I have always wanted to live in a log cabin. My brother built a beautiful one in the upper field on land my dad gave him on the farm that he inherited from my grandfather. It had a great view of the valley below including my dad’s 100-acre farm. My brother built it mostly himself with help from friends and relatives when he was in his early 20s. I, on the other hand, wanted to be more mobile and travel the country. I have traveled to every one of the lower 48 states in the U.S. by some type of RV or car and have also been to Hawaii and Alaska. However, I flew to Alaska and I met up with my aunt and uncle, retired Full Timers with a Fifth wheel. They were so gracious and took me on a two-week loop of the state that I will never forget. They slept in their rig and I slept in a tent and learned how to fall asleep with the sun still up. I really enjoyed that very memorable trip; A drive to Alaska on my bus when I retire is on my Bucket List. Because I like log cabins that I could take on long trips, it was just what I was Looking for.
When I moved to southern California in 2004, house prices were sky high and on the rise. An average three-bedroom two-bath home was selling for $540,000, which I felt was way out of line and that a correction was imminent. Easy to say now, isn’t it? So, rather than buying a house, I decided to continue living in my 1985 36’ Fleetwood Discovery diesel pusher. After hearing more and more about how much safer and more rugged buses are than stick-and-staple motorhomes, I started considering a bus. My Fleetwood Discovery began having problems, which seemed to be a bit premature for its miles and age, so I thought a bus might better suit my needs. I grew up on a farm, and I liked rugged equipment. A heavy-duty, rugged bus conversion seemed like the perfect fit.
I happened on an MCI-7 that was for sale in the RV park I were was staying so I bought it and put my Discovery up for sale. It took about three months to sell the stick-and-staple unit, but it found a happy home with a young family who had looked at a lot of motorhomes—it was just what they wanted. I had my MCI-7 Combo which, for its time, had a very nice interior, and as mentioned in a previous article was owned by a famous TV star. I owned it for about three years but I still had my eyes on a Log Cabin Bus that was for sale. I liked the log cabin look and feel and the larger windshield and windows in the MCI-9 looked very appealing compared to my older model MC-7 with the smaller windows. The previous owner of the MC-9 Log Cabin Bus offered to trade my 1972 MC-7 conversion and my Harley, and a bit of cash in for the Log Cabin Bus, so I decided to take him up on his offer.
Again, I like the rough look and feel of a log cabin, lots of wood, easy to clean, no carpets to gather dust that has to be deep cleaned. Because of my allergies, I am not a fan of dust, and an allergist will tell you that carpets are great dust collectors. I also don’t like to have to take off my shoes every time I walk into my home like some folks with high-end units insist on. I never thought a carpeted motor homemade much sense when you spend a lot of your time in campgrounds where you frequently have to walk through grass or gravel to enter your abode. To each his own.
The first thing I did was remove all of the dead animals hanging from the walls. I do like the rustic look, just not the rustic feeling. The animal heads and hides on the walls were just dust catchers to me and I knew they would wreak havoc with my allergies. I also removed the gun from the wall, the traps and pictures of hunters in the wild. I had heard from someone who previously drove the bus that it was very noisy going down the road because of all of the wall ornaments banging against the wood. I decided I wanted a quieter ride.
After taking everything out, we moved the stove/oven and the small counter and lower cabinet on the driver’s side 24 inches towards the front and installed a Splendide washer/dryer combo unit in that space. The Splendide combo works great, but you must be gentle with it. The door latch can easily break if you close the door too hard. If that happens, you basically have to remove the entire door and replace the large circular shaped plastic insert, which is the size of the door with the built-in latch bracket, which is very expensive. Not a very good design. I know, I have bought two new doors in five years and the new doors still have the design flaw of a very thin piece of plastic holding the latch pin in place. But other than that, and the vent (this is the vented type) clogging up about once per year and having to pull it out and work your hands up behind the access panel and remove a rubber vent hose and hose clamp, which is nearly impossible to access to clean and then reassemble it, it is a pretty good unit. If they would only provide a rear access panel for this short piece of ductwork, and make the door latch pin a bit stouter, it would be an excellent machine. I installed it with the optional drain pan which is placed under the unit with a drain that drains down below my baggage compartment through a hose in the event of a leak. Thankfully, it has never leaked…yet.
