Solar Panels Installed

Hello again!

In the mad-rush to get things finished for a trip out the Alvord Desert this week, I was able to get the front rack of The Ghost finished and some new solar panels mounted. I scored a sweet deal on craigslist for some 60-cell (28-32V nominal)  These are 250W 5’5″ x 3’3″, aluminium frame panels constructed for home power installation. I built under-supporting frames to help bear vibration load since the frames are not designed for mobile applications.

I started by extending the existing rack I built last year farther forward to support the panels. I constructed it out of materials and in such a way that it is actually rated to support humans. The wind load of the panels could be quite substantial in high winds or at high speeds.

Beginning to build the support rack

Beginning to build the support rack

Rooftop View

Rooftop View Tack Welded

Once the rack was finished, I welded some extra support pieces onto the spreaders to support the panels in their odd locations. I had to choose this odd layout to allow the roof vent to open (power vent lid) and also not hang over the side of the coach too far or cover the horn/antennas/etc. This configuration allows me to see the edge of the panel in my drivers side mirror and is still inboard of the two air-conditioning units.

Solar panels in their proper locations preparing to mount.

Solar panels in their proper locations preparing to mount.

 

The panels are mounted at four points each using 8 self-tapping screws into the main frame members. The other side of these brackets are welded to the rack-frame of the coach. This seems to be providing a very stout level of connection and hopefully will give the panels the longest life.

The two panels are connected in parallel and directly feed a 20A 12/24V charge controller. This power is then fed into the temporary 24V sealed lead acid battery bank which is either used directly (for 24V appliances and later the large inverter) or indirectly though a 24V to 12V 360W converter. With this amount of solar combined with our desired eventual inverter/battery bank, we could actually run a small amount of solar powered air-conditioning for the morning hours while we wanted to sleep at events like BurningMan, etc. Realistically in Oregon the amount of power generated is not significant in comparison to the cost of power from a utility, however in the desert or off-grid this starts to be a large win. My intention is to eventually augment the DC power system with a 24V 150A+ alternator/propane generator combination. I have a ~30gal propane tank slated to be installed into the coach as well which will supply fuel to the stove/oven as well as the generator.

Check back soon for more updates!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battery Upgrade

Hello again!

I recently addressed the long outstanding issue of The Ghost’s corroded battery tray and dying group 8D battery. The original battery holder was rusted and since it interfered with my black water tank outlet, I had hacked on it heavily to make things work. Two burning-mans later, I decided it was time to properly build a tray to hold some new batteries!

The trickiest bit is that not only must the tray hold the batteries, they must also be removable AND allow for the plumbing to route around them (grey water from fore, black water from aft). Having the hose connection behind this door saves having to cut another door or having plumbing hanging down dangerously low on the chassis to snag on stuff. Originally The Ghost had two group 8D batteries to support the stop/go driving…numerous incandescent lights…and electrics for the door controls/starter/etc. Now that the load is lightened and space is premium, I decided to install two new group 4D batteries that I acquired cheaply (they were blemished and repaired). I normally would prefer one larger battery over paralleled dual batteries but the space only allows for maximally two 4D.

With the old battery carrier removed (held in by bailing wire), I drafted up an idea in my head, purchased a 20ft stick of 1/4″ 2″ steel angle iron and set out to building the tray.

Angle Iron on the chop saw (in the rain)

 

Scheming the pieces (in the rain). Welding too!

After much cutting/tacking/getting wet and shocking myself, I finally had something tacked together ready for final welding (and it fit like a glove between the frame rails and cleared the sewage tank fitting nicely). Bottom views:

Finshed Product 1Finished Product 2

Once everything was welded up and checked for fitment, I blew on some rustoleum brown primer paint and drilled the various holes for mounting. I used fine thread 1/2 stainless bolts/nuts/washers/lockwashers to make sure things didn’t move. In once place I had to use a small spacer to make up the gap difference but in the end it was a perfect fit. On the last hole I killed my Milwaukie 1/2 drill bit (sheared it off laterally) in the frame of The Ghost. THICK STUFF!

Finished Installed Clearing Tank Valves Finished Tray Installed and Primered

Now it was time to upgrade the battery cables, install some rubber mat, and test fit the batteries/etc.

New Cable Ends New Cable Ends 2 Cleaning and Protecting the Ground

Once all the cables were clean/coated with copper shield/tightened I was ready for the batteries.

