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Old 01-24-2015, 07:33 PM   #1
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Chassis: Crown Supercoach
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Arrow Hello! Intro, and planning questions!

Hello Skoolie.net!

First off: Thanks to everyone! I have been reading over (aka "lurking") for some time. There is a huge amount of information here! Thanks to everyone for posting, it's inspirational and has given me so many ideas, and I'm sure has already saved me countless mistakes!

After reading through so much here, I thought I'd post about my plans to see what you all think (with your collective hindsight) and to make sure I'm understanding what I've read correctly.

It's winter where I am, and since I don't have a heated space big enough for a bus, I figured I'd use this time to plan so that come spring I'm ready to pounce on that dream bus. I'm looking for something to part-time full-time in -- that is, live in full-time about half the year. Here's what I think I want and need:

1. Be set up to do extended "dry" boondocking on blm, fs, etc. land comfortability.
2. Be usable, secure and somewhat subtle in urban areas.
3. Be able to "get there." ie, be "tough" enough to travel on mountain and dirt roads. Not full-on driving-the-rubicon-style off-roading, but have the ground clearance to not bottom out or get high centred on less-improved or steep roads.
4. "highway" gearing -- North America is biiiiig, so geared to do 70-75 on the flats.
5. Storage and garage space for motorcycles, bicycles, kayak, & other assorted bulky outdoor gear, and tools.
6. Ability to tow
7. DIY mechanic-able to the extent possible.

So...
On body type:
I'm leaning towards a traditional front engine "dog nose" style bus for ease of engine/transmission access and ride height.

Seems like working on a flat front, front engine is a pain: doing maintenance requires contortions, as well as getting oil, grease and filth all over the living space. I'm less sure about FF/RE buses. They sort-of look like they have less ground clearance (but that's just an impression and not experience, would love to hear feedback) and it seems like engine access is more of a pain then a dog nose -- but not the dirt in the living space mess. Seems like their engine-cooling systems are more compicated, and I'm not sure what their transaxle deal is. I saw a gillig that was a traditional longitudinal driveline, just "backwards." Do the more modern FF/RE do it that way, or are they traverse mounted like a fwd car with expensive/complicated cv joints etc?

But then there's style... I looked at this gillig, but didn't go for it... and now regret it. My logical side screams "run away!!" ... but... they're so damn stylish, and have that tough reputation. It seems like the under-bus engine versions (crowns too) would be an absolute nightmare to try to maintain out there in the world -- am I wrong? How is it finding parts for those old 2-stroke Detroits? If I succumb to good looks and style (won't be the first time) and find a RE Gillig (are there RE Crowns?) I like, what should I look for? Engine/transmission combos that are good for 75mph? Nightmare setups to avoid?

More realistically, I'm leaning towards a dog nose front engine bus, ideally with a wheelchair lift for the bikes.

Seems like Ward/carpenter have a bad rep based on build quality and a recall some years ago. Correct?

Other majors seem about the same. Thomas, Bluebird, IC/AmTran... Any brand more likely to be screwed vs riveted, for my easy of gutting and inevitable multiple time take apart/put back cycles?

Seems like there's consensus among you all that the Allison MT6** or 2000 series transmissions are hands-down the way to go for highway speeds. Any other models worth looking for?

Engines: Everywhere I go, everyone likes a cummings, so I'll look for that. Failing that, some of you speak highly of the Internationals -- a T444E is basically the same as the ford 7.3 IDI, correct? Is that really enough power for a bus? If so, seems like parts availability and general familiarity would be easier with this one.Then the DT series is an entirely different design? Both with mechanical bosch IP's? Seems simple. Last on the desirability spectrum, folks here don't seem to like the Caterpillars. Is that right, or does anyone what to stand up for them... cus they're in a lot of buses. Seems like the parts are expensive and the hydraulic injector system is less reliable then a mechanical one. Wild cards: Mercedes? There's some Thomas's on govdeals with non-running mercedes diesels now. Everyone loves an OM617, but I have no idea what engine would be in a bus. Detroit 2 strokes? I don't know a thing about them and have never worked on a 2 stroke diesel. Worth the effort?

Suspension: Is air ride available? Worth looking for? Fun to wrench on? Can I adjust the ride hight for highway vs rough roads?

Brakes: Again, Air brakes? Should I get a non-com air brake endorsement (required in my state) while I have time for paperwork? Should I avoid air brake-equipped rigs? Seek them out?

On a related idea, should I re-domicile to Florida for paperwork? It's not that big a deal, have family there, and will def take the bus there. I understand it's cheaper registration and no air brake stuff for rv's. Other good states?

