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Old 12-05-2019, 06:35 PM   #1
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My High Performance and Ruggedly Reliable Skoolie

To avoid sheer laziness, I have done my utmost to educate myself via these forums before posting this thread so that I know exactly what I want in my Skoolie and to ensure I wasn't asking any questions that could easily be answered elsewhere from previous threads.

A ton of thought and effort has gone into getting to this point, and as such I'd be happy to elaborate further on the WHYs for each of my criteria if so desired. Just ask.

Initially I was set on a Sprinter Van, but after much thought & deliberation, it simply isn't going to be capable of offering the interior space I need, particularly in width department as I absolutely need two sets of triple bunks.

I've settled on a Flat-Nose bus between 22ft and 24ft in exterior length. After much brainstorming and many revisions, I know I can pack the floor plan I want into only 18ft of space. The established extra length occupied by driver's seat, bumpers, etc appears to be 6ft for flat nose buses, while I have also seen several threads where it has been less than 4ft.

The average parking space is 18-20 ft in length. My truck is a Ram 2500 with full bed. I believe I'm right at 20ft and driving that everyday has given me a lot of perspective on parking. A similarly sized bus would allow me to often make single parking spot work. I wouldn't quite be able to stealth camp, but would give me the ultimate convenience and flexibility that I desire.

Problem is, no flat-nose buses were made that short. The closest appear to be the TC-1000 which seems to range from 26ft to 28 ft in its smallest iterations, as have been discussed in many threads and several conversion threads here. Also an excellent bus in its flat floor for wheelchair access.



I also came across a 1994 Mini Blue Bird from "WhiteFangSkoolie" who has Instagram. It appears that flat nose is in the 25ft - 27ft range.



However, it seems that almost all TC-1000s came with the dreaded Allison 545 tranny.

I don't plan to drive up Everest with this bus, but I do plan to ask a lot of it, well within the range of 25K to 50K miles a year. Those miles will consist of a wide variety of climates and grades. Interstates and narrow mountain roads alike. All things that school buses in general were never built to do, and more than the average Skoolie is looking for from their bus. Then add in Allison 545 with no lockup torque converter...

I don't want to be one of those people who buys bus, pours everything into conversion, becomes emotionally attached to bus, to then only have fantasy of skoolie lifestyle vanish while I struggle up a slight grade at 35 mph on the freeway.

I want my focus to be on the experiences and places my bus will take me. Not parking or trying to avoid a highway calamity. I'd rather spend a little more time and money on the front end to make sure I get it right the first time.

I'd like to comfortably be able to maintain 55+/60+ mph in all freeway settings regardless of grade, and 70mph/75mph on flat road if so desired.

Thanks to the thread from @CadillacKid on his Red Byrd Tranny swap (http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f27/th...ion-18188.html), I understand that switching out the tranny wouldn't be as simple as one might hope.

Add the Cummins 5.9L, and I'm well below 200hp. If I'm going to do a tranny swap, why not just upgrade the engine too?

Put a Cummins 8.3L in there. But if I'm gonna spend money to swap engines, why not just go little extra and get an ISX, an M14, an M11, etc? But then I'll likely have to modify the frame to support larger engines, no?

A common theme throughout the threads I've looked through is that's best to find and pay a little extra for the mechanicals that you desire rather than purchasing bus and trying to adapt mechanicals accordingly after the fact.

However, to my knowledge there is no such bus in size I want, much less with mechanical package I desire.


So what do you guys recommend. Do I:

(1.) Pursue a bus with as close to my desired mechanical package as possible (8.3L Cummins and solid tranny with lockup torque converter) and then cut the bus down to size and get new driveshaft.

Along these lines, I'd love a Rear Engine pusher, but I imagine if I converted a rear engine bus down to my size range, could be some tail wag issues on back end in icy/wet weather.


(2.) Purchase bus closest to my desired size classifications, and then just do an entirely custom mechanical package?


(3.) A combination of the above?


Budget isn't too much of an issue so long as I feel there is value for money being spent and I'm getting what I want. I'm in remodel/construction industry and thus the interior conversion of the bus will be a piece of cake for me and cost there will be almost nothing for me. The mechanical side is where my knowledge and connections falter.

