Category Archives: RETROvan

Paint Shop & Dry Dock

Yesterday I got the last cabinet doors cut after disassembling and removing all the RETROvan’s woodwork. Then I labeled everything with Frog Tape and transported it to Sundeleaf Painting in Milwaukie. Amazingly, it all fit in my SUV.

Eric was eager to help with this project and I’m confident he’ll make everything pretty. It’s really nice when you find someone who just gets it. We talked through some options, with the priority being water-proofing, and came up with this scheme:

Everything will get a hard, durable piano lacquer-like finish, only more satin than glossy. Eric assures me he has something better than polyurethane, which is too soft. The bulk of the surfaces will be a charcoal color (about 75-80% black). The reason is to hide the inevitable scuff marks from people’s shoes, etc. All eight doors will be bright white. The exposed edges of the maple plywood will be finished (either charcoal or white), but they will not be filled in smooth. That is, the laminated layers will still be visible, creating some design intrigue. This is an aesthetic choice, similar to the style you see in a lot of Danish furniture.

The job should be done by early next week, so I’m pretty excited to see the result.

Meanwhile, today I rented a tractor from Home Depot and helped Gary Jackson grade and level the RETROpad between the curbs. We wanted a Bobcat but they were mysteriously “unavailable.”

The bedrock is ideal. A previous owner must have been in the rock and gravel business, because there was about a foot of crushed granite mixed into the clay soil. Gary drove the tractor back and forth to tamp everything down solid.

And here’s the result, ready for rebar and cement. The rebar is important because the RETROvan will weigh up to 10,000 pounds, concentrated at its tires. So that’s roughly 2,500 pounds per square foot in four places. The slab itself will be four inches thick, but will use a high-strength concrete mix fortified with pea gravel.

For ideal drainage, the ten feet at the back will slope one inch toward the back. The twenty feet at the front will slope three inches toward the front. That makes for a good, level tailgating space in back and insures that most of the rainwater will flow away from the house and toward the street. One of Gary’s nicknames is the King of Swale, so he’ll nail those slopes better than anyone.

At this stage, the RETROpad reminds me of a submarine dry dock, complete with a control tower. Speaking of which, Frahler Electric sent a “low voltage” specialist over today and he fixed the Ethernet jacks. One pair of wires were simply crossed. So now, I can tap into the house’s gigabit network. And that means once the RETROvan becomes fully operational, I’ll be able to video conference with any client in the world as if I were in the house.


With the dry-fitting stage complete, yesterday I started removing things so I could disassemble the cabinetry and deliver it to Sundeleaf Painting. I’m already three days late on that task.

But then I realized I had lost the keys to this U-Haul padlock on the back doors. So I wasted all morning turning the house and garage upside down. I tore through the trash and did all my laundry, looking for a key to come out of some pocket. But no, they are gone. I probably dropped them in Sunday night’s trash can when I had a handful of other stuff.

I went to Home Depot and rented a 36″ bolt cutter, but its nose was too big to get in there. I next disassembled the locking bolts from inside the RETROvan so I could at least get the back doors open. And finally I broke down and called Mark’s Locksmith to come drill the lock out at noon today. It took him all of 15 seconds to pick it clean open instead, which was ideal. He said I was lucky it was such an old lock. The newer U-Haul disc locks are virtually unpickable.

I’ll probably never use padlocks again, versus combination locks that you can set yourself. Just last month I broke a key off in a Masterlock on our front gate because the keyway was clogged with spider silk. I had to remove that latch entirely, but the bolt cutter did make quick work of getting the padlock off.  That’s a good reminder that padlocks only keep the honest people out. Any thief with $10 can rent a bolt cutter and have your padlock laying on the ground within seconds.

So hopefully I’ll get the woodwork to Sundeleaf by Thursday or Friday. I do have to recut a few doors first, and that will take all afternoon. And it doesn’t help that it’s been pouring rain this week.

I found that the RETROvan’s roof does still have leaks along the ceiling ribs during torrential rain, so my initial tests were a false positive. I’ll have to address them before final assembly. And better to do that while all the cabinetry is out. Very frustrating.

The woodwork should take about two weeks to paint and seal, during which time I also need to buy, cut and install the insulation — after wiring the dozen lights and plumbing the galley of course.


Sealed & Powered

With several days of rain looming in the forecast, on Saturday I bit the bullet to clean and scrape off some of the damaged rubber roof coating. Then I applied a fresh coat of FlexSeal liquid rubber.

