Category Archives: RETROvan


I had to turn the TV off because I’m sick and tired of CNN and other networks giving religious idiots an open mic every time there’s a national tragedy. “Thoughts and prayers” are an absolutely insulting answer to gun violence.

Then I found that if I start a draft blog post in the morning stating what I did today in the past tense, I tend to get most of that stuff done.

On Monday I elevated the RETROvan’s front end to make it more level. These levelers are pretty ingenious. You basically lay the long pieces down and drive onto them, rolling them back and up. Then you wedge the chock underneath to secure up to a 4-inch rise.

This did the trick, within a quarter-bubble. But now the entry step is a bit more daunting. So I’m going to have to build a custom jetway at some point. For that I might find some adjustable metal steps or a ramp. Or I’ll most likely build something from timbers.

I took a trip to George Morlan Plumbing in Tigard, and they had the brass drop-elbows and tee I need to plumb the galley. Then I headed to Home Depot for a variety of outlets, cables and junction boxes. I overbought knowing that I can take stuff back.

Once my 1-inch rubber grommets arrived late Monday, I finished running cables through the corner cavities. I made sure any 120V junctions are up to Code by stuffing them into conduit bodies like this.

I also made some tough decisions about adding and/or combining circuits. And that means I’ll have to order a new set of custom AC/DC panel labels.

That order is shaping up like this. I finally decided to go with COMMLINK over the Navy terms COMM SYS or COMM STA because COMMLINK is a broader sci-fi trope.

In keeping with my RETRO theme, I’m calling my custom speaker cans RETROpods. Formerly known as Photon Torpedo Tubes One through Four.

On Tuesday I pulled two windows and cut those wall panels for outlets. The process for the 2-gang aft plate went like this:

First, figure out how the outlet box works. This ingenious Carlon box has a high-voltage (enclosed) side and a low-voltage (open) side. Basically I positioned it and traced its outline with pencil. I also sketched the configuration I wanted because it’s too easy to forget and mess up. Then I drilled four 3/8” holes for my blade entry, and four 5/16” holes to accommodate the cover screws just in case.

Here again I’m using Frog Tape to protect the finished aluminum from gritty scratches. Once the hole was cut with square corners, I made sure the box fit snugly. It dropped right in.

Fortunately these boxes have two little wings in the back that fold out and screw tight, holding the box up against the wall no matter how thick it is. It doesn’t care whether it’s 5/8″ drywall or 1/16″ aluminum.

The next step was dry-fitting everything to see how much insulation to cut. Jigsaw time again. These outlet boxes are three inches deep, just like my wall cavities. Lucky, eh?

Here I’ve pulled the cables through the box with just enough slack. Note how I’m protecting the connectors with Frog Tape and the braided conductors until I’m ready. Electrical cables should always enter from the bottom so that any water drips off the loop below the outlet box. This work is all up to Code.

Here the 120V outlet is done and the low voltage side is prepped. That Cat6 jack isn’t your ordinary Ethernet jack. It’s shielded. This side was harder because coaxial cable gets stiff in the cold.

And here we are all buttoned up. And yep, that outlet also has two 3.6A USB ports. There’s only one problem: The modular insert on the right is thicker than the outlet on the left, and the cover plate doesn’t lie flat against the wall on that side. So I’ll have to find a rubber gasket to compensate, or maybe some washers. Poop.

With panel P6 done, I repeated the process for the GFCI outlet on panel D3. This one will power the 1000W coffee maker on the galley countertop. It went in easy, thanks to prior experience. The photo doesn’t look like they line up, but they do.

I may replace the refrigerator plug with another GFCI outlet and matching plate, but now it’s dark and I’m done for the day. Thanks to my friend Bob Prokop for lending a hand again with the windows and galley cabinet.

Just Another Saturday

This morning was cold and rainy, but it looks like the dehumidifier is doing its job:

Notice the indoor humidity is only half of the outdoor humidity.

