Saturday, June 16, 2018

Day 2 - More seats, all the seats, the best seats and some floor.

Another day, another 12 seats. Armed with a couple of new ultra-thin cut-off blades for the grinder and the technique nailed from last time I got the remainder of the seats out in no time, like less than an hour. I didn't even use a whole blade to finish. I wish someone had told me that the seat squabs (bottom pieces) come out as easily as they do - it makes getting the more reluctant of the chair-rail (the wall side mounting) bolts out a lot easier. Also, disconnecting the heaters from the seat bases was a real arse - getting the squab out and undoing every screw I could see helped but there was still the near-impossible jiggle of the mounting bracket to figure out. I'm still not sure I could tell you how they're supposed to dislocate.

That task complete I was going to quit (it had been my goal for the day) but it had got done so quickly I decided to carry on with removing anything else that was in the way of pulling up the vinyl/lino and plywood floor. There was a fuel tank filler cover, finish strips down one side and around wheel wells, and a duct on the other that concealed and protected the heater pipes that run from the engine at the rear to a couple of space heaters and the demisting heaters at the front.

This proved to be the most frustrating part of the day with many Philips head screws full of muck requiring cleaning out before I could get the driver into them. Some rounded anyway and then I cut a slot in them and tried a flat bit. That worked for most but a couple were stubborn and refused to move and then I resorted to just cutting the heads off (I'd avoided this as I didn't want to damage any of the components as I didn't know what I was going to reuse at this point - the duct I definitely wouldn't for this purpose but could see it being used for something somewhere else.

That done I was interested to see what was going on underneath the flooring, grabbed a hold of a loose edge and pulled. It came up super-easy, probably because it was pretty damp down there. I'd noticed the floor undulated a fair bit and suspected the ply wasn't in very good shape and this confirmed my fears. Soaked, swollen ply probably meant a rusty floor underneath. I got most of one side of lino flooring up then attacked the fat, countersunk head bolts that held the ply down. These came out pretty easily but quite a few were in pretty bad shape and a few heads simply collapsed when I put any torque on them. 

I needed a wrecking bar to get under the ply to lift it, which I didn't have, so moved onto removing the middle strip of flooring. This was stuck down much better that the side so I gave up on that idea pretty quickly and started putting a tool list together in my head for next time.

Another 3 hours spent and I'm, I'd say, half way to stripped out. Pretty stoked with that. Now I've just got to figure out what to do with the seats so they're not constantly in the way and needing moving over and over.    

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Conversion - Ground Zero, Day One, How To (remove seats)

And so it begins! First day off work since bringing my gal back from Vernon and had the morning free to make a start. Here she is in her new home - the Machine Works yard.

Removing seats is the first job for obvious reasons - you can't get to anything else with them in and they're on the floor which is the foundation of this 'house'. It's good to start with foundations.

Grabbed a 100' length of power cable and air hose in town before heading up so I was equipped to plug into the Machine Shop's outlets. Got up there for 8 and, after a quick chat with Robert about the plan for a rear motorbike rack and tow hitch, and getting air compressor set up and cord/hose unwound, got started. 

There are a number of ways to remove the bolts that hold the seats down to the floor depending on your circumstances. Quickest, easiest and simplest is to simply undo the bolt - this rarely works because the nut on the underside isn't 'captive' (welded to the floor) so usually just spins with the bolt. I got 3 out with this method. Next easiest is to tighten the bolt until the head shears off - this seems to require the nut to be solidly rusted to the floor. I got none out using this method - they just span. Next easiest depends on whether you;ve a helper and who is the guy/gal under the bus. If you have two people you can have one under the bus with a wrench on the nut while you undo from above. Easy for the person on top, not so much fun for the nut monkey. I didn't have a helper so I got none out like this. Last resort is to cut and grind the heads off the bolts - noisy, dirty, smelly and costs in cutting discs. This was the main method I employed and went through 3 discs on one side of the bus.

I started by trying to cut all the way thru between the bolt head and the seat base plate 

and got one out:

but quickly realised that I was cutting way more metal than I needed to and also that some of the bases plates had become concave so getting the disc into that joint was tricky/impossible especially when it had worn to half its original diameter. I was going through discs too quickly so I had an idea to cut the heads vertically down the shank dividing it in two.

