School Bus 101, long technical post

Bikes, trikes, personal mobility and getting to/from the event - this is the place to discuss general transportation issues.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Roundabout » Sat Apr 15, 2017 5:12 pm

Bump.
The Playa Choir (my camp) just purchased this bus for $1,000. I would love to have comments or words of caution from any of the esteemed knowledgeable readers of this thread.

1999 international Genesis bus. 72 passenger. ~180,000 miles
The engine is a DT466E international
3000 series Allison 5 speed automatic transmission.
Air brakes

It's prior use was for driving seasonal farm laborers. For now, we will use this to store our camp gear (for example we have a 44' 5/8's structural steel performance dome, i.e., heavy gear) during rest of the year. It will be stored out in the open on a ranch about 20 miles from TTITD, and basically it will only be driven to and from the playa. I assume we should remove the battery and put it on a tender when the bus is not being used. What other precautions are advisable for this type of usage and bus configuration?
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby EGAZ » Sat Apr 15, 2017 5:32 pm

Correct on the battery removal. I would also cover the tires from the sun. I might even jack it up on blocks if its sitting most of the year. Might save the tires from flat spotting too bad. But that might not be necessary. I'm thinking maybe doing something with the fuel system (complete drain or additive) but Elliot and GreyCoyote would have better insight.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Captain Goddammit » Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:13 pm

Affirmative on covering the tires! They will dry-rot sitting out there in the sun, and they're very expensive to replace.
It would be really nice if it could get started up once in a while. Leaving it sitting out there as a storage unit then expecting it to work when you want it to is likely to backfire
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Elliot » Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:03 pm

Well, I was about to talk about the DT466 engine and such. Then.... 40 miles a year! That's an alien concept to me, so I cannot help much.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Strata » Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:27 am

My husband and I owned a 1976 Bluebird Wanderlodge from 2002 to 2014. It's an RV built on a school bus chassis.

For long-term storage, tire covers, inexpensively bought from RV stores like Camping World, or on Amazon. Or make your own from grommeted tarp pieces and bungies. You want to block UV as well as sunlight.

It's pretty dry most of the year where you're going to store it, but do be sure to drain the air brake system before you put it up every year-- there's a collector for water underneath, and generally a little valve to turn to let water drip out. Don't leave it open, no need and the valve might stick that way. Draining the fuel is probably overkill, but drop a bottle of the fuel storage stuff into the tank before you put it up if it will be sitting for a solid year.

The battery might be flat after a year of storage, even if disconnected-- a dashboard solar trickle charger will take care of that and keep the battery healthy while it's being stored. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001RJOP5Y/

You will find all kinds of school-bus specific advice on the Skoolie pages: http://www.skoolie.net/forums/

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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Roundabout » Sun Apr 16, 2017 8:14 am

Thank you Strata, that was very helpful. I am new to airbrakes and did not know about the valve for releasing accumulated moisture.

With respect to fuel storage treatment, I assume there are diesel specific products that can be purchased at any truckstop?

It would be nice if we could simply plug a battery tender into the cigarette lighter, however I doubt that electricity will be nearby the place the bus is actually placed on the ranch. So the battery will probably have to be removed to one of the ranch buildings that has electricity. I wonder if there is such a thing as a solar panel battery tender? Something for me to check out – it might work halfway decently in that climate. We already have a 50 W panel and PMW controller, which we could hook up, but I am thinking that over the long term the battery would need a more sophisticated electrical feed than just that.

Thanks Captain on the suggestion about getting it started up a few times during the year. It may be that somebody at the ranch will agree to do that as part of the storage fee. But I have to assume the worst case scenario where this does not actually happen. We do have a late spring work party at the ranch every year so at least the bus will get tended to and started then. And we are planning to bring it to JuPlaya this year.

We will certainly keep the tires covered. I think we have enough old silver tarps to work with. I will bring my grommit machine and we can cut them up to appropriate sizes. I also have a bolt of attic foil that I could probably make tire covers out of.

Thanks for the helpful suggestions, as always.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby ygmir » Sun Apr 16, 2017 9:21 am

I've read and gone back and forth about the "start them from time to time" thing.
Many make the argument, specifically with diesels, that unless you get them up to operating temperatures and hold them there a while (as in actually driving them, not just idling), that acids and moisture form but don't get driven out, and can do more harm than good.
I'm on the fence with it. I'd suggest you do some research and make your own informed decision.
There are battery tenders, that plug in the cigarette lighter and use either solar or grid power to maintain charge, or yeah, you can unhook or remove the batteries, and put them on a maintainer, too. But don't just leave them sit for a year.
There is an antifreeze additive (alcohol, IIRC) that you can add to the air system, for lines and pots, and yeah, there should be a drain valve on each air tank (there should be 3 or so air tanks), to drain before storage.
Tires if on soft ground should not have a big issue with "flat siding", as long as you air them up properly before parking. It's worse on pavement.
Rodent control will be a thing! vermin get in places and chew things.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Roundabout » Sun Apr 16, 2017 9:44 am

Followup,
I did find what purports to be a solar battery tender/controller for about $30 on eBay.
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The manufacture's "technical" description of this reads as follows:

"Battery Tender® Solar Controller allows you to convert an existing solar panel into a solar charger using Battery Tender® patented Super Smart Charging Algorithm. Usable input range between 5-45 Watts!"

