My "new" bus.... Taj

...and it's off to another adventure

posted Apr 13, 2013, 10:03 PM by Kevin Coughlin

But it is adventuring without me. Much has changed, we've moved to Phoenix, and the buses have found new homes. Taj went to a man who likes big vehicles, and wanted the chance to do up another bus/rolling weekend cabin. I don't think the thing will get much more road time in this life (the giant engine sucks down propane - and the old fuel tank has pitting and needs to be replaced, and expensive proposition). However, if you connect up an upside down barbeque bottle, you can drive it.... about 15 miles before it runs out of fuel and you have to switch bottles. It drove away on it's own power once a fresh battery was added. I'll miss the big old girl, but it was time to move on.

Saggy old springs

posted Sep 7, 2009, 9:38 AM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Apr 13, 2013, 9:26 PM ]

The back of the car sits pretty low. The springs are supposed to be arched, so that the "point" of the arch aims down. On my car, they have gone the other way. This is common on old Eagles. However, there are places that can sell you new springs to fit like stock, or (if you tell them) will give you a bit more "lift" by having the arches more pronounced. Some people lift their trucks and such by putting "blocks" (usually aluminum) between the spring and the axle that sits under it. Other off road trucks actually have the axle ABOVE the spring, and relocating it UNDER the spring (called a SPOA lift, or SPring Over Axle). The problem is that axles want to move forward and backward, and if you push them further away the torque they apply to the leaf springs is greater if they have a nice extra couple of inches of leverage.

On my car, I new I was going to put in new springs with a mild 2 inch lift. As I was working on it this weekend I found one of the reasons it sags so low. Once side, the torque put onto the spring (and this is WITHOUT blocks) actually broke the top leaf!

Yep - all the more reason to put in the new, taller, stiffer, and unbroken springs.

What was I thinking/planning?

posted Sep 7, 2009, 9:28 AM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Apr 13, 2013, 9:27 PM ]

So - I needed a winter car - and I found one I am going to build into a proper snow (and mud, and dirt) slinging machine. An AMC Eagle SX/4. Basically the bastard love child of a Jeep Cherokee and a Gremlin. An honest predecessor of the SUV (the first Eagles were station wagons based on the AMC Concord with Jeep running gear). Mine is a 1983 model - basically an AMC Spirit done up with the same motor, transmission, and transfer case as the other Eagles - and the Jeeps, as well.

The plan is to strip out the interior, replace the broken driver's seat, make the rest of the interior pretty spartan. Carpet out, "rhino lining" coating in - something that you can hose out when you get it muddy. I will mount an 8 point roll bar, build some storage box areas between the front seats, and the teeny back seats will be long gone.

The exterior needs one new CV joint up front - I'll just replace the axle on that side. The rear needs new springs - the old ones are so worn then bend the OTHER WAY - not good. If you notice in the picture the only reason it sits at the normal ride height is because there is a jack lifting the back end. Miscellaneous motor work to make it better (it runs now) and possibly taking out the existing transfer case that lets it go from two wheel drive to four wheel drive - and replace it with one from a Jeep that has two wheel, four wheel, and also four wheel LOW range (for going up the sides of cliffs).

Slightly bigger tires, changes in gear ratios, and to make the tires "fit" instead of ridiculous lifting of the car (unstable - and not bright) I will instead cut the fender wells bigger and do some custom metalwork to make it look right. I should get 31 inch tires in there (stock tires are just over 26 inches tall). That will give me 2 and a half inches more ground clearance - and it already is taller underneath than any car, and some yuppie SUVs.

