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lines of a Flxible Clipper. The sleek silhouette, the slightly sinister looking round, window-less rear-end and, well, that perfectly positioned rear air scoop somehow it all spoke rocket ships, video rangers and moon shadows to me. Some weird, wonderful mixed cocktail of mystery, adventure and romance. That visceral feeling lay dormant until totally by chance I spotted a Visi-Coach for sale on the internet in July, 2001 which quickly led to a telephone conversation and 2 days later, a 1-way ticket to Boston. That bus had rekindled the dream, -I needed to have it. Well, I couldn t wait to get to Boston & when I first saw the bus in-person sitting under some shade trees, it looked to be in good shape. It had been converted, cared-for and actually garaged for most of its years. The low profile, rounded rear & air scoop just turned me on! -It would become the basis of my wife & my Personal Adventure Vehicle . The interior was in good condition, a little dark, heavy & claustrophobic but, I handed over the cashiers check it WAS love-at-first-sight. So after a good nights sleep (in the bus of course), I began Part I of my bus adventure! A 14 day/11 breakdown trip to Los Angeles! This was my 1st road-trip since I was 18, and along the way I met incredible people, some well intentioned mechanics, many very helpful state troopers (especially kind and adept at guiding traffic around my disabled 18,000lb., 35 foot behemoth), received probably a thousand thumbs-ups, commiserated with lots of great auto zone employees. Lots of truckers almost blew me off the road while passing me at 85 mph & there was constant chatter on the CB between truckers alerting other truckers to check out the old antique bus driving down the road. Most fun was sampling apple pie at probably 25 great 24 hour truck stops and small towns across America. The focus of all of the mechanical difficulties it seemed was caused by a mis-engineered idler pulley that the previous owner had engineered outboard of the water pump on the re-engined big block Chevy 454 that he had installed. The pulley caused the belt connecting the water pump, generator and air compressor to chew itself up about every 4 to 6 hours. As happened, the belt was a weird size that no auto or truck parts shop stocked. This caused hours of delay as replacement parts were rare and difficult to locate. Re-engineering the belt-train was not feasible (no-one really understood what the real problem was but, thanks to a terrific Auto Zone manager in I think, Hays Kansas who was able to jury-rig a belt guide, I was able to make the remainder of the trip non-stop except for rest breaks, stops at Wal-mart & many, many apple pie breaks with nary a mechanical break-down. This 1st road trip was wondrous, somewhat exhausting & totally exhilarating my still continuing bus adventure. the perfect beginning to
For the first year of our bus adventure Judy & I began to envision our redesign, re-conversion while we enjoyed week long road trips up and down the California coast punctuated by numerous rides on the back of flatbeds with every mechanical failure. We actually had the fleeting thought of permanently mounting our bus on our own low-boy, a sort of hybrid design built for comfort, convenience and long distance travel. Bottom line; AAA towing insurance saved us thousands of dollars.
We began our refit with installation of a sparkling newly rebuilt 454, replacement of the rear end (we needed to be able to tool down the road at 55 at 2200rpm.instead of 2600, as original). We also re-built the brakes & before we tackled the interior we had a mechanically tight cruiser that could travel trouble-free, stop on a dime & gave us change! Over the following 16 months we stripped-out the interior, the wiring virtually everything that could be removed & began replacing, designing, building, re-designing and re-building. The mods & nitty-gritty in no particular order: Re-floored the bus (covering over the center aisle) with hardwood, raised a 12 x 5 section of the roof by 5 (over the salon area) -the flat floor led to a stepdown to the rear bedroom. The raised roof compensated for the head-room loss due to removing the center aisle. The riser consists of a fabricated, welded aluminum frame and a riveted flat roof containing 2 , 36 round dome skylights. The skylights give the interior space an open, light, spacious feeling which is in thankful contrast to the original dark wood interior that originally felt oppressive & claustrophobic. We had a catering truck fabricator build a large opening skylight that we installed over the bed area. This allowed for more light in the rear, ventilation and a means of rapid egress in case of an emergency. I think that at some future time it would be a nice touch to mount an Abram s M1 turret & 120mm canon in that same location. I love invention we wanted a functional home-style shower and toilet . The shower room needed to be relatively spacious and comfortable (relatively being relative). It seemed like a waste of precious space to have two separate private areas so, we designed what turned out to be a totally functional , multi-use, architectural center-point; -a module containing the shower, toilet and sink/vanity. For the enclosure we fabricated a 37 diameter cylinder employing a welded aluminum frame sandwiched between two 1/16 thick fiberglass sheets. We sandblasted the inside surfaces of the fiberglass so that the structure became translucent enough for privacy yet light allowed enough ambient light inside to feel spacious. To make best use of the limited space, we envisioned a toilet that would be movable so that it could be stowed when not needed. Because we required the toilet to be movable we could not use a standard RV straight-shooter, so we employed a Microphor unit that is air operated, whereby the waste is exhausted through a flexible drain pipe leading to a 40gal black water tank that formed the primary structure of the nightstand in the bedroom. We mounted the Microphor on a 24 roller-bearing slide and fabricated a connection to a 24 electrical actuator (about $75 from Grainger) commonly used to position older style satellite dishes. In its normal stowed position the toilet sits beneath the sink/vanity and at the touch of a button, it automatically moves 24 forward to sit stably just off-center of the shower area. I would highly recommend this modular space-saving approach as it is a hybrid design that does not feel like a compromise in space or functionality. We removed the side windows, enlarged the openings to allow for fabricated aluminum frames, added nitrogen springs and re-mounted the windows on top hinges. In this way we could open-up the feeling of the interior further and maximize cross ventilation. We installed 2 window air conditioners, one in the rear bed room area and one in the mid-salon (7,500btu & 10,000btu). These were mounted inside wooden cabinets that contain high velocity centrifugal exhaust system that vent the hot air to the outside.
