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Old 04-27-2022, 04:17 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Bus 49 Conversion

Hey all,
It's been nearly two years since I acquired my bus and introduced myself here.
I had planned to start a thread to share progress as I went, but I never quite got around to it.
I wouldn't call my project complete, but It's very much habitable; I've been living in it since July 2020.
So I thought I'd finally share some progress photos and details, more or less chronologically.

Day of purchase:




And getting it to the build area, where it'll be for almost a year:

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Old 04-27-2022, 04:28 PM   #2
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
The First Problem

I took these pics before I bought it, but I didn't realize what I was looking at. Notice the somewhat skewed rear bumper:



Also, the cooling fan belt seemed a little too bouncy, but I figured it was just in need of replacement.
I bought it in Boring, OR and my work zone was on Bainbridge Island, WA, about a 200-mile straight shot up Interstate 5.
Being paranoid about my humongous, well-used purchase, I stopped at every rest area to just have a general look-around, and at every stop I found that the fan belt (a double-V belt) had walked out of one its grooves on the fan hub.
I would pop it back into place and keep going. Somewhere in Tacoma my coolant temp started to climb, and I stopped in town to find that the belt had semi-shredded itself.



I was able to finish the trip by blasting all three heaters; luckily it was a cool & rainy day.
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Old 04-27-2022, 04:46 PM   #3
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Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Fixing the Belt Problem

After I got it home I called around to order a new fan belt, and the dealer pointed me in the right direction to understand what I was about to fix.
The fan is mounted to a bracket, which is mounted to the engine support crossmember.
The bracket is a two-piece affair with rubber bushings in between. The bushings sag, the bracket slumps out of alignment, the fan belt can slip off.
Exacerbating this, in my bus, is the fact that the support crossmember was out of position. Remember the skewed bumper? What was actually going on was, before I bought the bus someone goofed in a left turn and hit SOMEthing with the right rear recovery/tow hook, hard enough to move it (and the crossmember.)

So here's the engine room, with the bumper removed. You can see the smooshed tow hook at lower right, and the tangled carcass of the fan belt at left.


Closer views of the fan bracket:



My fix was to cobble together some metal bushings, pictured here next to a saggy rubber one.


And here's one installed:


On reinstallation, I also had to use washers to change the bracket's angle thanks to the crossmember's misalignment, as well as hogging out the bracket mounting holes a bit to move the bracket lower, to keep the fan aligned properly within the fan shroud. Sorry I don't have pics of that.
But the bracket is square with the engine, and I haven't had any issues in about 4000 miles of driving.
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Old 04-27-2022, 04:55 PM   #4
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Bus Specs

What I've got to work with:

1999 Thomas MVP-ER
12-window, 72 passenger, 36 feet bumper-to-bumper.
Belly pass through storage, 78" ceiling.
Cummins 8.3 ISC, Allison MD3060
Heavy-duty axles, 100 gallon fuel tank, traction grit spreaders.
Mileage: 240K miles on the hubometer, 41K miles on the dashboard.

Given its original owner was a school district in Washington near the Cascades, I'm guessing this was their field trip/ away game bus.
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Old 04-27-2022, 05:06 PM   #5
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Location: New Mexico
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Year: 1999
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Seat Removal

With the fan belt dealt with, the first job was to get rid of the seats. They came out with no problems, though it was pretty tedious getting to all of the nuts under the bus. Beats having to grind or drill, though, and in the end I only had to grind off two bolt heads.
This was one of the few times during the project where I really needed an extra set of hands, luckily my son was happy to help.





I also removed the rear heaters. Keeping the entire bus toasty while driving is not a concern, and they're just too bulky anyway.


I threw out the vinyl and foam, and sold the frames for scrap.

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Old 04-27-2022, 05:18 PM   #6
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Goals

My overall goal with this bus is for it to be permanent living space for a single person.

At the onset of the project, around June 2020, the bus only has to be a glorified metal tent. By autumn 2020, it needs to be a reasonably comfortable place for a teenager and a dad to spend the PNW winter without getting on each other's nerves too badly.

By spring 2021, it needs to be ready to hit the road, carrying all of our possessions, and hopefully capable of towing a car.

The teenager will be 18 by 2022, and they're planning to get their own place soon after.
Is it too much bus for one person? Sure, but anything smaller wouldn't work in the meantime.
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Old 04-27-2022, 05:30 PM   #7
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Year: 1999
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Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Floors!

