Category Archives: 164-50


The fancy floorplan.

With the fridge finally in place, I have a firm ‘wall’ to start to build the kitchen in.  I knew for sure that the counter would be at the level of the base of the windows so that we wouldn’t lose visibility, but the actual arrangement of drawers and storage/access cabinets would depend on placement of other things, like the stove and the sink.  If you look on the original floorplan, you can see that there’s a whole lot of potential counter space where things could go.

The stove was easy to place, as my plan was to put it at one of the ’emergency’ windows that can be swung out and give lots of good ventilation if we need it.  As there are two such windows along the counter (colored red in the floorplan diagram), the stove could have gone along either one, but putting it along the fore window would give more ‘working space’ around the sink, which is fairly important when washing dishes and such.  And since we actually had the stove, I could place it so much more precisely than in the floorplan where there’s essentially a 24″ x 28″ space for the (three burner – ha!) stove.

The sink was a more dicey matter in terms of placement.  The window closest to the fridge is ‘sticky’ – there are some scratches in the aluminum frame, and it can make the window hard to close (at least form the inside). My original thought was to put it right in front of that window near the fridge to maximize the available counterspace between the sink and stove, but being able to have fresh air while doing dishes ranks highly, so the sink may move closer.  Actually doing the placement is going to wait until we ‘play’ with the space for a bit.  I had hoped to do this on one last camping trip of the Sprague Brook season, but it just never came to be.

The stove!The first thing I did was take measurements and figure out the placement of the stove.  I was planning for a 24″ deep stove,since I kept seeing that come up as a dimension for newer stoves, but ours is only about 20″ deep, leaving about 4 inches of counter behind it. And while the window comes out to be more than 24″ wide, the stove is only 21″ wide, and that measurement (like the depth) includes 1/2″ of overlap of the trim.

This gave me some concrete information to work with in making the countertop.  While I’ve seen lots of people using some of the pre-made household counters in their skoolies, my wife had shown me an article on how to build a counter that gave the look of thick oak planks and we both liked the look. However, the idea of having beveled edges between the planks seemed to just be an invitation to a continually dirty counter.  So as a compromise, I had decided to use oak to make a counter, with no beveled edges, and as few seams as possible.

It turned out that I had just enough oak in two almost 13″ wide by 1 1/8″ thick planks that, when planed down and jointed, came out to the right length for the counter from fridge-wall to side-facing seat.  These pieces were fixed together with the Kreg pocket-jig and some 1 1/4″ fine-thread screws.  

Kreg K4MS Jig Master System (Tools & Home Improvement)

List Price: $139.00 USD
New From: $139.00 USD In Stock
Used from: $129.27 USD In Stock

Even with some bowing in the plank, which was fixed with clamps, screwed, and sanded down to fit where the stove would go.

The stove structure and enclosure. 2x3" beams and 1/2" plywood, and some 3/4x2" pine to keep things even.
The stove structure and enclosure. 2×3″ beams and 1/2″ plywood, and some 3/4×2″ pine to keep things even.

In order to support the counter without actually having counters underneath it, I decided to build in some 2×3″ supports that would hold it up, and just fit the sides of the stove, with allowances for 1/2″ plywood on the inside of the enclosure to help support it.  The 2×3″ supports that attached to the wall rest upon a 2×4″ that is screwed into the wall supports.  I used more pocket screws to attach the horizontal supports to the 2×4″ and then attached the vertical supports to the 2×3″ that was attached to the floor.  The 2×4″ was attached to the wall at a height that would put the 7/8″ thick counter just below the level of the windows allowing for a 3/4-1″ oak backsplash to be added at a later time.

Counter supports in place.
Counter supports in place.

One additional support at the fridge wall and another toward the seat edge, though the one near the seat is back about 10″ so that I could put a small lower drawer and upper ‘bin’ at seat height that would have nice storage space for passengers and the counter above it.

The stove looks awesome in place!
The stove looks awesome in place!

With this all set, I stained the counter and slid it into place, checking the fitting and adjusting the ‘square’ of the stove structural fittings before using more pocket screws to sink things into place.  A 3/4×1 1/2″ edging was affixed to the counter after being rounded with a router and the stove was set in place (the edging had to come up to the trim of the stove.  This was also affixed from underneath with pocket screws.

The counter as seen from the captain's chair.
The counter as seen from the captain’s chair.

