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Old 10-19-2014, 12:00 PM   #281
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Re: Smells Like Teen Spirit: Conversion of 1999 Thomas MVP

Porkchop!
What a stellar conversion you are doing, man. The bus company I run has 15(!) Montgomery County School Buses, and the workmanship (if you can call it that) on some of their 'repairs' is a serious bummer. The plus side, of course, is that we got all 15 for an average price of $2k (plus the drive back to CO). I wish we had that piece of paper to get the 2nd OD unlocked before we drove em back, but we were still getting11-12 on the drives back. Believe it or not, we still need to pick up a couple!

Anyway, I love your conversion and Im super impressed by your attitude and desire to do it right. I mean, pure sine waver inverters? Genuine Cat parts? Extracting all those studs?? That's pretty Boss... Plus you've got E30's in your blood which is a sure sign of good taste... My first car was an '87 325is. Shoulda never sold it.

I wanted to do what you are doing when I was 19, but instead, when I bought a bus, I ended up starting a party bus company to pay for the conversion, lol. Well, the party bus company took off and it's now the largest in the state, and I STILL haven't gotten the chance to do a conversion 'just right' until now--I'm 27. That's life! Granted, I've definitely owned and made improvements on lots of buses and lived on a fair share of them, but still....

It's awesome to see you implementing such good ideas, thoughtful solutions to common problems. I wish you lived closer to Denver and I'd buy you a beer, though, are you legal to drink yet?!

Keep it up man, lemme know what you're next project will be and if you're ever taking a trip out west, make sure you stop by my bus yard!

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Old 10-20-2014, 06:33 PM   #282
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Re: Smells Like Teen Spirit: Conversion of 1999 Thomas MVP

Quote:
Originally Posted by charles_m
Porkchop!
What a stellar conversion you are doing, man. The bus company I run has 15(!) Montgomery County School Buses, and the workmanship (if you can call it that) on some of their 'repairs' is a serious bummer. The plus side, of course, is that we got all 15 for an average price of $2k (plus the drive back to CO). I wish we had that piece of paper to get the 2nd OD unlocked before we drove em back, but we were still getting11-12 on the drives back. Believe it or not, we still need to pick up a couple!

Anyway, I love your conversion and Im super impressed by your attitude and desire to do it right. I mean, pure sine waver inverters? Genuine Cat parts? Extracting all those studs?? That's pretty Boss... Plus you've got E30's in your blood which is a sure sign of good taste... My first car was an '87 325is. Shoulda never sold it.

I wanted to do what you are doing when I was 19, but instead, when I bought a bus, I ended up starting a party bus company to pay for the conversion, lol. Well, the party bus company took off and it's now the largest in the state, and I STILL haven't gotten the chance to do a conversion 'just right' until now--I'm 27. That's life! Granted, I've definitely owned and made improvements on lots of buses and lived on a fair share of them, but still....

It's awesome to see you implementing such good ideas, thoughtful solutions to common problems. I wish you lived closer to Denver and I'd buy you a beer, though, are you legal to drink yet?!

Keep it up man, lemme know what you're next project will be and if you're ever taking a trip out west, make sure you stop by my bus yard!
Thanks man! What color was your E30 out of curiosity? Cause I have a 1987 325is too...probably the best car. That is awesome that you did that, I actually have dreamed of doing a company like that. I also want to move to Colorado, CAN I WORK FOR YOU?!

That is awesome though. Let me know if you have any questions, and I can tell you what to do and what not to do, haha. I need to finish building the interior but it is starting to get cold here...
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Old 10-21-2014, 03:58 AM   #283
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Re: Smells Like Teen Spirit: Conversion of 1999 Thomas MVP

Man!
It was a red one with tan leather seats. That thing was amazing. I think I had better taste when I was younger
Honestly, if you come out here, I can definitely get you a CDL and put you right to work!
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Old 04-03-2015, 04:54 PM   #284
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Good news, everyone!

After much ado, I finally got the 6th gear (second overdrive) in the transmission enabled!



The actual procedure took all of 5 minutes with a laptop and dongle, but the hoops I had to jump through to get there were insane. I went to a place called Western Branch Diesel in Manassas, VA and I highly recommend them. There are very nice people who work there and they really do enjoy their jobs.

