All posts by Scenario

Engine Rebuild

Today I had Brett from McFarland’s Mobile Mechanics come out and diagnose my engine. And sure enough, it was a rod knocking. So that means it’s time to rebuild the engine. The house call cost me $85 but it was very informative.

The good news is, Brett can pull the engine on-site with their cherry picker and deliver it in long-block form to Portland Engine Rebuilders next week. It will come out the side door, after taking off a few steel panels around the engine compartment. That’s okay, because I need to strip and repaint the cockpit anyway, one panel at a time.

Brett recommended keeping the Ford 223 Six engine (versus upgrading to a bigger one) because it’s original, notoriously reliable, and easy to work on. Plus, it mates to a known-good transmission and there’s no compelling reason to swap that out to handle a bigger engine. He said my cruising speed would still top out at 55 mph anyway. He actually owned a 223 in his F-100 so he’s got first-hand experience. He did suggest adding an electronic ignition kit for around $100, which sounds like a no-brainer. No sense in worrying about adjusting points if I don’t have to.

So I made the arrangements for next Wednesday. It will take four or five hours to remove at $107 per hour, and then Brett will deliver the engine to PER where Ron will take it and completely rebuild everything inside the core for a flat $2,122. That process will take three or four weeks, but they have the state-of-the-art machinery necessary and they’re experts in these old engines. Meanwhile, the van will still be in my driveway where I can continue working on the inside. And that’s an ideal scenario if I want to be driving it by summer.

Brett’s eyes got huge when he first saw the rig. He couldn’t believe I found one in such good shape. Most of them are completely rusted out or scrapped for parts. He said he thought it was easily worth $10K in its current state. So that made my day, and eased the blow of these inevitable engine-repair expenses. I had budgeted $4K total for that work and so far, so good.

Insulation Plan

I took a peek inside a small wall panel and found dirty fiberglass insulation. The cavity appears to be about 2-3/4 inches deep, so that’s plenty of space to replace with a modern line of foam insulation board like this:

Owens Corning FOAMULAR comes in various thicknesses: 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, 1-1/2″, 2″ and 3″. The R-value ranges accordingly from R3 to R15. By comparison, a typical 4-inch wall cavity in your home is insulated with R-15 fiberglass, which implies that foam board is 25% more effective and probably easier to apply to square surfaces. For 4’x8′ sheets at Home Depot, the cost ranges from $19 to $29 for each 32 square feet. And that means even with waste, this step will afford good bang for the buck.

I went to Home Depot today and found a different brand that is made of styrofoam and includes a thick layer of aluminum foil. Not sure which would be better now, but a reflective thermal barrier seems like an upgrade.

For the Scenario Mobile, it’s as much about acoustics as thermal comfort. So the walls will probably get 2-inch foam while the floor and ceiling might only get 1/2 inch. That’s to maximize headroom. As-is, I only have 6’1″ of clearance from floor to ceiling. But the ceiling appears to also have a 2-3/4 inch cavity, which gives me some hope that I can  do this without losing any height. My son is 6’1″ and it’s going to be awkward if he has to hunch over. If I can reduce the ceiling cavity to one inch or so (even in pockets), that’s a major win because i can put in a new hardwood subfloor.

So I’m thinking the process will go something like this:

  1. Pop all the rivet heads with a hammer and chisel and remove all the aluminum interior panels. I’ll number them in case I want to reuse them later.
  2. Clean out the old insulation and dispose of it properly.
  3. Clean out the bare frame rib cavities.
  4. Figure out my finished wall depth and measure out all the frame ribs to sanity-check my Window Plan.
  5. Patch all holes with aluminum tape. Even a small hole under the floor can allow water to spray in while driving.
  6. Apply a vapor barrier to the whole thing. I need to research options there.
  7. Figure out where to run electrical conduit so that I can snake wires easily.
  8. Cut and adhere the foam insulation boards with construction adhesive.
  9. Join all the seams with aluminum tape.

And hopefully, that will create an airtight and watertight box ready for cladding. I’m imagining black-and-white checkerboard vinyl on the floor, loop pile carpet on the walls for sound absorption, and quilted aluminum on the ceiling for that retro diner motif.

What did I miss? Oh, yeah, the ceiling. We’ll need low-profile LED lights, skylight vents and an air conditioning unit. More on that later…

 

Window Plan

I’ve decided the Scenario Mobile should sport a row of four smallish windows on each side centered above the rear wheels, resembling portholes on a jet or submarine. Remember the Proteus sub from the 1966 sci-fi classic, Fantastic Voyage?

They will be 14-inch squares with 2.5-inch radius corners to mimic app icons in the iOS dock on iPhones and iPads. I’ll even label them with “app” title decals that reflect my professional services.

I can’t find any pre-fab windows meeting these specs, so they’ll need to be custom made by Motion Windows. They’re in Vancouver, WA so I can pick them up and save on shipping charges.

