Category Archives: RETROvan


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…

Beast Mode

On Thursday I bit the bullet and went to “The Beast.”

This is what I should have been using all along. It was my Dad’s DeWalt 7.8 amp drill, and it made short work of the remaining 13 corner holes. It was a bit harder to control but at least it has a grip, variable speeds, and doesn’t overheat or have to be recharged. The trick is to lock your elbow up against your rib cage lest your shoulder gets ripped out of its socket.

I even avoided buying a new 6″ hole saw, which means one tool made it through 48 holes in 1/16″ aluminum. And that’s the equivalent of a 3″ block of aluminum in total. Not bad, Milwaukee Tool!

On Friday I aligned and jigsawed the last four interior holes and tomorrow morning we’ll install four windows in panels D3, D4, D5 and D6. And then, mercifully, I’ll be done with cutting windows. I’m surprised I have any teeth left after all that metallurgic gnashing.

The D3 panel is behind the galley base cabinet which is fashioned from a heavy stainless steel tool chest. So I’ll have to disassemble and move the galley’s wood cabinetry to get access to the lower half of it. And while I’m there, I might as well figure out my plumbing for the sink, faucet and water pump.

My six-terminal bus bars arrived today so now I have everything I need to pre-wire two banks of six LED lights in the ceiling cavities. That’s going to take forever because I have to cut, strip, crimp and heat-shrink dozens of ring terminals on 16 AWG wire.

This weekend is supposed to be 95° again so I don’t expect to get a lot done outside. But Gary will be here working on the RETROpad in all that heat. He’ll be burying PVC conduit, digging a trench for the northern curb, and building the forms to pour the concrete steps and curb. All while I sip iced tea and heckle him from under an umbrella. 🙂

Seriously, I’ll have to post a recap of the amazing timber-and-rock decks, stairs and hot tub platform Gary and I built in the back acre.

Oh, Screw It.

Nope, I’m not giving up. I just love the part where I finally get to drill and screw some wall panels into place, knowing that all the measuring and re-measuring, drilling and re-drilling, cutting and re-cutting, cursing and re-cursing — is all done and has paid off. I call it “buttoning up.”

Yep, I got the final two window holes cut on the passenger side, and without incident. I felt like I found a good groove and this phase is getting easier, if not tedious. It turns out my hole saw is still sharp enough. Maybe sharp enough to cut the remaining 16 corners on the driver’s side wall. But my DeWalt 20V drill and its batteries keep overheating from all the torque of spinning a 6″ metal tool. So each corner hole takes one battery and then a half hour to cool down and another half hour to recharge. But it does help me pace myself.

My neighbor Bob came over to hold the P3 and P4 windows in place while I put some temporary screws through their clamp rings. Those four side windows are designed to resemble app icons in the iPhone’s dock. They’ll each get a “title” decal (using the San Francisco iOS font) as part of my branding plan.

Here’s the passenger wall, dry-fitted. All done except for insulation and the final window seals. The 1/16″ aluminum wall panels are very sturdy and super easy to remove and reinstall, which I had to do a few times to achieve accurate fitting. The smudges and scratches will all buff out, of course. The corner cavities above these panels will get overlapped by their own panels with 90° bends.

The RETROpad (yep, that’s what I’m calling it) is progressing nicely. Gary came again yesterday and finished digging the utility trench from the house to the power station. The RETROvan will moor just on the other side of the big umbrella and the hops garden.

Here’s how the design is shaking out so far, looking from the front of our house. I have a paver and fencer coming to give bids soon.

Home Base

Yesterday, I rehired my friend Gary Jackson to help build the RETROvan’s home base. It will eventually move from the driveway to become an integral part of our patio and courtyard area, secured by front and rear gates.

The first step is to demolish our ugly fence and gate. This photo was taken from where the rig’s back doors will be. Gary will be building a 30’x11′ RV pad where that wood pile is.

