Category Archives: RETROvan

Modular Power

Today I installed this nifty little modular outlet under the dinette table, to help keep various computer cables out of people’s way.

The photo shows how the module snaps in and out of its mounting plate, making access super easy. The power cable isn’t long enough to reach my wall plugs, so I’m planning to run this extension cord down through the storage cabinet under the port bench:

This cord is unique in that it terminates in a single, grommeted outlet that will mount cleanly through my 3/4″ plywood wall. All it requires is a 1-3/4″ hole saw and a twist of the wrist — and not an electrical box. And here’s the result. That a pretty cool little extension outlet:

You might notice that new trim piece on the floor. That’s a 1-1/4″ aluminum bracket cut to length, then screwed through the rubber and into the marine plywood subfloor.

Here’s the treatment on the entry well. That’s a single piece of aluminum, notched and bent at 90°. This piece will prevent people from tripping over the edges of the rubber floor. And it looks better to boot.

Allow Me to Vent

Yesterday my 3-3/8″ hole saw arrived from amazon.com so I started on the venting for my air conditioner.

That plastic fitting is going to snap into an oval hole in the cabin wall. I started by tracing the fitting and then carefully checking all measurements. I want the fit to be tight, so I’ll “sneak up on it” while I cut. I drilled two 1/4″ pilot holes to make sure the wall cavity is hollow. Then the hole saw made quick work of the ends.

I had to cut the top and bottom with a mini hacksaw, because none of my power tools would fit in there. This required about an hour and several F-bombs.

The fitting snaps into the hole with a little coercing, and the 6-inch flex hose just barely makes those turns without getting in anyone’s way.

Okay, so that gets us venting warm air into the wall cavity, where the goal is to avoid any kind of vent hole on the outside fender. At first it looked like I was done because warm air was finding its way out through the wheel well. But soon that wall became superheated, and the air conditioner was struggling to knock even 10° off.

So I spent the next two hours on my back drilling 1-1/4″ and 1-1/2″ ventilation holes up under the wheel well, in the floor of that narrow wall cavity. I was careful not to weaken that brace too much. And now, warm air positively blows out of those holes.

I will monitor the unit’s performance this week as the weather heats up again. I may decide to cut another hole straight out the fender from the hose fitting, and use a cool retro chrome vent cover like this:

This would allow the warm exhaust to flow mostly straight out, using the ventilation holes I drilled in the bottom to create a chimney effect. Since heat rises, cool air would be drawn in from the bottom, creating a convection current. That might improve efficiency pretty dramatically.This is another option. A simpler 5-inch round louvered vent from greatlakesskipper.com. They were both cheap so I ordered them to see which works better.

This Honeywell air conditioner is rated at 10,000 BTU and 450 square feet. The RETROvan is only around 100 square feet. It’s fairly well insulated but it’s not air-tight. So if this unit doesn’t perform up to expectation, they do make 12,000 and 14,000 BTU models in the same form factor. Buying this one from Home Depot was strategic because they have a 90-day return policy.

So, bring on the heat now, Mother Nature!

UPDATE: This air conditioner just isn’t cutting it. The best performance I’ve seen is an 11° delta. But once the outside temperator hits around 96°, that delta shrinks to 6° making the inside of the RETROvan a sweltering 90°. I need there to at least be a 15° delta for this to be worthwhile. It’s just too hard to work above 85°.

So, I’ve ordered Honeywell’s $450 14,000 BTU model and will return the $350 10,000 BTU model to Home Depot once it arrives. The units are the same size and style, so it’ll be a simple swap-out of the main unit.

Air Conditioning

My air conditioner arrived today and it’s a good fit, ergonomically speaking.

I just need to route its power cord to the same dedicated outlet the refrigerator is plugged into, using another 120V power strip up front at the dashboard area. That’ll come in handy for other things too.

And then I need to figure out the proper venting, so it can pump warmer air outside instead of recirculating it. The unit came with 6-inch flex hose, so I’ll need to figure out whether I can connect it to the cab’s existing right front air vent somehow. If not, I’ll cut a new 4-inch hole in the hull and use my cool new stainless steel vent cap. 

It’s only 71° out right now so I’ll give it a good workout later in the day. I love that it has a large-capacity dehumidifier, too. That’ll prevent mold and mildew better than my small Ivation unit, and also prevent condensation dripping in the RETROvan’s ceiling cavities. Those are real concerns for RV owners in the Pacific Northwest.

