A week of re-routing

For the third week in a row, I have been on the road in the vintage bus, driving it to the shop that will handle the next stage of its restoration. The only problem is that, for a good part of the week, I didn’t know where that shop would be. If the recent vintage bus saga is new to you, you might want to read the past two posts here on the blog where I describe the situation in detail. To make a long story short, though, my original plan was to drive the bus from Ft. Worth (where it got its engine/tranny worked on) to Nova Scotia (where the interior will be installed). This plan fell through in a big way. The bus will eventually get to Nova Scotia, but not anytime soon.

As of my last post, I was located in Columbus, Ohio, where I inspected a paint and body shop. I wasn’t impressed by the place so I made some additional appointments to visit shops in Elkhart, Indiana, which is pretty much the RV capitol of the U.S. I spent two days in Elkhart inspecting shops and getting quotes. None of the places really stuck out for me (for various reasons) so I decided to look at my other options. I was also getting pretty stressed out because I still had no official plan for where the bus would stay to get worked on and I HAD to be back at my current bus (the one I live on now) by Monday! I was literally racing the clock and trying to make sound decisions under a lot of pressure.

During my travels in the vintage bus, I’ve been stopping to photograph lots of old gas stations. This is an iPhone shot of one.

One of my options was a shop in Chattanooga, TN that was appealing for two reasons. First of all, I have friends who have had their buses worked on there and ended up being very happy with the place. Second, their shop rate is VERY reasonable and, considering the bill I’ve been racking up with the bus, reasonable rates are a BIG plus. I decided to head in that direction, knowing it would take me two days to get there. I was en route to my destination when I had my third breakdown since I started off in Ft. Worth. This time, it was due to a leak in the cooling system. It happened late at night, so I couldn’t get it looked at right away. Instead, I had to slowly make my way toward a shop I found, driving in very short increments at a time so the bus wouldn’t overheat. Luckily, the shop looked at it first thing in the morning and it turned out to be a simple fix. A coolant pipe had worked its way loose so they made a new gasket, filled it back up and sent me on my way. By the time I hit Nashville, however, the leak was back. The same company who worked on it sent out a truck to take care of the situation. It all worked out in the end, but it was a frustrating situation (like much of this trip has been).

A shop that worked on the bus’ cooling system sent a truck out when I had some problems on the road.

I finally arrived in Chattanooga on Friday morning and brought it to the shop. I explained to the guys what needed to be done, one of the projects being the power steering system. Feeling pretty confident leaving the bus here for a while, I took a transit bus to Atlanta, where I spent the night with my great friend and photographer Eddie Tapp. On Saturday morning, I was on a flight back to California, where my current bus is located. Karen flies in today (she’s been visiting her family in NJ while I’ve been focused on the vintage bus) and we will head toward Page, Arizona where I’m teaching with the Digital Photo Workshop gang this weekend. More to come!

The Vintage Bus Run: Shifting Gears

This post is part two of the Vintage Bus Run saga. If you didn’t read last week’s post, you can check it out HERE. It will fill you in on the general status of my vintage bus project.

I ended last week’s post in St. Louis, having driven all the way from Ft. Worth. As you know, my original plan for this trip was to spend 10 days driving from Texas to Nova Scotia, where the bus will get its interior fixin’s. Well, it’s amazing how much things can change in a week! This road has been filled with a lot of frustration and more drama than I care to deal with. Luckily, there’s been some fun moments along the way too.

When I arrived in St. Louis, I had to seek out a shop because the bus had a minor leak in the transmission’s heat exchanger. The issue required a fitting to be replaced, which wasn’t that huge a deal. I spent the time in St. Louis hanging out with my cousin Paul. We went out to eat and then headed over to the extremely wild City Museum. Paul had never been there, which I couldn’t believe! The place is like a playground for adults, but it’s really hard to explain. You really just need to see it for yourself. I highly recommend it if you’re ever visiting St. Louis.

When I returned to the shop to pick up the bus, I had a major issue with the staff there, who tried to charge me out the wazoo for something like 15 hours of labor. If you saw what had to get fixed, you would know that this was absolute silliness. I finally got them down to a less offensive price (by knocking off 11 hours of labor), but I left the place in a pretty bad mood. I left St. Louis and made it across the border to Indiana… when the bus had its second mechanical issue. A sensor that was connected to the air system broke and started spewing air. Since the bus has air brakes, that means I was stuck. After further inspection, I found what had caused the break in the air system and it led me to a bigger problem. There were about eight bolts holding the rear end onto the suspension that weren’t tightened properly (this leads back to the first mechanic who worked on the project) and had allowed the rear end to shift on the chassis 2 1/8″ toward the passengers side and interfere with the air lines. I had to call AAA to tow the bus, but talked them into plugging my air leak instead of having to tow the bus. I then found a shop that had alignment equipment and could work on it the next morning. In the meantime I checked into a hotel in Evansville. At this point, I was needing some good news and, luckily, good news came! I learned that my friends Sam and Tracy, who are fellow full-timers like us, were in the same little town as I was! The chances of me seeing anyone I knew there were slim to none, so I was blown away! I met up with Sam that night and had a much-needed beer.

