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Author Topic: Mountains to—Well—Nowhere  (Read 8335 times)
Lostranger
Sophia
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« on: January 24, 2016, 03:05:42 PM »

No one who knows me is ever surprised when the shifting winds of pop culture bypass me as I enjoy—or struggle with—some sheltered lee of my own contemplation. Today, January 22, 2016, I realized that it’s happened again. As I used the internet to track a winter weather system affecting our corner of the world, I was shocked to learn that this storm has a name. They’re calling it Jonah. When, pray tell, did someone decide to name snowstorms? The only other winter storm I’ve ever known to have a title was the Blizzard of ’93, and one can understand why a meteorological event of that magnitude would be remembered. I suspect that the recollection of that earlier storm would lose impact if we called it Irving or Matilda. “Blizzard of ’93” is a name that engages my synapses.

What precipitates the naming of a snow storm? Tropical storms have to reach a certain wind pattern and velocity: circular and 39 mph to be exact. Status updates to “hurricane” at 74 mph. That practice began in 1950, a few years before yours truly first became a disturbance. I understand why tropical storms need names. Those who track and evaluate them often deal with more than one at a time, and the criteria for their christening is specific, but when does a snow storm become more than just “the weather?”

Answers to all such questions are found, of course, through the god-like-smarty-pants auspices of “the net.” As I checked Mr. Gore’s gift to mankind (Al said he invented the internet, and a politician surely wouldn’t lie to us) for specifics on the naming of tropical storms, I stumbled onto a couple links that shed light on the naming of winter storms. Turns out that the idea came from—wait for it—The Weather Channel. Nothing more than another scheme by a media corporation to boost “market share.” I missed the concept because I don’t watch television. TV and I have been mercifully under acquainted since the summer of 1979. I won’t bore you with the details of why we ditched our boob tube, but I will hint that it had to do with the writing of Jerry Mander and Wendell Berry and a conversation on nuclear disarmament between Johnny Carson and Zsa Zsa Gabor. I decided that I could find better ways to use my time.

I must confess, however, that living so long without TV has made me hypersensitive to mindless advertising. When I’m around someone else’s set, I find myself screaming on the inside and mentally tumbling headlong into a whirling vortex shaped like the inside of a white tornado which blasts my psyche with an unending loop of every commercial I had to endure through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood: “Let Hertz put you in the ring around the collar of a spicy meatball going plop plop, fizz fizz in the middle of the heartbreak of psoriasis while a little dab of Brylcreem ‘Lectricshaves a good-tasting tuna who offers the Frito Bandito a nice, Hawaiian punch while a twenty mule team walks a mile for a Camel enjoying Miller time. I’m glad I’m not an Oscar Mayer wiener because a mind is a terrible thing to waste. But I digress.

The commercials I see these days give new meaning to concepts like crass, insipid, desultory and condescending, and yet, most of the people I know pay a large sum each month for the privilege of being browbeaten with the accusation that their shampoo is too harsh, their auto insurance too expensive, their car out of style, their morality out of date and their individual worth falling into question unless they are buying vast quantities of whatever is for sale during that time slot. And by the way, the terror du jour is XYZ, the threat level is high, and you must be so distracted that you never notice the accelerating dissolution of the Constitution conducted in the name of “your protection.” Maybe we should all be singing the Dr. Prepper jingle: Wouldn’t you like to be a prepper too?

Apparently my acquaintances cannot imagine a world without ESPN, The Travel Channel and Dancing With The Stars. Once again, pop culture has blown past. Even though the metaphor is no longer technically accurate in this age of flat screens, I still marvel at the timelessness of Wendell Berry’s assertion that TV is a giant vacuum tube designed to suck out your brain. On the other hand, had I been a dedicated Weather Channel junkie, I would not have had to waste time and energy wondering how Jonah got it’s name.

Nineveh bound or not, Jonah has done me a couple of favors. I like winter weather, and this is the first actual snow storm we’ve experienced since 2011. It’s gorgeous! A deep snowfall momentarily purges the world of imperfection. The benefits of snow are not merely metaphorical. Snow insulates the soil, conserves ground moisture and protects perennial roots and crowns from the disruptive effect of frost heave. The world around us today underscores why the New Testament cites the whiteness of snow as an antithesis to the blackness of sin.

