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Old 11-17-2017, 04:03 PM   #1
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Gilligan Phantom (1987 Gillig Phantom School Bus Full Time Conversion)

Hello helpful Skoolie friends.

A month or so ago my wife and I came down with the well-known to this forum "school bus affliction." First we were thinking lets convert a school bus on the cheap and turn it into an Airbnb (we've run 1-2 Airbnb's for coming up on 3 years). Then we thought let's live in the school bus and Airbnb our house (more money)! Then we thought lets throw away all our hard work, employment, currently comfortable and cushy lifestyles while committing financial suicide renovating a bus and likely struggle to make a living on the road perpetually. Most people have their first born (at this time we have a 3 month old baby girl) and settle down. The opposite seems to be happening to us. We'll do at least some version of the above. We are absolutely the alternative-lifestyle chasing millennial types. You all are the hardcore jet-setting pioneers of this dream. Over the past month I have observed your ingenuity and ambition, and watched you build incredible buses. For your hard work documenting and sharing and paving the way I .

We'll be blogging about the process: gilliganphantom.com

We'll be doing videos and here is our first video picking up and driving the bus across country with the help of my friend Andrew (we took out the seats while driving 2,603 miles home!):

You can see a consistent stream of new photos: https://www.instagram.com/gilliganphantom/ (Instagram @ GilliganPhantom)

And I'll be posting updates to this thread when something significant has changed.

Here is our bus:

1987 Gillig Phantom School Bus
Detroit Diesel 6V92 with 200K miles when purchased
Allison MT647
40 foot, 84 original passengers
77 inch floor to ceiling interior height
100 gallon fuel tank
Air seat, air ride, air brakes
In service in Burton, CA until 2017
Purchased from A-Z Bus Sales for $7K (yikes, but worth it?)
What else would you like to know?
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Old 11-17-2017, 04:27 PM   #2
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Nice looking bus !!!

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Old 11-17-2017, 06:59 PM   #3
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Sweet Gillie. And I love the sound of that engine.
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Old 11-17-2017, 10:13 PM   #4
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My first step, after backing our bus into its home for the next year or so was getting him more or less level. I had a lot of ideas and what I really wanted to do was dig out underneath the wheels deep enough for about 3 inches of compacted gravel, and then place two to three railroad ties laid perpendicular to the bus, more or less flush with the dirt. The wheels would effectively be sitting on railroad ties and hopefully they wouldn't shift too much with the distributed weight and gravel. That also seemed like a lot of work, and I wondered if I could come up with an easier solution as I was eager to get to work. In the following short video is what I did:



I'm wondering a few things:

Any thoughts on my railroad tie idea?
Any thoughts on my current solution?
Any other ideas for having the buses spot level and safe?
Finally, do you think the moist ground will cause issues with rust (there is currently none)? I'm a little bit worried about the engine, but that is over dirt, not even any grass back there.
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Old 11-17-2017, 10:54 PM   #5
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You did well getting it in there in the first place.

The ground is very soft, any rain will make it more so. The only real solution is a full concrete pad. Your wood will sink, RR ties would sink although maybe not so much.

Screw jacks wouldn't sink ... well, they would a bit but they are screw jacks so they could be adjusted.

Having done what you have so far I'd leave it and just monitor the stability.

By the way ... cute baby
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Old 11-17-2017, 10:57 PM   #6
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Just a few thoughts on your adventure so far:

1. PLEASE don't use a cellphone in any way, shape or form when driving a new-to-you 96"-wide bus in busy unfamiliar freeway traffic! (Actually I don't use a cellphone at all when driving, ever, but that's just me.)

2. Whether your fuel gauge works or not, it's good practice to refuel every 500 miles, then you'll never run out. 6V92s don't self-prime.

3. Any bus with air suspension MUST be blocked before you go under it. What would happen if an airbag let go while you were under the bus? Being slowly crushed to death by a 26,000 lb weight on your chest is not a good way to die.

4. To level your bus side-to-side you only need to valve each rear wheel's air suspension separately, then as long as it holds pressure for a while you have a built-in self-leveling feature. Adding one valve for the front suspension will also allow you to level it front-to-back. Just don't valve each front wheel separately, or you may rack the bus and pop out a windshield.

5. I trust you know about the care and feeding of Detroit 2-strokes? Do not use anything except CF-2 straight 40-weight oil in it (Delo 100, Delvac 1240, Shell Rotella T1, Conoco Phillips 76 T5X are a few that work well in Detroit 92s), and use the proper coolant to prevent cavitation erosion of the liners. Delo 400 is not CF-2 rated, nor are the other Rotellas, and never use multi-weight oil in a 2-stroke.

6. And as I've said here many times before, never lug the engine. When climbing 6% grades I manually downshift to 3rd gear and maintain 1900 to 2000 RPM on a 3/4 throttle, keeping about 18 PSI boost. Lugging will kill Detroit 2-strokes!

You've got a good bus, but it needs to be treated differently than your typical generic school bus. Be good to it, and it will more than repay you with many years of dependable service. Have fun!

