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Old 01-05-2018, 05:47 PM   #1
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Dec 2017
Location: North Pole, AK
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Year: 1998
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Chassis: International 3000
Engine: T444e
Arctic Family Bus

What would you do if you had limited time before taking a new bus on a 5500 mile road trip?

My wife and I just purchased a 1998 Amtran RE. Good tires, good mechanicals, very little rust.

Here's the catch - we live in North Pole, Alaska, and the bus is in Georgia. I have already gone back to work, so the wife is going to drive it up here once the roads thaw. She's staying in Georgia for three more weeks, then coming back to Alaska until April, when she can spend approximately a month working on the bus then a month driving it 5500 miles up here with her best friend, our three kids (1,3,6) and her friend's four kids (2,4,6, and stopping by a lot of National Parks.

The plan is to transform the bus over time from a metal tent to a weekend RV to a 4-season weekend RV. Alaska summers in the interior are 75 degrees with 24 hours of sunlight. The winters vary between -50 and 20 degrees, with 3-1/2 hours of twilight. Eventually, once we move back to the lower 48 in about 3 years, we would like to live in it for about 6 months.

Assets
1. Up to $5000 for initial work in Georgia
2. My wife's three weeks now and four weeks in April
3. My in-laws likely have every tool we could need (welding, painting, body repair, woodworking, etc. etc.)
4. The help of friends and family:
- Father-in-Law -> Mechanic and Body Repair
- Brother-in-Law 1 -> Mechanic
- Brother-in-Law 2 -> Construction, used to work in RV factory
- Best Friend's Husband -> Truck driver, used to be cabinet maker

Constraints
1. I cannot participate in any of the work in Georgia
2. My wife needs grandparents to watch the kids when she really gets her hands dirty working (probably means she gets 20 hours a week to do real work)
3. We do not yet have a floor plan
4. I am uncomfortable with asking friends/family to do significant work if my wife can't be there

Other Considerations
1. Anything we buy in Georgia is much cheaper than Alaska because of shipping costs, and there are more options. Fairbanks is the nearest city to us, with a population of 36,000. Anchorage is 6-9 hours away, depending on weather, and there is nothing else between.
2. Any interior stuff we install in Georgia has to be removable unless we insulate/finish the floors/walls/ceiling first
3. Registration in Alaska is a beast - not sure how I am going to tackle that one yet. If it's registered as a bus, all drivers need a Class B CDL.

Bus Specs
Amtran RE Body
International 3000 Chassis
T444e Engine
AT545 Transmission
Good Tires
Mechanically Sound
36' long, with 30'6" behind the driver seat
84" wide on the inside
6'5-1/2" high in the center, walls start curving in at 5' high
Exit door halfway down the left side
One underbus storage locker on the right side
Cruise Control

What work should we do prior to the big trip? Does it make sense to buy any parts/equipment/appliances in Georgia and haul them up in the bus even if they can't be installed in the time we have available? What would you do?

Thanks.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Bus front.jpg (179.4 KB, 43 views)
File Type: jpg Bus side.jpg (166.9 KB, 47 views)
File Type: jpg Bus interior.jpg (198.2 KB, 47 views)
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Old 01-05-2018, 06:44 PM   #2
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Well to start with the drivers do not need any class of CDL.

What they might need is a Class B adding to their Alaska license. I haven't checked the Alaska rules so I don't know. The titling of the bus is irrelevant unless the bus is being driven commercially. CDL rules apply ONLY to commercial driving ... It is the driver who is covered, not the bus.

Put another way ... Commercially driving a bus requires a CDL. Driving a commercial bus doesn't, but there might be state restrictions on a regular license.

The only critical thing you need to do is make sure, as far as you can, that the bus is ready to do the miles. That means a full service with all fluids changed, leaks taken care of and a few decent runs before she attempts 5500 miles. If there are going to be any really cold starts, make sure the pre-heaters (whatever are fitted) are working and a block heater would be a good idea.

It's going to be a 10-day (ish) trip (driving) and I'd recommend removing all the seats except for the front seats needed to make the journey, and have her drive motel to motel along the way.

Get recovery protection from GoodSam.

Have her stock up on spare belts and fluids .. Oil, trans fluid and coolant.

Beyond that I'd leave the work until I got it home. A fully stripped bus would be cold and noisy, and that's a long way home.

Enjoy the ride.
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Old 01-05-2018, 06:51 PM   #3
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Whew ! Sounds like a blast ! I'd love to go with... and how many little kids?????

You guys are adventurous, for sure. How many miles are on the bus? You said mechanicals are "good", but by whose standards, because their safety really is most important thing. I'd hate for them to break-down.

