Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
 
Old 06-20-2016, 06:33 PM   #1
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Garden State (rural NJ)
Posts: 383
Down the Rabbit Hole and Full of Questions...

Hi Gang!

I've been lurking here for quite some time now. The posters here are a wealth of knowledge. I'm very thankful for you pioneers. Any wisdom you can share is greatly appreciated!

A little of my story... I'm 47 yo and just sold a business that I started a little over 15 years ago. I've always wanted to explore "the world". So I am going to live full-time on the road for a year or three. (Mid-life crisis? Mid-life? Who am I kidding? I'll be darned lucky to see 94! )

After finishing my undergrad, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life. I started driving chartered coaches and did so for six years, the last two while attaining a master's degree. In those six years, I logged well over 300k miles in buses like GMC Water Buffaloes and MCI MC7s but spent most of my time in Prevost Le Mirages (40 & 45' and 96 & 102"). Let's just say I used to be able to double-clutch with the best. I also spent a far bit of time in skoolie/trip/commuter buses simply helping my employer out. He's a good guy and has promised to pass on any leads on good used buses.

I've pretty much ruled out a coach/conversion. I like the ground clearance of a skoolie as I plan to be doing some out-of-the-way boondocking. Besides, I'm no senior citizen/rock star.

I've decided on a 36ish foot diesel pusher. I'm not looking to do a Newell or Marathon build here. I've tried to find answers to these questions. My GoogleFu is failing me.

Questions...

How do people generally deal with gearing issues? Trip/commuter models are much more rare than your typical route buses. They also tend not to be licensed as "school buses" and are usually really tired when sold. Decent units seem to be selling close to coach prices. Is swapping gears in the diff a real possibility? How about swapping in a 6spd gearbox? I definitely want a solid highway bus. Pushing 10 mpg would be an amazing (unrealistic?) benefit. Rough cost of turning a skoolie into an OTR monster?

How much does it roughly cost to contract a pro to raise the roof? I'm 6'3" and tend to bang my head on things as it is. A 7' interior height is sufficient. I don't think I want to tackle that by myself or I'm likely to end up with a convertible. Is this something a good general welding/sheet metal shop can handle? Will I have to source a coach builder? I'm just trying to put a budget together here.

Roof-top platform? I'm considering a half-length rear platform. Downsides? Other thoughts?

Air conditioning? Why are roof-top units so popular? Who needs 13k btu to cool 200 sq ft? A 5000 btu household window unit, fit into the wall of the bus, should be plenty to cool at least the sleeping area (if not the entire bus). I don't care if I'm a bit sweaty during the day. That 5000 btu unit will pull <500w besides. Am I missing something here?

Air Suspension? I know, I know. I might as well just get a coach, right? Hear me out. My thinking is the ability to drop the bus on the highway but gain clearance while in national parks and rougher areas. Besides, an air suspension will ride a whole lot nicer than leaf springs. Would it make leveling easier? I've seen RV air suspension kits listed online. Anyone play with air on a skoolie before? Am I out of my mind?

Off-grid Power? I may be off-grid for as long as 2 weeks at a time. Anyone successfully mix solar AND a wind turbine? A primary component of this adventure will be my photography. I'll want to spend a bunch of time cataloging and editing my work. I plan on taking a genset with me but would like to stay as green as possible.

Mobile Internet Access? Anyone have any luck/experience with a satellite ISP? I'll want to be uploading my photography and maybe a video blog while on the road. I'll also have to video conference occasionally. Technically, I'll still be consulting during this adventure.

Wow! This has turned into War & Peace. Sorry it's so long!

Thanks in advance for any help/insight you can give!

~Alden
BusFiend is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 06:51 PM   #2
Bus Crazy
 
Scooternj's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2014
Location: EHT New Jersey
Posts: 1,134
Year: 2003
Coachwork: AmTran
Chassis: International 3000RE
Engine: T444E/AT545
Rated Cap: 75
I get 10 MPG with the 4 speed AT545 I have mated to the T444E engine in my bus, an Amtran RE. For more gears, find a bus with either an MT643 or MD3060 transmission. The Rockies and Southwest are good for finding regular school buses with highway gearing.

Check sites like publicsurplus.com and Govdeals.com; don't limit yourself to just one geographic area. Buses in the Rockies, Southwest, and West Coast tend to be more rust free than those in the Northeast or Rust Belt.

