Archive for the 'van' Category

 

Operation RESTORING BROWN Episode VI: Return of the Van Lights; the Conclusion

Sep 21, 2019 in vantruck

Yes, I avoided mucking up a Star Wars title in the way everyone wants me to. SHUT UP. Nobody asked for your opinion. What, you really wanted me to title it “Return of the Sex Light” and get blocked by even more workplace/school filtering programs? Cuz that’s what this is!

(Side note: Yes, I realize that I’m vulgar enough on the regular to actually get my site flagged as “pornography” or “violence” – this is a known bug feature. Sorry, kids!)

Well, you probably have figured out what’s gonna be presented, so why not just read the other 5 parts first?

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes
  3. Episode 3 – Wrapping up electrical loose ends, some times literally
  4. Episode 4 – Actually painting the cab… using a Harbor Freight paint cannon
  5. Episode 5 – Putting the van and truck halves back together

 

So we begin this story the week after the Regular Car Reviews show, which was an absolutely fantastic time. I only really had a few things I wanted to take care of before Dragon Con. They were, in order of importance:

  • Re-mounting the rear sofa bed/bench seat
  • Bringing back the Next Generation Sex Lights as I mentioned before, and
  • Adding lighting to the running boards

Let’s begin! Chronologically speaking, the running board lights were first and the NGSL were last (days before I left), so we’ll go in that order. To be truthful, the story of the running board lights extends all the way back into late last year when I started doing some lighting investigations for custom bumper designs.

Fun truck-related trivia: Gratuitous amber marker lights are some times called “chicken lights” in trucker-speak. The origins of this are not too clear, but I mentally file it under the same generational oral tradition that gave us things like “Pitman arm” and “Schottky diode” – because someone called it that and it got popular.

The unit lighting products I decided to use, instead of drilling and mounting one billion tiny little lights, was called an “identification bar” – named for the mandatory “I am a big-ass truck of some sort” lights that are mounted to the rooflines of commercial trucks. The center three lights are often supplied as one unit for quick installation. I was going to just use a couple of them linked together.

Par with my usual shopping technique, I cross-compared eBay, Amazon, and a bunch of independent vendors to see who was offering the same Chinesium for lowest cost-to-me. Since the products are nominally fungible (e.g. at this point in history, there’s not gonna be that much difference between two LEDs of different pirate manufactueres), this is a good tactic, and I was able to get each bar for just over $12 each, so about $150 for both sides, on Ebay.

I spaced them out to look visually correct, then back-CADded them to get a regular pattern that I can start drilling into the boards.

(Excuse the camera-screenshot – I took this literally to message someone on my phone, in the truest possible Millennial way, then decided to keep it!)

Fast forward to the #VapeShop, and I’m marking out everything and drilling the holes after “work” one day, in accordance with my drawing. Wait… what am I doing at the company shop again, when I have Big Chuck’s Auto Body?

Sadly, I lost Big Chucks’ Auto Body at the end of July, when my lease expired. The first week after I got back from the RCR show was filled with moving my stuff out, into the “Cruft corner” of the #VapeShop.

I anticipated this happening one day soon, since it was unlikely that the property company would keep renewing a lease for a rando when they have legitimate businesses they could rent to instead, so all of my goods that were heavy or unwieldy were on wheels. It took one truckload to get my shelves and toolboxes and stuff out – the workbench you see was left behind, since we got better ones! Yay!

May my mis-sprayed paint forever stain the ground!

 

The power hookup for each light was pretty simple, as they were frame-grounded, so I had to just wire all the modules together. I’m not too much a fan of frame-grounding, so I ended up making a separate “ground wire” that was really just bolted to one of the mounting holes as a ring terminal, terminating in a 2-pin connector (which naturally I scavenged from a product part bin).

And then onwards we go! An hour of surgery one night to add the corresponding 2-pin connector to the existing lines I ran downwards from the front marker lights to the area right behind the front wheelwells, and the fried chicken lights as I termed them were all set to go.

Next up was putting the rear seat back on. I had this idea in my head for a while, once again, so it was merely execution. I wanted the rear seat to potentially be modular and removable for any other attachment I had in mind in the future. The factory method was just driving some bolts through the floor and using what basically were just pipe clamps to hold the whole damn thing down. In fact, it jiggled natively.

My solution was one that I actually saw at the Van Nationals show in some camper/vanlife style builds, and only heard of in passing before: L-track. Also called “airline track”, it’s an aluminum rail profile with standardized hole patterns and anchors that you can use to attach “stuff” with. The idea is that an anchor fits into the round cavities and is locked in place by a retaining bolt, typically taking the shape of another anchor.

So I ordered some off Amazon.  In measuring out the remnants of the seat mount, a 24″ section was actually a perfect fit, and you could get it in 24″ lengths with a sack of questionable anchors! LUXURY!

To mount the L-track, I wasn’t just going to zip it into the floor, but build a frame to adapt the haphazard holes drilled by Centurion to something vaguely standard. They didn’t seem to pay much attention to WHERE the holes were drilled – some lay on the slopes of the floor stiffening stampings, others on the bottom of the valleys of the same. The front set of holes was more 41.75″ apart than 42″ (a standard width in the van world, as I found out, for seat mounts) and the offset from the rear cab wall also varied.

In other words, this rigid frame had to compensate for all of the absolute bullshitt they got up to and turn it into something vaguely square and regular. I made it with some spare 1x1x0.075 wall steel tubing at the shop, and pretty much freeballed all of the measurements after making confirmations.

The result was then MIG welded together.

Test fit of the frame to double check all of the planned offsets, shifts, and transforms lined up!

Indeed they did, so I naturally painted everything my favorite color before mounting it all up. The steel frame is bolted through the floor using a number of steel and rubber washers as spacers – steel for height offset, and rubber for conformation to the varying hole placement angles. The L-track is then screwed in from the top into the steel tubing using each rail’s five 1/4-20 countersunk clearance holes.

 

Next up was the seat mount itself. What you see are split clamp shaft collars with the bottom halves drilled radially downward, for the threaded anchors of each L-track stud. These bottom halves are permanently threadlocked together with the L-track studs. I used a 1″ diameter piece of tubing (the same diameter as the seat rails) as a template to get them to the right alignment. When these are mounted, the shaft collar clamp screws and upper halves will then be tightened in permanently with the same threadlocker. They don’t come off ever again – to remove the seat, I would then release the four hex nuts that hold the anchors to the L-track.

This is the assembly fully mounted and tightened. Again, the shaft collars are considered part of the seat now. If I wanted to shift the seat forward or backwards, I’d release the L-track hex nuts and do so; same for complete removal.

(At least until I buy the new van sofa bed with the same mounting dimensions, that is!)

Everything still folds down! A side effect of my mounting setup, though, is that the seat is now a good 2.5″ higher than it was before. Not the end of the world, I suppose.  The companies making van sofa beds still are all made-to-order outfits, so I might be able to convince them to shorten the height of any future one I get. It does get awkward to sit in if you’re short, however, since you no longer reach the ground…. like me.

Either way, I consider this far more improved than what were basically fucking P-clamps for pipes.

Now we move onto the final and most glorious step, the one which I went extra out-of-the-way weeks before to ensure can happen: the Next Generation Sex Lights.

From Episode III, the touch-me LED controller makes a return! I decided to go ahead with its installation since to do any light install in the cabin would have required basically the same amount of work.

I measured up the rectangular body of it and cut an accordingly rectangular hole into the center console.

This was when, on closer inspection, I (re?)discovered the mounting holes were exactly aligned with an edge of the rectangular body.

What in the actual fuck is your product design division doing, mysterious Chinese company who made this?? Nobody at all thought about how this would be installed, huh? First we had the teeny tiny ribbon cable connecting two snap-fit parts requiring a lot of force to actually un-snap…. and now the mounting hole which, if you cut the indicated panel size out, would actually sit right on the edge of said cutout and not off to the side.

I don’t get it. There’s NO way anybody has installed this product the way the originators wanted.

