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Old 06-23-2013, 11:21 PM   #1
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Year: 2000
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the family wagon

When I was a kid my family didn't do many vacations. There could have been any number of reasons why, but now having my own children and have packed us all up a few times, I have a pretty clear set of reasons that would deter me from vacationing! It's our hope that the custom RV by skoolie will eventually address the biggest of those concerns and make it more comfortable, convenient, affordable, and therefore enjoyable for us to take vacations short and long more regularly.

That said, there's nothing like a schedule to get one moving.. and unfortunately, I'm expert at over-committing on both schedule and scope! In the short term, this is going to be something like Gyre's Project Steel Tent: we have a vacation planned less than two months from now which involves about 1500 miles of driving spread over a little more than a week. The thought of four children and our gear somehow packed in, on, and around our minivan during 30 hours of driving gives me hives. We've also learned from a pair of overnight trips earlier this year that our twin toddlers don't do well sleeping in unfamiliar places (ie hotel rooms). Hopefully we can get this to a state of "relatively usable" in the short time we have, and maybe we'll learn some things on the trip that will help us refine the design as we finish it off later.

Well, anyway, some introduction to The Rig:

It was used for some kind of transit around a ski resort in California. Note the sign on the ski racks "SKIS ONLY - NO SNOWBOARDS." We're very strict about that. It's a Blue Bird, but not a school bus. So I guess it isn't an All American or TC2000; I have the impression those are specifically school bus bodies. I really don't know what to call this thing.

It has a Cummins ISC 8.3 engine out back with Allison B300R transmission. I've grown quite fond of this drive train already -- my former bus had a 5.9 L Cummins mechanical-injected engine up front. It was a dog and made all kinds of heat in the operator space. This electronic 8.3 really moves, and being in the rear, I don't hear it so much and don't feel any heat from it.


A couple features the electronic 8.3 brings that I'm quite excited about: push-button high idle control (left of the steering column) and cruise control (right of the park brake knob)! The cruise doesn't work right now and the high idle is spotty (I have discovered that if I wiggle the dash just so then the high idle works). I hope to find something simple like a poor ground in the dash to fix both of those.


I really like the WTECIII (?) push-button transmission control -- I'm one who likes to manually set the transmission gear for descending hills and who detests those lousy range shifters that offer only 1, D, and overdrive (my minivan.. grr..). The B300R is actually a 6-speed transmission but Blue Bird designed this power train for 5 speed and I haven't succeeded in persuading my local Allison shop to enable that second overdrive for me (yet). With all that said about the gear selector, I don't use it much because of another awesome feature: the B300R has a retarder controlled by that black box by the driver's left knee. It's AWESOME. I used that to keep the speed under control descending some 6% grades last week -- I only had to use the service brakes a few times going around some tight bends.


Because it came from transit service the bus has a destination sign on its forehead and another beside the front door. These are the fluorescent green-yellow electronic flip-dot type made by Luminator. Nothing says "outta my way!" like "DRIVER TRAINING!" I usually just leave it showing "OUT OF SERVICE" -- maybe one of these days I'll hack the controller and figure out how to load my own witty messages. At the moment I don't have any so no big rush.


I have most of the seats already removed.


There's a Ricon wheelchair lift hidden behind the rear doors. It came in handy for loading a dirt bike when I took one of my kids camping last week. I'll probably lose the lift, though -- don't imagine using it much and I'd like to free the belly space for holding tanks and storage bins. Maybe I'll find a way to use the hydraulic pump to drive some leveling jacks.. some day..
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Old 06-23-2013, 11:40 PM   #2
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Location: Salt Lake City Utah
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Engine: ISC 8.3
Re: the family wagon

The basic plan is 6 bunk beds in the rear (our kids plus some spares: friends, cousins, etc); bath and kitchen mid-ship; dinette booth/inward-facing-sofas/folds-flat-to-a-queen-or-king-bed gizmo up front. It all sounds so simple and straight-forward, but I'm terrible about creating dependency chains that have me running around doing all kinds of other things before actually getting to the stated task.

