Monday, August 30, 2010

Squeaked by...

In every sense of the phrase, I indeed, "squeaked by," this weekend.  The nagging voice that kept me awake several nights continued to remind me that the water heater compartment stood too high and would most likely compromise a proper placement of the sink basin in the galley.

No, I wasn't losing sleep over the people in Haiti who are still living in temporary housing camps, post earthquake.  And for that, I should feel ashamed of myself.  But, that's another post for another day.

I feared that I may have to redo the whole water heater box, give it a haircut along the bottom and fabricate a new piece for the access door.  My gut was telling me that I should have lowered the water heater and made the box shorter.

Saturday morning arrived.  I brought the van over to my shop space and dragged the water heater locker into the cargo bay.  The top edge of the blue tape represents the surface of the counter top.

So, here lies my dilemma.  I'd surely hit that box if I wanted the sink centered between the wall and the edge of counter top.  I just don't know why I didn't see that coming.  

That's as close as the basin will get to the wall.  My heart sunk.  

But wait!  What about the faucet?  

So, there's the faucet as it will look, mounted into the wall.  It will swing out of the way, so that the bed can be expanded over the counter top.  Seriously, I can't believe I found such a cool piece of plumbing hardware.  I paid handsomely for it, but I digress.  

And look where the spigot ends up, with respect to the bowl.  

I realize you may not be able to tell from this angle, but the faucet extends almost to the center of the bowl. How amazing is that stroke of luck?  It's perfect!  

Whew!  I can rest easy.  There's also enough room to mount the hot and cold water hoses under the faucet, without too much trouble.  The gap between the water heater locker and the counter top will be just enough to accommodate the propane line from the stove.  "Lucky," is the operative term.  

Of course, if I need to replace the water heater, there will have to be some removal of plumbing and shelving, but if I construct to deconstruct, then all is well.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to remove parts and pieces from my cars and motorcycles just to get to the place I want to repair.  It's just the nature of the beast.

Now, here's where things took off in a completely different direction, this weekend.  

My girl felt that we needed to spend some more quality time together, since I have devoted five consecutive weekends to my build, thus far.  She suggested a drive up into the mountains to a little town called Idylwild, for some cooling off and a bit of fresh air.  A part of me really wanted to keep pushing through this project, but another part of me said that life ( as well as a relationship) is a balance, and one weekend surely won't be the ruin of me.  "Sounds fun," I said aloud, as if  to offer myself an affecting life affirmation that I gleaned from a self help book.

Well, wouldn't you know it, after a round of phone calls in search of a room, my girl found out that the Jazz In The Pines festival was currently under way.  Ah!  No rooms!  In hindsight, I could have jumped on that opportunity and opted to stay local, giving me a chance to continue what I was doing.  But, I was warming to the concept of a break.  "Call back around 3pm.  There are always cancellations."  A ninety minute drive would place us there at a perfect time of day for an arrival to the mile high mountain village.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get at least one task underway, should we decide on a whim that we're taking off for the night.  The wire cage behind the passenger's seat has a solid board that blocks the view of the interior from prying eyes. 


Unfortunately, the driver's side lacks the equivalent.

So, a little cut...

a little paint...

Let it set.

Sure enough, a room cancellation!  Let's hit the road!

Upon our arrival in town, it was clear that the economy has taken its toll.  I wouldn't have known there was even a festival in town if I'd just rolled in, unaware.

Of course, you can't have a jazz festival without some sort of jazzy car making its rounds through the neighborhood.  Though, I was still a skeptic. 

The Gnome had the right idea.  For it was certainly time for a beverage. 

The Gnomes know, because our next stop was the restaurant "Gastrognome," a moderately reviewed higher end dining establishment.  At the bar, I ordered a couple of glasses of pinot noir, to which the female bartender responded, in a surprisingly masculine voice," Okay, two glasses of pinot," before turning to my girl, "and, what are you having?"  Her comment was worth a chuckle and set the tone.  The restaurant had a nice cozy quaint vibe to it, far better than the Internet photos had suggested.   I even contemplated offering the manager a photo session for a free-meal rain check. 

Apparently, the real act in town was a restaurant called "Aroma."  Given that sitting down for a meal didn't really feel like something we wanted to do, my girl placed a call to "Aroma," enquiring about the possibility of getting a table in an hour or so.  "We're completely booked now, but things should thin out around that time.  Check back." 

