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Old 07-07-2015, 05:28 PM   #1
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Bus to RV for Detroit to Denver trip/move

Hey guys, first post here.

Just bought a school bus for a road trip/move to Denver. We'll take off from Ann Arbor, Mi, hopefully by August 1st. We'll be takin a bit of a road trip for a few weeks and then end up in Denver where we will stay indefinitely. We are planning on living in the bus until we find somewhere to move into, hopefully before it gets cold!

This is my first bus, first large-vehicle really, and first diesel. She's in ok condition with rust and general wear, but runs pretty good and seems to be a good work horse. So far I have removed the seats and am close to removing the flooring, which I plan to replace with some kind of vinyl-type roll material from Home Depot. I'll need some help and seasoned opinions along the way, so I was happy to find this forum! All of this work will be done in the next few weeks.

Bus:
1995 Thomas-built Ford with Cummins 5.9 12v motor (at least I think it's a 12v?) and Allison AT545 trans. Pretty much all stock, except for a differential geared to drop RPM (this thing is slow!) and a modulator for the trans that is not made for the Allison, apparently. Downshifts hard, maybe due to wrong modulator?

To do:
Re-floor and seal
Increase power for the mountains (turbo, torque plate, not sure what else)
Replace belt, tensioner, maybe some hoses, etc.
Replace 1 tire (try to find extra wheel and use a retread for spare)
Paint outside of bus
Build wall divider in back to separate my "shop" from living space (will have tools, spare parts, extra gas/oil, dirt bike, etc.)
Build benches, bed frame, foldable table, etc. and

Questions:

1. I'm talking to Pete at Pittsburgh Power and he recommends their custom exhaust flange for the stock turbo, as well as their torque plate. This should bring it up to ~270 hp, ~650 lb-ft by his estimate. So I have concerns about whether the AT545 will be able to take this torque (as it's over the max specs), and also about the removal of the very rusty exhaust/turbo bolts, as I have broken bolts on exhausts before. The side with the torque plate looks ok. Should I do an intake mod too like an aftermarket airbox/filter or no? Some people say the 545 is underrated and can take a good amount of torque, some say the trans is weak, so I am kind of confused. I'll definitely use a synthetic oil in it, but heat may still be a problem! Are there any cooler kits for this trans?

2. Where can I get service manual for the engine? Because I am new to diesels I want to know things like if there is a different way to change oil, what filter to use, what oils and fluids, other maintenance things specific to diesels, etc.

3. How do you paint a bus?! Should I buy a cheap spray gun? I have an 8 gal compressor, I assume this is not big enough but could rent a bigger one. What paints to you use and other than taping stuff off, how do you prepare the surface?

4. I am ripping up the rubber flooring, but am not sure if I should put an insulating later or something down before the new floor material. I don't want anything thick, I'm 6'2" and need all the head space I can get! Also I'm not sure what flooring material would be best, so I'm still looking into that.

Any tricks, tips, or opinions are hereby requested!

Thanks everyone!

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Old 07-07-2015, 05:50 PM   #2
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Reasonably maintained, the 5.9 is a very good motor and can be pumped up in HP & torque with ease. But as you note...the old 545 is not up to handling big torque.

Here are the factory specs...

ALLISON AT 545 SPECIFICATIONS
General Purpose Truck and Motorhome Rating
Net input power
235 hp (175 kW)
Net input torque 445 lb-ft (603 Nm)
Vehicle weight
Up to 30,000 lbs (13,608 kg) GVW or GCW

And without any lockup, it is a gas guzzler with no retarding effect downhill. A newer 5 or six speed would be your best bet unless you just like clutching & shifting through ten standard gears.

And while I don't know for sure, you may still be able to get a manual from Cummins. I got one for my mid-90's 4BT from them. If not, check Ebay.
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Old 07-07-2015, 06:32 PM   #3
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Thanks for the reply. Yes I read the factory specs, from which I determined these mods would push the 545 beyond the specs. Unfortunately, I do not have the means to replace the transmission, so it would be great to hear about anyone who has pushed the 545 a little and to know their results. I read a post on here by one person who claimed to have a 750 hp motor driving the 545 with good results (said the 545 is underrated). Not sure what torque values he was working with but it must have been much higher.
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Old 07-07-2015, 10:35 PM   #4
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I have heard of folks replacing the torque converters with an upgrade but mostly to reduce slip. No idea if it will take more torque but it might be worth Googling.
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Old 07-08-2015, 02:10 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ilikebass View Post
Thanks for the reply. Yes I read the factory specs, from which I determined these mods would push the 545 beyond the specs. Unfortunately, I do not have the means to replace the transmission, so it would be great to hear about anyone who has pushed the 545 a little and to know their results. I read a post on here by one person who claimed to have a 750 hp motor driving the 545 with good results (said the 545 is underrated). Not sure what torque values he was working with but it must have been much higher.