The bus now turns approximately 2000 RPM at 65 mph, as opposed to the previous 2400. In turn, it makes more torque and HP and uses less fuel, and wears the engine out less. It won't downshift on long uphill grades anymore (unless they're real steep). It will hold 6th until about 54 mph when it downshifts, so if I chill out a bit on speed (psh like that will happen) you can run at 55 at about 1700 rpm, which I can only imaging uses very very little fuel. I have only driven it a little bit since doing this, and they reset TCM parameters when doing the program, and it is supposed to learn your driving habits and adjust itself so we will see what happens with that. I haven't driven it enough since then to take a MPG figure, and I don't even have a very solid figure from before, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 mpg with 65 mph pedal to the metal highway driving before the trans reprogram.

The steps I had to go through to get this done:

1. Contact Thomas Built Buses about getting a certificate saying they approve the move to make the additional gear happen. You will need your VIN and trans serial. They analyze the gear ratios in the trans, the diff ratio, tire size, and trans / engine combo. The reason is, theoretically, I should have a higher top speed when all is said and done (more about that later) so they want to make sure nothing will be spinning too fast, that the tires on it are rated for the new theoretical top speed (about 75). I have a contact at Thomas for anyone with a Boos-T-Liner trying to do this exact thing.

The thing about the top speed is, at least in my experience, the bus doesn't actually go any faster. The way it comes from the factory, the bus' speed is limited by gearing - i.e. at the top of 5th gear (about 65 mph) you are hitting the engine's rev limiter (about 2400 rpm). When the 6th gear is enabled, the ECU (or whatever CAT calls it) is programmed to not let the ground speed get over 65. So it just reduces the rev limiter in that gear to whatever keeps it at 65, which I think is about 2000. My tach doesn't work so I am getting all these numbers from calculations.

2. Wait for them to approve this, and send you a PDF of it, and make sure they list the correct tire size and type. If what they send you is different than the tires on it, send them documentation telling that the tires on it are rated for 75+ mph. I had goodyears on it, 75R22.5 / 295, but they listed 275s as being the stock size. Since this did not match perfectly (just different tread width) one shop I took it to wouldn't do it. The second shop I went to didn't seem to care that much but it is still a good idea to have them match.

3. Find a truck shop that works on Allison transmissions. Their stuff is very proprietary, so not every "regular Joe" can just program stuff. Tell them what you are doing, with emphasis that you will not be increasing the top speed, as they may get a bit uneasy if they think that is your end game.

4. Print the PDF, make sure the VIN and trans serial are correct, as well as the tire size. You will also need the CIN from the TCM. The CIN is a long letter / number combo on a sticker on the TCM. The TCM is underneath the bus on the drivers side, towards the outside of the bus. The sticker on my bus was missing, so I had to drive to the shop and get them to scan the TCM to get the number.

5. The shop then gets that number, sends it into Allison to see what the current programming is like, then they design a new one, sent it to the shop who then uploaded it onto my bus after I signed a set of waivers. Then you are good to go.

The shop I went to only charged me 2 hours labor to do it, because they were nice, when in reality it was probably more like 6. I had 2 separate trips; one to go there to get them to scan it to get the old CIN, where we thought the communications port on the bus was bad, but it turned out the laptop we were using had issues. We ended up pulling the TCM (they let me use their tools!) and scanning it. Then putting it back, going home, and coming back a week later to put the new one on, waiting for the tech to reset his passwords, and doing a test run.
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Old 04-03-2015, 05:29 PM   #285
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Hey PCS --- Congrats on 6th gear! Glad you found your way around it. Let us know what you find in the way of mpg.

Check out the "Tiny Tach" as an relatively inexpensive option to the factory units. Good to know those numbers.

Design Technology, Inc., Home of the Tiny-Tach - Diesel Tiny-Tach Tachometer
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Old 04-03-2015, 06:11 PM   #286
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So most of the work recently has been mechanical. In addition to the trans reprogram, I changed the trans fluid and filters with Allison OEM filters and Mobil Delvac TES-295 fluid (which is freaking $45 a gallon and it took 5). The trans on my bus is a reman unit from 2009 and had the original filters in it (date stamped) and presumably the original fluid. Apparently to thoroughly flush the old fluid out, after doing the first drain and fill, you drive it a bit and do another drain and fill but I really don't want to spend that much on fluid right now.

