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Old 02-10-2007, 10:16 PM   #1
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Advice on an '85 SafTLiner

Hi-
Just joined and will be a skoolie owner if all goes well by next weekend. I've looked at some of the other forums and ya'll sound like an intelligent bunch of people, so I would love some advice before I lay down the cash.

I've paid a (small) deposit on an '85 Thomas 84 pass. RE w/ a non-turbo 3208. It has ~275k miles on it and was run on eBay 3 times but never met their reserve. They came down to 2500., so I called the school district where they bought it (sealed bid) and talked to the maintanance supervisor about it. He said it was a good bus, retired because of age/liability and that the engine had been rebuilt fairly recently and everything was in good shape on it. Tires have good tread, tranny is tight, yadayadayada. It was in service until it was auctioned in August. The car dealership that has it told me they start it up every week for about 30 minutes. Am I crazy or should I continue with it?

I see several of you have similar buses- This one has the low roof like Les' '82 Thomas but it has to have the low speed rear-end because they say it'll do about 60mph.

I'm currently a school bus driver and have had the (mis)fortune over the last several years to drive virtually every brand of bus there is (except Crown or Gillig) so I'll be very comfortable driving this one, I hope! It's interesting how identical buses can have different personalities. I guess it depends on mileage and what kind of route the bus drives.

This will be for my family (5 children) to travel in and hopefully do some music as the children get older. My wife loves camping and is gung-ho with the bus idea. She's open to living in it! We used to live in a 5th-wheel so I can't say she doesn't know what's she's geting into! We will be VERY low budget- we're a one income family that homeschools, so I'm sure we'll be in the "air mattress" mode for a while. I have plenty of woodworking and fiberglassing experience (no metalworking) and have looked forward to a project like this for a long time. I owned an Eagle coach 2 years ago (it was donated to me which is shorthand for rust-(mechanic: "Well, I hope you make it home without the engine falling out!")

I've read many of the posts here and am excited about the possibilities! Of course, we need SPACE! so I'm hoping to raise the roof (20"?), drop the ceiling for wiring, vents, insulation (leave the original ceiling for structural strength), raise the floor for insulation and plumbing and add full storage underneath. However, if I make it past taking the seats out I'll think I'm doing good.

I'm fairly confident I can do this. The head mechanic where I work is gonna go over it with me and has been educating me on the mechanical things. He's one of the best- our school district has the highest rated safety in middle TN. The supervisor is letting me observe maintanance work going on and is encouraging me to learn as much as I want!

Anyway, long post but I'm enjoying reading all the info here. I guess I'm about ready to take a big breath and jump in!!

Any advice will be highly appreciated!!
Rick
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Old 02-11-2007, 12:49 PM   #2
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Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Clearlake, Northern California
Posts: 2,116
Year: 1992
Coachwork: Blue Bird
Chassis: TC-2000 Frt Eng, Tranny:MT643
Engine: 5,9 Cummins
Rated Cap: 84
Welcome aboard, Boo! Nice canoe!

Whenever I need advice, I try to seek out people smarter than myself, so you...
need to keep looking.

Ah, here we go:

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that
you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."
--Mark Twain

That help any? Of course, this needs to be tempered by the realities of ones life.
Myself, I can safely make a total arse of myself with a bus project, because I
have no dependents. If I muck up and have to live on stale bread for a month --
no harm done. But with the awesome responsibility of all those kids to provide for
and raise properly, you may want to keep your “inner child” closer to home.
Uncle Elliot is done preaching now.

Rust is a biggie, yes. And that’s a lot of miles on that bus. Any chance you can
get your mechanic to go with you and inspect this beauty before you make the
final decision?
If everything is in such good condition as you describe, then the miles are not all
that important. I would still use it as an argument to get the price further down. If
a dealer bought it by sealed bid to resell, they are sure to have planned on a
TON of profit. My local school district sold four 1980-82 Gilligs with the same
engine last year, and the bids were $700, 500, 20 and no bid at all on the fourth
bus. That’s right, one running bus with a good 3208 and MT643 sold for $20,-.
Twenty bucks. They gave the fourth bus to a charity. What I’m saying is, that it is
likely the dealer paid only a couple hundred for that bus. So I’d try to get the
mechanic to inspect it and find a bunch of worn king pins and so forth and re-
negotiate the price. They bought it six months ago, and they failed to make a
quick killing on eBay, so now they are tired of looking at it. Play hard ball. Politely.

