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Author Topic: New guy with questions  (Read 4279 times)
Larry
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« on: December 07, 2006, 07:30:33 PM »

Howdy --

My name is Larry. I have thought about converting a bus or coach for several years but due to one thing or another over the years I haven't taken it any farther. Well I think I am in a position to take some baby steps toward my own rig.

Let me first admit that I am totally ignorant about buses, or anything that size. I've done my share of shade tree mechanic work over the years but never on anything the size of a coach. Because of this my first concern would be how mechanically dependable is a coach when compared to a schoolie? Would I be getting in over my head with a coach?

Following that is the fact that I am on a fixed income. What is a reasonable amount to expect for annual maintenance? Actual mileage annually would be less than 5000 miles and probably less than 2500 miles. I don't plan on touring. A few weekenders here and there with one 2000 mile round trip every 2 years is the most likely scenerio.

Okay - 2 questions to start but I betcha I'll have plenty more later!

Best to Ya's

Larry
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« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2006, 10:20:25 PM »

The big over the road buses and transit buses are the most heavy duty vehicles made-besides big rig trucks, of course.  They are as reliable as a vehicle can get, but when they break, part for part they can cost 10 times more than a car to repair.  If you don't have to do any repairs that year, only general maintanence is needed.  With the low miles most do, oil change once a year is enough (I went 30 months, but I park inside in Calif [no big weather changes]).  Most of the older buses are mechanically controlled engines-mainly no electronics, so that eases that problem.  I put on 6 new tires earlier this year and they were $2900.00 mounted and balanced, just to give you an idea.  Personally, I was an over the road truck driver and have seen how a sticks and staples motorhome fairs in a crash.  For instance, the recent rear ender that happened, the driver just lost his legs (I realize that is bad enough).  I saw the duplicate crash on the Oklahoma turnpike where a motorhome driver fell asleep and ran into the back of a truck.  They removed both the man and wife in pieces and the motorhome was crushed the first 10ft.  So believe me, you pay to maintain these huge vehicles, but they are reliable and as safe as you can get in the event of a crash.  Stop delaying-get to work!  Good Luck, TomC
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Tom & Donna Christman. '77 AMGeneral 10240B; 8V-71TATAIC V730.
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« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2006, 11:19:33 PM »

Welcome, Larry. Skoolies are a step up from most motorhomes, reliability-wise, but aren't typically built for the "long haul" mileage expected of a transit or highway coach. Crowns and Gilligs are notable skoolie exceptions, and can make fine conversions. With your mileage expectations, a traditional skoolie wouldn't be out of the question, though... assuming you find a low-mileage candidate. I'd expect them to be a lot easier to work on, also, since they're more of a medium-duty chassis, and parts are more readily available and "truck-like". There's pros and cons of any chassis type you choose... ride quality, reliability, storage, convert-ability, top speed, MPG, aesthetics, etc.

Whatever type you choose, for good reliability, it's best to start with the cleanest bus you can afford. You might also choose to purchase a bus already converted, and save the work of converting one until you're convinced you like the lifestyle. For most sub-$100k conversions, at reasle very few folks ever make back even their outlay of cash spent on conversion, much less their hundreds of hours of time. Now, most folks that convert a coach could care less if they see any return on their investment... they do it for the satisfaction, pride of ownership, and doing it "their way."

Whatever bus you choose, have it "gone over" by someone that knows these beasts inside and out. Even then, there's no guarantees that something major won't break down. But if/ when it does... you've found the best spot on the Internet here for support and tech advice.

Be forewarned, it seems that many coaches for sale have "recent rebuilt" engines... but very few have the paperwork to back up this claim. I've seen (even bought) busses that claim to have "no smoke at startup" that could barely light off at 60 degrees... and then kill every mosquito in a 30 mile radius.

But I do hope you buy a bus and "step inside" this crazy hobby of ours. It's a lot of fun, and my family loves spending time together in ours. Heck, and I love just looking at mine. I even like the smell of diesel. It makes me think of going places.

Did I mention the word crazy yet...  Grin
Brian B.
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Brian Brown
4108-216 w/ V730
Longmont, CO
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« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2006, 05:18:05 AM »

Howdy --

My name is Larry. I have thought about converting a bus or coach for several years but due to one thing or another over the years I haven't taken it any farther. Well I think I am in a position to take some baby steps toward my own rig.

Let me first admit that I am totally ignorant about buses, or anything that size. I've done my share of shade tree mechanic work over the years but never on anything the size of a coach. Because of this my first concern would be how mechanically dependable is a coach when compared to a schoolie? Would I be getting in over my head with a coach?

Following that is the fact that I am on a fixed income. What is a reasonable amount to expect for annual maintenance? Actual mileage annually would be less than 5000 miles and probably less than 2500 miles. I don't plan on touring. A few weekenders here and there with one 2000 mile round trip every 2 years is the most likely scenerio.