Batteries Installed

I obviously need to finish the final securing method to keep the batteries in their tray but the 2×4 is doing the job nicely for now. The temporary red/black duplex wire on the left is the connection to the float charger/house electricals to keep things fresh for solid starting. In the above photo you can see that the batteries are high enough to allow for the 1.5″ grey water plumbing to run under them and across to the front of the coach where the grey water tank will be. The angle piece of the front is simply for structural support and gives me a nice place to mount my battery restraint.

Check back soon for more updates! Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

Dash Removal

Well the day is finally coming to upgrade the dash in The Ghost to allow for more gauges, newer priorities, and less incandescent bulbs. I Removed all the gauges from the dash (the only decently working ones being the air pressure, engine charge indicator, and water temp) and all the indicator lights (many for city bus service…long disabled). My hope is to continue using the charge indicator (shunt DC current meter) however eventually switching over to a voltage meter would likely suffice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a fairly emotional moment…tearing one of the few completely stock pieces of The Ghost out…like gutting the heart out of an animal. I take ease in the fact that it will be replaced with a nice milled piece of aluminium with 9 gauges sitting front and center. I am now in the process of tidying up the wiring all the way back to the junction panels to allow for a much tidier behind-dash condition. The long broken speedometer system will be abandoned in favor of a newer VDO pulse sender. All other gauges (other than air) will be routed electrically through a new 15 conductor cable to the rear of the coach to new senders placed all over the engine/transmission/etc. I also will be using this cable to run a few signals for engine/transmission devices (Jake Brakes, Neutral Solenoid, Direct-Drive Lock).

I am also moving over the maxi-air-brake valve (parking/emergency brakes) a little closer to the driver position to allow for less air-lines running behind the dash and to aid in dash removal for service. I also removed the very old AM/FM 8-track radio even though it still works. I am tired of looking at that ugly thing hanging out of the dash.

For perspective of the magnitude of this project, have a look at these photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it would be easy to just gut everything and start over…this system is actually fairly decent (including self resetting circuit breakers, large gauge conductors, shrink wrap, and labels). I will slowly transition over to the new wiring but will be keeping many of the old devices that seem reasonable to continue using (horn relay, circuit breakers, bus bars). Doing an all-out replacement is possible however with the expense of copper wiring, it seems silly to gut the old wiring simply to replace it immediately with new. Transition is the name of the game here…just means more complications.

Needless to say, the body manual has been invaluable in this process with full size schematics, labels, and circuit descriptions. Not recommended for the faint of heart.

Oddly enough, even in it’s current state, it will still start and run.

More soon!

Ghost Lighting Upgrade – LED

 

Well, it’s been a long time coming however finally The Ghost is getting a much needed jump into a more recent decade. Previous owners had hacked together turn signals, brake lights, and marker lights to get the rig down the road. Since I am a firm believer in proper lighting, I used http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/standards/conspicuity/TBMpstr.html as a guide for a full system redesign. Since The Ghost is >30ft long, certain rules applied for lighting that it currently doesn’t have.

On the list of things up replace/upgrade:

  • Convert x4 Brake/Tail red lights over to Red 4″ Grommet Mounted LED Lights
  • Convert x2 Rear Amber Turn Signals over to Amber 4″ Grommet Mounted LED Lights
  • Convert x2 Front Amber/Red Turn Signals over to Amber Rectangular Grommet Mounted LED Lights
  • Install Front Lower Side Amber Turn/Marker Lights
  • Install Mid Lower Side Amber Turn/Marker Lights
  • Install Rear Lower Side Red Turn/Marker Lights
  • Install Retroreflectors as required by guide above
  • Replace Bulbs in Clearance Lights with LED or Replace whole fixtures with LED

The previous owners had removed the factory front turn signals and since the originals are  impossible to find, I decided to install LED rectangular signals (closest match I could find that was reasonably priced). This required sawing a hole in the old turn signal ‘cover’ metal that someone had installed. Once that was finished, the lights simply popped into these holes and connection is made behind the dash and in the passenger side jockey box. It should be noted that using these locations requires some modification of the drivers side windscreen wiper bracket to allow the rather deep lights to fit far enough into the body to properly seat in the rubber grommets. Thinner fixtures would solve this problem as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rear lighting simply required moving the old incandescent fixtures, adjusting hole sizes, and mounting the 4″ round fixtures and their associated grommets. Since these are all LED lights, power consumption is so low that smaller new wiring is being run to feed the lights/relays for trailer connection. A LED compatible turn signal flasher is also required (cheaply available on Amazon/etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stock rear lighting configuration (two small fixtures down low on the body) looks cool but functionally I’d expect people to smash into the back of The Ghost regularly if that is all the lighting I had. The previous owners installation of x4 brake/tail and x2 turn signals looks tacky but is very effective at catching people’s attention (even over motorcycles/etc. mounted on the rear). With the LED conversions installed, things are VERY bright back there when on the stop pedal.

