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Inching closer…

March 25, 2014
Bus in Ventura

Spent 5 days in the bus around Southern California recently… loved every second of the test run!

And I’m back to the blog world… same excuses as last time for the long hiatus – busy, busy! I’m dedicated to writing more regularly on this thing though, as not only do I like to keep the few who may be interested up to date, but I also truly enjoy having a excuse to write some stuff down.  So bear with me as I work on my discipline…

The bus has been a slow process, in spite of the (seemingly) endless hours I’ve spent on it.  I’m learning good lessons though. The usual order of operations has been:

  1. Realize as I’m just getting started that I’m missing at least one required item or tool.
  2. When I finally get all the required items together, realize halfway through that I’m missing one more I didn’t even know about.
  3. Once I finally get that item, the build/install doesn’t go according to plans.
  4. Every task takes at least twice as long as I expect (usually due to lessons 2-4)

Needless to say, the project has ultimately been a lesson in patience.  I keep wanting to see the bus magically transform into a badass rolling home over the course of a weekend, and it’s been a bit frustrating at times to step back and look at the progress over the course of a few weeks and not see much dramatic improvement.  I’m trying not to beat myself up too much though and enjoy these struggles. As they say, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.  And I shouldn’t expect myself to breeze right through the construction of my first home without at least a few hiccups.

So, what progress has been made? Well, the cabinets have finally been completely stained and sealed! My wife has been the magic woman with the paintbrush, exercising patience in ways I never could.  This took longer than expected, but it’s looking really good and we’re happy we spent the time to do it right.  We also made the decision to take out the pantry for the time being.  We realized that we really didn’t plan to bring enough food to require a full floor to ceiling pantry, and that we had plenty of storage space between the remaining cabinets.  Removing it made the bus feel more open, especially in the rear living area, and we saved it in the event that we want to put it back in one day.

Finished cabinets

Michelle worked hard and did a great job staining and sealing all of the cabinets… everything is back in place and looking good. She picked out some pretty sweet hardware too

We’ve also finished the compost toilet.  Pretty stoked on this one.  Compost toilets require zero water, the only input is organic matter (sawdust, peat moss, chopped up lavender stalks, etc), and the process results in a nutrient rich compost that can be returned to the earth without the use of the energy intensive processes required by our “modern” waste treatment methods.  I’ll save my thoughts and opinions on compost toilets and an in-depth look at the construction of ours for another post, but ours is shown below.  It’s not for everyone, but I’ll choose this over a typical RV tank-type system any day.

The compost toilet... they make pre-designed ones for RV and marine use that cost almost $1000.  This one cost me $100 bucks and a few hours of time, and does the same thing.

The compost toilet… they make pre-designed ones for RV and marine use that cost almost $1000. This one cost me $100 bucks and a few hours of time, and does the same thing.

I also replaced the am/fm stereo that was in the bus with the newer iPod-capable stereo I had taken out of my former truck.  Essential for the long drives we’ll be taking.

I hadn’t really been paying much attention to my batteries over the past several months, as they have only been used periodically by some low power LED lights, and more importantly they have been connected to our shore power and charging the whole time.  Or at least I thought they were. I randomly decided to put a voltmeter to them the other day to make sure, and realized that I had let them drop to a dangerously low charge.  Apparently my charger stopped working at some point, which is frustrating because it is new.  I’ve got them charged back up via my trailer charger at the moment, and am still trying to sort out what’d wrong with the bus unit.  I’m sure I’ve reduced the life of these batteries a bit by letting them drop so low. Lessons learned – now I know why they say to buy a cheap pair of batteries on your first round, because you’re bound to damage them somehow!

In other news, we got a new doormat for the road:

New doormat.  Dog was not included.

New doormat. Dog was not included.

I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my solar PV system for the bus in the mail.  I just picked up a 100 watt PV panel to mount to the roof, and a 30 amp charge controller.  This should allow us to be completely self-sufficient in the energy department with our current setup of lights, water pump, and fans, unless we’re stuck in a week straight’s worth of rain.  Whenever I build the 12V refrigerator, I’ll most likely need to add another 100 watt panel.  I’m pretty amped (horrible pun, sorry) on producing our own energy, living on 12 volt, and being untethered from the grid. A new post to come soon on the install of that system…

And finally, a snapshot of our homebase on the ranch for the past year and a half.  Words cannot express how much of an incredible experience it has been living here – we have loved every second of it, and learned a lot about ourselves.




Let There Be Light! And a Ceiling and Paint and Stain and…

October 14, 2013

The period from August through October always seem to be the busiest part of the year for us. Perhaps it’s because finally, for a couple of months, the weather on the California coast finally becomes that warm, sunny and offshore dream the rest of the world thinks exists here year-round.  Or that the surf finally starts to pick up after a long and dismal summer.  Or that the droves of tourists start to leave our area, and the locals can come out of hiding again.  It’s a combination of these things, of course, but tack on our bus project and the recently acquired tasks associated with life on a lavender farm, and  we have been extra swamped this year.

