Starting the walls *or* How to make a big open space less open …

  With the sill plates for all the walls in place and the floor and seat-frames in for the areas aft of the ‘bridge’, I was set to put up walls.  Now, this might seem simple, but keeping things plumb in a off-level in two direction bus with a curved ceiling is a bit tougher than one might think.

  First (and easiest) were the wall studs that were right by the outside of the bus by the window supports, because it was simple to line them up to be plumb.  And the 2×3″ lumber fit just about perfectly with the window supports.  Well, except for the seat-rail that needed to have a cut in the stud to fit up close.  And the  drilling into the studs to allow for the four screws and washer-discs that held the windows in place, though I didn’t really have to deal with those until I thought I knew what I was doing because I started right behind the aft cabin seat on the port side.

My handy Kreg jig and the official screws that go with it …

  This wall is the front wall of the bathroom, and went along one of the skinned windows.  It was a bit trickier to put in because it didn’t run along one of those support ribs, and thus I had to use a framing square to try and keep it plumb while fitting it behind the seat.  But on another note, it was east to secure, as several screws were put straight through it into the inner metal ‘skin’ of the bus, or into the pressure-treated plywood of the inside of the skinned window.  At the bottom, I used a Kreg jig to make pocket holes and then used pan-headed wood screws to the sill I had already attached to the bus floor.

Behold the wonder of the pocket jig.

  And after I had that first stud in, I realized that it was harder to figure out the others.  I ended up using some masonry line to make a straight line across the bus to the other windows so that I could get a straight line for my wall.  While I could run a chalk-line from one end of the bus to the other and mark a midline both on the ceiling and on the floor, you really can’t easily do that on the curved ceiling going from side to side.  And this is actually a big deal trying to do the studs on a 16″ on center standard.

  It’s very easy to measure on the floor, but at the top, I ended up having to use a large and a small framing square to measure out the 14 1/2″ distance from the previous stud, being sure to be perpendicular, and then measuring up to the ceiling both to mark the location and to make a measurement on how much longer the next stud would be.  And then the stud needed to have an extra angle figured in for the slope of the ceiling.

Like this …

  This wall had an added extra issue, in that the inner corner would have been right in the middle of the forward ceiling hatch. As you can see from the picture, I chose to build around it.  That’s because the hatches that they chose to add to our bus included vents that could be adjusted forward or back, and I wanted to be able to not only have these work for the cabin (and potentially the master bedroom) while still providing privacy for people in the bathroom (or in the bunks).

  But this wall was relatively easy.  In order to finish up the back wall for the bathroom, I had to deal with the wheelwell (well, at least the one on the port side, but I’d have to deal with the starboard side eventually…).  On the port side, I ended up integrating the box over the wheelwell into the wall, and then running the rest of the studs up along the galley area.

  On the starboard side, I made a nice box that would have a wall built atop it, and a doorway that would run alongside it. These

Starboard side wheelwell box.
Port side wheelwell box.

were set to be fairly tight with the metal of the wheelwells, and able to be packed with fiberglass insulation to negate road noise and provide a thermal barrier as could be managed.  You might note the crossmember over the blue painter’s tape that’s on the wheelwells – that’s the sill of yet another wall on either side of the main walkway.

Like the bathroom.
For the tops of studs.

 But the farther I went along, the easier the process got, until I had a nice forest of studs dividing the space up into phantom rooms and doorways.  One of the only real problems with these was that some of the 2×3″ boards had twists or warps, and these could make it hard to keep the walls in line. Another was that the screws at the top of the studs had to go into either the metal skin or the structural support ribs of the bus body itself.  I used a whole lot of these Teks screws, and they were ‘self -tapping’, and for the metal skin of the ceiling, they were.  However, when you needed to screw into one of the structural ribs, they just wouldn’t make it.  I ended up having to pre-drill holes for these screws, which meant lining up the stud that already had the pocket jig’s holes in them, and keeping them from drifting while I fitted the small drill in the pocket jig holes and drilled into the metal.  Not surprisingly, they wanted to slide all over the place, rather than drill a hole, and this took some practice and a bunch of drill bits.