Then the build !!!
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:04 PM   #4
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That looks like a nice bus, but the sellers always say they're in good shape. First I'd have it checked out by a reputable shop, or professional relative. Next I'd start getting spare filters and belts, even if the ones in use look good. Whatever parts you might need on the trip that could be difficult to acquire from the side of the road. There's no end to the list of things you could do to hedge your bets on this bus making the trip. Traction tires, chains and anything else you can think of.

A lot of us do a mockup in a bus that is basically a removable, mostly camping gear, interior. The Costco propane camping grills are easy to set up. Your carpenter relatives could make a number of bunks for the adults and children as well as a dining area. You can get children's harnes bus seats off ebay if you don't have any in your bus. I'm pretty sure your wife will appreciate an indoor toilet for the trip.

A block heater, the electric freeze plug type, if your bus doesn't already have one so you can plug in to keep the engine warm when grid power is available. I would also spend the money to put a diesel fired coolant heater in the bus that can be used as a block heater as well as a cabin heater (like a furnace) while off grid. Expensive but worth it up north when power is not available. It would be good to have a stout generator for the bus too, and by now I believe we've gotten well past the end of your budget.

Dude, that would be an expensive trip with just adults even if you already had the bus set up. You know your wife better than any of us, but I don't believe I would have let my wife and kids and friend and her kids drive to AK in an unfamiliar vehicle. There's just to many things that can go wrong without being able to put a couple thousand miles on that bus as a test run. I think it would be a minor miracle to make that trip in this weather with an unfamiliar vehicle without incidents. Unless your wife is a diesel mechanic of course. Many of us in the lower 48 are experiencing the cold weather demons in our diesels at this time of year.

I don't mean to bring you down, but I'd probably put that drive off until about May, then do it with the appliances and stuff you want with fewer people in the bus.

You have figured out what's causing all the children, haven't you? It's the water.
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:09 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin97396 View Post
That looks like a nice bus, but the sellers always say they're in good shape. First I'd have it checked out by a reputable shop, or professional relative. Next I'd start getting spare filters and belts, even if the ones in use look good. Whatever parts you might need on the trip that could be difficult to acquire from the side of the road. There's no end to the list of things you could do to hedge your bets on this bus making the trip. Traction tires, chains and anything else you can think of.

A lot of us do a mockup in a bus that is basically a removable, mostly camping gear, interior. The Costco propane camping grills are easy to set up. Your carpenter relatives could make a number of bunks for the adults and children as well as a dining area. You can get children's harnes bus seats off ebay if you don't have any in your bus. I'm pretty sure your wife will appreciate an indoor toilet for the trip.

A block heater, the electric freeze plug type, if your bus doesn't already have one so you can plug in to keep the engine warm when grid power is available. I would also spend the money to put a diesel fired coolant heater in the bus that can be used as a block heater as well as a cabin heater (like a furnace) while off grid. Expensive but worth it up north when power is not available. It would be good to have a stout generator for the bus too, and by now I believe we've gotten well past the end of your budget.

Dude, that would be an expensive trip with just adults even if you already had the bus set up. You know your wife better than any of us, but I don't believe I would have let my wife and kids and friend and her kids drive to AK in an unfamiliar vehicle. There's just to many things that can go wrong without being able to put a couple thousand miles on that bus as a test run. I think it would be a minor miracle to make that trip in this weather with an unfamiliar vehicle without incidents. Unless your wife is a diesel mechanic of course. Many of us in the lower 48 are experiencing the cold weather demons in our diesels at this time of year.

I don't mean to bring you down, but I'd probably put that drive off until about May, then do it with the appliances and stuff you want with fewer people in the bus.

You have figured out what's causing all the children, haven't you? It's the water.
So the original post does say the trip won't be made until May
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:24 PM   #6
Skoolie
 
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Location: North Pole, AK
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Year: 1998
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Chassis: International 3000
Engine: T444e
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rusty View Post
Whew ! Sounds like a blast ! I'd love to go with... and how many little kids?????

You guys are adventurous, for sure. How many miles are on the bus? You said mechanicals are "good", but by whose standards, because their safety really is most important thing. I'd hate for them to break-down.

Then the build !!!
170,000 miles.

I took it to a reputable diesel shop before buying it. Thatís no guarantee, but Iím also going to have my in laws do a service on it before the trip.
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:29 PM   #7
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If I would spend most of the time in the cold then I would take a bus from that area. All the specifics for that climate are already there.
I would imagine that arctic buses are much better taken care of since a breakdown in that climate can turn into a disaster quickly.
my $0.02

good luck, j
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:40 PM   #8
Skoolie
 
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Time passes either way, whether you’re ambitious or playing it safe. My wife and her friend are both a little fanatical about loving the outdoors and wanting to go sightseeing. Hopefully they can figure out a way to keep the children enjoying it too.