I also understand that I am looking for a lot from a platform that was never designed to do much of what I was asking. But I also believe that is entirely within the Skoolie ethos of adapting a platform to something other than its originally intended purpose. I think most people would think a bunch of people devoting so much time to the discussion of school buses on a site such as this is a little looney, so what if I take things just a little bit further.

I think starting budget for me would be $10K for purely acquisition and mechanical alterations to bus. However, I'd be willing to go up to $20K or even more for acquisition/mechanicals depending on what I would be getting in return with regards to performance and reliability.

With regards to location, I'm in the Chicago area. I'm a completely open book with regards to ideas, input, and suggestions at this point. So have at it and thank you for taking the time to read my post.
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Old 12-05-2019, 08:08 PM   #2
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Triple bunks is going to be one tight squeeze. To be able to sit on the bottom bunk leaves barely enough room for 2 bunks. I hope it's all small children going in the bunks.
I would recommend a bigger bus to start with, no one has ever complained of having too much excess space. Find a bus with your desired drivetrain and no rust and go from there. It seems to me the issues people see from not wanting a large bus would go away after putting a few miles on one and learning how to handle a long vehicle. It will never be as easy as driving a car. The 5.9 can be bumped in HP to match some of the more desirable motors. I meet a lot of guys who absolutely insist on it having a 5.9, just not with a 545. I had a buyer tonight that bagged mearly because it has a 545.
Do not buy anything within 750 miles of where you are, don't waste your time looking. 8.3's seem to be holy grails here. Dt 466/530 are also awesome highway engines when backed with an Allison 3060. Mine does 85-90 in 5th at 2300rpm
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Old 12-05-2019, 09:43 PM   #3
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Triple bunks is going to be one tight squeeze. To be able to sit on the bottom bunk leaves barely enough room for 2 bunks. I hope it's all small children going in the bunks.
I would recommend a bigger bus to start with, no one has ever complained of having too much excess space. Find a bus with your desired drivetrain and no rust and go from there. It seems to me the issues people see from not wanting a large bus would go away after putting a few miles on one and learning how to handle a long vehicle. It will never be as easy as driving a car. The 5.9 can be bumped in HP to match some of the more desirable motors. I meet a lot of guys who absolutely insist on it having a 5.9, just not with a 545. I had a buyer tonight that bagged mearly because it has a 545.
Do not buy anything within 750 miles of where you are, don't waste your time looking. 8.3's seem to be holy grails here. Dt 466/530 are also awesome highway engines when backed with an Allison 3060. Mine does 85-90 in 5th at 2300rpm
I mocked triple bunk up in my garage with rest of floor plan other day and it works out. The setup isn't intended as tiny home/RV for long term stays. Just needs to get the job done as we venture from place to place.

By 750 miles, you mean avoid because of rust issues I imagine?

There are two 5.9L ISB 210 with Allison 2000 transmissions near me. One within 30 minutes of where I live for $4000 and the other a little further for $3000. Both from individual owners, not auctions. So not even worth pursuing these further, just head down south in my search?
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Old 12-05-2019, 09:58 PM   #4
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I mocked triple bunk up in my garage with rest of floor plan other day and it works out. The setup isn't intended as tiny home/RV for long term stays. Just needs to get the job done as we venture from place to place.

By 750 miles, you mean avoid because of rust issues I imagine?

There are two 5.9L ISB 210 with Allison 2000 transmissions near me. One within 30 minutes of where I live for $4000 and the other a little further for $3000. Both from individual owners, not auctions. So not even worth pursuing these further, just head down south in my search?
Yes, you'll likely find those highly over priced rust buckets. Fla. isn't known for the best buses or deals. Ga. has some decent stuff. Head west of the Mississippi and your chance get better. I believe it is important to budget some travel money, either to go check it out, or money to get a far truck home. I've brought 2 home from PNW to Atl.
I just bought a rust free 2000 BB TC2000 for $1500. I bought a 2005 Thomas in Beaverton.Ore. 3 weeks ago for $1500, sold it for $4k here in Ga. Travel will save you money, especially in starting with a rust free bus.
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Old 12-05-2019, 09:59 PM   #5
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There are two 5.9L ISB 210 with Allison 2000 transmissions near me. One within 30 minutes of where I live for $4000 and the other a little further for $3000. Both from individual owners, not auctions. So not even worth pursuing these further, just head down south in my search?
30 miles is nothing, why not check them out? Price doesn't seem outrageous if it's not a rust bucket or broken down piece of junk. They could have come from 750 miles away originally, who knows? If nothing else, it gets you checking out buses in person, maybe taking one for a test drive. I say go for it.
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Old 12-05-2019, 10:01 PM   #6
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I also came across a 3126 Rear Engine, 230hp with the beloved MD3060 Tranny for $3,900. It does have 260K on it though. I've heard some so-so things about the 3126, but people love that MD3060 on here. Thing with the CAT engines though is it sounds like once they go, it is hella expensive to fix them.

