Sunday, June 14, 2009

Moving Right Along

Took our first extended trip this past week. We headed east instead of the expected west or north. Our destination was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. If I was more technically savvy I would post a map of our route (but our route was fairly complicated anyways with the constant avoidance of well traveled roads). Anyways, heading out east from St. Louis we made it to the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana and camped at the Springs Valley Recreation Area campground, which was a free campground to boot. The drive to Indiana took a little longer than Google Maps head estimated, but Gifford did great, never even came close to overheating. The campsite wasn't much to brag about, and maybe it was because it was a free campground, but we now realize why Indiana is the Hoosier State.

Gifford at our campsite by the lake in Indiana

Heading south from Indiana head for Mammoth we drove along the Ohio River for a while on the curviest road we have ever been on, really tested Gifford's brakes. We made it into Mammoth in the early afternoon and just wandered around some trails until dark.

Gifford at our Mammoth Cave campsite

Our campsite in the park was nice, a pull through site with plenty of shade and we never had neighbors (some people pulled in to one of the neighboring sites, walked around for a while, saw our hammock and rusty ole Gifford and got back in their car and moved). On our second day in the park we went on a cave tour, 4 hours and 4.5 miles long, saw some really neat stuff. When they say Mammoth Cave, they mean Mammoth Cave. After our tour we lounged around the campsite until the heat of the day had passed, then went on some short hikes down to some springs.

Lounging in the hammock at our campsite.

The next day we rented a tandem bicycle (sorry no picture) and road the 9 mile trail down to Park City in search of beer (there was none in the park), but much to our chagrin there was none (apparently its a dry county). So we trudged back up to the park. One thing we learned: Never ride a tandem bike on gravel trails intended for mountain bikes. On our bike ride we stopped by a really neat old cemetery, that was sadly to say unkempt by the park service. We also stopped by a pond and saw the biggest snapping turtle I have ever seen.

After the hike we headed to Bowling Green, where it was rumored we could find some beer, possibly even a brewery. It was a nice town, not too big, not too small. We ate at Micki's on Main that was having a special bottomless wine tasting (which appealed to Diane), and I had some delicious crab cakes. Then we wandered around looking for the brewery but with no luck so instead found a liquor store, stocked up on some beer and headed back to camp.

The third night in the park gave Gifford's waterproofness a test. A multi-hour deluge and intense lightning storm came through the camp, causing us to have to move from the upper bunk (which is much more spacious and cool) to the lower bunk. We had a few minor leaks, but all in all stayed a whole lot more dry than the tent campers.

The next morning was filled with rain as well, so we took another cave tour, this one in a completely separate part of the cave, 2.5 hours and 2 miles long. Also a very neat tour, it was the historical route that has been toured since the early 1800's. After our tour we headed over to the other side of the park (across the river on a ferry) to do some backcountry hiking. We did very little planning for this hike and came to regret it about half-way through. We were headed on a 10 mile loop to see another old cemetery and didn't leave until about 4 o'clock, so had to really move and weren't able to fully enjoy the hike. At about the half-way point it started to rain, and rain it did. After jogging out the last 6 or so miles in a torrential downpour, where the trail had turned to a fairly significant river, and making it back to the ferry, the ferry driver informed us that some tornadoes had moved through. Later that night we also found out that it had rained 2.5 inches in one hour, so needless to say we are taking our weather radio on trips from now on.

View from Gifford on the ferry

After getting dried out we headed down to Cave City to spend our last night in Kentucky, and what better way to do that than in a WigWam. These were really neat, although small, but clean and luxurious in our exhaustion. We highly reccomend them for anyone passing through that area.

Gifford, us, and the WigWam

The next day we started our journey back to Missouri, with a stop in the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois to give Gifford a rest. Not a free campsite but a tidy one none the less.

Gifford at our last campsite

All in all it was a good trip, no problems from Gifford.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And the adventure begins.

Finally took our first trip in the bus this weekend. We drove up to Jeff City on Saturday to hang out with the fam, and to test that we could make it that far and start again the next day. We headed out Sunday with not much of a plan, just that we were going to the Cedar Creek section of the MTNF.

Our niece Mackenzie checking out the bus.

On the way to the forest the first sign we saw was for the Pine Ridge Campground. After a brief discussion we discovered that we had no cash, and no check to pay for a campsite, but thought we would check it out anyways. To our great surprise it was a free (donation suggested) campsite! So we of course pulled in and set up camp. (We scrounged together some change and donated that)

Diane posing with the bus at our first campsite.

