You may remember my Window Plan post from April.

Today I drove up to Motion Windows (aka Peninsula Glass) in Vancouver, Washington and picked up my eight side porthole windows, and two rear picture windows. There I met Jeff Kemp (my salesman), Mike (a foreman) and Trent (a fabricator).

Mike was kind enough to give me a tour of the shop. They do everything onsite except for powder coating. They have their own water-jet cutter and a furnace for tempering smaller windows.

Here’s how the extruded aluminum frames are measured and bent to shape, with the help of a custom NC machine that automatically adjusts a “hard stop,” onto which the operator places the end of the extrusion. To me, this is the most amazing part of the process because it ensures that window frame will only have one seam, where the two ends of the extrusion ultimately meet after all the corners are bent to spec. Mike explained that this involves some serious math, which must take into account the deformation characteristics of the metal.

And here’s Trent, the fabricator who did the final assembly on my job. He helped me load the final product in the back of my SUV:

The windows came with seal tape and white screws, and an actual physical cross section of how one should be installed. All ten windows are dual-paned, but the larger rear windows have sliding screens that will face each other symmetrically.

So tomorrow I’ll start measuring the two back windows, one on each door just above the dinette table’s height. Those windows are each 24×24″ square, with 3″ radius corners. The walls are 1-1/4″ thick so I should be able to drill four reference holes from one side, then use my 6″ hole saw to cut out each corner. The inner wall has to line up precisely so since the hole saw is 2″ deep I’ll just use it to help locate tiny reference holes on the opposite side, then mark and cross-check their centered measurements from the inside to make sure the inner outline is square. The windows do have some play in them but the more precise the cut-outs, the better. Once each group of four corner holes are cut, I’ll mark and connect their tangents with my 4″ circular saw. (I can’t use my jigsaw because it cuts deeper than 1-1/4″, so the blade would bounce around on the opposite wall.) Then I’ll repeat for the next window. The side windows should be easier because those walls are 3-1/4″ thick, and that means I can use my jigsaw.

Total cost for ten custom windows: $2,956. But, I’m saving around $2,500 on shipping and labor. Motion Windows does install (replacement) windows for $100 each, but they won’t do any wall-cutting because that’s where all the risk is.


With rain looming, Saturday’s goal was to screw and seal the HDTV antenna and the solar cable entry gland. What can possible go wrong, right? Well, the tube of Dicor lap sealant malfunctioned in my caulking gun and burst open at both ends, blapping a pile of white sealant on the roof. So I had no choice but to use my fingers to finish the job. Apparently I forgot to puncture the tube’s inner seal.

What is it about seeing someone up on the roof of an RV that makes people think it’s a good time to come over and make smalltalk?

Next, I wanted to finish cutting lumber so I could move my saws out of the garage and use it for, you know, storing vehicles. So to get access to the cockpit floor, first I had to remove the original driver’s seat post.

The main bolt was rusted in place after 56 years, so I had to use a PB Blast penetrating oil that my brother-in-law recommended. (He’s a metal worker.) A few heavy doses of that helped, but I still had to wedge an adjustable wrench on the nut against the deck and then pound a 11/16″ socket wrench with a sledgehammer. After a half hour of this back-and-forth, it broke loose and was out. That’s a pretty good feeling.

From there I spent around two hours carefully measuring and cutting the plywood cockpit floor pieces to size. These were my most complex cuts by far, because not only did it have to fit a non-square space, it had to clear bolt heads and the empty seat post bracket that was still bolted to the frame below. So that required some crafty jig-saw work to make a 16-sided shape.

There were also some hex bolt heads sticking up from the diamond plate deck, which meant the plywood did not lay flat at first. My solution was a simple one: I set the floorboard in place and stomped on it, making impressions of the obstructions in the bottom of the wood. And then I simply drilled out 3/8″ countersinks in those spots. It fits like a glove now, and soon I’ll be able to mount the driver’s seat pedestal through it all.

The last task was to cut out a hatch in the floorboard to access the starter battery compartment. This required a U-shaped rectangle with sharp corners. So to get my blade in there, I first drilled a 3/8″ hole in the center of the U’s base, which will serve double duty as a pry point for opening the hatch with a screwdriver.

