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Old 03-06-2017, 12:01 AM   #1
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College Student's Skoolie Conversion

Hello everyone
My name is Taylor. I'm a psychology major converting a school bus in central Florida. My bus is a 1993 dog nose Thomas with a DT360 engine, International chassis, and Allison transmission. It was purchased from the local school board for $3010 in June 2015 and I've been working on it between classes ever since. I've been browsing this forum from the start, but I finally decided to share my project with the people here so I can help and be helped along the way. So, here it is. Sorry I didn't really take any photos of the interior. It hadn't occurred to me at the time.

I went with a skoolie for several reasons:
1. My father is a citrus farmer, and a lot of retired buses are used for the transportation of migrant workers, or fabricated into other machinery like chivas and spreader trucks. I chose a bus with the same chassis as all the other buses so I always have spare parts on hand.
2. My father once made a camp out of the body of an old school bus, so this is sort of nostalgic.
3. The diesel engine. Bus engines are very powerful, so they can carry or tow a lot of weight. Diesel fuel is also more fuel efficient than gas and produces more torque. And, if I wanted to, I could convert it into a veggie oil bus one day.
4. I hate the idea of living in an apartment I don't own with noisy neighbors and limited freedom. I wanted to own my own place and have the ability to move quickly if needed. A bus accomplishes this.
And 5. Buses are built really tough. Everything is heat treated steel. Even drilling through the sheet metal takes ages, which is a good thing. Buses were designed so that 60+ kids would be safe in the event of an accident and no parents would sue the school board. I would much rather put all this effort into something I know can take a beating than buy a sticks and staples RV for way more money.

This thing hasn't just been sitting around collecting dust for over a year and a half. I'll post some progress pictures shortly.
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Old 03-06-2017, 12:38 AM   #2
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After purchasing, the bus was moved to my father's machine shop where
I've been working on it ever since. I started out removing all the seats in the bus. I was rolling around underneath with a wrench while my friend/ex-girlfriend Sydney was inside working the impact gun on the bolts. Most of them came up just fine, but some were stuck so I ground them down with an angle grinder and pried the seats up. My brother Josh also pitched in when he finished working on his personal project, the mud truck. The seats were put on a trailer and moved out behind the shop to be used as replacements for the migrant bus seats, as they were in really good shape.

After that I brought Sydney and another friend named Kelly to help me rip up the flooring, which was plywood screwed to the floor and covered in rubber. We got to it with our pry bars and peeled up the old rubber to find that the plywood under the back emergency exit was rotting. When I tried to open the emergency exit, the door just fell off, so I guessed that it had been leaking and water got into the screw holes holding down the "aisle" between the seats. In some places it was gooey, not like wood should be at all. It was disgusting.

We ripped up the rest of the wood, and most of the screws holding it down were so rusty they didn't even look like screws anymore, so I had to cut them off with the angle grinder. After a lot of hard work ripping up the wood, we finally saw the subfloor, and to no one's surprise it was rusty. Most of it was under the aforementioned emergency exit, along the aisle between the seats, and the worst at the very front of the bus (either from the heater hoses leaking or a leaky engine cowling). I did a quick run over the floor with the angle grinder and wire brush attachment, and the difference was amazing. I wire brushed the floor for FIVE DAYS. It was miserable, and I was sore and covered in brown dust after each day, but I was glad the rust was finally gone.
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Old 03-06-2017, 01:09 AM   #3
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After the wire brushing was finally over, I got some ospho, a paint roller on a broomstick, and a paint tray and got to work brushing it onto the floor. I made the mistake of not wearing safety glasses, as I assumed nothing would happen since the work surface was almost 6' below me. When I got to the stairs, though, I hit the face of the stair with the roller too hard and a drop hit me in the eye. It burned with all of Hell's fury and my brother helped me flush out my eye with water for about 20 minutes. My vision was blurred for the rest of the day, but there was no lasting damage. Lesson learned. ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES WHEN WORKING WITH HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. Even if they're not even close to your eyes. Don't end up like me.
Also worth noting: ospho smells kind of like rotten eggs and isn't good for your lungs, so work in a well-ventilated area. Almost as important, the ospho will go through the holes from the seats and such and drip onto the ground below, so be careful if you care about your work surface because ospho will eat it up to some extent and make it look bad. This wasn't a problem for me, but could be for someone working in their driveway or something.

