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Author Topic: Here we go... How much skill am I going to need?  (Read 3764 times)
thejumpsuitman
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« on: September 30, 2009, 09:18:19 AM »

First off, let me thank everyone for welcoming me to the fascinating world of buses!  Your input is very much appreciated.

Okay, I want to use a bus I have found as an example...  This particular one may or may not be right for me, but it represents the kind of thing I have been considering.  It is a 1960 PD-4104 distress sale.  The guy paid about 10 grand for it and started the conversion.  For personal reasons he explained to me, he is selling it for half that.  The former Trailways bus has had a major rebuild in the past, and has a file folder of service history documents.  He says it is mechanically sound.  Of course, if I got serious, I would have it looked over by a bus mechanic, but for the sake of the example, let's say it checks out fine.

It has 2 roof airs installed and working, basic electrical is in place.  He says it has a small 3.5 generator that would really need to be upgraded.  He has only a basic layout inside with some framing done, and the bedroom bed platform made.  It does have new flooring.  The plumbing is NOT installed, but he has a toilet and all the tanks. No furnace, no gas set up for cooking, but has an LP tank to go in it.  He has a power inverter for it, but not installed. 

My question is, what kind of skills would I need to take this one to completion?  I know there are pros and cons to finding one like this.  I would see the pros as being it's cheap and you can more or less lay it out like you would want it, knowing the work is done right.  Cons being obvious, that you would have to do it, in my case, with no experience, and I am sure one would spend an unknown amount of incidental money along the way.  I would expect something like this would nickel and dime you to death, but the alternative would be paying big money all at once, right? 

Would it be better to pass on one like this if you have no experience with bus conversions?  Or is it something that can realistically be completed by a tenacious novice with mechanical inclination?

Also, what are the most difficult things left to do in a case like this?  Is the plumbing a real booger?  One plus for me is that I do have an old motorhome that I would be willing to sacrifice for the cause.  It has a 6.5 Onan gas generator and all the house-related implements.

Eager to learn,
Marc
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« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2009, 09:36:09 AM »

The mechanical issue of the coach itself is an item to consider. Does it need tires, how is the engine itself, transmission, brakes, body and all the items related to the basic structure of the coach. Unless you can do mechanical items yourself it can get very expensive. Engine rebuilds can cost upwards of $30,000 depending on the engine. If the coach is mechanically sound and runs good and is drivable you can get it registered and insured and then work on it when time is available and even use it for some short weekend trips. Ask for help from friends or relatives, some of them may have certain skills that can be put to good use. A bus conversion can use up a lot of money, but if you do it over time like I am doing it doesn't quite hurt as much. Good Luck !
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« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2009, 09:38:55 AM »

Marc,

I am not fimiliar with that model bus, but here is my input.

You need some level of carpentry, building, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, mechanical, and lots of other skills and lots of tools to go along with this project. The way we did ours is that yes we bit the bullet and paid a lot for a completed bus, however, they are never completed. I knew all well that I would need to redo all the plumbing, redo some electrical, fix the HVAC several times, install all new home theater items, redo the flooring, ended up with all new storage tanks - insulating the bays as we like to take the bus on ski trips, first trip out ended up being towed and  I installed a new water pump at the campground then had to limp to US Coach for a new radiator.

I can tell you that no matter what condition it is in when you get it you will want to personalize things and will end up doing many things you didnt expect. But that is the fun of it. The real factor is in how mechnically sound is it. Is it the right size for what you want to do with it. How soon do you intend to use it (we wanted to use it right away and we did, that is why we spent more upfront and more afterwards in customizing). You also need to factor in the fact that if you will be working on it for a while, you need a really big parking spot and need to be sure the local zoning won't frown upon a bus / motorhome in your driveway for a while.

Lots to consider, but no matter which direction you go, it is always an adventure!

