Well, I finally got my bus-to-be-motorhome. Thanks to all the people on this site that made it possible for me to figure this all out without hitting dead ends with seemingly unclimbable walls. In particular, the folks who guided me on how to get insurance were most important. State Farm hooked me up, but I had to tell them how
to run the policy (as a commercial vehicle for private use, at least maybe until I get it rebuilt as a motorhome and retitled as such), and that was information I got from this site. One independent agent I contacted called me back 12 hours too late with the same concept, but for more $$$.
I looked on eBay and anywhere else I could think of for several months, looking at prices, quality, builds, makes, types, and motors, and doing research on all. Funny, I started out looking for a truck. That turned into a motorhome, and that turned into a skoolie. I figured the skoolie would give me the clearance and durability for forest roads, more so than the prefabbed motorhome (MiniWinnie was on my list). I was convinced I wanted a mid-size dog-nose Thomas I saw in Phoenix, AZ. I think it had an actual emergency exit door on the drivers side and at the rear, plus a handycap lift door on the passenger side. Or maybe not.
Eventually I decided I wanted a flat-nose bus. The Virgo in me suddenly took a backseat, and looks and nameplate took a lead. And I argued to myself there would be more usable room inside for the same length bus outside, and I need it as a daily driver in town also. I got my mind set on a BlueBird transit-style front-engine mid-size handicap bus. I saw one first in SoCal on eBay, with the extra emergency door behind the driver's seat. To me this was the winner, all the doors. I loved so many of the Chevy-van based fiberglass-body buses I saw, but there is only one way in-and-out, and it ain't friendly for haulin' your heavy stuff. I have 2000+lbs. of tools I need to carry with me.
Finally, after drooling over them all from my laptop in Hawai'i, I flew to Atlanta where I had my van stashed at my mom's house. Atlanta is a great place for old vehicles. They don't salt the roads, the rain is not so acidic, and the sun doesn't bake your car's dash and plastic to a crisp. It is a relatively up-and-coming city with lots of corporate cash, and plenty of good used cars. I figured a good bus could be found there. The first one I looked at, the first thing I did was look at the frame. Anything else can be fixed. The frame goes, toss the whole bus. I could crush the frame with two fingers (or one and a thumb). The guy brought the whole fleet from Maryland. Acres and acres of rusty old junky buses. He told me he just sold one to a young girl the day before, and she was going to drive it to the west coast.
And they were not cheap. Buyer beware, yea!
I looked at one from the Cobb County school system (supposedly), a county with lots of $$$ so I would think they maintain their school buses. It was a mid-size International with the inline-6 diesel motor. I put it in gear, and .... nothing. I gave it fuel....it did not move. "Floor it" the guy said. It moved, and barely made it up 1 foot out of his yard, onto the road. I had to keep it floored, to get it to move. And it braked slow also. It lost speed going uphill, and barely made it to 45mph on flat ground, pedal to the metal. "They are all like that. Haven't you ever driven you church bus before?" Apparently his church did not maintain their buses either. The tranny fluid was clear and tinted brown. Clear?
I am an auto mechanic, but know nothing about large trucks and buses. Was this fluid supposed to be clear? I never took the time to find out at that point. I thought it should be cherry red, turning darker, browner, eventually black as it ages and wears out. But clear
So then I looked at 3 buses from a "poor" county south of Atlanta. They all had to be floored to get the bus going, but one would actually start moving when you just put it in gear. That's when I was sure they all had worn transmissions. I decided that if I had to by a bus like that, it would cost me $1000+ to drive it, floored, all the way to Oregon. I might as well just focus looking only there. And the mid-size BlueBird flat-nose could be found there outside Salem. So, off I went in my minivan.
I looked at the BlueBird and it was just what I wanted, size-wise. I was in Eugene just before, and saw how similar buses' short wheelbase could turn the tight corners in that small downtown area. 25000 GVWR, really nice. But I could not drive it. The owner had no insurance, no tag, etc. "It drives perfect, I promise" he said, yet he never drove it himself; he hired someone. For $5500, you want me to buy a bus that I can't even drive first? Sure! Got a bridge for sale in London, also? I got cash around everywhere burning holes in my pockets.