Here’s the hole-cutting template I worked out. This is based on a nine-inch grid to nestle each window between the two-inch frame ribs, which are spaced about 18 inches apart on center.

I’ll cut the corners with a five-inch hole saw, and then cut the sides with a DeWalt jig-saw and/or angle grinder. There will be no room for error. The windows will clamp in place, made watertight with gaskets on the outside and inside.

The critical dimension here is my finished wall depth. So that means before I can order them I need to remove a few interior panels to expose the ribs, and then decide on how thick my wall sandwiches will be, including the insulation. I’m guessing that depth will be around two inches.

I was quoted a cost of $248 per window, or $1,984 total and a lead time of six weeks. That may seem excessive considering larger off-the-shelf RV windows can be had for under $100. But these portholes would be the most distinguishing exterior features and make for a truly unique design element, completing the theme.

To keep the design clean, I don’t plan for these eight windows to open. I’ll add vents on the ceiling, and larger stock RV windows on the back doors and behind the entry door later.

 

De-branding

It took a full day to remove all of the branded vinyl decals, using a Wagner heat gun, a cheap plastic scraper and a can of 3M Adhesive Cleaner. If you ever have to remove decals, don’t waste your money on Goo Gone, Goof Off or Oops. Go right for the industrial solvents or you’ll spend all day picking, rubbing and cursing. Even the 3M product takes more effort than it should, but that could be because it’s only 50° out.

Ah, there. Much better. We couldn’t believe how good the paint job is. (It must have extra lead in it!) The big photo decals can linger a while. My wife likes them, and she’s the world’s best baker.

Gutting, DMV & Design

It took a few hours to gut the cargo area completely, leaving only a box clad in riveted aluminum panels that would look like an Airstream once polished up. That’s where the diner-style booth and table will go, along with a six-foot kitchenette and passenger captain chair.

I went to the DMV and got my title and registration. I convinced the clerk that I’m converting a commercial vehicle to a passenger van, so I was able to get the custom license plates I wanted. Fortunately, no inspection is required for vehicles older than 1975.

I also spoke to a mechanic in Sherwood about engine and front-end options. He estimated $8K to $10K over three to four months. But he works alone and his shop seems too small for the job.

Then I stopped by a place called Van Specialties only to learn they’re booked out 18 months, and they want $1K just to get on the wait list. No thanks.

They gave me a referral to a company called RC Display Vans in Portland. They specialize in custom “display” vans for marketing. They do not, however, specialize in replying to emails.

I’m spending most evenings exploring design ideas in SketchUp:

This is one of our design inspirations:

Scenario Mobile

I’m now the proud owner of a beautiful 1961 Ford P-400 Parcel Delivery Van. These beasts were known as “bread trucks,” because so many were used by bakeries. Today they’re known as “widowmakers” because they’re, well, dangerous to drive.

I plan to convert mine into a mobile home office, branded for my mobile software development business. That way it qualifies as a tax deduction under marketing expenses. It’ll mostly sit at home under shore power with an occasional client visit, coding session at the beach, or vintage car show.

The van was owned by the House of Bread in Tigard, Oregon. Quite by accident, I got word that they were going out of business so I inquired about their parking-lot ornament. Two sleepless nights and a harrowing test drive later, I traded a cool $4,444 for the title.

The 56-year-old body and Pantone 201 “maroon” paint are in great shape as you can see. The engine, however, needs to be rebuilt or replaced because it clanks like hell. It’s the original Ford 223 Six, mated to the 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic transmission. This transmission was an original Ford upgrade, and bonus — it was recently rebuilt. The odometer shows ~42K, which means 142K or possibly 242K. If the latter, that would be farther than the moon.

I’m thinking about having a bigger Ford engine (their old 292 V-8) dropped in, and the front-end swapped out for struts. Hopefully all for less than $7K. But I don’t know whether that would require a transmission change as well.

The cabin (which I’ll call the cockpit) needs a lot of work. It was basically painted by a chimp with a spray can. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves: Painters who are too lazy to mask or remove hardware that shouldn’t be painted. The cargo area, however, is potentially a blank canvas totaling 72 square feet (or 438 cubic feet). It has some broken shelves and a giant wooden sled that pulls out on ball bearings to service the local Farmers Markets.

While I built hundreds of models as a kid, I’ve never restored or customized a real vehicle. But what can possibly go wrong, right? I’ll update this as the project progresses, so stay tuned!

¡Cuba Libre!

This post is a work-in-progress. Photos to come…

In February 2017, four members of our family boarded a Southwest Airlines flight and traveled back in time about 60 years. We were headed to Havana, Cuba for four days and three nights.