It’ll be chilly in May but it shouldn’t be ridiculously cold. I can probably wait until the bus gets to Alaska to do work on installing redundant heating and winterizing the engine.

I think a toilet, beds, and appropriate seating are the most important. They’ll stay at a lot of camp grounds where they can get shore power and shower facilities. We were planning on bringing our propane camp stove , full-size Yeti cooler, and some Aquatainers. It’s also important to have everything secure in case of an accident.

We might blow part of our budget on a hang glider too...
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:48 PM   #9
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buying a southern bus and taking it north brings some challenges..

1 - youll need to install some type of diesel auxilliary heater or install an engine block heater and be ready to be able to plug it into 120 volts every night you want to use it in winter.. diesles and cold starts require some help.. you CANNOT use ether on your 444E or you will ruin it...

2. AT545 and 444e for road trips through huge mountain ranges would Not be my first choice.. the at545 has very little ability to hold back the bus on downhill grades.. you'll need to be extremely careful as you descend the mountains so not to fade your brakes..

not sure the route you are taking.. sounds like you have driven this before.. april is pretty early to go up high to some of the national parks.. many are still getting heaby snow in the west and northwest at that time of year. just something to think about..

be sure the coolant is sufficiantly set up for cold weather before you embark on your journey north..

thats an awful lot of people to stuff in a metal tube on the highway for 6000 miles...

-Christopher
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Old 01-05-2018, 07:54 PM   #10
Skoolie
 
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Engine: T444e
It’ll be April when my wife is back in Georgia to work on the bus. The road trip will start in May and she’ll arrive up here in late May or early June. We’ll be thorough in planning it out. We took 22 days to drive last time (in an overloaded minivan) I think this one will be about the same pace.

I’ll be working 80-hour weeks in April and doing government-sponsored travel in May so it’s not like my family would see me anyway during this timeframe.

It should be in the ballpark of $2000 just for fuel. I’m not sure how much to budget for other maintenance-related costs yet. The idea is to be able to store and prepare food on the bus to keep costs down.
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Old 01-05-2018, 08:16 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joeblack5 View Post
If I would spend most of the time in the cold then I would take a bus from that area. All the specifics for that climate are already there.
I would imagine that arctic buses are much better taken care of since a breakdown in that climate can turn into a disaster quickly.
my $0.02

good luck, j
We’re actually sub-Arctic here (120 miles south). The local schools buses seem to go to tour operators and such and then get run into the ground by the time they’re finished. There isn’t much locally available.

Most of this state is also pretty empty of people: I was staying at Chena Lakes campground shortly after I arrived, which is much like any campground in the lower 48 (camp hosts, bathrooms, little fire pits, numbered spaces, etc.). Out of curiousity, I checked on Google Maps to see what was behind our campsite. Nothing... no roads, houses, or sign of humanity for 3000 miles. Finding somewhere with 10 miles in the lower 48 is rare and 100 miles would be unheard of without at least a logging road. Most of the other directions were the same. There are 12 roads in the state, numbered 1 through 12. Most towns, including the state capital, do not connect to them.

In any case, the decision is already made. We bought it and now we have to drive it.
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Old 01-06-2018, 01:12 AM   #12
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We have family that’s moved to Alaska and are always happy for new supplies to come in.
Consider bus things you need, first for its operation and secondly for your build. For example many of the Home Depot’s in this area carry metal studs and track.

Also consider a few southern grocery items that you may never have experienced. I would place a couple bags of slow cooked grits, and a few jars of the only real mayonnaise (Duke’s brand). These should be available in any grocery store around where you pick up your mobile castle.

I look forward to your posts about the voyage and the build.
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Old 01-06-2018, 01:24 AM   #13
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A somewhat local resource for your build: Ana White | Woodworking Projects
She and her husband are builders. They have built a few tiny houses and she has designed many items for tiny builds.

If you do sketchup (I highly recommend learning this free CAD program for your design phase), she has most in this format and/or PDF. All her computer stuff is free.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:01 PM   #14
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Brainstorming floorplans

I'm brainstorming ideas. Our bus is a little narrower than most (84"), and my working assumption is we will lose 2" from each wall for insulation/finishing. This adds a major challenge, particularly around the bathroom. It also limits the width of bunkbeds to 28-30". The other big challenge is building around the rear engine compartment and fitting in 1 adult bed and 3 kids beds while leaving space left over for other things.