John
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thejumpsuitman
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« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2009, 09:46:42 AM »

The mechanical issue of the coach itself is an item to consider. Does it need tires, how is the engine itself, transmission, brakes, body and all the items related to the basic structure of the coach. Unless you can do mechanical items yourself it can get very expensive. Engine rebuilds can cost upwards of $30,000...

Thanks for the reply, I totally agree on the importance of the mechanical condition.  Whatever I decide to go with would have to mechanically A1 from the get go, and I will wait as long as I have to to find one that is.  I want to keep this discussion focused on the other side of it, the actual conversion.  One big problem I have is that I don't have any friends who are like me.  I am the most mechanically inclined person I know.  LOL.  So from the standpoint of working on it regularly, all I could really hope for would be for someone to stand by with a cell phone to call 911 in case I half kill myself doing something... Or just be an extra set of hands.
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« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2009, 09:54:00 AM »

Starting with a bus in good mechanical condition with a stripped interior and the conversion started is a good way to go.  skill level is like a lot of things, I tend to think that plumbing, electrical wiring HVAC is more a case of knowledge of what is the right thing to do, the right way to do it and the willingness to get stuck in and not take short cuts.  To me that's not really skill, because I can do all that and I don't feel particularly skilled, but maybe it is.  Doing fine woodwork, cabinet work, getting it all on the level and on the square inside a bus that isn't level and isn't square, now that's a skill.  At the end of the day, you're working with plywood, solid wood trim, taking measurements twice and cutting once, and that is a skill that one can learn.

The biggest trick is starting.  Starting at the beginning, and starting every day.  the cost of the RV equipment, the furniture, the trimmings, all add up so fast it isn't funny.  You look at your kitchen and bath when you are done - sink - check, hot water - check, fridge - check, stove and oven - check, and you don't think $5000 check - check!  But that's what it can cost.
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« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2009, 10:01:40 AM »

Sounds like the old "nickel and dime you to death" thing.  How much do you suppose having a parts motorhome would help?  I would not want to re-use the fridge, but is it feasible to scavenge other stuff?  Or is pulling it out and reinstalling it more trouble than it's worth given that it would be used?  Or is it a judgement call?... I am starting to get the impression that there aren't that many rules set in stone outside the chassis/mechanical realm.
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« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2009, 10:36:07 AM »

I am a skilled Diesel Mechanic. I can fix mechanical issues with my bus. As for the interior , there are many books on how to remodel or build a house. My favorite is a series by Time-life books, available at used book stores. With out slandering the true Master carpenters on our site, I have always said , If a drunk can do it, so can I. I can read, write and use a tape measure with out calling out"2 Little bitty marks". so can you. Plan, study, mark out in bus, use cardboard cutouts. Go for it!!!!! If you hit a stump, get on the board and search the archives. Sean knows wiring, Cody knows woodworking. Everyone else will help. God gave you a brain, use it. You will love the experience. If you can go to rallies. Meet the faces. Welcome to our world.

Big John
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« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2009, 10:37:43 AM »

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« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2009, 10:39:01 AM »

Marc,

That's a pretty old coach to be putting money in. If it's gonna be your baby for life then it won't matter. It also will not return anything for you upon sale, so you need to keep that in mind.

I would look for a converted coach that has been completed in the areas of your weaknesses, because starting at the beginning with something so out of date, (old), is going to be very expensive.

There are usable coaches from that era available for about the same money you are talking about spending, many that have been someones baby for some time and show it in ways that represent additional value to you.

A 60's bus is way out there, for not alot more you can get alot newer running gear and start with something that will be newer technology for highway use as well.

We all love the old buses, if you have the time and money, don't be discouraged because of age alone, but just like old trucks, it takes alot of time and money to have a nice one.

There is a GMC 40 foot "runner" over at the Lake RV park right now that people have been living in all summer that they want $2500 for. I haven't seen the inside, but the outside and paint are attractive.