A cheap window unit may cool the bus...AFTER extensive gutting and reinsulation. That cheap fiberglass sucks, and the steel wall and ceiling pieces create a great thermal bridge. Gutting also has the advantage of eliminating that bridge, because you can then use a non-conductive material for strapping across the ribs.
__________________
Hey! That's not an RV, that's a school bus.
Well thank you for noticing, Captain Obvious

Captain Obvious on deviantArt
Scooternj is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 07:10 PM   #3
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Garden State (rural NJ)
Posts: 383
Thanks, Scooternj!

Good to know about the engine/tranny combinations. I am looking far outside my home locale. The couple of buses I've looked at here in Jersey have been full of under-carriage rot. It's crazy! Thanks for the links!

I plan a complete gut and insulation install, probably spray. Buses are certainly not designed for their thermal performance. It's actually a priority for me as it will be my full-time home in less than perfect climates. If I can't keep things cool/warm then I'm in trouble!

Do most just use wood for internal sheathing or are there other/better alternatives?



Quote:
Originally Posted by Scooternj View Post
I get 10 MPG with the 4 speed AT545 I have mated to the T444E engine in my bus, an Amtran RE. For more gears, find a bus with either an MT643 or MD3060 transmission. The Rockies and Southwest are good for finding regular school buses with highway gearing.

Check sites like publicsurplus.com and Govdeals.com; don't limit yourself to just one geographic area. Buses in the Rockies, Southwest, and West Coast tend to be more rust free than those in the Northeast or Rust Belt.

A cheap window unit may cool the bus...AFTER extensive gutting and reinsulation. That cheap fiberglass sucks, and the steel wall and ceiling pieces create a great thermal bridge. Gutting also has the advantage of eliminating that bridge, because you can then use a non-conductive material for strapping across the ribs.
BusFiend is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 07:29 PM   #4
Bus Geek
 
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Columbus Ohio
Posts: 4,969
Year: 1991
Coachwork: Carpenter
Chassis: International S3800
Engine: DT360
Rated Cap: 7 Row Handicap
I'll add to the A/C discussion.. since its one of my passions..

a stock bus is more like a car when it comes to A/C.. a standard compact car has about 9k BTU of air conditoning in it.. a suburban will typically run 18-24k of air..

an airport shuttle cutaway van will typically run 40k..

a dull size modern school bus (12 row) in school service will have 80-120k btu of A/C.

I just repaired a ThermoKing unit on a 2004 Thomas for a friend of mine... the bus is a 12 row conventional with tinted windows and white roof.. it has 2 TK units at 60k each.. the front one went down.. with just the rear one it was still pretty roasty in the driver seat and first 3 rows of seats.. by the 4th row it was a little better... in the back it was nice and cool... but that unit ran full out... and that was an empty bus.. however its a bus with less than 40,000 original miles and is stored indoors so its basically like new, still seals tight and hasnt been beat up

granted these are designed to cool a bus down quickly and keep it cool wit ha full load of kids.. but you get the idea .. you also hve engine heat to deal with..

if you tint or remove some of the windows and insualte properly as others have mentioned you have a shot a cooling a parked bus (slowly.. or maintaining temperature) with a single 12k unit... but dont plan on letting that bus get baked hot inside and then cool it down quick... not happening...

roof decks , tarps, and shade all help make it easier to cool your bus.. if you are looking for road A/C.. you need a lot of BTU just to overcome engine heat, hot / humid air infiltration from the 65 MPH "wind" constantly hitting the bus.. and of course road heat on the floors..

-Christopher
cadillackid is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 07:51 PM   #5
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Garden State (rural NJ)
Posts: 383
Thanks for this!

I hadn't really thought about road AC. Almost all the buses I've ever driven had that from the factory. Doh! But a skoolie may likely NOT have it. On my list of things to watch out for when purchasing.

I was thinking more of a cooling solution when parked as a home base for a while. If I have shore power, a heat pump/split may be an option. I'm certainly not installing chillers and exchangers in a skoolie!



Quote:
Originally Posted by cadillackid View Post
I'll add to the A/C discussion.. since its one of my passions..

a stock bus is more like a car when it comes to A/C.. a standard compact car has about 9k BTU of air conditoning in it.. a suburban will typically run 18-24k of air..

an airport shuttle cutaway van will typically run 40k..

a dull size modern school bus (12 row) in school service will have 80-120k btu of A/C.