Sam and I relax after I spent a long time troubleshooting bus issues.

The shop finished with the bus the next afternoon and I was on my way again. I got a late start, so I didn’t make it all too far that night. I stopped just outside Louisville, KY and spoke with the person who will work on the interior of the bus in Nova Scotia. This is where I was dealt the biggest blow of the entire trip. There I was, in the middle of the country on my way to his shop, when he tells me that he suddenly took on another project and wouldn’t be able to work on my bus for another six months. @#$%$^@!!! This project has encountered so many setbacks and has been delayed by nearly a year and a half already, so I really didn’t know how to react to this. How could he have taken on a new project, knowing that I was on my way to his place? He claimed that he didn’t know I was actively on my where to his place and thought I was on a leisurely road trip and wouldn’t show up until the fall. I don’t know where he got that idea. In fact, I went through my emails and saw that I had specifically told him what my plans were and when I’d be arriving. I was very upset and sent him an e-mail expressing this and explaining my situation. Then I proceeded to spend the rest of the night trying to figure out what to do. I had looked into some other shops that could do the work, but this guy is by far the most talented and understands the style I want. I started thinking about changing gears and getting the paint and body work done before the interior. This is the opposite order in which I had originally planned, but that’s ok. I started looking into paint and body shops that were in the general area of the country I was in. When I went to bed that night, I had no idea which direction I would be heading in the morning.

The next morning, before I even had a chance to wake up, the phone rang. It was Craig… the guy who I received the bad news from yesterday. He was extremely apologetic about the whole scenario and wanted to do what he could to make things right. He sent me an email expressing the same thing. As upset as I was, it would be hard for me to imagine bringing the bus to a shop other than his, so I’ll most likely do that, but nothing is 100% decided yet. What I DID do, however, is make some appointments to evaluate paint and body shops. The first place I visited was in Columbus, Ohio, which was on my original planned route. Unfortunately I wasn’t excited by the quality of the work there. I made a few appointments in Elkhart, Indiana as well, which takes me in the opposite direction of my original route, but at this point everything is up in the air.

Here’s an iPhone shot of one of the gas stations I stopped to photograph on the way to Elkhart.

I really have no idea what my plans will be for the next week and what will be done next in the vintage bus project. Maybe body work and paint. Maybe mechanical stuff like power steering. It’s really hard to say right now, but I should have a better idea by mid-week. I will have to return to the current bus in California soon, because we need to head toward Page, Arizona for a three-day workshop with the Digital Photo Workshops gang. If you’re a photographer, check it out! We have a room for a few more! More to come…

Because this post was full of speed bumps and frustrations, and not enough fun stuff… here is a photo of me with the world’s largest underpants. It’s an iPhone shot from the City Museum in St. Louis.

The Vintage Bus Run Begins!

We have lift-off! I’m excited to say that the “Vintage Bus Run” has officially begun. If you’re not familiar with my vintage bus saga, here’s the short version. In addition to the bus Karen and I currently live on, I also own a 1963 Flxible Starliner (the vintage bus) which I am completely restoring from the inside out. There are two main segments to the restoration: the engine/transmission part and the interior/living space part. After a very long and drawn-out process (the first mechanic delayed the process by over a year) the first segment of the restoration is basically complete and the bus is now ready to get its interior. This means that it’s time for me to drive it from Fort Worth, Texas (where it was being worked on by the amazing George Fields) to Nova Scotia, where Craig Dorsey will work his magic and give the interior the streamline design/high-tech style I want. I know that Nova Scotia seems a bit inconvenient, but Craig is the only person I’ve found with the creative vision and high standards I was looking for.

George and I take the bus for a test run in Ft. Worth before I start the drive to Nova Scotia.

Early in the week, I flew from the L.A. area to Ft. Worth. We spent some time taking care of last-minute tweaks and doing some road tests. We had a very minor delay when the wheels (rims) were replaced and the old studs were a bit too short for the new wheels, but this wasn’t a big deal. We quickly replaced the studs and I was on my way!

The planned route from Ft. Worth to Nova Scotia.

During my first day on the road, I got a good feel for how the bus drives with its new engine and transmission. It’s an absolute hot rod! I had a hard time keeping myself within five mph of the speed limit! I had planned on making it to Tulsa, OK the first night, but ended up in Oklahoma City instead. My friend Jerry happens to live in OKC, though, and we were able to meet up for dinner! It’s been a year since I’d seen Jerry last, so it was great to catch up.