With the seats out, it was time to face what awaited me beneath the vinyl and plywood floor. It all came up reasonably easily with prybars.

Overall condition:


Some Closeups:




The very worst of the rust was at the front end, but it turned out to be entirely surface.
I wire brushed the entire floor:



Then treated it with phosphoric acid and washed it with mineral spirits:



Then I covered the bolt holes with epoxied pennies, and primed it with one coat of Rustoleum Enamel Primer.
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Old 04-27-2022, 05:40 PM   #8
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
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Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Floors 2

I followed the primer with more Rustoleum


I covered the much smaller, but more numerous nail holes with aluminum tape:


I built a partial frame from 1" lumber, to support the edges of the plywood floor.


Floor is 1" foam insulation, covered with tar paper and 5/8" plywood. I'm 6'2" and I have no intention of doing a roof raise, so a thick floor is out of the question.
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Old 04-27-2022, 05:51 PM   #9
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Seats

One of the strangest things, for me, is that the bus is only a two-seater.

I had a very, very good day at a junkyard, and came home with some useful stuff.
My passenger seat is from the middle row of a Ford Windstar, with a removable pivot base, with sliders, from a conversion van. It's mounted directly through the metal bus floor, with metal spacers making up the wood floor's thickness.





The original driver's seat was surprisingly not too heinous, but $40 got me this beauty- the passenger seat from a 2006 Mitsubishi Eclipse. I made a couple of simple brackets, and it bolted right onto the existing air-cushion base. It is ridiculously comfortable and supportive.



That brings us up to mid-July 2020.
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Old 04-29-2022, 04:25 PM   #10
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Box Goals

Thanks to all the people who've shared their projects, I've seen a bunch of beautiful, polished interiors. And I've seen a lot of approaches to appliances and utilities that require precise planning and permanence of the layout.

I went the other direction.

Thanks to changes in my personal life, the only person who has to be happy with my interior is me, and my aesthetic is... unfinished. I've always liked that phase of house construction where the wall studs are up, but the sheet rock is not.

So my overall bus interior goal is to make a big plywood box, with reasonable access to change the layout or the utility locations.
I also felt that that I was likely to want to change things after I'd been living in there a while, that is was likely that the realities of it would diverge from the planning.
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Old 04-29-2022, 04:36 PM   #11
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Year: 1999
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Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Wall Insulation

Next up is insulation and walls.
To keep costs down, and to allow for more flexibility, I decided against spray foam.

For the walls, I trimmed the interior sheet metal down to a small strip. I would have liked to remove it entirely, but it turns out to be an integral part of the windowsills.
I pulled some ancient fiberglass out of the bottom of the walls, then filled them with rock wool:


I covered the rock wool with heavy plastic for a vapor barrier, and used sill plate foam strips wherever the wood walls would be seated against metal:


Then I covered it all up with 3/4" plywood:
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Old 04-29-2022, 04:43 PM   #12
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Posts: 43
Year: 1999
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Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Upper Wall Insulation

For the upper walls, I removed the windows, then replaced them with plywood inserts, covered with sheet metal on the outside.
Then a layer of insulation, vapor barrier, and plywood.



This is functional and I haven't had any problems, but I would definitely do it differently now.
At the time, I hadn't really realized that I would want to get rid of more windows.
My updated plan, whenever I get around to it, is to dispose of most of the remaining windows and cover all the exterior openings with a continuous sheet of metal.
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Old 04-29-2022, 04:52 PM   #13
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
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Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Sill Plates

The chair rails and the small bit of wall underneath them presented a challenge, in that they were a disruptive shape, and an opportunity.
Obviously they had to be insulated and covered, but I decided to build them out a bit as permanent plenum spaces.
I would run whatever wiring was initially needed in them, but they would still be accessible later if I needed to change or add things.

So first I insulated them:



Then I covered with thin plywood and boxed them in. The flat 2x3 at the top sits on the chair rail, and the vertical 2x3 supports it, so it'll work as an anchor for cabinets, furniture, whatever.
There will be a final piece of plywood to box in the plenum.

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Old 04-29-2022, 04:54 PM   #14
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Wheel Wells

I covered the wells with flexible foam and thin plywood.



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Old 04-29-2022, 05:17 PM   #15
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Ceiling Insulation

The ceiling was a bit of a challenge. I wanted as much R-value as possible, but I couldn't sacrifice any head room.
I also wanted to run some electrical stuff through it, AND I wanted to be able to run more wiring in the future.
And the roof support rails only stuck out 1.75" from the sheet metal.