That used up the worn discs that weren't cutting heads off well. Then I had  the idea to try an air chisel on them to see if I could cut each half off. I couldn't - didn't even make a mark! I started again with a fresh disc and cut at a slight angle from the top of the lip of the bolt head down to the start of the shank. With that half of the head removed I could cut the back half off starting a bit higher up from my original cut and so avoiding cutting into the seat base, which was the real disc eater.

Carrying on like that I had one side of the bus (14 seats) out, and a couple of rows at the back, by 11:

What I wasn't expecting was that the bolts holding the seats onto the 'chair rail', the horizontal member that runs the length of the side of the bus, wold be such a pain - I'd heard they were the easy bit. Again, no captive nuts and upholstery, wheel wells, heater units, etc made accessing them very difficult in places. An impact driver, ratchet wrench and extension, and regular wrench in various combinations got them undone. I was very glad I had the selection of weapons I do or I might have admitted defeat in this battle.

If I'd had the whole day, or even just a long morning to a late lunch, I would've got the lot out so I was pretty pleased with progress. I was less pleased with discovering water on the floor from leaking windows but only because I'd been in the bus on a wet day before and not noticed any leaking. I was not surprised at all because the originals are notorious for being sieves.

Next job will be to complete removal and find somewhere to put/leave/sell/dump them. Trevor said there wasn't much of a market for them but he could use them if I didn't want them. He must've know I didn't want them and could've taken them out in the month he had the bus. Sigh. An ad offering them on local classifieds hasn't led to any enquiries yet. 

Until next time, amigos/amigas!..

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

You're coming home with me tonight

In a now familiar vein, I found myself able to go get the bus from Vernon the day after I passed my air brakes exam. After 3 weeks off work, on my first day back I mentioned that I'd have to take a day off to get it some time this week. My current employer suggested that Tuesday would be a good day as he'd be away in Calgary so I checked the local Facebook rideshare page and found someone was leaving at 6am for Vancouver and would be happy to take me to Vernon for my suggested donation of 20 bucks gas money. That was 5 bucks cheaper than the useless Greyhound service that went once a day in the middle of the afternoon. Click!

I was in Vernon by 7.45, at the garage where I'd, by chance, met Trevor the first time, and texted him to let him know. He replied saying he'd be there shortly and with instructions to cross the road to Capri Insurance and get the paperwork going - the office where he has his buses registered and insured is on the opposite corner?! and had just opened at 8am?! Click!

We had transfer of registration and issuing of a Temporary Operating Permit wrapped up within 3/4 hour then jumped in Trevor's car for the ride out to the bus. I spent the drive asking Trevor about day to say running of the bus - starting/stopping procedures, pre-trip inspections, where to gas up, etc.

It was a very nice, cool, dry and sunny Spring morning - perfect for a first drive of 40' of behemoth. The bus was pretty much where we left it last time I was there and his mechanic had just finished giving my bus a promised oil change.

We got the necessary masking off of the 'School Bus' signage and the 'STOP' sign covered up then took the beast for a blast down to where we'd driven the time we'd gone for a test drive - a perfect quiet, smooth and windy 60kmh road. It was different but very driveable and I loved the feeling of so much weight, solidity and momentum - it reminded me of the difference between riding an unloaded bicycle and one fully loaded for touring.

I dropped Trevor back at the bus parking site on the way back past, said my goodbyes and thanks and headed back towards the highway. Once on I realised I had no idea how far the 1/4 tank of diesel would take me, where the cheapest fuel was, whether I'd be able to get into the station easily, etc. I figured I was good for a few hundred km's and pulled over just south of Armstrong to find an Esso station - if I was filling this thing up I wanted Aeroplan points! (reward miles for AirCanada supported by Esso)

GasBuddy (a cheap gas finding app) couldn't tell me how much prices were for some reason so I headed to the gas station I'd filled at last time I was down there which had been the cheapest at the time. It was full of customers when I got there and a little tight for a bus so I rolled on. Just north of Enderby I spotted two hitch-hikers thumbing and pulled over. Julian and Martin were in their 20's, from Germany, heading to Banff and stoked to get a ride in a bus! We had a good chat about English/German stuff (and DIDN'T mention the war once!) and invented "bus-king" - which is playing guitar and singing on a bus for a ride.

