Tag Archives: Prevost H3-40

2015/07/11 (S) Impactful Tools

We had a small crowd for our SLAARC breakfast this morning but good conversation.  After breakfast we drove to Chuck’s house and picked up the manual impact screwdriver.  Barb was up in the thumb visiting her brother-in-law who recently lost his wife (Barb’s sister).  We lingered for a while and then left for home, stopping for gas on the way.

Back at the house I started a load of laundry and then went to work on the stop block screws.  Linda helped steady the ladder and pass tools and parts back and forth.  I got three of the four screws out of the two stop blocks but the head stripped on the forth one so I was only able to remove the aft stop block.  I tried different bits and even tried drilling a small hole in the center of the head to allow the bits to go in farther but it did not work.  The next approach will be a screw extractor, but first I have to go buy one.

We had soy yogurt for lunch with red grapes and I had a few pretzels with roasted red pepper hummus.  I kept trying to get to the basement to work on the desk design but kept getting detoured.  Once I finally reached my office I found that the mouse trap that I had placed under one of my desks was out in front of it.  The food was gone but there was no mouse, only mouse poop.  I realized that the trap was upside down which allowed the door to swing open.  Our best guess is that a mouse was trapped and the cats pulled the trap out from under the desk and accidentally turned it over while pawing at it trying to get the mouse.  Since there was no sign of a mouse having been caught by one of the cats my best guess is that it escaped, for now.

I checked e-mails and found the one with the credentials and instructions for the QTH.com web-hosting of SLAARC.com so I shared those with the other members of the SLAARC website team and then logged in to check out the log file I had created the other day as a test.

I decided to reconnect the Yaesu FTM-400 radio to the Diamond X-50 antenna on the tower so I could monitor the Novi and South Lyon repeaters while I worked in my office.  I had quite a mess on the ham shack desks and decided the best way to deal with it was to install Mike’s Icom IC-2820H in my car in place of our Icom V-8000 2m rig.  At least that would get the 2820 off the desk.  I checked that the mounting brackets and they were identical so I removed the V-8000 but left the mounting bracket installed in the car.

Mike had modified the power cord on his radio by cutting off the T-connector and replacing it with Andersen PowerPoles so I had to modify the power cable in my car to match as I could not modify Mike’s radio.  I removed the fuse from the positive (+12VDC) lead and then cut off the T-connector, leaving about 6″ of wire so I can add PowerPoles and make it into an adapter cable.  I brought my Hakko soldering station up from the basement, set it up on the floor behind the center console, ran an extension cord from the garage, and used it to solder PowerPole contacts to the two wires.  I then inserted them into the black/red housing pair and snapped them in place.

I mounted the IC-2820H, connected the power cable and connected the coax from the antenna.  I reinstalled the fuse in the positive lead, started the engine, and turned the radio on.  A couple of hams were chatting on the Novi repeater, one of whom I knew (Jim, KB8TAV).  When they finished I gave Jim a call and he came back to me, the first time I have been able to use the Novi 440 repeater from my car.  Jim signed off and I switched to the South Lyon 2m repeater and gave a general call.  Steve (N8AR) came back to me and we had a short QSO that verified the radio/antenna was also working on 2m.  As we were wrapping up Linda started fixing dinner.

Linda fixed a simple salad and Dr. Praeger’s vegan hamburgers with Daiya non-dairy cheese.  These patties were also squishy rather than firm and, like the ones at Zingerman’s Roadhouse the other night, where not very satisfying.  They tasted OK, and we ate them because we are not inclined to waste food, but there is a lot more to what makes food satisfying than just taste.  Sight, smell, and texture (mouth feel) are also important.

Linda had several TXT messages from Mara letting us know that she would be arriving tomorrow sometime before 2 PM as she wanted to watch the Wimbledon finals at that time.  Linda and I considered how best to accommodate Mara’s motorhome and finally decided to just pull our bus straight forward until the nose was at the edge of the concrete driveway.  That created more than enough space on the level part of the pull-through driveway for her to park and plug in to our 50 amp service.  The only loads we have in the bus at the moment are battery chargers so we used our 15 amp cord to plug it into a garage outlet.  Since I had to start it to move I switched it to high idle once I had it positioned, leveled it, turned on the OTR air-conditioning to put a load on the engine, and let it run for 30 minutes.

I returned to my office after dinner and work on the desk design for a while but by this point I was tired and not really in the mood.  The last time I updated the BCM page on our website was after the February 2015 issue came out.  I have had articles in the March, April, and May issues and will have articles in the June and July issues.  I captured the covers from March, April, and May and updated the page.

I exchanged e-mails with several people and spent some time looking at dual and triple monitor stands on EBay.  We rarely use EBay and the site made me change our password before it would let me log in.  There was a large selection of products but none of them were exactly what I am looking for.  There wasn’t any rush so I decided to revisit this tomorrow.


2015/04/26-30 (N-R) Routine Returns

2015/04/26 (N) Bentley

Turning the lights out at 11 PM last night meant I would be awake around 6 AM this morning and ready to get up, and that was the case.  Linda was awake by 6:30 AM and we were up shortly thereafter.  I was able to light the natural gas fireplace without difficulty.  The only thing I can figure is that perhaps I did not have the Off/Pilot/On gas valve in the right position last night.

With the gas valve in the Off position gas cannot flow beyond the valve.  In the Pilot position gas can only flow to the pilot flame assembly, and only while the knob is pushed in, until the flame has been lit long enough to cause the heat sensitive pilot valve to remain open at which point the knob can be released.  I do not think gas can flow to the main burner tubes, however, until the knob is turned to the On position.  There is also a Remote/Off/On switch that has to be in the Off position when lighting the pilot flame (with the built in spark igniter) and moved to the On position to allow the main burner tubes to receive gas.  All I can figure is that I did not have the Off/Pilot/On valve turned to the On position. The Remote position is intended to be used with a wall mounted thermostat which we do not have.  For us the firelogs are primarily decorative but are useful for taking the chill off of the early morning or late evening.  We never have them on, however, unless we are in the living room or dining room where we can see them.

Linda fed the cats while I made coffee which we enjoyed in the living room by the firelogs.  It was 33 degrees F outside this morning but in another week the morning temperatures should be such that we can sit on the rear deck and enjoy our morning brew out there.  We finally both got dressed and Linda heated an Amy’s Breakfast Scramble and split it between us.  We lingered a while longer in the living room and finally got to work on our various chores.

Linda’s focus was to continue cleaning the kitchen, off-loading food and kitchen supplies from the bus, and getting her domestic and professional domains back in order.  She made a grocery list as the day went along.  We would normally go to the Howell Farmers Market on Sunday morning, but the outdoor market does not start until next week.

I cleaned the cats’ litter tray, which seems to be my job at home but Linda’s job on the bus, and then got to work on revising the draft survey for the FMCA national education committee.  While I was doing that I also started up a couple of our workstation computers, installed updates, and kept an eye on my e-mail and RVillage messages.  I worked on the survey until dinner time, with a break for lunch, and had Linda proofread it before I uploaded it to my Dropbox and e-mailed the link to the committee.  We have a telephone meeting at 3:30 PM EDT tomorrow and I wanted everyone to have a chance to look it over in advance of the meeting.

Linda made Farro with garlic, dried cranberries, almonds, and kale and cooked some fresh asparagus.  A green salad and a glass of wine completed a very nice meal.  Linda had a text message from her sister letting us know that her housemate, Linda, decided to have Bentley put down.  He was the oldest of her three dogs, deaf and arthritic, and on medications that he would not take, and he had lost interest in food.  We had both received a text message from Linda regarding our recent visit so I responded to that.  We were sad that Bentley was gone, but glad that we got to see him one last time.

I turned my attention to editing photos for my April 10 blog post about out visit to Bandolier National Monument and Santa Fe, New Mexico but the batteries in my wireless mouse needed to be recharged so I plugged it in and called it quits for the night.  Linda was watching the first episode of Wolf Hall (PBS) on her iPad so I finished reading the May-June 2015 issue of the Gypsy Journal and played a few rounds of my favorite games.  Linda prepared some fresh berries for dessert and we enjoyed them to the glow of the firelogs before going to bed.

2015/04/27 (M) Caller #9

After coffee and cereal this morning I continued selecting and processing photos from our April 10 visit to Bandolier National Monument and Old Town Santa Fe.  I ended up with 16 photos so I uploaded the post and put them in an image gallery at the end.  After lunch I got all of my documents in order for my 3:30 PM (EDT) telephone meeting of the FMCA Education Committee.  I chatted briefly with the committee chair to see if there were any surprises in store.  I then worked on consolidating my draft blog posts for April 11 through 15 which included the time we spent in Norman, Oklahoma visiting with my uncle Bob and Aunt Helen, and four additional generations of relatives.

I exchanged e-mails with BCM Publisher Gary Hatt and Editor Dave Rush regarding my article on the redoing of the exterior of our coach.  The article is 5,800 words with 71 photos and they would like to split it up and run it in installments over three or four issues.  That will require me to go back through the article and identify the places where it can be split, making sure the photos track with the text, and write some additional bridge paragraphs to wrap up each installment and introduce the next one.

I dialed in to my FMCA meeting just before 3:30 PM.  I was caller number nine (9) but I did not win anything.  The meeting lasted almost 90 minutes.  We discussed the survey we have been developing and approved a motion to pass it along to the Executive Board with the recommendation that it be sent to a random sample of the members both electronically and via USPS.  I expect to receive minor corrections in the next 36 hours and get a final draft to the FMCA Executive Director on Wednesday so he can have it reviewed by an outside expert (Barry) at Membership Corporation of America (MCA).  The FMCA executive board meets in a week so we will see what happens.

After the meeting I finished working on the April 11-16 consolidated post and uploaded it to our personal blog just in time for dinner which featured taco bowl salads.  She started with refrigerated tortillas, draped them over ramekins, and baked them to create the shell.  She reconstituted an ancho, red Hatch, and pequin chile and used them to season the pinto beans, mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, and olives that made up the filling.  Franzia Fruity Red Sangria went nicely with the tacos.  Later we had a fresh mixed fruit salad of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and bananas.  We relaxed for a while, reading and playing games, but were surprisingly tired and went to bed before 10 PM.  Change happens, transition takes time.

2015/04/28 (T) And now … the rest of the summer

As sometimes happens when we go to bed early, we slept in this morning and did not get out of bed until after 8 AM.  It is nice to be able to do that if we want to.  Coffee and toast got the day started followed by reading, writing, and cat admiring.  It was a beautiful, sunny morning albeit still on the chilly side.  In other words, another day in the idyllic paradise we call retirement in the country.

We have both been busy since we got home last Friday, unloading the bus and putting things in their place in the house, visiting family, cleaning and stocking the kitchen, going through mail, and working on bills and accounting, both personal and organizational.  And that was mostly Linda!  I helped with some of that but was mostly focused on finishing a draft survey for the FMCA education committee, sending it out, and participating in a committee meeting by teleconference yesterday afternoon.  I will have some minor additional work to do on the survey by the end of the day tomorrow, but with the meeting behind me I can now concentrate on all of the other things that need to be done.  To paraphrase Paul Harvey “And now … the rest of the summer.”

One of the chores that is always there is laundry.  Linda seems to take over this task when we are living in the bus, but it is definitely my job when we are at home.  Ditto for cleaning the cat litter tray.  To be fair, both the laundry room and liter tray are in the basement where my office and the ham radio shack are located, so I am down there a lot more than her.  When we first return home after being away for an extended time there is a lot of laundry to do.  Not that we don’t do it while we are away, we do, but I like to clean everything that we had with us.  This is not a one day task, in part because we like to limit the number of loads of laundry we do on any given day so as not to overload the septic tanks, and in part because I just do not want to spend an entire day doing laundry.

My main focus this morning, however, was to revisit my article for Bus Conversion Magazine on the renovation of the exterior of our bus back in 2011/2012.  It needs to be split into 3 or 4 installments and I would rather do that myself, making sure the photos track with the text.  I started a load of laundry and then got to work, keeping an eye on e-mail and RVillage.  I finished restructuring the article just before lunch, uploaded it to my BCM Dropbox folder, and e-mailed the editor and publisher.  Linda reheated the Farro-cranberries-almonds dish for lunch and served it with black grapes.

I moved the first load of laundry to the dryer, put a second load of laundry in the washing machine, and started compiling my posts for April 16 through 20.  I got an e-mail from Lou Petkus regarding the SKP Photographers BOF website.  Lou started, and leads, the BOF and administers the website while I take care of the RVillage group and someone else takes care of the member database/roster.  He found and installed a free system for displaying photo albums.  He was setting it up so each BOF member had their own login and could upload their own photos and wanted me (and Linda) to try it out.  I did, and found a number of issues which I documented for him.  I like the idea, so I hope he can resolve the issues.

I folded and hung up the dried laundry and returned to my blog post which I uploaded, tagged, and published before going upstairs.  It was a beautiful day and while Linda was outside on the rear deck reading four deer walked up the eastern boundary of our property.  We were chatting back there when the doorbell rang, which is unusual for us.  It was Aaron, one of the kids (teenager?) from the house to our immediate east.  UPS had delivered our Amazon order to their house instead of ours even though it had my name and our address on the label.

Linda sautéed onions until they were partly caramelized, pan-fried tofu slices, and then added bar-b-que sauce.  She served these in tortillas rather than on buns.  She also sautéed fresh green beans.  I opened a bottle of Barefoot Moscato and we each had a small glass with dinner.

After dinner I called Joe Cannarozzi, the mobile mechanic who has done the majority of the service work on our bus since we got it back to Michigan in 2010.  As planned, he is now in upstate New York where he will be working well into the fall.  He plans to be back this way the first week in November and we made plans to have him do the routine chassis maintenance at that time.  I also discussed our interior renovation plans for the bus and got some tips from him about how to approach that work, especially the floor, as he has done several.

I noticed that I had a voice message from Gary at BCM.  He had called earlier in the day after I had uploaded the new 4-part version of the Exterior Makeover article so I called him back and left him a message.  Tag; you’re it.

2015/04/29 (W) Bus Lunch

We had a typical start to our day; coffee, breakfast, and iPads (news, weather, games, reading, and writing).  Actually, that’s how most of our days in the bus also start, so the only real difference is where we are sitting and what we can see from that vantage point.  I needed to order a refill on a prescription medication so I tried doing that on my iPad.  No problem iPad-wise, but the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) had switched the mail order prescription drug service from Medco/Express-Scripts to Catamaran Home Delivery effective January 1, 2015.  Catamaran was already the third part administrator (TPA) but was now operating their own pharmacy.  Even though I already had a Catamaran account I had to register for Home Delivery service.  Once I did that I was supposed to be able to see any prescriptions that had transferred over.  There weren’t any 🙁  That meant I needed a new prescription.  I had a mid-morning appointment and did not want to spend time “holding for the next available representative” so I decided to take care of this task tomorrow.

Linda called last Friday and arranged to have our curbside trash pickup resume this week.  Wednesday is trash pickup day, so the trashcan had to go out by the street this morning.  (We don’t have curbs here, so I can’t say we took the can to the curb.)  The last two years Alchin’s has come past our house around noon.  While we figured that would probably be the case again this year we did not want to risk missing the truck, so Linda took it out early.

Linda is the treasurer of SLAARC, our local ham radio club based in South Lyon, Michigan.  The club’s bank (First Merit) is there and she needed to make a deposit.  I was headed that general direction so I took it with me.  The deposit made, I headed on to Chuck Spera’s bus garage in Novi, MI.  Chuck and Barbara have the same model Prevost bus that we do only one year newer and converted by Liberty, so fancier than ours.  Like us, they spend a lot of time in it, and, like us, there are always projects to be done.  Some of those, in turn, require some discussion.

I met Chuck at his shop at 10:15 AM and had a look at his turbo boost sensor intake manifold pressure hose.  It appeared to be intact but old a frayed like mine was.  The one on our bus failed on the drive out to Quartzsite, AZ in December 2014.  Changing his hose would be more difficult than our as is chassis batteries are in the passenger-side engine bay and make access to that side of the engine much more difficult than in our bus.  We have been using the same mobile mechanic for the last few years but he has found longer term employment and cut back on the mobile servicing of Prevost chassis.  I indicated to Chuck that we really needed to find someone locally who is in business at an accessible location and plans to continue as such into the foreseeable future.  He suggested that we take a drive to Johnie’s in Walled Lake, so that is what we did.

Denny was not there (Johnie was his dad) but I got to see the place and now know where it is.  We drove back to the Panera in Novi for lunch and then back to Chuck’s shop which is nearby.  By 2 PM we had not only solved all of the world’s problems we had made good progress on unraveling the mysteries of the universe.  Wanting to leave something for the next conversation I headed for home leaving Chuck to ponder the mysteries of the bus, which are far more baffling than the mysteries of the universe.

I drove home on Grand River Avenue (GRA) to avoid WB I-96 and the I-96/US-23 interchange construction.  I bought gas at the Wixom Meijer’s and found out 20 minutes later that I had paid way too much for it ($2.59/gal).  The BP station in Brighton had regular for $2.29 and the Shell station closest to our house had it for $2.44.  Bummer.  I passed a First Merit Bank on the south side of GRA just west of Old US-23 in Brighton.  Not right around the corner from our house, but a lot closer than South Lyon.  There is also a Jeep dealership there.  We are interested in getting a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, we just don’t like the prices we are seeing.

Our Amazon shipment arrived with the two filter cartridges for the under sink housing in the bus and other things.  Hopefully the delivery to the wrong address on Monday was a one-time thing.  I had been trading phone messages with Gary at BCM and finally got through to him this time.  I then curled up with the new B&H catalog which made it feel like Christmas in April.

Linda made a potato lentil ginger curry for dinner and it was very good.  I had planned on revising the FMCA Education Survey and sending it out this evening but I was simply not in the humor to go back downstairs.  I think my retirement motto is going to be “there is always tomorrow, and if not, it didn’t matter anyway.”  Linda had to get up early tomorrow morning to beat the traffic headed into Detroit so we went to bed earlier than usual.

2015/04/30 (R) Steel

Linda set her alarm for 5:45 AM.  The purpose of her alarm is to wake me up so I can wake her up.  It worked as planned and she got up and got ready to go to the bakery while I went back to sleep.

I finally got up at 8:30 AM.  I’ve been busy since we got home but also a bit tired and feeling the need to just unwind from our exciting winter out west.  After breakfast I called the Internal Medicine clinic at the Henry Ford Health System Columbus Center in Novi to see if I could get my doctor’s nurse to get my doctor to write me a new prescription for my nasal spray.  Naturally I never got to talk to the doctor or a nurse, but the youngish sounding lady who handled the phone call was very helpful, up to a point.  She really wanted to schedule me for an appointment and was not quite piecing together that my prescription, which is for a maintenance drug, is only good for one year but my doctor only needs/wants to see me every other year.  I don’t expect the new script to be a problem, but that fact that my MPSERS health care plan changed mail-order prescription providers as of January 1st may add a wrinkle.  I’m not due for a physical until the fall but I will go sooner if needed to get my script.  Which reminds me, I need to schedule my annual appointment with the dermatology PA.

I focused on making some last minute corrections to the FMCA education survey and shipped it off.  I got an e-mail back from Diane Wolfe with some questions.  She is not a member of the FMCA education committee but she and husband Brett did review and comment on it.  The questions were interesting and answering them gave me a chance to explain some technicalities and cc: the FMCA Executive Director as they were as much for his benefit as hers.

I had several e-mails back and forth with Kate regarding productions at Meadowbrook Theater and an exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), all of which sounded interesting.  Our social life is less active at home than on the road so we welcome such opportunities.

I had a phone call from Mike at Rocket Steel Buildings following up on an inquiry I made.  He sent me a brochure and a price.  It was something but not exactly the quote I was looking for.  I still need to follow up with SteelMaster Building Systems and get to work on drawings for the wood-framed basilica design.

I compiled my blog posts for April 21-25, 2015 after finding the one for the 24th.  I had e-mailed it from my iPad but it never arrived.  I e-mailed it again and it bounced back.  The spam blocker even said it was from a white listed sender (me!) but rejected it anyway.  Huh ???  I sent it a third time to two addresses, one of which was not attached to our domain, and it came through to both accounts, naturally.  I guess this was one of the mysteries of the universe that Chuck and I left unsolved yesterday.  Anyway, I finally got it, finished compiling my posts, and uploaded, tagged, and published it.

I also had several e-mails back and forth with Lou Petkus regarding the SKP Photographers BOF and website.  Gary sent me a link to a document in his Dropbox with photos and audio files from an interview he did for a featured bus article that never got written.  I agreed to take a look at it and see what I can do.

I managed to get more things off of the bus, including bedding, and did two more loads of laundry.  I do not like to do more than two loads a day as it over taxes the septic system.  Someone rang the front doorbell, the second time this week.  This time it was Kaylie, Aaron’s sister, from next door.  For the second time this week UPS delivered a package, correctly addressed to me, to the wrong address.  I was concerned this would happen and Linda said I was a pessimist.  Apparently we were both right.

I called the local UPS store but the only thing they could do was give me the national 800 customer service number.  I am a pessimist (just ask Linda), so I was not looking forward to that experience, but I called and fought my through their voice menu system.  It did not include an option for my situation (of course) and I finally just kept saying “agent” until the system gave up and connected me to a real person.

“Chelsea” was apologetic, even though she had not personally done anything wrong, because that’s what customer service people are trained to do.  I think someone, somewhere, once upon a time figured out that apologizing diffuses customers who are upset.  Well, it doesn’t.  And assuring me that it “won’t happen again” is equally meaningless when it comes from a person who is not in a position within the organization to make such a statement.  But Chelsea verified my name and address and the incorrect delivery address and said she took careful notes and would make sure they got to the right person.  I hope so.

What is perhaps most frustrating is that UPS has a local distribution center in Howell, and I have the address, but it is not open to the public except for limited package pickup hours.  In other words, the mistake is being made by a driver who is most likely operating out of that location, or by someone scheduling the routing, but there is no customer support person or facility manager that I can talk to, face-to-face, and resolve this at the point of origin of the problem.  We buy a lot stuff now through Amazon Prime, and it all gets shipped via UPS, so having it delivered anywhere other than to our house is a problem.

Linda called at 4:30 PM to let me know she was leaving the bakery at 5 PM and heading to Kathi’s.  They were going to have dinner at La Marsa in Farmington Hills and give the I-96 traffic a chance to subside before she finished the drive home.  I had some of the leftover potato barley ginger curry for dinner and then called Phil Jarrel to remind him that we are still trying to figure out how to put up a bus barn and still want him to do the site prep and driveway.  I then called Butch to see if he was able to locate the front brake drums for their MCI MC-9 NJT bus.  He was, and already had the driver side front reassembled.  I responded to a couple of e-mails and filled out an online RFQ for SteelMaster Building Systems and went to bed.


2015/03/14-16 (S-M) Escapade to RVillage

2015/03/14 (S) Wrapping Up; Signing Up

I spent most of the day and evening processing photos, although I took time to dump the holding tanks and fill the fresh water tank.  Linda and Val did Laundry and then went grocery shopping after which Linda started preparing the inside of our coach for travel.  It was a long, busy, productive day but it was mostly chores and work, so not much to write about.  We did, however, sign up to be staff at the July 2016 Escapade in Essex Junction, Vermont.  I signed up to be the assistant staff photographer again while Linda signed up for any job that was in a quiet environment so she can hear.  We really do enjoy the Escapade rallies.

Sunset as viewed from our campsite at the Pima County Fairgrounds near Tucson, AZ.

Sunset as viewed from our campsite at the Pima County Fairgrounds near Tucson, AZ.

2015/03/15 (N) Back to RVillage WHQ

Today was our scheduled departure date but we did not need to vacate the Pima County Fairgrounds until noon.  We would be caravanning a relatively short distance with Lou and Val and targeted 11 AM for our departure.

The more time we spend in our bus the less anxious we are the night before we are going to move to a new location, but there is still a certain anticipation about it.  Moving the bus is not like getting in a car to go to work.  It’s a big, complicated, machine and there are many details to attend to before we can move it.  It also rarely travels the same route twice so we spend time researching and planning travel routes.  Fortunately, we enjoy these aspects of the RV lifestyle and had most everything in order by the time we went to bed last night.  We both slept well enough having worked and played fairly hard all week.

We had a leisurely morning and took care of the final preparations for travel.  As it was getting to be 10 AM we had to ask someone to move a car so we could pull out.  Paul Evert’s RV dealership had moved some of the rigs they had sold during the rally to the full hookup area where we were camped all week and had folks pull there trade-in units there so they could transfer their belongings.  As a result the area was getting crowded and obstructed with cars parked wherever it was convenient (for the owner).  The RV Driving School was also busy in one of the parking lots near us teaching people how to turn, back up, and park, including teaching the “spotter” (co-pilot/navigator) how to give hand signals to the driver.  (This is actually the more difficult job requiring judgement, proper positioning, and clear/timely signals.)  As long as the driver can see the spotter all they have to do is follow directions.  Many of the Escapade staff were still at the fairgrounds and attendees who signed up for HOPs (Head Out Programs) were still camped there as well.  The HOPs are organized outings that sometimes involve a tour bus for transportation, a tour leader/guide, admission to one or more venues, and possibly food.

We pulled out roughly on time with Lou and Val right behind us.  We headed out of the fairgrounds and then north on Houghton Road to I-10 where we headed west.  They needed fuel so we took an exit on the west side of Tucson where there was supposed to be a truck stop, but it wasn’t there.  Lou pulled into a station where we could not get in/out so we found a spot a little farther down the road where we could turn around and waited for them to pull out of the station.

We followed them back on to the highway and then retook the lead.  We exited at Eloy where there were both Pilot and Flying J truck stops.  We topped up our diesel tank while Lou filled their propane tank.  We got back on I-10 for another eight miles and then exited at Sunland Gin Road and headed south into Arizona City.  A few miles, and a bunch more minutes, later we pulled into the rental property that currently serves as Curtis Coleman’s residence and headquarters for the RVillage social network.  Good things are happening for RVillage and it was good to be back here to spend a little more time with Curtis and his adorable dog Augie, a Bevar (sp? may be Biewer) Yorkshire Terrier.

A panoramic view looking west from the deck of RVillage World Headquarters.  It was very peaceful here.

A panoramic view looking west from the deck of RVillage World Headquarters. It was very peaceful here.

We got settled in and then visited a bit.  We eventually went to Duffer’s Restaurant at the golf course and then went back to the house for movie night.  The film for this evening was “The Social Network” about the founding of Facebook; a most appropriate choice given where we are boondocked.

2015/03/16 (M) Florence, AZ

Someone at the Escapade told Lou about a road that runs between Florence and Kelvin Arizona.  They said it was mostly good gravel and very scenic and Lou was determined that we find it, drive it, and photograph it.  Linda and Val packed a picnic lunch while Lou and I prepared our photography gear.  I grabbed the Garmin GPS out of our car (just in case) and we took off, leaving Curtis some peace and quiet to attend to RVillage.

