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Old 10-27-2018, 07:08 PM   #1
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Longtime Lurker, I finally created an account to get serious

Hello Everyone,



I've been lurking on this site for some years, having skoolie on the brain since my ill-spent youth traveling around (well mostly breaking down) in a '76 International quasi-Skoolie with some band mates.


I think I am finally ready to pull the trigger on buying a bus! My family is looking to convert a bus into an RV to use mostly for 1-4 week trips to various scenic locales, but also potentially to use as a tiny home for extended periods when we can acquire some land. We also are considering "retiring" the RV as a permanent "vacation home" on a plot of land somewhere when it nears the end of its useful mobile life (10-12 years?).



I think I've got the basics down in what to look for, but I could use some help in narrowing down the ideal set of specifications (engine, transmission, FE vs RE, size) for our use case.


Our primary requirements:


Highway friendly - I don't need to speed but I need to be able to hang with traffic on long cross country trips

Mountain friendly - we live at 7000', we have a family cabin in CO, and we want to make long road trips that will most likely involve one if not more mountain passes, I don't want to burn out an engine/transmission playing "I think I can" up the mountain

Space - we have 3 dogs and 3 people, and my wife would like as many amenities as possible (RR, Shower, Washer/Dryer) - I've been looking mostly in the 30-40' range though there seem to be some trade offs with the highway/mountain requirement here. I don't have a lot of heart burn about not getting in to every national park with a bigger bus.

Dirt Road Friendly - not looking at coaches or anything with minimal ground clearance as we'd like to handle at least moderately maintained dirt roads
Ceiling Clearance - I'm 6'4"


It'd be nice to have some towing capacity as well, but that's just gravy.



I anticipate putting between 4000-8000 miles per year on the bus as we have family in CA, SD, CO, SC, FL that we would want to regularly visit, most of these are looooong drives from NM. We'd also be using it for short camping trips throughout the year.



From what I can glean the priorities I should be focusing on in bus selection rely primarily on Engine/Transmission combos and avoiding rust. I trawl the sites I'm aware of (Craigslist, GovDeals, Ebay, PublicSurplus, ColoradoOnlineAuctions, PurpleWave, various used car outfits) pretty regularly looking for that magic combo, but I'm still not completely sure what I should be looking for, or how to prioritize engine/transmission/chassis/body/age/rust/milage/etc.



Based on what I've read I'm looking mostly at Cummins 5.9/8.3 or DT466 Engines with Allison Transmissions, though the perfect pairing for my needs (mtns + long hwy trips) escapes me. I'd love more HP/torque, but I'd also like a FE engine for ease of working in the engine compartment. I also have read that I should probably avoid a 545 Transmission as that is not highway suitable, but then it seems good for mountains, but will it burn out on me long term?? I'm trying to look for buses mostly in the west to avoid rust, but I'm also not entirely sure about model year, as that seems to play a role (mechanical engine vs not), and other things...


While I have some basic auto mechanic skills, I intend to hone them as part of this project, relying of help from friends with more skills and the occasional professional for more advanced work. When it comes to some of the finer details of transmissions, ratios, chassis, air vs hydraulic brakes, etc, I am forced to rely more on others advice, but I am trying to learn as fast as I can, especially so that I do NOT buy the wrong bus for my stated purposes.



I'm actively looking, but willing to wait for the "right" bus. I'm figuring on 2-3 years for complete build out, and budgeting ~$20K for the project, expecting it to go over. I'd like it to run for at least 10 years after completion. I definitely have gotten the message that auctions are where the best deals are to be found.



I'm agnostic about manufacturer as long as it is a solid bus but I find I've been looking at a lot of Blue Birds and I'll always have a soft spot of Internationals, even though that beast seemed to eat belts for breakfast.


I'd appreciate any help/feedback on what good engine/transmission combos would be good for my requirements and any other helpful ideas of areas I should be focusing on/prioritizing based on what I've described.


It's great to finally actively join the community.