I just repaired a ThermoKing unit on a 2004 Thomas for a friend of mine... the bus is a 12 row conventional with tinted windows and white roof.. it has 2 TK units at 60k each.. the front one went down.. with just the rear one it was still pretty roasty in the driver seat and first 3 rows of seats.. by the 4th row it was a little better... in the back it was nice and cool... but that unit ran full out... and that was an empty bus.. however its a bus with less than 40,000 original miles and is stored indoors so its basically like new, still seals tight and hasnt been beat up

granted these are designed to cool a bus down quickly and keep it cool wit ha full load of kids.. but you get the idea .. you also hve engine heat to deal with..

if you tint or remove some of the windows and insualte properly as others have mentioned you have a shot a cooling a parked bus (slowly.. or maintaining temperature) with a single 12k unit... but dont plan on letting that bus get baked hot inside and then cool it down quick... not happening...

roof decks , tarps, and shade all help make it easier to cool your bus.. if you are looking for road A/C.. you need a lot of BTU just to overcome engine heat, hot / humid air infiltration from the 65 MPH "wind" constantly hitting the bus.. and of course road heat on the floors..

-Christopher
BusFiend is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 08:49 PM   #6
Bus Crazy
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Winlcok, WA
Posts: 1,450
Unless you like to spend $$$$ I would say forget any coach A/C in a school bus. In most cases, by the time the bus hits the used market the A/C unit is going to need a lot of work--compressor, condenser fans, hoses, etc. Figure on at least $1K per year to keep it going once it has been all brought back to life.

For the same $$$ you can get a decent A/C unit that will keep the bus cool under almost any condition and not break the bank doing it. Some of the new split units are very cost effective, quiet, and cool really well.

Most school buses are built to go to and from school routes with lots of stops. As a consequence most are not geared to go very fast. To regear a bus in order for it to be able to cruise at highway speeds can cost anywhere from $2K-$5K depending upon how much you have to pay for the new gear set. BTDT and I have the T-shirt to prove it!

With school buses it isn't just a matter of regearing in order to go highway speeds. If you have driven coaches then you know they have pretty big engines. It takes a lot of HP and torque to get 25,000+ lbs. up to highway speed and to keep it going that fast. Most school buses generally do not have as much as 250 HP. Many don't even have 200 HP. In other words, without doing something to the engine you will have the gears to go fast but you won't have the horses to do so.

So now you have spent $$$ on regearing and upping the HP on the engine. Now every hill you come to you have to back off the throttle because you are either overheating the engine coolant or your exhaust gas temperatures are getting into the meltdown neighborhood.

What I am saying is finding a bus that is already set up to go highway speed is going to be a lot less expensive, even if you have to pay a hefty premium for it. Remember, a trip bus that spent the majority of the service life taking teams hither and yon will have had a lot easier life than a route bus that went five miles and then got shut off ten times a day.

I doubt you will find any commercial shop that will take on the liability of raising the roof on a bus. Product liability has become a major issue in almost every business. Changing something from what it was to something new and different is going to be way outside the product liability insurance coverage of most businesses. In order to protect themselves they would need to provide engineering plans, side loading data, roof crush data, etc. If you can't raise the roof yourself then you need to find a high ceiling version of the bus you want. Look for buses with 12" window openings. 3" over standard could be the difference between always scraping your head and not scraping your head.
cowlitzcoach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 08:58 PM   #7
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 252
I'll try to tackle a few of these...

Regarding gearing/regearing, you have a couple of options. If you go looking for a school bus that has an Allison MD3060 or similar these are six-speed automatic transmissions although the top gear is programmed out for school buses. Fortunately it's only an electronic defeat so it can be re-enabled and the biggest hurdle is red tape. If it's paired to a sufficiently beefy engine and decent differential gearing then you should be able to move down the road just fine. Unfortunately, such setups are fewer and far between because, well, they're school buses not tour buses. They usually have underpowered engines and deep gearing to compensate because they won't see 55mph but a few times in their life as a school bus. Regearing a differential is possible but spendy and makes me wonder if at that rate it may not be worthwhile to investigate cost of salvaging a pusher drive axle from a tour coach assuming things would bolt up.

Not sure there is such a thing as a 'roof raise pro' but if he/she exists they'll be here! Understanding that school buses are constructed from single piece bows bent into U shape to create wall and ceiling without joints, as soon as you start cutting it up you're eliminating the most fundamental structural element that makes school buses the safest vehicles on the road in spite of their lack of seat belts. That being said, once you eliminate the safety cage concern it's mostly time, patience, and metal working experience to raise a roof. I have my own theories about this but right now they are not proven in real life so I'll defer to others who've actually lifted a roof to provide real world feedback.

Roof platforms kind of go the same route as roof raises... Some people insist they're impractical while others say they're invaluable. I would just point out that if you raise the roof, then also add a deck, you're probably tempting fate. The raised roof is now unproven in its strength and combining that with the weight of a deck seems somehow foolhardy. Even without a roof raise, roof decks and roof racks make for serious potential stability issues with the top heavy weight, reduced aerodynamics (lol yeah aerodynamics with a bus) and increasing the rate of body roll with every turn.

