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Old 12-05-2004, 04:06 PM   #1
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Becoming a skoolie...

Hi,

I live in the UK and a few mates and I are considering perhaps coming over to America in '06 for around 1.5 months and perhaps picking up a school bus for the duration of our trip to do some travelling.
We aren't considering doing a full blown conversion, just ripping out enough seats for a sleeping area, sorting out the electronics so that we have enough power for a stereo and a fridge and making sure she's roadworthy. Do you reckon a couple of weeks would give us enough to time to get it ready in this basic form? At the end of the trip we plan to sell the bus on as a started conversion.
We were wondering whether as foreign citizens we wouldn't be allowed to purchase and register a vehicle, I'm unsure of the laws. Also which state do you reccommend we purchase the bus in, obviously depending upon cost of buses, frequency of bus clearout and what laws might restrict us.

Thanks
Chris
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Old 12-05-2004, 09:39 PM   #2
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Hi Chris!

Wow, the breadth and depth of the Internet never fails to amaze me and I think it's still in its infancy!

Good questions and I certainly don't have all the answers but I can pass on a couple of thoughts.

Assuming that you can purchase a vehicle in the States and use it (and I don't see why not) you really need to find a bus that has already been re-registered (and titled) for private use; either as a truck, private bus, motorhome, etc (terminology and available categories will change by State). Just make sure it is not still registered as a commercial vehicle (or school bus); otherwise you may be subject to getting a CDL (Commercial Driver's License) which would not really be a viable option. I have no idea how you would handle the insurance situation.

If you can find a bus whose seats have already been removed you'll be ahead of the game! Most of us think that seat removal may have been the worst part of the conversion!

If you can fly into Florida I'd certianly suggest you talk to Greg Archambault; he's a wealth of knowledge and a real staight-shooter and has a website here: http://flbus.tripod.com/. I think he's pretty much a one-man operation but he's always got a bunch of buses that he either has or knows about. I've never heard anyone say a bad word about dealing with Greg (and NO!...I'm not realated or on the payroll! ).

I think within two weeks with 2 or 3 folks working you could get a decent conversion done. Make sure you're near a Home Depot (that's a DIY home improvement center and also happens to be the largest retailer in the world) and a Walmart (everything that Home Depot doesn't have ) and you'll have access to darn near everything you need. I did a quick conversion in my bus for a trip in October; I grabbed a bunch of 2x2's (a standard lumber size; say about 50mm by 50mm), a bunch of deck (drywall) screws, and borrowed a wide crown pneumatic stapler (could also be rented) and went to work. Ended up with an enclosed space for a portable toilet, counter with a sink and running water, a couple of built in bunks, a couch, and a couple of really comfortable seats (these came from an early '90s Chevrolet Astro van for $100 for the pair in beautiful condition; I went with van seats since they're normally mounted on flat floors).

You could run a small college dorm/recreation room sized refrigertor off an inverter of 300 to 500 watts or so; that size is small with built-in outlets and requires a simple two wire connection to the battery (or batteries). Or you could use one of the 12-volt "coolers"; they're only good for about 40-degrees below ambient temperature though so you'd have to be careful in hot weather. There are some portable 12-volt refrigerators but they're pretty expensive if you're going to turn right around and unload stuff when you head home.

I'm sure I'll think of more but this should get the ball rolling and hopefully a bunch of other folks will chime in here too.

Good luck and welcome!

[edit] And another thought might be to check out eBay (http://www.ebay.com) and see if you can't score a bus that not only been re-registered/re-titled but also made into a camper (not necessarily a luxury motorhome). Also check Truck Trader online (http://www.trucktraderonline.com/), Equipment Trader online (http://www.equipmenttraderonline.com/) and RV Trader online (http://www.rvtraderonline.com/).
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Old 12-05-2004, 09:40 PM   #3
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That is plenty of time, I think a couple people given the have access to the right tools could do what you want in just a weekend. Removing the seats will probably take the majority of your time, after that it will mostly be a matter of purchasing the equipment and connecting a couple wires.
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Old 12-06-2004, 11:11 AM   #4
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Thanks for the big welcome guys

Les, i agree purchasing a bus already titled could certaily prove easier. I've no real idea how to go about doing that and as we aren't citizens no doubt they'd put tighter restrictions on us.
The link you posted looks great, we were intending to fly in to either Florida or Massachusetts.

Steve, I'm figuring removing seats would be the worst part. However we are considering going as a fairly large group (8 or so) and therefore work would be easier. Would you say a 35ft bus with the majority of he seats ripped out could provide ample space for 8 or so guys to sleep in reasonable comfort?

