Now here's a project. We wanted a fire truck with performance and style. First is a sketch that Dylan and I came up with to represent the finished product, drawn in the fall of 2006.

After searching for a long time, we connected up with the Vandling Hose Co. outside Scranton Pa. They had a 1981 Pumper with low miles (36,000) and the biggest engine that ever gets put into these babies; (435 hp in 736 cubes) Our plan is to fool with it for a while, then create an RV that can serve as a tow vehicle and motor home from hell. Here's our "before" picture, taken in Vandling,Pa. We had the truck shipped to us sight unseen but hope someday to make it back up there with a finished product, if such a thing exists.

Truck arrived in Feb, 2007. There are always a few things they don't tell you in a deal like this. It took 3 hours to start the truck and, "the smoke and gas belched out of that mine" but, after a few months of tweeking, she's dependable now. That tweeking included a bunch of electrical, air ride seats, new front suspension, new rear end (to change over to highway gears), new exhaust, much new wiring and electrical, re-engineering the rear platform for outside seating and AC.Here's Doug dropping on the exhaust. Got a nice bolt-in Peterbilt rig. No custom work required. Right. Sure. This your first rodeo? We took her on an 800 mile trip up to Arkansas a month or so ago (June 2007)- and my hearing is finally starting to improve again. Even with shooting headphones the vibration from the engine went right up your spine, through your molars and into your brain pan. But she won the 4th of July best in parade this year. We had 16 people on board including 2 kids in the "hot tub." Our next event will probably be St. Patrick's Day. Green beer through a fire hose will get some attention don't you think? I need to add a few action shots of the build out.

Clearing out the "Salon" required the removal of over 75 hoses, valves, manifolds, pump pieces and assorted parts, gearing and what not. The tank and all the back sheet metal came next. Then came the removal of all the welded channel, brackets and so forth. After about the third time of entertaining a piece of molten metal in my shoe, I decided there was definitely a market out there for fireproof socks. But the next shot is of me sittin' in the hole where all that stuff used to be. Perhaps its all down hill from here. Time will tell.

Moving right along .... Here's a basic floor plan that Roslyn and I "engineered". Of course with the Design-Build model of construction, it doesn't help to plan very far into the future. Each step seems to have implications for the next step.

Doug and I installed one ladder that will eventually have smoked glass windows. Next, I cut in a door and made steps out of the tool cabinet that was removed. The door was once part of the hose rack above the pump. These shots were taken in the fall of 07.

Here are some shots of the "kitchen." Roslyn is weighing in on the storage and layout. The back seat is from a stolen Excursion. That is, Darius had his Excursion stolen but they forgot to steal the back seat, which was not in the vehicle. Finders, keepers.

A bit more progress in these shots - Vern helping bend some diamond plate around a girder; checking that the TV just fits; and trying an air scoop.

Now it gets interesting. At this moment (March 28) there are about 62 days before we leave for Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone (May 28). I did a quick glance forward and have come up with the following list of must do's with a crude estimate of how long each will take: construct the roof (6days), finish Salon and dinette(4 days), design and create the ladder windows (5 days), Bedroom finishout (4days) Build back wall with windows (6 days), Design and build salon seats (4 days), finish front wall (3 days), design/build front door locking mechanism (3 days), all interior lighting, house wiring and finalizing the generator install (7 days), locks for the compartment doors (3 days), rear suspension modification (rebuild torque rods, cut down springs and design/build bushing for the spring shackles (4 days), water install (2 days), getting the VW Baja bug that we bought on ebay up to speed and legal (5 days). That adds up to 55 days so I've got another week until my loved ones and I are going to have to get serious about this thing. More later ......

OK.  It's been about 3 weeks since my last confession.  Below is a shot of the calendar with days and tasks checked off.  I would say that we are still in the ball game but there's no more time for screwing around.  My sister, Lauralee, is really helping with insulation and painting.  Mick is contemplating the final weatherstripping for the sliding windows. We've only tried about six or eight configurations of window size, channel size, and weatherstripping size. The rear suspension has been cut down, we're running singles in the rear now, fenders have been cut, the rear wall is framed in, the roof rafters are on, the front wall is done and we've got air ride trucker seats for the passengers in the salon. Also, the front door has its locking system in place.  Speaking of locks, the rig requires a total of 16 individual locks for all the doors and compartments.  Fire trucks don't come with locks for obvious reasons! I've got about 14 built so far.

The last shot is the baja bug we're planning to pull behind the truck. Dylan and his friend, David, are taking it for a test drive. Still needs a few things - The ebay bug purchase with associated surprises is a story in itself.  We've got about 5 days in it, getting it running, licensed and inspected.  I've given it two more days on the calendar.  Notice the Folgers muffler - our own design.

Another week down the tubes - or in the bank, depending on your point of view. I blew a couple days making cupholders out of brass flanges that were once part of the pumping system. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Had to bring dad out of retirement to help polish them up and clean the brackets I cut and welding to hold them. On Saturday, we broke in the kitchen with some burgers and beans. This week is the inspection, roof, bulkhead and whatever else we can get done.

