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Old 11-03-2016, 10:37 PM   #1
New Member
Join Date: Nov 2016
Location: Canada, Nova Scotia
Posts: 4
Engine: 5.2 Magnum V8
New to the lifestyle, looking for advice

Hey guys,

I'm new to the forum, but hope to be reading from you guys on the regular! I'm really stoked to see so many people so into these same ideas! I'll start by sharing a bit about myself and how I wound up here..

So not too long ago I decided to purchased a 1997 Dodge Ram B2500 Mark III conversion van. She's actually my first ever vehicle, found her about 100km away from our city and fell in love with the old, sweet girl. My girlfriend and I named her Bessy, fitting & accordingly.
The reason I went for the conversion van type vehicle was basically based on a few simple points that could have been made by any idiot, as I'm not particularly handy under the hood or know much about different makes and models (though I'm slowly learning). One of the biggest reasons we got the van being my girlfriend and I are both musicians, and in our eyes a big cargo-esque, carpeted van was perfect for us. It can store our equipment & instruments easily, accommodate seating for a 7-piece band, towing, and just all that stuff that makes touring so much more manageable. A couple other reasons being that we love to camp and go on road trips (comes hand-and-hand with being a musician!) aswell as I'm a roofer and occasionally use her for work (storage, picking up the fellas in the AM, etc).
Now, initially the conversion van was great, and was a super fair negotiation between travel and comfort.
HOWEVER here I am today on a bus forum.. Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about modding out the van with more storage, solar panels, etc. Every time I try to convince myself to start the van dwelling I stop myself, and start this whole argument with myself that I should just buy a better, "all-purpose" vehicle for my acquired tastes!

So that's sort of my introduction, but now onto the skoolie stuff!!
For my next vehicle I'm really interested in either a transit shuttle bus (maybe GM Express/Savannah or Ford E-350/450) or an old school short bus (like the GMC Vandura 3500 / Chevy G30 Bus or other Ford models). I was hoping to gain some more insight from you folks regarding pros & cons with shuttle vs school bus, and other general questions for starting my first build.

How do you find floor plans, prints, or any general mapping for your make and model bus? It would be super helpful for my planning.

Is it worth checking out brands of 'bigger' busses? Thomas? International? Freightliner? Or am I best off sticking with large cut-away van styles of short bus?

I'm a big fan of utilizing the roof space, whether it be storage for misc., kayaks, or throwing a couple sleeping bags up there to star gaze. Any advice on structual integrity or how to frame it up strong?

I'm sure I have 1001 other questions, but perhaps for another day or thread. Any and all info would be super helpful for a newbie skoolie-dweller.. Sorry for the novel and Thanks in advance, and hope to see you around the forum!

** I am from the east coast of Canada, if that makes much difference.

>Din is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-05-2016, 11:51 AM   #2
Bus Crazy
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Winlcok, WA
Posts: 2,233
When it comes time to purchase a bus you have to determine what it is that is the most important things you want to accomplish with the bus.

I personally do not think trying to do a conversion on any Type 'A' or 'B' bus is worth the effort since the empty weight of the bus is not that much less than the GVWR of most of them.

If you step up to a shorty Type 'C' or 'D' bus you get a medium duty truck chassis underneath that usually has much heavier duty components than a Type 'A' or 'B' bus. Having excess weight capacity usually means what you have is not over stressed. Filling up a Type 'A' bus and then hitching a trailer to the back end is a good formula for transmission failure and premature brake and tire wear.

There are a couple of regular posters on this forum that have been working on TC1000 buses. You may want to check their builds out to see if that is what you would like to do.

You can usually find Type 'C' and 'D' buses that are not significantly longer than the little buses but you end up with much more cubic volume inside.

Again, you need to decide what is going to work the best for you and then start shopping around.

2003 IC CE Amtran 14 Passenger + 3 Wheel Chair-Used2003IC BusCE Series
2002 Bluebird CSRE?\
cowlitzcoach is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-05-2016, 05:56 PM   #3
Join Date: Sep 2016
Posts: 157
cowlitzcoach is 100% right on. I would really look at how you are going to use it. Then I would look into the class C/D style like he linked to. These are going to have very strong and reliable drivetrain that will go the distance. The transmissions in the A/B style are just not going to hold up.
Many cities/counties have switched from using Ambulances made on the A/B chassis and gone with the class C style. They found that they just held up longer and could haul more weight with little to no difference in MPG and the initial cost was offset by all the repairs the cheaper A/B would need in the same life cycle. Same applies to the school buses, same chassis use in both applications.
The 2005 Ford E-450 has a GVWR of 14,000 (according to Ford) the C/D will have a GVWR some times in the 30,000+range. My bus is 28,000.

