Ok. So We Bought a Bus…

The Beachcomber


A day before my 50th birthday, I saw an ad for a “party bus” on Craigslist. I sent a message to my wife that read, “Wanna get me a bus for my birthday?” Surprisingly, she agreed. We looked at it on the weekend after my birthday. We liked it. On my way back from Provo on the following Saturday, we picked it up.

The bus is a former school bus. I can tell from the yellow paint on the inside of the doors and the label that says “Vehicle Type: School Bus” on the driver side door. It has a 7.1L Deisel Engine, just like the Ford E350 that from which the bus was built. It can tow carry 9000 lbs and tow 7500lbs.  It originally came with 5 bus seats and 4 captain’s chairs.


I’ve liked the idea of doing some sort of conversion for a while. My biggest reason for wanting to do a project like this is to customize the buildout for my ham radio installation. I want to be able to put an antenna on it for when I’m rolling down the road and for when it is parked for a short period of time. However, when I camp, I want to raise up an antenna mast and work HF. I want to load it up with batteries that have enough charge to last a week and solar panels so that I won’t need to worry about how much power I’ve consumed.

In the beginning, the camping build-out will be a small effort. I’ll add a bed and a toilet to get started, then add other conveniences later. Most power will be DC off of the ham radio batteries or LCD lights running off of AA or AAA batteries. I will have some room for appliances that I’ll plugin when I have hookups at a campground. Otherwise, it’s DC and camp cooking.

A Mast

I had the mast up on the camper today. The camper came with a TV that runs off of a power inverter which pulls from the bus’ batteries. I hooked the TV antenna jack to an HDTV antenna that my mom sent me for my birthday a few years ago. I put that antenna on my masting solution for my old truck. My auto-scan for channels picked up 16 digital channels.

That solution was basically a trailer hitch mounted bicycle rack to which an affix a piece of fiberglass masting. On top of that piece, I place the rest of the masting, as one fits inside of the next. The masting, itself was used to hold up camo nets over fighter jets so that they would not be seen by aircraft flying above. I removed the net spreaders from the kit, and Just use the interlocking poles as my antenna mast.


I intend to use this mast for supporting a dipole HF antenna and possibly a VHF/UHF antenna at the same time that it is supporting a TV antenna.

The Name

When I was a kid, I spent a number of summers at my grandmother’s marina. I remember a free weekly newspaper called “The Beachcomber.” A number of years later, when I got my ham license, KC7NJB, my friend asked me what “NJB” would stand for. I replied, “New Jersey Beachcomber.” So, when it came time to name a bus / mobile ham shack that is going to be staying at campgrounds all around the Puget Sound, many of which are on the beach, “The Beachcomber” seemed like an appropriate name.

Next Steps

The next steps are to remove the carpeting and replace the flooring. Once that is done. I’d like to re-mount the captain’s chairs so that they are more firmly attached to the floor and can swivel around towards the back. After that, I want to install a twin bed and a closet that will hold the toilet.

I’ll update with more later.

New Radio (UV-5X3)

I bought a BTECH UV-5X3 radio this week. As the name might suggest, it is a five-watt radio that works three bands: 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.  It is Chirp compatible, allowing me to condense the programming from my two radios that cover these three bands into one radio.

While programming the radio, I decided to add more repeaters. I have become entertained with the proximity search on the RepeaterBook.com mobile app. With this, I can pick the repeaters to add to the radio in order of their distance from the house. I’m eager to try this program out when I’m away from the house, as well. It would be nice not to need to program the radio each time that I go to another place.

There were some things that I wish were better in the experience. For example, If you buy a 5X3, get the tri-band antenna accessory. Having to switch antennas, only because you’ve changed the channel, isn’t a great customer experience. Likewise, the proximity search works on the RepeaterBook.com website. BUT… if you export the list to a Chirp file, the site doesn’t respect the “sort by distance” parameter, leaving you with the right repeaters, in the wrong order.

Still, I’m looking forward to making this radio my primary handheld radio for events and regular use.

So Many Choices, but Only 16 Channels

In the last year, I’ve been volunteering for amateur radio events whenever possible. I worked the Rotary Auction last year, and the Chilly Hilly this past weekend. For both events, I programmed new frequencies into my radio on the night before the event.

Here’s what I have decided to cover so far. From the Kitsap County Emergency Communications Plan, each region of Kitsap County has a 2-meter and 70-centimeter frequency (in MHz):

  • South Kitsap Simplex (147.46 & 445.850)
  • Bremerton Simplex (147.48 & 445.875)
  • Central Kitsap (147.50 & 445.900)
  • North Kitsap (147.52 MHz & 445.925)
  • City of Bainbridge Island (147.54 & 445.950)
  • Medical Net (147.56  & 445.975)
  • County Wide (445.825)

Furthermore, there are repeaters that we use for emergencies. Those are the same repeaters used for events.

  • The BARC repeater (444.475+ PL=103.5)
  • The Kitsap County repeater in Silverdale (145.43- PL=179.9)

And then, there are a couple of customized channels:

With the Baofeng UV-5R, you have 127 channels. This will allow you to put all of these frequencies into the radio. However, with the Baofeng 888s, you only get 1 band (70-centimeter) and 16 channels. This means that you have to choose what channels you are going to keep.

For my radio, on Saturday, I did this programming:

Channel Name Frequency Offset Tone rToneFreq
1 W7NPC 444.475 +5 TSQL 103.5
2 K7SCN 440.95 +5 Tone 110.9
3 446
4 445.95
5 445.85
6 445.875
7 445.9
8 445.925
9 445.975
10 445.95 TSQL 100
11 445.95 Tone 100

This covers the two repeaters that we were using for the Chilly Hilly, The North America simplex call for 70-centimeters, simplex channels from the communications plan, and the BARC simplex channel with tone squelch. Lastly, I added a channel with tone encode but not decode just in case someone doesn’t have their radio set up to encode.

This is the 888s setup that I’ll start with when I work my next event.