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Author Topic: Freightliner Bus Alternative  (Read 3964 times)
Scott Bennett
Scott & Heather MCI-9
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« on: May 27, 2013, 07:35:58 AM »

So we've been fultiming now for 24 months...touring all over the East and Southeast and as much as we love our MCI-9, the argument has been made (and by our own experiences none-the-less) that it is increasingly difficult to find good two-stroke mechanics...or anyone who even wants to touch a bus as we travel. Of course, it's not impossible, and those of you who put very few miles on your coach per year and are allowed the blessing of keeping it in a covered pole building and keeping constant vigilant maintenance while said bus is stored in said warm/comfy/dry building, it is becoming an issue for us to keep our coach safely, reliably maintained on the road. I do some of my own work, but for the most part, I'm too busy singing and working as an IT tech to be wrenching back there anymore. So as some of you know, we are laying our floorplans for a freightliner columbia daycab chassis-based truck conversion. We've spent countless hours, days, weeks, even months researching the process and building a truck conversion has the same basic general concept as a bus conversion in terms of building the living space. We have a floorplan that we think is going to be fantastic for us as we make plans to have kids in the next year or so and I think we're headed down a pretty solid path at this point. We will ALWAYs be bus people and are likely keeping our bus and parking here at our normal summer hookup but leave it here year-round so we can come back and use it as a "summer" home when we're not touring. That being said, a lot of you guys are sharp cookies whether in buses or trucks and we would love some solid advice on just one aspect of this whole project. We want to purchase a 2000-2004 Freightliner Columbia Day Cab truck with air ride suspension for the chassis. Any of those years sound nice to us depending on the price point. My only questions are:

1. Is there a preferred year for this truck?
2. Is there a preferred engine or one that we should avoid? I'm seeing them with Cats, Detroit's, Cummins, and Mercedes engines.
3. Anything specific that you guys have heard about these trucks that might be a problem area?
4. With a 30,000-35,000 lb. rig I assume I'll have to replace the air bags with ones that are more suited to a lighter application...anything else I should consider suspension-wise?

And for the GOLDEN QUESTION #5: I see Freightliner Thomas school buses for sale...and they are a pretty penny cheaper than the trucks. Are they the same or similar setup or would I be grossly underpowered if I chopped up a freightliner school bus and put a box on it. We're planning on 45-48 ft at this point.

We are members of the truck conversions forums but they are like ghost-towns...things are pretty quiet over there for the most part, so I'm asking my best friends in the home on wheels world what you guys think. TomC, I know we've discussed the concept a little, but we are starting to tighten down our plans so we can plan our budget this year and next accordingly so as to make this happen. Here's a couple photo examples of what we are headed towards:

Would this skoolie work?:


Here's our ultimate goal:
« Last Edit: May 27, 2013, 07:41:40 AM by Scott Bennett » Logged

Scott & Heather
1984 MCI9 6V92-turbo with 9 inch roof raise & conversion in progress.
http://www.scottmichaelbennett.com/p/our-bus.html
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« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2013, 07:53:51 AM »

Scott, I would suggest you try this forum.  They are very active!

http://www.rvnetwork.com/index.php?s=6e93cd57a822c8e79b95dd31fbcb118f&showforum=32

I'd also recommend you talk to the folks that built my truck conversion.  Steve Mattie the owner of Transport Designs would, I think be open to building the motor home box and letting you finish the rest.  Give him a call and tell him I sent you.  Tell him what you do and you will have a friend for life!

http://www.transportdesigns.com/

Have fun with your new project.

GaryD
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Gary D

USBUSIN was our 1960 PD4104 for 16 years Ustruckin' is our 2001 Freightliner truck conversion
Scott Bennett
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« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2013, 08:41:01 AM »

Scott, I would suggest you try this forum.  They are very active!

http://www.rvnetwork.com/index.php?s=6e93cd57a822c8e79b95dd31fbcb118f&showforum=32

I'd also recommend you talk to the folks that built my truck conversion.  Steve Mattie the owner of Transport Designs would, I think be open to building the motor home box and letting you finish the rest.  Give him a call and tell him I sent you.  Tell him what you do and you will have a friend for life!

http://www.transportdesigns.com/

Have fun with your new project.

GaryD


Your blog is impressive. Don't take it down until we're done with ours Smiley  I love the fact you listed all of your specs. We are going to be following in your footsteps except we're headed towards the 48 foot mark and we'll go a full 12 ft. 9 inches in height. With the lead springs in front, how does the truck ride?

Also, the $$$ question. If I have someone weld up the box for me, how many $$$ ballpark are we talking?
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Scott & Heather
1984 MCI9 6V92-turbo with 9 inch roof raise & conversion in progress.
http://www.scottmichaelbennett.com/p/our-bus.html
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« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2013, 09:35:05 AM »

Scott,

Is it legal to have a 48' motorhome or will you have to get a permit every time you move? I thought 45' was the longest legal length for a motorhome, probably wrong again. Have you looked at a Volvo class 8 truck as a base for your project? At one time   Volvo had the widest truck cab on the road. It would provide more room for a walk-through if you plan to have one. You are taking on a huge project if you plan to do it all yourself.

