Tag Archives: School Bus RV

A Warm Reception

  So after finishing the first bunk, we gave the bus a test.  My wife and I got invited to a multi-day wedding reception for a couple of our friends on another friend’s land out near Franklinville, NY.  The trip was only about an hour away, but it wound along the 400 expressway and then up into the edges of the Alleghany mountains on Route 16.  The weather was great, and the bus ran nicely.  When up to speed, I could take most all of the hills along the route in fifth gear, but we still ended up slowing some people down because I wouldn’t speed (much to the relief of my wife).
  For this trip, I brought an inverter and wired up a 12-volt outlet so that we could blow up a queen-sized air mattress while the bus was still idling and cooling off the turbo fan.  And the fan did get warm.  The land we were headed for was on a small 1 ½ lane road that I missed while we were looking for it.  Luckily, it was a nice, clear day, and there were plenty of places that farm, gravel, or other trucks and vehicles had packed down and could be used to turn around.  So we did. And we got on the road and drove happily along it.
  Having never been to this location before, we weren’t sure if the barn at the bottom of the hill just off the road was the one that we were supposed to park at or not, and so we drove up and set the air brakes half-way up a fairly steep incline where the reception was actually at.  After several hellos and a brief confirmation, we found that the barn (now behind us) at the bottom of the hill was, in fact, the right place, so again we were going to have to turn the bus around.  And, I’d have to get it going on the hill.
  Now, I learned how to drive on standard (manual) transmission vehicles, and I grew up in the mountains, but this was to be the first time that I had to put the bus with its diesel engine to the test in this environment. But it was surprisingly easy.  The very low gearing of first gear (that I routinely complain about because of the fact that I have to use it to get the bus moving, but then have to shift out of almost immediately as its top speed is 5 mph) was awesome for getting the bus moving, even if I couldn’t get it above 15 mph getting up the hill.   But, of course, just on the other side of the hill was, well, the other side of the hill going down.  Luckily here near the top, there was an intersecting road with a wide mouth at an angle that allowed for me to bring the bus along on it, back up a little, and then get the bus turned around. 
  Getting back to the barn was then easy, though I did find out that the seemingly big (to me) 7.1 L T444E engine, even with the low gearing, wasn’t enough to hold the bus back (in fourth, which I thought would do it, but I probably should have been in third).  Now, toward the end of making the bus stop for the parking space at the bottom of the hill, I used the brakes, which did slow the bus, but I now know that I didn’t use the “stab” braking that I should have, instead using steady pressure that would have, on a longer, steeper hill, likely overheated my brakes.  (Stab braking is a hard use of the brakes to below the ‘critical’ speed you need to stay below, and then a full release until you’re just above the ‘critical’ speed.)
  So, at the bottom of the hill, we parked the bus near the barn, secured it, set up the air mattress, and then walked back up along the road to the reception.  There, most people were camping in tents, so we were at a distance from them, but, our ‘steel tent’ was bigger.  But we brought up some camp chairs and our bocce set and had a great afternoon and evening, with DJs and live music by Penny Whiskey.
  We cooked in our ‘Toas tite‘ maker over the communal fire, and in the morning I made espresso over a camp stove and we had a half card table that fit perfectly between the two facing bench seats, so we had our breakfast there.  We stayed until late afternoon, and made our way back home, which was also a slower trip, but because of my adherence to the speed limits.  It turns out that there was some manner of motorcycle rally, and we were stuck in the ‘parade’ behind it.  Otherwise, the trip home was uneventful and fine. 

  We did realize that the narrow hallway along the bus was going to take some getting used to.  We spent plenty of time getting in each other’s way realizing the thing we wanted was at the other end of the bus, past the other one of us doing something along the way.  But we worked things out and, really, more organization would certainly help.

Evangola day-trip.

Early morning sun on the shore of Lake Erie
at Evangola State Park.  (Note: This was not my
shot and was definitely not the day I went.)

I needed a day away, just to think and read and regroup.  To do this I drove the bus to Evangola State Park, which has a lovely beach and wonderful slate cliffs.  Well, it’s really wonderful in the summer, like the picture on the right here shows (though the beach is a lot bigger – but this was a nice picture), but I ended up going on a drizzly day in January of 2012.

Evangola is about 45 minutes from Buffalo if you take Route 5, but down south/west of Wanakah, Old Lake Shore Road branches off and the road goes along the shoreline behind some of the beachhouses (and estates!) and up on some low cliffs, so there are plenty of opportunities for some great views and some nice driving, if you don’t mind going slower and doing some shifting.  Some of the roads were not in the best of shape and without the extra weight of seats in the bus, it was a bit bouncy in some areas.  I also felt like some of those roads were really skinny when I had to be on the very edge of the pavement to let people go by in the other lane.  My comfort level in driving the bus has gotten a whole lot better, but for this trip, I was extra-extra-cautious.

