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Old 10-25-2016, 12:41 PM   #1
Bus Crazy
 
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Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Essex, MD
Posts: 1,837
Year: 1999
Chassis: Blue Bird TC RE 3904, Flat Nose, 40', 277" wh base
Engine: 8.3L Cummins ISC 260hp, AT643, 4.44 rear
Rated Cap: 84 pax or 1 RV; 33,000lbs
Newbie to buses and RVs alike...

So, I read a blog from a guy that converted a bus to an RV as his Master's thesis. He did a decent job on the interior but left many things out for a full time RV/house such as potable water tanks, shower, etc. Even so, his 185hp bus was woefully under powered for mountains. My goal would be a bus that could be lived in for months at a time if not permanently. I'm many years away from being able to build/afford something but gotta start somewhere.

Several newbie questions:
1) Interior height... I've seen here that they are generally 6'3"+. As I'm 6'2", the plusser the better. What mfg/model should I be looking for? It's been many years since I was last on a yellow painted bus.

2) Engine... If memory serves, I think there are both gas and diesel variants. Is that still true? Are there bigger engines available cheaply? I know my way around a crescent wrench so if it's cheap and easy enough an engine swap would be possible.

3) This I will probably find in a search easily enough but someone has a handy dandy link to the local gurus of the site... what is used for insulation between the roof and ceiling? All the way around I guess (sides and floor), you don't want to give up too much space.

4) Now the real flamer question... why a school bus as opposed to a tour bus? Are they cheaper, easier to maintain, etc. I'll concede the cool factor.
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Old 11-08-2016, 03:20 PM   #2
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Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Essex, MD
Posts: 1,837
Year: 1999
Chassis: Blue Bird TC RE 3904, Flat Nose, 40', 277" wh base
Engine: 8.3L Cummins ISC 260hp, AT643, 4.44 rear
Rated Cap: 84 pax or 1 RV; 33,000lbs
Got the go ahead from the GF

Some more back-story, ... officially divorced since March of this year. Money well spent so don't say sorry. Have a new GF for about 2 yrs now. No, it's not as bad as it sounds. MD requires a one yr separation and the paperwork was hung up in the court for 6 months waiting on a $20 fee to be paid that no one knew about.

The new GF and I have decided we want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in '18. At the conclusion of the hike, we are wanting to move to the PNW. Before we can do any of that, I have a house that I need to sell. The ex may soon force the issue. Long story short, I might break even with the house. I have no attachment to it. The ex pushes the issue and she becomes responsible for half the repairs and half of the debt. Her lawyer isn't the sharpest tack. So, why am I here?

Well, to my warped way of thinking, this is the perfect time to buy a bus and convert it to an RV. I've been looking at RV for awhile now. I've looked at converting the new Ford Transits. But OMG those things are are pricey. The plan would be to buy a bus now (cash) and have until Spring '18 to convert it. Store it somewhere. Most likely my mom's, who conveniently lives near the start of the A.T.

The idea of LIVING in an RV doesn't bother me in the least. The GF isn't so sure but is open to giving it a try. Live in the bus in WA while looking for a place to live and jobs once out there. Maybe even getting on the bandwagon with the tiny houses. Buying/building/converting one as a base camp for when not on the road in the bus.

After seeing some of the conversions on here and being appointed Interior Decorator, she's liking the idea. I can't park a bus at my house so storage while working on it would be an issue too. I'd need to find a lot that allows work to be done. Preferably one with electric but if not I have a 5500W genny to power tools.

Aside from having a site for the bus, about the only thing holding me back is Question #1 from above. What is the tallest full size skoolie out there? Blue Bird brochures say 77" for today's buses. Thomas says 78". From everything I've seen here regarding Question #3, everyone is raising the floors the width of a 2x4 whether they are framing or using just rigid insulation. I have not yet searched what is being done on ceilings. If I'm losing another 3 1/2 inches then I'm screwed and will have to raise the roof. For obvious reasons, I'd rather avoid that. Raising looks like the only real option.