This product went on much easier than I thought, using a metal paint pan and long-handled mini roller to maximize my reach. I had bought four 16-ounce cans and didn’t expect it to go very far. But it was more than enough to apply a thin first layer, going around my solar panels of course. I can make a second pass later if needed. I still have to roll it under my solar panel cables anyway. I just didn’t want to get any goop on them.

Next, I had to prep the power pedestal base by cutting off the PVC collar and conduits with my reciprocating saw, so they were flush with the top of the concrete step. Then I drilled the four bolt holes, breaking only one bit in the process. I will secure the base with 5/16″x2-1/2″ anchor sleeves.

Olivia and I glamped out and watched Sunday Night Football and part of the Emmys in the RETROvan. It did rain and it did not leak! I’ll probably have to do this as regular maintenance every year. But at least now I know it’s not the nightmare I feared it to be.

On Monday morning, Dave Walter from Frahler Electric came to run power and data from the subpanel in our basement to the power pedestal on the RETROpad. That includes a beefy 30A circuit, Ethernet and a coaxial cable for TV. Gary Jackson and I had trenched all the conduits in place under the concrete steps, so Dave’s job was that much easier. I had to help push and pull the cables though all that swoopy PVC pipe. Dave’s trick was to lubricate them with dish soap.

Unfortunately Dave is not a “low voltage” electrician, so he was unable to terminate the Ethernet cable successfully. Plus, a thunderstorm moved in, cutting our work short. So I’ll probably buy the tools to re-terminate that data line myself unless Frahler wants to send someone back for free.

But the pedestal does have power now, and it does light up nicely from dusk to dawn.

It’s like the little sentry robot we never had. Now if only it could bring us a beer!

Shaping Up

Yesterday we got the front ceiling panel (T1) cut and installed, and also trimmed its white plastic Fan-Tastic Vent garnish to the proper depth. For that we had to devise a special gig on the table saw. We couldn’t install the aft garnish because it was broken during shipping. So I’m trying to get a replacement from either Dometic or Camping World.

Here’s a nice shot of the ceiling panels this morning, over coffee. It’s really starting to shine. And yup, that’s my dad. We also got the sliding padlock bolt installed on the main entry door. So the RETROvan is lockable for the first time.

I got some cool retro dishes this week made by Camp Casual.

The dishes are made out of melamine but the coffee mugs are ceramic. And boy, does coffee taste better in them. 🙂

I also got a nice 53-piece set of Fiesta Merengue cutlery to stock the galley. I found it on sale at Macy’s for under $60. Great deal, and the colors match all the Fiesta dishes in our house.

Today was the first, and most complex cement pour on the RETROpad. The truck showed up an hour early and it was too big to get into position without damaging any forms. So Gary had to transfer the first fifteen feet of both sides by one-man bucket brigade, which was back-breaking work.

The weather was ideal but there was about 120 feet of faces to strip and finish. And that’s a lot for one man to do when racing against time. But Gary slaved non-stop for 6½ hours and got ‘er done. Unfortunately the high-strength mix set up faster than he thought, so the front faces of the steps will get a patch coat tomorrow to fill in some rough parts. That’s done with a special cement-only mix that adheres a bit like mortar, as long as you do it before everything cures.

This 2½ yards of cement cost a whopping $374, but we’ll need a second pour for the actual pad between the curbs. We should be ready for that next week, after grading. Everything is reinforced with rebar to support the weight of an RV.


My dad and son were here this weekend so we took some time to enjoy ourselves, watch the big football games (Seahawks & Cowboys) and do a few little projects using three generations of German Engineering know-how. We started calling our team “Ouzts Cubed,” or O3.

Here’s the beautiful, sag-proof gate we built for the RETROpad. The cedar planks line both sides of the frame, and all the hardware is stainless steel. The frame is made from pressure-treated 2x4s arranged in an X and fastened with 6″ TimberLock screws. The post cap lights are solar-powered LEDs, of course. This took about six hours to build, start-to-finish. And that includes Steven weather-sealing the planks before assembly. My dad treated us to milkshakes in celebration. Yum!

On Tuesday, my dad and I cut, drilled and screwed in several aluminum ceiling panels. And for the first time the RETROvan starts to feel like a finished space. The light and vent holes lined up perfectly, and the reflections from the TV on the ceiling look like the northern lights. It’s a super cool effect at night.