The add says, 1953 Greyhound GMC 4104. Walnut Hardwood throughout. Bath completely remodeled. Kohler pedestal sink and faucet. Water saving toilet. Splendide one piece washer dryer. Propane oven stove, fridge, hidabed and recliner. Strong DD, Rebuilt rear end and set up to live in...
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« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2009, 10:47:35 AM »

To BCS, the artist formerly known as Dallas,

I love the brutal honesty.  Thank you for that, this overly sensitive world needs more of that!  I'd rather go in with my eyes wide open.  and when I said A1 condition, what I really meant is that I am planning to do my absolute best to avoid buying something that will require some kind of major rebuild in my lifetime.  1 million miles is more than I will ever drive, and I have seen deals out there where people have blown their wad on a rebuild and are now burned out.  That's the kind of thing I am looking for.  Call me a scavenger, but I call it smart.  Let someone else take a beating.

If I was faced with a $30,000 repair of any kind, the bus would be pushed off the nearest cliff and I would get on with my life. 

Marc
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2009, 12:02:16 PM »

I would look for a bus already converted. There are lots of them for sale and they are cheap. Look for one that is close to what you like/need, then you can sleep in it and use it that night. Then do modifications to suit your style gradually. You will have enough to do in maintenance and renovations here and there, without building something from scratch. And it will cost you a fraction of doing your own. If you have the patience to wait, go to some rallies to look at some buses. There are usually some for sale too.

Take care,

JC
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thejumpsuitman
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« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2009, 12:04:48 PM »

I would look for a bus already converted. There are lots of them for sale and they are cheap. Look for one that is close to what you like/need, then you can sleep in it and use it that night. Then do modifications to suit your style gradually. You will have enough to do in maintenance and renovations here and there, without building something from scratch. And it will cost you a fraction of doing your own...

That sure sounds logical.  Thanks.
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« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2009, 02:27:24 PM »

I like the 4104's   Check out the one mentioned above for $2500,  you could get more for parts and recycle if it doesn't work out.  I think it is 35' unless it has been modified.   How many people do you plan on traveling with and for how long?  I have kids so I wanted a 40' one.   With the 35' you have a lot less travel restrictions and fit into more state and national type parks.  Also the lane restrictions are less and 4104 has less tire and gets better mileage.  If your friends is to the walls check out the insulation.  Foam would be preferred.  The advantage is you can lay it out how you want.   Maybe buy both and use one while you build the other Cheesy.  Mine is not a wonderful conversion(half slow Wink) but the shell is decent and I used it quicker than if i had tried to build one myself.

Good luck and keep us posted



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« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2009, 02:30:26 PM »

Hello Marc,

Welcome!

Your question, How much skill am I going to need?

Well, to start.. A SKILL Circ. Saw, A SKILL Saber Saw, A SKILL Drill, A SKILL Tape Measure, and a SKILL Welder "If they make one" Cheesy Cheesy Grin Grin

These guy's have given you alot of great advice, don't be discouraged though.. When SH*T happens, just give us a yell... That's why we are here!

Lots of Luck to you!
Nick-
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« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2009, 03:10:59 PM »

Marc,

I just wanted to make sure that you got my email, through the board? Sometimes, newbie's don't know that they have email through the board...

God bless,

John
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« Reply #15 on: September 30, 2009, 06:00:58 PM »

Marc,

The basic answer to your original question is:

MORE THAN YOU HAVE NOW.

That's not a put down at all. Most folks I have talked to both on this board and others will run up on something they don't know how to fix/repair/replace/find and/or destroy if they follow this hobby long enough. There are a number of people here who are very talented & knowledgeable but I bet none of them would say "I know everything there is to know about buses & bus conversions".

I, on the other hand, started out thinking just that. I soon proved myself wrong.

Perhaps some other questions might be, are you mechanically inclined? Do you like to take things apart & put them back together again? Are you patient? Able to follow instructions, diagrams, and plans? Humble enough to ask questions?

And the most important one:

ARE YOU CAREFUL?!!

Lots of stuff on equipment this size can seriously injure or kill you.

All that being said, buy yourself a bus & go to work. It's a wonderful hobby!

