Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New engine...

My engine blew last spring, breaking my heart. As I was a student it took me a while to get together the $5000 or so that it would cost to get a replacement (rebuilt, not new) engine. In the meantime it sat around in various spots, none of which allowed me to do any work on the thing. So I missed all of the nice sunny summer months! Dammit!

But... I got a new one and it is installed. Here's what it comes with, for you gearheads:

2004 Cummins 4BTAA
33,382 miles on it and runs mint
100% complete ready to run
Rated at 130hp/356ftlbs stock
It was in a 04 Cummins Repowered Utilimaster fed-ex type van
Perfect for high performance applications; easily capable of well over 250hp/700ftlbs
P7100 Inline pump (best for performance and fuel economy)
Transmission is a Allison 545 installed with the engine new
Behr air-to-air intercooler
Entire bell pack (starter, adapter plate, flywheel, etc)
3" mandrel bent turbo down pipe
3" air intake
New aluminum radiator
Large bar and plate aftermarket transmission cooler
Power steering pump
Hydroboost brake booster
Radiator hoses, coolant overflow tank
Hydraulic motor mounts and cross member
Complete wiring harness and LED warning system

Also, I got another new rear end with a better gearing ratio.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The kid is CLEAN!

I finally had to clean the truck becuase it looked like
the Creature from the Mossy Lagoon. I think he is happier now
and will get more respect out in public.

Building in the Northwest

This is the mountain I get to look at every day-- Mount Si.
This is literally the view I have when I stand outside the back doors.
It is infamous for being the peak in "Twin Peaks"..

Building in the Northwest involves a canopy.
It has been raining for most of the last month.

Framing out the inside

Passenger side of the interior with built-in benchs. I ditched
the couch because it's too wide but am keeping
all of the day-glo orange and silver cordura for the bench cushions.

The galley area with the sink cut into the counter
and the fridge set in place. The stovetop is going because it's kind of a piece
of crap and it is straight out of the 70's which makes it a design nightmare.

The bedframe, looking in through the back doors.

We have completed most of the framing inside the truck including the toilet, the galley, the closet, the "pantry", the overhead storage, the benches and the bed. I still have to make the tabletop-- it is going to drop down to bench level so the bench will become a bed.

Look. A roof vent.

It is now fall in the Northwest, meaning rain. But finally the weather
let up enough to get the roof vent in. It has a light and a fan,
but it's kind of a piece of shit-- flimsy. I expected more for 50 bucks.


The stepvan I got the rear end out of. The truck is rated at 14,000 GVR and mine is 9000. Beefy.

The stepvan came from Mr. Moo & Co. Notice the eight udders on the
cow and the white droplets flying out. I think the mechanical milking
machine went amok, sucked out 4 new udders and the flying juice is
actually pus. It is running as fast as it can to get away from the CAFO lot.

The new read end. SERIOUSLY beefy.

So I haven't been posting because I live in the mountains now and the internets are broken (dial-up, no less). And my cell gets no signal out there.

So I had to pay $1400 for the fuel injector pump, $350 for a new rear axle/ring and pinion, $1000 for a new drive shaft and some other bits and pieces. My truck has decided it wants to be mechanically sound, which I guess is a good thing, right?

I start school in two days and I will be basically living in an insulated plywood box. No solar, plumbing, electrical etc. At least not yet...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


I haven't been making any posts recently because I had to move out of my apartment, which was a nightmare. Sean, Kat and I were all moving our stuff out at the same time, on top of each other. Also, we were getting rid of half our stuff at the same time so it was like 3 moves going on in one 2-bedroom apartment. Good times. I did get rid of half my 1000 or so books (which is a stunning achievement for me, I must say) and Sean got $400 for them. I was planning to just get rid of them. Nice.