I managed to navigate us to Florence where we decided it would be prudent for Lou to top off the fuel tank in his truck.  We pulled into a Circle K (Kangaroo?) and took care of that.  When Lou tried to start the truck the starter would not engage.  It would turn but made a really bad grinding sound.  Sometimes the throw-out gear binds and we tried tapping on the starter with a long stick and hammer but it did not help.  The starter had just been replaced a month ago in Mesa, Arizona and had a 60 day towing policy in addition to the parts and labor warranty.

Val, Lou, and Linda having lunch by the fuel pump island at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

Val, Lou, and Linda having lunch by the fuel pump island at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

Lou called the repair shop and they dispatched a tow truck.  I then called Curtis to see if he could fetch Val, Linda, and me from the Circle K and he graciously agreed to come get us.  We let the station attendants know what was going on and they were cool with the whole thing even though we were blocking one of the pumps.  It took a while for the tow truck to arrive so we ate our lunch standing in the shade at the end of the fuel island.  We must have made an interesting sight to passersby.  The tow truck eventually arrived, pulled the pickup truck up onto the flatbed, and drove off with Lou riding shotgun.  A little while later Curtis arrived.  We loaded our picnic supplies and camera gear into the back of his SUV and he drove us back to his place.

Lou photographs their pickup truck being loaded onto the flatbed hauler at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

Lou photographs their pickup truck being loaded onto the flatbed hauler at the Circle K in Florence, AZ.

I expected to get a call from Lou letting me know that I needed to drive to Mesa to pick him up.  What we got instead was a call that the truck was repaired and he was on his way back.  The problem was that the starter mounting bolts had not been torqued tight enough and had backed out about 1/4 inch.  As a result the throw-out gear was pushing the starter back rather than engaging with the gear teeth on the flywheel.  As we thought about it we were realized we were very lucky this did not happen on the road from Florence to Kelvin.

Bonnie was also staying at the RVillage compound and joined us for dinner last night.  This evening we did a pot luck thing and dined at the outside table by the lake.


2014/10/23-29 The Bus Work Continues

2014/10/23 (R) Close Encounter of the 1st Kind

My two main bus projects today were the lighted handle by the entrance door and the Progressive Industries remote display installation.  The lighted handle needed new machine screws and some additional gasketing on the upper securement.  It turned out that all five of the screws that I removed were stripped to a greater or lesser extent.  After trying several different screws I concluded that the threaded holes must be messed up.  Butch loaned me a 10-24 tap and I used it to re-tap all five of the mounting holes.  I cut two additional pieces of the vinyl shower pan liner and trimmed them to fit just inside the upper securement.  That allowed the piece to be reattached to the body using the 10-24 stainless steel screws I bought last night without causing interference with the LED bulb.

Some time ago I bought a remote display kit for our Progressive Industries Energy Management System (EMS).  The kit consists of a second display unit and a selector switch unit.  I mounted the selector switch in the utility bay in place of the display unit, moved the display unit to the left, and connected it to the switch with the short cable provided in the kit.  I routed the long cable from the switch through the bay to the other side by the Aqua-Hot and fed it through a small hole into the electrical bay, which is the next bay going towards the front of the coach.  I temporarily mounted the remote display in the house panel.  I then repeated the work I had done yesterday to relocate the Magnum inverter/charger remote.  This time I used serial cable #1, removed the DB-9 connectors from each end, and connected the wires on each end.  The difference from yesterday is that Progressive Industries wires their cables so that pin 1 of the RJ-11 on one end is wired to pin 1 of the RJ-11 on the other end.  That meant I had to keep the wire colors the same between the two surface-mount phone jacks, i.e., black-to-black, red-to-red, green-to-green, and yellow-to-yellow, rather than cross wiring them like I did yesterday.

ITR Oasis Combi in Butch & Fonda's MC-9.

ITR Oasis Combi in Butch & Fonda’s MC-9.

Butch’s major focus today was the ITR Oasis Combi.  He and Fonda worked for much of the day running new diesel fuel lines.  By late afternoon I was done with my projects and went to work on the fresh water plumbing for the Oasis.  Prior to the last couple of weeks I had not worked with PEX tubing and fittings.  Butch has a crimper that he showed me how to use.  By the time we quit working to have dinner we had the fresh water tank connected to the inlet of the Shur-Flo 4048 pump, the outlet of the pump connected to T-fitting that supplies cold water to the house and to the Oasis Combi inlet, and the outlet of the Combi connected to the line that supplies hot water to the house.

For dinner I fixed a salad, a Thai Kitchen mushroom noodle soup bowl, and a bowl of fresh strawberries for dessert.  I took everything in the house and dined with Butch and Fonda.  After dinner I went back to the coach to try and straighten things up a bit.  I must have opened the cabinet door under the kitchen sink a dozen times to throw away food scraps, product packaging, and paper towels.  I had bundled up the various recyclables and opened the cabinet to remove the trash bag when the mouse jumped out and ran under the passenger side couch.

I say THE mouse because I presume it is the mouse that has obviously been in the coach recently based first on getting into my loaf of bread and then finding a nest where none had been previously.  It was a cute little dark gray field mouse, not more than two inches long (without its tail), but I am going to have to find a way to catch it and remove it.  I will set a live (no kill) trap next week and see if I can find it a nice field to live in somewhere far away from Butch and Fonda’s house and both of our buses.

It was still in the upper 40s and rather pleasant outside so I straightened up the back of my car rather than wait until morning.  After retiring to the guest bedroom I organized most of my clothes.  I should be packed and on the road about an hour after I get out of bed in the morning.

2014/10/24 (F) Around the World in 80 Days

As much as I have been traveling back and forth between Michigan and Indiana I feel as if I could circumnavigate the world in 80 days but today my “journey of a thousand miles” began with a 260 mile trip home.  I was up a little before 8 AM and finished packing all of my stuff in the guest bedroom and loading it into the car.  I gathered up some last minute laundry, foodstuffs, and recyclables and put those in the car as well.  I sat and chatted with Butch and Fonda until 9:10 AM and then said farewell until Sunday evening.  I pulled my car out its normal parking spot at 9:15 AM and headed east on SR-16.  I followed my usual route home from there: US-31 north to US-20 east to CR-17 north to I-80/90 (Indiana Tollroad) east to I-69 north to I-96 east to M-59 east to Hacker Road south and then home.

Hand cut gaskets for upper piece of lighted entrance handle on our coach.

Hand cut gaskets for upper piece of lighted entrance handle on our coach.

Our friend Kate had contacted us yesterday to see if we were available to go to the Meadow Brook Theater to see a live theatrical performance of an adaption of Jules Vern’s Around the World in Eighty Days.  Her cousin is working as an intern at the theater this season and was able to get courtesy tickets.  Linda was feeling well enough to go so we left early and stopped at a Panera on the way over to the theater where we met up with Kate.  The performance was very good and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We wanted to have coffee together afterwards, but by the time we met her cousin and chatted for a while it was late and everything was closed.  Besides, we had an hour’s drive to get home and Kate probably had at least 90 minutes.

2014/10/25 (S) Here And There

Linda slept in to rest and try to recover from her cold so I went to the SLAARC Ham Radio Club Breakfast by myself.  She was awake by the time I got back and feeling well enough to run errands with me.  We stopped at Recycle Livingston and then picked up our new natural gas fireplace logs from Country Squire in Howell.  We got the business card of the independent technician who does installations for them and gave them a call to set up an appointment.  I left a message and they called us back later.  We stopped at our Bank of America branch enroute to Staples in Brighton in search of a larger size of graph paper, but they did not have the size I wanted.  I need larger paper to draw accurate designs for the custom desk/pantry and printer stand/table that we want to have made for our converted bus.  We fueled up at the Brighton Meijer’s and then bought groceries.  We needed a new coffee maker but decided not to purchase one until we had checked online.

Back home we searched for coffee makers in a white finish rather than black/stainless.  There were only a few choices and one of them was a Mr. Coffee programmable model that was available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  As long as we were looking for things online we found a pad of 50 sheets of 17″x22″ graph paper with a 1/4″ grid pattern and added that to our Amazon Prime shopping cart.  We also added a Camco RhinoFLEX RV sewer hose kit and various accessories.

Back side of house systems panel.  Bus conversions are complex.

Back side of house systems panel. Bus conversions are complex.

Linda had arranged for us to meet John and Diane at Camellia’s in Farmington Hills for dinner at 6 PM.  We left the house around 4 PM and stopped at the Brighton Bed, Bath, and Beyond to get the Mr. Coffee coffee maker.  We stopped at the Meijer’s in Wixom and picked up the filters and then stopped at J. C. Penney’s at Twelve Oaks Mall for some necessary clothing items.  We headed into Farmington Hills but were still early for dinner so we drove through our old neighborhood, which is very close to the restaurant.  Our former across-the-street neighbor, Dan, was working on a car in his driveway so we stopped to chat.  While we were there the young man who bought our house arrived home on his motorcycle.  He never removed his helmet before putting the bike in the garage and shutting the door, so we never actually saw him.  Our daughter handled the closing in July 2013 since we were in Wyoming at the time, so we never meet the buyer or his parents.  He has apparently been a very quiet neighbor who keeps to himself.

We got to the restaurant shortly after 6 PM and John and Diane were already seated so we did not have to wait for a table.  We had the veggie fajitas, our standard choice at this particular Mexican restaurant.  While we were dining our friends, Jim and Kristine Gullen, came in and sat in a booth near us.  When we were done with dinner John and Diane headed to their house (nearby) and we lingered for a few minutes to chat with Jim and Kristine before joining them.  Diane had bought some Coconut Bliss Chocolate with Salted Caramel non-dairy “ice cream.”  It was the best vegan ice cream we have had.  By 10 PM we were all having trouble staying awake so we said farewell and headed for home and went quickly to bed.

2014/10/26 (N) Pack and Go

We both slept in this morning, the combined effect of being tired (both of us), sick (Linda), and having taken Tylenol PM last night (both of us, again).  In spite of her cold, Linda wanted to cook something for me before I took off again for Indiana, so she made her wonderful vegan blueberry pancakes for breakfast.  We used the new coffee maker and, as expected, the coffee tasted the same as with the old one.

After breakfast we sorted and folded laundry (we have such exciting lives) and I selected and packed the items I needed for the week ahead.  I had not copied photos from my laptop to the network drives since October 10th so I took care of that.  I also made more careful measurements of the dimensions of our color laser printer to use in refining the design of the printer cabinet for the bus.  Likewise, I took measurements of our Dewalt air compressor as I plan to build a wooden divider for the back of the Honda Element that will secure it on the floor and create space next to it and above it for storing other things.  Obviously the two rear seats will be removed when this insert is in use.

Junction boxes for the ME-ARC remote (bottom) and the PI-EMS-50 (top)in the house systems panel.

Junction boxes for the ME-ARC remote (bottom) and the PI-EMS-50 (top)in the house systems panel.

By 2 PM I was ready to load the car so Linda helped me with that task.  I pulled out of the driveway at 2:16 PM and followed my usual route to Indiana: Hacker Road north to M-59 west to I-96 west to Lansing Road south to I-69 south to I-80/90 (Indiana Tollroad) to CR-17 south to US-20 west to US-31 south.  I exited US-31 at IN-25 (Rochester), topped off my fuel tank and then picked up fresh greens and fruit at the Kroger.  I headed south on IN-25 to Fulton where I took Aitken Road east to Meridian then headed south to SR-16 and finally headed east to Twelve Mile.

Butch and Fonda had their family holiday gathering today.  They had 27 family members in attendance during the day and for dinner but by the time I arrived (7:45 PM) everyone had left except Brittiny and Rock, and they departed while I was unpacking food and storing it in the coach.  I moved all of my clothes and technology into the guest bedroom, like I always do, and then visited with Butch and Fonda for a while before retiring to my room for the evening.  If the weather forecast holds true we have two unseasonably nice days in store on Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week doesn’t look too bad either. We have a lot to do and could use some favorable weather.

2014/10/27 (M) Heat and Light

We had an unseasonably nice day for working outside.  It was already in the upper 40s when we got up and made it in to the 70s under partly cloudy skies with breezes from the southwest.  I was up before 8 AM and had my usual granola, orange juice, and coffee for breakfast and then got to work.

Butch worked most of the day on assembling the two fan-coil heat exchanger units that will get plumbed into their ITR Oasis Combi diesel-fired hydronic furnace to provide heat to the house portion of their converted bus.  While he worked on that I worked on replacing our patio light.  The ballast on the old one was no longer working and the way the unit was designed it could not be replaced.  Butch happened to have an identical unit, so I used it as the replacement.

Old patio light fixture after being removed from the side of the coach.  Not pretty.

Old patio light fixture after being removed from the side of the coach. Not pretty.

The old unit was not removed from the coach when it was painted.  This was a nice idea at the time as it provided a paint seal on the top and both sides where the unit met the side wall of the bus.  Unfortunately, removing the unit required me to cut the paint seal with a very sharp knife.  The unit was secured with two screws, but it was stuck to the side of the coach with a generous amount of automotive putty.  Most of it came off with the fixture, but not all, so after I cut the two wires and removed the fixture I had to carefully scrape the rest of it off using the thin end of a wood shim.

I checked the voltage at the two wires coming out of the wall and I definitely had 13 VDC controlled by the same switch that turns the lighted entrance handle on and off.  I prepared the back of the new fixture using new automotive putty to create a seal all the way around the back at the outside edges.  I also placed a ring of putty around each of the screw holes in the back and the access hole for the wires.  I attached shielded spade lug disconnects to all four wires, held the fixture in place, and connected them.  I pressed the fixture into position, lined up the screw holes, and secured it.  I put the two F8T5 florescent tubes back in, snapped the cover back in place, and made sure the on/off pushbutton switch on the bottom was in the on position.  I then applied a bead of NAPA RTV Black Silicon Rubber sealant along the top seam and the two sides.  (Sorry Michele, but I had to make sure it was not going to leak.)

The switch that controls this light is one of three in a 3-gang box next to the passenger seat and is the one closest to the entrance door.  I had removed the cover plates last week so today I took another look and it appeared that the other two switches did not have any wires connected to them.  I removed them and that was indeed the case.  I think tomorrow I will re-wire this so the first switch controls only the lighted entrance handle and the second switch controls only the patio light.  If I cannot figure out something to control with the third switch I will probably leave it out and get a new cover plate that has two switch openings and a blank, assuming I can find one.

With the patio light project done Fonda helped me remove the fan belt and the two A-C compressor drive belts from the engine in our bus.  We put the two compressor drive belts (NAPA CG-96) back on but reversed their position.  The inside one seemed loose compared to the outside one last week and we wanted to see if switching them would fix that problem.  We then installed the new fan belt that I ordered/received last week.

I started the main engine and let it run for a while on high idle with the air-conditioning turned on to put some load on it.  The CG-96 that was now on the outside of the pulley still appeared to be looser than the other one, so I think I will order a replacement set.  The new fan belt ran very smoothly.  I turned the A-C off, dropped the idle down, and shut off the engine.  I started to close the rear access hatch but found that it was stiff and made a sound like an elephant trumpeting.  I sprayed some WD-40 on all the hinges and on the piston rods for the air springs.  I then put a small amount of NAPA Syl-Glide on the piston rods, worked them up and down a few times, and wiped off any excess.  The hatch now opens and closes smoothly and quietly with less effort.

Butch pressure washing the radiators for his fan coil heat exchangers.  MC-9 (L) and H3-40 (R).

Butch pressure washing the radiators for his fan coil heat exchangers. MC-9 (L) and H3-40 (R).

While I was lubricating the hatch Butch was using a pressure washer to clean the radiators (heat exchangers) for their fan-coil units.  As long as he had it out, he sprayed around all of our front windshield seals while I looked for leaks inside.  We found three for sure.  One was in the upper inside corner of the lower driver-side windshield between the center pillar and the seal.  The second one was in the lower outside corner of the upper driver-side windshield between the seal and the glass.  We were not able to identify the point(s) of entry for the third one but it appeared to be somewhere above the upper windshields near the center pillar, a least that was where the water was coming in on the inside.  I cannot see the underside of the front cowling in that area and there are lots of places water could come in: five front marker lights, two upper windshield mounts, and perhaps a dozen screws on top of the front roof holding various things down.

Leaks are annoying and potentially destructive so I am still pondering what I want to do.  We have new windshield seals but have had trouble finding someone locally to install them.  For one thing, the bus really needs to be inside for that work and most glass shops, including ones that work on “semi tractors,” do not have overhead doors high enough for the bus.  I may make judicious use of the NAPA RTV Silicone Rubber sealant or I may just use black tape as a temporary fix.

When we were done checking the windshields I used the pressure washer to clean off the coach as best I could.  The last time it was cleaned was right before we left Williston Crossings RV Resort in early April and it had accumulated a few miles, bugs, and dirt in that time.

Because the weather was so nice Butch decided to replace a short section of badly deteriorated coolant hose on their engine rather than risk having it fail on the road.  He shut some valves to isolate the engine from the coolant lines that provide heat to the coach and drained quite a few gallons out of the engine (almost three 5-gallon buckets).  The old hose turned out to be extraordinarily difficult to remove. The new piece was no easier to get in and required modification of two parts.  This was definitely not a job you want to do on the side of the road in any kind of weather.

While Butch and Fonda worked on the coolant hose I tinkered in the dashboard area of my bus.  First I replaced a couple more bulbs in illuminated switches.  I then pulled the CB radio out of the dash to see how the coaxial cable (transmission line) was marked.  That allowed me to identify the other end in the old ceiling-mounted TV cabinet behind the driver’s seat.  I also looked around in that cabinet for the other end of the coaxial cable that was once connected to the antenna for in-dash AM/FM radio/cassette/CD player.  I did not see anything that looked right, so I pulled the radio out of the dash (actually the whole panel along with four switches) to get the identifying marks off of it. Even with that information I was not able to locate the other end of the cable.

Working on the bus and living in the bus are often not compatible.

Working on the bus and living in the bus are often not compatible.

By that point it was 6 PM and we had weather approaching from the southwest.  Clouds had moved in, greatly reducing our natural light, and gave the first indications of the rain that was forecast for the evening hours.  I will look again for the radio antenna cable tomorrow as I have a TuneTrapper antenna that I want to install on the underside of the front roof via the old TV cabinet and I need to plug it into the cable that goes to the radio.

I had a small glass of Moscato while I prepared my dinner.  I fixed a salad of power greens with peanuts, dried cranberries, and fresh diced onions and finished a bottle of Ken’s Sweet Vidalia Onion dressing.  I grabbed a can of Amy’s “No Chicken Noodle” soup, some crackers, my jar of peanut butter, and some ICE brand water and went inside to eat with Butch and Fonda.  I returned to the coach after dinner, cleaned up my dishes from the day, and bagged up my recyclables.  We bought a small container on Saturday that is intended for storing pet food but it has a gasketed lid with a snap latch that I thought would make a nice mouse-proof kitchen trash can.  (I figure the mouse will leave if it cannot get any food.)  Alas, the container does not fit in the base cabinet under the kitchen sink so it will likely end up being used for its intended purpose after all.

2014/10/28 (T) Under the Bus

In corporate life “getting thrown under the bus” is not a good thing, but if you are the owner/builder/maintainer of a converted highway coach, getting under the bus will eventually be a necessity.  Today was finally my day, but not until mid-afternoon.

The forecast for today was for rain in the morning tapering off to zero by noon and then turning sunny; and that is exactly the day we had.  Knowing that the morning would be wet, I took a couple of Tylenol PM last night and slept in a bit later than normal.  After my usual breakfast of granola, orange juice, and coffee, with some spicy V8 thrown in for good measure, I set to work on the interior of the old TV cabinet located above and behind the driver’s seat.

Yesterday I pulled the CB radio and the AM/FM radio out of the dashboard and identified how the coaxial antenna cable for each one was marked.  I located the cable for the CB in the TV cabinet but was not able to find the one for the AM/FM radio.  I got my twin tube florescent worklight and rigged up a couple of zip ties with mounting tabs to hang it from.  I looked again this morning but still could not locate the AM/FM radio antenna cable.  Rather than waste time not finding it I decided to organize the inside of the cabinet which has had an outlet strip, an OTA TV antenna controller, the Wi-Fi Ranger POE adapter, DC power supplies, and a mess of cable that has been lying around in it for a couple of years now.

Using the tab mount zip ties I coiled each cable and secured it to one of the two side walls.  The OTA TV antenna cable (signal and control) was very long, so I wound it around a 5-gallon plastic bucket to make a nice round, large coil.  The outlet strip had mounting slots on the back, so I mounted it to the wall on the lower half of the back of the cabinet.  The upper half of the back is open to the area above the driver and entrance stairs and under the front cap of the roof.

Late in the morning I took a break from the TV cabinet work and helped Butch cut access panels out of a 1/8″ aluminum sheet that will cover the inside of their entrance door.  We tried using a sabre saw but the only blade we had was not sharp enough or was the wrong type.  We used his Ryobi cordless reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade and it made much quicker, and surprisingly clean, cuts.  I then used Butch’s angle grinder to round the corners of the sheet and remove burrs from all of the cut edges.

I stopped for lunch around 2 PM and enjoyed a hummus and onion sandwich.  By the time I was done the day was as warm and sunny as it was going to get so I decided to scoot under the bus and measure the ride height linkages.  This was the first time I have been under the bus.  Please note that the bus was supported on four stands that Butch made for me out of 1/2″ steel plate and 4″ square steel tube with 1/2″ thick walls.  In other words, the bus was not supported by the tires and air springs so the bus would not move if there was a failure in one of those components.

H3-40 front axle ride height valve and linkage.

H3-40 front axle ride height valve and linkage.

The linkage in the front was easy as I could slide under the bus just in front of the driver side steer tire and then sit up between the front tires with lots of room to work.  The linkage is directly above the center of the front axle and connects the axle to a lever arm on an air valve that determines the amount of air that goes into the front airbags (when in drive mode), and thus sets the suspension at “ride height.”  Butch wanted me to remove the linkage but I chose not to.  As it turned out I should have and will probably slide back under the front tomorrow and remove it.

The rear linkages were much more difficult.  First of all, there are two on them, one for each end of the drive axle.  They are located just inside the body panel directly in front of the outside dual drive tire and are covered by a protective shield.  The shields are bolted on at four points, none of which are easy to reach and one of which ultimately required me to get under the rear end of the bus.  Access is much tighter here because of:  1) The dual drive tires on each end of the drive axle; 2) The drive axle carrier, and; 3) The exhaust pipe for the Aqua-Hot which runs under the bus from the passenger side to the driver side where it ends up next to the exhaust pipe from the generator.  I was able to scoot under the bus from the passenger side just in front of the drive tires, but just barely, and once I was under far enough to sit up there was much less room to work compared to the front.  Because of the difficulty of getting to the linkages to make an accurate measurement of the center-to-center distance between the mounting bolts I went ahead and unbolted them and removed them.

The linkages consist of a length of metal rod approximately 1/4” in diameter with a rubber bushing on each end that looks a bit like and eye-bolt.  The rubber bushings slip over the ends of the metal rods and are secured with band clamps.  They appear surprisingly fragile given the critical nature of their function, and Butch has already had one that was only a couple of year’s old break on their coach.  He ordered metal versions in both left-hand and right-hand threads and is going to assemble replacements using threaded rod and stop nuts.  With a left-hand threaded bushing on one end and a right-hand threaded bushing on the other end we will be able to turn the threaded rod one way to increase the distance between the two mounting bolts and the other way to shorten it, affecting both ends equally in the process.  The stop nuts will lock the bushings relative to the threaded rod so they do not move in operation.  All-in-all this will be a neat little project.

In spite of the lovely weather Butch needed to get to the NAPA store in Logansport before they closed at 5:30 PM.  At 4:30 PM I wrapped up my work with the linkages, put all of my tools away, washed up, and grabbed my wallet, cell phone, and shopping list.  We got to the NAPA store a little after 5 PM and took care of our business there.  We then headed to the O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store for a few other things.  I called Linda and chatted briefly with her and was relieved to hear that she sounded, and was feeling, considerably better.  Butch called Jaral Beatty to see if he had finished cutting the oak valences for the front of their bus.  He had, so we swung by Jaral’s shop to pick them up.

Front flat-panel TV/monitor with cabinet door closed.  Look ma, no wires!

Front flat-panel TV/monitor with cabinet door closed. Look ma, no wires!

While we were at Jaral’s he ripped a nice piece of 3/4″ thick oak for me to just under 3″ wide.  The piece was about 4′ long and he did not charge me for it.  I plan to attach this piece of wood to the center windshield pillar and use it as a mounting plate for a compass, flat panel monitor, PressurePro TPMS receiver, and the mirror that is currently mounted at the intersection of the four windshields.  I have to do this, of course, in such a way that it does not obscure my vision while driving.  From Jaral’s shop we went to Home Depot where I bought a thin (1″ thick), 13″ long, under-cabinet, single-tube florescent, AC powered light fixture.  I also got a blade for my Porter-Cable oscillating saw.

When we got back to Twelve Mile a little after 7 PM Fonda started preparing their dinner and I did the same.  I had a nice salad of power greens with onions, dried cranberries, and roasted peanuts topped with a sweet and sour dressing.  I also had a bowl of Thai Kitchen spring onion soup, some canned pears, and half a piece of pita pocket bread.  After dinner I washed my recyclable containers and went back to the coach for a while where I cleaned and dried a few utensils.  I then mounted the new light fixture in the TV cabinet.  As I expected, it provides very nice illumination for the entire inside of the cabinet.

Depending how the day goes tomorrow I plan to continue working in the front TV cabinet.  I would like to mount the TuneTrapper AM/FM antenna and get it connected to the AM/FM radio.  Butch’s brother, Tom, is coming over sometime during the day to winterize his motorhome.  Butch called and asked him to bring the faceplate from an old Kenwood radio that he had that was very similar to the one in our dashboard.  The backlight illumination bulb is burned out on ours.  I also need to create an access slot in the door for cables to pass between the back of the flat panel TV (which is mounted to the outside of the door) and the inside of the cabinet.  To create this access slot I will have to drill holes centered along a line and then use Butch’s root-zip tool to connect the holes into a slot.  The bushings for the ride height linkages are supposed to be in tomorrow, so we will be making a morning trip towards Kokomo to pick them up.  Butch is also trying to tap into the engine coolant loop that provides OTR heat for their bus as part of the Oasis Combi installation, so it is likely to be a very full day.

2014/10/29 (W) Outside In

My main project today was once again the front TV cabinet only this time the focus was on cutting a horizontal opening in the door behind the flat panel TV that is mounted on the outside of the door.  The approach I used was to drill two 1″ holes, one at either end of a horizontal line, and then use a roto-zip tool as a mini-router to connect the tops of the holes together and the bottoms of the holes together, creating a horizontal slot with rounded ends.  The slot is below the horizontal center line of the TV set and offset to the left (as viewed from the front of the TV) to line up with the area on the back of the set where the power, video, and data cables exit downward.  The position of the slot allows them to gently bend and pass from the outside of the cabinet to the inside of the cabinet where they get connected.  This also allows the cabinet door to be closed and latched with none of the cables visible.  It sounds simple but it took me a good part of the day to get it done.  We have a second flat panel TV in the bedroom mounted on a similar door that covers another old TV cabinet.  Cutting a similar slot in that door is on my task list for tomorrow.

