Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bogus milege?

Today, driving from one house to another in my bus, I finally took a photo of the odometer. After doing so, I noted the telltale sign that the bus had been clocked. The digits don't line up. To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. I could have had a slightly newer bus with genuine mileage for slightly less money straight from a school district in North Carolina.

Needless to say, I'm a little perplexed as to why anybody would fiddle the mileage on a 20 year old bus. I don't think I nor anybody else thought the mileage was genuine as 95,000 miles doesn't seem likely for a bus that was used until 2011 by Louisiana Dept of Education.

The actual mileage is quite irrelevant as busses are designed to go for 500,000 miles before they need repair and the repairs to Alinson transmissions and DT466 engines are inexpensive. The only assumption that can be made is that the fiddle was done to fool car owners. Fiddles are so widespread with mileage that after 10 years, mileage becomes something exempt from records as it's assumed that by then all vehicles will have had their odometers fiddled.

Today's trip was to move yet more of my lady friend's stuff from one house to another. This was performed adequately in the bus. I still hate driving it after dark and hate driving after dark anyway. The transmission made some interesting judders and noises on the way back. I'll have to get my mechanic to have a look at it all. I wouldn't mind betting he'll put the mileage at 300,000 rather than 100,000.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Work never ends

Today was supposed to be a simple day. Change an indicator/turn signal assembly, take the remains of a canopy off the side of the bus and add some coolant to the radiator. Well, that's pretty much where it all went pear shaped.

The first thing to be done was to remove the canopy as the rest was simple stuff that could be done in a few minutes. The remains of the canopy was a simple metal strip about 12 feet long attached to the bus roof via square drive screws. The discovery of those screws having a bizarre square drive meant a 20 mile round trip to the hardware store. Almost all the other screws had been Phillips or the occasional flat head with several different sizes of bolt that necessitated a socket set. The screws all came out without a struggle then the metal strip peeled off without much difficulty. That's where the easy bit ended. Underneath the strip was some kind of putty that had never hardened. It took the best part of two hours to scrape 12 feet of that off with a paint scraper.

Underneath the putty, the metal was generally in good condition with the exception of one joint in the roof that had been drilled through. Rust had crept along the joint. That was treated with Rustoleum in the hope of killing the rust. All the holes were treated with rustoleum and then sprayed with grey paint. While the paint was drying, the indicator light assembly was attempted.

Previously it had been necessary to remove a lot of obstruction to the access panel and then it was discovered that the retaining screws were star drive so when the square drive bits were obtained, so were the star drive bits. Thus the panel was unscrewed but it didn't seem to want to budge thus a chisel was obtained and used to chip away the plywood floor in order to check whether there was a lip under the plywood but there was not. The panel just needed some force applied. The panel swung forward and revealed glass fiber insulation and a cloud of insulation dust. Not welcome!

The insulation was pulled forward with the aid of a plastic bag used as a glove. This revealed a connector on the back of the old light that was different from that of the new light. The new light also had a protrusion in the back in a different position from the old light. That meant that some ingenuity was needed to make the connection and to install the new indicator.

A few days ago I'd bought two new blades for the reciprocating saw but these had apparently been mislaid. I went out on a 30 mile shopping trip, buying a manual saw to use to expand the hole for the light so that it would fit. I also stopped off to buy a connector block as well as some extra waterproof tape.

By the time I'd returned, it was too dark to do much. certainly too dark to climb up to the bus roof to tape over the screw holes in the roof. It was possible to enlarge the hole and the manual saw was used. A section of the block was used to connect the wire of the new light to the bus wires. Testing proved the light worked. The only light that does not work is the left reverse light. As that seems to be dangling inside the panel, it probably needs replacement. The coolant was never touched. That's a job for tomorrow.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Truly lamentable workmanship

Today was another long day spent on the bus. Starting the day was simply a case of removing the electrical supply system that somebody had put into the bus. That was pretty interesting. They'd used a lot of expensive components and had installed them all with the same lamentable lack of skill that had been utilized throughout the construction process.