Sure, if the bus weighed under 2500 pounds.

Otherwise the guy was talking a bunch of lies.

Nat
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Old 07-08-2015, 07:02 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ilikebass View Post
Thanks for the reply. Yes I read the factory specs, from which I determined these mods would push the 545 beyond the specs. Unfortunately, I do not have the means to replace the transmission, so it would be great to hear about anyone who has pushed the 545 a little and to know their results. I read a post on here by one person who claimed to have a 750 hp motor driving the 545 with good results (said the 545 is underrated). Not sure what torque values he was working with but it must have been much higher.

Who's bus has 750HP?
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Old 07-08-2015, 08:10 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ilikebass View Post
We'll be takin a bit of a road trip for a few weeks and then end up in Denver where we will stay indefinitely. We are planning on living in the bus until we find somewhere to move into, hopefully before it gets cold!
Just out of curiosity, do you have a place set up to stay at when you arrive? I recently did a trip to Denver in our bus and we had a couple issues with snooty people telling us to move on (sometimes we did, sometimes we didn't ). Haven't had any such a problem in any other place in North America.
It's probably a generalization, but that Denver crowd didn't seem to hip to alternative lifestyles. Completely backwards from what I had thought!

Are you thinking of a campground?
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Old 07-08-2015, 08:21 AM   #8
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Denver is cool, but bus parking could be tough to find.
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Old 07-08-2015, 03:31 PM   #9
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jazty is right on moved there in about 83 it was the same way. Go looking for a job with out of state plates you wont get one. People are stuck on the native to Colorado thing sounds like it still the same way. Don't go there thinking your going to make money your not. I have been gone since 87 never looked back. Rent, property, utilities all high. good luck
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Old 07-09-2015, 10:01 AM   #10
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In a post on oilburners.net a guy said he was talking to a guy using a 545 with a 750 hp motor in a dodge truck drag racer. He said the guy old him it takes the power and they are under rated. This is only 1 data point and it is a shaky one, so not sure if it really tells me anything.

So by "Denver", what I meant to say was the Denver area. We both have jobs lined up. We will arrive, drop off some stuff in a storage unit, then proceed into the mountains and return to the Denver area in a few weeks. We don't have a place to move into locked down yet, but we plan on renting for a while until we have a down payment for a house. We'll just store the bus in a lot if we can't park where we end up (which is likely).

Anyway, can you guys look at the pic of the turbo/exhaust manifold? Is it realistic to remove the turbo to do the modification? I have tried on exhaust systems that look like that before and it was a total pain in the arse. Not sure if I'm better off leaving it alone, but I'm also not confident that the bus will get through the mountains without a power increase.

Thanks!
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Old 07-09-2015, 01:26 PM   #11
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Not sure if I'm better off leaving it alone, but I'm also not confident that the bus will get through the mountains without a power increase.
Just to clarify: there are no mountains between Ann Arbor and Denver. If you overshoot Denver, you'll notice the nose pointing up, however.
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Old 07-09-2015, 02:31 PM   #12
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Yeah, my 195hp and 643 are "enough" for me to feel confident driving from Fl to Denver when I get the build done.
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Old 07-09-2015, 03:25 PM   #13
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Just to clarify: there are no mountains between Ann Arbor and Denver. If you overshoot Denver, you'll notice the nose pointing up, however.
lol

this is true, but we will be spending a few weeks "in" the mountains and possibly out to Tahoe and back during that time
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Old 07-09-2015, 03:31 PM   #14
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lol

this is true, but we will be spending a few weeks "in" the mountains and possibly out to Tahoe and back during that time
Expect slow going. And a lot of heat. I did Tahoe to Boulder, in July, in a car with no AC and no headliner. Stretch your arms up, burn your fingers. Yuck. I guess it was better than mid-winter in a school bus, though.
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Old 07-10-2015, 03:28 AM   #15
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You will end up stranded. You can count on that.