Also did an oil change, the second that I have done.



I have no idea what the intervals are supposed to be for these engines, so I sent in an analysis to Blackstone labs, and here are the results:



Not bad wear metals for such a worn out motor.

I also put in a 12 volt outlet for my GPS which took all of 20 minutes thanks to easily accessible wiring and open spots to install fuses. The 12 volt outlets came from amazon, I will link them if anyone wants.





So my next project is building underbody storage. I was using this page as inspiration (this site is actually where I got the idea to do this conversion in the first place): School Bus Conversion - Plumbing

I have a lot of room to play with and tanks to mount as well. I will probably start with the passenger side:



The taped in area is vaguely where I want to build it out. It won't go all the way through to the other side, but rather just to the outside of the frame rail which is roughly 30" deep. I would go the whole length of the skirt, but the area I didn't include has air tanks that take up about 50% of the depth of that area, which is true on both sides. However, there is enough room to mount a water tank between the air tanks and side skirt on each side so I think I will do that, and tie them together and use them as supply tanks. The tanks I have are 46 gallons each and I have 4; two for fresh and two for grey.

Here is a shot of the backside of that area:



My questions:

-Is it kosher to cut through the vertical supports ("ribs") you see in the photo if I sort of frame the opening with some substantial steel and fasten the cut-off parts of the supports to this frame? It appears their only job is to hold the skirt together (and probably provide some strength in an impact) and they are welded at a kickplate towards the floor of the interior of the bus, so I can't see cutting those reducing the structure of anything but the skirt.
-For those of you who have buses that came with storage underneath, do they have these vertical supports present, and if so, are they just cut through and fastened elsewhere?
-Does the ribbed horizontal trim (at the bottom of the skirt) do much of anything structural? I see there is a horizontal piece of tube steel on the bottom of the skirt behind it. Could I remove this ribbed piece in order to extend the height of these compartments?

The more difficult one will be the driver side.



I am planning on moving the Webasto cabinet further back towards the wheel (separate taped area). That area is depth limited as well, but the Webasto cabinet will fit. This will increase the size of the compartment on this side. And again, the air tanks take up space towards the front, so I will have a water tank on that side. Still figuring out where to mount the grey water tanks.
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Old 04-03-2015, 06:17 PM   #287
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charles_m View Post
Man!
It was a red one with tan leather seats. That thing was amazing. I think I had better taste when I was younger
Honestly, if you come out here, I can definitely get you a CDL and put you right to work!
Thanks! The one I have does function but I think it is calibrated wrong. It spins up at the right rate and reads consistently, but reads idle as like 1500 and cruising speed in 5th gear as like 3800. I think there is an adjustment for it, I just haven't wanted to take the dash cover off
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Old 04-03-2015, 08:35 PM   #288
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Here's a great place to buy your doors.
bottomdollarsurplusinc | eBay

Tons of stuff and good starting prices. I bought 2 doors for when i do underneath storage. They were smaller ones-like 10x 24--but i bought one of them for $10.50-and the other for like $3.00!
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Old 04-04-2015, 01:56 PM   #289
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I forgot to add, over new years' me and several friends did a trip down to Asheville, NC to meet some buds. The last microwave I had met an early death due to inadequate restraint and hard turns, so I made sure that wouldn't happen to the new one:



This was before I got the 6th gear enabled so fuel consumption was pretty high still. Also, on any grade over 5% this thing downshifts to 4th and you are stuck at about 45 mph until you level out. I had no issues with overheating but it was in the 30s-40s during the drive. One particular stretch on I-26 in NC, the upward grade seemed to last forever, I was stuck at 45 uphill at high RPM and full boost for nearly ten minutes. Still no overheat issues with the engine but that turbo must have been glowing red. The brakes were okay, engine braking doesn't really do anything in this. I use the "stab braking" technique since it is drums on all 4 corners, where you let gravity pull you to 5 mph over the speed limit, slam the brakes pretty hard till you're 5 mph under, and repeat as necessary. Rather than riding the brakes, this lets them cool down. I had no brake fade doing this, but we pulled over to get some fuel (after I used it all going up 26) and all 4 corners were steaming. Welcome to the mountains, bus!