After removing the electrical system which fed down into a compartment under the bus, the wires needed to be fed through the compartment. The compartment itself was made of plywood and built with the same questionable level of skill. The plywood was wet due to the door not having a little flap over the top to stop water entering from above. Oddly enough rain usually comes down which is a fact that most people but the constructors are probably well aware.

Having removed the electrics there was time left to investigate the long bench. That had two sinks and with the same care of quality one was not bolted down so it was a case of lifting it and undoing the plumbing - most of which was finger tight only. The other, surprisingly, was bolted down.

Now the sinks had gone, it was a case of investigating the cabinets. Expecting a fight, I lifted one corner tentatively with a pry bar and the cabinet moved easily. Reaching behind, I pulled and the whole cabinet moved forward. Moving to the other end the same mobility applied to the whole of the rest of the cabinet. The only thing stopping the cabinet from moving in its entirety was a single plastic waste pipe.

Looking at what I've discovered so far, the people that converted the bus were appalling craftsmen that spent an awful lot of money producing something that was inherently dangerous. Both the cabinets and the bunks could have broken loose and gone flying at any time. The rear shelf which was unlit was a pure road hazard. Incompetent design and construction was pretty thorough and indisputable.

Some patches of plywood on the floor have rotted due to the plywood being sandwiched between metal on one side and plastic tiles on the other. The goal now is to remove all the nasty plastic tiles and the affected sheets of plywood before putting down fresh sheets and sanding the whole lot. This time the floor will be wood.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Latest bus news

As work has shut down until Monday, I have a few absolutely free days so I'm spending them on my bus while the lady in my life patiently waits while I spend time with my big yellow lady. Today between myself and the boyfriend of my lady's sister, we removed the bath. Now it will be possible with the aid of a torx screwdriver to remove thre access panel in order to do so. The bath had been blocking access.

The hot water tank has been removed also. Strangely, it was full to the brim with water. While a hosepipe helped to empty most of it, there was still so much left that after removing it from its location, it had to be held at an angle for a long time in order to fully empty it. As it contained about 30 gallons, it was pretty heavy.

Additionally, most of the 110v system has been removed. The cabling had all been put into steel conduit which looked good and led to a nice-looking top notch breaker box. There were 12 x 110v sockets which was very much overkill for a bus this small. The cabling was all about 1 amp but each cable led individually to a 10 amp breaker. That was a bit strange!

Most of the wiring has been saved for re-use. The rotted floor has been attended to also. It seems that only a section is fully rotten. The plan is to remove the rotted wood and to put down good wood in its place. The vinyl tiles must all come up as the floor of the bus will now be bare wood. The theory is that problems will be easier to spot with bare wood as opposed to wood that's under vinyl etc.

Many of the exterior hooks have been removed and the metal sprayed with rustoleum in the hope of killing rust and preventing future rust. Two large holes remain. One underneath the body where the bath outlet used to be and one on the side of the body where the water inlet used to be. They've been temporarily filled but await a real fix.

Replacing the windows looks to have an added complication in that the bottom of the window has no lip to take advantage of. That means a re-evaluation of the solution.

Meanwhile, some photos from today. The most amusing find was a spent 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge case behind the water heater together with some used plastic cups.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Working ahead of schedule

Two photos are attached - a before and an after. Four bunk beds were removed. Three were bolted end to end with a weird assortment of nuts and bolts. The far end double bunk was bolted to the side of the bus with a single carriage bolt that was passed through both skins of the bus. The near end was secured to the floor by two L brackets that were screwed through everything. Basically, the whole middle was loose and was therefore responsible for the horrible rattling noise.

Investigating further and upon removing the cabinet drawers and doors, it was possible to see the plumbing had been installed in a haphazard fashion. It's unknown whether the plumbing actually worked because it was incomplete. There were plenty parts that appeared never to have been used. Many were still in boxes.

The floor of the bus seems to be a one inch thick layer of plywood laid over the existing wooden floor. On top of that are some vinyl tiles. Stepping one one that appeared to be soft, the immediate fear was of a hole that went through to the chassis. Peeling away the vinyl tiles revealed plywood that had decomposed. Scraping the decomposed plywood away led to the original plywood floor which looked in great condition. Clearly, based on this sample, the whole of the second floor needs to be removed.

