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Old 06-20-2014, 02:37 PM   #1
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97 Thomas International 7.3

Hello, I really love your forum here and visit often.
Well this is my new school bus project. It's a 1997 Thomas International 7.3 - 3800 T444e. Is that redundant? I wish I knew before I title my thread here, lol and I don't have a name for her yet either.
I've long been interested in the idea of converting a bus but don't know as much about the mechanical or electrical side as I wish. I've followed links that lead here often but mostly in the project and alternative fuels sections. I wasn't actively looking to buy a bus just yet when I stumbled across this one. Still I think it's a good engine, 7.3 turbo diesel. It has 120,000 thousand miles on it, according to the passes I found under the seats it was used for field trips at least most recently. I don't know how to find the 'hours' on it, which is something I see asked about often. I have a lot to learn about the engine and maintenance, well everything, but welcome advice or directions to particular threads that apply to my engine, but I'll keep reading. I drove it from one side of town to the other thru 2 hours of rush hour traffic to get it home. It runs great. Though I drove a bus on a metro contract years ago, honestly I was petrified. Getting it out of the tight neighborhood involved 3 right turns from busy multiple lane intersections and the rear deck was nerve-racking but I managed not to slap anyone. I love the deck - parked....



It has already been partially converted, which was appealing to me since I'll be doing much of the work myself. It has a new Coleman a/c, much of the electrical has been done lights and plugs, generator hook-up. I believe he was planning a party or tailgating type conversion and lost interest. There's a 5' kitchen cabinet but no plumbing. It has new batteries and brand new tires all the way around.

I've pulled the rest of the seats already and the floor is rubber on metal, no plywood at all. I've found very little rust. The side panels I think will be hard to get off and I would prefer to just put rigid foam on top of it, then wainscoting, leaving all the windows. I've unbolted the rear heater, and pulled up the metal guard and trim exposing the hose and wiring. I know how to cut and just loop the radiator hoses (I think) but the wiring I'm not sure of, so I had to stop. The plan is to remove the rear heater but keep the front one. Since the wiring is DC for the heater fan and has a switch at the driver's panel, I'm thinking I can use that to run something else instead.

My intention is make the bus livable, sustainable as possible off-grid. I want to leave this area and plan to use the bus to have some fun and camp in while I check-out possible places to relocate. When I decide where I want to be, Iíd like to live in it full-time. My interests are in simple living, personal freedom, nature, homestead skills, sustainable and alternative energy. I like DIY type passive systems but plan to invest in an active solar setup for the bus.
In short I like efficiency and dislike waste - be it money, food, resources, or hours of my life. I enjoy using salvaged materials and have done a couple of small house and old barn deconstructions in exchange for some the serious quality wood and materials I salvaged. I want my bus to look and feel rustic and homey.
  • I really like all the windows at least for now. I'm thinking of putting down the floor and wainscoting, then as much as possible keeping built-ins below the windows, using 'regular' furniture where I can.


Systems and other things I need to think about, research, and decide on:
  • I would like to have as many back-up power options as possible. Iím researching solar set-ups and packages but am still confused, perhaps what I'm wanting is a solar Ďchargingí and battery storage system since the plugs are already wired for a/c via grid plug-in or my own generator? I'm not sure, perhaps a separate system to include LED lighting, and only specific DC appliances?
  • Iím looking for a 3 way RV refrigerator to cover all the bases, but if I trusted my solar set-up I would consider using a small dorm style one. I've also heard good things about repurposing a deep freezer into a very efficient refrigerator by putting it on a timer that cycles on and off to maintain a cool but not freezing temperature.
  • I'll cook outdoors most of the time, so just a few small appliances should cover my cooking needs Ė a crockpot, 2 burner propane stove, induction hot plate, and a coffee maker. Other energy draws would be my computer, water pump, fan, and lightsÖ. not much else I can think of.
  • Cooling Ė I see as the biggest obstacle. Heís already installed a brand new Coleman 15000 btu overhead a/c unit. Itís larger than I would have chosen but itís there now. I'll use it when I have an electrical hook-up or I'm plugged into my generator. I have a small 110 window unit I could add, but it would still pull too much juice for solar to support.
  • The generator Iím speaking of is just a regular gasoline generator I already had. Which brings me to something else I need to research. Is there any reason I can't recharge my solar batteries when the bus is running? Or should it be an entirely separate system? What about when my generator is running, is that possible? Do I need a different type generator like the oneís made for RVís - Onan sp? Ideally I would like to be able to recharge my batteries from multiple sources; solar, generator, wind, heck maybe even a bicycle!
  • I think a composting toilet will suit my needs, I'm still researching. For the most part I will have access to a bath house. I'm looking at both sustainable communities and private land, if a community Iíll have shared access to a bath house, if I buy land I'll build my own.
  • Shower Ė I would still like a way to bathe in the bus, but I want something very small. If itís not hidden I want it to be rustic and quirky, like maybe use a half whisky barrel or even a galvanized tub (like for watering livestock) as a tiny tub and shower base. I'm toying with the idea of a round shower curtain that would store inside the tub, then Ďpop-upí for showers. I'm still unsure though.
  • Iíd like to use passive solar black Ďtubesí (is what I have in my head) to preheat the water before it goes into a water heater (Iím thinking on-demand propane?). I imagine at times in the summer the water heater will barely need to kick on if at all.
  • I'm leaning toward using a small wood stove for heat though I don't have one yet. Iím fascinated with rocket stoves and thermal mass bench heating. It could burn scrap wood and small tree limb litter I could collect for free. Iím just not sure I could build one that wouldn't drive me out of the bus when I initially fire it up. Also thermal mass is generally heavy but I wouldn't need much and I think you can use vermiculite - just another crazy idea in my head. Iíd keep a small propane heater and maybe a heating blanket too.
  • It would be awesome to use the stove as a secondary way to preheat hot water on cloudy winter days when solar tubes wonít work.
  • Basically I think anything that serves multiple functions and/or saves what would otherwise be wasted is awesome!

