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Old 05-13-2006, 02:25 AM   #1
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Recommendations wanted!

First, greetings to all, and thank you for a very nice site!

I admit it - I've caught the bug. At first I thought I wanted an MCI, but they're just too expensive to buy and maintain. Looking at used prices for school buses was a shock - they are much more affordable!

I've looked at, and I'm in central Iowa, with several large bus lots close by.

I'd like to find a transit type, with diesel engine and manual transmission. At least I THINK I want diesel, primarily for long life and better mileage - so correct me if I'm wrong.

So, what should I look for? Front engine or rear? Any engines to be sought out (or avoided)? Air or hydraulic brakes? How far will the average diesel or gas engine go in a bus before major attention is necessary?

Oh, and I almost forgot - primary use will be long range travel in semi-retirement. No hurry, but don't want to be a roadblock, either. I'm a competent mechanic, mainly gas but some diesel experience.

Sorry for the long-winded post, and thanks again,

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Old 05-13-2006, 09:51 AM   #2
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Re: Recommendations wanted!

Originally Posted by prof5

Sorry for the long-winded post, and thanks again,

Welcome Gary! And hold on, 'cuase your "long winded" post ain't anything like the answers to all those questions!

Seriously...there are no specific answers. For just about every question you posed one person could persuasively argue it one way and another from the opposite viewpoint.

Like...transit or dognose. I picked this topic because I can have the whole arguement all by my self. The "for" with regard to the transit is that for any given overall length of bus you gain about 5' of interior space. You can also make the tranist style bus look the most like a commercial RV. The "for" with regard to the dognose is accessibility to the engine and components, it can be potentially quieter since the engine is not next to the driver, driver seat access is easier and the driving positon more "normal".

I really argued with my self about which way to go; and even though I've long since purchased my bus I still think about it now and again. I went with the dognose. The decision was based on my higher priority for maintenance. I'm not getting any younger and I didn't want to have to crawl into holes in the front or back of a bus to check the engine. There's nothing like flipping the complete hood open and have the whole front end of the bus (tires, axles, engine, filters, radiator, air cleaner, etc) right there at working/checking height. Also the #1 thing on my list was getting a bus powered by the International DT466; every bus I found at the time I purchased powered with that engine was a dognose (I just recently saw some transit buses available with the DT466 for sale).

I also wanted the automatic. This and the choice of a flip hood came mostly from my experience as a over-the-road semi-truck owner/operator. I spent enough time in heavy traffic to cure me of having a clutch on a heavy-duty diesel rig. Had I kept driving the next new truck I ordered would have had an Allison auto in it!

I went with a diesel because I wanted a rig for long distance travel in semi-retirement! Seems to me the more miles you put on a rig the more persuasive the argument for the diesel engine becomes. I'm not against the gas buses whatsoever; this is definately an area where you've got to look at all the factors and pick what's best for your situation.

My bus is a full-sized 1979 Bluebird/International with the DT466 and an Allison MT643 automatic. I've driven the bus over 10,000 miles now and I consistently get just over 9 MPG running at 55 to 57 mph (57 to 58 is top speed). I'll change the rear-end ratio at some point so the bus can run around 65 mph at top speed and cruise at 60. Mostly I just want to drop the rpm a bit at highway speed I don't really care about its top speed.

I kept watching the eBay school bus sales and visiting every forum and coversion site I could find until all the bits and pieces started falling into place. At some point things start making sense and you begin to sense what's going to work best for you; it may be triggered by a specific chassis/engine combo (as it was for me) or by an interior layout you find you really like or the way you can eventually make the bus look on the outside.

A major consideration is what type of conversion you'll do. That is, they can range from a very basic "camping" conversion (almost like a hard-shelled moveable tent) to a full-on luxury cruiser. My plans are closer to the latter; I intend for our bus to be a very comfortable full-time home for a few years. The intial cost of the bus is the least expensive part of the whole thing for me; I'll end up spending 10 times more on the whole conversion than I did for the bus it self. So, for me, where the bus was in the country was not a consideration. Whatever it cost me to go get the bus was still cheap in comparison to what the project was going to cost. I would have loved to buy my bus near home but Washington State buses don't seem to get DT466 engines in them (at least none I could find)...the bus I found came from Colorado (Denver area) and I had a fun trip bringing it home. Since you're in Iowa you can comb the whole country to find what you want and still have a reasonable trip home (I sort of drew the line at all the Florida buses I found...that was just too long a trip back to Washington).

Anyway, welcome again and have fun.
Les Lampman
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Old 05-13-2006, 12:36 PM   #3
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Thanks for the warm welcome and ideas! This is precisely what I'm looking for - you have raised some points that I never considered.

You're right - I want transit mainly for the look, and hadn't considered engine access. Actually, I had, but considered them about the same. My last bus was long ago - a '58 IH, with a hood, like a car. I didn't realize today's buses had flip front.

Perhaps my reasoning for the manual transmission is dated, too. I don't mind shifting at all, and want the best possible fuel mileage. My only experience with an automatic bus trans was a 60's 30 pass shuttle, and it was helpless. Is the modern Allison better, and is it comparable to a manual for fuel mileage?