Our current design direction is to basically build a section of road; a pair of concrete curbs filled with concrete, bordering the pad. That greatly simplifies our drainage plan. Gravity will channel water toward the main street. Depending on the cost, I’d love to run concrete all the way to the street like a real driveway. And then I can paint some white dotted lines ahead of the RETROvan and put up a Route 66 sign. 🙂

This was a major find today. It’s a Hatteras Marina Power Pedestal, made by EATON. I custom-ordered it with dual 30A/20A outlets, a digital kW meter, ethernet jack, coaxial cable jack and fresh water connection. The top is an amber LED light that runs off a photocell (dusk to dawn). The 30A outlet will face the rig’s side for shore power, and the 20A outlet will face the patio for running tools, lights, a hot tub, etc. The cost was $658, but it fits the RETROvan’s “space marine” theme to a tee. I won’t have it for two weeks so I had to postpone Frahler Electric until after Labor Day. But that gives Gary and me some extra time to dig the trench and run the conduits. It’s also important to get the RV pad’s concrete cured before the rainy season starts in Portland.

And oh yeah — yesterday’s eclipse was spectacular!

Absolutely Riveting

This weekend I got two side windows installed, making more progress than I expected a day ahead of Monday’s big eclipse. The windows are only dry-fitted in place for now but they look great.

I wound up using the hole saw only on the outside panel, and it’s getting dull — not to mention boring. The sides of each window are inset 1/8″ from the corners on purpose, since the main part of the window is bigger than the interior clamp ring. This makes for a tighter fit since I’m not shimming them in a solid wall. It also gives me a way to trim the opening with my jigsaw for any last-minute leveling or spacing adjustments.

Here’s how I lined up the inner and outer holes. I first mounted the inner wall panel over its cavity. Then from the outside, I used a carpenter’s square to mark eight reference dots at the corner of the square. These dots are on the backside of the wall panel. This technique worked great to find what are essentially perpendicular projection points.

There’s no better template than the clamp ring itself. I used my reference dots to extrapolate a 14″ rectangle, which I outlined in pencil. Then I centered the clamp ring inside that rectangle and got it level by eyeballing it from above. Any discrepancies were averaged out, erring on the side of caution. Measure twice, cut once… And finally, I traced the clamp ring with a blue Sharpie.

I cut the panels with a jigsaw, including the corners. I wasn’t sure I could make turns that tight, so you can see my test hole in the middle. This task was made easier by laying the panel face-down, which also prevented scratches on the surface that will be visible. Don’t be shy about popping in a fresh blade. There’s nothing worse than a dull tool. Okay, well, there are probably a few worse things… I used Frog Tape to keep the panel from sliding and to prevent chatter. My workbench is actually formed by the two dinette bases I pulled out of the RETROvan during this phase. 

Here’s a shot of Olivia (wife and organic gardener extraordinaire). She made some amazing cinnamon plum jam this weekend. Installing these windows is a two-person job, so I’m glad she makes time to hold the outer part of the window in place for me.

This is the view from panel P5 (passenger side, 5th cavity from the front). If you look closely, you can see my original rectangle on the outer wall. Those master reference lines are “the truth.” The top is exactly 2″ from the lateral frame member and the sides are 2″ from a rib. This is the defining wall cavity because it’s the smallest, at a width of 18″. So that basically determined the size of all the porthole windows: 14×14″. The two holes line up just fine, so we mounted the windows with a minimum number of screws for now.

I don’t like the screws that Motion Windows provided. They’re painted white and they require a square bit to drive them. I have a square bit but not one that’s long enough to clear the trim ring’s flange without marring it. And it’s one of those bits with a driver on both ends, so it won’t fit into my bit extender. It’s very frustrating when you get this far on a task only to be tripped up by non-standard tooling. Almost as bad, as soon as you drive a painted screw, the paint looks terrible. So, I’ll rectify this tomorrow at Home Depot, one way or another.

Probably the most gratifying part of this task was actually buttoning things up for a first look at the finished product. That is, screwing a few inner wall panels into position. Yes, I’m using coarse sheet metal screws (not rivets) because rivets can’t be easily removed. The wall panels are vertical, and they alternate in layers with a 1″ overlap exactly over the wall’s vertical ribs. So that means every 6″, I drilled a pilot hole through two panels and a rib, forming vertical seams that resemble the skin of an aircraft. I might double them up (every 3″) later just for grins.

The result is absolutely riveting if you ask me.