Because of the current political climate in America, who knows when this window might get slammed shut. So now was the time to go. And believe me, we checked the news every day leading up to our departure for any hint that Raúl Castro had dared mention our so-called President’s tiny hands. And without any access to the fake news while in Cuba, each day started with jokes about about whether we would be allowed to return home until groundbreaking at the inevitable Hotel de Trump.

Accommodations

I had booked a very nice “casa particular” called Casa Miramar on Airbnb for $487 and was able to pay with a U.S. credit card in advance. I had looked into rooms at the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba but they go for over $500 per night for double occupancy. And worse, the few Cuban hotels tend to overbook and they don’t take American credit cards. Most of them are run-down and get sketchy reviews. So it’s best to arrange a private house in advance, pay for it, and get multiple confirmations up front—especially right before you leave the States. The last thing you want is to arrive in a third-world country without a safe place to stay. While some may like to tempt fate, we do not.

Travel Restrictions

Despite the recent death of Fidel Castro and President Obama’s subsequent easing of relations with Cuba, it is still technically illegal for American citizens to spend money in Cuba without a Specific License. But for now, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allows for travel under a General License as long as you qualify for one of twelve categories.

Basically, that means you must choose a category and check a box on a form when you buy your plane ticket. Then you just stick to your story whenever asked, according to Rick Steves.

In our case, my daughter was traveling to Cuba as part of a Study Abroad program at her university. So my wife and I qualified under the Family Visit category. Therefore, we merely had to time our trip to align with my daughter’s itinerary and accompany her. We then documented our activities in case we ever get audited in the future, which we assume is highly unlikely. In fact, there has only been one prosecution for such a violation, and that was a company who broke the embargo rules.

Meanwhile, my in-laws chose the People-to-People category for their general license, which implies that they were going to interact with Cubans to exchange ideas, learn about the culture, and so on—which we all did.

The rules are pretty clear that you’re not supposed to travel to Cuba just to hang out at the beach. But then again, who’s looking besides some retired Cold War spies? Remember that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cubans desperately want our money and any gifts of American goods, so we never felt unwelcome.

Customs

Before you can get anywhere near a plane to Cuba, you must have a valid Cuban Tourist Visa in-hand. The best way for Americans to do this is via CubaTravelServices.com. The cost is $50 per person. (More if you screw up the form.) In our case, we picked up our cards at the Cuba Desk at Tampa International Airport, where they check and copy your passport a couple hours before boarding your flight. You are required to maintain health insurance while in Cuba, but fortunately a policy is built into your airplane ticket. So you must keep your boarding pass with you at all times, along with your passport and visa.

Currency

Because of the embargo imposed by President Kennedy in 1962, the Cuban government still imposes a 10% tariff on the exchange of U.S. dollars. So, you’ll want to take another currency with you to maximize your money. We chose Euros, and made that exchange at our American bank a few weeks prior. While that exchange rate included the bank’s hidden fee of around 5%, there is only a 3% additional exchange fee in Cuba when you change Euros to CUCs. So you wind up saving around 2% overall. Possibly more, while the Euro is stronger than the dollar.

Our first introduction to “Cuban Time” was at the currency exchange cage at the airport. Not only was it very difficult to find in our terminal, the staff didn’t seem very interested in doing their jobs. We were first in line but stood there for more than a half hour while two young women counted stacks of cash. They were frequently interrupted by friends who stopped by to chat at length, and then some other local rudely barged in front of my brother-in-law for another lengthy delay. We felt like we couldn’t complain to anyone, being the new kids in town. 

The Cuban Convertible Peso is what tourists will use for most transactions in Cuba, and no bank outside of Cuba sells them. Be sure to change whatever you have leftover back to Euros or Dollars at the airport on the way out of Cuba, or you’ll be stuck with what amounts to souvenir Monopoly money.

Getting Around

Here’s where the fun starts. First of all, we got taken outside Terminal 2 at the Havana’s José Martí International Airport despite reading up on it. The yellow taxis are state-run, and they’re fairly modern and clean. After trying to negotiate, we had to pay 30 CUC per stop to get into central Havana. That is, it cost us 30 CUC to drop our bags off at our casa in Miramar and then another 30 CUC to drop us off in town. The problem is, you are forced to take the first taxi in line at the airport so you don’t really have any leverage. That, and the drivers know you’re a rich, dumb American. This ride should have cost 20 CUC to Miramar and then only 10 to get into Havana. So Gustavo, the Future Capitalist, earned a 100% tip simply by exploiting a language barrier. Lesson learned.

The trick is to avoid the yellow state taxis and stick with the fleet of independent classic American cars, which are much cheaper and have a lot more character. Some of them looked like demolition derby cars, but some made you think “how can I buy this heap and get it home?” Because of the embargo, these cars are held together with incredible ingenuity. I could swear I saw some chrome trim that looked like it came off a retro icebox.