Step 1: 1/2" polyiso foam, bent or cut to follow the roof line, and then sections of 2x6 pushed into the sort-of pockets above the windows:




Step 2: Furring strips mounted to the rails. They hold the first layer of insulation tight against the roof, and they project about 1/4" past the rails. The ceiling will be attached to these to prevent thermal bridging.





Step 3: These little guys. Mounted to the furring strips, flat against the ceiling, they create wiring channels.







Step 4: 1" pink foam, cut to follow the curve:



Step 5: Another layer of 1/2" polyiso, and sill strips over the metal ribs:



And finally, Step 6: A vapor barrier. These last photos are from later on.



The ceiling will later be covered with extremely thin plywood, to protect and support the insulation. I plan to cover it with something thin yet more attractive... sometime later.
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Old 04-29-2022, 05:38 PM   #16
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
The Roof

When I got the bus, the two skylights/ emergency exits were leaky.




I immediately put some sealing gloop around their edges, and that took care of the problem, but it wasn't a permanent solution. I also was concerned about other potential leaks, and I wanted a white roof.

Removing the old hatches was easy:


Admire the gloop:





Then I covered the holes with sheet metal, attached with polyurethane caulk and screws, and also sealed the roof seams with Henry's 289.



I'd already scrubbed the roof with Scotch-brite and Simple Green. Now I applied Henry's 587, Dura-Brite. It took 4 coats to get pretty enough. I laid them down in alternating directions.

One coat:


Four coats:






I'm very happy with the Henry's products. I applied them in August 2020, and have since been through a Seattle winter, Rocky Mountain summer and winter, and New Mexico monsoon season. I have had absolutely no leaks, and immediately saw a heat reduction benefit since I'd done this before I insulated the ceiling.
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Old 04-29-2022, 05:44 PM   #17
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Vents

I went with Dometic Fan-tastic roof vents. Installation was easy, just a little extra framing.




My only complaint is that they rattle in the wind to the point where I'm afraid they'll be torn off. When I'm parked, I mean. They're always closed while I'm driving. I'll probably install a set of those protective covers eventually.



This brings us more-or-less to late August 2020.
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Old 05-04-2022, 09:40 PM   #18
Skoolie
 
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Location: Sanford Florida
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Year: 2000
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: MVP/ER
Engine: Cat3126B 230hp
Rated Cap: 48
Wow! Looking good and your attention to detail is appearant.
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Old 05-05-2022, 04:09 PM   #19
Mini-Skoolie
 
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Location: New Mexico
Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mat7783 View Post
Wow! Looking good and your attention to detail is appearant.
Thank you! I have to admit, a lot of that is due to choice paralysis. Sometimes I would make a small change, then sit back and just live with it for a week to see what it felt like, while making absolutely zero progress on anything else.
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Old 05-05-2022, 04:41 PM   #20
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Posts: 43
Year: 1999
Coachwork: Thomas
Engine: Cummins 8.3 ISC
The Fridge Saga

Backing up to mid-July 2020, I found the perfect fridge on Craigslist. I'm pretty sure it was a Norcold 1210- Electric/Propane, dual doors on both fridge and freezer, etc.
It needed fresh air vents behind it, and I decided that it would be the first attached... Thing... inside the bus. The enclosure I built for it would also anchor part of my kitchen.

First, holes in the bus wall, and a sturdy base:



Then, walls and a cap:



A notch at the upper rear, it will be fully boxed in and used as a wiring plenum since the lower wall will be full of fridge and open to the outside:



In propane mode some heat shielding is needed. I framed the upper vent a bit, and then added sheet metal. The vent is not at the ideal height, but the alternative is to cut a big hole in the roof and Homey don't play dat.




And here's the fridge in all its glory:



I was satisfied with its performance on electric, and looked forward to hooking up the propane.

The fridge lasted 10 days, then fried its controller box, which would have cost as much to replace as I paid for the whole fridge. After soaking in self-recrimination for a couple of days, I managed to avoid the sunk-cost fallacy and just replaced it with a brand-new, somewhat-smaller-than-full-size, electric-only house fridge:



You can see the child locks I attached to keep things from flying out when I drive. I finally started remembering to use them after half a dozen panic stops, usually on highway onramps, to pick up condiments and leftovers and beer cans. Some of them made it all the way to the front door!
Anyway, the fridge is a bit smaller; you can see where I just filled in the gaps on the enclosure with more plywood.
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