Category Archives: School Bus

Follow the CDL road …

  So something more up-to-date here, I’m getting my CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) so that I can drive the real yellow (National School Bus Chrome) buses with the flashing lights for pay.  If you’re considering getting your CDL with a truck-driving school you can look to pay as much at $2500, and even more if you’re going for hazardous materials.  So, what is it you get from such courses?

  Well, as of right now I’ve just got past the physical and the written portions of the exams.  There are three levels of CDL; the ‘A’ license will let you drive the heavy combination vehicles (tractor-trailers), the ‘B’ gets you to be able to drive heavy single units (like a big, full-sized school bus), and the ‘C’ will get you smaller single-unit trucks and buses (say with more than 15 passengers, but not too many more than 25).  To get any one of these you have to pass a general knowledge test which includes safe driving practices, pre-trip inspections of vehicles, what rights and responsibilities you have when driving, how far from or close to some road/driving element you should or must be.

  You can actually get the CDL manual for free, and it has all the information you need (for your state, in
addition to the federal rules).  A ton of this information is common sense, as with the statement ‘[at an at-grade railroad crossing] you are required to yield right of way to a train’ or the whole section on ‘signalling’ which boils down to ‘you should signal to make turns & change lanes’.  But some of it is not so common-sense, like finding out that school & transit buses need to stop no less than 15 feet and no more than 50 feet from a passive (no lights, bells, or gates) at-grade railroad crossing and no less than 50 feet from an unattended lift bridge in order to determine if it’s safe to cross.

  Some of it is sneaky too.  One of the requirements on checking cargo is that you have to do it 50 miles into your trip.  Or 25 if you get an older test bank question from New York State.  There are 50 questions on the general CDL exam, 25 on the air-brake exam, 20 on the passenger vehicle exam, and 20 on the school bus exam.  On each of these, you have to score an 80% or better correct answer rate.

  Happily, I passed all of these on my first go, and am now the proud owner of a CDL permit allowing me to drive a school bus (with an appropriately licensed trainer).  Now the fun begins …

Design time …

In order to get to doing anything with a bus that isn’t being a bus, you have to remove the seats.  And this is critical not just for floor-plan stuff, but for insurance and registration, unless you’re a commercial business and you don’t mind paying the rates for commercial insurance (Yikes!).  Now, you remember all those seats, right?

Oh, wait, that’s them …

Now, the seats are in with 5/16″ bolts of varying lengths through the floor and then 9/16″ bolts into the seat-rail along the edge of the wall, and, had one a team of people, and if the bolts weren’t very rusty, one could use a ratchet and/or a couple of wrenches and remove the bolts, and then the seats, and all would be wonderful.

But I live in the real world, and the bus was used by the Whitesboro High School (near Syracuse) and being that Syracuse was known as the ‘Salt City’ (due to the salt from the evaporation of shallow seas that covered the area in the Devonian), the bottom of the bus was covered in a light layer of salt, and the bolts were heavily corroded.

Here was the introduction of power-tools to the game.  First, I had a Makita impact hammer with a chisel blade that does wonderfully on concrete, but did basically nothing the the rusted-on bolts.  I had hoped to use it as the force is a shearing force, and would leave the flanges of the bus feet intact.  I ended up using a Makita 4″ angle grinder to take off the heads of the bolts.  A tip that I got from the Skoolie board stated that an easy way to deal with bolt heads was to cut down vertically through them and then horizontally slice to the cut.  It worked nicely, produced a whole lot of smoke, sparks, and burned rubber smell (more on that later), and the seats came out really nicely. When I had the seats all loose from the floor, I picked out three that were the ones I was planning on keeping for re-installation.

Once a bus has the seats out, it’s a big empty space.

This is really funky, it’s kinda like one big empty room, yeah!
  But it really is true, there is a lot of space.  And it gets loud with the echos.  But you can really see the blank canvas with all the seats removed.
No, really … It’s a lot of space … for a vehicle.

In fact, disregarding the wheelwells over the back, you can imagine it as basically a big rectangle 90″ wide, 26′ 8″ long (to the back of the driver’s chair), and just over 6′ high.  That’s around 200 square feet of floor space.  The wrinkles, of course are the wheelwells, roof hatches, and the exit doors.  Now, many people close up the side emergency doors (if their bus has one), but we wanted to keep ours, so we had to design around it.

There were some design constraints and advice that I gleaned from other Skoolie builds, things like you don’t really want to put your bathroom (and grey and black water tanks) behind the rear axle, due to the bouncing.  Propane tanks should go ahead of the rear axle, due to safety factors in collisions.  Re-using  the frames of the existing bus seats gives DOT rated safety harness points.  There was one seat we removed (just by the side emergency exit door) that had four feet, while all the others had two feet on one side, and were meant to attach the other side to the seat-rail.

So we ended up with these preliminary plans:

With a fold-out master bed and an added rear observation deck.
With a fixed master bed on the port side …
  Our designs went back and forth over those factors and our space, doorway, hatch, and undercarriage limitations and we ended up with this as our final plan:
The annotated final design. (New emergency exit window locations in red)
  This new design makes the shower a ‘walk-through’ to get to the side door, and doesn’t indicate the angling of upper areas of the walls (in green) to leave the roof hatches.  The two seats facing each other behind the driver are connected to the side chair rail, while the one that runs along the starboard wall is the one that had four feet.  It allows for a 24″ hallway from front to back and for full measure twin-bed bunks, rather than the extra slim/short RV bunks.
  Now, this isn’t perfect, but it set up the base of what we wanted.  It doesn’t show the locations of any of the water/propane/air tanks, and the fridge size is a bit smaller than what we actually got because of the extra tubing/heat vents on the back.  But it gives an idea of what we’re aiming for in the finished product.