Friday, April 28, 2017

Breaking the Silence

It has been a long time since I have written.   The reason for this is I unfortunately allowed something cataclysmic to occur.  The weather is beginning to warm up, even here in the Land of Ice and Snow.  I have been able to do some work outside and am really to the point where if I have some precut parts with me, I can do quite a bit of work inside inside the van itself.   I haven’t really been using my borrowed shop nearly as much.  But two weeks ago some things kinda had to come together.  I had to make a real push to get some insulation on the walls for the next step to happen.  The poly-iso foam can be installed in pretty much in any conditions but according to the label on the Great Stuff expanding foam it works best warm.   I went to the shop.

It was in that process of getting ready to cut the insulation I discovered a problem.   It was a problem severe enough it had to be fixed, but my parts inventory told me I didn’t have what it would take.  I couldn’t run the furnace.   I checked the clock first, but it was almost ten pm.  I didn’t figure Johnny Menard, cheap bastard that he is, kept the stores open even that late.  Though it had been warmer the days before, this night was just over freezing.  No two ways around it, I was sleeping in the shop for the night.

I finished up my insulation job, including the seam-line between the body frame and the bed.  Doing that required me to move my bed to the van floor.   Once I got that placed I set up a fan on top of a small box, blowing up and into the van.   I figured it would be good to circulate some fresh shop air rather than let the fumes from the expanding foam build up.   I suppose it was one thirty a.m. or so by the time I really got bedded down.  That is where I slept.   Sprawled out on the floor of a cargo van inside a big woodshop.

It’s funny.   It was a a restless night of sleep.  I wasn’t used to being there.  I have been sleeping in the van and I felt sort of uneasy in the big-ness of the room.  I woke up several times on my own.  The shop is in a multi tenant industrial building.  Right next door there is a small wood product manufacturing shop.   In fact, the walls don’t even go all the way up to the ceiling, there is about a six foot gap just covered by a layer of plastic.  So it was from that shop at 4am I heard the opening and slamming of the door.   Lights flipped on and the shop lite up.  My shop lite up too.  I could hear the man who came in swearing and throwing things around.  I don’t what was going wrong over there but he sure wasn’t happy to be there.  About six am the rest of the workforce came in.   There was a whole bunch more yelling and swearing.   I continued to be restless until 7am when my alarm went off.  It was a rough night.

I laid there for a moment.   Moaned some profanity of my own and drug my ass up.   I put the fan away.  Since I displaced a bunch of stuff when I moved my bed to the van floor I had to throw all that stuff inside.   I unplugged and coiled up my extension cord and got that stashed inside and slammed closed the back doors.   It was precisely at that moment the door of the shop opened and a woman stepped inside.

Had it been Satan himself that walked through that door at that moment, I suppose it would have been worse.   Right off hand that is the only thing I can think of.   In fact in many ways that would have been better.   At least I could have have gotten to use the punch line of the funniest (clean) joke I know, “…Aye, I’m not scared of you, I’ve been married to your sister for twenty years now…”

No, instead it was the owner of the shop.  She was there early to check on some boxes that had arrived two days before.  Now if it would have been fifteen minutes earlier I would have still been asleep.   I guess that would have been worse as well.   Anyway, there was some explaining to do.   I used the story I had previously devised.  That I was dropping off some insulation for my friend.  But she was relentless of course.  I never have done well under the direct questioning of an angry woman.  I had to own up as the owner of the tools stashed over in the corner of the shop as well.  For that, saying I was storing my stuff there as I helped a dude remodel his kitchen.  

It wasn’t a lot of fun.  But in all of that of course it was *way* worse for my friend.  The guy who had lent me don’t ask/don’t tell access to a shop that wasn’t technically his to lend.  It was a week between that morning of the wakeup and his meeting with the boss.  He admitted to me later that day I had gotten him into a lot of trouble and of course I feel terrible about that.

I had tried to be pretty small foot print.  I didn’t even turn up the heat the nights I was there.  —One of the attributes of living here in the Land of Ice and Snow is your body gets to think fifty degrees is a great working temperature.   I will admit to the guilty pleasure of arriving one night to find the thermostat accidentally left set at seventy.  I couldn’t help that could I?  Well, I enjoyed that night with a  smile on my face and I turned it down in the morning.

I really shouldn’t have kept anything stashed there.   It was foolish of me to think it wouldn’t have been observed.  It took so long to load and unload and it was hard to live in the van I was working in.  Laziness and naivety on my part.

But here is the rub though. The one crazy element of this whole story…  The shop, in its primary purpose, is to build advertising for sustainable and low impact living.   I am building a 63 square foot, solar powered, self sustaining living space to be used inside an urban area.   I grant you, I wasn’t supposed to be there.  But how much closer to their mission statement, and putting my money where their mouth is, could I be?  

