Hello all, I'm not totally new here, about a couple of months in. Learned a lot but still learning more every day. I contribute a lot here as well from what I know, however I haven't created a Bus Conversion thread yet, so here we go. I've already began my bus conversion but still way into the demolition phase, and I kind of picked a bad bus. Rust is lacking on it so that part is good, but has some serious king pin issues, and electrical issues with what I believe is an issue with the VPM itself. So working on those items are where I'm stuck at.
About my Bus and myself:
I haven't named my bus yet, wife is thinking "Barbara Anne" after the old song, but we'll see, makes it a bit too feminine for my tastes. I'm building out a 1995 International 3800 bus, with a T444E engine, and Allinson 545 Transmission. A classic Thomas body style where the roof in the front goes upwards instead of downwards which I thought was interesting. Love the upwards look, kind of makes it look like it has a Gen Z hair cut, hence the phrase in the title "Straight Bussin, no cap, for real, for real" lol. It already had a paint job of green and white when I purchased it, I'm the 2nd owner. The back has a phrase painted "Get ready to grow" The story goes, The Bus was originally designed for a school district and painted yellow and designed for this purpose, but the order got cancelled by the district, and the bus was sold to it's first owner which was a day care owner, and Thomas put in Infant Child seating along with additional grown up seat belts, so the bus was only driven by the day care for rare events over it's 28 year lifespan, and has 141k miles on it. Flashers were deleted and panels made by Thomas themselves which is also interesting.
I'm a Gen X'r myself (Tail end), who already owns a home on a 3/4 acre lot in a neighborhood without an HOA (Who needs them really) and the neighborhood looks nice and allows me to hold my bus in the driveway while I fix the major issues with it. I also own 30 acres of wooded wild land untouched, with no electricity except for what I bring to it, and no water minus a river that runs through it, where I eventually plan to develop and move onto and retire and die there. And keep the bus there.
My bus will serve first as a temporary dwelling on the property while I develop, as well as go on vacation trips around the country as we have family spread out all around the USA. I have a remote work I.T. job and can work via my cell phone tether so it will work out nicely for us. Got a wife and two daughters who will be joining me on these trips. Also forewarning, I'm a very classical red blooded American who has strong opinions sometimes, so please don't take offense if I come across as too strong or forward. I love oldschool forums such as these and love discussing related topics and politics at times if related to the subject matter, but I'll do my best to keep my opinions to a minimum. Communication is key after all to bringing about a better society and all.
So far what I've done on the bus:
1.) Purchased it for $3500 from Facebook Market Place, in Virginia. I live in South Carolina, and drove it home 200 miles on the purchase day.
2.) Noticed the bus was a little on the slow side, could barely get to 50 MPH. Had a check engine warning light on but the previous owner stated it had been there forever, and the engine starts fine every time. (It did in test driving etc, and still starts up well) However, I discovered from the push button codes that the VPM isn't talking to the ECM. It's a 3 box system. ECM, VPM, IDM. And my engine is running in Limp Mode, so this is likely why it's so slow. Engine sounds good otherwise, just gotta fix the VPM. I narrowed it down via a series of testing, and even went so far as to purchase the old service breakout box the T444E manual calls for to diagnose it. (This thing is OLD tech, but is simply a quick way to the test wiring harness of the ECM quickly). I've narrowed it down to the VPM for sure as both data lines, ATA, and DCL aren't communicating but the wiring themselves are good from end to end on the line, so it's a bad VPM, or it's not getting proper power. I'll figure that out later but that's where I'm stuck with the electrical at the moment. As I understand it, the VPM has all of the specific engine values to run the engine at, and if it's failing to run then the engine runs at a safe default value a.k.a. Limp Mode.
3.) The Speedometer does not work, or at least it's not receiving a signal. I've learned this may also be related to the VPM being dead because the speed info goes across the data lines and my cluster gauge has dip switches which are set to all 0's which means it's to use the data lines. (All of these facts I've learned here on this forum so thanks everyone who contributed!) So there is a correlation there. I replaced the speed sensor anyway and verified it's giving off a signal. I've also taken out the gauge cluster and since I'm a computer guy, I verified all of the solder joints are solid and not broken and have continuity so it's not the gauge cluster as many mechanics who are not bus mechanics keep telling me it's likely to be. It is a common issue, and that's why I've looked into it and found that the gauge clusters often have cracked solder joints and is often the cause but I have continuity all the way through to the chip so all of that is good. So I believe it's the VPM at this point. Also the speedometer is getting power as when you turn the key ON, it does it's reset thing and the needle moves, so the gauge is fine, it's just not receiving a signal likely from the VPM being dead or not powered. Also noticed my 97S line is unhooked.
4.) The other issue is one front tire was worn badly on the inside, I learned that this is due to bad king pins. Getting over 3/4 of an inch play on the passenger side wheel when pressing against it, and the driver side wheel isn't far behind. I could put a new wheel on it those are $850 and it will just wear fast the same way as the old one did. I think many people who have skoolies this old have this issue, but never address it because I rarely see anyone with these issues posted on youtube or here. So I think people are buying and driving these buses around with the issue and not even realizing it's a problem. As an I.T. guy, I'm not a mechanic, but have a mechanic friend who is directing me to do the job because I simply cannot afford current prices to get the king pins fixed, and have a build thread going on now to fix this issue if you'd like to follow along here: https://www.skoolie.net/forums/f37/k...a-42306-2.html
I'm building my own king pin press for $100 in scrap metal and $50 hydrolic bottle jack 6T. The cheapest king pin press I can find officially is $1850, but go as high as $2500. So if anyone runs into a similar problem, they can build one of these themselves and save literally thousands of dollars, and buy welding equipment and plasma cutters to cut metal for less than the price of that one tool. Once I tackle problems in items 2,3, and 4 the bus will be worthy of a conversion as there is little to no rust on the body and the engine is in great shape with low mileage. Those are the only issues this bus has at the moment. Maybe more will crop up once the VPM is up and running again, who knows.