Cheers!
Marc
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Old 10-27-2018, 10:32 PM   #2
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I'd look for a well-spec'd conventional "dog nose" style bus in whatever length you like. A Cummins, Cat, or International would be a good choice up to about 2004.
A 545 sucks at highway speeds AND it sucks equally in the mountains. They're THE least desirable transmission choice in a bus.
My bus has one. Its a short bus so I'm living with it till I can afford a 643 to swap in.
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Old 10-28-2018, 06:12 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
I'd look for a well-spec'd conventional "dog nose" style bus in whatever length you like. A Cummins, Cat, or International would be a good choice up to about 2004.
A 545 sucks at highway speeds AND it sucks equally in the mountains. They're THE least desirable transmission choice in a bus.
My bus has one. Its a short bus so I'm living with it till I can afford a 643 to swap in.

Thanks for the reply EastCoast!

What would be the most desirable transmission for hwy + mtns?
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Old 10-28-2018, 06:39 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
I'd look for a well-spec'd conventional "dog nose" style bus in whatever length you like. A Cummins, Cat, or International would be a good choice up to about 2004.
A 545 sucks at highway speeds AND it sucks equally in the mountains. They're THE least desirable transmission choice in a bus.
My bus has one. Its a short bus so I'm living with it till I can afford a 643 to swap in.


Yep, I agree
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Old 10-28-2018, 07:55 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by knandermueller View Post
Thanks for the reply EastCoast!

What would be the most desirable transmission for hwy + mtns?
3060 is the best, but a 2000 or 643 are both great too. 2000 has OD, 643 is 1:1 like the 545 but stronger and has luckup TC.
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Old 10-28-2018, 08:34 AM   #6
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There's no magic answer to your question. I wanted a lot of what you wanted and I just had to look around. It would seem that when a bus was spec'd from the factory, you could start out with the basic chassis or model, and then check off any of a whole bunch of options. Thus, in my case, I have a 2004 IC CE300 72 passenger with 6'5" headroom, DT466E, AD2000, three interior heaters, and no A/C. That doesn't mean that every 2004 IC CE300, even of the same passenger size, will have the same headroom, engine, transmission, and climate control package.

But of course I can tell you that it is possible to have that stuff, because I have it. I'm 6'2", my wife is 6'3", our son is probably going to grow up to be taller than us both... so we looked for a bus with high headroom. This one gives us at least 6'5" based on an informal measurement. The stepwell is the widest I've seen, which is good if you or anyone else likely to ride in this bus regularly happen(s) to be an unusually wide person. I'm not positive how the powertrain would handle mountains - I know that on flat road it will pull strong up to its governed maximum of 65 mph, but it tends to lope in high gear even on a relatively small incline. It'll kick down to 4th gear around 55 mph and I would say that it could handle a fairly steep hill as such. The DT466E engine is so named because it displaces 466 cubic inches, which by my estimation is 7.6 litres. This gives it a displacement advantage over other common engines like the 5.9 Cummins, T444E, VT365, etc. The 8.3 Cummins is bigger, but very rare, and mostly found in really big rear engine buses as far as I've been able to tell.

I get 11 mpg without even trying to conserve fuel, and even if a 65 mph maximum won't mix it up with people going 80 in a 75, do you really want to be driving a 10+ ton vehicle at 80 mph? From my perspective, if you have to drive your bus that fast, it's your life you have to adjust, not the top speed of your bus.

I think mine has fine ground clearance. I'm not a small dude, and I can slide underneath it even with the air suspension deflated without having to put it on jacks. I can even sit up underneath it on the sides.

Don't knock the Internationals of relatively recent years just because one that was ~20-30 years older than anything you'd realistically buy these days used to eat belts. I'm sure that that engine was carbureted and gasoline-powered... and modern diesels are neither.

I like the one I have, but you may prefer something different. My mother-in-law, a bus driver for 15 years, said she always preferred the feel of conventional ("dog nose") front-engine buses because you had more "stuff" in front of you to absorb impact in case of an accident.
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Old 10-28-2018, 10:24 AM   #7
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Side Note...


If looking for a Colorado/mountain friendly bus...shop Colorado.


Many of the Skoolies from there are ordered with most of the right equipment & options to handle mountain driving (more HP, better trans, better brakes, retarders, etc.).
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Old 10-28-2018, 10:29 AM   #8
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Kentucky is another state to shop for hill-friendly busses.. they tend to over-buy.. i see lots of RE busses with high torque engines and lockup transmissions in that state. they also dont seem to use as much salt there as they do in some of the other northern states.. the downside is they do tend to hang onto to their busses longer than some states.. though several people in my various enthusiast groups have scored nice nusses by poking around some of the larger districts directly vs just the auctions..



as stated colorado has some good mountain busses as well..

