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Old 10-17-2018, 12:10 PM   #1
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Converting The ChuckMobile!

Hello all!

Over the past few years I've had a low key desire to get a school bus to bring out camping and to music festivals but never thought that I'd get around to pulling the trigger. A few months ago, my 2008 Ford Escape decided to crap the bed on me, and after numerous problems I decided I didn't want to deal with it anymore and be done with it. I live in Chicago with my girlfriend and she has a car, and we really don't need to have two cars, so it actually works out.

Then I got to thinking, why don't I actually get a school bus? I started looking around and found some amazing projects that inspired me. I began searching around and posting in some communities. Now, I finally have my bus!

I purchased a 2003 Blue Bird All American, 72 passenger. 154,000 miles, Cummins 5.9, Allison 545, all for $6500 out the door. I know that's a little steep of a price, but I bought it an hour away from where I live and it ended up working out pretty well for me not having to travel elsewhere.

I've been away with work the past few weeks since I bought it so I haven't spent any time with it. My first goal is to get the Haloview MC7101 backup camera system installed, so if anyone has suggestions there I'll be all ears! I'd like to take my non-CDL Class B driver's test in it first before I start conversion, and I feel like the camera will definitely help. I'm hoping I can still take the test with it being yellow, since it's pretty much too cold in Illinois to properly paint it at this point.

Anyway, I'll stop talking now. I'll try to update here as I go along, but we've also got an Instagram if anyone cares to follow! It's https://instagram.com/TheChuckMobile.

Thanks!



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Old 10-17-2018, 01:09 PM   #2
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Dude where at in chi town ??
I think you did right at 6500. If you would have spent 3500 on an auction and had fuel time off and flight expenses etc etc. it all adds up. Something to be siad for convenience. I found mine an hour away to.
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Old 10-17-2018, 01:12 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Seriousracer View Post
Dude where at in chi town ??
I think you did right at 6500. If you would have spent 3500 on an auction and had fuel time off and flight expenses etc etc. it all adds up. Something to be siad for convenience. I found mine an hour away to.
I'm in proper Chicago but the bus will be stored up in the north burbs.

And yeah, I agree with you. The convenience of paying a little bit more for not having to travel, and buy locally was definitely a big selling point for sure.
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Old 12-12-2018, 05:42 PM   #4
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Figured I'd post a little bit of an update. Haven't had much of an opportunity to do work because of dealing with the state of Illinois.

In order to drive the bus, in Illinois, you need to have a Class B license, allowing you to drive vehicles over 26,001lbs GVWR. That's regardless of it's classified as a motor-home/RV or whatever. The bus has air-brakes, but since I'm not going for a CDL, I am not required to have an air-brake endorsement, which is fine. After my first scheduled driving exam was canceled from a snow storm, my second ended up being fruitless. Since the bus is still classified as a bus, I need to have a data sheet saying the weight of the bus from Blue Bird, and I need a DOT safety inspection. Guy at the DMV said I could get it reclassified as an RV and be able to take the test as it, and thinks that just taking the seats out will give me RV classification. Everything else I've heard says otherwise, that I'll need a bed and kitchen and all that jazz, but I'm still waiting to hear back from a compliance officer at the state. But realistically, I'll probably just get my license for it after the conversion is mostly done.



After a day of work with some friends, we were able to get a majority of the seats out, except two left for the examiner. Was pretty easy getting the seats out, thanks to angle grinders from Harbor Freight. You can also see two 35 gallon water tanks, snagged those from someone just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border for $90, retail together would be closer to $160.



Also accomplished shattering a window that day. Was using an air-hammer to take off the heads of the rivets, was angled up and slipped, going straight through the window. Found someone in the area though that is also doing a conversion, he said I could take some of the windows he took off his bus. Score!



Pretty good action shot taking out seats.



Aftermath of a long day stripping all the junk from the metal frames of the seats, taking out some of the walls, and removing some of the sheets from the start of the roof. The insulation was actually in pretty decent condition, but still scrapping it and planning on doing spray foam.



