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Old 06-06-2018, 01:22 PM   #1
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Six windows, six people: short-bus adventure rig for my family

Hi everyone -- long time lurker, first-time poster. Nice to meet you all! I've read through a lot of the build threads and have found them really inspiring. I hope to make my own contributions to this great community. I'll start with the following (and really long) introduction.

This past winter, I was thinking about summer vacation plans, and wanted to find some kind of rolling bunkhouse that my wife and four kids and I could take on camping trips. We've sort of tried everything: remote backcountry camping in deserts overseas, staying in national parks with all our gear loaded in a pickup, pulling a pop-up camper behind our minivan, etc. But I've always wanted something for longer trips -- maybe a hard-side trailer that would allow us to pull into a rest stop, take naps, make sandwiches, etc., and then hit the road again without a lot of complicated setup.

So I was trolling CL for awhile looking for trailers that might work, but I'd just sold my big truck in favor of something more economical, and needed something I could pull with a Dodge Caravan, and eventually realized that sweet spot of big-enough-plus-light-enough was too expensive. I was willing to buy something a little older and work on it, but my start-up budget was pretty low, and I couldn't find anything.

Then, you know, in March, I find this school bus being sold by a volunteer fire department about an hour away. It was the old short bus the dive team used to use when they did river rescues. Six-window 1990 Wayne Lifeguard/International 3700, 7.3L diesel, automatic transmission. 144,000 miles. I didn't really know what I was looking at, since, at that point, I hadn't looked at this website. I just thought it was cool. They were asking $3000 for it.



Here's what the FD guys told me. A school district used it till 2005. Then the FD maintained the bus and made sure it passed annual NY state inspections through 2016 when the dive team got a new vehicle. After that it was driven every few weeks, doing miscellaneous light duty, but mostly sat around and suffered. It's been an upstate NY bus all its life, so it has all the rust underneath that comes with that (more on that below).

I thought it was kind of a long-shot thing, so I talked to my wife, who was amazingly OK with me calling the fire department and seeing if they'd entertain what I thought was a long-shot offer: $1500. They called back right away and asked if I wanted to do a test drive. So I loaded up the whole family and we went out to the boonies where I got behind the wheel of a bus for the first time.

You can probably envision how the story went from there. The engine is roaring, the heaters are blasting, my wife is sitting behind me with a nervous smile on her face, and the kids are in the back pumping their fists and howling with joy. By the time we got back to the fire department, I knew I couldn't put the genie back in the bottle. We shook hands and I left the bus with the FD and paid a little extra for them to remove emergency lights, get some of the dive gear racks out of the back, etc. Half of the seats had already been removed to make space for all the scuba gear.

From there it was a bit of a roller coaster.

I'll spare you the exuberant photos of a newbie cutting out the rest of the seats and grinding bolts, but I started visiting this site a lot, and began working while there was still a ton of snow on the ground. The idea that took shape was basically to turn this thing into the rolling bunkhouse I wanted -- sort of a tiny cabin on wheels that we could sleep in and use as a basecamp for outdoor adventures in the Catskills and Adirondacks. Nothing too complicated inside -- two double bunks for the kids in the back, and a drop-down dinette and couch up front for my wife and me. I'm inspired by short-bus builds that use roof decks, hammocks, awnings, etc. to create usable hangout and storage space outside. Like these:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BjXN_9cF...=alwayshomebus

A couple of days later, I went to the DMV, but there was a title issue that the fire department had to work out. They were cool and said they'd work it out and get back to me ASAP. While I waited on that, I decided to get the bus in to a mechanic, and figured the best way to have someone give it an all-around look would be to just do a state vehicle inspection for $25, and then I'd have an idea of where to go from there.

I made the mistake of taking it to an International dealership that seems to think it's in the business of restoring old vehicles to showroom quality. Everything passed inspection except the brake rotors (minor thing, right? haha) and they wanted to replace the whole system at a cost of $6000. That totally demoralized me, and I called the fire department right away and told them what was up, and given the outstanding title issue, we batted around the idea of negating the sale. But that would take time, since the commissioners would have to vote, and they weren't meeting for another few weeks, etc.