I know that’s what hooked my friend, back on that first day, when I ran into him in a bar and told him my story.  It’s what hooks everyone who thinks about more than themselves. I am doing something environmental people dream about. To varying degrees, whether it even be wishful thinking, they aspire to.  Living part of their lives in a small footprint off the grid.  This growing technological ability is the cause we all fight for instead of a big paycheck.   I feel bad for my friend and for everyone who gets in trouble for something they believe in.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Drinking and Lighting

I was sitting on a friend’s sofa the other night, drinking a beer (to her beers) telling her about my van project.   She was casually interested of course.   We have been friends for a few years and she is used to my strange ideas.  It wasn’t until I said to her, “..and, if I want to see a band or something, I could find someplace to park the van close by the bar and just plan to sleep there overnight after the show.”   Dawning realization spread over her face as she thought of the drinking implications of such a vehicle.   I thought I was going to have to promise to loan it out on weekends before I even have it done!

The correctly wired shunt.  Wired now to the negative side of
the battery.  Also, note the red heat shrink tubing around the
white conductor.  DC electrical circuits use red (positive)
and black for negative.  The red wrap reminds me these white
and black wires should really be thought of as red.
I had a great night of working on the van tonight.   Lots of things are finally coming together.

First off, before I did anything else, I rewired my mistake.   In the last article I mentioned I realized I had wired something wrong.   I was reading the instructions after I had already installed it and wired it in.   Dumb.   I am just glad I realized it myself and didn’t have to write into their support email.    That would have made me feel REALLY dumb.   Anyway, I got that part wired correctly now.   The photo shows you the correct wiring.   The shunt (thin metal bar) you are reading the amperage across must be placed on the negative side of the battery, wired directly directly before the battery itself.   I am glad I noticed that and the fix didn’t require too many changes.

I have begun the general wiring of the van.   Here I decided to cut a corner.  For the last two houses my family has moved to, we have moved with us, ninety feet of a one hundred foot spool of wire I bought about 25 years ago.   I needed about ten feet for a job I was doing right at that moment.   I had plans that would consume another fifty feet in a few months.   So, I went ahead and bought the hundred footer.   Then of course the later project went another direction.   It is heavy duty 10-3 with ground solid core wire.   What this means for the non-wire geeks out there, is three fairly large diameter wires that will each carry 12 volts, with a fourth wire that will be attached to the negative side of the battery.   —Also known as the “ground”.   But these wires are thick and solid wire very hard to bend.  If I was buying new wire I would be buy stranded (many thin wires bundled together) and flexible.   If I was buying wire, I would buy stranded because it would be much easier to work with.  But I already own this wire and I really didn’t want to move it again.

Running the wire through the unibody frame.
What is crazy to me is, though I have been wiring stuff for years.   Running wire all the way across a big old house, I don’t very often need thick wire.   Exactly once in my twenty five years, running from a sub panel to a hot tub have I had to have wire this thick.   But here, in this little tiny van, using a heavy gauge wire really makes a difference.   The reason for that is voltage.   Electricity moves much easier through thick wire than thin due to something called resistance.  It takes push to move electricity through a wire.   In your house, you have 110 volt.   Lots of push.   Thin wires are fine.   Here in the van I have 12 volts.   Not much push.   So thicker wire makes it easier for the low voltage electricity to pass through the wire and not get bogged down in resistance.    

But the wire thickness makes it really hard to bend around and get shoved through the areas it needs to.   I have a friend stopping by the shop tomorrow looking into building a table for me.   I need to remember to ask him to help me pull the cable through one spot.   I am running the wire through the frame above the side door and popping them out of the frame hole in front of the bulkhead.   It is easy to accidentally shred the insulation around the wire on the sharp edges of the frame.   The prevents me from just pulling hard from the bulkhead.   But pushing it I can only move it about two inches, then …out the side door, in the front door, give the wire a tug and it moves two inches, out the front door, in the side door, push wire, repeat.  Instead this could be a thirty second four-hand job, me pushing, him pulling.

That wire will be the cabin lights, the 12 volt plug-in and four outlet USB plug-in that will be built into the table and a 12 volt plugin at the foot of the bed where the TV will plug in.   On the other (doorless) side of the van, running the wire was much easier.   So I have the wire run that will power the furnace, refrigerator, and kitchen lights.   I will still need to get power run to the places I will install ceiling fans.

