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Old 01-11-2019, 10:02 PM   #1
Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Rock Hill, SC
Posts: 190
Year: 1997
Coachwork: International
Chassis: Vista 3600
Engine: DT466E / AT545
Rated Cap: 72
Geminus Bus Build

Finding Geminus

I've made 9 trips across this great country, each one of 1600 miles. I've been to 23 states between South Carolina & Colorado, and know there is so much more to see. After settling back down in SC I have grown bored, and around September of last year started looking at converting my truck bed into a camper. Many google searches later, I arrived to this wonderful forum, and decided to take the Skoolie route.

Lurking since early November, I gathered the data I needed to start searching for a bus, and oh was it a wild ride. I decided from this wonderful forum than anything other than the AT545 would suffice, and that I wanted a DT466 engine. After much deliberation I decided to settle with nothing more than a Transit style. The full dognose took up too much space, and the Vista type looked ridiculous.

Between sketchy craigslist meetups and some blatant lies on ebay listings, to some great deals on auctions that I lost out on, I didn't think I was going to have much luck. I started looking at the North Carolina School System Surplus website, and found quite a few seemingly good buses, however they didn't have hardly any information on them. No photos, nothing.

So, I got a friend to drive me up to the mountains of NC, where there is little snow but lots of hills - of course they'd have anything other than an AT545 tranny. So, after some...detours due to ridiculous highway designs, we arrived at Hendersonville only to find out that they didn't have anything other than AT545's in very hilly terrain, and told me off the bat not to buy one.

So, on to some other counties!


Same for the adjacent 4 counties - all but one flat out told me the transmissions were shot and I wouldn't make it home. All hope is lost. A bookbag of manilla folders with each bus for each county, all visited and bad prospects. 47 buses....but I did have 2 more left. A little town in Union. After looking at the 3800 on the lot, and comparing it to the alternative, it was clear the 3800 had some issues with the engine just from listening to it. The other one was cheaper (random prices assigned by a list, not based on condition oddly), ran better, drove better, and it's body was in better condition with no rust. So, $3000 and a speed unlock later, I drove home with a bus.


And that's how I ended up with a 1997 International Vista 3600 with a DT466e and AT545. 108,000 miles for $3,000. I'm still not 100% sure they didn't sell me a 3800 that had flattened it's nose by hitting a wall. Kind of like the pug dog of buses.




So, despite me "knowing" I wanted a transit style, and wanting to stay away from the 545, after driving it ~100 miles and doing a bit more research, I can say I'm comfortable with my decision. I surely won't ever think it's the best looking bus, but I'll make it mine and love it anyways.

I am a stickler for safety and the law (well, 99.9% of it, ancient blue laws be damned). Mainly safety. Before looking at the buses at the mountain lots I had stopped ruling out dog nosed due to several news reports regarding dog nosed and transit style school bus crashes. While both faired amazingly well, the transit style seemed to have a slight increase in driver injury potential with high walls and/or overhangs, moreso than dog nose.

I did not like driving the transit style, I know it will "come" to me but I had a 50 mile drive home and that was not the time for learning something new, especially in a 26,000 pound bus. So in the end, I'm comfortable with the body style and like that I am sitting nearly directly over the front wheels, which I am very familiar with.

As for the 545, it's certainly not an overachiever. Sitting behind a computer I'd never buy anything with a 545 in it knowing it's limitations - about 35 on 8% grades according to some metrics by members here. But real world experience is wonderful - driving up to Hillyville, NC we passed several semi's that were doing under 30. My friend followed behind them clocking their speed, and one was around 24mph on a 7% grade (I think that was the grrade, maybe 6%).

This makes me comfortable with the uphill/downhill performance that we saw on the test drive, and the highway performance during the drive home. My maximum speed as a school bus (no alterations) was 60mph on 0% grade. On some of my more recent test drives, I actually passed a few cars on the highway. In addition to this, SC law dictates maximum highway speeds of 60MPH (like anyone actually does that) so that's perfect.

The AT545 is also "simple", compared to other transmissions. While this doesn't exactly benefit me directly until I learn how it works and how to do repair/maintenance, it does seem to mean repairs at a shop in the meantime will be cheaper than one with overdrive or locking tc. During that "meantime" I'm going to be converting the inside, and adding some college classes for diesel engines (or whatever course my tech college offers that's relevant).

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Old 01-11-2019, 10:03 PM   #2
Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Rock Hill, SC
Posts: 190
Year: 1997
Coachwork: International
Chassis: Vista 3600
Engine: DT466E / AT545
Rated Cap: 72
Back Home

So, we got the bus back to York County and found a place to park it. Luckily we have a dead end street at the entrance of my community where semi trucks park, often for multiple nights (a few live there, and stop on their OTR trips). Too far from electrical, but I've been making do.

First thing to go - them seats! This is currently still ongoing, and quite the hassle once you get to the ones that are over the rear differential. I've got an angle grinder, and may just use that to get them bolt heads off if me and my friend can't find a proper way.

