Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Beware the forums!

On school bus conversion forums it seems people are largely in way over their little heads with bus conversions. Thus they come up with idiotic ideas that are universally applauded by the clueless morons on the forums. All I can say is God help anybody that puts faith in anything posted on a forum.

The whole air I get from forums is that they think owning a bus will be cheap. Not so, I'm afraid. Most busses take two types of tyre - steering tyres and driving tyres. Both cost about the same. Really bargain basement tyres start at $230 and go up to $600 each. Remember there are two steering tyres and four driving tyres. Replacing all six could well cost $3,600. Needless to say, I used to read plaintive whines from people that wanted to use different sized tyres or even switch to single wheels from duals. These are the people that shouldn't be anywhere near a bus because they don't have a clue.

As far as tyres go, the reality is you can use retreads. The school districts use retreads and the law does allow this. The sole restriction is that the front tyres must not be retreads.

One of the pet theories everybody seems to come up with is that light weight means more fuel economy. The fact is that massive reductions in weight will result only in trivial reductions of fuel consumption. Of course nobody considers the implications of weight reduction because none of the bus converters have largely driven anything other than a car with front wheel braking. That is, of course assuming forum users are actually old enough to have driven a car!

The safety problem caused by weight reduction is increased braking distance. The heavier the load, the more the back tyres are pressed into the road and the better the braking. This is why it makes sense to put the heavy stuff like waste tanks, water tanks and house batteries behind the rear wheels.

Another of the stupid things people on forums advise is replacing the standard bus doors. My question is why. I made my standard doors lock and unlock and made them more secure without any difficulty. One of the things that they do or claim to do is to replace the door with a great big plank or house door that has none of the visibility. Heaven knows if that'd ever pass an inspection!

Really and truly everybody converting a bus needs to take a CDL class as most do t have a clue about what they bought! A CDL class will also teach how to inspect a bus. That's something everybody buying a bus needs to know. My bus had an illegal weld on a chassis cross member as an example. I've reduced that weld now back to just the cross member but I might give thought to replacing the damaged cross member.

Well,mtgsts all I have time for tonight. I have to be up at 4am, ready to drive busses at 6am.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bloody electronics

Windows is the epitome of electronics... Yesterday it worked, today it didn't. Electronics are just like Microsoft's increasingly ghastly and increasingly obsolete operating system (of which I am not the world's greatest fan). Of course, I speak of my solar charge controller.
As can be seen, the panels are wired in parallel, putting power into the charge controller. The charge controller puts power into a battery and also into my two CPU fans. Those are currently roaring away at their full 12 volts. The battery came from Radio Shack in their going out of business sale.
I should have bought more wire in the Radio Shack going out of business sale but thought I'd leave it until the next week. Sadly, that turned out to be too late because by the time I returned, several weeks later, there was just tumbleweed blowing around where they had been.

Today I took a quick trip to Lowes (hiss, spit) to get myself some wire and some more metal bar to out over the upper windows of the front door. I did see other things I could use too but as it is unlikely that I will even get as far as the front door, today, I didn't get them.

The battery is a gel cell. I will probably mount that under the bus at some point just in order to avoid a battery fire, should the battery catch fire. Interestingly, my solar controller says it'll work with lithium cells as well as lead acid. That might well be a route worth trying but again, under the bus and shielded such that a fire won't cause problems.

At 5ah, there's not much power in the battery but there should be sufficient in order to operate my fans. Interestingly, the controller will cut the fans off until the battery has sufficient power to run them. There's a cut off point and a cut on point. I gather they can be adjusted manually. That sounds really promising!

I looked at the manual and found an interesting setting. If it's set to 24 hours, the fans come on when it's light and go off when it's dark. I like that. There's a time delay setting that delays fan start until so many hours have passed. The instructions are bloody appalling. Even wearing glasses I can't read the teeny text. I had to find my jeweler's loupes in order to read it all.
I'm sure you can read it easily by simply enlarging the page. For me, that wasn't so easy as I had not scanned the images into my tablet. Needless to say, having set the battery to gel cell and the time delay, I decided to leave the other settings pretty much alone. I might tinker with them at another point.

One of the interesting things about this charger is that it has a pair of USB charging ports. Those might come in useful at some point.

While working on the wiring (which was extremely simple) I used one of the snap off blade knives. I'd bought it years ago but had never used it. Under very gentle pressure while cutting the web joining a figure 8 cable, the thing just disintegrated. Fortunately I didn't cut myself but I will be sticking to craft knives in the future.
I have no idea when I bought this knife. I vaguely remember buying it because I couldn't find my craft knife. I have no idea where I bought it either though I do know it must have been at least 6 years ago.

