Friday, October 31, 2014

Ok, so we have a bus. Now what?

We have officially secured a spot to park the bus! Where we can work on converting it, even!  The spot is great.  It is on our route home from work and it's "off the beaten path".  By this I mean that it is parked in a trucking/trailer storage yard where it seems acceptable to bang a hammer on things, saw stuff in half, and generally make a ruckus. 

Snug in it's spot between a boat and an RV!
Now all we need to do is acquire all of the tools to start the build.  There is no power in the storage lot, so we need a generator for construction juice.  Luckily, I found a good deal on a 4000 watt generator on craigslist. Aside from having some of the tools already (hand tools, circular saw, sawzall), we have acquired a few important additions like an 18v impact driver (worth its weight in gold) and an angle grinder. 
The impact driver rules!
As much as we want to start the build, we realize that we need to create plans before we start. This means designing a floor layout, measuring dimensions, drawing electrical and plumbing diagrams, general research on how to actually turn a bus into a tiny house, and photo-shopping various color schemes for the outside of the bus. This all very fun, but we can't wait to get started on actually building this thing!

We have both used Sketchup in the past as a software platform to make some plans, but Cammy found a program called Sweethome 3D, which we both found easier for making basic floor plans.  We've been brainstorming some ideas for the layout and I think we have finally come to a consensus.  While most bus-convertors create a small, closed-off bedroom in the back of the bus, we decided we wanted a more open floor plan where we could see from front to back with no tall walls.  Therefore, we have decided to scrap the back bedroom and instead leave open space in the back for the huskies to be able to spread out, and for general lounging and other shenanigans.   
The layout when we got the bus (before taking exact measurements). Not bad, but not quite what we wanted!
We also decided on a few other features.  We want to move the existing passenger seat up next to the drivers seat, we want to shorten the wrap around dinette and convert to a small wooden booth, we want a decent sized bathroom (which we have decided to move all the way to the back of the bus were it will have wrap around windows), we want to extend the kitchen counters by a foot, we want to shorten the width of the couch to create more floor space, and we want a designated a place next to the kitchen where we can install a wood burning stove.  We plan to take this buffalo of a bus off-grid, and we don't want no stinking electric heater!  Besides, I've lived with enough baseboard heaters in my life that if I live with one more, I might smash it to pieces.  In the layout below, the woodstove is just left of the stove.
One of the various layout configurations we made in Sweethome 3D. This one is just a draft, we've since changed where we wanted the bathroom and closet to be. The passenger side of the bus we think is going to be very similar to how it is here though.
Other interesting ideas for the bus include installing a horse-trough style galvanized tub in the bathroom (we are thinking of enclosing the tub by building a stone/tile platform all around ), possibly using slabs of beetle-kill pine from Colorado as our kitchen countertops, installing a composting toilet, and setting up a complete solar system that should appease Ra, the sun god. 

One inspiration for our tub. From tinyhouseswoon.com
So, after brainstorming, drawing up some initial plans, and inspecting the interior of our bus, we are starting to realize that the beginning phase of our build isn't actually going to be a build at all. Rather, it is going to be more of a mission of deconstruction/destruction.  Ultimately, we are going to tear everything out of the bus including the carpet, the subfloor, and most of the existing walls and furniture and start from scratch.  Stay tuned for Cammy smashing things with a hammer and kicking down walls!

Tree casualties. From Liftopia.com

Beetle kill pine end product.  From sustainablelumber.com
Beetle kill pine products are an interesting option. In case you don't know, beetle kill pine is the result of the mountain pine beetle (MPB) (Dendroctonus ponderosae) epidemic that has wreaked havoc on millions of acres of pine forests (especially ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine) in Colorado and elsewhere.  This epidemic is the result of  extensive summer drought, high tree stand densities, and warmer winters that have allowed for greater survival of MPB and has facilitated their destruction.  Take that climate change opponents! These beetle kills result in huge swaths of dead tree stands, and it has opened a market for salvage logging. The logging removes dead trees from the forest and the resulting timber can still be milled and used for lumber.  Actually, beetle kill pine (aka blue stain pine) is a gorgeous wood with rich, bluish, swirling colors that are caused by a fungus (Grosmannia clavigera) that infests the wood as a result of beetles boring the wood and allowing the fungus be introduced.  Beetle kill wood products are structurally sound and can be used in many applications.  Plus, the wood looks cool!

