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Old 09-03-2004, 11:15 PM   #1
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Picacho Project

I've owned my 1969 Ford/Superior 66 passenger skoolie now for 12 years. It has a 360 MD gas engine, 5 speed stick, dual vacume brakes, and is all stock and in perfect working order with only 87,000 total miles. I purchased the bus from "Picacho Elementary School" for $1000, as it had been used as their backup bus for about fifteen years at the time, due to the stick shift. For my purposes, this seemed the ideal bus for conversion. Unfortunately, due to circumstances I did no work on this project for all this time, other than to maintain the machine mechanically, and work on the few minor problems that it had.

Recently, in a dispute with my neighbor, the city was dispatched to my home, and ordered me to remove the "bus" from my property. Instead, I've been rushing to complete a minimal conversion in order to quickly license the vehicle, so that I can keep it parked here next to my home, where it will serve as my hobby room, den, library, and computer center.

My philosophy in this project is to keep everything minimal and simple. It makes no sense to me whatsoever to try to make a skoolie look like a store bought motor home. The skoolie is opposite in nature, and this difference should be maintained. I plan to keep the floor plan open, and to not cover any windows, except for one where I will mount a window fan. Spending a fortune on your skoolie is foolish, since you will never recover the expenses when the machine is sold, as often they are, when the owner discovers the "limitations" of the machine. Notice how many try to sell their skoolies on the internet boards.

I started by painting the entire outside of the bus with Walmart brand "Exterior Semi-Gloss House and Trim" latex paint, tinted to match the desert soil where I live. This took several days using a 3 inch brush. It took two complete coats to cover. It looks very beautiful now, and the dirt, which will usually stick to the latex semi gloss paint, will not show.

Then, the entire inside of the shell was painted with white interior latex semi-gloss enamel, which was a drastic improvement on the mint green color that came as stock. I notice the interior is much cooler after painting the inside white, which doesn't make much sense, but is true.

I'm also mounting an under the counter small refrigerator, a 12 volt car battery with 120 volt inverter, a crock pot, and an electric heater. These are four of the seven required items to define the vehicle as a motor home in Arizona.

Next week, I'm driving for inspection, to change the title to motor home. I will keep all advised of the progress of this project. I'm trying to see how to post pictures on this board, which isn't obvious at this point, so will be a little learning experience too.
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Old 09-04-2004, 06:16 PM   #2
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Today, I made some little round covers from 1/4 inch plywood, and screwed them to the holes where the front flashing lights were mounted. These were painted to match the bus, then caulked on edge, which was a very messy job. Earlier, I made some nifty metal covers, but found that they didn't looks good, due to irrregularities in the surface on the bus top front.

As an aside, I found it more difficult to paint the bus on the inside than the outside. It was nearly three days to complete, and I still have some detailing to do on the dash and inner door areas. I think white is the best choice for inside, since it is the brightest, and is neutral.

I have a homemade generator that is very interesting. I use an industrial 5 HP Tecumpseh engine turning a 200 amp, 28 volt surplus aircraft generator to produce about 100 amps at 12 volts with engine speed around 2000 rpms. Aircraft generators, used at reduced voltages and currents, are just about the most mechanically efficient 12 volt converters around. Also an excellent 28 volt welding generator, too. A tremendous advantage is that the generator can also be used as an extremely powerful starter motor. I've wired an automotive starting solenoid to do this. You wouldn't believe how quickly the engine starts with this huge starter motor attached.

I plan on using this genset in an unusual way. Most people seem to think that you need a huge battery bank with a genset. This is NOT true. The genset is always there and able to run, so the usefulness of the batteries is when the load is less than the full power rating of the genset. This genset of mine produces 1400 watts power. When my refrigerator is running, it uses about 350 watts, about 1/4th the amount produced. Therefore, the genset can be operated 1/4 th of the time at full power into a battery in order to power the refrigerator through an inverter. The genset can be on for 5 minutes, off for 15, to produce that needed power. In this example, the battery will only need to store energy for 15 minutes. A single car battery, discharged to 90% of capaciity,would nearly work for this. Using a large battery bank adds greatly to the cost of your delivered power.

Operating this way requires a much better starter motor than the normal ones available for small engines, since it is used very often. A controller is also needed in order to automatically start the engine when required. I use one that I built using a PIC microcontroller a few years ago, which works pretty well.