A few minutes and a few sips later, my girl leaned over with a concerned look.  "Is that a man," referring to our bartender's deliberate way of grabbing bottles and pouring liquor into glasses.  The painted nails, mascara and necklaces told a different story, but we were waiting for more. 

A waitress breezed by, snatching up a tray of freshly prepared drinks with umbrellas before gliding swiftly into the adjoining dining room.  A murmur trailed her from behind.  "Thanks, Ron."  No bones about it, that dude had nothing to hide.
On cue, in walks a gay couple from the desert resort town of Palm Springs.  They drove about as far as we did to get to Idylwild, but from the opposite direction.  Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope each owned lavish homes in Palm Springs back in the 50's.  For years, it's been a retreat for the affluent gay community of Los Angeles.  And, that group has certainly added great value to Palm Springs by refurbishing and redesigning the original mid century modern architecture with great style.

So, this gay couple says hello to "Ron," happy to pay a visit to their old acquaintance and our fabulous new bartender.  Yet there's an odd energy, as I sense that while they're thrilled to pieces about "Ron's" fashion statement, "Ron's" not gay and doesn't jibe with what they're offering.  His responses are curt and professional. 

At this point, it's becoming clear to me that Idylwild is not merely a sleepy mountain town that one could easily pass right through while on his way to somewhere else.  Indeed, there lies a nuance beneath the surface.  My wandering mind conjures up images of "Twin Peaks."

My girl can hardly keep her eyes off the crazy diamond encrusted gold rings that adorn the right hand of the guy that did less of the talking.  And, just before she can muster up the courage to make a comment, the lesbian couple swoop in and take the two seats between us.  No jewelry talk for my girl. 

The two couples converse about all things fabulous, Palm Springs and the design business owned by the guys that just landed them a huge payday via a brand new commercial account.  The conversation leads to questions about dinner.  "Oh, we're heading over to 'Aroma.'  We booked our reservation 6 months ago.  You can't get in, otherwise."  

My girl and I shot each other a knowing glance.  Apparently you can get in.  "Check, please!" 

A drive up the road led us to a whole new experience.  This is where money stays when it comes to Idylwild.  I had no idea.  Nice restaurants, galleries and lodges lined the street.  How did we miss this?  And, sure enough, peeking out from a stand of pines, stood "Aroma." 

A tree fort in the woods, came to mind.  The restaurant consists of several levels, with lots of nooks and decks.  Dusk settled in.   Dots of warm candle light flickered upon the table tops, breaking up the blue hazy evening -- a sight to behold.  

We stood at the base of the stairs, determined for a shot at schmoozing the maitre d'.  Clearly, Aroma was the place to be.  The tables were filled with over sized plates of colorful food and bottles of wine, while people clustered in groups awaiting the next available table.  

This is where your attractive smiling girlfriend comes in handy.       

"Give us about fifteen minutes and we'll probably be able to come up with something."  I surely didn't expect that.  Especially since the gay couple from the bar, flashy rings and all, had just pulled up in their new Mercedes, walked right up to the front of the line and announced their arrival for their table.  I saw where all this was heading.

"Let's come back in a hour."  I grabbed my girl's hand and we strolled up the road to another place which had a deck that overlooked the creek.  Not so bad.  But it wasn't Aroma. 

"Six months in advance!?" 

After about an hour had passed, we decided to try our luck.  Once again, standing before the maitre d', we asked if there was any possibility of a table, since the place had "thinned out" a bit.  Incidentally, the great thing about jazz festivals in a little resort town is that the clientele are generally older folks and like to get their dinner on at 6 to 7 o'clock.  Now, this is a generalization, so don't get mad at me if you've experienced otherwise. 

Sure enough, a table was available, on the deck, with a perfect view of the jazz band that was due to start.  I found out later on that several of the band members had played at the festival throughout the day.  And they were top notch!



The food was amazing and the whole experience couldn't have been better.

We got back in time, the following day, so I could roll out a second coat of paint and affix the board to the cage wall.  Not a bad weekend, I'd say.


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Water Heater

In my titling of this week's blog entry, I just couldn't muster up clever.  So the heading stands.

