Archive for April, 2012

First Night in the Bus

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

I’ve just come inside from my first night sleeping in the bus. It was a trial run in my own driveway to find out whether I needed anything more than the futon, a bottle of water, and a reading light in order to spend the night. Answer: I really don’t, but I learned several important things from the experience.

Backing the Bus into the Driveway

When I had the bus parked on the street in front of my house over spring break, I noticed a lot of vehicles driving by slowing down to gawk at it. Yes, it was a large obstacle parallel-parked on the street; but you can tell the difference between slowing down to get around an obstacle safely and slowing to a crawl, sometimes stopping altogether, head(s) turned to look.

Friday of that week, the police chief stopped by to visit with me about the bus. My mother worked for him when she was city office receptionist and court clerk, he’s an old friend of the family, and he’s very considerate, so this was not a stressful experience for me like it could be for some.

He came with several issues:

  • You can’t park a big purple bus on the street in front of your house. It creates a traffic hazard.
  • We’ve been receiving complaints.
  • This license plate is expired and belongs to a 1986 Chevy and you can’t move another license plate onto a bus like that.

I explained that I had the bus there to work on during spring break and that I was planning to take it back the next day, that it really is a 1986 Chevy, and that it really is currently tagged and insured but I haven’t been able to find the 2012 sticker for the license plate.

He was satisfied and sought nothing further from me; but before bringing the bus home yesterday (having initially thought I’d park it on the street overnight), I contacted the city administrator, another old acquaintance whom I deeply admire. He replied,

If your converted bus is lawfully registered, tagged, and operable, you can park it on the street. We would prefer that you don’t because it causes congestion and a potential traffic hazard. Will rely on your good sense to decide.

I appreciate the direct yet polite approach and resolved to do what I could to keep the bus off the street — which meant backing it into my driveway.

I frequently backed the bus onto the concrete pad at my brother’s property, parallel parking close to the shed — but that has a long approach and plenty of room to correct.

With the long distance behind the rear axle and the broken right-side wide-angle mirror, I was concerned about getting my angle right to back into our single-car driveway. With the long distance behind the rear axle, the doesn’t-seem-steep-in-a-car driveway and crown of the street, and my experience gouging the street with the back of the bus backing it out of my driveway, I was concerned about scraping on the way in.

The solution to both problems was getting the back wheels onto the corner of the “alluvial fan” at the bottom of my driveway while the bus was still angled, then straightening quickly. And this required a better view of the right rear wheels than I thought I had available — but I practiced backing the S-curve into my brother’s alley near where the bus parks and that went well. At home on my own driveway, I got the wheels almost exactly where I wanted them and pulled forward a bit to straighten once, though I think I wouldn’t have had to.

Lesson learned: Backing the bus takes less practice, on top of my experience backing other moderately large vehicular combinations, than I had guessed.

Preparing for Night

With the bus in position, I started readying it to sleep in. The futon had been folded flat into a queen bed and I folded it back up to a couch/twin, to see whether it would work for me to sleep on while taking up less floor space. I brought out my sleeping bag, pillow, and book, and I set up a makeshift lantern out of a secondhand 12V AGM battery and an LED panel so I’d have a reading lamp that (A) wouldn’t drain the bus’s starting battery and (B) I could turn off when I was ready to sleep without getting out of bed to go to the switch panel at the front of the bus.

Rear interior of schoolbus RV with futon

All of the purple except the sleeping bag is from the window tint, of course.

Futon and Slope

Most of this arrangement worked well, but I quickly found myself dissatisfied with the slope of the futon bench and got up to lay it flat into a queen bed again. This was an extremely important finding, because one of the things I most wanted to learn from this trial run was how I’d react to the bus being parked on non-level ground.

Purpose-built RVs have hydraulic jacks to level the RVs and stabilize them from rocking while parked. The bus doesn’t have levelling jacks, and I’ve wondered whether I’d need to add some — whether I’d mind it being parked on a slope or rocking while guests are moving around in it. The angle of the futon seat is steeper than that of any slope I’m likely to park on — but given my discomfort, I think I should at least look into the stackable levelling shims that you can set in front of your wheels and drive onto.

Lessons learned: Don’t sleep on the futon in couch configuration. Look for some means to level the bus when parked for night.


At some point during the night, I thought I noticed a smell of diesel fuel inside the bus, which doesn’t make much sense as it has a gasoline engine. This morning I figured out the only likely cause — the futon was in storage next to an armchair my uncle and aunt discarded after a kerosene jug leaked onto it during their interstate move (and my brother thought he might eventually want the chair). Easy enough — finish cleaning the futon mattress and wait it out. I also keep a package of eucalyptus in the bus and rather like the smell it imparts, even two years old.