The tale of this project will be at "The Eagle Project" page

A new "winter" car

posted Aug 23, 2009, 4:09 PM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Apr 13, 2013, 9:26 PM ]

I always thought these were cool as wagons - I did not know until recently they came in a sporty two door hatchback. Take an AMC Spirit, and throw Jeep Cherokee running gear underneath it, and you have the AMC Eagle SX/4. This one needs work - but the body is in great shape for a 26 year old car - especially one with great ground clearance, a 258 cubic inch inline six, and four wheel drive. I am willing to bet I can build this up to be able to challenge another Spokane winter like the last two. I'm going to be the guy who drives PAST all the big Suburbans and Expeditions stuck in the snow. (I'm evil that way). I traded my Tempo and the ATC I recently got (scroll down the page a bit) for this. I don't drive the Tempo much anymore, because I traded my old dually GMC truck for a Mazda Protege. I know.... but I love trading cars and getting unusual ones. This one qualifies as pretty darn unusual!


Kind of big-ish

posted Jul 20, 2008, 6:36 PM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Jul 20, 2008, 7:00 PM ]

Inside this metal contraption, it is looking larger and larger. With the last front seats out it has a tendency to make me just wander around inside. While it may appear aimless, it really is my style of planning. I am looking at the inside of the bus with my eyes, but what I am seeing is what it could be in the future. I'm playing with a few ideas - letting them ferment a bit in my head. One idea is to let the bed in the back (over the engine) actually extend PAST the back of the bus - building either a slide out or just an extended back. With the bus at 35 feet, it gives me some room. If I extend backwards 3 feet it can be built sturdy, permanent, and still be road legal as well as useful. I would probably also extend the bumper, and build a bit of storage space there for carrying things like bikes, barbecues, and the generator.
 
You can see in this picture that there are wheel wells. Two in front, two in back. I'm thinking that the best idea is to have the floor running at a level even with the chair rails (you can see them along the side of the bus - light colored, about 2 inches wide and running from front to back just over the wheel wells). The chair rail is actually connected to a rather thick steel plate that runs along the bottom 11 inches of the passenger compartment. This plate gives the bus body strength, and also is to protect the passengers inside if they get broadsided by a car or truck. It is not likely to rip and let the kids inside get hit. Try that with a typical Winnebago. They are made from 1x2 wood, aluminum skin, and maybe 1/4 inch plywood. There is a reason the term used (derogatively) by the skoolie folk for a normal RV is "stick and staple". The fact that my RV is riveted and welded together makes me happier - it only really hurts at the gas pump!
 
The tanks (fresh, black, and grey - or drinking, flushing, and washing) will go on the existing bus floor, under the "new" floor that is almost a foot higher. They should not freeze, and will be well supported. Of course, they will probably have to be custom built by me (wood, steel, and fiberglass) but this will also let me have a set of larger tanks than normally possible on a budget.  With a raised floor I have LOTS of insulation room down there (plus dead air space - a great insulator) and I have a totally flat floor. No wheel wells. In my current Bluebird I have just the rear wells..... I have to plan around them all the time, usually it means that a cabinet is built on top of them. With a transit style (flat front) bus, there are the wheel wells in the front as well. Since the front is going to be the living room (couch, comfy chair, tv) it helps not to have to engineer around these odd shaped round bumps. While I lose a foot of headroom by raising the floor - I am lifting the roof. If I take it 2 feet instead of a foot and a half, I will still have 7 foot ceilings inside. I could go as high as 4 feet and still be legal on the road (although a bit ungainly). So a 24 to 30" lift sounds like a good idea, when coupled with the raised floor.
 
I'm hoping to keep the side door, as well. Not in the configuration there (the actual door is warped) but in the same place. It corresponds to the kitchen area - and it might be good to have a door that lets into the kitchen, especially if I build some steps and park next to them. The actual door will have to be custom built - and taller. Once I raise the floor this one would be REALLY too small (it is less than 5 feet tall as it is.... move the floor up and it gets ugly to use the door). But..... I'm having fun!

Sparks and noise and fun, oh my!

posted Jul 19, 2008, 8:33 AM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Jul 20, 2008, 6:35 PM ]

On the inside of a skoolie, from the windows down, the walls are a kind of crinkle finish aluminum. Light weight yet sturdy. On the Carpenter, it is held on with 3 rivets along every "rib" - there being a rib on the body from top to bottom, floor to ceiling, between every window. Those ribs are the ones that get cut, and have extra metal welded to make the bus "taller" - and then new sheet metal covers the area. Windows then get added back in later.
 