Well, that's a lot of mechanical questions! But, like building anything, the prep is where the work is, and a good foundation is worth the effort. I've spent a lot of time on sailboats (and will tow some small boats with this rig), so I'm comfortable with all the "off-grid" mechanicals -- dc electrical, water tanks, shade structures and so on, and I've shade-treed a couple diesels, burnt some wvo/wmo/atf and might again. But the first step is a bus, so I do appreciate anyone on here's thoughts and wisdom about bodies, chassis, engines and transmissions, cus I just haven't messed with them.

Thanks! Glad to be here!
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Old 01-24-2015, 10:57 PM   #2
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Welcome.
Glad to see so much thought put in!
I think your looking for a conventional "dog nose" is the way to go. For rough roads they are the clear choice in my opinion.
That said, my FE flat nose does fine around the farm here.
Air brakes are the best. Definitely get air brakes.
I personally.cant afford to fix the computer stuff and greatly prefer pre96 mechanical internationals or cummins.Air ride is nice but not necessary. Mostly they are non adjustable on school buses. Mine has air springs and it does ride nice!
I wanted a mechanical DT466 and found a sweet ward for a great price. Wards are just amtrans after like 1980 something.
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Old 01-24-2015, 11:41 PM   #3
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New here, dimensions

Hello,
Buying my first bus in a couple weeks and I'm wondering if anyone knows the approximate width and height inside for a 16 ft bus?
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Old 01-24-2015, 11:47 PM   #4
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Height should be around 74", more if its a "high headroom" model. They are 96" wide. around 10 foot to 10'6" tall. Is it a short, micro bus or a fullsize shorty?
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Old 01-25-2015, 05:01 AM   #5
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You have asked a lot of questions and I will try to answer some of them.

In regards to engines, inline engines pull better on hills. Not sure exactly why but on a hill an inline will out pull a V-engine of considerably more HP every time.

Cat engines are not bad engines. The problem is they don't call it Caterpillar gold for nothing. Think $$$ when you have to purchase parts. The most common were the 1160/3208 (not bad but can be real mosquito foggers), the 3116, or the 3126.

IHC engines are for the most part pretty good engines.

The T444(E) is basically the same engine as found in Ford products. Any of the speed equipment from Banks and other aftermarket product companies can be applied to the T444(E). E in all IHC engine identifiers equals electronic.

The DT466 has been around since the '50's in various configurations starting out in tractors and combines. It is one of the few wet sleeve engines available in the medium duty category. Over the years they have had several different injection pumps. Some were rotary/distributor types and others were inline. The DT360 is the little brother and it is a great engine as well. The DT530 is the bigger brother and it is a great engine too. The D denotes diesel, the T denotes turbo, and the A denotes aftercooler. The DTA versions are preferred over the just DT versions. They come in HP ratings from 140 to well over 300 HP.

Stay away from the IHC 9.0L V-8. It was not a good engine when it was new and forty years later parts and pieces are really hard to find.

The VT365/MaxxForce7 is similar to the Ford 6.0L engine. In some applications it isn't a bad engine but in most school buses it has been a disaster.

Cummins has made all sorts of different engine that have been used in school buses. Some have been great. Some have been boat anchors. The worst boat anchor was the 555 or triple nickel. It was great as a tractor or genset engine but would usually self destruct in school buses in about 70K miles.

The older C-160/170/180/190 engines weren't bad engines but parts and pieces were hard to find thirty years ago.

The 220 small cam engines are great engines but finding people who know how to make them run well are getting hard to find.

The big cam engines are great engines and variants of them are still being made.

The most common engine in school buses today is the 5.9/ISB engine. It is basically the same engine as used in Dodge pickups. Since they came in various versions from 140 HP to over 300 HP it is best to get one with more than 200 HP if you want to be able to maintain highway speeds.

The bigger brother to the 5.9L is the 8.3/ISC. It starts around 230 HP and goes up over 325 HP. Again, you want to find the bigger HP version if you can.

There are other engines, like the L-10/ISL, but I have never seen them in school buses.

Detroit Diesel 4-cycle engines rarely found their way into school buses with the exception of the 8.2L engine. It was another boat anchor like the IHC 9.0L and Cummins 555. It is best forgotten today since parts are few and far between.

DD 2-cycle engines are great engines if you understand them. They put out twice as much HP per cubic inch than a 4-cycle because they are making power on each engine stroke. The -53 series was found in some buses but they are sort of underpowered since few came with turbochargers and they defined screaming since they had a redline of 2750 RPM's. The -71 series was used in some school buses and almost every transit and motorcoach made from the '50's through the mid-'90's. Even some -92 series engines made it into some school buses. The biggest problem for the 2-cycle engines is they are a lot thirstier than a 4-cycle and pollute a lot more.