None of these designs include a utility closet. Not sure if I need one yet. Right now, it's brainstorming. It's hard to know how well any of this will actually fit looking at a picture, but at least it gives a rough idea.
Bus Layout1.png
A sideways bed is not ideal - one of us always has to climb over the other. Trading the Queen Bed for a Full Bed could save 6” of space. Worth it or not? (lose drawer space also).

30” high set of drawers on the end of the bed (5 drawers high at 6” each!) No bottom corner drawers (wheel well) means 23 total full-size drawers (or other storage choice)! Wall just far enough away to open fully.

Oven is right next to bathroom door and side exit (other choice is next to couch). Not ideal. Bathroom is also too small to comfortably change clothes in.

Bus Layout2.png
Because of Engine Risers, have to cut into bottom corners of the mattress slightly on each side. Rear Shelf depth has to match the angle of engine riser but can go all the way to ceiling. A top shelf across the back would be possible, but would it feel cramped?

We have about 1' around the bed - kind of an awkward amount of space

Having a table/desk gives a lot of flexibility (sewing, folding clothes, kids art projects, etc.). It would be possible to put a washing machine under the desk, but it would be a small model.

Bathroom should feel comfortable inside. Don't like that shower and toilet are in same room.

Bus Layout3.png
47" master bed is halfway between a Full (54") and a Twin (38"). Bedroom isolated by 3-1/2" of sound-proof insulation, a heavy curtain, and sound machine.

Lower starboard bunkbed has 12" of shelving. Top starboard bunkbed has no shelves. It is full length but would usually be used for storage. Both are 28" wide, which is pretty narrow. Other bunks are 30" wide.

Bathroom is cramped but usable. Would have to enter kids room to access toilet. Toilet and shower are separate rooms. Lose the tub and just have a shower in one room.

Lots of room up front. What to do with it? I'm curious about trying to fit in a wood stove (dry heat, cheap fuel source, redundancy, cooktop), but the clearances around it are going to be a problem (I also drew it too small - just put it in for conversation). Could also do a full-size fridge, more kitchen counter space, or (most likely) more seating/living room area.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:30 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Home on the Range View Post
We have family that’s moved to Alaska and are always happy for new supplies to come in.
Consider bus things you need, first for its operation and secondly for your build. For example many of the Home Depot’s in this area carry metal studs and track.

Also consider a few southern grocery items that you may never have experienced. I would place a couple bags of slow cooked grits, and a few jars of the only real mayonnaise (Duke’s brand). These should be available in any grocery store around where you pick up your mobile castle.

I look forward to your posts about the voyage and the build.
There are slow-cooked grits available at the grocery stores in Fairbanks, but not the stone-ground stuff. I figure the wife will get a lot of stuff at various stores in Georgia that are not available here. We're from Georgia. Unfortunately, I'll be doing some government travel during the big game on Monday.

Not sure if there is anything we should bring up from the build from the lower-48... Amazon Prime will ship to Alaska for free, but almost every other website has insane shipping costs. We have most chain stores in Fairbanks (Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, Walmart, Barnes&Noble, REI, Blockbuster(?!?!), but very few specialty stores.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:30 PM   #16
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I would suggest that you reconsider the placement of the plumbing fixtures. Nearly all RV's (as well as home builts) have them on the driver side for a couple of reasons. To begin, that is the side all dump stations are set up to service...and...the passenger side is where most folks play when outdoors. With the right bus, you may be able to run them across from the P side to the D side, but unless you have full through bays, it can be extremely difficult.

Just my dos centavos.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:32 PM   #17
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I’ve been learning Sketchup, it can be very precise and allows 3D modeling.

The bulk of Sketchup is free and definitely worth the effort to learn. If it seems like something you are interested in, I’ll be glad to help get you oriented. My biggest challenge was the overwhelming amount of help available.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:51 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Twigg View Post
Well to start with the drivers do not need any class of CDL.

What they might need is a Class B adding to their Alaska license. I haven't checked the Alaska rules so I don't know. The titling of the bus is irrelevant unless the bus is being driven commercially. CDL rules apply ONLY to commercial driving ... It is the driver who is covered, not the bus.

Put another way ... Commercially driving a bus requires a CDL. Driving a commercial bus doesn't, but there might be state restrictions on a regular license.

The only critical thing you need to do is make sure, as far as you can, that the bus is ready to do the miles. That means a full service with all fluids changed, leaks taken care of and a few decent runs before she attempts 5500 miles. If there are going to be any really cold starts, make sure the pre-heaters (whatever are fitted) are working and a block heater would be a good idea.

It's going to be a 10-day (ish) trip (driving) and I'd recommend removing all the seats except for the front seats needed to make the journey, and have her drive motel to motel along the way.