So anyway, I drove my truck into the city and loaded it up. I went to my friend Eric's house for the night because I had to meet the land-bitch the next morning and didn't want to go out to Snoqualime. It was 11pm and I was falling-over tired. I drove right past his house on his little small road and had to go all the way down somewhere and turn around (remember, this is my third day of driving a dodgy truck with questionable steering). I turned it around and then couldn't find his road from the other direction-- shot right past it. So I had to turn around on this almost-country road (which was still a throughway) with a 105-point turn, holding up traffic. The rear axle was scronking and gnashing and it would reverse about 5 feet before the ring and pinion gears started grinding and shuddering the whole truck. I called Eric and he told me where to turn, which I did, and then I drove straight past it again. At this point I was ready to cry or scream.

I turned around again and just parked pointing the wrong way in front of his house, which is what I should have done in the first place. Reversing was almost impossible as the back axle was completely uncooperative and making horrid noises. Then I noticed what smelled like burning transmission fluid. Eric came out and, unfortunately, so did his uptight neighbor who looked extremely pleased. I got out and fluid was leaking out of the engine area. After several awful forwards and reverses, I got the thing parked off the road.

The next day I talked to Seamus. It's not transmission fluid as there is no power transmission. Apparently it's the injector pump, which is a major deal in diesel engines (I have only worked on gas engines and didn't know). There are no spark plugs or distributor on a diesel engine-- the whole thing is handled by the injector pump. The fuel combustes due to the 12,000 to 20,000 psi into the cylinders. Oh. Basically, since the ring and pinion are hosed, the gearing makes the drive shaft jump, especially in reverse due to the way that the gears are angled. So when it's in reverse and the gears start chattering, the drive shaft yanks on the transmission/engine and the whole thing jumps. Since the diesel engine that I have is a retrofit (it originally came with a gas engine) the injection pump is dangerously close to the wall of the engine compartment. The engine jerked, slammed the pump into the wall and broke the throttle intake valve, making diesel pour out all over the place. That was what the fluid was and the smell was it burning off the hot engine block. You can see the dent it made in the steel wall.

On Monday Seamus brought his 16' trailer and we transferred all my crap into it and took it down to stroage. It was Labor Day so there wasn't much I could do about fixing the truck.

We took it down to H & H Diesel today to get fixed. It should only be about $250 which is better than the last time this happened when it was $1500. I drove it down pouring fuel out of the broken seal onto the road. Nice and environmentally friendly. Sigh. It ran out of gas when we were almost there and Seamus had to go and get more in a can.

The whole experience was AWESOME. And now I am several days behind schedule. So if I show up with my project to show off and it's not quite as polished as I'd like, don't blame me. Well, I guess you should as I'm the one who caused the damage.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


The truck is now running and officially on the road. Seamus drove it around a bit to demonstrate the quirks (the steering box and rear axle/ring-and-pinion are a bit dicey), then I drove it back to the house. It's fun! But the steering wheel is not really for steering-- it's more like for influencing.

I got "full-timer RV" (meaning someone who lives out of their RV) insurance through Progressive for less than $75/month-- it covers the usual full-coverage auto insurance stuff but also covers Mexico driving, Fire Department Service, emergency expenses in case of breakdown, $2000 of personal effects inside the truck, roadside assistance, trailer towage, medical coverage for me and my passengers in an accident, storage shed coverage, etc, etc, etc. Sweet! Partly it's so cheap is because I am 39, female, clean driving record, own the vehicle outright and registered in a small town (Snoqualmie).

I am going to drive it into Seattle and use it for moving my stuff because Sean needs to use Seamus' trailer.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Running costs so far...

Installing the windows

Scoring the aluminum flashing.

Snapping the aluminum along the score line.

Putting it in the window opening to cover the gap between the inside and outside walls.

First window installed. You can see the additional
insulation in the second window-- the yellow stuff is the
toxic crap and the lovely white is the Tiger Foam.

Installed windows. You can see by the look on Seamus' face
that we were pissed off and exhausted by the time we finished.
We got done after 9pm. Sucked.

So... when you last tuned in, the window openings had been made in the walls of the truck. We now move on to window installation.

We sprayed more insulation into the space between the outer and inner walls of the truck. At first we tried Great Stuff which wasn't so great and probably caustic and polluting. Luckily, the TIGER FOAM! still had some juice and once again worked stupendously. I heart the TIGER FOAM! Can you tell?

