Work has been continuing with great success. The bus now is topped with four solar panels securely mounted and wired to all the crazy electronics inside what used to be the TV cabinet. This cabinet also houses the inverter, lithium batteries and all the other bits to make the electrical system work. All the lighting has been converted to LED. The previous system which was designed to run on 120V and 12V both will now be only 12V. We will still have ample 120V power from the inverter or shore power to run the computers etc but lighting will be brighter and less energy demanding. Additional 120V receptacles have been added to accomodate equipment and 12v charging stations added for phones and other such devices. Upgrades were done in a way so as not to destroy the 1960's ambiance.
Although the former TV closet looks like the inside of a space ship, we do still need to finish the task of hooking all the electrical bits together and programming them to play together. For that I am relying on Jason from Long Spring Solar in Eagle River (https://longspringsolar.com/) who designed the system and procured all the bits for us.
The old water leaks which destroyed much of the interior pecan paneling have been fixed and we got a good test of that with the rainy Fall. With those fixed we could start repairing the damage. Fortunately, prior to giving us the bus, Jim had torn out most of the damaged materials and cleaned up the mess. So now, reconstruction of the interior is nearly complete with old paneling reused and repurposed when possible. Two pull-out beds in the rear replace the fixed ones so that the "bedroom" is now both a bedroom and a nice office space with seating for 6 if needed. The front "living room" now also has a pull-out bed but can serve as a great seating and conversation area when that is pushed back in. The dinette area provides another work area as well as sleeping accommodation (albeit for shorter folks).
Some mechanical issues with the bus were tidied up before winter hit as well and there are zero drips now under the bus! That is exciting. In moving the bus to a new location for the winter, I did discover the ignition switch disintegrated and some clever "hot wiring" was needed to get it out of the gas station. I guess I should not complain, it worked for 56 years!
Next up is retrofitting the plumbing system to more modern standards and replacing the inoperable shower controls. The donated electric and engine coolant fired water heater is installed and ready to make hot water.
The lovely run of weather in the 20's has given me much more motivation to work outside in the bus and if this run ends, I may actually have to hook up the propane tanks and test out the two heaters on board.
The goal is to have the bus on the road in April. We also plan to have it at the State Fair in Palmer this Fall as a venue for our Brain Injury Partners to showcase their resources to help al of us.
Even with winter well underway here in Anchorage, we have been making progress on all things bus! All of the opening windows were removed, resealed and reinstalled to fix leaks which had developed over the last 50 years. It took some time to find all the original parts but the internet is like Harry Potter's room of requirement for those who persevere. Vintage Trailer Supply in Santa Fe, NM carries all sorts of parts for these old windows since they were used in Air Stream trailers of the same era. Upgraded 12 volt electrical wiring is being installed now and the old 12 volt and 120 volt interior lighting has been upgraded to snazzy new, power-efficient LED lights while maintaining the original character of the vintage 1960's light fixtures.
We have sourced pecan paneling from a local small business, Alaska Hardware Specialties to replace that damaged by the leaking windows and will soon start on the interior woodwork renovation. The goal is to keep as much of the original wood as possible as it positively glows with history and stories of adventure.
Our tires got a clean bill of health! For those who don't know, big truck tires like those on the Brain Bus are very expensive and very critical for safety. The Brain Bus runs on 6 of these tires. Dave, from another local small business, Diversified Tires in Wasilla, came into town and gave the bus tires a once over and told us we were good to go and gave Adam a quick tutorial in truck tires. Thank you Dave!
Next up is installation of batteries, solar panels and all the associated bits and bobs sourced from a local, veteran-owned small business, Long Spring Solar in Eagle River. The owner, Jason, designed the system, sourced the components and has courageously offered to brave the cold and help with the installation. It is time to shovel off the bus roof again!
Weekend by weekend, we get closer and closer to being ready to hit the road!
corporate status approved by the State of Alaska
I know it is not very exciting to most, but the State of Alaska just approved our filing to be a Non-profit Corporation. We still have to finish our application to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for our non-profit status but this first step of being incorporated is a start. Incorporation means we can get a business license, open a bank account and all of those important things which make a business run.
Some of us on the bus have formed a corporation called the Alaska Brain Injury Consortium (ABIC) to be an umbrella organization to support the brain bus, and potentially other projects to help those with brain injury. This corporation wil provide us with an avenue to be a non-profit, apply for grants and do other things to support the bus and its mission.
The behind the scenes paperwork is not as glamorous as installing the slide out refrigerator in the bus or hooking up a hot water heater, but it is just as essential to the success of the Brain Bus. While my preference is to work on building out the bus, I am enjoying the challenge of applying for IRS non-profit status. It is hundreds of pages of documentation which forces us as the Alaska Brain Injury Consortium (now an Alaska Non-profit Corporation!) to be very clear on what we are doing and how we are doing it. It is an opportunity for each of us to weigh in on what we think is important and how we should work moving forward.