Here I am with my friend, Jerry, in Oklahoma City during my first stop on the vintage bus run.

Soon after leaving Oklahoma City, I picked up historic Route 66 and decided to follow it as long as I could. I’ve already driven the entirety of the “Mother Road” more than twice, but I just love shooting the old gas stations and other vintage buildings along the route. Considering I’m driving the vintage bus, it seemed rather appropriate! Plus, I allowed myself extra time during this trip in case I wanted to shoot, linger or deal with any mechanical issues.

The Blue Whale, on Rt. 66 just outside of Tulsa.

Speaking of mechanical issues, I did run into a small problem while driving through Kansas and Missouri. The heat exchanger for the transmission began leaking fluid and I had to periodically top it off during the course of the day. I plan to get this checked out today in St. Louis. Hopefully it will be an easy fix and I’ll be on my way again. If you want to follow the progress of the vintage bus run, check out the Creative Cruiser Facebook page, where we’re posting more frequent updates. https://www.facebook.com/CreativeCruiser

For now, here are some more iPhone photos of the bus on Rt. 66. More to come!

From Lake Havasu to Vancouver: A jam-packed week of friends, fun & travel


Lake Havasu

As you can probably tell from this post's title, we covered a lot of ground this past week. The last update left us leaving the Mono Lake area, bound for Lake Havasu City. Our great friends Chris and Cherie, of Technomadia, were to end up there after their maiden voyage with their new vintage bus and we wanted to pay them a surprise visit. It worked, because they had NO idea we were coming and were completely shocked when we rolled in that night!

Spending the day out on Lake Havasu was great! The refreshing dips in the water made the heat actually bearable.

We got to spend three great days with them, and they introduced us to their new home on wheels. Our two busses were parked nose to nose at the home of our friends Wayne, Lisa and Andrew, who were all awesome hosts (and even had RV hookups!). Since the temperatures rose to 122 degrees (that's not an exaggeration. It actually got that hot.) we spent a lot of time in the water. Not only did they have a refreshing swimming pool to hang out in, but we were invited to spend a day out on the lake in our friends' boat… which was awesome. We barbecued on the beach, hung out in the water, and sped around on the boat, periodically stopping to dive into the cool water. It was a GREAT day. The only negative was that when we returned to the bus, we learned that the heat was too intense and the bus air conditioners actually automatically shut off. In that kind of heat, the bus was pretty much transformed into a rolling oven.

Our light-painting of Chris and Cherie's new vintage bus.

And of course, during our visit, there was plenty of vintage bus geekery going on. We went over a lot of bus systems and talked about future plans for modifying them. I even gave Chris a bus driving lesson, since they're used to towing their home with their car, instead of the other way around. And when it got dark, we light-painted Chris and Cherie's bus as our house-warming gift to them. It was a great couple days, and we were bummed to say goodbye. We had to get back to Vegas though, because from there we were flying to Vancouver for our two-week Alaska cruise.


Dave, Silvianne and myself after an awesome dinner at their Vancouver home.


On Friday afternoon, we hopped on a flight from Vegas to Vancouver. What a refreshing break from the heat! We went from 112 degrees to about 65 degrees. Even Karen, who loves the heat, was relieved. We only had one night in Vancouver before our ship was to "set sail" the next day, and how did we spend that night? … with friends! That's right. Not only do I have friends throughout the U.S., but in Vancouver as well! We were invited to dinner by my friend Dave and his wife, Sylvianne, and it turns out their place was only a 10-minute walk from our hotel! They served up an excellent meal, and it was great to catch up since it had been a few years since I had visited them last.

The next day, before heading to the dock area, we went to breakfast at the Elbow Room in downtown Vancouver. This was a recommendation from Sylvianne, and we'd pass on the recommendation. Disclaimer though… you may want to expect a little abuse there. For example, if you ask for a second cup of coffee, you'll probably be told to get off your ass and get it yourself. It's just that kind of place. And the food was great.


Bon Voyage!

On Saturday afternoon, we finally boarded our ship, the Diamond Princess, for our 14-night Alaska cruise. I spent the time getting to know my way around the ship (Karen already did as she's a cruise nut and has actually been on this ship before!), taking a tour of the spa, and relaxing as we "set sail" up the inside passage. After dinner that night, we went out on deck, wrapped ourselves in blankets on lounge chairs and watched "Tron Legacy" on the massive outdoor screen. Nice way to end our first day on the water! Next stop: Alaska. More to come…

My "office" on the ship, looking out at the Inside Passage on the way up to Alaska. Not too shabby, eh?