I once was thinking about buying a Jaguar with a V12 and several other very sophisticated systems. When I questioned the salesman about the reliability and maintenance on the car, he made a profound statement I have never forgotten. He said, "Lemme tell you something, son. This car is just just like a woman. When she's right, there ain't nothing like her........ and when she ain't right, there ain't nothing like her!"

I think this applies to buses too.

Buy yourself a bus & join the fun!

TOM
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« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2009, 06:46:12 PM »

You need a local expert to evaluate your find.  If you're near central North Carolina, Bill (Trailblazer) is nearby in Siler City and could advise...he's an ex-Carolina Trailways guy and knows from Bo on those sorts of GM things.
Otherwise, I'm in Charlotte.  But I don't know Bo about GM coaches...bummer.  I could advise if you'll look at an MC9...?   Wink
One thing's clear...whatever the seller is asking is totally unrelated to what the market will bear.  You aren't in a hurry...?   Wear him down.  Keep looking at it.  Bring some local 'experts' over to look at the bus and keep the 'long-face' going.  See what happens.   He may give it to you eventually.  The value is only going lower every day Obama's Cap'n'Trade deal moves forward.   Winter's coming in...opportunity to sell bus this year is waning.   
How long has the coach been on the market?  I have not read all of your posts, but does it run?  Batteries up?  Tires?  Clutch?  How much corrosion?   Is it driveable, licensed and insured? Most any busnut can advise about of these questions.  Post where you are located (actually, where the bus is located) and see who's nearby.   
Those old GMs were well built and a few still have a good bit of life in them...if you don't mind working on heavy equipment.   And, you have a place to work, and some mechanical skills.  Or, friends that have truck chassis skills.   
There's a bus rally next weekend in Cleveland, SC.  There will be several GM coaches attending and a lot of bus knowledgeable folk ready to help advance you project.   Trailblazer will be there too. 
There's an '80s vintage MC9 in Monroe, NC that a guy bought some several years ago and has not done anything with it.  Probably pretty cheap now.  I know it'll move.  He had to move due to the bus.   The bus drove 2 years ago.  I can easily get in touch with him if you're interested. 
BTW, having a functional RV for a donor will greatly reduce your 'nickle and dime' stuff.  You'll still spend some bucks on your conversion, but at least you know how it works an minor repairs will be easy to sort out.
As long as you can afford to operate the coach safely, the conversion can go along at whatever pace finances allow. 
I'll post a link to Kyle's Non-Rally.  Jack Conrad will be over on Tuesday,  Trailblazer and me will be over on Wednesday.  Even if you make it a Saturday trip, it'll be worth your time.   
If you plan to come an camp, any sort of self contained camper is cool.  But, the campground has no public bath facilities so the ONLY requirement to camp is to have a completely self contained camper.   
Cleveland, SC is about an hour West of I-26 just off SC Hwy 11.

JR
 
 
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« Reply #17 on: September 30, 2009, 07:03:17 PM »

Marc...Here's where you can be imparted with all of the skills you'll need to convert your bus...I'm not sure that this is the best way to find the link...but if this doesn't work, search for "Kyle's Palmetto Cove Non-Rally"...
This is the weekend of October 10th.  About 2 hours plus a little from Charlotte.   
If anyone knows a better way to link this, feel free to fix it...Dallas?  Nick?

http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=12938.msg142203#msg142203

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JR Lynch , Charlotte, NC
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« Reply #18 on: September 30, 2009, 07:37:40 PM »

Marc,
Just another opinion for you but I would pass on that 4104 unless you are absolutely in love with GM 4104 busses in which case go for it. Otherwise, i'd have to ask whats that bus been doing since 1960? Or at least since 1980 when it was probably retired? The guy selling it has been working on some conversion items but has he looked at engine? tranny? air bags? torsion bushings? kinpins? tie rod? This bus could be a time bomb from a deferred maintenance standpoint.

On the other hand, if she's received loving attention all these years, been stored inside just waiting for the right moment for conversion, then you may have found a real treasure. If this is not the case, I would walk away and find one thats mechanically sound, partially or fully converted.

