The madness started in March 2013. I was asked by Christine, my wife to search the internet for a grade 5 Alto Saxophone book for one of our twin boys. Quite a simple task for a woman but a guy with the entire internet at his fingertips, I don't think so!!!
So, 15 seconds into my intense search for the Saxophone book I clicked on Craigslist in the USA, just to see what interesting vehicles were out there while Amazon was loading. Not sure how long I was searching Craigslist but it was a lot longer than than the 15 seconds I spent looking for the book. Craigslist then led me to Tincan Tourist and an advert for a 1947 Flxible Clipper RV. I had seen these buses before (I'm no stranger to wandering the internet, dreaming of owning a classic American Vehicle) and thought they were the coolest thing I had ever seen!!
This particular Flxible looked in OK shape from the outside but with only 2 photographs on the advert, it could have been a complete wreck for all I knew. The ad did say that the bus had been stood for over 25 years and made no claim to the bus actually running. The only inside picture on the ad showed the dash of the bus with the keys in the ignition so I guessed they had tried to start it and failed.
I eventually closed down the computer that night and when confronted about the purchase of the Saxophone book (forgot all about that), made some excuse about being out of stock (sorry Christine!!). Over the next few weeks I kept going back to the advert for the Flxible as it was re-listed several times with a part of me wishing the bus would sell so I could get this mad thought of me actually owning it, out of my head. In the end I decided to contact the seller by email with again part of me hoping the response would be "Bus sold, sorry". The response was not that. In fact of all the things the seller could have said, telling me it was his recently deceased grandfathers beloved bus and if it wasn't sold soon, the scrap metal guy was taking it to the crusher and that would devastate the family even further, was just the line to seal my fait. The problem the family had was the grandfathers house was sold and the bus was parked at the side of it with the new owners of the house demanding that the bus was removed.
The moment of madness to agree to buy the bus came and went surprisingly quickly and I convinced myself that I was on a mission to save this bus as though it was my lifes destiny or something (I was just desperate to justify what I had done). The enormity of what I had commited to cannot be over estimated. I am a sales manager on an average wage. I am the only bread winner in our family of 4. I have some savings but not enough to buy a 2 year old car let alone a new one. I live in Cheshire, UK and the bus is 5,200 miles away in California. I had no way of seeing the bus in person and I don't know anyone in the USA at all, let alone living close enough to the bus so they could go and make sure the bus actually existed and it wasn't just a pile of rust.
From an internet search, I found a restoration shop in California that was prepared to pick up the bus and take it to their shop so I paid my money to the seller and sat at home with everything crossed, praying that when the truck arrived at the grandfathers house, there would at least be something there for him to pick up.
Thankfully there was a bus, it was the bus in the advert and it's now my bus!!
The next thing to do was work out how to tell my wife what I'd done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The first time I knew that my money wasn't in a Nigerian bank account was when I was sent an image of the bus being loaded onto the trailer :0)
Once back at the restoration shop, the initial inspection was pretty good. The high California mountain desert had been kind to the bodywork at least. There was only one area on the whole bus where rust had gone through!!
The engine on the other hand was a different matter. I quickly came to realise why the bus had been stood for so long. The engine, transmission and axles needed major work and the advice from the restorer was to go for a complete re-power and transmission change using a late model diesel pusher RV set up that could be taken from an insurance loss vehicle. At $25,000 estimate, that was double what I had in savings and the realisation of what I'd taken on soon started to hit me!!
I phoned the bodyshop to discuss my predicament and the owner (Bob Rowsell) was fantastic. He agreed to try and get the engine working and also agreed that when the money ran out, he would either store the bus for a small fee until I could get more money or help me find a buyer - what a fantastic guy!!!!! He did warn me though that I might spend a heap of cash and still have to go right back to the beginning and finance a re-power. So the work to get the Detroit Diesel working began.
The cooling system including the radiator was falling apart and needed replacing completely. The engine though was giving good compression on test so wasn't a complete lost cause. Fuel lines, belts and just about everything else was changed or rebuilt and after weeks of agony, I got a call from the shop to say that the engine was running fairly good. Just the suspension, Axles, brakes and most other things to be either rebuilt or replaced then!
