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Old 01-11-2019, 10:02 PM   #1
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Location: Rock Hill, SC
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Year: 1997
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Chassis: Vista 3600
Engine: DT466E / AT545
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Geminus Bus Build

Finding Geminus

I've made 9 trips across this great country, each one of 1600 miles. I've been to 23 states between South Carolina & Colorado, and know there is so much more to see. After settling back down in SC I have grown bored, and around September of last year started looking at converting my truck bed into a camper. Many google searches later, I arrived to this wonderful forum, and decided to take the Skoolie route.

Lurking since early November, I gathered the data I needed to start searching for a bus, and oh was it a wild ride. I decided from this wonderful forum than anything other than the AT545 would suffice, and that I wanted a DT466 engine. After much deliberation I decided to settle with nothing more than a Transit style. The full dognose took up too much space, and the Vista type looked ridiculous.

Between sketchy craigslist meetups and some blatant lies on ebay listings, to some great deals on auctions that I lost out on, I didn't think I was going to have much luck. I started looking at the North Carolina School System Surplus website, and found quite a few seemingly good buses, however they didn't have hardly any information on them. No photos, nothing.

So, I got a friend to drive me up to the mountains of NC, where there is little snow but lots of hills - of course they'd have anything other than an AT545 tranny. So, after some...detours due to ridiculous highway designs, we arrived at Hendersonville only to find out that they didn't have anything other than AT545's in very hilly terrain, and told me off the bat not to buy one.

So, on to some other counties!


Same for the adjacent 4 counties - all but one flat out told me the transmissions were shot and I wouldn't make it home. All hope is lost. A bookbag of manilla folders with each bus for each county, all visited and bad prospects. 47 buses....but I did have 2 more left. A little town in Union. After looking at the 3800 on the lot, and comparing it to the alternative, it was clear the 3800 had some issues with the engine just from listening to it. The other one was cheaper (random prices assigned by a list, not based on condition oddly), ran better, drove better, and it's body was in better condition with no rust. So, $3000 and a speed unlock later, I drove home with a bus.


And that's how I ended up with a 1997 International Vista 3600 with a DT466e and AT545. 108,000 miles for $3,000. I'm still not 100% sure they didn't sell me a 3800 that had flattened it's nose by hitting a wall. Kind of like the pug dog of buses.




So, despite me "knowing" I wanted a transit style, and wanting to stay away from the 545, after driving it ~100 miles and doing a bit more research, I can say I'm comfortable with my decision. I surely won't ever think it's the best looking bus, but I'll make it mine and love it anyways.

I am a stickler for safety and the law (well, 99.9% of it, ancient blue laws be damned). Mainly safety. Before looking at the buses at the mountain lots I had stopped ruling out dog nosed due to several news reports regarding dog nosed and transit style school bus crashes. While both faired amazingly well, the transit style seemed to have a slight increase in driver injury potential with high walls and/or overhangs, moreso than dog nose.

I did not like driving the transit style, I know it will "come" to me but I had a 50 mile drive home and that was not the time for learning something new, especially in a 26,000 pound bus. So in the end, I'm comfortable with the body style and like that I am sitting nearly directly over the front wheels, which I am very familiar with.

As for the 545, it's certainly not an overachiever. Sitting behind a computer I'd never buy anything with a 545 in it knowing it's limitations - about 35 on 8% grades according to some metrics by members here. But real world experience is wonderful - driving up to Hillyville, NC we passed several semi's that were doing under 30. My friend followed behind them clocking their speed, and one was around 24mph on a 7% grade (I think that was the grrade, maybe 6%).

This makes me comfortable with the uphill/downhill performance that we saw on the test drive, and the highway performance during the drive home. My maximum speed as a school bus (no alterations) was 60mph on 0% grade. On some of my more recent test drives, I actually passed a few cars on the highway. In addition to this, SC law dictates maximum highway speeds of 60MPH (like anyone actually does that) so that's perfect.

The AT545 is also "simple", compared to other transmissions. While this doesn't exactly benefit me directly until I learn how it works and how to do repair/maintenance, it does seem to mean repairs at a shop in the meantime will be cheaper than one with overdrive or locking tc. During that "meantime" I'm going to be converting the inside, and adding some college classes for diesel engines (or whatever course my tech college offers that's relevant).

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Old 01-11-2019, 10:03 PM   #2
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Location: Rock Hill, SC
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Year: 1997
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Chassis: Vista 3600
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Back Home

So, we got the bus back to York County and found a place to park it. Luckily we have a dead end street at the entrance of my community where semi trucks park, often for multiple nights (a few live there, and stop on their OTR trips). Too far from electrical, but I've been making do.

First thing to go - them seats! This is currently still ongoing, and quite the hassle once you get to the ones that are over the rear differential. I've got an angle grinder, and may just use that to get them bolt heads off if me and my friend can't find a proper way.