UPDATE: After a number of trial fits, there is really only one way to vent this unit where it sits. The 6-inch flex hose terminates in a fitting shaped like a scoop. That scoop snaps into a 3-3/8″ oval cutout. So, I ordered a 3-3/8″ hole saw and plan to cut into the interior of the hull just above the front-right corner of the dashboard platform. From there, if the hull cavity is hollow, I can drill  a few ventilation holes under the chassis. If that works, you’ll never know there’s a vent. If that cavity is not hollow, then I will need to cut a hole on the exterior of the hull, below the front of that side window.And because those two holes don’t need to connect, the exterior vent can be any shape, including this 4″ stainless steel vent cover. We’ll see…

Chillin’ on the RETROpad

This week was a hot one. So hot, that I can’t really work in the RETROvan in the afternoon once the temperature tops about 95° and my iMac is running at 110°. So I broke down and ordered a portable air conditioner:

This stylish 10,000 BTU Honeywell unit sells for about $350 on homedepot.com. It will sit up in front, on top of the dashboard platform near the entry door. The unit also doubles as a dehumidifier, so it could be useful year-round. It weighs only 60 pounds so it’ll be easy to take out when not needed. It draws about 1100 watts at 6 amps, so I’ll have to keep an eye on my circuits. Fortunately Home Depot has a good return policy if it doesn’t work out.

You may recall my original plan was to install a traditional Dometic RV air conditioner on the roof. But that posed two problems: I would lose some precious headroom where the interior vent console hangs down, and it would crowd or even displace my solar panels on the roof due to its large footprint (30 x 40″). So I think going portable is not only more ergonomic, it’s a lot cheaper and requires less work to install.At worse, it’ll require a 4″ vent hole to blow warm air out of the cabin. But I already have two such vent holes in the front cabin firewall that I may be able to use. If not, I can cut a new hole and use this cool stainless steel exterior vent cover.

This is the 15-gallon holding tank that will connect to my galley sink drain for grey water. It just sits under the RETROvan and can be rolled out for emptying and cleaning. The galley’s fresh water tank holds 11 gallons, so this is a good match considering you might dump additional fluids down the sink. Fill the fresh water tank? Dump the gray water tank. Easy.

Here’s how the glass tile finished out on the RETROpad. I’m very happy with it. It gleams in the sunshine, lending more of a resort-like feel to the patio where we hang out on a lot in the summertime.

And here’s a shot of my new galvanized steel steps, which replaced my cantilevered timber steps — which kept splitting. I reused the timber stringers, but I’m struggling to de-warp them (with water and brick counterweights) and will likely end up replacing them with denser wood or maybe some custom metalwork. Each step is fastened with 3/8″ x 2-1/2″ hex bolts, so that part is good. They look great, but don’t try to climb them while wearing high heels. 🙂

Renewing Our Energy

Wednesday I hosted our first annual Racepoint Energy barbecue on the RETROpad. It was a beautiful day, snapping Portland’s heat wave at only 82° tops. The sky was mostly sunny with scattered clouds, light winds out of the north. 100% chance of treason, followed by darkness…

But I digress.

All eight of us have joined pretty recently. Clockwise from the left is Dave, Michael, Nick, Nels, Tabor, Alex and Will. A funny thing happens when you invite a brilliant team like this to your house for a few hours that don’t involve mashing knuckles on keys or glass.

You start to feel a bit… human. Maybe even family. You get to know each others’ hobbies, sensibilities and motivations. Normally, you’d get to know each others’ weaknesses, too. But we don’t appear to have any at Racepoint Energy. I believe that together, we will help disrupt an industry that has turned against this planet. But first we have to ship some thermostats, right?

Meanwhile, Tabor and Dave discuss the prospects of retiring to Portugal and Mazy wonders how long Todd is gonna burn that meat. But what Todd’s really thinking about is why does the RETROvan’s AirPlay system keep cutting out every few seconds — but only when there are guests here? Is all that extra Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and brain power messing with the space-time continuum?

Dave had just flown up from San Jose to meet the team, in the midst of what most Bay Area-ers ultimately do: Flee the Bay Area. Only he’ll be moving home to North Carolina with his wife, where his quality of life will improve greatly. While we’re just a startup, never underestimate how simultaneously liberating and empowering it is to work for a company that embraces remote nerdage.

