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Old 01-23-2020, 03:11 PM   #1
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Mountain Buses

So, I was watching the Rolling Vistas video series on YouTube and I got to the end where *spoiler alert* they decided to sell their skoolie and move into a van.
The part that got my attention in their 10 - 12 reasons were the couple about how they really felt unsure of their buses ability to survive prolonged use, higher speeds than 55, and any significant inclines (they specifically mentioned avoiding US 70 and the Rockies, which alarmed me a bit).

Their bus was a 1999 International Genesis Amtran with a DT466.

My question is this: Assuming I don't have any issues with traveling at 55, do I also have to reconcile myself to babying the bus in terms of how many hours a day I can drive it, and avoiding any mountainous roads or passes?

And if I really want a bus that I could, say, drive up to Alaska, what buses am I limited to.

I'm posting this in Short Bus because they had a 30' bus, and I can't imagine buying anything longer than that.
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Old 01-23-2020, 03:48 PM   #2
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Van chassis mini buses can handle highway speeds just fine as they all have OEM general motors or ford transmissions that can handle that sort of usage.

The DT466 motor is more than capable of prolonged highway useage, that would never be the issue here. The youtube couple you're talking about most likely had a bus with the budget Allison AT545 which is a 1960s era transmission originally intended for panel vans and light duty stop & go useage. It was very common on school buses up until 2003ish due to the low cost and its viability in low speed local applications.

They don't fare well on the highway over 60+ mph or on hills due to the non-lockup torque converter.

Look for a shorty with an Allison 2000 or just get a van chassis mini bus (but you'll have minimal space for a conversion). Keep in mind that you'll pay a lot more since everyone and their mother wants the big chassis shorty buses and most buyers these days are aware that the AT545 is not the one to get.
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Old 01-23-2020, 04:54 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by WIbluebird View Post
Van chassis mini buses can handle highway speeds just fine as they all have OEM general motors or ford transmissions that can handle that sort of usage.

The DT466 motor is more than capable of prolonged highway useage, that would never be the issue here. The youtube couple you're talking about most likely had a bus with the budget Allison AT545 which is a 1960s era transmission originally intended for panel vans and light duty stop & go useage. It was very common on school buses up until 2003ish due to the low cost and its viability in low speed local applications.

They don't fare well on the highway over 60+ mph or on hills due to the non-lockup torque converter.

Look for a shorty with an Allison 2000 or just get a van chassis mini bus (but you'll have minimal space for a conversion). Keep in mind that you'll pay a lot more since everyone and their mother wants the big chassis shorty buses and most buyers these days are aware that the AT545 is not the one to get.

Appreciaite it. So, just to clarify for me, which Allison transmissions should I be looking for, and what would be a reasonable price for a decent bus from a dry (no rust) climate. The van isn't really an option,since I'll be full time living in it, but "paying a lot more" is a relative term. The couple in the video are getting the top Ford Transit, which I spec'd out at $51K before a dollar is spent on any conversion, including adding, say, a window.

I think they originally paid about $3k for their bus at auction, and three times that for a more capable bus isn't out of my budget, since I'll be saving $1,500 a month in rent the minute I move in.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:28 PM   #4
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Anything but the AT545 in an Allison is good. MT series are good, AT series are lighter duty.

School buses are not babied by their drivers, so how others get the idea they need that I am not sure. I would not get a van cutaway as they are just one ton pickup chassis, light duty. The medium duty truck chassis will hold up better.

Just for what it is worth I took a trip from Virginia to Minnesota last summer pulling a trailer. I ran mostly ran around 70mph when on the interstates, and on driving days did 10-12 hours driving. Some of the grades on back roads where as much as 10%. Of course not doing any where near 70 on them and they were back roads anyway.

In general the route buses are geared lower(slower) and have the AT545 trans. The activity or field trip buses are geared for highway speeds and often do not have the AT545.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:38 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Ronnie View Post
Anything but the AT545 in an Allison is good. MT series are good, AT series are lighter duty.