While I waited for that, I calmed down a little. I remembered that while I paid for the inspection fee, the guy who failed the bus for the brake rotors admitted that the rotors weren't in terrible shape and could probably just be resurfaced, but that he'd prefer to start from scratch on the whole thing. At the time, though, all I was thinking about was the huge invoice. Now I was thinking Plan A would be to get a second opinion on the inspection/brakes, just in case the dealership guy was trying to hose me. Plan B would be to order aftermarket parts myself, buy pizza for a bunch of mechanically-inclined friends, and try to lift the bus and replace everything without killing ourselves.

Plan A seems to have worked out well. I brought it to a shop that services a lot of work and landscaping trucks, and the guy there didn't think the rotors even looked bad. He said it certainly shouldn't fail inspection. Furthermore, he said the rest of the system looked fine, and that if it were him, he'd just make sure the calipers were freed up and would replace the brake pads. I made it clear I'd be driving my family around in this thing, and he said he really thought the dealership was being ridiculous.

So right now, this is where it stands: I've decided to keep the bus and honor the deal I made, for better or for worse; the kids call it "Li'l Trickster," as as much as it's jerked me around already, I've kind of fallen in love with the thing. The fire department is getting a replacement title from the DMV so I can finally get this thing registered and actually inspected; and the Plan B mechanic is fixing the brakes, changing the oil, and doing a couple of other minor things. He still has the bus, but here's how it looked in my driveway, with the main emergency lights removed and little else done with it:



And now here's what I'm thinking about where we go from here:

I do wish I'd taken a harder look at the rust when getting into this. The old undercoating is totally gnarly. You can peel pieces of it off and flakes of rust come along with it. The frame still feels solid, but the rust needs to be stopped, for sure, even if I don't plan on living in the bus, or keeping it for the next 30 years. Getting the undercoating off and recoating every nook and cranny under there is going to be a real challenge. My plan right now is to pressure-wash it underneath and blast off everything I can, and then see if there's any point in trying to scrape or wire-wheel more of it off before hitting it with rust converter. No photos of all that yet.

I'm not so worried about the interior. I've measured everything and have sketched out a couple of plans that I think will work. I'm decent at building things; right now I'm writing from a 64-square-foot cabin/shack that I built almost completely from stone and cedar from my land, pallets I got for free behind Harbor Freight, and other stuff I found free or cheap online. I think I'm resourceful enough to get it the way I want it, and do it safely and well.

I'm thinking I'll worry last about exterior paint, and just try to get that done before the fall. I don't have an air compressor, and feel fine about the brush-and-roller jobs I've seen here. White roof, and either IH White or Rustoleum Sand color for the rest.

There's a lot I have to figure out. Engine seems to run well and has plenty of power. I'm hoping the low miles will mean that it'll serve me well for awhile. Transmission? All I know is that it's automatic. Rear axle is definitely geared low -- when I drove it home, top speed on flat ground was just under 60 mph at almost 3000 rpm. Tires have really deep tread but I didn't check codes, and I guess they're pretty old.

All right, that's about all I can think of right now. Nice to meet you all.

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Old 06-06-2018, 01:52 PM   #2
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Welcome, nice short intro.
You need to be worried about the rust on the floor. Especially in your case, the whole subfloor needs to be removed to inspect, treat and repair any rust areas, there will be massive amounts from what you describe.
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Old 06-06-2018, 01:58 PM   #3
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Nice to meet you, man!

Yeah, I hear you regarding the floor, and I know I need to do the basics. The seats and rubber floor are out, but the plywood is still in there. Amazingly, the wheel wells have zero rust whatsoever! But since the bus was full of kids' salty boots in winter, and then carried the soaked gear of a dive rescue team after that...I'm not too optimistic about the rest
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Old 06-06-2018, 02:45 PM   #4
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Sweet bus. I have a 6 window too. Great size for getting around town!
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Old 06-06-2018, 03:46 PM   #5
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That's a nice looking bus......at least from a distance(-: I didn't read anything more in your description than usual the floor stuff. You'd want to remove the old flooring anyway, so that's not that big a big deal. A LOT OF WORK, but until you see it naked, you won't really know. Power washing the under belly will give you a better feel for it and will allow you to see where any fluid leaks may be. Zero rust at the wheel wells is a big +. If you have a floor jack, I have seen several folks use them to help remove that old wood floor. It's a PITA to get it started, but goes pretty quick after that. After that filling (or patching) holes gives you some options too.

You know the drill.....pictures, or it never happened.

