Over a decade in the making, I finally took the plunge and bought a school bus to convert it into an Orient Express style train car for the highway. It’s been aptly named the Disorient Express.
This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since moving to California in 2004 and riding in friends buses and art cars at Burning Man. In particular I’ve always had my eye on Crown Coach school buses. Besides their beautiful 1950′s styling, they were well built with standard big rig parts making it easy to maintain and the skin is aluminum so it won’t rust. I almost bought one back in 2007 but the buyer backed out at the last minute so I abandoned the idea knowing one day I’d get back to it.
That day came in November of 2017 when I was browsing eBay and Craigslist as I like to do from time to time. This beautiful 1988 Crown from Merced School District came up for sale with only 84k miles on it. I knew right then and there that this was what I had been waiting for.
A few days later the project was in full swing. I had friends coming by to help to remove all the seats and get the bus ready for its new life; a dining car and lounge suitable for entertaining as well as a sleeping quarters, bathroom, and kitchen. This project has been a huge undertaking including extensive woodworking, plumbing, and electrical. None of this would be possible without the help of many willing and able friends who are just crazy enough to follow along for the journey.
Here are few photos of what the bus looks like now but if you’d like to follow along with the progress checkout the Disorient Express on Instagram.
A few months back my friends Kyle and Nick joined me in an endeavor to build a chicken coop for our friends at the Avolon Hot Springs. Avalon is an amazing place high above Middletown, CA in the mountains of Lake County. It dates back to the 1850′s when it was called Howard Hot Springs and catered to the rich and famous Victorians.
Today it still retains a lot of its history with original springs still on the property, rustic cabins, and a beautiful main hall. We were happy to help out and add to the charm on Avalon. Also, fresh eggs when we visit are a plus.
Below are some of the photos and plans. We precut and built most of it in my basement and then transported it up there. Even with that pre-planning it still took us a day and a half to assemble and paint it.
(We added a door for cleaning and a thick plastic floor for easy cleaning)
(We used organic recycled materials for the insulation)
(The plans I drew up. Click the photo for a larger image)
All in all it was a very fun and rewarding project. It’s also quite simple and the average DIY’er should have no problem tackling it. It was all of our first times too! For more photos, check out the chicken coop build photo set on Flickr.
A few months back my friend @nick showed up at my door with an idea and a cardboard box full of wood. He and his coworkers from Twitter were building a kiosk that would take photos and tweet them from @twisitor. Naturally, I thought the project was hilarious so we headed down to the garage.
The wood he brought was a nice veneered bamboo with a bull-nosed edge on one side which gave it a nice finished look. The shingles were cut by @nick and his cohorts from cheap shims they got from the hardware store. The nailgun made quick work of the project and it turned out great! Everyone liked it so much that it ended up in the lobby. Thanks @nick for a fun and random project!
Recently Jane Dagmi, a writer for Bob Vila, found me on Twitter and began to follow the restoration process of my Victorian house. She approached me along with 3 other DIY renovation bloggers to write about our workshops and our restoration process. It was an honor and the first interview I’ve ever done like this. I hope you enjoy it.
SanFranVic’s John Clarke Mills: In the Workshop
Since then, I have also syndicated my house blog content onto Bob Vila’s crowd-sourced blog for do-it-yourselfers. Check out Bob Vila Nation for a look at what other DIY’ers like myself are building.
For the past nine days my father and I, with the help of my house mate and other friends, built a victorian library in my double parlor. It is built entirely of red oak and stained a dark walnut color to match the banister we built two summers ago. This has been a long time dream of mine even before we had this house and now it’s finally complete. We still have a little bit of decorating left to do but its ready to be lived in.
During the build process I blogged daily and uploaded as many photos as I could. If you’d like to see what it took check out the victorian library posts on sanfranvic.com.
Every shop needs a good workbench and its about time I built myself one. I sourced most of the parts locally from the $75 solid maple butcher block top to the $40 shelves with drawers I got at a local salvage yard. The only things I bought new were the three Rockler vises which I have yet to install. The picture above is of everything all mocked up.
I have assembled the bottom section out of 4×4′s and 2×4′s secured with long galvanized deck screws. The base frame itself is 45″ long and 23″ deep. The butcher block will overhang 3″ on the front and back, and 12″ and 18″ respectively on the left and right. This will accommodate the vice setup I will be installing but I will post more on that when its complete. For now, you can see more pictures by clicking on the image above.
This week my father flew to San Francisco to help me, and teach me, to build a banister and repair a staircase. We tore down the wall that used to be there, replaced all the treads, and put in a matching banister and railing that we copied from the upstairs banister. For the past five days of the build I have been blogging over on SanFranVic.com where you can follow the story and see all the photos.
Since space is always at a premium, especially in my kitchen, its important to use every inch as best as possible. Instead of having two separate trash bins it made more sense to combine them into one piece of furniture and gain table top space. So I searched the internet to find something that would fit but unfortunately nothing came up. So it was off to the shop to solve the problem.
With the help of my roommate, we built this trash and recycling center out of maple plywood using simple dowel joinery. We finished it in a cabernet color and added some simple hardware like magnetic latches and handles from our local hardware store. All in all the project only took a few hours total and solved a big problem.
One of the most simple and useful things I have made in my shop so far is this crosscutting jig. It is perfect for when your chop saw just doesn’t reach far enough to cut a big piece of wood. Also, I have much nicer blades for my table saw then I do for my chop saw. Either way, it is a quintessential jig to have in your shop.
I made this one with some scrap wood I had lying around the shop in a matter of an hour or so. The base is made from birch veneered plywood and the rails are made from oak. I bought the T-tracks to guide the sled from Rockler, my new favorite store. Other than that, there’s not much to it. I decided to use dowels to hold it all together but screws or any other type of joinery would work just as well.
The most important part is getting it square obviously. What I did was made the base perfectly square, measured the distance between the tracks on my saw, then attached the tracks to the sled. Then I clamped the jig the saw, turned on the blade and raised it up through the wood. Now with my T-square I am able to line up the pieces that hold the wood perpendicular to the blade. Thats all there is to it. This design is very simple and straightforward but if you browse around the web you will find all sort of different designs, additions, and safety additions.
(More pictures can be found in this Flickr set)
If you’re house is even half as old as mine is, its likely that you have similar sash and weight style windows. You know, the ones that are cold, drafty and often times have snapped ropes? Luckily, they are pretty simple to work on for the average do-it-yourselfer. Eventually I am going to replace the weights with spring balances and insulate but for now they just needed to be done. Another person helps but this definitely could be done on your own. These windows usually arent too heavy. There is plenty of information and how-to’s out there on YouTube and and This Old House’s web site.
In my case, I needed to duplicate some weight pocket doors because I was missing a set. This unfortunately is a little more advanced but anyone with some table saw skills can make these. All you need is a miter and some scrap wood. More pictures and descriptions can be found on my flikr page.