We brought the Acura as a chase car because we didn't want to have to take the bus into downtown Asheville.

We stayed at my friends' place which is in the middle of nowhere, but that is a good thing. Parked in his front yard. I had hooked the heating system back up, using the front heater and modified the rear heater so (I thought) it would work vertically, as there was a nice space in the back for it to fit that way. So I built an enclosure for it to direct the air and hold it together:



And mounted it vertical:



The enclosure worked well to direct the air to the floor, but I was never able to bleed the air out of it or even get the unit to feel warm. I copied the original hose routing, but I think air just gets trapped in it since it is not designed to be oriented that way. I may try to modify the hose routing so it is in series rather than parallel which may help force air out, but I would probably just need to solder a bleeder into the high point of the heater core.

The front heater, however, works great. It has 2 blower motors, controlled separately, each with lo and high. On high they are quite loud, but it is the only way to keep the cabin warm while driving. On our drive back it was about 32 degrees out and so much air came in through the loose door and various holes and gaps in the front of the bus that the heat barely did anything, even with the Webasto running while I was driving. I had to leave it on because the engine wouldn't stay at operating temperature otherwise, which I have found out is because my cooling fan never disengages. It is operated by a pneumatic clutch which requires air pressure to disengage, controlled by an electric solenoid which is controlled by the ECU. I tested this solenoid yesterday and it works, so I am not quite sure what that is about.

So when we were parked, I would turn the key to accessory (since I haven't wired the blower motors to always be hot) and turned on one front heater motor to low, and within 30 minutes it would be nice and toasty inside the cabin. At this point I hadn't even modified the coolant loop to exclude the engine, so it was quite wasteful, but it kept us warm and burned less than a quarter tank over 4 days. The other thing I haven't done yet is modify the wiring to the Webasto to get it to stay on all the time; I was stuck with the timer thing which will only let it run a max of 120 minutes. So I need to ditch the timer module for a simple on-off switch and indicator light. The other thing that needs to be done (if I use this more in cold climates) is to wire a thermostat to the blower motor, because it would get way too hot in there even with it set as low as possible.

This is the rigged setup I used to route the plumbing through the floor to the rear heater. I didn't want to run rubber lines through because I was worried about chafing and leaks, so I welded a 3/4" pipe through a 1" floor flange and welded a rib onto the ends of the pipe so it would seal better.



These are the water tanks I ordered off eBay, 46 gallons each x 4, about 14" x 18" x 42". There are 4 bungs, on 4 corners of one side, two 3/4" npt and two 1 1/4" npt. They were $95 each shipped, if anyone wants the link let me know. I plan to mount two near the air tanks towards the front of the bus, one on each side, and two between the fuel tank and diff in between the frame rails. The only problem with that is there is a big bundle of wires and air hoses that is hanging down in my way, and they need to be tucked up and restrained before the tanks will fit. I have no plans for black water or a toilet as of yet (which I will probably regret).
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Old 04-06-2015, 12:46 PM   #290
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sdwarf36 View Post
Here's a great place to buy your doors.
bottomdollarsurplusinc | eBay

Tons of stuff and good starting prices. I bought 2 doors for when i do underneath storage. They were smaller ones-like 10x 24--but i bought one of them for $10.50-and the other for like $3.00!
Thanks! I am probably going to build them unless I can find some that are like 8' long. I'm sure I can use that for other stuff though.

Also, I got the tach to read correctly. There was a calibration knob on the back that was set to 4 cylinder instead of 6!
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Old 04-19-2015, 02:05 PM   #291
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A bit short sighted in ordering my tanks, gonna need to jack up the bus or dig a trench to fit them under!



I started working on "basement" storage. My cut-outs mapped out:





Going to move the Webasto compartment back to maximize storage width. I can't really go further forward with the compartments than I have mapped out, because there are air tanks there that reduce the depth of I were to build out. So I decided to put tanks there, since there is room for them.