Steel armored side marker/turn signals were mounted low down on the side of the body (amber mid, amber front, and red rear) to provide the requirements for NTSB. These also aid greatly (properly connected) to indicate when executing a lane change if someone is sitting along-side the coach. To make this work, the side LED lights simply are connected one wire to tail light power, one wire to turn signal power. Resistors may be required depending upon the internal makeup of the lights, but this works nicely to help get cars out of the way when on the freeway. Lights were sourced off Ebay (Optronics model MCL86RB)

Overhead clearance lighting is functioning currently and since I recently sealed all the fixtures to the roof, I am inclined to continue using them but swap out the bulbs with LED conversions. I would only be tempted to replace these if I was able to source the original large clearance lights found on the bus in the 50’s (unobtainium). No rush on these.

Retro-reflectors are being mounted in all positions where the associated marker/turn/tail light doesn’t already have them built in. There are a few other locations that require a retro-reflector so I will add as necessary. These are very effective at lighting the coach in the event of a on-road power failure or when parked to prevent getting smashed into.

 

Overall fairly pleased with the conversion. It will be nice to leave marker lighting on when doing deep desert camping to prevent collisions without worry of draining down the battery.

 

 

 

Positive to Negative Ground Conversion Progress

The 120A generator, which will be installed pre-transmission, will be re-polarized in a hope to convert the bus to negative ground. It appears, through careful study of the dual field voltage regulator, that there are NO diodes or other current direction sensitive devices that require replacement of the regulator for negative ground operation. The starter for the engine, like most, is a field wound DC motor so reversing both the armature and the field windings results in same direction of rotation. Lighting systems, etc. do not care about which direction current flows. VDO instruments have been acquired to monitor the following:

  • Electronic Speedometer (0-85MPH)
  • Electric Engine Oil Pressure (0-80psi)
  • Electric Engine Coolant Temperature (0-250F)
  • Electric Transmission Oil Temperature (0-400F)
  • Electric Fuel Level
  • Electric Transmission Main Pressure (0-150psi)

The coach already has a gauge for showing charging/discharging and hopefully will continue to work (just with reversed what-is-what). The only loss to the whole project will be that I will sell my 12V +ground stewart warner fuel gauge that I got off ebay last year. All air pressure gauges are mechanical. A HUGE advantage will be that all negative ground device, like the stereo, CB, phone chargers, etc. no longer have to be ground isolated or use a converter. Also, my DSI water heater, which has a negative to ground bond that is very difficult to break and keep operating (the auto ignite sparker uses negative ground as a return path to the high voltage coil), will be able to be hooked up normally. All in all, a very reasonable setup for zero dollar cost (all gauges except engine oil temp were failed or had broken senders).

Delco Remy Horn Update

So earlier I mentioned that I pulled the stock Delco Remy 12V horn off the coach and prepared it for repair. Turns out that the only issue (other than looking rough) was that the internal point-gap was dirty.

Cleaned this with a piece of paper and all is well and working again. No adjustment needed.

The goal is to sand-blast it (plugging the outlet) and either clear coating or painting to protect. Should help improve the sound too.

 

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Until next time,

The Ghost Update 8/11/2011

Lot’s going on the world of Ghost work!

On the ‘completed’ list, we have the following:
4-valve head installed
Jake Brakes installed (still need to run wire for switch)
Rebuilt Injectors Installed
Coolant Changed
Overdrive Transmission Acquired
Maxi-Brakes Acquired
Bedroom Bed Finished
Bedroom Flooring Installed
Bedroom Door Underway/Built
Kitchen Sink/Faucet Acquired
Kitchen Framed Out
Refrigerator Controller Acquired (for good price!)
Found Power Loss Issue (collapsing govenor to rack control tube)
Water Tank Installed
AC Units Installed and Operational
Acquired Water Pump/Surge Tank/Filters/Drinking Filter
Bedroom Curtains Made!

On the “currently working on” list, we have the following:
Valve Cover Gasket (had to find a different valve cover!)
Govenor Housing Rebuild
Control Tube Replacement (for 4-valve head)
Water Pump Drive Replacement (discovered an immenant failure!)
Rebuild Front Brake Acutators
Building Black Water Tank & Installing
Pouring bathroom floor (sloped for showers)
Frame out Bathroom wall/sink
Install Water Heater
Install Kitchen Sink
Install Stove
Install Refridgerator
Plumb Water System
Install Maxi Brakes and connect to the Switch
Run Jake Brake wiring

On the “potential list” we have:
Install the Overdrive Transmission

This is, of course, in preparation for The Ghost’s virgin Playa Trip down to Black Rock City, NV.