Here's me in between the front engine panels and the fuel tank area. Tight squeeze, but still enough to take a selfie.


No better friend to help than a Navy SeaBee with Buddy Holly Glasses. Super awesome and great help.



Got some seats hauled off to the dump, didn't feel like recycling them or anywhere that could do so. Taking 6 seats off at a time in a pickup it's the best, but it's better than taking the bus to the dump full of seats.

I've also started cleaning out some areas of the bus, mostly the edges of the seat rail. These kids are super nasty.

Another thing that the school district left in was the cameras - 4 of them. 720p with bnc terminators and held in place with security bits. Overall, I'd give them a passing grade on their security. Decided to take them out, verify they work, and use them on the outside linked to both a DVR and split into multiple camera monitors I'll mount to the dash. Back far, Back bumper top down, Front left, front right for turning.

It has a pretty good exterior, and absolutely minimal rust. I say that because saying 100% rust free is a lie, there is rush somewhere, but not the chassis for sure. Just a lot of dirt and grease. From what I have seen on here and on some ebay listings, I honestly thought that buses just "had" surface rust as a given, and suspected they may have painted over it. Before I realized that was stupid, nobody that works in a school district maintenance yard cares enough for a bus they won't see a profit from anyways.

The DT466e purrs like a grumpy cat with lung cancer, but that's how a good diesel engine should sound. I mean, it's an engine, not a living animal.


A bit of surface rust on some parts, but I'll get to cleaning components on the engine where it's needed after the interior has been gutted.

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Old 01-11-2019, 10:03 PM   #3
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OOPS. Might have made a post mistake.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:17 PM   #4
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All the rust will be on the steel floor once you get the plywood up.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:19 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by o1marc View Post
All the rust will be on the steel floor once you get the plywood up.
Yeah I'm super behind on photos, but surprisingly I don't have hardwood floor. Just rubber over metal. I did have a bit of surface rust on the metal floor, but didn't have to use a grinder yet, just a wire brush.

Only have done the front 2 foot section in front of the doghouse, but hopefully the trend continues to the back of the bus.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:31 PM   #6
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Congrats, you enjoy that bus man.
But its not 26k lbs. that's likely the max its rated for. Its probably around 14-16k.
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Old 01-11-2019, 10:55 PM   #7
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Chassis: Vista 3600
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Yeah, just over 18000 empty, and rated for 29000. Max that I registered it for was 23000.

With good luck this bus will last me for many adventures.
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Old 01-12-2019, 12:43 AM   #8
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I am sure you have discovered that reading this forum and others like it is in no way the adventure of getting your own and working on it. I wish you many great adventures! Welcome to the fun!
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Old 01-12-2019, 06:42 AM   #9
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Congratulations on getting a bus! Looking forward to seeing your build.
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Old 01-12-2019, 07:13 AM   #10
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awesome bus!! and as for the AT545 mentioned so many times? make sure you keep its fluid clean and happy and install a trans cooler on it to keep it cool...



ive travelled the mountains in 3 AT545s... I only have one left... speaks for itself.. nevertheless I am proof that you can heat one up to 385 degrees and it still survived.. (thats the one in which remains)..


I love the look of the vista.. the big windows and such.. if you sare going to do much summer travelling, you'll want to make the Air-conditioner is in good order..



one reason i like the vista is its a bit unusual... That in and of itself is worth it!


-Christopher
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Old 01-12-2019, 12:11 PM   #11
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Photos!















I am having trouble finding a drop in gauge for the transmission temperature. Closest I found was the round ones like this.



I do believe I have the sensor already installed on the 545 - I have backup sounds so that output is used, neutral output is used, and I have a spare two prong wire connector coming out of the drivers side of the tranny. I'm assuming this is the temp?
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Old 01-12-2019, 12:48 PM   #12
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Does your speedometer work? There’s a two prong sensor near the tail shaft for that.
The temp sensor is usually in the pan on the side not used by the dipstick.
The gauge for that panel can be ordered from circuit board medics. It will fit into the cluster in one of the outboard left slots. I think it’s upper left. The 2 pin harness may already be bundled up above in the harness of the trans.
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Old 01-12-2019, 01:36 PM   #13
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Speedo does work, as do the rest of them - seemingly accurate from what I've been able to measure/estimate. I've seen a few mention circuit board medics, but IIRC that requires you to send the entire panel in just to have them drop a gauge in. I'm assuming from the location of the requested gauge (Trans Temp) it has it's own connectors separate from the main PCB that runs the main cluster, which means I'd still essentially have to wire the gauge anyways.

If they wire it into the main cluster PCB and assuming it's already getting data for the trans temp, just without having a gauge to display it on, that'd be the perfect option though.