Whole hillside of beetle kill.  From Liftopia.com

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Over the Mountains, Through the Woods to the Poudre Canyon We Go

After boondocking at Taos Ski Valley, we coasted down the mountain, back to Taos and headed north along Highway 522 towards Fort Garland, Colorado.  The road between Taos and Questa, NM was a fun drive up and down a series of rolling, pinyon and juniper covered hills.  Driving these hills tested my "bus-driver-man" skills.  My strategy: keep my foot to the floor and creep up each hill at 30 mph and then fly down until nearing the bottom of the hill and then slam the gas pedal (diesel pedal?) to the floor again.   It must have been fun for Cammy following behind in the Outback.

Homeward bound!
I think the huskies appreciated not being crammed in the back the Subaru.  Kanook sprawled out on the floor next to me, and only once tried to push me out of the drivers seat.  Kita, on the other hand, found a dark corner in the back and disappeared.

Huskies travel in luxury.
The trip was pretty uneventful until we got up by Walsenburg, Colorado.  Despite leaking oil from the air compressor pump (it needs a new gasket, a pretty simple fix), having to check the oil every few hours, and slugging up the steep grades; the bus purred like a big kitten.  A big, 7 ton, brick shaped kitten that is. The motor is a 7.3 IDI International diesel.  They didn't start putting turbos on these things until the 90's, so while they pull just about anything, they won't do it with much speed.  When not trucking up a steep hill, our bus seemed to coast pretty well at around 55 to 60 mph.  I expect that it should get close to 10 mpg, which, for a 7 ton brick travelling 60 mph, is pretty good.  This is also one of the reasons we chose diesel over gas.  That, and these diesel motors, when maintained, are pretty bullet proof. Plus, we can always fill up on veggie oil at the local Chinese restaurant.

Next, we pulled over at a rest stop north of Walsenburg where we waited out an early-autumn thunderstorm and found out that (1) strong wind sways that bus back and forth and is actually quite lulling, and (2) we don't seem to have any major leaks in the bus, except for the front windshield  :( .   Nothing a little silicon can't take care of.  After the storm, we cruised through Pueblo and to Colorado Springs when it started to storm again.  This is when we naively discover that while the bus was sitting unused in New Mexico for 4 years, so were the dry rotted old wiper blades.  Imagine driving a great white elephant of bus while looking though distorted glass in Sunday afternoon traffic on I-25.  So we pulled over to find that locating flat wipers for a 1988 bus isn't so easy.  After an hour and half of "retrofitting" the old Subaru wipers and Rain-Xing the windshield, we re-embarked.  It never rained again, of course.
The cockpit for the bus-driver-man!

The bus slid right through Denver traffic like a river otter on a slip and slide.  It seriously handled great, and was a blast to drive.  Now we just need to install and stereo and a passenger seat and the flying brick will be truly road trip ready! 

We stopped somewhere near Loveland and cooked some spaghetti on the stove.  Yes, the stove works great!  During this stopover, we also discovered an amazing feat for the 1996 Subaru Outback with almost a quarter of a million miles on it.  When following a lumbering school bus, it gets 37 miles to the gallon!  Drafting is not just for Nascar fans anymore folks. 

So, after a potty break for the huskies it was to Fort Collins, up the Poudre Canyon, through the woods, and home.  We arrived close to midnight, and decided it was too dark, and too late to try backing the bus down the 500 foot long driveway, so I decided to just pull in head first and deal with it in the morning.  This is about the time when we discovered that we hadn't trimmed that elm tree far enough back after all.  Luckily, the rear view mirror on the bus is made of some sort of high quality steel, despite the rustiness.  The noise of the tree screeching on the mirror was pretty horrific, especially at midnight, in the pitch dark.  But, no damage done and additional proof that the bus is truly a beast.  It showed that elm tree who was boss!  Take that invasive tree!