Yep, I took up more than one spot, luckily there were
still a few parking spots open for other people …

I set off around 10:00 and it ended up taking me about an hour to get there, but off-season, there’s no gate fee, and the parking was easy.  Very easy really, as there was basically no other cars in the park.  Over the day a few people came and went, walking dogs or just braving the damp, cold weather.

While I did brave the grey weather there, I also spent time with the basic seats I’d put together, some temporary tables, and some provisions.  My only regret here was that I didn’t bring a pillow for my back.  The seats were fine to sit on, even for long periods of time, but the side wall of the bus got a bit cold, and a pillow would have been a buffer.  I did fire up the bus engine and put some heat into the cabin, but it never got really warm in the back, so the cold would seem to creep forward over time.

Not really roughing it.

And there was plenty of scenery.  Some I could see from the bus itself, but others I had to walk to, and it’s a fairly large park.

Looking north-east from the seat in the previous picture …


The winter snowmobile trails map …
And the cliffs and beach and lake looked like this …
And plenty of room on the beach …

So after a pretty full day, I set back off around 4:00 and headed back to Buffalo via Route 5.  I ended up in a bunch of tractor-trailers for a bit, and felt right at home on the road.  Driving the bus took a bit of getting used to, just because it’s so long and wide, but having that extra height and being able to see farther on the road was great.  I ended up getting home -just- after dark, so backing in the driveway was a little more taxing, but overall it was a great test trip!

Skinned Windows

(Please note: The title of this post in no way connotates that anyone lost their skin to cover the windows in the bus.  😉 )

I noticed that the pictures of the installation of the subfloor showed several windows which had been ‘skinned’, and realized that I missed the description of those in my timeline, so here goes.

I had hoped that all the walls that I was going to put into the bus would correspond with one of the ribs of the body’s structure – the 1 1/2 x 2 inch steel supports which produce the ‘roll cage’ effect of the body.  These are, of course, the sturdiest parts of the body, and are where the sheet steel of the ceiling and wall panels attach.  But, when it came to laying things out, it just wasn’t to be.  The seats for the forward cabin area needed leg room, but too much would make the bathroom area really cramped, especially if we wanted to be able to use the side emergency door.  And if I wanted to have an accessible wet wall behind the shower, and some storage area for a pantry, I couldn’t very well have that eat into the bunks.  And nobody would want to look at the back of the refrigerator, and it would need venting and airflow to work properly.

All that said, I knew that we would have to lose some windows.  My choice of which ones was aided by the accidental breaking of one while loading all the old seats I’d removed back into the bus for transport.  One support went off-balance just a little and the steel foot slammed into the window, shattering it, but leaving the glass shards intact between the plastic laminate (Huzzah for safety glass!).  In order to do this, you have to remove the window, which actually isn’t hard on a Blue Bird body like ours.  Six screws and some pulling/levering in toward the interior and it’s done.

Some people stop there, bending the steel or aluminum sheeting and screwing it to the steel support ribs, or using angle brackets to do the same.  I chose not to do that, since I wanted to be sure that the metal wouldn’t flex, and that we could add insulation to help more with noise and heat/cold.

If you look back to the floorplan I posted before, you might note that three of the windows are in black as opposed to grey or red.  Those are the ones that needed to be skinned, and you can see why – either there are walls that go across them, or a fridge.

Oh!  There it is …

So, the first step was to take the window frames and remove the glass.  Now, the frames are aluminum and they are screwed together, so this was actually far easier than I had expected it to be.  On the outside of these I put 16 gauge steel that was painted green on the outside and brown on the inside (just because I had the brown to use). The steel was screwed to the aluminum frame right on the edges of the frame where it would be hidden by the outside steel of the window supports, but inside the raised lip that helped to seal the windows in tight.  The paint on the outside made them match the rest of the green on the bus, but on the inside it was just to avoid future rust.  Next went in 1″ thick pink polystyrene insulation, with some ‘Great Stuff’ expanding foam to fill the gaps and keep the polystyrene from sliding about or squeaking, and then some nice, 1/2″ pressure-treated plywood filled in the rest of the window area, and that was screwed to the aluminum frame.

This gave me (potentially removable or swapable with most other windows on the bus) skins that didn’t need any special treatment to get them to fit in the window spaces.  A quick, generous bead of silicone sealant went on the raised ridge of the window supports of the bus and in went the skinned windows.

And they look like this from the outside …

And like this from the inside, if you can see past the wall studs (which we haven’t go to yet) …