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Old 02-25-2016, 11:51 AM   #1
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A boondocker is born!

Hello friends!

I hope this finds you all well. I have been bitten by the skoolie bug and am looking to create a boondockable full-time skoolie home for just my single self. I have been an artist and musician for years, living on the road and a shoestring budget, and I am really excited to get started.

My top priorities are figuring out rainwater catchment (I have a filter that can get anything out!), complete solar power, and using as many reclaimed materials as possible to build my home. The rest will come. I am also interested in biodiesel conversion, but for budgeting reasons that may be down the road.

I have been all over the web reading about solar systems, different types of buses, layouts, etc - there is so much to learn! I am recruiting friends and helpers to trade and pay for labor and parts.

From what I've gleaned, a diesel engine, dt360 or cummins 5.9 w/ allison 643 may be my best bet for longevity and mileage. I'm looking for a manual transmission and would love a 2 speed rear end if I can find it. I've heard that a rear engine drives better and leaves more room for storage underneath. If I can find an activity bus with storage under, hooray! It's possible that the criteria I've just spouted off may not all exist in one bus, and if that's the case, I'd be grateful to anyone who points it out! This is new enough that it's all greek to me, I am doing my best to learn the language.

Any input on air vs hydraulic brakes?

I keep wondering how old is too old for the bus, and how much mileage is too much. Does anyone have feedback on this? Are there certain makes or models that have been consistently reliable? I have up to $5k to spend on the bus itself (of course, less would be nice, but I intend to get a strong foundation for my rolling home). Where do folks go to look at buses for sale?

I am grateful for all and any feedback, and apologies if my questions are redundant or out of place - I am a total n00b!

In particular, resources for solar innovations, rainwater catchment, and the timing of the process (i.e., can I live in my bus while I do certain renovations? What is essential to do before moving in?) would be very helpful.

Love and thanks,
Lizzy
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Old 02-25-2016, 12:21 PM   #2
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Location: Houston, Texas
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Year: 1946
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Howdy Lizzy & Welcome to the Madhouse! --- Sounds like you have an ambitious but doable plan. Start by reading as many of the "build threads" here as possible. It will be time well spent as you can glean from others experience (and boondoggles) a huge amount of knowledge. There are folks here with a fair amount of savvy in just about every area you mentioned plus more. The real trick is to go through all the available info and replies and filter out what best fits your personal plans. You will no doubt encounter a wide range of opinions on any given topic so be prepared to try and qualify any given responses based on your own wants & needs, budget and skills. After all...we are a collective of individuals here, all with varying priorities, who just happen to share the very basic idea of beginning with a school bus as a way to achieve our separate goals.

Once you develop a picture of what basic unit will best serve your needs...take the time too find the very best unit you can afford. Starting with a solid, well maintained bus will pay back in spades once you begin to build it out.

Best of luck, happy reading, and do keep us up on your progress.
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Old 02-25-2016, 05:05 PM   #3
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Location: Billings, MT
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Year: 2003
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I went to Midwest Transit; purchased an 03 Thomas HDX with 128K on the clock for $8K. All 6 tires were almost new.
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Old 02-25-2016, 06:42 PM   #4
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Tango and CaptainSquid, thanks for chiming in! I can barely keep my eyes off the screen, there is so much info to soak up here. Can't wait to make this a reality!
How long have y'all known buses to run? Do their engines last much longer than cars? I've seen many out there with 300k plus on the odometer. Probably a n00b question, but hey, I'm a n00b
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Old 02-25-2016, 06:58 PM   #5
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Lizzy,

Check out my build, "Heavy Fuel". The time for California to start up dumping their CARB non-compliant buses is starting up again in about a month or two. We bought a 1989 Thomas with a Cat 3208/ Allison 643 tranny. Most people shy away from Cat, but I've had very good results over the years from them. Read my thread to see why. I would avoid hydraulic brakes for several reasons, but if you don't have a Chauffer's endorsement, or otherwise mark it as privately owned - here in Texas having a motorhome license plate is all it takes - then there may be some issues with endorsements - again check with your state.

As far as how long buses run, it depends upon how well they are maintained. My bus has 176K miles on it. I plan to keep it until they shovel dirt over me. So, I figure another 500K to 750K miles easy. I have a rust free foundation I bought for $2K. I'm going to a buddy's place with it this weekend to consult about getting some HAM radios and antennas properly routed before re-constructing. I'm also looking to properly plan the plumbing, electrical, heating, and A/C systems in another three to four weeks. My son is working for a friend that has several decades of experience in such things. I'll be posting my progress on my thread real soon, so stay tuned......

M1031
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Old 02-25-2016, 06:59 PM   #6
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Location: Billings, MT
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School districts usually maintain their vehicles religiously. Obtaining maintenance records, however, is like pulling teeth.

School buses are built on truck chassis (well, the large ones anyway) and the rest of the vehicle is equally solid. Places to check for rust are the entry stairs, the wheel wells, and, obviously, the entire undercarriage. The first two will tell most of the story. Also, buses from salty areas (locales that salt their roads excessively or seashores) are prone to rust, so be careful with those. Most are diesel engined and the larger buses have air brakes.

Decisions to make? Conventional or Transit style. Conventional buses have a hood. Transit style? Front or rear engined. Front engines are a bit noisier in the cockpit. Rear engines ARE quieter and a bit better balanced. How much floor space do you need? Bigger buses will offer more floor space. Newer buses also have better headroom. I'm 6'2" and I have about 6" of headroom in my bus. Basements (underbody storage) are a plus. Air conditioning? Remember, that operates only when the big engine is running. Likewise cabin heat.

Lots of decisions to make AFTER you procure your dream/nightmare. Just keep lurking about and you're bound to get some answers.
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