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Author Topic: Bus Freighter?  (Read 5941 times)
fr8bus
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« on: February 01, 2010, 09:51:25 PM »

Is it possible?
I've come here to get the opinion of those who are familiar with bus conversions.
My situation is rather unique, and I wanted to explore the idea of a converted bus for temperature controlled freight for high valued plants that we ship all over the country. The weight of these items, and the racks they'd travel on is almost insignificant. My challenge is that relying on airfreight is not only costly but rather risky as airlines have exposed our plants to extreme temperatures on many occasions.
Why not use temperature controlled trucks?
I'm in the Northwest and many temperature controlled trucks transport nursery stock from here to all over the country on a daily basis. The problem is that they keep their trailers chilled to less than 50, and we need constant temperatures of no less than 65 and no more than 75.
I was thinking an old MCI102A3 or similar coach would make an ideal candidate for gutting the interior and installing a side bay door and ramp to rollon/off plant racks. Do this in temperature controlled warehouses, and the bus is just like a rolling greenhouse!
For those experienced with the conversion, what challenges do you see in this type of use? Is installing a cargo bay door on the side a realistic option? What type of mileage could I expect from running this type of configuration?
I've searched for more info on this topic, but I've yet to come across anyone using a coach for freight hauling. I'd love to hear of any examples (or attempts). Thanks.
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2010, 10:19:56 PM »

Wow, that is really stepping outside the box.   Grin

If you want to tackle the work, I don't see why it wouldn't be possible.  Perhaps look for a bus with wheelchair door/lift.  I think the biggest challenge would be maintaining the temperature accurately enough for your needs.  But that too probably can be done.

But I do feel like it is reinventing the wheel a bit.  You mentioned that others are running refrigerated trucks but are too cold.  It seems to me that if you are considering purchasing a bus for this and putting that much work into it, why not instead byy a refrigerated truck and adjust the thermostat controls to maintain the temperature you want?  Such a trailer would already be insulated and already have a refrigeration unit designed for maintaining a fairly steady temperature.

I love buses and bus conversion.  But I think in your case a truck would have several advantages:

  • As above, already made for the task.  Just alter the temperature.
  • Easier maintenance of the drive train and easier to find mechanics skilled with it.
  • If the tractor breaks down, you can detach and hire another one to complete the run.  On the other hand using a bus, suppose it broke down and getting parts took several days.

Either way will require commercial registration and a CDL to drive it.
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2010, 10:33:55 PM »

I sell Freightliner trucks, and do love buses. But- I would highly recommend you get a 26,000lb gvw truck (here in California you do not need a CDL for 26,000lb and under).  The weight of a 24ft refer box and chassis would be about 15,000lbs-which would give you a freight carrying capacity of 9,000lbs.  Most any Thermoking or Carrier refer unit has both heat and cooling, so would be right for your application (I believe you can even get humidity control also).  You'd be look at about $65,000 for a higher powered chassis and about $25,000 for the refer box.  I know that's tickling $100k, but then you have a new vehicle with warranty AND with the most recent smog control devices (important on all commercial vehicles now). Good Luck, TomC
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2010, 03:28:34 AM »

I understand  Greyhound ran some buses in Calfornia that carried passengers and freight. If you could find one of those, it might come close to suiting your needs? And getting a factory modification sure beats cutting into the frame of a passenger bus.

A school bus with a wheel chair lift is another possibility. You can pick one up - in good shape - for under $3000. But not too practical if you're talking long haul. (Not as sexy, either Smiley)

Quote
What type of mileage could I expect from running this type of configuration?

From what I've read, you might get around 7 mpg on the bus you describe (others on the board will have a better handle on this). I manage around 10 mpg, but I've got a smaller bus and a 4-speed... doubt they even make 'em anymore.

Aw, heck, just get the bus... join in the fun.

Nellie Wilson
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2010, 04:49:24 AM »

Driving an aquarium (all the windows) becomes an issue when temperature limits (65 - 75F) are so tight.