Other than that, it sounds like you are doing things “right”. Sounds like you have
a great relationship with your employer, and that is immensely valuable.
Definitely be the best employee you can possibly be, and work your way up the
ladder at your bus garage. Oops, that’s next week’s sermon!
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Old 02-11-2007, 05:32 PM   #3
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Being a 22 (21 when I bought it) year old college student, I can feel for you on the money thing. I promise, a bus can be made very livable and functional on a budget. The hardest part for me was getting help with the project....until we decided to actually take it somewhere...then I had a crew of 6 working 40 hours a week for two weeks....whew.

Like Elliot suggested...find stuff that's wrong with it both to prevent buying a...er...pile...and to help get the price down. My bus absolutely needed front tires. I'm talking steel belts coming through....but I knew that going in and it helped me out with the price. I also needed a new starting battery. I refused to drive it off the lot without one so the dealership put in a new Group 27 Interstate for me. While it really isn't enough for cold starting the bus below about 10 without the block heater, it was a free big battery for something else.

As for getting things on a budget...read up on ideas on this board as well as a lot of those for "off grid" living. People who live off the grid are notoriously efficient and cheap. Some of the best ideas I've seen have come from those sites. Also, make people aware of what you're doing. Friends, family, neighbors, coworkers...anyone can be a source of good parts. A good example would be the three burner oven and stove combo I got for my bus. It came from a coworker of a friend who was just happy to see it finally getting some use. For $50 I got a never used stove. Craigslist and Freecycle groups are also a great source.
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Old 02-11-2007, 06:19 PM   #4
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does your town have a dump? if so, go there. best damn place for lumber/scrap metal ever. some dumps have a no dump picking sign, but, my experience has been that if you aren't to obnoxious about it, they'll leave you alone.
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Old 02-11-2007, 08:35 PM   #5
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Hope I'm posting under the right thread!
Sounds like some good advice. I'm hoping if I get the bus I won't soon feel like "trading in the sales" Wow, that was really bad!
Thanks for acknowledging the "awesome responsibility" that children are. When we keep that in mind when we're raising 'em we probably won't go to far in the wrong direction.

Elliot, you made me think that I should call the school district back up and try to find out what the winning bid was. A big negative is the bus is 600 miles away. It would be difficult to get up there, discover some bad things and come home w/o a bus. I'm going up w/ my wife in my subcompact so cost in gas won't be too bad and it's a holiday weekend so I won't be losing work time.

I wouldn't be contemplating this w/o talking to the head mechanic of the district first. I can't think of any reason he would want to feed me a line. He was willing to answer any question I had. I did forget to ask him about the kingpins, though. Another negative is they discard maintanance records after they retire a bus. I'm gonna try to get in touch with him again before I go up. Maybe he would be open to letting me come by their bus garage and going over the bus with me.

BTW, we're planning on coming to Ferndale, CA this summer to see my wife's grandmother. We love going to the kinetic sculpture museum there.
I would love to be around for a Crown or Gillig auction- I heard of one going for $600 once that had a new engine (not rebuilt), new tranny, new tires and completely new running gear. Apparently the state changed the laws about seat height or something so they retired it. This bus is from rust country (West Virginia), but they've assured me there is no rust.

As for the idea of making people aware of what we're doing,..well, they think we're crazy anyway! We do have some friends that love going to estate auctions and they sometimes come up w/ really good stuff! One good source I have is lumber- I buy everything from an Amish sawmill where oak is .35 a bf. and no tax.

We have a Waste Management landfill in our town- I've never been there- any idea if that company let's you on their property?