After the ospho finished doing its thing, there was a white slightly sticky residue left in the less rusty areas of the floor. I don't know if I put too much or what, but I had to scrape it off with a wide putty knife. It wasn't fun, but still beat wire brushing.

Then I primed the floor. I used a paint brush to outline the areas to be painted, then used a paint roller to do the wide areas. I used brown rustoleum primer and it looked SO much better when I was done. I decided against painting it since it'll just be under the new floor that will be put in later, but who knows, I might change my mind.

I used silicone caulk to plug the holes in the floor, but later decided that that wasn't the best idea and that welding would be much better. I also caulked around the edges of the bus to try and fill in the spots between welds at the bottom of the seat rail things.
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Old 03-06-2017, 02:02 AM   #4
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I decided after painting the floor to completely gut the bus. Not the best move, but not the end of the world either. I wanted to get rid of the probably disgusting and ineffective old fiberglass insulation and put in spray foam later. I started out with the ceiling panels. They had screws instead of rivets, but they had some sort of weird head that was a cross between a phillips and a square, and I couldn't find a drill bit that worked with these weird screws. I tried a few different things to get the screws down, but what I ended up doing was using an air-powered die grinder with a cutting wheel attachment to cut a slot in the screw, then use a flathead screwdriver to unscrew it. If half the head fell off, I would beat it off with a hammer and chisel. This process wasn't difficult or too hard on the arms, but god was it time-consuming. Eventually my father got two of the shop guys to come help drill out the screws, saying "you can't pick a whole orange grove by yourself," which may have been the corniest thing I've ever heard. I had gotten about 2/3 of them down and the shop guys got the rest. I was very glad to have the help.

None of the panels fell down when the screw heads were gone and had to be pried down. I found that claw hammers were best for this, as I didn't want to damage the metal too much like I would with long crow bars. I tried to pry a panel down on my own but it suddenly swung down and hit me in the throat. I wasn't injured but it did knock the wind out of me for a second, so I got Sydney to help me with it later. For some panels we had to remove the wire covers running the length of the bus, as they were screwed underneath them. Anything in the way that I wanted to keep, like the driver's seat belt, fans, and speakers were taken down and/or cut around with an angle grinder to make panel removal easier. Sydney and I would both pry, and when one panel started to fall, one would continue to pry while the other held it up to keep it steady. This way there were no more incidents. All the panels were stowed under the back of the bus for future use. There were some perforated panels toward the front of the bus that my father wanted to keep and use for radiator covers or something. We also removed some of the more oddly shaped panels, like the one above the back door, the gross fiberglass death trap cabinet above the driver's area, and the small area above the bi-fold doors. I didn't know if I should remove the facing of the back wall, but after looking at an old Thomas bus body with all broken windows behind the shop, I figured out that the rubber gaskets holding the windows in place were mounted to the outer skin of the bus, so this inner skin was not really necessary.

Most of the insulation stayed in the ceiling as panels came down, so Sydney and I dealt with them another day. I was going to use one of those plastic suits paint sprayer operators use, but in Florida that gets hot fast, so we just wore light jackets, pants, rubber gloves, bandanas, dust masks, etc. We still got a little itchy on our forearms, but nothing bad came of it. We loaded all the insulation into big black garbage bags and hauled them off to the dumpster. Some of it was really moldy and some of it was fine, but I don't think fiberglass insulation is the best for a metal structure like a bus so I tossed all of it.
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Old 03-06-2017, 06:13 AM   #5
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I use one of these AND glasses. Mostly when grinding. Anyone building a bus NEEDS one of these-


You did great so far, keep it up!!
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Old 03-06-2017, 09:11 AM   #6
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I use one of these AND glasses. Mostly when grinding. Anyone building a bus NEEDS one of these-


You did great so far, keep it up!!
agreed! cant tell you how many times a drill bit and screws broke off for me and went flying in any which way.
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Old 03-06-2017, 10:20 AM   #7
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Hello! Nice work so far. Interesting bus, I've never seen a front end like that. It looks sturdy, the pics make it look like it has unusually thick roof bows which would be great for strength and insulation. Nice.
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Old 03-06-2017, 10:49 AM   #8
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I use one of these AND glasses. Mostly when grinding. Anyone building a bus NEEDS one of these-