Hmm... is the "super smart charging alogarithm" viable or a piece of crap? This is the same brand that Costco sells for it it's 120 V supplied battery tender (I usually trust Costco's judgment on product choice ). Is the fact that my solar panel is rated at 50 W a problem? Would I be better off putting my significantly more expensive MorningStar 50w PMW controller between the solar panel this "battery tender"?

Sorry for the thread drift. Probably the wrong forum for this question.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Roundabout » Sun Apr 16, 2017 11:27 am

ygmir wrote:I've read and gone back and forth about the "start them from time to time" thing.
Many make the argument, specifically with diesels, that unless you get them up to operating temperatures and hold them there a while (as in actually driving them, not just idling), that acids and moisture form but don't get driven out, and can do more harm than good.
I'm on the fence with it. I'd suggest you do some research and make your own informed decision.
There are battery tenders, that plug in the cigarette lighter and use either solar or grid power to maintain charge, or yeah, you can unhook or remove the batteries, and put them on a maintainer, too. But don't just leave them sit for a year.
There is an antifreeze additive (alcohol, IIRC) that you can add to the air system, for lines and pots, and yeah, there should be a drain valve on each air tank (there should be 3 or so air tanks), to drain before storage.
Tires if on soft ground should not have a big issue with "flat siding", as long as you air them up properly before parking. It's worse on pavement.
Rodent control will be a thing! vermin get in places and chew things.

Thanks Ygmir! That is a very interesting angle on the "starting them from time to time" thing. I can see the logic in this counter argument. Hmm...
I did not know that airbrakes had so many moisture issues. Thanks for the advice on additive and number of air tanks/valves. I assume there is a port somewhere for such additive?
I agree with you regarding the tires; it's not going to be an issue when not on pavement.
But the rodent thing… OMG. I guess this calls for a careful inspection before any attempted restart. We probably should put some rat food poisoning somewhere in the engine compartment and interior of the bus at time of storage. That will at least prevent long-term nesting.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby EGAZ » Sun Apr 16, 2017 11:58 am

If you are driving in (from home to storage location) you could take the batt(s) out and bring them home with you for trickle charging. Then you know for sure the batt(s) are ready instead of getting there to discover the charger, solar panels , etc died, or the panels are covered in dust sometime over the summer.

Battery Tender is a good unit & alogarithm is sound. I have the 120v version. The input means it can use from 5 to 45w. The batt will reach full charge faster the higher the input voltage. Then it just keeps it topped off. Mine charges the batt to about 13-13.5Vdc, then monitors, adds a little when needed.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby ygmir » Sun Apr 16, 2017 2:21 pm

yeah, it's not that air brakes have a lot of moisture issues, but it'd good to avoid them. There should be a drain valve on the bottom of each air tank. For adding the alcohol/antifreeze/dryer, I'm not sure how you do it, but I'd bet someone here does. It may not be super necessary for your use, though. But, just so you have the info...
and yeah, the rodent/vermin thing. It can be real. Tough to keep them out, so as you note, perhaps poison and or mothballs will help? I've heard mothballs will keep them away from things. But, like most stuff, everyone will have an opinion......
there are several brands of diesel additives for storing fuel. for long term like that, you might also consider an anti algae additive. Make sure the tank is full, put plenty of the stabilizer/conditioner and algae stuff in, and run it for 15mins or so, to circulate the stuff all through the system, before shutting down
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Captain Goddammit » Sun Apr 16, 2017 3:24 pm

Yeah I'd agree with Ygmir, if you do fire it up and run it now and then it needs to be really run, and not just idled a while. I never idle big diesels, I always crank them up to at least 1000 rpm when warming up or running for whatever reason.

Chewing up wiring can be a rodent problem. I'd get that rat poison (otherwise known as my sister's cooking) distributed everywhere on that bus.

The solar charging plan is probably good, because busses use big heavy batteries that aren't fun to carry around.

