Change of Plans

Change of Plans

So it’s been quite a few months since my last update and it’s about time I filled you all in on what’s been happening…

I took a break from working on the bus back in October last year, so I could learn how to weld before proceeding with the rest of the repairs. The last quarter of the year is also usually the busiest time for my business, so I was soon working full time filling orders and there wasn’t much time left for welding practice.

Around the same time, I had a health scare, when I found a lump under my arm and there were concerns that the melanomas I had previously removed from there had spread to my lymph nodes. I spent a stressful couple of months back and forth to doctors having various scans and a biopsy. It wasn’t cancer in the end thank goodness, but the scans did reveal some other unexpected things which required another whole bunch of tests. Most of that has now been sorted out thankfully, but it has been a stressful time and yet another reminder of how unpredictable life is and how important it is to enjoy the time we have as much as we possibly can.

It capped off what had been a tough year generally for me, with Covid wreaking havoc on my business (which prior to 2020 had relied heavily on the income from my regular market stall) as well as a loss of some of my income from my casual side job. A reminder of the relative financial insecurity associated with the work I do.

I had been having doubts about the bus for a while, even before these recent events, especially about whether I would actually be able to afford to maintain it in the long term. Big busses can cost big dollars when they need repair or if they break down and need towing. I kept telling myself that I would be able to grow my business sufficiently by the time I was ready to hit the road, and that with the emergency fund I had saved, and picking up extra work along the way, that I would be OK. And maybe I would be, but after this past year, I am less confident about that. I think money would always be very very tight and I would always be worried that I wouldn’t have enough. Having the big bus alone would be a challenge, but it has become clear these past few months that I need to be able to get into town fairly regularly for appointments and stuff. This would be difficult unless I had a smaller vehicle but I simply cannot afford the costs of owning a big bus AND a car. In addition to that, I am having ongoing issues with arthritis and tendonitis in my arms and need to be mindful about what I will be physically capable of, especially as I get older.

I have decided, after a lot of soul searching and sleepless nights, to sell my bus. I do not intend to give up on bus life altogether – no way! But I just need to take a bit of a detour and change the way I make that life happen. I will be downsizing to something smaller that will be easier for me to manage both physically and financially.

It feels sad to get rid of the bus after putting so much blood, sweat and tears (and money) into it. But I also know from past experience what it is like to stay on a path that isn’t right for you, just because you’ve invested so much in that journey, and I don’t want to do that again. I could finish converting the bus and then sell it, but there is no guarantee I could get a good price for it, and it would take me a long time to do so. Now more than ever, I want to get out on the road as soon as possible, so would rather cut my losses and use the money I have left, (and while I do still have my health), to build something I know will be better suited to my needs. Since making the decision to sell my bus and start again with something smaller, I feel so much more relaxed and confident, and I know this is the right decision for me.

And the past two years were not wasted – I learnt so many new skills working on the big bus, which will mean that when I come to do it all again with another one, I will have more of an idea what I’m doing and things might progress a bit more smoothly. (hopefully LOL!)

Learning to Weld

Learning to Weld

Just a quick update on the bus progress – not much to show in terms of physical changes, but I’ve been doing a lot of behind the scenes planning and designing and thinking.

I had the vehicle modification inspector out this week to look at my plans for installing a passenger seat at the very front of the bus. I need to be able to build in a slide-out section of floor for the passenger’s feet to go as they would otherwise be hanging over the stairwell. He was happy with my plans and I have a clear idea now what he requires to sign off on it. I can’t really do anything else on the bus until I fix that rust in the doorway and rebuild the door and steps, which requires being able to weld.

I did a class in MIG welding last weekend, which turned out to be very disappointing. It wasn’t very well run and the teacher was terrible at explaining things. I honestly learned more watching Youtube videos! But the good thing was I had my own welder to play with for a few hours, so at least got a feel for what is involved. It is much harder than it looks. I realised I would have to do many many hours of practice, so was thinking about buying a welder. But they are not that cheap.

Quite a few guys in my bus groups are old-fashioned stick welders and they say it is just as strong as MIG welding. It also seems less complicated and cheaper so I thought I would give that a go. I bought myself a basic stick welder from Bunnings. Along with the necessary safety gear (I made sure to get a quality helmet) it has cost me all up about $400. It is quite a bit of money but this is a skill I am determined to learn and if I can master it, it will mean being able to do my own work on the bus, instead of having to pay other people, so it will save me money and pay for itself anyway.

Me wearing all my welding safety gear
So I’ve been teaching myself by watching Youtube videos. Have only spent one afternoon so far, practicing on some pieces of scrap steel leftover from my floor rebuild, but can already see an improvement so I’m confident I will get there eventually.
The top piece in this photo is the very first welds I did, and the bottom piece is after a couple of hours practice. Still a long way off being able to weld bits of my bus together, but at least they are starting to look like proper welds and I’m not burning holes in the steel!