And I’m not going to either! The touch-sensitive bits, after inspecting with a strong flashlight shining through the whole assembly, are really just restrained to the touch-button area. I was afraid of bringing too much metal close to the buttons just in case.

So you know what? Forget your actually-mounting holes. I’m just going to drive four screws through the corners and move on with my life.

If you choose to do this (for some reason…if you buy one), I used the ‘triple point’ where the edge chamfers meet the main flat face.

Here’s the backside of that installation – locknuts that are gently torqued will hopefully not crush the whole thing!

The lights themselves are the RGB+W strips I bought mounted in “corner” LED housing. You can buy this extrusion by the foot/meter and it comes in several shapes to accommodate different LED strip widths. I merely cut them to length, shoved the strips in, and soldered a small length of the 5-pin RGBW cable to each end, sealing the ends in hot glue. The plastic cover is a bit tacky to snap on, but with some extra coercion it stays on fine.

And here we have it. Six mounting brackets screw into the interior walls, and the LED rails snap right in. I made a splitter that interfaced with the original cable drop to fan it out to both of the LED rails. I really like these more lower-profile light bars compared to the “behind the curtains” style that came with it. It’s a sleeker, more modern look to contrast the antiquated American luxury this thing represents. The camera exposure makes them look more obnoxious than they really are, by the way. Along with the adjustability of the LED controller, they are actually quite tame to be in a direct line of sight scenario.

Meanwhile, on a fortuitous trip to New Hampshire, I had scored this gull-wing toolbox off Facebook Marketplace. I’d been actually looking for a gull-wing box in particular, because I preferred the accessibility from the sides. They tended to be more expensive than the usual one-lid, rear access ones, so I never went to the effort of buying one. Instead, I guess it took being in the right place (Manchester, NH area) at the right time to see a relatively fresh post, and divert course while calling the seller and confirming location and price.

These toolboxes typically call for drilling the truck bed and bolting them in to the side rails via the skinny parts at the sides, but it seems like this one was set up for a “no drill” style clamp mount that latched to the underside of said bed rails.

Absent buying the matching kit, I just stopped by a Tractor Supply (my favorite chain store now after Harbor Freight) and bought these J-hook bolts.  To avoid munging up and denting the bed, I added the fine touch of a strip of heat-shrink tubing and a vacuum line plug to each one before throwing them in.

And so now, without further ado, to conclude this #VantruckSummer….

That’s all! It was a crazy adventure that I really couldn’t have hoped for going any better. Any one of many possible delays could have pushed me into having to reassemble everything as-is and call it quits, or at least forced me to delay everything beyond having the mental tolerance for.

What’s next for vantruck? From a physical appearance perspective, nothing really urgent. I’ll get the bed finish-painted soon, and beyond that, who knows!? My short list include a small amount of bringup on the interior, such as repairing/replacing the crystalline 1980s acrylic cupholder. New seating is on the docket, but it’s expensive and non-urgent (It would cost around $1900 to get two brand new captain’s chairs and a sofa bed). The near-term expenses would probably be a few hundred to get the bed finished.

In total, the restoration to this point has cost me about $1500 out of pocket not counting capital equipment and tools such as #Limewelder, the paint cannon, and some sanding tools – if you count all that it’s more $2000. Still, this is far less than what any “professional” restoration would have cost, especially one which would perform similar levels of craftsmanship for future-proofing (I do emphasize a LOT on future-proofing versus just making it look nice, to be fair!).  I’m not gonna count “labor equivalent” time at all since this is still just a personal project of mine and I can’t expect someone else to do it to the same creative mandates.  The biggest single line item was the paint – which was about 2 gallons total for about $400, and otherwise a lot of small things that add up such as hardware, new-old lighting products, wiring and connectors, and so on.

I’ll probably leave this thing alone for a while to focus on getting back into gear for BattleBots next year ….. there IS a season 5, right guys? Right!?

But the most important part is what y’all were waiting for:

Vantrucks on the Dragon.

 

Operation RESTORING BROWN 5: The Road to Reassembly

Sep 13, 2019 in vantruck

Alright, so the most labor-intensive drudgery part of this whole process is now behind me – namely, the actual painting of the thing. Everything from here on will be a breeze again, right!?

Ideally all my going above-and-beyond just removing something for reinstallation later, paired with front-loading a lot of the interior repair work (mostly trying to delay the inevitable painting!), means the whole thing will all collapse back into itself and stop taking up so much floor space.

I hope. What takes more space to park than a vantruck? A vantruck which is disassembled into two halves and a pile of itself! Well, guess I’ll find out!

But first, the travelling and growing index:

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes
  3. Episode 3 – Wrapping up electrical loose ends, some times literally
  4. Episode 4 – Actually painting the cab… using a Harbor Freight paint cannon

The first item to be remounted was the visor… which was also the first painting experiment with its attendant errors and imperfections, so naturally I wanted to get it above my eye level quickly.

One of my overcompensating fixes was buying ArmorCoat screws for everything exposed to the elements – also some times called zinc-aluminum coating. We use these aplenty at the #VapeShop, and I picked up a bunch of different sizes I needed in sheet metal/threadforming style as well as regular hex cap screws.

Where I couldn’t get Armorcoat, I went for 400-series stainless steel to maximize compatibility with plain steel.  The entire rest of the thing will rust away around my new screws!

Also in the same series of tasks was re-installing the windshield trim. Just like when I had to get Mikuvan’s windshield replaced, all of the little clips that hold this trim piece on all broke away as I removed them. But there was a twist!

These weren’t plastic clips, but actually steel ones in a plastic insert. The plastic inserts themselves were almost completely turned to powder, so I obviously wasn’t gonna save them. The steel clips themselves were almost rusted through or deformed beyond repair as I pulled on them. I hunted around for a while and found what is basically just the steel insert for them, but sold as the complete part.

Geometrically it made sense, but these things took a lot of insertion force. I obviously (looking at that photo) bought these clips before painting – in fact I got them almost immediately after discovering the windshield frame rust hole – but did not open the package and actually think about it until now.

There’s probably a specialized plier that splits them open or something, but I wasn’t about to take chances with a deadblow hammer and a chisel right near the windshield. So, I actually flattened them a little in a vise to allow for gentle tapping installation.

It was finally time for the custom center stop light module to be mounted. This exercise was quick – just tighten the screws into the well nuts and stop when you feel some resistance, which is when the rubber has flared out behind the pilot hole.

This is the replacement Sparton airhorn I got on eBay. New old stock hanging out in someone’s basement for a while, so absolutely perfect for my needs.  The chrome trumpets on my existing ones are completely pitted and chipped with zinc/bronze casting rot, and the internals of the sounding unit/flappy bits had also deteriorated. In fact I thought the air line was broken all this time, but after taking the roof liner inside off, I found that it was fine.

Finding a fitting for this assembly was an adventure. It seemed to exist in a size directly between 1/8 NPT and 1/4 NPT threads. 3/16 NPT doesn’t seem to be a real size, and I measured the thread minor diameter at about 0.41 inches, which was too big to be a M10, yet too small to be a M12.

In fact, the thread pitch lined up suspiciously with a 1/4-20″ size bolt I swirled in there as a makeshift thread gauge to check if my eye-crometers were miscalibrated. They were also non-tapered, and didn’t seem to have a conical seat or anything that would indicate it’s a modern standard.

 

After asking around some, I discovered that 7/16-20 hydraulic fittings are a thing. I literally took the drawbar out of our Bridgeport mill and threaded it in there to check – perfection!

Except… what?  How about I just drill and tap this thing for 1/4″-NPT and have it exist in a future supported ecosystem with easy to find parts? That’s exactly what I did – blew these threads right off, then drilled and tapped for 1/4-NPT.

With NPT fittings installed, I had fun testing this thing (and cleaning it out) using an air compressor. Sadly, it wants about 30 PSI before it will even sound, which puts it out of the realm of most of the cheap “direct drive” air horn compressors which are small single-stage vane pumps.

At the full 120 PSI, this thing is quite a….. hoot, you might say. It’s lower in pitch than I expected after Alex Horne and I found out his were very high pitched.