On my Bluebird, the space behind the aluminum, between the inner and outer wall, is insulated with some fiberglass like inside the walls of a house - but only about an inch or so thick. On the Carpenter, due to the way the old windows (now all removed) would retract down between the walls there was not any insulation. Well, THAT is not what you want in a home.... not in Spokane in the winter!
 
An angle grinder, gloves, and safety glasses are the tools. Grind off the tops of the rivets - this makes a spray of sparks that runs half the length of the bus. Yank the metal so that it "pops" off the shoulder of the rivet, now that you have ground off the head. When all the rivets are off the panel (it is about 3 foot tall, and around 10 feet long) wrestle it a bit to get it to pop out of the gap at the rail the old benches used to connect to. Set it aside..... aluminum can be sold to the scrap dealer to help offset the cost of the steel you have to buy to raise the roof.... or maybe for some burgers (there is not THAT much aluminum).
 
What you have is a space, about 1.5 inches deep, between the ribs and the outside wall. Once all the inner panels are removed it will be painted with some kind of rust inhibiting paint, and then foam board will be put there for insulation. More foam will go over it all (covering the ribs) so that there will be a total of about 3 inches of foam insulation. This works out once you figure the paneling and such to between R-15 to R-21 insulation (foam is very efficient stuff). I am gonna be warm this winter!

Thoughts on kitchens

posted Jul 17, 2008, 10:01 AM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Jul 17, 2008, 10:03 AM ]

When I was about 22, in our first "real house" (we lived on the air force base and had a duplex in base housing) my in-laws descended on us for Thanksgiving. I had just had my entire kitchen remodeled by the housing folks and was putting it back together. I was a 6 foot-ish, left handed, young man. I arranged my kitchen the way it made sense to me. I had pots and pans in the cupboard above and to the left of the stove, where they were easy (for me) to access.

My great-aunt on my wife's side was doing something in the kitchen the day before Thanksgiving while I was away at work (I did nuclear weapons maintenance on a base that had no nukes... that means I am not a bad ping pong player!). She ended up totally re-organizing the kitchen, for a 5' nuthin, right handed, old woman. All my pots and pans were moved to the shelves below the counter on the right side of the oven. When told by my wife that I had just arranged the kitchen, she was told by Great Aunt Eunice "he's a man, what does HE know about kitchens?".

It took me 3 weeks before I could find my wok. But it was in the "right place" *grin*

BTW, nowadays I live in a school bus, and in my skoolie there is a wire shelf above the counter. All the pots and pans are there, easy to find, handy to a tall person (or a short person, my skoolie is not like Elliot's, it has not been lifted.... although that's the plan for the new one). There ARE a few pans still in the cupboard under the counter.... but those are ones I almost never use. The design of the new bus will eliminate that storage area entirely (I'm replacing it with nested pull out pantry drawers).

Rip. Tear. Toss. Laugh (maniacally)

posted Jul 14, 2008, 12:28 PM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Jul 21, 2008, 1:26 PM ]

That is the recipe for gutting a bus. It helps to have an 11 year old helper. With things mostly out, including half the windows - it is looking pretty spacious in there. Yes, I know that it will look much smaller again..... but until it does - it is nice to have the room.

No, my helper is not stoned. It was just somewhere around 11 pm and he was starting to get a little tired.

It Begins......

posted Jul 11, 2008, 10:50 PM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Jul 11, 2008, 11:11 PM ]

This should be the kind of statement accompanied by a crash of thunder, or the silence just before the horde of thousands of orcs descend upon our heroes. But.... like every journey, and I think this is going to be an eventful one, it has to start somewhere. While I could point to my fascination with tools and the resultant chip in the floor in the family room that I created with a hammer before I could walk led through a series of paths to this point.... that is just too hard to fathom. Suffice it to say - the conversion is "on". So let's bring it, shall we?
 
