Procuring a Replacement Rear Door

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Water Pump Repair Attempt #2: Silicone

July 14th, 2009

I had previously reglued my cracked water pump with superglue, and it was still spraying water out of this area while pumping.

Cracked pump case

Initially I thought I was trying to repair the pump just for fun — and I still mostly am. But when I window-shopped for replacement pumps and found them in the $70-150 price range, I thought I might try a little harder to fix it, especially since I’ll want a bigger pump when I install a shower but I’m not ready to figure it out and shop for it yet.

The plastic collar that bolts to the motor should stay dry during normal operation — a rubber gasket press-fits between that piece and the three-dome-shaped housing where the water flows.

Crack in pump case

I had superglued that horizontal crack (which is vertical in the previous picture), but it’s still (or again) open. For repair attempt #2, I scraped off the superglue, then undercut a groove along the crack below the lip, to have more room and surface area for RTV to take hold.

Cracked pump case with silicone RTV sealer

There’s actually about as much RTV behind the edge as there is in front, and it seems to hold pretty well. The mating edge of the rubber gasket is chamfered, so the RTV here doesn’t interfere with the gasket.

Cured, reassembled, and reinstalled, the leak has been slowed from a spray to a dribble. Seems like it’s worth another cleaning and seal attempt to see if I can catch the last bit of leak.

A Song for the Bus

July 12th, 2009

Stripping paint on a schoolbus

Acetone, my friend
You scrub the paint so easy
You poor old solv, you see it’s only practical to use you on small areas darn it

Replacing the Toilet Supply Line

July 7th, 2009

More work with Lawrence, or I should say, byLawrence, this weekend.

Leaking RV toilet supply line

When I filled the water supply tank and turned on the pump, a beautiful sheet of water jetted out from the top of the toilet supply line. My camera could not do it justice.

The bus’s sink is plumbed from the water pump with black hose. White cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) runs from the water pump to the rear of the bus, where it inexplicably coupled to more black hose that ran up to the toilet. The black hose had split open all along the top of its curve, hence the effect above.

Lawrence has recently built a proper shower in his basement and is converting his household plumbing to PEX, so he had tubing and supplies on hand. I cut off the crimp fittings, he donated a few feet of blue PEX and more crimp fittings, and he reconnected the toilet so it no longer leaks. It can be filled with water, flushed, and everything!

Came in very handy for wringing out my dishrag while scrubbing grunge off the cookstove.


None, to me. I later saw about the same length of PEX at Graber’s Ace for $2.50; Lawrence’s would have cost less in bulk. The fittings might have been another $1-2.

Water Pump Repair Attempt #1: Epoxy

July 7th, 2009

A couple of weekends ago I filled up the bus’s (nominally) fresh water tank. (Never mind all the grossness; it’ll get cleaned before I drink from it, but I have to start somewhere.)

RV fresh water pump mounted to wall of battery compartment

It didn’t take long to notice the water leaking from the lower end of the pump and dripping back down the line from the tank. Hand-tightening the lower (supply) fitting increased the rate of leakage.

For perspective, the tank is out of view above the camera, the white plastic ring is the fill neck and the clear tube and galvanized pipe are the fill lines, the pump is bolted to the aft end of the battery compartment, and the black hose from the top of the pump curves off to the left and then up into the bus to the sink.

RV fresh water pump with cracked housing

I drained the tank, removed the pump, brought it home, and cleaned it,

Crack in RV fresh water pump housing

at which point the problem was much more obvious in good light.

RV fresh water pump, top part of case removed

Out of curiosity, I opened the pump to see where all and how badly it was cracked.

Broken RV fresh water pump housing

Ah, pretty badly, then, eh.

Broken RV fresh water pump housing

Since it looked fairly easy to clean the broken edges, I was further curious whether plastic-repair epoxy would do any good. I scrubbed the broken ends with a wire brush, then mixed up and applied the epoxy. I clamped it up to cure overnight.

Cracked RV fresh water pump housing

Meanwhile, the housing was also cracked in a couple of different places. I epoxied it, clamped it up, and let it set overnight as well.

Glued RV fresh water pump housing

Upon reassembly, the glued cracks did appear to hold together.

Still leaking

But still it leaks.

Looking at how it’s built and where the water is coming out, I think it’s leaking out that large crack that goes circumferentially past the screw. Maybe a thin coat of RTV on the inside of the housing would stop the leak?

This repair is mainly for entertainment, mind you. But if it gets me by until I get the shower built and require a higher-capacity pump, so much the better.

Gas Stove

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


June 21st, 2009

Filthy rear area of schoolbus

Pick the grossest, nastiest, filthiest job you have available …

Scooba floor cleaner in aft starboard area of schoolbus

And give it to a robot.

Scooba floor cleaner in aft port area of schoolbus

Scooba ran like a champ for me all weekend, with the bus parked on the street in front of my house.

Scooba floor cleaner in aft port area of schoolbus

I’d go out every hour or so to check on it, empty the tank and refill cleaning solution, and/or change the battery. The dirty water I poured out was absolutely inky black.

