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Old 06-27-2019, 03:15 AM   #1
New Member
Join Date: Jun 2019
Location: Dallas, Tx
Posts: 1
Thumbs up Help Getting Started

Hello All,

First post, I'm sorry in advance as I'm sure many of these questions I'm about to ask have been answered, I searched the forums but may have missed a few things.

So, I've been fascinated with the idea of owning a skoolie for years and this year I've decided I want to do it and get started. I definitely need a lot of help and I've heard you guys are the best to ask.

So currently, I'm trying to figure out how much I need to save for a bus. I don't make a ton of money, so I'm going to try to make it work. I've heard that GovDeals is a good place to win at auction, but my concern is that I'd show up to a bus that doesn't work even though it is advertised that it does. Where did y'all purchase your busses? Ideally, Id like to find one under 26,000gvwr, but I've heard its hard. I can settle for a full sized, but for me, that brings in a world of problems. First, I don't have a class B in the state of Texas so transporting it could be problematic as I don't know anyone with one, especially someone willing to pick it up. Would I need a class B for out of state in states that don't have that reg? and perhaps have someone (If i find someone) meet me at the border to transport it back? How do I go about getting myself a class B? How would I drive there for the test? I've tried searching on the web and everything I find is for a CDL. That's my first concern.

My second concern is how I would work on it. I'm living in a suburb, which forbids Busses or RV's. My first Idea would be to rent a storage spot for RV's, but I'm not sure if any of them would allow me to work on it there. Have any of y'all done this before? Or any locations to work on it in the North Dallas Area?

I'm also very curious how many of you guys started with no experience in construction, and made your busses by yourselves. I dont have a ton of construction experience, but I can do basic things like walls and woodwork. I also want to use the original floor, bleach it, clean it, make it not gross. I really don't want to demolish the paneling inside and just build over it. I was going to keep the normal metal and just paint it for the sides and roof. My main concern is electrical and plumbing. I figured that this forum has a wealth of info on all that though. Electrical seems very confusing and I am in fear of an electrical fire if I do it wrong. Plumbing I figured would be simpler as I plan on only having a shower and a sink. (No water Heater, Cold showers are fine for me). The fridge I would just use a cooler that plugs into a normal socket. I also figured a hotplate could work as a stove. As for the toilet, I've heard nothing but good things about the Composting Toilet (That way I can avoid a blackwater tank). I assumed that plywood and 2x4's would be the cheapest option for furniture and walls. I don't need anything fancy as I want to keep it on the cheaper side. My family has a ton of tools so I dont think that lack of tools will be a concern.

Finally, what is y'alls maintenance Like? I don't have a ton of money, and I really want a weekend/after work project, but also not something I'll have to pump 10s of 1000s of dollars into just to keep running. Many of my friends think that's the biggest concern and nobody seems to support me in this endeavor saying I'm crazy for wanting to do this.

The Bus I have in mind would be simple, not super elaborate, but a weekend camper or potential road trip bus. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but I want to think all this through before I go out and buy a bus and make sure everything I want to do can be done. How feasible does this all seem to y'all?

Thank you guys for reading my long essay, Thanks for any response!

HiImAlex is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-27-2019, 10:34 AM   #2
Bus Crazy
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Georgia
Posts: 2,264
Year: 2001
Coachwork: Blue Bird
Chassis: IH
Engine: T444E
Rated Cap: 14
I'll try to address your concerns in some resemblance of an order:

Many of us buy from auctions. Govdeals and Public Surplus are two fairly commonly used sites and where I got mine from. Many dealers get theirs from the same places, drive it to their business, mark it up, and sell it to others. There are other auctions, then there's Craigslist, Facebook, local want ads, dealers (I know there's a few in TX). As far as buying through an auction, if it's advertised as a running, driving bus and isn't when you pick it up, you are generally within your rights to claim "vehicle not as advertised" and decline/dispute the sale - most sellers will honor this since it is on them to provide accurate information for the sale.
Staying under the 26K limit is another matter, it's not hard to find full length buses under 26K. That brings us to the rather grey matter of a Class B and CDL - in most states you do *NOT* need a CDL nor a Class B to drive an RV, or MH (Motor Home), or HC (House Car) (different names for essentially the same thing). Many states offer a Class A or B non-CDL for various non-commercial uses of larger vehicles - often for things like farm use but in some states also for RV's. Typically for non-CDL purposes it's just a knowledge test (no driving test done) but every state is different. If a driving test is necessary (for a CDL it should be, a non-CDL will vary in each state), you'll have to arrive in a Class B vehicle with a licensed driver to take the test in. You could use a bus, but that could put you in the situation of driving something not entirely legally until you pass the test ... Quite a few forum members have purchased buses over 26K and drove them home on Class C licenses, and for the intended RV usage it would be legal (at least once the conversion is finished and it's all properly registered and such).

