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Old 06-08-2012, 11:37 AM   #1
Skoolie
 
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Location: Cherry Hill, New Jersey
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Year: 1997
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Total newbie, some pointers?

Hi,

Just yesterday I got the crazy idea to convert an old school bus into an RV so I can live year round, do my own off-grid living, and do something a bit more portable than building a yurt or other temporary shelter. I would like a 70+ seater so I can make it my entire year-round home for myself and my 3 children (7,9,11 years old).

I found a handful of conversion books on Amazon, but am curious more about where I should go from here.

I have probably about $5,000 to spend on the raw (unconverted) bus, and would convert it over time. I would probably drive it a little bit, but mostly keep it on a piece of land to convert it to the RV. I plan on making it entirely off-grid, and able to do it in remote campsites, etc without hookups.

To start, I'm curious about the following:

1) What are some decent bus manufacturers and engines I should be looking out for? I have seen Blue Bird and International buses, and they all seem to have Ford 8 cylinder diesel engines. Are there others I should consider?

2) I have some experience working on Mercedes 80's 5-cylinder diesel cars (300 inline series), and have found "Troubleshooting and Repairing Diesel Engines" by Paul Dempsey for reference. I'm wondering if engine wise things are that much more complicated? Or is it just a larger engine? Are they hard to work on, requiring taking things apart to get to odd spots, like is typical on an automobile or minivan?

3) How much does an empty 70-ish seater typically weigh? I read it's about 25,000 pounds (12-ish tons), depending. How do I handle repairs that might involve jacking part of the vehicle up, such as if there are repairs to the brakes, tires, etc? I'm guessing my 2 ton jack won't suffice.... Are there heavy duty jacks? Do people typically involve other supports like large lumber? I am hoping there are no suspension, steering, brake, or other underside issues on whatever vehicle I purchase, but I'm wondering down the line when I do have to deal with that - how.

4) Do I need to get my CDL before I purchase and drive away with the bus? And if so, how hard is the CDL? I'm assuming that involves actually test driving with a motor vehicles examiner to watch? All I have right now is a typical automobile license.

5) Any other big concerns to consider? Right now I just want to see if the whole bus-to-RV thing is practical, and then I might do some more research on this site - I just wanted to get some basic information to answer my biggest questions first. For now I just want to worry about concerns relating to purchasing and initially driving a vehicle before i start worrying about conversion - I can worry about that later, after I have the thing, as long as I'm able to make the best decision purchasing a bus.

6) Are there extensive manuals for repairing not just the engines but actual chassis, transmission, etc work? I have experience working with the manuals, etc for the 80's Mercedes diesels. Maybe there are similar repair manuals for the buses?

7) I am probably going to be living largely in upstate NY, even during the winter, so I need to prepare for winter heating and insulation. Is it common at all to go with a woodstove rather than a propane stove? (I'm assuming half the roof would hold firewood while the other half would hold some solar panels) How do people typically heat the vehicle? How does the heat stay even given the vehicle is so long and thin? Baseboard heating? How do people deal with insulation in -5 F weather, where there is 2-4 feet of snow outside? I am guessing maybe pretending the bus were a single-wide trailer - and using 2x3's with rolls of insulation might work? Are there other ways to insulate, without losing much floor space? Is it typical to design a heating system so the flue goes along the length of the vehicle, ie under a bench, to heat certain areas more?

What is the best fuel efficiency I can possibly get on, let's say one of the typical diesel engines of a 70-ish seater bus? I wanted to convert it to WVO, possibly. Is it possible to tweak it to get 15mpg? Or more? Most of the miles would be highway, ie used for travel.

9) What do people typically do for reliable Internet access? I am a web developer and would like to make my living while on the road, online. Via a cellphone-grade broadband service? Or maybe hacking a cellphone's web access via bluetooth? I've only seen ones that typically cost per minute or have finite minutes, and maybe cost $50-60/mo. I would like unlimited minutes, as I may be online 2-4 hours a day or more. I just want something consistent and portable, that I can use pretty much any day, on demand.