Good luck, Sam
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« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2013, 10:02:41 AM »

They are building a 54 ft truck conversion Sam my buddy that owns PowerHouse Conversions in Id has built several says they are legal I rode with him in one and was amazed how you could turn a corner in one.

Volvo is the only truck he will build on that he sells he laughed as he told me you need rubber sheets on a Freightliner (freight shakers he calls them)
« Last Edit: May 27, 2013, 11:23:48 AM by luvrbus » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2013, 11:05:33 AM »

You might need the right license to drive one though.
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« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2013, 12:23:14 PM »

I have a '77 AMGeneral transit with 8V-71TATAIC that I have overhauled everything in the engine compartment. But-still don't feel safe to go much beyond the boundries of California. This is why I'm converting my '85 Kenworth cabover to a motorhome. I had a 32ft box made keeping it to 40ft overall so I can drive anywhere and my wife can drive it without a special driver's license. I took out the 13spd manual and installed a HT740 Allison.

There are many already made truck conversions. But-most are made quite cheaply (mine has 1.5" square tubing with 1/8" walls on 16" centers. The bare box weighed 10,000lbs before I started converting). Freightliner Century or Columbia in the 2002 to 2004 is alright. But-I would aim for a 1998-2002 to avoid EGR. Series 60 Detroit's are best. Caterpillar C15 and C12 single turbo's are also good, but won't get as good fuel mileage as the Detroit. Stay away from the Mercedes MBE4000 engine. Try to find one with a clutch pedal type AutoShift 10spd. The early Ultra Shifts had centrifugal clutches that didn't really engage, so you only got about 100,000mi out of a clutch. The UltraShift plus didn't come out till last year. Allison transmission is always good-but rare in a over the road truck.

Did you want to make your own? I am doing just that. I can tell you that converting a truck is a whole bunch easier then converting a bus. And, like mine with the Caterpillar 3406B (Cat still makes the mechanical 3406C-which is almost identical) you can still get parts for the truck.

Most states have a 45ft length limit on single vehicles-whether it be a bus or motorhome. Since I used a cabover, I'm able to get everything I need in 40ft with no slide outs. Good Luck, TomC
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Tom & Donna Christman. '77 AMGeneral 10240B; 8V-71TATAIC V730.
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« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2013, 01:18:50 PM »

Scott, my truck conversion was built in 2001 so prices today would be different. 

I would suggest you give Steve Mattie at Transport Design a call at 570-three 6 eight - one 4 zero 3.  Ask him about rigs over 45 ft. long.  I know he has built them, but I believe they were for racers and they had a commercial license. 

Where you have your rig licensed makes all the difference in vehicle registration and licensing.  Look at the discussion on the HDT truck board I referenced in my last post.  All sorts of questions and info about licensing.  Go to the "horses-mouth"; the DMV in the state where it will be registered and licensed.  Read their codes and requirements.

GaryD
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Gary D

USBUSIN was our 1960 PD4104 for 16 years Ustruckin' is our 2001 Freightliner truck conversion
Scott Bennett
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« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2013, 01:54:53 PM »

Excellent info. Thank you. Yes, lengthwise the laws are all over the place so we are planning on purchasing over length permits when and where needed. Plenty of conversions on the road over 50ft and so far haven't heard to many problems with the boys in blue. Do freightliners shake that much?! Maybe we should look at a Volvo. Yes, definitely going to be a lot of work, but we converted our bus on our own, just the two of us and we have lived
In it full time for 2 years with no problems except mechanicals. A 45 foot bus is always an idea, but we are really leaning towards a truck at this point.


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Scott & Heather
1984 MCI9 6V92-turbo with 9 inch roof raise & conversion in progress.
http://www.scottmichaelbennett.com/p/our-bus.html
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« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2013, 07:22:28 PM »

I sell Freightliners and yes, way in the past (like in the 80's) Freightliners did ride rough-mainly because they were the lightest weight trucks out there. But after 1982 when Mercedes-Benz bought out Freightliners, they ride as good or better then any of the trucks. I drive the new ones all the time. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the new Freightliners (that's including the Columbia and Century) ride better empty then my truck ever did loaded. I'd advise looking for a Freightliner since they are the number one (in numbers) truck made and have the most (almost 1,000 if you include Western Star) dealers. Volvo, while also a nice riding truck, is too mushy for me and they rock side to side because of it. Also, try to find Volvo parts on the road. With Freightliner, you'll never be more then 200 miles from a dealer.