I will mount the genset on a 2 foot long deck, which I will mount on the rear of the machine. I believe strongly that this is the best place for a genset on a skoolie. I will do this later, since I'm not planning on any camping for about the next year. Another neat addition, would be to run the engine exhaust through an elbow and strait down into a pail of water. This greatly quiets the engine, and allows the waste heat to be used to boil water. Using filtered grey water in the pail, and an air cooled condenser, would allow reuse of the grey water and use of the engine exhaust water. I would not recommend drinking this, but it would be very useful in my swamp cooler for cooling the skoolie.

The really neat thing about skoolies is that they make you think. They let you create an environment the way you would like, rather the the way someone else decided for you. They're terrible on the interstate. I drive mine at 45, and it runs very smoothly and comfortably at that speed. If your ego won't let you do that, your in trouble with the skoolie. At 45 mine will run all day without sweating. At 55, where the governer kicks in, it's much less comfortable to drive. When your used to it, interstate driving at 45 is very comfortable, and safer as well. Since everybody is passing you, you can just drive along in the right lane all the time, and never have to worry about passing anyone. It's rough in the big city, so stay away from them.

More later...
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Old 09-06-2004, 05:13 PM   #3
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You've got some pretty good info there bud. I've already got the engine now I need to find a surplus aircraft alternator, will the searching for stuff ever end?! Oh well when you're short on bucks and long on ideas that's the price we pay. I like you're outlook on schoolies. I've been laying out plans for one for a long time, but I always find myself trying to figure out how to make the thing look less like a bus and more like those mega dollar land yachts going around here in the summer. There's a fine line here, I think, to achieve the perfect balance between the two. I'd love to own a proper class A but my wallet and, more importantly, my common sense won't let me, after all I'm only going camping, perhaps if I was full timing it would be different. You're "KEEP IT SIMPLE" attitude is something I know I could use a healthy dose of. Thanks
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Old 09-07-2004, 12:14 AM   #4
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I haven't been able to do much work on Picacho the last few days. I still need to do some detailing on the interior painting. I can't seem to get the left front turn signal to work. The parking light works, and the lamp appears to have both filaments intact. The bulb is stuck in the socket. How to unfreeze a stuck bulb? I'm thinking about a squirt of WD-40? Maybe the bulb really is burned out on one element. I find the wiring appears intact and proper. All other lights work properly.

Tomorrow, I will bolt my refrigerator down. I'm using a cheapo under the counter type "Sanyo" that I paid about $110 for at Walmart a few years ago. It draws 350 W when the compressor is running, and only about 20 W when not running. There are two adjustable feet under the front that are 10-32 threads, so I will bolt this to the bus's steel floor with 10-32 machine screws. I'm spacing it out 4 inches from any other material, so that I can add about 4 inches of additional foam insulation to the stock 1 inch. This should greatly reduce the power use of this small refrigerator, which is marginal for my family of 5. Meat isn't healthy, anyway.

I'm bolting down a battery strap, machine screwing my 120 v inverter to the bus wall on the left rear of the bus. The frige is at the right rear of the bus. (both facing forward) I have a small electric space heater, that can be screwed down with one big screw in the middle, and a crock pot, which I'm not sure how to fasten down. I don't see anything to screw to. Strappigng it down may not be good enough. With these four items, I have four out of seven needed for registration in Arizona as a Motorhome.

later...
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Old 09-07-2004, 09:36 AM   #5
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Put a piece of rubber under the fridge (to let the feet sit on) to keep the vibration down a bit. We had a Sanyo in our pop-up that would make the floor vibrate a bit. Used it for about 10 yrs before this last "remodel" and the fridge is still going strong (but sitting in the shed). Don't really need a very big refrigerator... what we need is a good-sized freezer. For our skoolie, I will re-use the old Sanyo (new paint) and pick up a small upright freezer. We use alot of frozen food from Schwan's and we eat alot of meat!

They make a thing called "thumb lock" to hold down TV's, etc. I picked mine up at Wal-Mart in the camping section. Different strengths to hold down differnet stuff. I use the TV weight ones to hold down my VCR in the pop-up and the CB radio on top of the dash in the Jeep. A set of these should hold your crockpot in place (uses sticky tape to hold base plates on or you can use screws... sticky tape has been holding the VCR pretty well since last summer). The nice thing about them is that you can unlatch the appliance from the decking that you are holding it onto. A crockpot casing shouldn't get too hot and breakdown the adhesion but you might want to watch it. Don't just screw into the sides of a crockpot casing! If you use the kind with the removable crock liner then there shouldn't be too much weight in it while traveling since you can store the liner someplace where it won't get broken.
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Old 09-08-2004, 04:19 PM   #6
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Thanks for the feedback and information. I busted my crockpot trying to take it apart last night. Unscrewed a nut on the bottom, and the inside casing sprang apart from a handle that holds it down. It still works electrically, and now I can see where to put screws. Maybe I'll still use it. The inside is now free be partially lifted out. It is possible to put screws about a half inch long into the bottom of the unit.