I am working with an Air Conditioning engineer to find a way to keep my conversion within the same parameters, in all weather conditions (very hot or very cold), because of some electronics I will have on board.

So far, I have found some of the components I need to build a cooling system with 216,000 BTU of evaporator under my coach, and that is sufficient (they tell me).

I am still looking for the balance of the parts I need, but those engineers are just scratching their heads as to how to put it all together - they are the engineers, aren't they?

If you have a low clearance coach, you can put lots of rooftop A/C units up there with thermostatic controls, and be comfortable all day and night.

It would become a walk-through showroom, and smell nice too !!!

And yes, the loading ramp, like a wheelchair ramp, is very possible in many coaches.
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2010, 05:23:49 AM »


Get a transit with the wide doors and ramps already built in.  Then black out the windows, Factory AC may do the job for you. Smiley
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2010, 05:26:49 AM »

I don't see why this would not be possible, even desirable.

I would buy as a bus as new as I could afford, leaving money in the budget for the conversion. Any good converter can remove the interior and skin the windows. You would add the side door & ramp at the same time. Use foamed in insulation (this is covered in other posts on this board) and build whatever rack you need to keep the plants.

If it were my project, I would leave a small "room" in the front for a bath & galley for the driver. Then the unit would be self contained and the driver would not be looking for truck stops or rest areas! A newer coach should have the factory A/C & heat in good condition so you can use that for temperature control. Most coaches have separate controls for driver & passengers. A couple of rooftops would add redundancy with a gen set to power them. Cruise Airs if you want to be fancy. You would still have all the bays for tanks, (would the plants need watering?) tools, genny, extra fuel tank (if wanted), and junk. Everybody has some junk!

One of the biggest pluses is the "cool" factor. Any good marketing exec could really use the bus for advertising to blow away the competition.

One word of caution, be sure to use a converter that believes in the concept. If not, they will use any excuse to excuse any problems with " I said in the beginning this wouldn't work right!"

Do you need a driver?   ..... or help?  Smiley Smiley Smiley

TOM

Post script: I know your problems with using  a regular refrigerated trailer for plants. I used to haul tropical plants out of Florida and bulbs out of Jersey many years ago. The refrigeration units are basic heat pumps. Maintaining 75F EVERYWHERE (even on the floor & around the doors) was almost impossible when traveling through 10F air.
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fr8bus
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2010, 12:09:30 PM »

Hi,

Thanks for all the great responses.

I'd love to just "get on the bus" and join you guys, but I'm still a ways away here. Right now I'm just exploring the concept. I can see this still being potentially viable and there are many pros/cons vs. a truck, aside from the freighter bus idea being pretty cool (or warm for that matter).

The product is tropical plants (orchids specifically) and everyone in the industry has trouble shipping them, especially to the nation's mid-section from either coast. The temperature controlled truck investment is another idea vs. the freight bus, but from what I can see, a typical reefer 26' box will not be sufficient in extreme climates (i.e. the high ceiling will be hot and the floor will be chilly when driving in extreme hot summer temps). Perhaps the latest technology can overcome this but a $100k investment is a pretty big hurdle, especially for one truck that can accommodate what I estimate to be about 500 plants.
A single unit freight bus could possibly have better climate controls using multiple (and redundant) systems. Humidity is yet another factor we'd like to control for.

It appears that circa 80's and even some early 90's transit coaches can be picked up for a fairly low price (less than $20k). Can I reasonably expect these to be able bodied machines that will hold up mechanically for 1,000-3,000 mile trips with relatively few stops? Please don't laugh if I'm way off here. We could conceivably tolerate some mechanical down time on the road if the climate systems remain in effect (i.e. it just simply becomes a greenhouse on broken down wheels). Since the conversion is rather minimalistic, what kind of additional costs roughly speaking, should I anticipate with a transit bus (tear out of current seating, installation of climate controls, retrofit for long-distance suitability)?

