I've been a lurker on these forums for a couple of years now and want to start by shouting out a big THANKS!!! to everyone who has shared their knowledge and experience here. It has been a wealth of information and good reading!
I am about to start a new Skoolie project and while I **THINK** I have my head on straight about it, I wanted to post the idea here and get some feedback and opinions.
My wife and I are planning to move to Alaska (yep - I know that means we're crazy, but that is the subject of another thread...
FWIW, we plan on chronicling the Skoolie build out and the move on a website we will create just for that purpose at:
Welcome to the Crazy In Alaska Website!
We have a 1994 Teton 5th wheel that was built in Wyoming, so it has a massive arctic insulation package (R15 walls, R17 end caps and R25 on the floors and ceiling). It also has storm windows on the inside - which is not that common from what I see. The unit is rated to -30 degrees (and we don't plan on heading to parts of Alaska that get that cold).
We are remodeling it and making it our own (things like new appliances, a residential 24" propane stove with a real oven, etc.). It is going to be very nice when we are done with it and we'll have a fraction of the cost in it that we would pay for one of the newer cheaply made fivers.
Now you might wonder how this relates to Skoolies - I'm getting to that!
My wife is not a camper. So once we move and get settled we will stay in an area for at least a year (to be sure we like it in all four seasons), then we plan on building a shipping container home (yet another thread all in it's own right...).
But the trip from where we are in the South to Alaska is a LONG one (I know as I helped a family member move there a few years ago). As we are moving with our four dogs, I wanted to make the trip easier than it would be in even a gia-normous one ton pickup.
I also wanted to have a bit more space (even though our 5th wheel has three slides and is about 424 sq ft). I write software for a living and need a bit of quiet to get the work done.
I also wanted something that I can take off "camping" (for real) when I go fishing or hunting up there.
After a LOT of thinking and planning about it, I decided that I wanted to purchase a flat nosed, forward engine Skoolie and convert it into a "toterhome" of sorts.
IMHO this would be a lot cheaper than buying any truck capable of pulling my 16,000 lb three axle 5th wheel AND it will be able to serve me in more ways than a truck can (I have a S10 4x4 cre cab truck that we will be taking with us).
It would also make the trip easier on us as the converted Skoolie will be like a motorhome and be a lot better than all that time with two people and four dogs in the cab of a truck.
Finally when we arrive I can use it for my office (and it will double as a guest house) until we decide to build and get settled.
I have looked at various threads on this and other forums and I see that I am apparently not the only person who has been infected with this particular brand of insanity!
I have studied all the conversions I could find and looked at buses until I dream about them and I feel pretty sure that this can be done.
What I plan to do is buy a big bus (14 window).
The first thing on my list (after removing the seats and all the inside panels and insulation) is to move the fuel tank forward of the rear axle and have the exhaust shortened and turned out in front of the rear wheel as well (if this is a bad idea - DO let me know).
I also plan to add an exhaust brake to the Skoolie as there are some pretty steep downgrades on the way up there.
The next item is to then remove the rear end cap. I think I can do that by removing the rivets and also by cutting across the floor a few inches out from the end cap (as I believe it is welded there). I base that from photos in this conversion thread:
Nat_ster's Haul All - Pirate4x4.Com : 4x4 and Off-Road Forum
Then I plan on removing sidewall and roof sections until I am just forward of the rear axles (enough space for my 5th wheel to turn 90 degrees and also maybe for propane tanks and a generator for the bus).
The end cap would be reattached at that point.
The frame would be cut off just behind the rear wheels.
Then I would either re-use the floor from the end cap back to just behind the rear wheels (with new diamond plate decking) and keep/trim out the side walls to make rails for the bed, or just remove it all and put some sort of flat bed deck back there.
Next I plan to mount a 21,000 lb 5th wheel plate so that it is centered about 1.5 inches forward of center on the axles.
My 5th wheel has a pin weight of 2700 lbs and an axle weight of 10,900.
I figure that I am removing so much weight off the Skoolie (between the seats and the metal skin) that even with the conversion of the bus portion, I should have no problems at all hooking it to the Skoolie.
I do plan on removing all the bus windows and am thinking of using the type of laminated aluminum/fiberglass panels that they use on the sides of tractor trailers to close in where they were.
The back door will probably be fixed so that it does not open (or removed all together).
I'll be putting in probably four double pane RV type windows (two per side) and also an emergency egress window in the rear. I would also really like to replace the bus door with a nice solid RV door (or something - open to suggestions there).
Of course everything will be insulated with closed cell spray foam and also probably a 2" slab of foam under the new floor.
That is the short version of what I am planning.
I am currently looking at a 14 window, flat nosed, forward engine Bluebird (that I believe is an A3) from 2002. It has a 6 cylinder Cummins 5.9 and a new Allison transmission. It also has new tires.
This bus has just came out of service this year (it was used all the way up through summer school).
From what I have been reading, that is one of the most important things to look for (and that I should avoid buses that have been sitting for any length of time).
Also while I realize that an 8 cylinder would be nice, we are not going to be in any hurry on the trip up and will not be driving at high speeds. So as long as the 5.9 can get the job done I am fine with it not being an overpowered speed demon.
Like I said, I have been thinking and trying to sort all this out for some time now. I realize that there are other details that will come up when I get started.
However since I have found what I consider to be a good candidate for the bus (assuming it checks out when I go to see it), I wanted to post here today and see if some of you good folks could see some giant hole in the plan that I had missed.
If this is not the right bus for the job (or if I really should be committed to an asylum!), then feel free to let me know.
I freely admit that I am not an expert on Skoolies at all and I welcome all comments (good or bad).
We are not wealthy people and while we can afford to do the conversion and related work, we need to make every dollar count.
Also if there is anything that I should be looking for when I go to inspect this bus, I'd appreciate those tips as well.
I know enough to get under it and look it over closely as you would any used vehicle. I have also driven a tractor-trailer rig before (some years ago), so I have a pretty good idea of how it should feel and drive.
But you folks here - you are the experts in Skoolies, so I highly value your input.