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Old 11-19-2009, 04:52 PM   #1
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Year: 1996
Coachwork: Thomas Built Bus
Chassis: Vista (Special Needs)
Engine: International 7.3L
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96 Thomas Vista Special Needs tour bus conversion

Hey Everyone!
This is my first post here. Can't believe that I haven't seen this site until now. Excited to learn about other conversions out there!
Earlier this year, our band purchased a 1996 Thomas Vista (Special Needs) with an International 7.3L and Allison Transmission.
Since this is a special needs bus, I think it originally sat 18 people plus a wheelchair. It's about 25' long.

We bought it from another band who had already made some significant modifications, including taking out all of the seats (except the driver's, of course) and removing the wheelchair ramp. It had about 210k miles on it. It's now at 236k and has a new interior. Here's a complete list of the mods, including ones that we've made since buying it:

-custom exterior paint job
-removed clunky front corner mirrors
-adjustable drop trailer hitch
-custom brake and reverse lights
-removed seats and wheelchair ramp/hydraulics
-carpeted the entire interior, with the exception of the entryway/driver area
-3 Ikea sofas along the walls, including one which folds out to a full-size bed
-4 bunk beds in the back, suitable for people up to 6'4" tall (leaving enough room for storage bins underneath the bunks)
-2000watt inverter
-20" flat display TV on a lightweight frame
-DVD player
-mini fridge
-microwave
-4 additional fans mounted to the ceiling
-each bunk has a 3-outlet power strip
-made window curtains and sofa covers for the "living room"
-privacy curtains separating the driver/entryway from the living room
-privacy curtain separating the living room from the bunk area
-privacy curtains for each bunk (all curtains are hung on metal rods, which we installed)
-reflective tint over the special needs window

Here she is:



You can see the new tail lights in the third picture.

(I can't believe I don't have any good pictures of the interior! I'll take some and put them up soon.)

We've had a few random problems (which I might need some advice on, but I'll read through this forum first to see what info is available), but this beauty has carried us through the entire eastern half of the United States without ever having to pay for a hotel room. She's held up through heavy snow, terrible rain, Texas summer heat, and uphill mountain ranges with 50mph winds against us (although that was the most miserable driving experience I've ever had).
We usually tour with 7 people, including 2 married couples who each share a bunk. That puts 6 people in the 4 bunks and 1 person on a sofa.

I would love any feedback or suggestions as to how to improve our bus! We're constantly making small improvements and daydreaming of future modifications. My next project is to install a new head unit, because the AM/FM/PA receiver currently in there does not work. The previous owners had installed a 5.1 system along with the DVD player, but the speakers sounded terrible and were wired very sloppily. I'm trying to get my hands on a wiring schematic or wiring harness to aid with the installation of an aftermarket system.
I'd also like to tint the rest of the windows and have toyed with the idea of converting it to run on grease, but we'll see...
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Old 11-19-2009, 07:54 PM   #2
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Re: 96 Thomas Vista Special Needs tour bus conversion

Welcome to the fun and madness!

Sounds like you guys have a good handle on your situation already. The only thing I dont see on the exterior photos is a roof rack. Just think... add a rack, pile gear up there instead of in the trailer, and turn the trailer into another sleeper! The trailer could be the roadies room!

Looking forward to seeing pictures of the interior. Lots and lots of pictures.
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Old 11-19-2009, 08:39 PM   #3
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Re: 96 Thomas Vista Special Needs tour bus conversion

Very nice! Waiting to see the interior. It must be tight with 7 people, but then I suspect you are buying your meals on tour (or getting comped), so I'm guessing you have no galley.
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Old 11-23-2009, 04:47 PM   #4
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Join Date: Nov 2009
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Coachwork: Thomas Built Bus
Chassis: Vista (Special Needs)
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Re: 96 Thomas Vista Special Needs tour bus conversion

Quote:
Originally Posted by TygerCub
The trailer could be the roadies room!
LOL! Love the idea of making the trailer the roadies' room. However, I don't think I would trust our gear on the roof. Something about the idea of strapping the most expensive thing I own on top of the bumpiest ride I own just doesn't sit well with me . When we play local shows that don't require overnight stays, we just load all of the gear and merchandise into the bunk area and leave the trailer at home.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Redbear
It must be tight with 7 people, but then I suspect you are buying your meals on tour (or getting comped), so I'm guessing you have no galley.
It can get pretty full in the living room, but 1 or 2 people are usually always asleep at any given time. We don't have a galley; just the minifridge and microwave. We keep a ton of non-perishable food items in storage under the bunks or in mesh pockets hanging near the microwave. We get more than our fair share of free pizza (ugh) and other junk at concerts.

Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone! I promise to take some interior pics this week.

(I also forgot to mention that one of the bunks has a custom shelf for an iMac, with mounting brackets to keep it secure, and each bunk has its own 3-outlet power strip, to charge phones, laptops, etc. I'll add these to the above list of mods.)
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