Fuse holder sans fuse.
But at the moment anyway, all this wire running is a moot point.   Someplace in my house, or in my van, or in my cubical or perhaps somewhere in between these three points I have lost the Baomain ANL-50A fuses I bought.   I had them.   I looked at them.  As far as a fuse looking cool, I gotta say they looked cool.  But that was the Amazon order I received back in January.   It is now March and I have no idea where them rascals have got to.   From what I read, I felt like fuses would be a better solution than a breaker between the inverter and the batteries as well as each end of the wire between the house batteries and the engine battery.  There is a surge of power that have to be able to pass through at times for it to work as designed.   These surges might trip a breaker but the fuse lets it work.  

Anyway, the fuse holders I got.  The fuses I ain’t.   Damn.   

One of the 4-awg battery
connectors.  Hammered to
cinch onto the wire. 
The missing fuses mean I can’t test the inverter/charger, nor can I really use the 12 volt system because I have no way to recharge the batteries.  My secondary battery charging method (running the engine) relies on the same fuses along with a couple of other bits I haven’t purchased yet.   Until I find them (I am holding out hope) or I find a local supplier I am at a bit of a standstill.

I am getting close to being done with the infrastructure part of the wiring job, at least until the solar panels come in.   One last task I have is to install something called a battery isolator under the hood, close to the engine battery.   What this isolator does is lets electricity flow from the alternator on the engine, to charge the house batteries.   When the engine is off though it disconnects.  That way no matter how wild of party I throw in the back, I won’t drain my engine starting battery.   I won’t be stranded.

Something I plan on doing a little different.  Something I haven’t seen on anyone else’s van project is I am going to put a bypass on the battery isolator.  I know some people will say I could just wire the battery isolator to a switch on the dash.  I flip the switch, and it closes the relay on the isolator.   I had one setup like this in a green 1973 Chevy Caprice Classic back in the day. I had two batteries setup in it so I could listen to the radio all day on the starting battery, flip a switch and self-jump.   It failed. But there was no real way to know it had failed until you *really* need it to work.   Then you find out the solenoid has been stuck in the off position.   What I am going to do in this van is mount a 50 amp switch like I have in the back as my main switch, on to the dash.  I will wire it in parallel to the isolator to act as a bypass.   This will allow me to jump start the van from the house batteries in case I leave the headlights on. —Something way more likely than me having a wild party in the back.

A question I am routinely asked is why Six volt batteries?   Here are the reasons.   They are lighter (each —combined they are actually heavier) so doing battery maintaince, moving them around is easier.   They are cheaper to build the same amp/hr configurations.   They have half the number of cells (3 vs 6)   So less work to maintain, check water levels etc.   There is another factor I have read about but am not sure I understand.   So, please fact check me before you go deciding on this point’s behalf.   That point is the number of parallel connections are fewer and for this reason you will have fewer long term problems.   I think the point of this is when you are using two twelve volt batteries, you hook the two positive polls together, and the two negative polls together, there are two parallel connections.   I have gotten the feeling in my research that parallel connections are more trouble in some way.   Maybe they corrode more?   Anyway, I have carried the bucket this far, do your own research from this point forward.

I did a fair amount of shopping around when I was looking into what batteries to buy.  The industry leader is a company named Trojan and that is what I eventually ended up going with.  The reason for this is four days a week this is my primary residence and six months a year it is a frozen wasteland just outside of the metal skin of the van.  But if you are willing to take some chances, you can save some money. 

Batteries are also available at Costco.  And, frankly, I really would have liked to have purchased them from this company.   They pay their workers much better wages.   The CEO is taking a pretty modest salary.   They seem to be quite an ethical labor company.   Stacked on top of my moral obligations,  these batteries are quite a bit cheaper than other “name” brands.    The trouble is they are Costco branded, but manufactured by any number of companies.  You can get quite a sense of this if you read product reviews.   Some people say they are great.   Other people say they suck.   I am guessing they are both right.   This month company X might be building and labelling Costco batteries, but next month it is company Y.    Company Y might be quite a bit different in the quality of battery they manufacture.   

In my profession they used say “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.   I am in a cold climate.   I am going to be away from my van three to four days a week, really wanting it to be fully functional when I return to it.   I wanted that security.   I suggest you look at your situation.   If you don’t live in a battery-failure-causes-death-by-frostbite state, I suggest you give those Costco batteries a serious look.   Odds are still in favor of you getting a good set and when you do, you will have paid just a little over half what I did.

From the customer review research I did the only battery that came even close to the Trojan was the Superior Par One.  They have some thicker lead plate technology Trojan doesn’t use.  From what I read that makes their battery ….if you pardon me the play on words, superior.   I contacted the company through their web site and found a local dealer.   I contacted the dealer and told the sales droid I was interested in either the Trojan or Superior and asked for a price.

