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Old 01-02-2017, 08:30 AM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jan 2017
Posts: 15
Long Bus Body Modifications?

Hey guys, new to the community, but an old hand at fabrication and modification. I've worked in sales, installation, repair and customization for mostly cars and light trucks for the last 15 years. Built carbs for NHRA and NASCAR racing, maintained Italian exotics, built renovations and expansions on homes, rebuilt interiors in modern euro luxury cruisers, but it all started building hotrods with my dad nearly 20 years ago. Recently I got into bigger stuff when I started maintaining a small fleet of Mercedes Unimogs, 1960's era monster military vehicles. So I feel fairly confident I have the needed skill set and a friendly place to work at my old mans new garage on 5 acres.

I would like to find a Bluebird TC2200 style long bus ideally, but am open to other suggestions, I have a preference for Cummins engines due to past good experience with them on tow rigs, won't touch a Ford, even for free. I would like to know how well the long busses bodies hold up to modification, specifically, the sides between the wheel wells front and rear? If cut and modified how much reinforcement will they need? I see a lot of rooftop mods for decks and expanded sleeping quarters, but would prefer to allocate rooftop space to solar panels and and experimental vertical axis wind generator I've been working on.

Thankyou for any imput, E.
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Old 01-02-2017, 08:56 AM   #2
Bus Geek
 
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Location: Houston, Texas
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Year: 1946
Coachwork: Chevrolet/Wayne
Chassis: 1- 1/2 ton
Engine: Cummins 4BT
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Welcome jack-o --- Sounds like you were made for a bus rebuild! Blue Birds are famously overbuilt and very solid platforms. To me, the biggest trick when modding is to keep the whole structural system working together. By that I mean making sure any loads are properly transferred. I raised the roof on my old 40 footer but only after talking with a retired BB engineer. He was adamant about maintaining the original caps (at both ends) as well as the interior roof skin. I had to bridge a couple of very large openings for RV windows and made sure to tie everything back together as well as possible. But as you probably know, it is possible to overdo it which only creates weak points on each side of any work. Buses, and especially skoolies, like to flex. Keeping that ability to me is the hard part and without consulting a design engineer, all I could do was try and think through how various loads would transfer. On the other hand, these structures seem to be fairly forgiving as I have seen some rigs with years on the road with mods that would never have imagined would last a week.

Best of luck on your search and keep us up on your progress.
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Old 01-02-2017, 09:06 AM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Thanks for the advice, my family had a Bluebird RV (440RB Chrysler) many years ago and it was a tank, not like the flimsy things I do interior work on occasionally, the fiberglass roofs and enclosures that wobble in a strong wind are the worst. School busses in particular have attracted me for their durability, many serving for decades without major structural or mechanical failure.

Your note on their bodies liking to flex is important, I will have to explore that further. What I would like to do is take a section out of each side between the wheel wells, maybe 6 to 8 feet of the bus to create space to recess a small deployable deck and sunshade on each side. I guess my questions there is will it be better to build out a frame and mount the deck to the body, and allow it to flex with it, or mount the decks to the frame, and let them float and flex independently, may cause problems with sealing there.
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Old 01-02-2017, 09:30 AM   #4
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Year: 1946
Coachwork: Chevrolet/Wayne
Chassis: 1- 1/2 ton
Engine: Cummins 4BT
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Somewhere I have seen a pic of a bus that had a fold down deck simply attached to the side. Only stuck out about an inch and a half when folded up. And as I recall ran from the entry door all the way back to the rear wheel cutout. Appeared to have a cable system for lowering and fold out legs to stabilize it when docked. Awning attached over it all. No idea whether the width regs were an issue or not but there are buses and other rigs that are over a hundred inches wide these days.
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Old 01-02-2017, 11:50 AM   #5
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I am not sure what part of the bus between the axles you are referring.

If you are referring to the area below the floor line, none of that is structural. Any modifications there are just in flat panels supported by bent sheet metal bracing.

If you are referring to the area between the floor line and the drip rail, each window post is structural. There is a one piece roof bow that runs from the floor up and over the roof and back to the floor on the other side. Roof rails are threaded onto the roof rails and run in one piece from the front header to the rear header. In other words a LOT of steel framing to keep things straight and to keep things from crushing in the event of a rollover crash.