As I’d have to actually rig up high pressure air, these are likely going to remain decorative for the foreseeable future.

I suppose the intention of a straight-threaded fitting is because it’s also supposed to help mount the thing. That’s how the old one came off – I unscrewed (read: sheared) the old fitting and off with it came a thin panel nut. The idea being you put this on the outside of the roof and thread the combined fitting + locknut in from the bottom, tighten the fitting, then jam the locknut against the bottom of the roof panel.

Well, you can technically do this with NPT threads too, just the taper might make for a looser fit on one end for the nut, but they do exist.

I found out after a test fit that the stock NPT nut was too tall, so lacking a lathe quickly on hand, I just reduced its height by some manual surface grinding.

The next step was to cut out a gasket. I bought a big roll of EPDM foam rubber which will continually make an appearance from here. It was easy to use a marker, knife, and scissors to make whatever sheet with a hole in it I needed.

Here’s the upper side install of the new horns!

And from the inside, after the fitting was crunk and the jam nut tightened!

This operation occurred synchronously with re-installing the “Hello I am a large truck of some sort” lights – I purchased brand new Truck-Lite Model 25 series units to replace the old faded and weathered ones.

Pictured ahead: The “portable shop” van of a friend who makes the best of having large metal object hobbies without a permanent parking spot, or a Big Chuck’s Auto Body. A shop van in my van shop, you say!

I decided to not reinstall the tacky single bulb holder in the “Courtesy i am a pimp van Lights “, but instead just bonded a segment of the “Ice Blue” LED strips to the existing baseplate. This would give a more even glow with the white plastic diffuser over it.

It does look good, but I wish it were more Miku-colored and less very high color temperature white – these Ice Blue leds are really just white LEDs with a purposefully skewed phosphor mix to make them emit like a blue star.

Maybe some time I will come back here and run more 5-wire RGBW cable so I can have varying colors!

The handles are next to be remounted, again with a custom-cut EPDM gasket on the the underside.

I’m now quickly reaching where the interior roof panels had to go back in. Here’s where I decided to divert quickly and make a more permanent mount for the roof console, one that is possibly removable or *gasp* serviceable later. I found which 4 holes were originally used to hold the shitty wood screws, and drilled them out for #8 sized tee-nuts for wood, then pounded them in from the backside. Not as secure as rivet nuts, perhaps, but it’ll do for now!

Operations moved outside the next day as the shop van friend committee was borrowing the garage for their own vehicle shenanigans. I’m definitely happy that I labeled every side and every screw that came out of these panels, because they really do fit on one-way only; all of the screws were drilled-in-place #BuildToPrint

After a few hours, we’re back inside to finish installation of the interior plastic trim and window frames. I decided spuriously one day that these should all be repainted in black bedliner. The motivation was more to have them all a uniform, deterministic color instead of shades of decaying gray and beige. I think they turned out quite well – the conversion window frames were painted first, then I decided to continue and also paint up the OEM van interior panel pieces.

There’s some lower trim pieces that I left gray simply because at the time they took more effort to remove; this is what we call “High production value”. Maybe I’ll do those later!

More post-painted trim pieces are going back in, as well as final cable pulls through the center mouse hole.

The shop van is lurking in the background – yes, we stuffed both of these damn things inside Big Chuck’s Auto Body for a while. Vantruck’s bed is behind me on stands in this photo, taking up the personnel entrance doorway. There was very little room to do stuff in this state! Luckily, they only needed the garage for a few days.

I somehow neglected to take any more photos of the center console, so here’s the only poorly-lit and exposed one I have. It now attaches using four #8-32 bolts into the tee-nuts I installed earlier. Since this photo, I’ve removed and reinstalled it a half dozen times to add or change things, so I know this worked out swell!

Alright, so this thing is still just a frame and hoses in the back. Before I put the bed back on, I still needed to do a bit of mechanical work. This included running some new fuel hoses where I thought the existing ones were rigid and beginning to dry rot, and replacing both fuel filler neck vent houses (which were DEFINITELY rigid and dry rotted).

Next, I decided to mount the new spare step bumper that I bought at a steep discount a long time ago (the vendor’s logic being who the hell else would buy it from them ever again? I can’t argue.) – the gray one that has been seen on Vantruck previously is slightly bent on one side due to jack-knifing the #VapeTrailer in the dark just a little too hard. As long as I’m going to this much effort to make it look good, why put the bent and slightly rusty one back on!?

It now gets to be the spare, and I emptied a can of black bedliner onto this one beforehand to unify the color scheme.

#OSHACrane is called to action once more to plop the bed back on the rails.

In re-mounting the running boards, I decided to address the galvanic corrosion issue by using Armor-Coat bolts in conjunction with fully isolating the aluminum from the steel mounts using some plastic strips in between. Because I am a millennial hipster, and would have had to go out and purchase something to make plastic strips from, I just spent a few minutes in CAD and then had the Markforged Army spit out a bunch overnight. What a world we live in?

While these finishing steps were happening, I was out scouting the Craigslists for two things that I’ve wanted but never went to the energy of getting, but the time is nigh after the thing is now a uniform color and pattern a.k.a the “It looks nice now, so you HAVE to” stage of affairs.

First is a bed-mounted toolbox, so I can actually carry a “crash cart” of service tools and fluids without them being a pile under the sofa bed, and second was a bed liner insert. I never quite got into the idea of spray-in bedliners. Instead, I was able to locate these big plastic kiddie-pool inserts  and went to pick one up.  The plastic bucket inserts do permit me to not do any prep work or cleanup work on the interior of the bed itself, but over time they can trap moisture and cause rust issues. Well, I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.

The story of vantruckstops here for a little while. It was the last weekend of July, and I was targeting completion by this time in order to hit up two shows: one was the Van Nationals over in western Massachusetts, because I figured if there was any place it belonged show-wise, it was there… and the other one was the Regular Car Reviews meet in Pennsylvania! Last year (which is insane that it was only last year!) we filmed the RCR episode which at this point stands at over 400,000 views, so this year I was aiming to hit both of these events as they were on the same weekend!

So here we are on July 27th at the Van Nationals event. The visuals won’t change much from here, as I only have some of the interior to complete and lights to add to the running boards. The bed isn’t painted yet – I decided to let my credit card rest a while before continuing on here. This will be something I hit either while visiting Atlanta again for Dragon Con, or afterwards in the fall.

The stainless steel caps were a hare-brained purchase following a recommendation. Short of actually getting polished aluminum wheels (e.g. Alcoas and Alco-alikes) which take work to keep looking nice, these “simulator” hubcaps improve the appearance over the regular painted gray wheels substantially… again, “It looks nice now, so you HAVE to”.

I discovered they come in varying levels of cheesiness, though, and I of course got the cheesiest grade possible to see how bad they could be. These have plastic retaining rings with a metal insert, which feels less than secure to me but probably are fine. More expensive ones are all steel construction. I can’t see pulling these off more than once without causing damage to the retaining rings, for instance. Aluminum polished wheels are an “Eventually” item.

 

I bounded south from Greenfield, MA around 6pm and encamped in Hamburg, PA that night, then rolled out to the RCR show! This event was quite a scorcher – the day was around 90 degrees and sunny. Coupled with the entire previous day of me wandering around the Van Nationals show and I was decidedly darker and sensitive to the touch when I came back from it all.

Next and last up, the final few addenda to complete the project and then we’re back to ROBOTS!

Operation RESTORING BROWN: The Paintening

Sep 04, 2019 in vantruck

And we return again! In the intervening hiatus, I (obviously) finished everything up and already went to Dragon Con with it. Yes, that Dragon Con.

The one that’s 1,100 miles away, with a vanbeast that gets 10 miles of gallon when it feels like. So, how’s the company doing lately now that you subsidized the Texas economy with the seed round?!

