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.
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.