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Old 03-26-2006, 08:29 PM   #1
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New here and looking for a short wheelchair lift bus

I just found this site during my seaarch for a dedicated tow vehicle. Let me explain: I recently purchased a 1965 Airstream 26 foot trailer, and now I need to purchase a tow vehicle for it. After many iterations of what I thought I wanted, I ended up with this:
1) although I think a vintage tow vehicle would be really cool, they are extremely hard to find in decent shape
2) I really want a diesel so I could at least try to do something to help the environment and run biodiesel during my travels
3) I just can't justify spending 10K plus on a tow vehicle, so the large diesel SUV's are out
4) my family has really taken to the idea of the Airstream and would like to use it themselves. The issue is that my sister is in a power wheelchair, so I would need to purchase a tow vehicle that is equipped with a wheelchair lift.
5) the wheelbase of this tow vehicle will need to be at least 134 inches as my trailer is 26 feet in length
So, my deductive reasoning skills kicked in and i began my search for a short wheelcahir school bus. I don't think i would want a full-size bus due to the fact that I'll be towing a 26 foot trailer behind it.
I've been checking ebay and Craig's list, but I was wondering of there are any other good resources to purchase an inexpensive short wheelchair bus. Any input would be helpful.
Kathy in PA
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Old 03-27-2006, 09:08 AM   #2
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I came to the same conclusion you did for my '48 Spartan Mansion 30' travel trailer (a lot like an airstream only slanted forward). Anywho I have included a short list of dealers I looked through. There is one in New York that had a lot of them called Don Brown bus sales at http://www.buscrazy.net . The other links are as follows:
http://www.422sales.com/
http://www.busnut.com/
http://busforsaleguide.com/
http://www.busmartinc.com/
http://www.copelandbussales.com/
http://www.alliedbussales.com/
http://rvwholesalers.com/
http://www.sbsales.com/
http://www.centralstatesbus.com/used_buses.html
http://www.tescobus.com/usedbuslist.aspx
http://www.fresnoalliance.com/wheelchairproject/
http://www.a-zbus.com/publish/used_dept.shtml
http://www.used-buses.net/
http://www.westernbus.com/
http://www.kerlinbus.com/
http://www.used-bus.com/

hope that helps.
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Old 03-27-2006, 06:22 PM   #3
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Does it have to be a school bus? I ask because there are usually plenty of Ford-chassis cutaway van buses available, and many have lifts. In fact, a diesel E-350 WC van could pull that Airstream easily.

In fact, I may know of a 1996 E-350 wheelchair bus for sale (PowerStroke diesel/automatic, dual A/C, Goshen body) for a couple grand...I'll look iunto it this week. I think they're also selling a coup[le of HD vans, but they have gas engines.

If you ARE set on a skoolie, I saw a 1995 30' International (T444E/auto) lift bus for $4000 nearby. It's not a fullsize, but not really a "small" bus, either.

The E-350 is in southeastern MA, the IH is in Rhode Island.
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Old 03-27-2006, 07:49 PM   #4
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With any of those comercial cut aways, you really need to check them good. Look underneath at the cross bars, they often give out first and after 10 years they are pretty much done so be careful. I have seen underneath a couple goshen units with flat floors and their cross bars looked simular to "I" beams. Other issues these buses have are the seals above the windshield where the fiberglass bolts together.
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Old 03-27-2006, 08:05 PM   #5
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This one passed a DOT inspection last November, so the crossmembers are solid. They can be a problem (stay far away from Starcraft buses for that reason), but Goshens & Champions seem to hold up best. Starcraps shake themselves to pieces in about 50,000 miles, when they're actually running and not down with electrical problems. Glavals hold up pretty well (though I've never seen one with a WC lift), but they aren't that common. Turtle Top (Terra Transit) is also pretty good--and some have a really cool under-floor lift.
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Old 03-28-2006, 07:31 PM   #6
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Jarlaxle,
No, it doesn't necessarily have to be a regular bus (although, I think if I could find a shorter one with a WC lift and a more traditional looking nose--a Carpenter style?--gee, I'm such a newbie, that would be really cool as a tow vehicle for an Airstream), but, no, it doesn't have to be a big bus. Are you talking about those white shuttle/activity buses--are they considered "cut-aways"?
Kathy
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Old 03-28-2006, 08:40 PM   #7
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I think you understand what Jarlaxle is refering to as a cutaway. But just to be sure, look here http://www.centralstatesbus.com/commerc ... sales.html

The company I work at has been getting ElDorado's but they are not one of the best out there. Like most of them if they are not cared for they will fall apart. We do have one startrans unit and I can say that when we first got it back in 1998 it rattled then and we were not too sure how it would be 5 years later, but even right now it has not got any worse. Although I have noticed that the cross bars underneath do have a slight bow in them so I'd imagine in another 3 or 4 years it's life will be up.

