Monday, August 1, 2016

Pedal on the Right

Today's posting is a continuation of the last (Another Tow). In that post, I described the initial cause and my reported first reaction. I actually forgot a part, so I'll start there.

$5 Multi-meter
TPS wiring diagram
When I first got into cars, I had already dabbled in computers and wiring stuff. I'd fixed wiring in houses, strung cables for networks, etc. Still, even with that history, I didn't recognize the extreme value in a multi-meter. The fact that you can get one for $5 at Harbor Freight will lead many folks to the same conclusion: if its a cheap tool, it probably isn't worth much. Wrong. I first started using my multi-meter to set the static timing on the original pancake engine. Muir, the interweb and the Bentley talk about a timing light. Sure, you could fabricate a timing light with a dashlight bulb and some wire, Or, you could buy a timing light at your local car parts place. They cost more than $5, by the way. The cheapest, and in my opinion smartest solution is to use your multi-meter set on the 10's of volts setting. Rotate that dizzy until the voltage jumps (this is when the light would have turned on in the Muir model), and you're golden.

The multi-meter has been sitting on the top of my toolbox from day one. In retrospect, it is probably the most used tool I have. My 13mm ratcheting wrench is probably second. Anyway, on to its use with the wiring troubles...

Continuity Testing
old TPS plug
My first thought about the issues with the 1200 RPM symptom was that they were caused by one of the wires coming from the accelerator pedal melting against something and shorting out. To verify this, I grabbed a long stretch of wire and ran it along the ground from the pedal wiring to the back of the bus where the ECU sits. One wire at a time, I verified the continuity by splicing my on-the-ground wire into the test subject wire. Then, at the ECU, I would verify a closed circuit existed. All of the wires in the bundle were good. It was at this point, I decided to clean up the wires as I described in my last post (Another Tow).

Potentiometer Potential
If the wiring was good, and the bad grounds weren't part of the problem, then the issue must be at the potentiometer (that big variable resistor the wires go to that sends the how-fast-to-go signal in the drive-by-wire set up). This is often referred to as the "Throttle Position Sensor" or TPS. I unplugged the TPS from the wire bundle and disconnected it from the under-floor of the bus. At first, I thought the TPS got wet from the trip to Bend and it would work after it dried out. I read some threads about that happening for folks. On closer inspection, I could see that as the wires left the TPS, the insulation had stripped away. I could see copper. Since the TPS was pressed against the metal underside of the bus, the signals were shorting out right there.

bad TPS wiring
Had I discovered this in the middle of nowhere, broken down on the side of the road, I would have solved this in classic hack-style: put a small bit of rubber between the TPS and the underside of the bus to get back on the road. Since we were in the driveway and I'd already gone back on my promise, this was a fix it right moment.

New Pedal
The 1998 New Beetle donor from which I got the engine and related components had an accelerator pedal / TPS that was unique. By 1999, the components had changed, and the wire plug had as well. Gone was the old 2x3 (2 rows of 3 pins) round-ish plug. In its place is a 1x6 flat plug. Neat. The old TPS could still be found on the interweb, but NOS and even used on eBay were going for upwards of $400. Snort-giggle. Yeah, like I'm paying that. The new pedal assembly is available online for just over $100 or almost $200 for a genuine VW part. Considering the failed promise, I got the genuine VW part. The new pedal has the TPS integrated into it. You can't just remove the TPS and use it like I had before. This meant that the first real change to the cabin was necessary: the old pedal would go away and a new model pedal would have to be retrofitted. *pausing for the purists' gasps of shock*

Wire Plug Wire Plug
wiring extension
First, I needed to get the existing bundle of wires mapped to the new flat plug. Oh, and I needed a plug. I got a plug from the pick-n-pull, cutting as much donor wire from the bundle as I could. I cut the wires off the old TPS too, and wired up a cable extension from the old TPS location up through an existing hole in the floor, and up into the back of the dashboard before heading back down to a location near the heat directional control (picture about mid-shin on your right leg behind the kick panel).

