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Old 06-05-2009, 09:42 PM   #1
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Haul empty semitrailer w/dolly behind Class7 air-br skoolie?

Specifically in reference to you driving the largest of the large which seems to be Class 7 (I haven't ever seen any Class 8/dual rear axle schoolbusses anyways, yes I know there are intercity Gilligs and such but i've never seen one as a skoolbus and i've never seen one under $20 grand used) I had a question... does anyone think it's feasible to move an air braked trailer with a bus? Are there normal gladhands/air-brake hookups/electrical taillight provisions for connecting to such a trailer? (despite most air brake trailers being fifth wheels.)

I'm having this idea in my head wondering whether it's possible to use a tow dolly to move empty 28ft single axle pup trailers using one of the larger school busses. Or even 53ft empty trailers. I had a possible job option for some minor work on the side to move some empty trailers around the state, typically the 28ft shorties, if I could find a cheap enough hauling vehicle. I'm wondering if a Class 7 skoolie might be up to the job if I get one of the bigger engined ones, power should be adequate but that's not what i'm concerned about as I don't need to exceed 55mph (I know aero is the biggest issue) since it's not a rush job, and since they are empty or mostly empty it will just be the tare weight of the trailer.

I know the transmissions aren't intended for heavy towing but i'm not planning on doing more than a few jobs (to make the bus pay for itself basically) and take it real easy i'm hoping it would last. I mean if I get the skoolie cheap enough and it lasts long enough to pay for itself in the worst case I get another one. :P

Would the GCRW legally allow this? Or length limits in most states? Any idea? :P

For what i've checked in the used truck market finding a medium duty fifth wheel day cab is about the same price as a full Class 8 semi, and decent Class 8 semis are still in the low 5 digits and I can't make this pay in that instance. But if I could make a low 4 digit skoolie do this job I might be able to work my way up (first paying for itself then making some side cash) until I can get one of the semis and do it properly later.
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Old 06-05-2009, 11:25 PM   #2
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Re: Haul empty semitrailer w/dolly behind Class7 air-br skoolie?

According to wikipedia at this url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truck_classification, class 8 is any vehicle with a GVWR of greater than 33,000 pounds. It specifically doesn't indicate a number of axles.

I wasn't able to find a primary source to verify this information with a quick search of the US DOT FHWA website. However, the information hasn't changed on that page in quite a while, so I tend towards trusting it.

I believe in the OTR trucking world, there is the axle distinction due to the fact that they're all 5th wheel rigs. There are limits to the amount of weight allowed on a single axle, and other factors at play. I'm far from an expert on that subject though.

Now, with all that said, let's get to the idea of pulling a 5th wheel commercial trailer with a school bus.

There's a conversion on this site (5th wheel hauler I think?) where a conventional bus had the body shortened and a 5th wheel hitch installed to the frame so that it could haul a 5th wheel trailer directly. I see no reason why a bus so modified couldn't *technically* tow a commercial trailer from point A to point B as long as the transmission was rated for the actual weight involved.

A competent and licensed air brake technician should be able to install a set of helping hands on such a setup. Of course, the bus would have to be air brake equipped, and all the standard trucking safety issues would have to be addressed. Also, since you would be doing this for hire, you would need a CDL with air brake endorsement. Otherwise, you would just be in a world of hurt should anything go wrong (including a check by law enforcement).

I would personally recommend against this. I think it would be a lot of work to convert the school bus for this. I think you would still end up with DOT regulation issues, even with a CDL and air brake endorsement. Plus, it would require you to have a CDL in the first place.

If I had a bus modified to haul a 5th wheel RV, and I needed to move an empty commercial trailer a few miles, I probably would just do that trick where you lock the air brakes open, and tow it brakeless very slowly to the destination. I think of a few miles as less than 20. I would also avoid doing this anywhere near a police station, frequent patrol area, or weigh station, or congested traffic areas (ie, anything other than the country).

