Category Archives: RETROvan

The Home Stretch

Shannon goes back to school tomorrow and Olivia will be visiting her mom in Tampa shortly, so this morning we picked out a cute little Festivus Tree at Al’s Garden Center. Then while the girls shopped McMinnville, I spent the afternoon reassembling the cabinetry and installing the appliances. There were some adjustments to be made to the height of the cabinets, but it all worked out in the end — just in time for a very cozy happy hour.

I’ll just let the pictures do the talking, here…

Retro Diner Trim

Steven had to drive back to Bellingham for work this morning but Shannon (aka Rosie the Riveter) is still here to help. So we trimmed the dinette table by tapping the 12-foot aluminum strip into its slot.

We’ve never done anything like this before of course, but it turns out to be pretty easy. That is, once we realized you can’t use tin snips to cut out the fins. They cut the metal just fine, but the scissor action twists the piece. Fortunately the aluminum was pliable enough to coerce back into shape.

So instead I formed a simple miter saw jig out of a yard stick and protected the trim’s face with Frog Tape. Then while Shannon supported the long piece we cut slots into the barbed tee. These slots form fins that allow the trim to bend along the table’s 3-inch radius corners with only a slight ripple effect. All it took was a few taps and a little leverage. We could only cut one corner at a time between fittings, but this took less than an hour. The final trick was trimming the end just right so it abuts the beginning at a clean seam. My first attempt at marking this was 1/4″ too long, so I had to trim the rest with my Dremel tool. But then I nicked it and had to cut it 3/32″ short. Oh well, it’s not that bad.

My only concern is whether the trim will stay in place over time. Once you tap it in and pull it out a couple times, the plywood slot loosens up a little. So for the final fit I ran a bit of Gorilla Glue into the slot wherever it looked like it wanted to pop out.

I’m glad I ordered two 12-foot pieces of trim. That was mostly for backup in case I screwed up the table. But now we have a stick left over for the galley counter top and the two shelves. The shelves were super easy, just 24-inch straight pieces. I can’t install them just yet because I won’t know which edges are the fronts until I match the screw holes during assembly. But then the trim will just tap into the slots I pre-cut.

The countertop has one slight bend and one prominent 90-degree bend. So for those I just cut out slots big enough to make sure the tee never obstructed itself during bending.

Here’s the galley corner. It came out great if you ask me. No one is going to scrape themselves slipping into the port berth bench past that corner. It’s smooth and pretty — much better than two pieces mitered together.

And here’s the dinette table, ready for a future car show. 🙂


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Last night Steven made a cheesecake. Yum — especially with cherries on top.

Then we hung out on the RETROpad, enjoying the hot tub, fire pit, music and a few brewskies in the warm drizzle. It was 60° out, which is unseasonable.

This morning, we just chilled on the front porch and decided not to attempt the chrome trim today. Shannon helped me get the RETROvan ready for Thanksgiving dinner and the Cowboys game. Then she learned to throw a spiral on the front lawn.

Here are the two main pieces in place, before the bench seats went in.

Some Trump-colored snackage before dinner. The Cowboys took the day off too, losing 28-6.

And dinner itself, as seen from the RETROcam. Honey Baked Ham, turkey breast, sweet taters, greenie beanies, stuffing and “qua-sons.” Later we played Apples to Apples and Shannon won.


Today, Steven and Shannon helped me cut and apply two styles of WilsonArt “Retro Diner” laminate to the galley shelves, countertop and the dinette table. And I’m thankful for the help, because this job required six hands at times.

This style is for the dinette table, which converts to the center berth base. I absolutely love this design. It reminds me of The Sixties, specifically the artwork in The Jetsons and later Mad Men.

And this is the more demure style for the galley countertop and the double oven shelves. It’ll make my red appliances really pop. Note that the boomerang patterns are actually the same size. This gray one is just zoomed in.

The first trick was learning how to properly support and cut the awkward 97×49″ sheets without damaging them. My jigsaw came with a Laminate blade but we quickly found that a thinner, finer Sheet Metal blade works much better. Even so, we had to discard two pieces due to crackage, but we had plenty of material to work with and still have some left over. We measured and cut each piece with at least 1/8″ of overhang. We used the berth base cabinets for support, forming a long cutting trough between them. Ideally a proper shop would have an 8×4-foot work table. But no, we used my Craftsman table saw stand as a portable work surface.