Bus Conversion Entry Door Remodel Part 3

Bus Conversion Entry Door Remodel Part 3

This week I started to tackle the rust in the doorway of the bus. I’m still not sure how to go about fixing the rust at the bottom of the main pillar, but I did manage to cut away another badly rusted piece from the edge of the doorway,

It was my first time using the angle grinder for actually cutting through metal. Up until now, I’ve only used it to grind off leftover rivets and rusted screws. I am slowly getting used to using it, but am not at all comfortable doing so. It’s my least favourite power tool. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m scared of it, but I sure do have a healthy respect for it and its ability to severe limbs. Thankfully, I was able to get this job done with all my fingers intact.

Before cutting:

After cutting and grinding off the rusted section:

I had to remove about an inch of the fibreglass wall of the bus to be able to get at the rusty metal behind it. Because of this, and the fact that I also removed the bits of angle that were part of the pivot arm and side seal on the original door, means that the door is now a little bit smaller than the space. So I will have to either weld in new steel around it, or make the door itself bigger.
I also realised that my original plan to use truck door hinges similar to the other guy, was not going to work, because I don’t have enough room at the top of the door frame to bolt on the hinge, and the position of the hinge was going to interfere with the rubber seal around the window. Seems my window is a lot closer to the top than his was, which is frustrating. I could add a little bit to the top of the frame to fit the hinge, but of course the space I have to do this doesn’t quite fit with the standard sizes steel comes in, so tricky to know how to proceed there. I could move the window back, but again, that would require cutting and rewelding the frame.

And my door is VERY heavy. Just the frame itself, without the windows or the linings, weights 21kg. The finished door would be at least 30kg or more. A lot of strain on the hinges. It’s very tempting, given how much modification I already would need to do to keep the original door, to just scrap it and get something new made out of aluminium which is much lighter. I’m also racking my brain trying to work out a way to frame in a square door. Getting a new door would be costly, but may end up being less work and a lot less headaches for me.
My plan at the moment, is to put the door project on hold for a bit. I have decided that I want to learn how to weld myself, so I have booked into a beginners class in 3 weeks time. Not just for this door work, but there will be other things that require welding with the bus, and it would be good to be able to do this myself. I have a friend who is an excellent welder, but because he lives in northern NSW, he can’t come up to help me, and I can’t really afford to pay someone to do it. Not to mention after the dramas I had with the last repairer, I’m very reluctant to trust someone else to do a good job.
I’m hoping if I can learn the basics and get a bit of practice then maybe I will have more of an idea of what can be done with the door and maybe it won’t seem so daunting.

Bus Conversion Entry Door Remodel Part 2

Bus Conversion Entry Door Remodel Part 2

After stripping everything off the original door, I had a bit of work to do to scrape off the remaining glue and remnants of laminate, and then sanded back the rusty areas to remove all the loose bits of rust.

After that, I gave the whole frame a thorough coat with Penetrol to help seal the rust and prevent it getting any worse. I even used the existing holes in the frame to squirt an entire can of Penetrol into the inside cavities.

Now that I had the door frame cleaned up and protected, I moved onto the frame inside the bus. I wanted to remove the stainless steel trim so that i could see the steel frame behind it and work out where I could bolt on the hinges. Unfortunately, removing the trim revealed yet more rust! Not surprising, given my previous issues, and the fact that the door was leaking badly. But disappointing nonetheless.
Thankfully, most of the main vertical pillar was in good condition, and it was only at the bottom that the rust was an issue. But, it was a BIG issue! The very bottom of the pillar was completely rusted through on two sides. It will require cutting out and a new piece to be welded in there.

Unfortunately, my welding guru friend who did the last welding job for me, lives in NSW and because of the Covid restrictions, cannot cross the border to come and help me this time so I will have to sort out some way to get it fixed..

Bus Conversion Entry Door Remodel Part 1

Bus Conversion Entry Door Remodel Part 1

This week I was fortunate to meet one of the guys in my Facebook bus group, who has the same kind of Isuzu bus as mine (with a virtually identical door) and has successfully modified the way the door on his bus is hinged so it now opens fully outward.

He did it using heavy duty truck hinges, and was kind enough to let me visit his home to see exactly how he did it.

This is exactly what I would like to try and do with the door on my bus and seeing that he has managed to do it, gives me a little more confidence that I can too.
But before I can even start to look at re-hanging my door, there is a lot of work to be done to clean it up and do some repairs.
I had initially only planned to remove the old seals, the two door locks, and the inside laminate panel lining. That in itself was a big enough task, but I soon realised as I began stripping the door, that the frame inside was quite rusty. There was even water sitting in one of the cavities inside!! So I needed to also remove the windows AND the outer metal skin as well if I was going to be able to properly treat the rust.
So, I ended up completely stripping the door down to the bare steel frame! It was a massive job and took me several days.

This was the end result – not much left of the original door now!

