Archive for the ‘Expense’ Category

Carpet Cleaning

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Still waiting on brake repair but can’t let the world pass by while doing so. Thanksgiving Day and my family takes the evening meal together. What better opportunity to clean the preowned carpet that I want to install in the bus?

It was tricky running the Rug Doctor up and down those bumps up front, but well worth it.

I did three full passes over all of the large and small carpet scraps, got really tired of running in and out of the house to empty the extraction tank and mix more cleaning solution, and was still pouring fairly-dark grey water out of the tank after the third pass. But that’s enough; I’m done. The carpet is now rid of obvious dusty and dirty spots and is a uniform color and texture. It’s also further relaxing its bends from being rolled up in storage.

It’s 50F outside somewhere near here; it feels like 60F outside here in the still air; and it has to be 70F inside the bus with a clear sky and the sun shining down. The front door, back hatch, and all the windows are open and a breeze is blowing through to dry the carpet.

$25 to rent the machine, $6 for a bottle of pre-treatment spray that I don’t think really did anything over as large an area as I used it, and $13 for the jug of cleaning concentrate.

Now make a computer model of the floor of the bus and of all the carpet scraps so I can see how best to fit them in. And as soon as they’re dry, borrow my brother’s carpet seamer and start cutting them to fit and piecing them together.

Rebuilt Brake Hoses

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

The bus being a mid-80s Chevy chassis, the theory is that the front right brake seized because the clamp that anchors the flex line rusts; the surface rust increases its thickness; the increased thickness decreases its interior diameter; the reduced ID squeezes the hose; and the squeezed hose passes high-pressure brake fluid from pressing the pedal but not as readily low-pressure brake fluid from the caliper’s return action.

Replacement hoses not available.

Rebuilt schoolbus brake hoses

Central States Thermo King to the rescue, again — remanufactured from scratch. $35 each. Hoses back to Neighbor Dan. Reinstallation promised for this weekend … and then he still has to check out the geyser from the reservoir.

Right, that’s another story.

<scrunches forehead really hard, squeezes eyes closed, clenches fists> I believe … I believe … I believe I will get to drive the bus again someday!


Friday, November 13th, 2009

Things have been quiet here for a while, but that’s not because nothing’s been happening — I’m just behind on writing about it. This one dates back to July. (Sheesh!)

I had noticed that the power steering fluid was low and was disappearing after I refilled, and I’d had the engine compartment cleaned so I could see where the fluid was coming out. On a Saturday afternoon after the cleaning, Jonathan opened the hood and found that the cleaning wasn’t necessary to locate the leak — a hose was shooting a sheet of fluid out of a crack in its side when I pressed the brakes. When I pressed the brakes? Ah, hydraboost.

Leaking hydraboost hose on '86 Chevy schoolbus

The hose is on the driver’s side of the engine compartment and joins a couple of pieces of steel line that run up to the brake master cylinder and down to the power steering gearbox. It’s part of the hydraboost system — the power brakes are powered by the power steering pump rather than by vacuum pressure, as on many passenger vehicles.

Chasing a New Line

Well, drat, I took careful notes of all of my phone calls trying to find a replacement or rebuilt line and now can’t find them. Working from memory:

I started with Bumper to Bumper in Newton, who were recommended to me as being a good source for parts for big ugly things. They had nothing, but referred me to a hose company in Wichita. They weren’t actually in the business of making this type of hoses, but referred me to someone else, who referred me to someone else, whom I visited after work.

Meanwhile I called O’Reilly Auto Parts in Newton, who had nothing but suggested I call the Chevy dealership. This was the most promising lead so far — I got a part number, the information that it was a discontinued 20-year-old part, and the locations and phone numbers of the three dealerships in the US that showed the line in their inventory locator. I also got the price — when new, $230. Okay, WOW.

California was supposed to have two but told me they hadn’t uploaded inventory to the locator service for at least two years and didn’t have any. Another place (Oregon???) also didn’t have any. Alaska has four of them, new old stock (so they’re probably brittle by now), for the original price. Plus shipping. Uh, no.

After work I raced across Wichita to the company in the southwest industrial district who rebuilds hoses and tubing, arriving just barely before they closed. They looked at the compression fittings where the hose joined to the tubing and the amount of rust pitting on the steel line and told me that they likely couldn’t put on new fittings that wouldn’t leak.

But I should try “CSTK,” who brazes new fittings onto tubing. On the north edge of town — literally about as far away as you can get in the Wichita metro area. And only a few minutes from closing.

At least it wass on my way home, so if I didn’t make it I wouldn’t have gone out of my way.

I made it.