-Christopher
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Old 10-28-2018, 01:15 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RomaniGypsy View Post
Don't knock the Internationals of relatively recent years just because one that was ~20-30 years older than anything you'd realistically buy these days used to eat belts. I'm sure that that engine was carbureted and gasoline-powered... and modern diesels are neither.
Not knocking Internationals, I do have a very soft spot for International because of all the good times on that bus; even memories of 3AM emergency head gasket replacements done in a Tucson junk yard in sub-40 degree temperatures have a fondness to them 20 years later That WAS a carburated, gasoline powered bus BTW.

I found an old snapshot of it from our ancient website on the wayback machine:

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 12.02.54 PM.png

Speaking of CO buses, what do you think of this one?: https://www.govdeals.com/index.cfm?fa=Main.Item&itemid=113&acctid=9567

It looks like this has the DT466 at least, no contact info to email, but I sent a msg requesting what transmission it has.

There is also this one though it is not a dog nose, it seems to have the right transmission and engine combo, I do worry about rust since it is from Washington.:https://www.govdeals.com/index.cfm?f...34&acctid=8445

How do you guys feel about buses from Ohio, I've been seeing a lot on GovDeals lately. Obviously not a lot of hills in OH. I've read to stay away from Kentucky and the like due to the humidity/rust issue?
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Old 11-04-2018, 12:51 AM   #10
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Since the bus in WA has sold it is sort of moot point now. But some of the things that were in favor of purchase IMHO. First, it was a WA state spe'c bus so it would have had a minimum of 210 HP in that model year. It may have had as much as 250 HP. Second, since it saw service in WA it would have had very little rust. Third, it was a high roof model. Fourth, it had air brakes.

The in CO has some real potential if you don't mind the low roof model. First, since it is a CO it most likely has in addition to air brakes it will have some sort of auxiliary braking system. Whether that took the form of a transmission retarder (good), engine retarder (better), or a driveline retarder like a Telma unit (best) any sort of auxiliary braking system is a good thing to have if you intend to drive in the mountians. Second, since it is a full size bus with a DT466 it will have the MT643. Third, it has skirt mounted luggage compartments which suggests it was purchased to do double duty as a trip bus so it most probably is geared to go faster than 55 MPH.

Personally I don't like Blue Birds. Part of my dislike is definitely a Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge sort of dislike. Part of what I don't like about BB's is the eyebrows over the windows. Without a full length drip rail the body has a tend to do a lot of flexing above the windows. I have seen BB's that have seen service on routes that were off pavement that had stress tears in the metal going up from the eyebrows. One district locally orders their BB's with an addition rub rail above the windows to stop that problem. IC/Ward/AmTrans and Thomas have drip rails so that isn't a problem with them.

I do not like the Thomas C2 buses. The early ones had some real teething problems with the multiplex electrical system. I am sure they have all been fixed but that is something to consider. For that matter I would not want to try and mess with any bus with a multiplex electrical system. Some who post on this website are real electronic geeks and thrive on working on that stuff. I am old school and would rather not have to learn all of that geed stuff.

As far as the older Thomas buses are concerned, for the most part they are really nice buses.

Ward was a great bus body builder for many years until they got into financial problems in the late '70's and early '80's. Those problems were somewhat solved when IHC purchased a part of the company and the name was changed to AmTrans. Some of the buses built in the last days of Ward and through the transition to AmTrans were really poorly built buses. Quality control was not in their lexicon. The later AmTrans and particularly after IHC purchased the rest of AmTrans and changed the name to IC Bus the IC buses really became great buses. So depending upon the year a Ward/AmTrans/IC bus could be really good or really bad.

As far as engines are concerned, stay away from V-8's of any make. I would also stay away from Brazilian Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Cat, and the 4-cycle Detroit Diesels. It isn't that those other makes are bad engines. For the most part they are okay for what they are. But parts and service tend to be much more expensive and harder to find. Qualified service techs for IHC or Cummins engines can be found just about anywhere. Finding qualified service techs for the others, not so much.

Good luck and keep us posted as to your progress.
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