Will’s our fearless Director. And when he’s not firefighting he’s directing. When he’s not directing, he’s coding. So he never really looks at the camera — unless his code is on fire and he needs directions. We luv ya, Will.

Full-contact Croquet (almost) broke out. Croquet is a French pastime, so you know it’s steeped in cowardice, pageantry and intrigue — much like WWDC.

You are faced with some moral dilemmas during a match, so it’s a fun team-building thang. It’s also a good beer-drinking sport, especially when there are only six mallets and two chairs for eight people. That’s when the “white beard rule” comes into play, folks.

Here’s Alex at the final post, after which the poison rules kicked in. And that’s Michael in the background. He’s working out how he can best destroy that last post before HR arrives.

You know, Croquet’s default poison rules are great. But we can do better. I’ll create a gitlab issue.

And coincidentally, Alex also won the “Guess the Height of that Sequoia” contest. 

I thanked the team for coming and said, “I’m sorry the meat was tough.” Someone whispered, “Blame the butcher, not the chef.” That kept me up all night, wondering if I had pulled a Trump or maybe a ligament in my brain. And then I remembered this proverb: “Don’t blame the baker if the butcher bakes the bread.” One of those head-scratchers, yeah. 🙂

But I digress.

Renewable Energy. Renewable Life.™

Waterworks & Sea Glass

The galley wall faucet’s nipple-ectomy was a success! We had replaced the tapered brass nipples and I just got the fresh union washers of the correct size. And now… Let there be water. I’ll add an aluminum L backsplash later.The other trick was to buy an adjustable slip-nut plumber’s wrench from Home Depot, in order to tighten all the threaded connections by two or three more turns than was possible by hand.

Once it all went together, I decided I need to add a 12V switch for just the water pump’s branch so that its parent circuit (which is shared by the overhead lights and the 12V galley ports) could be left powered ON at the helm, but OFF at the pump most of the time. So with this lighted toggle switch wired in at the galley, you would have to explicitly turn the pump ON when you need water and then turn it back OFF to be safe. This should help prevent any future disaster where the system springs a leak unattended.

And finally, I got inspired today by that new Insane Pools show on Animal Planet about building custom backyard oases (yes, that’s the plural form of oasis). So next weekend, my friend Gary Jackson is coming to install these beautiful sea glass mosaic tiles on the faces of the RETROpad’s two curb steps. Aesthetically, the 1-inch tiles represent computer pixels to me, but overall it’ll create that shimmering turquoise water effect everyone loves.

32 sheets cost $415 including shipping from Glass Tile Oasis in New Jersey. The sheets are 12×12 inches each, so we’ll simply cut each one in half to make two 6-inch by 30′-7″ strips with one spare sheet in case of defect. Gary will then thin-set them into place using his mud-working superpowers. Should be fun!

Independence Day

This was an eventful Fourth of July week. My son just graduated from Western Washington University with a BS degree in Manufacturing Engineering after six long years. He started his career on Monday at Tool Gauge in Tacoma. And then my daughter just turned 21. She has one more year to go at the same school, majoring in Public Health Administration. Both of them visited for a while and were eager to help out with the RETROvan.

Last week, Steven and I removed the galley for hopefully the last time, fixed the 12V USB port and connected all the plumbing between the water tank, pump, sink, drain and faucet. This took all day, but fortunately the weather was ideal. Once buttoned up, everything worked except for leaks at the union connections, and as a result the pump kept kicking on and off. The wall-mount faucet only came with one rubber union washer, so I had to order replacements and they should be here Friday. We also swapped out the brass nipples with different ones from Ace Hardware that aren’t as tapered. We applied six rounds of plumber’s tape and struggled to get everything as tight as possible, then got it down to a single drip. So hopefully the new union washer does the trick.

I surprised Shannon with her first new car: A 2002 VW New Beetle in excellent condition and with only 58,000 miles.

We later had Car Toys install a Bluetooth-enabled Sony stereo and then we added a magnetic dashboard mount for heads-up iPhoning.

Shannon later helped remove all ten windows to put their final weather seals and screws in place. The seals are a closed-cell foam tape, double-sided, routed under the outside trim flange. This went smoothly except for the fact that on each window, four of the trim ring screws would not go willingly into the channels from the inside trim piece. I over-torqued and broke off a couple of screw heads so we had to start over on that window. The solution was to drill those too-tight positions out a bit and then put fresh screws in. I didn’t recognize the pattern until much later, but on all ten windows it was always the four holes leading into the corner radius bends. So that means it was a manufacturing defect — easily overcome, though.

