Category Archives: RETROvan

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.

Three Sheets to the Wind

It’s another soggy, windy day here in Tigard, Oregon. So I spent some time doing a cut plan in SketchUp for the remaining insulation panels, to minimize waste — and to avoid another trip to the Sherwood Home Depot Indoor Dog Park.

I was able to fit all sixteen panels into my remaining three sheets. They took all morning to cut in our crowded garage, but here they are stacked and labeled for easy access. I have enough left over to do panel P1, which contains most of the electrical cables. And I might have enough to do all the top corner panels as well.

I’ll need to cut window holes in the eight top panels. For that, I plan to insert the foam in the cavity and then trace the window hole onto the foam. But that should result in a reasonably comfy fit around the window frames. This foam is rigid enough to support itself when cut down to about an inch.

I was able to exhange my unused “off-white” JR Products LED dimmer switches for black ones, which will look better. Many thanks to Angela Stone at for the great customer service! I’ll install the first one in panel D3, but the second one is backordered until next week. That’s okay, because I’m not ready to button up panel P1 yet.

I’m also expecting a replacement VIVO motorized unit (the main part) today. The one I got doesn’t work as advertised. It keeps reversing itself at about the 3-inch mark, and the power jack sparks when you plug it in. You’re supposed to be able to just nudge your TV and it’ll go up or down. But that has never worked.

This product is a very cool mechanical design, but it’s plagued by a bad instruction manual and a worse remote control layout. The remote even includes < and > buttons, which means they’re trying to make a cheap off-the-shelf remote work with their firmware. A TV mount like this doesn’t really need a remote control. There should only be an up/down button on the motorized unit itself.

Anyway, it arrived this afternoon and this one works fine. But I did break one of the decorative plastic trim pieces because it wouldn’t unsnap, so now I have to beg for a new one. Joy.


It’s official:  The RETROvan is leak-free! It’s been raining cats and dogs all day with no drips or puddles inside. The dehumidifier had extracted about 18 ounces of water so I emptied it. But that means it’s doing its job. Between that little godsend and the space heater, the inside of the hull is bone dry. And that means no mold, mildew or ruined equipment. (Knock on wood!) But best of all, the RETROvan is actually starting to feel cozy, and I’ve noticed sound doesn’t echo as much.

So today I managed to cut and install two inches of insulation behind panels D0, D1, D2 and P2. That’s as much for soundproofing as it is for thermal efficiency.

D0 is the thin vertical pillar just behind the driver side window. That cavity had three horizontal sections with deep recesses. So I simply cut two pieces for each section and fed them in like batteries. That should help keep the pilot seat warm, and reduce any noise transmission, radioactivity, toxic gases, etc.

D1 is the wall panel behind the refrigerator and the cabinets that will contain the dual ovens and pantry. For that one, I drilled three 3/4″ holes and inserted rubber grommets. Then I installed the insulation in two easy-to-cut sections and ran the flat triplex cable through the grommets and out the wall panel. And finally, I reinstalled the dedicated Leviton outlet to the cable. That outlet is strategically positioned to plug the refrigerator into and leave running on its own circuit. There’s enough slack for the outlet to be pulled out a few inches if necessary.

D2 is the wall panel where the galley sink’s wall-mount faucet, drain, and medicine cabinet is. For that one, I just installed the insulation and zipped it back up because I’m not ready to start the plumbing yet.

P2 is the panel next to the passenger seat. It has the medical cabinet, two grab bars, and the wall-mounted weather station. For that, I snipped my homemade 5V cable jack and ran it through that cavity and out a 1/2″ rubber grommet that is hidden behind the gadget. Looks great! I’ll reconnect it tomorrow when I have daylight.

I wasn’t planning to start the wall insulation phase from this direction, but it worked out better because it’s raining and I don’t have anyone home to help remove windows. That, and because of the way the wall panels overlap, you have to do them in logical order.

Only nine more wall cavities to insulate before starting on the upper corners. And boy, am I tired of cutting that foam on the garage floor!

Shelter & Scanner

Wednesday I finished reinstalling the last two ceiling panels, the forward vent trim and the front LED lighting bank.

I also ran a spare 12 AWG triplex cable over the T2 cavity, for a future 120V or 12V circuit. Then I reinstalled the VIVO TV mount over the helm and ran its IR sensor cable through the trim to hide it. And finally I reattached the 19-inch Sony Bravia TV to the arm.

Everything looks great, but I want to clean off all the handprints before I post a photo of the finished ceiling.

We’re expecting heavy rain the next four days, but I’m convinced the roof is leak-free now. My space heater and dehumidifier appear to have eliminated the pooling/dripping condensation problem. So the next few days will be the definitive test.

I returned two of the unused sheets of 1″ RMax rigid foam insulation and brought home two more sheets of the 2″ thickness. That’s all I could fit in my SUV, so it’ll take two more trips to Home Depot to get all the insulation I need to complete the wall cavities.