I've been looking at various guides on the forums regarding setting up your power supply. From what I understand (electronics is my weak point!) you simply add in an extra battery or two to your bus in line with your existing battery and then install an invertor so you can use AC devices?
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Old 12-06-2004, 01:36 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris
I've been looking at various guides on the forums regarding setting up your power supply. From what I understand (electronics is my weak point!) you simply add in an extra battery or two to your bus in line with your existing battery and then install an invertor so you can use AC devices?
In simple terms yes. For a quick conversion I would also suggest putting a batter switch on the engine battery so you wont accidentally drain it down one night.
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Old 12-08-2004, 10:06 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris
Thanks for the big welcome guys

I've been looking at various guides on the forums regarding setting up your power supply. From what I understand (electronics is my weak point!) you simply add in an extra battery or two to your bus in line with your existing battery and then install an invertor so you can use AC devices?
Hi Chris,

Well, it isn't really quite that simple except in concept. If you don't go nuts with the added-in batteries you can do exactly as Steve suggests and add a 4-position battery switch (Off/Batt1/Batt2/Both); this is a quite common item for marine use. What you don't want to do in this situation is get so much extra battery capacity that the alternator on the bus can't handle the charging requirements; as a (very) general rule-of-thumb you'd try and keep total battery capacity down to 4 times the alternator output. So if you have a 105-amp alternator you'd stay around 400 amp-hours in total battery capacity. If you exceed this you either need to drive more or plan on getting to AC power to run a battery charger.

There aren't a lot of items that you'd require that would have to run on AC power so a huge inverter isn't typically necessary (especially for your short term use). Running cooking appliances and air conditioning off an inverter really isn't feasible so we're at most talking about having AC power available for a refrigerator (this is going to be by far the least expensive route) and perhaps a microwave. Water pumps, lights, stereo and such can all run off 12-volt power.

There's so much more to this (just look at the thread on "Jerry's Crown" for a really self-suffcient 12-volt system). If you're going to be rinning the bus a lot you can get by with (as a suggestion) four 105 amp-hour batteries for 'house' use (these are very common and affordable) and it's highly likely the bus alternator would keep these batteries charged up. As a side note these batteries would come off the Batt2 position (by convention not necessity) on the switch while the 'starting' battery (or batteries) for the bus would be on the Batt1 position; that way they can be isolated so you don't run down your starting battery when the bus engine isn't running.

If you're going to be sitting still a lot (and not giving the bus' alternator an opportunity to charge the batteries) you're going to need access to AC power and a battery charger to keep things going; 400 amp-hours isn't going to last more than a couple of days in general if you're using an inverter to power a refer and using lights, stereo, and other items on the 12-volt side. Effectively, out of 400 amp-hours you've got about 200 amp-hours at most (lots of battery theory behind this). If the refrigerator consumes 3 amps and runs 12 hours/day (could be more in hot weather) that 36 amp-hours out of your 200; so you can see in a couple (maybe 3) days you're not going to have much battery power left.

Ok...I've got to go now...more later if you wish.
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Old 12-08-2004, 06:46 PM   #7
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I also have very good things to say about Greg. I've chatted with him on the phone and e-mailed with him. He's incredibly knowledgable.

The big problem i forsee is trying to sell the bus in a timely fashion when you're finished with it. It'll be tough to get the $$ out of the bus that you spent on it.

Also keep in mind that the bus is not the best road trip vehicle. You'll be the slowest vehicle on teh expressway. Everyone will pass you, including all the big trucks. Another disadvantage is the fuel economy. 10 mpg is about the best you can get. Not trying to discourage you, just making sure you know what you're getting into.

All that aside, I think it's a wonderful idea! Can i come with you? IF you register you bus in michigan, you don't need to re-title it as a motorhome. Having a converted bus with a seating capacity of less than 15 and not being used for commercial purposes makes the vehicle fall in to the motorhome category here in MI.

I've met several people from other countries that drive here in the US. This summer i met a guy from New Zeland who bought a van and was driving around the country. I have to immagine that you should be all set when it comes to registering and driving a vehicle in the US.

Good luck! I think this sounds like an excellent idea.
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Old 12-10-2004, 01:00 PM   #8
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Thanks for the details on the electronics guys, its cleared up what doubts I had about how to install a basic system to a bus.

You're probabaly right about getting our $s back in a timely order but if we are lucky we may find a way to log it quicklyto a dealer for a fair price.

The bus certainly isn't the fastest vehicle it just has that roadtrip quality and the fact that itcan hold a number of people. I mean 8 people can camp indside a bus but as soon as you move to a car you end uppaying for hotel rooms and your prices escalate. Also bear in mind fuel economy doesn't matter to us brits, we are used to paying FAR more cash for fuel than you guys. You boys find it extreme if fuel hits $2 but we find that to be a stupidly low price!!!
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Old 12-12-2004, 12:33 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris
You boys find it extreme if fuel hits $2 but we find that to be a stupidly low price!!!
Yeah, but our gallons are smaller
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