Quote
I understand  Greyhound ran some buses in Calfornia that carried passengers and freight.
That was what sorta got me started down this path. In fact, we currently do use Greyhound to ship cut flowers to the Oregon Coast. It's about a 4-6 hr. transit time (drop off to pick-up) and they hold up quite well in mild Oregon weather. We don't ship plants this way however.

Thanks for keeping this conversation going.
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2010, 12:28:04 PM »

The reason we think you should seriously consider buses is because we are one with our freight (other people), and because our freight loads and unloads itself.

It also will afford you the ability to know your cargo is OK, because it is not a wall away (in the box behind the cab), but in the same room with you.

Providing separate climate systems (from the main engine) will protect your cargo from problems should the main engine 'break down', but these vehicles are designed not to break down, if properly maintained, because they must get their passengers home, so they are as reliable as any long haul vehicle can be.

A quality vehicle can be purchased within your stated budget, and there are a million people on this site who will step up to the plate, any time, to offer a hand or their advice as you move forward with this fantastic sounding project.

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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2010, 12:54:14 PM »

Transit buses will most likely require a gear ratio change if you want to go anything faster than 55mph.

Refer units on trucks have a separate engine to run them (good for break down on main engine).  I have a call into my Thermoking factory rep to see if they also have humidity controls on the refer units.  Good Luck, TomC
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2010, 05:22:49 PM »

Thanks to the Calif Air Resources Board, every reefer unit that comes into or through California now needs to meet new emission guidlines, basically the engine (engine family) needs to be less than 7 years old.

Tom has some accurate numbers on trucks and reefer bodies, selling/mounting/building/repairing bodies is what we do (not sell trucks). Just an FYI, I also think a truck is the way to go, and a non-compliant reefer will cost about $10,000 to upgrade with a new tier 4 (seven years) engine.

Good luck...nice thinking outside the box (or inside the bus!)
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2010, 06:32:22 PM »

Fr8bus,

I still like the bus idea for all the reasons I and others have named. I don't think I would choose a transit bus for a platform because it will be easier to add a ramp & door to an intercity coach than to make a transit  into an intercity. Also, the intercity looks way cooler...... (sorry TomC)  IMHO!   Grin

Plants and flowers need about the same environment as humans & buses are uniquely designed to provide just that. Depending on how much you run into or thru the Communist State of California, the emissions issue may be moot. Also, I am not sure they would even check a bus for refrigeration emissions. If they mess with you very much, maybe you can just avoid them all together.

What can I say....

I LIKE A BUS!!!   Grin Grin

TOM
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« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2010, 06:48:10 PM »

If this is intended to be a profit generating venture...

Truck chassis are cheaper/easier/faster to maintain than a coach chassis.

Installing a more sophisticated HVAC system in the box will give you the best of people transport environment and all the pluses of a truck chassis over a coach.

If using an old used coach for transporting stuff worked on the economic side, it would already be happening.

Those seeking profits are a creative bunch, but they are also astute in their ability to discard losing propositions.

happy coaching!
buswarrior

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« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2010, 07:08:01 PM »

Transit buses will most likely require a gear ratio change if you want to go anything faster than 55mph.

............ Good Luck, TomC

Yes that could be an issue,  Isn't there some transits with Series 50 engines and  an electronic tranny with the 2 highest gears programed to be turned off and just need to be turned back on.  Some can be found at auctions.  Maybe somebody can clarify or nullify my muttering Cheesy

The good thing about the transits is they are low and have the extra wide doors and ramps already, easy on the lifting Shocked.  The bad(not really) thing is they are low and require some thought to get stuff underneath like Black water tanks.  

MC9 have bays designed to carry cargo., you could design the inside to do that too.  Lotsa options.

Maybe a bus like Oddessey, a Neoplan with the extra stair way and entrance way and bathroom downstairs.

Eagles frames are kinder to retrofitting slides etc.


Anyway Fr8bus welcome to the madness and let know what you figure out. Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: February 02, 2010, 07:36:33 PM »

Last word from me:

If you'd said 'orchids' in the first place, I could have been more helpful.