I’ve previously used the bus’s dome lights for work lighting in the evenings and noticed them getting considerably dimmer as the evening wore on and they drained the (not huge) battery. That’s why RVs have separate starting and house batteries; but I haven’t yet set up a house battery and separate wiring.

My LED reading lamp worked very well. After an ice storm, I had previously used the same LED panel with a smaller, 7.5 Ah battery and left it shining all night with minimal dimming, so I expected good results from the lamp. It doesn’t provide as much overall illumination as the dome lights — but I intended it for task lighting, and it performed admirably. This validates my plan to use warm white LED spotlights for reading lamps.

Lesson learned: LED lamps are easily bright enough for reading and impose much less drain on the battery than the dome lights.

Outside Noise and Light

I heard quite a bit of noise from cars driving by, and once from people walking by, until I fell asleep. I actually got up at one point thinking I must have left a window open, but it was not the case. I’m surprised how little the bus attenuates external noise, and I’m not sure it’s practical to cut that down much.

Lesson learned: If parking in town, be prepared for city noises.

I also had a fair bit of light shining in, from our porch light, the neighbors’ driveway light, and cars driving by on the street. It didn’t bother me much and I’ve already intended to replace the purple window tint with mini-blinds, which give a wider range of choices for view and darkness, but it could bother some guests.

Lesson learned: Until I install blinds and a windshield screen, be prepared for light at night.

Futon, the Morning After

I normally sleep on a (firm) waterbed, and when I sleep in hotel beds or on friends’ floors in a sleeping bag, my hip joints usually hurt by morning. Sleeping on the futon was no exception; so for my own comfort, it’s fairly important to build a dedicated bunk with the right cushion for me.

This will suit my purposes anyway, as the futon is wide, taking up fully half the width of the bus even in couch configuration, and angled, making it difficult to secure to the wall for travel. A slim bunk firmly attached to floor, wall, and ceiling will meet my needs and take less space.

Lesson learned: Building a bunk will probably make the most difference for my next night in the bus.


Daily temperature graph

The orange line is the outdoor temperature, pulled from the nearest METAR station; it was about 40°F when I woke up. Outside and in the bus. And I like it. And my friends most likely to travel with me like it. And I hope to travel mainly in cool spring and fall, plus to cool altitudes, so I can expect a lot of it.

But not everyone would like it. And I know the windows rattle and don’t seal well. And the floor is thin, though the carpet helps some. One can always open windows if it’s too much warmer inside than out, so it’d be nice to tighten it up a bit. On the other hand, for this bus and how I want to use it, I don’t think a full-scale insulation job is worth the effort.

Lesson learned: Improve the weather sealing wherever feasible.

Used Carpet

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Ultimately I want to have a soft but sturdy cream-colored carpet in the bus — and yes, I’m well aware of the challenge of keeping a light-colored carpet clean in an RV. That’s actually part of what I’m interested in about it — I don’t want the bus, in spite of its humble origins, to be shabby inside. I want it to be nice inside, and I want to treat it as though it’s more like a great hotel room than a tent.

But the bus isn’t ready for great carpet until it has furniture and a bathroom and a kitchen; and I want to be using it already before all that’s done permanently; and I had some industrial carpet from a former job that (if I remember correctly) had been in service for something like a month between a roof leak that destroyed the old carpet and a planned redecoration. It’s not a great carpet; it’s better than not having carpet; it’s in reasonably good condition other than having been stored in dusty locales for a decade; and I can’t think of a better use for it than serving temporarily in the bus.

Schoolbus RV conversion interior, forward view

Over spring break I fetched the carpet and unrolled it inside the bus to start to relax out the curves from being rolled. One piece is just barely narrower than the bus and fits from the back up to the wheel wells. Another piece is almost as wide as from the starboard wall to the port side of the aisle — but I think I’ll actually splice this so I can have the whole floor covered.

It’s not really purple, nor dark mauve. It’s brown. The window tint is purple. GAHH.

Schoolbus RV conversion interior, rearward view

Looking back a day later, after rough-cutting to fit the wheel wells and carrying the futon back in (prematurely, as it’s way heavier than I remember and makes it very awkward to adjust the carpet position), you can see how the seams may come together (though without the gap between the wheel wells). And I learn that my brother has a seaming iron and some leftover tape, which is great! I can practice on this free, cheap carpet before doing the real thing.

I will need to clean the carpet — it’s a bit tacky. My best plan is to get it seamed together so it’s a little more rigid, then rent a carpet cleaner. I’m open to suggestions from anyone with experience, though.