My other favor from Jonah is a bit of time when I can write for fun. We spent so much of 2015 struggling to maintain core functions that I’ve not had time for much else. Jonah has blessed me with a little forced inactivity. We have no idea when we’ll be able to get out. Surely this is a good time to share with my fellow bus converters some of the joy we found this past year visiting places like Palmetto Cove, middle Tennessee, the Outer Banks and Arcadia. The only problem with that idea is that most of last year’s travel happened only in my head.

We did attend the non rally at Palmetto Cove in April. In May I took the bus to Greensboro for a week, and friends helped me get half of it painted. Beverly and I spent a lovely ten days in late June/early July going to and from the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, TN where I taught a workshop on banjo building. Sophia was the topic of much conversation throughout that trip. When we returned, we were forced to focus on the details of moving our home base to a new and mostly undeveloped site. We’re full timers, but we still work for a living, and that requires a shop on a scale that I am not able to make portable. Our new home base is a delightful, three-acre, wooded lot with proximity to work and family, but turning an undeveloped lot with no utilities and no driveway into a useable site with modest capital while still making a living has proven challenging. I promised myself through the long, hot, overworked summer that we would spend even more of October on Ocracoke and finally make the Arcadia Rally. Alas, no.

Just before our Tennessee trip, I began having trouble with a sensor that no longer exists. Early on, I replaced the original, transit-style, midship door with a more conventional steel door. In the process, I bypassed several sensors that warned the CPU if the door was open. Apparently, one or more of those bypass links failed when I repositioned a wire bundle, and that caused the computer to keep the bus from going into gear or running faster than idle. I spent some time looking for the trouble, but we were already slammed with preparation for the trip. I flipped the interlock bypass and promised myself that I’d give the matter full attention when we returned from Tennessee. Once again, I allowed the urgent to crowd out the important.

That decision came back to haunt me one lovely Sunday afternoon in September as we drove around nearby Lake James. The road is narrow, twisted and hilly. Traffic was moderate to heavy and I was, properly so, paying close attention to keeping forty feet of “102” in the right place at all times. That’s my excuse for not better watching the temp gauge. A tiny coolant hose that I had not previously noticed ruptured. By the time I was aware that we were hot, we were too hot.

We spent more than two hours waiting for our Series 40 to cool. It cranked without problem, and I filled the radiator with plain water after wrapping the cracked hose with duct tape. It still leaked but not as badly. I stopped once during the half-hour trip home to top the coolant. The engine ran perfectly, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I went back to planning that week’s trip to Greensboro to paint the other half. Ha!

On Monday I replaced the offending hose and another one like it and took an eleven mile test drive. Still running perfectly, but at the end of the run I found oil spray over the entire rear end. It was even worse than the old 6V92 TA in our previous bus. Took me a few days to come to grips with the fact that I had water in the oil. Lots of water. We drained the pan and put a little air pressure on the cooling system. Yep, that was water gushing from the oil drain.

Sophia has not moved since that Monday test drive in mid-September. I’ve posted on two bulletin boards about the trouble. I’ve talked to every diesel mechanic who will listen. I’ve spent hours on the net investigating possibilities. My best guess is that the rubber o rings which seal the wet sleeves to the block are cooked. I could replace them in frame by pulling our bed, the access panel, the pan, the head and every sleeve assembly. I probably would have done that if October had not been so wet and if my friend, the pro diesel mechanic, had not needed heart bypass surgery in early November. I’m glad now that we waited.

Sometime around December 1, my thinking caught up with my convictions. One of those articles of faith is that it’s foolish to do a quick patch job on something that needs thorough repair, especially when you depend on that thing. I was planning to pull each sleeve, replace the o rings, and never remove the pistons. Sources who know more about diesels assure me that I would also need to change piston rings and hone the cylinders. This was escalating to an in frame overhaul. I didn’t mind the work, but I would still not be certain that we don’t have a crack somewhere. I made the decision that Spring will find me pulling the engine and doing a major overhaul. That way I can magna flux the block and head, repair or replace the leaking oil cooler, fix the oil leak at the alternator, detail the engine compartment, and—best of all—give my engine a shiny coat of alpine green. After that decision, I breathed easier and slept better.

I’ve never rebuilt a diesel, but I rebuilt my first gasoline engine when I was sixteen, and I’ve done about forty since then. My friend is recovering from his surgery, and he should be available to guide and assist. I’ll buy a factory engine manual and follow it religiously. I’ll check every tolerance meticulously. In the end, I’ll know the condition of our prime motivator, and I’ll never have to wonder if someone took a stupid short cut.