Suspend a Pedal
With the wiring in place, I plugged in the new TPS / pedal assembly and
pedal support
started the engine. The 1200 RPM Symptom was gone, and the engine revved with pedal presses in my hands. Sweet! After killing the engine, I messed around with placement options. I don't want to have to hold my leg in the air to get to the pedal, but I also don't want the floor to interrupt the pedal movement before maximum throttle. I found a Hapy medium, and grabbed some 1" angle aluminum. I chose aluminum because its light, strong and looks good. With the right angle, it won't flex under the pressure of my foot on the pedal. I cut a notch out of the top so it would fit tightly against the emergency brake support and cut a notch out of the bottom so I could bolt the bottom to the floor. After test fitting the support, I marked the spots for the holes to hold the pedal assembly. A quick run with the drill and a few bolts later, I had a pedal installed. The final steps were cleaning up the carpet so the new support had a notch to fit into, and completely removing the old pedal.

Test Driving
install complete
Of course, as soon as I had it together, I wanted to take a spin. My kids were at their other parents' houses and my wife was working, so it was just me, Hapy fired right up like he always does. I put him in reverse and feathered the throttle. He leaped backwards. Whoa. I backed out of the driveway without my foot on the pedal and turned so the nose was pointing down-street. I put him in first and stepped on the pedal. The front tires almost left the ground as we jumped into motion. I was thrown back into my seat. Holy crap. Still feeling for how hard to press the pedal I zoomed down the sides treet to the main street intersection. Just to see how quick I could go, when the light turned, I jumped on it and turned onto the main road. The RPM's flew up and I shifted and then again and again in the span of about 5 seconds I had gone from dead stop to 40+mph. This was possible the fastest car I had ever driven, and its a 1972 VW camper.

I think, as I look back on this build, I'll remember this moment. I did so many little things to make it better, faster. In the end, the second generation pedal and assembly allowed me to tap into the horsepower and torque I originally envisioned when I started this project. I can't wait for our next festival. Now that I've fulfilled my promise to Hapy, I don't think he can wait either.

That's it for today. As always, thanks for following along.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Tow

In my last post, I lamented a little bit at the end about dropping into a version of limp mode (1200 rpm symptom) and sporadic misses. Today's post covers the start of what I did to resolve it. I split it into two posts because I tend to get wordy.

Muir's Divination
If you haven't read How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir, you absolutely should, even if you don't own an old Volksie. His tone and humor can still be felt on some VW boards and the YahooGroup member mail. Somewhere in his book, he writes about the promises we make to our cars of future repairs, if he-she-it just gets us home. Old VW's seem to have a soul, and they respond to those promises (sometimes) with safe passage home. The return trip from 4Peaks was one of those moments. About the time I was re-starting the engine to reset the engine from the 1200 RPM symptom every 50 feet, I promised Hapy that I'd get him fixed before I drove him again. He just needed to get us home. Like a good soldier, Hapy settled down and took us home with little trouble. Since my usual sled (Flash, the TDI Jetta) was still being driven by my 18 year old son while he completed the repair on his car (subaru clutch job), I reneg'd on my promise to Hapy and drove him to work the next day. It was under 3 miles, but it was still breaking the promise. Hapy let me know how he felt when I went to leave work at the end of the day.

Repo-Style Tow
Hapy would start and drop immediately into the 1200 RPM symptom from the first start after work. By the way, I'm not calling it limp mode anymore since "limp mode" is actually a different condition. I was able to get positioned in a parking lot that allowed for a tow truck to get at the bus while also in the shade (90*+ day), and waited for AAA to send the usual flatbed. What arrived instead was what I'd call a repo-truck. It was small and had a relatively non-descript towing rig attached to the rear. As it pulled in, the tow rig looked like a large iron cross jutting up from his rear bumper. When lowered, the cross would abut against whatever tires it could and then latch around from the other side. All told, this truck was able to snatch a car in under a minute. The driver slapped on the safety straps, and magnetic marker lights and we were on our way inside 5 minutes after he arrived.

On the route home, the driver shared that this was his first boost of the day and that he was heading over to the Hillsboro Hops field for opening day next. Apparently, lots of folks park illegally at that park, so he spends a few hours at every game snatching illegal parkers and hauling them a few miles away to impound. Not exactly my definition of a dream job. He was able to drop Hapy in the "fixit spot" at the end of our long driveway, though (see picture).