As I suspected, I never had time to work on the security bars. I have them ready to work on tomorrow between the two halves of my split shift. I'll probably cut them to size then spray them on one side. That should pretty much take up my free time.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

This is bullshit!

With great enthusiasm, I rushed to the mailbox this afternoon to take delivery of my new solar charge controller. I connected my two solar panels in parallel and connected the charge controller. Nothing! No lights lit up. The display remained blank. I disconnected the panels and connected a battery to the battery connections. Still nothing. I disconnected the battery, reconnected the panels and connected a CPU fan to the load connections. Still nothing. It appears I've bought another lemon. I reconnected my solar panels to my CPU fans and they buzzed away merrily. Well, perhaps not that merrily but they did spin and shift some air. Quite how much air, I don't know as I haven't measured it lately.

Next, I connected the batteries my 5 watt panel had been charging over about 2 days with the panel in direct sunlight. They powered a small CPU fan for an hour or so before giving up. I'm not surprised nor astounded. I have come to expect to be consistently underwhelmed by this solar baloney. My experience of solar products echoes my experience of LED lighting units. They work about 60% of the time and don't last anywhere near as long as they're supposed to. In fact, just like LEDs, the cost of solar is higher than conventional alternatives.

For decades I have tried to get somethething worthwhile out of electronics (solar, tablets, phones, computers, LED lighting) and have come to the conclusion that most of it is just plain old bullshit. Phones that cost $250+ and don't last more than 3 years, tablets that don't last more than 3 months, laptops that become obsolete and unusably slow in 18 months, desktops that become unusably slow in about 18 months, cameras that cost an arm and a leg for something that doesn't produce a storable negative that'd outlast funky digital media by generations, LED lights that last a couple of months at best as opposed to the decades claimed. Then there's this "wonderful" internet. Don't let me get started on that!

Oops... Too late... I search for something online and what comes up is usually worthless trash. I get so many forums, blogs, personal websites, social media garbage etc coming up. That's where instead of reading facts about a subject, fools will read people's opinions posing as fact. The internet reminds me very much of the graffiti I saw on the back of a Swansea University bathroom door "call this a library, I'd get more information from a freshly squeezed turd" though I'd suggest replacing the word library with the word Internet.

That brings me on nicely to forums. I tore one apart for the baloney posing as fact over driving licenses. As those that read this blog regularly will realize, I know a good bit about licenses, particularly those relating to busses. I also know a good bit about DIY and bus mechanics. I have a CDL B with P and S endorsements. Occasionally I glance at forums and am usually amazed at the bad advice being handed out. It seems somebody reads something on one forum then spouts it as gospel truth elsewhere without ever referring to primary sources. It's like claiming the moon is made of cheese while ignoring the information from NASA and other bodies about it's actual makeup.

So, I now have a solar controller that doesn't work, attached to the inside of the bus. I'm probably just going to leave it there. I'm not going to throw good money after bad, trying to replace it. I'm not going to buy more solar panels. I'm not going to try to recoup value from the money already blown on electronic components. I'm just going to leave my solar panels powering my fans. I'm going to build a little box for my 12v battery and put a small mains/car charger into it and create thusly a portable power unit that will charge my cellphone and or tablet.

The next stage with the bus is cleaning and sorting out the inside. The bedroom still has high humidity which makes me wonder about leaks. I think a sensible step will be to put silicone seal on all the roof seams that I've not yet hit with silicone seal. Maybe combine that with aluminum tape.

Friday, September 23, 2016


I like my lunchbreaks. They currently last from 08:45 until 13:15. That allows me to get a ton of stuff done on the bus.

Today started with my sweeping the floor of the bus down the stairs and into a cardboard box which I then went through retrieving useful things like nuts, bolts, screws and rivets. Having retrieved all my worthwhile bits, the rest including the copious quantities of sand were carefully disposed of into a nearby waste receptacle.

Next I spent positively ages, probably about an hour adjusting my new wing mirror. Bring a truck mirror, there were 4 degrees of adjustment top and bottom which meant I could attain perfection. That's why it took so long!

The new mirror was missing the amber reflector that I'd stuck on the old mirror. Peeling the old one carefully off revealed that it was held on by double sided adhesive tape. I found a few pieces from when I'd been making pitiful amounts of money from selling advertising space on an LED sign I used to carry on the back of my car. I'd used the tape to secure the sign to my back window. Sadly, there wasn't enough tape but I remembered I have some silicone caulk.