With a little money spare, we decided to get the exterior sand blasted and at least primed before we put a stop to the project and worked to save extra money for the next phase of the restoration. It was about this time that Christine, my wife found out what I was doing. Thankfully, her voice got so high, only stray dogs could hear the terrible language that must have been erupting from her mouth!! She did seem just as upset that I had failed to buy the Saxophone book I was tasked with doing in the first place.
I had been warned by the restoration shop that buses of this age are usually only held together by the lead paint so I was to prepare myself for the aftermath of a brutal sand blasting. Increadibly, the bodywork underneath was almost as good as the day it was made. I have since found out that even during it's working life, this bus had a fairly pampered existance. It was bought by the Utah Parks Company (part of Pacific Railroad) and spent it's life taking tourists around the National Parks.
The image above is taken from a video sent to me by the restoration shop showing the bus stripped and running properly for the first time.
The next step was getting the bus primed and protected from the weather.
Following the priming of the Clipper, we were going to get the storage sorted and then take 6 months to save for the next part of the restoration but events took a terrible turn for the worse. Bob Rowsell, the guy who's restoration shop I'd found by chance and a real vintage RV enthusiast sadly died. I was devastated for his family and regretted not being able to meet him in person. I remember telling Christine of Bobs death and she cried. He was such a huge help and always gave me advice on how I could save money, having things done a little differently. It's amazing how you meet some people in life and don't seem to connect with them at all and others who you barely know, seem to spark something within you That you can't explain.
I think Bobs death certainly put things in perspective for me and what's really important in life. Since I was forced to retire from the fire service with a life changing back injury, I've had a "live for today" kind of attitude but even more so now!!
The restoration shop was looking to close down and I was faced with a decision - Sell the bus and at least cut my losses - or somehow find the money now and look to get the project completed before they closed the doors on Bobs shop for good ....................................................
Well, you only get one chance at this life so hold on to your hat and give it everything you have!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We decided to do Bob proud and carry on for as long as we could.
Christine used to be a hair dresser when she left school so she has started to cut friends and neighbours hair, I've changed jobs for a slightly better salary, I've also taken a second job at weekends, we are selling everything we can at garage sales and on ebay (would never have dreamed of doing this before). And what really brought it home to me how the family has pulled together was at Christmas. Our twin boys asked everyone for money instead of presents (without us knowing) and then tried and give us their Christmas money which of course we refused but they put it in our bank anyway. Also, the twins are the most shy kids you could ever meet. They would never talk to anyone they didn't know or stand out in a crowd but at Christmas, they went to our local village, set up a CD player with backing music and played Christmas songs on their Saxophones in the freezing cold until they physically couldn't play anymore!!!! They got nearly £110 - about $150 that went straight into the bus fund - now that took guts to do that. We have also taken out the maximum loan the bank would allow us and common sense dictated we go for.
So we are all on a journey and I'm not sure if we'll get there but we are sure as hell going to try!!
Back to the restoration then. After the exterior was primed, we then had to look at the interior. Although the Clipper had been converted to an RV about 35 years ago, time had taken it's toll. I was desperate to at least keep some of the interior but on closer inspection, it was decided to start again.
It was a good job that we decided to strip the bus interior because the restoration shop did find some rust on the inside. The strip out of the interior furniture then turned to a complete strip out of the furniture, walls and ceiling!! All metal work was then stripped, treated and primed just like the exterior. I now have a bucket of sand next to the computer that I regularly bury my head in when I'm checking for emails.
I wanted the dash of the bus to be a simple, uncluttered affair with a cream finish and the original dials cleaned and polished. Again, everything stripped, treated and primed. I figure it would be nice to try and ensure this bus lives on well after I'm pushing up the daisies. I think with everything we're going through as a family, it's nice to think our boys can have something unique to hopefully pass on to their kids!!
Insulation was the next thing to go in. Don't know if you folks have heard but it gets pretty cold and wet here in the UK. All of the interior has been well insulated. Although I want a retro feel to the bus, I do want to use the latest build methods and materials in the construction. There are some excellent, high tech products out there at the moment that are far more efficient than they used to be.
The ceiling boards were a bit of a dilemma. I originally wanted a wood veneer but couldn't agree on a shade. I decided to let Gerry at the restoration shop decide, giving him an idea of what I was after if the material wasn't going to be wood. I'm glad I did 'cos he's got it spot on!!