The first part is to gut the old bus interior. There was a bed like platform in the back, some shelves, work surfaces, bulkheads made from 2 inch foam board. Actually the use of foam for insulated bulkheads was pretty good for a fast and cheesy camping conversion. It was easy to work, cut, secure (aluminum foil tape is quite sticky when applied and smoothed out). Some carpet on the floor in spots, and up front two rows of seats behind the driver so you could haul 8 passengers. Add in dirt, dust, a bunch of rat poop, mold (or rat pee in the carpet) and the fact that it is a rather compartmentalized design that has to save out a chunk of space just to haul people. Small, claustrophobic, and not something that makes you think "Ahhhh..... Home!" More like "Ewwwww..... I need a shower!"
 
My nephews are staying with my inlaws, and they came out to visit this weekend. One of them is very much into building and deconstructing, and generally a bit of a hyper inventor type. Data from the movie "Goonies" is a good match for what he may turn into. Hey, he is only 11 right now. His twin brother is more into computers and video games, so he is staying at the hotel with his grandparents and I've got the other one out here with me.
 
So - this evening, he and I headed up the hill to the new bus, with a power screwdriver, a hammer, and attitude. We started unscrewing all the wooden fixtures and pitching them out the door. I'm making a big pile of potentially useful wood scraps for later. The foam board was carefully removed from walls and bulkheads and tossed out the side door in a different direction - I will re-use a lot of it underneach flooring and walls as insulation (plus buying a bunch more.... insulation is your friend - I learned that lesson the hard way this winter). With bulkheads gone, and shelves, and the platform (a piece of subfloor and a few braces over the engine) for the bed out of there, it is starting to look like a much MUCH larger bus inside. Tomorrow will be some cleaning, stacking the wood and covering it with a tarp (found a tarp in the bus, even), setting the foam board where it won't blow away, and boxing/bagging the trash.
 
Carpenter buses of this era have one piece windows. The entire glass pane slides down in between the sides of the bus walls, instead of the two piece kinds like we see today. I am thinking that the best idea is to remove ALL the movable windows, cover the openings with sheet metal, buy RV style or over the road bus (sideways slider) windows and cut holes in the new steel siding only where I WANT a window. Insulation everywhere else.... no more freezing hands touching the walls. I am not sure what to do with the glass left over - it is in really good condition, and safety glass at that. I am thinking that there could be one HECK of a greenhouse made from these. I will also save out a few panes for the custom skylights I will build.
 
After we finish sweeping and such, I'll shoot some pictures. But I feel good being able to actually say "Yes.... I have started on the new bus".  

Scroungery goodness

posted Jul 1, 2008, 7:16 AM by Kevin Coughlin   [ updated Jul 1, 2008, 7:34 AM ]

The plan is a roof lift. About 16 to 18 inches. I figure I will cut off the roof at the top of the window supports, weld a 1 x 2 inch rectangular steel support beam along the top of the rails from the front of the bus to the back on both sides, and then weld a series of vertical bars (at least 1 x 1 steel) every 16 inches or so, and then weld THEM into the carlin rail of the roof. The carlin rail is the one that some Carpenter buses had bad welds from window post to rail. Although my bus is not one of the ones affected (wrong year) if anybody wants to be snooty that I have "one of them there dangerous buses from Carpenter" I can smugly assure them that all the welds on the roofline are human created, not bad robot work. The good robots were used after 1995 - it is hard to tell good and bad when you have robots because they refuse to wear gang colors, even when they are "bad" robots.

So.... this will give me a section to have to cover - preferably with metal - from the window top line to the roof line. Enter scroungery.
Our school district is getting rid of some old computers - scrap ones - where the capacitors have leaked. Too old to want to repair, too slow even if they WERE repaired, and worth nothing in all practical sense. So - through a deal with Apple computer we are recycling a chunk of hardware - and before these went on the pallet I had the 8th grade student doing the work set the side panels to the side. These are flat metal panels, about 16 inches high and wide - and should become the exterior skin above the window line. The sheet metal in a computer case is about the same thickness as a school bus.

Besides - I like the idea of scrounging computer cases to skin my bus. Hey, it is 80 pieces of steel.... save some money, right?

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