You did great so far, keep it up!!
I appreciate the advice. I can't say I've ever seen a face shield like that, at least not in a machine shop setting. Maybe we just aren't as safe as we should be lol
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Old 03-06-2017, 10:52 AM   #9
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Hello! Nice work so far. Interesting bus, I've never seen a front end like that. It looks sturdy, the pics make it look like it has unusually thick roof bows which would be great for strength and insulation. Nice.
You're right about the bus having a weird front end. We only have one other one like it, but its DT466 engine went into my brother's mud truck so it's out of commission. The engine comes partially into the bus, covered by a removable engine cowling. There's a small access door into the cowling where you can check oil and transmission fluid. It's such a weird design choice, but it's probably for making engine servicing either. I included a picture to show what I mean.
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Old 03-06-2017, 11:21 AM   #10
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I went on to remove the walls after the ceiling was down. I didn't want to even deal with the seat rail thing, so I just removed the wall skins. I used the same die grinder/flathead screwdriver combo to get the screws out, and then I cut the skins about 2" below the windows with the angle grinder. I went through, like, 5 cutting wheels, but I didn't think other cutting methods would do as good a job. I took out the visible insulation and bagged it up, and had to dig out the insulation between the exterior skin and the seat rail with a pry bar because my hands wouldn't fit. There was still some insulation bits stuck to everything, so I used a shop vac to clean it up some. I'll probably wash everything later and get it clean for spray foam.

I also removed the heater because, as previously mentioned, I think the leaky hoses really did a number on the floor in the front of the bus, and I don't want that to happen again. I only made a slight mess with the coolant, and my brother helped me get it out of the bus. I cut the heater hoses shorter and replaced the Ts going to the heater and defroster with elbows so the coolant would just go back to the engine. I also removed the defroster, but I shouldn't have done that. I might find one out behind the shop and replace it, hopefully with one that isn't so big. Or maybe I'll just have to BS it. I don't know. I'll tend to that another time.
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Old 03-06-2017, 11:31 AM   #11
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I appreciate the advice. I can't say I've ever seen a face shield like that, at least not in a machine shop setting. Maybe we just aren't as safe as we should be lol
I worked 12 years in a FL fab shob with REALLY lax "safety" and even they had these!
They're $15 at Lowes, skip the crappy ones at harbor freight.
I'll cut, grind, whatever in sandals- but I double up on eye protection!
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Old 03-06-2017, 11:32 AM   #12
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I'm in Apopka if you ever want a hand with anything, or would like to see a bus totally gutted and raised.
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Old 03-06-2017, 12:51 PM   #13
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I'm in Apopka if you ever want a hand with anything, or would like to see a bus totally gutted and raised.
I appreciate the offer, but my bus is parked in Wauchula, which I imagine would be too much of a drive for you.
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Old 03-06-2017, 01:52 PM   #14
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Well, I did drive to Dunellon twice to take down some ceiling panels for a nice lady from this forum.
Lemme know if you ever need a hand.
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Old 03-06-2017, 03:50 PM   #15
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Old 03-06-2017, 05:49 PM   #16
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I'm glad to see that everyone here is so friendly

Since getting all the screws down took such a long time, sometimes I would take a break from it and work on something else.

One rather big issue was that my bus would take about 10-15 minutes to build up air pressure and quit with the insanely loud beeping, so I figured something was leaking. Turns out it was the governor on the air compressor, which regulates air flow. One of the shop guys gave me a new one they had on hand and I replaced it, and air pressure build time was reduced to about a minute.

My bus had rubber "fenders" on it that looked like crap before they were damaged, and now really look like crap, so I took them off. The holes left behind will be welded or filled with fiberglass where appropriate.

I also removed the warning lights completely since I don't get to use them. I considered making covers for them but decided to weld up the holes instead for maximum leak protection. I also removed the stop signs, stop arm, the broken roof hatch door, the back emergency exit alarm, the old 2-way radio antenna, and the strobe light on top of the bus. My father wanted to salvage it for use on other buses, but it shorted out and got really hot when he tried to power it on. I think it was full of water.