Plain and simple. If you bump the power, you will break it.

There is a reason why all the DT466 that we run at the shop have the 545 are detuned to 190HP.

Nat
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Old 07-10-2015, 03:24 PM   #16
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I suppose that "didn't blow up in short but intense intervals in a drag race truck" is different to "sustained use for many hours and miles." Also manufacturing variances can make one unit exceptionally strong and another one weak. Different consequences too in breaking a transmission at an event vs on the highway somewhere.

I don't know which transmission or axle my '91 Bird had behind its 180 or 190 HP 12v 5.9L Cummins, so it's hard to make a clear comparison to your rig.. But I can tell you it was a looooong drive between Salt Lake City and Boise in July with that thing (a few years ago). It ran like a champ so far as heat is concerned; the cooling system managed it well. However, it could muster just 20-30 MPH climbing some of the grades on I-84 in southern Idaho. I was utterly unprepared for the drive overall to be 10-11 hours; I had gone thinking 5-6 hours in a car so maybe 7 in the bus! But if you won't be seeing that kind of usage much, and you can plan for extremely slow going, it might make sense to save the modification money and avoid the mental stress of depending on equipment beyond its rating.
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Old 07-10-2015, 03:41 PM   #17
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If we are talking transmission life and power handling-
A pickup truck weighs a LOT less than a bus.
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Old 07-10-2015, 04:46 PM   #18
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Guy I was talking to on one of my deviantArt bus postings was positively shocked that I my engine was tuned to 190 or so
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Old 07-11-2015, 10:00 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by rkentzel View Post
jazty is right on moved there in about 83 it was the same way. Go looking for a job with out of state plates you wont get one. People are stuck on the native to Colorado thing sounds like it still the same way. Don't go there thinking your going to make money your not. I have been gone since 87 never looked back. Rent, property, utilities all high. good luck
I just had to pipe in on this comment....A LOT HAD CHANGED SINCE 1987!!! Being a Coloradan I feel we are overall a very welcoming state.

The comment about the costs of living here...unfortunately all too true, but it's not terrible by any stretch. Sure isn't Tennessee cheap tho!

I can see how that opinion would form if you were driving thru actual city of Denver, which I wouldn't take my bus near, or some of our more snobby and snooty communities of unincorporated Littleton, Cherry creek, highlands ranch (now a dive IMHO). And just stay away from Arvada....trust me

I live in the old city of Littleton, and by job if you wanna park your bus outside for a week feel free! That is until the city comes and gives you a nasty gram.

The mountain communities are awesome, and if you go to Boulder that will be a very welcoming community. Just outside the Denver metro are unincorporated cities along the outskirts, they're your best bet for parking without hassle.

There are a lot of small hippie communities within Denver, I'm sure if they could they'd let you stay, however the houses and streets are so tight together you'd cause a traffic jam simply driving one way!

Hope this helps, we're not all bad, we just can't drive for **** and the low oxygen makes most of us short tempered.

One side note on your cummins too. Probably the 12v with the p7100 pump was arguably one of the most resilient LIGHT DUTY diesels ever made, in fact cummins even listed a 300000 mile service on them which included rolling in new bearings (don't do that). That is unless you have the earlier coal train pump (rotary) which is still good! Being a master tech for the last 13years, I can honestly say the only times that these engines fail catastrophicly is when they're modded, either too much or without proper monitoring such as gauges, or when they're neglected. And honestly, the neglected ones last longer.

When I use to tow my 5th wheel in the mountains I just got use to everyone passing me like jackasses, I just was patient and took my sweet-ass time, and I knew my engine and transmission would love me for it.

Just do simple mods that are healthy for diesels, open up that air intake and that exhaust, those are the 2 major choke points.

Hope to see you AND EastcoastCB here soon!
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Old 07-11-2015, 10:38 AM   #20
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Excellent technical advice on the Cummins. I can't count the people who have pumped their motors up to twice their ratings then bitched about the mpg and reliability as if it were the fault of Cummins.

As Destroymix notes above, a turn or two of the airscrew and better flowing exhaust are the most basic keys to a sweeter and longer running engine. Simple and cheap too.

One more possibility is to add a charge air cooler if the motor doesn't have one. Denser air in = more power out.

If you want more speed...get a bigger engine or cut your weight in half.
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