Mercedes-Benz made a few engines that were put in school buses. You will get widely divergent opinions on them. People either hated them or loved them. Their biggest problem is parts and service. You may or may not find someone at a Freightliner dealer who knows anything about them. You can just about forget even looking at a private shop for anyone who knows anything about them.

For your purposes you need to decide what will work best for you.

Crown and Gillig used mid-mount engines. Once they switched to diesel power the choices were limited to the DD 6-71, the 735 Cummins small cam, or the 855 Cummins big cam engines. Few came with the big cam because it was a $9K option back in the day. Gillig made more RE buses than they made mid-mount engine buses. Crown made a few RE buses towards the end of production particularly in their Super II model. No one else made a school bus with a mid-mount engine in more than just a handful of engineering proto-types. Working on a mid-mount engine is actually one of the easiest school bus engine locations there is. Floor boards access the few things that need to be access from above. 90% of everything can be reached through either the curb side or driver's side engine compartment door.

Regardless of manufacturer RE engines tend to have cooling problems stemming from the fact the radiator isn't standing up in front to have the air of forward travel going across it. On a hot day on a hard pull up a grade it is difficult to pull enough air across a radiator when the air is having to be pulled out of a low pressure zone at the rear of a bus. As a consequence cooling system maintenance on an RE bus is much more critical.

Conventional buses are the easiest on which to work if they have a tilt hood. Back in the day with steel fenders it wasn't quite as easy.

Regardless of engine make or model, all of the accessories are generally easy to access and can be accomplished with normal mechanic's tools. If you have pump or injector issues, unless you are really familiar with what you are doing it is best to leave that work to a professional. Mistakes can be very expensive.

Air brakes are probably the best choice for most conversions since moisture in an air brake system is normal and won't mess the system up nearly as badly as moisture in a hydraulic brake system. If you intend to do any wheel end work and your bus has 10-hole Budd wheels then you are going to have to invest in a compressor large enough to operate a 1" air gun to take the wheels on and off. Or you are going to have to invest in a torque multiplier. If your bus has spoke wheels wheel end work can be accomplished with normal hand tools as long as you can get a long enough cheater on the end of a breaker bar.
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Old 01-25-2015, 08:14 AM   #6
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Cowlitz- he's got a wealth of knowledge!
One of the most helpful forum members on here.
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Old 01-30-2015, 09:39 AM   #7
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Thank you everyone, I really appreciate the info!!
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Old 02-02-2015, 03:25 AM   #8
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What is the best way to power the small appliances in the bus the one that uses the most watts would probably be the little George Foreman which probably runs around 700 watts?, just a guess but I'd like a 1200 watt generator. I also use an electric blanket and mattress pad, lap top, phone, small fans, Magic bullet blender, etc. Solar generators are so expensive but gas generators seem kind of sketchy and a pain in the ass. I am planing on putting in radiant heat insulation through out and plan to spend the majority of my time in Cali, perhaps it would be best to just light candles for heat, live without the blender and george forman and just do my cooking on the charcoal grill outside and buy a small solar generator for my laptop and phone. How do you convert the bus to be able to plug into outlets at campsites or houses? Is there a way to store that power? Once again I have no idea what I'm doing here any advice is much appreciated.
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Old 02-02-2015, 04:05 AM   #9
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@yeggs, in addition to what Cowlitz said, Giligs are well known for being city buses(though they do make school buses) and International makes a buttload of buses and semi trucks. Also, International started out making combine harvesters, which worked in the fields all day, so they had to be tough. When he says that dog nose buses are better than flat noses for working on is the same as saying pick-up trucks are easier to work on than vans, just on a bigger scale. Many mechanics and those who work on their own vehicles usually hate vans and prefer trucks for this very reason. Crowns are very sought after and sometimes you can find one for a good price since they're being phased out in several states.

@Cowlitz, what on earth is mosquito foggers?
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Old 02-02-2015, 10:07 AM   #10
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Mosquito foggers are diesel engines that smoke so much on start up you can't see the bus.

The less smoke on start up and the sooner the smoke clears up the more likely the engine is tight and in good shape.

The bluer the smoke the more engine oil is present, most likely due to oil getting past the oil rings on the cylinders.

The blacker the smoke the more fuel you have that is unburned most likely due to restrictions in the air intake, hopped up injector pump, leaking injector, fouled injector, or low compression.

White smoke is generally moisture. Some white smoke is expected on start up due to condensation in the exhaust system. Continued white smoke is an indication of a leak from the cooling system into a combustion chamber.

I have known 3208's that when started completely enveloped the whole row of buses and then never stopped smoking until they were shut off.
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