Central States Thermo King

CSTK turned out to be Central States Thermo King, who normally work on cooling systems (reefer trucks) and manufacture hoses that have to bear much higher pressure and contain much smaller molecules than those of my power steering fluid. They took my line and said they’d have it ready the next day.

I went back, picked it up, and paid them $37.14 for their work. I felt like I should have tipped them half the $200 I saved, but I’ll opt for trying to send a little more business their way instead.

Spiffy brazing job on rebuilt hydraboost hose

Look at this immaculate work. They cut off the old fitting and brazed on the butt end of this new crimp fitting.

Newly fabricated hydraboost hose section

I think the pressure rating on their hose should be … adequate … for my power steering / brakes system.

Rebuilt hydraboost hose

I fished the whole line back through and around all the obstacles, reattached it and all the clamps that hold it in place, and refilled the power steering reservoir.

No more leak, but the power steering is still growling (even now, after driving it occasionally for several months and running the steering back and forth from end to end a number of times). I first attributed this to air in the system that needed to work out — and it may be — but I also note that the power steering pump clearly has a bearing going out, and I need to replace it before I get too worried about getting all the air out of the system.

Ah, well. It’s progress.


$37.14 rebuilt hose

Procuring a Replacement Rear Door

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

In thinking about the usability, security, and safety of the bus, I’ve come to the conclusion that the rear “ramp” installed by a former owner needs to be undone.

Converted schoolbus, rear door

It currently latches from the outside, so it’s not usable as an emergency exit without moving the hasps to the inside. It’s very heavy and the handle is high up, so not everyone I know is capable of lowering it. With the hasps inside, in a fire one could unlatch it and push it open to let it fall to the ground; but in other use, it would require two people (inside and out) or a winch to open carefully. It just doesn’t work for me.

First Junkyard Trip

Last Monday on my way home from a holiday trip to Lawrence, I stopped at the junkyard between Newton and Walton to look around. I hadn’t planned the visit and had neither target dimensions nor a tape measure with me; but I quickly found a bus that suggested a return trip was worthwhile.

Rear end of Bluebird bus in junkyard


Gas Stove

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Over the holiday weekend, Lawrence donated a gas cooktop from a popup camper he tore apart long ago, and did just about all of the work to hook it up in the bus for me.

Stove before cleaning

The cooktop fits the upper part of the counter opening perfectly. There’s no oven and I’ll want one eventually — but this is free and available right now.

Stovetop before cleaning

This is from early Saturday morning before I did lots of scrubbing.

Bus propane tank with new regulator, hose, and fittings

It took about five trips to Graber’s Ace Hardware, buying and returning one regulator and buying another, and several conversations with a very knowledgeable and helpful employee to find the regulator with the right fitting for this tank and hoses and lots of brass adapters for every connection — two to three at every junction (converting between flare, compression, and pipe fittings; different sizes; and different genders).

RV gas cooktop

Late Saturday afternoon: installed, connected, and clean. The bus propane tank was (predictably) empty, but Lawrence hooked up one of his grill tanks long enough to do a leak test and light one burner.

RV gas cooktop with lid up

The inside isn’t quite as clean, as the grungy bits are harder to reach. I’ll come back with a long-handled scrub brush and do a little better on this.

Buying Propane

If you’re passing through the Newton area and need propane, I can’t say enough good things about Payne Oil. I took the bus out yesterday to get some propane and had a great conversation with Eric Payne. Like the Graber’s employee, Eric is also incredibly knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly.

He educated me that my propane tank is from a forklift and is made to be set on the ground, filled in an upright position, and then remounted horizontally on the forklift. He couldn’t completely fill it while it was horizontal because the overfill vent wouldn’t work in that position, but he said it was about a seven-gallon tank and he could first test that it was empty and then put in five gallons. I bought only two gallons so I could retest for leaks before going whole hog and filling up.

He showed me the used RV propane tanks they have in the back from trade-ins. They mount horizontally, but the fittings are all on the front instead of on the end. They’re made to go behind a door (no lock, in case of a need for emergency shutoff) and they look really easy to fill and access. He said he could sell me any of them for $1 / gallon capacity. Although some looked rusty and made me a little uncomfortable, I’m definitely considering a used one (after one of his techs certifies that it’s okay) because because …

Today Eric looked up the cost of new tanks and emailed them to me. Granted these were much larger than the spares he had; but he found $750 for a 23-gallon and $1250 for a 20-gallon made as two smaller tanks hooked together. Even with the $50 trade-in he offered on my forklift tank, that doesn’t seem like the best way to spend the next $1000 on my bus. I think we were both surprised by the cost.


free gas cooktop
$86.51 gas regulator, lines, and fittings (!)
$6 2 gallons LP
$92.51 total for connecting gas stove

Engine Cleaning

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Purple schoolbus pulled into shop for engine cleaning

After unloading the last removable items from the interior, I dropped the bus off at Hinz Motors to have the engine compartment pressure-washed. It’s easy to see that the brakes and power steering each have small leaks; but with so much gunk on everything, it wasn’t easy to see exactly where.