We used Gorilla Glue (the construction variety) and a caulking gun to apply the adhesive to the bare maple plywood surfaces. We later learned that we were supposed to use a glue roller to form a layer all the way to the edges, but I didn’t want to risk any seepage since the edges are already finished. The only exception is the dinette table, whose edges will be wrapped in retro chrome trim:

The next challenge was how to trim the laminate overhanging the edges after the glue sets. For that, a trip to Harbor Freight in Tigard yielded a router bit that is designed just for this purpose. Some call it a laminate bit, and some call it a trim bit. But the cheap set I found just calls it a straight finish bit. The key feature is that the collar is on the bottom of the blades versus the top. That allows the collar to act as a guide, rolling along the finished wood without damaging it. My Black+Decker 20V Matrix drill driver came with a small router attachment, and we were able to figure out how to the set the depth correctly so that the blade only cut the top 1/16″ of material — which in our case, is the overhanging laminate.

By the time we got to the countertop we were experts. Even the sink cutout we traced looks professional. We left the dinette table top for last, and we didn’t bother jigsawing the rounded corners because the router proved it can handle that just fine. And it did.

After routing the table top perimeter to trim it, we ran this special $40 slot cutter around the edge and formed the 1/2″ deep channel that will secure the chrome trim.

It’s important to do this after the laminate is in place because that increases the thickness of the piece by almost 1/16″ (1/32″ plus the glue). The chrome trim is 13/16″ tall by design, which matches the 3/4″ wood plus the 1/16″ laminate layer. The special slot cutter is sold by the same company that makes the chrome trim (Eagle Aluminum in Minnesota), so the fit is virtually guaranteed.

Stay tuned for photos of the results, once we piece everything back together ahead of Thanksgiving dinner. We may not get to the chrome trim, but that’s okay. Steven made his world famous cheesecake. 🙂

Fantastic Voyage

As a therapeutic side project, I’ve started building a 1:32 scale model of the Proteus submarine from Fantastic Voyage. The military miniaturized this vessel and its crew, and injected it into the body of a Cold War scientist to dissolve a blood clot in his brain.

The movie featured Donald Pleasence and Rachel Welch, but the real stars were this prop and the OSCAR-winning special effects. The Proteus raced against the clock, traveling through the various systems of the human body, including the heart, lungs and brain. The crew even had to fend off attacking antibodies in one of the more memorable scenes.

I used to build lots of models as a kid, and all the tricks are coming back to me. The biggest challenge is that my eyesight and hand-eye coordination is not quite the same. But I have a lighted magnifying glass and make simple jigs out of common household items like Scotch tape, Q-Tips, toothpicks and waxed paper.

So far so good. I just finished the hull’s paint job. It’ll look like these photos when it’s all done, and then I’ll find a way to showcase it in the RETROvan.

This afternoon I’ll get back to buffing and polishing. Cringe.


I’m still procrastinating over the fresh water tank size. I found a second possibility that might work. The problem is where to put the fittings and the elbows that have to fit either inside the metal galley cabinet, or through its wall on the right.

Here’s the safe bet. This is Ronco’s 11-gallon model, which if I stand it upright I can have about 2 inches in the front for fittings. My pump only needs 4-1/2 inches of clearance between the tank and the sink, and its motor will nestle to the right of the drain assembly just fine. I just need to make sure I can get my hands in there too.

And here’s a 12-gallon model that might not fit in the front unless I drill a clearance hole on the inner cabinet door wall. Or, just run the connections into the refrigerator’s space. But if I do that, the cabinet’s right wall is 1-1/8″ thick, counting its inner and outer panels. So that means those fittings might also require nipples. And the more connections you add, the more points of failure there are.

What to do? It was a tough decision based on imperfect information, but I went with the 11-gallon option and got that order sent off on Monday morning. The extra gallon just wasn’t worth the risk of an uncomfortable fit. I specified the outlet port to be on the front corner, because the RETROvan slopes that way.

As part of that decision process I refitted wall panel D2 over the plumbing box and noticed something was a bit off. The faucet’s chrome trim rings weren’t making good contact with the aluminum wall panel, so I removed everything and rebuilt the sides of plumbing box. When I took the box out I found that the bottom Kreg pocket screws weren’t even making contact with the spacer because of the notch I formed to miss the rivets. So I replaced that joint with two steel corner brackets using six screws each.

This rebuild only took an hour or so, but now I won’t lose any sleep wondering whether the faucet might someday jar loose. I also closed up the mis-measured 1/4″ gap at the back and secured the right side of the box tightly to its vertical rib and left the left side of the box float a bit, while secured by longer sheet metal screws. And now it all fits perfectly. The nipples poke out at just the right length and the faucet is sturdy.