You raise a very good point about the DT466 on your website - parts and service availability! This is the kind of info I need. I've been stranded on a Sunday afternoon in New Mexico while driving a 1962 Citroen. It took a lot of improvising to get my "stuckup French toy" back on the road, an experience I'd rather not repeat.

Is there a comparison anywhere on the various engines and transmissions? Being somewhat of a gearhead, I'd like to see the pros and cons for each.

My conversion will be gradual. My aim is to have a mobile shop/rv that I can take on progressively longer trips. I'm self-employed (musical instrument repair & custom built cornets and trumpets), and a lot of my business is internet based, so it doesn't matter where I am. I'll use a satellite based internet service, and the shop area needn't be large (but will be heavy). I'll have the last child graduated from college in two years or so, and then I might even sell the house and stay gone.

Thanks much for the input!

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Old 05-13-2006, 04:07 PM   #4
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I have a flatnose bus, with a front mounted diesel engine. I've driven a dognosed bus and don't think mine is much (if at all) noisier. A rear engine, flat nose bus would be the quietest. I thought about the limited access to the engine but since I know next to nothing about diesel engines anyway, I probably will have to pay someone else to work on it. Personally the more "motorhome" look is worth it to me.

I have a Cummins 5.9 turbo/innercooled engine with an Allison at 545 (I think) and 4.33 gears. I can get 10mpg if I run 60mph, one tank we ran 55 the whole way & I got just over 12mpg. I think this is due mostly to the rear end gearing, since it has the aerodynamics of a barn.

If your planning to use your bus a lot, you might want to look for one with air ride, mine is a very bumpy ride, with just regular leaf springs front and back. I've heard of people removing one or 2 leaf's in the rear to help with this problem.

What do you mean by transit busses, city busses or Greyhound type busses?

I’ve heard a lot of negatives about city busses, #1 they are usually geared for city traffic, 55mph tops if you’re lucky. I also read somewhere the tires are not intended for prolonged highway use. On the plus side everyone I’ve seen has had air ride & they have lower floor height than a school bus.

The Greyhound style busses are huge! They also have air ride, rear engines, basement storage, and a lot of other plusses. They tend to cost 10 times or so what a used school bus costs so keep that in mind. I’ve read somewhere on here that they are usually run longer than school busses, so keep that in mind too.

These are just my opinions, based on what I’ve read.

Oh yeah and welcome to the site, keep us posed & when you do get a bus take lots of pics!
My Old Bus :(
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Old 05-15-2006, 02:27 PM   #5
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I have built plenty of custom leaf spring packs from mixtures of stock leaf packs so I have some experience though not with something the size opf a bus.

The biggest issue I can see you having will be with ride height. With my front spring pack having 4 full length leafs, a midlength leaf, and one short leaf, I have done plenty of experimentation. I know that a full length leaf will vary the ride height by as much as 2 inches. You have to figure for not only the thickness of the leaf itself, but also the amount of preload it applies to the other leafs, thus giving you your height. While I don't think that removing two leafs (or is that leaves?) will change the ride height more than 3 inches on a bus, but three inches might be too much. On top of that, unless you are removing just the overload leafs and or just the short leafs on the bottom, you run the risk of kinking one of the longer main leafs.

I think what would work the best might be making a custom leaf pack. There are several keys to making a soft but durable pack that our buses just don't seem to follow. First is to have long, flat springs. While there isn't much arch to our bus springs, there sure isn't much length either. The second thing that's important is to have as many thin leafs as possible. I know it sounds counterproductive, but more leafs do ride better. The last thing to is make sure you take the time to grind the end of each leaf into a nicely radiused curve, paint them with a good graphite paint, and assemble them with teflon inserts. that sounds like a lot of work, but you can get a set of springs custom made for cheap. One company I keep hearing good things about is Dendoff out of Canada. I think they could set someone up with whatever they needed though to get a decent ride I do think a person needs to cut the hangers and shackles loose and spreading them farther apart.

Still sound like too much work? Try just doing the last step. Pull the packs apart and sand EVERYTHING. Grind the edges round both on a vertical and horizontal plane. Paint them with a graphite paint, and put the inserts in. You'd be amazed what just this step can do. I'm writing this I'm looking for a new set of Chevy 63 inch rear main leafs since mine are getting kinked on the yota (I probably need limiting straps)....anyone have a set of rear springs from a rusted out 88-98 chevy?
Skooling state at a time...
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Old 05-15-2006, 11:49 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by pjespers
Removing leafs. I am intrigued. Who knows more about this?
Here is the link which mentions removing leafs...

I read it a 2nd time just now & it looks as if someone had mentioned it as an idea, but no one posted that they had actually did it.

When we went to Texas a few months ago there was a fellow skoolie owner who stayed with us in my bus and he had talked about removing a few leafs in the back of his new bus to make it ride better. He hadn't done it yet either, but had talked about it, that was the first time I’d heard of it.

If anyone has done it please let us know, I probably wont ever do it but I’d like to know how well it works.
My Old Bus :(
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