It will be nice to have the IRS application done for sure but as they say, it is the journey and not the destination, which often brings the greatest rewards. Certainly, the journey of the Brain Bus has been very rewarding so far and it has just barely begun!
The bus needs a water heater. Jim in California had one for me but it would require a 12 inch square hole be cut into the side of the bus and he and I agreed that seemed a bad idea. Once I was back home, I started searching on Craigslist for one which could be run on shore power or the generator (110V) and ideally on engine coolant so we could be more environmentally friendly by using waste heat from that big V-8 engine lurking under the nose of the bus. I found one for sale at half price, still in the box in Kasilof which is down on the Kenai Peninsula. I contacted Bob, the seller, and we began to arrange to have it shipped up to Anchorage as I have no spare time to drive down to collect as all my non-clinic time is now devoted to the bus. I mentioned some where along the way what I wanted the heater for as it is designed for a boat and I did not want Bob to think I was crazy. As Bob and I refined the details and I asked how I could send him the money, I got this email back:
I lost my only son Tuesday morning. He has struggled with TBI for the past 32 years and he died in his sleep ... he was 48 years old. My wife and I will donate the heater to your TBI Clinic project ... this would be the best outcome. We will deliver the heater today to American Fast Freight in Soldotna. Please give us ship to instructions so they know what to do with the freight .Happy to do this for you.
Fortunately, I was working on a presentation for a class on brain health I am teaching and was not going in to see patients because, on reading this, I burst into tears and was in tears for some time. Tears happen more readily since my TBI and this is a common consequence of brain trauma but I also feel it is because I am increasingly more closely acquainted with the pain TBI inflicts on our communities. I am struck once again not only by the magnitude of the reach of TBI but by the incredible support communities can provide. This totally random contact with Bob brought me to tears but also made me realize that despite my fears of not being able to do this project well enough or correctly to help people, I have to make it work. We have to make it work. I am clearly not alone on this mission to help Alaskans with TBI. All my struggles with mountains of paperwork for grants and IRS non-profit applications which keep me up at night are such small parts of something much bigger than me or the bus. There is a powerful force in community and the love and concern for others that comes from shared trauma and tragedy.
Bob and Liz, the loss of their son, Robert Lloyd Correia, and their water heater which will be at the heart of comfort in the bus, all propel this project forward just when I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task and the realization that I might not really know what I am doing. We will figure this out together! I know that again, now. In honor of you, Robert Lloyd Correia, the bus moves forward.
After four days of intense and exciting work mostly on my back under the bus in the balmy weather of the North Bay area of San Francisco, I came to appreciate Jim who is not only very kind and generous but smart, talented and clever. I learned a lot from him and not just about the bus. Meeting him and spending time with him was a highlight of the trip. I also came to appreciate 1967's technology. I like things I can understand and the bus is that kind of thing. It is stout, robust and a joy to work on. The time flew by and Sunday morning came quickly and with the film crew on hand to record me driving away from Jim's house, the bus and I headed north to Tacoma where in two days time, we were to meet the ship which would take the bus to Alaska.
Cruising along the freeways of central California with the windows open to the hot breeze, I reflected on the amazing thing which was just unfolding. Here was a 54 year old bus with 89K miles on the clock which had sat for 12 years, barely driven, lovingly brought back to life by Jim who had a passion for saving this old bus. I felt like I was taking over as the new caretaker for this bus which clearly had a thirst for more adventure. The bus just hummed along the highway as if eager to see over the next hill. It was exhilarating and humbling to be in the driver's seat of not only this bus which was nearly as old as I but of a project destined to help hundreds of Alaskan's suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury.
My mixed state of wonder and worry about what could go wrong was interrupted occasionally by the need to get fuel. The bus has two 55 gallon tanks and gets maybe 8 miles per gallon. I never did fill the tanks fully because the pumps turned off at $100-$150. So I filled one tank till the pump stopped then filled the other. We were making good time and filled up in Redding in Northern California and kept pressing north into the mountains where the sky was filled with smoke from the forest fires which had burned forest on both sides of I-5 and were still burning in the distance. As we climbed up a grade into the glowing orange sky of early evening, the bus slowed and then stopped and would not start. I eased backwards onto the shoulder and ran through the possibilities of what might have happened. It turns out the two alternator belts had broken so we were stuck until I could replace those.