Because the windows were made for lesser (and less insulated) vehicles the inside and outside frames had about a 3" gap between them. I decided to use aluminum flashing (the kind that is used around the chimney on the roof) to cover the innards. Very easy to work with-- measure, score with a utility knife, then fold along the score line and it will snap. I measured around the window cutouts to get the length of the flashing strip. We stapled it into place (and of course this took several cursing tries to get it right).

I ground the old caulk of the windows with a motorized grinder and cleaned the outside surface around the windows with denatured alcohol. We applied new caulk and fit the windows into place using self-tapping sheet metal screws to attach the frames together. Unfortunately, whoever assembled the windows in their previous life put the screws in wherever and didn't evenly space them, which sucks cause they are all crooked and random. Something to fix in the finishing stage.

And we still didn't get to the damn roof vent which is still not done. Dammit.

Where does the time GO???

More tardiness in posting. It's been TWO WEEKS almost and not a peep. I am getting behind schedule between getting through my last week at the crap office job (hell yes), moving out of my apartment and working on the truck. Shit guys.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Not great

Do not use this crap.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My pa

Some of you know that my dad passed away this year in May. The reason I bring this up is because he is pretty much responsible for the skills I have and need to build this truck into what it's going to be. Every time I work on it I think of him at least once and wonder if he can see me and what he might make of this whole thing.

My dad worked for Martin Marietta (a subcontractor of NASA) as a logistics engineer designing systems for electrical, plumbing and the like. He had a shop in the garage at home that he used to tinker in and he built furniture and cars and repaired everything in the house (usually with at least a little bit of epoxy in it). He didn't get a son so I think I was recruited as the proxy-- my years growing up were spent in the garage helping him build and fix all kinds of stuff.

He lost half a leg during WWII, had a few heart attacks and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1989. For the last few years he has been fading.

My sister called and said my dad was in the hospital so I went down to California. He wasn't aware of his surroundings or us but seemed stable so after a few days I went back home. I was back in Seattle for two days and then my sister called me again. I flew back and this time seemed like it was it. Thankfully, he had signed a Do Not Resuscitate form so he had all IVs and tubes removed and was only on oxygen and morphine ("comfort care").

For seven nights I sat with him, all night, for 16+ hours each time. I would hold his hand and sometimes talk to him. He never came out of his near-coma. We got him a private room with a view of San Luis Peak after the first couple of days which was nice. My stepbrother's daughter got us a little stuffed walrus which became the mascot-- we set him on my dad's chest and I would look for it going slowly up and down when he breathed. He was pretty calm.

On the eighth night I didn't think I could do it any more-- I was exhausted. I showed up at about 4pm-- my sister had gotten the good idea to bring in a boom box with old jazz on it so I put that on. "Heaven" by Irving Berlin will always remind me of that time. My sister showed up after work around 5pm and it was just the two of us. It was sunset, on the last day of May, and I was holding his hand with the music playing. We started talking about the afterlife and our beliefs. Then I looked over at him-- his breath had stopped and I put my head on his chest. Nothing. I told my sister to get the nurse.

They let us sit there with him as long as we wanted to, which was about an hour and a half. Finally, the man from the mortuary came in and we had to go. I think the hardest part was walking away.

Here's one you should read: Vanzilla

the urban rv: the revision of a type, Vanzilla

The green machine: think going off the grid means a big cash outlay for secluded land and solar panels? Think again. Vancouver eco-activists have figured out a way to go easy on the earth, and the pocketbook.
July-August, 2002, by Rebecca Atkinson

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cutting the windows

We attached the interior window frames to the walls inside the truck and used them as stencils...

...then we cut them out with a jigsaw.


The interior portion of the windows after the cutouts were made.

Using the plywood cut-out from the inside as a stencil on the outside.

Window openings.

Test fit of the toilet window.


