Things I did in the past few days:
1) Built a bulkhead on the passenger side, amidships. I did this like I did the other one: went out in the backyard with the reciprocating saw, cut up a few nice, dry pallets, sanded the boards down, nailed 'em up to the end of the bunk, traced a circle using the top of a bucket, cut out the circle with the jigsaw. Somehow the circle didn't come out quite perfectly, but "perfect" is the enemy of "done," and I declare it done. For...now.
2) Redid my passenger-side front bench along the lines I described earlier: the backrest for the bench will actually be a table with fold-out legs, which can stand on its own or be placed (with legs still folded) above the seat to function as a countertop. Step one was making the bench's depth match the depth of the other bench while leaving a gap for the table. Here you can see it with a smaller table stowed inside, against the wall:
Underneath there's nothing too complicated: a 2x4 that supports the back side of the platform, and a furring strip screwed into the floor that keeps the table from sliding forward. Tonight I'm hoping to remove the folding leg assembly from that little table and put it onto a 31"x48" tabletop. The 31" width will be good for making it come right up to the bottom of the windows when leaning at the angle I want, and it's also just about the right width to fill the space between the front benches when it functions as a place to sit and eat. It will also be wide enough to project a few inches past the edge of the bench when it's in countertop mode, and thus prevent me from banging my shins.
The 48" width might not be great, given my plans, but right now, it's what I have left over in my stock of plywood. It would probably be better if it were 52", because then it would fit perfectly inside the available space of the bench, but then another whole sheet of decent plywood would have to die, and I'm gonna try this first. I will continue let you all know how the backrest/table/countertop project goes.
3) I cut a futon mattress in half and stitched up the ends to make two matching cushions for my two matching benches:
This probably could have been better thought-out. As it was, I sneaked the futon pad into the living room through the door from the garage, and put it on the floor where my wife couldn't see it from the kitchen. By the time she saw it there, the kids were swarmed around me, blocking her from seeing how I was violating it the thing with a pair of scissors. When she finally saw that, it was too late for her to inform me that I wasn't cutting it quite straight (which would have been a correct assessment) or that I lacked adequate materials for stitching it back up (also true), but I felt like nothing would happen if I didn't just start.
It turned out OK, though. Hint to anyone trying to chop through a futon: it's less like cutting than sort-of-cutting and then parting the material into more-or-less-evenly-distributed halves by hand. I mean, the material in this one was like chopped-up recycled clothing fibers, compressed into a felt-like material. I would try to hack through it with scissors, only to get to where the blades were overwhelmed with too many little threads to get through at once. So then I would force the blades into a thinner section (the process really was kind of violent) and chop it but be unable to move much farther forward. Finally I found that I could just use my hands and sort of rip it apart, cutting only when I needed to redefine a straighter line. I don't know, just try it and you'll see what I mean. And no, a carpet knife doesn't work at all.
After the two halves were fully separated, I enlisted my oldest daughter to help me hand-stitch the halves back shut, using dental floss as thread. I ripped a backpack once and stitched it up that night with floss, and here more than a decade later, I have put that pack through nightmarish conditions and the floss-stitching has never broken or come undone. So now I have seams on my cushions that look pretty sketchy (my daughter's seam was much straighter than mine) but are durable and minty-fresh.
4) Slept in the bus with all the kids: I love using the bus, even if it's out in the driveway and not in a very level spot. The front benches folded out nicely to make the big bed platform, so I slept there and it worked pretty well. The futon pad is pretty compressed, though, so it's not that comfortable. I don't need much to keep me comfortable at night, but I should have slid a layer of low-density foam or something into the pads while I had them slit open, just for some additional bulk and thickness. I might experiment with cutting and upholstering my remaining king-size-mattress foam (see earlier posts) to make seat and backrest pads that can come together to make something better to sleep on.
The kids slept fine on the bunks, despite getting pretty cold (Mr. Heater helped, but it was 15F outside and the bus is basically uninsulated). Children, despite being able to complain about the smallest things, have an amazing capacity to suffer if they really set their minds to it.