Being a bachelor, I don’t even sweep my wood floor, I have a robot that does it for me. His name is Roomba and I just set him on the floor and he starts spiral motions and branches out until he bumps into a cabinet or other object, just like my neighbors’ blind dog. Then he backs up makes a bit of a turn and goes in another direction until he bumps into something else. It takes him about 30 minutes to randomly vacuum the entire floor of the bus. Now and then Roomba gets hung up on something but he can usually back up, turn and go in another direction to free himself, and he generally does quite well. He even cleans under the bed and sofa which is difficult to do with a broom or conventional vacuum cleaner but is important for someone with allergies. My next bus will have curved inside corners to match his radius, so there is not a pile of dust bunnies in all of my corners. After he has done his clean-ing, I pick him up and open his small bin, dump out the dust, dirt, hair, and other objects he swept up and wipe him off and plug him back in and set him on his shelf where he awaits his next call to duty. A flat wood floor is ideal for a robotic vacuum cleaner.
I added a built-in wastebasket compartment because I don’t like having to open a cabinet door every time I want to throw away a paper towel; that never made much sense to me. I built it to hold a large trash can because I don’t like taking out the trash either. So I picked up a large Rubbermaid Deluxe Slim Jim trash can with a 16 gallons capacity which measures 11” x 23” x 25” tall. I built a cabinet around it and cut a six-inch diameter hole in the top of the cabinet so most things I discard, with the exception of a gallon milk jug or cereal box, will fit through the opening. I figured that once a week when I have something bigger to throw away, I could open the front access door and slide the wastebasket out partway. I always use heavy-duty plastic trash bags and keep the roll in the bottom of the wastebasket so when I take out the full bag of trash weekly, I don’t have to search for the bags. I can usually go a week with one trash bag, but in the summer I empty it more often.
When I bought the Log Cabin Bus, it was designed as a display model and was built by a very professional craftsman who had a lot of woodworking experience; it was very well built. However, it was built for weekend trips with little closet space. It had only one closet that was only three and a half feet long, a small fridge and no washer/dryer unit. I wanted to live in my bus full time, which I did in my Discovery for the past five years and my 1972 MCI-7 for three years, so I had an idea what I wanted. Before I drove the Log Cabin Bus off the lot, I made a deal with the previous owner; he would supply me with a handyman and allow me to use his large lot and we would make some changes to convert it to a full-time bus.
We built a two-drawer file cabinet out of wood, of course; I like to keep my current files handy. As it turned out, the placement was perfect—all I need to do is turn 90 degrees counterclockwise in my office/kitchen/dining room chair from my office/kitchen/dining room table and my files are right there. We also added a four cubic foot apartment style refrigerator with a small freezer because the refrigerator that came with the bus was too small for full-timing. I figured that when I go boon-docking, I could fill both refrigerators when I head out on a trip. When I started running low on food and beer I could turn off the smaller unit and condense everything into the larger three-way (propane/110V/12V) unit and run off pro-pane to conserve power.
I use a microwave oven for all of my gourmet cooking. This bus didn’t come with one because when you take only weekend trips with a family, you normally cook outdoors. But being a Full-Timer and a bachelor, I needed a microwave. I picked up a medium size unit with the simplest controls I could find and built a cabinet to hold it. Some folks just set them on the counter, but if they ever run into anything unforgiving, the microwave would be embedded in their skull. I don’t like bloody messes. Building it in prevents it from becoming a projectile during sudden stops.