10) Can school buses tow automobiles behind it? Do they need hitches put on them, or are they already equipped? Do the cars just get placed on a typical auto trailer, or is there some attachment like I see with cars behind RV's? I'd like to keep my car along with me, for more around-the-town driving, once I get some place...

11) Anybody know of books, resources, etc on homeschooling on the road? Ie how to develop a curriculum, how to incorporate destinations into the subjects, etc? I have some basic homeschooling books and some involving while traveling (Educational Travel on a Shoestring, All in the Same Boat), but wasn't sure how families did that.

Thanks,
Tomas
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Old 06-10-2012, 03:44 AM   #2
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

i think you should read the conversion threads on this and other bus conversion websites, and look at the photos also to see how things are done. wouldnt hurt also to read basic mechanical, diesel engine, and so forth threads on diesel and car related web sites, as well as things such as wood working, electrical and plumbing how to books.

home schooling cirriculum is available for purchase, but state requirements vary.

if i had children again in a bus, and wanted to live off grid in the boonies somewhere, i would get an 84 pax front engine bus so that i would have enough room, and so that there would be ample rear end clearance for backing into stumps, etc.

have fun.
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Old 06-10-2012, 10:52 AM   #3
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

Quote:
Originally Posted by "tomas_maly"[b
]Hi,
I have probably about $5,000 to spend on the raw (unconverted) bus, and would convert it over time. I would probably drive it a little bit, but mostly keep it on a piece of land to convert it to the RV. I plan on making it entirely off-grid, and able to do it in remote campsites, etc without hookups.[/b]
Check the school board auctions, go look the busses "in person". Usually services records are available for each unit. Chech other conversions here. Many do-it-themselvers also put together blogs with a lot more info than can be posted here (links usually somewhere in each pertaining thread).

To start, I'm curious about the following:

1) What are some decent bus manufacturers and engines I should be looking out for? I have seen Blue Bird and International buses, and they all seem to have Ford 8 cylinder diesel engines. Are there others I should consider?

Bluebird, hands down. Carpenters have some serious quality issues. Do your homework.

2) I have some experience working on Mercedes 80's 5-cylinder diesel cars (300 inline series), and have found "Troubleshooting and Repairing Diesel Engines" by Paul Dempsey for reference. I'm wondering if engine wise things are that much more complicated? Or is it just a larger engine? Are they hard to work on, requiring taking things apart to get to odd spots, like is typical on an automobile or minivan?

A long nose bus is a lot easier to service than a flat nose or a pusher, but you lose some living square footage. Also you have that long driveshaft taking up basement space.

3) How much does an empty 70-ish seater typically weigh? I read it's about 25,000 pounds (12-ish tons), depending. How do I handle repairs that might involve jacking part of the vehicle up, such as if there are repairs to the brakes, tires, etc? I'm guessing my 2 ton jack won't suffice.... Are there heavy duty jacks? Do people typically involve other supports like large lumber? I am hoping there are no suspension, steering, brake, or other underside issues on whatever vehicle I purchase, but I'm wondering down the line when I do have to deal with that - how.

There are suitable jacks for trucks and busses, but usually you don't carry one around all the time. School busses are basically truck frame based and last A LONG TIME. Get the best you can afford and probably your maintenance issues will be due to age-related components rather than worn-out ones.

4) Do I need to get my CDL before I purchase and drive away with the bus? And if so, how hard is the CDL? I'm assuming that involves actually test driving with a motor vehicles examiner to watch? All I have right now is a typical automobile license.
If you register it as a motor home your license will be OK, but check with your local friendly DMV.

5) Any other big concerns to consider? Right now I just want to see if the whole bus-to-RV thing is practical, and then I might do some more research on this site - I just wanted to get some basic information to answer my biggest questions first. For now I just want to worry about concerns relating to purchasing and initially driving a vehicle before i start worrying about conversion - I can worry about that later, after I have the thing, as long as I'm able to make the best decision purchasing a bus.
If you never drove something this size it would be smart to try it first. Rent a large Uhaul truck (with insurance) and have fun.