Here is the reply I got:

Thanks for the request!  We stock the T-105 and two options from US Battery for your application.  These are an excellent quality battery that is designed to deliver great run time and last for many years.  The US Battery product is our main stocking inventory and offers a step up in quality to the Trojan or Superior Battery.

I have a few problems with this.   First off, I never told him what my application was so this is a form letter reply.   Second, it is tough to find a good product review for US Battery.   It seems like they have a lot of unhappy customers.  I suspect he makes a great commission though.   I decided I didn’t want to deal with that company and that was Superior’s one shot.

Now lets talk about the batteries themselves.  What I will be using is called a deep cycle battery.   It is different than the battery in your car which is made to discharge the maximum amount of power over a short period of time to run the electric motor that starts the gasoline engine of your car.   If your car is in good running condition usually this is a pretty quick process.  Even if you have to crank it a few times on a cold day, you don’t really take much charge off the battery, maybe only five or ten percent.   Then, once the car has started, the battery is immediately charged right back up.  But say for instance your car doesn’t want to start right away, so you keep cranking.   Or, maybe you leave the lights on while you are off in the pub.   You can drain out the battery this way.  In battery lingo this is called a deep cycle.  A deep discharge.    Your car battery can do this a couple of times but if you do it several times, the battery is ruined.

The batteries I am installing are specifically made to be discharged more than your car battery.  Still though, the more I discharge them, the harder it is on them.   The shorter their lifespan.  If I discharge them down to 50% of their capacity each time, they will last about 1200 charges.   If I discharge them to the maximum, 80% of their total charge they will last about 750 cycles.   I would like to shoot for closer to 50.

I will start getting some of my thoughts in here about solar panels.   That will kind of be the next phase of the project.   To that end, financing has already begun.   I sent out an email to my four children a summary of their iTunes spending since I billed them last.   Telling them it was time they paid the piper.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Attaching the Risers

The bulkhead plywood got attached.   With all the work I put into the floor to ceiling shelf uprights it was almost anti-climatic to actually attach them.   I told myself I was only tacking them in place.   But it has been a few days since I put them in and I haven’t had any reason to remove them yet.   They might just be there for good.

I attached the back upright by running some drywalls through and into the base of the bed.   I used a framing square to get it vertically square to the floor.   Then at the top I used a hunk of plywood about four inches wide that I attached to one of the top ribs.  Sitting here tonight, looking at the photos I am going to post with this, I decided I am going to add a secondary hunk back by the wall.  This will be the only attachment points so having this secondary attachment seems like a really good idea.

The front upright was designed to attach to the side rib so it was a matter of drilling some holes in the plywood and then running in some inch and a quarter self taping metal screws into the strut.  It will pretty much determine it’s own square-age, at least vertically, when you attach it there on the rib.  I set the placement of the front of the shelf by measuring the separation distance at the back and transferring that number to the front back when I cut that hunk of plywood attached to the ceiling rib.  I hope that it is all square to the van but frankly I don’t really care.   At this point I only care that it is as wide at the front as it is in the back. That will make it easier to build the shelves.   It is attached at the top with a drywall screw into the plywood hunk.  Down at the bottom I used some aluminum angle drilled slightly oversized to some more drywall screws going down into the subfloor and the upright.  This baby is solid as a rock at this point.

With this upright in place I measured from the floor to the top of the countertop support up at the bulkhead.  I transferred that measurement to the back upright.   I applied some construction adhesive (PL-200) and attached it with drywalls through the 1x4 pine and into the upright.  I did some measuring at this point and checked my particle board scrap left over from the subfloor install.   Whadd-ya know, there is a piece that is the perfect jogged width.  Twenty two inches at the back, twenty four inches up by the bulkhead.  All I had to do was cut it to length.  Sweet.   Every once in a while things just work out.

The reason for this jog is the stovetop requires  24 inches of width in the countertop it is placed in.   Back at the floor to ceiling shelf, because I was cheap and only wanted to use one sheet of plywood to cut it out, so it ended up being only twenty two inches.

I put the particle board in place and ran one drywall screw into the support at each end.  Naturally, given it’s thin-ness and weight it sagged considerably in the middle.  Running my tape measure from the top of the furnace enclosure, pushing up on the particle board enough to take the sag out, I recorded the distance.   I cut a bit of scrap out and screwed it in place top and bottom.   Of course I had to move it the next day.   I hadn’t accounted for the width of the toilet.   But sitting there that night with the uprights in place and looking in the side door, my thoughts were really that of “holy shit, this thing is really starting to look like something.”