Okay - 2 questions to start but I betcha I'll have plenty more later!

Best to Ya's

Larry



Welcome to our incurable forum of madness Larry!

Just a few things to mention and random thoughts.

I've had all kinds of buses. Pretty much Everything from schoolies to antique (1935 ACF-Brill) to Transits to our present coach, a 1952 GMC PD-4103.

One thing I've found with ALL of them is to do your homework and learn how to do a good inspection and then take it to have it "Professionally" inspected. You will thank yourself in the long run.

One of Our Eagle owners on this board has found out first hand what buying with your heart instead of your head can cause.
Gary LaBombard has been working on his Eagle for 4 years and has only driven it once. The under carriage was in such poor condition that is has had to rebuilt from scratch. A true craftsman, Gary has taken his time and not been in a hurry. You would be well off to check out his website, http://community.webshots.com/user/converter101 and possibly talk him into letting you purchase one of his CD's.

If you want a schoolie, be prepared to pay less up front, but more for insurance, lower top end speed and narrower width. You will really miss that width! One problem I found was that the distance from the floor to the bottom of the window left a lot to be desired when selecting furniture and cabinets. Good points are a full frame on a Medium Duty chassis, ease of finding parts, and fairly square walls.

Transits are a good choice if you are looking for low initial cost with large bus capabilities.
Cons include lack of storage and low speed on the highway.
None of this is insurmountable, it just requires some creative enineering to build bays and figuring out where to store things.

Suburban Transits are a little easier than standard transits, USUALLY, because of already having highway gearing and sometimes bays already built in.

The Big highway coaches, although providing lot's of space and highway speeds can have outragious price in upkeep. They really aren't meant to sit for a long time, things have a way of going wrong, just from sitting.
Be aware that I would prefer never to go back to a schoolie, but for certain purposes, it is a really good choice. especially if you are interested in boondocking off road.

What ever you choose, good luck! and be sure to check out all of your options. Visiting as many rallies, gatherings and even surplus bus sales lots can give you insight on where and how to proceed.

IHTH,
Dallas
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TomC
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« Reply #4 on: December 08, 2006, 08:20:54 AM »

One more point (actually have hundreds, but now..) schoolies, with the front truck hood, can be very hard to find insurance for.  Some of the schoolies have had bad engineering where some of the bodies have been completely sheared off the frame of the truck in a crash with not so good results.  The more recent ones are better though.  The front engine schoolie is considered to be a class C motorhome when done.  Even a giant motorhome using a Freightliner or Kenworth front end is still a class C and there are some high end RV resorts that restrict their customers to Class A only. Personally, I won't ever have to worry about those kinds of RV resorts since I don't frequent them because of my un-presumptious life style.  Ask more questions, we all love to answer them!  Good Luck, TomC
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Tom & Donna Christman. '77 AMGeneral 10240B; 8V-71TATAIC V730.
Larry
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« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2006, 01:06:13 PM »

I haven't etched my decision in stone yet, but I am leaning heavily toward converting a schoolie. I took a look at Gary LaBombard's photo pages  Shocked WOW. My learning curve is failry sharp but the word overwhelmed is far to small if I were faced with Gary's situation. For me the unexpected expense would be devestating.

The more I think about it the more I think a flat nose school bus should be my first baby step. There are usually some activity buses for sale in the area. In fact there are two right now on ebay just south of Okla City which should go for under 5k. They would be candidates if I were ready to make a purchase.

The time to convert it is not a problem. All I have is time! There's plenty of time to make a decision also. I need to put about 2k in my bass boat this winter so I have till spring to think this through.

Are there particular flat nose buses that seem to be better suited to conversions than others? For example underfloor clearances for adding bays for generator, A/C, etc etc? Rear engine v/s front or mid-engine placements? Detroit or Cat and which one? Is there a particular auto trans that has issues? I suppose it boils down to - If it were you thinking schoolie what would be your bus choices and why?  Huh

Dang that's a big question Roll Eyes

Best to Ya

Larry
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« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2006, 05:04:57 PM »

Check out either the Crown or Gillig with mid mounted engine.  Advantages- made on a truck chassis so adding to the chassis isn't hard.  Detroit 6-71 is very reliable.  Crown disadvantage-the frame stops behind the rear axle with the trunk (very large) just in the back making it hard to make a trailer hitch.  I believe the Gillig was not built that way. 
I converted a transit bus.  They are very strongly built.  Only real disadvantage is the low gearing.  I had mine regeared to comfortably cruise at 65, which is enough for me.  Transits have 6'10" head room, and I have plenty of storage-in fact lots of room yet that I haven't used.  There's a section behind the rear door that's empty that I probably will fill in.  Good Luck, TomC
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Tom & Donna Christman. '77 AMGeneral 10240B; 8V-71TATAIC V730.
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« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2006, 06:13:59 PM »

Tom C,

If you don't mind me asking, about how much does it cost to get a transit re-geared?