Bearing in mind the air was moist, I don't think the silicone will stick all that well but in the event it does, I will be happy. I had a go at gluing the reflector on the mirror in order to add that extra little but of visibility.

Meanwhile, I had taken a mug out of a cardboard box a week ago and it was slimy inside. I checked another and that was slimy too. It seems something had slimed all over a few things in that box. I'm glad most of my stuff is in plastic totes and impervious to critters. I'll have to check and rehome everything that's in cardboard boxes after cleaning it. I'll chuck the cardboard boxes.

And so the lunch break ends with my having to return to work. I have such a lovely day from 04:00 when I rise to 05:45 when I start work. I finish work for the day at 16:45 so it's about a 12 hour day with a gap in the middle.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The good thing

One of the good things about working as a school bus driver is that I get from 08:15 until 13:15 to myself. That gives me time in the day to do things.

Today I took the mirror that arrived yesterday and installed it. I got the vertical angle wrong but that's just a matter of adjusting the bottom bracket bolt. It was a matter of minutes to install using 1/2 inch and 9/16 inch spanners and a pair of pliers. It also involved an obligatory tumble down the front steps of the bus. I'm going to blame the sand that's built up there over the last few days for that!
The mirror didn't look like it had a 5/16 thread on the eBay photo but it did so I'm happy about that. My next task will be to locate a new orange reflector to put on the outer edge of the mirror.
Subsequent to my eBay purchase, I did find the mirror cheaper elsewhere but only marginally. I must say that the sellers packaging was superb. It arrived undamaged in the post.

Yet to arrive in the post is my solar charge controller. That's coming from Canada. I still have the broken one that arrived from China. I have no idea whether it really works though. As I've probably said, the mounting was broken so I contacted the seller who ignored me. Then I contacted eBay and the seller promised to ship a replacement. That never arrived so after a month, I notified eBay who promptly issued a refund. Subsequent to that, it still didn't arrive so I'm going to declare that Chinese seller doesn't care about honesty. Unless I can't get something from closer to home I'm unlikely to order from China.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Small steps

Yesterday I passed the CDL test and today I picked up my brand new driving license. I now have a license that says I can drive a bus with passengers and can also drive a Schoolbus. It doesn't matter a jot now that my own bus is 1,500lbs heavier than I can drive on a car license because I can drive big, heavy busses now.

As far as the test was concerned, I'd already passed the one test. Yesterday's test was in three parts. The first was whether I could identify and check all the major components of a bus. That involved rolling underneath the bus and touching the air brake cylinder, the push rod and the slack adjuster amongst a great many other things.

The second test involved driving through an alley made of cones then reversing back through that alley. It also involved reversing through an offset cone alley before finally parking in a bay made of cones. That was all pretty easy as long as the mirrors were used.

The third and final test involved driving on public roads. I did left and right turns, crossed railway tracks and junctions and drove on the interstate. I was asked about what the speed limit was and what my speed was. I also had to make safe lane changes. That was all pretty easy stuff to be honest.

Thus I am now a professional driver. I really couldn't care less about the label though. I'd rather be recognized as a safe driver.

In other news, my eBay wing mirror arrived. It's in pristine condition and had it not been fir the rain, I'd have installed it today. That was $25 well spent though it'd have been nice not to have to spend the money!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The mirrors, the mirrors

 Well, that's what happened to my mirror. The problem was the swivels were rusted solid and the body was plastic. Thus when I tried moving the mirror into place, it flexed and the glass didn't with the above result. I had a huge fight to remove the nuts in order to remove the mirror.

The mirror I bought on eBay the other day should fit. I can't see threads on the top and bottom so it might need new brackets. I'll just have to wait and see. It might be possible to make my own though.
As can be seen here, the bolt comes straight out of the bottom of the mirror. It looks to be a 1/4 by 20 bolt. I'd had major problems trying to undo it yesterday but today I bought a set of combination scanners and got it undone.

I had a fancy to put a different mirror system. In the end I decided for reasons of cost to stay with what I have. One of the convex and one cross view mirror do need work. Either replacement or polishing but I'm not sure which yet. The one mirror that was cockeyed, I did manage to straighten. Fortunately the swivels on that weren't rusted solid or I'd be looking at a another new mirror.

For the first time in several months I started my bus. Not just that but I moved it. Having taken bus driving classes, I was much more confident of moving it. Indeed, using the mirrors I did manage to turn the bus around. Even so, I had to get out and look a couple of times. I can't say I did my turnabout in three points because it wasn't. It was more like 9 as the bus is big and the space is not clearly marked.