On the other hand, I'm digging CadillacKids (Sorry, didn't realize it was you) glass cockpit, and wanting to implement something like that into my bus. However, just like with aircraft, you always want a nice set of analog gauges for "just in case" moments and trans temp is certainly something I'd like to know in one of those moments.

EDIT: Okay, well, CBM is right down the road from me! I may just drop in (if possible) and ask them about the cluster. Hopefully they take personal deliveries, I can save on time and delivery costs!
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Old 01-12-2019, 01:50 PM   #14
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I got circuit board medics to send me a gauge when I ruined the air gauge in mine from freezing it. These earlier electronic engines didn’t use a datalink for all their gauges. I think that started on 97 for most of them? The trans gauge never was on the data bus. It has 2 wires going into the connector for and the gauge itself plugs into the PCB on the cluster. Navistar in many cases prewired options but not on all so only way to know is to see if there’s a 2 pin wire unused in the harness around the trans, otherwise you can use an aftermarket trans temp or install the wires for one. I’ll have to see if my wiring diagrams go back far enough.
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Old 01-12-2019, 04:56 PM   #15
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Just got finished removing the rails on the inside as well as the pneumatic bar and stop sign. Rails were quite easy, only had to angle grind seven screws. The weight of this minor stuff seems to add up quickly. Carrying all the rails, I'd say it's around 50-60 pounds.

The front bumper bar came off pretty easy, although every single one of the four bolts that held it on snapped. Luckily they were bolted through, and the other end just pushed right out.

As far as the side stop sign, oy vey. That was soooooooooo difficult to get off, and while I understand the system is no longer operable I wasn't able to crimp the end of the air line before it popped back into the side of the bus, so now there's an open line in the wall panels.

Being said, I cranked it up and got the PSI to 90. Going back out to check it in a few hours, as long as it doesn't move I think I should be good. I was able to crimp the lower bumper bar line.

All this in the rain. Fun times.
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Old 01-12-2019, 09:59 PM   #16
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The air lines for the stop arm and stop sign will go to the accessory part of the tank and through a protector valve. Best way is to disconnect them at the source and be done. My carpenter stop sign line was tight and through an electromagnetic vale so it didn’t cause issues.. until a wire got against something in the switch panel and activated that solenoid letting out lots of air fast. Yeah it’s properly disconnnected from the air system now..
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Old 01-16-2019, 03:19 PM   #17
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Cleaning The Floor & Wheel Wells

Got the rest of the seats out, and the center rubber strip. I've decided to leave the left and right rubber floor, I pulled up some areas and there was very little if any rust. The majority of the rust can be seen on the center floor that's exposed, which again is minor.

In the video I'm prepping the floor for painting and getting ready to lay down the actual floor. My plan is as follows:

Coat rubber and exposed metal with Rustoleum
Lay down 1/8" strip in the center to make level floor
Lay down 1/4" foam insulation boards
Lay down 1/2" plywood
Lay down one piece vinyl floor with a hopefully awesome pattern

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Old 01-16-2019, 09:10 PM   #18
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Chassis: Vista 3600
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Sealing The Floor

Painted the floor after cleaning it and sealing the holes with patch tape. Used Rustoleum Enamel, Safety Red. Figured I had enough yellow, and black/grey may lead to me missing spots on the black rubber floor.

A single gallon that quoted 300 square feet made the perfect size with little left over, just enough to spare. Used a 3/4" roller, so the layer is quite thick and should hold up to decent amounts of exposure.

On top of this will go a foam insulation layer, then 1/2" plywood, then most likely a single sheet of vinyl.

Not sure if you can tell from the few photos I took, but this was very much a P.O.D. situation. I am in a time crunch, and need to make a few trips at the very least by April 23rd of this year, so I am taking a few shortcuts with precautions.
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Old 01-17-2019, 01:07 AM   #19
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The red floor sure does give you contrast!
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Old 01-17-2019, 07:30 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Native View Post
The red floor sure does give you contrast!
It does indeed. Like the rear door was the elevator from The Shining.

I'm trying to keep a good budget for this, so for things that aren't going to be visible or have leeway in what products/materials I can use, I always go to the local lowes and H.D. to see if they have anything on sale.

The only matching product for the paint in either was a discounted Rustoleum Safety Red Enamel. One of the cans people spray paint on to test colors or to be a knob.

For the last few days I've been searching for the flooring materials and prepping. Got enough unfaced 0.5" foam + sound barrier for just under $5 each, regular price $9.88. Here's what I'm using for insulation - https://www.lowes.com/pd/Georgia-Pac...ier/1000318607

Getting some 3/4" or 5/8" plywood to lay on top of that, then likely waiting to do the actual top layer flooring (vinyl most likely) until I get the rest of the interior wired and major work done to the frame. Don't want to scratch up the nice floor
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