Today I connected my spare 120V cable to supply the two outlets on the driver side in panels D3 and D6. To make the branch in the 12AWG triplex cable I used standard wire nuts instead of quick-connects, and it looks safe to me. I haven’t yet cut the outlet holes in the aluminum because that means I have to remove windows and I want to have everything I need in hand before getting caught windowless in the rain.

Here’s an action shot from the RETROcam. In the background you can see I’ve got Batman on. That’s shuffle-playing on Apple TV from one of my iTunes playlists called “TV 1960s.” So all day I’ll get shows like Hogan’s Heroes, Star Trek, Looney Tunes, Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and more — all commercial-free.

Next I drilled the wiring hole behind the RETROcam and then realized it runs on a 120V to 5V adapter. So that means I could instead repeat what I did for the weather station and make my own power supply cable that runs off 12V and converts down to 5V. That way I can hardwire the camera and save an outlet and an ugly pass-through hole on the wall. It’s also a bit more secure that way.

So I ordered a second one of these little gadgets. I’m tempted to tap into the ventilation circuit in the adjacent ceiling panel but that’s a hassle. So I’ll probably just run a dedicated 12V cable since I already have an open path on the passenger side. That’ll allow me to put it on any circuit I want in the helm’s DC panel.

I also need to run a 12V cable for the galley water pump while I’m at it. I can’t believe I forgot to do that before buttoning up ceiling panel T2. That’s the cavity with the TV mount, over the helm. I suppose I could just tap it off the two galley outlets (USB and 12V) since those will be low-load and the water pump will only run intermittently. That’ll be much easier — yeah.

I had to remove all the cushions again because of all the aluminum shrapnel from drilling. But here’s a shot of the cabinetry paint finish on the driver’s side. In the background you can see the galley’s base cabinet too. I still need to remove all the marine plywood from the floor and give it a coat of polyurethane. I’m really not looking forward to removing all the pedestals again. Someday I’ll learn to do things in the proper order. But I absolutely hate painting things. 🙂

Now I’m taking a coffee break, just waiting for parts to arrive this afternoon.

Data Driven

Having spent most of yesterday procrastinating, designing and shopping, today I sprang back into action and disassembled panel P1 along with several top corner panels. No easy task!

I also marked five aluminum corner panels and dropped them off at Archers Precision. In less than two hours, Casey had sheared them all to size. So now when I reinstall them, the overlapping lower edges will line up nicely along both sides. One of those panels was mis-cut by Metal Supermarkets. The rest just needed trimming because of they way they overlap. The metal thickness is 1/16″, so a few needed to be trimmed by a multiple of 1/16″ to allow for “stacking.”

Meanwhile, I installed the Ethernet inlet jack and its waterproof gland. Here are the cable-side parts before assembly.

And here’s the result. I love that the rubber grommet is even red. The cable is a little difficult to remove from the jack, however.

Inside, I had to modify some insulation and then drill several new holes in various metal ribs and panels. I have to wait for my 1-inch rubber grommets and the two 20-foot Cat6 cables to arrive before I can finish this task.

But basically, this Ethernet inlet is now connected to my Apple AirPort Extreme, which acts like a hub with three jacks.

The first cable feeds my Apple TV. This means I can run ScenarioTV from my media server in HD, and without the glitches inherent over Wi-Fi.The second cable will feed the RETROcam, which I mounted upside-down in the rear ceiling panel (T6), facing forward. This camera is now operational as a part of our home security system. It acts as a sentry to detect any intruders who may happen to beam aboard without authorization.

The third cable will feed an Ethernet jack installed in a rear wall panel on the driver’s side (D6). I’ll be able to plug my 5K iMac or a MacBook Pro into that for working at the table. That jack will be in a two-gang wall plate along with a 120V outlet. The data side may have a second Ethernet jack, but most likely a cable jack for future expansion.

And finally, I discovered and ordered a 16-inch plastic model kit for the Proteus submarine from the 1966 sci-fi classic Fantastic Voyage. You may remember from my earliest posts that the RETROvan’s design is inspired in part by that movie. So this will be another fun display piece.