The rev counter was playing its usual trick of being intermittent. I have a feeling that the problem is the hillbilly wiring. Other than that, everything seemed to work just fine.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

What a smashing time!

I finished adjusting the side mirrors today with the aid of my socket set, hammer, adjustable spanner and can of WD40. It went a lot better than yesterday though there was a setback. Having raised the mirrors, one was now out of alignment. This necessitated some wiggling during which the blessed thing cracked. Sadly, it wasn't a mirror that I wanted to replace.

I still have an adjustment to make to my near side long mirror. It's now at the right height but was crooked in its mount in the first place. Sadly two of the bolts are so close together that it's going to be very hard to do anything about it. I'll need to get a 3/4 inch open spanner. If that fails, I'll have to angle grind one of the bolts off.

So, I checked and the mirror I need to replace which measures 7 inches wide by 16 inches high is fairly common. Rosco seems to make them but usefully puts no prices on their website. In the end I found two on eBay. One was heated and the other was not. As the original was not heated and since I never have had a problem with frozen mirrors, I went for the unheated one st $15 with $10 postage. I just hope the postman doesn't try to fold it!

After that I looked at the sun shade I'd taken down. I had no idea what it was when I took it down but kept it in the shed in case I might need it. That is now mounted again and adjusted correctly. It needs a darned good cleaning but I couldn't find my Windex.

Meanwhile, I'd left my 5A solar panel connected to 8AA NiMh cells in an 8AA battery holder all day. It had been sitting on the hood while I worked around things. Testing one with my little battery tester showed a pretty good charge level. Maybe another day in the sun and the batteries will be full.

A few days ago, I contacted eBay. The seller in China who had sold me the charge controller that arrived with a broken mount had sent a message via eBay that they were sending a replacement. I waited a month and no replacement ever arrived. eBay was notified and I was swiftly issued a refund.  Thus I've ordered a new charge controller but this time it's coming from Canada. While the one from China with the broken mount looks as though it might work, I can't really secure it properly it's more of a curio plaything. The new charge controller will go with the lead acid battery I got from Radio Shack and the solar panels and fans at the back of the bus. I have a feeling that might improve the functioning of the system.

Right now, funds are somewhat limited. My job as summer camp counsellor ended on July 21st then I had 3 days work in an after school program before joining the school district transportation department. As they pay two weeks in hand and two weeks in arrears or in other words I had to wait a month for my first check, I'm a little short. Things should be better by November though. By November the fire ants will be asleep and it'll be possible to work underneath the bus without any issues.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Something for the weekend?

Years ago, the classic line from a hooker in Brutain used to be "Simething fir the weekend, sir?" Gentlemen worth their salt would smile and say they didn't want to have to visit the STD clinic on Monday. That's all beside the point though. The weekend is upon us. I do have something for the weekend too but it's not in the form of a short skirted fishnet clad harlot!

Over the past few weeks I've been observing the bus mirrors more closely. As they are all set way too low, I decided to correct this. That was a performance! I pulled out a 3/4 inch socket and a socket driver. Upon attempting to use the socket driver, it just clicked and did nothing. Clearly a broken driver. I pulled out another driver and worked on the mirrors. Using a combination of WD40, an adjustable spanner, a socket driver and a hammer I managed to raise one of the long mirrors and a convex mirror. The convex mirror needs further work. Indeed there is a question, having seen mirrors on the busses at work, whether it might be a good idea to go for a different mirror system. This question is especially pertinent since some of the mirrors need to be replaced due to deteriorated reflective surfaces.

Meanwhile, I looked at the acrylic caulk I put on the newly laid floor board. It seems still to be slightly soft. That's not welcome but I'll wait a bit longer to see if it hardens. These things have a habit of taking forever to harden.

My bus driving course is going well. I passed the basic bus manovering test. I'm now heading toward the CDL test which involves being able to inspect a bus thoroughly for safety. The inspection really is thorough, focusing on essential electrical systems, the passenger and driver environment and the mechanical systems. There is no part of the bus that does nit get inspected thoroughly. I have 45 minutes to speed through my inspection.

As far as driving is concerned, my confidence has rocketed. I have noticed my existing mirrors were poorly aligned. Thus, I've been working today on fixing that. Given the challenge, posed by moving rusty mirror mounts that haven't been moved in 20 years, this might take several days!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Yesterday I put what I believe will be the final lot of caulk on the floor panel. Thus I would have painted today but as normal, after my 12 hour work day, I was too busy doing immediately necessary things.

