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Shuttle Bus Conversion

Rubber Gym Mat

It was finally time to cut rubber for the garage, garage shelves, and under the bed. Even at only a quarter of an inch thick it was still super tough to cut through and needed scoring multiple times. I continue to be Brad’s hero, because as he says there were two projects he absolutely didn’t want to do – fiberglassing the shower and cutting the rubber, and I tackled it like a champ! My fingers are still numb from the pressure of holding the blade so tight… But doesn’t the rubber look great?

More Stuff

Shelving is ready to install in the garage, which we’ll line with rubber to be able to take abuse. I’m thinking cargo nets across the front would be a good idea to keep sleeping bags and gear from sliding around… Also, the overhead panel in the driver’s area is ready for paint and install tomorrow! Two of the four surround speakers will be mounted there. I can’t wait to be able to use our sound system!

(Aaaand, without realizing it, we’ve made the front panel look just like a giant cassette tape. Now to try and fix it.)

Fiberglass Mess pt. 2

There is no way to get good pictures of this, but suffice to say it is the messiest project EVER! The end product will be nice, but man, what a job. We just finished fiberglassing the shower by hand. We chose fiberglass out of necessity because of all the crazy angles in the shower and no other wall panel or covering would have worked. It just looks like wet wood in the photos, but it’s done! Waiting for it to dry now, then a final sanding down before coating with marine paint.

The bonus: Brad now says that I am his hero. I’ll take it.

Tip – when working with resin wear clothes that you’re ok with throwing away afterward.

Fiberglass Mess

We started fiberglassing the shower today, and can you say MESSY?! Brad confessed about two minutes in that his temperament couldn’t handle fiberglassing, but we found our groove – me applying the fiberglass and him keeping me supplied with strips of mat and mixed resin. There’s still more to do, but I’m treating it like a fun art project (paper mache?). We are both on the OCD side, so big messes are stressful, but there is just no way to do this without making a big mess. So, we will embrace it!

Wall Outlets

We wanted the look of a standard house wall outlet, but are running off of an inverter with plugs. So how can we do that? All signs pointed to just using unattractive power strip extension cords, and mounting them into the wall. But then we found this replacement appliance cord at Lowe’s with the wires ready to splice into your appliance. The worker at Lowe’s showed us very simply how to connect the wires correctly to a standard house outlet. The green wire goes to the green connector. The white wire goes to the silver connector. The black wire goes to the gold connector. Dark to dark and light to light. Voila! We have 110 volts of power now for our laptop charging station.

The Plot (and the Color) Deepens

So we are at four coats of Waterlox on the countertops now, and the unevenness definitely went away. We still have two or more coats to go, but the dry time is increasing the more coats we add, since less is soaking into the wood. I’ll point out (and you’ll see from the photos) that original Waterlox is NOT clear, and deepens to a rich orangey tone with multiple coats. Not what I had planned, but the color is sure growing on me.

And we have functioning outlets, dimmer switch, and stereo receiver! It’s so satisfying to finally be using some power through our electrical system. The batteries have just been sitting there fully charged from solar for a while now. We got pex lines run today too. All in all, a productive day!

Waterlox Butcher Block Sealer

We put the first coat of Waterlox sealant on our butcher block, and 18 hours later it still looks splotchy. But after consulting the Waterlox website I’m assured this is ok and it will even out after more coats:

“Your surface may look uneven in appearance after the first or even the second coat of Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish. This is completely normal. Waterlox penetrates deep into the wood and will build up to an even film when applied with the suggested number of coats and coverage.”

Sealing wood is a time consuming process because you have to wait so long between coats (if you’re using oil based). If you work a day job it’s a perfect evening project, because then you’re not waiting around impatiently for it to dry… This weekend at our work we had a big go live (we work in IT), so it’s nice to feel like we are still accomplishing something on the bus without much time to work on it.

Butcher Block Sanding

Now the fun, easy part – sanding down the butcher block and adding some nice rounded edges. We didn’t go too crazy with rounding, but now there are no more bits to snag on your clothes and fingers (!), and gives a nice finished look. Brad’s brother gifted us an orbital sander which has been such an amazing thing. I don’t know how we would finish this project satisfactorily without it (or the pocket hole jig).

Butcher Block Countertop

The most nerve wracking experience of our bus build project to date? Cutting through our beautiful new butcher block countertop! We are under mounting both the sink and the stove top, so the edges need to be clean and nice. But we got it done as a team.

Our sink wasn’t meant to be under mounted, but we did it anyway. We built a frame to support the sink. The difficulty was getting it flush up to where the countertop will sit so there were no gaps. This took four hands and a lot of clamps to hold it into place before gluing and screwing it in.