The parts kit is about $1500. Of course I’ll have additional parts and machine shop expense. I’ll probably have the pumps and injectors tested. I’ve already mentioned that the oil cooler and alternator need work. Who knows what the final bill will be, but it will not approach the cost of hiring it done. What’s more, I’ll have the fun and satisfaction of doing it myself.

I do not own a machine capable of moving a fifteen hundred pound motor, but working out those logistics will be part of the pleasure. Figuring out ways to work outdoors on mostly soft ground will also be challenging. I have already framed up a 12’x12’ building that will be my motor shop and serve as the first part of my medium-term shop after the bus is running. I’m certain the bus repair will take longer than it should—everything in my life does—but so what? Life is more about the journey than the destination.

It is, after all, the journey that you expect to read about in this section of our BB. I make no apology for this not being a story about traveling in Sophia from some point to another. I’m hoping that sharing my “head trip” about how the bus came to be broken and how I plan to get her fixed might have some value. If nothing else, learn from my experience and never run with the interlock disengaged. Only time will tell if my decision to major the engine at 260K will be a good one, but I’m willing to find out.

This section of the board is also about “use”, and we’ve certainly been doing that. Hard to believe that we’ll soon be two-and-a-half years in Sophia since so much of the “finish work” is still theoretical. I’m thankful for an understanding wife who (mostly) enjoys the adventure. I take solace in the realization that most of what we have gotten done will not have to be undone. I also realize that living with the conversion as we create it has caused many decisions to be better than if they had been conceived in the vacuum of mere intellect. Mostly, though, I smile at the knowledge that we own the bus and everything we’ve done to it. No debt. We went through a period beginning in late ’07 when everything that had a mortgage left us. We don’t intend to repeat that experience.

Our Gillig Low Floor is turning into a fine home. Off-grid solar has proven to be an excellent choice. The solar equipment has almost paid for itself, and we love not having a power bill. We recently took on a cable bill, not for TV, of course, but we enjoy high-speed internet. This property already had a well, but we invested in a good, submersible, DC pump. That keeps us from having to run the inverter to lift water. I spent a good bit of time and some money installing two pressure tanks at the well head and building a house designed to never freeze. I dug the wooden foundation below frost line and insulated it with two inches of polystyrene foam. The 4’x4’x4’ building has 4” of foam insulation on four sides and ceiling. That’s two inches of polystyrene and two inches of polyisocyanurate. The 1/2” inner layer of polyiso is a continuous sheath on walls and top. The building looks funny since I’ve not done the finished siding, but we’ve had no freezing at the well head in spite of several nights in the mid-to-low teens.

Well house looks like this:



Sorry that TinyPic rotates my images 90 degrees left.

One of the limitations of off grid power is that a heat tape on the water supply is not an option. On warmer days, we fill our onboard tank and then drain the hose. The low floor bus means that the batteries and tanks are in heated space. We use water from our 100 gallon fresh tank most of the time. Occasionally the dump valve will be frozen when I need to empty the 105 gallon waste tank, but even that is rare. That’s another job I save for warmer days.

We don’t like forced air heat, and we don’t have battery capacity to run it. Radiant floor heat is wonderful, but it, too, is outside our energy budget. Our primary heat for the past two winters was a small wood stove we made from 10” and 6” square steel tube. It kept us from hypothermia, but it used a tremendous amount of wood and made lots of smoke and ash. Last April, while researching cleaner burning options, I discovered the cast iron, Morso 1410 Squirrel. It has non-catalytic, secondary combustion, and the size was perfect for our space and chimney. I installed the new stove on Pearl Harbor day.

Old stove:



New stove:





The Morso had a learning curve, and it requires powder-dry wood, but it’s performance exceeds our hopes. Many of our friends and family are afraid that we will “freeze to death in that bus.” Those who visit on cold days usually are surprised to find themselves comfortable. We use unvented propane for supplemental and backup heat, but I will never again try it for primary. That’s like living in a constant, frozen drizzle.

The new stove sits on a temporary pad on top of our fuel tank, and the heat shields at the back and one side are also temporary. Eventually, the 130 gallon fuel tank will be wrapped in a framework of steel channel, and both the stove and the couch will be secured to the frame. The hearth and stove surround will include polyiso insulation, cement backer board and ceramic tile built around the steel channel. What we have now is safe—as long as the bus is parked—but it’s ugly. We can live for a while with warm rather than pretty.