Also open to suggestions on how to “tack” down the carpet at the edges and ends of the bus. With this one, at least, I don’t intend to go as far as using a carpet stretcher and tack strips. But I should do something at the front and back to cover the cut edges and anchor them a bit, and I haven’t yet figured out how to go about that.

Mötsenböcker’s Lift Off Latex Paint Remover

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Neighbor Dan got the front brake hoses put back on and the brakes working. In spite of another brake problem, I drove the bus to my house to work on over spring break, with the two main intentions being removing purple paint and readying the interior for carpet.

The first part of the week was non-stop rain, so the paint removal waited until Thursday. It turned out to be fairly effective but still time-consuming, so I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked.

Schoolbus covered in purple latex house paint

The bus, as you may recall, is covered in purple latex house paint. I’d like to repaint it some other color, but the latex isn’t tough enough (nor was it applied well enough) to paint over. A wire wheel on an angle grinder takes all the paint down to bare metal quickly; but I’ve been looking for an intermediate approach that would get the purple off without forcing me to immediately mask, prime, and paint the whole bus — a significant undertaking for which I’m not ready yet.

I recently searched again for a chemical product that might be effective at removing latex while preserving the underlying factory paint job and found Mötsenböcker’s Lift Off latex paint remover. It’s clearly targeted at removing latex spills that haven’t cured yet, but I figured it was worth a shot. It says it can remove latex paint from doors, tables, etc. — things from which you wouldn’t want to strip the original finish — and buried in one of its brochures is the claim that it can remove latex paint spills from cars. Still bearing in mind that it’s probably talking about fresh paint, it seemed worth a look.

I see now that it’s available through Ace Hardware, and I’ll try Graber’s for my next jug. But at the time, the only place I found it was through the Home Depot web catalog. It says it’s available for in-store pick-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s available in-store; it means you can pay the full shipping rate to have it sent to the store so you have to drive there yet to pick it up. (I don’t understand people who design web ordering systems and why they don’t spend more time shopping at Amazon.) So I paid $20 for a gallon and about $8 to have it shipped.

Schoolbus with some purple paint removed

It smells like bitter apples, it says it’s biodegradable, and it works on years-old latex paint in varying degrees. Some of the paint became as soft as a balloon and I was able to scrape it away in yard-long ribbons, making a perfect division between purple and yellow. Some of the paint didn’t seem to soften much at all. It absolutely and single-handedly made it feasible to strip the purple paint.

Several observations and tips:

  • Scrub the surface clean before you start. Lift Off over dirt just cleans the dirt and doesn’t soften the latex.
  • Put it in a spray bottle. Spray it generously onto the surface, keeping in mind that any runoff is wasted. As soon as it’s dry enough that it’s not running, spray more. My best results were in spots and during times that I was able to keep the surface damp for an hour or more through repeated application.
  • Remove anything that’s not latex before you start. I thought the black lettering was done in latex, but it didn’t soften at all and it prevented the Lift Off from working on the purple paint underneath. I later removed the black paint with a scrubby-abrasive disk on my drill and the Lift Off mostly worked on the purple under it.
  • Don’t expect to scrub the paint off with a sponge or brush. The softest parts came off nicely using a razor scraper. The medium parts came off poorly using a razor scraper. The tough parts came off poorly using the abrasive disk and the drill — but less poorly than without Lift Off.
  • Its effectiveness varied dramatically across different areas, and I haven’t figured out why. It doesn’t seem to correlate directly to sun damage to the latex — the paint on the window stiles is tougher than the paint on the body panels.
  • It does appear to have slightly softened the yellow paint, though not so much as to concern me for my purposes.
  • It was well worth my expense and I expect to use at least two more gallons, on the other side and on the roof.
  • Be responsible and pick up your latex paint. Latex is not a biohazard and Lift Off is biodegradable, so household trash disposal should be fine.

Sanding Away “The Landing Strip”

Schoolbus with former owner's logo

I want the bus to be innocuous and not draw attention from vandals; nor turn KSU rivals into vandals; nor draw undue attention from law enforcement, who have a tough job to do, have stressful encounters all day, and can create stress and take up a lot of time even when one is meticulously abiding by the law. So in addition to wanting to be rid of the purple paint, I’ve been eager to get all of the lettering off as soon as possible.

Schoolbus front-end header, sanded

While waiting for one application of Lift Off to do its magic, I climbed up onto the housing aft of the hood and sanded the name off of the header above the windshield. It was more black paint, so it had to come off for the Lift Off to work (next time); and it’s good to have it gone already.