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Old 06-24-2013, 12:21 AM   #1
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the family wagon

When I was a kid my family didn't do many vacations. There could have been any number of reasons why, but now having my own children and have packed us all up a few times, I have a pretty clear set of reasons that would deter me from vacationing! It's our hope that the custom RV by skoolie will eventually address the biggest of those concerns and make it more comfortable, convenient, affordable, and therefore enjoyable for us to take vacations short and long more regularly.

That said, there's nothing like a schedule to get one moving.. and unfortunately, I'm expert at over-committing on both schedule and scope! In the short term, this is going to be something like Gyre's Project Steel Tent: we have a vacation planned less than two months from now which involves about 1500 miles of driving spread over a little more than a week. The thought of four children and our gear somehow packed in, on, and around our minivan during 30 hours of driving gives me hives. We've also learned from a pair of overnight trips earlier this year that our twin toddlers don't do well sleeping in unfamiliar places (ie hotel rooms). Hopefully we can get this to a state of "relatively usable" in the short time we have, and maybe we'll learn some things on the trip that will help us refine the design as we finish it off later.

Well, anyway, some introduction to The Rig:

It was used for some kind of transit around a ski resort in California. Note the sign on the ski racks "SKIS ONLY - NO SNOWBOARDS." We're very strict about that. It's a Blue Bird, but not a school bus. So I guess it isn't an All American or TC2000; I have the impression those are specifically school bus bodies. I really don't know what to call this thing.

It has a Cummins ISC 8.3 engine out back with Allison B300R transmission. I've grown quite fond of this drive train already -- my former bus had a 5.9 L Cummins mechanical-injected engine up front. It was a dog and made all kinds of heat in the operator space. This electronic 8.3 really moves, and being in the rear, I don't hear it so much and don't feel any heat from it.


A couple features the electronic 8.3 brings that I'm quite excited about: push-button high idle control (left of the steering column) and cruise control (right of the park brake knob)! The cruise doesn't work right now and the high idle is spotty (I have discovered that if I wiggle the dash just so then the high idle works). I hope to find something simple like a poor ground in the dash to fix both of those.


I really like the WTECIII (?) push-button transmission control -- I'm one who likes to manually set the transmission gear for descending hills and who detests those lousy range shifters that offer only 1, D, and overdrive (my minivan.. grr..). The B300R is actually a 6-speed transmission but Blue Bird designed this power train for 5 speed and I haven't succeeded in persuading my local Allison shop to enable that second overdrive for me (yet). With all that said about the gear selector, I don't use it much because of another awesome feature: the B300R has a retarder controlled by that black box by the driver's left knee. It's AWESOME. I used that to keep the speed under control descending some 6% grades last week -- I only had to use the service brakes a few times going around some tight bends.


Because it came from transit service the bus has a destination sign on its forehead and another beside the front door. These are the fluorescent green-yellow electronic flip-dot type made by Luminator. Nothing says "outta my way!" like "DRIVER TRAINING!" I usually just leave it showing "OUT OF SERVICE" -- maybe one of these days I'll hack the controller and figure out how to load my own witty messages. At the moment I don't have any so no big rush.


I have most of the seats already removed.


There's a Ricon wheelchair lift hidden behind the rear doors. It came in handy for loading a dirt bike when I took one of my kids camping last week. I'll probably lose the lift, though -- don't imagine using it much and I'd like to free the belly space for holding tanks and storage bins. Maybe I'll find a way to use the hydraulic pump to drive some leveling jacks.. some day..
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Old 06-24-2013, 12:40 AM   #2
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Re: the family wagon

The basic plan is 6 bunk beds in the rear (our kids plus some spares: friends, cousins, etc); bath and kitchen mid-ship; dinette booth/inward-facing-sofas/folds-flat-to-a-queen-or-king-bed gizmo up front. It all sounds so simple and straight-forward, but I'm terrible about creating dependency chains that have me running around doing all kinds of other things before actually getting to the stated task.