Side skirts cut out:



And this is the frame for the compartment:





Getting good at welding. The frame is not done, I am going to add more cross-pieces to support the floor / top / walls. I am thinking about riveting the outer frame to the sheet metal of the bus, and then supporting it via the "I" channels that support the floor that run perpendicular to the frame.

The only concern I have about my design so far is the flex in the opening of the frame due to the long span. I may need to put a support in the center which isn't the end of the world, but I will set it in where it goes and see what can be done. I was planning on making the floor out of 3/4" treated ply and the walls out of 1/2" treated ply. I can't afford to buy several sheets of 16 ga steel right now
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Old 04-19-2015, 04:00 PM   #292
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PCS,

Here are the cargo bay's dimensions of my daily driver (and eventual tiny home) still in service until June. Note how the cargo bays have a supporting strut in the middle between the doors and there are two cargo doors on each side. These bays go completely through the undercarriage of the bus. There are supporting struts inside connecting the frame to the cargo floor. The dimensions are 10'3" long (two doors @ 5' X 23" each) by 2' high. If you want I can get more (and better) pics tomorrow to help you out. Hope this helps. I got lucky and was able to park in the front row.

BTW, the reason why there are SOOOO many buses in the pics are due to the football playoffs in Texas. During this particular playoff there were over 150 school buses parked in the parking lot (think band, color guard, cheerleaders, and boosters along with the actual football team - each school had an average of 30 to 40 buses each).

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Old 04-19-2015, 08:02 PM   #293
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Looking good pork chop.

The struts the other member mentioned are nothing more than a piece of 1/2 inch threaded rod from the bottom of the compartment to the top of the compartment (floor of the bus).

Nat
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Old 04-20-2015, 10:40 AM   #294
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Quote:
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PCS,

Here are the cargo bay's dimensions of my daily driver (and eventual tiny home) still in service until June. Note how the cargo bays have a supporting strut in the middle between the doors and there are two cargo doors on each side. These bays go completely through the undercarriage of the bus. There are supporting struts inside connecting the frame to the cargo floor. The dimensions are 10'3" long (two doors @ 5' X 23" each) by 2' high. If you want I can get more (and better) pics tomorrow to help you out. Hope this helps. I got lucky and was able to park in the front row.

BTW, the reason why there are SOOOO many buses in the pics are due to the football playoffs in Texas. During this particular playoff there were over 150 school buses parked in the parking lot (think band, color guard, cheerleaders, and boosters along with the actual football team - each school had an average of 30 to 40 buses each).

M1031
Thanks! I find it funny that even without seeing that picture before, that is pretty much exactly how I am doing mine. I think your rig has a longer wheelbase though cause that is about 8' long on mine until you get to the air tanks as opposed to over 10' on yours.

Nat, I had figured as much. I am going to temporarily install the frames I built once I have finished them, and put some weight on different parts and see how to reinforce them. Though it will probably involve a support strut in the center of that door. I may end up splitting it into two doors.

Thanks!
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Old 04-20-2015, 01:48 PM   #295
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PCS,

My bus is an 84 passenger bus, yours is 72, so I figure you have a 35' bus, because mine is exactly 40'. How far off am I?

BTW, LOVE the build!!!
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Old 04-21-2015, 11:17 AM   #296
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Quote:
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PCS,

My bus is an 84 passenger bus, yours is 72, so I figure you have a 35' bus, because mine is exactly 40'. How far off am I?

BTW, LOVE the build!!!
I think mine is 34'. I am not 100% though because I haven't measured it in a while and last time I did I only had a 25' tape measure.

Thanks for the kind words!
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Old 04-22-2015, 11:20 AM   #297
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The compartment frames fit well! This is the 8' long one on the passenger side. The DS one fits just as well.

Unfortunately due to my deisgn using angle steel on the botton instead of (thicker) square tube, I will need to put a support in the middle of the opening. Not the end of the world but I was hoping to not have to. I will then divide it into two doors instead of one to make lifting a bit easier and hopefully it will be less floppy. Also still trying to figure out the tank mounting situation.
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Old 04-22-2015, 07:04 PM   #298
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Looks great so far.

Nat
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Old 04-28-2015, 10:51 AM   #299
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Scored this bad b!tch for free! Just had to put a 220 plug on it and buy some sticks. Can't wait to try it out!