Removing the door from my bus

Removing the door from my bus

I’ve been ticking off some big jobs with the bus lately, and this week, I started another big job that I have been putting off for a long time. That is, to completely refurbish my bus entry door.

My bus still has the original door, and although I am not legally required to change it, there are a few things about it that annoy me and that I would like to fix.

I’ve been thinking for a long time, about either modifying the existing door, or perhaps even installing a new one. Neither option is straightforward, because of the unusual shape of the door, and the way it currently opens. So I’ve just kept putting it in the “too hard” basket. But now I’m at the point where I want to install a passenger seat at the front of the bus, and I need to modify the entry steps to accommodate this. So if I’m ever going to deal with the door, it needs to be done now.

The first step was to remove the original door. This in itself was a huge challenge, partly because of the way it was attached and also because of its sheer size and weight.

Check out the video to see the reasons why I want to change the door and how my Dad and I managed to get it off the bus.

Painting the Bus Roof with Thermoshield

Painting the Bus Roof with Thermoshield

This was a massive job that I’d been putting off doing for a long time – I’ve had this paint since December last year! But I finally got around to doing it this month. It took 8 solid days of work, with cleaning the roof, painting the etch primer, then 5 coats of the Thermoshield followed by 2 coats of sealer.

It isn’t going to win any awards, but I’m quite happy with the way it turned out, especially since it was my first time ever using a paint roller, and my first time painting anything this big!
Aside from the zillions of bugs that got stuck in it, it does look pretty good, and I already noticing a difference in the temperature inside the bus so it looks like it will do its job and be worth all the effort.

Laying the new floor in my bus

Laying the new floor in my bus

Some very exciting progress made on the bus this week – I got the new floor installed!

This was a big job because the steel sheet and large pieces of plywood were very heavy and difficult to manoeuvre into the bus. But thankfully, I had my Dad to provide an extra set of muscles, and we managed to get it all in in just a couple of days.

It then took me another couple of days to get it all screwed down. Most of the steel was fairly easy to drill through, but there were a few sections that were much tougher and it was hard work getting those screws in, even with pre-drilling!
The end result was worth the effort though. The plywood sheets fit perfectly and it’s all sitting nice and flat.
You’ll notice I haven’t yet finished the section at the front of the bus. That is because I have a special project planned for the front step, and I need to finish this before I can measure and cut the final piece of plywood.
I’m very pleased to have got this much done however – it feels wonderful to be finally making progress and actually putting stuff INTO the bus instead of ripping things out 🙂

Prepping for the new floor

Prepping for the new floor

Before I laid the new floor, I spent some time cleaning up the frame underneath and treating the areas of surface rust I found there.

I also had a mate of mine come out with his welder and weld in some extra steel beams into the existing frame – mostly across the aisle, and also across the large spans on the sides. This gave me a much better framework to support the smaller sheets of plywood I would be laying down.
I measured and cut out all the sheets of plywood and sealed all the cut edges with a waterproofing bitumen paint.
I also took the time to create a detailed map of the underfloor frame while it was fully exposed, because I knew it would be a tremendous help later on when it was time to screw down the new floor.

Removing the Floor of my bus

Removing the Floor of my bus

I hadn’t originally planned to pull up the old floor of the bus, but since I’d had so many issues with rust and water getting in, I was concerned there may be issues with the frame underneath the floor.

I started by removing the vinyl that was covering the floor. That in itself was a massive job.

See my post about that here: https://therollingartisan.com/2020/03/01/removing-the-old-vinyl-from-the-bus-floor/

Once I removed the vinyl, I discovered that the plywood floor underneath wasn’t in great condition. In fact, there was a section in the back that was rotting and there was a hole right through the floor!

hole in bus floor
So I was forced to add ripping up the plywood floor to my list of jobs that needed to be done.
I have to say, that removing the floor was by far the hardest part of my bus conversion so far. Both mentally, and physically. The wood was not only screwed and riveted into the frame, but was also glued down. And let me tell you, even after 30 years that glue was super strong! Coupled with the fact that the plywood was actually huge 7m lengths, rather than smaller sheets, and the awkward angles in the frame made getting good leverage with the crowbar quite a challenge, it meant that getting the wood up was an extremely difficult task. There were a a lot of bruises, a lot of worn muscles, a few busted thumbs and a few crowbar throwing tantrums as well! I did question whether it was really worth all the pain. But I decided to persevere, if only for my own peace of mind. I knew if I didn’t, I would always have doubts about the floor and niggling worries about the condition of the frame.

I’m glad I did in the end, because I did find some more sections of rotten wood, and a few more patches of rust. Thankfully, the rust was minor, and will be easy to treat. Removing the floor also gave me a great view of the mechanics running underneath, so I feel as though I have a much better understanding of how the bus is built too.

I still have a bit of work ahead to clean up the frame and treat the rusty bits, but I am very glad that the hardest part is done and I’m looking forward to getting a new solid floor in.

Time to give her butt a makeover!