For that phase, I need to remove all eight porthole windows so I can then remove the wall panels. I’ll insulate the aft eight wall cavities first so I can get the windows back in place quickly. The forward four wall cavities don’t have windows, but they’ll have a lot of electrical and plumbing to work around.

I found a great scanner radio that fits on the helm and does everything except transmit. It’s the latest UNIDEN HomePatrol II TouchScreen Digital Scanner. I found it gently used on for $300. The scanner picks up plenty of chatter around any ZIP code including police, fire, ambulance, air traffic control, HAM, etc. It recharges via USB (5V) and I ordered the UNIDEN mount to install it in the helm above the iPad mount. There are codes to learn, but it will be a fun and useful addition to the RETROvan, steering us a bit into Prepper territory.

Beam me up!

I ordered a couple of fun, functional sci-fi props from ThinkGeek today. These are high-quality die cast replicas, suitable for use in the RETROvan.

This is a Star Trek: TOS Communicator that doubles as a Bluetooth flip-phone. It pairs with an iPhone and works as a speaker phone, in addition to producing accurate sound and visual effects.

And this is a Star Trek: TOS Phaser that doubles as a universal TV remote control, in addition to producing authentic sights and sounds.

Now if only the same company would make a decent Tricorder! (Turns out they do make one, but it’s out of stock and it doesn’t really do anything clever.)

Speaking of clever: After Olivia told me about a HAM radio licensing course at her work, I’ve decided the RETROvan needs a radio. You know, for the Zombie Apocalypse. So I’m shopping for a good dash-mount radio that also doubles as a police scanner. This might fit nicely in the helm, in the middle above the iPad mount.

This evening, working under the aft light bank, I finished up the insulation in the front two ceiling cavities. This took forever, and I made plenty of mistakes because there were so many obstacles to work around. I’m also starting to hate this Velcro. It came in 15-foot roll but it’s hard to cut and it winds up getting tangled and stuck to itself.

In the end, ceiling panels T1 and T2 have three pieces of rigid foam in each cavity, criss-crossed by electrical cables sandwiched between the insulation and the aluminum panel. There’s a half-inch gap to allow future cables to be run without removing the foam.

I’ll post photos tomorrow once those last two ceiling panels and the TV mount are reinstalled.

Cabinets & Gate

This morning I made it over to Sundeleaf Painting in Milwaukie to pick up my cabinets. They look and feel awesome! The plywood edge layers are still visible for that authentic, hand-made retro aesthetic.

Master Craftsman Eric White says the process involves an undercoat, followed by two coats of “conversion varnish.” This is a special paint mixed on-site that includes the pigment, the varnish and a catalyst. This job took about 22 hours of labor and cost $900.

We left two top surfaces unfinished, so that my retro laminate will adhere to the raw maple plywood. The main piece is the countertop, of course. The piece you can see with the rounded corners is the bottom of the dinette table. (Yep, the bottoms and backs are all finished for weather-proofing goodness.) It will also get some chrome edging once I router the slot and apply the laminate. I also have some rounded chrome corners made by Fender, to attach to the sharp corners on the berth bases. Those will prevent any bloody shins.

I can’t reassemble the woodwork just yet. I need to finish the wiring, the insulation and the galley plumbing first. So I might just keep the cabinets in my SUV for safe-keeping.

When I arrived home, the RETROpad’s front gate had magically appeared. I just need to ramp some crushed granite gravel up against the entrance now. And as you can see, the slab is still not cured enough to park on.

Not taking any chances… Patience…


Today was another full, sunny day of RETROvan work, taking advantage of dry, albeit chilly fall weather. I spent most of it rewiring some circuits and replacing the bad Ancor grommets with my good ones. No easy task, considering you have to disconnect and pull cables to do it.

I got all the aft LED lights secured with #4 1/2” screws and popped their chrome trim rings in place. And boy, they look beautiful!

I moved the two Fan-tastic Vent circuits off the Rover’s direct-connect load terminals and onto a dedicated circuit on the DC panel in the helm. So now they show up on the DC Ammeter as a dynamic load, moving the needle up and down as their thermostats reacts. Very cool. Literally.

So now that needle will reflect all DC loads including the vents, lights, entertainment system and gadget chargers.

I got the T3 cavity insulated and the panel installed. The T2 cavity is next. It’s directly between the helm and the galley cabinets, so it’s got a big concentration of electrical cables running through it — plus the TV mount which will need piecemeal insulation above it. The T1 (forward) cavity will be easier, but its insulation must be cut in a trapezoidal shape and I’ll have to dodge the aluminum angle brackets my Dad and I added up there to strengthen the roof over the cockpit.

I also made more of my AppRadio’s connections permanent since the left front speaker was crackling every time I moved the wires. For that I used 16 AWG spade connectors which can be unplugged at will.

I didn’t make it over to the paint shop today to pick up my my cabinets, but I’ll do that tomorrow while it rains. They did tell me the final cost: $900. Fine with me!