Overall, I'm not real crazy about the idea of abandoning a vehicle all year then showing up and hoping for no problems... Burning Man is an event you get one shot at each year. What happens when you show up and it doesn't run?
Not knowing if your stuff works or not before it's too late can be a huge disappointment. If I had it, I'd drive it home, or close to home.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Roundabout » Sun Apr 16, 2017 5:11 pm

Thanks Eldergeekaz for your info on the solar battery tender. That is really good to know. So, am I correct then in understanding that the Deltran Battery Tender's stated range of 5 W to 45 W, means that it can only use up to 45 W from the solar panel? And that if the solar panel is delivering 50 W, it is NBD?

Thanks Ygmir for advice on having a full tank on storage and also the anti-algae info. I definitely would have not known about the algae issue.

Thanks Captain for your opinion. It is valued. Like I said, we do take a work trip to the ranch each year in late spring or early summer. We will at least have a chance to test for issues (and rodents) prior to the burn. There are a number of mutant vehicles, and what not, kept year round at the ranch, and people somehow manage to get those vehicles cranked up for the burn. But we definitely need to have a back up plan for hauling if the bus decides to fail.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby EGAZ » Sun Apr 16, 2017 9:47 pm

I'm not a solar expert but given what I have read here and other forums, I suspect the average panel puts out the rated wattage in perfect angle, clean conditions. Which you won't have once you leave. Otherss will need to chime in but doesn't the panel have a controller that can be set for a given voltage/wattage?
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby ygmir » Mon Apr 17, 2017 7:10 am

eldergeekaz wrote:I'm not a solar expert but given what I have read here and other forums, I suspect the average panel puts out the rated wattage in perfect angle, clean conditions. Which you won't have once you leave. Otherss will need to chime in but doesn't the panel have a controller that can be set for a given voltage/wattage?

from what I've seen, panels are just panels, with two wires coming out carrying D.C., and rated under perfectly clear sky, perpendicular to the sun at earth perihelion.
you can buy controllers and such to do anything you want with the power, once it leaves the panel.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby EGAZ » Mon Apr 17, 2017 9:46 am

A quick google found me this. Looks like you might need a MPPT type controller.

OR

Just get one of these. Looks like they make three different models/watt outputs.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Roundabout » Mon Apr 17, 2017 7:47 pm

I think Ygmir is basically right that the panel is rated at 50 W only under perfect conditions. The extra 5 W over the stated tolerance of the Battery Tender is probably inconsequential. Eldergeekaz, I appreciate the Google search. That was really thoughtful. Actually I already have a PMW type controller. PMW is basically the analog version of an MPPT controller. MPPT's are a lot more expensive for only slight efficiency improvements over the PMW controller. My question above was whether or not to put the PMW controller in front of the Battery Tender, but I question how the alogarithm will work if the electricity coming into the Battery Tender is already controlled. Anyway, it is probably much ado about nothing. Obviously I will do tests, but I think I will leave the controller out of the picture and just put only the Battery Tender between the panel and the batteries. Sorry for drifting this thread into the solar panel issues.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Elliot » Mon Jun 19, 2017 6:23 pm

The alternator went out AGAIN on Millicent, on its first short trip of the season, in late May.
Last year, she didn't even begin that trip before we treated her to a new fuel pump.

So I figure this is a good time to remind skoolie owners that The Event is approaching and you ought to take the beast on a shake down cruise.

Obviously, you ought to also perform all normal maintenance.

Allison automatic transmissions
hate dirty fluid. TranSynd fluid is expensive, but highly recommended.
Even if you don't change the fluid, change the external filter.

Allisons also hate heat.
The transmission is cooled by the radiator. That is, the transmission fluid is cooled by the radiator water. So the condition of the radiator is doubly important.

Here is a trick that really works, assuming your skoolie has an electric fan clutch -- and most do. (I may have mentioned this earlier.) With an electric fan clutch, you can run wires to a switch in the cab and turn the fan on at will. Install that switch.

When I did, kind'a on principle, I discovered that... by starting the fan at the first notion of an up-hill, I kept the transmission much cooler the whole way up.
This is because the transmission is cooled by the water coming out of the bottom of the radiator. And the switch lets you "supercool" that water.
Never mind the engine. It has a thermostat on top and takes care of its own temperature-regulation. (Assuming the radiator is in good condition.)

Back to the alternator. Millicent has a Delco CS-130 alternator. This is a passenger car alternator, and a notorious one. The rear bearing is especially prone to failure. That's what happened the first time on Millicent. This time, it quit charging.

Although it is a CS-130, you cannot grab the CS-130 off a car, because the housings -- the mounting ears -- are different on the commercial version. I just ordered one, and it takes a week to get it from the opposite coast.
So if you get the idea that you might want to replace it BEFORE it fails....
Yeah, buddy.

Better yet, upgrade to a better unit.
Albatross -- my new bus -- has a Delco 22SI. Larger size and more amps, but most important... more durable.
Again, no grabbing one off a car. And you will need the brackets that mount it to the engine, since they are different to go with the larger size of the unit.
But yeah, Buddy-O.