Speaking of work, I reversed the work Schoolbus today and not just around a corner! I did a straight drive forward between two lines of cones. Then I reversed back through the cones. That went well. The next stage was to drive forward between two lines of cones then to switch lanes while reversing back between a different set of cones. That went well too. Where it all went to pot was when I tried parallel parking between some cones. The first attempt I overhung the side cones with the back end. The second go, I acquired the nickname Coneman the Destroyer because I successfully knocked out a couple of the cones at the back. Third time worked a charm. I'd figured out by repeating what I did the first time, what was going wrong. I'd been reversing a 50 foot bus like a car instead of as a bus. Reversing has to be shallow but with a swift leveling of the front end.

Returning home, having been driving busses, I sat in the driver's seat and looked at my mirrors. They're pretty inadequate. I have the cross view mirrors which show everything they should. My other mirrors are woeful. I have two convex mirrors mounted so low they're hard to see and two flat mirrors that are equally poorly placed. They're also low. I can see I'm going to have to raise the two sets of mirrors as well as possibly adding an extra mirror on each side. Mounted as they are, I cannot see my rear wheels. That's just plain bad!

Meanwhile, I've been putting off driving my bus because it is a totally different configuration from those I drive at work. The work busses are transit busses which have the steering wheels about 6 feet behind the driver. Mine is a conventional bus with the steering wheels 6 feet in front of the driver. Quite a difference for a learning driver!

In other news, some hilarity.
Clerk - did you sign your time sheets yet?
Me - what time Sheets?
Clerk - the ones in your mailbox
Me - what mailbox?
Clerk - mailbox XX
Me - I've got a mailbox?
Clerk - yes!
Me - can I have a key?
The clerk goes away and hunts and announces the key is missing but hands me the time sheets to sign. Incidentally that was at 2pm and the one sheet had to be submitted by 12pm and the other about 2 weeks ago.

Oh well. It should all be fixed now. I'm rather tickled by the fact such a mixup should happen. And to save embarrassment, I'm not mentioning the venue!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Filling the hole

I am now onto the section of my driving course where I have to learn how to inspect a bus for safety. The commentary is rather staid and goes along the lines of: The floor mat is securely attached with no missing nuts, bolts or screws. There are no holes, rips or tears that might cause somebody to trip or fall. There are 9 emergency exits....

The CDL course is very interesting and seems very worthwhile. I'm very lucky to have found a CDL course where I'm paid and learn. Whether the CDL will be useful later on, I don't know.

Today I screwed down the square of plywood that I'd cut beforehand. It seems that I was a little too enthusiastic in one place with my sanding. I got it right in other places though.
I'd neglected to buy caulk on my journeys to and from work. Today I made a trip to Dollar General and bought a tube of caulk. Putting it on with my caulk gun was easy enough and a spare angle bracket served to smooth it into place. When it's dried it might have shrunk. I'll have to look tomorrow.
At the moment, it looks pretty good. The next stage if the caulk hasn't shrunk will be to paint the patch and the caulk white. That will complete this part of the bedroom. While I'm at it with the white paint, I might also patch areas where I wasn't too accurate with my borders.

It goes without saying though that my focus at the moment is my CDL. That might open yet more doors. Having said that, I will be putting plenty work into the bus yet. Had I been to the store then I could have also completed my security bars on the front door.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Latest news, read all about it!

A few days ago, I passed the Behind the Wheel test, driving a rear engined Schoolbus. It was my 3rd attempt. The first time I ran over a curb on a corner. The next time I made far too many errors. This time I got through though I did lose points for braking sharply. I'd not anticipated a light turning red and had 200 feet to bring the bus to a standstill from 45mph. I managed it!

The test was thorough and involved crossing two railway lines, joining a 4 lane road from the far side correctly, maintaining the correct speed and turning right and left corners while keeping the back wheels on the road and not touching the curb. There was a right hand reverse where I gained more penalties for starting too wide but I brought it under control and ended a foot from the curb both front and rear and just behind the stop sign. The final part was an emergency pull over. I'm glad that parking the bus at the depot wasn't part of the test. I managed to park one rear wheel on the grass.

