Fun with the Phantom

Discussions about all things to do with buses, trucks, and the homes made within them.

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LuckyChow
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Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Thu Apr 30, 2015 3:29 pm

At the behest of my friend Lostranger whom I’m sure is destined to be a BFF, I have joined the Nomadicistas! It’s the best, he says. I’m sure it is, because he’s always right. It’s hard to turn down a plug like that for anything, so without further delay, I completed Nomadicista paperwork, paid my $100 entrance fee and waited to receive my “account activated” email from the management. It arrived soon enough and without demand for further remuneration. I was a bit worried since Lostranger told me there could be an up-charge and it was all based on my driving record. But, he also told me he had a “friend” that could fix this sort of thing, so I quickly sent him the additional $50 he requested via “Pay-up Pal”. Just as he promised, there were no additional fees, so he is definitely a man of his word. I told him he should consider being a bus salesman. After all, it’s really hard to find one so helpful and full of uh, uh, knowledge. :mrgreen:

LOL, okay, ------ that’s all a bit of a stretch. I just wanted to poke a little fun at my NC friend since we’re both in the Gillig family. He’s got the other Gillig thread in this forum. His bus is the low floor model and I’ve got the high floor (Phantom). They were both built within a year of each other and at the same plant in California. I’m not sure where his was in service, but mine was from Daytona Beach. You just don’t see that many Gilligs converted to motorhome service, not to mention transits in general. We were glad to have run into each other and I’m pleased to call him my friend. So without further ado, I’ll tell you about my bus.

It’s a 2000 Gillig Phantom, which is a high floor model that was perhaps one of Gilligs longest running models. The Phantom is no longer produced by Gillig, as all the transit agencies have gone to low floor models to more easily meet ADA requirements and to get away from lifts. Low floor models have a ramp which greatly cuts down on maintenance and initial cost. For a period of time Gillig produced both low floor and high floor models at the same time.

The drive train is a Detroit Series 50 mated to an Allison B-400. The B-400 is a six speed transmission with a final overdrive ratio of .67 to 1. This gives the bus a relatively good road speed, although I do not drive over 65 mph in a vehicle this large. The pictures shown below are what it looked like when I picked it up in Florida.


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Tomorrow, I'll talk a bit about why I chose a transit when there are so many other choices out there.
Darryl
Smyrna GA
2000 Gillig Phantom

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby stuartcnz » Fri May 01, 2015 12:57 pm

Welcome aboard!

And thanks for starting this thread. I look forward to seeing more on it.
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby Lostranger » Fri May 01, 2015 2:14 pm

I KNEW this thread was gonna be good. Don't keep us waiting, it's a real page turner. I'm glad to see those "origination" photos.

The rest of you will LOVE to see what Mr. Chow has done with his Phantom, AND he's an electrical guru. Extremely knowledgeable on most bus issues. He's the man who got us on the road again when we had electrical issues on the way to Pennsylvania last October. Darryl diagnosed the problem as a bad Vanner battery equalizer, and helped me work out a strategy for limping home where I could carry out the repair. Thanks directly to his help, we were able to complete the rest of our October travel plans. He took a day off work to help me source parts in Atlanta, and you don't forget that sort of thing

He has a sideline business of selling transmission computers and other electrical items, and he's helped me several other times with electrical issues. I'm wanting to get him close enough to Sophia to figure out why the radiator fan runs all the time. He's explained that troubleshooting procedure to me, but I'm either thick headed or distracted by things like paint and interior work and a new muffler.

Welcome aboard, my friend.

Jim

P.S. Remember, I asked you not to mention the sign-up fee on the board. Other's usually have to pay a lot more than you did, and I don't want them to be jealous.

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Fri May 01, 2015 3:08 pm

Those are awfully kind words my friend. Are you sure the paint fumes aren't lingering? :)

As promised yesterday, I'll talk a little about why I chose a transit. Well, I didn't start off wanting a transit. I started off looking for a coach. I've been buying and selling a few buses along for some years. Over that time I've seen a lot of them. I also know how to get a bargain on one. Buy 5 to 10 at a time and you'll get a good deal. That may be, but it wasn't going to happen on my current wallet. I like to go to dog shows with my dogs and really missed doing that. I had sold my motor home a year earlier. I didn't want something with a payment so I decided to pick up a bus and do a cheap conversion. I've done two before so I knew what I was getting into. This time I was looking for something I could convert inexpensively.

