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Old 07-19-2015, 12:23 AM   #1
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Greetings all!

I've been lurking and learning on this site since last September... time to come out of the shadows and be a participant!

I have 5 kids, we want to show them America, and we live 1200 miles from all our relatives. When we travel we're traveling long distances, and the in/out of hotels is not a good option. Nobody builds campers or motorhomes for large families (beyns: can I hear an "Amen!"). Some come close, but I'm still not happy with layout, build quality, or the fact that I don't know the systems inside and out. We currently pull a camper behind our Econoline van. It will suffice until the skoolie is ready!

I'm looking for a rear engine geared for long highway driving (65+ mph sustained for up to 6 hrs a day). Ability to run strong up mountains would be great too. I won't start a build thread until I buy a bus (might be a while). I'll see y'all around the forums until then!

Did I mention I have no mechanical or technical skills? Guess I'll be learning all that along the way! I need a hobby, anyhow. The help I've seen folks giving on this site gives me a lot of encouragement!
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Old 07-19-2015, 02:14 AM   #2
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Welcome.

Lurking and reading in the build threads section will give you the best DIY info on this site.

Nat
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Old 07-19-2015, 07:33 AM   #3
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Year: 1992
Coachwork: Ward/AmTran
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Yep.
Welcome aboard.
I find it hard to believe you have NO technical skills.
If you wanna cross MOUNTAINS, make sure to buy a bus spec'ed for the mountains...
Lok for higher HP. And auxillary braking is a good idea for the Rockies.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:51 PM   #4
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Location: Houston, Texas
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Year: 1946
Coachwork: Chevrolet/Wayne
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Welcome Chappie, and thank you for your service --- Lots of ideas (and opinions) here on Skoolie. It is the best place on the planet to begin your journey. Just read as many "build threads" as possible while remembering that every individual here had their own agenda or vision of what they wanted & needed. It will provide a pretty good basis for setting your own and should give you a good idea of what kind of unit will best fulfill your personal aspirations.

That said, there are a few basics worth considering when shopping. Here are just a few that I consider worth while. I am sure others here can help flesh out the list.

1. Condition is critical. Spending a few more bucks up front will save you tons down the road. Especially if you are not "mechanically inclined". However...if you take on building a bus, you very likely will become inclined pretty quickly. Most of it is pretty basic.

2. Avoid buses that spent their career on salt covered roads. We have seen a few here that looked great topside but had frames & systems beneath that were practically rusted away. Spend more time under the hood and chassis than admiring the paint.

3. When shopping...if you don't have basic mechanical knowledge...bring along someone who does. You really need to thoroughly check out any unit before you buy. "Little" stuff can often equate to very big bucks down the road if you don't know what you are looking at.

4. The best buying scenario (other than dumb luck) seems to come from direct purchases from school districts for two main reasons...a., you will be paying "wholesale" (where do you think all the resellers get their buses?)...b., you have the greatest chance of getting vehicle specific information. Most school districts keep detailed records on every unit which are worth their weight in gold. And very often, you can actually talk to the tech who maintained them all and get the "pick of the litter".

5. The engine & transmission package are critical. There are a few gasoline buses out there (no one knows why)..avoid them. Go diesel. Over the road trucks are all diesel for many good reasons. And while trannies come in lots of flavors, it is best to find one with more than four gears that locks up. There are tons of buses that come with the old Allison 545's, but they are boat anchors. Pretty durable, but if you ever plan on driving over roads that are anything other than billiard table flat, they should be avoided. They suck fuel like crazy and put far too much wear on the braking system when driving hills and mountains. Most of the folks I've known who have had them (including myself) have either swapped them or wish they they had the money to.

I'm sure there are many more basics to be considered, and I hope the other folks here will jump in and add to this list which is just my personal ramblings.

Whatever you do, do it your way...and make it a family affair. Can't think of many other things a whole family can get behind and then reap the benefits of like this. I grew up dirt poor so we had precious few road trips. But the ones we did have together...remain just that. Precious.

Go for it.
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Old 07-19-2015, 12:57 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
Yep.
Welcome aboard.
I find it hard to believe you have NO technical skills.
If you wanna cross MOUNTAINS, make sure to buy a bus spec'ed for the mountains...
Lok for higher HP. And auxillary braking is a good idea for the Rockies.
I always thought it was odd when I'd see someone post that they had no mechanical or technical skills.....
Then I stood by last week and watched a guy open a package of knife blades like this


and install ONE FREAKING BLADE in a utility knife!