This bus I could easily just cut some out of the middle and get new driveshaft I'd imagine. Thoughts?


Another one an hour or two away is an All-American Cummins 8.3L ISC Engine, MD3060 Tranny, and 190,000 miles for $4,500. But it is a front engine. Isn't that combo the holy grail though?
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Old 12-05-2019, 10:10 PM   #7
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If ANY of these engines goes and you aren't a technician its gonna be time to get another bus.
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Old 12-05-2019, 10:37 PM   #8
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If ANY of these engines goes and you aren't a technician its gonna be time to get another bus.
Obviously extremely broad generalizations that have to account for numerous variables, but when should one start to worry about an engine "going" considering that it has been well maintained and taken care of? 200K, 250K, 300K? I thought I saw a thread where Cadillac Kid or someone said that if well maintained, shouldn't worry too much about anything under 250K? Could be way off base there, I'll try and find that thread again.

I definitely plan to do an oil sample for analysis.

I stated in original thread fine paying for engine upgrade if need be, so wouldn't I want a bus with transmission that I already want?

Let's say I get either of those buses with the MD3060 transmission, the Cat 3126 or the Cummins 8.3L and it "goes", how much are we talking to rebuld it? I'm guessing in range of $5K for Cummins as it is a wet sleeve engine and likely higher for the Cat, parts & labor included? Or are my numbers way off base?

I'm here trying to learn, so please help educate me.
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Old 12-05-2019, 10:55 PM   #9
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If not only maintained well, but not dogged everytime they were driven, it's conceivable some of these motors could see 500k before needing a rebuild. I bought mine with 252k, proceeded to put 3k more on it over the next 4 days. I doubt I will put enough on it to require a rebuild.
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Old 12-05-2019, 11:22 PM   #10
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Engine rebuilds are mostly labor. A rebuild kit for, say, a DT466 is a little over $2k, and a turn-key job is around 8-10K. You're paying for 30-40 hours of labor, oil, coolant, disposal of old fluids, shop space, mechanic knowledge and experience, coffee breaks, and everything that goes with it. Doing it yourself, if you have the space, skills, ability and tools will be considerably cheaper.
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Old 12-06-2019, 01:25 AM   #11
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I'm going to look at this fella. It is a couple hours away, but from info I've gathered here, I think its worth checking out.

2000 Blue Bird All-American FE, Cummins ISC Diesel 8.3L L6, Air Brakes, Allison MD3060 Transmission, 190,000 Miles









Listed for $4,500. The owner bought it with intention of turning it into RV before he came across great deal on motorhome. Now he is looking to get rid of the bus. Apparently he bought it directly off school district last year and also has service records for it.

Plan would be to move fuel tank from behind rear axle to middle of bus, chop off as much of bus behind rear axle as I can. And then bring rear axle forward, shorten frame, and get new custom driveshaft made, ultimately resulting in an 8 window bus around 24 to 26 ft.

Thoughts?

From other threads, it seems that this could be extremely solid deal if everything checks out and I can get him down into the mid 3's on price?
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Old 12-06-2019, 06:45 AM   #12
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Obviously extremely broad generalizations that have to account for numerous variables, but when should one start to worry about an engine "going" considering that it has been well maintained and taken care of? 200K, 250K, 300K? I thought I saw a thread where Cadillac Kid or someone said that if well maintained, shouldn't worry too much about anything under 250K? Could be way off base there, I'll try and find that thread again.

I definitely plan to do an oil sample for analysis.

I stated in original thread fine paying for engine upgrade if need be, so wouldn't I want a bus with transmission that I already want?