Front TV cabinet; making use of the space where the 10" CRT was mounted.

Front TV cabinet; making use of the space where the 10″ CRT was mounted.

When I wasn’t working on the TV cabinet I spent a few minutes learning how to use an air-powered cutoff tool and giving Butch a break by using it to help cut off a piece of the center tunnel sidewall in their passenger side front bay.  Butch is removing this panel in order to gain access to the engine coolant lines that provide heat for the bus when it is underway.  He needs to tie a stacked-plate heat exchanger into these lines as part of the ITR Oasis Combi hydronic heating system installation.

Butch spent most of his day working on their Suburban installing a Ready-Brake auxiliary braking system and extra rear lights for towing.  I checked in with him from time to time, but he was either in the middle of one-person tasks or had Fonda helping him.  Late in the afternoon we rolled his Ryobi belt sander out of the warehouse and used it to sand his two valence boards and my piece of oak that we picked up yesterday from Jarel.  We had to change the sanding belt and it took us a few tries to get it right, but it did a nice job on the boards once we had a good piece of sandpaper on it.

By the time we finished it was twilight and very cool.  Tom and Tracy showed up about then to winterize their motorhome.  There was a locked cover over the fresh water fill connector and none of Tom’s keys would open it.  I got a long flat-blade screwdriver and was able to slip it up under the cover and pop the lock.  I left the winterizing to Butch and Tom and retreated to my coach to putter and contemplate (and eat) at a lovely 67 degrees F.  The Aqua-Hot has been working very reliably, cycling on and off automatically in response to the space and water heating demands of the coach.

Tom brought an old Kenwood car stereo that he got from Butch a while back.  Although similar in appearance to our Kenwood dashboard radio, it was not similar enough.  The electrical connector on the back of the removable faceplate was in a different location than ours.  I had a Singapore Noodles dish in the coach and then made a salad to take into the house and dine with Butch and Fonda.  It was after 9 PM by the time we were done eating and I turned in for the night shortly thereafter.


2014/10/01-07 Bus Work Plus

This post covers October 1 – 7, 2014

2014/10/01 (W) Aqua-Hot (Plus)

I woke up this morning sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 AM and worked for a while in the bedroom.  By 8:30 AM I heard voices, which meant Butch and Fonda were up and dressed, so I emerged from the guest bedroom to see what the plans were for the day.  I knew they would involve trying to fix our Aqua-Hot diesel-fired hydronic heating system, but I was not sure exactly how that work would proceed.

The first task, however, was to have breakfast.  Granola with fresh blueberries, red raspberries, and blackberries, plus orange/grapefruit juice and coffee.  Ahhh, coffee.  I did not get any yesterday, so I enjoyed having some this morning.

Butch & Fonda's Aqua-Hot in a bay of their MC-9.

Butch & Fonda’s Aqua-Hot in a bay of their MC-9.

Sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 AM Butch and I got to work on the Aqua-Hot situation.  We tried firing up my unit multiple times but it would not ignite and we had no evidence of fuel getting to the nozzle.  Butch added water to his unit and fired it up just to verify that it worked.  We unplugged the controllers from both units and connected my controller to his unit to see if the controller was the problem.  It wasn’t; his unit ran fine with either controller.  We put his controller on my unit, just to check, but the unit still would not ignite.

We decided that the most expedient course of action was to simply install his burner in my unit.  That was the point at which we realized that our units are not identical.  Ours is an AHU-103-000, originally made in the late 1980’s and early 990’s while theirs is an AHE-100-02s (?? check this).  The differences are minor but important, namely:

  • the fuel connections into and out of the burner are not the same so our fuel lines would not connect directly to their burner.
  • their burner had two fuel lines that ran down to bulkhead connectors while our unit did not use bulkhead connectors.

I had agreed to buy their entire Aqua-Hot to use for spare parts, so we started by removing the burner from our unit and setting it aside.  My plan is to repair it eventually or disassemble it for parts.  The problem is that I suspect the fuel pump and/or fuel valve and/or fuel valve solenoid are defective so I would have to determine whether that is the case.

Removing our burner was a bit more complicated that we thought it would be.  Besides the fuel lines, which had to disconnected and plugged, we had to disconnect a wiring harness that had four wires running into the main boiler box for the temperature control thermostat and over-temperature safety thermostat.  These wires were terminated in female spade connectors pushed on to the male spade lugs on the thermostats.  Rather than try to feed them through the small hole in the case I made a diagram of which color wire went where and then cut the connectors off allowing the wires to pull out easily.  We had to repeat this procedure on Butch’s burner.  Quite a bit of diesel fuel leaked out of various fuel lines and I kept soaking it up with paper towels.  With our burner out of the way we evaluated the situation and decided to take care of two other issues before proceeding with the Aqua-Hot.  That’s how it goes with bus projects.

The first issue was the check valve on the Parker FPM-50 Fuel Polishing Module installation, which had been leaking at the gasket between the two halves of the body since I had redone the fittings and reinstalled it.  I had a new (unused) check valve that I should have installed when I redid the fittings, but I didn’t.  The fuel line on the inflow side of the check valve was already loose so we disconnected the other end.  That allowed us to work in the shop with a vice to help hold parts.  We removed the fittings from the old check valve, cleaned them up, and assembled them to the new check valve using pipe thread compound rather than Teflon tape.  We then reassembled the new check valve assembly back into the FPM-50 system.  We turned the FPM-50 on and did not have any leaks; finally.

The second issue was related to the fresh (potable) water plumbing.  When we purchased the coach five years ago the fresh water system had two 12VDC water pumps plumbed in parallel with independent shutoff valves for the input and output sides of the pumps.  The system also had a surge tank.  Last spring (or fall?) I had replaced these two pumps with a single Shur-Flo 4048 model, removed the surge tank (which was not needed or recommended for the 4048), and used flexible hoses and various adapters to get the new pump connected in to the existing plumbing, including plugs to seal unused fittings.  That left a lot of plumbing in this part of the bay (just off the end of the Aqua-Hot) that did not perform any useful function and was in the way of other things, like the FPM-50.

All of the original plumbing in the coach is Quest, which is no longer made.  After studying the system for a while Butch realized that that Quest tubing at the valve on the end of the outlet hose had to be connected by being slipped over a barbed fitting and tightened with a swaged band.  If we could cut the band and get the fitting out of the tubing we could cut a different section of tubing, allowing us to remove all of the unnecessary plumbing, reinsert the barbed fitting into the cut line, and put a clamp on it to seal it.  Butch had a special tool for clamping bands on PEX tubing and it appeared that the bands were a compatible size for the Quest tubing.  He also had his tubing cutter handy, so we removed the band (which was copper and easily cut), and proceeded as just described.  The PEX band swaged down nicely and passed the “Go /No-Go” test (a special tool that gages the clamped band to ensure it is tight enough without being too tight).

We turned the water pump on and had a leak at the plastic double-ended male nipple between the end of the hose and the Quest fitting.  With the pump off Butch removed the hose and then the nipple.  It was cross-threaded but the threads were OK.  Both the hose and the fitting are sealed by rubber gaskets anyway, not by the threads, so I reassembled the three pieces snug but not over tight.  I turned the water pump on (up in the house portion of the coach) with Butch watching for leaks and we did not have any.  It was shaping up to be a very good day.

With those two issues resolved, and lots more room to work on my Aqua-Hot, we removed the bulkhead fittings from Butch’s unit and cleaned them up with a wire brush wheel in his shop.  Butch reassembled some of the parts in the shop with pipe thread compound and I installed them in two unused bulkhead holes in our unit.  I then threaded in the two final fittings on the outside of the unit and had Butch do the final tightening.  He is stronger than I am, and very experienced at working with this sort of technology, so he has a good feel for how tight things need to be and can make them to correct tightness.

It was finally time to install their burner in our unit.  I stripped the ends of the wires that go into the burner box, set the burner roughly in place, taped the wires to a piece of plastic banding, and fished the wire harness up into the boiler box.  Butch installed the new female spade connectors onto the wires while I was doing something else, but I do not recall what it was.  I installed the connectors onto the mating pieces on the temperature limit switches.  (Because of the way my Aqua-Hot is installed I have to work bent over at the waist.  This is very hard on Butch’s back, and by the end of the day my back was a bit sore and stiff as well.)

The burner assembly is held against the combustion chamber by two captive bolts that swing into position.  The bolts have flanged nuts on them that tighten down and hold the burner snug to the boiler.  Because our unit is installed “sideways” it is very difficult to see and reach the nut on the lower back side of the burner.  The nuts are 10mm (Webasto is a German company) and a ratchet with a 10″ extension is needed to reach them.  I found the best way to attach the burner was to hold it in position with my left hand, get the upper/outside bolt in position with my right hand, and then run the nut down with my right hand, but not too tight.  I continued to support the burner with my left hand while I reached over the top to find the other bolt by feel, flip it into position, and tighten the nut enough to keep it from slipping off.

I knew I had to be very careful with these bolts as over tightening them can crack the mounting flange on the combustion chamber; a big mistake.  I held the burner with my left hand and made sure it was fully and properly aligned with the combustion chamber flange and then alternately snugged the two nuts down.  The specifications on these nuts is for “20 to 40 inch-pounds.”  That is not a lot of torque.  Butch had a really good digital readout torque wrench, but it only went down to 60 in-lbs, so I had to guess.

With burner re-installed, Butch attached the two burner fuel lines to the appropriate bulkhead fittings.  These are flare connectors so they did not use pipe thread compound.  I then attached the supply and return fuel lines to the appropriate fittings on the outside of the bulkhead connectors.  These were barbed fittings that the rubber fuel lines slipped over and were secured with band clamps.

We turned the unit on (in the coach) but it did not fire.  One concern, which I will remedy tomorrow, was that the level of fuel in the tank might be close to the lower end of the pickup tube for the Aqua-Hot.  These tubes are usually installed so that accessory devices, like heaters and generators, cannot use the last 1/4 tank of fuel, ensuring that there is fuel available to start the main engine and travel a reasonable distance (to get more fuel).  It took three tries to get it to ignite and when it did it produced a lot of white smoke, which is unburned fuel.

While the unit was running Butch checked the exhaust leak and said it appeared to be under the coach, not up at the Aqua-Hot itself.  That was a lucky break and big relief.  The beginning of the exhaust pipe slips over a pipe thread nipple that is threaded into an elbow and is secured with an exhaust pipe clamp.  Butch saw telltale streaks of black soot indicating that exhaust gases were leaking out at this point.  We shut the unit off and let it cool down enough that I could remove the pipe clamp securing the exhaust pipe to the nipple.  Both bolts were very rusty, and did not come off easily, but I got them off.  Butch had one clamp of the correct size on-hand so I installed it.  I will get a second clamp tomorrow when we go to town, plus a replacement if a Butch wants one.

We turned the unit back on and again it did not want to ignite.  Butch though it was a fuel delivery problem, such as a loss of prime, or perhaps air was getting into the line.  After a couple of attempts I turned the Parker FPM-50 on and let it run for a while, thinking that it might re-prime the line.  I turned it off after 10 minutes and turned the Aqua-Hot on.  It went through a long pre-combustion purge stage and then finally ignited.  It produced copious amounts of white smoke initially, but after 10 minutes there were no visible exhaust fumes.  Butch is suspicious of the FPM-50, either the unit itself or the installation, but I have run the Aqua-Hot successfully many times subsequent to its installation until it failed to fire this summer.  Clearly the situation requires further investigation which will happen tomorrow or Friday, depending on the weather.

The unit heated up fully and shut off automatically after which I turned it off.  I then mounted my burner onto Butch’s combustion chamber, both to protect it and to make sure some small animal did not take up residence in the combustion chamber.  The only thing left to do on our Aqua-Hot was to mount the new Oasis expansion reservoir.  We determined that we could mount it to the side of the unit with short sheet metal screws.  I held it in place and marked the hole locations, center-punched them, and drilled the out using a bit that Butch gave me.  The housing is stainless steel and was difficult to drill even though it was thin.  I had 1/2″ screws and Butch found some washers.  It took some fiddling, but I finally got it attached through all eight holes.  We will switch the overflow tube from the undersized reservoir that came with the coach to the much larger Oasis reservoir tomorrow after the unit has cooled down overnight and drawn most (all) of the coolant back into the boiler.  I put the cover back on the burner end, we put our tools away, and called it a day.  And a good day it was.

Butch’s brother, Tom, and his wife, Tracey, came over during the late afternoon.  It was 7 PM by the time we were done working, so we got cleaned up (sort of) and drove down to the Old Mill Restaurant just west of town on SR-16.  I had a small pizza, no cheese, with onions and mushrooms.  They made the crust thinner than their usual and it baked up very nicely.  Once we got back to the house I worked on this post while Butch dealt with e-mail and Fonda worked on the wedding dress she is making for their daughter Jean, who is getting married just before Thanksgiving.  After we turned in for the night I off-loaded all of the photos I took of our day’s work and then went to sleep.

Our Aqua-Hot in a bay of our Prevost H3-40.

Our Aqua-Hot in a bay of our Prevost H3-40.

2014/10/02 (R) Aqua-Hot (Or Not)

I was up at 7:30 AM and fixed breakfast in the coach at 8; granola with fresh blueberries, red raspberries, blackberries, and almond milk.  A glass of orange/grapefruit juice, but no coffee.

Butch and I left at 9 AM to run errands in Logansport.  He stopped at a filling station that sold kerosene and bought four gallons.  I will explain why later.  I got a big cup of coffee there and it was a decent brew.  Our next stop was NAPA Auto Parts where I bought a 1.75 inch exhaust pipe (muffler) clamp and Butch picked up some things he had ordered.  Next stop; Rural King.  We do not have this chain anywhere near where we live.  It’s a kind of hardware, sporting, and home goods store that carries an interesting assortment of items that might be of use to farmers.  It’s not a fancy store, but it carries a lot of stuff and is well organized.  Butch needed some carpet tacks and I bought a fruit fly trap and an insect fogger.  Rural King also has free popcorn.  (Now you know the real reason we stop there.)  I got some on the way in and on the way out.  🙂  Our last stop was at Aldi’s where Butch picked up some things they needed for their dinner tonight.

When we got back to Twelve Mile I changed clothes and got to work.  The weather forecast was for rain and warm temperatures.  Rain had already wet the pavement around the buses so Butch gave me a large sheet of corrugated plastic to lie on while I installed the muffler clamp on the Aqua-Hot exhaust pipe.  I installed it next to the one I put on yesterday but pointing in the opposite direction.  These clamps are just “U” bolts with a matching saddle that completes the other half of a circle when slipped over the U-bolt and tightened with the nuts.

The Aqua-Hot had cooled off overnight and suctioned all of the coolant in the expansion reservoir back into the boiler.  That allowed me to disconnect the overflow tube from the bottom of the reservoir with a minimum of mess and attach it to the main fitting on the new Oasis tank.  I added a 50/50 mix of water and ethylene glycol antifreeze to the tank until the level was halfway between “minimum cold” and “maximum cold.”  This should have been the final Aqua-Hot task, but it would not ignite when turned on even though it worked yesterday after the burner swap.

I removed the service cover and Butch and I started to puzzle out what the problem might be.  When I turned the switch on at the dashboard the blower came on immediately but the fuel valve apparently did not open.  We don’t know if the spark igniter was working, but the burner never lit and eventually the blower shut off.  When that happens, the controller “locks out” the unit from even attempting to turn on again and I have to turn the switch off to clear the lockout and then turn it back on.

Butch had me disconnect the supply and return fuel lines on the outside of the bulkhead and replace them with clear fuel lines about 5 feet long so they would reach into the bottom of the kerosene container.  (Remember the kerosene Butch bought earlier?  Now you know what it was for.  He will eventually use it to fuel a heater.)  He thought we might have an air leak in the fuel lines/connections and the clear fuel lines would allow us to see the air bubbles.  By drawing kerosene out of the container, pumping it through the unit, and returning it to the container we could recirculate it indefinitely as long as none of it was being burned.  Even with combustion taking place most of the fuel gets returned as the unit only burns fuel at the rate of 1/4 gallon per hour.

With the kerosene setup we had taken the coach’s diesel fuel lines, including the Parker Fuel Polishing Module, completely out of the system.  Butch suspected the FPM-50 might be the culprit and thus did not except to see air bubbles, but we did; a lot of them.  And the unit still wasn’t firing.  We were perplexed and a bit frustrated.  On the other hand, it appeared that the FPM-50 was no the culprit, or at least not the only culprit.

Since his burner had always worked well in his unit we figured the problem had to be something in my unit.  Butch got the service manual for his unit, which is almost identical to mine, and we started looking at wiring diagrams.  The units have four thermostats; two for the diesel burner and two for the 120VAC electric heating element.   We thought those might be the problem and checked the two for the burner but they were OK and appeared to be functioning correctly.  There are also six fuses.  I pulled and checked each one and they were also OK.  When Butch works on his unit he often starts it by connecting a jumper wire across the two terminals for the switch wires to save himself the trip to the bus (where the switch is located) and back to the bay (where the unit is located).  He connected a jumper wire across the switch terminals on my unit and it fired up after the normal 25 second purge cycle.  It was good that it started, but not good that we did not know why.

We were still seeing a lot of air in the kerosene and Butch decided to remove the secondary fuel filter from its holder and change its orientation so the output was lower than the input, ensuring the outlet was covered by fuel.  The air bubbles lessened considerably when he did this but did not clear up completely and the unit was producing a lot of white smoke (unburned fuel).  It always produces some on startup until the combustion chamber heats up, so we decided to let it run.  The exhaust fumes eventually cleared up and the coolant eventually expanded to within 1.5 inches of the top of the (new) overflow reservoir when the unit reached maximum operating temperature, automatically shut off the burner, and completed the purge cycle.

We wanted to cool it down so we could test it again so I removed the jumper wire to keep it from restarting.  I then opened all of the coach windows, opened all three ceiling vents, turned the ceiling exhaust fans on high, turned the three Aqua-Hot house thermostats on, and turned them up to their highest temperature settings.  I also turned on the engine pre-heat coolant circulating pump.  As the unit cooled down it started drawing the coolant from the reservoir back into the unit.  We turned the unit on using the switch at the dashboard and it fired up.  At this point we had not found anything wrong and had not fixed anything, but it seemed to once again be working correctly.  While the unit was heating up and cooling down Butch repaired a flat tire on a semi-trailer that they used to store parts for their business.

I still had the fan coil heat exchangers and the engine pre-heat running to cool the unit down.  The power for these units, and for the coolant circulation pumps, is independent of the diesel burner as the Aqua-Hot can also be heated by an electric element and by the main engine.  When the unit had cooled sufficiently I removed the temporary fuel supply line and reattached the supply line from the diesel fuel system.  I left the clear fuel return line connected at the bulkhead.  I removed the heavy rubber fuel line from the bottom of the FPM-50 check valve, cut the clear line to a workable length, and attached it to the bottom of the check valve.  By leaving the section of clear line in place we would still be able to monitor for air bubbles.

After cleaning up diesel fuel that had leaked out of hoses and fittings I turned the burner on using the front switch.  The unit immediately came to life and the burner ignited the way it is supposed to.  We still had some air bubbles in the return line, but no worse than before until I moved the secondary fuel filter back into its normal horizontal position.  That created a lot of air bubbles so I moved it back so the outlet was lower than the inlet.  I am suspicious of this filter and/or the lines attached to it.  The unit was working and there was no point in bringing it up to full temperature so I shut it off and installed the service cowling.  It will be interesting to see if it ignites tomorrow morning when it is cold.

Butch and Fonda worked on uninstalling their Aqua-Hot while I unloaded most of the parts, supplies, and tools from my car and put them on a cart in their now mostly empty warehouse.  As I was finishing it started to rain lightly.  We quickly gathered up our tools, stowed our tool boxes, closed up our bus bays, and moved everything else into the garage.  I shut off the ceiling exhaust fans, closed the vents, and then closed all of the coach windows.  I shut off the three house thermostats and the engine pre-heat pump and then moved my car back to its usual parking spot.  By that point it was raining harder.

Today was Fonda’s birthday but they did not have any special meal plans.  Around 4:15 PM I decided to go fill the fuel tank on the coach.  Gallahan’s Truck Stop is only 10 miles from their house and an easy run there and back on SR-16 and US-31.  I arrived on Tuesday with only 3/8ths of a tank and I wanted to eliminate the main tank fuel level as a potential source of the no-fire problem.  I was going to need fuel anyway for the trip to Elkhart and back next week and any subsequent movement of the bus.  I texted Linda from the truck stop to let her know it was Fonda’s birthday and suggested that she call their house later.

Butch and Fonda had leftovers while I was out so I dined alone in the coach.  I had a large green salad, some pretzels with hummus, and a tofu hot dog.  Apple cider and reheated apple/pear crisp topped off the meal.  Yum.  I brought my dishes and cutlery in the house and washed them.

Linda called while I was eating so I did not get to talk to her.  Butch was very tired and turned in early so I chatted with Fonda for a while about their various family members, many of whom I have met over the years, and what they were up to before retiring to my room to check e-mail and work on this post.  Although not as productive as yesterday it was still a long and tiring one.  Actually the days when you don’t feel like you have accomplished anything definitive are the hardest.

2014/10/03 (F) The Other Bus

I got up at 7:30 AM, got dressed to work, and then spent a half hour doing some preliminary packing.  I had breakfast in the coach (granola with fresh berries) and was enjoying my first cup of coffee while cleaning up a few dishes when Butch knocked on the door.  He was curious if I had tried starting my Aqua-Hot.  I had not, so I turned on the switch for the diesel burner.  The blower came on right away and then the burner ignited after a short purge cycle of perhaps 15 seconds.  The combustion was clean on startup with no visible exhaust smoke.  I checked the expansion reservoir and the coolant level had dropped overnight to the “minimum cold” reference mark.  The unit was running well and I left it on to complete a full heating cycle.

When I arrived in Twelve Mile on Tuesday I noticed some small flies in the kitchen as I was setting up the interior.  We had not used the coach since mid-June and had left a couple of windows slightly open to keep it aired out and prevent it from getting too hot.  We did not turn the refrigerator off, which adds heat to the interior.  The windows have screens, but the little bugs could have gained access through any number of places.  I set up the fruit fly trap I bought yesterday to try and rid the coach of the little bugs.

I also bought a fogger yesterday that I had planned to use today just before leaving for home, but the directions said to only leave the fog for two hours and then ventilate the space.  There were also cautions about removing/protecting food and cooking/eating utensils and eliminating ignition sources, including the refrigerator.  The refrigerator (and freezer) are full of food so that was more trouble than I was prepared for today.  I put dryer sheets in the cabinets under both sinks (kitchen and bathroom) and in the bay by the Aqua-Hot.  We found several acorns inside the Aqua-Hot when I removed the service cowling on Wednesday and I have read that animals do not like these dryer sheets.  The sheets cannot do any harm so there was no down side to trying this.

Our major focus today was two interior projects in Butch and Fonda’s bus, a 1987 MCI MC-9 Crusader II NJT (New Jersey Transit).  Like most owner-converted buses, it started life as a seated coach in revenue service and got a lot of use over the years before being sold for a small fraction of its original cost.  In the case of their coach the New Jersey Transit Authority ordered a large number of these MC-9 model coaches with special modifications for use as commuter buses, as opposed to a city bus or a tour bus.  The MC-9 proved to be a reliable coach and used ones make an excellent but economical platform for a DIY conversion project.

They needed help installing a piece of “FRP” (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) on a section of wall.  They have used this material, in white and almond, for wall paneling and as a ceiling headliner.  The material comes in 4’x8′ panels and is flexible but durable.  It brightens the interior, as it reflects light, and is very easy to clean.  The piece had to be fitted, marked, and trimmed several times.  This project occupied Fonda for much of the day, Butch for some of the day, and me for a small part of the day.

Butch & Fonda's MC-9 conversion in the process of being wired.

Butch & Fonda’s MC-9 conversion in the process of being wired.

The other project was electrical wiring for switched kitchen outlets and the ceiling lights in the kitchen and living room.  I spent most of the day working on this.  Butch had finally decided that I know enough about electrical work that I can be entrusted with these tasks.  He is using Wiremold surface mount boxes and wire channels, which makes a lot of sense in a bus conversion where you cannot necessarily run wires through the walls of the bus.

Butch had previously installed Wiremold 2-gang base plates for electrical boxes to hold switches and outlets.  We routed electrical cable (10, 12, and 14 AWG wire, both NM cable and separate conductors) between base plates and the AC power distribution boxes.  I wired up outlets and switches and tied in lines and loads.

Larry “the scrap metal guy” showed up about noon so Butch had to use the forklift to load a pallet of old Crosley radiator cores into Larry’s truck.  After Larry left Butch used the forklift to remove their Aqua-Hot from their bus.  Fonda and I helped get it off the forklift into the back of my Honda Element after which we returned to our electrical and paneling work.

I quit working around 2:15 PM, changed out of my work clothes into something cleaner and more comfortable for driving, and washed up.  I finished packing and then loaded the car for the trip home.  I had planned to leave at 3:00 PM and pulled out of their parking area at 2:59 PM.  I did not have lunch and would not be having dinner until 8 PM, so 30 miles up the road I stopped at a BP/McDonald’s, topped off the fuel tank, and had some French fries.  The stop added 30 minutes to my ETA but it took the edge off of my hunger which made for a more comfortable drive.

On the drive home I suddenly had the vague feeling that I had not turned off the 12VDC fresh water pump in the bus.  I called Butch and had him check it.  As I suspected, it was on so he switched it off.  The only reason this was a concern was that a leak downstream of the pump would result in the (full) fresh water tank eventually being pumped dry (lots of water flowing somewhere) and the pump then continuing to run until it burned out or burned up (fire?).

A little farther down the road it occurred to me that leaving the Aqua-Hot turned on tomorrow, while Butch and Fonda were gone for most of the day, was probably also not the best idea I’ve had recently.  I stopped at the Travel America on M-60 at I-69 and called Butch again to ask him to turn the Aqua-Hot off in the morning right before they left.

On the drive home fall was definitely in the air and perhaps even an early touch of winter.  I drove through heavy, blinding rain with strong cross winds just northeast of Elkhart, Indiana and was in and out of rainy/windy conditions for most of the drive in Michigan.  I called Linda as I passed Charlotte, Michigan which was less than an hour from the house.  I got home at 8:10 PM and she had dinner waiting which was nice.  We had a green salad and an Amy’s Roasted Vegetable pizza.  After dinner I unloaded everything from the car except the few tools I had brought back with me, and the defective Aqua-Hot.  We were both tired after long days and turned in early.

