Roof Raise

Posted by Bus Conversion

After sending out an invite to everyone we knew in the Boston area, asking for their helping hands on the weekend of September 12th, Miro and I worked feverishly to make ourselves ready. After pre-assembling parts of the wooden towers on Friday night, we arrived at the yard early Saturday to set everything in motion. The first few souls to arrive helped complete the tower assembly, and helped tip them aloft.

Soon after assembling the towers, it was obvious that they were far too flimsy to safely hold up a bus roof. They swayed in the wind. McBean suggested that if we were to tie down the tops of the towers to nearby immovable objects they would be greatly strengthened. Wooden beams under direct compression are very strong, strong enough we figured to hold up the bus roof. But when the towers swayed, forces would no longer be directly along the tower legs, crash caboom calamity. In the end we used several concrete highway dividers that were closeby, and maneauvered McBean's Cadillac and my Saturn into position to support the other side. Alex, a master seaman and rigging expert, produced an impressive set of stays that could be adjusted via pulleys built into the ropes themselves.

To further stiffen the structure, McBean also suggested that we rigidly attach the wooden toweres to the lower part of the bus (since it hopefully wouldn't be going anywhere and weighed a lot). 10 foot wooden beams were run through the bus and bolted to both the frame and the towers. This step would drastically reduce the bowing effect int the weighted towers. I suppose mountains of data are available concerning the strength of wooden 2x4's in various directions and dimensions, and that I could have looked up the appropriate numbers and equations to see that my original design for the toweers was a hopefless disaster, but that just isn't my way. Luckily, brilliant people were on hand.

So far so good.

The roof would hang from ropes slung over metal pipes which were in turn lashed to two large beams running along the length of the bus, between the two towers. Getting the beams on top of the towers took some ingenuity -- this was something I had thought about but not at all solved -- and eventually it was decided that I should drive the bus under the towers, and then we could stand on the bus roof to set the beams into place.

Most of the afternoon Karen and Amy set about attaching the 4 hand-winches to the bases of the towers. We had McBean's beefcake winch and three totally shitty Harbor Freight winches ($15 apiece).

Most of the operation was lashed and secured with cheap 250 lb utility rope , but the bus roof would hang from superstrong climbing rope borrowed from the MIT Caving Club.

All through the afternoon we cut away at the existing body beams with as much speed as a 4.25" angle grinder and 1 sawzall and 1 hacksaw would allow. It was slow going, and by dinnertime it was obvious that we wouldn't finish it Saturday. There were 28 beams, plus approximately 16 linear feet in the rear and 10 linear feet in the front of steel body and frame that needed to be cut. The rear of the bus, along with the emergency door, would rise with the roof, while in the front the roof would separate just behind the driver, leaving the first few feet of roof, along with the forward roofline, intact.

On Sunday, a smaller group of friends came back to help us. We continued sawing away at the bus, and prepared the rigging. Without incident, we raised the roof to a total height of 16 feet above the ground.

Once the roof's weight was fully supported by the winches, they began to break. Metal tabs that are supposed to prevent a ratcheting mechanism from letting go of the main gear began to bend sideways, such that with a little coaxint the ratches might slip off the gear, causing the winch to spin freely and the roof to come down.

We pretty much couldn't do much about it by that point, so winch operators were cautioned to get the hell out of the way and not try any heroics should the winches self destruct.

It took perhaps a half hour of coordinated winching to raise the roof 4 feet from its original position. The winches were then secured to prevent unlocking and disaster, and four two-person crews set to work installing the frame extensions. Underneath the dangling roof, we hammered the new steel into place, and slipped bolts through, and lightly placed on the nuts. Since it would be easiest to guide the new frame members into their sockets if standing on tippy-toes wasn't involved, the frame extensios were installed first into the roof.

Then, gingerly, we lowered the roof. I ran around on the inside with a helper or two to guide the extensions home as they came into contact with the lower part of the bus. For the most part, it was an incredibly smooth operation. One of the beams at the far back got stuck and had to be wedged out with a crowbar, and while few of the extensions were precisely straight, they could be bent easily into their sockets with moderate force.

McBean and Greddy were appointed madmen, and jumped up and down on the roof to slide the extensions far enough down that the bolt holes would line up, and I ran back and forth with a tape measure to make sure all four corners were at roughly the same height. At one point we went to ofar and had to employ McBean's car jack and a 2x4 to inch teh roof up a bit.

With the tops and bottoms bolted, the roof raise was complete. Everybody left, pleased with the day. Miro and I disassembled the towers and moved the bus back into our parking spot. The Saturn ran out of gas, so we pushed it 4 blocks. I was more exhausted, perhaps, than I have ever been.