Un-Rat's Nesting
in process
My friend Justin will probably be the first to agree that the wiring I didn't do when I did the TDI install was long overdue for a cleanup. I did what Agile tells us to do: the very minimum to achieve the desired end state. When conditions indicate that things need to be redone, do it then. Well, with the 1200 RPM symptom and the other codes getting thrown, I think it was time. Or past time. So, circuit by circuit, I removed unnecessary wiring. I started with plugs in the rat's nest that weren't plugged into anything and tracing those wires to their termination at the fuse box, ECU or a junction. Then, I pulled the unneeded plugs and wires from within the engine bay the same way. This required significant unwrapping of cables and subsequent re-wrapping for cleanliness. Last, I dug into the fuse box. This last step could have been my first. By verifying circuits at the fuse against the fuse diagram in the Bentley, I eliminated more wire than I retained. In the process, I discovered a possible root cause: I had one main ground, and it had started to shake loose. By removing so much wire, I was able to reduce how many brown wires connected into that ground as well. The end result looks much better, but the relay frames and the fuse box still need to be attached to the body. And, the 1200 RPM symptom didn't go away. Drat.

I decided that the cause of the 1200 RPM symptom wasn't in the wiring nearest the computer. So, it must be the wiring or the potentiometer at the pedal. In the next post, I'll dig into what I found and how I fixed it.

As always, thanks for following along..

Friday, July 8, 2016

4Peaks 2016

Today's post is dedicated to the road trip to Central Oregon for the last 4Peaks Music Festival to be held at the Rockin' A Ranch.

The Going
I had taken the travel day off, with this hope that we could get out of town earlier than we had last year. We did, and we arrived earlier, but not without having a few adventures along the way. The night prior, I drove from work to the mega-market to get food supplies for the trip. Out of nowhere, a large crow dive-bombed Hapy, taking out his front driver's side turn signal. Knowing that we were going to see some rain, we set a course out of town past Discount Import Parts for a replacement lens. They didn't have the bolts to mount them, but Orchard's across the street had something suitable (10-24 X 2" Phillips Round HD Machine Screw).

We headed out of town before 4, but the weekend rush hour had already started. In classic Oregon form, there was a 45 minute backup heading South because of an accident on the north-bound side of the freeway. Traffic lightened up around Wilsonville, and Hapy drove like a champ the rest of I-5. We left the speedy folks behind and turned east on OR-22. Traffic fell away soon after we passed the jail, and we entered the forest and foothills
of the Cascades. Detroit Lake looked much fuller this year versus last year and we hit steady rain after leaving Idanha. By the time we passed Hoo Doo Ski resort, though, the rain had stopped and the cold air was noticeable. I still haven't put in the door seals, so the windwhip is loud (and cold sometimes). The heater was blowing warm air, though, so Boo was able to wrap a blanket around her floor vent to keep herself warm. We arrived before nightfall, but the place was much more populated than the year before. I guess word got out about how great waking up there on the first full day is.

The Scene
The parking folks helped us find a relatively flat spot, and with the use of a 6x10 block of lumber we nicked at the NW String Summit last summer, we were able to get Hapy's rear end pretty level. While meeting neighbors, we set up our now-usual festival spread: camp couch, rug.. but we had some new things this year. We brought the 10x10 popup canopy that we got on the way home from Montana last summer, and set up a fancy BBQ that my dad gave us. We filled our large Coleman 5 gallon water dispenser too. All of these things, when added to the camp table, multiple coolers, etc made for a pretty crowded space. We had spots of rain all weekend, so moving things around took on more meaning. Some things, like the water dispenser, could sit in the rain. Others, like the BBQ, fit under the bus when not in use. The old BusDepot canopy, however, was no longer water-resistant, so it will be landfill-bound soon. In the picture below, you can see how we resolved to use it solely as a bridge between the bus and the pop-up. Even in that way, it didn't work too well. Still, by the last day, we had our systems running smoothly, and there was room to sit and watch the rain.

rain-adjusted, Hapy @sunset
The main festival area was very similar to last year, but there were more vendors. Down in the gully, they had added a coffee stand and a tea-yurt for sitting with your beverage and a few friends. Boo and I liked that addition very much. Of the vendors up above, I didn't recognize many from before, but then we really didn't do the vendor scene last year. Boo found a pair of sandals that are crazy-comfy and hand made. Karen, the booth owner, had been at 4Peaks for years. We spent a bunch of time with a couple different folks, a printed drawing booth owner and a teacher-turned-potter. Both were very open to talking about things and weren't in any rush to end conversations or push sales. So mellow and kind.

