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Old 04-09-2020, 02:17 PM   #1
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 48
Year: 2004
Coachwork: Freightliner/Thomas FS65
Engine: Cat C7
New Skoolie Adventure

Hello everyone. I am currently looking to purchase my first bus. I have wanted to do so for a long time, but I have hit a point in my life where it is becomng necessity rather than luxery. I need an affordable way to provide shelter for myself and my two children, as I am in a faltering marriage with an emotionally abusive alcoholic. I need something drivable so that I have the opportunity move for work when needed. I am a graduate student working my way through school by teaching classes for my universities department. I am currently working on my masters in Forest Resources Jobs in my line of work sometimes require you to chase the rainbow, but you definitely are not going to find a pot of gold at the end. We don't do it for the money, we do it because we want to make our planet a better place to live.

I have zero mechanical experience and purchasing a bus scares the heck out of me. I dont know what is good, what is bad, and what may fall somewhere in between. I am looking at buses on govdeals.com and have found a couple that look good, but maybe there are others sites for purchasing buses that I am unaware of. I have to do this on a very tight budget, although my family is going to help me out where they can. If I can purchase the bus, they will pay for the upgrades and when it comes time to live in the bus, my rent will essentually be paying them back for their help. I will start out living in their back yard. The construction of the bus will be a learn as I go process, because I know nothing about plumbing or electrical. The bus needs to be fully capable of being self sustaining, because even though I will be in my parents backyard in the beginning, I dont want to be a burden on their actual home. I want me and my kids to be as independent as we possiblt can. The part I am most excited about is designing the inside of the bus. I want something functional, and something that still feels roomy. I am struggling to find out the inside dimensions of the buses I am looking at, and when I call these people and ask for the measurements, they laugh and tell me they have no clue.

I cannot wait to learn from you all, and I hope that my questions will not seem too dumb. Thanks for having me!
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Old 04-09-2020, 02:58 PM   #2
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Join Date: Apr 2018
Location: NorCal
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Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Welcome to the forum! You're on the right path by asking here, because who could provide better advice than the people who have already gone down the same path?


I think you have a grand idea that can work well, especially given your future occupation. There are a few things to consider though:


- The time it takes to convert is going to be much longer than you think. I've owned my bus for two years and I only now just got the sink/plumbing installed
- Expedition Happiness, a couple who did what you're thinking of, took six months to convert their bus. They worked on the bus full time with a hired carpenter to assist.
- If you have money and hire people to do things for you, it will speed things up a lot and obviously cost more. If you don't want to spend the money, you can learn most things yourself, but now it's going to be taking exponentially longer to both learn how to do the thing (welding, for example) and then execute it
- It will most likely be much more expensive than you think. This is just me, but with my conversion (a 4 window shortie), I initially budgeted for $15,000-$20,000 when it was all said and done, and I'm probably going to bust that pretty soon (it'll probably be $25,000 at the end). Now, my wants and desires are totally different than yours, so I've splurged on more luxurious items (Lithium batteries, a massive solar bank, etc...) and you can get it done for an a lot cheaper than that

- Compromise is going to be key! I initially had an interior shower as a hard requirement, and soon realized that was just simply not possible (so I settled on an outdoor shower). You may say you want to be 100% self sufficient, but that's probably a bit too ambitious--why not start with a goal of, say, being self sufficient for three people for seven days? As in, carry enough supplies to go unresupplied (water, propane, electricity) for seven days with your two kids


Don't let me or anyone discourage you, you've got a unique opportunity here to get it done and live that sweet life (ever seen Captain Fantastic?)--especially if you have space to convert it in, that seems to be the key factor!


Good luck and start a thread when you begin!
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Old 04-09-2020, 04:59 PM   #3
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 48
Year: 2004
Coachwork: Freightliner/Thomas FS65
Engine: Cat C7
Thank you for your response. Things always seem to cost more and take longer than you originally think. Ill try to be as thrifty as possible. I had no idea welding was going to be part of the deal, so I may have to start looking into that. I am sure I can figure out wiring and plumbing, although learning it as I go may take more time. Its going to be three of us working on the bus, but I cannot afford to hire someone. Wish me luck!
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Old 04-09-2020, 06:55 PM   #4
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Good Luck! Like Argobus stated, if you can look at two years and $20,000 as a realistic end point, then you can definitely do this, and possibly even cut expenses and time from that figure. Compromise is key. I've owned my bus about 6 months, I am in about a third of that cost, and if push came to shove I could throw an extension cord in the window and move in frugally spending another thousand. But I am not chasing work or a graduate degree, and my son is 18.