Look for a good used U.S.Xpress truck since they've been using AutoShift transmissions exclusively since 2002 and they are kept up very well. Good Luck, TomC
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Tom & Donna Christman. '77 AMGeneral 10240B; 8V-71TATAIC V730.
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« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2013, 07:38:16 PM »

Hi Scott, Wally & Darcy lived fulltime in a truck conversion for a long while, called the Genisis, a freightliner I think, a rock star conversion done in a boat yard, if I remember right, someone may still be in contact with them, lvmci...
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Mci 102C3 8V92, Allison 4 speed 740
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Seangie
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« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2013, 05:28:00 AM »

Scott,

It is amazing how determined you and Heather are.  I cannot wait to see how this project turns out.  Do you have any sketches or cads together yet?  Did you have a timeframe for this project?

-Sean


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« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2013, 06:12:14 AM »

Scott,

This my not be super popular here, however, this is our experience. I assume that you sell CD's, as you travel. We do something kind of along those lines, had our bus registered as an RV and everything. We even called the DMV, and they said as long as it is titled as an RV you are fine. We rolled along fine until RickB posted a story about how he rearended a lady (her fault) but the trooper was ripping into him for not having a CDL, etc. We did more research, and called the troopers (the ones that enforce the laws). They said that if you sell ANYTHING to make a profit, you MUST be commercial. In fact, not just sell anything, but if you are payed to do anything and you use your bus, they consider it commercial. It doesn't matter if we are driving an RV, truck, bus, or big pickup with a trailer. Have to be commercial.

So, we had to go get CDL's, start drug testing, paperwork, med cards, log books, etc, etc. It is a HUGE pain, compared to just getting in and driving. We did just fine without getting into trouble those years. Why did we go commercial? First off, the law says it, and we usually try to be legal. The other big thing is, we really didn't want to get impounded and lose our rig, if we had a wreck. Then if they found that we were commercial, it would be a nightmare.

Moral of the story? You all should probably be commercial also. Can you get along fine without it, probably. However, it is anybody guess as to when (if) you do have trouble. The question is how close to the edge to live Grin.

God bless,

John
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Scott Bennett
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« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2013, 06:38:16 AM »

Such GREAT info here...You all are fountains of knowledge. Great to hear Freightliner is my 1st truck of choice. Will look for autoshift options. Did they come with air ride front suspension too or just leaf spring?

Would love to talk to the Genesis folks...they on here? Hey Sean, I don't know how much determination it is rather than just the plan to bring kiddos into the world and just want better reliability and space since we are planning on fulltiming for quite a while longer. You guys will prob get some calls for us for advice...since you're already heading that direction with more kids than we may have Smiley

Hey John:

I absolutely have read and considered the horror stories. I know they exist, and when that bridge comes, I'll cross it. Truth is, we've spent extensive time talking with DMV, CPA's, law enforement, etc. and we have one specific ACE up our sleeves. We are fulltimers. Truth is, we have no primary residence...only a P.O. Box and a borrowed mailing address and that can be proved. Our bus is not outfitted as a day coach or tour bus, it's literally a motor home. We do not under any circumstances drive the coach to churches or schools, or any place of singing/performance/ ministry. We drive it 100% to campsites/rv spots, park it and then use our Land Cruiser to get to concert events. Because we are fulltime, we actually have no choice but to bring our entire home/office/CD's with us wherever we go. The bus is for personal use. We don't deduct expenses on it...it's not commercial. It's our home...and our music ministry is entirely separate. The law cannot simply state that one cannot transport items that will be used for income in a vehicle without it being a commercial vehicle. If that were simply true, then you could not carry your tools in the back of your pickup truck to work if you're a mechanic. We would also have to get a commercial license and DOT # for our Land Cruiser to drive to concerts. 1000's of boy bands all across the country drive big 12 passenger vans with a trailer as they criss cross the country singing their hearts out...and none of them have DOT#'s for their vans and trailers...so again, we're not using our bus for our music ministry. We are fulltimers, it is our home, that can be undeniably proven, and we never take it to events. It hops from campsite to campsite and sits for 4 months at a time without so much as being started up while we "live" in an area and sing there too. I do shiver at the horror stories, but I am not at this point even considering a commercial license. If I get burned, I'll work with the courts. I sure hope this bus/commercial/DOT issue doesn't get any worse though...sounds messy.
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Scott & Heather
1984 MCI9 6V92-turbo with 9 inch roof raise & conversion in progress.
http://www.scottmichaelbennett.com/p/our-bus.html
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« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2013, 06:58:43 AM »

Sean,

Just noticed I didn't answer your questions Smiley

Time frame? As soon as possible. We really need the donor truck first before we start building the box, so our first priority is getting a truck chassis...hopefully by the end of 2014. No CAD drawings...just a floorplan. I'll clean it up for public viewing Smiley And post it.
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Scott & Heather
1984 MCI9 6V92-turbo with 9 inch roof raise & conversion in progress.
http://www.scottmichaelbennett.com/p/our-bus.html
˙ǝɯoɔlǝʍ suoıʇɐuop ˙snq ʍǝu ɐ pǝǝu ʎlqɐqoɹd ll,ǝʍ 'sıɥʇ pɐǝɹ uɐɔ noʎ ɟı
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