Two more weeks and I'm somewhere on the road heading toward Mt. Rushmore. Progress is being made, but, is it enough? Got the truck inspected without the roof - passed no problem. We were worried because of the singles in the rear and the suspension mods, but no one said a thing: Probably didn't even notice. We bolted down the roof a few days ago, letting the plywood dry a bit more before coating it with something. I drilled the holes into the 2x2 steel tubing while Mick slid his handy "special stick" in from the end. Using a bit of adhesive putty to hold the nut in an open-end wrench, we were able to attach the roof with about 40 fasteners. Dad loaded the nuts after Mick marked the location (which I had indicated with a punch into an empty stick through the hole). Make sense? We'll be marketing plans for the special stick soon.

OK. One more day before I roll out of Dallas. My butt is dragging but my crew has really pulled hard this past week. Awning is up, interior is in passable shape. The Bug runs like crapola but Mick and I may try to swap carbs tomorrow afternoon. Anyway, it's been a trip trying to get closure on this thing. Time will tell if she'll run OK. I've only put about 20 miles on her since last June. No time for a shakedown cruise. I'll know if I'm in trouble by Dodge City or some other node of the Twilight Zone. I don't fear the road but I'd hate to let my family down by blowing out somewhere on the trail. Here are a few final shots. Just don't have time for more PR.

Roslyn putting some blankets on the Bug seats. The originals were shot to hell. Next are Mick and Lauralee buzzing around trying to plug and caulk holes of various kinds. Here I am with a final check list of stuff not done yet. A close up of the list - with about 40 hours before blast off. We all made a pact to laugh at whatever befalls us on this journey. We said we'd do it and .... the rest will soon be history.

Damn if we didn't make it the whole way. It was one of those trips that you can't describe - just had to be there. The truck performed above expectations on every dimension except fuel economy (7 mpg). It cost about 1500 bucks in fuel to make the loop to Salt Lake. I didn't really leave time for breakdowns and there weren't any of significance. The rear window fell out (fell "in" really) over a brutal bump near Jackson Hole. Dylan caught it and we put 'er back during a breakfast layover in Jackson. The aviation headphones and intercom worked like a charm. We could all talk without shouting and Dylan had the run of the living space most of the trip, while Roslyn and I were in the cab. Here are a couple of shots from the road. One question that was raised was how we would know if the bug was following along OK. Turned out I could see the shadow most of the trip. First overnight was Dodge City, where I stayed in a Wall Mart parking lot - had to do that just to say I'd done it. Next was Hot Springs SD. This is a shot of the National Park there where I stayed before Roslyn and Dylan arrived. Next is us at Crazy Horse. If you haven't been there, a visit will change your life. The family has been carving away for over 50 years and have about another 50 to go. Talk about a long term project. First time I saw Crazy Horse was in '64 on a family trip. This was my fourth visit and it still brings tears to my eyes.

Finally, our cabin at Mt Rushmore. We could look right at the momument from our front deck and window about 2 miles away. Roslyn took over the picture taking duties for the rest of the trip so I'll add a few more later from her gallery.

Maybe the cutest thing about the odyssey was Roslyn's transformation on our first campout night (on the Ten Sleep Creek in Wyoming). Before we left on this trip she made it clear that it was a one shot deal. But sitting by the creek with cocktail in hand and no one else around, she started thinking of other trips we really needed to consider. In the words of Dylan - that was cool.

Now it may end up a one shot deal but at least it was a shot worth taking - truly mind expanding for all participants. The next leg takes place July 6-12 when we pick up the rig in SLC and head for Sante Fe - the slow way.

Completed the second leg with a lot of stories to tell. We met Vern, and family, (Stephanie and Mitch) at Zion and had a great couple days. My picture taking doesn't do the leg justice. Hopefully Stephanie will send me a couple pictures of Zion and Bryce. These national parks along with Arches, Mesa Verde and Bandelier were all fabulous. Check them on line! We even enjoyed the little stuff along the way. Four Corners is cheezy because it's Native Indians selling trinkets to the white man. But if you're in the market for that kind of stuff, there's nowhere quite like it. The Cadillac Ranch somehow just works. What is art anyway?

After completing the trip we sent a little story to Bus Conversions Magazine, which focuses on converting buses into RVs. They published the story in the January '09 issue. Click here for a pdf. It's not a big deal but it least there's closure. And if anyone asks whether there's proof positive that some goofball tried this idea, you can send them the story. In the end, we decided to call the fire truck "Road Ready" because we kept wondering if she would be road ready in time. I guess she was road ready enough.


Update from late November of 2010. The firetruck has been sitting in its stall at the workshop for about 6 months now without moving a muscle. I decided to start her up to see if everything was fine. She just bounced right to life, all lights, horns and sirens working. What's the next chapter for her I wonder? Clearly she needs a new home. But my heart still feels a tremendous fondness for this incredible piece of iron.

A lot has happened in the past month that I need to describe. We found the perfect home for our firetruck. A voluntier fireman named Chris needed a truck for his youth group. The truck would serve as a support vehicle for the young men to maintain and use as a command center during emergencies.

How cool is that? We also received full price for her, which means that I spent about a grand getting ready to give her away. Chris flew in to Dallas and drove her back East to upstate New York. Ran like a top except for the front tires. I guess they had rotted in spite of being garage kept. I'll add a few pictures of the handoff and her new home. All is well.