Get a really good bus (15,00- 20,000 grand), refresh the heating and A/C (DIY project) and deliver your orchids. And enjoy your life along the way.

How do I know? Raymond Burr (a/k/a 'Perry Mason' and 'Ironsides') retired to Suva (Fiji) to raise (you guessed it) orchids. And who delivered those orchids "stateside?" A very dear friend of mine.

He made zero stops (excepting Christmas Island, to fuel up) on his way to California. He could have dropped them in Hawaii (or even run over to Australia and dumped them on Quantas).

But Mr. Burr wouldn't have it... those plants got personal attention from port to dock. (And his gardeners did too... they got bacon & eggs every morning Smiley)

And who picked up those plants in San Diego? I don't know the carrier, but I know they used buses.

Nellie Wilson
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« Reply #15 on: February 02, 2010, 07:43:18 PM »

Interesting bit of info on the orchids. I knew he had the island and raised orchids but did not know he sent them anywhere. Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2010, 09:23:03 PM »

Ed -

Yup. From what I understand, 'ol Ray had quite a little operation... hands on, all the way. Took great pride in his 'specimens,' and shipped them to botanical gardens and (high end) florists all over the place. Especially, I heard, Japan (go figure?).

'Course he had the $$ to fund it and - rumor has it - a nice backup from Bush, Sr. (via USAID). But, hey, thems that got gets, right?

Nellie  Cry
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« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2010, 10:10:36 PM »

I had a conversation with my Thermoking factory rep about refer units on trucks.  There is NO humidity controls available.  If you did add a humidifier, it would just be fighting the refer unit since one of the things the refer unit does is dehumidify the air.  If you want temp control between 65-75 degrees without humidity control, that is not a problem.  And you don't have to worry about hot or cold spots since the refer units push alot of air around the inside of the truck.  Good Luck, TomC
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« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2010, 05:43:27 AM »

A couple of disclaimers:

I really am not trying to be argumentative, just informative .... Maybe!

All of my knowledge is severely dated. Please feel free to correct me... GENTLY, I am easily hurt.    Grin

When we were hauling plants & flowers, the last thing we wanted was lots of warm (or hot), dry air blowing around in the trailer. We tried a lot of different things to keep it from blowing directly on the plants because it would dry them out, including a misting system. The best thing I came up with was using the old TransiCold under slung units. They had the engine, compressor, and a DC generator mounted under the trailer an the evaporator and DC fans mounts up front. I found a way to regulate the fan speed based on temp. The Thermokings had a belt drive fan that ran all the time. It would dry the plants out in a heart beat.

The rest of this post is purely hypothetical and should not be attempted except by trained professionals on a closed course. Severe injury and/or death may result. Excessive fines and taxes may be levied. Your mileage may vary. YADA YADA YADA.

A devious person such as the one I used to be could simply buy an already converted bus, titled as a motor home and and add the side door, ramp, and racks. Leave most of the interior. Try the system & work out the bugs. No permits, no emissions, no scales, no problems. If it proves feasible, look into making it legal,  If not, sell the bus & back to the drawing board.

I already know the insurance hassles & whatever. I also know you would pretty much have to be deceitful.

I told you I have a devious and treacherous mind.

TOM
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« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2010, 07:47:22 AM »

Tom- Yes, the Thermokings are still belt driven so whatever the engine is doing (whether it be on high, low, or off) is what the fan will be doing.  Carrier units, on the other hand, are separate (like the under belly units [which are extremely expensive]) in that they have electric fans on the evaporator that usually run at a constant speed.  The usual way of doing refer is to have a canvas duct running down the center roof with the cold air being dumped in the rear, then it filters back up to the front.  You can also order the canvas duct with holes in it to gently dump air all along the length of it.  Good Luck, TomC
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« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2010, 12:09:07 AM »

Thanks so much to everyone for the thoughtful input.