I’m sitting in another bar tonight.   The Wife, in her Ms Scoutmaster roll, is conducting a board of directors meeting across in the dinner section.   It is the strangest thing, looking over there at that table.   In this hard drinking state there is scarely a beverage at the table.  I have never seen such a serious group.  The bartender and I just had a brief exchange.  I ordered a new pint and when she delivered it the still developing head overpoured the edges.  She made a comment about “trying out for the commercials.”   When I asked for clarification, she said, “You know, when you see a beer commercial on TV, it always overpours.”  She went and got the bar rag and came back to wipe it all up.  Then she went on to say, “I don’t think that part of the advertising works on me.   I just see that beer pouring over and think, Oh god, somebody’s gotta clean that up… Sticky smelly mess if you leave it”.   I had never thought of it from a bartender’s perspective before.

Since that time when I installed the particle board countertop it has been a couple of days.   I have been trying to think about how this will all be used and doing some play acting.  The first thing I concluded is the power outlet I had planned for the bulkhead area was totally in the wrong place.   I don’t remember if I already explained this or not.  I am too lazy to go back and read through my postings to see if I did.   I had planned on having two 110 volt outlets plus a light switch up in the corner above the countertop.  That idea looked great on a computer screen.  When it actually came to building it though, that was another thing.  Due to the way the van wall slopes and a reinforcement corner of the bulkhead, I could only just barely fit one box.  I will have to cut an outlet cover plate pretty significantly just to get one to fit.  In that box I thought I would have the 110v outlets.

But then “using” it and thinking about it I have changed my mind.  I was giving up the optimal position for the switch to have an outlet.   That outlet would require the cord of any device plugged into it to semi-drape over the back burner of the cookstove.  No.   That wasn’t going to do.   That outlet is going to have to instead become the light switch for the kitchen lights.  What I have decided in the meantime is I will have to have a center pillar on the counter.   There I will have a dual 110v, a 12 volt and double USB.

The Kitchen lights will be three of the LED puck lights.  Evenly spaced over the countertop they will be over the stove, the center of the counter top and the sink.  I want to really light this area up and I continue to be amazed how much light these little fixtures put out.  

To make this change I have to do a little wire re-routing.   But I think it is totally worth it.   That outlet it the corner would have been a total pain to use.

One final detail, while I was at my local big box lumberyard tonight I picked up a nice magnetic LED light.   Very cool to have a magnetic flashlight when you live in a steel house.  The magnet on the back allows it to stick places where it could be handy.  Because they are LED, I might never have to place the batteries.   I think I will try to pickup a couple of these just to have some emergency lighting.   This one I am going to attach to the bulkhead wall on the engine side, so I can grab it for a little light up in the cabin.

Friday, April 7, 2017


The Pizza Girl at the local pizza shop.
I had to run some errands tonight and I meant to get out of work a little early.   I had started about seven so it had been a long day.   But I was a little involved in something at the time.  So 4:30 slipped into five, and I hate to drive the van in rush hour.   It is a side mirror only vehicle.   Zero visibility out the back.   Driving it in heavy traffic is an adventure that relies a  great deal on human trust & compassion.  I just get thinking about the propane tanks I have riding in the back.

Since I started sleeping in it I have had a couple of blankets hung up over the windows but that isn’t the best solution.   Tonight I was on a mission to obtain “blackout curtain” a special fabric that doesn’t allow light to pass.  Years ago I first heard about it when my sister lived in Alaska.  Up there if you wanted your kids to go to bed in the summertime you knew what blackout curtain was.   I found it on the web site of a local big box fabric store and assumed it would be a common enough product they would keep it in stock.   Sure enough, they had a white on white or white on cream both in stock.   I figured I didn’t want the starkness (or dirt showing ability) of the white/white so I went for the white on the outside, cream colored on the inside.  

(I am sitting in a bar right now and the guy two stools down just asked me if I used to play lead guitar in the band RUSH.)

Looking at the back of the van now that the
curtains are in place.
I owe this whole idea to the brother of The Professor.   This year, The Professor had received, as a Christmas gift, a one inch square metal cube from his brother.  But he felt like I would enjoy it so much more, and he re-gifted it.   He handed it to me in the box it came in.   All bubble wrapped.   When I opened it up, I was confused.   I pulled it out and looked at it.  It was heavy for it’s size.   Perfectly machined and smooth.   I tossed it back and forth between my hands a couple of times, feeling it’s weight and uttering a perfunctory “Uh gee, thanks” and then I thought aloud “Is this a magnet?” I looked to the cast iron radiator beside me and extended my hand toward it.   When it got about three inches away the cube leapt from my hand and slammed onto the radiator.  Wow!   Very powerful magnet.  Wonderful gift for me!  It holds a full sized calendar to a stainless steel (magnets don’t work as well) refrigerator at home.