Thanks for the canoe compliment- I have a "hobby business" building them. I'll have one on eBay in a couple of days- just as soon as I get pictures taken.
Rick
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Old 02-11-2007, 09:12 PM   #6
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Quote:
BTW, we're planning on coming to Ferndale, CA this summer to see my
wife's grandmother. We love going to the kinetic sculpture museum there.
Absolutely amazing how small the world is! I don't suppose you can get out to
Ferndale for the race? It's always on Memorial Weekend -- last weekend in May.
40 miles over three days; land, sand, mud, and open water -- by pedal power!
My avatar photo is from that race a couple of years ago.
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Old 02-11-2007, 10:37 PM   #7
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Welcome to the board.

While you have noble goals, make sure you are up to the challenge. Converting a bus is a huge job, and it will take some money to procure all the things you require to finish it.

However, if you are resourceful enough, much of the stuff needed can be obtained for free or cost next to nothing. The best thing to do is look around for wrecked or damaged RV's that you can buy and strip the goodies out of them. One decent wrecked RV and you'll have most the stuff you need...

Taking the seats out of the Saf-T-Liner is NOT a fun job, but once you get going and work it into a rythem those seats will not seem so hard to do afterall. I managed to unbolt 2/3's of them from below...but there are things under there that will get in the way and prevent you from unbolting them all... fuel tank, air tanks etc....

Also, keep in mind that if you bus is anything like mine....even the screws are nearly inpossible to get out without using an angle grinder and cutting the heads off....

I've had mine for over a year now, and it's finally starting to look like something. It's been slow going for me, I can only work on it one day per week, and generally only give that 5-6 hours or so....

This is NOT going to be a cheap project, but the beauty here is, you can spend smaller amounts of money as you go along, thus eliminating the need for large up front costs....

Good luck and stay in touch here!!
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You just might be a Redneck if...
...your motor home used to be a school bus!
...Your living room has a steering wheel!
...Your home has brake lights

1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee
1989 Thomas Diesel Pusher (Cat 3208/Freightliner)
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Old 02-11-2007, 11:22 PM   #8
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Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Tullahoma, Tennessee
Posts: 214
Year: 2002
Coachwork: International
Chassis: RE300
Engine: DT466E (250h.p.)
Rated Cap: 81
That race must be crazy! Getting out there to see it is the slimmest of possibilities, but if I take off a few days earlier we might could do it. We've always said we've GOT to see it at least once!
BTW, what is a "P" pump or should I ask?

Cliff, one thing I have is time,... well, supposedly! If I work my schedule right I have about 4 hours a day to work on it if money permits. I've got beaucoup lumber and woodworking equipment and my wife is a seamstress so I'm not worried about the basic interior. Our last trip across this great U.S. of A. we slept in our Suburban in Walmart parking lots, tent camping in free out-of-the way places, etc. so even if the bus is bare we'll feel like we're stylin' in luxury!! My wife is more radical than I am, so I'm blessed that I don't have to be stressed out worrying about her comfort. She loves to be barefoot, roughin' it! BTW I could only find a few pictures of the interior of your bus- could you tell me where more are hiding out?
Rick
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Old 02-12-2007, 12:38 AM   #9
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You are lucky to get a wife like that!

The p-pump just refers to the particular injector pump on his engine. It is the "hotrod" pump that the Dodge guys like to have in their trucks because it's rugged and capable of flowing incredible amounts of fuel. More fuel=more power. I think Elliot just likes to flash his superiority with his P-pump and MT643.
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Old 02-12-2007, 05:05 AM   #10
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Join Date: Oct 2005
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Year: 1992
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Chassis: TC-2000 Frt Eng, Tranny:MT643
Engine: 5,9 Cummins
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Darn right I want to toot my P-pump horn!

"P" stands for the Bosch P-7100 in-line injection pump. It is supposed to be
better than the rotary pump used in earlier models. The Dodge pickups that have the 5,9
didn't get the inline pump until 1994. Apparently, Blue Bird buses got them earlier
since I have one in my 1992. Or my bus could have been retrofitted -- I don't know.

I mention the key components and features of my bus in my signature to help keep
technical discussions on track.
And to revel in the glory of it all!
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