Tailgating & Plumbing

It’s been a few days since my last update because we decided to reassemble the RETROvan just enough to enjoy the last few days of sunshine here in the Portland area.

Olivia and I had fun watching the World Series and we even moved our hot tub from the back acre to the RETROpad, directly outside the door and through the hops garden:

The charcoal finish on the woodwork looks amazing! I just need to install the white doors and Velcro the cushions in place now. Photos coming soon.

Here’s a better shot of the inside of the helm now. AC on the left, DC on the right. Inverter and batteries below. Some day I’ll add a bus bar or fuse block in the upper center area.

I’m testing an INSTEON security camera, and yesterday I installed a chrome grab bar to the helm to help our friend Diane get in and out.

I just got my waterproof Ethernet connectors, so I drilled a 7/8″ hole in the hull, next to the shore power inlet. So at least now we can open and close the door without a cable blocking the way. I’ll have to remove panels tomorrow to install all the Ethernet cables to and from the AirPort Extreme, which acts as a network hub. The part above goes in the wall. The part below goes on the cable:

Today my other goal is to figure out the galley plumbing. These are the components I’m dealing with:This is the Kingston Brass sink that fits in the galley countertop. I’ll need to buy a drain assembly for it. That drain will go out the back of the galley cabinet, which you may remember is a modified HUSKY stainless steel tool chest from Home Depot. From there the drain will flow to a gray water tank.

This is my Delta Peerless wall-mount faucet. It has hot and cold handles, but they’ll both serve up cold water because I don’t really need a water heater. Hot water can be made in the microwave oven in a pinch. I’ve already cut the two water supply holes in panel D2, but the trick will be how to support the substantial weight of the faucet from behind that panel.

And this is the SHURflo 12V pump that will push water up six feet from the fresh water tank to the faucet on demand.

I will also have to buy two water tanks and mount them under the chassis. Not looking forward to that. I have 1/2″ braided nylon hoses to connect everything, but I’ll have to figure out all the fittings. And I might wind up using PEX tubing instead.

For supporting the faucet from behind the wall cavity, I’m thinking about using something like this:

This is called a drop elbow, with mounting ears. I would screw two of them into a piece of marine plywood at the right distance apart (about 9 inches for my faucet holes). Then the plywood can rest atop the horizontal wall rib and mount between the two vertical wall ribs with angle brackets. From there, it’s just a matter of attaching the 1/2 inch supply hoses to the barbed fittings. They can run down to a tee fitting that connects to the pump’s outlet.

I haven’t yet decided where the pump will mount. The easiest access would be in the bottom of the galley’s sink cabinet. But then it would be loud and it would take up valuable storage space. If I put in inside the galley’s base cabinet, it’ll barely fit and if something goes wrong I’d have to take everything apart. If I put it under the chassis, then I have to build a box to protect it from the elements. So that’s probably out. So it looks like the bottom galley cabinet wins.

That’s the plan so far. It’s still evolving, so stay tuned…

Meanwhile, I put the Batmobile and a Bat Signal up on the temporary shelf, over the driver’s seat. How cool is that?

All Buttoned Up

This morning I removed the last protruding broken rivets around the door frame with a sledgehammer and chisel. I was able to insulate this cavity by piecing together a few carefully-cut slabs of 2″ and 1″ Thermasheath, leaving room for the mass of cables.

Here’s a close-up of the forward dimmer switch wiring, which branches off a single helm cable that serves both lighting banks. My Y-splits (or “piggybacks”) are done by spreading a female spade connector open enough to receive two male connectors. Then I crimped each one tight with pliers.

Next I finished wiring the helm back up. First the AC circuits, then the DC circuits. I had bought a couple of Blue Sea Systems bus bars but I guess I’m too lazy to install them. Especially when I know I should use a fuse block instead. But that’s something I can install later, once I figure out where to put it. Probably right smack in the middle.