The original V6 or V8 gasoline engines have all been replaced with four-cylinder diesel engines, since diesel sells for 1 CUC per liter and gasoline is not an option. And since these old cars predated the catalytic convertor by decades, the air on the main roads can get heavily polluted with diesel exhaust, especially in the narrow streets of Old Havana.

To get from Miramar to anywhere in central Havana, 10 CUC was the norm. Getting back to the airport is equally cheap, once you know the ropes.

Nightlife

It’s all about the music. There was plenty of street music, and plenty of hole-in-the-wall bars along Obispo street. But our best night was spent at a candlelit table at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where some surviving members of the Buena Vista Social Club were performing with a large ensemble. Much drinking and dancing ensued…

Communism

We were somewhat surprised by the lack of firearms at the airport and on the corner cops. Our first taste of communism came at the Museo de la Revolución, where a grand total of four toilets had to be flushed by a female bucket brigade.

Around the corner we found a mural depicting Ronald Reagan as a cowboy, George H. W. Bush as a Roman emperor, and “W Bush” as an illiterate Nazi. The work’s title (Rincon de los Cretinos) translates to “Corner of the Cretins.” So this is how Fidel Castro saw America, blaming us for a crippling naval blockade.

Inside, the museum displays artifacts from the Cuban Revolution with the presentation quality of a high school civics project. Outside, you can touch some cool guerilla warfare implements and see actual debris from the U-2 spy plane shot down by a Russian missile. Meanwhile, the Cuban Army’s best-looking soldiers guard the Granma, the yacht that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s men used to invade Cuba from Mexico.

Commerce

After interacting with merchants, we got the sense that Cubans are “taxed” at the rate of 90%. That would include taxi drivers, tobacco farmers, artists and so on.

One day, three of us walked past a local school and got watched like a hawk before arriving at a local market, which seemed to have only flip-flops on the shelves. Locals were lined up to get in, but suddenly an armored vehicle pulled up and several soldiers jumped out carrying machine guns. They motioned for everyone to leave and then exited the store carrying a bag of cash. No one got hurt, we assume, but apparently this is how taxes are collected under a dictatorship. I later saw the same squad marching past our casa and was afraid to use my camera.

Culture

I can’t possibly write enough words to describe the Cuban culture, and especially not after such a short visit. But here are some take-aways:

Most Cubans are polite. Sure, they’re oppressed and careful not to make waves, but it was something more. They seem to eschew drinking, smoking and profanity without being overtly religious about it. I figure most of them simply can’t afford to drink or smoke, and probably just do their swearing in Spanish.

Everyone is “on the con,” as my brother-in-law put it. Everyone you meet in a tourist area wants to introduce you to their “friend” but when you press them on their name or where they live, suddenly they have a CD to sell you. And whenever they tell you something is “free,” that just means the hard-sell is deferred to the end of the tour. Remember, the average Cuban lives on $20 a month. So they go to great lengths to charm you out of a few bucks on the sly.

Many Cubans have no civic pride. I know that may sound harsh, even in the absence of social classes, but here are some examples:

A dog turd lies in state at the entrance of a busy shop. No one cleans it up. Not the shop owner, who sees it. Not the street cleaner, who also sees it. Not the landlord next door, who sees it. The turd’s destiny is simply to be stepped on by some barefooted child. No one cares, even though the street is crawling with tourists. Or perhaps because the street is crawling with tourists?

A woman directs her grandchild to throw his food wrapper and cup on the ground at a large festival, rather than find a garbage can a few feet away. This was at one of Havana’s most famous landmarks, the Morro Castle built by the Spanish in the 1589 to protect Havana’s harbor. There were thousands of locals there to celebrate some event, and the grounds of this sprawling structure looked like a landfill. There was garbage everywhere.

This leads me to believe that without any pride of ownership, there is very little room for civic pride of a voluntary or genuine nature. In most parts of America, the shopkeeper would bring out the pooper-scooper and the grandmother would scold any brat that dared to litter such a monument.

Language

Few people outside the big hotels speak English in Cuba, so it helps if you know the basics. The free Google Translate app rescued us many times. You can speak or type a phrase and then show it to the driver or waiter as a flash card. It also helps to anticipate essential communications (especially addresses) up front, and the app will save them for quick access. Generally speaking, everyone we met was very patient with us. Because again, Cubans are very curious about America and they do want our money.

Welcome!

This is the new scenario.com website. It’s a work-in-progress, as I’ll need some time to see where all the furniture fits best. My old web hosting service (active-server.com) is shutting down after 18 years, so I was forced to relocate. I ultimately chose 1and1.com since that’s where my domain was registered.

From there I decided to give WordPress a try and couldn’t be happier so far. I don’t use social media sites due to all the tracking, ads and spam, so I’ll use this site to keep the world up-to-date on Everything Scenario. That’ll include my professional endeavors and probably a controversial opinion or two as I start blogging about code, politics and religion.