I took out all the windows and the bifold doors (which spat out a bunch of black water??). I plan on putting about half of them back in after I'm done welding and painting, as I don't want to damage them. They'll also get a good cleaning. I want to weld the bifold doors together and add a lock so it acts more as a house door, but still has the driving visibility of a bus door. I might put wood on the interior side of the door to act as a thermal break and make it look a little nicer. I took the bottom window out of the back emergency exit as well, as that's where I'll put a bed, and there's no point having a window that will eventually leak if you can't even get a good view from it.

About half of my marker lights wouldn't turn on, so I investigated. One just needed a new bulb, while the rest couldn't ground due to rust, so I replaced them with lights salvaged off of the graveyard buses. I also replaced damaged lenses with less damaged lenses. Now I plan on replacing most of the bus's lights with LED lights, and I might replace these marker lights as well.

My horn wouldn't honk unless the steering wheel was turned all the way to the left. After a bit of test light usage we figured it was a ground issue. We took off the steering wheel cover and saw that it was rusty. He literally just sprayed WD-40 in it and it fixed it. That stuff really is good for everything.

The battery box was super rusty, as was the battery's tray, so I wire brushed, treated, and primed it with more rustoleum. I will probably paint it soon.

There's some oil covering the bottom of a few mechanical components under the bus, which I have yet to investigate. It seems there's a leak somewhere. I'll let everyone know how it goes when I get to it. I also need to replace or fix the light that lets me see my gauges at night. It won't turn on.
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Old 03-06-2017, 06:40 PM   #17
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Now I'm about up to date with everything.

For the past several months I've been welding while I have other people sand away from me so I don't blind them. I had my friends Sydney and Dalton come down some, but as they have both moved away my boyfriend Sean as taken over with the sanding. We've been using 120 grit sand paper with an electric orbital sander. We also have an air-powered sander but it's old and crapped out on us.

I don't know if other people have had this problem to this extent, but my bus is FULL of holes. Not just in the floor, but in the body as well, especially on the driver's side. On that side alone I counted over 40 holes, and most of them seemed to be there for no particular reason. That said, welding is taking forever.

Our old welder is so old that we can't find parts to fix it, and the industrial-sized welder at the other shop is much too powerful for this super thin bus metal, so we got a new one. It's a Miller mig welder, the kind with a handle on top for easy carrying. I'm using solid core wire and stargon gas with the welder set a little cold since I'm working on a vertical surface and don't want to blast through the metal. I wear lots of protective equipment: welding gloves, dickey shirt, thick jeans (since women's jeans are so stupidly thin), leather boots, auto-darken welding helmet, and a bandana on my head if I'm welding around eye level. Those sparks don't feel to good on the scalp. Welding gives off UV rays like the sun, and I don't want to get sunburns and cancer.

Holes less that 1/4" in diameter could just be welded shut, but larger holes like the warning light holes had patches cut from the old ceiling panels. I'm surprised I've seen no one else reuse these panels for other areas of the bus. My bus has the same gauge panels inside and out, which is nice on the bank account. Don't have to buy sheet metal! For larger holes I traced the shape of the hole on thick paper, like old manila file dividers in my case. Then I traced that onto the old ceiling panel, cut it out with a jigsaw, and put the patch against the hole I was about to weld with welding magnets. If it was too big to fit in the hole, I would go around the hole onto the patch with a sharpie, then grind away anything outside that marker line with a bench grinder. I repeated this until it completely fit. I used the wire brush side of the bench grinder to get the paint off, and used a wire brush on the angle grinder to prep the area around the hole for welding. I attached the patch with welding magnets, tacking along the perimeter of the circle. If the patch and the bus body didn't completely align, there was some hammering and bending done. Once everything was tacked and even, I welded it entirely, taking care to not warp the metal (but some of that happened anyway). I would grind away the welds, turn off the lights in the shop, and position a light behind the patch so I could see any tiny holes that needed to be welded up again. I repeated this process until there was no light shining through. I also used the light method on tiny holes. Using this method, I welded up all eight warning light holes, the stop sign wire holes, the 2-way radio antenna hole, the old heater vent, and all the tiny body holes. I protected whatever glass I couldn't remove with welding shirts, welding aprons, and covered the windshield with some scrap wood after a welding shirt caught on fire.