Publicsurplus and govdeals are the cheapest auctions. But schools are pretty universally closed right now, so auction end dates are getting postponed. Avoid buying a bus where they salt the roads. I don't know where you are, but this rules out most (all?) of New England. Researching here shows that most of the long term members believe strongly in some of the Colorado and Oregon school districts. If you post a link here on a bus you are looking at, you will get some (brutal) honesty from them.
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Old 04-09-2020, 07:31 PM   #5
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 48
Year: 2004
Coachwork: Freightliner/Thomas FS65
Engine: Cat C7
I am in South Carolina and I am currently looking at this bus.

https://www.govdeals.com/index.cfm?f...97&acctid=3617

Is there somewhere else I should be posting my potential buys?
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Old 04-10-2020, 02:17 AM   #6
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Rated Cap: 71 Passenger- 30,000 lbs.
It is good that you know your limitations. That is a great starting point. Having a place to work on your bus basically rent free and with support from family is priceless. Figure out what you really must have and what you would like to have. Sometimes both can be achieved with careful thought.


Keep asking questions here in this forum!!!
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Old 04-10-2020, 02:58 AM   #7
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I forgot that you mentioned you wanted dimensions.


Most school buses are 7'4" wide inside from seat rail to seat rail.


The length of a bus can (very generally) be figured by multiplying the number of windows by 2.5 feet. Of course, the useable space varies on the bus body builder's implementation ofthe rear-engine, front-engine, or conventional engine models. Each of these three basic types of bus bodies have different internally buildable spaces.


So, for our 38' external bus, we have 11 windows. That would be 25' buildable. In truth, our bus has 29 feet from the back wall up to the beginning of the stair well opening. We have a conventional engine (like a truck) with the engine in front of the windshield.


Use this as a general guide, not specific information. Other body manufacturers have different buildable areas ... so it all depends on the bus. The buildable width will also depend on how you plan to treat the side walls ... meaning how they will be constructed and how much insulation you will be putting in them.
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Old 04-10-2020, 10:36 AM   #8
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Chassis: E-350
Engine: 7.3L Powerstroke
Quote:
Originally Posted by cmstrick654 View Post
Thank you for your response. Things always seem to cost more and take longer than you originally think. Ill try to be as thrifty as possible. I had no idea welding was going to be part of the deal, so I may have to start looking into that. I am sure I can figure out wiring and plumbing, although learning it as I go may take more time. Its going to be three of us working on the bus, but I cannot afford to hire someone. Wish me luck!

I thought welding would be part of my build, so I took a class and bought a very basic welding machine. This ended up not being used. For everything I thought I would weld, I ended up using slotted angle (which refers to this) and bolts+washers+locking washer+nut instead. For example, the brackets that hold my water tank. Instead of welding it all into one piece, I cut each angle to length and just fastened them all together with the bolts. Do I wish I would've done that differently? Yes! But that's okay, this is my first bus and it works just fine. My next conversion will have much more welding involved than this one.


For the other skills, I went in with zero knowledge of plumbing and a very basic understanding of electricity. The plumbing was super easy to learn using this forum and also the folks who work at Home Depot. Electricity was a little different--I have a working knowledge of electronics (at least in aircraft), and little practical experience from when I owned a sailboat, but the battery pack and everything has been, by far, the most headache-causing, frustrating part of this build. It doesn't have to be, however--if one just gets two car batteries and a basic solar setup, it's not that difficult. And the wiring isn't bad at all, as long as you plan ahead.


At risk of shaming for self promotion, may I point you to my build blog, which is geared toward people like myself (no mechanical knowledge, no idea what I'm doing) and documenting what I did to help others plan/make their build (the blog contains Amazon Affiliate links).


