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 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).