Different Wisdom

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Different Wisdom

Postby Lostranger » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:13 am

Those who have read my thread called Wisdom in Motion may recall that I've been whining for most of a year about not being able to settle on the proper context for my wife and me to focus our energy and resources. We lost a middle class house in 2010 after our business failed in 2009. The business had been a sideline to my professional job until I lost that in 2007, and things slid sharply down hill during the 08/09 recession.

We tried at first to reinvigorate the Flxible Metro transit bus that we began converting in 2001, but inherent flaws in that body design proved insurmountable. In the fall of 2010 we rented a small farm in the NC mountains from a "friend" who allowed us the privilege of doing more than $10,000 worth of remodeling/rewiring/replumbing on his old house, and then evicted us in January of this year so he could sell the place. At that point we bought the step van we've been living in since early March, but we quickly decided that it was not large enough.

We figured out in the process that we do want to live mobile for as long as we're able. We have a viable craft business that we can pursue most anywhere. We certainly don't want to invest even time in another "rented" property. The question finally became: on what platform shall we build?

We looked into converting a drop frame semi trailer. That would have given us immense space and flexibility. The major obstacle is that North Carolina requires any truck with air brakes and a fifth wheel to be registered for commercial use and that involves CDL, fuel stickers, commercial inspection, weigh stations and the like. All the states surrounding us exempt road tractors for RV use, but not ours. It doesn't matter if the tractor has living amenities or if it's an antique. If it has a fifth wheel, it's commercial only. We could have reversed the coupling arrangement and put the fifth wheel on the trailer and the kingpin on the tractor, but that's a lot of hassle and expense, it would make it difficult to upgrade the tractor, and no one else could pull the trailer if the tractor broke down. We liked the idea of being able to drop the trailer and use the tractor for other things, but the negatives won. In addition, this was going to be an expensive route.

I've become enamored with British showman's wagons. We own a chassis that would work well for this kind of conversion. It's a 27' class A motorhome, 1989 model with low miles and the typical crappy body. I'm gradually dismantling this beast and using some of its parts. The 4.5 KW Kohler gen set is our current backup power. I think that frame and running gear would make a great platform for a showman's wagon, and I may build that body to use as a portable shop for the craft business, but we decided that we don't want to invest the time building a body from scratch before we have a larger place to live. We would still need a dependable medium-duty truck to pull it, and that's more time and expense.

Every train of thought eventually came back to "bus." In spite of its flaws, we loved our Flxible when it was working. At 35' x 96" it had what we considered "enough" space for full-time living. The lack of a tag axle meant fewer expensive tires to buy. I had to change the ring and pinion to get highway gearing, but we never considered the prominent interior wheel wells and lack of luggage bays to be insurmountable problems. I did discover along the way that I never want another 2 stroke diesel or Vee drivetrain.

I've been in love with the MCI D3 since I first saw one up close in 2001. Vast space, enough ceiling height without raising the roof, huge luggage bays, four stroke power and modern drivetrain. Prices have dropped in recent years, but even the cheaper ones strain the limits of our budget. Their close cousin the C3 is often more affordable, but most of them have 2 stroke engines.

About a year ago I became aware of the Gillig Low Floor. Hertz has apparently retired a number from airport shuttle service over the past year or two. The more I learned about these busses, the more I liked them. All aluminum bodies on stainless steel platforms. Eight feet of headroom in most of the coach. Modern engines with 5 speed Allison transmissions. Nearly 40k lb GVW without an extra axle. Eight airbag suspension. Meticulous fleet maintenance. All this wrapped in what is, to our eyes, a gorgeous body. We would have preferred a 35 footer and all these we found were 40', but we can probably make do with the extra five feet.

I looked at several over the past two months, and last Wednesday we brought one home. Most of my photos are not yet loaded to my laptop, but I'll post the few that we took before moving the bus.

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A delightful and capable single gentleman bought this bus exactly one year ago with the intention of converting it. The first thing he did was spend $500 on the factory manuals. Then he put many hours into removing the interior furnishings, the full-length HVAC ducts, the wheelchair ramp and the massive air handler. He developed health issues earlier this year which made completing the project difficult for him, and we bought the bus worth the money. We're a little excited.

It's the larger Series 40 Detroit (8.7 liter). Even though the bus has been sitting for a year, we drove 200 miles home with no major problem. Rode and drove like a dream. Power to burn. Will easily do 65 on the interstate, but I kept it well under that most of the way because of a couple of slick tires and the fact that it was running on the warm side. I suspect that the hydraulic fan motor is not working properly. Since I have the manuals, I can troubleshoot that problem in due course.

