Good Morning skoolie forum! FINALLY after TEN THOUSAND YEARS!!! (not really) I am able to share with you my build. It has been an adventure as all of you know this kind of thing always is. I would like to say thank you up front for every single one of you who answered any of my posts in the past and for all the goodness that is stored here on the forums. This will be a long post. Sorry for that.
Now on to the point. ----- album link: http://goo.gl/photos/9knd1GqAW934DRGf6
I live in Western PA and started my bus hunting process expecting loads of salt eaten chassis to be more or less my reality with this project. I didn't have a big budget and I did have a deadline which motivated some of my decisions. I know, I know... there will be some hate headed my way for some of my decisions and some of the hardware... so be it... but I can say that I have loved every minute of pain and suffering, freezing cold building, emergency learning how to be a mechanic, hard driving, party trips, concerts, kayaking adventures, camping, and everything else that has come into my life with this project. I looked around for the right bus for two months. I test drove 15-20 different units and looked at far more than that. I ended up settling on a 2001 Freightliner FS-65. Based on the way people talk on here and some past experience driving truck I was leaning more towards an international model. However, every single one I drove was kinda a turd. They either had rough running engines, major body defects, or transmissions that felt like they were on their last legs. I chose mine because it runs like a champ, even when its taking a beating the thing just kept going. The body was relatively free of rust and there were no major chassis or body defects.
2001 Freightliner FS-65
3126b CAT 7.2L Turbo Diesel engine
AT545 Transmission (I think, there is some drama about that)
Rear Air suspension
64 Pass cap
35 Foot body (~26 of that usable coach)
Bonus feature: already existing belly mounted cargo bays.
Bonus feature: no mouse houses found!
I took it home in very late October and started the gutting process. I took out all the seats, patched the one weak spot, sealed all the holes and laid some insulation on the floor. In the pictures you can see that process. I was flying by the seat of my pants on most of this but hey, I am an engineer, I can figure it out... (or steal shamelessly from you fine folk) I ended up leaving the rubberized floor because I didn't have a plywood floor under it. Just the metal floor pan. I also had to cut the flanges on the seats to get most of them out. Which was a pain... but I got it done. I also cut open the walls to get rid of that crap insulation and look for leaking things. That all patched up I started working on the construction in the super warm month of December... I will admit that I was out there in my bibs and hat trying to make progress. I ended up using XPS foam boarding as my primary insulation because by my determination it was the best option. If there was more time and it wasn't so cold I would have gone with a spray foam application but at this point it was just too cold for it to react properly.
The rest of the build is 100% amateur hour construction. I do have some set construction experience in the theatre... but that only goes so far. Add to that the only tools I really had to make this work was a circular saw, jigsaw, and drill. Later on in the project I got access to a table saw that I used to slap together the countertop and table top but for the most part it was just one guy, three tools, and a dream. I set up the whole thing to be more of an activity machine as opposed to a camper. I really don't have a need for a full timing set up and I use it mostly for day trips places and occasionally staying at different locations for less than a week. That in mind I wanted a very open kind of feel with a lot of area to sit and bullshit, comfortably hide from the rain, and work on different things. Whether that be dinner or an actual project... didn't matter. I built a little dinette area that was essentially a booth with a table that drops down to allow the space to be sleep-able. Across from that was a 6 foot couch. Behind the couch was the dual framed area, which I will expand on later... and across from that was a 7ish foot long countertop with "cabinets" below it. Next to the framed space is also a framed out location for a full sized single well kitchen sink. the rest of the way back is two 9 foot couches that terminate in two rear facing benches that will eventually get little tabletops that go under the windows. I really like the idea of backing in to a site with a great view and then enjoying my morning coffee and breakfast either on the roof or in the back looking out at nature. All of the benches are hollow on the inside and have liftable seats that allow usage of the space below. They aren't the best... the design could be better. The build materials could definitely be better. Its what I could come up with and reasonably build at the time though. I am open to suggestions. One of the 9 footer couches is also insulated with 2-5 inches of insulation to basically make it a large chest cooler. I didn't waterproof it as of yet. I have found that I can run down to the local welding supply place and grab a bunch of dry ice and toss that into a metal bucket in the cooler and it will actually keep the entire thing cold for some time. Last time I charged it up we used it for a cooler for the weekend at a party and 20 lbs of dry ice kept it fridge level cooled for 3-4 days. I did leave the original bus heater under the rearmost bench. I also keep my power management stuff in the front most booth seat for now. The roof I compression fit the insulation foam inbetween the ribs and added a little dab of adhesive schmoo to help keep it tight, put furring strips over it as a more stable surface to attach roof material to and as a thermal brake between the metal ribs and my inside roof.