So, I started looking at coaches. I looked and looked and looked. I found a lot of them. Pretty much every one of them was a mechanical disaster that hadn't been maintained. If you think car dealerships can fleece your wallet, buy a bus. You'll return to the car dealerships and tell them you can't believe how inexpensive their services are. I wasn't interested in buying junk that some 3rd tier charter operation had run all the equity out of, so I kept looking. After a while it was frustrating. Everything I was seeing was poorly maintained. You've got to avoid that because it will cost you a fortune to repair all the deficiencies.

I took a trip to Florida to look at an MCI that sounded good. In the end, it turned out to be a junk pile like many of the others. I declined to make an offer on it at all. As I was getting ready to leave, the guy tells me to come take a look at something he just bought at auction. He says it isn't a coach, but it is a good bus. We walk around to the back of his place and there are two Gillig Phantom transits. They had just been sold at auction from the transit agency. I hadn't been interested in transits originally, but these looked like pretty nice buses mechanically.

As I was inspecting them, I opened the engine compartment on the second one. My eyes were probably as big as moon pies because I thought I had hit the lottery. There sat a new Detroit Series 50 in that compartment. It also had a new radiator, new A/C condenser and new condenser fan motors. That's a pile of cash folks. He told me what he wanted. It wasn't out of line. So I thought about it for a while. I took it out for a test drive and it was nice. Everything worked correctly and performed nicely.

For what I would be doing a transit could work fine for me. After all, they have tons of room inside, have an a/c system you can hang meat in, and are as durable as they come. The down sides are the wheel wells inside, no storage underneath, and the rear door. After much thought and being really tired of looking at junk, I made him a low ball offer. I figured I could flip it if I decided I didn't want to keep it. He declined but countered. In the end, we ended up with a deal. I came on back home on the plane that day, but went back next week to pick it up. It drove out and ran really nice. Maybe I'll keep this after all.

The next week I used some of my contacts to get the maintenance records on the bus. I flipped through the records. Sure enough, that engine was replaced and had 7,000 miles on it. The more I looked at it, the more I liked it. So I finally decided to keep it and make it my dog show bus.

The girls approved.

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Last edited by LuckyChow on Sat May 02, 2015 1:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Darryl
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Fri May 01, 2015 4:48 pm

Let the tear out commence

I'd only had it a week before I started taking out the seats. I have a covered 40' awning in the rear of my home. It has 50 amp electrical service, so all the conversion has taken place back there. Since I had storage space in my basement, I stored most of the seats I took out there because I planed to use some of them. I wasn't sure what the interior was going to be yet, but I was thinking about it. Since this was going to be a budget conversion, I wanted to keep and use everything I could. I had plenty of time to figure this out, as the first thing I like to do is to concentrate on the bus itself. Repair everything on the bus that needs repairing first. Then start your conversion. That way you can use your conversion along while you are converting it.

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I spent the first 6 months getting all the mechanicals in order. That meant replacing the front tires, closing in the rear door, and getting the outside painted. None of those things can I do myself so I had a friend help me. I paid a company to do the paint. Working everyday and doing this stuff on the weekend takes some time. But, the results were pretty good.

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I think the outside came out pretty good overall. One of the keys to making everything look really nice on a new paint job is to replace all the exterior lights. I did that. It makes a huge difference in the looks. I had hoped to buy all the lights from the local truck dealer. Gillig had other plans. The side lights they used were custom made for Gillig, and I didn't know that at the time. I know they look nearly the same as the ones from the truck dealer, but they aren't. I had to return all the ones I originally bought from Fleet Pride and order them from Gillig. The Gillig ones were at least double in price.

While all this was going on, I went ahead and replaced the step treads on the entrance steps. The originals were very worn and didn't have a good appearance. I was able to order these direct from the OEM and not Gillig. The Gillig price was double what I paid the OEM.