Unfortunately for me, profit is the primary consideration I must take into account in considering this venture. While it sounds feasible in some ways theoretically, there are a few issues to work through (i.e the emissions, refrigeration, etc...). Still, I know of no great way to truck tropical plants long-distances either. A greenhouse on wheels would be the most ideal (or a greenhouse with wings would be even better), but there are quite a few limitations we're up against.

I'll have to do more research into the refrigeration vs. humidity issue. I know that is how an air conditioner works; it uses a condenser unit to take humidity out of the air. But how about an old fashion swamp cooler? Has anyone ever thought of mounting one of those on a coach?

Just keeping the "out of the box" ideas going. I have no commitment to the concept yet, but still want to cover all the major points. I would still dig the idea of someday cruising the nation in a coach (freight coach or personalized travel rig), but that still is a ways off for me.
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« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2010, 09:54:55 AM »

One major advantage that you would have with a coach is that you would be in there WITH the orchids, instead of relying on telemetry to tell you if the air is the right temp and humidity.  For that matter, your breath will provide a little of that humdity.

You would need an intercity coach, with the windows skinned over.  You can build inner walls yourself, however thick you need for the insulation you will blow in there.  The factory air conditioning will probably need a couple of rooftop aircons to help.  You will want to install a roof mister for when you are parked, and an interior mister for the humdity -- and you have plenty of basement storage for tanks, pump, and all of the other stuff you need to carry with you.

I agree that you would be happier with a coach that has a wheelchair lift, but you can also make a dumbwaiter if you can't find the lift, either through a window or through a cargo bay..

You want a coach which is just coming out of paid service, where you can check the records for maintenance and repairs, and where you know that the aircon is working well.  You may be able to knock a bit off the price by letting them keep the seats and most of the windows (remember, you're skinning them over), but don't count on it.

My coach came from a guy who bought it from a tour company so that he could maker ONE TRIP hauling a lot of expensive exotic birds across the country.  It cost him less to buy the coach and drive it than it would have cose to have them shipped, plus he was able to see to their care during the trip and knew exactly how they were doing because he was right there with them.

If it worked for fancy birds, it will work for fancy flowers!

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« Reply #22 on: February 07, 2010, 04:11:09 PM »

it sounds like someone wants to take the grow house with them when they have to make a run for the boarder.
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« Reply #23 on: February 08, 2010, 05:31:38 AM »

Can you imagine all the enforcement around the bus if the 'plant bus' were to be stopped ?   Be sure you also carry donuts?

Have good signage to prevent misjudgements; with all the A/C systems / heating systems / ventilation / swamp coolers / lighting  !!!  LOL

Good point, Phillip !!!
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« Reply #24 on: February 08, 2010, 06:31:51 AM »

Using a bus to haul plants will work.
A plant nursery located near Conroe,Texas use to own a ex Greyhound Scenicruiser PD-4501 to haul plants all around Texas.
The owner removed the bus interior and installed racks for the plants.
Also had a large door installed in the right side upper deck to load and unload the pants.
Note this was many years ago.
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« Reply #25 on: February 08, 2010, 06:43:26 AM »

Not Pants but Plants! Grin
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« Reply #26 on: February 08, 2010, 09:40:30 AM »

I had a conversation with my Thermoking factory rep about refer units on trucks.  There is NO humidity controls available.  If you did add a humidifier, it would just be fighting the refer unit since one of the things the refer unit does is dehumidify the air.  If you want temp control between 65-75 degrees without humidity control, that is not a problem.  And you don't have to worry about hot or cold spots since the refer units push alot of air around the inside of the truck.  Good Luck, TomC

This sounds like this is going to be a challenge both via reefer or freighter conversion. I suppose they don't make mobile swamp coolers  Cheesy.

Any idea what the fuel consumption is like on a Thermoking  (or similar) unit? Will it operate in the underspace of a coach? I've only seen them mounted on the outside of reefer boxes.

Thanks for looking into this.
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« Reply #27 on: February 08, 2010, 09:50:13 AM »

I suppose they don't make mobile swamp coolers  Cheesy.