After walking the scene for a bit on Friday morning, we could hear the main stage fire up with JED. From our camping spot, we could hear the main stage very well and chose to stay with Hapy more than at the main stage. As Boo puts it, "I think we're the only people we know who go to music festivals to get rest".

The Bands
raging into the rain
Mid-afternoon Friday, we heard a band starting to get their mix before kicking off their set, and Boo and I stood straight up. Their sound was amazing. We were pulled to the main stage like the didgeridoo pulled us down the bowl at our first Hootenanny. We were pulled all the way to the front of the stage, and then the skies opened up. It poured rain, and the band kept wailing. The harder it rained, the harder they played and the harder the crowd danced. It was some kind of energy feedback loop happening, and we all just rode it. For their second to last song, they pulled the horn player from JED up on stage with them... and then they jumped into the pit between the stage and the crowd. And then raged into the rain, blowing the crowd away. The Stone Foxes. Best Band of 4Peaks 2016. We decided we're going to McMinnville for their August music festival simply because Stone Foxes will be there.

Stone Foxes at 4Peaks 2016
Semi-spent from the Stone Foxes, we got a smoothie and walked vendors while the stage switched over for the Jeff Austin Band. We didn't stay for more than a couple of songs, hitting Hapy for food and rest in anticipation of the highly hyped Poor Man's Whiskey show in the Side Stage tent at 10. They were good, but it didn't seem like they had put much thought into their set list. Their songs seemed all over the place in terms of tempo and emotion, leaving the crowd genuinely confused. The songs they hit, they hit well. Most of the rest of the set was kinda all over the place. We left before they finished.

On Saturday, we heard (and liked) Della Mae from the bus while we did morning dishes and later watched Robben Ford and Poor Man's Whiskey on the main stage. After Poor Man's Whiskey, we listened to Chris Robinson while eating candy under a blanket and looking up at the stars (the clouds had rolled off).

Sunday morning, we visited the Side Stage tent, not wanting the festival to be over. We were treated to the Students of String Theory: kids playing some classic, and some modern songs on acoustic guitar and fiddle while singing. They were fantastic.

The Return
home bound
Sunday was the only sunny day, so lots of folks took their time leaving. We did too. as we packed up, we saw many of our fellow festers leaving by a different direction than we had come in. Thinking that they knew something, we fired up the google maps app and turned the same way out of the Rockin' A Ranch. The Google map was wrong and we found ourselves on a gravel road marked "Private". Awesome. From now on, I'm using Waze. Not too proud, I asked a couple who were leading their horses back onto their trailer, and received viable directions. A few twists and tuns later, and we were having a Dundee-like experience crawling through Sisters. Just like the year before, the drive out of the festival ground had shaken a fan wire loose, so we pulled off at the same viewing spot as the year before and fixed the wire. After that, the drive through the Cascades was fantastic. The day was beautiful and traffic light, allowing us to really enjoy the drive, until we arrived at I-5. There had been multiple accidents and rubber-necking opportunities like the drive out of town, so we found ourselves nudging along for about 45 minutes. During that stretch, Hapy would drop into the 1200RPM "limp mode" often. Additionally, the engine would act like there was a sporadic miss. We got home through promises of repair (like John Muir used to muse about in his Complete Idiot book).

That's it for today. Lots of repair adventures to follow. Like always, when I'm not posting, its because I'm out in the world, creating future content :) Thanks for following along-

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oh Crud, I Broke a Stud

It's been a busy month of moving and trying to wrestle a clutch into T's Subaru, so I haven't had many adventures worth documenting. Since T's Subbie is on ramps with a transmission sitting in front of it, he is driving my car, so I've been daily-driving the bus. It's really been great, with a few little hassles. Today is about those hassles.