At Sicamous I had to divert briefly to pick up an old CNR water can and cup that I'd bought on a Facebook classifieds page and we headed down an exceedingly narrow (for Canada and a guy drivign a 40' bus for the first time) dead-end road to the address. Missed the turn and had to carry on a little way to turn around but was gifted a full 'hammer-head' at the end where it terminated at a golf-course! Too tight to drive direct now I parked up and left the guys to hang out while I ran down the 300m to the house where I found fencing contractors just packing up who told me they'd just gone out for a couple of hours. It was 11.45 and I had said I'd be there early afternoon but come on! Back to town we went to Shell (no Esso and Aeroplan but I still get AirMiles!).

A couple of beautiful foreign pump attendants

100 gallons! That's 1000 miles range at 10mpUSg, which is possible but pretty much max you can expect. It's odd to find myself hoping for 10mpg!

Some time later... it could be worse, I'd heard stories of $600 fill-ups. This would be under 500 from empty.
Julian noticed that there was oil leaking from the rear. and the back was spattered with oil spots. I wondered if it was just spilled oil from the oil change.

Back on the road we made a brief stop at Craigelacchie National Historic site, because I'd never been and I was hosting tourists. It's the site of the last rail spike driven into the railway across Canada linking east with west. There was no gold spike that I was looking forward to. It was mildly interesting.

1/2 hour later I dropped them on the highway at Revy and left them to carry on to Banff where they wanted to get to that evening despite my telling them how nice Revy was and them saying they had plenty of time and didn't want to rush through anywhere! Then I drove home to grab my bike so I could get back from Roberts shop up the hill and headed over that way, thinking I'd take the old bridge to the other side, avoiding having to cross the main highway twice. Got about a bus length on to it before I realised that I wasn't sure how much my bus weighed because I'd just passed a sign saying 'MAX GVR - 5 TONS' (GVR - Gross Vehicle Weight) I back up off the bridge then scoured the bus trying to find the decal or label that stated the weight (completely forgetting that it's on the registration docs).

The bridge. I wasn't parked in the middle of the road - this is a Google Maps screenshot ;)

Decided not to risk it and took the long way round to the long hill that climbs to Robert's shop. Was a little disappointed to find that it couldn't pull more than 40kmh on the steepest bit but I know they don't go fast up hills. Robert was in but busy, and once he was off the phone showed me where he wanted it parked. While he'd been talking I'd chatted to his wife about the oil issue and she said she had a mobile mechanic friend who could come up and look, had called him and he'd be there in 30 mins! Click!

Had a brief chat with Robert about a rear bike rack, seats, running power, etc then Mickey the Mobile Mechanic (I'm not kidding) showed up shortly after, looked it over, declared the sump shot but the rest of the bus sound and solid and a deal at the price I paid. Stoked.

Next job/episode - pulling seats out to see what the floor's like!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Achievement unlocked! I am offically an airhead..

My bus has air brakes. In British Columbia, where I live, you are required to undergo air brakes training and testing in order to get an endorsement on your license that permits you to drive vehicles equipped with air brakes. For this reason I initially looked for a bus with hydraulic brakes because I'm familiar with them and they don't require the daily, and top of long, steep, descent adjustment checks that should be done. This is less critical for a school bus than a 53' semi (Artic' for my English readers) as brake shoe wear would be considerably less on a bus than a truck but still advisable. If you have an accident caused by your brakes failing and you can't show that you completed a pre-trip inspection then you might find yourself in a lot more bother than if you had. Anyway, I quickly realised that hydraulic-braked buses are few and far between and resigned myself to my fate - a life of learning is a good life after all huh?!..

I was going to do the course in Salmon Arm, an hour and a half west of 'home' because they had the next available course but, being a 3 day course, that would require long commutes or staying overnight, adding considerably to the expense of the course which, at $225, was already quite costly. So I booked my course in Revelstoke for the weekend of June 1-3 and waited the month that I had to. That actually fitted quite neatly with my plans to be away for much of May at a meditation centre in Merritt for 6 days and in Nova Scotia for 10, meaning I could leave the bus in Vernon at Trevor's yard until test was passed after I got back from my break then go and collect following passing the test, avoiding any storage fees in Revelstoke that I might be liable for.

So this weekend was the training and tests. There were 3 sessions that were supposed to follow this schedule:

Friday night - 6-10pm
Saturday - 8am-4pm
Sunday - 8am-4pm

I turned up at the local campus of the Okanagan College at 5.45 and found our instructor, Don Herring, a retired trucker of around 70, chatting with another student. He was friendly and chatty and we joked about not having a 6-pack, it being Friday night and everything. The rest of the class of 12 rolled in by 6 then we were taken outside to unload his bitchin' '55 GMC truck-box trailer of the brake system mock-up that he uses as a teaching aid. Three 4'x4' boards mounted on stands and 5 crates of brake components and connecting air hoses.