I have a 1965 MC-5 that was a hound. The odometer shows 1,188,800.0 and its a digital odometer. I'm guessing shes got over 3 million miles. But mechanically its sound and it was converted between 2000 and now. I flip the switch and drive it anywhere but it took lots of time and money to get it to this point.

Again, if a 4101 is what you want, check around (even on this magazine's web site) and there are some old GM coaches available right there.

FWIW -FRed


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« Reply #19 on: October 01, 2009, 11:39:47 AM »

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« Reply #20 on: October 01, 2009, 03:12:58 PM »

When I bought my Bus I had it all checked out at a reputable shop.All checked out good.About 8000 mi later the torque converter locked up. On a downshift it took out transmission and rearend. We were 2000 mi from home so spent 5 weeks in a transmission shop and just over $10,000 for repairs. S**t happens.But I own a Bus so that makes me the WINNER Huh?
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« Reply #21 on: October 01, 2009, 04:58:54 PM »

...spent 5 weeks in a transmission shop and just over $10,000 for repairs...

Ouch.  Hope it the breakdown wasn't in Moriarty, New Mexico in July or something.
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« Reply #22 on: October 02, 2009, 05:07:09 AM »

No Yuma,Az in Jan. so not a bad place to be.
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« Reply #23 on: October 02, 2009, 05:22:23 AM »

It all depends on how soon you want to use your "New to Me Bus". If you have limited skills like you have mentioned, it might be best to buy one that's road ready and already built. Maybe not to your taste, but you can change that as you go along as the needs/wants suits you, and have fun doing it. Like others have already siad, S**T happens and if you want to learn how to acquire the skills go for it. But be prepared for a "Wild Ride".

This crazy hobby we all are in love with can be daunting at times, just don't expect miracles to happen unless you can make it happen.

Now that you've heard the worse that can happen, the flip side is this. "It is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever encounter". That is if you go into this with your eyes wide open, your bank account in line and credit cards not maxed out. Grin

HTH,

Paul
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« Reply #24 on: October 03, 2009, 08:26:41 AM »

 Grin
Hey Jump
My hunting partner and I bought a bus. We have no real plumbing skills or elec. skills. We have built things here and there. Yes it was and is fun learning as you go. I think you should buy it, do it yourself, your way and it will mean more to you and you'll enjoy it more. We have buddies who we are bartering with the things we don't know how to do. Like we have one guy who is doing the generator hook up and plumbing and another that is going to tile the bathroom and main floor.
Check it out!
Have a wonderful time! 1 bit of advice....but screws buy the pound. Lots of drill bits and screw tips. Get a sawsall and lots of blades. Trust me it will save you time in the long run. Wink
Happy Bussing!
Boog

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« Reply #25 on: October 03, 2009, 10:11:37 AM »

If you are still looking there is an MCI 9 in Belton,Texas Converted needs tires has gen installed but probably needs to be replaced hardy 8V71 with Allison 740, Starts without smoke and sounds good. Conversion is for two people only and some things would probably need to be changed. Asking price is 27500 but withit needing tires that is probably just a starting point. I have looked at this bus and found no rust issues but it was not for me. I am tall and will need a roof raise.
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« Reply #26 on: October 03, 2009, 11:02:10 AM »


Would it be better to pass on one like this if you have no experience with bus conversions? 


How else are you going to get it?

Quote

The guy paid about 10 grand for it and started the conversion.  For personal reasons he explained to me, he is selling it for half that.


Yeah, "personal reasons," like he found out it was worth about $1500, with all of the stuff thrown in..

Consider that this coach has been out of commercial service for 30 years.  The conversion may have been started four owners ago!

The ONLY coach of that era that I would buy to convert would be a 4501 -- the original Scenicruiser is the most beautiful coach shell ever designed, and is timeless.