2014/10/04 (S) Chores

It continued to rain overnight and into this morning and we awoke to temperatures in the upper 30’s (F).  We went to our ham radio club breakfast and lingered until 10:15; longer than usual.  When we left we headed to Country Squire in downtown Howell to pick up the hose and cover for the Broil King outdoor grill.  We stopped at the bank and then at Teeko’s for three pounds of fresh roasted coffee beans.  Our last stop was Meijer’s, just across the street from Teeko’s, to stock up on non-perishable food for me for the next week.  While we were there I got a phone call from Chuck and agreed to meet him at his bus garage at 1 PM.  By this time it was already 11:30 AM.  We unloaded groceries at home and had a quick lunch of hummus, chips, and grapes. I left at 12:30 PM and Linda settled in for the afternoon to work on her bakery project.

Chuck had re-installed his repaired tachometer and installed his new VDO speedometer and I wanted to see how the speedometer/odometer was wired and get the model number.  It was a VDO-437-152 85mm 85/130 (MPH/KPH).  Chuck had also purchased a dual multistage battery maintenance charger and we had a long chat about where to install it and how to wire it in.  While I was there Linda sent a text message asking me to pick up rolled oats so she could make another batch of granola.

I stopped at the Meijer’s in Wixom, topped off my fuel tank, and bought three bags of Bob’s Red Mill Thick Rolled Oats and two bottles of wine.  Back home I started doing the laundry and working on my computer off-loading photos from my camera.  Linda wrapped up her work and took a break to read before starting dinner.  I backed the car up to the garage and we unloaded the spare Aqua-Hot onto a wheeled platform.  The unit was very heavy, but we got it out and down safely.

For dinner, Linda made a nice green salad, cooked up a really yummy squash we had not tried before, and made seitan stroganoff served over basmati rice.  After dinner she read and played online word games with her friends and relatives while I edited blog posts at my computer.  I brought the laundry up and Linda helped get my clothes packed for tomorrow.  Butch called to let me know that they were back from their family reunion and the Aqua-hot started right up when he turned it on.  Cool (hot).

2014/10/05 (N) Indiana Bound

Linda helped me get partially packed yesterday and I stayed up later last night than I should have, so I slept in a little bit this morning, but the smell of coffee brewing and breakfast cooking got me out of bed.  Linda made a tofu scramble with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers and served it with toast and coffee.  That was a nice way to start the day.

After breakfast I checked e-mail and then started gathering up the remaining items I needed to take with me to Indiana.  I had more clothes than the last trip since I would be gone seven nights rather than three and I would be involved in working on buses initially and then attending a rally.  This time of year the clothing needed to work outdoors can also vary considerably from day to day and even during the course of a day.

By 11:30 AM I was ready to load everything into the car.  Bags of food went on the floor in front of the passenger seat, my computer and carry bag went on the passenger seat, and the suitcases and bag of shoes and coats went behind the front seats.  I then backed the car up to the garage and loaded the items we hoped to get rid of at the FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches (GLCC) Surplus and Salvage Rally later in the week.

With the car packed, Linda reheated the seitan stroganoff from last night for lunch.  Even left over it was delicious.  By the time we finished eating and cleaning up it was 1:15 PM.  There wasn’t anything left to do at home, and Linda was waiting for me to leave before she got to work on the bakery software conversion project, so a farewell-until-later kiss sent me on my way.  I pulled out of the driveway at 1:24 PM.

The weather looked and felt more like early winter than early fall with moderately strong coldish winds moving an endless layer of mottled gray clouds from west to east.  It was neither gloomy nor foreboding but had that wintery edge to it.  I thought about alternate routes out of town but decided to take Hacker Road to M-59 the same way I do in the bus.  Most of my route was the usual; M-59 west to I-96 west to I-69 south to M-60 where I stopped at a McDonalds to rest and get a cup of coffee.  I then took M-60 west through Three Rivers to M-40 where I made a rest stop and topped off the gas tank at the Shell station.  Regular was $3.19, a price I have not seen in quite some time.  I took M-40 south seven miles to US-12 and headed west to M-217 (the Michiana Parkway) which runs south into Indiana where it becomes CR-17.  Instead of continuing on to US-20, however, I took CR-4 west to Elkhart Campground.

I stopped at the campground to make a reservation for Wednesday through Sunday (for the rally) but found out that I did not need one.  I confirmed the availability of 50A electrical service while I was there, took the opportunity for a pit stop, texted a trip update to Linda, and then continued my trip to Twelve Mile, Indiana.  Since I was in Elkhart and had a good phone signal I called Michele Henry of Phoenix Paint to remind her that I would be in Elkhart later in the week and that we had talked about getting together to review and finalize an article I had written some time ago on the process of renovating the exterior of our coach.

I took SR-19 south through Elkhart to US-20 west to US-31 south. The conversation with Michele lasted about three quarters of the way to Twelve Mile where I finally reached an area with no Verizon cell phone service.  (I find it odd that there is any stretch of US-31 without Verizon service as it is the major connection between Indianapolis and South Bend.)  I exited at Rochester onto SR-25 south and took that as far as Fulton where I took a couple of small county (farm) roads down to SR-16 at a point slightly west of Twelve Mile and drove east into town.  The trip took almost five hours, including the two stops, and covered 245.7 miles.

I had a marginal cell phone signal so I sent a text message to Linda letting her know I had arrived and asked her to call my hosts’ phone around 7:30 PM.  I said “Hi” to Butch and Fonda and then excused myself while I unloaded the car.  I unpacked the suitcase and stored most of the clothing in the bus, taking enough items into the house for the next couple of days.  I also unpacked and stored all of the food in the bus pantry.  I put my technology, toiletries, shoes, and work jackets in the house and then went back to the coach to have a quick bite of dinner.

I made my final trip for the night from the coach to the house just before 7:30 PM but managed to be in the house when Linda called.  She chatted briefly with Butch about some business related forms and then chatted briefly with me.  She will be working at the bakery most of the week, but plans to drive to Elkhart on Friday morning to visit with GLCC chapter members, have dinner, and participate in the business meeting.  She’s the chapter Treasurer.  She will stay the night, and through breakfast and lunch on Saturday and then head back to the house.  We can only leave the cats alone for so long.

Butch was working at his computer but cleared a chair off for me.  He had his 2m ham rig dialed in to the Miami County Amateur Radio Club repeater and they started their weekly net at 8 PM.  We had a long chat before I retired for the evening around 9:45 PM.

The plan for tomorrow is to continue working on the kitchen and ceiling light wiring in their bus.  I also have a few more places to look for the diagrams and installation notes for the Zena 24 VDC engine-driven power generating system.  Butch has an appointment on Tuesday morning and will pick up some things while he is in town.  I need a fuel line coupler (double barbed male) so I can remove the fuel lines from the final/secondary fuel filter on my Aqua-Hot, connect them together, and see if that eliminates the air bubbles.  He also needs parts for the rigid links he is making for the leveling valves for the bus chassis air-suspension system.  He is going to get extra material and make a set for me too.  It should be an interesting and varied week.

2014/10/06 (M) No Fuel Flow

Getting our Aqua-Hot to work is proving to be quite a challenge.  When Butch and Fonda got home early Saturday evening Butch turned on the burner and it fired up perfectly within the normal startup cycle time limits.  He left it on and I assumed it was working correctly when I arrived yesterday.  It wasn’t until this morning that I realized I did not have hot water.  The switch was on but when I checked the expansion reservoir it was below the minimum cold level.  The unit had obviously cycled off and then failed to restart sometime later.  Once that happened the control circuitry locked out the fuel and ignition spark as a safety measure.  I tried cycling it four times but it would not ignite.

Butch found a small inline (secondary) fuel filter and I replaced the one in the unit.  It still would not start.  I disconnected the fuel line from the outlet of the Racor fuel filter (which feeds to Parker FPM-50), disconnected the fuel line from the outlet of the FPM-50 (which supplies the burner), and connected the supply line directly to the Racor filter.  It still would not start.  Based on what we could see in the transparent secondary fuel filter the unit was not getting fuel.  There are a limited number of things that could be wrong: no fuel; bad fuel; clogged/restricted fuel line(s); clogged/restricted fuel filters; weak/broken fuel pump; stuck fuel valve or defective fuel valve solenoid; clogged nozzle.  We started the generator, which may use the same main tank pickup tube as the Aqua-Hot, and it ran beautifully.  I turned the electric toe-kick heaters on to put some load on the genset and let it run for a while.

Our next step was to change the Racor fuel filter / water separator and/or by-pass it, but it started to rain.  The forecast was for rain throughout the morning turning to thunderstorms in the afternoon with temperatures in the upper 50’s.  I did not want to work in those conditions so I put away my tools, closed up the coach, and spent the rest of the day (except for a quick lunch break) working on the 120 VAC wiring in Butch and Fonda’s coach.  I hope we have power to their new switched kitchen outlets and ceiling mounted fluorescent lights by the end of the day tomorrow.

I had leftover Ghallaba for dinner.  It was delicious.

Butch ordered a VDO-437-152 electronic speedometer/odometer for me from PartDeal.com which is part of ISS Pro (Instrument Sales and Service) with overnight shipping.  He then called Joe and got the address of the place in Quartzite, Arizona where we are thinking about spending part of the winter.  He and I spent some time checking it out on Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Street View before turning in for the night.  I spent some more time checking out Quartzite and distances to the nearest towns with decent shopping.  I dealt with several e-mails, worked on yesterday’s blog post, and finally turned out the lights.

2014/10/07 (T) Loose Connectors

I was up much too late last night and stayed in bed this morning until just after 8 AM to make sure I got my 7 hours of beauty rest.  I was up and dressed by 8:40 AM, just in time to converse briefly with Butch before he took off for a shopping run and an appointment in Logansport.  Our plan was to attack the Aqua-Hot fuel flow problem when he got back, weather permitting.

After Butch left for town I had my usual bowl of yummy homemade granola for breakfast.  Rather than make coffee, however, I went across the street to the Small Town Brew coffee & bake shop that Lisa Paul opened a little over two years ago.  Lisa wasn’t there, but her friend Ashley was covering for her.  Coffee is on a donation basis and the only small bill I had was a $1, so I got a large mug of coffee, with a refill, for a buck.  Ashley was engaged in a conversation with a local farmer when I arrived.  She was very friendly, and included me as much as she could, but they were discussing local issues (of course) which involved family relationships and property sales, none of which meant anything to me.

I found out that Ashley’s boyfriend, Jeff, is slowly trying to buy up the whole town of Twelve Mile and turn it into a rental community.  Ashley helps Jeff renovate each property to make it rentable.  What they are doing probably makes some economic sense but long-term will destroy any sense of community that may exist in this place.  Renters simply do not have the same stake in a community as owners.  The town is very small with very little employment but is only 12 miles from three much larger towns (Logansport, Peru, and Rochester) and only 30 miles from Plymouth (north) and Kokomo (south), so it is possible to live here and drive to employment elsewhere.

Although Twelve Mile has a bank and a post office it seems like the sort of place younger and middle aged folks might rent for a while rather than someplace to settle for the long term.  I am, of course, looking at this through the eyes of a lifelong urbanite.  Butch and Fonda have lived here for a very long time and it has certainly met their needs for a place to live and run their business, as well as build/store their bus conversions.

I finished my coffee and returned to our bus to see if I could remove the defective speedometer.  The dashboard cover just lifts off, providing access to everything on the back side.  Not good access, as the dashboard is fairly close to the windshield, but access nonetheless.  I can also see the back side of the dashboard clearly through the windshield, so a second person can help direct tools into position if needed.

The old speedometer is held in with a U-shaped bracket secured with two Nylok nuts on machine screws that are part of the case.  The machine screws protruded far enough beyond the nuts to require a deep socket or a socket with a large enough through hole to allow the screws to pass through.  In order to get the socket onto the nuts I had to hold wiring cables out of the way.  I traced the wires coming out the back of the speedometer and discovered that the instrument connector was disconnected from the mating piece in the wiring harness.  The connector for the instrument lights was also unplugged.  Whatever the condition of the instrument it was guaranteed not to work in this configuration.

I do not recall how this situation came to be.  I was working on the dashboard wiring this past March while we were in Williston and presumably cleaned these contacts as the intermittent speedometer was the primary thing we were trying to fix.  Presumably I either failed to plug these connectors back together or did not plug them together fully and they eventually worked loose.  Having the connectors touching loosely could certainly have caused the intermittent and erratic readings I was seeing.  I decided to leave the speedometer in the dash, reconnect it, and see what it did on the drive to Elkhart.  I will have to decide whether to install the new speedometer when it arrives or keep it as a spare.  Either way I will need to test drive the bus.  Whatever I decide I do not plan to return the new one since it is the correct replacement part (per Prevost) for a speedometer that may eventually fail if it hasn’t already.

While Butch was away I worked at my computer selecting and editing photos for a few of the late September blog entries that I have not yet posted.  I should have some free time at the upcoming FMCA GLCC Surplus and Salvage Rally to get the blog and website caught up and also get some writing/editing done on articles for Bus Conversion Magazine.

With regards to my Aqua-Hot, Butch’s plan was to install short fuel lines on the inlet and outlet sides of my Racor fuel filter / water separator, insert T-fittings, reconnect the normal fuel lines to the T-fittings, and attach vacuum gauges to the T-fittings.  This configuration would allow us to monitor the relative pressure in the fuel lines on either side of the Racor to see if there was a restriction.  I have a replacement filter cartridge for the Racor but we did not want to install it unnecessarily.  It would have been easier but provided us with less information.

Although there are several components inside the Aqua-Hot that could restrict or prevent fuel flow, all of those came from Butch’s unit and were known good components before we swapped them over.  We also had the unit in our coach operating as recently as this past Saturday.  At this point all indications are that the no-start problem is fuel supply related and external to the unit, i.e., in our coach.  Ugh.

My new VDO speedometer arrived while Butch was gone.  I could not find Fonda so I signed for it.  I was eating lunch when Butch got back.  He bought barbed brass couplings for 1/4″ fuel line and 11′ of fuel line.  He did not buy T-fittings because he had a quantity on hand.  Unfortunately we could not find them so I made a quick run to Logansport to get the missing pieces.

Pressure gauges and T-fittings for testing the Aqua-Hot fuel delivery.

Pressure gauges and T-fittings for testing the Aqua-Hot fuel delivery.

When I got back I hookup up the two vacuum gauges as previously described and initiated a start cycle on the Aqua-Hot.  We did not see an indication of a restriction but the unit still would not fire. On two prior occasions we had gotten it to ignite by using a jumper wire across the two terminals where the cockpit switch wires connect.  We tried that again and it lit up. It was producing a lot of black exhaust so I let it run long enough to clear up.

The jumper wire may be a coincidence but I developed a hypothesis that we could test.  If the initial switch closure provided a sufficient voltage and current to start the operating cycle but then dropped below some lower threshold the controller would never open the fuel valve or apply power to the ignition coil for spark and the blower would complete the shutdown purge stage of the operating cycle.  I recall a quote from Thomas Huxley:  “The great tragedy of science – the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”  With the cockpit switch closed (on) Butch measured 12.7 VDC across the terminals without any noticeable drop.  Even so, we investigated the switch and it’s wiring to see if the contacts might be intermittent.  They were not.  We did discover that the small “grain of wheat” light bulb in the switch was not coming on even though the filament appeared to be intact and there was voltage on the wire pair from the Aqua-Hot that powers it.

One of the house systems switch panels.  The Aqua-Hot burner switch is one of these.

One of the house systems switch panels. The Aqua-Hot burner switch is one of these.

We cycled the unit on and off several times and it ignited every time.  I removed the vacuum gauges and T-fittings, spliced the supply hose back together on the inlet of the Racor fuel filter /water separator, reconnected the outlet to the inlet of the Parker FPM-50, and installed a new piece of 1/4″ fuel line from the outlet of the FPM-50 to the inlet of the secondary fuel filter.  I checked all of the band clamps, turned the unit on, and it started right up.

I did a little more interior electrical work on Butch and Fonda’s coach, helped them install an FRP panel, and called it a day.  Since I was leaving tomorrow I did some preliminary packing of stuff in the bedroom.  I made and ate my dinner in the coach and then did some straightening up before returning to the house and turning in for the night.


2014/09/30 (T) To Indiana

Linda was up early again and off to the bakery.  I got up just before 8 AM, showered and shaved and had a grapefruit for breakfast.  I did not have any coffee.  I do not eat or drink on lot on days when I have to drive the bus.  I checked and adjusted the tire pressures on the bus while it was still cool and cloudy.  I then hooked up the car and checked the rear lights.  I spent the rest of the morning gathering up last minute things and loading them on the bus.  My plan was to leave at noon.  There were a lot of last minute things but I was packed and ready to go by 11:45 AM.

I called Linda to let her know I was getting ready to leave, secured the house, and took care of the final departure items.  I started the car, put it in D (drive) for 20 seconds, slipped it into neutral, made sure the parking brake was off, the steering wheel was free to turn, and the Pressure Pro repeater was plugged in.  The key has to be in the ignition switch and turned to the “on” position while the car is being towed so I travel with two car keys so I can lock the car.  I turned off the shore power to the bus, disconnected the power cord, and stowed it.  I closed up the utility (shore connections) bay, checked that the air accessories circuits were open in the DS front bay, checked that the inverter was working, and made a final check that all of the bays were closed and locked.

I secured the entrance door (from the inside), checked that everything was ready for travel on the interior, buckled myself in, and started the engine.  I gave it a minute to get oil flowing through the engine and start to build air pressure and then switched it to high idle to finish airing up the suspension and brake systems.  I switched the suspension system from Level Low mode to driving mode, pulled the tag axles up, let the suspension come back up to ride height, and slowly pulled out.  (Lifting the tag tires off the ground helps the bus make slow tight turns like the 180 degree turn to pull out of our pull-through driveway and into the street pointed in the right direction to get out to the main road.)  I stopped in the street to lower the tag axles, let the suspension readjust to ride height, and was finally on my way.  (The bus is not supposed to be moving when the tag axles are raised or lowered.)  The dashboard clock turned 12:00 when I was half way down our street.  That’s the departure drill.  The morning turned out to be busier than I would have liked, but that was pretty good time management, I would say.

It had rained hard around midnight and there was a heavy cloud layer all morning with occasional mist, so it was a cool, damp morning.  I took my usual route north on Hacker Road to M-59 west to I-96 west to the southwest corner of Lansing where I picked up I-69 south.  I stayed on I-69 into Indiana where I picked up US-20 west.  I always enjoy the drive across this stretch of US-20; it’s a 2-lane highway posted at 55 MPH (except through towns) and is hilly from I-69 west to the Elkhart area.  It is not unusual to see Amish buggies along this route but they were out in force today from Lagrange to Middlebury.  There was also road construction along the way so it was a slightly trickier and slower drive than normal.

I exited US-20 onto US-31 southbound and was immediately routed onto a new section of highway.  I have seen stretches of this highway under construction on trips to Twelve Mile Indiana over the last couple of years but this was the first time I had driven on it.  The road I used to take is now “Old US-31.”  The new highway rejoined the old highway near Plymouth, Indiana.  From this point south to Kokomo US-31 has long been a four lane divided highway, but not limited access.  At the point of rejoining one side was closed with traffic routed on the other side, making a 2-lane construction zone.  In spite of that I was able to keep rolling and made good time.  I was out of the construction quickly enough.

Once the highway made the turn back to the south near Rochester I was in the home stretch.  Another 10 miles and I saw the familiar communications towers that tell me to look for the barn on the east side of the highway at SR-16.  I made the turn onto SR-16 westbound and another 7 miles brought me to the heart of downtown Twelve Mile, Indiana where Butch and Fonda’s home and business are located.  (Twelve Mile, Indiana is 12 miles from Rochester, 12 Miles from Logansport, and 12 miles from Peru, thus the name.)  I pulled into the driveway for the grain elevator across the street from their parking area, let the engine idle for a few minutes to cool down and stabilize, and shut it down while I unhooked and parked the car.

Butch and Fonda had gotten home from a day of errands and family visits just before I arrived.  They unloaded groceries while I attended to my car.  Butch then served as spotter while I backed across SR-16 into their lot and got me parked next to their bus.  As parked, the coach was level side-to-side but low in the front.  I switched the suspension to Level Low, raised the front end, and shut off the engine.

I use their spare bedroom when I am here, so I unloaded clothing and technology items and took them inside.  I left all of my food onboard the bus, however, as I prepare my own (vegan) meals and usually eat breakfast and lunch in the coach by myself (if I even have lunch).  I try to prepare dinner and bring it in the house to eat with them if the timing works out, but tonight it did not.  They had a large, late lunch and I had a small, light breakfast and a handful of pretzel nibblers and peanuts (literally) for lunch.  Linda sent a lot of food with me for such a short trip, so I had a green salad and a hummus sandwich for dinner after which I settled in to visit for the evening.  My iPad remembered how to connect to their Wi-Fi and I got my ASUS laptop connected as well.  This is the first time the laptop has been to there place and only the second time it’s been out of the house since I bought it.

It was a bit strange seeing the place somewhat emptied out although there is still a lot of stuff there.  I was surprised at what the company in Nevada did not take, but Butch and Fonda both explained that the buyer had taken the stuff they were most likely to sell, had space to store, and could afford to ship 2,000 miles to Nevada.  Some remaining items with unique value may be sold but much of the remaining inventory will be sold as scrap.  Things are a bit chaotic at the moment as they had to move a lot of stuff to get to other stuff and are now going through their stuff trying to figure out what stuff to get rid of and how to get rid of it.  They are working towards being full-timers, so they have a big task ahead of them.


2014/09/27 (S) Eat Cut Eat

Today was VE testing day for our South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club so some of the members, who conduct the volunteer examinations, got to breakfast even earlier than usual.  We had a good crowd and many simultaneous conversations.  After breakfast we drove to Ann Arbor to return the charger for the baby monitor.  It got left at our house yesterday when Linda took Madeline home.  Madeline was dressed in her Michigan colors with a blue T-shirt and maize skirt.  She gave me a tour of her backyard and toys and then we all went inside to visit for a while.  Linda and I each got to read a book to her which is always a treat for us.  We all had things to do, and we wanted to get out of town before the football game traffic clogged the streets, so we headed home before lunchtime.

Back at the house Linda straightened up and vacuumed, put together a grocery list, and then went to Meijer’s (grocery store) while I finished cutting the grass around the house.  It took me a couple of more hours, but between yesterday and today I managed to cut all of the newly planted grass and some of the more mature grass close to the house.

It was another pleasantly warm late September day and I used that as an opportunity to start the main engine on the bus.  I let it run for a while with the over-the-road air-conditioning turned on to put a load on it and bring it up to operating temperature, which helps drive off moisture.  Linda got home with groceries while the bus was running and I helped her get those into the house.

I let the bus run on high idle for about 30 minutes with the over-the-road air-conditioning on, which brought the coolant temperature up to its normal operating level.  The oil also warmed up, but not fully.  Before shutting the engine off I backed the bus up about 5 feet to rotate the tires to a different spot.  I turned the a-c off, dropped the idle to low, and let it run another 5 minutes, during which time I drained the auxiliary air tank.  I then switched the suspension system from ride mode to Level Low mode and turned off the engine.  As usual, I turned off the chassis batteries, shut off the auxiliary air to the air-powered engine accessories, and closed the shutoff valves for all of the air accessory circuits in the bay under the driver’s seat, except the circuit for the toilet.  (Yes, the bus has an air-powered toilet.)

I put a load of laundry in the washer and then spent some time at my desk checking e-mail and websites.  I had an e-mail from Gary regarding an article in the upcoming September 2014 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.  They decided to run my article on the Parker FPM-50 Fuel Polishing Module project and wanted me to proofread it and respond to a few suggested markups.  I worked long enough for the washer to finish, moved the laundry to the dryer, and then shaved and took a shower.  By the time Linda finished her shower my hair was dry enough to cut, which it really needed.  We then got dressed to go out to dinner.  I checked the dryer but it was taking longer than I expected and clearly would not be done before we had to leave for the restaurant.

We had arranged at breakfast to meet Bruce (W8RA) and Linda (NF8C) Whitney for dinner at LaMarsa in Brighton at 6:30 PM.  Bruce and I both had mango smoothies (dairy free) and we got a veggie tray with hummus to share as an appetizer.  Although two dishes would have been plenty of food for the four of us, Linda (NF8C) wanted to sample their offerings.  There are basically four dishes on the menu we can eat so we ordered one of each.  Each came with soup so we all had the crushed lentil soup.  We had Koshary, Majadra, Ghallaba (garlic almond) and Mousaka (baked eggplant).  (We did not get the spicy version of any of these.)  It took the waitress a while to catch on to the fact that we were not going to order the whole meal at one time, but by ordering our courses one at a time we managed to spend a long time at dinner and had a great chat.

Back home I the set dryer on “Touch Up” and restarted it.  I proof read my BCM article and e-mailed clarifications to the editor and publisher.  I spent enough time on e-mail and websites for the dryer to finish, hung up the clothes, and played with my iPad for a little while.  I was tired enough that I just turned in for the night and did not even work of the blog or play games.  That’s pretty tired.


2014/09/20 (S) Bus Talk

All days have the same number of hours.  How those hours are divided up between light and dark, awake and asleep, busy or at leisure, varies with each day.  Basically, our day went like this:

  • We went to our weekly SLAARC breakfast in South Lyon.
  • We returned home so Linda could get to work on the bakery software conversion project.  She did that all day except for a break to go for a walk.
  • I called D. R. Electric Appliance to check on the range.  As I had figured it did not arrive yesterday (they would have called if it did).  They supposedly ordered it on Tuesday and told me it would take three days to get.  They do not receive product on the weekend so maybe Monday.
  • I worked at my desk on editing and uploading blog posts until 11:30 AM.
  • I went to Recycle Livingston with our weekly load.
  • I stopped at Lowe’s for a 250VAC/15A circuit breaker, outlet, and box.
  • Lowe’s parking lot connects to Walmart’s parking lot, so I stopped there for ICE brand flavored sparkling water and picked up a couple of bottles of  Leelanau Cellars Witch’s Brew seasonal spiced wine.  We had this last fall and enjoyed it.
  • When I got back to the house we had a light lunch of sourdough pretzel nibblers and hummus and then resumed our work.
  • By mid-afternoon I was tired so I took a nap.  I often do better sleeping when I’m tired rather than when I am supposed to sleep.  I also wanted to be rested enough to enjoy dinner this evening.
  • We met Chuck at the Carrabba’s at West Oaks Mall at 7 PM.  He had arrived ahead of us so we only had to wait about 20 minutes to get a table.  Linda and I both had the Tag Pic Pac, one their two vegan options.  It was long, relaxed meal and a great conversation, some of which was about buses (Chuck and Barbara also own a Prevost H3-40 converted coach).  We pulled out of the parking lot a little before 10 PM.
  • Back home we watched season 5 episode 8 (final) of Doc Martin.

That was our day and did not include construction projects or taking photographs.


2014/09/18 (R) Crown Prep Anniversary

I woke up early and got up at 6 AM.  A two hour nap yesterday afternoon meant I was not going to sleep as many hours last night.  I had also set alarms to make sure I got up, which tends to make me wake up earlier than I might otherwise, almost always before the alarms ever activate.  I awoke to find that iOS8 was now available for my iPad2, so I installed six other updates first, some of which emphatically wanted to be installed before the iOS8 update.  I had some raspberry green tea while they uploaded and installed, e-mailed yesterday’s blog post to myself, updated the beginning of this blog post, and then initiated the operating system update.