6) Are there extensive manuals for repairing not just the engines but actual chassis, transmission, etc work? I have experience working with the manuals, etc for the 80's Mercedes diesels. Maybe there are similar repair manuals for the buses?

Yes, but not cheap.

7) I am probably going to be living largely in upstate NY, even during the winter, so I need to prepare for winter heating and insulation. Is it common at all to go with a woodstove rather than a propane stove? (I'm assuming half the roof would hold firewood while the other half would hold some solar panels) How do people typically heat the vehicle? How does the heat stay even given the vehicle is so long and thin? Baseboard heating? How do people deal with insulation in -5 F weather, where there is 2-4 feet of snow outside? I am guessing maybe pretending the bus were a single-wide trailer - and using 2x3's with rolls of insulation might work? Are there other ways to insulate, without losing much floor space? Is it typical to design a heating system so the flue goes along the length of the vehicle, ie under a bench, to heat certain areas more?
You will want to rip out all the inside covering and insulation (and maybe raise the roof at the same time) and redo it with better materials. Many choices here.

What is the best fuel efficiency I can possibly get on, let's say one of the typical diesel engines of a 70-ish seater bus? I wanted to convert it to WVO, possibly. Is it possible to tweak it to get 15mpg? Or more? Most of the miles would be highway, ie used for travel.
Many variables here. I think something around 8 or 10 MPG is more realistic. Weight, aerodynamics (or lack of), etc.

10) Can school buses tow automobiles behind it? Do they need hitches put on them, or are they already equipped? Do the cars just get placed on a typical auto trailer, or is there some attachment like I see with cars behind RV's? I'd like to keep my car along with me, for more around-the-town driving, once I get some place...
A school bus is a truck frame. You will have to install your own hitch, but is doable. You have the choice of adapting a car (tow bar, tow lights, brake system) or putting it on a trailer (easier, but then you have to deal with the trailer itself. Take your poison).

11) Anybody know of books, resources, etc on homeschooling on the road? Ie how to develop a curriculum, how to incorporate destinations into the subjects, etc? I have some basic homeschooling books and some involving while traveling (Educational Travel on a Shoestring, All in the Same Boat), but wasn't sure how families did that.

Check you state's requirements.

Thanks,
Tomas
Check the tutorials page, lots of good stuff there.
Have fun!.
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Old 06-15-2012, 05:25 PM   #4
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

I have probably about $5,000 to spend on the raw (unconverted) bus
you can get a great sound running bus for much cheaper and still have 3/4 of that money for your conversion
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Old 06-15-2012, 05:29 PM   #5
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

Like others have said, study this website post your questions and we will help the best we can. were all crazy together! Also other sites such as wikkipedia and just plain google. reading and studying will help you in your final decision

Mikey
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Old 06-15-2012, 05:36 PM   #6
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

"Any other big concerns to consider? Right now I just want to see if the whole bus-to-RV thing is practical, and then I might do some more research on this site - I just wanted to get some basic information to answer my biggest questions first. For now I just want to worry about concerns relating to purchasing and initially driving a vehicle before i start worrying about conversion - I can worry about that later, after I have the thing, as long as I'm able to make the best decision purchasing a bus.
If you never drove something this size it would be smart to try it first. Rent a large Uhaul truck (with insurance) and have fun
."

This is how i learned. I rented a large u-haul [25ft] drove it around all day. The next day i rented it again and took my C Class licence test at the DMV and passed with ease. I also did this when i was 18 years old

Mikey
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Old 07-12-2012, 11:02 PM   #7
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Year: 1997
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Engine: 5.9L Cummins
Rated Cap: 55
Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

Thanks all for the tips!