Still working on the basement storage on the bus. A side job painting a room I had turned into a full job of me painting the entire interior of a house (by myself). Nice income but little time. I have welded up the frames for both sides, I just need to add a little reinforcement to hold up the (cringe) plywood floor and walls I am using for the compartments. Then I just need to prime and paint the frames.

Not sure how other buses are done but on these Thomas buses, the metal flooring in the bus is supported every 10" or so in sort of an I beam style. I will use this method that I got from the VonSlatt website (Jake's School Bus Conversion Project) to mount the frame to the bus:





Basically make an angle iron sandwich and use the existing structure to hold it in place. For the storage, since it is so long, I will do one of these every other section. For the 2 front water tanks (46 gallons each) I will do it on each one, so in a 4' x 14" wide rectangle, there are ten of the short pieces of angle and 20 grade 8 3/8" diameter bolts holding the tank up, in addition to any side support I may add. I know this makes no sense to explain in text so I will post plenty of pics when I get it going, hopefully this weekend.

Test fit the 2 tanks between the frame rails:





They fit SNUG with about 3/16" of room on each side. Since the supports for these will be on the outside of the frame, that is a non-issue.

Design for the supporting frame (excuse my awful drafting):



There will be three of these supports going across instead of the 2 pictured in the drawing. The angle used is 2" x 2" x 1/4" thick and the square tubing is the same size / thickness. The bolts from the angle to the frame are 1/2" diameter grade 8 flange bolts. I will not weld the square tube to the angle because I haven't practiced using the arc welder and have never welded metal that thick before, so instead I will use 3/4" flange bolts and some 3/4" steel pipe tubing inside the square tube to keep the bolt from deforming the tubing. Flange bolts have a wider and stronger head than regular hex bolts allowing the load to be spread more evenly:



1/4" angle iron cut to size and holes to mount to frame drilled out:



I am holding off on drilling the 3/4" holes in the angle until I drill the frame of the bus and loosely mount these to make sure I didn't goof on any measurements. For the frame drilling, I am following the pattern for how the fuel tank brackets and spring hanger brackets were drilled. They use 3 bolts vertically instead of 2, but the fuel tank (60 gal diesel x 7 lbs / gal = 420 lbs diesel + weight of steel tank) only has 2 supports instead of 3, and they are thinner metal. I am not drilling within 1.5" of the edge of the frame.

I ordered all the bolts I needfrom boltdepot.com (six 3/4" grade 8 flange bolts, 25 1/2" grade 8 flange bolts, several hundred 3/8" grade 8 flange bolts, several hundred carraige bolts for the walls of the compartments and several hundred rivets). My 45 lb order of fasteners will be here Wednesday 4/29 and I will start to bolt these things up.

The only annoying thing about this between-frame tank mount design (other than drilling through a lot of 1/4" steel) is I will need to make a smaller frame to go in the big frame to hold the tanks in place well. I will be using some scrap 16 gauge steel from where I cut out the side skirts to support the sides of the tanks and to keep from rubbing against the frame of the bus since it is so close. I had bought ten 20' pieces of 1.5" x 1.5" 1/8" angle, which isn't exactly cheap, and have burned through nearly all of it building these storage compartments / tank mounts and need to get more. At my last job, we regularly scrapped old bed frames, many of which were made from similar or identical angle that I am using right now, and I kind of wish I had hoarded a bunch of those but oh well.

For the front tanks (fresh tanks, one on each side next to the air tanks) I am loosely following VonSlatt's design:



He used this design to hold up a 100 gal tank. I am using this design for a 46 gallon tank (well 2, one on each side) so hopefully it will be adequate.
porkchopsandwiches is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-28-2015, 12:18 PM   #300
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Salt Lake City Utah
Posts: 1,635
Year: 2000
Chassis: Blue Bird
Engine: ISC 8.3
That looks like it should be pretty stout. I like the clamping attachment scheme. Congrats on the welder deal. Fancy welders are nice... but I think it's impossible to beat a stick welder for ubiquity, reliability, and simplicity. It's a great skill to learn.
family wagon is offline   Reply With Quote
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