My skoolie is a 1992 international bluebird body. About 25 feet total lengh, with a front lift. Is this more of what you have in mind for size? I have pictures on my web site.
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Old 03-28-2006, 09:42 PM   #8
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wmah,
Yeh, that's a neat size. Are there any advantages/diadvantages to either a cut-away or a short school bus for use as a tow vehicle? Is 25 feet as short as they come?
Kathy
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Old 03-29-2006, 05:42 PM   #9
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Startrans seems to be fine. Starcraft buses are the ones that fall apart. We had four, two each 2000 & 2001's...there is one (a 2001) left. The three others were scrapped (none with more than 115K miles, one under 100K) due to unrepairable structural problems. I doubt the last Starcrap (bus 181) will survive the year. Also, they have major electrical problems, pathetically-weak air conditioners, a ferocious appetite for front-end parts, awful door sealing, and ergonomics truly bordering on the bizarre (2 had the stereos over the driver, not visible without standing up).

We have several Eldos (2 Fords, 3 International 3400's), and they seem to hold up very well (though they certainly do rattle). The Fords are a diesel 2002 E-450 (~170K miles) and a V-10 1998 E-Super Duty (~120K miles), both wheelchair buses. One IH (bus 204) is a 1997 26-passenger lift bus with a luggage compartment and a T444E/AT545--with over 310,000 miles, it's tight, quiet, and rattle-free. It's by far my favorite bus for charters (even over the 2006 GMC 5500 and the 2006 E-450). The others are identical 1999 chassis with 2001 bodies (don't ask), 21 passengers plus luggage.

Also, some buses were built on Freightliner truck chassis. There are 2 basic types (we had both):

CUTAWAY: this looks vaguely like a school bus. It has the nose of a medium-duty truck (our only one was a 2002 FB-65, with a Cummins ISB & OD Allison) with a bus body (26-passenger WC-lift Eldo). It ran ~110K trouble-free miles, and then unfortunately burned to the ground from an electrical fire.

The box: this looks like, well, a BOX. It's a stripped chassis with a scratch-built body. One was a 30-passenger 1997 snubnose, a Champion body on a Freightliner chassis. Power was a 12-valve 5.9 Cummins, trans was an AT500, and rear air-ride was nice. This was a big bus--about 35' bumper to bumper. It was a WC bus, but ours had the lift removed for extra seating. I think it's for sale. The other two (identical) are 1998 flat-noses, 20-pax WC Goshen bodies on Freightliner chassis, with 12V 5.9's and AT545's. With a shorter wheelbase & steel springs in back, the ride much rougher than the larger Champion (they're essentially a Stepvan chassis with a bus body). One may be for sale, with minor damage from a rear-end hit.

These have a very strong chassis, with 19.5" truck tires, big disc brakes, and 19,000lb chassis capacity (12K rear/7K front).

Others to avoid: Metrotrans (structural problems, electrical gremlins, leaks, balky & overcomplicated rear HVAC), ThomasBuilt (we have one, and it's falling apart with 70K on it...surprising, since their skoolies are very well-built), and anything really big on an Econoline chassis (GVWR is only 14,050 on the E-450).
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Old 03-29-2006, 11:35 PM   #10
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may as well throw my two cents in

