Thursday, August 18, 2011

One Small Step for Van....

So, the maiden voyage of the TDI-powered microbus has concluded.  It wasn't without its scary moments, but it was a great success.  I'll hit the mechanical road-digest stuff today, and I'll come back around to the human-side stuff tomorrow.

liftoff from home
Houston, We Have Liftoff
Tuesday started with loading up camping gear and bikes (2 on a rear strap-on rack, one in the cabin).  The load-up was not terribly interesting, other than I forgot all the little things that used to go without mention before.  Things forgotten: dish towels, body soap & shampoo, extra towels, for example.  There were plenty of other things, but we didn't leave our positive attitudes, our extra coolant, bag of how-to-fix-it books, toolbox of ratchets, screwdrivers and wrenches.  This proved very important later.  From the house, we went straight to Fred Meyers for last minute "oh, yeah, we need that" stuff, like a solar lantern, ice, propane and of course fuel and air for the tires.  It was a little surreal to order diesel.  The guy looked at me a little funny and said "you mean regular".  "No," I say with a grin. "I mean #2 diesel".  I then photographed the fill up like a total geek.
yes, I meant Diesel :)
Loaded for bear, and ready to roll, I couldn't find 1st gear, so we pulled out of the shopping center parking lot uphill in second.  The engine didn't like that and acted like it dropped into "limp mode".  Aw crap.  Pull to the side, kill the engine.... Fret.....  Fret some more...... Restart the engine, and everything's fine again.  Hmm... something to ponder while I watch the UltraGauge.

Apollo 13
As I mentioned in my last post, the boys and I gave thanks to each of you who have helped us on this journey when we turned onto Roy Rogers Road towards Sherwood.  The drive through the highland cow country of Washing ton County was beautiful, and the engine temp finally reached the magic 185* mark.  It held there, then climbed some more.  By 190*, I had flipped the fan switch, and the temp dropped back down to 185*, at which point, I turned the fans back off again.  This cycle repeated a few times as we entered Sherwood.  That is, until we reached 99W and I suddenly saw white smoke billowing.  "Houston, we have a problem".  I flipped the fans and the smoke cleared, but I knew something was wrong.  I made the turn onto 99W and into the next parking lot: one for a NAPA.  What luck!

hose on ground not so good.
Once parked, I jumped out to see what was wrong.  The return hose from the radiator had separated from its coupling and one end was now lying on the ground.  A small puddle of coolant had appeared.  Good times.  Seeing how we were in front of a NAPA, though, getting more coolant and a hose clamp (missing from the hose now) would be an easy task... and a very short walk.  No need for the lifeboat, but exposing the coolant bottle means emptying the rear deck of our belongings, and removing the rear bike rack.

One Small Step For Van
While shooting the breeze with the guys at NAPA, I described my engineering failure: there are no barbs on my coupling, so it would just be a matter of time before this happened again.  They leaped to the phones, calling different parts suppliers until they found a company in Tualatin that had 1-1/4" double-barbed couplers. "2 please," I say.  NAPA went an got them for me from them within 30 minutes.  During that 30 minute wait, we walked next door to the Safeway and had lunch.  Perfect.  No sooner had we returned, the couplers arrived.  They were installed, coolant fed into the bottle, system bled and we were ready to roll within an hour.  Knowing more air bubbles would appear, we pulled out of the NAPA parking lot.
new double-barbed couplers
Later on, while driving down 99W, I was unable to influence the temperature.  We pulled over, re-exposed the coolant bottle, and topped it off.  Dang air bubbles.  Re-bled, and we were off.  This time for good.  The rest of the trip was temperature cycling, laughing with the boys and enjoying the corners of Yamhill and Marion Counties.

One Giant Step for Van-Kind
After being parked for 2 days, there were no fresh fluids under the bus before we left the campground.  The coolant bottle was a touch low, so I topped him off again.  I expect a few more air bubbles to appear before its all done, but I think the worst is past.  The under-mount radiator has proven effective, and the TDI engine has proven to be an effective power plant for a microbus.  As many have pointed out along the way "that transaxle isn't well suited to that engine".  Very true.  At 3k RPM, the bus is moving around 45mph in 4th gear with 14" tires.  I have a set of 15" rims that I plan to use for tires in the future, but I'm sure a re-geared transaxle is in the future.  That's a $1500+ statement.... and it reminds me that no bus or project vehicle is ever finished.  Just some portion of it is.  Today, the engine transplant project is complete.  Tomorrow, some other project will begin, but for today at least I dance and sing in celebration that my bus lives again.
true satisfaction. greetings from Champoeg State Park

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mop up, and man up

It's been a week, and I've gotten a bunch of little things done. I'll run through that and again ring that "fear" bell. Fun ahead!