I had considered leaving the leading corner of the counter as a 90 degree angle, but thought that it would present too much of a chance for a bruise in the close quarters with several people on the bus.  Toward that end, I decided to trim the corner and make it a simple 45 degree angle, which was easy to work with for the trim.

The counter from the aft, by the bunks.
The counter from the aft, by the bunks.

With the counter in place as it is, it looks like a lot of space, though we’ll need to decide where the sink will go, and I was expecting to put in a full size sink as opposed to the RV sink that we salvaged from the trailer.  The salvaged sink is stainless steel and in decent shape, but it’s only 4 or 5 inches deep.  A standard kitchen sink is around 9 inches deep, and a double sink that deep could easily have one side filled with hot water and suds to wash and then use the other side to rinse and thus conserve water while still doing a full set of dishes for four or six people.

One of my concerns right now is that the 29″ height that the counter is at (the bottom of the windows) may be a bit low to be comfortable tpo work at for long periods of time since most counters are at about 35″ height.  That said, I do make cookies and bracciole at our kitchen table and it’s only about 29″ tall, so … time will tell.






The oven (Ward & Son 164-50)

A really good friend of ours offered to give us whatever we could scavenge out of a 1970’s vintage RV trailer that had been sitting in a field, unused and untended for many years, if we would help get it out from where it was.  We took the bus and our 4×4 pickup and a ton of tools down to the field which was basically an enjoyable hour’s drive away. (Well, within a few hundred feet, as the road down to the field was more washed out than the pick-up could take.)

We got some great stuff from the trailer, including the electrical box (forthcoming), a fridge that was just the size we were looking for (but it didn’t work), a water tank, water pump (pressure switch broken), LP regulator (works great!), and the LP stove (upon which I’ll focus in this post).  The stove had been used in the past without being cleaned, the roof of the RV had developed leaks, and some field mice had discovered that the oven was an awesome place to live and the fiberglass around it was a special type of nest material.  However, looking past the rust and mess, there was a full stove (range and oven) that had four burners.  The sticker on the drip tray indicated that it was a Ward & Son 164-50 stove.

Now that may not help you visualize what the stove is, as it seems that Ward & Son is out of business and has been for some time.  But, the stove measures about 21″ wide, 19 1/2″ deep and 17″ tall, so it seems small, but just about on-target for oven/range combinations.  Modern ovens tend to be a little taller and have correspondingly taller ovens.  They also tend to have piezo ignitors instead of pilot lights.  And it is really hard to find one with four burners, as three burners seem to have become the standard, probably to make room for bigger pots on the range.  That said, they tend to run between $500-$800 new (Amazon, Camping World), so I was really hoping the stove was okay.  I gave it a really brief cleaning and got a 20 lb propane tank, hooked up the regulator and the stove and tested it.  Each of the four burners worked perfectly, and the oven did as well.  A big consideration here is that the oven has a pilot light but the burners do not – they need to be lit with a match or lighter every single time you want to use them (but it’s not a problem for us).

This successful test of the stove lead me along the refurbishing trail.  The outer rails, heat deflector, and stove door handle were chromed, but covered with rust.  The stovetop, oven door, and drip tray were a steel that was shined, but also pitted with rust and grime (I thought I had pictures, but I can’t find them).  Investigating re-chroming, I was advised to get a little sand-blaster and paint the stove instead.  This seemed reasonable, especially since the only high-temperature stove paint was the flat black type.  I thought this would end up making the unit look somewhat like a cast-iron stove, which would fit with our concept of a Victorian era interior.

It turned out that the sand blaster, loaded with black diamond grit (coal), etched the chrome and removed the rust, and even the fake wood grain (on plastic or vinyl) wonderfully.  The thing it really doesn’t do well with though, was the grime.  This, I think, was old, cooked-on and reduced oils and fats.  These I ended up cleaning off with a wire wheel on my angle grinder. Finally, I had everything that needed to be painted prepared, and spent some time cleaning (and disinfecting) the oven interior and the range-top structure, and reattaching the spring to one side of the oven door.

  When I got to painting, I found that in addition to the flat black Rust-Oleum High Heat, there was also a gloss black paint in high heat, so I decided that I would keep the larger bits of the stove in the matte black, but make the trim (all that chrome) gloss.  Overall, it came out nicely.

I did have one concern, however – that pilot light in the oven.  I know that it has to be in there so that the oven can kick on and off to regulate it’s  temperature.  But I wouldn’t want the pilot light on while travelling as it could blow out and start to fill the bus with propane.