5.) Demolition - I've begun demolition, however I will only go so far. I'll work on it while I'm either waiting on parts or have nothing else to do, but I won't start building it out until I'm 100% sure this bus is worthy of a conversion with all of it's major issues fixed, and I'm sure it will be but still waiting. I can easily begin demo though. So far I removed all of the Infant Child seating in the bus, it was able to hold 29 persons or 28 infants and one driver. This task of seat removal was tough as you had to have one person underneath holding a socket wrench on the rusted bolts, and another above socketing it out. I could of ground it out but it would of cost more money in grinding wheels. Another thing to note about me is I'm a cheap SOB. If I can save $5 with some work, I will do so. I almost never pay for the convenience and I promised myself with this project, if I can figure out how to fix something I will do it. It's the best way to learn a new trade. Hands on. I'm a computer guy, not a mechanic, but quickly becoming a bus mechanic as I've learned everyone who owns a bus and sticks with it will be as well. Seat removal was probably the hardest seat removal to do on this model because more modern versions have tracks which the seats lock into making the seats easier to remove. The tracks you still have to go under the bus, but it's like 64 times less bolts to do with a track. With mine it was 10 bolts per seat where as on a track system you may have 10 bolts per track with 4 tracks, so a little more difficult. This task took us 5 days.
6.) After the seat removal, I begun taking out the 2000+ screws holding the ceiling panel and side panels in. I had maybe 50 screws that stripped. A good solution I found was to take a grinding wheel and grind a quick strip through the head, then use a flat head drill bit and screw it out with the flat head. Worked perfectly every time, and was quick and efficient. Ceiling is down, and side panels are still there because I learned they are stuck under the windows. I'm not ready to take the windows out because it's the south and it rains a lot here. The R2 valued insulation that came with the bus came out very easy. NO GLUE! Just tapped up, thank God. Thank You Thomas for doing it that way! I hear now though they glue the insulation and you have to scrape it all off. That alone saved us probably 3 days of scrapping, I completed this task in 2 hours. Very quickly done.
That's all I've done so far. Pictures will be uploaded below for viewing, and I'll keep this thread updated as I move along so please subscribe to it for updates if you are interested. Any problems I run into will be talked about in detail here I promise. Same for any unique challenges.
Plans to still do to the bus and that will be documented:
1.) Roof raise - I'm nearly 6ft tall, and the ceiling is exactly that from floor to ceiling, Once we have R20 insulation which I estimate will take up about 7.5 inches on floor and ceiling combined, and to have a small amount of head room, 12 inches is a good height to raise the roof too.
2.) Rear Gear ratio change for better top speed. I currently do not know what my gear ratio is, but I know it's not enough for top speed, I want to be able to achieve 70Mph so small town backroad traffic isn't waiting a mile behind me to get out of the way. I can't do 55 right now. I know how to obtain this value mechanically. (No the placard does not show it, it's rubbed out, and not readable). But I can lift the bus and do the spin the wheel 2 revolutions method and count the spins on the drive shaft to get my gear ratio. I will post about that when I do it.
3.) Eventually change my Allinson 545 Transmission, but I will run it into the ground first. Likely won't be a part of the initial build. It's not the original transmission either and I don't yet know which transmission should of been in there originally. I need to call International for that. I cannot imagine why anyone would upgrade to a 545 if they had to replace one already as they are garbage tier transmissions. I'd prefer a 3000. But to save money since I'm cheap, I'll run it until it dies.
4.) Electronically flash my ECM/VPM for more power to my engine. I know this reduces the life slightly but if my engine ever dies, I plan on scrapping both the transmission and engine, and doing a full Ford Electric Crate motor drop in to make a fully electric bus from scratch! Those engines are electric, and there's room for it, and provide 230 HP which is about what my 7.3 liter diesel engine has as well. Imagine no more transmission issues! This will make an interesting build thread as well, but won't happen on the initial build like item 3.
5.) Plans to build in a shower, full flushing porcelain toilet, (I don't do composting toilets), and I'm smart enough to make this work and will figure it out.
6.) Queen sized bed
7.) Kitchen, work desk area with possible popout privacy walls with sound deadening. Needed to work in peace with two kids while traveling.
8.) Hooks for the two kids to sleep in Hammocks. Will be easy enough to hook the hammocks up at night to sleep rather than build in additional beds. They are little and can do it and probably prefer it tbh. I'll probably custom build a double hook setup that goes through the bus walls so there's a hook outside and one inside. this way we can hook a hammock to the bus on one side and to a tree outside if they want to sleep outside, but having the same mount point inside of the bus. Will definitely include this build in this thread.
9.) Upper deck on ceiling, with 4-5x 360 Watt panels. I may do something interesting here nobody has done before where I have a deck and solar panel occupying the same space. (At least that I've been able to find) I have a solution in my mind to accomplish this feet, so stay tuned for that. It will require fabricating and welding, but will provide a method to have the whole roof completely covered in solar, but have a deck underneath and make it so the panels slide outwards revealing a deck and have it electronically open.
Otherwise it's not much different from any other skoolie people have made. For now we plan to keep the same Green and white color, but the paint is fading, and clear coat worn off and starting to chip in areas revealing the original yellow, so a paint job may be in the works as well for this initial build. We like the green and white, but not the shade of green, we're thinking of doing a Classic Volkswagon Van style paint job, and possibly chroming out the bumper bars on the Bus if we can swing it. It's a lot more work to remove those, but may be worth it for the shine.
Anyway here's some pics and more to come!