A Warm Reception

  So after finishing the first bunk, we gave the bus a test.  My wife and I got invited to a multi-day wedding reception for a couple of our friends on another friend’s land out near Franklinville, NY.  The trip was only about an hour away, but it wound along the 400 expressway and then up into the edges of the Alleghany mountains on Route 16.  The weather was great, and the bus ran nicely.  When up to speed, I could take most all of the hills along the route in fifth gear, but we still ended up slowing some people down because I wouldn’t speed (much to the relief of my wife).
  For this trip, I brought an inverter and wired up a 12-volt outlet so that we could blow up a queen-sized air mattress while the bus was still idling and cooling off the turbo fan.  And the fan did get warm.  The land we were headed for was on a small 1 ½ lane road that I missed while we were looking for it.  Luckily, it was a nice, clear day, and there were plenty of places that farm, gravel, or other trucks and vehicles had packed down and could be used to turn around.  So we did. And we got on the road and drove happily along it.
  Having never been to this location before, we weren’t sure if the barn at the bottom of the hill just off the road was the one that we were supposed to park at or not, and so we drove up and set the air brakes half-way up a fairly steep incline where the reception was actually at.  After several hellos and a brief confirmation, we found that the barn (now behind us) at the bottom of the hill was, in fact, the right place, so again we were going to have to turn the bus around.  And, I’d have to get it going on the hill.
  Now, I learned how to drive on standard (manual) transmission vehicles, and I grew up in the mountains, but this was to be the first time that I had to put the bus with its diesel engine to the test in this environment. But it was surprisingly easy.  The very low gearing of first gear (that I routinely complain about because of the fact that I have to use it to get the bus moving, but then have to shift out of almost immediately as its top speed is 5 mph) was awesome for getting the bus moving, even if I couldn’t get it above 15 mph getting up the hill.   But, of course, just on the other side of the hill was, well, the other side of the hill going down.  Luckily here near the top, there was an intersecting road with a wide mouth at an angle that allowed for me to bring the bus along on it, back up a little, and then get the bus turned around. 
  Getting back to the barn was then easy, though I did find out that the seemingly big (to me) 7.1 L T444E engine, even with the low gearing, wasn’t enough to hold the bus back (in fourth, which I thought would do it, but I probably should have been in third).  Now, toward the end of making the bus stop for the parking space at the bottom of the hill, I used the brakes, which did slow the bus, but I now know that I didn’t use the “stab” braking that I should have, instead using steady pressure that would have, on a longer, steeper hill, likely overheated my brakes.  (Stab braking is a hard use of the brakes to below the ‘critical’ speed you need to stay below, and then a full release until you’re just above the ‘critical’ speed.)
  So, at the bottom of the hill, we parked the bus near the barn, secured it, set up the air mattress, and then walked back up along the road to the reception.  There, most people were camping in tents, so we were at a distance from them, but, our ‘steel tent’ was bigger.  But we brought up some camp chairs and our bocce set and had a great afternoon and evening, with DJs and live music by Penny Whiskey.
  We cooked in our ‘Toas tite‘ maker over the communal fire, and in the morning I made espresso over a camp stove and we had a half card table that fit perfectly between the two facing bench seats, so we had our breakfast there.  We stayed until late afternoon, and made our way back home, which was also a slower trip, but because of my adherence to the speed limits.  It turns out that there was some manner of motorcycle rally, and we were stuck in the ‘parade’ behind it.  Otherwise, the trip home was uneventful and fine. 

  We did realize that the narrow hallway along the bus was going to take some getting used to.  We spent plenty of time getting in each other’s way realizing the thing we wanted was at the other end of the bus, past the other one of us doing something along the way.  But we worked things out and, really, more organization would certainly help.

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!