So, I can now drive a bus but I have work left to do to pass the CDL part of the test. This involves a 45 minute inspection of the bus in great detail. I gather there's parallel parking involved too.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Experimental upgrades

Today I looked at the fan that had been powered by my 8 pre charged AA batteries. It had ground to a halt last night after about six hours when the batteries measured 3.8v. Today the batteries measured 7.8v and while they will power a fan weakly, it's not enough to move much air.
As an experiment I connected my 5W solar panel to the battery pack and a fan. As the panel has a diode built in, there should be no problem with back flow. What will be interesting will be to see what the level of charge in the battery is after ten hours in the daylight with the fan and batteries connected to the solar panel. I have a feeling the results will be less than stellar which in fact is my whole experience of solar energy so far. The ventilation fans at the back of the bus do work, just not brilliantly off solar panels. There are times when the fans work hard which makes me suspect there is sometimes surplus energy. Harvesting that might make the fans work more consistently and that was the purpose of today's experiment. More on this, later.

For my next miracle, I turned to the hole in the floor and trimmed the aluminum underbody patch and the wooden floor patch to fit. That didn't take too long. Next, I pre drilled the patch and the floor so that I can simply rivet the patch in place from the top using aluminum rivets. While I could use steel, there's no need because there will be no weight carried by the patch as the plywood above will carry any weight.
Now, usually, when I have to work above and below the bus I ask for assistance from milady's sister's boyfriend. This time, however, he wasn't available so I had to do it myself. That was easier than you might imagine. It was a case of taking a wire coat hanger and passing it through matching rivet holes to pull the plate up into contact with the underside. Having put silicone seal on the top of the plate, it stuck on well. I did have to slide under the bus to pass the plate past a troublesome body rib but otherwise, once it was in place, it was just a case of riveting. Well, almost. Two rivet shanks broke off half way, necessitating the gentle attention of my angle grinder.
After that, it was just a case of laying my nicely cut piece of plywood. Well, almost. The plywood on the floor where it hadn't rotted is the only part of the hillbilly construction I have left alone. It seems their plywood was thinner than standard. I could say blow me down with a feather but by now you'll know nothing surprises me any more. I've seen enough of life to know I'll never overestimate stupidity. So, out came my sander and I sanded the edges of my plywood so they'll match the rest of the floor. No point in getting it exactly right because it's a closet. I won't be walking there.
It doesn't look bad at all. It needs to be screwed down. Two screws should do and it needs painting and filler around the edges. That might be a job for next weekend though. This three day weekend has simply flown by.

Now I bet you're wondering about my little fan, battery and solar panel experiment. As I recall, the battery voltage was 7.8 when I set the whole contraption going a few hours earlier. The voltage had risen to a level I could not measure. My digital multimeter which has had a fresh battery seems to have gone bananas. Remember what I said about electronics being such garbage? I set it down with the leads not connected to anything and the display is reading random voltages between 14v and 4v. I don't want to have to buy another perishing multimeter. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's a cheapo meter or a costly meter. It doesn't matter where it's bought. They all seem to be equally bad. So, was my experiment a success or a failure? I just don't know. And people seriously wonder why I haven't bothered decking my bus out with electrics. I'd rather just save myself the time and just take the cash I'd have spent on TVs and multimeters and fridges etc and just toss wads of money into the dump. It's a lot lighter to carry than these stupid electrical things!

Having turned the panel over facedown and seen the fan still spinning at the same rate, I'm going to go out on a limb and claim that the panel is putting power into the battery. How much though, I do not know. The main thing is nothing has blown up yet - aside from my multimeter.

I don't know about you but I have a drawer full of dead electronic devices ranging from cellphones to tablets, multimeters and scrolling LED displays. Last Black Friday I bought 4 of the fancy LED light bulbs that are supposed to last a phenomenal number of hours. Well, one died within weeks. Another is flickering badly now. Are they more economical than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs? No they are not because they keep breaking. I am very selective about the electronics in my life. Less is more and the simpler the better.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

I am now situated securely behind bars though not at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

My front door now has real bars over the lower glass. That should make the casual miscreant think twice! I'm sure a professional miscreant would find some way around all my security measures though I'm constantly making it harder to do that.

After this I took a break and fabricated a component to repair milady's ice dispenser. That took a while! The end had broken around where a corkscrew thingy rotated. I had to include a bearing surface in the design. I'm waiting to see if it works or I need to adjust my design.

A few days ago, I bought an 8 pack of AA NiMh batteries for a really good price. I believe I got them in Walmart. Even at 40% off, Radio Shack was still too expensive. That's why, of course, they're losing so many stores. Anyway, I plugged the new batteries into a fan I had attached to the ceiling vent in the cockpit. There is no noticeable fan behind that so it was worth using. I'd tried a fan there before with mixed results. This time, the humidity in the galley was lower than that of the bedroom, having started higher. That's very promising!