Our electrical system is centered around a Generac, Quietpact 40G (4,000watt) generator, Intelli-Power DD2050 Marine converter/charger & a Xantrex 3000 Pro-Watt inverter. A bank of 4 6v industrial batteries is located in a fabricated compartment under a hatch in the rear storage area ; these supply the house power . The rear battery compartment also houses an isolated bank of 6v batteries connected in series to provide starting power for the engine and auxiliary generator. We use a Progressive Dynamics 5000 Series Auto Transfer Relay to organize the power. Shore power is preemptive when the generator is off and the generator becomes preemptive when turned-on. The entire system is automatic . Most of our internal well sockets are 110v however we use a bank of the original 12v reading lamps from an original Greyhound Flxible to light the kitchen counter area. For showering we carry 70 gallons of fresh water & for warm showering we ve fitted the rear storage compartment with a Bosch Tankless Water Heater. The heater is vented to the scoop intake and the water heater is mounted to the structure. We have an electrically operated vent cover that closes automatically when the bus is underway so that the forced air coming in the roof scoop does not blow the heater pilot light out. We carry 70 gallons of fresh water. In 2006 during a brief retirement, my wife & I had the adventure of a lifetime (hopefully to be repeated) when we were fortunate enough to take a 14,000 mile, 11 week road trip throughout the country. Basically we traveled from LA on the OLD scenic Route 66. through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, stopping at lots of small towns as we drove up the Mississippi and then all the way to upper Wisconsin then down and then down across Mich, OH, PA & New York over to Maine and then down the East Coast throughout the South. Along the way, we stopped in Chattanooga for a 1 week to de-bug an electrical problem (our original electrician took off with our wiring diagram never returning from a drug binge) rewiring our electrical system & connected-up of our front-mounted 1955 fire engine siren. During the stopover & over the Thanksgiving holiday we had a rare, retro pleasure, -we attended a traditional Thanksgiving buffet and stayed 2 nights in a restored railroad car at the Chattanooga Cho Cho. Of course, because we were from CA the idea of installing a heater in the bus was not an issue however it soon became THE issue upon running into snow in upstate Wisconsin. Thanks to a Farm & Fleet store we purchased rolls of insulation (to be stuffed into all of the leaky nooks & crannies), a propane space heater & an electric blanket that we were soon to find out had an internal microprocessor that would not operate with our inverter (however it would with the generator). Due to unplanned circumstances I needed to re-involve myself in my business so, Judy & I returned to LA over Christmas 2006. We parked our bus under a couple of eucalyptus trees, hooked-up to our office electricity and ended up living in our bus, at our facility for over a year (sure beats a daily commute in LA traffic). For the past 16 months our bus has been used only occasionally for weekend getaways to the beach or, most recently, to the desert. The remainder of the time it has been sitting in our security parking area. This Summer/Fall we are going to complete the job. We need to design & fabricate the dashboard area, re-engineer the a/c system, install a heating system and insulate the bus in some yet to be determined way so that it is not so prone to getting too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter! We are
thinking about repainting the bus! It actually took us 6 months to find creative inspiration to design a color scheme. The inspiration came from a fellow busman he parked next to our primer-covered bus & ended up sketching & coloring his vision for us! It fit our vision, sooooo that s how we got our Elvis Presley 1955 Cadillac Pink actually, an exact color match to the Caddy that he gave to his mother. Today, 3 years later we are thinking that perhaps a more classic color scheme would be appropriate. Along the way we need to make accommodations & provisions for our 2 cats, install our Federal Q2B siren, Santa Fe gyralight & figure out where & how to add another 50 gallons of fresh water. We are looking forward to completing our re-fit & upgrade this summer & hitting the road in the amazing and continuing adventure that we call our quest for the anti-mall in our fabulous magical bus!
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