I went to the company web site later on that night and discovered these same strong magnets are available in all shapes and sizes.   And when I say strong, I mean it.   If you want to buy a two inch square magnet or larger you have to sign a special disclaimer.   It says essentially, “If you buy this and you get your fingers under it, they will be crushed. That is your problem”  Here is my idea.   I will take this blackout shade material and I either sew, or glue, or by some means use as many of these strong magnets as I need to put firmly hold up the hunk of material.   A couple of weeks ago I bought the magnets, but I am concerned they are too small.   It was hard to visualize the size I would need.   Tonight I am going to find out.

So I bought the material along with some fabric glue.   The curtain was nine dollars per yard.  I paid twenty seven for a pretty good sized chunk.   If this works out I am thinking I will make them to fit the cab windows as well.   That will give us full roam of the van if we are at a campground not filled with voyeurs. 

Then I ran a couple of other places.   Radio Shack doesn’t seem to exist here any more, I was looking for a twelve volt, cigarette lighter style plugin cords to plug in twelve volt appliances.  Tried a couple of places.  No luck.  I suppose Amazon has them.  Then I went to the evil guitar empire and bought a cheap 12 volt guitar amp.  It is small so it will fit better in the van, and now I won’t need to run the inverter just to make noise. The Wife told me earlier she was making  a family favorite for supper so I treated myself to the fancy burger joint and savored their olive oil drenched french fries.

By this time it was eight thirty. I was butter and olive oiled up.  Feeling all kinda lazy.   But I had planned my errands around a work night so I had done all my shopping less than a mile from the workshop door.   Being that close I figured I had to head there anyway.  I thought maybe I would get motivated once I arrived so I made the drive.   Pulling up though, there was a car parked there.

I have access to a companies’ shop via a guy I know.   He made an offer in a bar.   Stood by it a couple of months later when I showed up to collect.  A stand-up guy.   Maybe this is no big deal, but I feel like it seems like a really good idea to stay under the radar with this outside project in their shop.    *AND* I was lazy anyway.   So between those two things I was very quick to say “Whoa, can’t work tonight!” I saw that car, whipped a U-ie, and headed to my night parking spot.  I took the night off.  I am sitting here in the corner pizza bar in my big city.   About a block away sits the van.  (Why didn’t I turn the furnace on?)  Painted on the wall behind there is the pizza girl mural.  It is The Wife who is the subject in the mural.   We lived across the hall from a painter when we were going through the artist loft phase of our lives.  She ended up immortalized.  But I can feel her back there, looking over my shoulder, grimacing over my heavy reliance on spellcheck.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

I have walls!

Using the pattern to cut out the
bulkhead plywood.  Ignoring the arc
at the bottom which is the wheel well
when I cut out the rear shelf upright.
When I was last productive I was telling you about forming a pattern and cutting out the upright walls of a floor to ceiling shelf.  Even using the template it was still a matter of some test fitting but eventually I got them set in place.   I had to cut some spots around where pipes and wire would pass through the area.   But eventually I had them fitting within the tolerances I thought would be good.   Not touching anywhere on the side walls, only the floor and frame members.

The next step is to build some “nailers” that the internal plywood is going to attach to.  A rule of carpentry is you can’t leave any loose ends of wood dangling.  Here what I needed to do was cut a ribbon of plywood that follows the profile of the uprights.   This ribbon is then attached onto the upright, screwed and glued in place.   With this in place, when it comes time to attach the final thin sheets of plywood to the wall, there will be something there to attach that plywood to.

The nailer attached to the shelf
upright.   It looks so simple but
hours of work were involved.
I used the template again for this to cut an oversized nailer.   I tacked it on to the upright and put the upright back in place.   Then, using a straight edge across (where possible) two of the struts, I traced a line about a quarter inside of of the size of the strut.   This quarter inch makes it so I will be able to apply quarter inch plywood inside the strut that will be holding the insulation in place.   Then, inside of that, someday in the future I will be attaching the final interior wall plywood and it will all line up. …At least in theory.

This was not at all an easy job.   Cutting four nailers, getting them marked at the quarter inch in point, cutting that.   Test fitting, tacking to the uprights, test fitting, trimming and finally gluing and attaching permanently to the uprights took all of a very long night of work.  The reason for this was due to a few reasons.  This would have been an excellent job with four hands.   As it was I was clamping and bracing things in place while I was trying to do the marking and edits.  I had a bucket with a saw inside it to add weight on one side.  Up at the top a couple of clips.  It was all pretty mickey mouse and would fall over, or slip out of position while I was marking it.   I had to take several breaks for profanity and repositioning.

