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Old 11-17-2018, 09:52 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: Michigan
Posts: 19
Chassis: In the search...
Making the dream a reality

Hello all!

We are new to the site and this community, and want to start by thanking everyone for all of the information they so willingly share, the processes they document, all the photographs of what to expect along the way, and amazing friendliness!

My wife and I are from Michigan and have had a van or bus conversion in the back of our mind for a few years now and the right circumstances are about to happen to give us a chance at making it a reality, and in a more committed way than we initially were thinking -- going full-time! Our goal is to get this bus built ASAP, possibly with hiring out some of the work due to awesome Michigan winters. The ASAP part of the equation is due to a plan to sell our house in Spring before the market continues to tank. We're trying to come out as far ahead as possible to help fund this venture.

So, the hope is to find a solution by the time we need to move out. It'll be warmer by then and working outside becomes more feasible. My current expectation is to be able to work on this full-time starting in April. Until then, the plan is to make it my sole free-time focus and get done what I can.

Where we live now, the HOA will not allow a bus, so we're also on the search for a place to keep the bus close-by or somewhere we can move to where we can work on it next to the house. The cost in gas and time having to drive to it every day just doesn't make sense, if we can figure out a solution. We have a place we can keep the bus outside 30 minutes away, but haven't had much luck in the search for an indoor space (much less heated) for the winter months, especially if the bus ends up at 40' as the largest pole barn is usually 40' and won't fit. There's one heated inside possibility if we're willing to fork over the money and we get the bus before the last unit rents out, but it's 35 minutes away and expensive. Because I (main person doing the initial grunt work) will only have weekends and some evenings to work on it during the cold months, it makes paying for a heated space a half hour away not the best choice.

Anyone have any creative solutions they've come up with?

Our ideal base would be:
1990-2003 (pre-emissions)
Blue Bird, Thomas, Amtran, International, or similar
34-40' (preferably in the middle of this range for better turning radius)
Rear Engine
Higher HP Cummins ISC or DT466 (preferably mechanical, so up to ~1999)
AT643 or better Trans, preferably MD3060
Balanced rear-end ratio
Air Brakes
Air Bag Suspension
Underbelly through storage
Possibly A/C, depending on the setup (roof and not in the way of solar)

We're planning to do a roof raise, so the starting height isn't all that important.

We're planning on a Jeep Wrangler as a toad, which is part of the extra emphasis I've been placing on the engine and trans in my search.

The goal is a boon docking (off-road) setup capable of sustaining us for 3-4 weeks at a time (between bus moves, not Jeep runs) in hot or cold climates. For at least a few months a year, we'll be helping to build a community that is fairly remote and not parking lot-level. We'll have a serious solar system and battery bank setup (still researching), generator, radiant floor heating combined with 'something else' (not sure yet, whether wood stove or another option), and mini-split(s) for A/C.

We have a couple cats that'll be joining us on the journey, and a niece/nephew that will likely be visitors multiple times a year.

I'm still researching insulation options, but I'm steering clear of PSF based on what I've found. That just seems like bad news and potential health issues down the line, even if we are lucky enough to not be sensitive to the off-gassing chemicals. Over a decade after it's introduced and there's still no clear counter to safety concerns, tons of anecdotal accounts, and they've not reformulated it to exclude the problem chemicals. I'm leaning towards a hemp based solution that has an R4 value, as it doesn't seem there's any non-PSF solution with better R value fit for a bus.

Anyone have any recommendations or items we've missed?


We've been actively searching with our focus having turned to the southern middle of the country and west to the Pacific Northwest, as that's where the buses with the least rust and best capabilities and features seem to be. That's also where there are the most dealers in competition for these things, unfortunately.

We recently found one bus that meets most of our wants, aside from mid-range HP (250), electronic engine (2001 Cummins ISC), and no air bags. Also, it's on the large end at 40' though I'm suspecting that's where we'll land with what I've found in my search. With those items factored in, we're not sure if we should continue the search instead of having it inspected by a mobile diesel mechanic in preparation for a purchase commitment. I've read we can add air bags ourselves, whether paying someone (sounds pretty expensive) or doing it ourselves down the line depending how much we hate spring suspension. Any thoughts here on how realistic it is to continue the search for our unicorn?


Thanks for reading! This introduction is a bit late. I found this sub-forum after making an initial couple posts. With all of the research I've been doing, most of it has been "rabbit hole" type reading/watching where I'm going from links in one thread to another until I have too many tabs open to keep track of… or Google searching the site for what I'm looking for. Might have to dedicate some time to just exploring the forums!

Thanks again everyone! We look forward to becoming a part of the community. We only hope we can contribute some new/alternative solutions, ideas, and/or information that may help others!
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Old 11-17-2018, 09:58 PM   #2
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Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 7,988
Year: 1946
Coachwork: Chevrolet/Wayne
Chassis: 1- 1/2 ton
Engine: Cummins 4BT
Rated Cap: 15
Welcome to the Madness! --- Sounds like you have done a pretty good job on your homework. Knowing your wants and needs and use are critical...then study different units until you find the best match. And yes...the southwest/west (including Texas) will most likely yield better and more rust free units. Be prepared to travel as needed to get the "right" starter platform.


Best of luck on your hunt!
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Old 11-17-2018, 11:32 PM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 67
Welcome to the site. I like your preferences. I'd add you might want to keep Your eyes peeled for a Air ride rear suspension. Makes a bus ride and rive much better. parts of the vehicle don't come apart nearly as easily either.