The front step needed an angle cut  because of the way the bi-folding “school bus” door closes. If I keep it like this without creating a tripping hazard, I’ll finish it later — maybe with just red paint. Note that all of the marine plywood still needs a coat of polyurethane followed by the finished flooring material.

The White House has no monopoly on leaks. Water can be far more insidious than even the most inept presidential administration.

While the rest of the world slept on pins and needles, last night we camped out in the RETROvan together for the first time. The bed was firm and cozy using sleeping bags, and the climate inside was just right. We watched a variety of free HDTV for a while before nodding off. Heavy rains started around 3:45 AM. We know this because the vent over the berth dutifully whirred to a close once its sensor got wet, waking us up. We not only got rain, but hail too. The storm lasted about three hours.

Throughout the night I was able to locate several drips. Most of them appear to originate from the main seam in the roof, traveling along the lateral ceiling ribs and dripping at the lowest spot from there. And that means the drips are rarely where the leak is. The entire roof is covered with a thin layer of rubberized sealant, but that coating is cracked, flaked and failing in several places. So water is pooling up wherever the ceiling sags a bit, then it’s wicking under that coating and finding its way around rivets in that main seam.

You can see from the dirty shorelines where water has pooled in the saggy spots on the roof. These may be useful clues. You can also barely make out the main seam just to the right of the two vent domes.

I was hoping I could just run a 4″ or 8″ Flex Tape along it, but when I looked at it this morning I’m not convinced that would work. It’s not like the seam itself has obvious failures. That is, you don’t see any rivet heads protruding topside. So my guess is that water is getting under the old rubber coating through a number of cuts and scrapes, wicking under the coating and then finding the seam. So I think I’ll need to re-coat the entire roof with cans of Flex Seal or similar. And I am not looking forward to that mess! Hopefully I can use a roller, making sure to mask off my solar panels first.

Or better yet, I found that Camping World does this kind of work. They also use a system called Seal Tech, which uses air pressure (inside the RV) and a soapy film (outside the RV) to locate the sources of leaks.

Blood & Sweat

With my self-imposed deadline of September 9th looming (NFL weekend #1), I made efforts to reach the end of the dry-fit phase of the project.

This week, the RETROvan has drawn blood and sweat — but no tears. The blood came from a gash on my forehead from hitting a sharp aluminum brace, and the sweat came from global climate change. We haven’t had rain in Portland since spring, and that’s highly unusual. Especially with high humidity, I’m only getting a couple hours of work in at a time.

Tuesday I managed to slip the third deck piece into position, under the helm and the refrigerator. This was less impossible than it sounds, considering how heavy the helm is. But the helm is still tippable and it slides. Once I got it the floor under it, I noticed the driver’s side is about 1/4″ too long, which means the cargo area is not square. But that can be compensated for with the frontmost floor pieces, which will have to be custom cut anyway to work around various obstructions and access panels in the diamond plate subfloor.

Assumptions, assumptions…

The 3/4″ marine plywood floor adds considerable stability when moving around in the RETROvan, and provides much needed support for fixtures like pedestals. I’m leaving 1/8″ gaps around all edges on purpose, for expansion and for the ability to remove a section of floor if needed. Those gaps can be filled with silicon caulking to form a better seal against moisture, insects, etc. And then the whole floor will be covered with my B&W rubber puzzle tiles.

I next proceeded to finish assembling the galley cabinet and bulkhead, running out of Kreg pocket screws in the process. My biggest pet peeve is zinc-plated screws that strip if you look at them. Screws should always be stainless steel, but Kreg’s screws are special and they only come in zinc. But at least for the first time folks can see the real shape of things. The double ovens fit great, and there’s still plenty of room on the upper shelf for foodstuffs. That cabinet will eventually get swinging doors with an RV latch.

On Wednesday I replaced the refrigerator’s temporary extension cord with a hard-wired dedicated 120V circuit and custom plug. The Nostalgia Electronics fridge is on its own circuit because you can’t risk spoilage — or warm beer. That circuit only draws 110W, so my 2000W ProMariner inverter can service that load 24/7 just fine on solar and battery, whenever the RETROvan isn’t plugged into shore power.