I have a sketchup plan I'm playing with, when I get some screenshots I'll post them too.
Anyway I appreciate all the great information shared here, love reading thru everyone's projects, and just look forward to 'meeting' yall and hearing any thoughts, tips, or advice you may have.
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Old 06-20-2014, 03:32 PM   #2
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

Welcome to the madness! Your bus looks like a fun project. You'll find a plethora of information here on the site... whatever it is you have questions about, you can be sure someone here knows the answer!

Keep us posted... and don't forget we love pictures! Good luck!
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Old 06-20-2014, 05:54 PM   #3
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

Howdy & Welcome --- sounds like you found a good, solid unit that has a head start in many areas. The goal of just about everyone here can be summed as "Doing it your way"...so there is lots of room for creativity as well as many different solutions to similar issues. Just read up, soak up and have fun.

The only comment I can make at this time would be in regards to the 3-way fridge. They are notorious for the coils going solid if not about perfectly level. There are some 12v units around these day and several people here have converted small freezers into highly efficient refrigerators.

Whatever you do, just make it your own.

Oh...and just how long is that rear deck!?
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Old 06-20-2014, 05:57 PM   #4
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tango
Oh...and just how long is that rear deck!?
Gosh! Looks about big enough for a hot tub.
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Old 06-20-2014, 11:31 PM   #5
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

Hot tub? I was thinkin' lap pool!
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Old 06-21-2014, 10:12 AM   #6
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

Thank you! Yes I've already read more than I'll remember! But i'm still reading and I found a tip about using google to search the forums which is very helpful, and I can see which threads I've been to before and go back and reread the details again.

Yep the deck is big. I loved it when I saw it, but at almost 6' - it's bigger than I thought. One side of the rail unbolts to load a generator or toys and the rest is welded. It really did feel like too much swing on corners, but I would never plan a route thru streets that tight and and busy either, so I don't know.

Quote:
Hot tub? I was thinkin' lap pool!
Ha ha! Well I did say I'd like a 'quirky' shower/tub! Lol these are just for fun, but seriously it would be a great spot for an outdoor shower!

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/ ... a7fd1f.jpg
http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/ ... d17bd9.jpg
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Old 06-21-2014, 09:10 PM   #7
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

I would love to see a few pictures from underneath the platform, it looks solid.
I dont know what state you are in but from my reading of the texas DMV regulations you can only have a platform sticking out 4fft, it looks like yours is about 7ft.
Does its title still say school bus or is it already been changed to a RV?
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Old 06-22-2014, 12:19 PM   #8
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tango
several people here have converted small freezers into highly efficient refrigerators
I really like this idea the best.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BUBB
I would love to see a few pictures from underneath the platform, it looks solid.
Certainly


Quote:
Originally Posted by BUBB
I dont know what state you are in but from my reading of the texas DMV regulations you can only have a platform sticking out 4fft
I'm in Texas... I asked about it and was told it was the max legal length.... by the seller. Are these regulations online? I've already considered just cutting it back off or maybe shortening it just for my own comfort. I need to find those regulations though.

I don't have the title in my name yet. It had elect, beds, refrigerator, and air conditioner, but wasn't registered as a RV yet. He told me it was a pain, that he had jumped thru all the hoops, met all the requirements, filled out all the paperwork, except his pictures were not acceptable. He had painted the interior high gloss black, I saw the pics and true enough, they are sucky bad. I tried to take new one's when I got it home, same results - too many reflections to see detail.

I've pulled all that out and repainted, but need to get the floor down and wainscot up before I can get everything required back in it and get it registered.
and thank all of you for taking an interest.
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Old 06-22-2014, 06:40 PM   #9
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

http://apps.txdmv.gov/motor_carrier/ove ... limits.htm

As I read the regs a vehicle with 2 axles total can be up to 45 feet in length without needing a special trip permit, you can have up to a 4ft rear and 3ft front overhang as long as it does note exceed 45 feet.

You can do just a "title only" without actually changing it from a school bus, it will put it in your name, it is only 5 or 10 dollars, this will also confirm it has a clear title.

That platform looks sweet, would be a shame to need to shorten it.

I assume the bus is over 26k in gvwr weight, if so then you also need a "class B non-cdl" license to drive it, even though most cops probably wont know this regulation if it has the seats removed.
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Old 06-23-2014, 10:17 AM   #10
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Re: 97 Thomas International 7.3

I could be wrong, but --- my understanding of the Texas regs is that if the unit is registered as an RV, there is no requirement for a Class B license regardless of weight. If anyone knows different, please let us know.

(Not a problem either way for me as my Shorty will top out around 8,000 pounds.)

PS...I got my last bus (a 40' BB All American) titled as an RV on the first try with nothing done but removing the seats. And I have heard that it often comes down to which DMV office you go to. If one is pissy about regs...try a different one.
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