School buses are not babied by their drivers, so how others get the idea they need that I am not sure. I would not get a van cutaway as they are just one ton pickup chassis, light duty. The medium duty truck chassis will hold up better.

Just for what it is worth I took a trip from Virginia to Minnesota last summer pulling a trailer. I ran mostly ran around 70mph when on the interstates, and on driving days did 10-12 hours driving. Some of the grades on back roads where as much as 10%. Of course not doing any where near 70 on them and they were back roads anyway.

In general the route buses are geared lower(slower) and have the AT545 trans. The activity or field trip buses are geared for highway speeds and often do not have the AT545.
Thanks for all of that. I'm planning on heading to Florida next week to learn as much as I can, then the search for my bus begins in earnest. My target is to make it inhabitable by the fall, and then over the next 12 -24 months, do the rest of the work.

But, of course, everything hinges on getting the most suitable bus. For me, living alone with a dog or two, I think something in the 25'-30' range is optimum, since I don't really need the "social space" I see in most builds. All I want is a bed, some storage, a bathroom, a kitchen and a desk. But I don't want to be hesitant to go somewhere because there might be a hill. Again, no objection to a reasonable speed. I've never driven anything bigger than a U-Haul small truck, so I'm gonna go slow learning these vehicles.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:49 PM   #6
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We've got a bus from Vail, CO with a DT466 engine and an MT643 transmission. It's got an electromagnetic retarder too, which really saves a lot of wear and tear on the brakes. Ours cost just under 5k at auction, and there's another thread on here where someone paid just under 6k for a nicer bus from the same area. We held out for a bus from CO because we knew we'd be doing quite a bit of driving in the Rockies.

Our bus tops out at just over 65mph on flat land. Going up grades is a different story, it just pokes along...about like tanker trucks and trailers hauling heavy equipment. I'm guessing that's more about the gearing than the engine or transmission though. Driving a bus takes some getting used to, at least for me, because I can try to be a leadfoot like I am in the car, but I don't really have much say in the matter. It's a slower paced life.
Rolling Vistas might have had a different experience if they'd had a beefier transmission, but honestly I think they're pretty cautious people and were reluctant to take their bus to some of the more remote boondocking spots...which makes the change to vandwelling a little more comfortable for them.
You're doing a good thing by being patient and researching buses before you jump in and buy the wrong one. Look at the auctions for mountain states and you might find the bus that suits your needs.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:50 PM   #7
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A 6 window shorty with full frame is about 23ft, so 7 or 8 window would be about in the size range you mention. I do think that would be a reasonable size to look for. Seems 6 window or less is going to be a bit small for full time living.

Good that you are coming to Florida and getting ideas before you buy something. There is a recent post about a couple who bought what they thought was a great bus, and it really did not do well driving home and they had to leave it in Arizona and will have to go back for it later. Overheating, and tranmission troubles, yes it was a AT 545.

By the way there is a tag on the transmissions that will identify what it is. Have to crawl under the bus and wipe of the tag to see it but very well worth seeing it before buying anything. Might as well look at the engine data tag too.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:53 PM   #8
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I dont know buses at all, but the other day I went to skoolie.com by accident and saw this bus for sale ($75g's) and noticied it had a new at545. Why does such a fancy high end bus have a tranny not good for hills or highways?

http://www.skoolie.net/forums/attach...1&d=1579823549

oops sorry just turn your computer 90
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File Type: jpg 20200123_184843.jpg (122.6 KB, 57 views)
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:58 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by matthews2001 View Post
I dont know buses at all, but the other day I went to skoolie.com by accident and saw this bus for sale ($75g's) and noticied it had a new at545. Why does such a fancy high end bus have a tranny not good for hills or highways?