Regardless of the state of the conversion, we’re getting plenty of use from our bus. I still consider it to be an ideal conversion platform for our our lifestyle. Even though we plan to maintain our current home base for the duration, we have no need or desire to build a house. A shop, yes. A small barn, probably. A few greenhouses, certainly. I can even imagine building a large, stand-alone kitchen so we can better process home-grown food and entertain friends, but no house. Even while temporarily immobile, we love our home with the round foundation.

Of course, we regret not being able to travel. Of course, I sometimes drift into self-doubt when I think about the upcoming rebuild. Of course we would rather have everything about the conversion finished and pretty, but we remind ourselves that another of our guiding principles is a desire to recognize and enjoy “enough.” We want neither poverty nor prosperity, and we seem to be making acceptable progress toward that seldom-celebrated place in the middle. Right now, our bus is good enough.

So…. The bit of writing for fun I began on Friday morning has stretched to all day Friday, all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday. Ironic, isn’t it, that we have spent three days in the belly of Jonah. Of course, I did not write the entire time, but I’ve devoted major blocks of our forced seclusion to organizing these written thoughts. The writing is not yet over since I will read the piece many times and scrutinize every letter, space and punctuation mark before posting to a place where anyone with an internet connection could read it. On this sunny, Sunday afternoon, the temperature has almost reached forty, the plow truck has finally knocked the foot of snow off our dead-end blacktop leaving only the layer of hard-core frozen stuff directly on the pavement, and I’m sipping hot chocolate warmed on our heroic little wood stove. We can get out now, and that means Monday will involve trips to somewhere for something, and the pace of our decidedly off-center lives will quicken. I am grateful to Jonah for enough time to process some thinking.

As this day winds down, I find myself remembering those sage words supposedly uttered by Paul Masson around the turn of the 20th century and famously repeated by Orson Wells in a 1972 commercial, “We will serve no wine before its time.” Beverly and I have the same policy. In our case, that’s about 4:30. Anything earlier seems—well—unnatural, and everyone past a certain age knows that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

Wishing you happy trails, genuine experiences and meaningful relationships.

Jim
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Jim H.
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2016, 04:37:00 PM »

So glad to hear from you and to learn that you are healthy and happy.  I hope you will share your writings on Nomadicista as well--there are folks there who would like to hear from you too.  Jack
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Scott & Heather
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« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2016, 01:00:24 AM »

That....


Was actually a very pleasant, chuckling, entertaining read. Haha! I never usually read wordy posts, but this was well worth my time this morning. And having spent more than one snowy cold winter fulltiming in our bus, i could actually relate to several sentiments you shared. We also disconnected out tv and I no longer check yahoo news like I used to. We are young wife is 30 I'm 33 and have a 4 month old, and I can't believe how nuts the general population has gotten. Seriously nuts. The world is getting super weird and I am finding that even though I am normally a social butterfly, I'm slowly desiring more and more seclusion. I just can't relate to our society much anymore. I just can't relate.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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Scott & Heather
1984 MCI 9 6V92-turbo with 9 inch roof raise (SOLD)
1992 MCI 102C3 8v92-turbo with 8 inch roof raise CURRENT HOME
Click link for 900 photos of our 1st bus conversion:
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Sophia
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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2016, 01:44:40 AM »

Thanks, Scott. Glad you enjoyed it. One of the keys to life is a willingness to exercise one's attention span. Nothing of value can be contained in a "sound bite."

Our eldest was four months old when we pulled the TV plug. She and her siblings turned out great. I, too, am astounded that our culture has exchanged so much that is good and sustaining and uplifting for so much that is tawdry and demeaning. The only answer is that we wrestle not against flesh and blood....

Jack, Jack, Jack. You would be the one who reminds me of my obligation to our wonderful little group on nomadicista. Thanks. You've already learned that we've been a little busy and lacking internet. We're still busy, but I WILL update my build thread. Soon. It's been much on my mind.

I hope your world is aligned and that you are finding deep satisfaction. Why don't you point Honeysuckle Rose east, spend Spring in North Carolina and help me rebuild this engine? I can promise that we will feed you well.

Jim
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Jim H.
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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Sophia
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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2016, 04:11:33 AM »

Okay, Jack. The Nomadicista update is in. Read it here: http://www.nomadicista.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=2541&p=21235#p21235

Now I'm through writing for a while. Lots of other stuff needs to be done.

Jim
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Jim H.
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2016, 09:01:43 AM »

Not to rain on your parade, But what will $1500.00 get?

I would expect 2 or 3 times that. IH isn't cheap, Don't know how DD prices are for that.

