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Biscuitsjam 01-05-2018 04:47 PM

Arctic Family Bus
 
3 Attachment(s)
What would you do if you had limited time before taking a new bus on a 5500 mile road trip?

My wife and I just purchased a 1998 Amtran RE. Good tires, good mechanicals, very little rust.

Here's the catch - we live in North Pole, Alaska, and the bus is in Georgia. I have already gone back to work, so the wife is going to drive it up here once the roads thaw. She's staying in Georgia for three more weeks, then coming back to Alaska until April, when she can spend approximately a month working on the bus then a month driving it 5500 miles up here with her best friend, our three kids (1,3,6) and her friend's four kids (2,4,6,8) and stopping by a lot of National Parks.

The plan is to transform the bus over time from a metal tent to a weekend RV to a 4-season weekend RV. Alaska summers in the interior are 75 degrees with 24 hours of sunlight. The winters vary between -50 and 20 degrees, with 3-1/2 hours of twilight. Eventually, once we move back to the lower 48 in about 3 years, we would like to live in it for about 6 months.

Assets
1. Up to $5000 for initial work in Georgia
2. My wife's three weeks now and four weeks in April
3. My in-laws likely have every tool we could need (welding, painting, body repair, woodworking, etc. etc.)
4. The help of friends and family:
- Father-in-Law -> Mechanic and Body Repair
- Brother-in-Law 1 -> Mechanic
- Brother-in-Law 2 -> Construction, used to work in RV factory
- Best Friend's Husband -> Truck driver, used to be cabinet maker

Constraints
1. I cannot participate in any of the work in Georgia
2. My wife needs grandparents to watch the kids when she really gets her hands dirty working (probably means she gets 20 hours a week to do real work)
3. We do not yet have a floor plan
4. I am uncomfortable with asking friends/family to do significant work if my wife can't be there

Other Considerations
1. Anything we buy in Georgia is much cheaper than Alaska because of shipping costs, and there are more options. Fairbanks is the nearest city to us, with a population of 36,000. Anchorage is 6-9 hours away, depending on weather, and there is nothing else between.
2. Any interior stuff we install in Georgia has to be removable unless we insulate/finish the floors/walls/ceiling first
3. Registration in Alaska is a beast - not sure how I am going to tackle that one yet. If it's registered as a bus, all drivers need a Class B CDL.

Bus Specs
Amtran RE Body
International 3000 Chassis
T444e Engine
AT545 Transmission
Good Tires
Mechanically Sound
36' long, with 30'6" behind the driver seat
84" wide on the inside
6'5-1/2" high in the center, walls start curving in at 5' high
Exit door halfway down the left side
One underbus storage locker on the right side
Cruise Control

What work should we do prior to the big trip? Does it make sense to buy any parts/equipment/appliances in Georgia and haul them up in the bus even if they can't be installed in the time we have available? What would you do?

Thanks.

Twigg 01-05-2018 05:44 PM

Well to start with the drivers do not need any class of CDL.

What they might need is a Class B adding to their Alaska license. I haven't checked the Alaska rules so I don't know. The titling of the bus is irrelevant unless the bus is being driven commercially. CDL rules apply ONLY to commercial driving ... It is the driver who is covered, not the bus.

Put another way ... Commercially driving a bus requires a CDL. Driving a commercial bus doesn't, but there might be state restrictions on a regular license.

The only critical thing you need to do is make sure, as far as you can, that the bus is ready to do the miles. That means a full service with all fluids changed, leaks taken care of and a few decent runs before she attempts 5500 miles. If there are going to be any really cold starts, make sure the pre-heaters (whatever are fitted) are working and a block heater would be a good idea.

It's going to be a 10-day (ish) trip (driving) and I'd recommend removing all the seats except for the front seats needed to make the journey, and have her drive motel to motel along the way.

Get recovery protection from GoodSam.

Have her stock up on spare belts and fluids .. Oil, trans fluid and coolant.

Beyond that I'd leave the work until I got it home. A fully stripped bus would be cold and noisy, and that's a long way home.

Enjoy the ride.

Rusty 01-05-2018 05:51 PM

Whew ! Sounds like a blast ! I'd love to go with... and how many little kids?????:eek:

You guys are adventurous, for sure. How many miles are on the bus? You said mechanicals are "good", but by whose standards, because their safety really is most important thing. I'd hate for them to break-down.

Then the build !!! :thumb:

Robin97396 01-05-2018 06:04 PM

That looks like a nice bus, but the sellers always say they're in good shape. First I'd have it checked out by a reputable shop, or professional relative. Next I'd start getting spare filters and belts, even if the ones in use look good. Whatever parts you might need on the trip that could be difficult to acquire from the side of the road. There's no end to the list of things you could do to hedge your bets on this bus making the trip. Traction tires, chains and anything else you can think of.

A lot of us do a mockup in a bus that is basically a removable, mostly camping gear, interior. The Costco propane camping grills are easy to set up. Your carpenter relatives could make a number of bunks for the adults and children as well as a dining area. You can get children's harnes bus seats off ebay if you don't have any in your bus. I'm pretty sure your wife will appreciate an indoor toilet for the trip.

A block heater, the electric freeze plug type, if your bus doesn't already have one so you can plug in to keep the engine warm when grid power is available. I would also spend the money to put a diesel fired coolant heater in the bus that can be used as a block heater as well as a cabin heater (like a furnace) while off grid. Expensive but worth it up north when power is not available. It would be good to have a stout generator for the bus too, and by now I believe we've gotten well past the end of your budget.