I found a better place for the weather station display, above the TV on the mounting arm. That provides an ideal viewing angle for its LCD display. But soon after installation, it was reporting an inside temperature of 112° when it was only 97° outside! Turns out it’s actually measuring the heat generated by the TV, which just won’t do. So I need to move it again.

That evening I spent an hour or so attaching spade terminals to the six LED lights that will make up the aft lighting bank in the ceiling. That makes it so each light can be detached and removed more easily, which is important because they’ll be part of an aluminum ceiling panel assembly.

I’ve figured out that each bank needs to be wired in parallel, so that each individual light gets a full 12V. Otherwise, if wired in series, the total circuit would require 72V (6 x 12V). So to do this, I finally found a pair of six-way bus bars made by a company in New Zealand. Unfortunately they’ll take a month to get here.

We finally see rain in the forecast for Sunday, so that means I need to screw and seal the HDTV antenna mount and the solar panel entry gland into position on the roof. Then I’ll need to camp out in the RETROvan during rain to check for any leaks.

Battle Stations!

Saturday I got busy and fixed my front desk, by adding a layer of maple plywood to stiffen the top — which was bowing under the weight of my biometric safe. I painted the edges of the plywood with black spray lacquer.

Somehow after reinstalling the engine, the cowl must have shifted so that its support bracket was now 3/4″ closer to the passenger wall. So I had to shorten the top of the desk’s plastic StarBoard anyway. But the result is good. I took this opportunity to replace all the screws with 2-1/2″ #12 flat-heads, which I countersunk into the StarBoard.

Next up on Sunday, I tackled the daunting task of mounting the 19″ Sony Bravia HDTV to the ceiling, over the helm. This involved some careful planning. That and a Band-Aid for my forehead.

I first cut a piece of 3/4″ maple plywood to about 10″x23″ to span the helm’s ceiling cavity. Then I cut and screwed four pieces of 3/4″x1/8″ thick aluminum angles to the top of the board. The protruding brackets will mount to the ceiling ribs, and the plywood will “hang” upside down by the collective friction of 32 screws.

This unorthodox design is important because an aluminum ceiling panel has to eventually cover this mounting plate, so everything had to be flush across the bottom of the plate. That is, it couldn’t have any aluminum “lip” creating a 1/8″ gap, and it couldn’t have any screw heads protruding below. I was actually surprised this worked so well. I could even hang from it, which is a good test because the motorized mount is almost as heavy as the TV itself. Probably about 60 pounds total. That may not seem like much but remember, this is an RV and it’ll be bouncing around too.

Here’s the TV in its upright and locked position, mounted to the motorized swing arm’s VESA plate using the standard 100x100mm hole pattern for TVs smaller than 23″ diagonal.

And here it is after slowly unfolding to the down position. Now that makes me feel like I’m doing something tactical in a spacecraft. “Battle stations! Battle stations!”

The TV is small enough where I can actually add another display of some sort above it, attached to the upper part of the swing arm. So maybe I’ll mount the weather station up there and free up some space on the helm for something else.

Here’s how it all looks from the door. I’ll finish installing a dedicated AC circuit and button up all the wiring tomorrow, but for now I’m exhausted! We stayed up pretty late last night playing poker with our old friends, Terri & Allen. 🙂


Nothing like a summer heatwave to slow things down. Here was the actual weather report for Portland on Wednesday, including a lot of smokey haze from brushfires all the way up in British Columbia:

I did successfully modify my cool digital weather station from 120V to 5V, so now its backlight can stay powered up like any other helm instrument. That involved cutting the plug off its AC adapter, and butt-splicing it onto this 12V-to-5V step down converter (replacing its crappy plug):

Getting this to work was quite the confidence booster. The only problem is, this voltage converter spits out 7.5V according to my multimeter — not 5V as advertised. It does work, but I wonder if it’ll burn out that gadget over time?

