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Old 12-29-2006, 03:30 AM   #1
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Hello! I am looking to buy a school bus to convert into a home, but I do not have the intention of moving the bus once I put it into place. I figure I can get a bus really cheap if I am not worried about it running. Since it will be my house, I am looking for a full sized.

My question is what do I look for in buying a bus? Any ideas on how to tell how sound the body is so that it will (hopefully) last me for 20-30-40 years as a home?

My main concern is rust/dry rot etc. And I know that there is most likely no way to tell what condition the floor is in until I get it home and tear the floor out to the metal. Do most buses have the rubber/plywood/metal floors? Can I tell by crawling around under the bus how much damage there is? If it is repairable then I don't mind, but I have been stuck with a lemon before (the travel trailer I am currently living in had dry rot under the sinks and tub) so I am a bit weary of what cannot be seen.

thanks!
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Old 12-29-2006, 08:40 AM   #2
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First of all...welcome!

Secondly...it would be helpful to know what part of the country you're in; it's easier to make recommendations of places folks know about that way.

Typically it's going to make a lot of difference in the condition of the bus based on where the bus has been running, especially with regard to rust and such. Northern and Northeast buses typically have more rust than say, southwest buses. Blue Birds use a lot of galvanized steel and my '79 BB is in outstanding condition with no rust; it came from the Denver area. I just bought an '82 Thomas flat-nose bus here in Washington and it too is in very good condition. So far I haven't found any rust.

Most school bus floors are sheetmetal base, plywood and rubber topping but I've heard of exceptions.

A flat-nose bus will give you the most interior space for the overall length but (in general) will tend to cost more upfront.

Have you thought about a shipping container? 40' to 53' long, 102" wide, plenty of headroom and no wasted space for things like the engine, wheel wheels, and such.
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Old 12-29-2006, 10:29 AM   #3
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You could even consider a 48 or 53 foot fifth wheel trailer.
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Old 12-29-2006, 11:04 AM   #4
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My Blue Birds both came from Oregon and are spectacularly rust free.

On the first one, however, the plywood floor was rotten under the
linoleum. I discovered this while I removed the seats, because my
knees sank into the "nice soft" floor!
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Old 01-03-2007, 04:55 AM   #5
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thank you all for the replies.

how can I check the bus to see what kind of shape the bus is in?

I am in the northwest so it is good to know that there are good buses to be found.

I would consider a fifthwheel, but I have done the travel trailer route for over 10 years and I really want wood heat and something more durable in the long run. I have also considered a shipping container but I need to have a project that I will be able to do for the most part myself. With the shipping container I would have to get someone to put the windows in, and that would not do. Besides I do not have the $$ to get one in put in place. Buses are easier to move and I can put a woodstove in one! I know I could put one in a travel trailer, but the one I am living in now, the roof is shot and is covered with tarps... not a great idea. I also like the idea of making my own floor plan vs one that is laid out for me all ready, as in trailers.
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Old 01-03-2007, 08:16 PM   #6
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Since you're not planning on driving, gas-powered and propane-powered buses usually sell for much less than diesel buses. And, conventional (dog-nose) buses typically sell for less than flat nose (transit style) buses. You'll get the most room out of a flat nose bus though, especially if you don't need to maintain the driving station. For the most space I'd look for a flat nose front engine bus (usually cheaper than a rear engine bus) and you can either use the engine cover as a table base or if you pull the engine and sell it you can take the engine cover out altogether and have a flat floor from the entry way to the tail end. With a front engine bus you won't have to deal with the engine housing in the back and you'll have a door there if you want it.

There are lots of deals out and about so you just have to keep looking. I'd say up here in the Northwest you'll do well to look under the bus at the frame and running gear (as well as the body), if that looks good and the inside doesn't have telltale signs of leaking you're probably good to go since it isn't a harsh environment. You can look up in the wheel well area too since everything off the road seems to land in there and start the rusting process. Look under the hood (even though you don't care about the running situation), if it looks like heck I'd wonder about the rest of the bus; a look under the hood usually gives a good indication about how the bus was taken care of (but obviously, not always).

The floors are usually a base of sheet metal, a plywood floor and a rubber overlay. Look for soft spots, especially around the wheel wells, where bus heater were installed, and around the edges. Take an ice pick with you and do a little prodding; you don't have to attack the bus just gently press the point in suspect locations...if the wood is rotted it will hardly take any pressure at all to penetrate the wood.
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Old 01-03-2007, 08:46 PM   #7
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Lindy:

Some months ago, an acquaintance of mine in the Portland, Oregon, area had
a 1977 International/Carpenter that had been used as a church bus. I don't
know how long it was. It still ran. Gasser and auto. If they still have it, the price
would be 500 or less. Want me to check?
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Old 01-03-2007, 09:52 PM   #8
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I'll let you in on a little trick we northerners use to check our vehicles since Minnesota salts their roads like a basket of fries at Rotten Ronnie's. Take a ball peen hammer, some dirty clothes, goggles, ear plugs, and a magnet with you.

1. Check for chassis rust....this stuff is serious. Climb under the bust with the hammer, goggles, earplugs, and the dirty clothes on. Wind up and smack the living dogsnot out of the frame. You won't hurt it if it's good. Take a few seconds and look up and down the length of the bus to see what you knocked off. Is it a lot of caked on dirt? Is it rust? Is it flaking metal? All those are bad! I'd do this every few feet along both frame rails taking time to look at everything else under there. The seller shouldn't care if they're confident in what they're selling.

2. Check for body rust. This stuff is sneaky. Obviously you'll want to walk around and just look for obvious paint bubbles and surface rust. While it can be taken care of easily, surface rust should be taken seriously. As Mr. Neil Young taught us, rust never sleeps. Now take the magnet, and run it all over on the sheet metal, especially around the wheel wells. It will expose any places where they may have used body filler as part of a repair. It will also help expose places with thinning steel under them. Any place where it doesn't stick like it should is questionable.

I hope that helps a little anyway. I know it saved me from buying a bad parts truck when my hammer went through the web of the frame.
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Old 01-03-2007, 10:09 PM   #9
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Now I remember why I left Detroit!

I would tell any friend in the rusty areas to travel out here to buy used vehicles.
It's worth it, and you get a nice vacation. I just parted out a 1971 Ford pickup --
only detectable rust was the battery tray.
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Old 01-03-2007, 10:31 PM   #10
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Funny cause I just replaced the rusted out battery tray on a 2001 Ford pickup today.
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