All Buttoned Up

This morning I removed the last protruding broken rivets around the door frame with a sledgehammer and chisel. I was able to insulate this cavity by piecing together a few carefully-cut slabs of 2″ and 1″ Thermasheath, leaving room for the mass of cables.

Here’s a close-up of the forward dimmer switch wiring, which branches off a single helm cable that serves both lighting banks. My Y-splits (or “piggybacks”) are done by spreading a female spade connector open enough to receive two male connectors. Then I crimped each one tight with pliers.

Next I finished wiring the helm back up. First the AC circuits, then the DC circuits. I had bought a couple of Blue Sea Systems bus bars but I guess I’m too lazy to install them. Especially when I know I should use a fuse block instead. But that’s something I can install later, once I figure out where to put it. Probably right smack in the middle.

And once again, I felt like I was playing that classic Operation! game because of all the delicate surgery while dodging live wires. Some of the DC panels terminals have up to five ring connectors on a single screw. But this time, I didn’t drop any screws thanks to my big black stuffed towel trick.

I tested each circuit as I connected it and everything worked great on the first try! (So maybe I know what I’m doing now?)

This afternoon I installed the wall panel and the top corner panels, mounting the power strip and reconnecting the HDTV antenna jack. I also mounted my Star Trek electronic door chime above the light switch. That gadget detects movement through the doorway and sounds either a “red alert” alarm or the trademark “swoosh” sound.

Here’s today’s view from the rear. There are a few more power cables to conceal, and tomorrow I’ll mount the Apple TV and AirPort Extreme.

And here’s a close-up of the Rover solar charge controller and the stainless steel cable gland, shot from below. The empty LOAD terminals are useful for dead-battery situations. I made a starter battery jumper cable that can plug into these terminals and recharge the starter battery (not the house batteries) either from shore power or via the solar panels. You may recall I tested this a couple months ago when my starter battery was actually dead, so it does work — and within 20 minutes. I’m curious if I could hook up a defibrillator here?

The wall panels are officially done now, so this is a major milestone. My only work left to do is the galley plumbing behind panel D2, and I’m not really looking forward to that. But I’m done for the day, and I’m basking in the glory.

So tonight, Friday, Olivia and I plan to watch Game 3 of the World Series on the RETROpad’s tailgate area, with a fire pit, hot dogs and a growler of beer straight from Pelican Brewing in Pacific City. Some day, we will drive the RETROvan there and camp on the beach. 🙂

The Cable Guy

Today’s the day I tackled one of my last big remaining tasks: Routing all electrical cables through wall panel P1.

It’s easy to disconnect the dangerous 120V 30A shore power and turn the ProMariner 2000W inverter off. But then you still have two sources of live power to worry about: The solar panels, and the battery bank. Those two sources connect at the black Rover box you see here. And because these wires are hot, I took care to cap each one, wrap it in tape and label it.

My 10 AWG triplex cable running from the shore power connector to the inverter’s AC IN terminals was never quite long enough, so I made a trip to West Marine in Tigard and bought a new six-foot run. I was able to swap out the cable fairly easily thanks to my helm design. You can see the two galvanized EMT pipes which support the heavy inverter above the black batteries. Those pipes double as rails, allowing me to slide the inverter left and right to work on whichever end I need to access. So here, I’m stripping the new cable before connecting those conductors to the front three terminal ports on the inverter.

The next step was to carefully measure out where the cables should enter the wall panel from the holes in the helm. You may recall I bought a 12″x1″ plastic mail slot grommet just for this purpose. Then I drilled two 1″ holes with a hole saw.

I connected the dots with a black Sharpie and masked the metal with some Frog Tape to protect it from scrapes. Then cut the rest of the slot with my jigsaw. The grommet fits fine, but it would be better if it had a snap or a way to screw it in place. Maybe some silicone adhesive?