Shake Much? Funky Clutch
Have you ever been pulling away from a stoplight and a semi-truck next to you starts shaking like there's no tomorrow as it pulls away from dead stop? That happens when something has been introduced onto the clutch or flywheel or pressure plate causing the clutch to not completely grab correctly. When I last pulled out the transmission (Transaxle Re-Assembled) in the Fall of 2014 I must not have completely cleaned either the flywheel or the pressure plate. MAybe I got a greasy finger on the clutch disk. The bus shudders as I pull away from dead stop now.. especially when it's cold. I'll probably have premature wear-out on my stage-one clutch as a result. Grr. The shaking, though, brings about it's own troubles.

No Power Rush Hour
I was on my way home from work a couple of weeks ago when suddenly and unexpectedly the engine stopped running. Turning the key had no effect. Since I was coasting to a stop at a pretty major intersection, I let the bus roll into the bike/breakdown lane and slipped out the slider door. I popped open the rear gate and looked at the wiring that ties my ignition key to the TDI harness. Knowing that there was probably an issue there, I pulled the pins out of the TDI ignition plug and popped in the original plastic plug. The engine fired up with the turn of a screwdriver, demonstrating that my remote starter was working. Back in business, I climbed back into the driver seat and motored around the corner, only to have the ECU drop into "limp mode". I fixed the "no power" by re-wiring the relays and wiring around the TDI harness ignition switch while taking a break from the moving fun. The root cause was one of the wires had freed itself from what it was plugged into. I blame the shaking mentioned above.

The computer needs to get a clean signal from the drive-by-wire accelerator potentiometer (usually called a "pot"). In the bus, this pot is attached to the underside of the cab and controlled by the stock accelerator pedal. The wire bundle running back to the computer is probably 15 feet long. In the original donor car, the wire bundle was about 4 inches long. If you add all that extra wire, there is additional resistance which can get in the way of that clean signal. When this happens, the computer drops into "limp mode", bringing the engine with it. Limp mode pins the engine speed at 1200RPM. While frustrating, the limp mode can be cleared simply by shutting off and restarting the engine. When this happened in the Rush Hour example above, I had to get off the road to shut down and restart because the "ignition" was 10 feet behind the driver seat.

4 out of 5 Recommended
Last March, I posted about getting some new wheels for the bus. They look great, but they are thicker than the stock wheels. Since the tires I had on the bus were 12 years old, I couldn't safely go back to the old tires, but the studs don't stick out far enough for the lug nut to get all the way on with stud sticking out the other end of the nut. I pulled a classic prior-owner-worthy fail in not double-checking the 94 foot-pound torque on the nuts, and then threw 2 nuts off the rear right wheel before noticing a "wub wub wub" noise. I pulled a lug nut from the other rear wheel to get 4-a-side, but one of the studs broke off and won't thread a nut anymore. The internet is not consistent about driving on 4 nuts when the vehicle delivered with 5. I've been doing it for a little while now, and I check my torque while looking for fluid drips.

Some of these hassles represent work I need to perform. Okay, most of them do. I have replacement wheel hubs on the way from Ken at TheBusCo and I already have the over-length studs I mentioned in my post about wheels (see Wheels, Studs, Chrome and Backspace) so I'm going to start preparing for that work. It could mushroom into more things since the rear suspension and brakes haven't gotten the deserved love in a while.

That's it for now. I'm in the process of getting T's car back together and him through high school graduation before I tear into solving some of the bus' issues. Thanks, as always, for following along..

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Move Again

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post. It's been a crazy few weeks of moving. I'm not going to bore you with lots of details, but today's post is basically about moving.

The Set Up
broken light fixture
I've been renting a 4 bedroom house for 3 years. You've seen it in the pictures. There's the house in the background of the picture of Hapy the wonderbus in the upper right corner of this blog, for example. We love that house. Last Fall, our next-door neighbor unexpectedly died. Boo was out working in the yard when her brother (who was managing the estate, we'll call him G) came by the house to check in on things. She simply asked him what they were going to do with the house. That seemingly innocent question lead to a series of events that ended with us moving.

Two Men at a Kitchen Table
G told Boo that the estate was going to sell the house. Huh. Boo told me, and we had a quick conversation about it. Within a couple of days, I fired off a text to G saying that we'd buy it. So, in mid-February, G and I sit down at the kitchen table of his sister's house and talked through the deal. Within minutes we had the basis of a deal, we shook hands with an agreement to meet in a few days to sign a formal offer, etc. A few days later, we met again, signed the formal offer and I handed him a check for the title company for earnest money. I called a mortgage guy I know and started up the finance paperwork. Two weeks ago, things finalized, and just like that we own a house.