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So little by little I addressed all the bus stuff without doing any conversion stuff. I also took the bus to get an alignment and have the front end checked. Not because I thought something was wrong, but just because I wanted to know what I have. I went ahead and changed my steering gear. It had more play in it than I like. That's one of my pet peeves on used buses. No one ever changes them when they need to be changed. Probably because they aren't cheap. But they make such a difference on long drives.

More to come.
Last edited by LuckyChow on Mon May 04, 2015 8:27 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby ol trunt » Sat May 02, 2015 1:05 am

Welcome aboard! I'm glad to have the chance to see your build "in fast forward" Jack

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Sat May 02, 2015 1:52 am

Thanks Jack! I just wish it could have been built that fast instead of the two years it took to do it.
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Sat May 02, 2015 1:52 pm



There comes a time in every bus conversion where you get to something that needs doing, but you dread doing it. Such was my A/C prep work on the roof. To keep this a budget conversion, I'm going with the least expensive A/C solution ------ the dreaded roof airs. Ducted roof airs are better than non-ducted, but ducted require somewhat extensive air box fabrication, which also requires you to tear out your ceiling. I'm not tearing out my ceiling. This is a budget conversion, remember? Really, the only thing I have against non-ducted roof airs is that they're noisy. Aside from this, I'm fine with them.

I already had two roof hatches in the ceiling. I'd really like to have kept them, but cutting new holes in the roof was something I really wanted to avoid for a couple of reasons. One reasons is that I'm not really sure where all the framing was (I'm not tearing out the ceiling, remember). The other is fear of having some electrical lines going through that section. Both of these reasons become non issues if you take out your ceiling. But, since I'm not doing that, I decided to use the two existing hatches.

These hatches were the very common Transpec 24 X 24 inch hatch. Roof air conditioners need a 14 X 14 inch hole. So, a reducing frame had to be fabricated and welded into the roof framing. I used a local welding shop for this, although I could have done it myself if I had the welding equipment. This wasn't all that difficult nor expensive. The real problem turned out to be getting the outside hatch assembly separated from the roof. I can't begin to tell you how tough that hatch adhesive was. Before I was through, I was ready to dynamite it. That was some tough stuff. Must have been Sikaflex. No doubt they build humvees for the war zone with it too. It took me about four hours to get the first one off with a large gasket scraper (that looked like a cold chisel) and a hammer. I wised up on the second one (which I did a few days later) and used one of those vibrating /oscillating tools. That turned out to be the kitty's meow. Best find ever.

Here are some pics of the vent holes in the roof. They look sort of strange at first glance since you are standing inside the bus and looking through them and seeing the roof of my shed through the hole. One you realize that's what you're seeing, it makes more sense.

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After the framing was installed (welded in), I still needed to cover the space between the original framing of the bus and the new framing I had built. Remember the old hole was 24 x 24 and the new one is 14 x 14. To do this I fabricated the cover shown below, which I used on both the outside and inside of the bus. I had these powder coated locally, which proved to be an excellent choice. For the exterior one, I used the old Transpec roof hatch as a template to drill all the holes in it. This allowed the cover to be riveted down to the same holes already in the roof. These were 1/4 rivets so I used the air riveter on them.

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In the end, the whole thing came out nice. Here's an inside shot. The pic isn't great, but you can see how I did it.

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Sun May 03, 2015 2:20 pm



There was one issue I should mention about installing the a/c. Since I wasn't taking down my ceiling, this presented a problem with getting an electrical supply to the unit. The usual way of doing this is to drill through the roof bows to the side of the bus and run it through the roof that way. This wasn't really an option for me, as there was more than one bow that I'd have to drill through and I couldn't get to the second one without taking down the ceiling. Since my coach A/C ductwork is down the side of my bus, I'd have to take it down too in order to get to the 2nd roof bow. After thinking about it for a while I came up with plan B. I ran the electrical on the outside of the roof in plastic "conduit" sold at Lowes and HD for "do-it-yourself" electical cords along a wall. Normally this sticks on the surface, but I used flat head screws to attach it permanently. I altered one of the 90 degree connectors by cutting off the elbow and it covers a hole in the new interior panel where the electrical romex goes back in. After painting to match the background, you really don't notice it.

