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Old 03-12-2007, 02:53 PM   #1
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Rock Band Tour Bus?

My band of five is planning to hit the road for two months this fall. We were thinking of converting a school bus for the tour, but we don't know too much about this stuff. So I have questions maybe a some of the pros could answer in their spare time. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

1) Could we get a tough enough bus to do 10-15K miles coast-coast in two months for a purchase budget of $3000? Any Recommendations for a band tour bus? Models, Types, Engines, etc.

2) If the bus were to break down is there some sort of bus AAA? How much does it cost to have a bus towed?

3) How much does insurance run you?

4) Is plumbing something we want to tackle or should we just find our own bathrooms and showers?

5) Could we have a construction budget of $5000? What should we expect to spend (tools, lumber, appliances, specialty parts, etc.)?

6) Is converting to bio-diesel feasible? How much would that cost/save?

7) How safe are this things loaded to the brim with amenities and our music equiptment? How much load can a bus carry?

8) Where do you park your bus in the cities? How much is the typical parking lot attendant bribe?

9) Any inter-state laws we should be aware of?

10) Anything else we should know before beginning the endeavor?

Obviously, I'm leaving a lot out, but this is still a fresh idea. That's why I'm here seeking some expert advice. This is an awesome website and I hope I can make it happen and soon post our own conversion project on skoolie.net!
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Old 03-12-2007, 05:03 PM   #2
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Excellent questions, many can be answered by browsing this site. Lots of good info here. OK so I am a bass player and understand and sympathize with your needs. Yes a school bus could serve your needs quite well. How much time you have and money will determine what you do to the bus. My bus is converted so I have about 13' in the back for storage of my families stuff when we move (about every 2-3 years, and living space up front. Get one with a front engine so you have the big door in the back to load your gear. There are threads just for bus choices so I won't tackle that, I have a cummins 5.9 and really like it, 11mpg at 60mph, loaded for bear. Lots of good busses can be had for less than 3Gs. I definately recommend a diesel for your needs and air brakes. Yes your insurance company should be able to sell you some kind of roadside policy to cover towing, so buy it!!! A had a bus die on me and the tow bill would have been about $225 to tow it 3 miles. I hear Good Sam club is great for roadside assistance on RVs. Insurance will vary according to who's name it is in. Good driving record and credit gets lower rate. I paid $50 a year to add it to my Allstate auto police but wasn't planning to drive it but 1 -2 times a year. Yours may be as much as $600 a year. If you or someone else is mechanicaly inclined you may want to do the plumbing but I would skip it in your case. Would take quite a water system to accomidate 5 guys showering everyday. Use the showers at the truck stops, 1 free with fuel. If you are all guys the carry a gallon jug for emergencies You can spend way less than $5000 to get by on this project. All you need to do is build 6 bunk beds, some lighting maybe a couple electric coolers ($100 each). Air conditioning is probably where you want to spend the money. Most busses don't have it, you will need it!!! You need at least 1 roof unit ($600 new) and a generator to run it. New gas generators usually start around $2000 but shop around or look for used, at least 4500 watt. A $80 inverter and a deep cycle battery for light electrical needs saves you from running the generator if you don't need A/C. Mine is only 800 watt and runs a tv, vcr or dvd, or Xbox and some lights a a fan no problem, turn off the tv when using the 700 watt microwave. Biodiesel requires no conversion but won't be feasable on the road for 2 months, buy the fuel and charge a fuel surcharge to your customers. The bus should carry you stuff fine if you load correctly and drive carefully. Heavy cabnets and amps on the floor as close to rear wheels as possible. And take a little trip to learn how to drive it before you get it heavily loaded. They are top heavy to start with and once loaded will be more so, take you time be safe. If it isn't already you will have to title it as an RV and max gross weight at 26000 lbs, 26001 and you need a CLD, also no more than 15 passengers max so less than 15 seats (not an issue in your case. You will probably want at least 35' long but 40' would be better. If you get one of the conventionals (with a hood) you will loose inside space, better find that one in a 40'. Take a little time and make a layout for the bunks (only 2 stack, 3 is not enough room for an adult) and a couch or two and see how fast the space runs out, also consider how you would load your cargo to help figure out how to best utilize space and determine your needs. Buy the best bus you can afford, not the cheapest. I bought a $600 bus and spent every evening for 3 months remodeling it and it died 2/3 of the way through our maiden voyage and they wanted $5000 to replace the motor (may she rest in peace in Oklahoma) This time I spent $2700 and made the trip fine and still have the bus. Tires can cost $300 to $400 each, try to get one with good tires. You want a mechanicaly good machine so you can concentrate on the conversion. Good luck and read everything you can on this site.
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Old 03-12-2007, 05:18 PM   #3
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My 1 1/2 cents. Find a front engine bus with big emergency doors. If you can find a special needs bus with a wheelchair lift, you will be better off. I have a rear engine bus with one small door on the left side and it's 40 feet long. That would be the last bus a band would want. You probably would never find a spot at or anywhere near a club and if you did, you would be unloading in the street. Find a bus with doors on the right side and the back. The last thing is spend more money up front for a better bus or you will be paying that money and then some later. Some people on this site have found nice buses for what I consider to be a bargin, like a bus for half of what a used motor would sell for by itself. I'm sure others will be giving their input soon. Good luck.
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Old 03-12-2007, 07:10 PM   #4
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1. As long as it isn't a basketcase, any bus should be able to go 15,000 miles. A diesel would be preferential. Look for good tires because 15,000 miles is more than the 10-20% tires a lot of buses get swapped on before they are sold can handle. I would recommend a rear engine transit style bus since you're going to be driving a lot. They ride better and will be quieter. Perhaps you can join the Saf-T-Liner Club that keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Engines you'd typically find in those buses are the DT/DTA360, DT466, Cummins 5.9, Cummins 8.3, Cat 3208 NA/T, Cat 3116, Cat 3126, and yes, I've seen a T444E. I think all would be fine choices. The DT466 or 8.3 Cummins would probably be the best given their enormous size and reputation in medium duty trucks.