I like your wanting to stay away from computers. Some of the early ones are not nearly as bad as you might think. I am a full time School bus driver. in the fleet that I drive we have a few 1999 and a 2000 Internationals that have the DT466E ,Auto trans Crusie control that works (64 MPH max) and rear air ride. They even get a bout 10 MPG.
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Old 11-18-2018, 12:04 AM   #4
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Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Eustis FLORIDA
Posts: 15,748
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freighliner FS65
Engine: Cat 3126
Rated Cap: 15
I wouldn't pass up a nicely maintained Cat 3126 if a deal pops up. They're pretty good.
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Old 11-18-2018, 10:23 AM   #5
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: Michigan
Posts: 19
Chassis: In the search...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tango View Post
Welcome to the Madness! --- Sounds like you have done a pretty good job on your homework. Knowing your wants and needs and use are critical...then study different units until you find the best match. And yes...the southwest/west (including Texas) will most likely yield better and more rust free units. Be prepared to travel as needed to get the "right" starter platform.

Best of luck on your hunt!
Thanks Tango! Madness - perfect, haha. I've already saved so much information from you in our notes. You're very generous with your information and it's much appreciated! Helped us nail down our target base, also.
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Old 11-18-2018, 10:34 AM   #6
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: Michigan
Posts: 19
Chassis: In the search...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mekanic View Post
Welcome to the site. I like your preferences. I'd add you might want to keep Your eyes peeled for a Air ride rear suspension. Makes a bus ride and rive much better. parts of the vehicle don't come apart nearly as easily either.

I like your wanting to stay away from computers. Some of the early ones are not nearly as bad as you might think. I am a full time School bus driver. in the fleet that I drive we have a few 1999 and a 2000 Internationals that have the DT466E ,Auto trans Crusie control that works (64 MPH max) and rear air ride. They even get a bout 10 MPG.

Thanks Mekanic! Thanks for the feedback on air ride. Definitely sounds like we should make it a must or plan for adding it later. It's on my checklist, but one of the less common features in conjunction with our other requirements. (RE being one of the biggest initial limiters.)

Thanks for the MPG feedback, also. I've only managed a rough idea from the various threads talking about engine/trans combos and it seems somewhat hard to nail down. The main deterrent from going electronic for me is the cost of spending more fixing it if something goes wrong and not being able to do the work ourselves. At least, it's nowhere near as easy.
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Old 11-18-2018, 10:42 AM   #7
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: Michigan
Posts: 19
Chassis: In the search...
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Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
I wouldn't pass up a nicely maintained Cat 3126 if a deal pops up. They're pretty good.
Thanks ECCB! There are tons of Cats out there, but from what I've read, it sounds like they're the least preferred because you're stuck dealing with their dealers/shops for the serious work and they charge slightly more hourly than other shops on top of it. Is that accurate?

My brother-in-law actually works for Cat and said he'd be able to pull the history, but being that we're in Michigan and looking far away, he's not going to be able to do much else for initial inspection or when we run across issues.
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Old 11-18-2018, 11:37 AM   #8
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Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Eustis FLORIDA
Posts: 15,748
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freighliner FS65
Engine: Cat 3126
Rated Cap: 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by PerfectInsanity View Post
Thanks ECCB! There are tons of Cats out there, but from what I've read, it sounds like they're the least preferred because you're stuck dealing with their dealers/shops for the serious work and they charge slightly more hourly than other shops on top of it. Is that accurate?

My brother-in-law actually works for Cat and said he'd be able to pull the history, but being that we're in Michigan and looking far away, he's not going to be able to do much else for initial inspection or when we run across issues.
The 3126 Cat is as good as any other school bus engine. I've had DT466's and T444E's and the Cat may well be my preference now. A lot of the hate is because there are definitely Cat engines to avoid. But if a really nice clean bus pops up don't let a 3126 scare you away if its been taken care of.
Got mine with 64k original miles for $1625.
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Old 11-18-2018, 02:05 PM   #9
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Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Picton,Ont, Can.
Posts: 1,228
Year: 1997
Coachwork: Bluebird
Chassis: GMC
Engine: Cat 3116
Rated Cap: 72
I was recently reading that CATS built prior to 2005 are pretty solid and after that year CAT quality diminished rather quickly, something about Chinese parts so they are now a rarity in mid size trucks and busses.
I swear by them because of the initial build quality and have a Yanmar, 2 Perkins 6 cyl marine diesels, and owned one Cummins many years ago.
The CAT is by far the strongest of all these, not that any of them are bad when properly used and maintained.


CB, funny how your opinion of CATS has changed, just look after yours and it will do the same.
Cheers,


John
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Old 11-18-2018, 07:43 PM   #10
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: Michigan
Posts: 19
Chassis: In the search...
Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
The 3126 Cat is as good as any other school bus engine. I've had DT466's and T444E's and the Cat may well be my preference now. A lot of the hate is because there are definitely Cat engines to avoid. But if a really nice clean bus pops up don't let a 3126 scare you away if its been taken care of.
Got mine with 64k original miles for $1625.

Sounds like you got an amazing deal! We'll keep that engine in mind and I'll start digging for more info. Something I'd already come across that I recall a discussion about was earlier versions of this engine having issues that were resolved in later (electronic-era, maybe?) production years. Any chance you've run across this info?
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