I suppose “Crown Prep” might be shorthand for “The Royale Preparatory Academy” or some such place and Crown Prep Anniversary might have something to do with an important event at said place but, alas, in my case it meant, more or less, just what it says.  We bought our converted bus five years ago today, a 1991 Prevost H3-40 VIP shell converted by Royale Coach (Monaco) and finished in the fall of 1992.  I also had a dentist appointment today to prepare my recently root-canaled tooth for a permanent crown.  The appointment was at 8:30 AM some 50 miles away in Dearborn, Michigan, which meant I had to be out the door around 7 AM to allow for the heavy traffic inbound to the metro Detroit area from the northwest.  The traffic was even worse than I expected and I pulled into the dental clinic parking lot at 8:29 AM.  I really hate rush hour traffic and avoided it even when I was working full time.  It is such a colossal waste of time.

The U. S. Census Bureau considers Livingston County to be part of the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).  Locally, many people think of Metro Detroit as Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties while the MSA includes Lapeer, Livingston, and St. Clair Counties as well.  Washtenaw County to the south of us, where our children live, is not part of the Detroit MSA but is part of the larger Detroit “Combined Statistical Area” (CSA) along with Genesee and Monroe Counties.  Having been “west siders” since we moved to the area from Missouri in 1976, Lapeer and St. Clair Counties have always seemed far away while the communities in Livingston and Washtenaw Counties were much more accessible to us.  When I was working as an engineer I was employed by a company in Livingston County and by three different companies in Washtenaw County, specifically Ann Arbor.

I am not clear on the point at which communities, and individuals in those communities, do or do not think of themselves as living in the “Detroit Metro Area” (DMA) which is quite a different thing from the official U. S. Census Bureau boundaries.  My guess is that Howell very clearly sees itself as distinct from the DMA.  My suspicion is that folks in Brighton are split on this, although the community would no doubt like to be viewed as outside the DMA.  The western half of Livingston County is certainly much closer to Lansing, the state capital in the heart of Ingham County, both geographically and culturally.  Western Livingston County and most of Ingham County are rural/agricultural, except for the greater Lansing and East Lansing area (home of Michigan State University).  The eastern half of Livingston County has long been a place from which people commute to work in metro Detroit.

The fact is that being associated with Detroit has not been viewed as favorable by many people and communities in southeast Michigan since the riots of the late 1960’s.  Those events left deep scars on the people who were here at the time, and for many those scars remain to this day.  Not for us, of course; we were not even here then.  And we are the wrong people to ask about affiliations anyway.  We lived in an apartment in Westland for our first two years here and then bought the house in Farmington Hills where we lived for the next 35 years before moving to the “Browelland” (Brighton, Howell, Hartland) area.  Westland and Farmington Hills are clearly Detroit suburbs, like it or not.

I took a survey and Linda said she thought we still lived in the Detroit Metro Area.  I suppose I think so too, but you won’t find many five acre parcels zoned RA (agricultural residential) in the true suburbs of the big city, nor the dark skies and bright stars we have out here on a clear night.  No, we are clearly not in a suburb of Detroit, but that was not my question.  We are kind of in the country but only minutes from all three of the aforementioned municipalities.  For that matter we are not actually in the cities of Brighton, Howell, or Hartland.  Even though we have a Howell mailing address we are actually closer to both Brighton and Hartland and if we had school age children they would attend the Hartland schools.  And when we lived in the suburbs I did not have to drive 50 miles to get to the dentist, 30 miles to get to our vet or eye doctor, or 20 miles to get to our family doctor.  Of course the drive is about the same to get to our ham radio breakfasts and meetings in South Lyon as it was before and we do not have to drive 40 miles to get to our bus, which is now parked in front of the house.  We are also trying to “shop local” as much as possible, which means we are shopping at a wide variety of places we never patronized when we lived in the suburbs of Detroit.  But I digress.

After I was done at the dentist’s office I drove to our veterinarian’s office, just a couple of miles from our old house, to pick up flea and heart worm medication for our cats.  I took a quick drive through the old neighborhood.  It was a nice place to live and has not changed, at least in appearance.  I had a good experience with the local endodontist last week, however, and today’s drive reminded me that we should probably switch to service providers much closer to home for most of our medical and veterinary needs.  But that is not a decision to be made simply on convenience.  We have used our current providers for over 35 years and given how infrequently we use them we have not been motivated to change.  We have been to the dentist a lot this summer, however, so that at least has us thinking about it more seriously.

I stopped for fuel and then at Lowe’s for a keyless door latch/knob set for the utility closet.  They did not have distilled water and I tried two other places before ending up finding some at Meijer’s.  Linda was preparing lunch when I finally got home and had sorted through and organized a large stack of installation and user manuals I had pulled out of kitchen drawer this morning.  Some were left for us by the previous owners, some were for things we have bought since we moved here, and some were for things we no longer have, or have but no longer use.  We went through a small stack of items she wasn’t sure about and then stored everything we needed to keep in a drawer in the small bedroom closet organizer.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening, except for dinner, editing photographs for our personal website/blog and the SLAARC website.  I also took a few minutes to enjoy the last of the apple crisp and a glass of Alpha Rose wine with Linda.  It’s been bugging me since yesterday that I could not positively identify the very distinct nose and taste of this wine, so Linda did a little online research on the King of the North grape.  Both the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota described it as a vine that grows very well in cold northern climates but is very acidic and has a very “grapey” taste that is not really suitable for making wine.  That information helped me figure out the smell/taste.  It was grape soda; really really good grape soda.  Those descriptions did not alter my opinion of the wine.  I like fruit and I like sweet, and I love the nose and the taste as well as the acidic finish is indeed very clean and refreshing.

Linda was watching episode 1 of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts when I came up from the basement, so we watched that instead of an episode of Doc Martin.


2014/08/25 (M) AT&T and the MPSC

I was scheduled to participate in a meeting of the FMCA Education Committee at 4 PM today but it got rescheduled to Monday, September 8, same time.  That was a welcomed change of plans which allowed me to concentrate on our construction project.

Roese Construction, the contractor for Consumer’s Energy, is still working along our street.  The main gas lines are run.  They are now digging the connection trenches, fusing the sections of pipe together, and filling the trenches back in.  We heard them working at the west end of our property and walked down to see what they were doing and take a few photographs.  A large backhoe was just starting to fill a trench at the northwest corner of our yard where two pieces of main line were joined with a branch line going to the cul-du-sac to the west.  There was a lot of water in that trench and it looked like a (muddy) lap pool.  The surface of the water was only about two feet below the surface of the ground.  I asked the backhoe operator if that was ground water and he said it was.  The northwest corner of our property is a low spot that forms small ponds around many of the trees when it rains, and stays wet for a very long time even after the surface water disappears.

We spent the morning and afternoon sanding drywall compound and touching up a few spots.  While the compound was drying I worked on electrical tasks and Linda worked in the kitchen and did some weeding in the beds around the house.  Somewhere in the middle of all that we put all of the sections of the ham radio tower back on the middle deck, had lunch, and made a trip to Lowe’s for a light switch and various cover plates.  I also picked up an 18″ x 28″ sheet of 1/4″ thick Plexiglas to use as a temporary replacement for the fogged window in the bus when I finally get around to removing it to have it repaired.

Our AT&T phone and DSL service is worse than useless at the moment.  After three un-returned phone calls to both the technician (who gave us his number and said to call him directly if the problem re-occurred within 30 days) and the infrastructure manager for this area (whose name and number we got from the technician) we were fed up, so we filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission.  About four hours later we got a call from a women who claimed to be from the Office of the President of AT&T letting me know that she was in receipt of our commission filing and that she would be coordinating the “investigation and service repair process.”  The audio level was low and the noise on the line was high, so I could barely hear her and said so.  Apparently she heard the noise too, so at least she knew we were not making this up.  She e-mailed us shortly thereafter with her name and contact information.  That’s a start, but what we really want is the clean, reliable signal that we pay for.

There are things I can do, and need to do, at my computer that do not require me to be online, such as editing the rough drafts of blog posts and selecting/post-processing photographs.  The last post I uploaded to our blog was for August 1st, so I am once again almost four weeks behind.  I needed to finish processing the tree photos from last Thursday, put them in a Dropbox folder, and e-mail the link to Paul at Detroit Tree Recycling, but I did not get that done either.  When I wasn’t eating or driving back and forth to Lowe’s I was working in the garage.

Speaking of food, Linda made stuffed mushrooms for dinner and served them with a side of grilled asparagus.  Both were very tasty.  After dinner I gave the east wall of the garage a final sanding and then worked on the utility closet wall while Linda vacuumed up the dust.  I wiped down the wall with a barely damp sponge and applied a coat of Zinzer primer.  It should be dry enough to paint in the morning.

I drove back to Lowe’s to return a couple of incorrect cover plates I had purchased earlier in the day and get the correct ones.  I picked up another gallon of paint while I was there to make sure I had enough on hand for tomorrow.  On the way home I had a nice QSO (ham radio contact or chat) with Mike (W8XH).  Ham radio is fun and we have yet to get involved in making long distance (DX) contacts with folks all over the world on the HF (high frequency) bands.  Getting our tower up with some HF antennas on it will help a lot.


2014/08/23 (S) Square Waves

We have so much to do at home and on the bus that we might have skipped the SLAARC (ham radio club) breakfast in South Lyon this morning, but I had agreed to meet Chuck at his shop (bus garage) at 10 AM in Novi and to bring Mike (W8XH) along with his oscilloscope to look at the tachometer signal, or lack thereof.  We had a nice chat with our ham radio friends, discussed having dinner in a week or so with Bruce and Linda, and then headed to Chuck’s shop.

We had two different opinions as to what signal we might find, if any, at the end of the wires that connect to Chuck’s tachometer.  Matt, from Bob’s Speedometer, told me that the signal to both the VDO tachometer and speedometer were variable frequency square waves at 3 to 5 volts peak and that the electronics in the gauge moved the needle in proportion to the frequency.  Mike (W8XH) had talked to Jim (N8KUE), who works in the research lab at Ford Motor Company, and Jim was of the opinion that the input to these gauges was a pulse width modulated signal.  With pulse-width modulation the frequency and amplitude of the waveform are constant but the width of the “pulse” (the “on time” of non-zero voltage) varies from zero to some maximum percentage of the half cycle, up to 100%.  If it is on for the entire half cycle it becomes a square wave.  The longer the pulse (on time percentage) the more energy is transmitted.  The gauge electronics can convert that to a needle position or run a motor faster or slower, such as might drive an odometer.

So which was it?  Well…neither.  What we saw was an alternating current signal that appeared to simply be an impulse (sudden spike in the voltage), one positive and one negative per cycle, with the frequency responding in direct proportion to the engine RPM.  The impulse had a rapid but noticeable decay time that appeared to me to exponential, but we did not have the wires connected to a load and that may have affected the signal. The voltage we were seeing appeared to be in 300 mV range, a far cry from the 3 – 5 volts we expected.

We loaded the cardboard in my car before going to breakfast, so when we were done at Chuck’s we headed directly to Recycle Livingston.  From there we went to pet Supplies Plus for some cat litter and then to Lowe’s for four more sheets of drywall (Sheetrock) and a large tub of better drywall compound.  After fighting with the back wall of the garage recently and having trouble with using the patching and repair compound yesterday, I wanted a drywall compound that would go on easier and smoother.  It could just be my technique, of course; I wasn’t that good at dry-walling 32 years ago, and feel like I have lost what little technique I once had.

Back home we unloaded everything, changed into our work clothes, and had lunch; grilled “cheese” sandwiches with tomatoes and dark leafy greens and fresh peaches, ripened to perfection.

While Linda sanded the drywall compound I applied yesterday I removed the panel from the library side of the opening for the old window A-C unit.  I insulated the cavity, cut and installed a new piece of drywall, and re-taped the seams.  I helped Linda finish the sanding, wiped off the dust with a wrung out sponge, and then applied another coat of drywall compound.  I then applied a first cost of “mud,” as drywall compound is commonly called, to the filler panel in the library.

In preparation for dry-walling the new utility closet we had to do some carpentry to box around the flue and gas pipe where they pass through the west wall.  We also had to box around the supply air duct where it passes above the utility closet door.  Finally, we added some backer boards along the edge of the platform by the west wall.  The purpose of all of this carpentry was to provide backing along all drywall edges so it will be supported and can be secured.  Our final task for the day was to trim a piece of 2×4 to block off the top of the wall cavity where the return air duct is connected next to the door between the library and the garage.

For dinner we had leftovers from Thursday:  Koshary and pita bread with vegan garlic “butter.”  Linda read somewhere recently that drier white wines are generally considered (by someone) to go better with Middle Eastern food, but we thought our 2009 Egri Merlot went quite well with dinner.  Of course, Koshary is an Egyptian dish, and so perhaps more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern.  All of that reminded me that there really are no rules about these things; drink what you like and enjoy life.


2014/08/20 (W) Like A Well-Oiled Clock

Darryll and Alec (DCM Heating & Cooling) were back today to continue working on the garage and library HVAC project.  I was talking to them as they unloaded tools and materials when I got a call back from Paul Keech.

Paul has changed the name of his company from Paul’s Tree Service to Detroit Tree Recycling and is also running American Mulch.  As I was told yesterday he is trying to focus on tree removal, especially wood lots with multiple trees, rather than tree trimming.  Among other reasons, the trees he removes provides the raw material for his mulch business.  Also, the guy who did most of his climbing the last ten years has moved on to another job and it’s hard for Paul to run a business when he’s up in a tree, even with a cell phone.  I tried to describe the trimming and removal work we need done but in the end we agreed that I would take some photos, put them in a Dropbox folder, and e-mail him the link.  He also encouraged me to get a couple of quotes from some companies more local to our new location.

While I was talking to Paul, Darryll found a small leak in the reducer at the T-fitting behind the garage and tightened it.  The pipe out of this reducer will bring gas into the garage and was the last piece of pipe they worked on the last time they were here.  Alec reset the pressure to 12 PSI and it appears to be holding better than it has up to this point.

In the course of the day, they…

  • …finished setting the Library furnace/air-conditioner and connected the parts together.
  • …cut the hole for the return air register and installed the return air duct.
  • …ran the supply air ducting from the top of the unit along top of the ceiling, over the top of the utility closet door, and then angled it to run along east wall at the ceiling.  All of the duct outside the closet is insulated.  Two flexible ducts will come off the top and run through the attic to supply air through ceiling registers on the east end of the library.
  • …marked the location for the two registers that will be at the bottom of two rigid ducts running down the east garage wall to supply air to the library just above the baseboard heat radiators.
  • …removed the old library window A-C unit and covered the hole with cardboard.  We will have to patch the opening on both sides with drywall and paint it.
  • …shut off the propane to the old library wall-hung space heater, removed the unit, capped the line (iron pipe), turned the gas back on and checked for leaks.
  • …connected the double-walled flue pipe for the library furnace.
  • …connected the double-walled flue pipe for the garage furnace.
  • …ran the 1/2″ iron pipe for the gas supply to the garage furnace.

They will take care of the air-conditioner condenser/compressor installation on a subsequent visit.  In the meantime I need to install electrical junction boxes for the two furnaces, which must have switches located within three feet of each unit.  I also need to run new 12 AWG 2+g NM cable for old A-C condenser/compressor and repurpose the existing A-C condenser/compressor wiring as an outside 120 VAC / 15 Amp outlet.

We still needed to repair drywall in the library and upper east garage wall and install new drywall on the lower east wall of the garage and on the new utility closet walls.  The lower half of the east garage wall is the next thing I have to do as I need to have it done before he comes back to finish the duct work.

I got a call from Chuck Spera just before noon letting me know that he was headed to his shop to pick up his old VDO bus tachometer and take it to Bob’s Speedometer Service on Bergin Road.  Bergin is an east-west road about one mile north of our house.  Bob’s was over at Old US-23, less than five minutes away.  I met Chuck there at 12:30 PM and we met with Matt who handles their VDO instrument repairs.  He tested Chuck’s tach and pronounced it broken but probably repairable, so Chuck decided to leave it there.

Matt did confirm for us that both the tachometer and the speedometer take a square wave input signal in the 3 – 5 volt range with deflection of the needle proportional to the frequency of the waveform.  Presumably this same signal regulates the speed of a motor that drives the gears of the odometer.  I had discussed this very situation with Mike (W8XH) just last night and he is willing to bring his 100MHz 2-channel storage oscilloscope and help us look for and trace these signals if needed.  Once we have known good gauges installed knowing what waveform to look for will help greatly with troubleshooting should they still fail to indicate the appropriate information.

After we were done at Bob’s I headed over to the Meijer’s northeast of M-59 and US-23 to get a few things for Linda.  By the time I got home, Glen Williams of Tenor Clocks LLC had arrived to service our grandfather clock.  I “broke” it about a month ago by trying to wind it at just the wrong time and it has not chimed since then.  It has also never been oiled in the 11 years since we bought it and Glen told us on Saturday that it should be cleaned and oiled every 5 – 7 years.  (We saw Glen at the GLCC/CCO rally in Clio, Michigan this past Saturday when we were there.)  Glen took the mechanism out and examined it and said that nothing was broken.  Apparently it finally bound up the last time I wound it from lack of proper oiling.  He cleaned it, oiled it, and checked it for wear but did not see any.  He reassembled it, checked the operation and timing, and said it was running smoothly and keeping very accurate time “…like a well-oiled clock.”

Although my time on the computer today was limited, I managed to post my blog entry for August 1st and started selecting photos for other posts.  I updated the Technical page on the SLAARC website with a document on low band antennas for Field Day use, and added a link to an online Smith Chart Tutorial.  I then updated the online roster.  I am at the point where I need to generate WordPress user accounts for the club members so I looked more carefully at the WP-Members plug-in documentation to see if there was a way to have the website e-mail each member as I create their account.  It appears that there is, but it will take a little more work on my part to get that set up and working correctly.  As I was working on this our AT&T DSL line started dropping out; again.

Linda spent part of the day preparing food ahead in advance of having company tomorrow.  She held back some of the crushed red lentil soup for our dinner and served it alongside sandwiches.  While we were eating we noticed that the phone said “Line In Use.”  We knew we were not using it, but I picked up one of the handsets, pushed “Talk”, and got a very loud, very noisy busy signal.  We checked all of the phones to make sure there wasn’t a problem with one of them.  There wasn’t.  When I checked again the message said “Check Tel Line.”  That usually means we won’t have a dial tone when we push “Talk” and that was, indeed, the case.

Ken is the service technician that has been out twice to try to resolve the problem and he left his AT&T cell phone number in case we had recurring problems.  He also left his manager’s name and phone number.  I called and left a message for Ken and then called and left a message for his manager, making it very clear that Ken has been working hard to resolve our problem and we are happy with the service he is providing.  I also tried to convey that the service disruptions are interfering with our ability to do things online, like edit websites.  It’s bad enough that the data rate is so slow, but we depend on our “always on” DSL service to always be on.

We went to Lowe’s after dinner to buy a couple sheets of drywall.  We looked for special cover plates with a switch opening in one half and a round hole in the other, but did not find anything like that.  We stopped at Teeko’s on the way back and had Jeff roast two more pounds of half-caff blends for us; one Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and the other Seattle Blend.  He was still out of the Sweet Dreams decaf blend, which we have him mix 50-50 with the regular Seattle Blend to make Sweet Seattle Dreams, but he is supposed to be getting some in his shipment tomorrow.

Back home we unloaded the drywall, had some fresh strawberries for dessert, and read quietly for a while.  I’ve been reading the PDF version of the 2nd edition of The Mobile Internet Handbook and am done except for the glossary and the appendices.  It is over twice as many pages as the 1st edition and is the definitive resource on connectivity for RVers in particular.


2014/08/15 (F) On The Level

I got dressed this morning for physical work, but ended up doing very little.  I worked at my desk most of the morning, including working through the first chapter of the Intro to Linux course on edX.  I came up from the basement to have lunch at 12:30 PM after which I moved my car out of the pull-through driveway.  I then started the bus and, with Linda’s assistance, backed it out of the pull-through driveway, drove it the short distance to our straight driveway (which ties into the other end of the pull-through driveway), pulled it up onto the concrete driveway as far as it could go, and parked it.  The concrete driveway runs uphill from the road to the garage and, not knowing how long it might be there, I lowered the front end and raised the back end; not enough to level it but enough to make it better.  Linda chocked the drive tires while I hooked up the electrical shore-power.  The front bay had gotten water in it from the recent rains so we opened all of the bays to let them air out while Linda soaked up as much water as she could with a couple of old towels.

Spreading 21AA road gravel to fix the driveway.

Spreading 21AA road gravel to fix the driveway.

I got out our 8′ step ladder and pole saw/lopper to prune some large (1 – 2 inch) dead branches that were hanging over the pull-through driveway where the rear end of the bus normally sits.  I no sooner started this work when Phil from Precision Grading showed up right on time with his dump truck, tracked front-loader, and rolling compactor attachment to repair the damage done to the pull-through driveway by the recent landscaping work.

Phil off-loaded the front-loader from the trailer and then disconnected the trailer from the dump truck.  He had a small load of 21AA road gravel (with lots of fines) that he dumped in two different spots in the pull-through driveway.  He then put the truck back in the street and set up his laser level to see just what he needed to do.  He used the front loader to move the gravel around and distribute it evenly and finished by back blading it with the bucket to level it.

Rolling and compacting the driveway.

Rolling and compacting the driveway.

Once he had the gravel the way he wanted it, he removed the bucket and attached the vibrating roller/compactor.  He went over the driveway several times, always making his final pass going backwards while pulling the roller to smooth out the tracks created by the machine’s drive treads.  The roller/compactor worked the fines down into the base and by the time he was done the driveway looked and felt tight; even better than last year when Phil did not yet have this attachment.  The machine also shook the entire house, especially the rear deck which is mostly supported by tall 6×6 and 4×4 posts.  He indicated that we did not need to wait for rain, or anything else, before putting the bus back in its spot, so after he left that is what we did.

But before Phil left, he used his laser level to check the grade in the back.  Although it does not appear to the naked eye to drop very much in the first 70 feet, the laser level indicated that there was a steady down slope over that distance with a total drop of over 1 foot.  He checked all the way to the edge of the cattails marsh, at which point the ground was down 4-5 feet from the deck.  The surface of the neighbor’s pond looks to be at least two feet lower from there.

The compacting roller really makes a difference.

The compacting roller really makes a difference.

There are several implications to this.  For one, it means the surface of the pond is well below our basement slab (6 – 7 feet) and at least 2 feet below the bottom of the footings for our house, so it is probably not the source of the water that runs into our sump.  It also means there is adequate grade to allow surface water to run off once the grass grows in (although it would be better if there was more grade than there currently is in the first 50 feet).  Equally important, the grade is more than adequate for a very effective French drain should we decide to have Phil pull up the existing drain lines and replace them.  Finally, having a hole dug at least 8 feet deep for the ham radio tower base should not pose a problem as the starting elevation is at least 6 feet above the basement slab.

With regards to the tower base, Phil suggested that I have the rebar cage, mounting bolts, and alignment structure built ahead of time and ready to go.  He could dig the hole first thing in the morning with his mini-excavator (up to 8’ deep) and figured it would only take an hour at most.  The assembled rebar could be positioned, plumbed, and secured in an hour or so, and the concrete could be delivered and poured in the late morning.  He indicated that spreading the work out over more time than that, especially letting the hole sit overnight, was not a good idea

Close up of the compacting roller attachment.  This thing shook the whole house!

Close up of the compacting roller attachment. This thing shook the whole house!

We discussed how to get the concrete into the hole given its location about 40 feet northeast of the northeast corner of the house.  Our two options appear to be the little dump carts or a pumper.  The carts would have to drive up the east side of the house between the house and the septic tanks, but Phil thought that would be OK as long as they put down plywood to drive on.  He said a pumper truck would be very expensive but that a separate pump is available that can be towed to the job site.  With that equipment the concrete mixer truck would simply unload the concrete into the pumper, which would then pump it to the hole.  Both the truck and the pumper would be in the east end of our pull-through driveway.  Phil suggested that I call Carl Russell in Byron, Michigan as he is a good concrete guy and probably has a concrete pump.

After Phil left we reversed our earlier steps and moved the bus back into the pull-through driveway.  It rolled right up onto the level pad area and did not leave any noticeable tire tracks.  Nice.  We hooked up the “50 Amp” shorepower cable, turned off the chassis batteries, checked that all of the battery chargers were working, and shut/locked everything.

While Phil was working, Linda went to the Howell Library to return children’s books and came back with a card for the Howell Melon Festival.  The Festival started today and runs through Sunday.  She wanted to go walk around so we skipped dinner and headed out around 5 PM.  At the first turn in our road we encountered two workers from Roese Construction.  They were working on installing the natural gas main line down the street and said another crew would be coming along behind them in 1 – 2 weeks doing the branch runs up to the meters on the houses.

The Howell Melon Festival was just getting started when we got there but parking was already at a premium.  We parked a few blocks away in an empty church parking lot.  Some of the smaller side streets were already blocked off but Grand River Avenue and Michigan Avenue were both still open to traffic.  They will be closed tomorrow and Sunday and filled with vendor booths.

The weather was perfect and all of the downtown restaurants were very busy with lots of outside seating.  In the 16 months we have lived in the new house we have never really visited most of the downtown Howell merchants.  We went into Country Squire, a business that sells fireplace logs and inserts as well as outdoor cooking grills.  They had a couple of natural gas fireplace logs that were 99%+ efficient and did not require the flue to be open.  We thought they were a bit pricey but they were actually capable of heating a room.  We don’t use our existing propane logs because they are mostly decorative and require the flue damper to be open, which just wastes fuel and money.  The Country Squire also had a couple of natural gas grills that would mount to our deck and attach to our existing quick disconnect.

We walked through the food vendor area but did not see anything that interested us.  After walking past the starting gate for the Howell Melon Run we ended up at Uptown Coffee, on the northeast corner of Grand River and Main, where we had some brew and Sabra hummus with pretzel chips.  We started back towards our car and paused at the Old Courthouse long enough to hear the first number by the band.  They sounded good and not too loud.  We had our folding camp chairs in the car but decided to pass on the concert.

We stopped at Walmart on the way home to buy a microwave popcorn popper bowl and stock up on flavors of ICE brand sparkling flavored water.  Meijer’s sells a few flavors but Walmart has the broadest selection, including my two favorites (pineapple-coconut and blueberry-pomegranate).  Our final stop was at Lowe’s for a 100-pack of bright orange marker flags.  I will use these to mark the powerline that runs under the driveway to feed the RV outlet, the propane line to the house, the drain pipe from the corner of the house into the first septic tank, and the drain pipe that connects the outlet of the second septic tank to the beginning of the drain field.

It was a long day but a good one.  We watched another episode of Doc Martin and then called it a night.