I'll have more photos up soon. I had two new tires installed the day after we got it home, and that felt like passing a kidney stone. The only other thing I've had time to do is remove some carpet. I'm always amazed at how much time carpet removal can take, but being on my knees in the bus gives me a lot of perspective. I'm also amazed at how much difference the 102" width makes. I love this bus.

I also love the fact that one step from the ground puts me on the main living floor. That may become a major factor as I delve more deeply into geezerhood. The floor is split level with a two step rise to the platform over the rear axle/transmission area. I plan to extend that higher floor forward by five feet and put my tanks, batteries, pump and demand water heater under the floor extension. Bathroom, washer and dryer will sit on top of the extension. Great thing about this arrangement is that all the tanks will be in heated space. We'll have a full size washer, dryer, range and sink. Sundanzer chest-type refrigerator. Serious solar power with a diesel generator for backup. I'll wire for shore power, but we don't plan to use it much.

Stay tuned for much more, and best to all in your lives and projects.

Jim in North Carolina

P.S. We're calling this baby, Sophia. Kudos in advance to anyone who figures out why.
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby stuartcnz » Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:00 am

Congratulations! I look forward to seeing progress.
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby splummer » Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:08 am

hi jim, looks like an interesting project good luck with her, looking forward seeing more pics and updates, also correct me if iam wrong, are you a banjo and guiter maker, thanks steve
just because you ride the bus , it doesnt make you a bus person
the bus stopped and i got on and thats how it all began
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby somewhereinusa » Wed Dec 12, 2012 2:22 am

Good looking project, looking forward to more pictures.
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Dusty » Thu Dec 13, 2012 6:43 pm

That bus is huge :) I hope you are very comfortable in all that space .

Yep we all NEED pics , LOL :) thanks for sharing.
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Lostranger » Mon Dec 17, 2012 2:57 am

We don't currently have internet at home base, and I've been too busy this past week to go someplace that does. So.... Here I am again on Sunday morning with time and access to the web. Here are a few photos and words about what little I've gotten done.

First, three shots from the powered end:

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I'm still removing the expanse of carpet from the floor, walls and wheel wells:

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Here is a complex panel that mounts behind the passenger side rear wheel well. It will be in under bed storage space. I'm still thinking about how I want to cover this so it will be protected and ventilated. I've not studied the wiring diagram to know what all this stuff does, but I do know that some of it is part of the Antilock Brake System.

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And here are a couple shots of the area where I will extend the rear floor and place my tanks/batteries below and shower, toilet, washer and dryer above:

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The bus is almost 8' wide at the upper floor level, and the extension will be 5' deep giving about 40 square feet of floor space. The difference in floor heights is 16-1/4", and the floor system I'm planning will use 2-3/4" of that. (2" steel channel on 16" centers covered by 3/4" plywood underlay.) That gives me 13-1/2" of head space for tanks, and I think that will be enough. I may have to fabricate custom tanks. I'm looking for the web site I found about a year ago about welding plastic sheeting to make tanks. Looked like a good system. Too early to tell if I need to go that route. The original step up to the rear is part of a fiberglass panel that spans the width of the bus. I plan to cut out the step and box it in for more space in the tank area. The battery tray will mount along the passenger side wall and pull out into the entry way inside the door. Speaking of the door, since I don't have steps inside the door, I'll be able to have an almost normal screen door that swings into the bus rather than one of those difficult fabrication jobs that swings outward and has to hinge at the same point as the main door.

I hope to have more time for the bus this week. The carpet is almost out. Will soon be time for some steel fabrication. Sliding tray will house 8 group 27 AGM batteries rated at 96 amp hours each. I have 4 Samsung 255 watt solar panels, but I may double that number before we're through. I have plenty of roof space, but I've not yet come up with a good system for mounting aluminum rails across the top to hold my panels. I will not make holes in the roof unless no other option exists. I want the panels to mount an inch or more above the roof to provide some built-in shade.

I thought at first that I might keep the original windows and black some of them out from the inside. Changed my mind, though. Will definitely reskin. I skinned the Flxible Metro with 18 ga cold rolled steel. Thinking of using 12 ga aluminum this time and Sikaflex 252 to hold it. Plenty of time for those decisions later.

Splummer, I am the instrument builder. Bev and I also build custom knives, and we've fallen into several excellent craft show opportunities for that business. We're now gearing up for more knife production.

As always, I covet all helpful input. My plans are ever subject to improvement. Hopefully it won't take another week for me to post an update.

Jim in NC
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby southpier » Mon Dec 17, 2012 3:04 pm

sounds like you're starting the new year right!
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Stealth Camper » Tue Dec 18, 2012 8:37 am

Looks like such a great project!! I am in envy mode...