And once again, I felt like I was playing that classic Operation! game because of all the delicate surgery while dodging live wires. Some of the DC panels terminals have up to five ring connectors on a single screw. But this time, I didn’t drop any screws thanks to my big black stuffed towel trick.

I tested each circuit as I connected it and everything worked great on the first try! (So maybe I know what I’m doing now?)

This afternoon I installed the wall panel and the top corner panels, mounting the power strip and reconnecting the HDTV antenna jack. I also mounted my Star Trek electronic door chime above the light switch. That gadget detects movement through the doorway and sounds either a “red alert” alarm or the trademark “swoosh” sound.

Here’s today’s view from the rear. There are a few more power cables to conceal, and tomorrow I’ll mount the Apple TV and AirPort Extreme.

And here’s a close-up of the Rover solar charge controller and the stainless steel cable gland, shot from below. The empty LOAD terminals are useful for dead-battery situations. I made a starter battery jumper cable that can plug into these terminals and recharge the starter battery (not the house batteries) either from shore power or via the solar panels. You may recall I tested this a couple months ago when my starter battery was actually dead, so it does work — and within 20 minutes. I’m curious if I could hook up a defibrillator here?

The wall panels are officially done now, so this is a major milestone. My only work left to do is the galley plumbing behind panel D2, and I’m not really looking forward to that. But I’m done for the day, and I’m basking in the glory.

So tonight, Friday, Olivia and I plan to watch Game 3 of the World Series on the RETROpad’s tailgate area, with a fire pit, hot dogs and a growler of beer straight from Pelican Brewing in Pacific City. Some day, we will drive the RETROvan there and camp on the beach. 🙂

The Cable Guy

Today’s the day I tackled one of my last big remaining tasks: Routing all electrical cables through wall panel P1.

It’s easy to disconnect the dangerous 120V 30A shore power and turn the ProMariner 2000W inverter off. But then you still have two sources of live power to worry about: The solar panels, and the battery bank. Those two sources connect at the black Rover box you see here. And because these wires are hot, I took care to cap each one, wrap it in tape and label it.

My 10 AWG triplex cable running from the shore power connector to the inverter’s AC IN terminals was never quite long enough, so I made a trip to West Marine in Tigard and bought a new six-foot run. I was able to swap out the cable fairly easily thanks to my helm design. You can see the two galvanized EMT pipes which support the heavy inverter above the black batteries. Those pipes double as rails, allowing me to slide the inverter left and right to work on whichever end I need to access. So here, I’m stripping the new cable before connecting those conductors to the front three terminal ports on the inverter.

The next step was to carefully measure out where the cables should enter the wall panel from the holes in the helm. You may recall I bought a 12″x1″ plastic mail slot grommet just for this purpose. Then I drilled two 1″ holes with a hole saw.

I connected the dots with a black Sharpie and masked the metal with some Frog Tape to protect it from scrapes. Then cut the rest of the slot with my jigsaw. The grommet fits fine, but it would be better if it had a snap or a way to screw it in place. Maybe some silicone adhesive?

Next up was the fancy ($57) cable gland that will feed the Rover box. I decided not to use its rubber insert since I’m not too worried about waterproofing. Four 8 AWG cables and one thin battery temperature sensor wire will snake out of here. I went back and forth about where to place this grouping, and finally opted for a lower position, just above and toward the front of the helm. That will allow me to monitor it from a seated position, and leaves some room for a larger TV in the future. I’ll post a photo tomorrow once the Rover is screwed in and connected.

And finally, here’s the wall panel in a staging position with the first cable passed through. Note that the helm is still movable, even though it’s heavy. I managed to get the dimmer switch connected in the wall panel and all of the cables routed before it got too dark to continue. So tomorrow, Friday, will be the day these circuits get reconnected to the AC/DC panels and the P1 aluminum wall panel gets buttoned up tight. Can’t wait for daylight!

One Panel Left

Today I got the starboard side corner panels installed, matching the overlap and screw patterns from the port side. Along the way, I found that the aft panel (PC4) was mis-cut (1/2″ too tall). So I’ll take it back in and have it sheared to size, along with a few others that could use an 1/8″ trim.