After setting up camp we hiked a couple miles out to a pond and sat down for a picnic, then headed back. Some friends from Columbia (Josh, Ashley and Adele) came down to celebrate the inaugural event. Adele stayed the night to break in her new tent, just as we were breaking in the bus. We couldn't have asked for a better night; clear, high 40's. There were some drunk teenagers and a lot of cars that drove through the campground through all hours of the night, but all in all a good night. We didn't sleep in the upper bunk (we're still working on cleaning the cushions and fixing the zippers), but the bottom bunk was nice and probably slightly warmer. The next morning the bus started on the first try, things are looking up.

We have also decided on a name for the bus, after many debates and months of thought, it has been approved by the three of us. And the name is: Gifford. Reasoning behind the name: We feel that the bus is a grumpy old man, and we plan on spending the majority of our time in the bus in National Forests, so we saw it appropriate to honor Gifford Pinchot. So all blogs from this point on will not say "the bus" they will say "Gifford".

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Back in the saddle again

Well we are back in action. For those that don't know, shortly after the last post we were preparing for our first night of camping. I pulled the bus out of the garage and parked it on the street so we could load everything we needed in. About 45 minutes later when it was time to go, we climb in and turn the key.....nothing happens.

Oh you can imagine the disappointment.

After about 2 weeks of constant rain (which was incredibly aggravating since the bus is on the street now) or of me being way too busy to work on it, I began to diagnose the problem. Starter was good, battery was good, I could hot wire it, so with all things checked, and with a little logic I deduced that it must be the ignition. So I ordered a new ignition lock cylinder (we got new keys) and put it in this week, now we're back on the road.

Now if it would just stop raining long enough to go camping.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Transfiguration II

We took the bus back up to St. Louis this weekend to finish up some of the interior work we had started and some other odds and ends I had wanted to take care of. As usual the drive to St. Louis was an ordeal. It had been a rainy day that was supposed to clear up, but never did, and as we left the house we were shocked to realize that we had no headlights or windshield wipers. We stuck to the side roads and made it to Cuba through the mist. Once in Cuba we stopped and ate some lunch to hopefully let the rain pass (which the weather said it would be clear in the late afternoon), and while there picked up some RainX to make the most of the drive. Well the rain never stopped and we just pushed on, pulling over frequently to clean off the windshield, and 4 hours after we left Rolla, we made it to St. Louis.

Once in StL, it was a quick stop by the Fish Fry and then to work. Friday night I tried to figure out the lights, but gave up quickly with the intention of reading up on the wiring before I messed with anything else. Diane prepped everything for finishing up her laminate job and we called it an early night.

Saturday was a much more eventful day. With a mission set forward by Diane to finish the laminate, she and Pat set to work at her tediously slow pace. While they worked on that I set to removing the luggage rack to clean off the mold and put on some new seals. Taking the luggage rack turned out to be bad news though, as I came across a mess of rust. Without the time or equipment to properly repair the rust, I gave it a thorough wire brushing and sprayed some rust repair primer on to hopefully retard the formation of rust until I can really get in there and fix it.

Removed Sink Cabinet

Where Sink Cabinet came out from (be a good place for a lounge chair I think)

Uh oh RUST!

Rust Temporarily Repaired

Seals on the luggage rack
Putting seals on the pop-top

Cabinet all laminated up

Diane working the router

Diane routering, Pat cleaning up the edges

Sink hole cut out thanks to Diane's Router work

About 1 am we finally headed home, beat. Diane had finished the laminate, but not gotten a chance to put the headliner back in. I had put on the new seals, sealed the holes left by the AC tubing, and started mounting the front tire mount (turns out the screws they sent were way too long and ran into the defroster tube).

We made it home all in one piece on Sunday. Today I figured out the lights, taught myself some stuff about wiring and reading wiring diagrams properly, so now we have working lights and wipers. I also finished mounting the spare tire. Good times for now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Oh glorious day!

Isabel getting acquainted with the bus

Well we got the bus back, fully working and working good (well relatively good). We picked it up from B & C on Friday, and it was a beautiful day. Turns out the wiring harness that went from the alternator to the voltage regulator and solenoid was completely fried. So replacing it apparently solved our problems.

It being a beautiful day we headed for the nearest park which was Lane Spring National Forest Recreation Area. We went on a nice hike up to Blossom Rock and once done with the hike, took some time to relax in the large area of the bus I'm going to call the Living Room.

Thats pretty much it, more interior work planned but not completed, more engine adjustments planned but not completed, adventures planned but not completed.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Alternator Troubles

This will be a short post, just a quick update for all you readers out there.

I bought a new alternator. Spent about 6 hours removing the old one, not that it was super complicated, but just about every screw and bolt took some serious beating to get loose. Put in the new one, but didn't test anything before I fully installed it. As I went to hook up the battery thinking I had just fixed all my problems, BAMM! there was a huge spark when I touched the ground strap to the body, which means we had a short somewhere. So this led to removing the alternator again, but it went much faster this time, only about 20 minutes. Once the alternator was off again I checked all the connections and adjusted where I placed the washers of the backing plate, then tested the grounding strap before I installed everything again. After several adjustments and lots of big sparks I got evertyhing installed correctly and put the alternator back in its place.