Links to previous tales:

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes
  3. Episode 3 – Wrapping up electrical loose ends, some times literally

When we last left off, I’d basically run out of excuses to not start repainting it, short of trying to install 4WD and a turbo 7.3 diesel. But the real story is during the last week of June, I started mentally preparing by getting some samples of automotive paint systems on eBay (where else… you wanted me to actually walk into a PPG or Sherwin Williams auto paint dealer?!)… and this bullshit:

Yeah, that’s not a tool you’re supposed to paint vehicles with. But I maintain that since vantruck is the size of a shed, so shall it be painted like a shed. I actually based this decision on some friends’ and internet strangers’ anecdotal experiences about improperly painting cars. I figured it can’t be too bad, and the prospect of buying enough equipment to feed a proper HVLP pneumatic sprayer was declared out of scope.

Plus, I’m a sucker for experimentation, and if this $89 device will return even reasonable results, it could be pretty valuable for anything else I feel like repainting.

So these things if you’ve not seen them are called “airless” paint guns – they’re not truly airless, but what it means is you don’t have to use a separate compressor and HVLP regulator. Instead, they’re basically Shopvacs run backwards – the centrifugal compressor in a vacuum cleaner to generate a lot of suction pressure also shoots out pressurized air, and this (on the order of 5-10psi or so) is fed into a traditional paint gun front end.

The first cancer buckets I received were from the ebay seller “autopaintpro”. Very pro, indeed, I’m sure (So pro their actual website is almost completely broken). With a little research, it seems like they, and several other online auto paint sellers, sell a rebranded Autobahn/CPS system.

This was when I found out that auto paint is actually very runny, almost watery in consistency. A lot of these airless sprayers are advertised as being able to spray unthinned house paints and coatings. I suspected this was going to get very interesting. By the way, the actual color I’m using for white is Ford YZ “Oxford White” and UA “Ebony Black”.

My first victim will be the sun visor, which is a pretty large plastic/fiberglass piece. I went over the accumulated grunge sections with a wire wheel and gave the painted upper surface a gentle sanding (which really just made a lot of the old deteriorated paint crumble off… Great!), then cleaned it all with acetone.

 

The bottom side will get the inaugural paint gun salute, since it’s the least visible!

And then… we fire.

Okay, full throttle on this paint gun… no, this paint-cannon is completely unusable – it’s far too aggressive for the runny auto paint, and I found this out too late so just had to start waving the thing like a madman to prevent the paint from accumulating – not too successfully.

The finish is pretty horrible – the large droplets just formed blobs and very coarse orange-peel.

That’s gonna be a yikes from me, but at least nobody’s really looking at this thing, right!?

The next day, I came back to do the clearcoat, which was also as watery-thin and hard to control. I didn’t have a good feel for the trigger/valve force yet so I kept going way too hard. This caused a lot of running in the clear coat and even some entrained air bubbles.

Well, after dumping almost the entire quart of paint kit into just this visor, I decided to take a few days break to mentally size up the situation, wrap up the electricals and last bits of bodywork, and most importantly…

…it was time to split the thing in half again.  I was going to handle the bed and cab in two separate painting events. As you can see, Centurion themselves didn’t even try to do the rear of the cab at all! Y’all people paid money for this?

 

Nor did Ford bother with the front of the bed, which is left bare galvanized steel. Because who’s gonna look there besides me!? What this meant, fortunately, was two more surfaces – especially broad vertical ones – I could mess up on and practice the sprayer upon – where nobody will ever know my shame.

I bribed some friends to give an all-around sanding to the cab and bed while I continued working on electricals and removal of the side steps. To properly treat spray the bottom edges of the cab, and if I wanted to remove the front fender flares to paint them correctly, those steps had to come off.

I had to resort to Advanced Fastener Removal countermeasures for all of the bolts holding the steps on. Years of galvanic corrosion at the stainless steel carriage bolt to aluminum step interface meant the square carriage holes were completely turned to dust. I ended up cutting flat-head drive spots into all of the carriage bolts so I could hold on to them with a flathead screwdriver while impact wrenching the nuts off on the underside.

 

The van seam was also fully cleaned up/sanded, and I began priming all of the “Bondo Lawns” and other repaired areas. My plan was to paint the seam trim piece separately and ensure this whole area has paint coverage before putting the trim back on. The way they did it originally, the trim was screwed in and just blasted over, leaving bare metal underneath which caused rust to build up.

 

The cab endcap itself had a few chips and holes from what looks like attachment points for accessories which haven’t been there for years, so I also went ahead and filled those in.

The front of the truck bed will serve as my next practice piece. I sprayed a few piece of plywood in the intervening days, to make sure I got a feel for how little trigger was needed to get spray patterns I saw in Youtube videos from real car painting enthusiasts.

The answer was ridiculous, like 25% trigger or less. I almost contemplated making a spacer so I couldn’t get too trigger happy!

The second sample of paint from eBay seller “mbiauto” arrived, and I get to see if they’re even remotely the same color! This is a “premixed” i.e. pre-thinned paint, advertised as ready-to-spray. You typically have mix it yourself – that is, the paint kit comes with a gallon of base coat color and a gallon of thinner. I allowed myself to get ripped off slightly for this value-added service since I’d probably go back to them for top-offs in case I run low.

This adventure’s getting much better. I was able to make it act much more like an overpowered spraypaint can and get much more uniform deposition.

I tried all of the ‘beam angles’ to get a feel for how the thing behaves. This pass was done using the nozzle shooting a horizontal line, and moving it up and down. You can still see some discrete stripes from only making one recent pass – this effect’s called “tiger striping” as I discovered.

 

Well, I’m now confident enough in my technique to make more “production” parts. It’s helpful to have so many little attachments you can remove and work on individually! I decided to paint the front fender flares next. To do this, they first had to be removed and cleaned up.

The same Advanced Fastener Removal techniques had to be busted out here, since these things are almost directly in the path of all road spray.

The bottom sides were very thick with road grunge, necessitating busting out the wire brush and the RED brake cleaner. This is a substance even I, grabber of unnatural substances, refuse to touch without gloves. I’m in fact surprised that “Wannabe California #3″ (a.k.a. Massachusetts) hasn’t banned it outright yet. I’m literally thick-skinned and it’s the only chemical which has given me skin rashes.

Some more curious manufacturer’s marks found when all of the buildup had been scraped off!

I couldn’t really hang anything up here in Big Chuck’s Auto Body, so I decided to also paint my jackstands.

One of my mistakes with the visor was leaving it on the ground, where some of the excessive paint ended up pooling and really causing some bad ridging as it dried that I then had to go back over and sand off.

These came out a lot better. It probably helps that the fender surfaces are also slightly damaged and even a bit porous looking, helping the paint stick! Nonetheless I was able to blast both of them without dripping.

They’re supported by the inside attachment edge which (theoretically!) shouldn’t be visible once installed.

I then unloaded the last of this quart kit on the rear of the cab to practice the wide swaths that I’ll be doing soon. Now that I’m confident in the technique, I moved onto buttoning up all of the leftover bodywork kibbles and then… THE MASKENING.

Some of the door bottoms had been concerning me, and it would be pointless to paint over rust. I ground all of the surface remnants off – fortunately, discovering it is indeed all surface rust with minimal pitting. This area will probably see a lot more moisture in the future, so afterwards I applied a layer of POR-15 first before priming the area over.

All of the doors received some level of security with POR-15, as well as a few blasts of interior panel sealer up the rain drip holes. I also sanded and primed over a few more dents and spots showing some surface rust in the front sheet metal, where it doubtlessly had been collecting bugs and rocks for 30 years.

 

Also for the first time ever, I removed the front bumper, so I finally have a good look at the way it’s attached for when the “front cow destroying empennage” is designed.

 

With all of these remaining items finished, I began on the MOST. FRUSTRATING. MOST HORRIBLE. I’M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN stage of painting: masking off areas.

This is the one step that really is going to make me never paint a car again. It was basically an entire day of work just to mask things, and manipulating drop cloths and cutting pieces to shape. By entire day, I really meant almost 3 evenings!