  And, of course, having a pilot light going the whole time the bus is just sitting would just drain the tank needlessly.  So I’ve been thinking on how to tactfully put a shut-off valve for the stove on the countertop so we could avoid all that.

  But, in cleaning the knobs (they had plenty of grime caked on them) I found that the oven control knob doesn’t just go from ‘Off’ to ‘Broil’ with all the usual oven temperatures in-between, but it also has a setting for ‘Pilot Off’.  I will of course be hooking it up again to double-check before installing the stove to make sure that it functions as it should, but so far, this stove is all that we could have asked for.

Thanks Laura!


Design time …

In order to get to doing anything with a bus that isn’t being a bus, you have to remove the seats.  And this is critical not just for floor-plan stuff, but for insurance and registration, unless you’re a commercial business and you don’t mind paying the rates for commercial insurance (Yikes!).  Now, you remember all those seats, right?

Oh, wait, that’s them …

Now, the seats are in with 5/16″ bolts of varying lengths through the floor and then 9/16″ bolts into the seat-rail along the edge of the wall, and, had one a team of people, and if the bolts weren’t very rusty, one could use a ratchet and/or a couple of wrenches and remove the bolts, and then the seats, and all would be wonderful.

But I live in the real world, and the bus was used by the Whitesboro High School (near Syracuse) and being that Syracuse was known as the ‘Salt City’ (due to the salt from the evaporation of shallow seas that covered the area in the Devonian), the bottom of the bus was covered in a light layer of salt, and the bolts were heavily corroded.

Here was the introduction of power-tools to the game.  First, I had a Makita impact hammer with a chisel blade that does wonderfully on concrete, but did basically nothing the the rusted-on bolts.  I had hoped to use it as the force is a shearing force, and would leave the flanges of the bus feet intact.  I ended up using a Makita 4″ angle grinder to take off the heads of the bolts.  A tip that I got from the Skoolie board stated that an easy way to deal with bolt heads was to cut down vertically through them and then horizontally slice to the cut.  It worked nicely, produced a whole lot of smoke, sparks, and burned rubber smell (more on that later), and the seats came out really nicely. When I had the seats all loose from the floor, I picked out three that were the ones I was planning on keeping for re-installation.

Once a bus has the seats out, it’s a big empty space.

This is really funky, it’s kinda like one big empty room, yeah!
  But it really is true, there is a lot of space.  And it gets loud with the echos.  But you can really see the blank canvas with all the seats removed.
No, really … It’s a lot of space … for a vehicle.

In fact, disregarding the wheelwells over the back, you can imagine it as basically a big rectangle 90″ wide, 26′ 8″ long (to the back of the driver’s chair), and just over 6′ high.  That’s around 200 square feet of floor space.  The wrinkles, of course are the wheelwells, roof hatches, and the exit doors.  Now, many people close up the side emergency doors (if their bus has one), but we wanted to keep ours, so we had to design around it.

There were some design constraints and advice that I gleaned from other Skoolie builds, things like you don’t really want to put your bathroom (and grey and black water tanks) behind the rear axle, due to the bouncing.  Propane tanks should go ahead of the rear axle, due to safety factors in collisions.  Re-using  the frames of the existing bus seats gives DOT rated safety harness points.  There was one seat we removed (just by the side emergency exit door) that had four feet, while all the others had two feet on one side, and were meant to attach the other side to the seat-rail.

So we ended up with these preliminary plans:

With a fold-out master bed and an added rear observation deck.
With a fixed master bed on the port side …
  Our designs went back and forth over those factors and our space, doorway, hatch, and undercarriage limitations and we ended up with this as our final plan:
The annotated final design. (New emergency exit window locations in red)
  This new design makes the shower a ‘walk-through’ to get to the side door, and doesn’t indicate the angling of upper areas of the walls (in green) to leave the roof hatches.  The two seats facing each other behind the driver are connected to the side chair rail, while the one that runs along the starboard wall is the one that had four feet.  It allows for a 24″ hallway from front to back and for full measure twin-bed bunks, rather than the extra slim/short RV bunks.
  Now, this isn’t perfect, but it set up the base of what we wanted.  It doesn’t show the locations of any of the water/propane/air tanks, and the fridge size is a bit smaller than what we actually got because of the extra tubing/heat vents on the back.  But it gives an idea of what we’re aiming for in the finished product.