Tag Archives: planning

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 1)

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first one that we would be able to get to and view.  Buffalo had an annular  eclipse (the moon is farther from the Earth, producing a ‘Ring of Fire’) in 1994, but it was too overcast to see, and the previous visible total eclipse was in 1925!   So we had planned for this for a couple of years to get the right place to be to see it well.

LOOK BACK: Walter Cronkite covers the 1979 eclipse

I had scoped out the Dixon Springs State Park in Illinois as a nearly perfect place to stay.  It was about midway between the point of maximum coverage and maximum duration.  I emailed back and forth with one of the park officials who identified the best sites to fit our bus, and let me know that the site reservation window would open on January 1, 2017 for the August reservations.

However, when I logged into ReserveAmerica to grab one of the sites, I found them ALL booked.  It turns out that the state of Illinois had decided to capitalize on the eclipse for tourism, and had rolled their reservation window back to November and promoted their state sites!  Scrambling a bit, I found the Fort Massac State Park, adjacent to Metropolis, Illinois.

French Fort De L’Ascension/Massac on the left and reconstructed American Fort Massac on the right.

Fort Massac was originally founded by the French in 1757 as Fort De L’Ascension, and was rebuilt and renamed Massac during the end of the French and Indian War.  While the British nominally owned the territory afterward, the fort itself was burned by the local Cherokee by the time the British got there.

Reconstructed American Fort Massac (minus the log palisades).

The Americans got into the act when General George Washington ordered the fort reconstructed in 1794, and for the next 20 years it served as a military post, sometimes called the ‘Gibraltar of the Ohio’ due to it’s elevation and view of the river. Notable figures of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark camped at Fort Massac in 1803 as they made preparations for their Corps of Discovery expedition to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

The sign says it all …

Metropolis was laid out as a formal town in 1839, and it was hoped that it would be a transportation and commerce hub. It is now a city of about 6000 people, and is best known as the home of Superman (this is official, both from DC Comics and the Illinois State Legislature!).


A tiny fraction of the stone tool collection at Fort Massac.

As we were to find out, the Fort Massac Visitor Center there is mostly museum! They have a great collection of native american stone artifacts (from all over Illinois), and French and American artifacts recovered from the forts.

But most important for me was the fact that Fort Massac was still within the band of totality for the eclipse, and was only about 16 miles from Dixon Springs, so we wouldn’t lose much (about 10 seconds of totality) from being dead-center along the eclipse line. Within a few minutes, I had a site chosen and booked.  We had a place to camp for the eclipse!

Then we had to get there.  The longest trip that we’d taken the bus on was from Buffalo to Ohiopyle, PA (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and back which was a measly 600 miles or so.  This was going to be some 1600 miles, so it would be our biggest foray to date.

Our (rather grainy) route map for the Eclipse Trip

We had limited time to make the trip, and decided on a few key places to stop on our trip.  We had some friends in Cincinnati, OH who we could stop and see, the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Headquarters were in Louisville, KY, as was the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery tour (at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery), all on the way to Fort Massac.  On the way back, we could stop at Mammoth Caves and Big Bone Lick (where we could camp for the night).

With all this planned out, the next thing was packing and provisioning the bus. And then, of course, setting out on the journey …

(Continued in Part 2)


Storage and work space …

One of the things that’s super important in building a skoolie is to use your space wisely. We really worked to figure out our floor plan, and even that has changed as we’ve learned through trial, error, and working in the space we have.  One of the obvious changes is that we’ve eliminated the plan for the door between the galley and the bunks, and the other door and wall between the bunks and the ‘master’ bedroom area, which gives a more open, light- and air-filled space in the back.

Planning (and subflooring) around those pesky wheelwells …

But one of the things you just can’t change are those wheelwells. Well, I say that and I know there are people who cut them down, but I worry about bumps and the tires having enough travelspace, so that’s not an option for us, at least.

The wheelwell 2×3 ‘cage’ is all the way to the left, behind the bed platforms that I’m finishing in this picture.

The driver’s side wheelwell was nicely covered by the bunks, leaving about 14 inches of space for underbunk drawers, but the passenger side one was only partially covered by the fridge, so I had built a framework to provide a flat space over it.  It took a while to get a piece of plywood on there, so the curved space with 2×3’s making a cage was a sort of catch-all space for small items to go so they wouldn’t slide around, while bigger items (like our water-cooler or folding chairs) could sit atop the cage and be bungee-secured to the wall along the fridge. (Not surprisingly, I don’t have many pictures of this.)

With some 1/2″ plywood atop the cage, the now-platform sat just below the seat-rail, some 19″ below the window.  My plan was to put in drawers, and after some discussion, we settled on two big drawers, rather than three or four smaller ones.  But without the little wall between the bunks and ‘master’ bedroom, there was actually some work-space possible, instead of just space to tuck things in, or stand off to the side so someone could get by.  In order to use that space, I decided to put in a ‘hidden’ wing.

The view from the bunk across the way …

The drawers are about 31″ by 23″ and just about 7 3/4″ deep.  The top surface, with the wing closed, is about 33×24″, covering the space over the wheelwell, and bringing it up flush with the base of the window.

The aft-facing panel side.

While the main ‘dresser’ portion of this rests just over the platform and cage that surrounds the wheelwell, and the sides of the carcass are plywood (oak-faced in the aft-side), the raised panel side that faces aft runs all the way from the floor to the base of the windows, helping to hide the evidence of the wheelwell.

With the support out and a view of the pull-ring for the wing.

