An ongoing discussion of Bob’s TechBus Project.

In the beginning…

My purpose for buying this unit was to serve multiple needs:

Living space while in the field. This included sleeping space with television, network and internet services, power for charging objects, and the resources needed to live somewhere for a few nights – or longer. That meant it needed a sink and fridge, water source, and a shower — I just can’t operate well without a shower! Of course, this also dictates the need to heat the water, unless you like being frozen while showering…

Basic technical resources for the work I do. I wasn’t going to routinely drudge along a service monitor, but had a high desire for a good Mac and a good multi-boot PC. Also wanted a high capacity fileserver to house television, movies, and music. Wanted a GB switch and router with high throughput, as I would likely be tied to a wired/fiber network normally, or a satellite-based solution when in the field.

Radio equipment that provided me essential flexibility whether grid-tied or not. That meant support materials for HF, 2m, and 440 as well as VHF/UHF commercial – and a multi-band DMR solution that could tie back to the repeater on the normal home front — or to the house.

Of course, this calls for power…

Of importance: While the platform could be ‘funky’, it couldn’t be cheap or junky. All work had to be performed to my standards, with an eye toward a standard of security – both from having things “disappear” and while moving down the road. Last thing I wanted was to have something come loose and slam me in the back of the head — or wiring to short out or become disconnected.

So, let’s talk about the platform:

This is a 1999 Gillig Phantom that’s powered by diesel, with about 500,000 miles on it. I pulled the service history from the agency that operated the vehicle and liked what I saw. The transmission had been replaced with a new version of itself about 2 years previously. Very little in the history to indicate problems that caused concern. It is worth noting that this was a ‘long-haul’ bus that serviced park-and-ride to employer runs, as opposed to a lot of surface streets with stop-and-go traffic. A full scan of the CAN bus disclosed no problems, or history of problems. Of great use to me was the overhead storage space that runs both sides of the bus, above passenger seating.

After driving it via I5 and Hwy 12 back to Aberdeen, it handled very well – although it will take a bit of getting used to as it’s 8-feet of width fill a lane. Turning is definitely different than most other vehicles, as the tires are behind the driver… This means paying close attention to the space required to turn properly.

In the first month of handling the unit while completing measurements, drawings, and plans, the only problem encountered was the capacity of the 24V system that starts the engine and runs the bus. Not a terrible issue, given that I have plans for power, but I decided to replace the 24V system and change the way the batteries are maintained and kept in a state of charge.

Statistics:

Engine:

Transmission: Allison

Fuel Capacity: 150 Gallons

Exterior Picture Group – Taken prior to purchase of bus…

Exterior Access Panels

Interior Pix

After I transported the bus back to the facility I took more useful images for my purposes…

The plan that followed

After a lot of thought, mocking things up with cardboard and blue masking tape, measurements and comparisons to objects to find the best fit, initial decisions were made:

Remove all seats, except the first one on the passenger side – it made for convenient road-travel seating for one or two passengers. Removal of most of the vertical support rods, since walls were going to be installed and anchored, which would partition the space — while looking nice. Removal of much of the wiring related to: Old radio system; overhead fluorescent lighting, passenger call buttons. External signage, cabling, and programming interface.

Installation

First, wiring was run for a number of purposes: AC armored power from a front 50A weather box on the front of the bus to the mid-point on the driver’s side of the bus. This area was intended to be the wiring hub for everything that would follow. Installation of a wall-rack, which holds the router, switch, car stereo (temporary), Ethernet wiring to all other points of the bus, DC wiring which connects to the 24V bus batteries (connecting a 50A lab-grade AC-DC power supply for charging these batteries from a grid source); DC wiring for the coming solar panels; DC power distribution for the radio equipment and low-current consumption devices like temperature sensors, current sensors, water pump, etc.; DC power for 5,000W inverter; AC power distribution panel to tie grid power and inverter power to the computers and monitors, as well as fileserver and bedroom TV. WiFi APs were installed in the front and rear of the coach which covers an area of about 200′ around the bus with 2.4 and 5.8 GHz WiFi at high speed, in addition to Ethernet options.