For example: I'm worried about it being overly hot and noisy inside the bus for this trip. Insulation would help with that, as would removal of some of the windows. But before getting to all that, and since I'll be re-skinning the sides with the window removal anyway... I think I want to raise the roof first. I only have maybe 2 inches of clearance from my head to the ceiling in the center and I want to spend those inches on insulation (both ceiling and floor). So I need to start by raising the roof a bit. Eeek! Thanks to the write-ups by Elliott and others, I'm not nearly so frightened about doing a roof raise as perhaps a sane person ought to be.

So.. before this upcoming trip, I hope to:
  • raise the roof[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • re-skin the sides, removing most of the windows[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • paint bus-kote or whatever on the roof and a white or gray primer on the new side skin[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • spray 1/2" to 1" of polyurethane insulation and lay EPS or XPS insulation board on top of that, 1.5 to 2 inches total thickness[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • build new doors[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • rig a sink and toilet[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • strap a refrigerator to the wall[/*:m:16u9sdxu]

I figure we'll all just sleep on foam pads on the floor this time around, and I hope the toddlers will quickly lose interest in picking at and eating the exposed foam insulation! We'll take the coleman propane stove and probably a microwave for cooking, and one of those EccoTemp heaters like the one Gyre so cleverly hung on a temporary rack outside his Steel Tent (I'd been trying to figure out where and how I'd mount that thing!). Don't know what I'll do for cooling yet -- maybe with the loss of glass and addition of insulation our heat gain will be low enough that we can just drive with the windows open. If not.. I'm in trouble! Long term I'm thinking about a heat pump mini-split system, or maybe a hybrid evaporative-refrigeration thing (to be run in one mode or the other, but never both together obviously).
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Old 06-24-2013, 02:17 AM   #3
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Re: the family wagon

Shiny. I like it. Can't wait to see the build.
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Old 06-24-2013, 08:56 AM   #4
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Re: the family wagon

should be fun, Welcome to the madness and money pit
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Old 06-24-2013, 11:43 AM   #5
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Re: the family wagon

A big ol' Skoolie Welcome --- looks like you found yourself a fantastic starter platform and have a good idea of what you want from it. That makes for a great head start. This will be fun to follow...so please...do keep the pix coming!
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Old 06-26-2013, 12:40 AM   #6
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Re: the family wagon

Very nice bus! I think you will enjoy it with the family quite a bit. You couldn't ask for a better engine.

I'm surprised by the headroom you mentioned. Usually the transits have about 78 inch ceilings (sometimes more). Is the bus a/c non functioning? Also, the cruise on this bus is likely electronically controlled by the engine computer. Have the Cummins dealer hook up to it with their reader and see if it is turned off. It's possible that the previous owner had it programmed off. Retarders are very nice. I suspect your retarder is a transmission retarder as is the one on my B-400 transmission. The shift control is an Allison pad, right? Most of them allow you to select the maximum gear you want to be in, in case you want to lock out a higher gear. The computer will still over ride your input if it spins the engine too fast, which is a good thing. If your retarder is in the transmission, most of them are programmed to downshift to the lowest gear available that will not over speed your engine. As you continue to slow, it will downshift more. They can be programmed to not actuate until you hit the brake pedal, or automatically actuate when you left off the accelerator pedal. The later is more common in transit service, but they can be programmed either way. I keep mine off unless I'm going to be going down a mountain.

As for manually shifting, you will probably discover that the automatic does a great job on its own. I'm not sure about the B-300, but most of the Allisons have the ability to be programmed for transit service or road service. The transit service programming keeps the rpm's up a lot more before shifting and down shifts earlier when slowing. The road programming allows the transmission to shift much earlier going up the gears and will usually result in better fuel mileage.