You can see on the floor in the isle a lighter colour piece of wood. That's where the raised part of the floor on a Flxible Clipper bus sticks out and makes the isle very narrow from that point to the back of the bus. Even though the money is tight, I asked the shop to remove whatever was in the way and widen the isle. BIG MISTAKE!!!! they had to alter the bus chassis rails and that wasn't cheap. Well, it's done now and it does make all the difference.
I've also asked the shop to lower the floor in the bathroom area and sink the shower base into the floor for extra head room - I've always got the bucket of sand handy when that invoice comes through :0)
The work is progressing nicely and I'm getting some great advice from the restoration shop. One the one hand they have saved me a lot of money advising against certain decisions I've made and on the other, advising on corrective action regarding past jobs that have been done on the bus.
One of those past jobs where corners have been cut relates to the windows in the bus. The previous RV conversion left all of the windows in place and simply boarded over the window on the inside where the shower was placed and covered the window with reflective film on other parts of the bus where appliances and cupboards were situated.
I didn't want to spoil the exterior look of the bus by having some windows skinned over properly with metal but the restoration shop pointed out that if a window was broken or leaking from the seal, anything behind the window may have to be ripped out to repair it. So the offending windows have been skinned over properly and the interior layout has been planned so none of the walls divide or encroach on a window. This has made things very difficult as far as planning the interior but I think will be well worth the effort once done.
I also had a dilemma regarding a crease in the roof line of the bus just above one of the windows. The restoration shop pointed out that this kind of decision was a close call regarding getting it fixed. Some people expect "Battle scars" on vehicles this old and some can't live with their restoration having such a noticeable dent in it. It was my call at the end of the day so I decided to get it fixed even though it involved some major work (The restoration shop don't do "Bondo" repairs apparently - that was me shot down in flames then!!). I would hate to have said leave it and then when the bus is finished, regret not having it done.
This didn't go down well with Christine!! - "Note to self - have a stock of flowers,chocolates and a list of other people to blame for next time". The problem I have being a male, now that Christine doesn't really say much about the restoration any more is reading the signs of disapproval. Women are so bl**dy complicated, however!!! I think I've found a way to measure just how annoyed Christine is at any given time. I've figured out that the more annoyed she is, the further away she sleeps from me in the bed at night. At this moment she could give David Blaine a run for his money as I think she has actually learned to levitate!! There's no way our bed is that wide:0)
The picture below shows the crease and the picture directly above this piece not only shows the window skinned over but the repair of the crease. I think they've done a great job and I'm glad I had it done.
I thought long and hard about the style of the interior. It had to be "American" in it's appearance but over time, my vision of what that should look like has changed with increased exposure to TV, news and the current climate we find ourselves in. So I decided to go right back to when I was a child, watching shows like "Happy Days" and being in ore of the kids on that show with their cool cars and baseball jackets!! They were innocent times and full of fond memories. I don't care if America wasn't actually like that, in my head as a child it was and that's all that counts.
The problem with how we view things today is everything is so serious.
If I described the Happy Days plot to our twins today - A 40 year old male, dresses like a teenager, befriend's the parents of a couple of minors into letting him stay at their house and spends all of his time hanging out with school kids - They'd sit there will mouths open and a look of abject terror, thinking I'd just described someone on the FBI's 10 most wanted list!!
So, although not '40's style, the interior will have a retro "Happy Days" type of feel. We need sleeping for at least 4 so are going for a double bed at the back of the bus and 2 x singles at the front that will be converted from the opposing settee's. There will be 2 x removable tables in between the settee's, with floor fittings similar to those found on boats.
The restoration shop contacted me regarding the bathroom layout. The way the bus is laid out, there is a raised section at either side of the isle that runs the length of the bus. The last job the restoration shop did on the isle was to make it wider. This cost a heap of cash and I decided I would probably not mess with anything to do with the chassis geometry again. However!! the bathroom is situated on the raised part of the floor and as such is only 66 inches from floor to the highest part of the roof (the internal curve of the roof makes it even lower towards the outside wall of the bus). So I had to take the decision - do I leave the floor in the bathroom as it is and save the sale of my kidney for the exterior paint job - or do I get the floor lowered in the bathroom and gain 7 inches in headroom.