And finally, the RETROpad concrete is still a bit gray, so I’m going to wait another few days. Not happy that didn’t get poured while there was still some summer heat. But oh well. Gary said it’ll be stronger if it cures slower.

Insulation & Wiring Up Top

The RETROpad concrete hasn’t quite cured enough to park on yet, but today was a full, sunny day of RETROvan work. Yep, it’s Sunday but our teams both have byes (Dallas and Seattle).

This R-Max rigid foam insulation is pretty easy to work with. It was an excellent choice and should be well worth the trouble and expense (over $30 per sheet). The only problem is, to get clean cuts I have to use a jigsaw. And that means measuring and marking both sides because the blade only goes about half way through the 2-inch material. Here’s one of the vent garnishes, which I used as a template.

I ran new 16 AWG speaker wire for the rear ceiling panel (T7). That cable runs through four holes in each top corner cavity, exploiting the holes in the steel braces my Dad and I added, and converging over the cockpit where the Pioneer AppRadio receiver is. You can see how the aft vent, the HDTV antenna, and the aft lighting bank’s bus bar fit into the insulation. All of the electrical cables rest under the insulation and on top of the aluminum. That keeps them away from the more extreme heat of the sheet metal hull.

And here’s the ceiling with four cavities now complete, thanks to Olivia’s help. The vent trim is screwed back on, and the six LED lights are connected and snapped in. They also take three tiny screws each, to keep them tight against the panels. But I’ll have to make a trip to Home Depot for those tomorrow before I can snap the chrome trim rings on.

This is going to look amazing with all the reflections, especially when it’s polished up. I’m glad I never pulled the trigger on ceiling tiles or powder coating.

It’s sunny again tomorrow (Monday) so my plan is to finish the ceiling insulation, wiring and panels. That will be a major milestone. And hopefully the concrete will be mostly white by then, so we can finally moor the RETROvan on the RETROpad for some good old-fashioned RETROfun. 🙂

Switches, URL & Insulation

Today I cut in a few switches and sockets in panels D3 and P1. (D for Driver side, P for Passenger side; numbered fore to aft).

The first step is measuring, scribing and re-measuring, including a 1/16″ tolerance on all sides of the switch’s recessed body. The next step is drilling some 3/8″ corner holes to allow the blade to enter. The tape protects the aluminum from scratches caused by any gritty shavings under the jigsaw’s shoe.

These JR Products dimmer switches stupidly require a notch for the wiring. A better design would have the wiring come straight out the back. I haven’t wired the switches up yet because they were supposed to be white but they’re actually beige, and don’t match the other white trim. So I’m replacing them with black ones.

Here’s the result, with the face plate snapped in place and two Blue Sea Systems sockets mounted below, in 1-1/8″ holes cut with a hole saw. The top socket is dual USB ports. The bottom socket is a standard 12V cigarette-lighter type, which can be used for a variety of auto accessories. These fixtures aren’t wired yet. I’m waiting to remove that wall panel and insulate the cavity before connecting these cables and sealing the window up tight.

Today was sunny and dry, so I installed the last branding elements on both sides. This “” die-cut text is 36 inches long. Signs Now produced it (after some ridiculous communication problems), but I found their vinyl to be inferior to the stripes I bought from VViViD up in Canada. It’s thinner and doesn’t have any air-release capability, so the slightest air bubble is impossible to remove and when you hit it with a heat gun it just melts and deforms. Not impressed.

And lastly today, I cut some rigid foam insulation and Velcro’d it up in to the T7 cavity. I had planned to use a 2″ thick piece on top and a matching 1″ piece on bottom, but there’s only room for another 1/2″ piece and I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. Two inches yields R-13.1, so that’ll have to do for the roof. The 1/2″ gap will accommodate various cables nicely. In the case of panel T7, that means the two aft speaker cables, which I’ll run tomorrow.And by the way, my new dehumidifier appears to be working! It has a 22-ounce reservoir for extracted water, and it was about 25% full by noon today. I had inspected the ceiling cavities by hand at about 9 AM and they were all condensation-free except for the area closest to the forward vent — which was the coldest, least-insulated area.

So my plan for Sunday is to insulate the entire ceiling so I can finalize the wiring up there and re-install the ceiling panels. I’ll keep the space heater and dehumidifier running and keep my fingers crossed that there are no actual leaks in the roof.

The Paint Shop

Eric at Sundeleaf Painting in Milwaukie (no, Oregon) sent me some great action shots of my cabinetry being professionally finished.

He says the pieces look really nice, and I agree. “Super smooth, low sheen.” They should look dynamite when everything’s installed. These colors are neutral on purpose, to make the RETROvan’s red accents and colored lights pop and reflect off the metal. There will be no visible wood tones when everything’s done.

Eric says this charcoal color looks dark in the photos, especially when wet. It’s called Wrought Iron from Benjamin Moore.

The last photo looks perfect to me, so these pieces must be drier. The hard, durable top coat also seals the maple plywood on all sides to make it weather- and mold-resistant.