The stove top was a little easier. It is mounted to a shelf that we fit below the countertop. On top will be a hinged portion of the counter that can open when we need to cook, and close when we need the extra workspace.

Cutting the hinged panel and the block that will rest over the sink was done with just a circular saw and a good old fashioned hack saw. The edges aren’t pretty yet, but once sanded I think everything will look great! To be continued.

Roughed Out Kitchen

It’s a real mess in here, but we have kitchen things happening!

Upper cabinets are roughed out and installed. Lower cabinets are walled in and waiting for the countertop. We agreed on a solution to compensate for that odd corner behind the driver’s seat, by expanding the upper cabinets out and curving the lower cabinets in. It looks kinda neat not having a totally squared off kitchen!

We ordered butcher block counter top and will have it this weekend to cut, stain, and install. Our sink and stove will be recessed below the counter, with a hinged panel over the stove so we can maximize the workspace (for cooking prep or for tuning skis, whatever is needed in the moment). The bed side table doubles as a device charging station for phones, batteries, headlamps, two-way radios… with a control panel on the side for outlets, switches, and audio receiver. It’s all very rough at the moment, but it’s starting to take the shape of a home.

It’s nice to take a step back and really take stock in everything that you’ve accomplished. Coming back home to the bus after five days away was exciting, and I’m totally motivated to get back to work.

Kitchen and Flooring

We are getting an idea of our kitchen layout, and how much room the appliances will need. Check out the small (but deep) sink that we found on Amazon! It came with a colander, dish rack, and fitted cover / cutting board. We also want to recess the countertop for the propane stove so that we can have a multi-use workspace for chopping veggies, or for working on skis.

We also dropped by Color Tile in Medford and had a chat with a flooring expert. We learned so much about vinyl vs. laminate, and porcelain vs. ceramic! Super helpful. They let us bring home some samples to view them in the space with natural lighting.

So with our tile picked, we found out that it’s actually “premium pool tile”, and would set us back like $450 just to do the fireplace and modest kitchen backsplash. Ouch! But the owner was super nice and offered us the last 80 tiles for $200. It’s plenty to do the job and a little bit more. It gives us some margin for error to screw up a few.

Walling in the Garage

Walling in the garage was super challenging because (as any bus person knows) there are no right angles in a bus! We also have a hobbit door going from the bedroom to the garage, a small window, and limited stud space.

But creative solutions abound! Brad used the cardboard template idea again, and also cut the wall boards at an angle to catch the most studs. The cuts were perfect! The end product is a strong wall that is primed for our rubber layer and should hold great. Brad also marked the studs with strips of tape so we knew where to put our screws. Simple, but smart. I like this guy (a lot).

Electrical Staging

Just a few months ago we knew absolutely nothing about electrical systems. Now we know nothing, plus a little bit more. 🙂 I’m super proud of us. All of the wiring has been staged and are ready for appliances! We’ll have recessed puck lights, sound system, fan, USB ports, wall outlets, battery charger, pump, and some extras (like a light and fan in the bathroom). Once we start paneling in the walls and ceiling we can cut holes for our lights, speakers, and outlets. I can’t wait!

For some reason, Brad’s little strips of black tape makes my heart happy. It’s the little things.

Blocking Out Windows

Shuttle busses typically have these signature rounded windows. They look nice for a shuttle bus, but we wanted something squared off to look more like a home than a bus. See our earlier post about how we did that.

So now we have window frames that are square, but are very visible from the outside. Not attractive! The solution seems chintzy, but worked out great. I cut inserts of foam board to fit along the sides of the frames and to fill the gaps where we plan to wall over the windows, and painted over with black paint. The result from the outside is perfect. You cannot see the wooden window frames or the foam board at all. It’s like looking into a black hole! Check it out, I’m super pleased:

Bad Window

Whoever cut this window did a terrible job! This is the window in the front of the bus by the entry door, and the only window we hadn’t dealt with yet. There are big gaps around the window, and water from the rain was pooling up at the base. Now I can see why!

I removed the window frame and installed some Sponge Window Seal tape around it (the same as what we used for the other windows) and pressure fit back into place. I don’t think we will have any problem with this window again, that stuff is so simple and amazing.

Rubber Flooring Water Test

Rubber flooring water test! We plan to line the garage space (walls and floor) with rubber to waterproof it from drippy skis and snow melt. I ordered some rubber flooring samples online so we could physically compare the qualities and run some water tests. I didn’t expect the rubber gym mat to perform well. I thought it may have been too porous and actually absorb water, but all three samples did great! Water beaded up and poured off. I left the samples with water on them overnight, and it all evaporated without sinking into the material.