Additionally, though I was trying to span across a couple of struts to assure my straight edge was square to the wall, often that wasn’t possible.   The rear-most nailer only has one strut behind it, so my straight edge was only balancing across one strut and therefor highly subjective in where the final mark was going to line up.   There was lots of guesswork involved and really I don’t get to find out if I did it right for a couple more weeks once all the insulation is in.  Short version, I am glad that job is over with.   Get a friend to help you.

That was the end of one night.   The following night, with the nailers for the uprights in position, I moved forward to the bulkhead.   For this wall I have some imitation beadboard.   Quarter inch plywood with a batton and bead pattern cut into the surface of it.   The Wife has decided the interior woodwork will have a whitewashed appearance over some color.   So, I think the wall, with it’s grooves will look great whitewashed.   Deeper colors will stay in the groove, where the watered down white will lighten the surface.   I used the same template that I used to cut the uprights.   Here though I changed it a little bit because I wanted tighter tolerances up near the ceiling.   It got a nailer as well, cut out the same way.   This one was actually easier to cut out because I had two struts to span across.

The top box is going to be a 110v
outlet, the bottom box the switch
for the toilet vent fan.
After a few test fits I determined it was ready.   The next step was to determine the height of the countertop.   This had to be decided now because the countertop will require a support to be attached to the bulkhead plywood.   But, since that plywood is only a quarter of an inch thick, it wouldn’t provide much tooth at all to attach to.  The better way to do this is to attach the support by screwing through the plywood from the back and into the support which is 3/4” pine.  Therefore it had to be done before the plywood is attached.

Basically what I did was kneel on the floor and imagine what distance I wanted to look down into a pan that is someday going to be on my cooktop.   With my imaginary spatula in hand I sautéed some vaporous onions and peppers and at the end of the exercise had a height.  This is where I attached the 1x4 pine board.   

The toilet vent fan switch located
under the countertop.
Another thing I wanted was a toilet vent master switch.  I have a long blog post about a third done that goes all through the process of purchasing a toilet for the van.   It isn’t exciting prose.   How can it be?   Toilets.   So just in case I never finish it, I am going to break the suspense.   I bought a composting toilet.   In a chamber at the back is an area you place peat moss.  That is where bowel movements end up.   It is devised to separate out the urine.   That goes into a tank that when full you can dump into a gas station toilet.   But it is that back area, if in use, needs to have an air circulation fan that runs 24x7.   Most people who buy these are doing so for a tiny house where it is their primary toilet.   There is no question the composting chamber is going to be in constant use.   But, in my situation, it is quite possible it won’t be.   Baring late night burrito mistakes, I can likely use the toilet in my office building and get by.   I don’t want that fan running, using up battery power for no reason.   I mounted a switch on the bulkhead at the back of the toilet to allow me to turn the fan off.   It isn’t the handiest place to reach, but I expect it might only be used a couple of times a year.

The lost battle with expanding foam.
So with all this work done I was ready to mount the bulkhead plywood.  The last thing I wanted to do was put some expanding foam insulation at the back, where the bulkhead wall meets the van body.   Of course, things had been going so well all night, I guess I am not surprised this job turned into a disaster.   Expanding foam is some handy stuff, but it is super messy to work with.   I have a fair amount of experience due to old home ownership.   It is amazing at filling those drafty cracks.  Here what I did was stack a bunch of the scrap pieces of Poly-ISO foam I had left over from insulating the floor, back in the corner and then foamed around them.

The completed shelf wall, bulkhead plywood
and a temporary countertop in place.
And really, things were going so well.   That is right up until the wire for the toilet switch snagged on the bottom of the bulkhead plywood as I was sliding it in place.  The stacked foam chunks started to slide apart.   I had to grab them and shove them back into place with my bare hands.   …Cuz who needs gloves, it is all going so well, right?   The foam is super sticky.   Impossible to get off anything it touches.   No way to wash it off, so the only thing I could do was rub my hands into the floor sweepings of the shop.  That bonded all that dirt into the foam and took away the stickiness.  My hands will probably clean up in a couple of weeks or so.

I attached the bulkhead plywood with some self tapping sheet metal screws into the steel of the bulkhead.   The expanding foam dried overnight and it all seems rock solid.   Interesting how much quieter it made the cab of the van.   Suddenly all the noise from the back of the van really went away.   

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


People who know me would know
why I think this tape is cool.
For every night like there was a couple of nights ago where things were going great and I had a ton of ideas, there is a night like tonight.  Where I am pretty much dragging my ass from one task to the next.   Not really sure why.   Nothing in particular any different about today.  Without the red light from the exit sign shining in my eyes, I should have had a great night of sleep, and the world by the tail.   Eh, not so much.