The goal is to run the batteries down to zero. They came ready charged which is not what I need for my next experiment. That will be to put the batteries on one of my two rear fans. I want to see what difference if any, a system with a rechargeable reserve battery will have. I know the panels produce more power than each fan can use, at times. I'd like to see if I can get full power operation more consistently and possibly into the night. The problem will come if the batteries are not exhausted by morning. That'll mean I'll have to install a charge controller and hunt as I may, I cannot find any 12v NiMh solar charge controllers. In fact, I can't find and NiMh charge controllers ready made at all. They all seem to be for lead acid or flaming lithium batteries (sic).

If that works, I'll rig up something similar for the front fan. I'll also see about including some kind of power switch and possibly some kind of fuse though where the overload would cone from, I'm not entirely sure.

I still need to fill the hole in the bedroom floor as well as insulating the forward roof cavity. Other than that there are things I'd like to do and things I need to do but that list is now very short indeed. I could make a list but there's little point. It'll all get done in due course. What I'd really like is for Eric to come to lend his opinion but he's in France or Belgium at the moment and highly unlikely to tootle down to South Carolina from his regular visits to Canada - whenever his next visit will be!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

One step forward, five steps backward

Electronics, as I keep saying are such a huge disappointment. I really don't know why I keep trying!

Well, my phone was left plugged in, in the car overnight. It charged fully. It had charged in the house on my wireless charging pad quite well for about the last year or so. Suddenly and without warning, it refused to charge from the wireless pad or with a direct cable connection. These electronic things are so finicky. It's not as though they're fixable either. When the black magic inside runs out, no matter how stupid the money spent on them is, they're landfill.

I wired my solar panels via diodes last night to the two extraction fans. That was probably a good step to take. I have been thinking of wiring them into a set of NiMh AA cells such that when there isn't sufficient light, the fans keep going. That in turn led me on to considering going beyond this simple yet functional setup.
Ignore the black cable in the foreground as that belongs to something else. As can be seen, I've used hefty rectifier diodes to protect my solar panel. Today I checked the readings and I was getting between 19 and 19.5 volts with the fans connected and spinning, Clearly plenty excess power.

One of the creations I dreamed up was the following. Then I realized I was getting way too complicated. All I need is to connect the two fan wire pairs at the bottom together and connect to a battery pack. There would be no switch and no fuse.
The plan was to have power from the panels coming in the top and power out to the fans at the bottom. Then the battery to the right. I'd like also to have included a fuse and switches but there just wasn't room in the box. Then I realized the banana connectors probably weren't the best thing to use since the prongs might touch if they're not plugged in. I looked into using coaxial power plugs but realized my cables are too big so, I'm back to just having each panel powering an individual fan.

Meanwhile, I tried to start the bus today. The battery was showing a woeful 8-10 amps and it wouldn't start. Thus I had to put a charger in place. That's despite my attempting to keep the batteries topped up with a solar panel and charge controller. Indeed my fag lighter socket volt meter read just 11.8v. I suspect there's a current drain somewhere. I really do need to take the bus in for a good diagnostic!

As mentioned before, I'm working on my CDL. I'm not there quite yet though. I'm also considering a type F non commercial license so I can pull a trailer.

Last night the heavy rain from hurricane Hermione did no damage. No rain penetrated the bus. That means my leak sealing worked. There was no wet noticeable from my newly installed vents either which is amazing when they're installed horizontally instead of vertically as designed. 

As far as completing the bus is concerned, I need to work underneath when the wasps and ants have gone. That cannot be long now. It would be nice to add more solar capacity in order to keep the battery topped up and to charge AA or D batteries.

I headed to the bank to pay a check in but found that helpfully, the bank had closed a couple of hours earlier. Still, it gave me an opportunity to visit Lowes (hiss, spit). There, I got some more metal to make more security strips for the front door.
When the paint dries, I'll work on attaching the bars. That'll probably be tomorrow. Meanwhile, my batteries have been on charge for several hours. I checked and the voltage came in as 11.8v. By 8pm it was a healthier 13.4v. I have a feeling that the broken 5A ABS fuse is the culprit. Something is bleeding power hence somebody had previously installed a cutout switch. When the battery is charged, I'll have to use the cutout. Tracing the short is a job for the international guys when I take my bus in for a diagnostic.

There are things that need attention. The right wiper doesn't move. The left wiper switch is faulty as is the hazard light switch. The wiring for the rev counter and speedometer needs attention too as both act as though there are loose wires somewhere. The short needs to be found and the reversing horn needs to be wired in properly. I have a feeling a lot of that is due to the hillbillies tender attention.