Time to give her butt a makeover!

This week I’ve been working on removing the old safety marker stickers from the rear of my bus.

Because my bus is a registered in Queensland, and classed as a heavy vehicle, it has to have an annual roadworthy inspection. Without a current certificate of inspection (COI) the registration is no longer valid. My bus is due for that next month so it’s time to fix a few things and get her tidied up to make sure that she passes!
All heavy vehicles must have certain reflective safety markers visible on the back. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has published a code of practice that outlines what is and isn’t allowed, and lists the different options that are available, depending on the sort of vehicle, and the available space for attaching plates etc.
If you want to check out the rules for yourself, you can find them here:
https://www.nhvr.gov.au/files/201806-0849-vsb12-national-code-of-practice-rear-marking-plates.pdf

Based on these rules, it was pretty clear that the stickers currently on my bus had to be replaced.

For one thing, they are very worn and fading, and starting to deteriorate.

They’ve also been cut to fit on either side of the engine bay door hinge, which is not actually allowed.
The other issue is that all of the current stickers are Class 2 reflective material, which is being phased out, and will not be allowed after 31st December 2020.
So they all had to go.
Removing the old stickers proved to be a MAJOR challenge. I spent hours rubbing with eucalyptus oil, chipping away with a paint scraper and even tried a heat gun to soften the glue. It was a very long, frustratingly slow process.
And then I found out about a thing called a “Caramel Wheel”. It’s essentially like a giant eraser that attaches to a drill, and is specifically designed to remove vinyl decals and pinstripes from cars without damaging the underlying paint.
The stickers I was trying to get off my bus were a lot bigger and a lot thicker than a simple decal, but I gave it a try, and to my great pleasure, it worked very well!
I was able to rub away all of the stickers, and then clean up the remaining residue with the eucalyptus oil. It made the job so much easier!
And this is the finished result:
I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. It looks a lot neater and less cluttered than before, and if I have interpreted the rules correctly, this is all I need to have on the rear of my bus.
Fingers crossed the inspector agrees!

Operation Watertight!

Operation Watertight!

Now that I’m pretty confident that the aluminium composite panels are a lot better adhered to my bus, I’ve been able to get to work sealing up the gaps between them once and for all.

This has been a really big job and I tried to take my time and get it right because I really need to stop these leaks.

I’m using aluminium strips to cover the joins, making sure I get plenty of adhesive sealant in the gap underneath the strips, as well as down the sides of each strip to seal up the edges.

To see the steps involved, and to see whether it actually worked, check out my video.

Removing the old vinyl from the bus floor

Removing the old vinyl from the bus floor

While I wait for suitable weather, and the delivery of supplies I need to finish sealing the wall panels, I decided to continue work on the inside of the bus and finally tackled the floor.

Before:

Originally I planned to just leave the old vinyl that was covering the floor of the bus, and build over the top of it, but with all the issues I’ve had with rust and leaks, my gut was telling me to rip it up and make sure the timber floor underneath was ok. The last thing I wanted was to complete my build, only to then discover a few years from now that sections of the floor were rotting and unstable.
Well, it took 3 solid days of work. It was an absolute pig of a job and I think it is officially my LEAST favourite part of the project so far!
Initially I was just using a hammer, chisel and scraper to lift up the vinyl. Because it was old and had lots of cracks and crazes all over it, it was breaking off in little pieces, instead of just lifting nicely as one big sheet. And it was hard to get the vinyl up without also lifting up a little of the ply underneath. Someone in one of my facebook groups suggested trying a square nosed shovel to lift the vinyl, and I was pleased to discover that it actually worked and made the job slightly easier.
So this is what the bus floor looks like now:
Thankfully, most of the ply is still in reasonably good condition, BUT there was a section in the back corner that had significant water damage, and the thick ply was more like papery thin wafers in this area. I was able to break the wood just with my fingers and put a hole straight through to the engine bay underneath!

So now I must add replacing a section of the floor to my ever-expanding list of jobs! And that blasted floor heater is now going to have to come out, which is its own challenge. Like I need any more challenges with this bus!
Still, as much as it sucks, I am so glad I listened to my gut and decided to rip up the vinyl. I would never have discovered this otherwise. At least now, I can fix it before I start the build, instead of in a couple of years time when I’m wondering why my studio workbench is falling through the floor.

Progress on the Internal Framing

Progress on the Internal Framing

I finally finished the basic internal framing in the main wall cavities of my bus this week, so am feeling much more confident that the aluminium composite panels on the outside walls are well stuck on. This means I can finally get around to properly sealing up the gaps between them and getting my bus watertight once and for all. This can’t happen soon enough for me as we have had a LOT of rain the past few weeks!

Rain Rain Rain!

Rain Rain Rain!

It is no fun dealing with rain when you have a leaky bus!

We have had a LOT of rain in SE Queensland over the last couple of weeks. And I mean a LOT! At one stage, we had over 100mm in just three days!

Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with flooding, or the bus sinking into the ground and getting bogged like some folks have, but what I have had to deal with is LEAKS. Because I haven’t been able to properly finish sealing the gaps between the wall panels, there was water pouring into the bus.

After frantically running around with towels and buckets and mops in a futile attempt to minimise the damage, I finally, in desperation one evening, raced into town in the pouring rain and purchased a couple of huge tarps. I then proceeded, in the pouring rain, to get them up and over the bus roof. Not an easy task on my own I can tell you!

I tied the tarps down to the verandah posts of my nearby shed, and to the chassis rails of the bus itself. Crawling under the bus in the mud to tie the ropes down added to the adventure.

It was a mammoth task but I am so glad I did it because once the tarps were in place, the leaks stopped. Not a single drop of water comes into the bus now!
It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to lay in bed listening to the rain pelting down and NOT have to worry about my bus turning into a swimming pool.
I am very much looking forward to the day when I can get this same feeling without needing to have tarps on the roof!

Starting the internal framing

Starting the internal framing

The day has finally arrived when I am actually starting to out things INTO the bus instead of stripping stuff out!

I’m starting on the internal timber framing. The idea with this is to not only provide the framework for attaching everything else inside, but also to provide more surface area to glue on the aluminium composite panels. I’m hoping this will make them more secure, and once they are stable, I will then FINALLY be able to properly seal up the joins on the outside and stop my leaks for good!

I’m using 70 x 35mm framing pine, and this will be secured to the steel frame of the bus using galvanised steel bolts and metal screws. I’ll also be using Sika 221 adhesive to glue the timber pieces to the aluminium panels.

Sealing the roof to fix leaks in my bus

Sealing the roof to fix leaks in my bus

I spent most of this week up on the roof of my bus, sealing every rivet and join I could see that might be a potential source of water leaking in.

I think I have managed to stop a few of the leaks, so things are looking a little brighter! Lots more to do, but at least now I feel like I am making some progress

Accessing my bus roof despite my fear of heights!

Accessing my bus roof despite my fear of heights!

I’m finally getting back to working on the bus this week, after spending the last couple of months focussing on my business over the busy Christmas period.

The first task is to make the bus watertight. It has a lot of leaks! In order to do that, I need to get up onto the roof.

Now, I must point out that I am VERY uncomfortable with heights! Even using a stepladder makes me nervous! So you can imagine how I feel about being up on the roof of my bus which is 3.5m (11′ 6″) above the ground!

After looking at a lot of different options (most of which were either quite scary for me, not very safe, or too expensive) Dad and I came up with a plan to access the bus roof, from the roof of my little shack, which the bus is parked alongside. It not only makes it much easier and safer for me to get onto the bus roof, I think it will also be easier to carry tools and stuff across as well.

Check out the video to see what we built.

Bus Leaks, Brain Dumps and Bathtubs

Bus Leaks, Brain Dumps and Bathtubs

There hasn’t been a lot of visible progress on the bus conversion to share in the last couple of months. But there has been a bit going on behind the scenes.

It’s actually been quite a stressful time.

Bus Leaks

We had the first bit of decent rain since I got the bus back from the repairer and to my despair, the bus had many more leaks than it had previously, and most of the new ones were coming through the poorly sealed gaps between the panels on the sides of the bus. I was really upset by this given that I had spent thousands of dollars on the work and had been assured that the bus would be watertight.

I became even more distressed when I sought advice from other folks about how to fix the issue, and was told by almost everyone I spoke to, (including a professional bus repairer) that the panels would never be able to be properly sealed while the joins were unsupported and that I would need to remove the panels and redo them to properly align with the studs in frame before then sealing the joins. The bus repairer quoted me $2000-$3000 to do this, assuming he could get the panels off without damaging them and re-use them. The cost would be greater if I had to purchase new panels.
The fact is, I just do not have enough money left to pay someone else to redo this work, and I do not have any confidence in the workmanship of the original repairer, so do not want him doing any further work on the bus. I did speak with the ACCC and the Office of Fair Trading QLD, who attempted mediation, but it was clear that I would have to take the repairer to court if I wanted to proceed with attempts to get some of my money refunded.
At the same time as this was going on, I was diagnosed with another melanoma (my second this year) and I was also quite physically unwell, with repeated bouts of epigastric pain. Investigations for a cause of this were all normal, and in hindsight, I think it was largely due to stress.
I had resolved to try and remove the panels myself and redo them, given the advice I had received about that. I was dreading this as I knew it would be a massive job and not easy to do. I also knew it would cost me more money. However, a couple of guys in the bus group I am in on Facebook, both of whom are very experienced with heavy vehicles and have built their own motorhomes too, reassured me that although not an ideal solution, I should be able to fix the leaks by building additional reinforcement behind the panel joins and sealing the gaps better. One of the guys even came out and looked at the bus in person and offered advice. He was confident that it could be fixed without having to totally redo the whole job.
I don’t know if I will ever be 100% confident with these panels, but I certainly am keen to avoid redoing them if at all possible.
So my plan now is to follow their advice and hopefully I can get my bus leak free.
I decided it was not worth the time, or the extra stress that would certainly be involved in trying to take the repairer to court. (and no guarantee I would win the case anyway). With another cancer diagnosis reminding me of how short life can be, I really now just want to move on and focus on building my bus and hitting the road.