Question #2 I've figured out. I want diesel anyway unless someone can convince me otherwise. And I don't think I'm driving a million miles so I'm willing to go skoolie unless a coach falls in my lap.

So, with all of that said, what are the engine/tranny combos, is RE better than FE mechanically, for conversions, or is it just personal tastes and aesthetics?
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Old 11-08-2016, 04:50 PM   #3
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You have raised a lot of questions, all of them good.

To start with, there is no one bus that is the best bus. Which is why school buses come in four different types with variations within the type with various lengths and number of seating positions.

There is a quantum leap in expense between a school bus and a motorcoach. Medium duty vs. heavy duty, 2-axles vs. 3-axles, heavy weight vs. really heavy weight, route gearing vs. highway gearing, thousands made vs. hundreds made, service life of 13-20 years with 10K miles per year vs. 8-12 years with 10K miles per month all work towards making the school bus a much better candidate for conversion.

There are some school buses, usually Type 'D' rear engine buses (RE), that are set up with big HP engines and highway gearing. They generally command a much higher price in the used market mostly due to how few of them there are compared to how many people want them.

When new Type 'D' FE buses generally cost $5K-$10K more than a Type 'C' bus with about the same number of seating positions and a Type 'D' RE bus generally cost $5K-$10K more than an identical FE bus. Generally speaking, a 12-row bus has the same interior volume regardless of where the engine is located. The differences is the Type 'D' bus will be 5'-7' shorter for the same number of seats and all of the length of a Type 'D' bus is inside. Also, while the Type 'C' bus tops out at 12-rows, the Type 'D' bus can have as many as 15-rows. The 15-row bus is the longest school bus made and is generally 40' long. There are some trip buses that are 40' long but have only 12-rows of seats in order to maximize the space between seats.

All of the major engine companies have been OEM engine suppliers to all of the bus OEM's. Everyone has preferences but the ones to avoid are made by Cat and Mercedes-Benz. It isn't that they are bad engines. It is just trying to get parts and service for them is not cheap or easy. Cummins and IHC have dealers , authorized dealers, and authorized service centers all over which tends to make parts, pieces, and service/repair much easier to find and much less expensive. Regardless of make, you will want at least 250 HP. 275 HP would be better and 300+ HP would be GREAT! Remember the hot rodders creed--you need cubic inches. A 5.9L 250 HP engine is not going to pull as well as an 8.3L 250 HP engine--on paper it may look equivalent but in practice it just isn't equal.

Almost all full size buses have used Allison automatic transmissions as the standard option. There are a few that have used other vendors but there is a reason why most have stuck with Allison. The newer World/MD series of transmissions are better because those transmissions are equipped with at least one OD gear. Of the older AT/MT/HT series, they are all good for what they are. Of them, the AT500 series is the baby in the bunch and it is not as capable as the others. It will still do yeoman service but it just isn't as capable--it does not have any lock up and as a consequence it does tend to run pretty warm and it doesn't hold back going down hill as well as the others do.



As tall as you are if you decide to purchase a school bus you probably should plan on raising the roof or living hunchbacked in your bus.
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Old 11-10-2016, 10:02 AM   #4
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Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Essex, MD
Posts: 1,837
Year: 1999
Chassis: Blue Bird TC RE 3904, Flat Nose, 40', 277" wh base
Engine: 8.3L Cummins ISC 260hp, AT643, 4.44 rear
Rated Cap: 84 pax or 1 RV; 33,000lbs
Thx for the info...
Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
There is a quantum leap in expense between a school bus and a motorcoach. Medium duty vs. heavy duty, 2-axles vs. 3-axles, heavy weight vs. really heavy weight, route gearing vs. highway gearing, thousands made vs. hundreds made, service life of 13-20 years with 10K miles per year vs. 8-12 years with 10K miles per month all work towards making the school bus a much better candidate for conversion.
Yeah, I'm pretty much sold on the idea of a skoolie at this point.