Obviously this is a long way and winded excuse for not posting anything in a while.  Work on the bus has certainly continued though, and we finally have it to a point that it is ready for a few test runs to Big Sur and other areas further north.

The bus at the ranch

It’s been awhile since anyone has heard from her, but she’s still coming along!

One of the recent endeavors was the installation of the batteries and some lighting.  Sounded straightforward enough.   The installation took me about 4 hours and of course, when I finally flipped a switch, voila! Nothing.  I almost simultaneously realized my amateur mistake, in that I installed everything before actually testing it.  After 15 minutes of the requisite cussing and spitting, and the hour-long process of pulling everything out, I did what I should have done at the start and set everything up on a bench.

The test bench... should have done this the first time!

Ah, grounding error, of course. Let me fix that… okay… and let there be light!

Lessons learned, always test electrical BEFORE installation.  The second installation went smoothly, with the power control center (which regulates the charging of the batteries and the distribution of power to the lighting, water pump, etc) going in the bottom shelf of the pantry, and the batteries sitting on the floor of the bus.  Eventually, there will be a second closet where the batteries now sit, and they will go in there.

Power control center

The power control center: regulates the charging of the batteries, and distributes dc and ac energy to the various end uses.

Regarding the batteries, I went with two 6-volt golf-cart batteries wired in parallel, as opposed to the usual single 12-volt or dual 12-volt batteries wired in series.  Using 6-volt batteries in series provides more amp-hours than a similarly-sized 12-volt setup, which is a technical way of saying that we can run our stuff longer before the batteries die.

Next came figuring out the best location for the light fixtures.  We went with one two-lamp LED fixture on the ceiling in the rear, and two LED spot lamps over the kitchen counter.  LED is a little more costly, but is going to reduce our lighting electrical demand by over 70% (ie we can run them longer on a single battery charge). Eventually, there will be a second two-lamp fixture in the front, and a few more spot lamps placed throughout.

The overhead LED light fixture...

The overhead LED light fixture…

and the spot lamps over the kitchen counter.  I'll be installing 4 more of these throughout the bus.

and the spot lamps over the kitchen counter. I’ll be installing 4 more of these throughout the bus.

You’ll also notice a few other things in the above photos.  First, Michelle has been busy painting and staining the interior!  Incredible how much of a difference some paint makes.  We decided to go with a redwood forest-ish theme in the bus… some sort of green color on the walls (I don’t quite know how to describe it), and a darker stain on the cabinets.  The second thing you’ll notice is that the metal beams and roof is now covered up by wood paneling.  I put some ¾” insulation between the support beams and then screwed some 1/8” plywood over the entire roof.  That metal roof was too hot to touch on sunny days, so that insulation was key in keeping the indoor temperature comfortable during the day.

Plywood paneling covering up the 3/4" insulation and metal roof. The insulation makes such a big difference.  The wiring will be covered eventually by trim along the panel seams.

Plywood paneling covering up the 3/4″ insulation and metal roof. The insulation makes such a big difference. The wiring will be covered eventually by trim along the panel seams.

And until I make it far enough down my task list that I begin work on the bathroom, it has temporarily become our surf closet.

Until this becomes a bathroom, it is the dedicated surf closet... loaded and ready for some surf assault missions in Big Sur.

Until this becomes a bathroom, it is the dedicated surf closet… loaded and ready for some surf assault missions in Big Sur.

I just ordered most of the components for the conversion to a dual-tank waste veggie oil system.  That will be a pretty intensive task, but I’ll be posting some pictures of the process as we go, as well as some additional pictures of the paint/stain/lighting progress.

And in other news, some deer ate our entire garden in a single night. Woohoo!

Photos from the Movie Screening on the Bus

September 3, 2013
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A friend and I hosted a screening of a new surf film by Cyrus Sutton and Reef called “Compassing” last week.  It was a great evening – the Linker Workshop in SLO opened their doors and parking lot to the attendees, we pulled the bus around and projected the film on the side, and Honeymoon Cafe sponsored some snacks and such.  Had about 75 local SLO residents cruise out to enjoy the festivities. Some pictures and links below! All photos courtesy of Clayde Barkley.


Good thing I left a side of the bus window and door-free! The movie we screened was a new surf film by Cyrus Sutton and Reef called Compassing.


Some of the attendees enjoying the flick!


An especially stoked viewer.


Jamie Coxon, owner of Linker Workshop, and I introducing the film.


Linker Workshop in the background.


Twas a good night!

Check out the trailer for Compassing here.

Check out some of Jamie’s work at his facebook page.