I still need to weld up the hole where the bottom window in the back emergency exit door was, all the holes in the floor, one hole in the roof where a vent used to be, a gap between the outer skin and the floor where the heater was, and I need to weld a piece of channel onto the bottom step at the front so I can better build a door frame. I've already put patches in the larger floor holes; I just screwed bolts into the floor a tiny bit, then cut it off where it came out of the floor with an angle grinder. I continued to do this until there was just a head left, then got another bolt and did it again. I will weld around the bolts and grind them flush, using the same light method to make sure there are no tiny holes left.

That's all the progress I've made so far and will update as I get further along.
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Old 03-06-2017, 06:48 PM   #18
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Nice progress and pics!!!
I would have reused the ceiling panels but they had a funky, proprietary texture to them.
Made some scrappers day.
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Old 03-06-2017, 11:09 PM   #19
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I drew up a floorplan in AutoCAD Architecture. I took drafting/architecture for two years in high school and can still be difficult to use, so I would advise against using this program with no experience unless you have a lot of patience.

Measuring from the back of the bus to the back of the driver's seat my bus's interior space is 26' 5" long and 7' 6" wide. I will add 2" to the walls for insulation and plumbing. All that taken into account, I have just slightly over 198sqft of living space.

The washer/drier and the range/oven are actually in my possession so I know exactly how much space they will take up, but all other appliance measurements are based on random RV products just to get an idea of the space. Furniture and cabinetry are drawn based on their standard dimensions. I wanted to make the interior feel like a house as much as I reasonably could, but that isn't easy. For example, a house hallway is supposed to be no less than 36" wide but my bus's middle aisle is 32" wide as its narrowest. I will also be covering up a lot of windows apparently, but that may change.

I want to integrate storage wherever possible. The recesses above the driver's area and the side door can be used, I'll build cabinets in the kitchen and shelves in other areas, the couch will have integrated storage, I want to make the bed lift up so I can fully take advantage of that space, make drawers out of the toe kicks beneath the cabinets, put shallow shelves in a partition between the couch and stairs, etc. I might put a headboard with integrated storage behind the bed but I'm not sure yet.
I also have a cat whose litter box and other pet supplies will be kept on the bottom level of the misc. wheel well closet.

The dining table will be a drop leaf table. I haven't decided if I should purchase or build it. I may mount a TV to the wall above it, but so it can be stowed when not in use.
The refrigerator will be a larger RV fridge that can run on propane, AC or DC. An under the counter fridge seems too small to me.
The desk in the bedroom will have integrated shelving and the table top will fold up for driving.
I want to fit an ironing board somewhere, even if it's a tiny one, because I like to sew.

The toilet will be a composting toilet with a vent fan leading to the outside, possibly through the wall to prevent leaks.
I may get rid of the bathroom sink entirely, as it is quite tight in the bathroom already, but we'll see. The shower is 30"x36" and I want to sink it into the floor maybe 8-12". I'll need to get with my sister's father-in-law and build one. He used to fabricate for commercial kitchens so he knows his way around stainless steel and tig welders. I'll put a sump pump on it, or just let it drain on the ground, depending on where the bus is parked.

The $'s represent light switches, the O's with the ll through them represent electrical outlets, and the triangle by the passenger door is a "porch" light. I will add more electrical stuff to this floor plan as I go, as well as plumbing and propane lines.

A lot of things that I can't/don't want to put in the bus will go underneath, including tools, roadside repair stuff, propane tank, water heater, generator, and batteries.

Questions and comments are encouraged.
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Old 03-06-2017, 11:16 PM   #20
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Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 8,462
Year: 1946
Coachwork: Chevrolet/Wayne
Chassis: 1- 1/2 ton
Engine: Cummins 4BT
Rated Cap: 15
Having water (supply or drains) on both sides of the bus makes for some very tricky plumbing issues. Easy if all is on one side. Nearly all RV's & Skoolies have all of the plumbing on the driver side for that reason.
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