Knives, huh? Mind a question about steel? Almost knife related...I am looking at making a machete, and wondering what type of steel would be good to best? (I have looked at commercially available, and they are too thin for what I want...)
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Lostranger » Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:53 pm

Look up Jantz Supply. They'll sell you a bar of cutlery steel as thick as you want.
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby splummer » Wed Dec 19, 2012 1:42 am

jim sounds like your the type of person that likes to keep busy,and thats good, would like to see some pics of your guiters if you could, thanks steve
just because you ride the bus , it doesnt make you a bus person
the bus stopped and i got on and thats how it all began
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Lostranger » Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:20 pm

Hey Steve,

Like it or not, I stay pretty busy. A lot of it is necessity, but I also just like to build things.

I don't have any guitar photos. Not made many, and they always get sold before they're finished. I have plans to build myself a tenor guitar as soon as the bus is livable, but I will not speculate about that time line. I'll do better about photographing the process this time.

My conversion time this week is going into our utility building instead of the bus. This building will house permanent bath/toilet/food prep facilities and will host our washer/dryer until the bus is further along. I'll get photos of that work posted over the weekend.

Jim in NC
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby splummer » Tue Dec 25, 2012 2:13 am

hi jim always love to see pics of things being done by others. i also like being busy mostley it is the important things that need my attention also,but the shop is getting ready for some chair making this week, after i plow sno thurs
just because you ride the bus , it doesnt make you a bus person
the bus stopped and i got on and thats how it all began
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Lostranger » Mon Dec 31, 2012 2:56 am

Not much to report this week. Had the bus out to be inspected on Friday. Here's what she looked like sitting near the inspection station:

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I can't get over how much fun she is to drive. Took it to Lowe's and an auto parts store while I was out. At the parts store, a fellow and his ten year old son pulled in to ask if they could look. I was happy to show them around while I changed a couple of exterior light bulbs. They were excited about the "camper" I am building. I was tempted to try to explain that this bus is not for "camping" but for "living", but I decided not to try. I'm not sure why I resist the "camper" handle — we've always loved to camp — but I believe it has to do with the notion of camping as a means of "getting away" from "regular" life. We see the bus as a means of being more connected with life, but in a variety of places.

This week has been cold and wet, but I've managed to put some time into the utility building I'm constructing at home base. We call it "The Ute" in deference to our Oz brethren's way of referring to what we call "pickup trucks." Here's a photo of "The Ute" standing beside where we park Sophia.

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The building sits on part of a 30' x 24' concrete pad where my father used to have an apartment. I chose the location because it offers a bit of privacy and still has connection to the septic system. I still need to run about 250' of water line to the site. I've managed to get the shower pan installed and framed around. I've also gotten most of the ceramic tile laid, but I need to rent a wet saw one day this week to finish the job. More tile work is complete than what shows in these photos.

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Our step van is currently parked about 600 feet away from this location, but we need bath/toilet/kitchen facilities near the bus before the conversion can reach full swing.

I thought the first fabrication on the bus would be the floor extension, but I've realized that the first thing will have to be removing the original door and building it's replacement. I can't do that until I drive it to our insurance carrier and let them photograph the bus. They will not write comprehensive/collision coverage until they have proof of no body damage. I expect they would equate a gaping hole where the door used to be as body damage. I plan to take it to them on January 2.

I had a problem moving the bus to take it for inspection. Spent several hours trying to get past the throttle/brakes systems being locked out by a warning light that says "Door Alarm." In the process, I discovered the interlock override switch, and that's what I used to get her to move. I called the PO and eventually discovered a loose jumper wire he had installed when he was disabling the air door mechanism. I ran out of daylight before I could find where it went, but I hope to get that done today.

So, that's where things stand. I had hoped to be further along by now, but I keep reminding myself that we are in no hurry. We have adequate living facilities, and I want this conversion done right rather than quickly. But it sure would be nice to able to take it south for the next few weeks.

Best to all. Hope to have more to report next week.

Jim in North Carolina
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby splummer » Mon Dec 31, 2012 7:49 am

nice to get things done, i wish i could use my bus but she is sitting waiting for spring, once we get snow she is house bound,i have to many hills here and she doesnt do well on snow ,oh well other things to do in the winter
just because you ride the bus , it doesnt make you a bus person
the bus stopped and i got on and thats how it all began
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Re: Different Wisdom

Postby Dennis The Bus Dweller » Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:20 am

Lookin good :thumbup:
Peace along the way
Dennis the bus dweller N.Y.
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