Quote:
There are some school buses, usually Type 'D' rear engine buses (RE), that are set up with big HP engines and highway gearing. They generally command a much higher price in the used market mostly due to how few of them there are compared to how many people want them.

When new Type 'D' FE buses generally cost $5K-$10K more than a Type 'C' bus with about the same number of seating positions and a Type 'D' RE bus generally cost $5K-$10K more than an identical FE bus. Generally speaking, a 12-row bus has the same interior volume regardless of where the engine is located. The differences is the Type 'D' bus will be 5'-7' shorter for the same number of seats and all of the length of a Type 'D' bus is inside. Also, while the Type 'C' bus tops out at 12-rows, the Type 'D' bus can have as many as 15-rows. The 15-row bus is the longest school bus made and is generally 40' long. There are some trip buses that are 40' long but have only 12-rows of seats in order to maximize the space between seats.
Is there a secret decoder ring (or list) of the type D buses? What does D stand for? Is it chassis code in the VIN or something?

I need to wander an auction, parking depot, bone yard, ... something. Does the RE bus have rear windows, rear doors? Rear windows in an RV are nice. I dunno if rear doors are a plus or not with cabinetry. A side emergency exit that can be made a second door might be nice too. Or might limit storage too. Aside from doors/windows in the rear, does one tend to be better for conversion than the other interior wise? Exterior storage space/tanks? Etc.? I understand the over all footprint is smaller with the same interior space. That is definitely a plus.

Quote:
All of the major engine companies have been OEM engine suppliers to all of the bus OEM's. Everyone has preferences but the ones to avoid are made by Cat and Mercedes-Benz. It isn't that they are bad engines. It is just trying to get parts and service for them is not cheap or easy. Cummins and IHC have dealers , authorized dealers, and authorized service centers all over which tends to make parts, pieces, and service/repair much easier to find and much less expensive. Regardless of make, you will want at least 250 HP. 275 HP would be better and 300+ HP would be GREAT! Remember the hot rodders creed--you need cubic inches. A 5.9L 250 HP engine is not going to pull as well as an 8.3L 250 HP engine--on paper it may look equivalent but in practice it just isn't equal.
I didn't realize the 8.3L was an inline 6 until just this week. That must have gobs of torque!!!

I've seen some posts about rear ends, bigger intercoolers, bigger injectors and the like. What is the aftermarket market like on buses?

Quote:
Almost all full size buses have used Allison automatic transmissions as the standard option. There are a few that have used other vendors but there is a reason why most have stuck with Allison. The newer World/MD series of transmissions are better because those transmissions are equipped with at least one OD gear. Of the older AT/MT/HT series, they are all good for what they are. Of them, the AT500 series is the baby in the bunch and it is not as capable as the others. It will still do yeoman service but it just isn't as capable--it does not have any lock up and as a consequence it does tend to run pretty warm and it doesn't hold back going down hill as well as the others do.
Is the secret decoder ring for trannies just MD then? I'm ok with a manual if I ever found one but the GF would hate it.

So, ... RE, 8.3L, 40' with O.D. in a Thomas since it's 78"?

Quote:
As tall as you are if you decide to purchase a school bus you probably should plan on raising the roof or living hunchbacked in your bus.
Living hunchbacked ain't happening. Either the floor isn't getting raised more than a couple of inches or the top is coming off.

Bought a MIG welder yesterday on the way home. Still need the argon bottle, gloves, mask, ... basically everything but I'm one step closer!!
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Old 11-10-2016, 12:06 PM   #5
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Engine: dt466
Rated Cap: 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brewerbob View Post
Thx for the info...
Yeah, I'm pretty much sold on the idea of a skoolie at this point.

Is there a secret decoder ring (or list) of the type D buses? What does D stand for? Is it chassis code in the VIN or something?

I need to wander an auction, parking depot, bone yard, ... something. Does the RE bus have rear windows, rear doors? Rear windows in an RV are nice. I dunno if rear doors are a plus or not with cabinetry. A side emergency exit that can be made a second door might be nice too. Or might limit storage too. Aside from doors/windows in the rear, does one tend to be better for conversion than the other interior wise? Exterior storage space/tanks? Etc.? I understand the over all footprint is smaller with the same interior space. That is definitely a plus.