It might be worth your time to look for a bus with an Allison MT643 transmission. They are stronger, but more importantly should get better mileage and top speed. There isn't anything essentially wrong with the AT545, but you're going to get reduced mileage and top speed.

2. Good Sam's offers tow insurance. My State Farm plan also has it for something like $10 per year. With many places charging a $250 hook up fee and $2.50 per mile, it just plain makes sense to have the insurance.

3. ~$200 per year through State Farm registered as an RV

4. I have minimal plumbing right now, but am slowly adding more. However, showers are easy to find if you look. Truckstops are cheap and easy. Ditto for staying at a small campground if you have some extra time. The electrical hookup will give you a chance to get your batteries properly charged up too.

5. Lumber is expensive. Copper is expensive (wiring), Flooring is expensive. Still, I have nowhere near $5000 in my conversion (yet) and it's very livable. Shop around, decide what you really want, and plan so you can use stuff like carpet rems. I paid $50 for a never-been-used 3 burner stove with oven. My freshwater tank is a 55 gallon plastic drum, etc. Become a member of the FreeCycle group in your area, look on Craigslist, and make people you know aware of what you're doing. You'd be amazed how many people will say, "You know, I have this ..... that might work well in your bus. Want it?"

6. Biodiesel can go right in your tank as is. I don't think you're going to see much benefit. In fact, it will likely be the more expensive option at the pump. Converting to WVO, that is waste veggie oil (sometimes called straight veggie oil), would save you a BUNCH of money, but it is a lot of work. Depending on how long you have between shows, the filtering process could be a pain and take some time you might not have. IT's something I would be thinking about, but it's probably safer just to budget for fuel.

7. A bus will have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) stamped somewhere in it. This is typically in the 30,000 lbs range. It is also going to have a curb weight when converted that you can measure at any truck stop scales. The difference is the payload capacity for your stuff. I would imagine you're going to have a payload capacity in the range of 10,000 lbs. My dad's band hsa doubles of just about all their equipment and it's all 1960's vintage tube style Musicman, Fender Bassman, etc amps with full cabs to match. They stuff is heavy but is still nowhere near 10,000 lbs and I would know...I've had to haul in and out of venue after venue.