Next we installed the back URL emblem and the remaining two safety reflectors. Getting the emblem straight was easy. It says scenario.com/RETROvan. The rear reflectors took extra effort because I had to chisel off the original screws that were rusted into the steel diamond plate.

But after giving Rosie the Riveter a few lessons in step-up drilling and with some creative attack angles, we got the old screw shafts out and the holes enlarged enough to accommodate our beefier screws.

The results look great and we’re very proud to have raised two fine kids in such a Graceless Age. I checked my RETROvan Task List spreadsheet and found that 207 out of 218 tasks are now checked off as complete!

Gang Way!

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been swamped with my new job at Racepoint Energy and working remotely full time from the RETROvan as my mobile office and studio.

The RETROpad’s cantilevered gangway steps keep cracking and breaking now that it’s summer, making egress too perilous for mere mortals. The problem is the crappy “Construction Select” lumber sold wet by Home Depot. Don’t buy it, folks. You’ll regret it. I’ve used it on decking projects too and it’ll curl up and split in the sun.

So, I finally found some prefabricated galvanized steel treads sold by Grainger. These won’t rust and I can drill more support holes on the ends to bolt them to my timber stringers. These are 24 inches wide and I ordered four steps for around $158 including shipping.

This is much more economical than fabricating a custom “marina” gangway, which could easily cost $1,000 or more.

First Snow

We’ve had light snow in Portland recently, so here are a couple exterior shots:

Portland doesn’t really get bitter cold, so my dual space heaters don’t have much trouble keeping the RETROvan cozy.

I’ve found stainless steel replacements for those overpainted side mirrors, made by Velvac. I also removed the cracked and overpainted reflectors and have some new ones on order. It continues to baffle me why an auto painter would not bother to remove such fixtures first, so they don’t get ruined.

I received my American Autowire Highway 22 “custom upgrade” wiring harness kit from Summit Racing this week, and it looks good. All the individual circuit branches are pre-terminated and individually bagged. I plan to start that daunting task as soon as the weather warms up a bit. Still waiting for the mounting bracket, and I have to strip and paint the cockpit first anyway.

Cushy Job

Lots going on this week. I’m about to join a Renewable Energy startup company, which is pretty exciting. I even had my final interview in the RETROvan which must have impressed them, since their parent company also makes SmartHome systems.

In the meantime, I’ve finally addressed my saggy headrest cushion problem. The product Velcro recommended for me, which was supposed to stick to soft vinyls — doesn’t. So, I came up with three potential solutions from items I found at Home Depot.

First, all of them involve the use of stainless steel wall-mounted D-loops, much like you’d see in any cargo van for lashing down cargo or hostages. I mounted those between the windows, directly into the side ribs for additional strength with beefy #14 sheet metal screws. From there, it’s possible to use:

  1. Polyester lashing straps, with buckles
  2. Bungie-style cords with a hook
  3. Nylon-coated steel cables with custom cable hooks

The latter would look the best with the black & white motif, since the cable I found has a red translucent coating and is actually made for dog runs. But unfortunately, it’s not flexible enough to nestle the headrests and it would be too difficult to adjust the lengths of the loops to keep the cushions level before crimping them together.

The Bungie cords were interesting because they’re pre-made to almost the right length. But because the cord was so thin it dug into the cushions at the bottom and looked bad.

So the winner was my first, gut instinct: Lashing straps. The ones I found are made by Husky and they’re black with red stripes. The straps are 1 inch wide so they nestle nicely without being too much of an eyesore. They came in 8-foot lengths but were easy to cut. And most importantly, they support the headrests at just the right height and angle, flush to the wall. And the buckles make them adjustable.

Maybe someday I’ll find some transparent straps to swap these out with. I actually did find some, but they were made for bras!

The hardest part was removing the failed Velcro from the backs of the cushions without damaging my expensive vinyl. The adhesive left a mess and had to be dissolved with a 3M industrial solvent, but it worked.

The photo above shows the starboard side with the Velcro still intact. I removed the Velcro entirely from the port side as an experiment and it’s a little saggy at the ends. So I think the ultimate, final solution is either A) a combination of both solutions: The straps for support and the Velcro for alignment and snugness. Or B) two more straps mounted into the walls panels, versus the internal ribs.

Details, details…