  But eventually, I got that all done, and the space was divided, and began to look like this:

Looking from the master bedroom toward the front.
Lots of walls one could walk through …

  It just doesn’t look the same as that big empty room, though it did start to give a feel for how tight or spacious a part of the bus was going to be. It certainly makes a difference to have the 3D feel of the plan.  Tape outlines on the floor look fine against your feet, but the studs really make the space feel delimited. 200 square feet can feel really small sometimes …

Chairs & Sub-floor (Part 2)

(Sub-floor bit continues from Part 1, here.)

  So before I could finish up with the floor (to behind the captain’s chair), I had to place the seats to insure that they’d have supports under them.  You may recall that I said that I wanted to use some of the bus seats because they already had DOT approved seat-belt attachments.  And DOT approved seat belts, so that was another thing in their favor.

  But they also have a whole lot of padding on the back that we wouldn’t need, and would eat into the
available living space.  So, I went about taking off the padding and getting them down to the structural stuff.  I had some hopes that it would be really easy, as other people had described tearing the seats down being a simple matter of loosening the outer vinyl covering at the base and sliding it off, then unscrewing some plywood or metal from the frame and taking it and the affixed padding off.  Not so with our seats.

Ahh, the look and feel of safety!

  When they built our bus in 1995, Blue Bird meant for those seats to be super-safe and last.  So I found that the vinyl wasn’t just sort of stapled and sewn closed at the bottom of the back of the seat, but it was also glued.  In some places the glue had adhered to the padding.  In other places, the steel.  Thus, it didn’t so much slide as tear in taking it off.  There was indeed (as you can see in the photo) a nice steel panel in there that the padding was glued to, but it wasn’t screwed to the frame, it was welded.  So in order to get to taking the steel off, the padding had to be torn away, and then the grinding, beating with a 3# hammer or hammer and chisel, and prying with a bar could commence.

  I had three seats to do this with, and there were casualties.  My poor Makita angle-grinder lost some teeth on the gear-disc, and the ages-old Wonderbar lost out on both ends. But, to their credit, they did so on the last of the three chairs, and the hammer and chisel saved the day.

  By now, you’re probably asking why I bothered to take the sheets of steel out of the structural frame of the chairs if they were so much trouble?  The answer is that I wanted to use the area behind the seat as storage that would be accessed by lifting the seat back, and that the back of the seat with four legs would block half a window in the cabin of the bus if I left it full size.  Which meant that I still had work to do before I could figure out where to put the chair supports, because the seat with a lowered back could sit closer to the wall.
A clean frame ready to be shortened.

  After the procurement of a new angle grinder, I began surgery.  It was pretty simple in theory, just cut the ‘U’ frame above the existing join, remove the extra along the outside, then slide the top down over the inner square supports that come up from the seat’s main frame.  Easy!

  I’ve heard some of the skoolie guys say that cutting the metal on a skoolie is like getting a tattoo – you’re trepidatious about the first few cuts, but then you’re comfortable and almost itching to cut more.  Well, I was certainly trepidatious.  What if I cut too much?  But if I didn’t cut, nothing could proceed, so I went about the cutting.
Not perfect, but a good fit!
  After the initial cuts went well and the top came off, I figured my measures and took off the outside extra and refit things and … it looked fine!  Which got me to my first use of my MIG welder.
  So, I wire-wheeled things to get a good weld, clamped things up, and got ready to weld.   I learned how to weld using a stick welder, so the self-feeding aspect of the MIG was a little odd to get used to.  I have a little Lincoln 20 amp unit, and while I didn’t get my ‘sizzling egg’ sounds all the time, I got a decent weld in a fairly short time, and things proceeded apace.
All finished and in place!
  With the seat finished, I was able to set it in place and figure out where the supports should go under the plywood sub-floor.  Now, under this seat you might note the square steel plate on top of the felt.  This covers the sending unit in the fuel tank.  If anything ever goes wrong with the fuel gauge, I’ll need to get in there, so I had to plan for access there. Not a perfect place if you note the angled 12 gauge steel panel under the end of the seat.  But more on this later.
All the seats in proto-place!
  With the other two seats laid out in place, I was able to set the braces under them, and then set the insulation in.
And just like shiny magic it’s done!
  And with that done, it was a simple matter to put down two big sheets of plywood to cover it up.  Well, except for the 1″ wide steel rail that seats would attach to that runs about 12″ off the floor.  One of the problems that arose was when I cut a piece to fit perfectly all the way from side to side. As I was putting it in place, I found that that 1″ was enough to stop the angled piece from sliding down the wall and into shape.  Luckily, the 1/2″ plywood was fairly bendy and if I stood on it, I could get it to bend *just* enough that it would snap past the seat rail and into place.  
  And that put the basic floor down in place for all but the ‘bridge’ and bathroom.  More on those later …