Next up was the fancy ($57) cable gland that will feed the Rover box. I decided not to use its rubber insert since I’m not too worried about waterproofing. Four 8 AWG cables and one thin battery temperature sensor wire will snake out of here. I went back and forth about where to place this grouping, and finally opted for a lower position, just above and toward the front of the helm. That will allow me to monitor it from a seated position, and leaves some room for a larger TV in the future. I’ll post a photo tomorrow once the Rover is screwed in and connected.

And finally, here’s the wall panel in a staging position with the first cable passed through. Note that the helm is still movable, even though it’s heavy. I managed to get the dimmer switch connected in the wall panel and all of the cables routed before it got too dark to continue. So tomorrow, Friday, will be the day these circuits get reconnected to the AC/DC panels and the P1 aluminum wall panel gets buttoned up tight. Can’t wait for daylight!

One Panel Left

Today I got the starboard side corner panels installed, matching the overlap and screw patterns from the port side. Along the way, I found that the aft panel (PC4) was mis-cut (1/2″ too tall). So I’ll take it back in and have it sheared to size, along with a few others that could use an 1/8″ trim.

Here’s how that side looks so far. The other thing I noticed is that Metal Supermarkets in Portland totally ignored my instructions to cross-cut these panels to make the grain go vertical. Oh well, that will only vary the light reflections and I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

Here’s a close-up of the corner panel over the helm, with a power strip and the King powered HDTV antenna jack. There are auxiliary cable jacks on the back side, accessible though that corner cavity without taking the wall panel off. 

My replacement TV trim plate arrived from VIVO, so it’s good to go now. I also wired up the RETROvan’s Apple AirPort Extreme and Apple TV, using Ethernet supplied by the RETROpad’s mooring station. From there I scoped out the best ergonomic mounting positions for those gadgets, as well as the Rover Solar Charger/Controller you can see laying atop the helm. I’ll mount that just to the right of the helm, on the wall but down low enough to monitor it from the chair.

Here’s some nice light at dusk. There’s only one wall panel left to do tomorrow, and it’s a doozy!


Yesterday was a banner day for RETROvan fans!

While Olivia and Addie were enjoying the Oregon coast, I finished insulating all eight of the aft wall cavities and even got the port side corner panels installed.

I had fabricated a custom wiring harness to power up the 12V outlets on panel D3, tapping off the dimmer switch cable.

Here’s a shot of four open cavities before I buttoned them up. You can see my iPhone cable successfully testing the Blue Sea Systems USB outlet. So the only two wall panels left are D2 (with the galley plumbing) and P1 (with the helm wiring).

And after Olivia helped me re-install the eight porthole windows, we fired her up and moored her on the RETROpad for the first time.

We celebrated Addie’s birthday there last night around the fire pit, listening to Beck’s new album Colors.

Here’s the view this morning from our dining room. Note the tailgate area behind the RETROvan.


The Radio Shack

Yesterday my special UNIDEN mount arrived so I installed the radio on the helm, where it fits perfectly:

I’ll run the cables through the helm soon. And here’s all the lights lit up together at full power:

Tomorrow I’m hoping to pop out the port side windows, wire up the 12V outlets over the galley and insulate three more cavities. Once done, that’ll wrap up the port side, leaving only four cavities on the starboard side. But now it’s football time…

Oh — and tomorrow’s the day we moor the RETROvan on the RETROpad. Come hell or high water!

First Window Insulation

This afternoon it stopped raining long enough for me to pop the window out of D3 and insulate that cavity. Surprisingly, I was able to remove the outside window piece from the inside. But I did have a cushy camping chair below it in case I dropped it.

After cleaning out the cavity, I inserted the pre-cut foam boards (upper and lower), made two reference marks through the window hole from the outside, then used the trim ring to trace the cutout on the top piece. Then I jigsawed the hole out from both sides. The foam is still sturdy, and the fit around the window itself will be nice and snug. The 6×6-inch notch is to accommodate the light switch and the two 12V outlets on panel D3, along with their wiring cluster.

And here’s the result. Two inches of insulation and a 1-inch gap on the inside which I’m not going to worry about. The R-factor is R-13.1 for just the foam, plus whatever it is for two 1/16″ thick sheets of aluminum. I test-fitted the window and it’s perfect, but I needed Bob’s help to screw it back in.