Newer buses are not built nearly as strong as older buses. Crown advertised their frame rails were made out of 150,000 PSI steel. Blue Bird, IC, and Thomas advertise the frame rails they use today are made out of 50,000 PSI steel. A frame that is made out of 50,000 PSI steel will move a lot more than a frame that is made out of 150,000 PSI steel.

If you want to open stuff up to add slide outs it shouldn't be a problem as long as you reinforce and support the openings.

I have seen more than a couple of burned out hulks that were the left overs of some high end rear engine Class 'A' moho's. I have always been struck by how little steel framing went into them. One I saw used 1" square tube on 48" centers with the roof structure welded to the top side rail. I wondered what else was there that had been consumed or I didn't see that kept the body from wracking and twisting as it went down the road.

Only you can determine how large of an opening you think will be safe. I do know that in the past Blue Bird, IC, and Thomas have made a lot of commercial versions of their school bus bodies that had transit/coach type windows that eliminated half of the window posts--the windows were more than twice as long as a standard split sash school bus window. Side lift and emergency doors are also much wider than a standard split sash school bus window so I know you can eliminate some of the window posts.

I would start out with an All American, West-Coast-Er Saf-T-Liner, or an IC bus rather than a TC2000 or MVP. The TC2000 and MVP were built considerably lighter than their more expensive brethren and probably won't tolerate as much side openings. At the same time, they are built so much heavier duty than any Class 'A' moho that even if you took out more than half of the window posts you would still have considerably more rollover protection than in a Class 'A' moho.

Good luck and happy trails to you.
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Old 01-02-2017, 01:38 PM   #6
Mini-Skoolie
 
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I was wondering if those window posts were load bearing, thanks for that. I'm not familiar with Crown busses, can't say I've ever seen one down here, we have tons and tons of Internationals, Freighliners and Bluebirds running around to be had cheap. I've noticed alot of the Bluebirds use Cummins 5.9L I6 engines, but they all seem to be the low power 190hp models. Has anyone had any luck swapping in a 24V 250hp 5.9 out of the large Dodge trucks of that era?
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Old 01-02-2017, 04:40 PM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Aug 2015
Location: Raleigh, NC
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What is the ultimate use for the bus? Motorhome?

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Old 01-02-2017, 04:44 PM   #8
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Longterm mobile residence and workspace, will need to tow a light vehicle behind as well. The new job I'm starting will allow me to work for several weeks or months in a set location, so long as I have a reliable internet connection, easy to fin in campgrounds and RV parks these days nation wide. So I want to just explore places, find a new home maybe and settle down when I find the right place.
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Old 01-02-2017, 08:34 PM   #9
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If the 5.9L 190 HP engine is not stout enough for you then I would suggest you don't purchase that bus and purchase one that has an engine that is stout enough for you. For what it would cost to purchase a take out engine you could most probably purchase another bus.

It is much easier and less expensive to purchase the bus with your preferred HP and gearing than it is to swap stuff around to get what you want.

One real problem with buses, even those with front engines but particularly so with rear engines, is the cooling systems are not really designed for sustained high speed running but for stop/go route service. Trip buses with the high HP engines and high speed rear end gearing also come from the factory with oversized engines and coolers.

It is far less expensive by a long ways to purchase a bus with your preferred power package and gearing than to swap stuff around and upgrade to meet the new requirements.
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Old 01-02-2017, 08:55 PM   #10
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jan 2017
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I would rather buy a non running hulk and put an engine I trust into it than buy something with a powertrain i'm unfamiliar with, especially when it comes to parts and repairs. The cummins 5.9 is far cheaper to repair than an Internatioal or DT, and more reliable than the Ford and GM engines, and has and extensive selection of aftermarket modifications to improve fuel efficiency and power output at the same time. Also swapping egnines and transmissions is not something I'm unfamiliar with, even on big stuff, it can be done.

As for the cooling system, once again, I don't see this is a big deal, adding larger Radiators, auxiliary pumps, tranny and diff coolers are standard operating procedure for both hotrods and off road vehicles, so I don't see this as a big obstacle.
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