Brain Dumps

So, with everything that was going on, I’d started to feel quite overwhelmed, especially as the more I started to think about the actual build, the more I realised that there was a lot more planning required. Certain things needed to be done (or at least decided upon) before others. And I kept thinking of more little jobs to do.

I decided to take a step back and look at the whole bus project, and get a plan for how to proceed. I spent half a day doing a brain dump, writing down on post-it notes every job I could think of that needed to be done. I then placed them all on a big whiteboard. The benefit of using the post-it notes was that I could move them around based on the order they needed to be completed.

The result was that I can now see at a glance the main things I need to do to get the bus finished. Not only does this make it much easier to plan each task, but it takes away a lot of that overwhelm feeling, because I don’t feel like I have to keep it all in my head now. I can take notes down as things are done and move them around as decisions are made and things change.
I highly recommend this method to anyone faced with a big project like this!

Bathtubs

One of the positive things to happen this past month was that I decided to re-design the bathroom for my bus.

I had originally planned to have a walk through bathroom with shower on one side and toilet on the other. I’d planned to get a fully-enclosed fibreglass shower module, but the more I though about it, the more I realised it wouldn’t be that easy to install, as I’d have to cut a fair bit off the top of it to fit the curve of the roof and I was worried that it might look scrappy and be hard to neatly seal afterwards. I also started thinking (probably because I’d been feeling so stressed!) about how nice it is to be able to soak in a bathtub occasionally, and how much I missed living in a house with a bath. I started to think, why don’t I have a bath in the bus? I mean, this is my future home that I am building, why should I not have some little luxuries included?

At first a bathtub in the bus seemed a crazy idea. I wouldn’t have access to a lot of water unless I was parked up at a caravan park perhaps, so wouldn’t actually be able to have a bath that often. But the more I thought about it, the less crazy it seemed. Especially when I discovered that I could get a bath for less than $150 (compared to the $800 shower module!). And being able to use a shower curtain all the way around would also mean less need for waterproofing of surrounding walls.

I also had an issue with the positioning of my guillotine in the studio. I realised that in order for the handle to fully extend (which is necessary for the safety latch to engage) the guillotine would need to be in the centre of the bus where the roof was high enough. This wasn’t possible with the bathroom walkway into the studio being in the centre.

So I ended up redesigning the bathroom to be a single room on one side of the bus with the hallway up the other side. AND I managed to create space for the bathtub as well!

I am so excited to be having a house with a bath again! I know I may not get to use it often, but it will be there if the opportunity does arise, and when it’s not being used as a bath or shower, it will be a fantastic place to hang my laundry out of the weather :

Rustproofing the bus and sealing up the gaps

Rustproofing the bus and sealing up the gaps

I reached a milestone with the bus conversion this week – I finally finished the “demolition” stage. I have spent the past two weeks cleaning up the inside frame as best I can, coating everything in Penetrol to protect from future rust and also doing some work on the outside of the bus to fix the gaps in the panel joins and properly seal the driver’s window.

I now have a nice clean slate – essentially a blank canvas and I am so excited to finally be able to start actually building stuff!

A disappointing ending to my rust repairs

A disappointing ending to my rust repairs

I got my bus back from the repairer this week and while I am mostly happy with the work he did to fix the rust in my bus frame, I was quite disappointed with the way he put the panels back on the sides. So frustrating given the amount of money the work cost me.

Still, the issues are not un-fixable. Just means more work for me.

Bus frame rust repairs have begun!

Bus frame rust repairs have begun!

Yesterday I made the trip out to the repair workshop to see my bus after the windows and side panels were removed.

As expected, there was a fair bit of rust in the rail running under all the windows and most of that will need to be replaced. There are also some sections in the floor level rail that need fixing as well.
Thankfully though, all of the uprights are pretty much rust free! This is good news as it would have been a big job (and more expense) to replace those. The only exception was a partial upright at the very front of the bus near the entry door, which had rusted through at the base and will need to be replaced.

The disappointing news, however, is that after removing the lower panels, we also discovered significant rust in the lower rail that runs along the top of the bins underneath the bus. Sections of this will also have to be replaced.
Check out this water level / rust mark! There has obviously been a fair bit of water sitting in this cavity at some stage!
The repairer originally estimated it would cost $6000-$7000 to fix the rust, but this additional hidden rust will require more work, so the cost is now likely to be closer to $8000. There isn’t really anything I can do about that. Obviously having to spend the money I was planning to use for the interior fit-out on rust repairs instead is frustrating, but hopefully if the repairer does a good job, then I shouldn’t have to worry about rust for the foreseeable future.