Once that was in the classroom we were left to start reading the ICBC training manual while he assembled the mock-up. Once that was done then properly introduced himself and started by talking about how we'd find a lot of contradictions between what he would teach, the ICBC manual and the online practice tests. Awesome! There's nothing like consistency when you're trying to learn something and it sounded like we'd get nothing like consistency! I was pretty ready for bed,
still adjusting from Nova Scotia time, by the time we wrapped up at 9.15, 45 minutes early and left with instructions to be back at 8. Ran thru the online test a couple of times that night and in the early morning and sure enough, there were all kinds of inconsistencies in information from Don and the manual.

Saturday morning involved being taken thru various set-ups of different arrangements of braking system on the mock-up - single and dual systems, single unit trucks and semi & trailer combinations. We also did 4 multiple choice quizzes that contained similar questions to those we would be asked in the final ICBC exam at the ICBC office after the course. Afternoon was spent in the Town Works yard being introduced to a real truck with real air brakes and being shown how to do the brakes component of a pre-trip inspection. Once that was done we each took a turn to go thru the steps with plenty of prompting from Don. We were all done by 2 and then sent on our way, a couple of hours early.

Sunday began at 8, involved a quick run thru of the main points followed by another multiple choice practice test but a little more serious than the previous. At one point, after being berated for 'making things complicated' when I was simply trying to decipher the myriad similar and conflicting terms used, I pointed out that it was ridiculous to teach a course with the material provided being so confusing and contradictory. If I failed I was going to take it higher. I later found the ICBC manual suffered inconsistencies between passages, calling an air brake chamber that, an 'air chamber' and a 'brake chamber' in a couple of paragraphs! While we picked letters Don started filling out paperwork to show ICBC that we'd completed the Pre-trip section of the course then, as I'd finished first in less than 10 minutes, called me up to check my answers. I got a couple wrong out of 25 but a pass is 80% of answers correct so I was confident I'd do OK in the real test.

That done, we had only to disassemble the mock-up board and we were done, at 11 - 5 hours early! I didn't mind a bit as I was feeling quite tired, had a bunch of things I wanted to do and was bored of brakes! I thanked Don for his work and cycled home.

Monday came too quickly - I was back to work after 3 weeks off - but it meant I could get to ICBC and get tested. That was the first thing I did after a quick revision session over breakfast. The nice lady at the counter took my $20 test fee then sat me down at a computer screen for the final multiple choice session. Again, was over in less than 10 minutes. A couple of questions were completely new to me but I followed logic and only got one of 21 wrong (out of a possible 25) and that was it, I was done! Passed!

Got my picture taken, paid another $17 to have the endorsement added to new driving licence card, and I was free to leave and go collect my bus. That would happen on Tuesday thanks to a series of fortunate events including my current employer being off-site for the day and a ride to Vernon appearing on a local Facebook rideshare page for early in the morning (exactly what I wanted so I could get it, and get back quickly and out of any rush-hour, rather than the only Greyhound service of the day which didn't leave until mid-afternoon). More nods from Mr Universe.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Bus buddies!

First post in a while! Been busy with helping out at a Vipassana meditation centre for a renovations week and then to Nova Scotia for a 10 day break with a buddy.
I think I mentioned in a previous post how I'd come across a fellow bus converter after answering a question on a US bus conversion resource ( and then found out that he'd bought a bus from the very same guy I had! After being out of town for 3 weeks, I finally got round to getting round to his bus and meeting up. Sam and his pal Johnny were right in the middle of draining coolant out of the heating pipes that run from the engine in the back of the bus to the front heater and windshield demister when I turned up.

It was Sam's bus, bought with his missus for themselves and young family. Johnny had been roped into helping out. Both Brits, it was good to be with just fellow countrymen for the first time in a while.

Sam's bus was a Thomas but very similar to my Bluebird being a 40' flat-fronted, rear-engined model and, bizarrely, bus no. 0095 (mine's 0094) - it just gets weirder. They'd just got the seats pulled out and the floor stripped down to clean metal and some rust. Nothing major but needing some thought and work and we discussed best strategies for that. Mine's 4 years older and from the same area, Sooke on Vancouver Island, so am hoping that Bluebirds were made of better steel - mine seemed to be less rusty on the underside to my memory.
I didn't stay too long cos I had things to do and it was clear that progress was slow so I didn't want to slow them any further and left them to it with a promise to be back to give them a hand if they needed it.