And, as a bonus, the big buses can be had for less money even in the short wheel base that you want.
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Old 11-07-2016, 08:19 AM   #4
New Member
Join Date: Nov 2016
Location: Canada, Nova Scotia
Posts: 4
Engine: 5.2 Magnum V8
Hmm, I hadn't really put much thought into the whole GVWR thing. I just sort of assumed with the cutaway van-buses in my city, able to carry 14+ people and typically have bike trailers attatched, that they'd be able to handle it.
Where's the best spot to find out about different makes and models GVWR?

I've been thinking over the past few days and you guys are totally on to something. The hard part for me then would be stealth and parking. But I'm sure with more help on the forum we can settle that. I'll keep an eye out for cut aways and small busses on the forum and try to get as much info as possible to decide whats best for me.

Thanks for the advice, it's much needed!
>Din is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-07-2016, 11:02 AM   #5
Bus Crazy
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: Winlcok, WA
Posts: 2,233
Ford E-350/450 van cut-away chassis generally have GVWR's between 11,000 lbs. and 14,000 lbs.

GM G3500/4500 van cut-away chassis generally have GVWR's between 12,100 and 14,000 lbs.

Most Type 'B' buses are built on GM/Workhorse P-30 chassis with GVWR's of 14,000-16,000 lbs.

Besides the obvious issues of those chassis being not much more than reworked 1-ton pickup chassis, the single most limiting factor of the GVWR of the small buses is how much the tires can carry.

When the empty weight of the buses is in the 9,000-11,000 lbs. range it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for putting stuff and people inside.
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Old 01-23-2017, 03:04 PM   #6
Join Date: Jul 2015
Location: Vermont
Posts: 152
Year: 1996
Coachwork: Turtle Top
Chassis: E-Super Duty
Engine: Ford 7.3 Powerstroke
Rated Cap: 13-passenger
A note on service costs. While I was searching for a bus project, I was told again and again that it's very difficult to find a shop that'll service a Class A RV (RV, not bus), especially while traveling. You can imagine that this translates to considerable expense as well. With a class C or B (again RV, not bus), pretty much anyone who works on your chassis' manufacturer (Ford, Chevy, Mercedes, etc.) will work on your RV (as long as it fits in their garage). I imagine this holds true for busses as well.

It seems like a lot of the guys on here are doing their own drivetrain maintenance, so they avoid cutaway vans like the plague because they're tough to service at home. You'd mentioned that you weren't any good under the hood, so prioritizing a big open engine compartment over the availability of service stations (no matter how far from home you may find yourself) doesn't make a ton of sense.

As far as weight, I'm pretty confident in my '96 E-Super Duty. Cutaway vans were used for busses, box trucks, and -that's right- RVs. Bus and box truck applications will need to be able to handle far more weight than I'll be adding. Also, as cowlitzcoach mentioned, cutaways use a truck chassis (like F-350 or bigger), which is designed to tow significant weight well. You won't be able to tow as much as you would in an F-350 because a converted bus will weigh more than a truck, but the towing geometry is still the same. Meanwhile, most bigger busses have an enormous overhang behind their rear axle, which makes for terrible towing geometry (but maybe they're so much bigger that you don't need a trailer?).

Next, don't forget spares. The prevalence of salt roads here on the east coast (VT) means that there are tons of older diesel trucks that get parted out because their body panels are falling apart. Meanwhile, their drivetrain components are just getting warmed up! In other words, older diesel drivetrain components for Ford/Chevy/Dodge are a dime a dozen. The same could not be said of Caterpillar components, for example.

Finally, if you're driving your skoolie as hard as an ambulance, you're going to break stuff. Ambulances are very specialized in that they're treated like race cars every day. Many a stingy commercial enterprise are happily using cutaway vans for rugged work. They just aren't trying to run 13 second 1/4 miles.

I was confused with all the bus classifications above, so I went and found an illustration:
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conversion, dodge, mini, short, van

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