Gary came to build out the elaborate forms for the concrete curbs. They’ll contain the heavy cement and keep the steps straight and sharp. The cement truck is scheduled for Thursday. Once the pour starts, Gary has to work fast to remove the forms and strip and finish the cement before it sets. Gary has decades of concrete experience so we’re lucky to have him on the project.

Unnatural Disasters

Today it’s humid and the air is full of smoke and ash, thanks to a group of idiot teenagers from Vancouver. They thought it would be funny to throw fireworks over a cliff on a hiking trail in the Columbia River Gorge, and now the entire state of Oregon is on fire. Well at least 30,000 acres so far. Thousands of people, pets and livestock have been evacuated and we can’t even see the sun today. The arsonists “giggled” and recorded their own crime while witnesses watched in horror. Yet their identities remain protected by the Oregon State Police because they’re “under-aged.” Such bullshit.

Worse, I-84 is still closed to through traffic. So now my dad has to either delay his visit or take a much more southerly route through Bend. And that uncertainty imperils the goal I set back in April: To enjoy the first week of the NFL season with my dad and my son — in the RETROvan.

This also impacts my schedule because it’s so unhealthy to be outside. Gary can’t finish the RETROpad’s curb forms, which means we can’t pour concrete on Saturday. And that means we have to push the electrician out from Monday — perhaps another week wasted.

So thanks a million, ash-hole teenagers from Vancouver. Your parents must be so proud that their spawn could find a way to cause such mass destruction. I hope you all enjoy spending the rest of your formative years in jail and doing community service.

Meanwhile, I did manage to hold my breath long enough to mount my MOEN grab bar shelves and IKEA emergency cabinet on panel P2. The Coke bottle is there for scale, and to make sure I spaced the shelves ergonomically. I may decide to mount the weather station on that wall since its screen would be nicely visible just below the red cabinet.

And across the hall, here’s the IKEA mirror cabinet mounted above the sink on panel D2. These cabinets will look better once the aluminum trim panels are installed along the corners above.

Tomorrow I hope to cut some holes for switches, outlets and lights. I’m scheduled to take the cabinets into a local paint shop on the 18th. That way we can use them a bit longer, while my family’s here. If they can make it.

Labor Day

Saturday was sweltering hot. Gary and I spent it working on the RETROpad. I put on some Mexican music to kick off Labor Day weekend, just for grins. He worked on the curb excavation and building the forms, while I dug out the last three 24″ post holes through a few layers of old concrete footings. Our goal is to pour the concrete curbs next Saturday. The grading and inner pavement will happen the week after that. Everything needs time to cure before the rains hit.

I did manage to get all eight window decals applied, before getting filthy dirty. They look pretty good, but I’m a little worried about durability.

We were both spent by 2 PM, and then a nice surprise: My EATON Marine Power Pedestal arrived via UPS — a few days early. And it looks amazing. Now that is something to build a RETROpad around! Dave from Frahler Electric is scheduled to install the 30/20A circuit next Monday.

Good news! My dad is driving out from Utah to stay a while. He’ll be here in time for the NFL season’s kickoff. I had found a cabinet shop to finish my woodwork, but I decided to delay that a bit so we can enjoy the RETROvan while my dad’s here. The shop says they can put a professional lacquer finish on everything for under $900.

And lastly, my custom RETROvan emblems arrived on Tuesday and they were easy to install.


Today I ordered a cool aluminum patio table for the RETROpad:

It reminds me of the “futuristic” architecture at Tomorrowland in Disneyland, or maybe EPCOT Center. Seeing all that as a kid in the 70s made quite an impression. This table comes in three shapes, but seating six in a triangle is pretty unique. And of course the red and white paint was a no-brainer to match the RETROvan. Olivia suggests a turquoise umbrella, which is worth a try.

I ordered a pair of custom chrome emblems from These cost $76.95 and should arrive in a week. I’m thinking of putting them on the fenders over the front wheel wells.

And I ordered a pair of these 60″photo ledges, which may be ideal for suspending my custom clapboard headrests on the walls, between the backrest cushions and the windows. This may work better than Velcro, but if not I can always return them to Home Depot.

I received my two grab bar shelves today and they’re awesome. There are a few good options for placement. The white plastic tray is not attached to the chrome, as expected. So I’ll try securing them with silicon adhesive.

And I picked up my window decals from Signs Now and, well… Why would a professional graphic designer think they can just substitute a different font on your custom lettering order and you won’t notice? I clearly specified (and provided) Apple’s SF Pro Display font and even a PDF of the expected product. But they substituted Helvetica for it because “that’s an Apple font.” So they had to redo the job.