Here’s how that side looks so far. The other thing I noticed is that Metal Supermarkets in Portland totally ignored my instructions to cross-cut these panels to make the grain go vertical. Oh well, that will only vary the light reflections and I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

Here’s a close-up of the corner panel over the helm, with a power strip and the King powered HDTV antenna jack. There are auxiliary cable jacks on the back side, accessible though that corner cavity without taking the wall panel off. 

My replacement TV trim plate arrived from VIVO, so it’s good to go now. I also wired up the RETROvan’s Apple AirPort Extreme and Apple TV, using Ethernet supplied by the RETROpad’s mooring station. From there I scoped out the best ergonomic mounting positions for those gadgets, as well as the Rover Solar Charger/Controller you can see laying atop the helm. I’ll mount that just to the right of the helm, on the wall but down low enough to monitor it from the chair.

Here’s some nice light at dusk. There’s only one wall panel left to do tomorrow, and it’s a doozy!


Yesterday was a banner day for RETROvan fans!

While Olivia and Addie were enjoying the Oregon coast, I finished insulating all eight of the aft wall cavities and even got the port side corner panels installed.

I had fabricated a custom wiring harness to power up the 12V outlets on panel D3, tapping off the dimmer switch cable.

Here’s a shot of four open cavities before I buttoned them up. You can see my iPhone cable successfully testing the Blue Sea Systems USB outlet. So the only two wall panels left are D2 (with the galley plumbing) and P1 (with the helm wiring).

And after Olivia helped me re-install the eight porthole windows, we fired her up and moored her on the RETROpad for the first time.

We celebrated Addie’s birthday there last night around the fire pit, listening to Beck’s new album Colors.

Here’s the view this morning from our dining room. Note the tailgate area behind the RETROvan.


The Radio Shack

Yesterday my special UNIDEN mount arrived so I installed the radio on the helm, where it fits perfectly:

I’ll run the cables through the helm soon. And here’s all the lights lit up together at full power:

Tomorrow I’m hoping to pop out the port side windows, wire up the 12V outlets over the galley and insulate three more cavities. Once done, that’ll wrap up the port side, leaving only four cavities on the starboard side. But now it’s football time…

Oh — and tomorrow’s the day we moor the RETROvan on the RETROpad. Come hell or high water!

First Window Insulation

This afternoon it stopped raining long enough for me to pop the window out of D3 and insulate that cavity. Surprisingly, I was able to remove the outside window piece from the inside. But I did have a cushy camping chair below it in case I dropped it.

After cleaning out the cavity, I inserted the pre-cut foam boards (upper and lower), made two reference marks through the window hole from the outside, then used the trim ring to trace the cutout on the top piece. Then I jigsawed the hole out from both sides. The foam is still sturdy, and the fit around the window itself will be nice and snug. The 6×6-inch notch is to accommodate the light switch and the two 12V outlets on panel D3, along with their wiring cluster.

And here’s the result. Two inches of insulation and a 1-inch gap on the inside which I’m not going to worry about. The R-factor is R-13.1 for just the foam, plus whatever it is for two 1/16″ thick sheets of aluminum. I test-fitted the window and it’s perfect, but I needed Bob’s help to screw it back in.

If you’re curious, this RMax Thermasheath rigid foam insulation is made from polyisocyanurate, and is faced with aluminum foil on both sides. “Polyiso” is an environmentally-sound product, and is the most flame-resistant of all foam insulation products. It has a combustion point of 390° F. It does not melt or drip when exposed to flame but rather forms a protective surface char, so its fire resistance is further enhanced, especially in terms of flame spread and flashover potential. And in fact, it’s used regularly in GREEN buildings. So that means the RETROvan is a GREEN vehicle.

The black dimmer switch works beautifully. I haven’t yet connected the USB and 12V ports yet. I’m going to make some jumpers and branch them into the switch’s power. But right now I’m tired, it’s Beer:30, and Olivia’s best friend Addie is coming.