Air ride suspension actually is pretty accessible although still not cheap I'm sure. There are air ride conversion systems that minimize the amount of modification required to obtain that air ride quality. If you do go with a diesel pusher, I'd suggest just adding air ride to the drive axle because the front axle with such light leaf springs will probably be surprisingly spft riding and the rear engine ends up acting as a cantilever.

Air conditioning is a creature comfort but you know what your comfort level is and where and what season you'll be in. As mentioned earlier, reinsulating would go a long way for both heating and cooling an otherwise steel can in the sunlight.

As long we're talking about sunlight, solar panels are trendy and I want to try this out someday myself but depending on how green you are with your energy usage will determine how effective solar panels will be in keeping up with your usage. I'd be interested in learning more about the wind turbine on a bus... I have a very humorous mental picture right now of a windmill on the roof until it hits the first overpass! Lol. Along with green living you may also consider your water system, harvesting and filtering and then treating and returning your water.

Staying connected via ISP may depend on how remote you want to be. If you still have cell phone signal then you'll probably have enough data for uploads and updates even if not for teleconferences. Satellite based Internet in my experience is slow and the bandwidth is metered so probably forget teleconferencing.

What's your master's degree in?
jake_blue is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 09:43 PM   #8
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Garden State (rural NJ)
Posts: 383
Thanks cowlitzcoach!

You make excellent points. Food for thought. When I first started driving, my boss had a fairly new 48 pass, IH front-engine diesel, he called a "commuter bus". It had a dual-range 5spd man. That bus governed out (very loudly) at 67mph in high gear. It ran strong, got 13ish mpg and few hills would effect it. It had a high ceiling and cold air. Except for not being a pusher, it would be mostly ideal. Finding a bus built for highway speed is the obvious way to go. Such a bus will probably have factory AC too.

I hadn't thought about a company's liability of raising the roof. Makes perfect sense today. A trip bus is probably the answer, as many have taller ceilings, basic overhead racks and belly storage. Probably a good donor chassis. Hmmm...

Thanks!


Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
Unless you like to spend $$$$ I would say forget any coach A/C in a school bus. In most cases, by the time the bus hits the used market the A/C unit is going to need a lot of work--compressor, condenser fans, hoses, etc. Figure on at least $1K per year to keep it going once it has been all brought back to life.

For the same $$$ you can get a decent A/C unit that will keep the bus cool under almost any condition and not break the bank doing it. Some of the new split units are very cost effective, quiet, and cool really well.

Most school buses are built to go to and from school routes with lots of stops. As a consequence most are not geared to go very fast. To regear a bus in order for it to be able to cruise at highway speeds can cost anywhere from $2K-$5K depending upon how much you have to pay for the new gear set. BTDT and I have the T-shirt to prove it!

With school buses it isn't just a matter of regearing in order to go highway speeds. If you have driven coaches then you know they have pretty big engines. It takes a lot of HP and torque to get 25,000+ lbs. up to highway speed and to keep it going that fast. Most school buses generally do not have as much as 250 HP. Many don't even have 200 HP. In other words, without doing something to the engine you will have the gears to go fast but you won't have the horses to do so.

So now you have spent $$$ on regearing and upping the HP on the engine. Now every hill you come to you have to back off the throttle because you are either overheating the engine coolant or your exhaust gas temperatures are getting into the meltdown neighborhood.

What I am saying is finding a bus that is already set up to go highway speed is going to be a lot less expensive, even if you have to pay a hefty premium for it. Remember, a trip bus that spent the majority of the service life taking teams hither and yon will have had a lot easier life than a route bus that went five miles and then got shut off ten times a day.

I doubt you will find any commercial shop that will take on the liability of raising the roof on a bus. Product liability has become a major issue in almost every business. Changing something from what it was to something new and different is going to be way outside the product liability insurance coverage of most businesses. In order to protect themselves they would need to provide engineering plans, side loading data, roof crush data, etc. If you can't raise the roof yourself then you need to find a high ceiling version of the bus you want. Look for buses with 12" window openings. 3" over standard could be the difference between always scraping your head and not scraping your head.
BusFiend is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 10:27 PM   #9
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Garden State (rural NJ)
Posts: 383
Thanks jake blue!

I've been reading a bunch of posts regarding the MD3060. Seems like a great solution if you can get 6th gear programmed in. I think I'm going to keep my out for a OTR trip bus. It might have a tallish (6'6") ceiling to begin with, eliminating any need to raise. That may be my solution. Maybe have air ride too?