I've come to realize that everything comes in "twos."  At least, it does for the purpose of building a portable home on wheels.  Now, it may be that since I have only two consecutive days each week devoted entirely to construction, that I force myself to accomplish tasks in a timely manner.  Or, the adverse could be true, that I know I've got two days so I can work at a pace below par.  I'm not sure, because I lack any sort of bench mark against which I might measure performance.  My hunch, though, is that the latter is true.  Also, a trip to Home Depot is worth roughly two hundred smackers, just about every time, without fail. 

That being said, I'll get right into this past weekend's festivities.   

I started with a box.  Yes, you're on the edge of your seat.

For those not in the know, all propane powered appliances that operate within a confined space must be sealed from the inside, so that any potential wayward gas cannot contaminate the living quarters.  Under most circumstances, this means that refrigerators, water heaters and furnaces are enclosed in their own boxes that are accessible only from outside the vehicle via an access door and are vented to the outside, as well.  

Due to multiple restrictions and considerations, I've decided to make my water heater accessible from inside the vehicle.  My decision is based largely on the fact that the water heater operates "on demand," which means it only throws the burner on when water surges through it.  Which also means that it will only be on momentarily during a shower or when I'm using the sink.  And, by default, I will be awake while it operates.  A flip of a switch will turn off the water heater when not in use and a remote solenoid will seal off the propane when it is not needed.  The bottom of the sealed water heater locker will have ventilation to allow any potentially leaking gas to escape, as propane gas is heavier than oxygen.

First, I cracked open my trusty can of Henry's Roofing sealant.  It's flexible, durable, water proof and non-flammable. 

An artist at work


And there's the first layer of aluminum. 

So, there's the box completely sealed in with aluminum.  I treated the corners with a generous helping of Henry's 900 and angle pieces. 

I then made the cross beams that will hold the heater.

Just have to add the lid...

My girl took such a cool picture, I just had to take a few moments with photoshop.

My propaganda campaign.

The front will be screwed in with a tight lining of weather seal all the way around. 

And, a flip-up access door will also get a layer of rubber seal.

As I said, I will be cutting some holes in the bottom for water and propane access.  Those will also serve as ventilation for any wayward gas. 

The hole on the backside of the locker will vent the heat to the outside.  I have a stainless steel grommet on order that will add a nice cosmetic finish to the hole from outside the vehicle and that will also bridge the gap between the wall and the box, thereby allowing that heat to head only in one direction -- out.  Basically, all vent connections heading outward are first male then female.  That way, the heat is always guided through the metal tubing and not out through a seam.   

Along with an additional interior floor vent and a CO2 detector, I believe I've covered my bases.

So what's for dinner after a long hard couple of days of scheming and problem solving?  I'm glad you asked.  My girl is an awesome cook and I'm the luckiest guy alive.  We'll be camping, in no time!


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Things Are Happening.

If you haven't already figured it out, I work on the Roving Home during my weekends, thus my somewhat regular schedule of updating on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings.  Last weekend went rather slowly, so I opted out of posting in favor of quality over quantity.  Besides, isn't it true that "absence makes the heart grow fonder," or something? 

I'm currently finishing up what I hope will be the last appliance, so that I may start on the structural assembly.  I keep postponing the framing because I keep coming up with more stuff that needs to be planned out before I solidify where all the walls are going. 

This week, the toilet! 

The toilet has proven to be a fairly complex moving part, since it will slide away when I want to use the shower.  I know, call me crazy.  I just hate the tiny showers in vans that force you to contort yourself while bending around the base of the toilet bowl. 

Here's my solution.

Seriously, I need to patent this puppy.  

Now, for those of you reading this whose first language is not English, please, don't be alarmed.  You can't patent puppies here in America.  "Puppy," is slang for something tight and cool. 

That's one of the nifty drawer slides, able to carry loads of 500 pounds!  My girl said that will come in handy during her retirement years.  I failed to see the humor.

I learned a bit about bolts last week, too.  These are made for automotive applications -- good for stress under vibration.  Leave it to Ace for lessons in hardware. I love those guys! 

Add some wooden supports....

...and glue up the cosmetic cover.

Rather than watch glue dry, my girl and I took an opportunity to spend some quality time together.

Here's the view from our table.

Brings a tear to my eye.

I convinced my girl to take the van out to lunch.  I said she needed the experience, to which she agreed, albeit with slight trepidation.  I think she was a bit embarrassed to be seen in it.