If you’re curious, this RMax Thermasheath rigid foam insulation is made from polyisocyanurate, and is faced with aluminum foil on both sides. “Polyiso” is an environmentally-sound product, and is the most flame-resistant of all foam insulation products. It has a combustion point of 390° F. It does not melt or drip when exposed to flame but rather forms a protective surface char, so its fire resistance is further enhanced, especially in terms of flame spread and flashover potential. And in fact, it’s used regularly in GREEN buildings. So that means the RETROvan is a GREEN vehicle.

The black dimmer switch works beautifully. I haven’t yet connected the USB and 12V ports yet. I’m going to make some jumpers and branch them into the switch’s power. But right now I’m tired, it’s Beer:30, and Olivia’s best friend Addie is coming.

Three Sheets to the Wind

It’s another soggy, windy day here in Tigard, Oregon. So I spent some time doing a cut plan in SketchUp for the remaining insulation panels, to minimize waste — and to avoid another trip to the Sherwood Home Depot Indoor Dog Park.

I was able to fit all sixteen panels into my remaining three sheets. They took all morning to cut in our crowded garage, but here they are stacked and labeled for easy access. I have enough left over to do panel P1, which contains most of the electrical cables. And I might have enough to do all the top corner panels as well.

I’ll need to cut window holes in the eight top panels. For that, I plan to insert the foam in the cavity and then trace the window hole onto the foam. But that should result in a reasonably comfy fit around the window frames. This foam is rigid enough to support itself when cut down to about an inch.

I was able to exhange my unused “off-white” JR Products LED dimmer switches for black ones, which will look better. Many thanks to Angela Stone at for the great customer service! I’ll install the first one in panel D3, but the second one is backordered until next week. That’s okay, because I’m not ready to button up panel P1 yet.

I’m also expecting a replacement VIVO motorized unit (the main part) today. The one I got doesn’t work as advertised. It keeps reversing itself at about the 3-inch mark, and the power jack sparks when you plug it in. You’re supposed to be able to just nudge your TV and it’ll go up or down. But that has never worked.

This product is a very cool mechanical design, but it’s plagued by a bad instruction manual and a worse remote control layout. The remote even includes < and > buttons, which means they’re trying to make a cheap off-the-shelf remote work with their firmware. A TV mount like this doesn’t really need a remote control. There should only be an up/down button on the motorized unit itself.

Anyway, it arrived this afternoon and this one works fine. But I did break one of the decorative plastic trim pieces because it wouldn’t unsnap, so now I have to beg for a new one. Joy.


It’s official:  The RETROvan is leak-free! It’s been raining cats and dogs all day with no drips or puddles inside. The dehumidifier had extracted about 18 ounces of water so I emptied it. But that means it’s doing its job. Between that little godsend and the space heater, the inside of the hull is bone dry. And that means no mold, mildew or ruined equipment. (Knock on wood!) But best of all, the RETROvan is actually starting to feel cozy, and I’ve noticed sound doesn’t echo as much.

So today I managed to cut and install two inches of insulation behind panels D0, D1, D2 and P2. That’s as much for soundproofing as it is for thermal efficiency.

D0 is the thin vertical pillar just behind the driver side window. That cavity had three horizontal sections with deep recesses. So I simply cut two pieces for each section and fed them in like batteries. That should help keep the pilot seat warm, and reduce any noise transmission, radioactivity, toxic gases, etc.

D1 is the wall panel behind the refrigerator and the cabinets that will contain the dual ovens and pantry. For that one, I drilled three 3/4″ holes and inserted rubber grommets. Then I installed the insulation in two easy-to-cut sections and ran the flat triplex cable through the grommets and out the wall panel. And finally, I reinstalled the dedicated Leviton outlet to the cable. That outlet is strategically positioned to plug the refrigerator into and leave running on its own circuit. There’s enough slack for the outlet to be pulled out a few inches if necessary.