Accessorizing the Fort

August 15, 2013

An update on what’s been happening in the bus world…

In recent weeks, while compiling the electrical components and accessories to make the bus feel like a home, I’ve been taking care of some aesthetic touches… check out the new and improved grill, headlight trim, and rims, courtesy of Plastidip!  Blacked out for full stealth-mode capabilities.


I used black plastidip to coat the rims, grill, headlight trim, and bumper… it is a rubber aerosol spray, that is easily removable later should I want to take it back to original gray or plastidip a different color.


A close-up of the blacked out trim.

I also built a bracket for the installation of some retractable stairs, so we don’t need to do olympic hurdles or stand on wobbly pieces of wood to get into the door.


The stairs, fully extended….


The stairs, folded up….


…and hidden behind the panel!

Now that the cabinets are built, I’ve been busy compiling all of the electrical components and preparing for the installation.  We’ve purchased two golf cart batteries, the charger/converter, all of the lighting, the water pump, the wires and connectors, etc.  I’ve been reading so much about DC electricity and wiring that my dreams are beginning to take schematic form.  This upcoming weekend I’ll be building the battery storage compartment.  I’m also crossing my fingers that I’ll be receiving a 225 watt solar PV panel for the roof, which should be sufficient to keep us completely off the grid, unless we’re somewhere like Seattle…

On Michelle’s end, she’s been busy picking out the paint/stain scheme, cleaning the walls in preparation for painting, and deciding upon the ideal placement for the two-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink we purchased…


Two-burner propane cooktop, to keep us fed!

And of course, we’re taking a few much needed breaks to bbq and keep the gills wet in Mexico!


Ranch Living…


Mexico sunset chasers…

This weekend is electrical installation weekend.  Lastly, I really enjoyed the quick clip below about the founder of and a big source of inspiration for us to take this project on.

One U-Haul, one weekend, three generations

July 29, 2013

I think I have finally gotten all of the sawdust out of my hair, ears, and nose. After 3 days of non-stop work on the bus, it was in there pretty good… but man, the progress we made! The bus has been completely transformed. The installation of even the first window suddenly took it from looking like a moving box to something live-able.

The bus getting ready for the chop shop

The U-Haul after the 300 mile drive, ready for the chop shop.

The retrofit took place at my grandparent’s house.  They’ve got a pretty ideal spot for such things: a big piece of property, with a long driveway leading up to a warehouse in the back that contains my grandpa’s shop, every tool you could need, and plenty of space to work. He built cabinets throughout his working years, and based on the testimonials of friends and family, the quality of all of the furniture in my parent’s house (including the bed I grew up sleeping on), and the results of this weekend, I’d say he’s the best!

Inside the shop

Inside my grandpa’s shop, with the project just getting underway. Floorspace disappeared quickly of the course of the weekend, to be replaced with cabinetry spread about and an inch of sawdust.

My mom and dad came up to help out as well. My dad used to work in the hardware store where my grandpa had his cabinet shop, and has gleaned much of my grandpa’s knowledge since his youth.  In addition to being a great handyman and woodworker himself, he also knows the drill (figuratively) in working with my grandpa.  I quickly realized that they had a system, and spent the weekend working on other tasks in order to stay out of their way.

After some slight modifications to my floorplan (apparently 45” inches is way too high for a kitchen counter), they got to working on the cabinets, while I primarily focused on installing the windows, door, and roof vents.  My mom and grandma offered advice here and there, some amazing meals right when we needed it, and frequent score updates on their card games.

Wes cutting window openings

Cutting out window openings, trying to keep things nice and straight. The walls of the box are made out of 3/4″ plywood, with a woven fiber layer on the inside and an epoxy layer on the outside to keep moisture out. It was actually pretty easy to work with.

Wes in window

Get me outta here!

Inside view of doors and windows

It’s starting to come along! Butyl putty tape was used to seal the doors and windows to the wall of the box, to prevent leaks.

Cabinets setting

Alder was decided upon for the face frames, due to its excellent combination of weight, strength, and stainability. Birch plywood was used for the walls, shelves, etc.

Cutting out roof vents

It was forecast to be over 100degF throughout the weekend. We happened to luck out with some unexpected cloud cover and wind, which kept temperatures fairly reasonable. I was especially happy about this while climbing around on the aluminum roof.

Roof vents

One of two roof vents, located over the bed. The second is near the rear, above the kitchen/couch area. In addition to having a fan to circulate fresh air, they also act as skylights.

Kitchen cabinets sanded

The kitchen cabinet frame, sanded and ready for drawers and a countertop. My grandpa and dad have this crazy thing called patience… somehow they were able to wait until every single cabinet was built before installing them. Needless to say, I was a bit more anxious…

Restroom assembled

Evaluating the best way to transport the assembled restroom walls and frame into the box truck. This was one of the biggest engineering problems we faced, but we eventually figured it out. The restroom is 30″ deep and 60″ wide. It will contain the toilet and a shower.

doors and windows installed

Fully installed windows and door. Now it’s starting to look like somewhere we could sleep!