The electrical system that was installed seems to be somewhat Heath-Robinson with conduit going in all directions. That's something that will have to be stripped out as it crosses and blocks off many of the access panels to the electrics. Some of those electrics I need to access to work on.

Speaking of the electrics, the back of the bus has a bathtub. At the end of the bathtub is a plastic splash guard. That is (or was) glued rather ineffectively to a wooden panel. That panel in turn is affixed over the access panel to the right rear light cluster which urgently needs to be worked on.

Just inside the cockpit there is a big electrical distribution box with huge cables going up and down. The box is affixed to the bus by some badly fitting carriage bolts. Underneath the passenger compartment, where the cables go down, there is a badly constructed door that doesn't really fit well nor exhibit any desirable level of craftsmanship. Inside this is a coil of 110v and 220v cables. Alongside that is another abandoned rat nest.

Throughout the bus there are abandoned rat nests, dead insects and abandoned mud cocoons. It is my hypothesis that the bus (which has a Louisiana government sticker dated 2011) was in service as a relief school bus until some point in 2011. After that some hill billy purchased it to convert it to a hunting cabin. At some point construction stopped and the bus was put into storage. In storage it was infested by rodents and insects after which the fellow abandoned the project and sold the bus. The next fellow bought it, never had time to do anything with it and sold it to me.

This weekend, it's time for the rest of the cabinets, the bathtub, hot water heater etc to vanish. Then I can fix the electrics and remove the suspect floor. After that it's time to use it to transfer m'lady's belongings from her old house to her new house in the bus. Then I can think about fixing the rest of the issues.

Of primary concern right now is coolant. The bus has a 17 gallon cooling system. That's right - seventeen gallons! On Saturday I put a whole gallon of antifreeze in and it just vanished into the system. Clearly there's not enough in there. Similarly, transmission fluid is adequate but low. As far as oil, I have been unable to lift the dip stick as it seems somehow to be locked. That's probably low too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Working on the bus

Today quite a lot was accomplished. The first set of bunk beds was removed from the bus making ingress and egress from the rear emergency door much easier. During the process, it was discovered that the beds were freestanding on the floor, unsecured by any more than a carriage bolt passed right through both skins of the bus.

As the dismantling continued it became more evident just how badly the interior of the bus had been remodeled. There were bent screws galore, a wide range of screw types and carriage bolts used instead of regular bolts. There were even a few that weren't even tight.

Having got this far, its no surprise that the bus rattled badly when driving it home. The bolts through the body are an annoyance that will be cured with duct tape temporarily while a permanent solution is devised.

The lack of a horn might be due to the fact the horn is unplugged. With luck, plugging the horn in might fix it - if its possible to get the horn to remain plugged in. At the moment it's connectors are just hanging loose. On a more serious note, the fluid level in the radiator was so low it swallowed an entire gallon of 50/50 without blinking. Transmission fluid is pinkish and while not at the maximum, fairly usable. I have not been able to ascertain the state of the engine oil. The air filter looks clean as does the fuel filter. There are some suspicious oily patches which makes me wonder about an oil leak somewhere.

On the whole, I'm happy. I do need to get a mechanic to look at the bus though. Fortunately one of the parents at the after school program that I work for is a truck mechanic and is very familiar with the international trucks and busses. I just hope and pray he's not prohibitively expensive.

On a positive note, the sheet steel I want for the windows is quite reasonably priced. For 18 sheets of 24x26 steel of 1\8th inch with holes drilled around the edges, the price is $395. Given that Lowes wanted $50 for a uncut sheet that mighty have done two windows if I was lucky, this is a bargain. Not only that but it comes ready primed for auto body work.

This weekend should see the bunks removed and the headlamps installed. With luck I should get to the indicator lamp and possibly even get the bath and or some cabinets out. The goal is to strip all the junk out and then get to the windows to work on replacing them. My goal is to get the bus ready for habitation by January 1st.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The weekend's coming!

Plans for this weekend include replacing the two headlamps and at least investigating how to replace the rear indicator. Fixing the reversing lamps is not high on the pecking order.