I busied myself with other work, watching him over my shoulder.... it took him 15 minutes!

I bout lost my mind!
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Old 07-19-2015, 01:01 PM   #6
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Q: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"

A: " Practice, practice, practice".
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Old 07-19-2015, 04:41 PM   #7
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Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Fort Riley, Kansas
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The Plan (somewhat)

I've been playing with floorplans for a few years... started on camper designs, then decided to look into motor coach designs. I started doing skoolie plans about a year ago. This one is based on an actual AmTran RE 12 windows bus I shopped for a while (I've been measuring by #windows rather than #rows or #passengers).

Here are my assumptions:
Windows are 30" wide on center.
Windows are all same width (I know that's not true for all builds).
1 seating row = 1 window... would need to stretch that for comfort.

Link to image on Google Drive

Here is my layout, by cabin section:
1. COCKPIT. Not shown... this is everything "behind the white line".

2. SEATING/DINING. I'll use bus seats for this area. 2 dinettes side by side allows the whole family to eat together at once... novel concept! I've assumed that when I flip the rear facing seats around that I'll need to add some leg room to the dinette area. I don't know how much to add, though, so this is a guess. I will install some seatbelts and LATCH anchors on the forward facing seats (including the dinettes).

3. GALLEY KITCHEN. We don't cook in the camper, and we won't in the skoolie. I will not install a range/oven (no need for propane)... I can use a Coleman portable outside for that purpose. We eat cold cereal or bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and dinner out a local place (or leftovers). In lieu of the standard RV fridge I'll use 2x 12V coolers... 80 Qt for a fridge, and a 40 Qt for a freezer. The sink cabinet will house the water heater (Webasco?) and water pump.

4. KIDS'QUARTERS. Still working on designs here. This plan uses 4x Army stretchers for top/middle bunks, with an IKEA small bed mattress on the floor for the bottom bunk (some of the best sleep I've ever gotten was on those stretchers!). The stretchers might be able to be folded up against the wall to create a play area on rainy days. I will block out the windows in this area to keep the kids from being up against a drafty wall. The bottom bunk won't be as long as the tops due to the rear wheel well.

5. LATRINE. Planning to do a wet bath, since only the toddlers and infants will use it for showering... all others can use campground shower facilities. If we're boon docking I'll carry a pop up shower stall and use a spigot on the outside of the bus (will have to tap into the hot water line with this!). Counter top (with small sink) will sit over wheel well. I'll do a combined black/grey tank below the rear wheels... I think I can get the kitchen sink to drain that far successfully, and I want the grey in there to dissolve all the toilet paper my 5 year old uses!

6. MASTER BEDROOM. Full size bed (camping should bring us closer, whether we like it or not!). We use laundry baskets (18x24") as luggage in the camper, and we'll continue that in the skoolie. Baskets will slide under our bed, and the cabinet will be built to shelve several baskets stacked.

7. HVAC. I'll install 2x roof mounted AC's (13.5 or 15 kBTU?), preferably in the emergency hatch holes already in the roof (I'm allergic to holes in the roof). I'd like to run the front one on the alternator while cruising (to avoid the necessity for a jenny), and the rear one on less than 20A (so I can plug in anywhere and still sleep comfortably without blowing breakers). Heating is my last concern. I'd like to avoid propane altogether... heat would be no problem while cruising, but how to heat while docked is still a mystery to me.

8. ELECTRIC. I'm trying to keep everything 12V DC as much as possible. The only exceptions will be the rear AC, the microwave, and 1x outlet for hairdryer and other limited use appliances (toaster?). I might run the microwave and outlet on an inverter. I want a huge battery bank for up to 3 days of dry camping. Will use LED lighting.

9. PLUMBING. Balancing weights concerns me, but I don't know that it should. I'd like a 100 gallon capacity... that's over 800# of weight! How important is it to balance that load left/right and fore/aft? The only hole I'll put in the roof is for the plumbing vent... will use a marine grade vent cap for that application (I've seen someone do that... Von Slatt, maybe?).
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Old 07-19-2015, 07:05 PM   #8
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Take 2 on the image... using DropBox this time:

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Old 07-19-2015, 09:21 PM   #9
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Location: michigan
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Year: 98
Chassis: TC 2000 RE
Engine: 8.3 cummins mechanical
HI Un- Lurking- IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE PLEASE READ MY ITEM 1 BELOW!!!!!!!