Back when Eagle and MCI started putting automatics in the over the road buses (1978 for MCI and 1980 for Eagles), there was much groaning from the old drivers. They didn't want anything to do with an automatic. Three years later it was the other way around. Most of them hated to get a bus with a stick. I remember one old driver who grew to love the automatics so much he'd say the "D" on the automatic stood for "DONE had a stick shift and DON"T want another one.
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Old 06-27-2013, 04:12 PM   #7
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Re: the family wagon

Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyChow
I'm surprised by the headroom you mentioned. Usually the transits have about 78 inch ceilings (sometimes more). Is the bus a/c non functioning?
Yeah, it's only slightly taller in the center than the '91 BB skoolie I had last year, though the roof has less arch and I do like that. This rig came from somewhere around Bishop CA doing ski shuttle service, so I guess they didn't see value in adding the A/C option on this one!

Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyChow
Retarders are very nice. I suspect your retarder is a transmission retarder as is the one on my B-400 transmission. The shift control is an Allison pad, right? Most of them allow you to select the maximum gear you want to be in, in case you want to lock out a higher gear. The computer will still over ride your input if it spins the engine too fast, which is a good thing. If your retarder is in the transmission, most of them are programmed to downshift to the lowest gear available that will not over speed your engine. As you continue to slow, it will downshift more. They can be programmed to not actuate until you hit the brake pedal, or automatically actuate when you left off the accelerator pedal. The later is more common in transit service, but they can be programmed either way. I keep mine off unless I'm going to be going down a mountain.
All correct. My retarder control has the level 0-6 lever switch and also an on/off rocker. Set on in level 0 the retarder comes on only when I apply some brake. When it's set on at any other level the retarder comes on when I release the throttle. I really like this transmission. I had been wondering whether the temperature gauge wasn't working because I'd never seen it rise more than slightly off the bottom of the green temperature zone. Finally noticed it halfway up the green zone after 10-15 minutes of descending 6% grade with the retarder running. It didn't seem to heat extra at all climbing that grade the day before -- the lockup torque converter in all ranges is a beautiful thing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyChow
As for manually shifting, you will probably discover that the automatic does a great job on its own.
Oh, yes, it does a fine job. I sometimes manually set the top gear limit down when descending a hill, or when climbing in the rare situation where it hunts between two gears too many times and annoys me!
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Old 06-28-2013, 03:34 PM   #8
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Re: the family wagon

You have no idea how jealous I am of your flip-dot sign. SO jealous. Every month or so I look into making an LED array sign, and remember that I don't have time for the amount of work it would require.

Please, please, please abuse that sign.
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Old 06-28-2013, 08:26 PM   #9
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Re: the family wagon

the anne marie..not to hijack, I look forward to the stories and journey's.......cheers
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Old 06-28-2013, 11:55 PM   #10
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Re: the family wagon

Quote:
Originally Posted by somjuan
You have no idea how jealous I am of your flip-dot sign. SO jealous. Every month or so I look into making an LED array sign, and remember that I don't have time for the amount of work it would require.

Please, please, please abuse that sign.
I haven't met anyone yet that can program these. In transit service, we have to pay the company that made the sign to program a file and it's downloaded automatically to every bus over a wireless data network. They keep a tight lock on the programming software. I'm sure that's their business model. And, they've become very complicated now with interface to GPS on the buses that automatically changes the route and message on the signs according to the location of the bus. And interface to the cellular modem on every bus that constantly transmits data to the network on everything you can imagine, like bus location, fare box data, live video from all 9 cameras, speed, oil pressure and temp if you want it. There is so much data now that transit systems have full time employees that manage just the data and the reports produced from the data.