2014/08/09 (S) WP User Accounts

We went to our ham radio club breakfast in South Lyon for the first time in several weeks after which we visited with Chuck Spera at his shop in Novi.  A while back I helped him retrieve an RV sofa/bed that he purchased from Pat and Vickie Lintner in Osceola, Indiana (near Elkhart).  He had removed the old couch from his Liberty bus conversion and installed this new (to them) one.  He wanted to show us the result and we wanted to see it.  We sat and chatted for a while about bus conversions and then left him to work on his race car while we finished a morning errand.

We loaded our weeks’ worth of recyclables in the car before we went to breakfast and headed to Recycle Livingston from Chuck’s before returning home and having a bite of lunch (we do not eat much for breakfast at the restaurant in South Lyon).

I worked the rest of the day on cleaning up the SLAARC portion of the spreadsheet I created for generating usernames and passwords for WordPress websites.  I had just received an updated roster from the treasurer, Paul (N8BHT), and had to bring my spreadsheet up-to-date before creating WordPress users.  A portion of each of the organization websites I am creating will be restricted to current members and require a username and password to gain access.  Each user account, in turn, must be tied to a unique e-mail account.  It’s been a bit of work to set up and I am far from done at this point.  While I was working on the SLAARC info I realized that I had not finished the same work for the other two organizations so I worked on that as well.

The last few weeks have been physically and mentally demanding and we both needed and enjoyed the easier days we had yesterday and today and the one we plan to have tomorrow when a long-time friend and co-worker of Linda’s is coming to the new house for her first visit.  We watched another episode of Peroit on our Apple TV before turning in for the night.


2914/06/20 (F) Couch Potatoes

Over the last few months I managed to connect our friends and fellow Prevost H3 owners, Chuck and Barbara Spera, with our friends and fellow Prevost XL owners, Pat and Vickie Lintner.  Chuck was looking for a sofa to replace the one in their motorcoach and Pat and Vickie had one they were looking to sell.  Today was the day for consummating the deal, which necessitated a road trip from the Detroit, Michigan area to the Elkhart, Indiana area to pick up the couch, pay for it, and bring it back to Chuck’s shop.

Chuck and I drove down in his Ford Excursion.  I went along to keep him company, for the opportunity to catch up on a lot of conversation, and to help load and unload the couch.  We arrived in Elkhart just after noon and grabbed a quick bite to eat at Burger King.  I had French Fries, thus today was about couches and potatoes.

While I was away on the road trip, Linda went to Ann Arbor to visit our 18 month old grand-daughter and her parents (our son and daughter-in-law).  By dinner time we were both tired so we had Amy’s Pad Thai and turned in to watch two episodes of Doc Martin.  We did not get to watch any episodes while we were at the rally in Goshen, Indiana so we are catching up.


2014/04/04 (F) Flashback

When we went to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with John and Marian Hagan on Wednesday we got a CD with photos Marian took of me and John working on the bus back on March 8th.  Rather than edit a 3-week old post, I’ve put them in a WP Gallery.

2014/03/08 (S) Let There Be Light

The overnight low temperature was forecast to dip into the upper 30’s last night and only rise to 55 by 10 AM, finally making it to 64 by noon and eventually reaching 71 before dropping back to the mid 60’s by 6 PM.  A sunny day was in store with little-to-no wind—a perfect afternoon for working on the bus—so I called John and he agreed that he and Marian would arrive around noon to help with bus projects.  The forecast held true and the Hagan’s arrived right on time.  We discussed bus projects over lunch and decided to go after the cargo bay lights.

I had pulled out my various manuals, found the one with the wiring diagrams, and located the wiring diagram for the Interior Lighting, so John and I started there.  The diagram indicated that all of the bay lights were on 24 VDC circuits/breakers, and all of the cargo bays were powered from a single circuit/breaker.  The light for the auxiliary air compressor bay was on a separate/circuit breaker and the lights for the engine bay were on their own circuit/breaker.  The light in the aux air compressor bay did not work and none of the engine bay lights worked, but some of the cargo bay lights did work indicating that the circuit breaker was good and the wiring was OK at least up to some point.  The reason(s) the aux air compressor bay and engine bay lights didn’t work were unknown and need to be diagnosed.

The larger bays, which go all the way through the bus, have two light fixtures on each side.  The smaller bays (over the rear tires) typically have one light fixture.  The front aux air compressor bay also has one light fixture.  There are at least six light fixtures in the engine bay, none of which work, but that was not our focus for today.  These fixtures are all clearly indicated in the wiring diagram, along with the switches, connectors, and wire numbers.

All of the cargo bay fixtures are present but most of them are badly corroded.  Each fixture uses two 24 VDC bulbs wired in parallel.  Some had only one bulb and some had none.  We cleaned up one of the existing bulbs and determined that they are T635’s, a small bayonet mount 24 VDC incandescent bulb.

(Perhaps I should try to find an LED replacement for these?  Actually, I plan to replace all of the fixtures with LED’s, but that’s a project, and a story, for another day.  When I upgrade the fixtures to LED’s I will probably re-wire the front cargo bay so all of the lights come on when either door is opened.  This is our only real cargo bay; all of the other bays are full of installed systems.  It has a bi-directional slide, and it would be nice to have it fully illuminated.  I am also considering feeding the bay lighting circuits from the 24 VDC battery system through a fuse, relay, and diode so power would only be supplied when the chassis batteries are turned off, which is the normal situation when we are parked.)

According to the wiring diagram there are two branches to the cargo bay circuit, one for the driver side lights and one for the passenger side lights, except for the large front bay where all of the lights are powered from the driver side branch.  Each bay door has a micro switch that turns the lights by that door on/off when the door is opened/closed; at least that is what is supposed to happen.

I made a rough diagram of the bus bays with all of the fixtures and micro switches indicated.  I turned on the chassis batteries, opened all of the bays, and we started documenting what did and did not work.  We checked each fixture that did not come on to see if voltage was present.  If not, we checked the micro switch both for a supply voltage and for proper switch function.  We found one micro switch that was bad in the DS rear electrical bay.  We found another micro switch in the water bay that had one of the wires cut, but determined that there was 24 VDC present.  The only fixtures that were not receiving voltage were the PS front cargo bay and the aux air compressor bay.  We did not check the engine bay lighting circuit.  The engine bay is a messier place to work, and that will be a project for another time.

I had two new micro switches in my parts box so we replaced the bad one in the DS rear electrical bay.  The micro switch in the water bay did not have a spring/roller actuator.  We did not know if that was by design or if it had broken off but decided to remove it regardless as it was mounted in a location where it was difficult to work on.  We had to fashion a new wire for it that was long enough that we could splice it to the wire in the bay.  John was able to remove the switch at which point we could see that that the actuator spring/roller was broken off.  The switch tested OK, so we removed the actuator from the defective switch we had just replaced and put it on the existing switch.  We made our new wire, attached it to the switch, and spliced the other end to the existing wire in the bay.  We reattached the other wire to the switch and turned the chassis batteries on.  Voila, let there be light!  We cycled the switch to make sure the lights would go off and on.  They did, so we re-installed the switch.  We then gently lowered the bay door almost to closure but the lights did not turn off.

Examination of the switches on some of the other doors revealed that the spring/roller actuators had been “custom bent” to cause the door hinges to contact them “just right.”  We tried to bend the actuator without removing the switch, but spring steel by its very nature does not like to have its shape permanently changed and we risked breaking it.  Since these lights are powered by the chassis batteries there would not be any harm in just leaving them on as the chassis batteries are generally only on when we are going to start the engine.  I decided to look for a different solution (on another day) and removed the bulbs from the two fixtures for the time being.

24 VDC was not present at the micro switch for the front PS cargo bay and we could not trace the wiring as the converter (Royale Coach) had “buried” it behind a decorative carpeted ceiling.  We ran a jumper wire from one of the fixtures on the other side of the bay and determined that the switch was OK and so was the wiring from there to the light fixtures.  The solution in this case will be to disconnect the original supply wire from the switch and from the other side of the bay where it originates, cap them, and run a new wire; but that will be a project for another day.  My primary focus for today was diagnostics, with easy repairs where possible.

There was no 24 VDC present at the micro switch for the aux air compressor bay light so we used the jumper wire to supply power and determined that the switch, the  ground wire, and the fixture, including the bulbs, where OK.  This was the first power supply problem we had found.  The wires to the switch were numbered and the numbers corresponded to the wiring diagram.  We eventually found the other end of the supply wire, and the circuit breaker where it was attached, in the DS front electrical bay.  The breaker was OK and supplying 24 VDC to the wire so we had a wiring problem, specifically an open circuit.  This wire does not supply power to any other components (according to the wiring diagram) so the fix in this case will be to disconnect the wire from the circuit breaker and the switch, cap it at both ends, and run a new wire; but that will also be a project for another day.

By the time we got all of this done it was 5 PM so we decided we were finished for the day.  We cleaned up a bit and went to Pizza Hut for dinner.  There are only two chain restaurants in town; the other one is a McDonald’s.  Angelina Mia is OK, but we had already been there a couple of times.  The Ivy House is reputed to be the best restaurant in town, but when Linda and I checked their menu we did see anything we could eat even with ingredients left out.

John and Marian dropped me back at the coach at 7 PM and headed for home.  I wandered over to the fire pit with a glass of Moscato white wine around 8 PM and relaxed for a couple of hours.  The fire eventually died down and the air got cool so I returned to the coach and worked for a while on the Cool Cruiser article before turning in for the night.


2014/03/06 (R) A Change of Plans

Our coach has eight awing style windows, four in the living room and four in the bedroom.  Two of the living room windows and two of the bedroom windows are fogged, and one of the living room windows has standing water in it as a result of very heavy rain today.  I finally got around to calling Suncoast Designers in Hudson, Florida this morning.  They manufacture windows and repair/rebuild RV windows.  They have been recommended to us by several different friends as THE place to have our fogged thermopane bus windows fixed.  I had also been told that they might not work on our windows because it is a Prevost.

It took a few minutes on the phone, but they eventually concluded that they could repair our windows due to age of the bus, i.e., it was old enough that they could work on it.  This was one of those rare cases where older was better.  The first available appointment was April 8, so I took it.  I was told to plan for 3 – 5 days to complete the work on the four windows.  We have to arrive on the 7th so they can start first thing the next morning.  They have water/electric hookups and a dump station provided at no (additional) charge for customers having work done.  If I had called in January (like I should have) we could probably have gotten an April 1 appointment; no fooling.

My main focus for today was to wrap up my article for Bus Conversions Magazine on the Cool Cruiser, a 1957 GM PD4106 that belongs to Frank and Phyfi Morrison.  Of course there was a constant flow of e-mail as well as breaks for food and games.  I can focus for a long time on a task if have to (and want to).  One of the nicest things about retirement is that I rarely have to, and I am learning not to want to, at least not all of the time.  But I am enjoying writing for BCM, so for now this is something I want to do. The article I finished yesterday on the Iron Horse was the first one I have written about someone else’s bus.  The one I worked on today was the second.  I have a third one in the queue and several offers out to help other friends.  I also have a dozen articles in process or planned on our various bus projects, places we have been (Harvest Hosts), and things we have done (Habitat For Humanity build).

Hudson, Florida is approximately 2 hours SSW of Williston, so it only made sense for us to stay here until April 7th if possible.  By early afternoon there was a lull in the rain so I went to the Resort office to see if we could extend our stay for six nights through the night of April 6th.  The answer was “yes” and we will be able to stay in our current site.  They charged us the daily rate equivalent of our 3-month rate; about half the normal daily rate.  Williston Crossings RV Resort continues to be a very nice place to stay.

The Cool Cruiser article still needed a lot of work as I had not yet selected, processed, inserted, and captioned the photographs.  I worked on that, off and on, the rest of the day and late into evening, but did not finish the job.  Oh well, tomorrow’s another day.


2014/03/02 (N) Dashboard Wiring Photos

A few photos from the dashboard wiring repair work today we did today.  Click each thumbnail to enlarge.  Maximum dimension is 400 pixels.

2014/03/02 (N) Dashboard Wiring

(Photos of this work are in the gallery post for this date.)

John and Marian returned at 10 AM today.  I unpacked all of the tools again, shut off the power to the pressure switch for the auxiliary air compressor, and removed the cover.  Sure enough, the diagram was right there.  The pressure switch was a Connor designed for air systems.  It was not a water well pump control switch although externally you would not know the difference.  It was designed to allow adjustment for a cut-in pressure as low as 40 PSI and a cut-out pressure as high as 160 PSI with an adjustable pressure difference between cut-in and cut-out of 20 to 50 PSI.  The two large spring-loaded shafts moved the operating range up and down while the smaller single shaft adjusted the differential.  It presumably had the two large springs, instead of the usual single one found in a water well switch, because of the higher operating pressures.

After figuring out a combination of tools that allowed me to turn the adjustment nuts, I backed off (CCW) the two nuts on the large spring shafts equal numbers of turns.  The adjustment rate appeared to be approximately 3.0 to 3.5 PSI per full revolution. I lowered the cut-in pressure, turned the power back on, and bled the auxiliary air tank until the compressor came on.  A little more adjustment and I had the cut-in pressure set to 65 PSI.  That put the cut-out pressure at approximately 90 PSI.  I decided to raise the cut-off pressure to about 95 PSI, a 30 PSI differential, in order to get a slightly longer off-time.  I checked the time with my stopwatch and the compressor was coming on about every 2 hours and running for about 3 minutes.  Not bad compared to the 20 – 25 minute cycle we were seeing before the old compressor died.  In subsequent tests it has stayed off as long as 2 hours 15 minutes if I did not use any air powered accessories.

The 65 PSI cut-in pressure was selected to keep the overall system pressure above 65 PSI.  There is a pressure regulator / water separator that takes air from the auxiliary air manifold and supplies it to the house accessories, specifically the toilet, pocket door, and waste tank dump valves.  The toilet, in particular, wants to see 60 PSI to operate properly.  The auxiliary air compressor also maintains the pressure in the suspension/brake systems, and I like to keep that pressure above 60 PSI.  If not for these minimum pressure requirements I would set the pressure control switch to cycle between 45 and 95 PSI and extend the off-time to 3 or more hours.

With the compressor project wrapped up for now I got out my Pro-Link ECM diagnostic instrument.  The ECM for our DD8V92TA is a DDEC II.  I turned on the chassis batteries and we plugged the Pro-Link power cord into the 12VDC outlet (cigarette lighter) in the driver’s area and plugged the data cable into the diagnostic port in the outside bay under the driver’s seat.  (Note to self:  Install a 12VDC outlet next to the data port for future use.)  After referring to the manual, we were able to examine the data in the DDEC II.

There was one Inactive code set as follows:

MID: 128  Engine  |  Fuel Temp Sensor  |  Input Voltage High  |  I1   PID: 174   FMI: 3

We did not check for active codes as that required the engine to be running and I don’t like to start unless I am going to run it long enough to bring it up to operating temperature.

This was the same code that Bill and I saw in Arcadia and then cleared, so it must have reappeared on the drive back to Williston on January 1st.  I had purchased a new fuel temperature sensor early last year and had our mobile mechanic, Joe Cannarozzi, install it last spring.  It is possible, though unlikely, that this new sensor was bad.  I also do not think I that the bus has a fuel temperature issue.  That leaves wiring or the DDEC II as possible culprits, but not necessarily the only ones.  The fuel temp sensor is mounted in a dry pocket on top of the engine underneath the DDEC II.  I believe the wires go directly from the sensor through a connector to the computer, so the wires and/or connector are obvious places to look for a problem.  More importantly for us today, it appeared that the check engine light has been coming on for a reason, not at random, displaying an active code while driving and coming on and going off as the error condition appeared and disappeared.

Now for the dashboard.  The cover just lifts off, exposing the top and back side of all the gauges, switches, indicator lights, dash lights, rotary controls, and wiring; lots of wiring.  The area behind the dashboard is not very deep—12 inches at most—and it is easier to see this area from outside through the driver side lower windshield than from inside and above.  Extensive work behind the dashboard would require the removal of the driver side lower windshield.

John and Marian studied the wiring through the windshield and spotted some issues.  We followed the wires coming out of the back of the speedometer into a large bundle that went to a large circular connector with a twist-latch to hold it together.  There are several of these connectors to accommodate all of the dashboard wiring, plus smaller connectors for the dashboard lights and miscellaneous power feeds.  (Except for two small air lines for the primary and secondary air system gauges, and some mechanical connections for the front HVAC system, it appears that undoing these wiring connectors would allow the dashboard panels to be removed intact.  That would provide an alternate way to work on the wiring.)

The insulation on several of the wires was abraded or had been chewed off.  (Mice are known to chew insulation off of wires.)  We taped the damaged wires to prevent any further deterioration.  We also noticed a wire that came out of the connector that contained the speedometer wires and looped back into the connector.  It was approximately 6 inches long and the insulation was missing from one side of the middle four inches, exposing the stranded copper conductor.  Not only was that a potential short circuit, the conductor was not in good shape.  It was slightly corroded due to atmospheric exposure and it was frayed in several places with only a few strands providing continuity.  This in turn would look like a resistance to the circuit, causing a voltage drop and reduced current flow.  We clipped out the bad section and spliced in a new piece if wire.

(As a side note, there are only two obvious reasons to loop a wire back through a connector like that: 1) It was intended to go to something that was not installed and then continue on to something else, or 2) It was being used to detect that the cable was plugged in.)

We separated the two halves of the connector and sprayed them with contact cleaner.  While they dried we checked for ground connection problems, but did not see any obvious ones.  The ground on the speedometer mounting bracket looked sound and all of the other speedometer wires were shielded pairs; the instrument itself did not use chassis ground for its signals.

While we had the dashboard exposed I decided to remove the radar detector.  I have never used radar detectors, but it was already installed in the coach when we bought it.  I had never used it and did not intend to.  It was taking up space and making access to things more difficult.  (I had previously removed an electronic compass that did not work and I still need to remove the “musical horn” which we don’t use because it’s annoying.)

With the dashboard work completed we opened up the electrical service bay above the driver side steer tire.  This bay contains a lot of chassis electrical components such as relays, circuit breakers, terminal strips, diodes, and the anti-lock brake computer.  What we were looking for, however, was the Speed Limit Switch (SLS).

The SLS is used on seated coaches to disable the kneeling feature of the suspension when the coach is moving.  In order to do that, the speedometer wires pass through the SLS enroute to the dashboard gauge.  The Prevost national service advisor for conversion shells, Bill Jensen, told me back in January that this switch might be installed in our coach even though it was not used, and that it was a possible point of failure that might cause our intermittent speedometer problem.

The Speed Limit Switch was not present, but there was a DB-15 connector at that location that could have plugged in to it.  The connector was plugged in to a mating connector that did not have any wires coming out of it.  Looking in the cable access hole on the end we could see wires inside.  It was a loop back terminator.  We separated the two connectors and sprayed them with contact cleaner but we did not open them to check the integrity of the wiring inside.

We buttoned everything up and called it a day around 2:30 PM.  I won’t know if any of the work we did today fixed our speedometer problem until we depart Williston Crossings RV Resort in April.


2013/12/17-18 (T-W) Cleared For Departure

We were planning to leave for Florida (in the bus) on Friday, December 20th, so by Tuesday the 17th our attention was starting to focus sharply on what we had to do to get out of town.  But first we had to get Marilyn to the airport for a mid-afternoon flight back to St. Louis, Missouri.  Linda did the shuttle run while I stayed home and started pulling together stuff to load on the bus or into the car.  I also started copying the files from the old Buffalo Technologies LinkStation Pro Duo NAS to the new Buffalo Technologies LS421e NAS.  This turned out to take quite a bit of time as I had to do the copying in pieces; there were too many files and too many gigabytes of data to copy and paste them in one move.

We also started watching the weather forecast, both at home at along our route.  By Wednesday the 18th it was becoming clear that we would be much better off leaving on Thursday the 19th instead of our planned date of the 20th.  We had planned to have company over for dinner on Wednesday, however, so we did not see how we could possibly be ready to leave the next day.  Although we were disappointed by a last minute cancelation due to the illness of one of our guests, it changed the situation in favor of a Thursday departure.  (We hope you are much better very soon Kristine.)

To paraphrase John Muir, “The driveway is calling and I must go.”

To paraphrase John Muir, “The driveway is calling and I must go.”

We originally intended to leave early enough on Friday the 20th to get past Ann Arbor, Michigan before the morning rush hour and make it a campground in Berea, Kentucky before dark.  It was clear that we could not be ready to leave that early on Thursday morning, and did not want to arrive anywhere in the dark, so we adjusted our plans.  (A true traveler has no fixed plan, and is not intent on arriving.  Lao Tzu).  We knew there was a Coast To Coast (C2C) RV resort near Wapakoneta, Ohio.  A quick check online indicated that they should still be open this time of year and that we still had enough C2C points in our account to cover the $10 per night cost.  A phone call verified that they were open and had plenty of available sites.  Although Wapakoneta was only 166 miles from our house it was far enough south to have overnight low temperatures above freezing.  It was also close enough that we could leave at noon and be there by 4 PM.  That would give us the morning to finish loading the bus and closing up the house.


2013/12/07-12 (S-R) The Celebrations Begin

On Saturday morning I went to our local ham radio club breakfast as I usually do.  Linda stayed home, which is not usual, as I had a website meeting immediately following breakfast.  Club president Mike (W8XH) and I previewed the new club website for a small group that included the other two officers.  We provided them with logins so they could access the site, most of which is blocked from public view, and asked them to interact with it and provide feedback.

We had ordered garage door openers so each of our children could have one.  They arrived a couple of days earlier and we finally got around to programming them on Saturday afternoon.  They arrived just in time, too, as we were headed to Katie’s (grand-daughter #2) 17th birthday dinner that evening.  Our daughter (Meghan) and her husband (Chris, Katie’s dad) were there, as were our son (Brendan), his wife (Shawna), and their daughter (Madeline, grand-daughter #1).

Katie has developed quite a taste for sushi and selected Yotsuba in Ann Arbor, Michigan for her birthday meal.  Japanese restaurants were once a rare treat for us.  As with most restaurants that are not specifically vegan, or “vegan friendly” Japanese restaurants now pose a challenge for us.  But they had things we could eat, and they were very good.  Katie is very interested in science and decided she would like to start building a library with some quality leather-bound books in it.  She specifically requested Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species… and Linda was able to find a used, mint condition copy at Franklin Books (in New Jersey).

Brendan and Shawna had a social engagement after dinner so they left to put Madeline to bed.  Linda and I followed a short while later and did baby-sitting duty for a couple of hours until they returned.  By the time we got home it had been a long but very good day.

Sunday evening was the annual South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club holiday dinner which is held in lieu of our regular second Sunday of the month business meeting and technical program.  The club decided to try a new venue this year and selected the Zukey Lake Tavern near Pinckney, Michigan from among three candidates.  Although not located in South Lyon, we had a portion of the restaurant to ourselves that was sufficient to accommodate the 40 people who showed up.  We were also allowed to order from the menu and had sufficient wait-staff to efficiently take our orders and deliver our food.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and like the food; at least they ate a lot of it!

Linda pulled her usual babysitting shift on Monday and I headed for Edwardsburg, Michigan to retrieve the bus.  I originally planned to winterize it and then drive to our friends’ place in Twelve Mile, Indiana to spend a couple of days tying up loose ends on the Zena auxiliary power generator project.  I was then going to take the bus to Martin Diesel in Defiance, Ohio to have them check, service, and adjust it before returning home.  As most of this work would be done outside, I decided to alter my plans when the weather forecast called for overnight low temperatures near zero (F) for most of the week.  Pat and Vickie Lintner from our FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches chapter had once again offered the use of a spare bedroom at the house in Elkhart, Indiana so I took them up on that.  That allowed me to spend the later afternoon and early evening working with Michele Henry at Phoenix Paint on an article I was writing about the exterior renovation of our coach that was done by her shop from October 2011 to August 2012.  I grabbed a salad for dinner at the Martin’s grocery store on SR-19 on the north side of Elkhart, Indiana and then headed to the Lintners’ for the evening.  (BTW:  If you are in the Elkhart area and want a really nice salad, the Martin’s salad bar is fabulous.  They also have a deli counter where you can get hot items, including potatoes.  They have fountain and bottled soft drinks and a Starbucks Coffee, all conveniently located next to a two-level seating area where you can sit and eat, and they have free Wi-Fi if you want to sit and work.)

On Tuesday morning I finished prepping the bus for travel, hooked up the car, and left Phoenix Paint around mid-morning for the drive back to our house in Howell, Michigan.  I like to change up my route, so this time I took US-12 to I-69 to I-96 to M-59 to our house, with a stop at the Mobile Truck Stop on I-96 at M-52 before exiting onto M-59.  I arrived home mid-afternoon with a full tank of diesel fuel, parked and leveled the bus, and plugged it in.  Linda was in holiday shopping mode, so she wasn’t there when I arrived.

I spent the next couple of days working at my desk trying to get a few last minute things taken care of on various websites and straightening up papers.  When we are gone for a while we prefer not to come home to clutter and chaos.  Linda went to the bakery for the day on Thursday and I headed over to Micro-Center in Madison Heights, Michigan to purchase a Buffalo Technologies LinkStation 421e dual drive Network Attached Storage (NAS) enclosure and two Toshiba 3.0 TB hard disk drives.  This new NAS was an addition to our existing Buffalo Technologies LinkStation Pro Duo 1.0 TB RAID 1 NAS, which we planned to take with us in the bus.

The drives were very easy to install in the LS421e.  On power up the LS421e initially configured itself as a RAID 0 NAS, which means it combined the HDDs to appear as a single 6.0 TB drive.  The NAS Navigator 2 software that came with the unit made it fairly easy to manage the device and I reconfigured it as a 3.0 TB RAID 1 NAS, in which the two drives are mirror images of each other.  If one drive fails it can be replaced with a drive of the same or larger capacity and the new drive will become an exact mirror of the other one.  The process required some patience, however, as the RAID 1 configuration took approximately 10 hours per Terabyte, or 30 hours total, to configure itself.  The NAS Navigator 2 software tells you this in advance, so it doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is a very long time.  A bonus to the NAS Navigator 2 software is that it will manage all Buffalo Technologies LinkStation and TeraStations on the network, so I was able to use it to manage the existing LinkStation.  That was an unexpected bonus as the existing LinkStation was originally installed and managed from a workstation computer that is no longer in service.

2013_11-16_12-06 Time Flies

It’s been three weeks since my last post.  We have been incredibly busy, but that doesn’t mean I have much to write about.  Sometimes busy is just busy.  For my part, I’ve been neglecting our website and this blog in favor of designing, testing, and vetting three other WordPress-based websites; two for RV clubs and one for our local ham radio club.  That has taken a lot of my time, but I don’t mind.  It’s very interesting work that I chose to take on, and I’m learning a lot, which I enjoy.  But it isn’t necessarily all that interesting to write about.