I spent the rest of the day struggling to polish all the handprints and scratches off a few more aluminum panels. I had washed the bonnets with some success, but I also bought some new terrycloth ones. Ultimately I decided to order ten microfiber bonnets since they seem to work best for the final phase, soaked in Klean Strip lacquer thinner.

This process is not going well because of the black oxidation layer that forms and immediately re-coats the metal. So now I have a choice. I can either spend a inordinate amount of time and energy trying to get it off — or, I can call it a feature and shoot for a consistent “pewter” look.

Our goal is to stage everything back together by Tuesday for our kids’ Thanksgiving visit. That means the sink won’t be usable, but that’s okay. And hopefully while they’re here they can participate in some of the construction. Specifically I’m thinking about laminating and trimming the shelves, countertop and dinette table as a family project. Or maybe some RETROpod work. We’ll see…

More Water & Power

Today I learned a custom 15x15x15″ 13.5-gallon water tank would cost about $2,000 — so that’s out. Plan B is to order their 11 gallon off-the-shelf model, which is 15.375×13.5×13.5″. That will fit into my cabinet with a little room to spare, and it’s only about $170 with fittings and shipping.

Another day, another hole saw. I cut a 3-1/2″ hole in the hull on the driver’s side, for my ShurFlo “city water” inlet. That fixture acts as a pressure regulator when you connect a standard garden hose to it.

The hole inside is 2-1/8″ on panel P1, behind the refrigerator. That hole allows ample access to the big thumb screw on the elbow fitting. I’ll connect this barb to the tank’s inlet fitting with five feet of 1/2″ braided nylon hose. This fitting is pretty low to the floor, so I’ll have to cut a hole in the galley’s wooden footer. I wish I could have put this inlet higher, but I wanted it in the “hinge” position on my clapboard graphics on the outside, matching the shore power port on the passenger side.

None of these connections will be visible from the inside because they’ll be blocked by the refrigerator. I may even run the hoses into the side of the stainless steel galley cabinet for the same reason. That way most of the plumbing is accessible by simply pulling the fridge out (not the galley).

My drain hasn’t arrive yet so that’ll have to wait until tomorrow. I also need to finalize the water tank’s fitting positions by then to get that order in-process.

So next I cut some holes in the helm to route the RETROscanner’s USB power cable out of view. I also received my fancy 12″ USB cable for the iPad, so now nothing needs to be bunched or tangled up.

And finally, I received my last round of custom AC/DC panel labels today. It took forever to remove the old adhesive residue cleanly from the window ledges, but finally they all fell into place — and they look fantastic.

Here’s the DC panel. I wound up swapping the 3rd and 4th circuits into a more logical order, compared across the board to the AC panel. That was relatively easy from the backside, and this time I didn’t drop either terminal screw into the abyss.

And here’s the AC panel. The 1st and 2nd positions act together in tandem, controlling 30A service to the remaining circuits. The reason the 2nd indicator light is unlit is because that is a special red warning LED that only lights in the event of reverse polarity (a mis-wiring condition). That was clear from the panel’s original labels, but in the RETROvan I’ve wired that master breaker not to shore power, but rather to the inverter’s output. It’s the inverter’s transfer switch that decides whether to produce 120V power from either shore power or the battery bank, which is kept charged by either shore power or the solar panels.

Everything you see above is fully operational, but I haven’t yet pig-tailed in my 12V water pump cable. I did run that cable through the wall and the galley cabinet today, under the sink. I wish I had left a dedicated circuit for that, but the pump will only run intermittently so I’ll just tap it off the lighting circuit co-labeled “GALLEY 12V.” I thought about tapping off the ventilation circuit, but those vents are more power-hungry. So I think it’ll be fine.

Galley Ho!

Today I built up my plumbing box and finalized all the fittings.

Basically the pump is going to mount where you see it above, just under the sink and to the right of the drain, which arrives tomorrow. Only that metal shelf will be gone and the pump will mount atop the water tank.

Here’s a close-up of the box I built. First I turned the drop elbows to face each other and made an 8-inch tee connection. I had to heat the ends of the 1/2″ braided nylon hose to force them over the brass barbs, and I used worm-screw hose clamps just for good measure.

The box is 3/4″ marine plywood left over from the floors. The depth has to be just right, and I also had to avoid some rivets at the bottom. So there is a spacer at the bottom. The large piece is fastened on three sides with 14 Kreg pocket screws. And then the whole box is screwed into the vertical frame ribs with four 2-inch sheet metal screws and washers, to keep it from flopping.