I would have loved to program my own messages. Even the cheap "Sams Club" led signs have an interface that lets you program your own messages. I'm sure it's do-able, but I haven't met anyone yet . . . .
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Old 07-11-2013, 01:30 PM   #11
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Re: the family wagon

Good news: I've made some progress on a few outstanding items. I found the problems with the high idle and cruise control features -- the wires on the back of the air parking brake valve were not well-attached; apparently the "parking brake applied" signal is required to enable high idle. Some poking around with the volt meter revealed that the on/off switch for the cruise control had failed; with a jumper wire in its place the cruise works great. Even better is that this on/off switch was held together with a single rivet; after drilling that out I disassembled the switch and discovered a little pillow of lint that prevented the contacts from connecting inside. With the switch newly de-linted it's good to go again. I love cheap fixes.

Also made some progress on the other minor things like raising the roof, re-skinning the walls, building doors, and spraying insulation: I decided that was all absolutely nuts and kicked them off the list for this summer. I think I'll be content instead to get at least a black water tank installed, and maybe just set a 55-gal poly barrel inside for potable water for now, and do something about mounting a small generator for A/C and the fridge. Hopefully that's a more realistic set of goals.
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Old 07-12-2013, 05:35 PM   #12
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Re: the family wagon

Family wagon, It sounds like we have alot of same reasons for building a bus. For me it was for the kids too. We only have two, but traveling in the minvan sucked. Last year we did the little over week and 1400mi, this year we decided to do the 1400mi but since the bus was more set up, we did it in two weeks instead. By far one of our most relaxing trips and a real vacation. With the toddlers make sure you have a potty. Our three year old I swears, pees every 20 minutes. Not a problem when we are in the bus. The other thing, like in the other thread, is make sure you have AC. That can make the trip horrible real quick. I think you are on the right track now. Get the things that have to be done first. Also, this is our only means of cooking

Works great, dosen't take much room. I wasn't going to do a microwave but after this last trip I have changed my mind. Oh, a waffle maker is nice too. Orginally I was going to put in a real cooktop, but now I have decided trips are not going to be about cooking all the time. We take alot of lunch meats and simple stuff.
Good luck and welcome.

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Old 08-05-2013, 12:02 AM   #13
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Re: the family wagon

Time for an update. As mentioned on the A/C thread, I went out three weeks ago to help a friend move some stuff to her new place. It was to be about 220 miles round-trip. We got out and made the pick-up fairly comfortably, but on the way back toward her home I noticed some strange behavior. For example while climbing an incline the engine seemed pretty weak. It really didn't look like much of a slope, but perhaps it was more than I though. It was all I could get it to do to break 40 MPH, and that required manual down-shift of the transmission. Later, though, we got back on the interstate and had no trouble at all zooming right up to 70 MPH.

We cruised along the super slab a while, then suddenly I realized that we were decelerating. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to move the automatic tranny into neutral to maximize the coasting range (it has torque converter lockup in all gear ranges and would have held on until the end). The engine had completely shut off, but being way out back, I couldn't really tell that until road/wind noise faded away as we glided silently down the off-ramp.. We were about 40 miles from my home and about 70 miles from hers about 9:45 PM on a Saturday night.

We waited a little while for things to cool a bit in case it had been a thermal shutdown, but no luck. I had some tools brought out and tinkered with the engine a little bit. It did deliver some fuel when I loosened injector nuts, but yet wouldn't fire. Finally we gave up and got a ride home.

When Monday came I drove back out there and met a roadside mechanic. Although he had a 12 valve Cummins 5.9 swapped into his Ford service pick-up, I had the impression that he wasn't at all familiar with this 24-valve Cummins ISC 8.3 engine. Fortunately after 20 minutes he declared that there wasn't anything he could do for it and he wouldn't charge me for the trip, which was good because I'd spent the last 20 minutes trying to figure out how to explain that I didn't feel I should pay for the trip of a mechanic who apparently knew no more about the engine than I do.