New Plan!  Change of plans for rust repairs

New Plan! Change of plans for rust repairs

So since my last post, I found out, thanks to some recommendations from fellow bus owners, that there is actually a guy in my local area who runs a business doing motorhome/caravan renovations!

After contacting him, he came out to look at the bus and not only did he seem like a genuinely nice guy who knew his stuff, he also quoted me quite a bit less to do the job than everyone else!

So I no longer have to drive the bus 6 hours down the M1 to NSW to be fixed, which I am very happy about!

Tomorrow I will drive it less than an hour to his workshop and he’ll be starting work on it very soon!

Final Layout Design for my Bus Conversion

Final Layout Design for my Bus Conversion

Now that I have a plan to fix the rust in my bus, I need to finalise the interior design so I know which windows I will be replacing, in case the repairer needs to modify sections of the frame.

There were a few things I wasn’t quite satisfied with in my original design so I’ve been tweaking things a bit this week to make some improvements.

Once again, I set up a mock layout inside the bus to get a feel for the space in 3D. I’ve been sitting with this layout for a few days now and I’m really happy with it! This is the winner 🙂

The Mechanic’s Verdict

The Mechanic’s Verdict

Since discovering all of the rust in the frame of my bus, I am faced with the decision of where to go from here. Do I just cut my losses with this bus and start again to try to find a less rusty one? Or do I stick with the one I have and make the best of it? It’s not an easy decision, especially if like me, you have a very limited budget.

I decided that before I could decide, I needed to get a really clear idea about the condition of the rest of the bus. What if it also had some major mechanical problem I wasn’t aware of? The last thing I wanted was to spend heaps of money fixing up the body only to find out that it also needed costly mechanical repairs.

The bus had passed it’s Certificate of Inspection (the annual inspection all heavy vehicles in Queensland must have) only two months ago, and we had driven it almost 300km home the day I bought it without any issues, so it seemed that at least the basics were OK. But after discovering all the hidden rust, I was feeling much less confident, and worried about what other hidden problems might reveal themselves.

Fortunately, the workshop of one of the most highly-recommended heavy vehicle mechanics in town is just a few minutes down the road from me! So I booked the bus in for a thorough inspection.

Isuzu bus engine

I have to admit that I was dreading the report from the mechanic, fully expecting him to find something major wrong with the engine or maybe something in the chassis I had overlooked.

But it was good news!

He reported that the bus is actually in very good mechanical condition, as is the chassis. There were only a few minor things that required fixing like a couple of hoses that were worn, and some minor adjustments to the front brakes. He even commented that it was the sort of bus he would choose if he was going to convert one himself!

I was so relieved!

At least I made a good purchase in that respect!

So I have decided to stick with the bus I have. It is a huge bummer having to spend a lot more money than I was expecting to fix the rust, but at least it is fixable, and when it is done, I should have a very solid little bus as the foundation for my future home.

The decision now is how to go about doing the repairs?

I could learn to weld and get some help from folks who have done their own rust repairs and try to DIY, but I really feel like that is a bit out of my depth. If it was just some shelves I was welding up then fine, but this is essentially the structural frame and outer walls of my home, and I want to make sure it is done right from the beginning. I don’t want to spend the next 10 years constantly patching up leaks because I couldn’t do a perfect job at the start. I think this is one part of the build that needs to be done by professionals. Of course, that will cost money. Big money I suspect. Maybe it will be more than I can afford and I’ll have to try DIY. I don’t know. But that is the next step – to speak with bus repairers and get some quotes.

I found an Origo stove!

I found an Origo stove!

After all the depressing news about the rust in my bus the last couple of weeks, it is nice to be able to share some happy news with you this week!

I finally managed to track down an Origo alcohol stove!

Check out the video to see why I chose this sort of stove for my bus and why I am so happy to have found one.

Stripping the Roof and Finding More Rust

Stripping the Roof and Finding More Rust

I removed as much of the ceiling as I could this week to expose the roof frame. I found some small patches of rust but thankfully, it is not as bad as the rust in the walls.

However, I also cleaned up the dust and dirt that was covering the floor and sitting in the crevices of the lower frame, and exposed more patches of significant rust there.

I must admit that I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed and have been stressing about how I can manage to fix the rust problems, or indeed, whether I should even bother! Part of me wonders if i should cut my losses and try to find another bus. But of course, there is no guarantee that the next one will be rust free either!

It’s hard dealing with this kind of stuff when you don’t have the skills to properly do the work yourself and you don’t really have the budget to pay professional repairers. So I’m faced with some tough decisions. I will keep you guys up to date with what I decide.

A Nasty Surprise

A Nasty Surprise

This week I started to strip the inside of the bus. I wanted to see what condition the frame underneath was in, since there was a bit of rust visible under the window seals own the outside, and I wanted to deal with that before starting the fit out.

