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Old 03-26-2006, 09:29 PM   #1
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New here and looking for a short wheelchair lift bus

I just found this site during my seaarch for a dedicated tow vehicle. Let me explain: I recently purchased a 1965 Airstream 26 foot trailer, and now I need to purchase a tow vehicle for it. After many iterations of what I thought I wanted, I ended up with this:
1) although I think a vintage tow vehicle would be really cool, they are extremely hard to find in decent shape
2) I really want a diesel so I could at least try to do something to help the environment and run biodiesel during my travels
3) I just can't justify spending 10K plus on a tow vehicle, so the large diesel SUV's are out
4) my family has really taken to the idea of the Airstream and would like to use it themselves. The issue is that my sister is in a power wheelchair, so I would need to purchase a tow vehicle that is equipped with a wheelchair lift.
5) the wheelbase of this tow vehicle will need to be at least 134 inches as my trailer is 26 feet in length
So, my deductive reasoning skills kicked in and i began my search for a short wheelcahir school bus. I don't think i would want a full-size bus due to the fact that I'll be towing a 26 foot trailer behind it.
I've been checking ebay and Craig's list, but I was wondering of there are any other good resources to purchase an inexpensive short wheelchair bus. Any input would be helpful.
Kathy in PA
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Old 03-27-2006, 10:08 AM   #2
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great minds think alike

I came to the same conclusion you did for my '48 Spartan Mansion 30' travel trailer (a lot like an airstream only slanted forward). Anywho I have included a short list of dealers I looked through. There is one in New York that had a lot of them called Don Brown bus sales at http://www.buscrazy.net . The other links are as follows:
http://www.422sales.com/
http://www.busnut.com/
http://busforsaleguide.com/
http://www.busmartinc.com/
http://www.copelandbussales.com/
http://www.alliedbussales.com/
http://rvwholesalers.com/
http://www.sbsales.com/
http://www.centralstatesbus.com/used_buses.html
http://www.tescobus.com/usedbuslist.aspx
http://www.fresnoalliance.com/wheelchairproject/
http://www.a-zbus.com/publish/used_dept.shtml
http://www.used-buses.net/
http://www.westernbus.com/
http://www.kerlinbus.com/
http://www.used-bus.com/

hope that helps.
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Old 03-27-2006, 07:22 PM   #3
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Does it have to be a school bus? I ask because there are usually plenty of Ford-chassis cutaway van buses available, and many have lifts. In fact, a diesel E-350 WC van could pull that Airstream easily.

In fact, I may know of a 1996 E-350 wheelchair bus for sale (PowerStroke diesel/automatic, dual A/C, Goshen body) for a couple grand...I'll look iunto it this week. I think they're also selling a coup[le of HD vans, but they have gas engines.

If you ARE set on a skoolie, I saw a 1995 30' International (T444E/auto) lift bus for $4000 nearby. It's not a fullsize, but not really a "small" bus, either.

The E-350 is in southeastern MA, the IH is in Rhode Island.
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Old 03-27-2006, 08:49 PM   #4
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With any of those comercial cut aways, you really need to check them good. Look underneath at the cross bars, they often give out first and after 10 years they are pretty much done so be careful. I have seen underneath a couple goshen units with flat floors and their cross bars looked simular to "I" beams. Other issues these buses have are the seals above the windshield where the fiberglass bolts together.
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Old 03-27-2006, 09:05 PM   #5
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This one passed a DOT inspection last November, so the crossmembers are solid. They can be a problem (stay far away from Starcraft buses for that reason), but Goshens & Champions seem to hold up best. Starcraps shake themselves to pieces in about 50,000 miles, when they're actually running and not down with electrical problems. Glavals hold up pretty well (though I've never seen one with a WC lift), but they aren't that common. Turtle Top (Terra Transit) is also pretty good--and some have a really cool under-floor lift.
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Old 03-28-2006, 08:31 PM   #6
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Jarlaxle,
No, it doesn't necessarily have to be a regular bus (although, I think if I could find a shorter one with a WC lift and a more traditional looking nose--a Carpenter style?--gee, I'm such a newbie, that would be really cool as a tow vehicle for an Airstream), but, no, it doesn't have to be a big bus. Are you talking about those white shuttle/activity buses--are they considered "cut-aways"?
Kathy
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Old 03-28-2006, 09:40 PM   #7
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I think you understand what Jarlaxle is refering to as a cutaway. But just to be sure, look here http://www.centralstatesbus.com/commerc ... sales.html

The company I work at has been getting ElDorado's but they are not one of the best out there. Like most of them if they are not cared for they will fall apart. We do have one startrans unit and I can say that when we first got it back in 1998 it rattled then and we were not too sure how it would be 5 years later, but even right now it has not got any worse. Although I have noticed that the cross bars underneath do have a slight bow in them so I'd imagine in another 3 or 4 years it's life will be up.