I went for a “partial door jamb” arrangement in the end, since there are a few areas which I primed over that should be covered, but I did not want to remove so much of the interior (even more!) to fully paint up to the door jambs. So it’s really the  extruded surface outline of the doors up to where interior trim pieces begin.

 

And then…

 

There’s NO TURNING BACK B R O W N

This is after the first pass – it’s not very white yet, and the stripes are massive and obvious.

Second pass. There’s now a much more even coat, though some spots are still a little light and the dark primer and previous color still show a little.

Final pass – really just hitting sections individually. It was hard to gauge spraying white on white in a white-walled shop with not all that good lighting, at night, so I know there’s imperfections, but hey… who am I paying to do this again? Oh, that’s right.

After a day of rest, it was MORE. MASKING TIME.  I got some help spotting the laying of the masking tape for the black window outline, since getting this off-kilter would have looked hilarious.

I ended up selecting the outline boundaries based on 3 criteria:

  • To follow existing body creases and lines, and
  • Utilize as many windowlines as possible, and
  • …..hide the rust repair job done on the windshield frame and roof rain gutters

Really the last one. So, the black outline is a lot less aggressive than one of the original concepts I posted here. This final layout uses all of the windows bottoms except the driver’s side conversion van windows (which will dip down) as guidelines, and incorporates the rain gutters entirely instead of stopping under them.

As I said before, I painted the ‘Frankenstein stitch’ van seam trim piece separately. With the black outline now about to go on, this is when I screwed it back on. I’ll just be masking around it in a contour.

The rest of the cab is now draped off with drop cloths, so it’s now time for….

when you go black, you don't go back, the followup album to no turning back b r o w n.

Yeah, so this entire other day of setup ended up just taking 15 minutes to spray. Hey, not bad looking so far!

The endcap curve was a little hard to get right, so I used some color-matching touchup spraypaint to make some little changes here.

 

The following day, I set up both fenders and the cab to hose down with clearcoat. I went completely overkill with the clear for sure, and it was very difficult to visualize when spraying. As a result, there are a couple of runs of clearcoat on the cab – but it’s very hard to see unless there is direct overhead sunlight to expose their refraction and shadow.

I made sure to stand up on my stepladder to absolutely drench the roof – I wanted this area to last a long time, and nobody will ever see the finish being rough. The roof was also where I ended up dumping the rest of the white base coat too.

Oh yeah, while I had black still hanging out in the paint cannon, I decided to actually spray the underside of the fender flares – otherwise they were an awkward raw resin color and would be very visible from the outside.

And after the great shedding of the masking tape and drop cloths… Not bad, honestly. Did I mention how I’m never doing this again!? In fact, at this point I decided that doing the bed was a canned enough exercise that I was going to tap out, and hand it off to my van salon. Imagine that, paying money to have a service done by professionals in the trade.

Up next: The great reassembly, and tales of other little kibbles that got left out of this main narrative!

 

 

Operation RESTORING BROWN Part III: An Electric Interlude

Jul 26, 2019 in vantruck

Its time for another installment of “Charles’s Moving Bondo-Castle”!

You might think the worst of it was performing the roof rail welding, but really this thing is far far from the “Point of Maximum Entropy” where your project is the most taken-apart and hopelessly scrambled possible. It would be a waste to just spraybomb over the welds and shove it all back together now, so with most of the exterior Bondo Castle building wrapping up, and with the interior taken apart, I needed to dive even deeper into the loosely-bound fiberglass chasm to remedy the demons that haunt Vantruck called “Aftermarket RV company wiring”.

There are few horrors on this beautiful Earth which approach the level of cocaine-addled depravity that is a 1980s RV builder trying to put lights together.

Past episodes index so far:

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors
  2. Episode 2 – Welding and repairing the major roof seam holes

Let’s begin! Before anything else, there was more discovery to be done with the wiring.

Full disclaimer: A lot of these photos are put together as a narrative. Often times, while doing bodywork, I’m waiting for something to dry or cure before I can move on, and in that hold-state, I work on something else. In reality,  you see, these electronics operations were interleaved with sanding something or primering over something. I decided it was more clear to keep them separate events – as if I did a whole day only grinding old paint, then another whole day or so only doing wiring.  If you’re detail oriented, you might notice some things which are slightly out of order in the background!

 

I’ve never trusted the side handles on this thing enough to actually want to hang onto them for anything. That’s because I figured it was, like everything else, just put together with two #8 self-drilling sheet metal screws. But to prepare the cab for painting, they had to finally come off anyway.

The funny thing is, I’ve actually been here before. I previously used a small right-angle screwdriver-bit ratchet to get at the “Courtesy Lights” (as I now know what they’re called…. remember, they’re labeled “Hi I am a Van” Lights in my book) behind the handles.

Well now that I unsnap the decorative trim, I can see that they went to the effort of putting a rivet nut into the sheet metal. Wow, such high production value. It’s still thin body shell steel, but at least it’s a fully threaded 1/4-20 bolt!

My pleasant surprise was short-lived as I then discovered the Van Lights were “installed-in-place” . They ran the damn wire through a hole in the body and then added the light. It means I’d have to cut this off and start over later. Sigh, my disappointment curve takes another downward inflection.

The backing plate for the light was a chromed over piece of steel, but both were substantially rusted. I may just do the same treatment here as I did to the body steel, since it’s not like they do much useful reflecting – just rust conversion treatment, then primer, then maybe whatever Silver Metallic spraypaint is on the shelf.

 

Next up, I moved onto chopping off the “I am a over-80-inch-wide truck” DOT cab marker lights. I knew these held substantial rust underneath, and I ordered replacements since the lenses were all crazed and cloudy anyway.

With no interest in keeping these in good shape, I literally sliced through everything with the big 3D printer bed-scraping Instant Amputator 9000. I love these things, and own several – they do everything in my shop domain from opening packages to whizzing off stickers from surfaces to occasionally dividing up pizzas.

Yikes. I went through at some point last year and treated these areas, so they hadn’t grown much worse, but I definitely had to do something here.  Maybe a Most Correct Possible restoration will still cut out and replace this area, but I was just going to once again clean it up and Bondo Castle over it.

 

Wherever there was bubbled paint, I mass-erased it with a coarse flappy wheel, then “primed” the surface with a small amount of painted-on fiberglass resin, then laid out a layer of hairy Bondo.

I suppose it’s more of a Bondo Lawn. For durability, I purposefully left it a millimeter or so higher than the surrounding landscape post-sanding.

Same operation on the back. There used to be roof rails here at some point, beginning behind the visor and ending at the “endcap”, but they were removed many moons prior to me. I’d plugged the four holes with various forms of rubber stoppers, and I’ll do that again once things are cleaned up.

This is what the totality of the operation looks like, more or less. I was in the middle of addressing the airhorn fitting here. As the sections are cleaned up, I blast some primer over them.

Centurion’s MO with attaching anything was just fill the whole thing up with silicone  sealant and call it good. This probably works fine right up until the sealant dries up and cracks with age!

The airhorn is a Sparton branded one which seems to have some kind of standard fitting for that era – a single bolt front mount, and a combined rear air fitting plus mounting stud that I of course broke off the moment I tried to remove it. I ended up locating several similar ones on eBay, and ended up buying an identical-looking model.

For now, it’ll just get cleaned up and primered over like all of the other holes in the roof.

Moving on with fitting disassembly, this is the combined CB/FM antenna it came with. The CB part appears to be broken somewhere, and the FM part has never really worked. When I tried to unwind the nut, of course the whole thing just exploded on me. I had no particular desire to save this part, so ended up using a lot more force and just cranking the thing apart.

Of course, I dunno if the antenna wire was already broken/damaged or if I just blew it up completely. No matter, since I’m just going to plug this hole first and foremost.

There is a CB radio splitter device hidden under the dashboard which this cable runs to, via a wire grommet under the passenger side dashboard (it exits screen right and turns under). From there, it fans out to the head unit area as a standard FM antenna fitting, and the other branch was actually pulled up the A-pillar and ran to the console CB radio. There’s no reason for me to suspect that the latter two cables are bad, so I will be leaving them in place. In the undefined future, I’ll probably return to this and replace it with a modern NMO mounted antenna.