Skinned Windows

(Please note: The title of this post in no way connotates that anyone lost their skin to cover the windows in the bus. ¬†ūüėȬ†)

I noticed that the pictures of the installation of the subfloor showed several windows which had been ‘skinned’, and realized that I missed the description of those in my timeline, so here goes.

I had hoped that all the walls that I was going to put into the bus would correspond with one of the ribs of the body’s structure – the 1 1/2 x 2 inch steel supports which produce the ‘roll cage’ effect of the body. ¬†These are, of course, the sturdiest parts of the body, and are where the sheet steel of the ceiling and wall panels attach. ¬†But, when it came to laying things out, it just wasn’t to be. ¬†The seats for the forward cabin area needed leg room, but too much would make the bathroom area really cramped, especially if we wanted to be able to use the side emergency door. ¬†And if I wanted to have an accessible wet wall behind the shower, and some storage area for a pantry, I couldn’t very well have that eat into the bunks. ¬†And nobody would want to look at the back of the refrigerator, and it would need venting and airflow to work properly.

All that said, I knew that we would have to lose some windows. ¬†My choice of which ones was aided by the accidental breaking of one while loading all the old seats I’d removed back into the bus for transport. ¬†One support went off-balance just a little and the steel foot slammed into the window, shattering it, but leaving the glass shards intact between the plastic laminate (Huzzah for safety glass!). ¬†In order to do this, you have to remove the window, which actually isn’t hard on a Blue Bird body like ours. ¬†Six screws and some pulling/levering in toward the interior and it’s done.

Some people stop there, bending the steel or aluminum sheeting and screwing it to the steel support ribs, or using angle brackets to do the same. ¬†I chose not to do that, since I wanted to be sure that the metal wouldn’t flex, and that we could add insulation to help more with noise and heat/cold.

If you look back to the floorplan I posted before, you might note that three of the windows are in black as opposed to grey or red.  Those are the ones that needed to be skinned, and you can see why Рeither there are walls that go across them, or a fridge.

Oh! ¬†There it is …

So, the first step was to take the window frames and remove the glass. ¬†Now, the frames are aluminum and they are screwed together, so this was actually far easier than I had expected it to be. ¬†On the outside of these I put 16 gauge steel that was painted green on the outside and brown on the inside (just because I had the brown to use). The steel was screwed to the aluminum frame right on the edges of the frame where it would be hidden by the outside steel of the window supports, but inside the raised lip that helped to seal the windows in tight. ¬†The paint on the outside made them match the rest of the green on the bus, but on the inside it was just to avoid future rust. ¬†Next went in 1″ thick pink polystyrene insulation, with some ‘Great Stuff’ expanding foam to fill the gaps and keep the polystyrene from sliding about or squeaking, and then some nice, 1/2″ pressure-treated plywood filled in the rest of the window area, and that was screwed to the aluminum frame.

This gave me (potentially removable or swapable with most other windows on the bus) skins that didn’t need any special treatment to get them to fit in the window spaces. ¬†A quick, generous bead of silicone sealant went on the raised ridge of the window supports of the bus and in went the skinned windows.

And they look like this from the outside …

And like this from the inside, if you can see past the wall studs (which we haven’t go to yet) …

Rebuilding a school bus into a rolling house.

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