Next up is the TV. We’ve had this little 19″ Sony BRAVIA TV for a few years now, and it’s a trooper. It sports the requisite B&W design to fit the RETROvan theme. And it’s got great industrial design to boot. The problem is, where to mount it? It takes up a lot of shelf space so I don’t want to just set it on the galley counter. And the rig doesn’t have much open wall space to hang it, either.

So here’s my solution. This is a $129 motorized ceiling mount for flat screen TVs. Those X-shaped fins are optional, and I won’t need them for such a small TV. I should receive it Saturday, and then I’ll know whether the 100x100mm VESA mounting holes line up with my TV without some crafty modification. If so, then I’m good to go. This thing will be amazing, hung directly over the helm like some tactical heads-up display on a battle cruiser. It also has a remote, but you can make it hoist up or down just by nudging it too.

Its motor plugs into 120V AC, so I bit the bullet and will run a second Belkin power strip straight up the passenger wall from the helm’s AC panel. I’ll need to plug in the TV and an Apple TV box anyway, then I’ll still have three empty outlets on that side. To wire a power strip like this directly to an AC panel you have to cut off its plug, strip down its three wires, and butt-splice them to another cable. In my case I’m using Ancor 12/3 AWG marine grade wire for AC, along with Wirefy heat-shrink terminal connectors. So the business end of this power strip screws directly into a circuit breaker inside the helm, and the plugs never know what hit them. The two Belkin power strips I’m modifying this way also have their own surge protectors.

I’ve had to drill so many ragged 3/4″ holes in the RETROvan’s frame ribs that I just had to find some decent grommets. The ones I got from Ancor really suck, but these are great. They actually stay in place! Of course now I have to figure out how to replace all the bad Ancor grommets. I’ll likely wait until I have a good reason to pull a cable and push it back through, because that means replacing connection terminals which take a lot of time to fabricate. I may have to do that in order to install the wall panel next to the helm, which will require a line of holes or some kind of slot. But I shouldn’t forget how important these are. You don’t want power cables getting frayed by shrapnel inside your walls. So all of the 120V AC circuits will have these heavy duty grommets for sure, but I’m not so worried about the 12V circuits.

And that brings me to Climate Change. This week’s heatwave proves that two vent fans aren’t going to keep a metal box any cooler than the ambient air temperature, even running at full blast and even though the breeze feels good on your skin. At one point on Wednesday, my weather station said it was 109° outside and 117° inside. Really? I thought this was the Pacific Northwest — not Death Valley!So, I started researching A/C units and came up dry. I really like this new Blizzard NXT model by Dometic. But it’s a whopping 30×40″ and weighs 96 pounds! I only left 21″ between my two columns of solar panels, which means I’d have to un-tape them and move them. Worse, this unit requires a 20A circuit breaker, which means I’d have to replace a 15A module in my AC panel. This unit can be had for around $749, but when you add the required air distribution box and the separate wall thermostat, you’re looking at close to $1,000 with shipping.

I do like this Penguin air distribution box for the interior because of its retro design. But it’s not clear whether it’s compatible with that A/C unit. Dometic does make a Penguin top unit of course, but it’s not as sleek as the Blizzard — and it’s still 29″ wide which still won’t fit.

So now I’m thinking A/C can wait until maybe next spring, or I’ll just avoid being inside the RETROvan when it’s this hot. But I do hate the thought of opening up ceiling and wall panels later to retrofit more technology. The degree of difficulty for installing one of these systems is at least an 8, considering that Dometic doesn’t even publish any installation manuals. They want you to pay their dealers to do it for you.By the way, my Nostalgia Electronics fridge is still holding up its end of the bargain, maintaining around 50° even in 117° heat. I didn’t really expect that kind of performance, but that’s the advantage of having a real compressor versus the typical RV “cooler.”My backordered microwave finally arrived this week, and it’s appropriately badged as a “RETROwave” oven.

Oh, hey! I just got an email saying my eight porthole windows are ready to pick up. I’ll wait until the two back windows are finished too, then I’ll make a single trip up to Motion Windows in Vancouver, Washington. I saved a ton of money on crating and shipping that way.