Unistrut was installed in two channels down the roof of the bus. These provide a stable platform for the 6 ea 240W solar panels that power the bus. Dual charge controllers were installed in the wiring closet, allowing me to direct incoming power between the 24V bus batteries, and a Tesla Model S battery installed here. During tests I found that I had enough power to run the coach, completely, overnight – including computer, radios, fridge, rear TV, fileserver, and lighting. The Tesla pack is protected from over-charging, as well as charging below 40 degrees (to protect from damage).

Next, the platforms for the beds were installed, as well as two nice mattresses, some rear storage, a rear antenna, and a wide-angle/high-resolution rear-facing camera with audio. Next, the first set of walls on both sides of the coach were installed, which creates a cozy double berth space, as well as a reasonable closet for each bed. This provides a wealth of storage above the bed(s), another large space at the foot, and storage under each bed, in addition to the closets, which have been outfitted for hanging clothing. In each bed space is storage for a laptop with easy access and power for operations/charging, as well as powered USB ports for phones, etc., and an extra AC plug for unexpected needs.

Next to the closet on the driver’s side is an enclosed, comfortably-sized, self-sufficient toilet. This system drains the urine and uses compost material for the… poop. It vents to the outside with a 12V computer fan, which does away with odor. The system is simple and effective and building it myself saved around $1200.

The toilet forms one wall of the wiring module.

Next to the wiring module is a nice-sized (10.5 sq ft) fridge/freezer that’s about the size you’d find in an apartment. It works great… On the left of the fridge there is a laser printer/scanner unit that’s connected to the network.

The other side of the fridge brackets my desk area, with 3x 27″ monitors on a deskspace and mounted to the driver’s side wall. To the right is the radio and computer rack, which houses a VHF commercial radio, a UHF commercial, a high-quality scanner, and a quad-band (6m/2m/220/440 radio), and a very nice HF radio with remote access as well as digial modes and ports for external antenna connections.

On the passenger side of the coach, next to the closet wall from the bedroom, is a rear door. At this point, it is up in the air… I haven’t decided if I’ll use it as intended, or something else (heating?)

Next to the rear door is the shower enclosure. It is a standard apartment-sized enclosure…

There is a double-wall between the shower enclosure and the kitchen cabinet/sink/microwave – this is intended to hide some plumbing and provide access, as necessary. Nice little round sink from a bar – big enough to get the job done, without feeling cramped!

Next to the kitchen counter/cabinet is a stainless steel toolbox/storage unit – roughly the same size as the kitchen counter (smaller) but it is the same height. This allows the kitchen — or the workspace — to enlarge as needed without crowding.

Finally, we’re back to the front seating and main door. The main door has a couple of huge benefits – first, it has a hidden lift that’s easy to operate and can hold about 350 lbs. Second, the front of the bus kneels – which is very handy for me, at times.

Re-worked the driver’s area and installed an aluminum tower to hold a UHF and a VHF radio for navigation, etc., as well as a large iPad for management of some coach-related tools — and for GPS/mapping needs. I really don’t like the turn signal buttons on the floor for the left foot – I’m probably going to install a standard turn-signal stalk on the steering wheel column – that seems like a better solution. Still have to install a screen and wire up the cameras, which give me a view down both sides of the bus, as well as the rear. There’s some discussion about building a secured, covered, platform where the bike-holder was and installing a generator there — although there are other options like installing under the bus. (It is a very quiet generator, so that’s not an issue…)

I’ll start covering the outside of the coach, although it is still a work in progress. Currently experimenting with a 40′ x 25′ tarp that anchors to the roof and is sealed, which extends from the side of the bus and forms a large, water-proof room to extend the bus for a variety of purposes. I’ve used Unistrut on the driver’s side to form a holder for a 35′ and a 50′ telescoping mast, which can be extended and placed against the side of the bus and attached in the field – these are useful for antennas when you’re out-and-about… There’s a rear 10m antenna I’m not too happy with. In addition, I have a special item that I’m under NDA that will be mounted to the roof at the rear for communications purposes — it is very cool, but I need to find a radome to protect it from the wind…

Now that crappy weather is here, I’m hoping to get the awning situation finished and take the bus out for another excursion — during crappy weather. I’m awaiting a couple of pieces of radio equipment to amuse myself for a few days in the field, and looking for a great place to do this. It’s possible I have one on the ocean in Ocean Beach, including power, so this might become a nice “safe spot” for the next tests. We’ll see – it isn’t even October, yet!