Also spent some time wiring in the backup camera and monitor. The camera communicated with the monitor wirelessly, which is nice. The monitor also has support for 3 more camera and can display them all at once, but I'll add those in at a later date.

Still going to continue on with demolition, hope to finish demo most of the way by the end of the month. I've just got a few questions in terms of moving forward.
  • I'd love to add in under-body storage to the bus to hold a battery bank and other random things. Ideally, I'd like to go similar to the way the following video was done. In terms of stability, would it be better to bolt the ribs under the bus like they do in that video? Or better to bolt through the floor and secure that way, while I'll have the floor exposed before laying the subfloor?
  • I plan on taking out all the window assemblies and reseal. Not the glass panes, the whole assembly. What are some good recommendations for sealers to keep it water tight?
  • On my dash, I've got three switches labeled "W/L Master", "W/L Start", and one with "W/L" with a red background and "W/L" with a yellow background. What exactly are those for?
  • This will be down the line, but I'd like to completely redo the dash/cockpit area. There's a handful of switches I don't use and would like to get it all personalized and teched out. What are some things to consider before doing demo on that, such as defrosters?
  • I've got two heaters in the bus with the lines running inside along the corner between the floor and wall, with a metal cover. With my bus, what's a good process to getting these heaters and tubes disconnected and removed?
That's about all I have for now. I appreciate any help! Happy holidays from the Chuck Mobile!

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Old 12-12-2018, 07:07 PM   #5
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Welcome, from the west burbs! Looks like a nice rig, man. For your heater hoses, I believe you can cut them after then exit the cockpit area and loop them together. That's how ours worked anyway. For the windows, we used 3m Dynatron 550 from Auto Zone. Took the windows out, scraped the butyl tape and wire brushed the aluminum window frame and the bus frame so they were super clean. Then we wiped down with acetone and sealed. The windows still leaked, though. The water was coming in from the window gasket that had dry rotted (between the glass pane and the aluminum frame).....so if you get a mysterious window leak, it could very well be the same thing.
I feel ya on the Class B thing, I'm taking my chances until I move out of state. Ours was already titled as an RV, but I've heard it's as simple as getting a camp stove, a cooler and an air mattress (I think you need 3 of 5 things). No reason not to just wait until spring, when you're further along and have your utilities installed.
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Old 12-12-2018, 09:43 PM   #6
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Quote:
Ideally, I'd like to go similar to the way the following video was done. In terms of stability, would it be better to bolt the ribs under the bus like they do in that video? Or better to bolt through the floor and secure that way, while I'll have the floor exposed before laying the subfloor?
In the video (around the 9:50 mark), it looks to me like he just screwed the unistrut thru the floor rib flange. If I was going to put a lot of weight in those storage boxes, I'd feel better bolting through the floor, with an additional bar topside to spread the load. Plus, my floor ribs had detached from the floor in a couple of places.....nothing major, but what if there had been an actual load on them?

Here's how I did my steps....I also bolted them through the skirt for additional rigidity.

Just a thought.....
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Old 12-13-2018, 08:27 AM   #7
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If I was going to put a lot of weight in those storage boxes, I'd feel better bolting through the floor, with an additional bar topside to spread the load.
That's similar to what we did with securing our water tanks, we went all the way through the floor (although we used cargo straps). We used self tappers all over our build, but I don't know that I'd trust them enough to hold too much weight.
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Old 12-14-2018, 03:07 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drew Bru View Post
Welcome, from the west burbs! Looks like a nice rig, man. For your heater hoses, I believe you can cut them after then exit the cockpit area and loop them together. That's how ours worked anyway. For the windows, we used 3m Dynatron 550 from Auto Zone. Took the windows out, scraped the butyl tape and wire brushed the aluminum window frame and the bus frame so they were super clean. Then we wiped down with acetone and sealed. The windows still leaked, though. The water was coming in from the window gasket that had dry rotted (between the glass pane and the aluminum frame).....so if you get a mysterious window leak, it could very well be the same thing.
I feel ya on the Class B thing, I'm taking my chances until I move out of state. Ours was already titled as an RV, but I've heard it's as simple as getting a camp stove, a cooler and an air mattress (I think you need 3 of 5 things). No reason not to just wait until spring, when you're further along and have your utilities installed.