We cut the window openings out of the side of the truck yesterday. It was nerve-wracking as there is only one chance to get it right. I bought a new De Walt jigsaw and everything (with fine-cut wood and medium-density metal blades).

We started inside, marking the window locations on the walls of the interior box. I used the window frames (from Singleton's RV Salvage & Sales) as templates. Apparently, my measurements between the vertical support ribs was wrong. Seamus drilled a pilot hole for the jigsaw with a hole saw and saw rib through it. So we had to stop and reconfigure. The foam underneath the plywood made it extremely difficult to reach behind and feel for the ribs. We found most of them but we still had to remove and then replace one panel. Cursing. So then Seamus drilled the rest of the pilot holes and then cut the openings in the plywood with the jigsaw.

Then came the scary part-- drilling reference/pilot holes through the aluminum body of the truck. If you don't get it right the first time, you're screwed. He drilled 8 holes for the first window (the small toilet window) and then I went outside with the plywood cut-out from inside and used it as a stencil. The holes were off a bit so I measured from the top and front rails and got it as close as I could. The windows are at least 6 ft off the ground so they're pretty good, security-wise.

Then Seamus got up the ladder and started cutting the body. Easier cutting than we expected, even though the aluminum is about 1/8" thick. We put the window in place and it looks like it had been there all along!!! It was great! We did the rest of the window openings that way and they all look great. Blades were flying off and bending but we made it through with the four we had.

In case you're wondering why Seamus was using MY new toy, the jigsaw, it's because he is very accurate and has worked with cutting metal much more than me. Sometimes it's good to abdicate your power. Besides, I was too freaked out to cut into the aluminum myself. If I cut it wrong the truck would never forgive me.

Behind a day

I helped with more landscaping around the Hassard property on Saturday. Seamus said "let's just start with the yard and we can get to the truck a little later..." We didn't, of course. But I finished up some little bits and pieces. I still had some rock borders to do and of course digging said rocks out of the ground. A glacier had carved the valley so some of the rocks I dig up can be 2 - 3 ft across.

And now I have matching blisters on my thumbs.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The lord of the manor

This is Seamus and Sean's dad, Larry Hassard. He can be a hazard. He makes much fun of my green ways (but that's because he makes jibes at everything-- it's his way of showing affection). He calls my FSC 2x4s "free range".

He is graciously allowing me to build out the chip truck behind his house out in Snoqualmie. And pay for it at the end of all the customizing, at a reduced rate. I did quite a few back-breaking weekends of landscaping on their 3+ acre property to help get ready to sell it, so I guess we're getting even. Anyone want a beautiful home right beneath Mount Si, let me know!

(This is not his usual look-- he's a conservative. He probably wouldn't like this picture. On the other hand, he probably wouldn't care one whit.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Vicious schedule


Creepy driver's seat

Creepy, icky driver's seat

Recliner that is donating material to re-cover my seat
(it is sitting in the recliner's lap).
And notice the TIGER FOAM box in the background.

Seamus' mom generously offered the leather covering from the clapped-out recliner they are getting rid of to re-cover my driver's seat. Plush!

(can you tell I love saying T-I-I-I-G-G-E-E-R-R-R FOAM!!!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


The truck's name is now ExFrito (with a bit of a Juan Valdez accent). Seamus thought that one up. It's because it used to be a Frito delivery truck-- they're the ones who put in the Cummins 3.9 liter turbo diesel engine. Seamus' dad bought it and turned it into a Tim's Chips delivery truck and now it's MINE.

The name can also be combined with a number of mexican curse words:
pinche blanco ExFrito
pinche Exfrito, la panocha blanca grande
ExFrito culo


I have this very aggressive schedule for finishing this thing, plus finishing the couch that will be going in (new cushions) and packing my stuff and moving out of my apartment with no days off. It is going to kill me.

Building the interior box

Me with the jigsaw
(I made Seamus take a picture of me doing something
because I am taking all the photographs and it looks like he is
doing all the work while I stand by and act like a ditz)

Interior floor finished

Still a lot of headroom

The finished interior

On August 5, we built the interior box in the truck. We used 3/4" ply for the floor and 5/8" ply for the walls, all FSC-certified.