I'm not a bus mechanic so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I am, however a NASA aero/structural engineer. I went through the same trade study that you are going through before I bought my shorty for towing my antique Spartan trailer. My conclusion was that the cutaways were basically overloaded van chassis with a lot of metal and fiberglass and underpowered motors and overworked trannys. This is evident by the previous posters mention of structural damage in the undercarriage and suspension. One other member with a cutaway ran into weight issues in his conversion process and started blowing tires from excessive weight. With a short dog nosed schoolie, say a Wayne/International, you have an overbuilt medium duty truck chassis with an overall length of 25ft capable of carrying around 9000 lbs of payload over and above its own weight with all the overbuilt systems that go with a full size bus in a shorter lighter version. So your choice is a bastardized van with enough extra crap slapped on it to push it to its structural limits or a shortened full size medium duty truck with all kinds of extra margin of safety. I know what I went with, but to each their own, that's the beauty of this hobby, the different solutions to the same desires.
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Old 03-30-2006, 02:25 PM   #11
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I actually was thinking of this post today when I dropped my niece and nephew off to catch the Headstart bus. It was a class B sitting on an International chassis with a DT466. The body was made by Mid Bus. I don't know much abour this company, but it resembled a Carpenter body when I looked at the lines.

Something like that might be really convenient. It would have all the power in the world, plenty of space (I could stand up without hitting my head and I'm 6'5"), and is not too big to handle. I thik converting something like that might even look a little more "professional" than a skoolie if that's your kind of thing. If nothing else, having a driverside entrance door would be nice.
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Old 03-30-2006, 04:26 PM   #12
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Re: may as well throw my two cents in

Quote:
Originally Posted by trentet
I'm not a bus mechanic so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I am, however a NASA aero/structural engineer. I went through the same trade study that you are going through before I bought my shorty for towing my antique Spartan trailer. My conclusion was that the cutaways were basically overloaded van chassis with a lot of metal and fiberglass and underpowered motors and overworked trannys. This is evident by the previous posters mention of structural damage in the undercarriage and suspension. One other member with a cutaway ran into weight issues in his conversion process and started blowing tires from excessive weight. With a short dog nosed schoolie, say a Wayne/International, you have an overbuilt medium duty truck chassis with an overall length of 25ft capable of carrying around 9000 lbs of payload over and above its own weight with all the overbuilt systems that go with a full size bus in a shorter lighter version. So your choice is a bastardized van with enough extra crap slapped on it to push it to its structural limits or a shortened full size medium duty truck with all kinds of extra margin of safety. I know what I went with, but to each their own, that's the beauty of this hobby, the different solutions to the same desires.
The really big cutvans are overweight...but if one is selected that is a reasonable size, weight is a minor issue. As for the engines...the vast majority use the very same engine that powered thousands of MDT's & 40' school buses: the 7.3 litre International, either the IDI (1994-older) or the PowerStroke (1995-2004). A PSD E-450 is not underpowered in any sense of the word...in fact, the van PSD has MORE power than the strongest T444E offered in a school bus (225HP versus 210, and most skoolies had 190 or 175). Every bus at work will happily cruise all day at 70MPH without breaking a sweat (a speed many school buses cannot touch in ANY way short of downhill in neutral). My friend uses a retired shuttle (1991 E-350/Champion, 7.3 IDI/C6, GVWR 12,600) as a stuff-hauler. It usually runs right at the maximum weight (he scales before every trip, and is usually within 200lbs of 12,000). The engine has almost 23,000 hours (250,000+ miles), the trans was rebuilt at ~200K. He has never lost a tire (225/75R16's, 80psi in back)--one important caveat: some E-350's only call for load range D tires! A 225/75R16D at 65psi (max) is running at ONE HUNDRED PERCENT CAPACITY with an E-350 DRW loaded to its max rear GAWR. Running E's gives a safety factor, not to mention more stability against side-sway.

The early E4OD's were a bit weak for a diesel cutaway, but the later vans, with the updated 4R100 OD transmission, will go 100,000+ city miles without a rebuild. Having said that, any E4OD bus will almost certainly have had the transmission rebuilt or replaced long before it is sold off. I would add a trans temp gauge (to ANY automatic) & the biggest cooler I could fit, and reaally wouldn't worry.