There was a sudden cold spell last night and as I'm not sure if there was antifreeze in the radiator, I'm not sure how the bus will have fared. The engine should be fine. The radiators and hoses maybe not - if the system had just plain water. Having said that, engines and pipes will take a certain degree of frost punishment before anything happens. I'll show up with a gallon of antifreeze anyway.

Other plans include stripping out some of the bunk beds from one side of the bus. It would not surprise me if the hillbilly who had it earlier hadn't drilled holes in the floor for bolts to secure the bed to the floor. That might entail going underneath to release the nuts.

Aside from the lights, the bus is basically roadworthy now. At some point I'll replace the right windscreen wiper motor (not essential as it's more for passengers) and fix the running lights along the sides. There's a fan that needs to be replaced that keeps the driver cool in summer too.

Right now, after the lights, priority is going toward stripping the existing fixtures that the hillbilly installed. After that, it's replacing the windows and removing bolts that penetrate the frame for nonexistent external attachments. Then it will be a case of installing the new internal skin (with access points for lighting alterations) and insulating (probably with a spray foam insulation). Then the new fittings will be installed.

At some point the bus will be painted. I have a hankering after grey and calling her the grey ghost. This weekend though is lights unless it's raining in which case it'll be the bunks.

Monday, November 17, 2014


The back shelf is now gone, as too is the weird table that folded down from the side of the bus. This is a huge relief as I was afraid that despite the padlock, the table would fall down when I was driving. The back shelf was so heavy, two men alone cannot lift it and even with 3, it wouldn't be easy. Given an ATV on it, based on the fact the back wheels were so far forward, driving with an ATV, the front wheels must have had only marginal contact with the ground!

I'm working on the electrics now. The aim now is just to get the bus roadworthy as opposed to drivable. Quite a few of the lights just don't work and might need rewiring. As with the rest of the work, it looks like some Tennessee hillbilly worked on the bus. The welds were a joke. It was bad tack-welding at best. Almost all the weight of the rear shelf was bourne by the back bumper.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back shelf meets angle grinder

A few days ago - Thursday to be precise, I bought an Angle grinder to remove the back shelf off the bus. Today, after a mere hour or so, with one girder left to cut, it gave up the ghost. Listening to the mechanism, it seems a bearing probably burned out. This was a Harbor Freight special which was bought in the pre-Black Friday sale. Disappointing and frustrating are words that immediately come to mind.

I would use a reciprocating saw to complete the task but for the fact that I have a lot more grinding left to do after the shelf has been removed. Clearly Harbor Freight needs a visit to try to get a replacement. On the whole, it did a good job until it died.

After the grinding is done, the bus should resemble a bus rather than a hill billy shed. Speaking of hill billies, I had a look at the other additions and they're a ramshackle hill-billy affair. The bus did come from Louisiana but even so, it's bodged, amateurish hill billy workmanship. There're a lot of things that have been secured by bolts passed through two layers of bodywork and just done up so tightly the bodywork has bent.

Driving the bus, all the stuff put inside by the bodgers rattles loudly. Once I get all that out, my own constructions will be so much better. I have a feeling that the owners that did this weren't really the type that should be let out alone.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The cost so far

As costs come along, I'll publish them.

So far, the bus has cost me a trip to Augusta from West Columbia - around 90 miles in each direction or $30 just to look at it. Then a further trip with somebody else who drove me up and then returned behind us. That was $50 for their gas, $20 for a spare tire for their car and lunch for everybody at $50.

The bus itself cost $4200, registering it and transferring the title was $249. It desperately needed new plates as the old plate said Louisiana and it had been in Georgia for 11 months before I bought it. It now has a nice South Carolina plate. The tag fee was $23.72 and insurance for the bus was $217.

Today I bought some tools to remove the back shelf, namely an angle grinder and some disks, a big adjustable spanner and a pair of goggles. Total $35.26.

E&OE the total spent so far is $4874.98.

Tomorrow I might need to buy some wood to support the back shelf as I'm lopping it off. After that I might be able to sell some of the fixtures such as the hot water tank and the plumbing stuff that are already installed. The plan is to strip the inside out before rebuilding the inside to my specifications but with non-contaminated wood.