My skoolie is a 1992 international bluebird body. About 25 feet total lengh, with a front lift. Is this more of what you have in mind for size? I have pictures on my web site.
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Old 03-28-2006, 10:42 PM   #8
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wmah,
Yeh, that's a neat size. Are there any advantages/diadvantages to either a cut-away or a short school bus for use as a tow vehicle? Is 25 feet as short as they come?
Kathy
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Old 03-29-2006, 06:42 PM   #9
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Startrans seems to be fine. Starcraft buses are the ones that fall apart. We had four, two each 2000 & 2001's...there is one (a 2001) left. The three others were scrapped (none with more than 115K miles, one under 100K) due to unrepairable structural problems. I doubt the last Starcrap (bus 181) will survive the year. Also, they have major electrical problems, pathetically-weak air conditioners, a ferocious appetite for front-end parts, awful door sealing, and ergonomics truly bordering on the bizarre (2 had the stereos over the driver, not visible without standing up).

We have several Eldos (2 Fords, 3 International 3400's), and they seem to hold up very well (though they certainly do rattle). The Fords are a diesel 2002 E-450 (~170K miles) and a V-10 1998 E-Super Duty (~120K miles), both wheelchair buses. One IH (bus 204) is a 1997 26-passenger lift bus with a luggage compartment and a T444E/AT545--with over 310,000 miles, it's tight, quiet, and rattle-free. It's by far my favorite bus for charters (even over the 2006 GMC 5500 and the 2006 E-450). The others are identical 1999 chassis with 2001 bodies (don't ask), 21 passengers plus luggage.

Also, some buses were built on Freightliner truck chassis. There are 2 basic types (we had both):

CUTAWAY: this looks vaguely like a school bus. It has the nose of a medium-duty truck (our only one was a 2002 FB-65, with a Cummins ISB & OD Allison) with a bus body (26-passenger WC-lift Eldo). It ran ~110K trouble-free miles, and then unfortunately burned to the ground from an electrical fire.

The box: this looks like, well, a BOX. It's a stripped chassis with a scratch-built body. One was a 30-passenger 1997 snubnose, a Champion body on a Freightliner chassis. Power was a 12-valve 5.9 Cummins, trans was an AT500, and rear air-ride was nice. This was a big bus--about 35' bumper to bumper. It was a WC bus, but ours had the lift removed for extra seating. I think it's for sale. The other two (identical) are 1998 flat-noses, 20-pax WC Goshen bodies on Freightliner chassis, with 12V 5.9's and AT545's. With a shorter wheelbase & steel springs in back, the ride much rougher than the larger Champion (they're essentially a Stepvan chassis with a bus body). One may be for sale, with minor damage from a rear-end hit.

These have a very strong chassis, with 19.5" truck tires, big disc brakes, and 19,000lb chassis capacity (12K rear/7K front).

Others to avoid: Metrotrans (structural problems, electrical gremlins, leaks, balky & overcomplicated rear HVAC), ThomasBuilt (we have one, and it's falling apart with 70K on it...surprising, since their skoolies are very well-built), and anything really big on an Econoline chassis (GVWR is only 14,050 on the E-450).
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Old 03-30-2006, 12:35 AM   #10
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may as well throw my two cents in

I'm not a bus mechanic so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I am, however a NASA aero/structural engineer. I went through the same trade study that you are going through before I bought my shorty for towing my antique Spartan trailer. My conclusion was that the cutaways were basically overloaded van chassis with a lot of metal and fiberglass and underpowered motors and overworked trannys. This is evident by the previous posters mention of structural damage in the undercarriage and suspension. One other member with a cutaway ran into weight issues in his conversion process and started blowing tires from excessive weight. With a short dog nosed schoolie, say a Wayne/International, you have an overbuilt medium duty truck chassis with an overall length of 25ft capable of carrying around 9000 lbs of payload over and above its own weight with all the overbuilt systems that go with a full size bus in a shorter lighter version. So your choice is a bastardized van with enough extra crap slapped on it to push it to its structural limits or a shortened full size medium duty truck with all kinds of extra margin of safety. I know what I went with, but to each their own, that's the beauty of this hobby, the different solutions to the same desires.
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