Let's say I get either of those buses with the MD3060 transmission, the Cat 3126 or the Cummins 8.3L and it "goes", how much are we talking to rebuld it? I'm guessing in range of $5K for Cummins as it is a wet sleeve engine and likely higher for the Cat, parts & labor included? Or are my numbers way off base?

I'm here trying to learn, so please help educate me.
About 5-10 grand for an inframe. A used engine is probably a better buy.
Most medium duty school bus engines are tired by 300-400k.

The 3126 isn't a wet sleeve.
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Old 12-06-2019, 11:39 AM   #13
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Biggest thing that is missing in your post is your mechanical ability/ how much you plan on doing yourself. You say that you're in the construction industry, so I'll assume you have some mechanical ability, I would think you can tackle any upgrades but that's up to you. Paying someone to upgrade your skoolie for you is almost unheard of, and that's because it would be expensive, and most are in this hobby due to a lack of money, not a surplus of it.

Finding someone who would upgrade a 5.9/at545 to an isx/10 speed would be like finding hens teeth. An isx is way larger then the 5.9 and would require a lot of custom work to accomplish.

Finding someone to correctly cut up a bus to make it smaller would be even more rare, that's something I've never even heard of being discussed before.

Now add in the cost of paying these people to do the job and it's likely out of your budget, even at 20k.

I'd suggest you go with the first bus you listed. With that 94, you can bump the power on a 12v cummins, upgrade the trans to an mt6xx, regear the rear axle, and see how it plays out.

Truthfully, I think that's your best bet to getting what you're after. It might not completely tick off all the boxes you have, but it's the closest you'll likely be able to get to it with reality in mind.
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Old 12-06-2019, 02:25 PM   #14
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Biggest thing that is missing in your post is your mechanical ability/ how much you plan on doing yourself. You say that you're in the construction industry, so I'll assume you have some mechanical ability, I would think you can tackle any upgrades but that's up to you. Paying someone to upgrade your skoolie for you is almost unheard of, and that's because it would be expensive, and most are in this hobby due to a lack of money, not a surplus of it.

Finding someone who would upgrade a 5.9/at545 to an isx/10 speed would be like finding hens teeth. An isx is way larger then the 5.9 and would require a lot of custom work to accomplish.

Finding someone to correctly cut up a bus to make it smaller would be even more rare, that's something I've never even heard of being discussed before.

Now add in the cost of paying these people to do the job and it's likely out of your budget, even at 20k.

I'd suggest you go with the first bus you listed. With that 94, you can bump the power on a 12v cummins, upgrade the trans to an mt6xx, regear the rear axle, and see how it plays out.

Truthfully, I think that's your best bet to getting what you're after. It might not completely tick off all the boxes you have, but it's the closest you'll likely be able to get to it with reality in mind.
I flip houses and acquire rentals. Flips are purely for purpose of helping to acquire more rentals. The goal is and has always been financial freedom through passive income. When I started out I did everything myself for several years until I was gradually able to outsource things. Now, I solely focus on business/design/logistics side of things. I currently turn 3-4 properties per month and have built up a substantial rental portfolio. I am in a very good place in my life financially.

However, I have never viewed money as the ultimate goal, but merely a means to do what I want, with who I want, when I want, where I want. Life isn’t about the destination and the material items you acquire and hoard along the way, rather it is about the journey and the people you get to share that journey with. For me, at a certain point, what is the point of pursuing more money? All I want is enough to pursue the experiences I desire with the special people in my life and I’m pretty much there.

For a while now, I have planned to start stepping back from business in Spring of 2020 and begin pursuing travel and these experiences with special ppl in my life full-time by Summer of 2020. This bus, is a small but very important piece of that vision.

It has been easily a year of brainstorming about this bus and what I’d need out of it. Which resulted in where I am now. If it costs $20K to get a bus that meets desires performance and reliability in the size I desire, then that is okay. I’ve pinched pennies in enough areas of my life for long enough to get to this point where I can pursue these experiences and adventures I’ve planned for so long without having to stress over budget.

I’m more interested in the HOW for this bus than the IF. I’m interested in the best way to go about creating the bus platform I desire, cost & difficulty not withstanding.