The moment of truth was next, started up on the first try and SUCCESS no alternator warning light! So off to bed we went with high hopes of driving to STL the next morning. Woke up the next morning chipper and cheery, had a nice breakfast, finished packing and got ready to go. Started up the bus, everything is still fine, backed down the driveway, still fine, put it in first and travelled about 10 feet, alternator warning light comes back on. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! So we drove the Jeep to STL.

I fiddled with the wires some more, and the belt, but no luck, one new alternator down. So I had reached the limits of my knowledge and abilities, which meant it was time to go back to the shop. After being in the shop for 2 weeks we found out today that they fixed him up good, had to replace some wiring that was the root of all my troubles. So if all goes well and stays well, ENGINE TROUBLES ARE OVER.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Transfiguration or the First Rule of the Bus.

Well, I haven't posted for a while, but I've been really busy pumping out a thesis. But now that I finished and am getting caught up on sleep, I'll update.

Over Valentine's day weekend we took our first moderate distance trip in the bus, non-functioning alternator be damned. Turns out the bus is very drafty and will definitely need some new seals at least on the top (most the wind was coming in through the canvas of the pop top). Being Valentine's day it was a VERY cold drive to St. Louis, but we made it (it might have been the first time I haven't passed a single other car). And after stopping and checking the battery we had gone from 12.8 V to 11.9 V.

We went straight to Diane's family shop where we were planning on doing some repair work. The goal of the repair work was to get as much done as possible over the two day period. The shop was definitely a better work place than our cramped cold garage or our living room floor. So I set to work taking off the front disc brakes while Diane and Pat (her dad) began working on the cabinetry.

The brakes were surprisingly simple, although it did take me a long time to pull them off because of some super tight bolts. Once off Pat and I took the pads up to the local parts shop and looked at a picture of some new pads and realized ours still had a lot of pad left. Instead of buying the new pads we just sanded the face of the pad a little bit to remove any deformations and put them back on. After I had finished with the brakes themselves, I had to fix the brake lights. This required replacing a small switch on the master brake cylinder. This only took a few minutes and I was done with the brake job. I probably should have bled the brakes and plan to do this soon, but the brakes work good, the squeal is gone and the brake lights are fully functional.

Diane had already removed most of the old laminate, so she started the day measuring and planning out how to cut the roll of new laminate. After some AutoCAD manipulation she and Pat laid out their plan and began to cut the laminate. The cutting of the laminate went well but took a long time, and once finished Diane began sanding the faces of the wood to prep them for gluing. After sanding and cleaning it was time to glue on the laminate. With the laminate glued on, it was time to trim the edges, which was very easy thanks to Pat's router. We didn't get all the cabinets done, but we made a great start and it looks very nice.

The new laminate on the cooler top.

Some other things we did:

We finally succeeded in removing the air conditioning unit and now the front seats have so much more room. Another added bonus is that I can see and access all the wires much easier, turns out the radio doesn't work because its wires aren't plugged in to anything. With this AC unit out I was able to remove our kick panels, which were torn up anyway and replace some washer fluid tubing. See pictures below:


I also painted the wheels to a classic white, now we just need to turn the tires around to show the white walls. The white looks good with the chrome.

So that was all we really were able to fit in over the weekend as we had to head over to Diane's cousin's bridal shower. After some good family time we had to get on the road because darkness was falling fast. We got on the road at about 4:30, much later than we should have (our original plan was to leave at 3:00). Darkness soon fell and we had to turn on the lights (remember the alternator still isn't functioning). About 45 minutes into the drive, just short of Sullivan, Diane asks if the lights are dimming and we come to a hill. Going up the hill we went from going 65 to 40 in about a quarter mile and had lost all power. The battery was dead.

Pulling off the side of the road, we debate on who to call, Diane's family or friends in Rolla. We decide on Diane's family and start calling, we get a hold of Tommy and he starts on his way down to help us. At this time our plan was to take out the battery and drive somewhere to charge it. Then we get a hold of Pat and he starts on his way down too. So Pat and Tommy both arrive and we use Pat's truck to charge the battery (good thing the bus engine is in the back) and send Tommy home. Once the battery is charged we start on our way again with Pat following close behind. We died twice more on the way home and had to drive through part of Rolla with the lights off to avoid a third time, but we made it successfully home.


NO DRIVING AT NIGHT - when on road trips be at a campsite 1 hour before dark, never leave a campsite before sunrise.

Bus's first trip to campus

I can't figure out why the top is all underlined, oh well. Next up - alternator replacement.