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Old 02-18-2020, 08:53 PM   #1
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Join Date: Feb 2020
Posts: 3
Bus to skidder conversion


I have a 1996 Thomas Vista (International 3600) short bus (16,500lbs GVW) with a T444.

I want to shorten the cab and convert it into essentially a large crew cab pickup with a dump bed. This would also include removing the sideboards below the frame, including the battery box, lower half of entry stairs and door, and possibly the fuel tank? I would also remove the front wheel fenders to allow larger diameter tires to hopefully keep the low slung front axle out of mud, or from getting hung up on rocks and stumps. I want the vehicle to be able to skid/haul wood on rough trails and be road legal for hauling mulch.

I've read here that chopped buses such as this are difficult to register. The vehicle is already registered, and it doesn't require the annual DOT inspection because the GVW is under 19,000lbs. Does that make a difference?

Thanks in advance.

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Old 02-19-2020, 12:03 AM   #2
Join Date: Jun 2017
Posts: 105
It would help to know where you are located and being over the "general 1 ton weight rating" you are most likely already a commercial vehicle so you most likely are correct in that it won't matter. Would love to see pics of this beast coming together.
2002 E450 Thomas/ U-JOINT 4X4, family hauler
1954 Crown 35 foot RV conversion, guest house
1945? City Bus (unknown manufacture), yard art
1940s 'Binder 7 window, man cave
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Old 02-20-2020, 06:23 PM   #3
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Yeah sorry for the dearth of details, my original post deleted itself when I tried to post it, so the sequel was somewhat quick and dirty lol.

I'm in CT, which requires a DOT annual inspection for any vehicle over 19,000lbs GVW. The bus is currently registered commercial with commercial insurance.

It will probably be a while before this project gets going, I have much to do with my new house first! I wanted to just get some opinions about the feasibility of the project in general, and some details on what all is involved in shortening the cab and increasing ground clearance.

I also wanted some opinion on keeping the duallies vs. converting to tractor tires or even weighted rims in the rear for traction purposes in the deep stuff.

Think swamp Yankee Unimog lol.
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Old 02-20-2020, 09:32 PM   #4
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Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Greater Boston
Posts: 504
What's the transmission in it?
Skidding logs sounds like a great way to fry an AT545.
I'd really look at that before you start your build.

Sounds like it could be a really cool rig when its done.
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Old 02-22-2020, 11:18 AM   #5
Bus Crazy
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Join Date: Aug 2019
Location: Moved to Zealand!
Posts: 1,517
Year: 2002
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freightliner FS-65
Engine: 7.2L Cat 3126 turbo diesel
Rated Cap: 71 passenger 30,000 gvwr
I realize I'm no fun sometimes but...

Sell the bus.

Buy an IHC Loadstar -- grain truck or gravel truck. I'll probably come with a detroit locker rear, much stronger tranny etc... An older one will probably have an SV gas engine, newer ones will have DT466.

Pick up a second Loadstar cab/doors and make your own crewcab -- this will be a better mud truck and less work...
(IHC did make crew cab loadstars but they are scarce -- I would love one myself!)

The Murder Bus
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Old 02-24-2020, 09:47 PM   #6
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Posts: 3
Thanks for the replies,

I don't have the chassis tag right in front of me, but if I remember correctly it has the less desirable model tranny with no OD. I'm guessing it probably is the AT545.

I have no qualms punishing it until it grenades and either replace it like this guy did, or getting what I can for the rolling chassis and powerstroke when it dies.

The bus was only $1000, so it would be difficult for me to find a truck that is running for that price. Even with a smoked trans, I'm guessing the engine and the frame is worth that to somebody.

A locking rear would be key for this project though, for sure. In my experience a locking rear 2wd is superior for traction in slippery conditions that 4wd and an open diff. Any idea what the going rate for locking gears is on the used market in the Northeast? I love the truetrac style gear-based lockers.
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Old 02-25-2020, 11:24 AM   #7
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Join Date: May 2016
Location: Eastern WA
Posts: 6,400
Year: 2002
Coachwork: Bluebird
Chassis: All American RE (A3RE)
Engine: Cummins ISC (8.3)
Rated Cap: 72
Keep in mind that the T444e and Powerstroke 7.3 are based on the same basic block but there are enough differences that they are not interchangeable without quite a bit of time and money.
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