Fix. Paint. Repeat.
floor refinishing
So, I mentioned that the sister died in the Fall, and that we bought the place in mid-April. Over the course of those months, the house was effectively abandoned. This lead to lots of things that needed to get fixed before it could be occupied. Word to the wise when you buy an abandoned house: no matter how good it looks, there are lots of things to fix anyway. We had evidence of critters in the crawlspace. The temperature in the house was allowed to fall below 50* for too long so the wood floors had curled. And then there's the usual paint refreshing. All told, I spent more money than I'd like to mention and more hours than I can count getting the place ready. There remains lots of painting left, of course, but the main use public rooms were ready.

Boxes? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Boxes, Man
railing removed
The only thing that's worse than moving across town is moving next door. "Now wait a minute.." you may start saying, "it should be easier". I know, right? No truck, no back and forth trips with your car(s). It should be fall-off-a-truck simple. And that's why it isn't. Everyone looked at the move like it would be some crazy simple move where we'd just pull things off shelves and put them back onto shelves in the other house. It doesn't work that way, at least not easily. 2 days before the move, I was starting to grow uneasy. Nothing had really been done to prepare for the move, so over the course of those 2 days I packed up and moved as much of the garage as I could. It still left about a 1/2 day worth of multi-person moving. By move day, I had staged a bunch of stuff into the front room of the old house, and we had drafted an army to help us. Unfortunately, like the retreating Iraqi army during the first Gulf War, our army disappeared at the first sign of moving. We dropped from about 10 people to 6, eliminating our gang-tackle move plan we had.

Wheels Good. Ruts Bad
roofing material = pathway
One advantage to moving next door, actually, is the short-ish walk. In this case, I made the walk much shorter by removing a railing on the old front porch, putting down roofing material as a walkway across the grass and then suspending a tarp overhead between the houses. This kept us out of the shifting weather all day. There was a 6" drop off the front porch, though, so every mover needed to remember to watch that first step (it's a doozy), and some of the wheeled items needed to go driveway to driveway instead. By late morning, we had pretty much moved the upstairs. We took a break and then attacked the things I had staged in the front room. This included bed frames and such from upstairs. By lunch, most of the biggest items, including the upright (not a Spinet) piano. At this point, we received a new army member to help with the kitchen. She was great, but it was in the kitchen where things started to break down.

20% Is Actually a Big Number
rain resistant move
About this time, we started to realize just how much smaller our new house was. I started to run some numbers. We were in a house that was just under 2000 square feet. For us, having moved in from a 800 square foot condo, it was huge. We were moving into a 1600 square foot house. 400 square feet smaller? No big deal. Except that 400 square feet was 20% of our overall footprint before. We had 20% too much stuff! And, there were belongings that were not cleared out by the estate so the house wasn't exactly empty. At no point was this more painfully obvious than in the kitchen. We got everything over, eventually, but there are still more things to put away than are stowed.

We are still living in a sea of boxes and piles. But we're working on it. This weekend, I'll be plowing through some of it. After two weeks of working through it, I don't set goals anymore. Funny how after years of trying to resist the urge to set goals with the bus, I've managed to back into it with a new house.
As always, thanks for following along. More car stuff next time-

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sunshade to Shelf

All bus content today, covering a little experiment I've been working on over the last few months, around my various travels.

How it started
Last Spring/Summer, I stripped the interior of the bus, pulled the glass, etc for painting. The result was pretty fantastic, with a mellow gray interior and bright white upper 1/3 exterior. The main 2/3 lower body is still primer, but that's another story. Part of the tear-down for paint included removing the sun-shades from the front ceiling of the cab. As it was, they weren't stock bus visors; they were from a beetle. One of them was broken, half of the fasteners weren't stock... they simply looked junky. But they worked, mostly. With an intention to buy replacements, I junked them. I never bought the replacements, and then lost the few fasteners which were stock. So, I've been driving around without sun shade/visors. In the winter, when the sun hangs low, that's kind of a problem, but mostly, it created a much brighter view.