Actually somebody does.  Forum member MCI-RICK has a rather unusual MCI transit bus that was built much more like an RTS than a MCI highway coach.  It came with a built in evaporative cooling system (swamp cooler).
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« Reply #28 on: February 08, 2010, 10:46:40 AM »

ThermoKing or Carrier will both want to know how many BTU's you are looking for. Typically they ask questions like box/trailer size, inches of insulation and temperature required. Some of the smaller units (like go on a 8-12' van/box) can operate off the vehicle's engine, larger capacity units use separate diesel (or diesel/electric unit).
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« Reply #29 on: February 08, 2010, 11:08:13 AM »

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« Reply #30 on: February 08, 2010, 02:32:45 PM »

You might want to not try to reinvent the wheel.
The 05G AC compressor that is used on many coaches is the same AC compressor that is used on walk in refrigeration rooms, large building Air conditioning, small industrial freezers.
Blow in 6" of spray foam on floor walls and roof, retain the existing OTR AC with some tweaks to put the temperature where you want it. A home style electric Humidifier on an inverter would probably supply all the moisture you'll ever need.

So what am I missing? Christy? Nick?
I think he was going to a  genny + roof  airs for redundancy in case of break downs and while parked. 
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« Reply #31 on: February 08, 2010, 05:02:55 PM »

Swamp coolers are great in desert climates; economical and effective. For your greenhouse application, they may still be ok in less-arid climates, since you don't mind raising the humidity above comfort-level. However, they're nearly worthless in your typical 90% humidity summer heat in much of the country.
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DaveG
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« Reply #32 on: February 08, 2010, 05:17:20 PM »

FWIW, the 05G is basically the same compressor that is used on the Carrier trailer units
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oldmansax
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« Reply #33 on: February 08, 2010, 08:17:38 PM »

I don't think Dallas has missed anything. It's the same thing several of us have already said. The OTR HVAC system will handle your needs if you use the spray foam insulation. A genny and a couple of roof airs (or roof heat pumps) will add redundancy. A house type humidifier if needed, although I don't think it will be.

Problem solved!  Smiley Smiley

TOM
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« Reply #34 on: February 09, 2010, 08:25:32 AM »

I know where the perfect bus is for you! Wink
1990 Setra S215 HDH 8V92 DDEC Allison 5 spd  runs awesome and the interior is currently out of it! Wink

(engine has had much work done to it recently & brakes are NEW all the way around!)

Grin  BK  Grin
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Busted Knuckle aka Bryce Gaston
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« Reply #35 on: February 09, 2010, 11:52:25 PM »

You might want to not try to reinvent the wheel.
The 05G AC compressor that is used on many coaches is the same AC compressor that is used on walk in refrigeration rooms, large building Air conditioning, small industrial freezers.
Blow in 6" of spray foam on floor walls and roof, retain the existing OTR AC with some tweaks to put the temperature where you want it. A home style electric Humidifier on an inverter would probably supply all the moisture you'll ever need.
So what am I missing? Christy? Nick?
Really good to know. I assume this type of compressor would be found easily on most intercity bus types (i.e. MCI102 series etc...). The independent generator is most definitely a requirement, otherwise the whole load is at risk. I agree, humidity is generally a secondary issue and can be controlled well in an insulated environment.
So cost wise, is it fair to say a conversion like this for a reasonably dependable coach is in the $20k-$30k range (total for good used coach, conversion including cutout on side and materials)? Also, what is the standard interior height of a typical coach, and is the floor or ceiling easily raised/lowered. The access I think would work best would be some kind of rollaway door on the mid-section with a standard freight lift stowed from under. Rolling racks can then be used to move plants on and off. I'm learning that plant haulers here in the NW have some pretty tricked out controlled boxes on their trucks as well. I hope to chat more about that with them later.
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it sounds like someone wants to take the grow house with them when they have to make a run for the boarder.
Yeah, it may look a little strange, but whatever works, works.
Thanks again for all the great input.
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