Mop up
As I said, last week was very productive. The boys were with their mom, so I focused on bus stuff... Well, for the first few days anyway. I already detailed the relay setup for the cooling fans. That was Monday. On Tuesday, I wired in a toggle switch (after hitting the gym and working late). Wednesday, I scrubbed the interior of the bellows and hard-mounted the bed base to the frame with finish nails. I finished the wiring above the sink/stove too. There's an issue there, tho, and the cabin lights don't light up. I think my ground is bad because there is voltage at the switch.

Saturday, I mounted the toggle switch next to the hazard switch, fixed my rear driving lights so they actually light up, cleaned up some loose wiring and re-connected the speedometer cable. The running lights turned out to be a few simple things. First, fuse #2 was bad. Second, the right rear tail bulb was bad. I spent an hour checking wires before going to those. Doh!  Basically, I mopped up all the leftover bits on Sunday, vacuumed the carpets, etc

Man Up
I picked up the boys on Sunday and they were a little disappointed that I didn't arrive in the bus.  They thought that may mean the camping trip was cancelled, or the bus wasn't ready.  The reality is, I wasn't ready to take him on the freeway.  OR 217 is not a very forgiving freeway by Oregon standards, but bottom line I need to man up and drive this thing.  Today, we ran an errand in him: to CostCo.  He drove great, and we easily fit a huge cart full of food into the passenger compartment.  We didn't even use the rear deck.  I forget how easily the bus carries a bunch of stuff.  I'll be collecting a piece of furniture next week and I think I know how I'll get it home now.  It won't be a rented truck from Home Depot :)

On The Road Again
We take our first camping trip in 4 years starting tomorrow.  These years have seen many changes, and it will be surreal to be camping in the bus without their mom, or the dog.  Still, it will be nice to be out on the open road again, humming along and again seeing the world through a Bay Window Bus windscreen.  The boys and I packed the camping equipment tonight, and we'll finish tomorrow morning.  We'll slap the bikes on the rear carrier, hit the local grocery and head South for a couple of nights.

As we pull onto the 2-lane road through the cow patches of Washington County, I'll be thinking of all the folks who helped make this project a reality.  Hal, and the hours and hours he put in on the engine mount, helping me decide what design would work best.  Justin, and the low priced labor and numerous free parts (including the loaner engine harness I'm currently running) to get the TDI engine running perfectly.  Andy, my TDIClub friend who sent months of personal research on the TDI wiring as well as his personal support along the way.  Toby, for the pop top work, and ready hand for anything else that popped up.  Ed (owner of Belle) who kept reminding me of my end goal with regular drive-bys and the famous ride-alongs to see the Dead.  Ed the Welder, who performed the magic on the fuel tank so long ago.  Eric, the guy in Georgia who salvaged the engine, crated and shipped it to me.  KEP for their sending me a second adapter plate at 1/2 price when I needlessly broke the first one.  Of course, the numerous others who have provided insights on problems or their own projects as motivations along the way.  This project would not be where it is today without every single one of you.

Suffice to say, no project is completed on an island.  We all need each other to make these kinds of crazy ideas go from concept to completion.  I greatly value each of you for your time or financial sacrifice to help make this possible.  I can't thank you enough.  I can say, though, that my next post will be documenting a road trip; the first road trip in years.  In that, we all can celebrate.  Thanks for following along all these years, and I promise over the next 6 months I will back-document final solutions for each of the separate sub-systems, so the next guy who gets a cray idea to put a diesel engine in his bus has a workable roadmap... at least to start from :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Keeping it Cool

I wanted to post a quick update on the cooling fan work I did last night.  As you may remember from an earlier post, I was concerned about whether the fans kicked on during my anti-NASCAR test drives.  I watched the temperature rise on the UltraGauge, and even level off at 185*.  I think that was when the thermostat opened and the full coolant circuit (routing through the radiator) was active.  This allowed the 68* coolant that was sitting in the radiator to mingle with the 185* coolant leaving the engine.  Predictably, the temperature dropped temporarily and then increased again.  I didn't have the patience to watch the coolant rise too far above 190* before I got uneasy and stopped the test drive.  I should have hopped out at that point to see if either of the fans were spinning.  Wanting a backup system for fan activation was the driver for last night's efforts.

Relay Enabled
I re-attacked the fan wiring last night.  My first change was to tie the fans together so they both turn on and shut off together.  Having just one spin seemed silly.  To protect wiring, I have both fans activated off of an automotive (30A) relay triggered from the temperature switch in the radiator.  Now, when the "low speed" temperature is reached, both fans will fire.  I don't have a destination for the "high speed" signal yet, but I think I might wire it to my oil idiot light on the original dash.  That way, if I'm getting too hot, I'll have a visual queue to cool it.