For example: I'm worried about it being overly hot and noisy inside the bus for this trip. Insulation would help with that, as would removal of some of the windows. But before getting to all that, and since I'll be re-skinning the sides with the window removal anyway... I think I want to raise the roof first. I only have maybe 2 inches of clearance from my head to the ceiling in the center and I want to spend those inches on insulation (both ceiling and floor). So I need to start by raising the roof a bit. Eeek! Thanks to the write-ups by Elliott and others, I'm not nearly so frightened about doing a roof raise as perhaps a sane person ought to be.

So.. before this upcoming trip, I hope to:
  • raise the roof[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • re-skin the sides, removing most of the windows[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • paint bus-kote or whatever on the roof and a white or gray primer on the new side skin[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • spray 1/2" to 1" of polyurethane insulation and lay EPS or XPS insulation board on top of that, 1.5 to 2 inches total thickness[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • build new doors[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • rig a sink and toilet[/*:m:16u9sdxu]
  • strap a refrigerator to the wall[/*:m:16u9sdxu]

I figure we'll all just sleep on foam pads on the floor this time around, and I hope the toddlers will quickly lose interest in picking at and eating the exposed foam insulation! We'll take the coleman propane stove and probably a microwave for cooking, and one of those EccoTemp heaters like the one Gyre so cleverly hung on a temporary rack outside his Steel Tent (I'd been trying to figure out where and how I'd mount that thing!). Don't know what I'll do for cooling yet -- maybe with the loss of glass and addition of insulation our heat gain will be low enough that we can just drive with the windows open. If not.. I'm in trouble! Long term I'm thinking about a heat pump mini-split system, or maybe a hybrid evaporative-refrigeration thing (to be run in one mode or the other, but never both together obviously).
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Old 06-24-2013, 01:17 AM   #3
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Re: the family wagon

Shiny. I like it. Can't wait to see the build.
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Old 06-24-2013, 07:56 AM   #4
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Re: the family wagon

should be fun, Welcome to the madness and money pit
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Old 06-24-2013, 10:43 AM   #5
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Re: the family wagon

A big ol' Skoolie Welcome --- looks like you found yourself a fantastic starter platform and have a good idea of what you want from it. That makes for a great head start. This will be fun to follow...so please...do keep the pix coming!
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Old 06-25-2013, 11:40 PM   #6
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Re: the family wagon

Very nice bus! I think you will enjoy it with the family quite a bit. You couldn't ask for a better engine.

I'm surprised by the headroom you mentioned. Usually the transits have about 78 inch ceilings (sometimes more). Is the bus a/c non functioning? Also, the cruise on this bus is likely electronically controlled by the engine computer. Have the Cummins dealer hook up to it with their reader and see if it is turned off. It's possible that the previous owner had it programmed off. Retarders are very nice. I suspect your retarder is a transmission retarder as is the one on my B-400 transmission. The shift control is an Allison pad, right? Most of them allow you to select the maximum gear you want to be in, in case you want to lock out a higher gear. The computer will still over ride your input if it spins the engine too fast, which is a good thing. If your retarder is in the transmission, most of them are programmed to downshift to the lowest gear available that will not over speed your engine. As you continue to slow, it will downshift more. They can be programmed to not actuate until you hit the brake pedal, or automatically actuate when you left off the accelerator pedal. The later is more common in transit service, but they can be programmed either way. I keep mine off unless I'm going to be going down a mountain.

As for manually shifting, you will probably discover that the automatic does a great job on its own. I'm not sure about the B-300, but most of the Allisons have the ability to be programmed for transit service or road service. The transit service programming keeps the rpm's up a lot more before shifting and down shifts earlier when slowing. The road programming allows the transmission to shift much earlier going up the gears and will usually result in better fuel mileage.

