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Old 07-07-2015, 06:28 PM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2015
Location: Ann Arbor, Mi
Posts: 4
Year: 1995
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 5.9L 12v
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, 06:50 PM   #2
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Location: Houston, Texas
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Year: 1946
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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, 07:32 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, 11:35 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, 03:10 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, 08:02 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, 09:10 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, 09:21 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, 04:31 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, 11:01 AM   #10
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Join Date: Jul 2015
Location: Ann Arbor, Mi
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Year: 1995
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 5.9L 12v
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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