 

Having now traced all the wires I care to, I began the task of poking things with a multimeter and seeing what wires were hot or cold in what key positions, and back-tracing the remnants of the interior lighting wires and labelling them. My goal was to combine the original mess into two connectors – one inbound, providing vehicle power and dashboard buttons, and one outbound that sent this power to the lights and other hungry implements.

The overhead console got the complementary treatment. It was relatively easy to see what led where, so I focused more on integrating better wiring practices and replacing cheesy wiring jobs.

I had one rule going into this electrical refit:

NO. FUCKING. VAMPIRE CLIPS.

NONE.

NEVER.

 

I hate those things. Also called “quick splices” or similar, they just loosen up and corrode over time, and look like shit. They practically encourage shitty wiring practice, and one power line I yanked out had no less than four leeching off it.

A short evening of work and here it is.  It’s not well constrained, but just organized.

I also decided while doing this that the CB radio microphone will be hung on the console itself. Centurion made the questionable (hah) decision of routing a DIN microphone extension cable from the console, across the roof, down the A-pillar, then up under the dashboard to the meet the microphone which already has a 3 foot long springy-cord and whose mounting points I can’t even find any more.

Much of my time spent driving this thing is in fact trying to keep the microphone from being tangled in the steering wheel. So I was going to strip all of that out and just have the short cord dangle on a “button” style mic hanger.

As I had zero intention of actually hooking up the antenna now, the CB radio will, remain a visual fixture to complete the 80s-retromod aesthetic.

After doing both ends with the highest-value connectors this thing will ever experience (MetriPack-150 series connectors used in all of my megawatt-scale vaping rigs at the company!), I clicked everything together to make sure everything still worked and I didn’t, in fact, wire the starter to one of these.

Next up was a tuck and clean on the harness itself.

At this point, I was beginning to get lighting products in the mail. First up are the Truck-Lite model 25 “I am a giant-ass truck” lights. I ordered five, of course, not realizing each order was for two. So now I have enough for Mikuvan also! Say, is it illegal to wear “I am a giant-ass truck” lights if you are not one?!

However, far more interesting in terms of lighting was the…

Miku Blue and Miku Magenta LED strips I found on eBay. Short of RGB mixing, the color I substitute for Miku Blue is generally marketed as “Ice Blue” which appears physically to be white LEDs with phosphors that really skew their color temperature towards blue. Like taking a cool-white LED and making it even cooler (or, I suppose, “hotter” from a physics perspective).

I had no agenda for these reels, actually. They were found in my quest for other forms of LED lighting. I bought enough to make full-length underglows on the side steps (of course), but they are not weatherproof so I’d need to enclose them in a LED strip channel extrusion first or something.

Whatever. Something even MORE cool came in the mail too!

This is another happy accident while I was investigating RGBW 5-pin LED strips. It’s a Chinesium ‘touchscreen’ controller, by which they mean ‘touch sensitive colorful pictures’. The reason I found this was because I was specifically looking for NOT wireless/IR remote types, instead focusing on wired controllers.  The IR kind is by far the most commoditized, but I didn’t like the idea of a remote hanging around inside since that’s what’s in there now, and I always drop it.

Let’s take a quick look inside!

There must have been some kind of miscommunication or severe competency shortage in the design department, because it’s got no mounting features anywhere on the backside . Instead, you have to carefully pry it open being mindful of the tiny ribbon cable that connects the touch buttons to the main body. It’s literally in the instructions to use a tiny screwdriver to push the ribbon cable latches out before separating the halves.

If you don’t read that far in the manual, or you apply just too much force, you’ll rip the ribbon cable or connector right off. I do wonder how many of these have actually been installed by real people in something.

Oh, it gets even better. After you install it using the hidden mounting holes, then you get to somehow maneuver the tiny ribbon cable back into the connector and use a tiny poker tool to re-seat the latch. This is all officially sanctioned in the instructions. I managed to execute it with my surface mount device handling tweezers. Both of them. At once.

Yeah, no. It’s getting a piece of Dual-Lock gender-neutral justice Velcro slammed right on the housing. No elegance from me whenever I actually decide to implement it!

The gear inside is otherwise a generic 4-channel RGB+W controller. Common anode, four pull-me-down low-side FETs.

It definitely Doesn’t Not Work, so if you can stand the absolutely nonsensical mounting needs, I do recommend playing with one. The color wheel really only has 16 or so positions, not that your LED strips have enough current-to-color mapping calibration precision to duplicate it.

I only have one complaint here for the physical UI, which is it’s too easy to fat-finger a color as you turn it on and off, so it often wakes up in the Brown position. I didn’t even know LEDs could emit brown light, but here we are in 2019.

Alright! Back to work. I created a secondary harness specifically for the roof cabin lights and five cab lights. These were all previously ad-hoc wired with vampire clips. I separated them into their own bus with only one connection to the feeder wire coming out of the roof harness.

I also went ahead and routed a length of 5-pin RGBW LED strip cable the full length of the cab to the former exit spot of the Sex Lights. So not only do I have an on/off supply-level connection for the not-yet-designed (but which will be GLORIOUS) Next Generation Sex Lights™, but the option of using this RGBW controller up front if needed.

It’s fished through the same wiring run as the other interior roof lights – see the displaced fiberglass batting to the right. That gets re-secured over the wiring run once I decide I’m satisfied.

Oh, yeah – all of the lights that are going back in received “real” connectors that I can in theory reconnect and disconnect – if I do come back in here, it’ll be possible without wanting to level entire cities as retribution.

 

And the front roof wiring is finished – the (not yet replaced/cut off) “van lights”, cab light connections, and interior roof lamps all work. At this point, I’ve basically done everything I care to in terms of wiring rehabilitation and could have put the interior panels back together. I decided to leave that exercise until after the painting process just in case I thought of some other intelligent modification or change I wanted to make.

 

Third Brake Light & Bed Light Mod

 

Speaking of which! Here’s another quick diversion from the main project besides laying the foundation to add tasteless LED strips to everything. So one of my long time low-level peeves has been the “Leave this light on to accidentally drain your battery” light, also known as a bed light or cargo light.

There’s just so much of everything  on Vantruck, so much bulk and space-occupying visual styling, so much dual-wheel enabled highway manspreading. Then you get to the back of the cab and there’s this teeny little bed light.

It’s like those Greco-Roman styled Renaissance statues of extremely chiseled men with microscopic penises.  Not only was this thing extremely puny and dim, having only a type 194 socket bulb inside, but the attachment was just two drywall-esque construction screws into the ~3mm thick fiberglass van endcap. Meaning? It’s always been stripped. Every screw I try to use in here strips. I drilled the holes out a long time ago for the next size of drywall-esque screw that’s larger, and that held on for a while before that also just stripped out.

It’s really only been hanging on by the grace of Robot Jesus.

As one of the last things I can do before I’m just flat out of excuses for painting, I decided to do some customization here. In keeping with the general “hello for i am giant truck abomination” aesthetic, I’ve been buying samples of various semi truck and commercial truck lighting products off the likes of Iowa80, Raneys, and random eBay and Amazon searches for the same. My goal with this add-on was to make this assembly huge and obtrusive like the entire vantruck – I wasn’t about to buy some puny plastic Jeff Bezos Special here. I used custom semi truck taillight housings and trailer light bars as a mental guide.

An additional desire of mine was the ability to add a center brake light. I’m not a fan of the North American-specific combined turn signal and brake lights, especially prevalent on trucks here, since it can often be ambiguous if you’re turning or stopping or both.  Light trucks weren’t required to have center brake lights until 1994 in the US, so this would be a wire I’d have to run from the brake lighting circuit.

 

The foundation of the new bed light will be these triple trailer light brackets which accept a 6″ oval light that’s a standard size in the industry. You can get them either in old school incandescent or obnoxiously get-off-my-lawn bright LED! Guess which one I sprung for. Let’s say “bigger than in the picture” was my thought after getting these in and unboxed, despite the dimensions being clearly written in the item description.