Regardless.... A brand new alternator is a lovely travel companion. Belt too.

When I bought Albatross, one of the tires lasted all of 20 miles from the dealer. The entire cap peeled off.
Recapped tires are OK -- from a reputable source. We routinely used recaps on a fleet of over 200 18-wheelers, and they served very well.
But tires die of sheer age. Learn to read the date code. You can easily google that info.

Ben, a neighbor of mine, just bought a skoolie, cheap. It has tires going back to 1996. One of them has a patch on a sidewall. He thinks he is going to drive it to Guatemala like that.

Do you know why farms and ranches across the country so often have broken wagon wheels for gate posts or decoration? That's where the wheel broke when great-great-grand-pa and family were headed for California, so that's where they settled.

Welcome to Bakersfield, Ben.

Hey! We're going to Burning Man!
Let's try to get all the way there. :D
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Popeye » Mon Jun 19, 2017 7:51 pm

I've had a lot of luck shipping boat (Allis Chalmers, John Deere) and forklift alternators and starters for off to an Auto Electric Rebuilder. lt's quicker and cheaper and you don't mess with cores. We have someone in Anchorage, you might have someone near you.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Elliot » Mon Jun 19, 2017 8:20 pm

You bet! And especially so if you have a good grade of unit -- typically the old original or other high grade quality unit.

And guess what.... I actually worked in an auto electric shop once! I dealt with inventory, but I got to know the rebuilders.

They took their work seriously. They often had me tracking down some obscure super-high-grade armature or whatnot, because that's what the ting was supposed to have. Our customers were commercial repair shops, and those guys were careful not to install any iffy parts in their fleet customers' trucks.

Nowadays.... I trust only NAPA Auto Parts and the brand name dealers for important parts. In 2007, Millicent's starter went out -- on Playa! I snagged a ride Reno and went straight to the Cummins / Freightliner dealer. That starter cost $386.31 plus tax (almost ten years ago), and it may have been the second smartest money I ever spent.

That's the kind of starter you can wisely have rebuilt by a reputable custom rebuilding shop.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Elliot » Sat Nov 11, 2017 1:39 pm

Time for an update!
By now, most of us are unpacked, and we can start planning for 2018.
And if you are going to convert a bus, you need all that time.

In other news.... Millicent's engine may have reached the end of the line. Oil in the water. Could be only the oil cooler, but she may also need a whole engine. Need time to diagnose. Keeping an eye out for a parts bus -- since I need other parts also, including rear bumper.

Photo of both buses on Playa this year. Both are Blue Birds with Cummins engine.
And photo of the tow truck that brought Millicent home after her catastrophic engine malfunction a couple weeks ago.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby FlyingMonkey » Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:04 am

Elliot wrote:Time for an update!
By now, most of us are unpacked, and we can start planning for 2018.
And if you are going to convert a bus, you need all that time.

In other news.... Millicent's engine may have reached the end of the line. Oil in the water. Could be only the oil cooler, but she may also need a whole engine. Need time to diagnose. Keeping an eye out for a parts bus -- since I need other parts also, including rear bumper.

Photo of both buses on Playa this year. Both are Blue Birds with Cummins engine.
And photo of the tow truck that brought Millicent home after her catastrophic engine malfunction a couple weeks ago.


Elliot, what'd that tow bill run you or did insurance cover it? That has always been a fear of mine when driving an older bus.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby 171/348 » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:12 am

Good Sam covers towing. Otherwise I've heard it can be a fortune (like $1500). But with Good Sam, make sure they tow you and don't try to do a field repair. They will only pay 1 way mileage for a repair, which means you are paying the guy to drive back to his shop after he fixes your bus (or back to his shop, back to your bus and back to his shop again if he brought the wrong part the first time (Don't ask me how I know this)), but a tow to the shop will cost you nothing.

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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby Elliot » Mon Nov 13, 2017 2:39 pm

The tow bill was $1,350.
I have Good Sam Road Service, at roughly $100 a year. They towed Millicent for "free" to the nearest town in the direction of my home ($900 for around 15 miles). And I paid $450 for the rest of the way to my house, around 45 miles.

Good Sam Road Service is completely separate from Good Sam Club membership.
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Re: School Bus 101, long technical post

Postby FlyingMonkey » Mon Nov 13, 2017 7:30 pm

Elliot wrote:The tow bill was $1,350.
I have Good Sam Road Service, at roughly $100 a year. They towed Millicent for "free" to the nearest town in the direction of my home ($900 for around 15 miles). And I paid $450 for the rest of the way to my house, around 45 miles.

Good Sam Road Service is completely separate from Good Sam Club membership.


So what your saying is that I need to renew my Good Sam membership :-)
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