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TygerCub 05-07-2009 07:33 PM

Best bus for BLM land?
Hi all. I'm in the process of selling my home and am investigating the best vehicle to use for full time RVing. I'm handy with tools and the thought of customizing something into EXACTLY what I want is very appealing. Especially since it could end up saving "some" money in the long run.

I'm looking for a full-time "home" on wheels that can keep up with highway traffic when necessary, will be easy to maneuver through small towns, and will be able to handle the dirt roads often found in BLM areas. I'll be living mostly in the western states, alternating between a permanent "base camp" in Nevada and forays into the southern states in the winter. The bus needs to be able to pull a trailer occasionally.

I like the ground clearance of many school buses I've seen. But would they be suitable for rough dirt roads? And would they be able to pull a trailer?

Does anyone out there have experience with this sort of thing already? If so, what are the advantages/disadvantages to having a school bus versus something like an NPR box truck?

Your insight and advice will be greatly appreciated!


lapeer20m 05-07-2009 09:20 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
I have found that conventional buses tend to have much better off road traction compared to flat nose foward control buses. On my way to burningman I drove a bus down the dreaded jungo road and back, 100 miles of dirt each direction. Buses have poor suspension, but are super heavy duty trucks. Tires are also super heavy duty which significantly reduces the chances of a puncture from a rock. Where i live, buses tend to have about 300K miles when they get retired from the school district, and half of the miles driven are down dirt roads....and bus drivers usually drive way too fast for conditions! Buses seem to hold up to this sort of abuse quite well. A manual transmission (hard to find) would be much better for off highway use than an automatic. An auto even with a 5.57 rear end has a difficult time spinning the tires once you sink a few inches into the sand. This would only be worse if you had good highway gears, like a 4.10. A manual is much better as supplying torque to the wheels when needed. A manual with overdrive would really rock! If you started getting really crazy you could find a rear axle from a big rig truck that came from the factory with an air locker. Being able to lock your rear wheels together can be a HUGE advantage in certain situations.

Putting a deck on the roof really helps a ton with keeping the bus cool in the summer.

TygerCub 05-07-2009 10:09 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
Thanks for the reply! ... but now I have More Questions... :lol:

1) When you say "conventional buses", what do you mean? The ones with long front ends (someone called them 'dog face' buses)?
2) Would it matter if the engine is in the front, or rear? I remember someone saying rear engines were better (for highway?) because all the weight is located near the drive wheels.
2a) Is this still true for any shape bus (flat nose vs. dog nose)?
3) Is diesel or gas better for back roads applications?
4) You mention highway gears... what does that mean? I'm totally illiterate when it comes to these things, but have a mechanic I'll take with me when I'm ready to buy.
5) Here's the big question... :?: How Long is Too Long for off-roading? (you know what I mean :oops:) A lot of the "roads" I'll be traveling are little better than atv trails. I know a regular truck with trailer can get down them, but those things hinge in the middle. I'd like space, but don't want to trade conveinece for functionality. I can always add a cargo trailer if I must (though I'd prefer not to have to do that).

paul iossi 05-08-2009 09:12 AM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?

its all about what you want, I tend to agree with lapeer,

most busses are built on comercial medium duty truck frames, even the purpose built chassis are built with standard components, engines,trans,axles,suspension pieces

a conventional"dog nose" bus is the easiet to work on and least expensive to have worked on

gas engines get poor fuel mileage compared to a diesel but are cheaper to buy and repair, maintainence is a wash, diesels are built to last longer than gas engines, my choice would be diesel, either a cummins or international 6 cylinder

a manual transmission is not as easy to drive but i like to have control without the slipage of an automatic (that's just my old school choice) it also gives you the option of swaping in a trans with more gears later. automatic's are more user friendly from the point that anyone can drive one.

off road ability and manouverability are a function of wheelbase, distance between the wheels, and overhang behind the rear axle, the shorter the wheelbase the tighter the bus will turn, the longer the overhang the more it will swing when turning

any bus should be able to pull a trailer, just watch your overall length restrictions.

recycler 05-08-2009 09:55 AM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
Just my own opinion(like a dog owner)But my 30ft Dt466 diesel powered Thomas-bodied "automatic" has been rocking the Bureau of Land Mis-management without so much as any slipping or dragging. It was originally a ski-shuttle and has like almost 2' of clearance at its lowest point and like 3and a half to 4' everywhere else. It isn't the greatest on washboard but then there aren't many vehicles that are except for a tank. I've never been in a tank so maybe they suck too! Good Luck with your search! RECYCLER

TygerCub 05-08-2009 05:24 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
ooo! Great info! Thanks to everyone who's responded!