D2 is the wall panel where the galley sink’s wall-mount faucet, drain, and medicine cabinet is. For that one, I just installed the insulation and zipped it back up because I’m not ready to start the plumbing yet.

P2 is the panel next to the passenger seat. It has the medical cabinet, two grab bars, and the wall-mounted weather station. For that, I snipped my homemade 5V cable jack and ran it through that cavity and out a 1/2″ rubber grommet that is hidden behind the gadget. Looks great! I’ll reconnect it tomorrow when I have daylight.

I wasn’t planning to start the wall insulation phase from this direction, but it worked out better because it’s raining and I don’t have anyone home to help remove windows. That, and because of the way the wall panels overlap, you have to do them in logical order.

Only nine more wall cavities to insulate before starting on the upper corners. And boy, am I tired of cutting that foam on the garage floor!

Shelter & Scanner

Wednesday I finished reinstalling the last two ceiling panels, the forward vent trim and the front LED lighting bank.

I also ran a spare 12 AWG triplex cable over the T2 cavity, for a future 120V or 12V circuit. Then I reinstalled the VIVO TV mount over the helm and ran its IR sensor cable through the trim to hide it. And finally I reattached the 19-inch Sony Bravia TV to the arm.

Everything looks great, but I want to clean off all the handprints before I post a photo of the finished ceiling.

We’re expecting heavy rain the next four days, but I’m convinced the roof is leak-free now. My space heater and dehumidifier appear to have eliminated the pooling/dripping condensation problem. So the next few days will be the definitive test.

I returned two of the unused sheets of 1″ RMax rigid foam insulation and brought home two more sheets of the 2″ thickness. That’s all I could fit in my SUV, so it’ll take two more trips to Home Depot to get all the insulation I need to complete the wall cavities.

For that phase, I need to remove all eight porthole windows so I can then remove the wall panels. I’ll insulate the aft eight wall cavities first so I can get the windows back in place quickly. The forward four wall cavities don’t have windows, but they’ll have a lot of electrical and plumbing to work around.

I found a great scanner radio that fits on the helm and does everything except transmit. It’s the latest UNIDEN HomePatrol II TouchScreen Digital Scanner. I found it gently used on for $300. The scanner picks up plenty of chatter around any ZIP code including police, fire, ambulance, air traffic control, HAM, etc. It recharges via USB (5V) and I ordered the UNIDEN mount to install it in the helm above the iPad mount. There are codes to learn, but it will be a fun and useful addition to the RETROvan, steering us a bit into Prepper territory.

Beam me up!

I ordered a couple of fun, functional sci-fi props from ThinkGeek today. These are high-quality die cast replicas, suitable for use in the RETROvan.

This is a Star Trek: TOS Communicator that doubles as a Bluetooth flip-phone. It pairs with an iPhone and works as a speaker phone, in addition to producing accurate sound and visual effects.

And this is a Star Trek: TOS Phaser that doubles as a universal TV remote control, in addition to producing authentic sights and sounds.

Now if only the same company would make a decent Tricorder! (Turns out they do make one, but it’s out of stock and it doesn’t really do anything clever.)

Speaking of clever: After Olivia told me about a HAM radio licensing course at her work, I’ve decided the RETROvan needs a radio. You know, for the Zombie Apocalypse. So I’m shopping for a good dash-mount radio that also doubles as a police scanner. This might fit nicely in the helm, in the middle above the iPad mount.

This evening, working under the aft light bank, I finished up the insulation in the front two ceiling cavities. This took forever, and I made plenty of mistakes because there were so many obstacles to work around. I’m also starting to hate this Velcro. It came in 15-foot roll but it’s hard to cut and it winds up getting tangled and stuck to itself.

In the end, ceiling panels T1 and T2 have three pieces of rigid foam in each cavity, criss-crossed by electrical cables sandwiched between the insulation and the aluminum panel. There’s a half-inch gap to allow future cables to be run without removing the foam.

I’ll post photos tomorrow once those last two ceiling panels and the TV mount are reinstalled.