Back when Eagle and MCI started putting automatics in the over the road buses (1978 for MCI and 1980 for Eagles), there was much groaning from the old drivers. They didn't want anything to do with an automatic. Three years later it was the other way around. Most of them hated to get a bus with a stick. I remember one old driver who grew to love the automatics so much he'd say the "D" on the automatic stood for "DONE had a stick shift and DON"T want another one.
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Old 06-27-2013, 03:12 PM   #7
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Engine: ISC 8.3
Re: the family wagon

Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyChow
I'm surprised by the headroom you mentioned. Usually the transits have about 78 inch ceilings (sometimes more). Is the bus a/c non functioning?
Yeah, it's only slightly taller in the center than the '91 BB skoolie I had last year, though the roof has less arch and I do like that. This rig came from somewhere around Bishop CA doing ski shuttle service, so I guess they didn't see value in adding the A/C option on this one!

Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyChow
Retarders are very nice. I suspect your retarder is a transmission retarder as is the one on my B-400 transmission. The shift control is an Allison pad, right? Most of them allow you to select the maximum gear you want to be in, in case you want to lock out a higher gear. The computer will still over ride your input if it spins the engine too fast, which is a good thing. If your retarder is in the transmission, most of them are programmed to downshift to the lowest gear available that will not over speed your engine. As you continue to slow, it will downshift more. They can be programmed to not actuate until you hit the brake pedal, or automatically actuate when you left off the accelerator pedal. The later is more common in transit service, but they can be programmed either way. I keep mine off unless I'm going to be going down a mountain.
All correct. My retarder control has the level 0-6 lever switch and also an on/off rocker. Set on in level 0 the retarder comes on only when I apply some brake. When it's set on at any other level the retarder comes on when I release the throttle. I really like this transmission. I had been wondering whether the temperature gauge wasn't working because I'd never seen it rise more than slightly off the bottom of the green temperature zone. Finally noticed it halfway up the green zone after 10-15 minutes of descending 6% grade with the retarder running. It didn't seem to heat extra at all climbing that grade the day before -- the lockup torque converter in all ranges is a beautiful thing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LuckyChow
As for manually shifting, you will probably discover that the automatic does a great job on its own.
Oh, yes, it does a fine job. I sometimes manually set the top gear limit down when descending a hill, or when climbing in the rare situation where it hunts between two gears too many times and annoys me!
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Old 06-28-2013, 02:34 PM   #8
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Re: the family wagon

You have no idea how jealous I am of your flip-dot sign. SO jealous. Every month or so I look into making an LED array sign, and remember that I don't have time for the amount of work it would require.

Please, please, please abuse that sign.
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Old 06-28-2013, 07:26 PM   #9
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Re: the family wagon

the anne marie..not to hijack, I look forward to the stories and journey's.......cheers
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Old 06-28-2013, 10:55 PM   #10
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Re: the family wagon

Quote:
Originally Posted by somjuan
You have no idea how jealous I am of your flip-dot sign. SO jealous. Every month or so I look into making an LED array sign, and remember that I don't have time for the amount of work it would require.

Please, please, please abuse that sign.
I haven't met anyone yet that can program these. In transit service, we have to pay the company that made the sign to program a file and it's downloaded automatically to every bus over a wireless data network. They keep a tight lock on the programming software. I'm sure that's their business model. And, they've become very complicated now with interface to GPS on the buses that automatically changes the route and message on the signs according to the location of the bus. And interface to the cellular modem on every bus that constantly transmits data to the network on everything you can imagine, like bus location, fare box data, live video from all 9 cameras, speed, oil pressure and temp if you want it. There is so much data now that transit systems have full time employees that manage just the data and the reports produced from the data.

I would have loved to program my own messages. Even the cheap "Sams Club" led signs have an interface that lets you program your own messages. I'm sure it's do-able, but I haven't met anyone yet . . . .
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