You and I are on the same page regarding the Class B. Definitely going to hold off on it for a while until after I've gotten most things accomplished. I'll look into your suggestions for the windows. I've not noticed any leaks in the window gaskets, but I need to give it a better test.




Quote:
Originally Posted by plfking View Post
In the video (around the 9:50 mark), it looks to me like he just screwed the unistrut thru the floor rib flange. If I was going to put a lot of weight in those storage boxes, I'd feel better bolting through the floor, with an additional bar topside to spread the load. Plus, my floor ribs had detached from the floor in a couple of places.....nothing major, but what if there had been an actual load on them?

Here's how I did my steps....I also bolted them through the skirt for additional rigidity.

Just a thought.....

Smart idea with putting a bar topside to spread the load out. I don't see anything unsound with the ribs on the underside, but I haven't given them a solid look. But realistically, I think I'll go with your method of the bar to spread the load. Thanks for the photos.
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Old 12-15-2018, 11:21 PM   #9
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Got some more work done this weekend, finished taking out the side panels and started taking up some rubber from the floor. Also took the seats to a recycling joint and bagged up all the current garbage to bring to a landfill.



So while taking out the sides, we had to take out the driver's seat belt in order to access parts of the sheet metal. While doing that, the seat belt reel locked up and started rolling the rest of the belt in, and we cannot figure out how to release it and get the seat belt back in place. Any suggestions? I've got photos of the reel I'm talking about below.



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Old 01-14-2019, 12:02 AM   #10
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Finally another bus update! Nothing too major, was away because of the holidays and work. Don't have any photos yet but I picked up four aluminum storage boxes to put on under the box. Decided to buy pre-built boxes opposed to custom ones myself since I was able to get a good enough deal on these bad boys.

Started getting off the front half of the floor, photoed below. Getting the rubber off wasn't awful, and the wood came up mostly all together. The very very front, you can tell that's where I've got most moisture soaking in from the bottom. That's where it's most rusted, the wood came up in pieces, and where I've got a few gnarly holes.



Here's the biggest hole I've found so far, big enough to fit a few fingers down.



With these holes, and the ones from the bolts holding the seats down, what's the best way to cover them up? For the smaller ones I've seen people use caulk and pennies, is that a good method? I don't have access to a welder, so I'm trying to find a good alternative.

Not totally bus related, but I picked up a new vehicle to use as a work truck for the bus. 1995 Ford F150. Got a great deal on it. The vehicle my girlfriend and I share is a little shoe box, and would have no business transporting storage boxes or lumber or anything bigger than a toolbox. Also looking forward to using it as a vehicle to learn mechanics on.



Next steps for me are to take a bunch of garbage to the landfill, rip up the rest of the floor, patch holes, take out the heaters, rust convert and prime the floor, attach the storage boxes, and start taking down the ceiling. I also need to start finalizing my electrical plan, so I can budget that out and order my solar panels. I'd like to get those attached while the ceiling is open and before the spray insulation goes in. Anyone have good pointers to getting the heaters out without causing any issues or too much of a mess?
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Old 01-14-2019, 10:05 AM   #11
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Regarding holes in the floor...


first, clean up and convert all the rust. From there you can simply use a little fiberglass patch and some epoxy. About as simple as it gets.
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Old 01-14-2019, 01:50 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiggins View Post
Got some more work done this weekend, finished taking out the side panels and started taking up some rubber from the floor. Also took the seats to a recycling joint and bagged up all the current garbage to bring to a landfill.