It was rapidly growing dark and fortunately, at Jim's recommendation, I had joined Coach Net which provides roadside assistance for Class A motorhomes. I called the number and gave them my newly minted membership number which was less than 24 hours old. The woman who answered was very kind and told me that they would call a tow truck to take me to a safe place and then get me to a shop in the morning to have any necessary work done. I knew I could do the work myself and save not only money but time so we agreed they would tow the bus to a near by rest area for the night and we would see what the morning brought.
Since this is a remote part of the state, I was not surprised to hear it would be 5 hours for the truck to arrive and equally unsurprised when it took 6. It was an amazing thing to wait under the star filled sky feeling the bus rock from side to side as the big 18 wheelers zipped by. it gave me time to reflect on the bigger scheme of things and I was thankful I had learned to work on cars from my wife and had learned courage and tenacity from my parents. I tried to get some sleep but it was difficult and I finally gave up and put my headlamp on and started working on some projects in the bus hoping a truck would not veer of the road into us. The tow truck, actually a landoll, appeared out of the dark and within 45 minutes the bus was on the trailer headed back south to the rest area. It was impressive to watch the driver load and unload the 31 foot bus in the dark.
That night, I slept on the floor of the bus waking periodically to think through what I needed to do in the morning. I had sent the film crew on ahead to get a motel and figured in the morning, I could ask them to look for parts and bring them back to the bus where I could install them. With that plan in place, I fell asleep to wake at dawn ready to go.
I called Lauren and texted her the things I needed. As I waited for her, I marveled at the fact that my phone had service since in many places in Alaska, even along our biggest highways, do not. Lauren sprang into action and after visiting several auto parts stores, drove back to me with parts in hand. I quickly adjusted the alternator, installed the belts, tensioned them, installed the new battery and we were on our way again.
I had lost a lot of time but the bus was eager to go as was I and we agreed to go faster today. We averaged 65-70mph on our way to Eugene OR where I met my daughter and son-in-law and after a quick visit with interviews by the film crew included, my daughter joined me in the bus and we raced through the dark to Tacoma to make IKEA before it closed. We pulled into IKEA with an hour to shop before they closed. We worked efficiently with a list prepared by my wife and were out and back on the road by 945pm. We pulled into a rest area just north of Tacoma around 1 AM and spread out on the floor and were asleep in minutes.
The next morning after quick trip to Trader Joes for some food, we drove to the Port of Tacoma and were met by the film crew and Lisa and Paul from Tote Maritime who gave as a very warm welcome and a tour of the facility. After a few hours of interviews, filming and geting the bus settled for the journey north, we all crammed into Lauren's care and raced to catch our flights out of SEATAC.
Five days later, today in fact, I picked the bus up from the Port of Anchorage and drove it to the clinic where I settled it in for its winter rest and restoration/remodeling. It felt lovely to be back behind that huge steering wheel knowing the bus and I were thousands of miles closer to our goal. I wondered how the bus felt in the sub freezing weather. It is quite a change from the south west where I think it has spent most, if not all, of its life.
Now that the bus in actually here, we can start the work necessary to get it on the road by May 2022. I can also be more specific about our needs and will post those on the How to Support Us page as the project moves forward.
When I started to think about how to get the bus from the San Francisco Bay area to Anchorage, I thought I would just drive it. The Canadian border is scheduled to open in a few days so I could just take a week and drive it up. It is not something I am unfamiliar with. One year, I drove the ALCAN 3 times.
Then I started thinking about the reality of doing that drive with an unknown bus which is only 5 years younger than I am. I am a pretty handy guy and love a challenge and adventure but I began to think there might be a better way.
I contacted a company I have used before for vehicle shipping - TOTE Alaska. When I got the quote, I was devastated. It was way more than the project could support. When I asked if there was a chance we could get a reduction for a charitable cause, I was contacted by Milena who is Tote's Community Relations Program Manager. After a lovely chat, she asked me to fill out some paperwork and she would see if they could ship the bus for free. Once again, the power of community seems unstoppable.
I will still have to go down and drive it up to the port in Tacoma but I look forward to meeting Jim in person and finishing up a few projects down there before heading north. I want to thank him in person and carry his knowledge about the bus back to the Alaska team.
So from despair to elation, I am once again optimistic that this dream can become reality. Details will be finalized soon and I have my fingers crossed. Thank you Milena and TOTE Alaska!
After mentioning my dream to have a Brain Bus for Alaska and making some inquiries about what might work, Jim, from California who has a family member with a TBI from military service, wrote to me and offered his 1967 Wanderlodge as a donation to the cause.
I was overwhelmed by the kindness of his offer and my brain exploded with the possibilities and challenges this now presents. What an amazing thing to happen.
An Alaska Brain Bus is actually becoming a reality!