I continue to discover useful WordPress plug-ins and learn how to use them.  I am using Participants-Database to create online member directories, WP-Members to block them from public view and require a username and password to view them, and Exclude-Pages to create web-pages that do not appear anywhere in the WordPress menu structure.  I am also using Meteor-Slides to create automated slide shows.  After a long and frustrating search for a good photo album / image gallery plug-in, I finally figured out how to create galleries using the native WordPress gallery function.  That was a major victory and I was so glad I persisted in my search instead of buying one.  I have also installed WP-Backup-2-Dropbox, which is automatically doing a weekly backup of all four of the sites to my personal Dropbox account.

Steve was over several times to work on the Linux box and we finally got one of the WordPress websites ported over and working!  We had to edit a few pointers in the wp-config.php file and set the permalinks back to default, but that did the trick!  Porting over the other three sites will have to wait, but eventually I will be able to install and test new plug-ins on my own local web-server and even develop content which I can then upload to the live site.  Working on the local web-server instead of the live web-host has a number of advantages.  For one, the system will respond more quickly.  But most importantly I won’t inadvertently take down one of my live sites.

Bus Conversions Magazine ran another one of my articles in the December 2013 issue.  This one was on the construction and installation of the new auxiliary air panel.  You can read more about it on our BCM page.

The new owner of BCM, Gary Hall, has faced and met a whole string of challenges since buying the magazine, but I remain confident that he is on the path to saving the magazine and not just making it viable, but making it better than it has ever been.  BCM remains a unique resource for the non-commercial bus converter and I am doing what I can to help keep it in business by subscribing and submitting articles.  It’s pretty simple really; the magazine needs subscribers, authors, and advertisers.  The problem is that each one of those groups wants the other two groups to be in place before they make a commitment.  No one wants to read a magazine with no content (articles and advertisements).  Authors don’t want to write for a magazine that no one reads and advertisers don’t support.  And advertisers don’t want to spend money placing ads in magazines with no content that no one reads.  Fortunately BCM has advertisers, authors, and subscribers, but they could use more of each.

If you are reading this blog post and you own a converted bus, are converting a bus, are thinking about converting a bus, or have a business that sells things that might be useful to people with converted buses, please consider subscribing to or advertising in Bus Conversions Magazine.  And if you are specifically converting a bus or working on one that is already converted, please consider writing one or more articles about the work you are doing, and take a lot of pictures to go with it.  You do not have to be a great writer or photographer.  If you provide them with a starting point the folks at BCM will work with you to turn it into a nice article.  And I can tell you from personal experience this past year that it is fun to see your articles in print.  In fact, your bus could be the “cover” and “centerfold.”  Now really, haven’t you always dreamed of that?  🙂

Starting with the January 2014 issue of BCM there will be another staffing change.  It appears that they are going to use my article on the FMCA GLAMARAMA 2013 rally that was held in Goshen, Indiana back in September 2013.  While the article is specifically about that rally, it is more generally about the experience of attending an RV rally put on by one of the large RV organizations.  Assuming the article runs, it will be my seventh article in 12 months and my third cover article.  Not bad for a beginner.  I have also agreed to “cover” the Arcadia 2014 Rally in Arcadia, Florida December 29-31.  It’s called the 2014 rally because it runs through New Year’s Eve with everyone departing on New Year’s Day.  This is one of the largest gatherings of converted buses currently taking place in the country, and it will be the first time Linda and I have attended.

Applying putty to base of Searchlight

Applying putty to base of Searchlight

The 19th, 20th, and 21st of November saw me back at Phoenix Paint in Edwardsburg, Michigan working on the bus and consulting with Michele Henry on the repair of the body panels and rear bumper fascia.  I was invited to spend the night at the house of fellow GLCC members Pat & Vickie’s nearby which saved me the cost of a motel and provide dinner and conversation.  Thank you both.


WiFiRanger MT permanent mount

WiFiRanger MT permanent mount

We We managed to fix the front roof-mounted remote-controlled searchlight and get it re-attached to the roof.  We also undid the temporary mounting (zip ties) of the WiFiRanger-MT (mobile titanium) and mounted it behind the front TV antenna to the driver’s side using the permanent roof-mount bracketing.  I removed the covers from the front and rear over-the-air TV antennas and was finally able to determine and map the direction they point to the numbers on the controller box.  That will finally allow us to know where we are aiming the antennas.




Access hole in utility bay floor

Access hole in utility bay floor

My last little project was to install the Critter-Guard.  There is a hole in the floor of the utility bay with a ring installed around it that is threaded to accept a screw-in cover.  The Critter-Guard consists of a circular piece of high-density foam, a two-piece plastic cover, and small latches to hold the cover in place.  I was not able to remove the old screws that secure the ring, so I drilled holes for new ones halfway in-between the old ones.  The product came with two sets of slightly different latches to accommodate just this situation.

Critter-Guard parts and instructions

Critter-Guard parts and instructions

Critter-Guard installed

Critter-Guard installed

With the latches installed, the electrical shoreline and fresh water hose were routed into the bay through the hole in the floor.  The foam is split along most of a diameter and has two holes in it (along the diameter line), one for the electrical shoreline, and the other for the fresh water hose.  The foam fits snuggly around these lines and into the hole in the floor.  The two-piece Critter-Guard cover plate is also split along a diameter and has two holes to match the holes in the foam.  The plate has a tongue on one piece and a groove on the other.  It is fitted around the shorelines on top of the foam and the latches are turned to hold it in place.  The net result is that “critters” cannot get into the bay through the utility line access hole.  I plan to submit this little project to Bus Conversions Magazine as a short article / product review.

As long as I’m talking about buses, I found a major air leak in Chuck’s Prevost H3-40 Liberty conversion.  As with all older buses, he has been plagued with air leaks.  Our mobile mechanic, Joe Cannarozzi, has fixed a lot of them by replacing air valves and tightening air lines, but leaks remain, and Chuck’s auxiliary air compressor was still running more often than it should while parked.  I was poking around in the bay under the driver’s seat—looking for the check valve that is usually installed in the air line from the auxiliary air compressor to the air system—when I heard a distinct hissing noise.  I heard it clearly, but it was at a frequency that Chuck did not hear.  He had a plastic tube stethoscope and I used it to clearly locate the leak as coming from the pressure control switch.  This switch (also known as a well pump switch when used in a water system) monitors the pressure in the auxiliary air system and turns the auxiliary air compressor on and off as needed to maintain the pressure between two set point limits.  Once I was able to place the stethoscope at the loudest point, Chuck was also able to hear it clearly.  He removed the old pressure switch, got the specs off of it, and I found an exact replacement in stock at Northwest Plumping Supply in Howell, not far from my house.  Chuck picked it up, installed it, and … no more air leak, at least not there.  The auxiliary air pressure is holding much better than it was before so the auxiliary air compressor is running much less frequently and Chuck (and Barbara) are much happier.  They things that make “bus people” happy are different from what makes most people happy.  You would probably have to try living in an RV to fully understand.

When Linda went in for her annual physical exam in early November she was able to talk to the nurse and find an opening for me.  I was able to get my lab work done a few days in advance, and the results were available in the Henry Ford Health System MyChart website that same afternoon.  I like having the lab work done in advance so that I can discuss the results with our doctor.  Everything was within the normal range, so I was pleased.  I got a new prescription for my nasal allergy medication and had to mail it in to our mail order pharmacy provider as this was the first prescription either of us has had filled since we switched our health coverage  to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System on July 1st.

The Thanksgiving Spread

The Thanksgiving Spread

We went to our daughter’s house for Thanksgiving with family.  Linda and the two kids did all the cooking and we had a nice assortment of dishes, many vegan-friendly.  We got a Tofurkey for the two of us and it was very good.  (Everyone else had real turkey; boo.)  We had fresh grapes, fresh cranberry-orange salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, candied sweet potatoes, regular mashed potatoes, home make Parker House rolls (thanks Meghan!), some yummy cookies, some nice wine, and other things I can’t remember.  Both of our grand-daughters were there.  It was nice.

My friend and former co-worker, Kate, got back from a week+ trip to Berlin, Germany just in time for us to take her out for a birthday dinner; not exactly on her birthday, but close.  We went to Nirmal in Ypsilanti, an Indian restaurant with a health conscious attitude.  They had a buffet style setup designed for carryout, but you could also have it dine-in, which is what we did.  Linda and I got two vegan entrees (green beans and okra), yellow rice, garlic naan bread, and a small dessert for $5 each plus tea.  Kate ordered Makhani with chicken off the menu.  We adjourned to the closest Starbucks for coffee, photo viewing (on an iPad, of course), and conversation.  Kate had selected 30 photographs to show us, and they were wonderful, as usual.


2013_11_01-07 (F-R)A Busy Week

The first week of November was very busy, enough so that I was unable (unwilling) to do daily blog posts.  Covering the whole week in one post makes for a longer post, but probably shorter than seven separate ones.

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We were supposed to get our bus back from the shop on Friday, November 1.  We didn’t.  That meant I could not take it to Phoenix Paint in Edwardsburg, Michigan on Monday the 4th.  I was reminded yet again that a true traveler has no fixed plan.  With that off the table temporarily, we turned out attention to other things; Ham Radio Breakfast on Saturday, for instance.  It was good conversation, as usual, and we finally arranged to have one couple over for dinner in a few weeks.

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Saturday afternoon Steve and Karen came over to visit and have dinner.  They were not able to attend our open house/warming because they were in Arizona where Steve had made arrangements to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon from the south rim and back up to the north rim.  Alas, the park was closed and they had to adjust their plans and find other things to do; which they did (true travelers have no fixed plan).  We don’t see them very often, so when we do we have a great, long visit.  We had a wonderful dinner of enchiladas and Mexican rice, finished off by chocolate cake with raspberry topping made from raspberries that Linda and I picked ourselves at the Middleton Berry Farm back in September.  All vegan, of course.

After dinner we looked at some of their photographs (digital) and they looked at some of ours (also digital).  Steve brought along a Raspberry Pi computer.  It was slightly larger than a deck of cards and had a 16 GB SD Card that served as its solid state hard drive.  It had a couple of USB ports, an HDMI port, and some other connections.  Steve had a wireless network adapter in one of the USB ports and a wireless keyboard transceiver (Bluetooth, I presume) in the other.  We already had an HDMI cable on the TV so he hooked up to that and voila, pictures.  He was even able to control the Raspberry Pi using our TV remote!  Now you have to admit, that’s pretty cool.  We were also delighted to find out that they have spent part of the last few winters in the Venice, Florida area and are returning again this year.  We shared our Florida plans and agreed that we would get together.

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Sunday we worked around the house and on our computers until late in the afternoon when Chuck and Barbara, our friends and fellow Prevost H3-40 converted coach owners, showed up to visit and have dinner.  Although they did make it to our open house/warming we did not get to visit with them very much that day.  We talked buses, of course, but we discussed a lot of other things too, including Florida, where they have spent the last six or seven winters, most recently in the Naples area.  Again, plans were made to meet while there.

As long as I am on the subject of Florida, we started thinking about extending our stay for at least another month because of potential problems with “seasonal weight restrictions” on the roads around our house.  I found out from Phil (of the pull-though driveway) that the restrictions usually go up March 1 and stay up until April 15.  Most of the roads in our county, and all of the roads we would have to use to get to our house, are subject to these seasonal weight restrictions but the signs never say what that means.  As it turns out, it means a weight limit of 8,400 pounds per axle.  Our drive axle (four tires) weighs 20,000 pounds and we have over 7,000 pounds on each of the front/steer tires, so there’s actually no legal way for us to get the bus to our house during that 45-day window.  What to do?  Stay in Florida for another month!  Problem solved.  New problem: where to stay?  New solution: the same place we are already staying, if they will let us extend our reservation.

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Monday came and went without the bus being ready.  While this delayed my plans yet again, it also provided more time to work on WordPress projects.  I checked on the WordPress Backup To Dropbox (wpb2d) plug-in and it appeared to be correctly backing up all four of the sites I am working on to our personal Dropbox account.  That was good to see.  I also started soliciting “beta testers” for each of the sites.  I continued working with the WP-Members plug-in and it appeared to be functioning correctly to block access to selected pages/posts behind a user login.  Given that, I started generating user lists for each of the sites to generate usernames and passwords and keep track of when I have created those in WP and provided them to each user.

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On Tuesday Linda was able to extend our stay at Williston Crossings RV Resort until April 1st (no fooling).  We will figure out later how to manage our trip back to Michigan so that we do not arrive before April 16.  Sometime during the week I received an e-mail from the Prevost Owners Group, to which we belong, that the Prevost Motorcoach Show would take place in Tampa, Florida on January 13 and 14, with a reception hosted by Prevost Car Inc. the evening of the 13th.  That sounded like an opportunity to finally meet some folks from Prevost in person, and to admire brand new conversions (that we will never buy) from the likes of Marathon, Millennium, Liberty, Parliament, and Vantare.  Sometime during the week it also came to our attention that the Prevost Community group we belong to is planning a rally for the first week of April 2014 at LazyDays RV Dealership in Seffner, Florida!  Well Bob’s your uncle.  It looks like delaying our return until at least April 16 won’t be that difficult at all.

I needed to make an appointment for my annual physical, so I got on the Henry Ford Health System website.  They have a new “feature” called MyChart.  When fully functional, which it is not yet, you are supposed to be able to directly book an appointment, and see all of your lab results.  But first you have to set up your account.  I called the number and got an activation code which I then used to create a Username and Password, and was finally able to log in.  The direct scheduling feature wasn’t available for my primary care physician, but there was a “Request An Appointment” page.  So I did.  I asked for an Adult Physical on Mon., Tue., Wed., or Thu. afternoon between Monday November 25, 2013 and Friday December 6, 2013.  Less than 24 hours later I received an e-mail informing me that I had been scheduled for a 1:00 PM appointment for an Office Visit on January 15, 2014.  Huh???

I used to program computers for a living, and I used to do systems engineering, and I used to do sales and marketing of these things, and I ended my career as a consultant.  This didn’t strike me as bad programming; it struck me as bad policy that got translated into a bad systems specification.  So I wrote back to HFHS customer service and told them, as politely as I could, that their system was stupid, that is to say, the policies behind the implementation of their system were not “customer-centric.”  If I had wanted an appointment in mid-January I would have requested one.  So as of now, I do not have said appointment.

The bus was ready to pick up on Tuesday, so Chuck drove me down to W. W. Williams to get it.  I took care of the paperwork and left with Chuck following me in his truck.  I no sooner hit the highway than I got a Check Engine Light.  It came on and stayed on, so I phoned Chuck and let him know that I needed to turn around and take it back if he was willing to follow me and take me back home.  He was, so this we did; my plans further delayed.  There are worse things that can happen on this bus; the Stop Engine Light, for instance.  This light means exactly what it says, the engine is going to stop and you need to get to the side of the road, now, before it does.  I’ve only seen that once, shortly after we bought it.  We took care of some key maintenance issues and have never seen it again (and I hope that we never do).  I figured I wouldn’t get the bus back from W. W. Williams until Wednesday afternoon at best, so any trip to Edwardsburg was now delayed until Thursday.  I called Michele to let her know.  She had Pato and Tommy lined up to look at it on Friday, so I was getting anxious to get it down there.  But there’s nothing you can do until the mechanics (they are now called technicians) are ready to give it back to you.  And frankly, you really don’t want it back until they are sure it is fixed.

While I was gone dealing with the bus, we got a call from Steve (mentioned earlier) wondering if he had left his Raspberry Pi computer here on Saturday.  We checked.  Yup, it was here.  Rather than meet him somewhere, we agreed that he would come back to the house on Wednesday to get it and do some work on our computers while he was here.

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Steve arrived late Wednesday morning, Linux “tools” in hand.  The principle target of the work was to install Linux on one of our machines and then install/configure the Apache web-server program.  This would allow us to have a “virtual web-server” that I could use to build duplicate installations of my WordPress sites, allowing me to develop and test them before making the same changes to the live sites.  That sounded cool.  Steve has been trying to get me interested in Linux for 10 years but I never saw a real need for it until now.  It turned in to an all-day project (of course, don’t they all?) due to the age of the machine we decided to use, but that was the machine I wasn’t using for much of anything else, so that’s where it needed to go.  Steve got Linux installed and then installed Apache2.  We ran out of time to configure the Apache2 program, but that was OK as it will give Steve a reason to come back.

While we were working on the computers we talked some more about Florida.  It turns out that the Capitol Steps are scheduled to appear at the Venice Stage Theater in Venice, Florida at the end of January.  Our annual get-together with Steve and Karen has often involved dinner and a performance by this group, which specializes in political satire, much of it musical.  They said we could stay overnight at the place they rent for winter in Venice if we wanted to go to the performance, which is at 8:00 PM on a Monday evening.  The nice thing about traveling with cats is that you can leave them for 24 hours and they are fine.  They sleep for 20 of those anyway.

I checked Wednesday afternoon and the bus was reported as “ready to go.”  I decided to pick it up early Thursday morning and head directly to Edwardsburg.  That meant towing the car so I had a way home, but it also meant that Linda did not have to drive me to W. W. Williams.  That worked out well as she had to head in to the bakery on Thursday anyway.

I sometimes get a bit anxious the night before I am going to drive the bus as I don’t drive it every day and we are still finding a fixing “issues.”  I used to experience the same thing when we would book one of the Southgate Flying Club airplanes and go flying.  Again, I didn’t fly every day.  Does this ever happen to you?  As I was drifting off to sleep I suddenly remembered that I had planned to fill the fuel tank at the Mobil Truck Stop on I-96 between Howell and Lansing.  But that was based on leaving from home.  Now wide awake, I got my iPad, pulled up the map application, and zoomed in on the I-94 Baker Road interchange west of Ann Arbor.  There are three truck stops there, two Pilots and one Travel America.  I was able to examine each one carefully, checking in/out access and pump locations.  I decided the Pilot station on the north side of the highway was my best option.  I knew I had enough fuel in the tank to get that far easily, so I was then able to go back to bed and finally fall asleep.

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I must have been sleeping lightly because around 4 AM I was awakened by the faint sound of running water.  That’s another one of those sounds that will jolt you awake once you become aware of it.  The new flapper in the master bedroom toilet wasn’t quite sealed and the water was running ever so slowly trying to keep the tank full.  I was finally able to adjust the flapper a couple of days later and get it to seal, but between the truck stop research and the running water, it turned out to be a short, fitful night’s sleep.  Not good preparation for a long day of driving.

I would like to say that the trip from W. W. Williams to Phoenix Paint was uneventful, but Check Engine Lights are definitely an event, and I saw ours come on four times.  It eventually went off each time, finally staying off after the 4th time; once it’s come on I tend to be a bit on edge wondering when I will see it again (or worse).

I stopped for fuel at the aforementioned Pilot truck stop on the north side of I-94 at Baker Road and pulled in behind a truck at the last pump, or so I thought.  I sat there for a while until the driver came out and moved it, at which point I pulled up only to discover that there wasn’t a pump at that position.  So I pulled out of the truck stop onto Baker Road, came back in the entrance, and got in line behind a truck that was putting fuel in its tanks.  That truck finally moved and I was able to pull up to the pump.

Getting fuel at a truck stop isn’t like putting fuel in your car.  The gallons and dollars involved are usually an order of magnitude larger and you usually cannot run a credit card at the pump.  I went inside, waited in line, and was finally waited on by a nice woman.  I told her I probably needed 150 gallons and I failed to recognize that she ran my credit card for $150.  I was only half done washing the windshields (the bus has four) when the pump shut off.  It had put in 37.9 gallons for exactly $150.  So I went back inside, stood in line again, and had her run the card for another $350.  Back outside, I restarted the pump, waited for it to finish, then went back inside, got back in line, and got not one, but two, receipts with the dollars and gallons on them.  By the time I got back on the highway the fuel stop had taken about one hour.  More delay.

No sooner was I on the road then I got a call from Chuck checking on how my trip was going.  That was both thoughtful and reassuring; it’s comforting to know folks are aware of you and concerned for your well-being.  In some ways, owning a converted coach makes you part of a “fraternity”, if you care to join.  While we were on the phone the Check Engine Light came on for the 3rd time since I had left W. W. Williams.  It went off and came on again.  I discussed it with Chuck and decided to pull off at MY FAVORITE REST AREA to check the coolant level in the overflow reservoir.  (I talked about this rest area in my article in the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine.  This is the same rest area where I was stranded while Linda and I repaired the patio awning that came loose a few miles earlier on westbound I-94.  Ironically, I was on my way to Phoenix Paint at that time as well.  I’m not superstitious, but I don’t like unlikely coincidences.)

The rest stop in question is near Grass Lake, Michigan, about 12 miles east of Jackson, Michigan.  It’s a very nice rest stop; I just seem to end up stopping here for less than nice reasons.  I popped the rear engine hatch, improvised a dip stick, and checked the level in the overflow reservoir.  It was up to the bottom edge of the filler tube, so no obvious problem there.  I looked around the engine bay for any sign of a coolant leak, but everything looked dry.  I took some comfort in the fact that Bob, the service manager at W. W. Williams (Dearborn) had told me that he and the technicians were very impressed with the condition of our engine; that it sounded good and ran well.  They’re real experts, so that’s no small thing.

The rest of the trip really was uneventful.  The Check Engine Light did not come on again, the transmission shifted well, the cruise control worked properly (as it always has), the engine coolant and oil temperatures ran normal, and the speedometer suddenly decided to work again!  I took I-94 W to I-69 S to M-60 W to M-40 S to US-12 W to M-205 W and pulled into Phoenix Paint just a mile north of the Indiana border around 1:00 PM.  I’ve done this trip many times, but it was a very pleasant drive with fall colors still in evidence, light traffic, and nice weather.

Michele got me into the building and parked and had me air up the suspension so they could have easier access to the inside of the wheel wells.  She and Pato got right to work removing the damaged panels while I hooked up the electrical shoreline, got the house battery charger turned back on, and activated some circuits for the inside of the bus including the auxiliary air compressor.  I stopped to look at things and answer questions as I unloaded some items from the car, and then moved stuff from the bus to car that had to return home with me.  What started out as a trip to have paint scratches buffed out had become a trip to also find and seal roof leaks and repair/repaint damaged body panels, so Michele and I looked the coach over and discussed the work to be done. I was there about 90 minutes—a really short visit for me and Michele—and got back on the road for home around 2:30 PM.

I had originally planned to spend a few days at her shop working on some small projects of my own, but that was based on a Monday arrival.  We had plans to meet up with our friend Kate in Ypsilanti on Thursday evening to see Roy Blount, Jr. at Eastern Michigan University’s Pease Auditorium.  I made it home with just enough time to change clothes, but not to eat, and we headed off to Ypsi.  We got there just as Kate and her friend Teresa were arriving and got four seats together.  RBJr was very interesting to listen too when we could hear him and understand what he was saying.  He speaks somewhat softly, and the PA system for the auditorium was not adjusted properly to compensate for that.

After the event we headed over to the Sweetwater Café, just a short walk from the auditorium, for coffee.  They had some nice looking veggie rollup sandwiches, so Linda and I had a late/light dinner.  We finally got home around 11 PM, a long day for me.

Although my health is better than it has been for the last couple of decades, I do not pretend that I am not in my 6th decade.  I can still do the all-day-drive thing, but I am much more tired at the end of it, and it takes me multiple days to recover from it.


2013_10_25-31 (M-R) FOOD At The Phase Place!

Sometimes I get busy and don’t keep up with my posts.  When I go back even as little as a week, as in this post, I find that many of the details are already lost in the continuous flow of daily living.

With the bus work in Williamston wrapped up, I turned my attention to figuring out what body panels and small parts I needed to order from Prevost to fix the damage I did to the passenger side of the bus leaving the campground in Townsend, TN.  I spent a fair amount of time in the Prevost CatBase Viewer database.  There were enough parts involved that I made an Excel spreadsheet.  I called Prevost U.S. Parts and got Roger Anderson on the line.  After discussing this for a while, we decided that it would be easiest for me to e-mail him the spreadsheet.

Next up was final preparations for the annual business meeting of our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter (FTH), of which I am the vice-president and secretary.  There are a surprising number of documents that are involved in a simple meeting of a small group: an agenda (from the president), minutes from last year’s meeting, financial statements (which Linda and I prepare based on data from the treasurer), proposed amendments to the bylaws, and an updated roster.  All of these get converted to PDF files and uploaded to a folder in our Dropbox account.  I have provided a link to that folder to all of our members.

We made our usual trip to South Lyon on Saturday morning for breakfast with members of the South Lyon Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC).  Linda worked on recipes.  I installed the WP-Recipes plug-in and she has started using it to capture and publish recipes for some of our favorite whole-food plant-based (WFPB) dishes.  She is evening taking a photograph of the finished dish and adding it to the recipe page.  (Click on the Food & Health Tab and then on Recipes in the dropdown menu.)

While Linda worked on recipes I worked on WordPress websites.  Besides our own, I am working on websites for our FMCA Freethinkers Associate Chapter (FTH), our FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches Chapter (GLCC, of which Linda is the Treasurer), and our South Lyon Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC).

WordPress is constantly releasing updates and new versions.  This generally a good thing, but they always strongly advise that you backup your site (folders/files/database) before installing an upgrade.  I haven’t been doing that, so I decided on Saturday that I should.  The GLCC website is an add-on domain for our primary/personal site, so I was able to back it up using the backup utilities in the QTH.com cPanel.  The FTH website is hosted by iPower and the SLAARC website is hosted by GoDaddy, neither of which use cPanel nor appear to have built in backup utilities.  There is some provision for backup built in to WordPress.

When I used the cPanel backup utility to backup our primary/personal site and the GLCC site it was about 1 GB.  We only had 2.5 GB on our free Dropbox account, so I signed up for the 100 GB Dropbox plan.  I then went on a search for a WordPress plug-in that would do the backups on a schedule.  I selected WordPress Backup To Dropbox (WPB2D) and then installed and activated it on all four sites.  I am going to test it for a couple of weeks and see how it works.  I hope it works well as it is a very simple plug-in to use.

Our FTH meeting was scheduled as a conference call for 6:00 PM EDT on Sunday evening, October 27.  We have 40 memberships in the chapter and needed 10 to make a quorum.  6:00 PM came and went and at 6:15 PM we only had 8 people on the line.  The president polled the group and decided we would try again the next night; same time, same place.

Our SLAARC information net is held every Sunday evening at 8:00 PM.  I was a regular participant up until we moved to the new house.  Although I have our 2m/70cm base station antenna mounted on the old TV tower, I do not have the coax run to the ham shack in the basement.  Hooking up the radio is inconvenient, especially in cold/dark/wet conditions, all of which we now have.  I would like to have the ham shack set up and functioning, but it has not made it to the top of the list yet.

On Monday I drove the bus to W. W. Williams in Dearborn, Michigan to have them look at the auxiliary air system and the speedometer.  They thought the constant cycling of the main engine air-compressor was either the governor or the air-dryer purge valve.  Since the governor had just been replaced, I authorized replacing the purge valve.  They thought the speedometer issue was the “tone wheel”, the sensor, or the gauge.  The sensor was just replaced, so I authorized them to check that it was installed correctly and to pull the output shaft housing on the end of the transmission to check the tone wheel.