If he GAVE it to you, free, that would be worth going forward with the conversion, but it's not worth buying as is, especially in this market (when 75% of the RV dealers AND BUILDERS who were here two years ago are gone) and this time of year (buy a coach in the Fall, sell a coach in the Spring).

If you just want an RV, there are a lot of them on the market.  If you want a project to be proud of, you can find shells (or even coaches coming out of paid service) at good prices.  I was working on a 1968 4903 when I found the 1990 MCI at a price low enough to make it worth giving up on the other project and doing this one instead!  Now I have to sell the GMC, but I may do a quickie / cheapie conversion on it first, just to get it to sell.  Otherwise, I have to sell it cheap -- or scrap it, which I really don't want to do!

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zubzub
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« Reply #27 on: October 03, 2009, 11:58:56 AM »

As far as the skills you need I agree with old man sax..."more than you have" but that's the way it's supposed to be.  Feels better when you get er done!  Also you need skill at getting more $$$ as that also will be required.  I agree with others...project buses are worth no more than the scrap price unless they are very new buses or have really nice bits (generators etc..) attached.  My feeling is a running converted bus is the best way to go, there will be plenty of work to do even on a "finished" coach.  FWIW I like the 4104 as it is a small fully mechanical coach that gets decent mileage and uses lots of off the shelf truck stuff....follow you heart, enjoy yourself....remember it doesn't make sense but make it safe.  patrick.
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« Reply #28 on: October 03, 2009, 01:19:04 PM »

Marc,
How much skill will it take?  If you can tell us that you are comfortable with all types of tools; are a quick learner for mechanics, wood work, plumbing, electrical and are willing to get grease in places you didn't know you have, you have enough skill.

My first bus was a piece of junk that I cut my teeth on.  I recycled my 73 Winnie, put in cabinets from someone remodeling their house, fixed plumbing, learned how to wire 110, had the old 1 cyl Onan genset.  That bus caught on fire, and I got my money out of the insurance.

The second bus I bought with much better eyes.  Not the prettiest bus, but clearly mechanically sound.  New engine, tranny, tires, skinned and capped, new RV windows and lots of accessories stuffed in the bays.  Paid 3500.

I have had many resources to ask questions to, including BCM Magazine, the Board here, BNO, bus conversion clubs and my father-in-law who is a licensed contractor/cabinet maker.  Do you have similar help?  It's invaluable!

Feel free to recycle your motorhome!  I bought a whole travel trailer for 1500 and used EVERYTHING!  Wiring, wood, mechanicals, plumbing...

Can you post some pics of this bus?  It would help us advise you.  Good luck!

Glenn

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Glenn Williams
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« Reply #29 on: October 05, 2009, 12:24:43 PM »

Thanks again for the broad spectrum of opinions.  This is the impression I am getting...

Owning a bus is all about what it means to the individual on a very personal level.  The very idea of tinkering with an old bus is utterly ridiculous to some, especially to those who can afford a fully converted and mechanically restored coach... 

It also might seem stupid to those who hold no fondness or fascination for anything "vintage", and would rather drive a bus that has a more modern look anyway.

To others more like me, dropping big bucks all at once may never be an option, so it's about getting into a bus on an affordable level and enjoying the process of restoration and conversion whether or not it is financially logical in the long run. 

Personally, I love and actually prefer the older style, and have always enjoyed owning and using vintage classic cars as daily drivers.  I also have a house full of vintage items that I get a kick out of using in my daily life (i.e. 1903 piano, 1955 sewing machine, 1930's desk, etc.). 

But overall, my first instincts seem to be holding... I feel I should be patient and find someone who has already done the hard work and brought a bus up to speed mechanically, and take the torch from them. 

One thing seems clear from what you all have said...  There will never be a time when you will be completely through with working on the bus, and there is no such thing as trouble free.

Marc
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NewbeeMC9
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« Reply #30 on: October 05, 2009, 05:08:12 PM »

You are quite observant,   You left out the point about paying a good bus mechanic to check it out.  The impartial non-emotional part is worth the couple to a few hundred bucks.
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