The stuff-hauler has a few tweaks that make it dramatically more durable. All are pretty basic. First and foremost: enormous trans cooler (especially with the non-lockup C6) & temp gauge! The C6 also got a B&M deep pan when it was rebuilt. This one has a Gear Vendors OD, but most, having factory E4OD/4R100's, won't need that. The old trans cooler became a power steering cooler. Also, it has Rancho RS9000X adjustable front shocks, and E-450 front springs.
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Old 03-30-2006, 04:48 PM   #13
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Wow, you guys are pretty intense! I'm just as little girl from Pennsylvania who needs a cool tow vehicle with a wheelchair lift for a vintage Airstream! This has been great information, but I just feel more and more confused! I'm really not sure which way to go. I'm afraid of getting a school bus that might be too long (is 25 feet the shortest they come?), but I do like the look of the "old" school bus--short dog nose (I think!--is that known as the Carpenter style?). But, I think the creature comforts of a shuttle bus might be good as well, but I don't want to get into structural problems or major engine modifications to have it be suitable for the purposes of towing. This thread has been such a learning experience for me, and all of the replies have been helpful. Just bear with me (and my questions) as I contunue to learn and refine my ideas of what I want. What is cool though, is that my family is sold on the idea of a bus as a tow vehicle (of course, it took them looking at this listserve to get convinced--they initially thought that I was crazy). So, the more opinions, the merrier!

Kathy
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Old 03-31-2006, 07:14 AM   #14
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Quote:
I'm afraid of getting a school bus that might be too long (is 25 feet the shortest they come?), but I do like the look of the "old" school bus--short dog nose (I think!--is that known as the Carpenter style?).
Regular style school bus with engine out front under a hood is dognose. Carpenter is just a manufacturer...that had some serious issues with weld quality in their roofs on busses manufactured in Elkhart (IIRC), IN for a large portion of the early '90s. Lots of times you see these busses offered for sale at cheap prices with a "SALVAGE" title. The ones manufactured at their NJ plant were okay.
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Old 03-31-2006, 08:29 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kdenault
Wow, you guys are pretty intense! I'm just as little girl from Pennsylvania who needs a cool tow vehicle with a wheelchair lift for a vintage Airstream! This has been great information, but I just feel more and more confused! I'm really not sure which way to go. I'm afraid of getting a school bus that might be too long (is 25 feet the shortest they come?), but I do like the look of the "old" school bus--short dog nose (I think!--is that known as the Carpenter style?). But, I think the creature comforts of a shuttle bus might be good as well, but I don't want to get into structural problems or major engine modifications to have it be suitable for the purposes of towing. This thread has been such a learning experience for me, and all of the replies have been helpful. Just bear with me (and my questions) as I contunue to learn and refine my ideas of what I want. What is cool though, is that my family is sold on the idea of a bus as a tow vehicle (of course, it took them looking at this listserve to get convinced--they initially thought that I was crazy). So, the more opinions, the merrier!

Kathy
Kathy...hang in there! You just happend to land at a site populated with bus enthusiasts and there is a wealth of knowledge here. Also, often times, one post gets answered by another post and sort of leaps over the original post and then things get back on track again. It's like sitting at a big round table in the corner of the local greasy spoon; the chatter never stops and the converstation keeps flowing around the table! Fun!

Don't do anything until you're comfortable. Keep watching the ads at eBay; not to buy yet but to read the descriptions and get familiar with the engines, transmissions, body styles, lengths, number of windows, and such. Do the same thing on the various bus sales sites online. Pretty soon something is going to "click" for you and you're going to find what you think is the ideal bus. Then it's time to do some homework and here (at this site) is where you'll be able to get more information about the critter you're looking at.

Look at it this way...the bus field is pretty varied; at one time or another someone built a bus to do just what the market asked for so there are tons of choices. Just keep looking, learning and asking and things will start to make sense...really!
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Old 04-08-2006, 09:49 PM   #16
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I just put up some pictures of some newer buses that are still in service. There are few different sizes. I still think there are some that are even shorter than the #88 bus pictured.
Here is the direct link http://www.skoolie.net/gallery2/main...2_itemId=10214
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Old 04-18-2006, 11:35 AM   #17
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Check this out

Hey I haven't got time at the moment to catch up on this disscusion.

I do have an excellent short bus that is on pg 8 in the skoolies gallery. "Aimless pursuits" The photos are way behind. This thing is already totally converted with some serious equipment and skill. It will pull anything. it has a 466 and 4spd Allison auto. I just drove it to WY from IN with it loaded down, slow and steady but with no problems.
I am living in it now very nicely and am soon to put up all the picks. and info. I have had fun with it and it would make someone a great camper. I am going to sell it but not any time soon. I have work and a free place to park for the summer through fall, so once i get it advertised, Sept/ Oct would be the soonest I'd sell. Look for its complete picture set and add and tell all your friends about it!
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