I just posted more pics of this project in the gallery section, including some that show a neat little window fan unit I just bought on sale at Target for $3.70. It fits my windows perfectly, like it was made just to pop in. It doesn't move much air, and is noisey, but the price is right and the fit is perfect. Also shows my refrigerator installation.

I removed the feet from under the fridge, and bolted it down using bolts with the same threads as the feet leveling screws (10-32). It sits on the thick rubber mat that came with the bus on hardwood blocks. The rear of the frige is fastened with clamps that sheet metal screw into the bus floor. It was much harder to install the frige than I thought it would be.

Tonight we attach the inverter and battery box.

The saga continues...
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Old 09-08-2004, 09:25 PM   #7
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I applaud your Frugal nature Gealto….
But, I definitely think that…if a person decides to spend whatever they want to make their Schoolie Look & Act ‘Top of the Line’ there is nothing foolish or wrong with that.

One of the MAIN reasons Schoolies get a bad rap around this country …are the folks who throw together a few items, just so the can fulfill the legal requirements for RV status.
People get to see these rigs all over the country, and cant help but think the person who did that doesn’t much care for the sensibilities of anyone else.

I’ve been to many Rainbow Gatherings where lots of the Folks are always wondering why do cops pull their buses over all the time & why wont campgrounds ever let them stay….
The answer to that is simple.
It’s because the people who own those buses don’t care enough to make their homes at all nice. A Cop knows that when he sees it …so does the campground owner.

So, it’s fine if you want construct your ‘Home’ with the bare minimum…
But it’s equally fine if a person decides to make their bus look Great.

Michael
http://www.mobilehomestead.com
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Old 09-10-2004, 01:58 AM   #8
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Thankyou, yes I am very frugal with my hobbies. It's much better to spend big bucks putting your kids through college than down some old school bus rathole. Personally, I don't think that skoolies that look like store bought motorhomes look good at all. Neither do people with money looking to buy used motorhomes, that's why so little is paid for skoolies on the resale.

I could care less why skoolies get any kind of bad rap from anybody. That's somebody elses's problem. I'm just planning on using mine the best way I know how. "Top of the line" means different things to different folks. I think your over generalizing, and spreading rumors rather than stating facts. The fact is if you spend $15,000 making a perfect skoolie, you'll still get only about $2000 for it when you sell it. The best plan is to make yours the way you want, and plan on keeping it forever. I think my skoolie looks beautiful, and the ones with the slick paint jobs look kinda silly, kinda sissy.

I just finished my minimal motor home conversion today, and postsed a couple of pics in the "Picacho" album, which is now located at the end of the skoolies section of the gallery. Thanks to whoever moved the album to it's proper place. So Picacho is now ready to license. Tomorrow, I will get the insuracnce, and have the machine inspected next Monday. Total cost of the conversion was $150, and it took nearly a month. Could have been much faster if it wasn't so hot outside all the time. I just had a beer that was in the frige inside the skoolie, and it was very good to toast my new motorhome.
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Old 09-10-2004, 09:21 AM   #9
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What kind of inverter is that? Don't be afraid to post large pictures, the gallery will automatically resize them for you and will allow those who want a larger view a chance to look in detail.
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Old 09-10-2004, 10:02 AM   #10
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I've got to go along with soused mouse on this one. I wouldn't necessarily spend a fortune on the outside of a schoolie, since what gealto says is right, a converted bus is not worth much more than the bus was before the conversion. But there's nothing wrong with trying to emulate a "real" motorhome in some respects either. That TC2000 Bluebird in the gallery is, if you ask me, the perfect schoolie, and the red international with the stacks and the harley hilton are close seconds. I've seen plenty of conversions over the past few years and most look pretty desperate simply because of shoddy construction both inside and out. And this causes the "neighbours" to roll their eyes and generally not take a liking to seeing these things on their streets or in the campgrounds. I think there's a happy medium to be found here. I think that once you past the 6 to 8 thousand dollar mark, then you probably should've bought a motorhome to start with, unless you like large and possibly diesel trucks, like me. I plan to keep things simple since I just want a cheap camper for the family thats cheap to operate (can't wait to try the WVO, already got some suppliers) and has lots of room. If I wasn't so frugal, I'd have probably gone to the bank and gotten a good used 28' or 30' class C with a diesel.

STILL shoppin'
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