8. Wal-Mart is popular for overnight parking, as are truck stops. They will have signs if overnight parking is not allowed. Wal-Mart is convenient for those 8 hour stops because you can resupply, refuel in many cases, be free to come and go when you want, and they're free.

9. With RV plates you should be fine. Check your local laws and see if you need an air brake endorsement for your regular license in your state. Most states exempt RV's over 26,000 lbs from needing a CDL, but find out for sure by talking to both someone at the DMV/Licensing Office and a State Trooper.

10. Take your time and don't get frustrated, but also keep going on it. There are tons of half converted bus conversion for sale on eBay and in the papers. The reasoning is always the same. "I started it, but ran out of time to finish it." As long as you're working on it, the excitement is there.

Welcome to the board and keep us up to date on what's going on. We love seeing projects as they take shape from shopping to maiden voyage!
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Old 03-12-2007, 08:20 PM   #5
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If they get a rear engine, where do you suppose they will load and store the equipment? Sure wouldn't want to try to squeeze a W-bottom or double scoop through the front door.
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Old 03-12-2007, 08:36 PM   #6
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In the trailer or custom underbody storage.
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Old 03-12-2007, 09:18 PM   #7
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I agree with getting a bus with a wide back door and make the rear x number of feet for storing your equipment.

I would go with Good Sams over State Farm. State Farm is a great insurance company but their towing coverage requires that you locate a towing service, pay it and turn in the receipt to get your money back. Good Sams on the other hand works like AAA. You call a toll free number and they make the arrangements and pay the bill.
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Old 03-12-2007, 09:50 PM   #8
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I would agree...except that State Farm doesn't care who tows my vehicle. I've had my personal vehicles towed a time or two and their were never any grumbles. Companies like Good Sam and AAA, on the otherhand, all too often require that you go with one of their approved companies. Sometimes it's ok, but my friend sheared the lug studs on his car. There was a town 10 miles north with a tow truck and one 50 miles south with a tow truck....guess who he had to wait for if he wanted AAA to cover it?
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Old 03-12-2007, 10:10 PM   #9
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I will say get a rear-engined bus or do like Elliot Naess where he put a ramp on the back of a front-engined bus. I played many years full-time in a band and while we played many locations with loading docks we also played many where we unloaded to the ground. We had a semi (we were serious rock and roll!) and I can't imagine loading W bins or amp racks through the back, front or side door of a bus. Get a used enclosed trailer and pull it with the much quieter and smoother riding rear-engined bus. I'm not meaning to offend the front-engined (FE) bus guys because those can be nice too, but I've driven several 300+ mile field trips in FE buses and the RE buses are much better from a driver's standpoint (quieter, less noise, smoother ride and you don't get the engine heat coming at you). The only other bus option is a handicapped bus with a wheelchair ramp but it's rare to find one that will be big enough for you. I've never seen a bus with a big rear emergency door. If you're into fabicating find someone that's getting rid of the wheelchair ramp out of their bus and install it in a bigger, more comfortable bus.

Paint it official and serious looking and make your own parking space. Actually, when we played downtown in a city we rarely had parking problems. Bands coming through always have trucks or buses, etc. and the place of performance almost always has the parking situation worked out.
That's my picayune's worth... (I'm from Picayune so I can say that )
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Old 03-12-2007, 10:32 PM   #10
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A lot of the bands I see coming through town have a bus and pull an enclosed trailer for their equipment. I think you would be a lot happier by getting a bus and giving yourself all the comforts to live on the road instead of using it to hold your stuff. The bus wont even notice having the weight of the trailer and since it is smaller than the bus I don't think it will make much of a difference in mpg. You probably cant afford both but maybe you could get the bus and get by with it keeping in mind that you will get a trailer when you can afford it.
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