In case any of you wondered what towing a bus costs... wow. I was quoted $150 call-out plus $5 per mile. I do have a class A CDL and know where to go to rent a tractor, but couldn't come up with any place to rent a Landoll or similar trailer. Not to mention that winching this beast up onto the trailer would be a piece of work. Sooo... I called a neighbor with a 1-ton pickup and he said "yeah, let's see what we can do." We used his little pancake air compressor to charge the air system, removed the drive shaft, and headed out on desolate state highways in the middle of the night to flat tow it about 60 miles back to the local Cummins Rocky Mountain branch. That took far too many hours..

They diagnosed it with a failed injection control valve. The electric solenoid winding had failed so the valve didn't operate. Seems that it works something like an irrigation sprinkler valve, though based on the price, one might wonder whether it's hand-crafted from 24k gold. Ouch!

I got another friend to help me tow the bus back home and finally last week got the valve installed. What a relief it was when the engine finally started sputtering and finally making that beloved clatter of a cold diesel engine.
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Old 08-05-2013, 12:29 AM   #14
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Re: the family wagon

The engine hiccup halted all progress on conversion. Having that resolved last Saturday, this past week has finally delivered some conversion progress. We decided on building a wet bath and will forgo the sink, instead placing the kitchen sink just outside the bathroom. It'll be built around a 30x60 inch shower pan with the toilet located at a back corner. Rather than the traditional solvent-weld closet flange, I picked this press-in model with a rubber gasket. Hopefully that'll be better suited to the vibration of mobile use and, as an added bonus, it'll be easy to remove when we do "round 2" with stripping the bus floor and walls, insulating, doing nice flooring, etc.


I decided to go lavish with the toilet. The 5th wheel trailer I had a couple years back was equipped with a plastic toilet, a Thetford AquaMagic as I recall. All you who have done "business" with an RV toilet will be aware of how challenging it can be to get that bowl clean after use. Sometimes the bowl rinses really nicely but other times.. well.. I'll just say that having to wipe the bowl clean isn't my favorite thing. So I settled on this Dometic Revolution 320 model which features a china bowl mounted on a plastic pedestal. According to reports, the china is much easier to keep clean than is the plastic. Hopefully its flush works better too! In case it doesn't, this model includes a hand sprayer to help coax out.. umm.. stubborn deposits. I'll try to find a tactful way to let you all know whether that lives up to my expectations!


Last night I (finally!) got the black water tank installed. I built some Z-shape brackets from 18ga steel sheet and bolted it up. This description makes it sound much easier than the hours of work and sore arms would indicate..


One more "creature comfort" for our upcoming vacation: a mounted LCD monitor. I dislike using video as an e-babysitter more than anybody else I know, but I have to admit that it may be a valuable thing to entertain the kids and rescue our sanity during the many hours of travel. And who knows, maybe we'll manage to get the kids to fall asleep and quit driving early one night to enjoy snuggling and watching a movie on the side of highway whatever in the middle of nowhere. The mount is from Monoprice.com, which is one of my favorite places to get cables, mounts, etc at much more reasonable prices than I've ever seen at a brick-and-mortar retail outlet. This particular mount isn't especially rigid-looking and I anticipate the monitor will bounce a bit. Won't bother me a bit as I'll be driving. It's a nice sub-$10 item for stationary use at least.
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Old 08-05-2013, 11:36 AM   #15
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Re: the family wagon

I bet towing that was an adventure!! Glad it all worked out for you and didn't set you back too much.
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Old 08-05-2013, 03:15 PM   #16
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Re: the family wagon

Having to tow that big bus would have freaked me out. It would have been a big bummer because I live in mine.

It cost me $375 just to get my bus towed out of a ditch. It was less than an hour's work by the big tow truck. You can see the bus almost on it's side towards the last quarter of my thread. The link to my thread is:

viewtopic.php?f=9&t=10764&start=435

I'm glad that you got the bus home. I am even more excited that you got the motor to run again.
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Old 08-05-2013, 07:21 PM   #17
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Re: the family wagon

It was definitely unsettling to be fixed at the end of 16 feet of chain going as high as 40 MPH behind the towing pickup! In many ways, though, it was actually less stressful than flat towing a car. For example, since my bus has air brakes, they worked normally -- no paniced pressing with all my thigh can muster on a hydraulic brake with no boost. Since the brakes are relatively huge, it easily stopped the pickup at the other end of the chain when necessary. And because the driver seat is so high, I had a good view ahead and all around and could begin braking when I saw something rather than having to react to seeing the brake lights 16.. 10.. 5.. 2.. (whew!) feet in front of me as might happen in a "normal" flat tow. I did miss the power steering, but even that wasn't too bad.