Future expenditure - definitely bulbs for indicators and headlamps etc. I'd have replaced them already but was daft enough to leave the bus manual in the bus.

On a highly positive note, one of the people that does business with the company I work for is a commercial vehicle mechanic and is quite interested in my bus. Apparently the transmission is an easy one to work on and so is the engine. He is of the opinion that I got a great deal.

Say hello to Mr. Grinder

One of the many priorities with the bus is to make it roadworthy and safe. To this end, the ludicrous green-painted back shelf has to come off. If I can almost walk into it without seeing it, think how road users see it! Thus, in order to achieve this goal, an angle grinder was purchased. As it was a $15 grinder, I don't expect much but fortunately there's not much to grind.

Clearly the back shelf needs to be supported while it's being removed. That had me foxed for a while as I dreamed up all kinds of elaborate supports to keep it steady so that when it dropped, it would not harm the bus parts. Then I realized just propping it on all 4 corners would achieve all my goals. The props can be just chunks of wood roughly hewn into supporting columns. The presence of the bus will stop the structure from falling forward or to either side. Falling back is welcomed as that will be the final removal stage.

The windows are probably going to be that thin sardine can metal from Lowe's glued over plywood then screwed from the outside with torx screws unless a better idea comes up.

Monday, November 10, 2014

First use of the bus

It wasn't all that exciting but I did take the bus out on a 30 mile round trip a couple of days ago. There are some lights that need attention namely an indicator and a headlamp. One of the back tyres looks in rougher shape than I'd first thought. The tread looks in danger of delaminating. Fortunately that's just one tyre.

The trip was simply helping my friend move house. Her niece declared "I know I'm a redneck but moving house with a schoolbus is more redneck than I am". Now that was amusing.

In other news, the rear shelf has two broken welds and is secured to the bus via an I beam that runs halfway down the length of the bus. It's bolted to the back bumper. The i beam is welded to the bottom of the back bumper and there are two square section tubes welded to each side of the bus. Basically, it's going to take a few hours with an angle grinder to remove that mess. Once that is removed I have to get the rest of the I girder off.

The interior remodeling will take a while to remove also. This is a bigger project than I had initially anticipated. My original plans involved using the cupboards down the one side. Since they're all contaminated with rodent filth, they're best gone. Plywood is cheap enough and doing it myself will guarantee a certain level of insulation.

I'm going over various ideas for the windows and the cheapest seems to be plywood faced with resin then painted over. It is probably not ideal though. The decider on that will be the availability of waterproof rivets. If the rivets and some decent 1.5 - 2mm thick steel are not available or not available at a price I'm willing to pay then the answer could well be plywood and Torx screws.

The first purchase will be a headlamp bulb and an indicator lamp bulb together with an angle grinder. The bus horn does not appear to work so replacing it with the one left in a drawer in the bus is a quick job to do. That's probably going to be my first set of completed tasks.

While I dislike the rear shelf intensely, it makes more sense to get the interior of the bus livable first in order that I can move into it sooner. Of course, that depends largely on the inside of the bus being emptied of items transported in it while helping my friend move house.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Street legal

My bus is now street legal. Not having a clue how to register a secondhand vehicle, on Monday I went to the DMV and enquired, registration form in hand. Apparently I had to visit the tax office (conveniently half a mile away). Not having time, I left it for another day. Tuesday being Election day, there was no point in attempting as government offices were most likely closed - not to mention it was my early day at work. Wednesday was pretty much of a washout so it ended up being today.

So, bright and bushy tailed I headed off to the tax office where I discovered that there was a transfer tax of $24 and some change. Armed with a tax paid slip, I headed to the DMV (for readers unfamiliar with the abbreviation, DMV means Department of Motor Vehicles). There I discovered to my dismay that I had to pay tax on a private purchase at 5%. That and the license plate ended up at $240 or thereabouts.

The good news is that the 27,500 GVRW is the gross weight including passengers. Apparently 26,000lbs empty is the limit before I'd need a class C license. As 50 children would probably weigh at 100lbs each around 5,000lbs we reckoned we were under so a figure of 24,000lbs was plucked from the air and entered. Once the shelf is off and the contaminated woodwork removed, I'll take the bus to get it weighed for peace of mind. Of course I have no objection at all to getting a class C license.