We’ll see how it goes 🙂

The Ghost Update 6/7/2011

Well it has been awhile since we did an update, so here goes.

Currently there is a sizable list of very large projects being worked on for The Ghost. Starting with the most recent, two full power Coleman Mach I Air Conditioner units were mounted to the roof. One mounted just forward of the kitchen area, and one just aft of the bathroom/clothing storage area divider. These units are both mounted offset to the drivers side so that their most extreme points are just inside the outside dimension of the chassis. This works to my favor in the way that I won’t have my head getting knocked on the AC unit ductwork/controls (as with most RV’s) as well as being able to run the ductwork behind the stock wiring/air cavities in the roof of the bus. Units weigh in at about 80lbs a piece and are very low hour usage. Filters for dust and debris will need to be affixed to both the exterior air intakes as well as the interior air intakes to prevent condenser/evaporator contamination. 1500W heating units may eventually be mounted as well inside this AC units.

Another big task on the list is getting the updated (1960’s) 4-valve head inspected, rebuilt, and ready to swap out in place of the original 2-valve. The main factor in wanting to make this upgrade is the increased availability of Jake Brake assembles for 4-valve heads. The 2-valve head Jake Brakes are quickly approaching impossible to locate, so this upgrade should yield acquiring a set of Jake Brakes for ~$400. The potential head for rebuild came from Dan off a motor that dropped a couple valves and locked up. We’ll see if it is rebuildable. A note on this, a pretty serious inspection of the existing engine required determining if it was of the ‘low’ or ‘high’ block design. The low block being much older, uses a different head-gasket (which is almost impossible to find) and some strange ports on the engine where the newer ‘high block’ does not. Fortunately, it appears The Ghost currently houses a 6-71 Detroit High Block (2-valve). Yay!

With the head, the 6 fuel injectors also need rebuilt, so those are currently in the shop getting rebuilt and balanced within 10%. A few had stuck racks, which can indicate water intrusion, but injectors are easy to come by (relatively) so the replacement rebuilt units should be ready soon.

The water tank was recently ordered (expensive!) however at 125 gallons, it was worth buying a quality marine grade tank that will last for a very long time. Material of choice in this case is a drinking water safe poly (3/8″ wall thickness!). This will be located on the starboard side aft of the rear axle under the sleeping area but inside the passenger compartment to help prevent freezing and road damage. That should arrive soon via freight (also expensive for some reason).

Bedroom/bathroom walls are up, and the door is cut and ready to weld together (1″ aluminum box). Need to insulate and sheet the remaining areas and start working on the bathroom floor. The black water (toilet) tank will likely be made out of stainless steal or some other coated metal to optimize the tank size under the coach (odd shaped compartment, but lots of available volume). I will likely have this sheet plasma cut out, and then weld it together and seal the seams to prevent issues with porosity later down the road.

All the wheels/tires have been upgraded to 22.5″ currently BUDD style rims with new lug nuts/bolts where needed. The ride is very nice with radial ply tires versus the old bias ply design.

A fuel sender was also recently affixed to the fuel tank (mounting/hole already existing!) so that fuel level can be determined via gauge instead of dip tube or guess work. Currently this is a universal sender (Stewart Werner type) and the gauge is a positive ground 12V unit I scored off of ebay. Works good. A 14″x14″ hole was cut in the floor directly above the fuel tank to allow access to the sender for future repairs/adjustments. There is also a breather located nearby that may eventually need service and not having to drop the tank would make this access port well worth while.

The new FanTastic RV vents are working wonderfully and without any water leaks to the exterior. These powered 12V auto open/close w/ rain detector vents make camping a breeze. Now just to have them somehow detect dust and close when the dust storms come 🙂

Once the water tank arrives, I will start fabricating the bed/desk/clothing storage areas. Sound and heat insulation will be affixed wherever possible.

Soon to be also upgraded will be the rear brake actuator so that they can operate with an Emergency Brake mode (so I can stop the bus if I am out of air). The foot valve, a D1, was recently rebuilt on my living room table and I posted a how-to since that is a VERY old rare foot valve to still be on the road. Working flawlessly now and air loss from the main tanks now is far less of an issue when the coach is parked. The windscreen wiper controls are the next biggest source of leak.

Well that is all for now. Many other small fixes here and there have been done…feel free to stop by and check it out if you desire.