Best of luck to you,
Especially the wife and kids. (THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHATS AHEAD OF THEM)
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Old 06-06-2018, 03:49 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
Sweet bus. I have a 6 window too. Great size for getting around town!
Thanks! Do you have a build thread for your six-window? The sheer volume of info in this forum is a challenge sometimes, even using Google.

And yeah, I'm a fan of the six-window size. I think even if I'd gone in with more knowledge, I'd have ended up looking for something like this.
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Old 06-06-2018, 03:58 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by 1olfart View Post
That's a nice looking bus......at least from a distance(-: I didn't read anything more in your description than usual the floor stuff. You'd want to remove the old flooring anyway, so that's not that big a big deal. A LOT OF WORK, but until you see it naked, you won't really know. Power washing the under belly will give you a better feel for it and will allow you to see where any fluid leaks may be. Zero rust at the wheel wells is a big +. If you have a floor jack, I have seen several folks use them to help remove that old wood floor. It's a PITA to get it started, but goes pretty quick after that. After that filling (or patching) holes gives you some options too.
Yeah, in the beginning I'd thought of just leaving the old floor in, but other people's pics and experiences here convinced me otherwise. I do have a floor jack, so I'm not worried about getting the old wood out.

I'm just daunted a little by the last big bolts that are still holding the floor in place: driver's seat, two front bulkheads, and rear heater. The bolts are too rusted above and below to unscrew with wrenches, so I'll have to cut 'em all out, even though I don't want to remove the things they're holding. Ah well, I know it'll be worth it.

Mechanic tells me he'll get it back to me next week, so once I have the bus back, I'll post more pics and start a build thread.
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Old 06-06-2018, 03:59 PM   #8
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Oh, and one other thing: what blows my mind, on this thread and a ton of others I've seen, is that you veterans have seen this basic story play out a million times, and you still have the patience to welcome new folks and help them through the initial stages. Hard to believe. Thanks for that.
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Old 06-06-2018, 04:18 PM   #9
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Thanks! Do you have a build thread for your six-window? The sheer volume of info in this forum is a challenge sometimes, even using Google.

And yeah, I'm a fan of the six-window size. I think even if I'd gone in with more knowledge, I'd have ended up looking for something like this.
My build is on hold awaiting mechanical repairs.
Tires alone are $1800 and mine are BALD. That still won't even get me down the road. But that's another story.
Here's my current bus-
http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f27/ro...one-20094.html
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Old 06-06-2018, 08:38 PM   #10
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Good stuff,once the kids are in it its kinda hard to back out of the deal. My kids were totally against a bus and now they would not let me get rid of it. You got a good deal take your time and fix it up nice.
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Old 06-06-2018, 10:51 PM   #11
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I'm gonna buck the trend a bit, and say that you got a good deal.

For a long-term build, maybe it's a little rusty. For upstate NY, a slightly-rusty-but-running ANYTHING for under $2,000 is a good deal.

First thought - why do you need to paint it? It's green and white, and it has gold pinstripes. Throw some bus-kote on the roof, and get some new custom vynl to cover where the old "dive team" letters go.

As I'm sure you've seen, there are tons of interior options. Compared to a pop-up or a small hardside camper, even if you didn't pull the insides and insulate, you'll probably be a good bit ahead.

You could be on the road and camping (with solid walls, a roof over your head, a bathroom, and a read mattress/bed under you) for under $3,000. How do you argue with that? It sure beats a cooler and a tent!
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Old 06-07-2018, 07:21 AM   #12
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I'm decent at building things; right now I'm writing from a 64-square-foot cabin/shack that I built almost completely from stone and cedar from my land, pallets I got for free behind Harbor Freight, and other stuff I found free or cheap online.
Lets see a pic of this shack!
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Old 06-07-2018, 08:14 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by EastCoastCB View Post
My build is on hold awaiting mechanical repairs.
Tires alone are $1800 and mine are BALD. That still won't even get me down the road. But that's another story.
Here's my current bus-
http://www.skoolie.net/forums/f27/ro...one-20094.html
Dude, I'm only like 1/5 of the way through that epic thread and have just gotten to the point where you have the bus. Amazing to see how the whole community was pulling for you on that, though! Looking forward to seeing where it all goes...
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Old 06-07-2018, 08:23 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Mark_In_MA View Post
I'm gonna buck the trend a bit, and say that you got a good deal.