In the morning, we decided not to park the bus in front of the cabin.  Apparently we are not the first cabin dwellers to have a bus.  One of the last renters had parked an old school bus in the back yard, by the river, where a tree had spent a decade growing up through the bottom of it.  We learned this from our neighbor while drinking boxed wine the previous weekend. We thought we would spare our neighbors the flashbacks and drove it down to a storage yard in the morning, where we would begin the conversion.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

New Mexico Awaits - Boondocking, Beer, and Bringing the Bus Home

We found our bus on craigslist. In New Mexico. 430 miles away. We called them up and discussed the features and details of the bus, and based on what we had seen locally it seemed perfect from afar. We decided to take a road trip!

We left Fort Collins on Friday evening after work. Huskies loaded, camping gear loaded, we departed. It was a long road down I-25, through Denver, through Colorado Springs, past Pueblo, until it was time to find a place to camp. Erik and I love camping, and the huskies love it even more. With our awesome Subaru Outback (1996!) we can all four comfortably sleep in the back. So when it is cold or when tent camping is not an option, we do just that. This night, it was near Raton Pass and just past Trinidad, CO, along the railroad track frontage road. We got in late, and went to sleep.

We were in no hurry the next morning, as we weren't supposed to meet the bus' owners until afternoon. In the morning light, a little ghost town up the hill from where we were camped became apparent. We could see a church and some cabins, so we decided to explore! The huskies tried to make "friends" with cows (from a distance), and when we came across "no trespassing" signs they were facing the wrong way....oops. We learned later that this is the "Cima" ghost town that was a late 1800s railroad stop and coal mining town. It peaked in the 1920s and had about 600 residents. In 1909 an explosion killed over 300 miners, and it was considered the worst man-made disaster in the U.S. at the time. And a K-rail makes a great table for making breakfast!
St Aloysius Church in Cima Ghost Town, Morley, CO
Another view of the church

Cima, CO as it was circa 1930-1945, photographer unknown. Note church in top right!
The couple we met in New Mexico were from Seattle, and they were moving back there and couldn't take the bus. After 3 hours of details and driving and insurance and mechanical info, we had a bus!!

Inside of the bus - already converted to basic living space.
We left Rowe, NM around 4pm, and made it to Taos, NM. We enjoyed a beer at the brewery and celebrated our purchase. We were actually doing this!!!

That night we "boondocked" in a ski resort parking lot after lumbering up a mountain at 20 mph. Our intent was to climb New Mexico's highest peak, Wheeler Peak, the next day, but after realizing it was going to take us a long time to get home in the bus we left the mountain for another day.

Morning coffee in the newly-acquired bus.
The bus!
Next: Home!

It Begins

Exploring a Colorado ghost town with the huskies
Hi! We are Cammy and Erik, and we're building a tiny house bus.

The bus! The day we bought it.

Fact about the bus:
Acquired October 10th, 2014
33 feet long bumper to bumper
23 feet of living space inside (behind the driver's seat)
Originally sat 44 passengers
Diesel 7.3 engine
Allison transmission
6.5 foot ceilings (tall, for a bus!)

Kanook on the left and Kita on the right, traveling in luxury (in bus).

Facts about the huskies:
Nikita is all white and 7 years old (she goes by Kita)
Kanook is red and white and 6 years old
They are very snuggly
They shed a lot
Kanook likes to sing (he is very loud)

Erik and Cammy!

Facts about us:
Cammy is a geologist
Erik is a wildlife biologist
Cammy has climbed 18 Colorado 14ers (mountains above 14,000ft tall)
Erik plays the mandolin

The bus will be our house, and we intend to make it feel like one. It is not a hippie bus, nor an RV, it is a tiny house!