd been worried about was a straight pass. So, I now have 3 to pass and two to really bone up on.

Later, I went to Lowes (hiss, spit) and got some 99 cent black spray paint. That'll do for the current window unit. I also got a replacement plug for my 15A adaptor cable. The plug I'd put on was 20A with a 20A angled pin. I only noticed that when I tried to use it yesterday. I'd replaced the plug I'd bought from Tractor Supply as it was falling apart. I get so many problems with flimsy electrical connectors!

The inlet vent is giving me cause for thought. If I put a round vent then I could just use a plastic tube. If I make it square then it will be more challenging to fill the gap between the skins. Many vent covers are rectangular as is my Honda lawnmower filter.

As I had to clean out my car prior to a specific need, I discovered some grinding disks I'd forgotten about. They're 4 inches in diameter which would make cutting a 4 inch hole easier. More food for thought!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Today because I didn't want to get hot and sweaty, I didn't do much on the bus. In the evening I have a camera club meeting followed by a very early start for work. I'm talking in terms of getting home at 10pm and a 5:15AM alarm.

The window unit took my attention today. It seems that the 9V battery works but gets very hot, very quickly. I also noticed that I had a cooler breeze inside the bus when the cooler outside air was blowing in through the open window.
Clearly my unit with two vents needs to be sprayed black to match the windows. The idea is sound though.
Here, you can see one vent wired to a 9V battery. The other is not yet wired. I have several thoughts about wiring and some are even suitable to discuss in church!

Thinking about the cool air coming in through the window and combining that with a different form of ventilation makes more sense. Clearly I need to pump cool air in rather than hot air out. I had hoped my rear ventilation setup would have done everything I wanted. I was wrong there. It does serve a purpose though. I'm sure air flows in that direction now.

The new idea is a return to an old idea - to install a fan or fans to pump cooler air into the bus. I could put together a simple screen to pop into a window. That's not hard. I'd rather be able to pump cool air in though. I need to be able to filter the junk out of it.

Looking at the bus, I noticed a couple of panels under the driver's window that seem to be screwed rather than riveted. It's part of the heater assembly and has me wondering whether I could plumb into the air intake there and blow cool air from outside in through that intake.

Deciding not to attend the photo club on account of it being too little time to wind down and sleep though I've had less sleep when I was working retail, I set to work on the removable panel. Several screws proved resistant until hut several times with a hammer. One screw sheared when unscrewing and one head stripped. Needless to say, the Grabbit didn't work. I keep trying that thing and it never ever works. So, I resorted to my trusty angle grinder.
With the panel off, I could see the heater is a radiator that sucks air from inside the bus. The answer to the rattle in the fan was answered. There was an elderly Jolly Rancher packet stuffed in the fan. Broken pens and pencils lay on the compartment floor. Clearly the air for this heater is recycled onboard air. The fan that defogs the windows looks like being air sucked in from outside judging from the position of the inlet vent on the outside.

Investigating the vent on the side of the bus with the defroster fan on, there was no air movement. That was baffling. Clearly that vent is for something different. It is obvious therefore from today's investigations that I need to install an inlet vent. I'm tending toward installing my inlet at the front either behind the driver's seat or in the fridge compartment. I could install under the desk in the galley too though that'd be above the fuel tank which I don't feel is a good place, not to mention the problem of putting electricity in that side of the bus.

After I put the cover back, I returned to my window vent. This time, I put the battery holder from one of my $5 fans to power both fans. That wasn't too tricky. The problem came when the installed window unit kept falling inwards out of the window. With the battery pack and fans, it's now back heavy. I'll have to think on that. Meanwhile, with the fans set to suck, the temperature in the galley quickly dropped two degrees from 95 to 93, pretty closely matching the bedroom temperature of 92.4.
As can be seen, I propped the unit up with a stick. The cool breeze was very welcome! I'm giving more thought to installing inlet vents like my outlet vents but at the front of the bus. Given plenty insulation squirted in and removable vent covers, that could well be the answer. The alternative is a turbo vent behind the driver's seat - which would probably be a load easier.

That's pretty much all I did today. With a reverse switch and the falling problem fixed, that could become a useful cooking extraction fan. Truth be told, a roof vent would be better for many things but it's so tricky to install what with body ribs etc not to mention the problem of sealing it adequately.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Today makes progress

The first thing I did today was to head out to the bus depot. As I'd heard nothing since I passed my state competency test on Friday morning, I wanted to be proactive. Thus I went to the depot which was deserted aside from a single secretary. The upshot was I was directed to a different address and to ask for Dixie. Anyway, I found Dixie and ended up talking to the person I needed to speak to.

Having done that, I headed back via the grocery store. No bus purchases today though thinking about food, I found a large plastic box in the bus full of dried beans and rice. That would probably last a month or more!

On the bus today, I measured the window again and cut some wood to fit. With the window open, the wood fitted very well. So well, in fact, that it was hard to remove. Following that, I used my adjustable tool to cut two 4.5 inch holes toward the top. Then I attached two wings to the board so that it couldn't be accidentally pushed outside. Following that I cut a piece of mosquito mesh then pressed it against the wood while I painted the wood. The paint acted as glue. Once the paint had dried, I painted the other side. It's currently white but I'll probably spray the outside grey to match the bus or black to match the window.

I tried one of my little 3V fans that I removed from the back of the bus in the hole and it worked well. In fact it shifted a lot of air when connected to a 9V battery. That gives me a use for my 9V battery holder that I bought the other day. If I attach that to the board and wire both fans to it, results should be good.

The window unit is designed to be used when needed rather than permanently. Thus a battery power supply seems ideal.

No photograph today. By the time the last coat of paint had got near tacky, the sky was beginning to look menacing. I put my board away and cleared my tools away just in time. Thunder rolled, lightning flashed and the rain began to hammer down. Looking at the forecast, this is what the rest of the week will be like. This is South Carolina where the hurricane season runs from June 1st to December 1st. Bad weather is the norm most evenings these days.