For a long-term build, maybe it's a little rusty. For upstate NY, a slightly-rusty-but-running ANYTHING for under $2,000 is a good deal.

First thought - why do you need to paint it? It's green and white, and it has gold pinstripes. Throw some bus-kote on the roof, and get some new custom vynl to cover where the old "dive team" letters go.

As I'm sure you've seen, there are tons of interior options. Compared to a pop-up or a small hardside camper, even if you didn't pull the insides and insulate, you'll probably be a good bit ahead.

You could be on the road and camping (with solid walls, a roof over your head, a bathroom, and a read mattress/bed under you) for under $3,000. How do you argue with that? It sure beats a cooler and a tent!
Good to meet you, Mark! I think we're of similar minds here. I think I can make this into a good adventure rig without having to spend too much, and at the end of the day, it'll have so much more character and strength than some worn-out plastic-interior stick-and-staple trailer for the same price.

Painting is sort of last priority to me, based on the things you mentioned. There are a couple of little rust spots (I know, I know, need more photos! I'll post a ton when I start the build thread!) and the clear coat is peeling in a lot of places. The worst part about painting will be pulling all of the yellow stripes off -- they're basically giant reflective decals. I guess I'll have to try a heat gun since they'll be way too big for eraser wheels.

For now, I don't even mind driving around with "Dive Rescue" on it. For a little while, even though it wasn't legal, we'd use it to transport our kids down from our house in the country to neighborhoods where they could ride their bikes. It was awesome to see people's faces as our old emergency vehicle came roaring into their quiet suburban loop, and then our army of kids with bikes came tumbling out. "Keep Back 500 Feet," indeed.
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Old 06-07-2018, 08:49 AM   #15
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Lets see a pic of this shack!
Sure. Good to include it here anyway since I guess it shows my building ethos (read: limited building abilities disguised as some brilliant philosophy). I'm sure the bus will take shape along similar lines.

It's not so obvious now that it's finished, but each wall of the cabin is built from four pallets, bolted together. All of the paneling on the outside is just pallet boards that I nailed on over tar paper. Most of the 2x4s I used for framing the roof, and the ply for the floor and ceiling, was leftover stuff from a treehouse project. Windows and door were cheap on CL. Insulation was free from a buddy. Front step and some of the rafters inside are cedar from my property. Corner piers and rock path are all stone I dug out from gardens, post holes, etc.



Most of the wood isn't treated, but it's high up off the ground and has a lot of roof overhang, so nothing has started rotting yet after two big upstate NY winters and a lot of rain in between. In the background of this photo you can see the treehouse whose surplus material contributed to the construction.



The pallets themselves are visible on the inside. Most of the gaps between the wide top boards were able to be filled with the smaller boards that went underneath, resulting in walls that look like they're made from planks. I stuck hinges on the tops of the windows so I could swing 'em up and hang them from the rafters on warm, breezy days.



It works for me as a home office. I like writing out there. It's not insulated so well, but you can heat it with a birthday cake, so working inside it through the winter with a small propane heater was no problem. The whole thing, for me, has been a study in harmonizing my needs with what I have available, and trying to make it a little beautiful at the same time.
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Old 06-07-2018, 09:50 AM   #16
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Awesome wayne!!!! thats a Classic!!!!! Love my shorties!!!! great bus
-Christopher
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Old 06-07-2018, 02:34 PM   #17
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Dude, I'm only like 1/5 of the way through that epic thread and have just gotten to the point where you have the bus. Amazing to see how the whole community was pulling for you on that, though! Looking forward to seeing where it all goes...
LOL I don't have Facebook or any real social media so my threads tend to be LONG.
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Old 06-07-2018, 02:42 PM   #18
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LOL I don't have Facebook or any real social media so my threads tend to be LONG.
Well, I read every post on that thread. What a rollercoaster! It had everything, even kilts. I'm pulling for you too now, man!
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Old 06-07-2018, 02:45 PM   #19
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LOL thanks. Yeah, I mean- It wouldn't be complete without kilts!
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Old 06-07-2018, 03:29 PM   #20
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Awesome wayne!!!! thats a Classic!!!!! Love my shorties!!!! great bus
-Christopher
Nice to meet you, man! I've seen your pics of Redbyrd. Really inspiring, even if way out of my league. Eager to have this thing back in my hands so I can pick you guys' brains : )
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