Cabinets and pantry installed, with a killer desert sunset out the window. The cubby-hole underneath the counter on the left will contain the refrigerator, a dual electric/propane model. The two-burner propane cooktop will be mounted to the counter above it, and the sink located in the center.

Inside view

On the left, closet to the camera, will be a futon-style couch that unfolds into a bed. Behind that is the restroom, and further behind that, the closet, which serves as a support for the bed. A second closet will be installed underneath the right side of the bed.

I am still shocked at how much progress was made.  I feel so fortunate to have had my family’s help, as I never could have done anywhere near as good of a job as this without them – plus, spending the days working on projects with dad and grandpa and evenings eating meals and playing games with the family was so much fun.

the whole family

Thanks to my amazing family for such a great weekend!

As I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post, part of the reason we decided to go with a u-haul conversion instead of a van or RV is to keep it stealth-mode, so we can park it in places that don’t typically allow for sleeping in vehicles and not be noticed.  This is my reason for not placing any windows on the street-side of the vehicle – I want to keep it looking like a moving truck to anyone driving by. I had the opportunity to test this out on my drive up.  It was getting late, and I knew the surf was going to be pumping the next morning, so I parked it in a turnout of a moderately busy road near one of my favorite surf spots.  I slept like a baby, and woke up at 8 o’clock to traffic cruising by and no one giving me as much as a glance.  Checked the surf out the windows, leisurely drove down to the beach…and was pulling into overhead waves 15 minutes later. I’d call that a successful test run…

This week, I’m ordering the sink, cooktop, converter/charger, and toilet.  I’m hoping to have all of the lighting wired up withing a week or two, and take it on a test trip up the coast real soon! Check back soon for some photos of the next phase.

Major (U-Haul) Construction Ahead

July 16, 2013

This weekend is going to be a big one, with some pretty epic things happening to the bus! Come Monday, the bus will hopefully have all of the windows and the door installed, and the entire kitchen and overhead cabinets built.

Being a self-admitted perfectionist, I have noticed that the hardest part of any project for me is finally getting started on it… because I want to make sure that all possible options and designs have been identified, mulled over, and the best one selected. Historically, this has resulted in projects getting started way after I had originally planned… or not at all. The past couple of months were seeing a bit of this trend –  dozens of drawings of floor plan after floor plan, hour spent staring at a wall rearranging things in my head, and never being quite satisfied with any of them.  I’m just afraid I’m going to look back later and wish I had done something different.  I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that things will not be perfect, however, no matter how much time I spend staring at it.  There will always be things I could have done differently, both with the bus and with any aspect of life.  Like this journey around the country that we want to undertake though, sometimes you just gotta set yourself a schedule, pick a route, and get underway, even if you’re not sure that it’s the absolute best one.  And with that mindset, making mistakes along the way can be part of the fun, and a great learning experience.  Is there even such a thing as a right or wrong path or design? It’s all a matter of perspective.

floor plan

A lake-side drawing of the floor plan… revision number 50-something.

So, I picked a weekend to head to my grandparent’s shop, forced myself to select a design, and this weekend it’s happening.  My grandpa and dad are masters of all things wood, and I feel extremely fortunate to have their guidance and help in building out the inside of the bus this weekend.  Who doesn’t want to spend a weekend playing with tools, hanging out with family, and eating Mexican food?


A rough 3-D drawing of the kitchen… a bit departure from my days in SolidWorks class. Functional enough though!

I will be taking plenty of pictures of the construction this weekend, so check back early next week for a before-and-after post…and hopefully I’ll score some surf on my way back up!

June 10, 2013

Managing to have some fun in between days working on the bus… love these big south swells!

Made a trip out on a friend’s boat to one of the best right hand pointbreaks on the coast, and absolutely scored.  I’ll be reliving these waves during the summer flat spells.

The view from the boat when we pulled up during the recent south swell...couldn't get my suit on fast enough!

The view from the boat when we pulled up during the recent south swell…couldn’t get my suit on fast enough!

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Chief Cook Ryan cooking up some tasty grinds for dinner on the boat…and Captain John reliving 4 hours of perfect waves.

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Paying my dues on anchor duty…

Michelle and I have also finally gotten the vegetable garden going…looking forward to some homegrown tomates, peppers, squash and onions!

garden goodness

…and in the meantime, our vegetable garden has been soakin up some sun and starting to fill in.

This week will be spent salvaging some electronics from a retired RV.  Converter/charger, 12V fuse box… some pictures of the progress to come later this week.

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