Does the flat nose get worse gas mileage than a dog nose? I'm leaning towards diesel just because of their reliability (and in the future, the possibility to use alternative fuels in an emergency - but that's wa-a-a-y in the future :D ).

Are there any threads I should go back and review that would help me decide? I tried searching for "mpg" and "mileage", but was blocked by the servers at work :shock: .

Again... thanks to everyone who is responding. Finding this forum has been wonderful!

Lady Franklin 05-09-2009 03:23 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
We have had mileage discussions before. If I remember correctly the 5.9 L Cummins seems to be the favoured engine for fuel mileage. Body style? Well as a dog nose owner I tend to think something with the slightest slope in the front is easier to push through a fluid, like air, than something with a complete disregard for the same idea. But I sure aint no aerospace engineer or nothing. No offense all you flat nosers out there! :D

paul iossi 05-10-2009 11:16 AM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
unfortunately aerodynamics/fluidynamics are dependant on the shape of both ends of the vehicle, think airplane or submarine,
a dog nose will have at a slight advantage openong up a hloe on the air, the compromise is loss of interior space, your choice.
total front area and speed are going to be the big factors in fuel mileage.
rear axle ratio is going to effect both offroad drivability and onroad fuel mileage, again it's a compromise and your choice.

TygerCub 05-10-2009 04:50 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?

Originally Posted by paul iossi
rear axle ratio is going to effect both offroad drivability and onroad fuel mileage, again it's a compromise and your choice

Okay, so what would be a good ratio for off-road surfaces? Since I'll end up in the desert or in national parks most of the time, dirt roads will be my biggest concern. I don't know how much I'll be traveling except to get from point A to point B, but I'll probably avoid the interstate for the most part and just take the old highway 'truck routes' instead. MPG will be an issue for such trips, but since I'll be driving a diesel not much faster than 60 (if I'm lucky), would the lack of an "interstate gear ratio" mean I'd still get bad mpg?

Again... thanks for the tips from everyone with first-hand experience. This is invaluable stuff.

gotmuddy 05-10-2009 04:53 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
I think you will be in for a surprise if you go offroading in a 2wd bus. tires with 100 psi dont like sand very much.

TygerCub 05-10-2009 06:01 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?

Originally Posted by gotmuddy
I think you will be in for a surprise if you go offroading in a 2wd bus. tires with 100 psi dont like sand very much.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not going all-out-dune-buggy-nutz for fun :wink: . I'm crazy, but not stupid. Roads that are that bad are for the dirt bike :D

What I'm aiming for is the ability to get back into the free camping areas of the National Forest trees, and/or off the beaten path of Nevada BLM areas where folks go to get away from sight of 'civilization'. Most of those roads are flat, but can have rocks that range in size from pea gravel to stones the size of softballs scattered all over the roadway. Those are the types of places I'll be going "off road".

Are you saying a bus won't be able to handle that kind of surface?

gotmuddy 05-10-2009 10:47 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
a bus would be great for that, MUCH better than an RV. The outside of the bus will handle tree limbs alot better than the cheesy sheetmetal skin of a rv. It will ride extremely rough on softball sized rocks but it will do it all day long without a problem I bet.....I am hoping because some of the places I will take my bus will be as rough.

paul iossi 05-10-2009 10:59 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
the majority of skoolies are built to live in rural or semi rural areas and daily transit dirt/gravel roads as well as the paved farm to market roads with an occasiional high speed run. focus your search on route buses from a rural area and steer away from the "event buses" that are geared for highway use/team transport.
a bus should be able to go anywhere that a conventional motorhome or pickup and trailer can go and then go some more.

TygerCub 05-11-2009 06:34 AM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
Awesome news!

So... is there a thread that would list a good gear ratio for dirt-road travel?
I've seen the one about getting better gas mileage, but road surface wasn't discussed.

paul iossi 05-11-2009 11:52 AM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
It's difficult to make a recomendation on the right number without a lot of other information, engine peak torque and peak hp rpms as well as the total power curves are big factors as well as transmission ratios and power ratings.

I know that it's an evasive answer but, try to find bus that comes from a stop and go environment, the chassis manufacturers spend lots of time and money matching and testing different driveline combinations to maximize driveability. Your application suggests that you are more interested in low speed drivability than a "highway cruiser".

somewhere on here, their is a discussion on ideal drivelines, try the search function and check out some of the other opinions

TygerCub 05-11-2009 05:24 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
Thanks for the reply. I never knew there was so much that went into these things! That's why my cousin is the mechanic, and I'm just the artsy fartsy construction crew. <sigh>

Whee... so much to learn!

gotmuddy 05-11-2009 07:52 PM

Re: Best bus for BLM land?
I am not sure which allison is in my bus(where do I look?), but first gear is really low IMO and I believe mine was a "trip bus" because it has no issue running 65

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