So I drove back to Eugene, dreaming about the bus I wanted. Then publicsurplus.com had an auction in Eugene for a 1998 5-window Ford-van based bus with the International 7.3L V8 diesel. I test drove it, and it was great! So I bid $6000, and got outbid. Oh well. In the meantime....
publicsurplus.com had another auction in Tucson for the very same model BlueBird TC1000 HandyBus that I just looked at the prior week, except the one on auction had duel high-output A.C. units on top vs no A.C. And it was going for $600. They said it drove well, but there was a check engine light on. This was August of 2017, there was a record heatwave, and it was 100°F in Portland Oregon. Tucson was kinda hot also. I was guessing no-one there would want it (like people in Oregon would), and no one would want to drive there to get it. I put in a bid just over $2000, site unseen. Someone bid just enough to max mine out, but I got it. I figured even if I had to put in a new tranny or motor, I could still come out under $6000, at least the $5500 the other guy in Oregon wanted, and I would then have rebuilt stuff.
So I drove to Tucson and got my bus, after 2 days of trying to get insurance. I put it in drive and .... whaalaah! It moves at idle. Pulls
at idle. Yes!
I got it on the highway, and got it up to 60mph going just a few miles back to my hotel. That was my worst fear after driving the buses in Atlanta - that I would be the slow hazard on the highways, stuck having to drive the backroads across the country.
After getting a temp tag and registration, the first thing I did was take it to the shop that sold it new to the school system I bought it used from. I felt the brakes were not right. I really had to press down hard on them to get it to stop, then it would lurch to a halt. They told me the brakes were fine. But that is another thread:
My comment is added at the end, describing my problems, which is where I am at now...stuck in Cali with no brakes!
Anyway....After taking the bus to Goodwill and giving them the seats (I was hoping to sell them, but keeping them makes it a "19 passenger vehicle"....) I drove it to The San Fransisco Bay area where I stored it for 2 months as I returned to Hawai'i to get my stuff and ship it back to the mainland. It has the Allison AT545 tranny, 3.54 rear-end, and the Cummings 5.9L Diesel. It cruises nicely at just over 60mph, and will do 70mph on flat ground. The other day I looked down and I was doing 73 going downhill. A real winner!
The wheelbase is just longer than my minivan was (1993 Mercury Villager - a.k.a. Nissan Quest - sold that for $300 in Tucson in a fire-sale with no working A.C. in August -drives perfectly -bet he drives it for several more years with that Nissan V6 in it). It parks in 1.5 parking spaces, and navigates tight parking lots with ease. And being a HandyBus, it has 19.5 inch rims and no wheel wells, so the inside floor is flat and all usable.
What I really like also is the "track system" for the seats. Basically there are 4 tracks per side, and I can place an upward-facing bolt anywhere along them that I can use to hold down any tables, cabinets, etc. that I put in the bus. There tracks along the walls over the windows, also, for securing wheelchairs. Again, this makes perfect mounting points. No holes need be drilled through the shell leading to future rust, and things can be moved around as my needs evolve. I see others' posts about tearing up their floors and replacing the plywood, insulating, etc... Not me. I like my spillproof, mudproof, pet-resistant (nothing is pet-proof) heavy vinyl flooring, with suregrip traction down the middle. But then my bus is from the desert and has no rust or water-rot (why I would buy it sight-unseen). I modify most of my vehicles to some extent or another, but I strive to keep it returnable to factory condition. Drilling holes is not undoable. Anyway, some day I will have money for hand-woven wool rugs from the Southwest U.S. or Far-East which will be nice, confortable, and warm.
The wheelchair lift is also key for me. I don't own a grill, but do own rolling toolchests. The lift will be nice for getting them in and out of my soon-to-be motorhome / mobile service vehicle. Hey, if I have lunch and go pee in my motorhome while at a jobsite, it is not a commercial work vehicle
Soon I will have my Mayan hammock hung from the back corner to the wall in front of the lift. That will be step one in renovation. Simple, yet oh so nice.... First more cleaning. Boy is it grimy....