Keep us updated, and don't get discouraged! You can absolutely do this with the help here, and it sounds like you're in a position that gives you an advantage if you can do it in your family's back yard!
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Old 04-10-2020, 06:11 PM   #9
Skoolie
 
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Location: Fraser Valley British Columbia
Posts: 189
Year: 2007
Coachwork: Thomas
Chassis: Freightliner
Engine: C7 Cat
Quote:
Originally Posted by cmstrick654 View Post
I am in South Carolina and I am currently looking at this bus.

https://www.govdeals.com/index.cfm?f...97&acctid=3617

Is there somewhere else I should be posting my potential buys?
Thomas buses have two different ceiling heights, if you look at the exterior photos you can tell from the window line which it is. This is very important for interior space. You may also consider a flat nose over a conventions style, this will give you better manoverability with the shorter wheel base and more space inside for the same overall length. The C7 Cat engine will cost you more if you need to rely on Cat service for your repairs and service compared to something like the Cummins 5.9
Many things to consider so just keep asking questions here and good luck
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Old 04-10-2020, 06:25 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Oscar1 View Post
Thomas buses have two different ceiling heights, if you look at the exterior photos you can tell from the window line which it is. This is very important for interior space. You may also consider a flat nose over a conventions style, this will give you better manoverability with the shorter wheel base and more space inside for the same overall length. The C7 Cat engine will cost you more if you need to rely on Cat service for your repairs and service compared to something like the Cummins 5.9
Many things to consider so just keep asking questions here and good luck

I'm not sure how the Cat myths get started. The Cat shop in Orlando is a good bit cheaper than the Navistar shop. Either will work on a Cummins. Hourly rates are the same no matter the brand.
Cats don't have killer dowel pins, "53" blocks, or faulty timing cover designs. The C7 isn't the best, but the other manufacturers engines of the same era are no better. Emissions killed all the joy in diesels.
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Old 04-10-2020, 07:04 PM   #11
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Location: Fraser Valley British Columbia
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Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
I'm not sure how the Cat myths get started. The Cat shop in Orlando is a good bit cheaper than the Navistar shop. Either will work on a Cummins. Hourly rates are the same no matter the brand.
Cats don't have killer dowel pins, "53" blocks, or faulty timing cover designs. The C7 isn't the best, but the other manufacturers engines of the same era are no better. Emissions killed all the joy in diesels.
ECCB Iím not spreading any myth, personal experience, in fact my bus is a C7 I also have a 7.3 turbo international, an early 12v 5.9, a Perkins and three Kabotaís and I pay much more for Brand parts from Cat. You say the Cat dealer will work on the Cummins but my experience is the other way around and you will find many competent Cummins mechanics that wonít touch a Cat. Also if youíre on the road with a breakdown itís a lot easier to find a Cummins mechanic. just my personal experiences.

Cheers
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Old 04-10-2020, 07:06 PM   #12
Skoolie
 
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Engine: C7 Cat
And I agree 100% emissions is not your friend!
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Old 04-10-2020, 07:23 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Oscar1 View Post
ECCB I’m not spreading any myth, personal experience, in fact my bus is a C7 I also have a 7.3 turbo international, an early 12v 5.9, a Perkins and three Kabota’s and I pay much more for Brand parts from Cat. You say the Cat dealer will work on the Cummins but my experience is the other way around and you will find many competent Cummins mechanics that won’t touch a Cat. Also if you’re on the road with a breakdown it’s a lot easier to find a Cummins mechanic. just my personal experiences.