Greg only charged me $21.46. I think he should have asked more and I tried to tell him that, but it’s hard to argue with the guy holding the cash register. So to speak.

Bus engine compartment, passenger side, freshly washed

I think they did a bang-up job. I had no idea there were colors under the hood! Blue hoses, red cables, orange stars, green clovers …

Bus engine compartment, driver side, freshly washed

The leaking parts are nice and squeaky clean. Once everything’s completely dry, I’ll take it for a spin and see where the fluids show up.

$21.46 engine cleaning

A Day at the Dump: Goodbye, Furniture; Hello, Weight

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

It’s been a wet week, with particularly heavy rain and strong winds on Monday night. When I went to work on the paint Thursday, I saw that my 30-day tag was missing, having softened in the rain and torn off in the wind.

My wife and I looked all over the area and couldn’t find it, so I arranged to go in late to work Friday so I could go to the courthouse and get a replacement tag so I could go to the dump Saturday and get the bus weighed so I could go to the courthouse next week and title the bus with an accurate weight.

I just happened to have a little extra time Friday morning before the courthouse opened, so I dropped by my brother’s house to give him a heat gun he had asked for that it turns out he had already bought himself. (No problem; I expect I’ll be going through several in the near future.) And it also turns out he found my tag, saved it for me, and forgot to mention it. Thanks, bro! :-)

30-day tag on rear of schoolbus

I reaffixed it this morning, using washers to keep the paper from tearing off again.

Only One Leak???

It’s raining again. (Oh will my heart ever mend.)

Rain leaking into schoolbus driver's window

Found this on the console by the driver’s side window, and no other leaks. Of course, the bus still has enough filth and spills inside it’d be hard to spot more leaks right now; but if this is all there is, it seems pretty manageable.

To the Dump, to the Dump, to the Dump-Dump-Dump

Jonathan and I took the bus to the dump this morning to dispose of the worst couch and chair. I confess that there may have been slightly more celebratory rolling of furniture out of the back of the bus than was strictly necessary in order to get said furniture over to the big green dumpster.

We arrived early when there weren’t many other people at the dump yet — apparently the second load of the day — and the attendant seemed amused and chatted a while about my plans for the bus. Good conversation starter.

With Jonathan in the bus and me on the scale outside the bus, the total weight was 14,700 lbs. Figure 200 lbs each, so 14,300 lbs for the bus itself, including a full tank of gas (400 lbs) and no water (as far as I can tell) in the tanks.

Two different gals at the courthouse were looking up similar VINs for me and coming up with 7,200 lbs. I think they must have been looking at short buses. My family’s 1969 Ford Galaxie weighs 3500 lbs; I can see that a short bus could be two Galaxies and the long bus could be four.

More Cleaning

After returning from the dump, Jonathan and I unmounted and unloaded the cheap stereo speakers that were screwed to cabinets and walls, pulled out and discarded cheap speaker cable, and did general litter patrol. Big yellow bag for trash; small bags for recyclable plastic and metal. We left it ready to sweep and mop.

Forward view of schoolbus interior

Here’s the forward view through the back door, with the floor in its full grotesquerie. The bright windows you can see through are the ones we opened to get a cross-breeze. Most of the dome lights work; those that don’t appear to have bad bulbs rather than bad wiring.

Front half of schoolbus interior

Forward half of the bus. The cabinet on the right needs to go and make way for a passenger chair (with seatbelt); but it’s bolted down and we didn’t have the right tools with us. The sink cabinet on the left needs to be replaced with something a little nicer, but it’ll do for now.

Rearward view of schoolbus interior, back door open

The interior looking rearward from the front, with the back door open.

I haven’t figure out yet whether the cutout in the counter was for a stove or refrigerator. The gas line inside it doesn’t necessarily answer the question — I’m learning that RV refrigerators can run on gas (or 12VDC or 120VAC).

Rear interior of schoolbus, back door closed

The back end with the door closed.

Easy Window Repairs

Schoolbus window frames

While I was fetching a nut driver for the speaker mounts, Jonathan took apart a window frame. He had it back together by the time I returned; but apparently the two screws come out, the adjacent frames lift off, and the windows lift out.