I went to bed with the scene in "Alice in Wonderland" where the large room suddenly gets smaller, going through my head and dreaming that I would turn into "Dobby", the elf character from Harry Potter, if I ever took a shower in such a small enclosure!!
The following day I got one of the twins to type a message to the restoration shop asking them to lower the floor. That way I could blame my son for ruining our lives and remove myself from all responsibility :-)
As expected, lowering the floor was a royal pain in the ar*e!!!!!!
One of the fuel tanks was right under the section of floor that needed to be lowered (why me).
I swear the only thing I can remember doing seriously wrong as a kid was putting mud in a shoe box, setting light to the lid and putting it on the front step of Mr McKenzies house before knocking on his door and running away. Yes, he did come to the door and stamp on the lid to put the fire out. Yes, he did have his best slippers on and yes, at the time we couldnt breathe for laughing but COME ON!!!!!!!!! I think I've been punished enough already.
for the record, Mr McKenzie was not a nice man. He would confiscate any object that landed on his lawn and then take great pleasure in destroying it in front of you to ensure you didn't play anywhere near his property again.
It has cost as much to lower the fuel tank, alter the floor in the bathroom and fabricate several frames to accomodate everything as it did to strip the whole bus of paint and have the exterior primed. I'm never watching Alice in Wonderland again and If I ever see the kid that played Harry Potter, I'm going to shove that wand so far up his ar*e, he'll be able to use it as a tooth pick!!!!!!!
The fuel tank will drop about 6 inches with a substantial frame around it for protection
This is the frame that the shower tray will fit into
These are the wall panels for the bathroom that have been individually made to fit the space perfectly.
We are at that stage now where not a great deal seems to be happening but the bills are still coming in. I thought we had a sale for our old RV (Damon Daybreak) but the guy who wants it is French and has found it almost impossible to get the RV registered over there. We have sold our family car though, even if I did have to take less than trade in price to sell it quickly.
It seems like almost everything we own is on ebay at the moment. Books are not selling at all but clothes and shoes are doing OK. I've been amazed just how frivolous we've been in the past. We found a stack of clothes belonging to the twins that have never been worn. This whole experience has been incredibly tough but I think it has changed our family for the better. Even if we win the lottery one day, I think we will forever be a family that buys what they need and not what they desire!!
I'm currently waiting for the installation of the services and electrics bill to land in my inbox. The sale of the family car will help with that bill.
Christine is sleeping a little closer to me at night. I'm not sure if that means she is coming to terms with the restoration project or she has gone into attack mode and is preparing to strike!
I think I'll continue to play it safe for now - avoid scented soaps, sleep down wind and wear camouflage pyjamas:-)
I haven't heard from the restoration shop in two weeks. I know that the phone lines to the business have been disconnected (it was always the plan after Bob Rowsell passed away to close the business down) and some people would be frantically trying to contact the guys that are left at the shop to see what has happened to their investment. For me, it's been the most stress free two weeks we've had as a family for a very long time. We once again got to experience what it was like before this madness started and although we haven't really done anything special in that time, I think it's almost felt like a holiday for us.
Didn't start well this morning, Sam left his dirty underwear outside Kieran's room knowing Kieran wouldn't even step over the offending garment in case Sam's germs launched themselves onto Kieran's flesh!!!!!!!!!! In revenge, Kieran stuck the end of Sam's favourite pen in his own ear, having witnessed his brothers nasty habit of chewing on the end of his pens on many occasions. Again, the first we knew was the almighty row that ensued and all this before we've even had breakfast.
Opened up the emails when the kids had finally gone to school and Gerry the restorer had sent through three fresh images of the Flxible. These images are probably the first where I can actually see what the bus is going to look like and to say I'm pleased is an understatement!! Even Christine seemed to like the results (I'm basing that assumption on the fact that she didn't start the next sentence with "why didn't I listen to my bl**dy mother all those years ago...........................)
There is still a lot of work to do on the outside with the main thing being the dark blue pinstripe to match the original design. Money again is an issue with the very last and final loan running out quickly. On average now I'm sleeping about four hours each night and have started to have a re-occuring dream of having some kind of nasty animal (Crocodile, Wolf etc.) hunting me down and the whole dream is about me either trying to kill it or geting away from it!! I'm sure it means something but hopefully it will go away with time as I need some decent rest soon.