I expected there would be a bit of rust. It is, after all, a 30 year old bus. But I was not expecting it to be as bad as it was!

I discovered that the metal rail running under the windows was really quite badly rusted, and is beyond a simple wire brush / painting treatment. It will require bits to be cut out and new pieces welded in, which is beyond my current skill level. And in order to be able to do this, the windows and side panels will have to be removed.

It will be a big job and I will have to spend more money and time fixing it than I originally budgeted for.

Oh well, looks like I will have to add welding to the list of things I’ll be learning on this journey!

Check out the video below to see what I found.

My Bus Conversion Layout Plan

My Bus Conversion Layout Plan

After playing with ideas for the interior layout of my bus on my computer all these years, it is great to finally be able to see how it will fit in an actual bus!

Check out the video where I do a walk through of how I’m thinking of building the inside.

Getting my bus licence – I passed!

Getting my bus licence – I passed!

Today I passed my driving test and got my HR (Heavy Rigid) licence!

This allows me to drive any rigid bus or truck, as long as it doesn’t have a Roadranger / crash box type transmission.
I only needed an MR (medium rigid) licence to drive my bus, but I decided to go for the HR because it was the same cost and exactly the same test, so why not?
I have to admit that the past few weeks have been quite stressful! Having driven mostly automatic cars for the last 20-odd years, I not only had to get used to handling a big truck, but also just using the gears again. And it is a little different driving a manual heavy vehicle compared to driving a manual car too, so it took a bit of getting used to. I ended up paying for extra lessons to build up my confidence.
The first time I sat the practical driving test, I failed! I actually drove really well for almost the whole test, but then my back wheels hit the kerb as I was turning a tight corner at a busy intersection (because I was so focussed on gear changing correctly and not hitting oncoming traffic and forgot to check my mirrors to see where the end of the truck was) and that is an immediate fail.
I was devastated. Not just because I was frustrated that one mistake cost me the test, but also because I then had to pay another $350 to try again! And I had already spent over $1000 getting to that point!
I decided after that to switch to an automatic truck, so that I would have one less thing to think about in the test and could really focus on just handling the truck. Because I hold an open car licence, it didn’t matter what sort of truck I did my test in. I would still get the same HR-B licence.
I could have just started out in an automatic truck to begin with, which is what a lot of people do, but of course, my bus is a manual transmission so I wanted to make sure I knew how to drive it safely. Switching to the auto truck felt like a bit of a cop out, but I knew that I could now handle the gears and that I would be fine doing this in my bus, when I could practice on quieter roads without the stress of an examiner sitting beside me. And I just could not afford to fail again!
And it really helped because the second time I passed with flying colours.
So now I have my licence I can take my time practicing in my bus (away from busy cities) to get used to the feel of the transmission and get used to driving something 11m long!
The first challenge will be reversing it out of our long narrow driveway! But I will wait a while before I attempt that. I have had enough driving for one month!

I bought a bus!!

I bought a bus!!

I am officially a bus owner!

I wasn’t really planning to purchase my bus until after I got my HR licence, but when this one turned up on Gumtree, I knew I had to at least look at it! An Isuzu LT111p with rear-mount 6BD1-Turbo engine. 6 speed manual. 11m long. Plenty of lockable storage bins on both sides. It not only ticked most of the boxes in terms of the sort of bus I was looking for, but the fact that it was already registered in Queensland (my home state) AND already certified as a motorhome was a huge drawcard for me.

It seemed to be a pretty decent little bus – just big enough for my needs, and mechanically sound. My biggest concern was rust, as most buses of this age (and certainly ones for sale in my budget) have at least some. And some have LOTS. And indeed, this one did have a fair bit of rust underneath most of the window seals and in a few patches elsewhere on the body, but the chassis underneath looked pretty clean. In the end, I decided that I would take a chance on the rust and hope that it would be mostly surface rust and relatively easy to clean up and repair. The fact that it was already registered as a motorhome meant I wouldn’t have to worry so much about getting all the engineering compliance approvals (which costs money of course) and it also already had a towbar fitted, so I was saving about $1500 there as well. And it seemed to be mechanically fine. So I figured I had a little extra to spend on rust repairs if required.

None of us really expected to be bringing a bus home that day, but Garry (BEST neighbour ever!) very kindly agreed to drive the bus home for me. It was an almost 3 hour drive back home, but the bus ran great and JUST managed to fit through our front gate and up the driveway. I have no idea how I will manage to reverse it out again, but I am in no hurry to move it just yet!

So finally, after years of dreaming and planning and saving, I actually have a bus!

This morning’s emotions are a mix of joy, excitement, sense of accomplishment, and a healthy dose of “what the hell have I just got myself in for” LOL! The thought of all the work that now lies ahead of me is a bit daunting, but I keep looking out the window at the old girl parked outside and I can’t stop smiling. I am already falling in love with her and I can’t wait to get started turning her into my future home.