The insurance company came through with a price of $214 given 1,000 miles a year of driving. Thus, taxing and insuring my $4,200 bus came to around $465. Now comes all the fun of working on it. Of course, everybody wants to see it which will add quite a few miles if I showed it to people.

The first thing to be done after putting the license plate on will be to remove the rear shelf which must have been made to carry an ATV. It just makes turning the bus into a nightmare. The back already juts out far enough to be a hazard without 6 feet of extra length bolted on!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Round the mulberry bush

The bus is parked on private land. Now come the problems.

SC DMV won't issue a tag without tax being paid (on a private purchase).
The tax office won't take my money unless I produce insurance.

The insurance company fellow fainted when he heard it was a BUS that was a MOTORHOME and not actually a bus any more. He then wanted to know what the bus cost new. That was 19 years ago and the company went bust, 12 years ago! Heaven help anybody that wants to insure a Model T!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Development plans

As the bus was full of rodent excrement, clear rodent urine stains and had a possible rodent nest in one of the drawers, it seems prudent to  condemn the interior woodwork and definitely the mattresses. Two of the windows have been jerry-rigged with plexiglass instead of the original windows. That's OK though as most of the windows will be blocked off anyway. It did afford me a way to examine the windows without removing any. Thus far it seems a pretty straightforward caulk and rivet task with sheetmetal.

The bus drives pretty well. The speedometer might not be as accurate as it could be though as the highest speed I attained was 65mph downhill yet apparently the chase car clocked me at 70. I'll have to check the GPS for actual ground speed. Thereby hangs a minor problem - there is no 12v socket to plug the GPS into.

Faults discovered so far: One of the two fans that keep the driver cool needs to be replaced and that entails opening a panel that a previous owner has bolted a 110v cable across. Two windows are plexiglass bodge jobs. The indicator won't stay locked up for right-hand turns. Clearly it needs a little adjustment or a replacement. Given that the manufacturer went out of business in 2001 and it's now 2014, that could be interesting to find.

Step one will be to gut the bus completely. Step two will be to replace the windows. Those might sell since they're specific to Carpenter busses. Step three will be to put in the new interior. To the left of the back door will be a shower. To the right will be a toilet. There will be a partition wall between the cockpit and the living quarters in order to retain the temperature within the living quarters. immediately behind the partition will be the eating, dining and living area. The beds will be to the left and right of the walkway as bunks with overhead storage. There will be storage the entire way along from floor to ceiling, mostly drawers and all with locks so they don't open in transit.

Under the bus there is already a compartment put in by a previous owner. That might have to be reworked but looks an excellent place to put deep-cycle batteries. There might be solar panels on the roof or a low profile wind generator. I've not made my mind up on that one, suffice to say that wind generates more power than solar. There will also be a storage space for my bicycle and at the back, a tow hook so I can tow a car.
Needless to say, outside the bus there's a lot of work that needs to be done. There are screws to be removed and the holes filled from where a fold down table was installed and where there was an awning. The rear shelf needs to be removed. There's a fair bit of work involved but the good news is, it's all work I can do by myself.

Plumbing is going to be an adventure. It's probably best to have a grey and a black tank but they're going to have to be situated forward of the rear wheels for stability. When it's all done, I'll get the bus weighed so I'll know how heavy it is. As a private bus, I don't need a special license but might get a class A just for the heck of it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bought her

Today, my girlfriend, her sister and her sister's boyfriend and I all piled into her sister's car and drove 90 miles from West Columbia, South Carolina to Augusta, Georgia. There, I met the fellow who was selling a bus advertised on Craigslist. Pretty well straight after paying for the bus and signing the transfer documents, I got behind the wheel and started to drive back.

Driving was challenging as there is almost no accelleration, rather a gradual increase in speed. It turns out to be more a case of mashing the accelerator to the floor and praying until it reaches its maximum speed of 55mph.

Inside the bus will have to be redone totaly, which was entirely expected. It's not livable as it is as there are rat droppings everywhere.  The daft rear shelf needs to be cut off as it seems a road hazard.