Basic Idea
view of top before shelf liner
I started shopping for visors. They are not inexpensive. While I was trolling the various sites (BusDepot, Cip1, etc), I would see these "parcel shelves" that were designed to fit under the dashboard around knee level. I've never traveled with a set of those, but it prompted thinking. First, I wondered if your legs ever bumped into them, and whether things would fall off them onto your feet. Neither thought was very appealing. They weren't inexpensive either. But, the idea of more storage in the cab was appealing. Looking at my cab, I had installed a double accessory plug near the right edge of the passenger (right) front ceiling. This was to power a Garmin and allow my passenger to charge her phone. I thought: could I put a shelf above the rear-view mirror?

Starting Simple
finished. view from bottom
The short answer is "yes, you can put a shelf above the rear-view mirror".
When I stripped out the interior, I decided to junk the old wood floor, and leaned it against my shop bench. I decided to use it to try to fabricate a shelf. It is 3/8" thick plywood. Working in an Agile manner, I tested the idea first with newspaper, cutting and taping a mock shelf until I had a rough shape for the front (nearest the windscreen). I transferred the line onto cardboard for a more firm example which I taped into place so I could observe it from lots of angles. This model included a cut-out for the rear view mirror mount so it could slide into place as a single piece. Last, I transferred the cardboard line to plywood and started cutting. With each iteration, from paper to cardboard to wood the front line shifted a little bit. i shaped the rear edge of the shelf to taper at the ends, running straight lines from the tapered end to about 3/8 of the way towards the middle. This left a section in the center that was straight across, parallel to the dashboard.

cutting and shaping
Once I had the shelf cut, I started thinking about how I could best mount this shelf to the bus, and concluded that re-using existing holes is better than drilling new ones, if possible. Similar to the evolution of the shelf, the mounts evolved as well. I started with 1x3" wood scrap. This proved to be too hard to work with, since the angles needed to be precise (where the bus angels aren't), and wood isn't flexible in such a small size, so the body roll during driving could cause problems. I resolved to using sheet metal cut with tin snips and then shaped to fit the lines of the bus. The result was a more forgiving mount that could leverage the original holes and fasteners.

Get Stiff
I wanted the front edge of the shelf to have a finished look, and for there to be a lip to prevent things from flopping off the shelf into either my or my passenger's face. I went looking for simple 1/4-round at the home supply store, but their offerings of millwork has really dropped off. I found 90* angle aluminum in 4' sections, though. After a quick cleaning of sticker residue with peanut butter, I cut the angle aluminum to length, drilled holes every 3 inches and bottom-mounted the lip to the shelf. This stiffened the shelf considerably, making the concept seem much more plausible.

Front or Back
Ignore the mess in the background :)
After I had the front lip, I test fit and confirmed my thinking that I needed something on the "back" of the shelf to stop things from falling out the back/front and either into the windshield or onto the dashboard. Staying with the make-it-cheap mantra, I pulled some roofing paper out of a supply heap, and cut 2 curved sections, one for each side of the rear view mirror. Using a staple gun, I attached these two sections. I added a third much shorter piece to go into the rear-view mirror cut-out. I test fit again. This time, no daylight appeared over or around the shelf. Sweet.

Before I mounted the finished work, I shot the topside with spray epoxy and applied a rubber shelf liner. Just one more level of protection against parcel shelf contents going flying. The install now was more involved. First, the mounts are installed to the bus body. Then, the shelf is lifted into place, leading with the front (windscreen) edge. I press the roofing paper against the bus body while rotating the shelf flat and aligning the mounts to the holes in the shelf. The mounts are bolted to the mounts from below, using washers both above and below the shelf. Just as I finished this initial install, I got a call that one of the kids needed to be picked up from a couple miles away. "Perfect test," I thought. "That run has lots of turns and speed bumps". So, I placed my cell phone on the shelf and did a 4 mile loop of kid collection, hitting turns and speed bumps with abandon. The phone didn't move.

The shelf is a complete success. Out of curiosity, I put an old car stereo on there, and it didn't waver. I still need to really stress test it, but for now, I'm going to drive around with my prototype. OVer time, I could improve the design with thicker mounts or something, but I think for now, in this form, I could install a small car stereo, like the one I put in Flash (See: Flash Gets Sounds) or some down-lighting for reading a map. As it is, Boo and I can put our phones up there when we're travelling and have them on the charger without wires hanging everywhere. Very nice.