I am also a newby searching for that first piece of bus heaven.
I have also been looking at skoolies or transits or coaches. I think the overall price may keep me out of a coach longer than I want to. But, the transit or skoolie question still nags at me.

Thank you,
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Larry
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« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2006, 07:24:37 PM »

Thanks Tom - I wasn't aware that transists had that much head room. At 6'3" headroom is a definate consideration and it's something a schoolie doesn't have unless I raise the roof. Hmmm - transit - back to a coach size rig - it has two entry doors - decisions decisions - hmmm - and I was so close to making a mental commitment on converting a school bus! Thanks Tom  Cheesy

Larry

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« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2006, 07:37:53 PM »

It's easier to find a skoolie in good shape, with low miles, since school districts often upgrade their units when funding becomes available. Transit agencies often do the same with their transit busses.

Most highway coaches, OTOH, tend to have the wheels run off of them by charters or Greyhound, and they only give them up when maint. becomes prohibitively expen$ive. There are a few highway coaches available at auction from transit authority fleets occasionally, when used in suburban service. Dallas' DART has let go a steady stream of 102As in recent years. I went to one auction a few years back, and those units that weren't canibalized for parts, seemed to be in good shape.

Highway coach vs. transit vs. skoolie is a BIG decision. There's trade-offs in each. You'll have to examine your lifestyle and see which one fits your need the best. I, for one, wouldn't want to live without my cavernous bays, that hold my tools, roadside equip., bicycles, campstuff, etc. But I have a family of five to keep provisioned and entertained on cross-country trips. Someone tooling to a local lake or backwoods spot wouldn't want/ need a highway coach.

A GMC RTS is a great choice in a transit. I've seem some beautiful RTS conversions out there, and am told they drive like a car. Shells are cheap and GMCs are engineering marvels, IMHO. And busnut ingenuity can create storage where none existed.

I don't know much about skoolies. They tend to get short shrift, and you'll have to have a nice conversion to avoid being labeled some "hippie." Stick with the flat-noses, for sure. One with rear engine made by Thomas or Blue Bird would be good choices. But a nice 40' twin-screw Crown would be a nice find, indeed. These were run by many Western school districts (no corrosion), and are told to be the MPG champs of the busworld (12-14mpg not unheard of).

Just some more thoughts...
Brian B.
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Brian Brown
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« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2006, 08:06:09 PM »

Larry,

Welcome.  I am in the same boat as you as far as being a new guy.  You have found a group of people with a ton of knowlege and willingness to help.  Heed their advice.  It will save you in the long run.  I am still in the looking and deciding stage but have ruled out a schoolie cause the wife already said NO!  Take your time, learn lots and enjoy the insanity.

Frank
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« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2006, 06:17:49 AM »

There was a great flat front skookie conversion featured in Bus Conversions not too long ago - within the last year maybe?  It turned out looking really good - easily able to park next to anything on the road.  If you are serious about converting then my advice is to phone up Bus Conversions and order about 3 years of back issues.  When they arrive sit yourself down for several nights and learn from everyone else's experiences.

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« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2006, 07:10:50 AM »

I recall reading in the past about some people having problems obtaining insurance on a schoolie. Make sure your insurance company will cover it, or you can find a company that will.
I would also suggest you do some Internet searching for boards that specialize in schoolies and ask questions there. Unfortunately I do not have any links that will help you find them, but I am certain that somebody on this board will help.
Richard
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« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2006, 10:05:10 AM »

Larry -

Look for the thread on this board for "Newbie looking for a bus" to read my comments on this.

 Wink

Click here for the thread:

http://www.busconversions.com/bbs/index.php?topic=2703.0

Richard
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Larry
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« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2006, 01:20:16 PM »

Thanks everyone for all the great input. I was getting close to making a commitment to converting a skoolie but now I am backing off, a little.
Over the years I have read everything I could find on the internet and picked apart every conversion in progress photo I saw. Finances dictate a skoolie for less stress but long term a highway coach is the more practical choice. A real delima!
Today while reading everyones posts then jumping to every URL posted for more reading and going back over all the url's I have saved I found myself back at the same crossroads where I started. I leaned back ijn my chair and reminded myself of what I had taught my kids as they were growing up. "Don't settle for something less than what you really want," was intended to encourage them to save their allowance until they colud afford that special toy or whatever it was their heart said they "must" have.
With that thought in mind I began asking myself what I really wanted, or what I really needed. Once I got honest with myself the decision between skoolie and highway coach was clear. It will be a highway coach. The nail in the coffin, so to speak, was I finally admitted to myself that I really wanted to go fulltime at some point in the future. Dang - what am I thinking? Shut up Larry!

Saw a 74 GM 4905 owned by a church not far from here! It's for sale! They say it "still runs good." Gonna go look Monday. Dang this Okie is "nervous as a treed cat."

Larry

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