The floor! I am so glad you asked. After the floor pan there is the wonderful kiddie barf protection layer (pronounced rubberized coating) that was there from the manufacture. I put a layer of insulation down broken by furring strips to give me a more solid surface to work with. Construction adhesive holds the wood to the floor. OSB on top of that to finish it up... The plan was to put a wood lament flooring down on top of the OSB but I wasn't thinkin very well at the time and opted to wait until I had everything else down first to save money on flooring. That lead to it not getting laid because of all the super fine cuts needed to lay it down around the structure. When you take the concept of nothing being straight on a bus after 16 years of abuse and add in the "beat to fit, paint to match" mentality that most set-builders have... yeah that is a lot of fine cuts.
The roof? What roof?
I ended up not finishing the roof by the deadline. I couldn't figure out a good roof material to use that was within my budget and timeframe to obtain when I was putting it all together so I ended up hastily using Lu-on sheeting. It looks like hell. I am open to ideas there too.
Everyone needs some angry pixies.
For the entire first year I have more or less gone with an unpowered system. I didn't have the money to really get all the components for it by my initial deadline so I got what I could to use and we just power banked it through. After that I have been steadily building up the power system since then as I can afford. I have set up for a 12 volt system. Right now I only have one coach battery. It really only has to power the lights and charge peoples phones so it does alright. I am wiring USB power plugs at a few different places across the bus but Most of the power goes to the lights and radio. I spent a fair amount of time this summer soldering together solar cells and I bought two panels to boot... so solar will be online for this season. Eventually I would like to expand the array to four panels (the two I bought plus two I am still in the process of building) and increase the size of my battery bank a little so I can run something like a blender.
There is no bathroom or water services as of now. I will be adding a composting toilet to one of the framed spots for emergencies... but for the most part places I go have facilities or we aren't there long enough to have to worry about it.
Sink and shower?
If you look at the pics there is a spot for a sink. I will finish that. The other framed space was going to be a shower but I don't think I would actually be using it very much if at all based on how I have been using my bus... so I think I am going to drop the shower idea. I plan on adding a 50-60 gallon water tank inbetween the frame rails right behind the rear axle to run the sink and hold clean water with a similar sized grey tank somewhere to catch the used.
Extras and problems?
I was gifted a train horn. Yay horn! Because the stock ones sound like something that should be on a clown car.
mechanically.... the fan clutch needs changing. The bi-metallic coil isn't actuating correctly anymore. I am having a bit of a heat and speed issue that I think is the same problem: the transmission. To be fair I did kind of abuse this thing a little. I was in a pinch and I did what I had to but here we are now. Going into the winter the bus would run hot. The rolling hills of western PA were really heating it up and I found it was hard to maintain highway speeds. Part of me thinks there is a gov on there and I will look into that when I find a place that will plug it in and tell me without charging me an arm and two legs... but the trans fluid is pretty shot. After the last trip I pulled the dipstick to give her a look and it was black. I couldn't see any shavings or anything... but the fluid is toast for sure. Now that would also explain the heat issues I was having. The RAD and engine seemed to have no problem cooling... but when the trans heated up it seemed to not be able to get rid of it. The burnt fluid doesn't carry heat well to the cooler and after talking with my old trucking buddies and the local bus mech low or burnt fluid won't give me all i could get out of the transmission leading to the reduced top speed. After it gets a little warmer here I will be diving into that. I have been saving some money up to solve that problem but I am hoping it wont kill me.
The engine runs like a champ still, I know a lot of you here hate on the CAT motors... but in my experience if you keep up with the maintenance they can run forever.
I did take her for a spin here a few days ago and am having a little issue with the engine surging when under heavy load but to me it sounds like a fuel problem. Could be the water separator is full or the fuel filter is plugged. Either one is possible and once it isn't so cold and snowing I'll pull them apart and tend to that. Or a squirrel could have stuffed my air filter with sunflower seeds...
Future plans: Finish the floor. Finish the roof. Finish the solar. Finish the water. Finish tinting the windows. Perhaps change the interior structure. Maybe add a roof deck for kayak storage. Come up with an awesome paint scheme. Add heaters.
In conclusion, if you made it this far thanks for reading. I love my skoolie and everything that came with it. It has been a lot of work, it will never be "done," and I know it is clearly an amateur hour production... but it is mine. I feel like for one guy with limited money, very limited time, and only the three tools I did pretty good. I am open to critique and if you guys have any suggestions of things that I could change or make better please let me know. I'll answer any questions if I get them.
A lot of people laughed at this project but it has brought me so much fun and taken me to so many places already I would say it is absolutely worth it. I can't wait to see where we will go next. If any of you guys see me on the road or are passing through feel free to say hello!