Panic Switch
Now that both fans turn when the temperature switch says to fire, my concerns about whether that switch will always work kick in.  Honestly, I'm not sure if the current switch works.  Now, I could remove the switch (effectively draining the entire cooling system) and install a new one.  Yes, that would be the proper course.  Rather than do that, I wired in a panic switch for the fans.  Now, if I see the temperature running high, and lack the confidence in the fans turning on automagically, I can flip a switch (with an LED to show me that I did so) and fire them up.  The B+ side of the switch is running on circuit 30, so I can fire the fans after shutting off the engine.  Since the coolant will stop moving at that point, it is limited in utility, but it might help cool a little bit.  The tests of the switch and relay were positive, so I'm ready to test-drive again.

With all of these modifications, the wiring near the driver's feet has become, uh... rat-nest-like.  I'll spend some time cleaning that up tomorrow night, freeing up Saturday for test drives and final bits and pieces on the pop top.  Thanks for following along, and if all goes well, I'll be on the road Saturday doing more than just an anti-NASCAR this time.  WooHoo!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tight Topside

In my last post, I mentioned troubles with getting the top to settle-down properly.  I'll post on how that resolved, and touch on some other random pop-top related things today.

Westy strap holding Riviera Top
Great Pair
So, I've mentioned that the hole for the Riviera top is larger and more square than the sunroof hole.  This lead to some interesting challenges for getting the inner wood framing to fit.  Included in this was a need to change how the front section will fit.  This forces a change to both the font hold-downs and the bow that holds the front bellows to the roof of the bus.  For the hold-downs, I pulled the 2 side hold-downs from the old westy top.  They fit well, and seem up to the task.  Like the original Riviera, there are 4 hold-downs, 1 of the originals on each side and 2 westy ones along the front.

note original hole
(black spot above screw head)
For the front bow, I re-used the original, but had to cut short sections of the ends to fit it.  To avoid putting too much stress on the bellows, I didn't reuse the original holes, but created new ones closer to the edge.  This way, the bellows are not stretched at all when the top is fully open.  Hopefully, this will extend its life a little bit.

Pointing Straight Ahead
After that last post, I realized that I didn't even try to align the feet front-to-back.  Dummy.  A quick measurement showed that the driver-side was a full inch further forward than the passenger side.  This would explain why it didn't close, and why it was diagonally pointing off to the passenger side at the front.  I matched the rear feet, screwed in one screw each at the front and back and verified the movement.  Perfect.

Nice Rack
Screw holding front p-side
With the top settled down, and the front of the bellows tightened down, that left installing the luggage rack.  I lowered the top down and pushed the luggage rack as far into the top as  I could get it, and shook it a little bit.  The top is held down by 4 long washered Phillips-head screws.  I marked the holes with a ball-point pen, and drilled the holes with a 7/64 bit.  Out of concern for water tracking under the rear of the rack back into the bus, I layered "rope" insulation along the rear edge just like I used around the edge of the bellows.  Once the top was screwed in place, I forced my hand under the inner edge and sealed the malleable stuff against the   top and the roof of the bus.  I tested it with light, but I still need to test it with water.

completed. tight seam.
That's it for today.  The boys helped some, but they've kinda lost interest in the work part of this project and are ready for the test-drive part.  I can't say I blame them.  I'm ready for the test driving part too.  I have one last thing I want to do first: install a radiator fan over-ride switch.  I hope to tackle that on Monday so I can take a few test flights this week.  Its very very close now, my friends.  My plan to take the boys camping in mid-August may actually come to fruition.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

No New Tales to Tell

It's been the dog-days of Summer around my place the last 2 weeks, and getting into the bus hasn't been really happening.  Between the Brew Fest, and my niece's birthday on Saturday, last weekend was a wash.  I was able to start getting the scissor-support mounted, but they aren't quite on right, so I'll be re-starting that effort.  Unfortunately, that means that the little bit I did get done, I'll be doing again.

Since the top isn't really "on", I can't test drive it.  With a planned first camping trip just a few weeks away, my evenings and weekends are going to become very full very soon, starting tonight.  I have my boys with me this week, so I'll have to figure out a way of getting their hands involved too.

I wanted to post something, since it's been nearly 10 days since my last post, but, like the headline says, "No New Tales to Tell".  Once I have the scissor-supports solved, I'll share the pictures I've taken along the way.  Suffice to say, the supports have 2 long steel feet that run the length of the bus.  If they are not positioned exactly right, the top won't close, and it won't sit right.  Mine aren't, so it doesn't.  I think the driver's side rail is too far forward, so I'll try moving it towards the rear to see if that helps.  Since the support "feet" don't have channels for the screws to pass through (instead its just a tiny hole), adjusting the top means new holes in the roof for every adjustment.  Something to think about improving if you are thinking about putting a Riviera top on your non-Riviera bus.

That's all for now.  Like I said, I'll post when I have the top solved, and explain what I found as the cause.  I'll back-post a picture of the mis-aligned top to this posting later.