One possible loophole I just thought of is the farm use trick. If you could go that route, I believe you could avoid the CDL. You'd have to slap farm use tags on the trailers as you towed them, and be careful of your trip radius. I'm pretty sure this would work here in VA, but I don't know if your state includes similar exemptions for farm use vehicles. Also, you'd have to keep the fact that you were moving the trailers for hire a secret, which is difficult to do. Businesses have to keep track of all expenses, and paying you for moving the trailers would leave a paper trail, which could come back to bite you.

Again, I don't advise doing this. Hopefully this information will be helpful and perhaps spark more thought and discussion.

jim
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Old 06-06-2009, 03:59 AM   #3
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Re: Haul empty semitrailer w/dolly behind Class7 air-br skoolie?

One needs to remember than every part of an air brake system is speced out to fall within guidelines as a whole. Rest assured that they didn't put more compressor or tank capacity on than was necessary for the vehicle as built. I have a hard time believing that a standard bus compressor is going to be able to bring both itself and the trailer's tanks up to 90 psi in 3 minutes, nor is it going to be able to keep up with any sort of aggressive braking. Running out of air is the pits.
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Old 06-08-2009, 12:18 AM   #4
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Re: Haul empty semitrailer w/dolly behind Class7 air-br skoolie?

Quote:
Originally Posted by the_experience03
One needs to remember than every part of an air brake system is speced out to fall within guidelines as a whole. Rest assured that they didn't put more compressor or tank capacity on than was necessary for the vehicle as built. I have a hard time believing that a standard bus compressor is going to be able to bring both itself and the trailer's tanks up to 90 psi in 3 minutes, nor is it going to be able to keep up with any sort of aggressive braking. Running out of air is the pits.
THATS the kind of information I was wondering about. :P I assumed they werent designed for pulling any kind of trailer, maybe normal busses sometimes but not skoolies, but I wasn't sure what kind of critical differences might be there. I need to know what differences are likely to be there between a skoolie and any normal medium duty fifth wheel day cab that could do the job.

The most critical bit is the GCRW and legal ratings for what you can legally pull I would assume unless it's exclusively a tax issue. (ie - if I say a dodge crew cab is 33k GCRW they tax me on that and let me drive on that even if I shouldn't have it loaded like that) Or if length limits prevent it. Then it's a question of what differences there are and whether it's an easy mod (a few junkyard parts like a big rig airbrake compressor) or something too hard (a transmission swap).

If it has to be titled commercial that's okay, i'm hoping it would pay for itself in that instance. I'm just looking for some way to have a reliable toter to move around empty or light semi trailers for less than a big rig or medium duties are going for. The more potential uses I can put a skoolie to (ie this, or RV, or firewood hauler) the less likely it is i'll regret buying one because i'll always have some backup use I can put it to to recover what I put into it.

Basically the immediately expected job is to move somewhere from 10-20 empty semi trailers from 28-53ft around the state sometime in the next year, more possible in the future but not planned for right now. Assuming worst case run of 800 miles round trip each time that means a total service life of 8000-16,000 miles of hauling. At the rate of costing a few hundred dollars at least to pay commercial trucking each time to move them the skoolie pays for itself pretty easily, so you can see why i'd like to see if there's a way to make this work. Basically two weeks of driving and it pays for the Class 7 bus/makes it free plus maybe some extra cash. :P But if it requires too much hacking or fiddling or modifications or I can't legally use a dolly for this it will kill this sub-plan.
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Old 06-08-2009, 01:16 AM   #5
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Re: Haul empty semitrailer w/dolly behind Class7 air-br skoolie?

I might be concerned a little about length. Let's say you're towing a standard 48 footer. Then you need to add say 3 feet for the dolly and hitch. That puts you at 51 feet. The longest you can be in the state of Minnesota as a tractor-semi trailer combo is 75 feet leaving you only 24 feet of bus length which really isn't much in that my 65 passenger bus is 36 feet long...and all that is assuming that a bus pulling a dolly with a trailer qualifies as a tractor-semi trailer combo. I know the MHP DOT officers up this way have NO sense of humor. I think your best bet really is going to be to keep searching for a MDT short haul single axle tractor or something that could be easily converted (like a dump truck with a shot bed or something of that nature).
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