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Sun May 03, 2015 2:48 pm



It wasn't really magic, but there is a little hocus pocus involved. Remember this is a budget build, so there will be no new $800-for-each peninsula windows bought here. Usually most bus converters remove unwanted windows and skin over with aluminum on the outside. As many of you know, this is a lot of work, not to mention expense.

Back in the 70's, it was fairly common for bus conversions to keep the original windows and panel over them inside. There are issues with this, including unwanted heat gain, windows that leak, seeing the paneling from outside through the windows, etc. But, it is less expensive for sure. Some people want to keep the original bus look on the outside as well. My reasoning for keeping them was purely expense and time. Not sure if I saved much time, but it sure was less expensive.

To mitigate some of the negatives with keeping original windows, I applied a blackout window tint to them, spaced out with an inch of sheet insulation, and then put laminate on 1/4 luan over them. I trimmed out the luan so that it just fit inside the large outer window frame and glued them to the inside window trim with Sikaflex 252.

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On the windows in the bedroom, I had to cover half of them as my mattress was so high over the wheel wells, it was about level with the bottom of the window. I only covered half the window with the paneling, leaving the emergency escape release handle workable in case I ever needed it. This also lets in light when needed.A window curtain/blind will be used at the top.

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Here's a bedroom window with the bed platform finished below. See how close it is to the window? The platform that goes across the bus at the rear will contain the 100 gal. fresh water tank.

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When I first did put the luan-covered-with-laminate panels over the windows, I had a little concern over whether they would stay glued to the frames and whether the glass might get too hot and break. My concern was a valid one on the "sticking" part, but not on the breaking part. I had to go back to each window and drill tiny 1/8 holes all the way around the panel into the frame and put 1/8 pop rivets in. This secured the panel very solidly and I had no further problems.
Last edited by LuckyChow on Sun May 03, 2015 4:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Sun May 03, 2015 3:37 pm



I went back and forth on what to do in the bedroom in regards to bed size. It's nice to have a large queen size in the back, but with a transit, it would be hard to walk around the sides due to the wheel wells. Putting it crossways of the bus is also a problem, as making up the bed is hard on the side next to the back wall. In the end I decided to put in twin beds. It also makes it easier to have friends or family travel with you. I'm not fond of the regular size twin beds. They are too short and sometimes too narrow. I ordered mattresses 36 X 80 to solve this problem. This is sometimes referred to as a Twin XL or Dormitory mattress. Since I built the platform, it was easy to make it fit the mattress.

Shown below is my headboard. It's basically plywood covered with laminate. The corner is a 90 degree aluminum corner angle. This can be ordered from several places. I used a lot of aluminum trim in the bus. Unfortunately, almost all of it had to be ordered. I couldn't find any local stock.

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Here's some of the corner angle and how it goes together.

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I should add that the headboard can easily be removed by two screws on top and 4 on the bottom. There is an access hole for the engine under it. You can't permanently seal that access. I've already had to remove mine twice since building it.

Shown below is my bed platform with the water tank below it.

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Last edited by LuckyChow on Mon May 04, 2015 1:25 am, edited 2 times in total.
Darryl
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby Lostranger » Mon May 04, 2015 12:16 am

Great stuff, Darryl. Thanks for sharing your process.

Jim

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby Lostranger » Mon May 04, 2015 12:17 am

After this week you won't have a hole where the fresh tank should be.

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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Mon May 04, 2015 3:22 pm



I'll be using walls to separate bedrooms from bathrooms from kitchens. Since I'm going for a somewhat commercial look, I'll be using plywood covered with a laminate. One important lesson I learned from doing previous bus conversions was to picture what you want in your mind and build backwards in your head. In other words, I pick out the trim first. Then the wall covering. Then the wall material. Doing it this way always makes your finished wall look good. Good trim is the difference between great looking and home made looking. It is a personal preference of mine to make interior furnishings in a bus conversion look somewhat commercial in nature. I try to envision what an OEM would do and recreate that to the best of my ability. Consequently, I use a lot of aluminum trim and T-moulding. Other people like to build their bus interior the same as a house might be built. There's no wrong or right ---- it just comes down to your own preference.