I like the idea of setting up my tripod on a roof platform, avoiding any near obstacles for landscapes. I'll have to bat this around in my head a bit more. You're probably right about raising the roof and installing a platform. Doesn't sound all that smart.

I have my power requirements mostly figured out. A wind turbine would have to be removed (or at least lowered/retracted and covered) when traveling. It's something I would only use if in one place for a while.

Water is definitely on my mind. A 100 gal fresh tank is in the plans, with perhaps, a 5 gal jug inside for drinking water. Natural local sources could easily be used for light bathing and filtered drinking. I can easily live on 10 gal/day (or less). If I'm boondocking without any local source of water, I'll just have to limit my stay unless I can figure out how to reliably harvest. I've spent 6 weeks at a time on the Appalachian Trail. I understand at least the concept of resource management.

Personally, I love the idea of hitting the road with as little connectivity as possible. If it was only for the Summer, I could definitely get away with just a cellular connection (which I'd almost rather leave behind). I haven't heard many good things about satellite providers either. I'll have to do some more research.

Thanks again!


PS MBA For what it was worth...



Quote:
Originally Posted by jake_blue View Post
I'll try to tackle a few of these...

Regarding gearing/regearing, you have a couple of options. If you go looking for a school bus that has an Allison MD3060 or similar these are six-speed automatic transmissions although the top gear is programmed out for school buses. Fortunately it's only an electronic defeat so it can be re-enabled and the biggest hurdle is red tape. If it's paired to a sufficiently beefy engine and decent differential gearing then you should be able to move down the road just fine. Unfortunately, such setups are fewer and far between because, well, they're school buses not tour buses. They usually have underpowered engines and deep gearing to compensate because they won't see 55mph but a few times in their life as a school bus. Regearing a differential is possible but spendy and makes me wonder if at that rate it may not be worthwhile to investigate cost of salvaging a pusher drive axle from a tour coach assuming things would bolt up.

Not sure there is such a thing as a 'roof raise pro' but if he/she exists they'll be here! Understanding that school buses are constructed from single piece bows bent into U shape to create wall and ceiling without joints, as soon as you start cutting it up you're eliminating the most fundamental structural element that makes school buses the safest vehicles on the road in spite of their lack of seat belts. That being said, once you eliminate the safety cage concern it's mostly time, patience, and metal working experience to raise a roof. I have my own theories about this but right now they are not proven in real life so I'll defer to others who've actually lifted a roof to provide real world feedback.

Roof platforms kind of go the same route as roof raises... Some people insist they're impractical while others say they're invaluable. I would just point out that if you raise the roof, then also add a deck, you're probably tempting fate. The raised roof is now unproven in its strength and combining that with the weight of a deck seems somehow foolhardy. Even without a roof raise, roof decks and roof racks make for serious potential stability issues with the top heavy weight, reduced aerodynamics (lol yeah aerodynamics with a bus) and increasing the rate of body roll with every turn.

Air ride suspension actually is pretty accessible although still not cheap I'm sure. There are air ride conversion systems that minimize the amount of modification required to obtain that air ride quality. If you do go with a diesel pusher, I'd suggest just adding air ride to the drive axle because the front axle with such light leaf springs will probably be surprisingly spft riding and the rear engine ends up acting as a cantilever.

Air conditioning is a creature comfort but you know what your comfort level is and where and what season you'll be in. As mentioned earlier, reinsulating would go a long way for both heating and cooling an otherwise steel can in the sunlight.

As long we're talking about sunlight, solar panels are trendy and I want to try this out someday myself but depending on how green you are with your energy usage will determine how effective solar panels will be in keeping up with your usage. I'd be interested in learning more about the wind turbine on a bus... I have a very humorous mental picture right now of a windmill on the roof until it hits the first overpass! Lol. Along with green living you may also consider your water system, harvesting and filtering and then treating and returning your water.

Staying connected via ISP may depend on how remote you want to be. If you still have cell phone signal then you'll probably have enough data for uploads and updates even if not for teleconferences. Satellite based Internet in my experience is slow and the bandwidth is metered so probably forget teleconferencing.

What's your master's degree in?
BusFiend is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-20-2016, 10:31 PM   #10
Bus Nut
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Garden State (rural NJ)
Posts: 383
What is very frustrating is the complete lack of specs from sellers. It seems we're lucky to get a engine/tranny listing. Is there some way of deciphering the VIN or some other code? Sellers will often post pics of the manufacturer's build/VIN tags.

ETA: DANA has some of the Spicer diff specs online...
BusFiend is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


» Virginia Campgrounds

Reviews provided by

Powered by vBadvanced CMPS v3.2.3

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:38 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.