I called Roger back at Prevost U.S. Parts.  He had filled in my spreadsheet and prepared a Prevost quote, so he e-mail those back to me.  I decided to hold off ordering until Michele at Phoenix Paint has a chance to look at the damage and decide if she can fix it.

Linda and I had staked out the size/location of our planned bus barn and driveway.  We adjusted the stakes slightly, moving the barn 5 feet farther from the road and squaring it up.  It’s currently 32 ft. wide by 56 ft. long with a driveway that includes a spur for turning around.  Phil from Precision Grading came by Monday evening, measured the area, and dug a couple of test holes to see what soil conditions we had.  He said we had 13 inches of good top soil in that area.  This will have to be removed and replaced with crushed concrete and 21AA road gravel, so we discussed possible locations on our property for the top soil.  Some of it will go in a depressed area behind the proposed barn location.  This area forms a lake whenever we get heavy/persistent rain.  Some it will probably go on the west side of the main garage driveway, which currently drops off more than we would like, and somewhat unevenly.  There are also low spots on the far west end of our property, and some of the topsoil will likely go there.

I spent the rest of this period working on the various websites.  In particular, I finally figured out how to configure and use the WP-Members plug-in to restrict access to selected portions of a WordPress site based on a Username and Password.  With that feature working, I focused on design (structure) and content for the FTH and GLCC sites.  I got sidetracked on Halloween with the idea of installing a “slider” (automated slideshow) in place of the default graphic in the RESPONSIVE Theme I am using for the GLCC site.  I selected and installed Meteor Slides based on its demonstration by the authors of RESPONSIVE.  It had the appearance of being very simple to install and use, and it was/is once I figured it out.  It took me 5 hours to do that, but I did.  The site is not ready for viewing yet, but I will share the address when it is.

2013_09_23-27 (M-F) Getting Ready

There is always lots to do around the house when we return from an RV rally, more so since we are still getting moved in to our new (to us) house and trying to get it ready for an open house / house warming.  We decided about a month ago to have the house warming as a way to “force” us to accelerate the moving-in process and so far that seems to be working.

Arriving home yesterday we were able to pull in to our pull-through driveway with the car attached, which was very nice.  With the added “fines” (sandy silt) material mixed in with the 21aa road gravel, the driveway is now packing together very tightly and easily supporting the weight of the bus.  The planned driveway geometry has worked out well allowing us to pull in and out with the car attached.  That means we cook hook/unhook the car in the driveway rather than in the street.

Linda babysat for Madeline on Monday while I worked around the house, unloaded the clothes and bedding from the bus, and started doing laundry; not very interesting, perhaps, but satisfying work in its own way.  We both spent a fair amount of time on our computers this week, Linda with household accounting chores and RV park research and me with some CEPI work, our website/blog, and websites for several other organizations.  Using WordPress to create/manage websites and blogs has really grabbed my interest.  I’m not very proficient yet, but I’m leaning.

We hung the last few pieces of artwork for now and spent part of the week opening and moving boxes.  Linda was looking for papers we could take to a shredding company and managed to accumulate quite a few boxes of them.  At this point we’ve run out of time to open boxes and sort through the contents, so we turned our attention to finding places to “hide” them until after the open house.  We’re not there yet, but we are comfortable that the house will be presentable enough by the time it needs to be.

We decided to harvest some of the apples from our apple tree and discovered that a large branch (3-4” diameter) had peeled loose in three places, probably due to the copious amount of fruit on it, the age of the tree, and the fact that it had not been pruned properly (or at all) for years.  We don’t know much about fruit trees, but we know that this is not the time of year to prune them.  With the tree obviously damaged, however, we decided to cut the branch off and let nature take its course.  We took it off in three pieces to make sure we could handle them.  The branches of an apple tree tend to get intertwined, especially if it isn’t pruned, so we really had to pull to get the pieces down.  That brought lots of apples to the ground besides the ones on the damaged branch.  We left the branches and their apples on the ground for the deer and other animals that frequent our backyard.

We collected a large bag of apples and Linda spent time during the rest of the week peeling them, dipping them in lemon, and freezing them.  She also made apple sauce and apple bread (both of which were outstanding).  She commented at one point that “I am starting to understand why farm wives never got out of the kitchen.”  Cooking real food with real ingredients (whole-food, plant-based) is a lot of work.  Linda finds the work satisfying, however, now that she has the time to do it, and I certainly find the results satisfying as well.  Yummy.

Ed and Betty Burns arrived on Thursday afternoon in their Tiffin Phaeton motorhome and stayed until late Friday morning.  This was their second visit in about a month and we really enjoyed having them here again.  They have been working at the Middleton Berry Farm and finished their tour of duty on Thursday.  I moved our motorhome out of the pull-through driveway so they could pull in and park in a level spot with power.

They got here in time for dinner and Linda put out a nice meal.  She served a nice Waldorf style green salad using some of our fresh-picked apples with homemade apple bread.  The main course was a lentil loaf with a baked potato and homemade applesauce on the side.  I chose the Blueberry Wine from Forestedge Winery in LaPorte, Minnesota to go with the meal.  (It only occurred to us later than we had an apple wine from the same winery, which would have really completed our apple-themed meal.)  Forestedge Winery is owned by Paul and Sharon Shuster, who are members of our FMCA Freethinkers associate chapter as are Ed and Betty.

Linda made apple crisp for dessert, but none of us had room, so we saved it for breakfast the next day.  In addition to the apple crisp, breakfast included Linda’s homemade granola cereal with fresh blueberries, fresh banana slices, and raspberries that we had personally picked at the Middleton Berry Farm a few weeks ago and frozen.  A little orange juice and a 50/50 blend of Ethiopian Yirga Cheffe and Kona coffee rounded out the meal.

We decided earlier in the week that we would try Florida for our first snowbird experience.  (Snowbird is a term used to describe folks who live in northern climates where it snows and head south for the winter to get away from same.  If there is a corresponding term for folks who live in the south and travel north in the summer to avoid heat and humidity, I don’t know what it is, other than perhaps Bridwons.  Think about it.)  Our decision was motivated by the desire to attend a large converted bus rally in Arcadia, Florida that is held each year from December 26 to January 1st.  (The actual rally is Dec 29, 30, 31, but you can arrive as early as the 26th and departure is the 1st.)  The rally was started by Jack and Paula Conrad, who ran it for the first ten years.

Ed and Betty used to live in Florida so we were eager to draw on their knowledge and experience before trying to book a place or places to stay.  Earlier in the week we called the Low-Key Hideaway RV Park and Motel in Cedar Key, but they were not able to accommodate us.  We knew about Low-Key Hideaway Cherie Ve Ard’s Technomadia blog postings, and it appears that the place has developed quite a clientele, perhaps in part as a result of Technomadia’s publicity.

At the last two GLCC rallies we had talked at length with Pat and Vicky, who winter in Florida.  I also had an in-depth conversation this week with two other fellow RVers (Ed and Al) who winter in Florida and got their thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations.  Our friends and fellow H3-40 owners, Chuck and Barbara, have spent the last seven winters in Florida and the last several at Pelican Lake Motorcoach Resort in Naples, Florida.  We delayed our return home following the Holistic Holiday At Sea cruise in March so we could drive over from Ft. Lauderdale to see the resort and have dinner with them.  It was very nice, as you would expect.

We learned a number of things as a result of this quick “research”.  Some of it was stuff we knew, or assumed as a form of common sense, but some of it we did not:

  1. The cost per day generally goes down the longer you stay in one place.  The usual breakpoints are week, month, 2-month, 3-month, 4-month, 6-month, and year.  (You can also purchase lots, but probably don’t want to calculate the per day cost for that.)
  2. The farther south you go, the more expensive it gets.
  3. The reason for the previous point is the average daily temperate range.  In northern Florida it is not unusual for temperatures to drop into the upper 30’s at night, and record lows have been recorded in the teens.  That doesn’t happen in Key West, and money tends to follow the pleasant climate.
  4. The closer you are to one of the coasts, the more expensive it gets.  You pay a price for beaches and sunrises/sunsets.
  5. No-See-Ums, however, can be a real problem near the coasts, and some folks have very bad reactions to their bites.
  6. If the RV park has “resort” in the name, it will be more expensive, with “motorcoach resort” costing even more, and “luxury motorcoach resort” costing even more than that.
  7. Most of Florida is swampy; being inland or staying at a “luxury” resort does not guarantee that you are not camped in or next to a swamp.  Think bugs, snakes, and alligators.
  8. You can almost always rent a deeded site at a higher-end park directly from the owners much cheaper than you can rent it through the park management office.  Check the classifieds in the back of FMC Magazine.
  9. Moving every week is expensive and tiring, but gets you access to more of the state.
  10. Staying more than one month at the same place can get a bit boring, but that’s a personal thing.
  11. Some parks are in dense urban areas, others are near small towns, and some are in the middle of nowhere.  It’s a shopping convenience versus solitude thing.  You can end up having to drive 20 miles or more for groceries if you are not paying attention when you choose an RV park.
  12. Not all parks are “big rig friendly” (even though they will claim they are).
  13. Most parks have punitive refunds polices, so be sure before you know what they are before you book.
  14. Make sure your park of choice is located near things you want to do (hike, bike, kayak, fish, watch sunrises and/or sunsets, or have access to highways so you can visit natural and historic sites in your car, etc.)  Tallahassee is not a good base camp for visiting Key West.
  15. Many RV parks are adjacent to a major freeway, railroad track, or airport; sometimes all three.  If you don’t think the noise will bother you, you’re wrong.
  16. Some RV parks are gated (if you care).
  17. Whether the residents in a park or nice or not seems to have little to due with the physical appearance and amenities of the place.
  18. There are a lot of older parks with mixed use, i.e., year-round “Park Models” in addition to sites for vacationers and snowbirds.
  19. Check the type/quality of the interior roads and parking pads (concrete, gravel, grass, hard dirt, or sand), it might matter with a big, heavy coach.
  20. The spacing of the sites varies greatly; some parks have sites that are small and close together (but they will tell you they are very spacious).
  21. Find out whether there is any landscaping, especially shade trees around the sites.
  22. Find out whether the roads and sites have trees trimmed up and back sufficiently to not scratch your RV.
  23. Check to see if “lakes” on the property actually have water in them (seriously).
  24. Check on the availability and cleanliness of onsite bath/shower facilities and Laundromats.
  25. Check the availability of onsite activities (which could be a plus or a minus) and facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, etc.  If you don’t want them, why pay for them?
  26. Find out if the park has pet restrictions, and if so, what they are.
  27. Some parks are 55+ operations, others allow/encourage/cater to families with children.  Know which type you are signing up for and make sure it’s what you want.
  28. The photos on the website always look beautiful, but somehow manage to avoid showing you views of the parking sites from a vantage point that allows you to assess all of the factors mentioned above.
  29. Google Earth and other satellite image websites/apps are your best friend and ultimate research tool.

Our goal was to book a park or parks for January and February by the end of the day Friday, but we didn’t make it; too much to ponder and no time to make phone calls.  We will get back to it early next week as Tuesday is October 1st, and January 1st will only be three months away.

Tom and Tom from TOMTEK HVAC were back on Friday afternoon to finish up repairs on our hydronic heating system.  They did not have one of the parts they were going to replace but it didn’t matter as they discovered some additional issues that will require a return visit.

The first thing they discovered was that the propane shut off valve didn’t shut off the propane.  We had to turn off the supply at the tank so they could replace the valve before doing anything else.  When they removed the propane diffuser cone to clean it and replace the gasket they discovered that the end of the cone had large holes in it.  These holes were preventing the propane from burning as efficiently as it should, and if they got bigger could prevent the furnace from working at all.  Parts like this for a Weil-McLain GV Gold Series hydronic heating system are not common, i.e., they don’t carry them on their truck or even stock them at their office, so they had to special order it.

As long as they had the combustion chamber open, they went ahead and vacuumed it out.  They had me look at it, and it had what appeared to be a couple of inches of rusty debris lying in the bottom, the result of a lack of proper (professional) service over a very long period of time (or perhaps any service at all).  They put it all back together and will replace the diffuser cone, gasket, and igniter (along with the part they forgot to bring) when they return next week.

I don’t know if this qualifies as serendipity in the usual sense, but we are lucky that we decided to have the system “serviced” in advance of the start of the heating season.  If not, we would not have discovered defects that could have led to a wintertime failure of the furnace with serious consequences for the house.

As I was working at my computer Friday evening an e-mail showed up with the PDF version of the October 2013 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine.  The article I wrote on the mid-August Back-To-The-Bricks rally in Clio, Michigan was the cover/centerfold article, the fifth one I have had published in BCM.  (See the BCM page of the website for the complete list and information about Bus Conversions Magazine.)  That was a nice end to nice week.


2013_09_18 (Wed) Under A Harvest Moon

I was up early this morning to check e-mail and work on my backlog of blog posts.  The WiFi at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds is excellent; our WiFi Ranger is picking up nine open fairground signals, with five of them quite strong.  Even so, WiFi always works better when fewer devices are trying to use it.

A 1948 Spartan and aour1990 Prevost.

A 1948 Spartan and aour1990 Prevost.

Linda was up in time to go to the registration building at 8:00 AM with the intent of reserving one of the pavilions adjacent to where the GLCC chapter is parked.  Alas, they were both taken.  She and Vicky scouted out the ones that were still available, selected one, and reserved it for our Thursday evening pizza social and business meeting.  We will be meeting at the Elkhart Noon Optimists building, 603 Locust St, by the big blue Fish Fry sign.  While they were taking care of this I brewed a pot of coffee using two parts Ethiopian Yirga Cheffe to one part Columbian decaf, a very nice blend that cuts down a little on the amount of caffeine.  When Linda returned we had a light breakfast of her very yummy homemade granola and fresh orange slices.

Don and Sandy Moyer’s restored 1948 Spartan bus conversion.

Don and Sandy Moyer’s restored 1948 Spartan bus conversion.

Mid-morning Linda, Fonda, and Vicky drove to the Shipshewana flea market, which is only open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  I took that as an opportunity to wander the fairgrounds and photograph the arrival and parking activities.  Today was the official beginning of the 2013 GLAMARAMA and motorhomes arrived all through the day.  The arrival and parking process appeared to go quite smoothly, which makes for a good start to a large RV rally.  The all-volunteer parking crew put in long hours, but were patient and cheerful throughout.

Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.

While I was wandering around I found Ron and Meredith Walker’s Prevost XL-45.   They just joined our GLCC chapter this past summer, but are not camped with us at this rally.  Ron is the conductor of the Frustrated Maestros, who are doing several scheduled performances during the rally, so the FM chapter is their primary focus while they are here.

A motorhome approaching the fairgrounds entrance from the east on IN-34 / Monroe St.

A motorhome approaching the fairgrounds entrance from the east on IN-34 / Monroe St.

They were home but rather busy.  A muralist was air-brushing a mural on their rear cap and their front entrance door was partially disassembled.  Meredith had me check out the mural and then Ron filled me in on the door situation.  The main door handle had failed that morning while he was outside talking to someone, as a result of which he was locked out and she was locked in.  They managed to find a technician who was able/willing to climb in a bedroom window and disassemble the door enough to get it open.  I looked at the mechanism to see if there was anything I could do to fix it.  There wasn’t, of course, but I told them I knew someone who might be willing/able to help.

Welcome to GLAMARAMA at the Gate 5 entrance.

Welcome to GLAMARAMA at the Gate 5 entrance.

I returned to the GLCC camp to see if Butch would be willing to lend some assistance to fellow GLCC members.  He was, of course; RVers tend to be helpful to other RVers when they can, but converted bus owners really tend to look out for one another.  We went back over to the Walker’s coach and Butch determined that a weld had failed.  While he couldn’t fix the latch on the spot we realized that the whole mechanism could be unbolted and moved out of the way so it couldn’t engage the latch pin on the door frame.  Ron did the work, and that temporarily removed the lockout problem until they could get a new latch assembly from Prevost.  In the meantime they could lock/unlock the door from inside or outside using only the deadbolt.

The staging area where towed vehicles get unhooked.

The staging area where towed vehicles get unhooked.

When the ladies got back from Shipshewana we pulled our camp chairs into a circle by Butch and Fonda’s MC-9 and spent a relaxing afternoon visiting with our fellow GLCCers.  While we were sitting there, Frank and Sandy Griswold arrived in their Prevost H3-45 Vantare conversion along with Dean and Cindy Chipman in their Holiday Rambler Endeavor motorhome.  A bit later Scott and Tammy Bruner arrived in their MCI MC-12 conversion.  This completed our set of nine GLCC rigs that would be camping together for the duration of the rally.  Our chapter had originally requested 8 spots, but the parking crew did a great job of getting nine coaches parked.

The holding area where RVs are queued for entry and escorted to their sites.

The holding area where RVs are queued for entry and escorted to their sites.

During the afternoon conversation someone asked how long we had owned our coach.  That’s when we realized it was our 4th anniversary; we purchased our Prevost H3-40 on September 18, 2009.  We met the owner at a restaurant in western Pennsylvania, gave him a certified check and got the title.  The coach was at Creative Mobile Interiors (CMI) just south of Columbus, Ohio where it had been sitting for about two years.  The owner had taken it there for service and then decided to sell it instead of fix it.  CMI allowed him to leave it there while they advertised it on their website and tried to find a buyer.  I described some of this story in the cover/centerfold article of the February 2013 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine.

A caravan being assembled for entry.  They will be parked together.

A caravan being assembled for entry. They will be parked together.

We eventually broke for dinner and a little quiet time before heading over to the opening ceremonies.  Linda made a simple green salad and a bow-tie pasta dish with olive oil, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes.  The Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling from Black Star Farms in Michigan’s Leelanau peninsula was the perfect accompaniment.  Their late harvest Riesling and pear wines are two of our all-time favorites.

A different kind of motorhome, called a Class D, with a fancy paint job.

A different kind of motorhome, called a Class D, with a fancy paint job.

A group of us from GLCC walked over to the evening activities building around 7:00 PM and were greeted with handshakes and hugs by Jon and Sondra Walker, Charlie Addcock, and Jane Roush.  That may not sound like a big deal, but it was.  Hugs are an Escapees RV Club tradition, not something we had ever seen before at an FMCA rally.  When Charlie and Jon were elected to national office they promised a new tone and new direction for FMCA, and it appears they are putting themselves behind that in a very personal way.

The Frustrated Maestros performed from 6:45 to 7:30 PM.  The opening ceremonies began at 7:30 PM with Dane Bailey, The Singing Auctioneer, as the master of ceremonies, a role he will be performing for the duration of the rally.  We had the usual opening consisting of an invocation, Canadian national Anthem, and U.S. national anthem, the posting of the colors by the local VFW color guard, and the chapter parade.  There were 12 chapters officially in attendance.  Notably by their absence were the Michigan Knights of the Highway, who formerly ran the GLASS rally.  Dane then introduced Jon Walker, the FMCA Senior National Vice-President, who welcomed everyone.  Jon was the GLAMA president and FMCA area vice-president until this past July when he was elected to the senior national vice-president office.  He and Sondra are well-liked and well-respected within the Great Lakes area, and remained as the co-rally hosts for this event along with Jane Roush.  (Jon and Sondra are also members of our GLCC chapter and Jon was our National Director for a while.)  Jon announced that we had 469 coaches in attendance, although Vicky told us that one more had arrived.  (Pat and Vicky were the official coach counters.)

FMCA National President Charlie Adcock was introduced next and said a few words.  Charlie is a very enthusiastic, upbeat guy, as is Jon.  Charlie administered the oath of office to Jane Roush, who was elected as the GLAMA president when Jon resigned to take his new national office.  Charlie acknowledged the long list of VIP attendees, which certainly helped the rally coach count.  The rally was budgeted for a break-even point of 400 coaches, so everyone involved in the planning and execution was very pleased with the turnout.  I suspect that many of the VIPs were here as a show of support for this first ever attempt by GLAMA to organize its own rally.

With the opening ceremonies concluded Sgt. Daniel Clark, The Singing Trooper, was introduced.  Dan is a former U. S. Marine and retired Massachusetts State Trooper, but has been singing since he was a child.  He was clearly a trained opera singer and mentioned that he spent time at Tanglewood.  He did a very tightly constructed and energetic show of patriotic and sentimental American favorites, ending with a medley of U. S. armed services theme songs, including the one for the U. S. Merchant Marines.  The evening’s activities concluded, we had a leisurely walk back to our coach under a harvest moon.

And that is part of why we go RVing.


2013_08_31 (Sat) Our New Online Home

From mid-afternoon on Thursday 29th through late evening on Saturday the 31st I was occupied with moving our domain {website/blog and e-mail} to a new web-hosting service.  That wasn’t all we did, of course, but the process involved a lot of back and forth and everything else seemed to fit in around it.

Like many things in our modern world, we tend to take our communications technology for granted, after all, most of the time it just works.  But just like losing power to your refrigerator, you don’t really understand just how dependent you are on technology until it doesn’t work.  Unlike a refrigerator, which either works or it doesn’t (and it’s usually obvious which condition it is in), our e-mail failure was more subtle.  We continued to receive e-mails from some recipients if they originated them (but not always) and recipients typically received e-mails that we originated (but not always).  But we did not receive replies to e-mails that we sent.  What was particularly strange was that the person sending the reply did not get a bounce-back or other error, so to them it looked like they had sent the reply successfully.  We didn’t know if they got the original message, and they assumed we got the reply.

I do not know what went wrong with our e-mail accounts at iPage, and never will, but they were definitely malfunctioning and iPage was unable to fix the problem and ultimately unwilling to move it to a sufficiently high level of technical support to figure it out.  I have nothing against overseas technical support as long as it is technically competent and customer supportive.  In my support ticket interactions with iPage I never corresponded with the same person twice.  The problem with the “big name” hosting services is the same as a lot of mutual funds.  Huh?  Way too much time and money put into marketing, way too little into a high quality, reliable offering.  It’s a numbers game, and my number was 1, as in, I am only one customer.  We will almost certainly lose money in this transition by not getting an adequate refund from iPage, but one of the secrets to life is knowing when to take your losses and being willing to do so and move on.  In the end we had no choice but to move our domain.

In the two weeks prior to reaching that decision I had two completely independent recommendations for QTH.com as a web-hosting service.  “QTH” is ham radio lingo for “location” and Scott Neader, the guy behind QTH.com, has amateur radio call sign KA9FOX.  The company is located in Wisconsin, and so is the technical support.  In the move from iPage to QTH I exchanged numerous e-mails with Scott, who personally handled much of the set up and transfer.  Moving our WordPress installation (website/blog) turned out to be particularly tricky because of how iPage had it installed.  I would not have been able to do it by myself, but Scott got it done.  By 8:00 PM EDT Saturday evening I had confirmed, as best I could, that everything was working and began sending out e-mails to a selective group of recipients asking for replies to validate the correct functioning of our accounts.  With the exception of a couple of e-mails that got blocked as SPAM (one in each direction) all of our e-mails were received and successfully replied to.

Chuck Spera, a fellow H3-40 owner in our area, found a place locally to make a screen for the awning style window in the main entrance door of his coach.  I drove down to his bus garage in Novi and borrowed it to check the fit in our coach.  It was good, so we are getting two of them.  It’s a custom fabricated part, and it’s easier to get a spare up front.  These are not rectangular screens; they have five sides and are basically trapezoids (top and bottom parallel) with one upper corner cut off to make the 5th side.  The local shop made and checked a template in Chuck’s coach before fabricating the actual screen.  They used a sturdy aluminum channel, and in spite of having five joints, the frame does not flex very much.  This is a significant improvement over the flimsy, poor-fitting we have lived with for the last three years.

I finished editing drafts of two more articles for Bus Conversions Magazine, selecting/inserting the photographs and writing captions for them, and uploaded them to my Dropbox account.  We enjoyed a lively breakfast with our South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club as we do most Saturdays.  We are trying to get ready for a house warming in early October, so we continued to unpacking boxes and find places for things.  We are managing to identify a few things for disposal, recycling, or donation, but that continues to be a challenge for me, which is one of the reasons we are not full-time RVers.

2013_08_29Av01 (Thu) Moving Our Domain

Ed & Betty’s Tiffin Phaeton in our pull-through driveway.

Ed & Betty’s Tiffin Phaeton in our pull-through driveway.

Ed and Betty joined us for breakfast and we continued our lively conversation from the prior evening.  Around 10 AM they turned their attention to preparing for departure.  An important piece of RVing etiquette is to leave folks alone when they are making or breaking camp.  Every RVer (who has used their rig more than a couple of times) has developed routines for each of these situations.  Engaging them in conversation during these routines is a distraction that creates a risk that something will be overlooked.  It’s dangerous and it’s rude, and seasoned RVers simply don’t do it.

The view from our front door.

The view from our front door.


With their preparations finished, we talked a bit more about future plans and when they might be back this way.  They wanted some pictures of themselves in front of their coach, and so did we, so we helped each other out with that.



Ed & Betty Burns in front of their motorhome.

Ed & Betty Burns in front of their motorhome.


Because our bus is in our garage driveway blocking the exit from our pull-through driveway, I had to have Ed back their motorhome out.  As the name implies, the pull-through driveway wasn’t really designed for backing a 40 vehicle out the way it came in.  The entrance to the driveway is at an angle to the road that makes it easy to get in when coming towards our house from the main road.  It’s designed so that we can pull out going forward onto the concrete driveway and make the turns needed to get us pointed back out towards the main road.



Us in front of our bus.

Us in front of our bus.


Because of this design, I had to have Ed make a “12-point turn”, jockeying their coach forward and backward until I could get the front end clear to pull forward onto the road while being careful not to have his tires get off the edge of the driveway or have his rear end hit the neighbor’s mailbox.  We managed to accomplish this in a reasonable amount of time with minimal damage to the approach portion of the driveway, which wasn’t designed to have a heavy vehicle sit in one place and turn its steering tires.  This part of the driveway was still very wet from the heavy rains we had two nights ago, and we ended up with deeper ruts than I had hoped, but not enough to get them stuck.

With the coach extracted from the driveway, Ed got it parallel to, and near, the edge of the road and Betty brought the car up.  Again, we left them alone to go through their toad hookup routine.  More hugs and they were on their way around 11:30 AM.  If things work out as planned we will see them again on Sunday or Monday when we hope to visit the Middleton Berry Farm and pick some fresh raspberries.

My plan for the rest of my day is to sign up with our new registrar/hosting service at QTH.com.  QTH.com is owned and operated by fellow amateur radio operator Scott Neader, KA9FOX.  (QTH is ham radio shorthand for “location, destination, or home base”, as in “I just arrived at my QTH”, so it’s a clever name for a hosting service.)  The process should be relatively smooth, but there may be a window of time during which our website/blog URL and e-mail addresses are unavailable.  My plan is to position that window near mid-night this evening.  Since there is always the possibility of something going wrong, or it just taking longer to complete the switch, I am ending this post here around mid-afternoon while I know I still have access to the website.  I will do a second post when the transition is complete and everything is working correctly again.