John
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Old 11-18-2017, 05:41 PM   #7
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Thanks Twigg! Lots more of baby Nova to come in future videos. I'll monitor for now like you've mentioned, and plan to add 4 screw jacks as you've advised.
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Old 11-18-2017, 05:54 PM   #8
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Iceni John,

1. I knew I would get scolded eventually! Really I have to agree, no excuses for that sort of behavior but I do want you to know that we were driving 5 mph (it looks a little faster because that truck passes on the right) and if you watch my eyes in the video I may have looked at my phone screen once. I was scanning traffic constantly. Just acted on an impulse when my wife facetimed me. I'm just glad nobody has yelled at me yet for skateboarding in the bus while doing 60 down the highway

2. We had gone 450 miles! I'll stick to 400 and under in the future, won't even bother fixing the gauge. It'll lead to more awareness.

3. Oh crap I did not even know/think about that and I do sincerely appreciate your stern words. I suppose when I get those screw jacks I'll be safe, right? Just for the record, assuming my airbags are empty, it is more or less safe for me to crawl underneath, right?

4. I will look into what you've described and learn a little bit more about it. I was told to drain all of my air valves (there are four) daily (it also says so on the side of the bus). Is this not true? Can I leave my air bags full of air for extended periods?

5. and 6. Yes! In a previous post you told me all about Delo 100 40W and how not to lugg the engine so that's exactly what I did. If I saw RPM's begin to drop while climbing I set it back to 3rd gear.

Thanks for your advice and your help!
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Old 11-18-2017, 06:06 PM   #9
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Just did little reading and I'm starting to think I misunderstood "drain daily." Was I simply supposed to crack the valves and drain until I felt no moisture, just air? If that's the case we could've had a locked door at night and gotten on the road so much quicker in the mornings. Oops?!
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Old 11-18-2017, 10:02 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Juicifer View Post
Just did little reading and I'm starting to think I misunderstood "drain daily." Was I simply supposed to crack the valves and drain until I felt no moisture, just air? If that's the case we could've had a locked door at night and gotten on the road so much quicker in the mornings. Oops?!
It merely means to open each tank's drain valve until no more water comes out. You don't have to let out all the air! If your air dryer is working well you won't accumulate much condensation in the tanks, but if the dessicant cartridge needs to be replaced or if it's just a really humid day then you will have slightly more water to drain out.

Remember that the various warnings and notices are relevant if the bus were being used every day, such as in typical school bus service. For most of us convertees we can use our discretion about such matters. (However, a complete walk-around and pre-trip inspection and a full DOT airbrake test should always be done before every trip. Airbrake valves can stick or fail due to lack of use.)

John
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Old 11-19-2017, 10:11 AM   #11
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Air bags fail.

Air suspensions leak.

26K lbs. of bus on your chest makes it really hard to breathe!

Never, not ever, get under an air suspension bus without first blocking it up.

Using the air suspension to level will only work as long as the system holds air pressure. If your system retains pressure more than 12-hours it is exceptional! Most buses with air suspension will leak all of the air pressure off within 3-5 hours. Many highway coach buses will lean to the side that leaks off first. It is not unusual to see a line of MCI buses leaning one way or another. Most will not drop uniformly. And for some reason, once the system is down to zero they will still lean. Which is why most coaches do not park close to anything. I have seen where buses have leaned into the bus next to them. It can actually cause damage if two buses side by side lean into each other.

It appears as if you have found a great bus.

Good luck and happy trails to you!
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Old 11-23-2017, 09:33 PM   #12
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Started on interior demolition the other day. Took out heaters and used copper attached to the heaters to reconnect the coolant lines. In the future I may redo the coolant lines a bit later as they connect to a main line that runs the center of the bus and I suppose it'd make sense to have those hoses out of my way. I wanted to lose as little coolant as possible so that I could still start and run the bus occasionally. I ended up losing 5 gallons (due to a silly mistake)! Am I right to just add water for now so that the coolant sight glass is full? I'll replace all that coolant I believe before I take off with the bus in a year or two.

Anybody have opinions on whether to tear up or leave the rubber floor? There is plywood that seems sturdy underneath. I had two thoughts.

1. The rubber is fine and I can just insulate over top and save time.

2. I kind of want that rubber gone, just out of my house and it'd be nice to confirm that the plywood is okay everywhere. It's tough to get up. I bet it'll take me 4-6 hours of annoying labor. I suppose most people may have dealt with worse on their metal floors.

Next I'm going to figure out how I can remove the wiring on the right side of the bus which seems to have fed lights, speakers, and an emergency shut off switch for the rear hatch. With that rear hatch raised the bus will start but it will not leave neutral. I'll head to the electrical forum and try and figure out how to do that.

Also discovered that the ceiling was insulated with 1.5 inches of foam board yielding R7.5. As much as I'm dying to be cheap and reuse it. I know I can do more like R10-12 in that space with spray foam. Alternatively I might put it back up and spray foam over top. We will be in very hot climates at times so insulation is important especially because I'm not currently planning to delete any windows. Currently planning to lose 2 inches on the floor to insulation, plywood, and hardwood floor, and maybe 3/4 to 1 inch on the ceiling for a total headspace loss of 3 inches max bringing us down to 6"2'. Really wish I could have a ton of insulation, and a ton of headspace, but hey, it's a bus!