First we had to scrape off any excess insulation from the 2x4 structure to allow the plywood to sit flush against the framework (which was very easy). Then we measured and cut the plywood-- we had to cut notches for the wheel wells and other little weird structural variations. The circular saw was shit so we used a jigsaw to make the cuts, which wasn't optimal. We then screwed it down with drywall screws.

Reinstalling the headliner (sucked)

Pre-drilling the rivet holes

Lifting the sheets in place


One sheet up, three to go

Finished ceiling

We replaced the headliner with 4' x 8' sheets of Homasote between it and the ceiling for extra insulation. And we used the exact same rivets that were such a bitch to remove. Seamus pre-drilled the holes through the aluminum and Homasote, then we hauled it into the truck. We had to lift the sheets up and try to hold them in place while Seamus drove the rivets. They weighed a ridiculous amount and the sheet metal kept flapping around, the holes wouldn't stay lined up and there was much cursing and frustration. I tried to do the yoga thing and breathe, close my eyes and use my bones (not muscles) to hold the sheets up but couldn't hold them for very long. Then I got the bright idea to stand on a milk crate and balance them on my head which worked but gave me bruises on my skull. It pretty much sucked. I will have a LOT of holes to patch as well from previous users.

And I look goddamn fat in the photos (that...I didn't include).

Insulating with TIGER FOAM!

The tanks

The spray nozzle

I kill you by foam.

Insulating the wall

Insulating the floor

Cake frosting

We got to wear Tyvek suits and spray the TIGER-FOAM on-- very fun, I must say. The only drawback is that it wasn't as thick as I would have liked. We are going to end up adding Homasote to the ceiling for extra insulation.

Wait... I forgot a step

The weekend of 7/28 I prepped and sprayed the insulation in the truck. I sanded the entire interior aluminum body (not the driver's compartment) with steel wool and then rubbed everything down with denatured alcohol. It took forever and for some reason pissed me off to do it but prep work is key to a properly done project.

I also had to remove the headliner which was a total bitch. I want to keep it because it's textured aluminum sheeting which is pretty cool and will help lighten up the interior. It was held up with nylon rivets and these feckin' little almost-screws with a flathead slot. I tried to drill them out but the bit just kept jumping off the rivet and scratching my aluminum. Bastard. So I ended up trying to carefully back the "screws" out with a screwdriver and then yanking them with pliers. Every third one wouldn't unscrew so I'd have to dig it out with a combination of screwdriver and pliers. And it was ferociously hot and humid and all the work was holding my arms above my head... for 2-3 hours. I couldn't lift my arms on Monday. But hey, I just sit at a desk.

UPDATE: Sean was peeved that I didn't mention that he also removed part of the headliner. So I am mentioning it-- he took out the screws which connected the bulkhead to the ceiling. One of them sheared off and he tapped most of it out (until the drill died). We got the last headliner panel almost all the way down except for the one hole that was stuck on the sheared-off screw, necessitating the use of crowbars.

Building the interior framework

2x4 structure on the walls

Different view

2x4 structure on the floor. All the little cross pieces help make the floor squeak-proof!

We got the FSC-certified 2x4s from Dunn Lumber (love them!)-- they are beautifully straight and clear. The yard guy talked to us for almost 10 minutes and proudly led us around to show us all of the different and quality) stock they had (although don't tell his boss that unless you mention that he loyalized me as a customer).

Seamus' dad calls them "free-range". Ha ha. He makes fun of all this greenery. But then again, he makes fun of everything. New York Irish. I can curse at will around him, even at him. It's nuts. If I don't rip on him he thinks something is wrong. Definitely not like my family. But it's fun and low-stress because I don't have to watch my mouth.

We anchored the 2x4s into the structural posts on the walls and into the floor inside the body with square-bit (don't strip as easily as phillips-head) coated self-tapping screws. They need to be coated because aluminum and steel apparently have a chemical reaction an will break down the metal. So says my technical adviser, Seamus.