Aft port area of schoolbus as cleaned by Scooba

I’m sure I could continue to get black water through many more cleaning cycles, but Scooba has done a very nice job of making the back end of the floor not look awful, with relatively little effort on my part.

Bathroom area of partially converted schoolbus

I did pitch in by hand with bathroom cleaner on the toilet and the tile floor.

Automotive Window Motor for Power Bus Door?

June 20th, 2009

Converted schoolbus, rear door

Currently if the bus is closed, I have to open the heavy rear door to get in.

Converted schoolbus, right front interior

I don’t have a good picture of just the door, but the rod going horizontally across from the handle in the center of the bus to the door (hidden behind the cabinet) mechanically holds the door closed (by design) when the handle is latched in the closed position. As long as the handle stays latched, you can’t open the main passenger door from the outside.

With my highly-skilled momentum technique, I can close the front door from the outside so I don’t have to walk around, open the rear door, walk through, close the front door, walk around, and reclose the rear door; but once done, I then have to do the hokey-pokey to get back in.

I’d really like to be able to lock the passenger door and have a way to get in from the outside. And unlike many other bus-RV converters, I really don’t want to replace the bus door with an RV door — I’m not out to hide the fact that the vehicle started life as a bus. Until I have good reason to feel otherwise, I’d like to keep the accordion-fold door.

I’d love to motorize the door and add electronic entry — although at least in the long term, I need to have a purely mechanical way to get in, as backup in case something goes wrong with the motor.

Automotive Power Window Motor

Automotive power window motor assembly

“Neighbor Dan” has a pile of removed auto parts in the corner of his shop, and a guy comes by occasionally to haul the pile to a scrapyard. Dan has offered me anything I want out of the pile, and he says he has three more of these power window motors that I haven’t found yet. I’ll keep digging.

I don’t know that this is the motor to use for my power door, but it bears consideration.

Automotive power window motor assembly, opened

It looks pretty obvious why it was replaced — the cable is all messed up and broken where it wraps around the spool.

Automotive power window motor

With the jammed-up cable spool taken care of, the output shaft spins at almost two rotations per second. That’s a little fast if I were going to attach it directly to the door-opening handle or use it to replace the handle altogether. If I were to do that, I might use pulse-width modulation (PWM) to slow it down.

The motor coil resistance is 1Ω or less, so the motor draws at least an amp and I’d need a pretty hefty FET to drive it. (A compensating factor is that the motor would normally have a pretty short duty cycle, so the FET wouldn’t have long to heat up.)

Alternatively, I could use the motor with the spool and cable (maybe one of the others isn’t as messed up) and use a larger pulley / spool on the handle end to “gear down” the rotational speed.

I’ve considered that I could remove the manual handle, do away with the connecting rod, and fabricate an entirely new means to close the door. But as it’s constructed now, the rod does double-duty closing the door and “locking” it shut once closed. If I did away with it, I’d have to recreate that functionality on my own.

I’m Open to Something Completely Different

If someone knows of a better way to lock and unlock a bus front door from the outside, or motorize an accordion-fold door, I’m all ears.

Converting a Standard Windshield Wiper Blade to Fit the Bus

June 20th, 2009

The windshield wiper blades on the bus are in very bad shape and hardly move around the water on the windshield at all, as I experienced this morning on the way to the dump.

Standard automotive and schoolbus windshield wiper blades

The bus blades use a different means of attaching to the wiper arms than do standard automotive blades. The bus wiper arms each have a hole in the end and a large, ridged washer welded to the blade side of the arm.

Bus windshield wiper blade attachment mechanism

The blade attachment mechanism has a captive bolt that goes through the hole in the wiper arm and an acorn nut to hold it in place. The bolt both holds the blade on the arm and — through friction with the ridged washer — sets the angle between the arm and the blade (which need not be colinear).

I think if I removed the welded-on washer, the wiper arm might fit the clip on a standard blade, without this mechanism. That would eliminate the ability to set the angle of the blade, though; and I do have the blade at a slightly different angle than the arm. I may consider knocking off the washer in the future, rather than continue to modify standard wiper blades.

Standard windshield wiper blade, attachment clip removed

(My local) Autozone doesn’t have wiper blades to fit the bus attachment type, so I modified a Rain-X blade. Mr. Negative at Autozone suggested duct tape and said no matter what I did it would look stupid. I believe the psychological term for his behavior is “projection.”

The first step was removing the stock clip that snap-fits onto the center post.

Dremel cut-off wheel and windshield wiper blade

Then I cut and removed the post.

New windshield wiper blade retrofitted with bus wiper arm attachment mechanism

The post’s holes were just the right size for the bus clip’s blade-to-clip bolt. I tightened the nylon-insert lock nut enough to squeeze the new blade’s walls down almost to the width of the bus clip, to reduce lateral and angular play.

New windshield wiper blade retrofitted with bus wiper arm attachment mechanism

The modified blade fits and works perfectly. Stupid indeed.

Engine Cleaning

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