The Log Cabin Bus did not come with any roof A/C units, only the primary central over-the-road system. Because I stay parked most of the time, that didn’t suit my needs, I need two roof breaths of air in southern California. I went with the taller Coleman Mach series 13,500 BTU unit. I really wanted a Duo-Therm Penguin Low Profile unit as I like the low profile look, but I had one once before and it generated a high pitch noise which I didn’t care for. I thought it might be the one unit I bought for my MCI-7 that was bad, but I spent some time at Camping World listening to different A/C units running, and every one of the Penguins I listened to had the same high pitch background noise, so I decided to go with the Coleman which has been good to me. In my next bus, I will once again consider the Penguin if the noise problem has been resolved.
This bus also did not come with a generator but the previous owner said I could have a used one he had in his shop.
However, I could not get the Chinese built genera-tor to run and also heard bad reports about them, so I took my Onan 7.5 KW that had given me three years of carefree service in the MC-7 out of my old bus and put it in my Log Cabin Bus. It is a bit noisy as it is an older model from back in the 70s. I will have a newer, quieter A/C unit in my next bus.
The bus came with a 30 AMP service but was wired to be upgraded to a 50 AMP service. So I bought a fifty-foot long 50 AMP cord and wired it in for 50 AMP, 220 V service. I hard wired the cord into the breaker panel. In my next bus, I like the idea of a power cord with male and female ends at both ends of the cord, like an extension cord, which is removable so you can easily store it in any compartment, rather than limiting you to the power control panel compartment. This also gives you the advantage, as I learned from Wulf, that you can use the 50 AMP power cord when you really need to draw that many AMP’s, but can use a 20 AMP lighter, more flexible, easier to handle power cord when you are just doing an overnight and not running the A/C. This seems like the ultimate solution to me.
I was concerned about someone stealing my cord if it just plugged in at both ends, as has been mentioned on the BCM Forum, but my design will have the outlet on the inside of the baggage compartment and exiting through a hole in the floor, positioned in such a way it cannot be easily unplugged and stolen. This seems like the best of both worlds to me. I will probably even have two different receptacles one for 20 AMP and one for 50 AMP to avoid dealing with the adapters which are sometimes a hassle and easy to lose or steal. The dual system will also allow me to plug in my 50 AMP power cord and my 20 AMP cord if I need to run three roof breaths of air at the same time and I will wire the bus accordingly.
Because the bus was designed only for weekend trips, it had only about four outlets in the entire bus; one in the front, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, and one in the front of the bedroom. There were none in the back of the bus, by the bed head-board for a reading light or electric blanket or anything like that. So being the electrician’s son that I am, I immediately doubled the number of outlets. Another problem I ran into, naturally, is that the power panel was only designed with eight 110 V circuit breakers. So after using up two for each A/C unit, I was down to six breakers, without many circuits left. I went out and picked up a four-switch breaker sub-panel that I use for the microwave, and the washer/dryer unit. I pop a breaker now and then because of all of the modern appliances and common electronics I have like everyone else. As mentioned before, this bus was designed as a weekender.
My next bus will have at least twice as many outlets and twice as many circuits. I also added a 12 V license plate light on the ceiling to light up the control panel at night so I can see the breakers as there are no light switches in the bus, only the switches on each light and the main circuit breaker switch. I connected the license plate light into the refrigerator circuit, so if that circuit went off I would know right away that the fridge was not getting power so I could take corrective action immediately if I had to. The idea of the original bus was to keep it simple, which works well for weekend trips. My next bus will also have a dedicated circuit for the refrigerator so there is no chance that another outlet will trip the breaker. This is a trick my dad, an electrician, taught me.
The bus came with only two house batteries. Because I like to get out and stay awhile where most people don’t go, and I don’t like the sound and exhaust of a running generator, I needed more storage capacity. The previous owner also only had a 750 W inverter so that wouldn’t do either. I bought a rebuilt ProSine three KW Inverter/Charger and installed it with four 6 V batteries. I wanted to go with eight batteries, but because of the baggage compartment layout, it would have been hard to service them all without building a slide-out tray. I also wanted to use no maintenance AGM batteries as I had in my Sports-mobile, but they had become too pricey by then. In my next bus, I will make room for eight batteries and may go with the AGM if I can afford it.
