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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Service Brake System Upgrades

Hello again! Recently the service brake valve (a D1) that I rebuilt many moons ago started leaking again. Due to the age of the valve, the age of the rebuild kit, and the general lack of available parts for such an item on the open road, I decided it was time for some changes. While plugging around under the bus, I found that there was some equipment (from the city transit days) that was also leaking. This valve (all torn apart on the bench) was the culprit:

Valve torn Apart

Unknown Valve Torn Apart

 

Failed Rubber Bits

Failed Rubber Bits

More Failed Rubber Bits

More Failed Rubber Bits

It took some heavy researching to figure out what this valve did. It was installed between the main air-brake service tank and the foot valve in the main pressure line. It also received signals from ‘somewhere’ that I could not find the other end of. The other side of this same “unknown” line went off into a dual input check valve in the rear brake circuit. As much as I boggled my mind (and hit the books) I could not figure out why you would want to interrupt the brake signal. Finally I did some poking around in my New Look book (which I ended up with for $10 off ebay) and found that it was an emergency brake valve (before spring brakes existed). The purpose of this valve was that if there was a massive leak at the foot valve, a small hand-valve at the operators left could be thrown into “emergency mode” which applied air to this valve, closing off air supply to the foot valve. Then, this same signal was sent to the 2-way check valve for the rear brakes, applying the brakes fully and (hopefully) stopping the coach. Crude and rude, but I’m sure it did work (yet was probably never used). It still required air in the main tanks, something that spring brakes do not require (absence of air applies the brakes in an emergency). So, out came the valve, but I was left with a bunch of air-lines to cap/patch/re-connect.

Lots of Air-lines!

Lots of Air-lines!

The next step was to re-connect the service brake pressure line. Of course this was originally heavy gauge copper tubing (at some expense!) but the popular choice is plastic air-brake rated tubing and compression fittings. Removing the old copper line was a real chore (almost too stiff to bend, and grommets installed where it passed through the frame members. I disturbed a LOT of dirt. I out-fitted both ends (valve and tank) with the proper ends and installed a piece of blue 1/2 line.

New fitting on the tank end.

New fitting on the tank end.

Removing the Copper above the front axle

Removing the Copper above the front axle

Removing the copper at the tank end

Removing the copper at the tank end

More copper removal

More copper removal

I needed to reconnect the air brake signal line to the rear brakes once the 2-way check valve was removed. I did some fancy footwork with some fittings and gently bent the copper line to make the connection. You cannot kink this material or it will leak and a leak at this junction would be VERY dangerous.

Reconnected signal to rear brakes (removed the 2-way check valve)

Reconnected signal to rear brakes (removed the 2-way check valve)

Next on the slab was replacing the service brake foot valve up front with the new E3 I purchased of e-bay. Newer valves than this have multiple inputs however The Ghost only has a single supply air-tank system (even though it is two tanks, they are tied together, one wet, one dry). The E3 is a close replacement to the D1 and is available at most heavy truck parts places so it was an easy choice. Earlier valves in the D series have the potential for being set up for city bus service, and thus do not give the operator the option of 100% air brake power (injury to passengers a large possibility without seatbelts). Modern day with modern tires/non-commercial driving means I want the aggressive brakes if I need them.

I purchased a new E3 valve as well as a new treadle + plate assembly off of e-bay (the E series bolt pattern/size is FAR different from the D series). This required welding up the old hole in the floor so that it could be drilled for the new bolt pattern/etc.
plate_welded

Once this plate was installed, the center hole and mounting holes could be drilled. The E3 valve was set up with the proper fittings in the proper directions to allow for existing brake line connections. I also added a supply line to go directly to my spring-brake emergency valve as well as an application pressure port to go directly to the dual-needle gauge in my dash.

ghost_e3

 

I then mounted the plate (after removing the treadle) directly through the coach body down into the E3 valve. Holes are misaligned here because I left ‘wiggle-room’ in all mounting holes to assist in fine alignment.

 

e3_installed

 

Lastly I reattached the pedal assembly and installed some 5/16 bolts in the outside perimeter to assist in keeping things tight.

e3_finished

 

We will see how the new brake valve feels on the road…however so far it is looking fairly promising. The high angle of this pedal assembly can be adjusted with some lathe work on the back-roller however I may keep it like this. Getting full 100% application before was a bit tricky (usually required me to toe-into the pedal). Considering the light amount of driving that The Ghost gets these days, I suspect this pedal assembly will outlast the rest of the coach.