Now, a word about metal fabrication.

For those of you who, like I, have never worked with metal, I'll say that you'd better be spot-on precise with your measuring when drilling holes. 
The graveyard of waste!

All of those holes were off by some ridiculously small increment.  Working with an organic material such as wood, one can always strong-arm into place a slightly off-sized piece with the tap of the hammer or some clamping and gluing.  Not so, grasshopper, with metal fabrication.  Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.

But, I muscled through it.

The final fascia. 

And, voila!

Hear me out!

I know it looks weird, but there's a method to my madness.  Obviously that box beneath the toilet seat isn't the last stop for waste, so please, bear with. 

But first, look how cool it is that the whole thing will slide out from under a counter top.  


The oak box will be stained dark and will be illuminated under a pin-point of bright light, so the drama will overshadow any preconceived notion you may have merely by looking at this picture. 

Just stick with me before you give up on the Roving Home.

The best is yet to come!  I promise. 



Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Need A Beer...

This weekend officially kicked my butt.  I became a regular at Ace Hardware.  The fellas in the store agreed that I should just bring my home improvement project to the back parking lot.  Then the clerk added, "Don't worry, you're not the only one who comes back a million times."  I think I popped my head in there on five occasions on Saturday.  I even left once, drove a half mile and then turned around because I realized I needed something else to go with the very thing I just purchased.

One of the employees couldn't resist.  "Whatchya buildin'?"  "An R.V," I replied.  "An R-V....okayyyyyyy,"--- a doubter, for sure.  I was waiting for the more traditional response, "Why don't you just buy one?" 

The last time I did any sort of carpentry with purpose must have been six years ago.  Man, am I rusty.  I wanted to put a nice facade on the backside of the bulkhead door.  I displayed the sliding door in my last post, but here it is, again.

I know a seasoned carpenter could probably whip something up in a few hours, but my poky tortoise ways elongated the whole ordeal into a day and a half.  I had to bust out my Porter-Cable router to get the job done.  Can you believe I've had it for five years and never used it?  I first needed to put the darned thing together!  That took a few minutes, along with yet another trip to the store to get some router cutting bits.  

But, I am pleased to announce that that facade came out pretty nice. 


The greatest hurdle lies in the fact that the door has varying degrees of slope on a few different planes.  I  thought that the gluing and screwing of each individual board would serve as an efficient way to wrap the facade around the contours of that bent metal cage door, but in hindsight, building the frame with mortise and tenon joinery and adhering it after the fact would probably have served the whole process much better.  As I said, I'm still rusty with the woodworking skills.   

I like the way the latch worked out.  I had to route out the wood from behind and do a little creative carving to reach the hook through that hole.  But, I'm pleased.


Then, I needed to accommodate the floor guide -- back to the table saw!

The door weighs a ton -- probably not more than the maximum sixty pounds that the sliding rails can accommodate, but pretty close.  The thing feels like an old groovy solid-core warehouse door -- great for setting the tone of my build.  

A few more things arrived in the mail, this week.  


This is the solar charge controller.  It has the "MPPT" technology which stands for "Maximum Power Point Tracking."  The unit scans the solar panel and pulls from the brightest producing cells, based on  a multitude of factors, and boosts the available power to charge the batteries in the most efficient manner. 

And you can monitor the controller from anywhere you choose, with this digital remote screen.  It attaches with a normal phone cable. 


This thing will tell you the charging state of the batteries, amperage draw and all kinds of other nifty stuff.  It's all pretty remarkable technology.  I sure hope it works.  We'll see. 

I also received my roof racks, although I have yet to open the box. 

The solar panel will bolt to the crossbars, along with a basket for whatever comes to mind.  The bars span the roof at 8" tall which gives me plenty of clearance for the roof vents.  Funny, how things just seem to work out, sometimes.    

With a few minutes left before returning the truck to the storage lot, I took the opportunity to mill a bit of the lumber stash.  I can't believe that this stuff sat locked in an aluminum truck for a week during summer in California, and hasn't dried out.  I burned more calories pushing those heavy wet planks through the table saw than I did on the lifecycle at the gym last week.



And I'm still not done, milling.  I need to take another inch off that pile on the left.  Whew!

So, what's next, you ask?

Why, what else?   :)