With the solar stuff, nothing looks all that promising. It all looks like bunk so far. On the other hand, when somebody says, "Here's some free energy for only a little investment", why exactly shouldn't I put that in the same class as "Psst. Wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn"? The fans do work. I guess I'll have to try adding NiMh batteries. I have a set of 8 waiting to be used. Just to be safe, I'll discharge them using my electric toothbrush. Adding batteries to my solar ventilation is not a high priority.

Friday, September 2, 2016

An exhausting week.

This has been an exhausting week. At about 1 hour of driving instruction per day and a driving test promised every day but which never came, I've not achieved all that I'd like. Today though I was at work, waiting between rainstorms for the next work period, browsing the Harbor Freight catalog.
Absolutely fascinating. It's a generator capable of running a microwave. There you see a darned good reason not to waste time nor money on silly solar and battery systems. In order to equal the output of that generator, you'd need a $200 inverter. You'd need batteries capable of powering the inverted too. A rough calculation is that for 1040W (my old microwave), I'd need about 6 batteries in parallel. Those go for $100 approx each. I'm not talking abiut super duper batteries either. I'm talking about the marine batteries that are affordable and sniffed at by those with more money than sense. Added to that, you'd need solar panels.

Assuming the microwave was as slow as mine and needed about ten to fifteen minutes per plate and assuming 3 microwaved meals per day then about 750wh of power would be used daily. Now a 100w solar panel could produce 100w in ultra fantastic conditions - no cloud, bright sun, the sun at the right angle and no dust or dirt on the panels. Basically, cloud cuckoo land. In the real world, expect 10% of the rated output. So in cloud cuckoo land with sun 12 hours a day, a 100w panel would produce enough power for those 45 minutes in about 7.5 hours. At about $1 per watt and with maybe 4 hours of usable sunlight per day, you'd need between 2 and 20 solar panels. Assuming 6 were used, that would be $600 and would take 1.25 hours of cloud cuckoo land weather to power the microwave for a cost of $600. Under normal conditions of 4 hours usable sunlight, the power budget would be in deficit.

Basically, you'd have paid $1400 for a half assed solar system that didn't do the job instead of $400 on this rather nifty generator. The solar bandits will happily tell you about all the gas you'd save but that's a total red herring. That generator uses a gallon every 3 hours on full load. At $2 per gallon, each microwave day would cost 50 cents. If the half assed solar system actually worked, the maths works out like this. $1200 less the generator is $800. At 50c per day that's 1600 days of usage or around 5 years. Incidentally 5 years is all that those deep cycle batteries are good for.

Certainly I'll probably be using some solar but I'm not wasting my time trying to get it to produce enough power to cook. I have two panels used for ventilation only. Today I added a pair of diodes to the setup. This will help to ensure that in my planned expansion of the system to include batteries that current does not flow backward into the solar panels, damaging them. In order to do that, a few days ago I bought a small pile of stuff from Radio Shack in their closing sale. I'd got some NiMh batteries to use, thinking they would be ideal. Then I realized that I could use my existing lead acid charge controller and bought a very small lead acid gel battery to try with them. Initially though, I'll use the NiMh batteries with the solar power running straight to the batteries and power going straight to the fans. This means excess power will go to the batteries and the fans will run for a little after the sun has retired for the day. It will be interesting to see how this affects operation of the fans.

As a dual purpose, I'll put a switch or two into the system. One to switch the fans off and one to switch the batteries off. That would allow me to switch the fans off in winter and use the panels to charge batteries or to run the fans straight off batteries if need be. Basically, it increases my options.

Plans for this weekend which happens to be a 3 day weekend have not been formulated. Currently there's a hurricane lashing the coastline and sending winds and heavy rain in my direction. Until all that is gone, I can't plan anything. Meanwhile life has thrown another spanner in the works. My phone is acting up. It looks to be the charger. Having seen the way the screen is beginning to detach itself, I have doubts about how long my phone will last. Given that I use my phone to document progress on the bus, this is somewhat of an issue. In terms of actual phone usage, I doubt I engage in more than ten minutes of calls a month. That might be an indication that I should go over to an iPhone!

Meanwhile, I'm considering obtaining a class E driver's license. That would allow me to drive my bus more legitimately. The makers plate does say 27,500lbs, after all. I have to tidy inside first though in order to make it movable without things falling everywhere. At the moment, the inside resembles a construction site.

At work, after each trip, the busses have to be swept clean after every trip. I showed my colleagues my front steps and they were horrified.

I'm sure you'll agree, there's just too much sand. The problem is, parked on sand, it walks in. I almost have to shovel it out every couple of months!