Thus, for the above 8.3L Cummins bus with the MD3060 transmission. If I find right person and spend enough money, is it possible to shorten frame as I desire to?
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Old 12-14-2019, 08:52 PM   #15
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I flip houses and acquire rentals. Flips are purely for purpose of helping to acquire more rentals. The goal is and has always been financial freedom through passive income. When I started out I did everything myself for several years until I was gradually able to outsource things. Now, I solely focus on business/design/logistics side of things. I currently turn 3-4 properties per month and have built up a substantial rental portfolio. I am in a very good place in my life financially.

However, I have never viewed money as the ultimate goal, but merely a means to do what I want, with who I want, when I want, where I want. Life isn’t about the destination and the material items you acquire and hoard along the way, rather it is about the journey and the people you get to share that journey with. For me, at a certain point, what is the point of pursuing more money? All I want is enough to pursue the experiences I desire with the special people in my life and I’m pretty much there.

For a while now, I have planned to start stepping back from business in Spring of 2020 and begin pursuing travel and these experiences with special ppl in my life full-time by Summer of 2020. This bus, is a small but very important piece of that vision.

It has been easily a year of brainstorming about this bus and what I’d need out of it. Which resulted in where I am now. If it costs $20K to get a bus that meets desires performance and reliability in the size I desire, then that is okay. I’ve pinched pennies in enough areas of my life for long enough to get to this point where I can pursue these experiences and adventures I’ve planned for so long without having to stress over budget.

I’m more interested in the HOW for this bus than the IF. I’m interested in the best way to go about creating the bus platform I desire, cost & difficulty not withstanding.

Thus, for the above 8.3L Cummins bus with the MD3060 transmission. If I find right person and spend enough money, is it possible to shorten frame as I desire to?



I suggest that you "flip" a few buses and drive them around a bit to actually get some experience driving/parking them. Your op comparing parking a bus to parking your pickup didn't ring true to me. Buses are 8' wide, pickup is 6' wide, big difference. In a flat nose you sit in front of the steering wheels and the front actually goes over the top of sidewalks/curbs and makes turning them totally different from driving a pickup. You may wind up revising your specs. Better to find out now than after spending a ton on your conversion. You could also try out different "mechanicals" for yourself. Even at the lengths that you are talking, parking in a regular parking space is going to be tough. If you see a lot of parking and/or narrow roads in your future, then maybe you should go back to the Sprinter. Good luck.
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Old 12-14-2019, 09:13 PM   #16
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Yeah, parking a pickup and a bus are totally different.
Even my 5 window shorty is a LOT more challenging. I also own a pickup. Night and day difference.
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Old 12-17-2019, 06:34 AM   #17
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This might work

This may not meet all of your needs but I think for the money your talking about spending it might be a steel. Only 8,000 miles and it looks brand new. Plus onboard generator

https://kansascity.craigslist.org/cto/d/olathe-chiefs-command-center-shuttle-bus/7039128016.html
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Old 12-17-2019, 07:01 AM   #18
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I am kind with the idea of flipping some buses, I think the short bus dream may fade a bit if you drive a few and own one for a bit. Do not even bother converting it, but it drive it daily for a while and see if your ideas about parking hold true. I was planning on a conventional shorty older from the 40's or 50's, repower it and so on. But this International showed up and we ran with it. It really has been great. I would not get to firm on what you want till you can play with one for a bit.
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Old 12-17-2019, 08:03 AM   #19
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I am kind with the idea of flipping some buses, I think the short bus dream may fade a bit if you drive a few and own one for a bit. Do not even bother converting it, but it drive it daily for a while and see if your ideas about parking hold true. I was planning on a conventional shorty older from the 40's or 50's, repower it and so on. But this International showed up and we ran with it. It really has been great. I would not get to firm on what you want till you can play with one for a bit.
After a few full size buses I'm set on shorties.
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Old 12-17-2019, 09:30 AM   #20
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For full time living or camping with a lot of guests I'd go with a 40 ft. I've been driving school buses all over for the last 5 years as a job so the big ones don't bother me at all. If you've ever driven a motorcoach then even a 40 ft FE is easy peasy.

That being said shorties do have their appeal, they're a lot easier to drive for most folks and are cheaper to convert.
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