I have been where you are , except we have had 1 stick staple pusher- fell apart, 1 rts ( former Police Swat bus, a truckcamper a 91 bb tc front engine and now the best of the best a tc 2000 with mechanical 8.3 with a world tranny. I don't know where you live but you need to look NW or South( I live in MI) When you look at a bus you have to do the following ( I was not mechanically inclined either) Please learn from my experiences
1. IF YOU READ NOTHING MORE OF MY POST READ THIS IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT BEFORE YOU BUY A BUS!!!!!- get old overalls and tarp- take them with you (- YOU HAVE TO GET UNDER THE BUS AND LOOK AT THE FRAME AND crossmembers for bad rust. take a small hammer if you ding it and rust falls- leavenow!! you cannot trust anyone on this our 1st rV we paid and inspection service 600 miles away- paid of r RV got there and realized the guy had painted rust proofing over flake rus- hit with hammer chunks fell off. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT- you can pay to fix engine or tranny- you cant fix cancer. We lost our shirts on our 1st RV due to Rust we did not investigate ourselves!!!
2. Unless you are gong to be a customizer and make a toy hauler out the back door then go with a Rear engine. We went from front engine to rear and the noise and heat difference is incredible. Yes you will pay more but if you look diligently you can find them.
3. I prefer cummins- we almost bought an Amtram ( with IH motor)( I loved the RE with air suspension) but almost everyone I talked to got 7-8 mpg and that was it. I honestly got 13.9 mpg on a 40 foot with 8.3 at 55mph on flat and 11in the mountains when I was babying it. But with the world tranny MD6030 it will fly. We were on a trip and one of my kids got really sick and I was airborn headed down the interstate to the ER and no one was passing me- luckly no troopers but my mpg dropped to 7, but it was acting like a mustang or a Camaro!!! I have hear many issues with CAT engines be careful. But cummins are known to be better on fuel and reliable and cold weather starting. I have a older john deere tractor that wont start without starting fluid below 40. But my combine and bus ( both 8.3) will start at 0 without struggling. lots of Cummins dealers

4 . Transmission
I don't care what you hear DO NOT I REPEAT DO NOT BUY ANYTHING WITH A 545 TRANNY. It does not have downshift braking ( like your car). I literally almost killed my Wife and 3 kids on I 17 south out of Flagstaff to Phoenix) I had checked brakes thought ok no problem downshifted- NO RESISTANCE!!!!! IT WAS THE MOST SCARY DRIVE OF MY LIFE and I have driven ambulance for 40 years and also on a SWAT team and been involved in 3 active shootouts. That night was the most scary event in my life!!! Get either a 643, or the best is a md6030 world tranny. Make sure you check the rear end on the 643 if geared low you can clmb but 60-65is top. Don't worry about rear end on world so much ( I have a low rear end- mountains but the tranny has overdrive and it will FLY if you have an Emergency

5. in regards to conversion the only thing I can offer is that we used 4 sets of Greyhound seats in the front- Very comfortable and put seatbelts on them.

6, If you get a rear engine your engine components are exposed more ( we went thru Deep Snow, salty roads etc with our Front engine no problem. Well this winter we went through a lot with our rear engine- I should have powered sprayed when we got back but got busy- now am dealing with some issues. So make sure to keep it washed off inside after winter operations.

7.If you live in North automatic chains are cool. Our bus came from Dalles are in Oregon- they get snow but no RUST (NONE). But it had automatic chains- well there was deep snow and Ice areas that this baby just walked through with them deployed top speed 15mph ( see www.onspot.com)

8.I see many people take their heaters out- if you are going to be in cold that is a lot of heat to make up. I kept our bus heaters in and I can make it VERY TOASTY going down the road without using propane. We put reflectix over all of the windows and ceiling in winter operations

Finally I didn't know squat when I started - had never painted anything. After watching a 100 youtubevids-, I went to harbor freight and bought the 2 sprayer kit. I got the Rustoleum MARINE PAINT. you may see how some people used rollers and regular rustoleum. I started ( the back engine door in black) it did not look great. I switched to the Marine Rustoleum and sprayed it on and it looks like a shop did it. My wife 2 daughters and 1 8 year old son helped me. I never painted anything in my life except a bird house in shop class in high school which I flunked 9 (LOL)

Hope this helps- you can message me for more-but you name he mistake and I have done it - so I can help you not make the same ones!!!!! LOL
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