That’s encouraging to think of the ease of replacing the glass in broken windows and the ease of (eventually) replacing the windows with something that seals better and has a double pane for better insulating value.


$7 dump fee
$7 total for getting rid of nasty furniture and weighing the bus

Retrieval Attempt #2: Success!

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Purple schoolbus, front left profile

It’s home!

“Neighbor Dan” and I left at 5:30 this morning to go up to Manhattan, rig the split shifter, and bring home the bus. Dan pulled the split shifter off the differential, decided the shifter motor was just old or gummed up, and got the shifter engaged into high with some electricity and some thumping. The drive back was pretty uneventful — in particular, the shifter did not drop back out of gear.

Dan thinks the split shifter motor may just need lubrication or new brushes. He described how easy it is to remove from the differential; so I’ll start by taking it off, drilling out the three motor-mount screws off of which I broke the heads, and seeing what I can do with the motor. I don’t want to do a short-term fix like lubricating it with a lightweight oil that will just burn off, so I don’t know yet whether this will be a rebuild or a replace.

Turn Signals and Schoolbus Flashers

Schoolbus signal lights

While Dan was working under the bus, I was looking for a bulb I could use to replace the burned-out rear right-turn signal light. Thought I might be able to pull one from the schoolbus flashers (which I don’t need), but it turns out they’re sealed-beam units.

Ended up borrowing one from the back-up lights, since I wasn’t planning to do a lot of backing on the highway.

Fuel Economy

The fuel gauge started on empty and I put in a little over 40 gallons in Manhattan, so I know the tank is at least a 41-gallon.

I refilled in Newton, adding about 22.7 gallons after about 108 miles, so I got about 4.75 mpg, a little less than I was hoping for. Dan thinks a tune-up may get me a little more.

Parked By the Shed

Purple schoolbus by shed with grain truck

My brother is indulging me and letting me park the bus behind his shed by his stick-hauling grain truck, for now, anyway. He’s already warned me not to get too comfortable with that — but I’m sure once he sees how charming the bus is, his heart will warm to the idea of keeping it nearby.

Today’s Expenses

For five and a half hours of his time, plus 220 miles in his pickup, Dan only asked for $125. I gave him $149 — everything I had on me at the time. A bargain.

$149 Dan’s travel and repair fee
$102 40.332 gallons gas at start of trip
$56.75 22.708 gallons gas at end of trip
$307.75 total for second (and final!) retrieval attempt

Retrieval Attempt #1: Split-Shifter

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

When I won the schoolbus auction Thursday, I was in Kansas City at a conference. Because the auction house is open Saturday mornings, I was able to divert through Manhattan on my way home, pay for the bus, and pick up the title and key.

Monday Retrieval Plans

I scheduled Monday off work and found that Lawrence’s daughter Mary could drive me to Manhattan to pick up the bus. Monday morning I went to my insurance company and got a liability policy. The $125 annual premium seemed low, but they explained they don’t expect the bus/RV to be driven every day so they have limited exposure.

Next I went to the courthouse to register the bus. I had already confirmed that I could register it as an RV, but there’s a matter of getting the correct weight on the title. The previous owner had registered it as a 3500-lb vehicle, and that’s obviously absurdly low. The vehicle department clerk (Ron Tozier’s wife Sandy) looked up other vehicles with similar VINs and found people registering them in the 7200 – 9000-lb range. (I love the helpful attitude in a small town.) She said she’d be happy to average them and call that the weight.

I wasn’t quite comfortable making up a weight like that, though; and I know I’ll be making a trip over the truck scale at the dump when I dispose of the ratty bus furniture anyway. So I got a 30-day tag and I’ll go back after I know the actual weight.

It Doesn’t Drive


I Bought a Bus

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

For years, I’ve been enthralled with the idea of buying an old schoolbus, ripping out the seats, and converting it approximately into an RV — a self-contained living space that I can drive down the road. While in college, I thought it should have a B/W darkroom and I should cross the country taking and printing photos; but today film is out of fashion and I’d rather it have an electronics laboratory (that’s “la-BOHR-a-tree”).

Of course, in order to persuade friends to take weekend trips with me, it should also have good audio and enough room to plug in a few guitars and a keyboard to sit around and jam.

Barring prohibitive circumstances to be described later, my dream appears to be taking shape in reality. Last week I won an auction for a half-converted former schoolbus previously owned by a university athletics fan and used as a tailgate bus. It already has the seats removed, potable and waste water tanks plumbed, and many other interesting “features.”

For starters, here are the pics from the auction listing. They’re not all interesting, but I’ll just be thorough.

First, a walk around the front of the bus:

Converted schoolbus, left front