I'd like to see some photos, I don't know which version of the engine you have.
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« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2016, 03:39:47 PM »

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jim. We also pulled the plug on the TV years ago and haven't missed it. I didn't know winter storms needed names. Isn't it supposed to snow in January? I hope your engine project goes well. Blessings.
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Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
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Sophia
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« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2016, 02:18:06 AM »

Here's an umbrella for parade rain: http://www.ebay.com/itm/261362401918?_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT

That kit is for inframe, but main bearings don't add a lot. As for PAI parts quality, I've not been able to find any serious negative reports. Maybe someone here has experience. My friend, Luckychow, is over the service department for a transit company in Georgia. He tells me that the parts I need are in the range I mentioned.

My DD 40 is the larger version, 1999. Same as a DT 530E.

Alan, I'd love to know more about your Gillig. Do you you have a build blog?

Jim
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Jim H.
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2016, 02:07:21 PM »

No build blog Jim. No blog of any kind actually. This is about my upper limit of internet involvement.
The bus started out as a family joke "Let's go to Alaska in a school bus". Eventually we did. Be careful what you joke about.
It is a pretty basic conversion but comfortable for us. We try to take one big trip every year, Glacier this past summer Lake Superior circle the year before. Plus the usual short camping trips.
I need to replace the throw out bearing before the next trip. Maybe find an overdrive transmission while I have it out anyway? Looking for an RTO 610.
There are some pictures of our bus and travels on skoolie.net. I have never been successful at posting pictures here.
I read and appreciated your book. Write another one.
Grace and Peace.
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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2016, 05:06:44 PM »

That kit comes with mains. Never heard of them.

Post in the tech help when you get ready, There are some important things to inspect.
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« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2016, 03:24:28 PM »

Jim,

Thanks for the good read!  Smiley  I had the weekend off, and then Monday and Tuesday too, but spent Saturday watching snow come down, and Sunday and Monday shoveling, and Tuesday recovering.  Your wife is certainly more patient and enduring than mine would be living in the bus! 

I was also considering a small wood/coal stove, but after studying all the options, I have decided to go with a couple of bulkhead heaters to supplement my 40K BTU propane furnace.  It may be overkill, but I would like to dry camp in spring/fall,(not winter), and so the diesel/kerosene makes the most sense for me. 

I am thankful to have good, stable employment (at least until after the election) and need another 10 years until I can retire(and afford to live on it).  When I do retire, I hope to take a slow zig-zag loop around the country.  I commend you for being courageous enough to post about your struggles and mistakes and envy your tolerance for risk. 

Thanks for sharing!

Steve
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Steve Toomey
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« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2016, 01:29:07 AM »

Well written and enjoyable!

TOM
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« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2016, 11:38:09 AM »

Jim, Don't run away to Ocracoke.  My wife went last weekend and one restaurant  and one gift shop were open.  Even Howard's Pub was closed.  Also, the ferrys didn't always run as scheduled.

I think of you often because the local Lim company has one that looks like yours.

Art
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Art & Cheryll Gill
Morehead City, NC
1989 Eagle Model 20 NJT, 6v92ta
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Sophia
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« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2016, 11:44:14 AM »

Dieselman, thanks for the offer of help. I continue to appreciate your willingness to help others. I will be in touch when the time comes.

Alan, you do me good by commenting on the book. Glad you found value. I'm working on a couple others, but my life is just too busy to write much right now. Hopefully God will allow that in the near future.

Steve, struggles and mistakes are my core reality. That and risk. For better or worse, Beverly and I both are willing to try about any direction if we believe we're being led that way. We think our epitaph should read: They Went For It

Thanks for the nice words. I encourage you to at least consider what you might do if the "stable" job proves less than. I've been blindsided by "unexpected instability" so many times that it's almost funny. Almost.

I appreciate you fellows reading my snowbound stuff. Makes me want to write again sometime. Maybe we'll get another storm.

Jim
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Jim H.
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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Sophia
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Gillig Low Floor


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« Reply #14 on: January 30, 2016, 01:57:34 PM »

I think of you often because the local Lim company has one that looks like yours.

Art

Art, we've seen that bus. We spent one night in Morehead in October of 2014, and I drove back across town the next morning to take photos of it. That's just the way ours looked when we started.

Maybe Ocracoke will crank up a bit before our next visit. I fully intend to spend most of next October on the island, but that means getting the overhaul done in the meanwhile. I also intend to finish the paint. Guess we all need a goal.

Jim
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Jim H.
Marion, NC
1999 Gillig H2000LF
Yes Virginia,
You CAN convert a low floor.
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