I decided not to do the whole stressful look for the auto blade fuses.   I found that a pack of them was three bucks at the corner gas station, I just bought them.   Should all of these fuses ever choose to stroll back through my life, I am going to be pretty well stocked.

This afternoon I did some checking and got the measurements on the refrigerator I am looking at.
Depth 21.5”
Height 20.66”
Width 17.63
I now have a box of this size in the van.   The first step of this is to start doing without that space…

Reading the documentation for installation, the fridge also wants two inches behind for ventilation.  Either I need that space over the top of the fridge as well, so it sort of vents to the front.   Or, another option would be to run a channel in the back of the floor-to-ceiling shelf to let heat get to ceiling?   That might be better in the summertime and so worth the effort.   Something I have to think about.

While I’m in the process of not doing anything constructive anyway, I am going to write this out more or less to document it.   As expected, even the perfect van has a few problems now that I have driven it a bit.   Here is a current list of things I need to have the repair shop look into:

The final vestiges of snow are
leaving this frozen wasteland.
* Heater fan doesn’t always blow.   I would say maybe twenty percent of the time it works.   However, something to note to the mechanic, twice I have had it on the freeway and then the next time I start it, the fan blows.   Coicidence?
* Side door doesn’t open from the inside.   
* Need a new ignition key plug.   You have to put the key in with the sharpie marker’d side facing toward you. Then either jiggle the key until it hits just the right spot and turn it;  Or insert the key very slowly, particularly at the end and just after the final detent, but before the key is entirely bottoms out, you can turn it.   Note to self:  When using van as bank robbery getaway vehicle, remember to leave engine running…
* Randomly the seat belt dinger goes off
* Tire pressure monitoring system doesn’t work.   How much does this cost to fix?
* The dash service engine light is on.   I presume due to the tire pressure warning?
* Driver’s side washer doesn’t work.

I’m not a wrench turning guy.   I have to hire this work done.

<Some time passes, sleep occurs, etc..>

The not so shabby walk to get
to the bonsai garden.
This morning I am sitting in the bonsai garden of my big city.   It is Sunday morning and the place just opened up.   Living here in the land of ice, it is so great to come here where I can breath warm, green, fresh air.   Springtime air, filled with life on a March day.  When I lived in this city full-time before, I came here often.  At that time this room, the bonsai garden, was just a tacked on room.   Just getting started with a couple of loaned trees and a few more twiggy ones.   An after thought of a city conservatory.   Since that time the Japanese wife of a very wealthy American businessman took it under her wing.  What came of that is an endowment for the room I sit in now.   Looking on the trees in this beautiful tiled room I see the dates they started and realize many of them are the same twigs I saw before.  All grown up and looking great.   All of this combined, it is a great room to sit in the corner and type.   They only thing that keeps it from being perfect is  a ready caffeine supply and a power outlet.

Hey, this conference food isn't
bad!   Three years in a row they
have served great food.
I was in the city over a weekend, attending the second day of the computer conference.  It wasn’t the best conference for me this year.   I didn’t really get much out of it technically.   The keynotes were pretty great.   But for shear entertainment value (though unfortunately one session title/description I was actually interested in)  when I was actually in it appeared to be taught by Robin Williams Scotsman ( I think I was picking up maybe one in three words the majority of the time, then there were these random short paragraphs that were entirely unintelligible but seemed to contain elements common to profanity.  

<Some time passes, blues occur>

For reasons too complicated to get into, since I had to stay in the city pretty much the whole day on Saturday, I decided to just stay in the city over the weekend.   But after that decision was made, as I scanned down Facebook I discovered a blues fundraiser going on at a bar I sometimes frequent. Here it was on Sunday, and I am looking for something to do.   Fate.

This particular Sunday, it is bright and sunny as can be.  Difficult for us northern tier people this early in the spring.   We are all walking around squinting, looking at our watches and unable to believe the date.  The bar is one of those places where you usually walk in at night and you say “whoa, kinda dark in here” but then your eyes sort of adjust and it is fine.   But walk in there on a sunny, Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t see anything. Anything.  I handed a woman at the door my cover charge, walked in a couple of feet and had to stand almost ten minutes before I really felt comfortable to move forward.

The show was outstanding.   Of course.  It was short sets, maybe five or six songs.   Then on to the next band. I was really only there to see one singer, a friend, who I think is outstanding.  I have seen her a number of times either like this with one other performer or in her full band.  I even had the pleasure of hiring her band to do an acoustic show in my living room.   —It was the one hundredth year birthday party for my house.   Except for that I had only seen her playing in my home-town bars.   She rarely plays in the big city.   But she is an amazing singer.  And to have this line up like this, the one day a year I might be in this city on a Sunday, is an amazing quirk of fate.