Robots are always bigger in real life than in CAD, and to my chagrin and future degenerative eye disorders, circuit boards are always SMALLER.

Why did I get two? Well, they’re tail lights for your trailer, so they come in pairs, duh. This just means I can either have a backup or give one to Mikuvan too.

Quick in-place mockup to make sure it will definitely fit  and looks the way I think it will.  “Looks bigger in real life than in the product photo” often just leads to “Looks reasonably sized if not a bit smaller than expected” once the reference coordinate system changes, namely once placed next to Vantruck.

Hmm. Maybe I should have sprung for the 4″ round housing brackets.

TECHNOLOGY SPREAD TIME! I designed this 27″ wide spacer body in Autodesk Inventor to the profile of the stainless steel bracket, added mounting hole locations, and then split it into three dovetailed parts. They were knocked out on my Markfrog gallery and then epoxied together.

I decided to make this spacer instead of cutting a long slot into the van endcap to install the lights flush-style. It’s in my interest to modify and cut up the van endcap as little as I have to, I decided, since that’s not a part I can really replace. If I make any changes in the future, I’d have to patch over a 2 foot wide slot, the cutting of which would also introduce other unknown/don’t-wanna-known structural issues to that area.

Installing this setup with the spacer body would only necessitate drilling a few small holes. It might look just a little weirder than what I consider to be a smooth flush mounted setup.

 

The attachment method I decided to use here is known as a “well nut”, a rubber rivet nut, or as I’ll probably call it from now on, a wubbie-nut. They work like real rivet nuts, except you just tighten the fastening screw and the molded insert nut squishes out the rubber behind the panel being fastened. It’s a compliant, sealing, electrically insulating, and reversible method of attaching relatively light stuff to sheet metal. Since the fiberglass van cap is really only like 2.5 to 3mm thick, it won’t hold a thread at all, nor did I want to use any permanently installed rivet nuts or inserts.

This is what the assembly will look like. I actually don’t think it looks as off as I was anticipating.

The spacer body also allows all the wiring and connections to be done outside the endcap, so I only have to find space for three wires to exit the endcap at the location of the original bed light.

To make the brake light do what I want it to do, I had to tap the circuit upstream of where the brake light switch (which feeds power to the circuit when the pedal is depressed slightly) is connected to the turn signal interrupter (the blinky thing) since that’s where it splits up to the left and right sides. It turns out this wire was already tapped for the trailer brake controller, and I just had to do a bit of digging to locate the UGH, ANOTHER VAMPIRE CLIP they used to link up to said trailer brake controller.

I got peeved at the vampire clip, so I then spent an hour rewiring this area. My bonus brake light circuit got a proper twist and solder splice to this circuit, and I got rid of some more redundant wire, then wrapped the whole thing and constrained it. This photo is pretty much looking directly upwards from the driver floor.

So now we arrive at the week of July 4th, and I’ve exhausted almost everything I can do that’s not beginning to paint the damn thing. I’d seen this moment coming, and pregamed order a few samples of automotive paint systems and watching some videos on how to do it.

As usual, I’m about to try it in a way that is utterly moronic and advised against by pretty much everyone with actual knowledge of the subject matter, but since it’s just me fucking around in public and writing about it, the entertainment value takes precedence.

Welcome to the paintening.

Operation RESTORING BROWN: Romance of the Rusty Roof Rail Repair

Jul 05, 2019 in vantruck

Alright, here we go! The first meat and first potato of Operation RESTORING BROWN, the only thing which I technically set out to do and could in fact just rattlecan the whole thing brown right afterwards and be done with it. I’m going to keep an rolling index of previous posts here so by the end, everyone can read the whole thing and realize just how embarrassing it all was. We begin of course with…

  1. Episode 1 – the initial teardown of the house of horrors

So, I’ve established that there wasn’t really anything too flammable in contact with the inside of the roof where I’d be making repairs, which means it will go pretty quickly once all the prep work is done. What is it exactly that I have to put back together? This:

Yikes. These spots were already present when I bought Vantruck in late 2016, but they were smaller in visual magnitude because I hadn’t explored them until maybe last year. By then, the two ends were “joining” in the middle causing the rust-colored stain in the roof paint in that area, and I spent a little whole doing some initial scratch-n-sniff with pulling up degenerated sealant beads and hitting the area with a wire brush. I also covered the area in rust converter (causing the dark color) and gave it a blast of clearcoat paint, which was able to preserve it until now.

There’s a little divot all the way to the right near the “van seam”, which was where I applied a grinding wheel to try and get a sense of how the roof was attached. I had done some research then on how I would make this repair, and feared the worst.

You see, Ford in all its wisdom decided that the best way to make a roof drip rail is to also use it as the rolled spot weld seam (pinch weld) to attach the roof to the side panels.  The spot welds are then coated with a bead of body sealant. Predictably, the sealant deteriorates and lets water into the crevices of the spot welds, upon which it rusts out and there is scant little you can do about it except some very expensive metal replacement therapies with harvested body panels (if you’re lucky to find one since they all rust in the same place!). If you just run an image search for “Ford drip rail rust” you can see many examples of this failure mode.  What I now fear is Mikuvan’s drip rails are made the same way, as it seems to be a popular method of making the roof panel back then. It doesn’t have any issues there, but it’s only a matter of time.

For me right now, it meant having to cut the entire section out and then…. not replace it with anything. My restoration, my rules – I was just going to cut the damaged sections out, bridge the gap with welded on strips, and just reseal the remaining. It’s going to be visible, ugly, and purposeful.

But before I could begin anything, I had to peel back the walls of the house of horrors even more, since the rust extended under the….

van seam. This was a rather cringeworthy and frustrating exercise. Frustrating, because I had to impact-drive out around 25 time-cured Phillips-head self-tapping sheet metal screws. Cringeworthy because really? Just driving irregularly spaced flat-head screws into stuff?

This aluminum trim strip originally had a large rubber seal clipped over it. The rubber seal deteriorated and crumbled away slowly, so I removed all of it about the same time last year I tried to arrest the roof rust.

I only managed to destroy 2 screws while removing the upper half of the trim strip, which I had to drill out and grind away the remnants thereof. Honestly, I was expecting so much worse. What’s going to happen here is eventually I’ll remove the whole van seam trim strip and refinish the underside separately. They just screwed it on and painted over it, which means the underside has a lot of surface rust and built-up grunge.

Bonus points if you can spot the red Sharpie line they marked and followed to cut the van!  Yes, there is an actual red sharpie line on both sides.

We begin the actual demolition now, where I just arm up a cutoff wheel into a grinder and zip the remains of the drip rail off.

Quick note – just because I found “nothing flammable” on the inside of the roof, doesn’t mean I didn’t keep a fire extinguisher and a pressurized plant sprayer bottle full of water nearby. The interior was still questionably fire-resistant 1980s urethane foam, cloth, plywood, and carpet. This cutting operation created a lot of sparks, and I’m sure there will be even more to come.

Following up with the cutoff wheel, I used a flappy wheel to remove the paint in the area and explore how deep the rust pitting went i.e. what can still be reasonably salvaged. I’m not planning on removing every semblance of rust, especially as much of it has been hit with the conversion compound and should in the end be painted over.

It was time to arm up my limeboi here with a proper cart and C25 gas bottle. This is what you were designed for!

A long time ago, I bought a lot of aluminized steel strip and sheet in anticipation of eventually needing to make repairs to Mikuvan.

Making so many different repairs to Vantruck has, in a way, been practicing for that. While I’ve done a lot of mechanical only work to Mikuvan, I’ve not nearly been as comfortable digging deep into it because it’s a much better packaged and integrated experience, not to mention very difficult to find recourse if I mess something up badly due to its rarity in the U.S. market. I’ve already had to source some interior parts from Japan and Taiwan myself because parts are just no longer easily available here – the most recent adventure being securing a set of replacement windshield trim strips because the glass shop could not guarantee being able to get the old pieces off cleanly to replace the windshield. Not to mention, of course, the completely Chinesium cylinder head that’s currently living in it.