I also nipped up the hill to see Robert at his machine shop where I'd arranged to park the bus to have the metalwork done to check that he was still happy to accommodate me. He was and we had a brief chat about my current change of plan to do most of the work in Mexico this winter and just get the bus ready to drive down by then, complete with rear rack and trailer hitch to carry my motorcycle and haul my trailer that I'll be getting him to fabricate and install.

The plan is coming together! This weekend is an Air Brakes Training course at the local college - 3 days of training and testing before sitting an official ICBC exam next week. That completed I'll be able to go collect the bus and drive it back!

Report on the training coming soon.

Ciao for now

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Test Drive Day!

I'd already given Trevor a deposit for the bus but I still wanted to be taken out for a spin to check starting, transmission smoothness, engine noise, etc so I'd arranged to go back down on my way to a few days helping out at the Vipassana Centre in Merritt, BC. I set off early and almost the first vehicle I saw once I was out on the highway was an A1 Bus Lines school bus. No, seriously. I took that as a good omen despite the rain which had already established itself as my bad omen.

I had arranged to meet him at the 'yard' and arrived ahead of him which gave me an opportunity to chat with his mechanic who was finishing getting all lights working - if they're fitted they have to work apparently. He said he'd done some other work on it and thought that it was a pretty nice bus in good condition. It had started instantly, first time, after a little while sitting out in the field. Trevor showed up a little later with a temporary permit to drive the unregistered bus and we got going.

It ran sweet as a nut, even up a steep, winding hill. We got it to 100kmh and it was still only on 1800rpm so it should be good for 70-75mph if I can afford the amount of diesel it'll drink at that speed - the best you get out of them is around 10mpg!! or 25-30litres/100km!! Which actually isn't that bad considering I didn't get much better than that hauling a loaded trailer across Canada with my 4 litre truck a couple of years ago, and this has 8.3 litres! It produces only about the same power but the torque is monumental. I have a feeling you'd get the same mpg empty as you would full and hauling my truck behind it - it just wouldn't notice any of it.

Back at the yard we agreed when I'd be back down to collect and Trevor headed back to work. I spent another half hour crawling over it taking the dimensions I'd missed last time and making notes about windows. I had been doing a lot of thinking about how to glaze once the roof was raised. I wanted to keep the originals in the living area but sheet off the rear of the bus for insulation and privacy reasons. I'd fit the odd window here and there back there but wanted the panoramic strip of glazing where I'd spend most of my time. However, I'd been concerned about the single-glazed originals getting condensation in the winter so was stoked to find that the front couple of windows were double-glazed and realised that they were so to prevent fogging to ensure the driver could see clearly through them at junctions. That meant I could adapt those to fit and hopefully direct-glaze fixed double-glazed units into the remainder of the openings providing good heat and sound insulation generally but allowing cross-ventilation in the summer.

Next stop was a yard in Kelowna where Trevor had a couple of scrapper buses that one of which I was interested in taking the 'forehead' off to close the front of the raised roof section and additional double-glazed units. Once there I found myself wanting all sorts bits and bobs - badges, a Bluebird first-aid kit tin, etc. Lovely bus memorabilia. I got permission to remove the kit and brackets after agreeing the price of a paltry $25! The rest can wait.

Today's bizarre coincidence comes to you compliments of and someone who private messaged me about that I'd commented on a thread he'd started and that he had noticed that I was in Revelstoke, as he was! Then he read my bio, found my blog and read that I'd bought a bus from Trevor. THE VERY SAME GUY HE"D JUST BOUGHT A BUS FROM!!!! 

I'm starting to believe in destiny.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Briefly, bus bought!

So, Trevor of A1 Bus Lines was passing through town on Wednesday which gave me an opportunity to give him a 50% deposit for the bus! It'll stay with him until early June when I get trained, and hopefully passed, in the operation of air brakes.
In the meantime he'll get it road-worthy and insured for the day to take me for a 'test drive' as I pass through Vernon in a few days time. He assures me that it runs and rides well but I want to check that and especially the automatic transmission for smoothness prior to committing. 
Very excited to be the proud owner of a behemoth - 40' of banana-yellow beauty!..

Day 2 - More seats, all the seats, the best seats and some floor.

Another day, another 12 seats. Armed with a couple of new ultra-thin cut-off blades for the grinder and the technique nailed from...