I relocated the two seven and a half-gallon propane tanks to another baggage compartment so I could relocate the four batteries where the propane tanks were. I also put the inverter in the same bay as the batteries. I thought it would not be a good idea to have the propane tanks in the same compartment as electrical components that may kick out a spark now and then. The propane tanks are portable rather than built-in, which I like much better. There were days when I had the Discovery with the large built-in propane tank that required driving the coach to get the tank filled. I lived in the Discovery one entire winter in New Hampshire and with two furnaces it went through quite a bit of propane. Having to put all of your stuff away just to make a trip to the propane filling station was too much of a hassle for me, especially when it was zero degrees outside, which it often was in the middle of the winter.
I am considering putting four propane tanks on my next bus so I can go longer between refills. Fortunately, where I live now, there is a propane delivery service that comes by on a regular schedule so that is very convenient. Once in a while, I use a bit more propane than planned, like when my aunt and uncle visited for a couple of months last winter. My aunt is a wonderful cook and cooks most meals from scratch, so we went through about double the propane I would on my own. I generally can cook anything I need in the microwave, but that doesn’t taste quite the same as my aunt’s home-cooked meals. When we ran out of propane, all we had to do was remove the two portable tanks and run to the propane filling station about a quarter-mile away. This was a bit of a hassle, but not as much as driving the bus there, and snaking around the cars in the gas station to get to the propane tank filled. The other thing I will have on my next bus will be a remote propane gauge to better monitor the level. Bending down and crawling into the baggage compartment to look at the gauges is not very convenient.
I also installed a Kingdome Satellite on the roof. It is not in-motion for two reasons, I travel alone or with one person most of the time, so there is no need to watch TV while driving down the road. Plus, I think people should be enjoying the scenery rather than watching TV while on the road anyway; this is just my opinion. The other reason is that it was also out of my price range. But I did get the automatic satellite seeking feature since trying to crank up the manual dish and dial it in using a compass to find the appropriate satellite every night when you are traveling is too much trouble. I upgraded to HDTV when my Direct TV satellite contract was up and had a dish installed on the ground because for the most part, I am stationary right now, and the roof-mounted HD dome was definitely above my pay grade. However, my next bus will have an HD dome; by then the price will probably come down quite a bit and I will be retired and will be traveling a lot more, so a stationary satellite will be out of the question. Even though it is nice to have a portable satellite antenna in case you are parked under the trees, they come in pretty handy but it increases your cost some and takes up space along with the coiled up coax cable in your luggage bays.
This bus only has one propane furnace because it was designed to be used only for weekend trips in southern California. My Discovery had two furnaces and was a four-season rig. Two furnaces provide back-up if one goes out, and two will take the chill off faster in a cool climate and will allow you to travel in colder climates, provided that you can get heat to the luggage bays where the water tanks are located. My Log Cabin Bus also has no insulation other than the insulation MCI gave it and single-pane windows. When it gets really cold out here in So Cal, below 60 degrees in the dead of winter, with only the over the road bus insulation, two BCM PUBLISHER’s 1982 MCi-9 small 1500 W electric heaters can maintain the bus at a comfortable temperature. This would not be adequate for northern states in the winter. I use the furnace to warm it up when I first come home from work and when I get up in the morning to give the electric heaters a boost. In the heat of the summer here, when it gets above 100 degrees during the day, my two 15K roof A/C units can barely keep up. My next bus will have two furnaces, three A/C units and will be fully insulated and hopefully will have double pane windows. My bus has all of the windows just like a passenger bus. They were covered over with plywood on the inside with the window side painted black for the bathroom and the kitchen areas. It looks like any normal passenger bus from the outside with the factory tinted windows. Having so many windows makes the bus very bright on the inside, and with the light-colored wood, it is one of the brightest buses I have been in. The problem with having so many windows is that it feels chilly next to the windows when the temperature dips. The other problem with having so many windows is that they also let in a lot of dark at night so it takes additional lighting.