Cheers
Weird. I'm paying less for Cat parts at the Cat dealer. My last DT had the famous timing cover failure. Ten grand. Ouch... no thanks. I can't play the navistar poor quality control lottery. Their foreman is a patient of my wife. He says RUN away from 2003 and up navistar. And that 99 and up really isn't near as good as the previous mechanical stuff. My experience echoes his advice. My mechanical DT was marvelous. My favorite engine of ANYTHING I've ever owned. That electronic DT is good but not any better than any other medium duty engine of the same era. Around here ANY shop that works on diesels is super familiar with 3216 and C7 Cats. They're in like millions of trucks and motorhomes. The motorhome crowd love cats.
Just my opinion- but the Cat sure seems way better put together than my previous Navistars and the Cummins I've messed with. Doesn't have any major failure points that kill the whole engine like liner seals, bad timing cover designs/materials, or bad block castings. They have an oil cooler that you have to double check when/if replacing. There's an extra filter kit you can get to filter the fuel again after the primary and a new oil line update you can get. But no major horrible failures.
but yeah man every shop here works on all the big brands and the hourly rate's the same no matter what color the block comes painted.
I'm not trying to argue with ya or anything. I avoided a LOT of great deals on great buses cause I took the same advice you're giving, though, and I'd sure love to go back and buy a few of the clean rust free buses I passed up because I thought Cat was so bad. This 3126 shorty is the best bus I've ever had by a mile. The engine is smooth, powerful, and efficient. The water pump belt wasn't fun to change but I could do it again in about 20 minutes.



IF I ever get a giant repair bill or destroy the engine I'll not buy more Cat parts, though. I'll get a 2 stroke Detroit and pay Ronnie to put it in my bus.
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Old 04-10-2020, 07:28 PM   #14
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Haha no argument was taken. You and I both know the key factor here is mechanical!!!
The new sh*t Is the problem.
Hope you are going well and staying safe.
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Old 04-10-2020, 07:55 PM   #15
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Haha no argument was taken. You and I both know the key factor here is mechanical!!!
The new sh*t Is the problem.
Hope you are going well and staying safe.
You too, pal!

Ideally I sure would love to find a 5 window shorty with mechanical 8.3 cummins and a stick shift. Since they didn't build those I've had to settle.
I think I'd probably stay away from a 90's mechanical Cat. The 3116 is an ok engine but the injection is real funky and a pain to work on.
Really I guess the only Cat I'll mess with is a 3126.
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Old 04-10-2020, 08:06 PM   #16
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You too, pal!

Ideally I sure would love to find a 5 window shorty with mechanical 8.3 cummins and a stick shift. Since they didn't build those I've had to settle.
I think I'd probably stay away from a 90's mechanical Cat. The 3116 is an ok engine but the injection is real funky and a pain to work on.
Really I guess the only Cat I'll mess with is a 3126.
Yep Iíd take a 8.3 with a wheelchair lift for the garage and a stick any day.
As much as the autoís are nice Iím used to driving 18 spd at work and think that would be just fine in a bus.
Maybe itís time to reinvent the wheel.
And I agree the 3126 was excellent the way it was.
Well Iím cutting out wall panels and pulling insulation today and itís just about done so itís time to go pour one.
Take care
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Old 04-10-2020, 08:10 PM   #17
Skoolie
 
Join Date: Jan 2020
Location: Fraser Valley British Columbia
Posts: 189
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cmstrick654 View Post
I am in South Carolina and I am currently looking at this bus.

https://www.govdeals.com/index.cfm?f...97&acctid=3617

Is there somewhere else I should be posting my potential buys?
Sorry to hijack your thread. donít take all this banter too serious, thereís a ton of knowledge and some great people on here that are going to help you. Read it all, figure out your needs and keep asking!
Stay safe
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Old 04-15-2020, 08:23 PM   #18
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Join Date: Aug 2019
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My wife Michelle have a 2002 Thomas FS65 bus that we are in the process of doing our conversion. It will cost a bunch of money and take a hood bunch of time but in the end we believe it will be well worth it.
Good luck!
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Old 04-15-2020, 08:51 PM   #19
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Engine: Cummins Diesel with only 62,000 miles on it!
We have a 1998 white bluebird Skoolie we are selling that is mechanically in excellent condition. It only has 63,000 miles on it. If you’re interested hit me up. Or just go to Craigslist in Portland Oregon and look at it. It’s a great bus, we have done some stuff to it but mostly for weekend outings. Let me know. ����
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Old 04-16-2020, 09:29 AM   #20
Mini-Skoolie
 
Join Date: Apr 2020
Location: South Carolina
Posts: 48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheArgobus View Post
At risk of shaming for self promotion, may I point you to my build blog, which is geared toward people like myself (no mechanical knowledge, no idea what I'm doing) and documenting what I did to help others plan/make their build (the blog contains Amazon Affiliate links).
Absolutely you can share your info. Thanks!
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