I didn't realize the 8.3L was an inline 6 until just this week. That must have gobs of torque!!!

I've seen some posts about rear ends, bigger intercoolers, bigger injectors and the like. What is the aftermarket market like on buses?

Is the secret decoder ring for trannies just MD then? I'm ok with a manual if I ever found one but the GF would hate it.

So, ... RE, 8.3L, 40' with O.D. in a Thomas since it's 78"?

Living hunchbacked ain't happening. Either the floor isn't getting raised more than a couple of inches or the top is coming off.

Bought a MIG welder yesterday on the way home. Still need the argon bottle, gloves, mask, ... basically everything but I'm one step closer!!
You can use flux core, its not so bad as people make it out to be. Also you can use CO2 as a shielding gas. Cheaper than argon. Argon is usually for non-ferrous welds. At least in my limited experience.
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Old 11-10-2016, 12:10 PM   #6
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Magic decoder ring--now that is funny, I don't care who you are!

Type 'A' buses are built on van cut-away chassis. The driver has a door and the service door is behind the front axle and there is part of the engine inside and part of the engine is outside. GVWR are in the 9,000-14,000 lbs. range.

Type 'B' buses are built on a rail type OEM vendor supplied chassis. The most common being the GM/Workhorse P-30 chassis. The service door is behind the driver and behind the front axle. The engine is partly inside and partly outside. GVWR are in the 12,000-16,000 lbs. range.

Type 'C' buses are the most common of all buses made. The engine is outside under a hood, most usually a tilt hood. The service door is behind the front axle. The Type 'C' is also known as a conventional bus. Lengths vary greatly in order accommodate as few as 4-rows of seats to as many as 12-rows of seats. GVWR are in the 14,000-32,000 lbs. range.

Type 'D' buses are the most expensive of all school buses made. The front is flat with the service door in front of the front axle. The Type 'D' bus is also known as a transit or a pusher if it has a rear engine. The engines are in front (FE), the rear (RE), and sometimes between the axles. Lengths vary in order to accommodate as few as six rows of seats to as many as sixteen rows. GVWR are in the 16,000-36,000 lbs. range on two axles and as high as 56,000 lbs. with three axles.

All school buses have rear windows. RE buses have a rear emergency door that opens from above the engine house at the rear of the bus. All other buses, including the FE, have a rear emergency door that opens at the floor level unless the bus has a rear trunk.

WA and CA spe'c buses have at least one side emergency door on buses longer than six rows. Newer Type 'D' RE buses have at least one emergency on each side in the rear 2/3's of the bus. Very few other states require a side emergency door so they are fairly uncommon.

Unless the bus was spe'c'ed to be used on trips school buses rarely have luggage compartments. Some RE buses that have luggage compartments have pass-through-under-the-floor luggage compartments. Less than 1 in 100 school buses have luggage compartments.

There is virtually no aftermarket parts supports for buses. Some of the performance upgrades that apply to Dodge/Ram trucks with the Cummins 5.9L/6.7L engine can be applied to a bus that has that engine. The problem with doing that is more HP equals more waste heat. The biggest issue with all rear engine buses (school buses, transit buses, and motorcoaches) is a lack of adequate cooling systems. They will work okay if everything is stock. If you start to up the amount of waste heat you will be overheating on almost any grade. The problem is mostly due to physics and the way in which air moves around the rear end of a vehicle. Trying to move cooling air from low pressure to high pressure zones is difficult at best. The front engine buses are a little bit better but in the Type 'D' FE buses you seriously run into space issues of where to put stuff. Increasing the size of the radiator or intercooler is not going to be easy as there is no place to go. Adding anything to the side or top of the engine will require modifications to the dog house. With enough time and $$$ almost anything can be accomplished. But it all falls under the category of it is better to purchase a bus with the power package and rear gearing you would like than to re-engineer or repower the bus you have.