Dude, that would be an expensive trip with just adults even if you already had the bus set up. You know your wife better than any of us, but I don't believe I would have let my wife and kids and friend and her kids drive to AK in an unfamiliar vehicle. There's just to many things that can go wrong without being able to put a couple thousand miles on that bus as a test run. I think it would be a minor miracle to make that trip in this weather with an unfamiliar vehicle without incidents. Unless your wife is a diesel mechanic of course. Many of us in the lower 48 are experiencing the cold weather demons in our diesels at this time of year.

I don't mean to bring you down, but I'd probably put that drive off until about May, then do it with the appliances and stuff you want with fewer people in the bus.

You have figured out what's causing all the children, haven't you? It's the water.

Twigg 01-05-2018 06:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Robin97396 (Post 243288)
That looks like a nice bus, but the sellers always say they're in good shape. First I'd have it checked out by a reputable shop, or professional relative. Next I'd start getting spare filters and belts, even if the ones in use look good. Whatever parts you might need on the trip that could be difficult to acquire from the side of the road. There's no end to the list of things you could do to hedge your bets on this bus making the trip. Traction tires, chains and anything else you can think of.

A lot of us do a mockup in a bus that is basically a removable, mostly camping gear, interior. The Costco propane camping grills are easy to set up. Your carpenter relatives could make a number of bunks for the adults and children as well as a dining area. You can get children's harnes bus seats off ebay if you don't have any in your bus. I'm pretty sure your wife will appreciate an indoor toilet for the trip.

A block heater, the electric freeze plug type, if your bus doesn't already have one so you can plug in to keep the engine warm when grid power is available. I would also spend the money to put a diesel fired coolant heater in the bus that can be used as a block heater as well as a cabin heater (like a furnace) while off grid. Expensive but worth it up north when power is not available. It would be good to have a stout generator for the bus too, and by now I believe we've gotten well past the end of your budget.

Dude, that would be an expensive trip with just adults even if you already had the bus set up. You know your wife better than any of us, but I don't believe I would have let my wife and kids and friend and her kids drive to AK in an unfamiliar vehicle. There's just to many things that can go wrong without being able to put a couple thousand miles on that bus as a test run. I think it would be a minor miracle to make that trip in this weather with an unfamiliar vehicle without incidents. Unless your wife is a diesel mechanic of course. Many of us in the lower 48 are experiencing the cold weather demons in our diesels at this time of year.

I don't mean to bring you down, but I'd probably put that drive off until about May, then do it with the appliances and stuff you want with fewer people in the bus.

You have figured out what's causing all the children, haven't you? It's the water.

So the original post does say the trip won't be made until May :)

Biscuitsjam 01-05-2018 06:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rusty (Post 243284)
Whew ! Sounds like a blast ! I'd love to go with... and how many little kids?????:eek:

You guys are adventurous, for sure. How many miles are on the bus? You said mechanicals are "good", but by whose standards, because their safety really is most important thing. I'd hate for them to break-down.

Then the build !!! :thumb:

170,000 miles.

I took it to a reputable diesel shop before buying it. Thatís no guarantee, but Iím also going to have my in laws do a service on it before the trip.

joeblack5 01-05-2018 06:29 PM

If I would spend most of the time in the cold then I would take a bus from that area. All the specifics for that climate are already there.
I would imagine that arctic buses are much better taken care of since a breakdown in that climate can turn into a disaster quickly.
my $0.02

good luck, j

Biscuitsjam 01-05-2018 06:40 PM

Time passes either way, whether you’re ambitious or playing it safe. My wife and her friend are both a little fanatical about loving the outdoors and wanting to go sightseeing. Hopefully they can figure out a way to keep the children enjoying it too.

It’ll be chilly in May but it shouldn’t be ridiculously cold. I can probably wait until the bus gets to Alaska to do work on installing redundant heating and winterizing the engine.

I think a toilet, beds, and appropriate seating are the most important. They’ll stay at a lot of camp grounds where they can get shore power and shower facilities. We were planning on bringing our propane camp stove , full-size Yeti cooler, and some Aquatainers. It’s also important to have everything secure in case of an accident.

We might blow part of our budget on a hang glider too...

cadillackid 01-05-2018 06:48 PM

buying a southern bus and taking it north brings some challenges..

1 - youll need to install some type of diesel auxilliary heater or install an engine block heater and be ready to be able to plug it into 120 volts every night you want to use it in winter.. diesles and cold starts require some help.. you CANNOT use ether on your 444E or you will ruin it...

2. AT545 and 444e for road trips through huge mountain ranges would Not be my first choice.. the at545 has very little ability to hold back the bus on downhill grades.. you'll need to be extremely careful as you descend the mountains so not to fade your brakes..

not sure the route you are taking.. sounds like you have driven this before.. april is pretty early to go up high to some of the national parks.. many are still getting heaby snow in the west and northwest at that time of year. just something to think about..

be sure the coolant is sufficiantly set up for cold weather before you embark on your journey north..

thats an awful lot of people to stuff in a metal tube on the highway for 6000 miles...

-Christopher

Biscuitsjam 01-05-2018 06:54 PM

It’ll be April when my wife is back in Georgia to work on the bus. The road trip will start in May and she’ll arrive up here in late May or early June. We’ll be thorough in planning it out. We took 22 days to drive last time (in an overloaded minivan) I think this one will be about the same pace.

I’ll be working 80-hour weeks in April and doing government-sponsored travel in May so it’s not like my family would see me anyway during this timeframe.

It should be in the ballpark of $2000 just for fuel. I’m not sure how much to budget for other maintenance-related costs yet. The idea is to be able to store and prepare food on the bus to keep costs down.


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