Even though the other samples performed better, we decided to go with the gym mat because it’s thin and pliable and should be easy to mount. Order has been placed and comes on Tuesday, then we can finish off the garage!

Building Wooden Window Frames For Rounded Windows

Today we tackled a big project that’s been lurking in the backs of our minds: building wooden window frames. We weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it. We knew we wanted squared off windows with sills to make it feel less like a bus and more like a real home…

So we came up with an idea to build out the frames first with 1 x 2 boards using wood glue and staples, pressure fit them into the window with foam, then staple the whole thing into place. I measured and cut boards, Brad assembled the frames, then we installed them into the windows together. They are surprisingly sturdy! Even though there were a few mishaps with measuring (*cough*), it was a fun and productive day building wooden window frames.

When the time comes, we’ll wall around the windows with tongue-and-groove paneling, and install sills. Check out the results from today’s work:

Water Pump and Regulator Installation

Brad put together a little mounting platform for the water pump and regulator. It lives right next to the fresh water tank, which is now under the bed. Our original plan was to install it in the undercarriage of the bus. Here is the story of why the original plan is a challenge right now. True, it equals lost space for storage, but will be something that we can change out this summer. There are positives to this compromise, however. We can keep our water from freezing over, plus the floor of the bus provides structure that a heavy tank needs!

For weight distribution we are keeping both our fresh and gray water tanks on one side of the bus. As the fresh water tank empties into the grey water tank, we shouldn’t notice any weight shift.

(Math moment: one gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs, multiplied by 26 gallons = 217 lbs. That’s heavy!)

Water pump and regulator are mounted by RV water tank
The water pump and regulator have been mounted to the frame under the bed, next to the fresh water tank.

Tankless Water Heater – Hours of Showers

Our tankless water heater arrived, and it is really big and heavy! The product photo on Amazon made it look half the size. But honestly, I’m not worried about having hot water now, this should do the job. (Ok, certainly not “hours of showers”, but long enough to suds up and rinse off.)

We added some extra support to the garage wall and did a test fit. The tankless water heater will sit just to the side of the little hobbit hatch from the main cabin, and on the other side of the wall to the right (not walled in yet) is the shower, so the lines don’t have to run far. Hooray for hot showers!

Deep Cycle Batteries Storage Box

Ok, deep cycle batteries are really heavy! We are keeping them under the bed, but needed to keep them from shifting while driving, so we built a frame around the base and strapped them down. They aren’t going anywhere. The fact that lithium batteries don’t need any special venting was one of the draws for purchasing them over flooded batteries, so we can store them safely under the bed. It’s really fun to see them charging now that the solar is all set up, even on a dreary, rainy day!

(I want to peel the protective film off the charge controller so bad, but Brad won’t let me…)

Insulation Done! No More Ugly Orange

The insulation is completely done! We don’t have to look at that awful orange stuff anymore. Everything looks so nice and clean inside. It’s really starting to come together.

We used 1″ polyiso rigid foam board for the walls, ceiling, and the floor. This is over the top of the existing orange insulation that was already in the bus. There’s no such thing as too much! The bus is starting to look like a space station with all of the reflective silver everywhere…

Alien Octopod

The function of the alien octopod explained: solar comes with a mess of cables and adapters and extenders. Because we are using flexible panels that tape down, there’s no room to tuck the cables underneath to keep them tidy. So Brad came up with a solution using a waterproof electrical box. All of the excess cabling fits nicely inside! He did a great job. And now we officially have solar installed! 

Prepping for Fireplace pt. 2

Measuring and cutting things when the angles are odd is super hard (and every angle is odd when you’re building out a bus). Brad got tired of it, and tried a new strategy when it came time to cut the concrete board for the fireplace. He laid out scraps of cardboard, made sure the edges fit snugly into the space, then taped them all together. This made a perfect template to trace on the concrete board for the cuts. It made the job so much easier.

Now our platform is ready for the final step of tiling, and then we can place our wood burner and start making fire!

Not Superstitious

We’ve each walked under these ladders a dozen or so times each… That’s a couple hundred years of compounded bad luck! It’s a good thing we’re not superstitious.

Speaking of ladders, knowing that we would need a ladder periodically, we bought this telescoping version from Amazon. It’s awesome. It folds down pretty small, and is flexible and reasonably light. I’m thinking there are going to be times that we need to climb up to sweep snow off of our solar panels in the winter time… We’ll be grateful to have it!

Toilet Test Fit

Our combo shower / toilet space is going to be “cozy”, but now that the toilet is in place it actually feels pretty roomy. We will be able to use the toilet as a seat for showering to make the best use of the space. I’m thinking of building a fold out teak bench seat to fit right over the toilet for showering, then it can be folded back up out of the way for … well, you know, other activities. =)

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