So while taking out the sides, we had to take out the driver's seat belt in order to access parts of the sheet metal. While doing that, the seat belt reel locked up and started rolling the rest of the belt in, and we cannot figure out how to release it and get the seat belt back in place. Any suggestions? I've got photos of the reel I'm talking about below.




you have to relax the pressure on the catch that engages the seat belt in the case of a collision ( or big bump ) before it will release the belt - somehow you have to push the belt further into the case so it will release
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Old 01-14-2019, 09:59 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Tango View Post
Regarding holes in the floor...


first, clean up and convert all the rust. From there you can simply use a little fiberglass patch and some epoxy. About as simple as it gets.
Fiberglass or Plexiglas? Never heard of a fiberglass patch and epoxy combo before. I just want to make sure I get it right!
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Old 01-14-2019, 10:03 PM   #14
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you have to relax the pressure on the catch that engages the seat belt in the case of a collision ( or big bump ) before it will release the belt - somehow you have to push the belt further into the case so it will release
I've tried every combo to pushing and pulling and reorientating the dang thing, and I cannot get it to release. Going to have one more person look at it, and if they can't get it I'll probably end up just getting a new one.
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Old 01-14-2019, 10:27 PM   #15
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You can combine a small fiberglass patch (like 1" square) with some 2-part, 5 minute epoxy for a quick, solid fix. Easier and quicker than using resin. But the metal has to be clean to get a good bond.
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Old 01-15-2019, 07:03 AM   #16
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Depending on the size of the holes, you might be able to use some of the black windshield goop to fill them. About $30 a tube from Autozone if you have a lot of them.

> On my dash, I've got three switches labeled "W/L Master", "W/L Start", and one with "W/L" with a red background and "W/L" with a yellow background. What exactly are those for?

In case you haven't figured it out yet, those are for the Red/Yellow warning lights.
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Old 01-17-2019, 01:53 PM   #17
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Just my 2c on the floor

I used an angle grinder cutting wheel to cut a square around the holes and after treating everything with rustoleum I used sheet metal, rivets, and seam sealer to patch them. You can see my thread for more info about what I did

Itís a bit tedious but imo the best way to do it
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Old 02-01-2019, 01:30 AM   #18
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The polar vortex moving through Chicago has definitely put a slow down on bus work!





https://youtu.be/inmqqISk6dw

Finally got the rest of the floor pulled up. A 36" wrecking bar truly helped with it. Next up is floor prep. I've definitely got my work cut out for me to grind off the rust and patch some holes. I'm going to add a hinge to some steel to cover the fuel pump, so that it can be accessed if necessary. Corroseal and POR15 not wanting to be applied in below 45įF is a bit of a bummer. I'm going to be out of town for work but once I get back, I should be able to move the bus to an indoor storage location to do my floor prep.





With the help of some friends, we were able to take off the entire ceiling and front bulkhead in one afternoon. Outside of taking off the stairs, that was the end of the demo. So glad to be done with that and getting closer to start building!

I've got a question about attaching solar panels and the like. I saw on Juicifier's video and Instagram about the Iron Ridge solar rack he had installed and that got me thinking. Why not just use long stretches of angle iron and attach them through the roof of the bus with angle brackets, and run them down the bus on both sides. Then to attach the solar panels, use a bolt with a big enough washer to cover two solar panels on each side. Also maybe support a small deck like theirs, but primarily for solar panels. Thoughts? In my mind, I think it would be a bit cheaper and easier to just go the custom route opposed to a pre-fab solution that I'd have to travel to get.
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Old 02-01-2019, 03:17 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sleddgracer View Post
you have to relax the pressure on the catch that engages the seat belt in the case of a collision ( or big bump ) before it will release the belt - somehow you have to push the belt further into the case so it will release
Most seatbelt mechanisms have a position orientation, meaning there is a cam lock that rotates in place if the seatbelt housing is not in the correct orientation. i.e. bus upside down seat belt locks in place to prevent occupant from squirting out.
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Old 02-01-2019, 03:24 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by ShagNasty View Post
Most seatbelt mechanisms have a position orientation, meaning there is a cam lock that rotates in place if the seatbelt housing is not in the correct orientation. i.e. bus upside down seat belt locks in place to prevent occupant from squirting out.
exactly - unless the pressure on the cam is released, you can't pull the seat belt out
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