Thanks for following along. Lots of personal stuff happening over the next couple of weeks, so you know what that means: few to no new posts, but lots of content getting created in the form of adventures.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

SF trip, part two

Continuing / completing the trip to SF and Dillon Beach saga, I'm picking up where part one left off.

Car Time
Boo and I had reservations for dinner with her aunt, uncle, cousin and a friend at Phil Lesh's restaurant/bar in San Rafael, Terrapin Crossroads. Boo and I wrapped our last day in the East Bay with coffee with my sister and then headed west, rolling "Stranglehold" as we hit the freeway. The run from Albany to San Rafael is a simple shot down I-580, across the Richmond San Rafael Bridge.... our first and apparently only opportunity to use that $70 FastPass. Lighted signs and painted words on the freeway raised expectations that there could be heavy traffic as we approached the bridge. We slowed as we rounded corner, only to find that there were 2 cars in the queue to pay cash to cross the bridge and all of the pre-pay lanes were either empty or had a single patron passing through. Note for other travelers: don't get the FastPass offering from the rental company unless you intend to cross multiple bridges every day. We expected the drive to take much longer. In fact, we probably could have played "Stranglehold" 3 times between the time we got onto and off of the freeway. Germane to nothing, "Stranglehold" may very well be the best road song ever. Just sayin.

Terrapin Crossroads
Terrapin Crossroads is right off the highway, up against the San Rafael Yacht Harbor. That sounds fancy, but it reminded me of the canal in North Portland called the Columbia Slough. While there is water, and docks to tie-up boats, either side of the water you see the backsides of industrial businesses. The venue has 2 distinct areas: the Grate Room for larger acts and the restaurant/bar for smaller ones. Our reservation was for dinner, but the Grate Room wasn't booked that night anyway. The bar was hosting a 2-man crew,Sean Leahy & Brian Rashap, for Happy Hour when we arrived. They were fantastic, and the bar patrons were letting them know it. It was only 4:30 in the afternoon, but seating was at a premium, so we wandered the place, looking at photos until we found a little 2-seat spot at the top of the stairs. The music mix was perfect, seats comfy, company delightful. We sat and enjoyed the 2-piece through their encore before heading back downstairs to meet Boo's family.

this is a farm. on the water. seriously
We were no sooner down in front of the hostess than we were back upstairs getting seated at a table. Terrapin Crossroads is a farm-to-table concept kitchen, so everything us uber-fresh. I definitely liked the idea of higher-level food with higher-level live music paired with it. We were far enough from the main act (Goodnight, Texas) that we could hear them, but could still talk to, as opposed to shout at, each other. The staff was great, even floating us desserts in recognition of my birthday. Honestly, we chose this trip so we could spend my birthday meal at Phil's place.

Dillon Beach
After we ate, the family wanted to shove off back to Dillon Beach. We bought a few remembrances at the exit counter and climbed back into the Chysler 200. After the urban hussel-bussel of the Bay, Marin County California is the polar opposite. The old US 101 leaves San Rafael and lights disappear. While the maps show what looks like urban areas of Novato and Petaluma there really isn't anything there except a couple of big box stores in Petaluma. Part way into Petaluma, we took a left onto Bodega and entered some of the darkest road I've driven. A couple of turns later, we were driving along the twisty-turny highway 1 heading into Dillon Beach.

Dillon Beach is pretty amazing. The views are spectacular, and the streets, beach and water are very sparsely populated. Looking out into the ocean, there is a spit of untouched land approaching from the south (pictured on the left, here). This is the northern tip of the Point Reyes National Seashore, a massive protected greenspace for birds and wildlife. There are hiking trails and multiple state parks contained within this large area. With a refuge so close, the native birds were plentiful. In contrast, there is a very old mobile home / trailer park located at the southernmost water's edge of Dillon Beach. This park is actively being torn down, but there were trailers in there dating back to the 1950's. For an old car hound, that was really cool.

Our time in Dillon Beach was a combination of family time with Boo's relatives and alone time walking on the beach. The family was very welcoming, making big meals and sharing lots of laughs. The beach was so quiet with a light breeze, easily avoided by simply sitting down on the sand. We didn't have much time though. It felt as though we had just arrived and we were packing up to drive back to Oakland airport, where this 2-part posting began.