Parking and storage is another matter, which varies from state to state, city to city, county to county, and in a few cases, street to street. I'll let someone more knowledgeable about your area offer advice on this.

A conversion can be a good place to learn about construction, since much of the structural engineering has already been done. It's not hard to measure a board, cut it to size, and attach it to a bus (you will want to make absolutely sure it's well attached on both ends). Do this a few times and viola, your framing is done. Measure a chunk of plywood to width and length, cut to size, nail or screw it in place and voila, there's a wall.

I would very strongly recommend removing the original floor, especially if it's plywood, since it's pretty common to get moisture under it and rust out the metal. You should remove the plywood to prime/paint the metal at the very least.

Electrical can be another discussion in and of itself, but a couple quick ways to get started is by simply running an extension cord from the house/nearby pole into the bus. An inverter will work for small loads on a short term basis or while driving (it'll drain your battery if used for too long when parked). At some point you'll have to determine if you plan to stay on the grid, or boondock for power. Grid power isn't terribly difficult, a simple RV plug (30 amp 120 volts for modest power usage or 50 amp 240 for more) will get you going - not all campsites offer 50 amp service so it's good to plan for both options. Using a hot plate as a stove is ... questionable. They use a fair bit of power which may not be much of an issue while on the grid, but it'll quickly use a lot of power on a solar or generator setup. A propane stove will make more sense for boondocking.

Maintenance is another matter. Typical RV's need more than a bus (example - roof sealing), but that begs the question, what needs maintained? If you are moving a bus once to a permanent parking spot, never to be moved again, then do you really need 6 brand new tires and all new brakes? Rebuilt engine and freshly serviced transmission? Of course not, but if you intend to rack up some miles on it, these systems will need to be up to spec. How about other maintenance? A school bus doesn't have plumbing or electrical or generator/solar setups (I'm not referring to the coolant as 12 volt systems here) so these systems will need maintained too. For the purpose of your question, I will assume the basic engine, transmission and drivetrain necessary to actually drive the bus. The absolute first thing I will suggest is to find a good basis or "platform" to begin with. For example, try to avoid any bus with Lucas Girling brakes (on some full size Fords from the late 80's); a system that is very difficult to find parts for. Research any bus, engine, transmission you like. Don't accept vague descriptions like "Diesel, automatic", you want to know specifically which engine and transmission. A VIN can yield some of this info. Research any engine you don't know much about. Some have very good reputations, others not so much. You'll also want to consider parts availability. I have a T444E engine in mine and parts for it are so common I can almost pick them up at the corner drugstore (engine is virtually identical to the Ford 7.3 and many parts interchange between the 2). If you don't mind a project bus, the DT466 (aka 7.6 L) is also a good engine; it's easy to find one with "coolant in the oil" for very cheap since that indicates (most likely) failed cylinder liner seals (basically at that point it needs a rebuild) which can be done by yourself for $1500-2000 (that includes a reworked cylinder head). These are pretty good engines as long as you don't let them overheat.
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Old 06-27-2019, 11:44 AM   #3
Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Foot of the siskiyou mountains Oregon.
Posts: 222
Year: 1989
Coachwork: Thomas / international
Chassis: International
Engine: Dt 360/ spicer 5 speed
Rated Cap: 42
For me, building over the original metal was a big no no. I'm not sure how yr bus will be affected where you live, condensation is a big factor where I live though. The original insulation can get pretty nasty. Mold would be my concern. Just paint the back side of any wood that is up against metal, that should help a little. I guess if it's dry and not much temp variation it probly won't be too bad. There is a reason people use closed cell spray foam..and why the hippies used cedar ��anyway, it's totally doable as a novice. I just wouldn't get too crazy with the wood work(live edge,burl ect) unless I went all the way personally. Best of totally got this!!
SolomonEagle is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-27-2019, 11:50 AM   #4
Join Date: Jan 2016
Location: Foot of the siskiyou mountains Oregon.
Posts: 222
Year: 1989
Coachwork: Thomas / international
Chassis: International
Engine: Dt 360/ spicer 5 speed
Rated Cap: 42
I imagine a cutaway/van bus would be more cost effective to work on as they seem to be pretty much based off a 1 ton truck chassis. The full size skoolies have lots of room and are really serviceable but parts are big and can be expensive!! For me..$800 air compressor pump..$400 per tire min(x6) and I can't do any of that work myself.. rear air bags $250 each.ect. none of this even exists on the smaller van bus plus they are way under 26k gcvw. Tip,find one with a 7.3 powerstroke/t444e. They get better mpg's and go faster up hills too+ If you have a Ford you could get a u joint 4x4 conversation(Fantasyland)
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