A used auto dealer literally 1/4 mile down the road from me has a 1997 Carpenter 54(?) seater for sale, around $4500. The interior livable space is about 7 1/2 feet across x 29 feet long x 6 feet tall (excluding drivers seat and front engine). It's a 5.9L Cummins engine and a 545 Allison automatic tranny. I'm going in the morning to test drive and haggle for a lower price, closer to $3500. It may not be the ideal skoolie base vehicle, or the largest (though my understanding is that even a 72 seater isn't much larger, only wider and perhaps with an extra 12th row), but right now I just need to jump in and make the best of the opportunity readily available to me. I figure the whole thing is a temporary housing anyway, as long as it lasts a few years then I'll be happy. I just want a mobile living space I can finally call my 'own' until I can find that piece of land to settle down on.

I'm curious if there are college level or ASE-style textbooks that help one learn about vehicles this large. It sounds like a school bus is just a modified truck and has similar components for the engine, brakes, suspension, etc. The conversion process is no big deal, but what about learning about maintenance of the vehicle's components itself, ie brakes, suspension, heating/cooling (if any), transmission, engine, etc.... ? I have plenty of textbooks/service manuals for automobiles, but I'm curious if there are books on Amazon, etc that may prove useful for truck maintenance.

For example, I don't even know what kind of brake system this bus has, but it would be nice to be able to figure it out by looking at it and know how to maintain it. Or fix any problems that creep up after purchasing it (that the dealer may not know of or may not tell me about). I don't know the first thing about bus/truck mechanics, and I'm all for hands-on experience, but I need some sort of framework to learn from, something organized and not just waiting for stuff to go wrong and spend weeks trying to figure out a problem when it's kinda already late. I'm somewhat wanting to know beyond a doubt that the vehicle is in good shape all around before I got off venturing too far for too long.

Beyond generic truck mechanics books - are there specific (books of) similar trucks that may cover whatever engine/transmission/brakes/HVAC/etc components this Carpenter bus may have?
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Old 07-13-2012, 06:10 AM   #8
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

first, the bus will have air brakes. School bus air brakes, which have a bit different feel than otr truck brakes.

the 5.9 and 545 transmission is ok, but may only go 55 or so mph depending on the rear axle gearing, so if ya wanna go faster than that, you need to check that out when testing it.. These are the basic engine and transmission package for many short run school busses.

for a jack, get something like a 20 ton one, it's overkill but is sufficient.

you can purchase service/rebuild manuals for your bus components, as well as how to maintain the air brake system, as well as there are diagrams online, for that. it doesnt matter what the body builder is, because they all use several engines and trans, and rear and front axle combo's.. check the vin/service plate for all those specifications, and brake parts can be got with those axle numbers from the local truck dealer.. they can look the number up.
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Old 07-13-2012, 09:12 AM   #9
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

I would second Blue Bird as the number one pick for a skoolie. Far and away the best construction and top quality drive trains. And definitely go diesel for longevity and minimal service. Numerous engine options but a little research online will help narrow which ones have the best service records and are most suitable in your vehicle of choice. Likewise transmissions. Most are Allisons and great trannies, but there are some new generation and other application transmissions that can give you much better mpg and top speed. The school units were set up for lower than highway speeds and durability. Similar units built for motorhomes are geared better for traveling.

Definitely check out the school auctions and dealers who only sell school buses. I bought a choice 40' Blue Bird All American (flat nose) for $3500 a few years back. Some school districts sell them directly and can provide full service logs which will give you the units life history...great information to have.

Best of luck. Just research and ask questions as you are doing now and you'll determine what is best for your particular needs.
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Old 07-13-2012, 09:31 AM   #10
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Re: Total newbie, some pointers?

Forget the dealers if possible, try public surplus auctions such as ...... http://www.publicsurplus.com/sms/browse/cataucs?catid=4

Local school district garages etc.....

This is where the dealers pick up their buses for resale at higher prices like the one a 1/4 mile down the street........
Read up on this forum, and any others you may find.
you can find answers to most of your questions here in the forum as most here started out just like you...... just a dream...

Best of luck
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