Get recovery protection from GoodSam.

Have her stock up on spare belts and fluids .. Oil, trans fluid and coolant.

Beyond that I'd leave the work until I got it home. A fully stripped bus would be cold and noisy, and that's a long way home.

Enjoy the ride.
Alaska requires us to register it as a bus, unless we convert it to an RV first according to AK standards. That means it has to be painted something different from yellow. And, I need to sign an affidavit that I have permanently installed independent life support systems and provide at least four of the following items:

1. Facilities - cooking, refrigeration or icebox
2. Self-contained toilet
3. Heating and/or air conditioning systems for the motor home unit.
4. Potable water supply system including a faucet and sink
5. Separate 110-125 volt electrical power supply and/or an LP gas supply.

The bus is listed on the current (Georgia) Title as having a GVWR of 30,000 lbs, which puts it into the Class B category (the GA Title may be going off of max capacity, not actual weight). It's possible that we could have it weighed and come up with something under 26,000 lbs and avoid that requirement.

If it registered as a bus or listed as being over 26000lbs, I need an Alaska Class B CDL if I am reading the Alaska regs right: Commercial Driver's License (CDL), Division of Motor Vehicles, Department of Administration, State of Alaska

Additionally, as a complicating factor, I can't register the vehicle until it is actually in the state of Alaska... Because I bought it out of state, I have to drive it here first and then have a Alaska-certified mechanic do a VIN (safety) inspection. I'm not sure how we'll overcome that one, but I'm sure there is a way. I think there is a temporary one-way registration.
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Old 01-06-2018, 05:54 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biscuitsjam View Post
Alaska requires us to register it as a bus, unless we convert it to an RV first according to AK standards. That means it has to be painted something different from yellow. And, I need to sign an affidavit that I have permanently installed independent life support systems and provide at least four of the following items:

1. Facilities - cooking, refrigeration or icebox
2. Self-contained toilet
3. Heating and/or air conditioning systems for the motor home unit.
4. Potable water supply system including a faucet and sink
5. Separate 110-125 volt electrical power supply and/or an LP gas supply.

The bus is listed on the current (Georgia) Title as having a GVWR of 30,000 lbs, which puts it into the Class B category (the GA Title may be going off of max capacity, not actual weight). It's possible that we could have it weighed and come up with something under 26,000 lbs and avoid that requirement.

If it registered as a bus or listed as being over 26000lbs, I need an Alaska Class B CDL if I am reading the Alaska regs right: Commercial Driver's License (CDL), Division of Motor Vehicles, Department of Administration, State of Alaska

Additionally, as a complicating factor, I can't register the vehicle until it is actually in the state of Alaska... Because I bought it out of state, I have to drive it here first and then have a Alaska-certified mechanic do a VIN (safety) inspection. I'm not sure how we'll overcome that one, but I'm sure there is a way. I think there is a temporary one-way registration.
Do what you think you need to do, but I am assuring you that you do not need ANY class of CDL.

You might need Class B on your Alaska license, but that's a different animal.
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Old 01-06-2018, 06:02 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Home on the Range View Post
I’ve been learning Sketchup, it can be very precise and allows 3D modeling.

The bulk of Sketchup is free and definitely worth the effort to learn. If it seems like something you are interested in, I’ll be glad to help get you oriented. My biggest challenge was the overwhelming amount of help available.
I made the floorplan using excel with .25"x.25" cells - then transferred it over to powerpoint and made it the slidemaster - I can easily move and resize furniture around on top of it. It works for brainstorming, but I might want something more robust later on (particularly to view in 3D).

My computer is having issues and sketchup kept crashing, so I tried something else. I may take you up on your offer when I get my software fixed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tango View Post
I would suggest that you reconsider the placement of the plumbing fixtures. Nearly all RV's (as well as home builts) have them on the driver side for a couple of reasons. To begin, that is the side all dump stations are set up to service...and...the passenger side is where most folks play when outdoors. With the right bus, you may be able to run them across from the P side to the D side, but unless you have full through bays, it can be extremely difficult.

Just my dos centavos.
That's a good point. The fuel tanks are in the middle of the bus, which may make it difficult to run things back and forth. Because of the weather conditions here, I also need to consider plumbing insulation - if it is -20 (or -50) degrees outside, it's going to be hard to keep pipes outside of the cabin from freezing. Is there a way I could run most of the plumbing inside the cabin without making everything difficult and awkward? It's either that or a whole bunch of heating elements. A heating element in the water tank shouldn't be too hard, but the pipes might be something else.

Something to think about - what's easiest and makes most sense.
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