In the end, the eight die-cut vinyl labels cost $50.30, and they’ll be pretty easy to apply. The font, spacing and scale now match that of iOS 10’s home screens on iPhone 6, relative to my porthole window “icons.”

Yesterday Gary and I finished cutting, gluing and stringing the conduits and risers that will bring power, data and water to the pedestal. Today I picked up the rest of the 6×6″ timber and 2-3/8″ steel posts we need for the patio and gate. So this evening we’ll set the corner timber posts in concrete, in preparation for forming the curbs and steps this weekend. We’ll set the RETROpad’s front gate post next to the corner at the same time, since it needs to share the same hole and concrete. We won’t be ready to pour the curbs until after Labor Day now. But today’s the coolest day of the week so we plan to make the best of it before temps soar to 100° again.

Made Nice

Today I applied for registered trademark protection on the name RETROvan™. If approved, I’ll be able to refer to it as the RETROvan®. My legal description is:

A vintage van or modernized “food truck,” originally marketed for the delivery of parcels, furniture, bread, milk, ice cream, etc., which commonly represents a design style known as “retro” and which may be used additionally today for various purposes including the marketing of unrelated goods and services (such as software), vintage car shows and personal or family recreation. The mark may additionally convey the act and the process of customizing or retrofitting such a vintage vehicle to attain the “retro” aesthetic, for hire or for posterity.

This morning over coffee, toast and homemade jam on the front porch, Olivia and I came up with two sets of textual labels that I’ll apply as decals under each porthole window. The labels are ostensibly descriptors for my software business’ goods and services.

These are part of my iOS “dock” theme, as the four porthole windows are designed and grouped to resemble app icons on the iPhone’s home screens. The die-cut decals will use Apple’s San Francisco font, of course.

The starboard side will describe my objective attributes:

Mobile     Architect     Designer     Engineer

While the port side describes my subjective qualities:

Nimble     Intuitive     Creative     Efficient

Who wouldn’t want to hire that person? The label groups also form interesting acronyms for those of you who are lexically adept. 🙂

We next proceeded to hang panel T7, in the aft ceiling cavity. This was pretty challenging because there wasn’t a very good foothold and it was hard to drill through the steel rear frame without proper leverage. But we got it done and it looks great. I just need to cut a hole for the rear door bolt so it’ll shut all the way.

Here’s the view from the cockpit. We won’t be doing much else today since it’s pushing 100° again here in Tigard. But last night we did enjoy watching some Batman and other retro TV in there during happy hour(s).

“You Con-du-it!”

Saturday was mostly about the RETROpad. Gary Jackson nearly got heatstroke doing all that trench-work, surveying and form-setting on a bad wrist. He’s a trooper and he loves these kinds of projects. And after two more trips to Home Depot we have all the conduit figured out, including all the fittings and good plans for gates, grading and drainage.

We have a 1″ PVC pipe for 30A electric service, a second  1″ PVC pipe for Ethernet and Coaxial cable, and a 3/4″ PVC sprinkler pipe for fresh water. Gary ran yellow pull strings through the electrical conduits to make my electrician’s job easier (and cheaper). We also learned that we can rent a Bobcat from Home Depot for $249 for a whole day. So we’ll likely do that next Saturday to move some dirt.

In the morning Olivia helped install the last four windows and they look amazing. They’re all tinted, so they let in just the right amount of light. She loves them! And the screens on the back doors allow for some nice breezes. I solved the “bad screw” problem by buying a new DeWalt bit set with an extender.

I also got my six-way bus bars installed for the LED lighting banks. I screwed them into the ceiling ribs after deciding where the switches will go. Those bus bars will provide each light with a dedicated 12V circuit, wired in parallel. Tomorrow we’ll install our first ceiling panel, over the T7 aft cavity. That one’s easy because it will only have my custom speaker cans attached to it. So I can use it to test out some rigid foam insulation up top.

I found some awesome grab bars with integrated shelves, quite by accident. These will go either on panel P2 next to the helm seat, or above the galley countertop. They’ll hold important items like a soap dispenser, remote controls or beer bottles.

As the end of the tax year looms, I’ve been researching the best way to cut and install my vinyl decals for business branding purposes. It looks like I’ll be using products made by VViViD. I can get matte black and white vinyl in 1′ by 5′ rolls, which would simplify my grid-based diagonal cuts for the clapboard logos:

I think I have a great design solution, so stay tuned…