We did get some funny looks during the tow. One in particular stands out. We had just made a left turn onto a 6-lane (3 each way) state highway with a 60 MPH limit. A car that had been waiting from another direction at the intersection overtook and drove along side us (but in the far lane!) for a few moments. Driver and passenger both just stared at the sight of a late 90's Chevy dual rear wheel pickup towing my 38 ft flatnose bus as if they were thinking "is this really happening??" Finally the passenger gave a thumbs-up hand sign and they went on their way laughing.

Farther along that same highway we stopped at another traffic light. A car pulled up beside and the passenger called out to me. It turned out to be another of my neighbors. "I thought it would be you in that bus!" he said. Apparently it really stands out, and the exterior is still just boring white and black!

It was a relief when we went through a traffic light and the police officer stopped waiting on the cross street didn't come chasing after us -- either didn't notice the tow chain, or wasn't bothered by it. I always get nervous when doing something unconventional, even though unconventional is not necessarily unlawful!

Accordion, I had missed your earlier post about getting stuck in the ditch. That sure would have been scary! I'm glad you were able to find a talented person to recover it for you.
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Old 08-05-2013, 07:48 PM   #18
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Re: the family wagon


Been there,done that and no piece of pipe on the chain would of helped...great story! And it was better than....okay,okay...push..pedal!....push...aired up air brakes made it a breeze....OMG!

Just think of your poor friend if you lost air!....spring brakes locked up and chain went tight!!...that would cost a lot of beer and steaks
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Old 06-08-2014, 01:41 PM   #19
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Re: the family wagon

Quote:
Originally Posted by bansil

Just think of your poor friend if you lost air!....spring brakes locked up and chain went tight!!...that would cost a lot of beer and steaks
Somehow I missed your reply (nearly a year ago! ). Yeah I had to watch the air pressure. With careful use of the brake (mainly brake early and gently, but only when truly necessary) I could usually get half a dozen stops/slows out of it and that would last 15-30 minutes. We had to stop maybe half a dozen times to run a generator and air compressor to refill the tanks, but the low air buzzer gave plenty of warning before the park brake would spring on. The friend who was helping me drives trucks for a living so he had a good understanding of what would happen if we didn't stop for air when needed!
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Old 02-22-2015, 11:58 PM   #20
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Basement access door design/hinges

I started a little conversation on Vlad's thread about basement door design, and hinges in particular. I've continued to think about it since then but figured I should continue the conversation here instead.

I found "belt rail hinge" from All-Rite Custom Manufacturing, but at $130 per 16 foot stick, plus shipping, and that's just for one side of the hinge... far too expensive.

Here's a sample from a 1983 Ingersoll-Rand towable air compressor. A nice design, although I'm not sure how many degrees it can open because there are toolboxes welded to the roof of the body. Also haven't found any source for this style.


Finally, I've looked at some pictures of under-body tool boxes online and based on ideas there came up with this concept using piano hinge.

That's 8 bends per door (four in top and bottom shown, four more in left/right sides not shown), and I'd want 5 doors, plus the sill/jamb pieces. I don't have any idea whether that'll cost me an arm and leg to have manufactured. There's some bulb seal gasket in there hoping to keep the water and dust out. I'm thinking paint the steel parts first and then assemble with aluminum or stainless piano hinge.

Comments, criticisms, tales of woe (related to basement doors only, please! ) are invited..
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