The bus came with log cabin furniture including one log cabin sofa, two log cabin chairs, and the bed was made from round pine logs. The look was rustic and is okay for a weekend-er, but they were very uncomfortable for full-timing. I removed the sofa and chairs and sold them and bought a wicker love seat from Pier 1 Imports, which is not only very comfortable but also lightweight. The only other chair in the bus is a very comfortable office chair with wheels; I am limited to how large of a party I can throw. The side across from the love seat is for my small treadmill, which I use when watching the news in the morning and reruns of History Channel and Discovery channel shows I record on my DVR. I no longer watch live TV, I record everything and time-shift it for when I want to watch it. I never liked watching commercials and lately, it seems like more time is spent showing commercials than the news. In exchange for my aunt and uncle taking me around Alaska back in 2002, I invited them to come out to California and stay with me for two months last winter to get out of the cold and snow in the Great White North of New Hampshire. They were Full-Timers for about seven years until their health brought them back home. My uncle is a master carpenter who built at least two houses all by himself. He does excellent cabinetwork and built another set of cabinets in the rear of my bus over the bed. They matched the rest of the bus perfectly. Now in addition to the three and a half feet of closet space, I have four more cabinets to keep my socks and skivvies in.
The bottom line is I love my bus and love being a Full-Timer. Without slides, it is a bit crowded in the kitchen when I have company over, but with careful timing, two people can
pass by each other when the stove is on. My next bus will be built based on lessons learned from this bus, my previous bus, and my Fleet-wood Discovery. It will have more lighting, more outlets, more closet space, solar panels, two propane furnaces, two 10 gallon propane/electric water heaters and built-in electric heaters for when I am parked in an RV park. It will have a 200 gallon fresh and a 200-gallon grey/black tanks like my MC 7 did, or bigger if they will fit in one compartment, from Ardemco. Both will have three-inch dump valves so the dumping procedure will be fast and I won’t have to stop as often when traveling. I would like six-inch dump valves like the fire truck tanker I used to drive, which would really expedite the evacuation of the tanks, but that is probably not feasible since we are limited to dump stations that still have three-inch receptacles.
This bus is great as it is for most people and would be excellent for people with kids; it is very difficult to mess anything up with the wood ceiling, walls, and floors. But my next bus will have more goodies to suit my lifestyle better. It will probably be another Log Cabin Bus; they are very easy to keep clean. I would also like long-range fuel tanks that hold 300 gallons like my friend with the Newell, but that may not happen. But it will definitely be better equipped than this bus for Full-timing and for long term boondocking. Slides would be nice, but not a necessity.
I have considered a 45’ bus as that would be roomier, but I like travel-ing on the red roads like my mom and dad did, so that might limit travel to some of the remote locations I like. I don’t care too much for interstates. My reason for traveling when I retire will be all about the journey, as well as the destination. My next bus will probably be my last bus-oh, they all say that and it will be configured to have everything I need. I have based my research on 20 years of back issues of Bus Conversion magazines I have read. These are filled with tons of useful advice and experiences from buses of all types. I will also draw on my own experience with living and traveling in a variety of campers, motorhomes and bus conversions.
I hope to see you all at the upcoming Rallies and to pick your brains for more ideas about planning my next home on the road.
Since July 2012, Gary Hatt has been the Publisher of Bus Conversion Magazine. Gary does most of his own work on his bus with the help of mechanic friends. He has owned tents, truck campers, travel trailers, and stick-n-staple motor-homes until he bought his first bus in 1997 which was a 1972 MCI MC-7 Combo. When he had a chance to buy a 1983 MCI MC-9 Log Cabin bus with larger windows he jumped at the chance. On Thanksgiving of 2014, Gary bought a 1967 Model 08 Eagle and has since been living and traveling fulltime in that.
You may reach Gary Hatt at Gary@BusConversionMagazine.com