Since I'll be using laminated plywood for my wall surfaces, I need to pick out the trim. Rather than laminate, I decided to use a T-moulding. If you've never used T-moulding, it is basically a plastic moulding shaped like a T. You use a router to cut a groove in the edge of the plywood and insert the barbed T into the groove. It looks like this:

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I have to tell ya, T-moulding is great. It's extremely easy to use and very inexpensive. I also happen to believe it has a great appearance when applied properly. In the photo above, you can see the groove I routed into the edge of the plywood.

Back to the wall. I'm going to do something on this conversion I've never done before. I'm going to build the walls without framing. If you use 2x4 framing, like is commonly used in a house, you'll lose almost 2 feet in conversion space by the time you get from the front to the back. So if you can build walls without framing, you get to keep this space. To pull this feat off, you have to find other ways to brace your walls. In my case, I used existing railings, angle brackets, and wood braces between walls to do it.

If you're going to build walls without framing, you must use straight sheet materials. I found it almost impossible to find straight plywood locally at Home Depot and Lowes. Most of the time I ended up purchasing my materials from a cabinet supply shop. They were about 25% higher than HD and Lowes, but it was just the cost of building a wall like this. Each wall in the bus had to use one sheet of plywood (since they were over 24 inches wide, 2 sheets of laminate, and T-moulding trim. The cost of all these materials together was ballpark $200 per wall.

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You may have noticed that I kept the a/c ducting in my bus. This was a considered decision which I will talk about later. To keep this ductwork, meant that my walls had to form fit around it. To do this, you will need to make yourself a template which you will use to trim each wall to fit the ductwork. This may take you a while. It took me about 4 hours to perfect. Then I discovered the duct work on the opposite side of the bus was not exactly the same. I had to make a second template for that side.



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I'll talk about applying laminate to plywood a bit more tomorrow.
Darryl
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Re: Fun with the Phantom

Postby LuckyChow » Tue May 05, 2015 2:38 pm



Working on a bus conversion usually starts off with a good hammer, chisel, set of wrenches, side grinder, and pry bar. Later on you'll need different tools to build your future home, week end get-a-way, or favorite toy. I thought I'd show a few of the odds-n-ends I'm using in building my conversion. Your list may be similar to mine, but because we all build differently, some things will likely be different.

Because I'm using sheet material (aka plywood) without framing, there have been instances where I've used a super strong adhesive to bond two surfaces together. One instance of that is the window coverings I used inside my coach. I used 1/4" plywood, covered with laminate, to cover my windows inside. Being a transit conversion and not a million dollar Prevost, I try to use what’s there to keep cost down as much as possible. Such is the case with my windows. I bonded the backside of my plywood to my window frames with Sikaflex 252. This is an exceptionally strong adhesive, cured by moisture I am told. Because Sikaflex 252 is very thick I couldn't squeeze it out of the tube with an ordinary caulk gun. I had to get the electric model shown below.

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Ordinarily I wouldn't have bought one of these. At first glance they seem to be quite an unnecessary item. But after trying it without one, I quickly found it was necessary. The electric gun was not required for the other varieties of Sikaflex I've used.

Although these aren't tools, here are some angle brackets I used in areas that would be visible. I used these because my walls don’t have framing and you’ve got to stabilize them somehow. These brackets are commonly used in commercial bathrooms stalls. They are stainless and offer a more attractive alternative to the more common framing brackets.

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Here's an item that has been extremely useful. It's a framing square. You’ll use this many times while building your interior. It is extremely helpful for marking plywood and 4 X 8 sheets of laminate for cutting. You can find these any of the big box stores.

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Here's an item that I couldn't live without. It's homemade, simple and cheap to make. It’s hands down the most used tool I have. It's a homemade "fence", constructed of 1/2" plywood. There are endless examples on Youtube for making these. If you don't have a $2,000 panel saw, this is the next best thing.

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I use these C-clamps to clamp the ends of the fence to the board I'm cutting. This gives you a perfectly straight cut with your ordinary Skill saw.

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Hopefully this didn't put anyone to sleep. Sometimes 1st timers find even the basics helpful in getting started.
Darryl
Smyrna GA
2000 Gillig Phantom


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