Here's me in between the front engine panels and the fuel tank area. Tight squeeze, but still enough to take a selfie.


No better friend to help than a Navy SeaBee with Buddy Holly Glasses. Super awesome and great help.



Got some seats hauled off to the dump, didn't feel like recycling them or anywhere that could do so. Taking 6 seats off at a time in a pickup it's the best, but it's better than taking the bus to the dump full of seats.

I've also started cleaning out some areas of the bus, mostly the edges of the seat rail. These kids are super nasty.

Another thing that the school district left in was the cameras - 4 of them. 720p with bnc terminators and held in place with security bits. Overall, I'd give them a passing grade on their security. Decided to take them out, verify they work, and use them on the outside linked to both a DVR and split into multiple camera monitors I'll mount to the dash. Back far, Back bumper top down, Front left, front right for turning.

It has a pretty good exterior, and absolutely minimal rust. I say that because saying 100% rust free is a lie, there is rush somewhere, but not the chassis for sure. Just a lot of dirt and grease. From what I have seen on here and on some ebay listings, I honestly thought that buses just "had" surface rust as a given, and suspected they may have painted over it. Before I realized that was stupid, nobody that works in a school district maintenance yard cares enough for a bus they won't see a profit from anyways.

The DT466e purrs like a grumpy cat with lung cancer, but that's how a good diesel engine should sound. I mean, it's an engine, not a living animal.


A bit of surface rust on some parts, but I'll get to cleaning components on the engine where it's needed after the interior has been gutted.

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Old 01-11-2019, 10:03 PM   #3
Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Rock Hill, SC
Posts: 190
Year: 1997
Coachwork: International
Chassis: Vista 3600
Engine: DT466E / AT545
Rated Cap: 72
OOPS. Might have made a post mistake.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:17 PM   #4
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Join Date: Dec 2017
Location: Dawsonville, Ga.
Posts: 4,691
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Genesis
Chassis: International
Engine: DT466/3060
Rated Cap: 77
All the rust will be on the steel floor once you get the plywood up.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:19 PM   #5
Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Rock Hill, SC
Posts: 190
Year: 1997
Coachwork: International
Chassis: Vista 3600
Engine: DT466E / AT545
Rated Cap: 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by o1marc View Post
All the rust will be on the steel floor once you get the plywood up.
Yeah I'm super behind on photos, but surprisingly I don't have hardwood floor. Just rubber over metal. I did have a bit of surface rust on the metal floor, but didn't have to use a grinder yet, just a wire brush.

Only have done the front 2 foot section in front of the doghouse, but hopefully the trend continues to the back of the bus.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:31 PM   #6
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Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Eustis FLORIDA
Posts: 16,868
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freighliner FS65
Engine: Cat 3126
Rated Cap: 15
Congrats, you enjoy that bus man.
But its not 26k lbs. that's likely the max its rated for. Its probably around 14-16k.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:55 PM   #7
Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Rock Hill, SC
Posts: 190
Year: 1997
Coachwork: International
Chassis: Vista 3600
Engine: DT466E / AT545
Rated Cap: 72
Yeah, just over 18000 empty, and rated for 29000. Max that I registered it for was 23000.

With good luck this bus will last me for many adventures.
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Old 01-12-2019, 12:43 AM   #8
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Sep 2015
Posts: 146
Year: 2002
Coachwork: Thomas Built Bus
Chassis: Freightliner FS65
Engine: Caterpillar 3126E Diesel
Rated Cap: 71 Passenger- 30,000 lbs.
I am sure you have discovered that reading this forum and others like it is in no way the adventure of getting your own and working on it. I wish you many great adventures! Welcome to the fun!
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Old 01-12-2019, 06:42 AM   #9
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Join Date: Jan 2018
Location: Brevard County, FL
Posts: 714
Year: 1990
Coachwork: Bluebird
Chassis: Ford
Engine: 6.6 New Holland Dies
Rated Cap: 60 kids, 10 window
Congratulations on getting a bus! Looking forward to seeing your build.
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Old 01-12-2019, 07:13 AM   #10
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Columbus Ohio
Posts: 10,928
Year: 1991
Coachwork: Carpenter
Chassis: International 3800
Engine: DTA360 / MT643
Rated Cap: 7 Row Handicap
awesome bus!! and as for the AT545 mentioned so many times? make sure you keep its fluid clean and happy and install a trans cooler on it to keep it cool...



ive travelled the mountains in 3 AT545s... I only have one left... speaks for itself.. nevertheless I am proof that you can heat one up to 385 degrees and it still survived.. (thats the one in which remains)..


I love the look of the vista.. the big windows and such.. if you sare going to do much summer travelling, you'll want to make the Air-conditioner is in good order..



one reason i like the vista is its a bit unusual... That in and of itself is worth it!


-Christopher
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