The raised-panel section houses two things – first, the threaded eyes that allow us to attach a bungee and strap in the folding chairs (and perhaps other things) just like we had done on the platform.  The second is the angled bit that some of you may have noticed in the picture.  It’s hinged with a couple of small steel pins to swing out and become a support for the wing!  A magnet set into the wing and #10 woodscrew in the side of the ‘dresser’ keeps it in place when not in use, and the fact that it’s only rounded on one side of the back allows it to swing, and stop when it’s perpendicular to the dresser.

The dresser with the wing out.

The wing itself is some 3/4″ oak-faced plywood with some 1/4″ oak facing around the sides to hide the layers.  I put in a flat-fold brass finger-pull ring, so that it could be folded out or, conversely, left nice and flat depending on what we wanted to do.  The wing fits in really tightly into the surface of the dresser, making it almost hidden. Some brass middle hinges allow it to flip out into place.

Ultra Hardware 96412 Pocket Door Finger Pull

List Price: $8.83 USD
New From: $8.83 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Stanley Hardware S803-160 CD5301 Middle Hinge in Brass , 2″, 2 piece (Tools & Home Improvement)

List Price: $4.29 USD
New From: $0.75 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

This allows for a chair to be placed behind it and voila, a workspace with handy windows, and it’s out of the travel-lane.  When the awning it out, the emergency window can be propped open and even allow that wing to be accessed from outside (if you’re tall enough, that is).

A thing that could be overlooked in this is the fact that I’ve left the wall between the dresser and the fridge unfinished.  Granted, there’s a lot of unfinished in the bus, but this was actually intentional.  The space provided in the wall cavity serves as a perfect storage spot for long thin things, like our axe and hatchet (with the heads resting on the dresser surface), fire-tending equipment, supports for holding the emergency windows open, sticks for marshmallows, and a kid-sized cricket set (because of course we do).

We’ve just used this on a shakedown camping trip, and it got thumbs-up, so I was a happy camper!



Testing out the Backup Camera(s) (Part II, The Testing)

(Continued from Part I)

So with the cameras and the screen, I was ready to test them out. The screen was easy, as it had its own AC adapter.  I was able to just plug it in and it came right on, gave a nice blue screen indicating that it was set for the VGA input, and after 10-15 seconds of finding no signal, it went to sleep.

I could wake it easily by either selecting a new input (VGA->Cam 1->Cam-2->VGA cycle), or by just hitting the power button, but with no input, it just went back to sleep again.

The screen with a real image!
The screen with a real image!

I have a mini-HDMI->VGA adapter for my tablet, but that didn’t work to give a testable signal, so I had to go hook it up to an old XP box.  The booklet manual said that the optimal resolution was 800×400, but the computer’s resolution wouldn’t go down that low.  At the lowest setting though, it was pretty easy to see.

Tiny little icons at higher resolution on the graphics card.
Tiny little icons at higher resolution on the graphics card.

Putting it back up to some 1100×800 dpi (the computer’s regular output setting), the image was still pretty clear, but the text and icons got really small.  I’ll have to play with the setting once I get the bus’ computer up and running.

But with proof positive that the screen was in good shape, I went to checking out the cameras.  The little, cheap camera just had the red and black wires for power, so rigged a plug using a female four-pin power connector from an old computer fan, and hooking it up to an adapter that was meant to power a hard drive. With the VGA connected to the screen, and a button push to cycle camera 1’s input I got … a black screen.

A little clarification.
A little clarification.

At first I checked all my connections, then realized that if I cycled the input again to camera 2, I got a picture. One Sharpie later, I had that system all worked out, and went about trying to get a nice image I could photograph easily, but found that it wasn’t easy to get what I wanted because the picture was, indeed, mirrored (just like I knew it would be but my hands still wanted to turn it the other way).

The little, cheap camera`s eye view.
The little, cheap camera`s eye view.

One of the other issues that people complained about was the guidance lines.  In looking at the view, I don’t see them being very intrusive.  I can, however, see how they form a great fixed reference point for backing up.  For this picture, the camera was at couch height, and the distance to the far wall is ~21 feet.

I hooked the other camera up to the same power source, and put it in a similar placement (just next to the first camera).

The bigger back-up camera's view.
The bigger back-up camera’s view.

The lines are more pronounced on this camera, but they are more colorful.  The back wall here looks closer, but you can see less of the walls, even though the two cameras were at the same distance.

In recognizing this, the cheaper camera has a much greater field of view, but with much more distortion.  At the time, I just noted it, but in thinking about it since then, it seems that this difference will actually help me with placing the cameras on the bus.

But there was another thing to test with the more expensive camera, and that was the IR LEDs.  For that, it was an easy thing, as the photosensor that turns the LEDs on doesn’t need complete darkness – even a good shadow would do it.  So for that, I just held the camera up off the couch (looking at the couch), and lowered it until the LEDs kicked on.

No IR LEDs on ...
No IR LEDs on …
... and with the IR LEDs on.
… and with the IR LEDs on.

The ‘night vision’ works fine, though the bright ‘light’ of the LEDs washes out the colors.  But really, when I’m backing up at night, I think the color of the object I’m getting too close to is less important than if I can see it clearly.

So my plan is now to mount the small, cheap camera up high on the bus (there’s a bevel right above the back dome window and below the clearance lamps that should put it at a great angle), and use it as a regular rear view mirror, displayed on the screen during normal driving operation.  I’ll get a nice view of what traffic is right behind the bus, and a nice wide angle on the sides.  The other camera looks like it will need to be pretty close to the ground for the LEDs to have a good effect, so I’m going to play around with mounting it under or just above the back bumper.  Since I can change between the two views with just a click of the cycling button on the screen, I should be able to get both a ‘big picture’ and then a more detailed view when backing in somewhere.

I’ll post again for on-the bus placement testing and installation …