Vantruck’s primitiveness at the cusp of the changeover from the “Malaise Era” to the contemporary age of more computerized and polished automobiles, as touched upon in the dénouement of the Regular Car Reviews episode, has made every repair or upfit on it more approachable. I know I can generally transfer the experience if I needed to, even if the methods aren’t 1 to 1. More importantly, its ubiquity even in the modern day means if I completely botch something, it’s a more recoverable error.

In fact, on any day’s regional Craigslist search I can find at least 4 pre-1992 Econoline vans, usually 2 decrepit ones, one “okay” one, and one well-kept one


I’ve actually visited the blue one on the right, and man if I thought I had rust issues….

What I’m saying is, now having witnessed the result of making the sausage, I am not beyond buying an old conversion van and cutting 1/3rd of it off myself. They still sell endcaps for these. In all, these vantrucks are about the weirdest vehicles you can buy which still uses the most common ingredients – Ford truck parts – in their construction.

Enough of the van philosophy! Onto sheet metal repairs.

The plan was to use the area by the van seam as a test weld. If this went of well, the rest will go very quickly. If not, I can still Bondo Castle the whole thing!

I started the patch piece at a distance where it abuts the van seam trim strip, and the difference underneath will be made up by sealant (for someone else 25 year down the line to deal with, I suppose!)

Four little spot welds to hold it down, and I think I generally get the idea.

The mass deletion of a strip above the drip rail and the remains of the body side panel below it then commences. Remember where I said I still had a fire extinguisher and a water sprayer on standby? If there was one part I needed them, it was right here. I basically filled the interior up with sparks. What wasn’t being caught by the tangles of fiberglass insulation was, as I witnessed, shooting straight into the carpet, beyond the areas I pre-emptively wet down near the roof! Oh well.

For the upper slit line, I dug straight down with the cutoff wheel. To separate the gap, I actually approached from the bottom at a very shallow angle. The result was a strip of rusty steel, seen here.

This repair is extremely simple to execute because everything is straight. All I had to do was line up the welding magnets and blast away.

I used the “randomized point welds” approach where you never weld twice in adjacent places or make a single long bead, to minimize heat deformation of the sheet metal. So I’d anchor the strip by opposite corners, then basically switch corners every 3 or 4 trigger pulls.

 

And after another strip plus a finishing chunk, I’m done here. There’s already like 4x the original spot welds holding the roof on here. Notice the still-present drip rail over the door? That’s staying. I’m not going to shave the whole thing.

All that will happen now is I’ll grind these welds relatively flush and then apply a big Adaptive Fillet of body sealant down the length.

I test drove the process once again by where the van seam is. This was very quick and easy with an already broken-in flap disc which has a bit of an edge radius worn into it. I made sure not to grind enough that I started erasing the root of the weld blob.

Moving down the line. Basically, the area between the patch strip and where the body panel jogs inwards will be entirely filled with sealant. Same goes for the top half. I’m just going to use a popsicle stick as a squeegee / trowel to lay that bead down.

With this process having taken much less time than I figured, I decided to transition to some lookahead work. A lot of other exterior fittings had to come off anyway if I wanted to repaint it, so I was going to just piecemeal address every rust issue as they come up.  First up is the big “I am a classic van” visor. I know it’s hiding something underneath, but have never wanted to check. What I do know is that it some times rains from the upper left corner of the windshield if it either 1. rains too hard or 2. I try to wash it.

 

 

It’s held on by a total of 10 screws, two on each side, three in the middle, and three on a little support bracket underneath the …. front awning bit. Luckily, all the screws came out relatively easily despite being somewhat rusty.

Have I mentioned that the hardest part of doing CAR (especially truck-shaped things) is just fighting out what dumb names are given to certain things? And how many of those parts are just named after the guy who invented it?

Anyways, after all the screws are out, you just lift the thing up and……

 

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Yep, this project is getting out of scope fast.

Well that’s no good. A cursory inspection shows that this hole ran deep into the windshield frame, and had a through component on the interior sheet which led directly to an area over the sunvisors. Well that’s why it rains on the inside!

I decided to return to menially applying petrochemical compounds while I thought about what to do here.

Here’s the sealant compound in the “Deposit large blobs and pave over” stage. There’s a matching fillet gfor the bottom edge that didn’t exist yet in this photo. The plan was to let it all cure overnight, and then I just scrape the cured excess sealant off, leaving only the fillets I desire.

While the sealant lines were drying, I decided to  just take care of the rust patch over the driver’s door. There was enough steel left over here that I decided to just Hairy Bondo over the whole affair after cleaning the area up. This is just regular Bondo with short fiberglass strands already pre-baked into it, so it forms a stronger composite not unlike a crappy chopped strand mat.

It doesn’t sand easily due to the fiberglass content, so you use a thing that looks more like a file to get the major cutting done, and then fill in the low spots with regular pink mystery butter.

The final stage is what I call the “cancerous death” looking part, which is after sculpting and sanding down of the regular material. This is called glazing compound or “spot putty” and is intended to fill in very tiny pinholes that might exist because of trapped air from mixing the batch of shame you blobbed on. The juxtaposition of dark red and pink is just kind of gross to look at. This stuff sands very fast, so at this stage I’m using at most 220 grit or so sandpaper.

By the end of this exercise, I had formulated an attack plan for the windshield hole.

Observe, daylight! This is where water was getting in and causing the interior to rain. I was going to equally exploit it to close the hole up. This hole, and actually the empty space above it, meant I could reach tools around from the back.

I don’t have a good closeup photo of the trimming I did to the windshield hole,  so here’s a wide shot that sort of shows what is going on. (Nor it turns out did I take photos of the removal of the chrome windshield trim, which was “Many little broken plastic clips” which fortunately are still made because Ford Trucks Never Change)

I carved away with a Dremel until the metal was solid again, both interior and exterior layers. The black staining is from the same rust conversion treatment which I just sort of do as a matter of course now since I wasn’t going to, say, cut the A-pillar and the front of the roof off to excise it.

So what’s my grand master plan?

Bondo Castle.

Sorry, world. I formed a dam which was roughly the right shape of the windshield frame curvature from a piece of soda can (luckily, enough of it remained to use as a guide).

Then, I ‘primed’ the interior area with brushed on fiberglass resin (a component of Bondo filler) so it would ideally wet out better for more adhesion. Then, I added a Blob of Shame to the hole. However, since I can reach it reasonably with a small popsicle stick from the inside, I was able to create a dome which reached beyond the edges of the steel, again to try and gain area for adhesion.

If I couldn’t reach it from the inside, then this would be one of those Bondo Rocks of shoddy restoration legend, since it would have to be solid and “built up” from the deepest point.

The initial dome was reinforced on both sides with more Fiber-Filled Regret as it cured, gradually reaching the surface enough to level out. I then pulled the soda can barrier off and Dremeled/filed the curvature to shape.

 

Nobody will know.

Only I will carry this curse.

Okay, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I made it out to be. I think it will be fine, maybe except for getting beaned directly in this repair zone by a flying dumpster. And if that does happen, it will be on dashcam and it will be awesome.

 

With the entire left side more or less settled, I moved onto the right side. The destruction here luckily was far less extensive, and this was the only trouble spot. It was shallow enough that I just ground it smooth and wire brushed the area and could seal it directly. The sealant on the entire length forward from here was deteriorated, though, so I tore it all out (it wasn’t difficult, since after all it had failed to seal and was just nursing rust underneath) and wire wheeled the gutter. All that will happen to it is application of new sealant.

I decided to keep going and just replace all of the sealant on this side, so I ran all the way down the passenger side A-pillar with the wire wheel.

Technically, at this point, the drip rail operation was all done. But the fun really had just begun! Memorial Day weekend is over with now, and I would take the next few evenings to jump on the roof itself and start dismantling all of the lights and the dysfunctional airhorn, while patching up and priming troublesome areas.  All while plotting the interior rehabilitation and the Next Generation Sex Lights.