The national minimum spe'c for school buses has been an automatic for well over 20-years. As a consequence, less than 1% of all school buses built for a very long time have had a manual transmission. Swapping a manual into an automatic equipped bus can be rather difficult and expensive.

If you come across a magic decoder ring, please let the rest of know where we could get another one.
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Old 11-10-2016, 12:49 PM   #7
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Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Essex, MD
Posts: 1,837
Year: 1999
Chassis: Blue Bird TC RE 3904, Flat Nose, 40', 277" wh base
Engine: 8.3L Cummins ISC 260hp, AT643, 4.44 rear
Rated Cap: 84 pax or 1 RV; 33,000lbs
Great info.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cowlitzcoach View Post
Magic decoder ring--now that is funny, I don't care who you are!
Secret not magic. Those are two entirely different rings!!

Quote:
All school buses have rear windows.
Good to know.

Quote:
WA and CA spe'c buses have at least one side emergency door on buses longer than six rows. Newer Type 'D' RE buses have at least one emergency on each side in the rear 2/3's of the bus. Very few other states require a side emergency door so they are fairly uncommon.
I hate Cali.

Quote:
Unless the bus was spe'c'ed to be used on trips school buses rarely have luggage compartments. Some RE buses that have luggage compartments have pass-through-under-the-floor luggage compartments. Less than 1 in 100 school buses have luggage compartments.
Would be nice to have.

Quote:
There is virtually no aftermarket parts supports for buses.
That sucks.

Quote:
Trying to move cooling air from low pressure to high pressure zones is difficult at best.
Giant fan?
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Old 11-10-2016, 12:51 PM   #8
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Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Essex, MD
Posts: 1,837
Year: 1999
Chassis: Blue Bird TC RE 3904, Flat Nose, 40', 277" wh base
Engine: 8.3L Cummins ISC 260hp, AT643, 4.44 rear
Rated Cap: 84 pax or 1 RV; 33,000lbs
Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
You can use flux core, its not so bad as people make it out to be. Also you can use CO2 as a shielding gas. Cheaper than argon. Argon is usually for non-ferrous welds. At least in my limited experience.
The 3 guys I've been talking to are a little anal. I'll keep it to the side for the day I run out of solid strand. At $16 a roll, it's not going to break the bank.

I'll have to check the manual again but I'm pretty sure it didn't have anything listed for 100% C02. I had one of those for beer. Might need to get it back from my buddy after all.
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Old 11-10-2016, 01:26 PM   #9
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100% CO2 is usually run when a cost cutting company does not put a lot of emphasis on a nice clean weld. The arc can be more unstable also.

For the "home use" mig welder the go-to mix for mild steel is 75 95 percent Argon and 5 25 percent CO2.

Using flux-core wire makes welding out-of-doors easier.
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Old 11-10-2016, 01:41 PM   #10
Bus Crazy
 
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Join Date: Oct 2016
Location: Essex, MD
Posts: 1,837
Year: 1999
Chassis: Blue Bird TC RE 3904, Flat Nose, 40', 277" wh base
Engine: 8.3L Cummins ISC 260hp, AT643, 4.44 rear
Rated Cap: 84 pax or 1 RV; 33,000lbs
Quote:
Originally Posted by DoubleO7 View Post
100% CO2 is usually run when a cost cutting company does not put a lot of emphasis on a nice clean weld. The arc can be more unstable also.
Then I don't want that. I'm not trying to save costs just yet.

Maybe if it makes it more difficult to achieve a good weld. I.e. learn using the hardest method and then everything after that is cake.

Quote:
For the "home use" mig welder the go-to mix for mild steel is 75 95 percent Argon and 5 25 percent CO2.
The manual had a 95% for something fancy. SS maybe? I don't remember. It recommended 75% for mild steel.

Quote:
Using flux-core wire makes welding out-of-doors easier.
I'm guessing it's the same as solder. It can make a mess but if you're starting with a mess, it'll make a better weld.
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