Sorry for the lack of pictures. If you're interested in following along, most of my activities will be chronicled in youtube videos, such as the one below.

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Old 11-23-2017, 09:50 PM   #13
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I'm not convinced spray foam will yield a much better R-value than the foam board already there, if it's in decent condition.

It might be a bit better, if it's applied evenly, but I would be concerned that it is a great deal of work, and money, for a small gain. You have a high ceiling. Why not just add another layer of foam board under it?

Just adding water could reduce the coolant strength to a %age that won't protect if it freezes hard. You be the judge.
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Old 11-24-2017, 11:58 AM   #14
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The coolant not only helps to keep things from overheating but it also keeps things from freezing.

The other important aspects of coolant include the anti-rust inhibitors, water pump lubrication, and most importantly in a diesel engine is the way in which it reduces cavitation between the cylinders/liners and the cooling jacket.

Neutral pH is very important as well.

If your bus does not have a coolant filter you need to add something help with the pH and electrolysis. I have seen engines eaten up from having the pH wrong and the dissimilar metals eating themselves up. https://www.napaonline.com/en/p/PARHD20016
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Old 11-24-2017, 12:05 PM   #15
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Real nice bus, congrats!
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Old 11-25-2017, 09:09 AM   #16
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Super nice bus! Good luck on the build!


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Old 11-25-2017, 02:42 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
Air bags fail.

Air suspensions leak.

26K lbs. of bus on your chest makes it really hard to breathe!

Never, not ever, get under an air suspension bus without first blocking it up.

Using the air suspension to level will only work as long as the system holds air pressure. If your system retains pressure more than 12-hours it is exceptional! Most buses with air suspension will leak all of the air pressure off within 3-5 hours. Many highway coach buses will lean to the side that leaks off first. It is not unusual to see a line of MCI buses leaning one way or another. Most will not drop uniformly. And for some reason, once the system is down to zero they will still lean. Which is why most coaches do not park close to anything. I have seen where buses have leaned into the bus next to them. It can actually cause damage if two buses side by side lean into each other.

It appears as if you have found a great bus.

Good luck and happy trails to you!
my red bus air suspension holds pressure for weeks at a time .. the main air tank will go to 0 (i found a leak at a protection valve).. but the air springs are still up over a week later.. a nice tight air suspension is a very simple system and should hold air for a very long time.. but seems evem if you had to start your bus engine faily to pump up the air springs it wouldnt be a too bad thing..
-Christopher
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Old 11-26-2017, 04:21 PM   #18
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Very nice bus! Good luck on the build!
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Old 12-04-2017, 09:18 PM   #19
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Thanks for the coolant tips, Twigg and cowlitzcoach.

We will consider leaving all of the already installed foam board (although we'll have to figure out where each piece goes again) and spray foaming over top. That seems like a good combo of R-value and easy.

Made a bit more progress. Have the wall panels out, removed the adhesive behind them so that I can add studs/furring strips without that being in the way. Found a bit of surface rust behind the wall panels. Picked at it with an angle grinder and a braided steel brush attachment until it was mostly gone and then used Loctite rust converter on the problem areas. My Lowe's didn't have the usual Ospho product I see people using. There may be better products or angle grinder attachments to get the job done if you're reading this and looking for ideas for your project. I just bought what I saw could work and got it done. I have so little rust I'm not too worried about it.

You can see everything we did in the video below plus a little bonus trip to the beach.

I'll be priming all metal that I made bare when I exposed it with some Rustoleum metal primer, and will finally decide whether to leave the rest of the rubber floor intact and then the interior demo will be done. Next up I'll move to the exterior and start with the roof. I'll remove the drip rail above the windows which seems to have failed and let in some water, will treat any rust I find behind it.

I need to decide what I want to do on the roof. What I would like to do is replace the two emergency hatches with a solution that both vents it with a fan and turns it into a skylight. I'd rather not cut holes in the roof (but will if necessary) and I'd like to maximize space for panels. Too bad they don't make those fantastic fans around 24 inches. Seems ridiculous to me that there is no plug and play option for replacing these hatches with a fan and skylight. The only thing I can think of is to install a boat hatch, maybe there's something here that will work: https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/boa...ght-hatch.html and then fit a box fan up there somehow.

Other option is skin it over and install 14 inch fantastic fans but then I lose interior roof access...

Last option is install something like this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...R663ZCHZ&psc=1 and then cut in two fantastic fans in different locations. Once again I lose roof access. Okay maybe I could do just one of the hatches.

Open to other ideas. Thanks for reading!

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Old 12-15-2017, 03:32 AM   #20
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I love you guys bus!! I look forward to the seeing the transformation. I drove those kinds of Gilligs back in college and I love the way they drove! Good luck with the conversion and enjoy your videos!!
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