It ain’t goin’ nowhere. This will make the heavy chrome wall faucet feel as sturdy as possible.

I’m keeping the brass nipples and bushings you see here. They’ll protrude through the wall holes by just the right amount: 1/2 inch. To achieve that, there is a 1/4-inch gap in the back.

It turns out I probably won’t use the two 1-inch holes in the horizontal rib, since the water supply hose can route into the galley cabinet above that rib. But it’s nice to have those holes available if I ever changes things around, like to add a separate hot water line or move the pump. The 3/4-inch hole in the left corner is for the pump’s 12V cable, which I’ll branch in tomorrow.

As soon as I hear back from Plastic Mart about my custom fresh water tank, I can cut the holes in the back of the galley cabinet, button up the wall panel and move everything back into place. Then when the water tank arrives in a couple weeks, I can make the final connections from inside the galley cabinet.

Meanwhile, I should be able to fit the drain and the fresh water inlet by Friday. I need to make everything presentable for my kids’ Thanksgiving visit. 🙂

Tanks a Lot

Today I did a face-palm when I realized the RETROvan’s gas tank is directly under the galley, mounted to the chassis. The nearest mounting point for a water tank is a few feet away, under the driver’s seat. And even there the space is limited to about 24″x18″x10″. So that changes my half-baked plans for plumbing the sink with enough fresh water to survive the Trump “presidency.”

I spent the day exploring several interesting options (like a pair of cool portable containers above), and finally settled on this:

It’s a custom fresh water tank to be built by Plastic Mart. The outside dimensions of 15x15x15″ allow for a capacity of about 13.5 gallons. That may not seem like a lot of water but remember, we don’t have a toilet or a shower to worry about. This is basically a wet bar. And 99% of the time we’ll be connected to city water.

The tank will fit snugly inside the galley cabinet, under the sink. Which means it’ll always be at “room temperature.” I plan to mount the ShurFlo pump directly to the top of this tank. The 3/16″ thick polystyrene plastic, and the water it contains, should help baffle any pump noise much better than if I were to mount the pump to the metal cabinet or a piece of plywood.

So basically, the galley will be entirely self-contained except for the filler hose and the sink drain. The filler hose will be 1/2″ braided nylon leading to my ShurFlo fresh water inlet which I’ll mount through the hull, somewhat near the gas cap.The sink’s drain can run to a standard-sized tank (like this 24x16x8″ 12-gallon Valterra model) strap-mounted under the driver’s seat, connected with flex hose. Or it could just drain temporarily into a garden hose adapter and onto the ground, since it’s just grey water.

There are also plenty of portable grey water tanks that works like carts. You just park it under your RV and run the drain hose into it. When it gets full you cart it off, dump it, spray it out and reconnect it. Rinse and repeat.

Yep, this is the least enjoyable part of the project. Until, that is, I tried out my new orbital buffer on a few aluminum panels. I used Brasso metal polish and a variety of bonnets ranging from wool to terry cloth to microfiber.

The first panel turned out pretty good, but I noticed my pads were turning black for some reason. The only source of black, as far as I could tell, was the rubber backing pad on the polisher — which was always covered up by the bonnet. And it was not showing any signs of wear. But then I noticed the wall panels themselves were turning a grayish-black too, and it wasn’t just smears!

So then I googled the problem and learned that when you polish any protective coating off aluminum, it reforms aluminum oxide almost immediately and those microscopic aluminum flakes are black! So now I have to figure out how to avoid this, and I’m at a loss. Maybe it means I need a different polish that has a bit of acid? I don’t know. What I do know is that at this pace I’m going to need a truckload of expensive bonnets. I might try washing them tomorrow to see if I can get a few uses out of them. Ugh…


Dumb & Plumber

Today I went to Home Depot and took two trips to a local plumbing shop, trying to find some combination of fittings that would work for the galley faucet. This is the problem with brick-and-mortar stores. Your choices are limited to whatever they have in stock.

Here’s what I’ve got so far. These are the drop elbows I was talking about, mounted on a piece of marine plywood whose depth is TBD. The faucet’s water supply connections are 3/4″ female. But it turns out these drop elbows are 1″ female. So I had to add a face bushing to the 3/4″ nipple to make up the difference. And that, of course, is less than ideal. That’s one more point of potential failure.

Later I found these 3/4″ SharkBite drop elbows on Home Depot’s website. So that would eliminate the need for the face bushings. It’s not in stock, so I’ll have to wait for it. I can’t secure the plywood until I dry-fit everything together, but I should be able to figure out the drain and pump by the weekend.