http://www.skoolie.net/forums/attach...1&d=1579823549

oops sorry just turn your computer 90
Folks are idealistic and don't spend the time to fully examine their needs/goals.
This whole thing has gotten pretty trendy and folks jump in with both feet. Thus you end up with big budget builds on low spec buses with less desirable drivetrains.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:58 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by matthews2001 View Post
Why does such a fancy high end bus have a tranny not good for hills or highways?
Probably the seller is assuming the buyer hasn't done their homework on what is a desirable drivetrain.
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Old 01-23-2020, 06:00 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by matthews2001 View Post
saw this bus for sale ($75g's) and noticied it had a new at545. Why does such a fancy high end bus have a tranny not good for hills or highways?
Anybody with enough knowledge to know that the AT545 is undesirable is probably also never going to pay 75 grand (!) for a skoolie, so there's no use in the sellers upgrading. "AT545" is like the overpriced skoolie's equivalent of the typos in the Nigerian prince emails.
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Old 01-23-2020, 06:01 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Beachvbguy View Post
I'm planning on heading to Florida next week to learn as much as I can, then the search for my bus begins in earnest.
If you get down to Miami look me up. I am currently involved in building two busses. Be happy to share with you some of my ups and downs.
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Old 02-02-2020, 01:23 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by WIbluebird View Post
Van chassis mini buses can handle highway speeds just fine as they all have OEM general motors or ford transmissions that can handle that sort of usage.

The DT466 motor is more than capable of prolonged highway useage, that would never be the issue here. The youtube couple you're talking about most likely had a bus with the budget Allison AT545 which is a 1960s era transmission originally intended for panel vans and light duty stop & go useage. It was very common on school buses up until 2003ish due to the low cost and its viability in low speed local applications.

They don't fare well on the highway over 60+ mph or on hills due to the non-lockup torque converter.

Look for a shorty with an Allison 2000 or just get a van chassis mini bus (but you'll have minimal space for a conversion). Keep in mind that you'll pay a lot more since everyone and their mother wants the big chassis shorty buses and most buyers these days are aware that the AT545 is not the one to get.

clearly states it is a 643 trans @ 18:00



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Old 02-02-2020, 09:51 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronnie View Post
Anything but the AT545 in an Allison is good. MT series are good, AT series are lighter duty.

School buses are not babied by their drivers, so how others get the idea they need that I am not sure. I would not get a van cutaway as they are just one ton pickup chassis, light duty. The medium duty truck chassis will hold up better.

Just for what it is worth I took a trip from Virginia to Minnesota last summer pulling a trailer. I ran mostly ran around 70mph when on the interstates, and on driving days did 10-12 hours driving. Some of the grades on back roads where as much as 10%. Of course not doing any where near 70 on them and they were back roads anyway.

In general the route buses are geared lower(slower) and have the AT545 trans. The activity or field trip buses are geared for highway speeds and often do not have the AT545.
Don't forget the MD-3060 and the 1000/2000's..

An MD-3060 behind a DT-466 would be a very nice highway and mountain drivetrain.
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Old 02-02-2020, 01:50 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by matthews2001 View Post
I dont know buses at all, but the other day I went to skoolie.com by accident and saw this bus for sale ($75g's) and noticied it had a new at545. Why does such a fancy high end bus have a tranny not good for hills or highways?

http://www.skoolie.net/forums/attach...1&d=1579823549

oops sorry just turn your computer 90
I'm pretty sure this is the Midwest Wanderers bus. I've been in it at a tiny home festival, and it is beautifully done. Luke and his wife actually started their own bus conversion company in NC called skoolie.com I've considered having them do a roof raise and the electrical if I get a school bus (mostly want an old GM coach).
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Old 02-02-2020, 03:13 PM   #16
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Mine is a 99 Genesis with a DT466 and an Allison 3060. I've cruised a full tank out at 85mph. Capable of more. That drivetrain in a 30'er would be awesome. That's going to be a rare bus.
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