Cross continent bus conversion journey

Materials and expertise...whether you need them or have them to share, you can let folks know here.
cool_monkey
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Cross continent bus conversion journey

Post by cool_monkey » Tue Feb 12, 2008 5:44 pm

This is the birth of a travel project I am hoping to materialize between now and the 2008 event, and through at least September if not longer.

I want to start in Anchorage, Alaska and purchase a diesel school bus in Late May / early June. I hope to have a set route taking me from Anchorage to Montreal, down the east coast, and back to Black Rock City. The mission will be to pick up pre-arranged and random burners along the route and to modify the bus as the trip progresses. by the time we arrive I am envisioning a veggie oil mutant transforming bus complete with a full crew, lots of road stories, and as many side festivals before and after Burning Man as we can muster up.

I am hoping to have between 15 and 20 thousand for the project, and hopefully more from people along the way.

I am posting here to begin gathering experiences from the past, ideas on the technicalities, participants for the journey, and whatever other feedback may come my way.

Thanks!
monkey

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Post by BitterDan » Tue Feb 12, 2008 5:47 pm

Better make sure that bus is tip-top (meaning in great running condition if you don't get the slang). That's a lot of miles and it could be hard to find parts for it if it breaks down in a rural area. Good luck with it though, sounds like a trip of a lifetime; Something I would love to do if I could convince myself to break away from my societal responsibilities...
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Post by Kinetik V » Tue Feb 12, 2008 6:23 pm

You're not the first one to contemplate such a trip...here's a link to the people I ran into along I-80 in Wyoming post BM this year.

http://theveganbus.com/

Good people, and the bus was cool too. They even took time to answer some basic questions at 3 am to spread bio-fuel awareness!

Another link for ya:
http://www.veggiebus.com/

You may already know about these links but if not, consider taking a look for inspiration and more ideas.
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Post by mdmf007 » Tue Feb 12, 2008 8:04 pm

sound's like fun - good luck.

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Post by Captain Goddammit » Wed Feb 13, 2008 7:23 am

I'd be very worried about setting off on such a trip with newly-purchased, unknown used bus... but, even so, wow! I wish I had the free time to come with you!
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BAS
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Post by BAS » Wed Feb 13, 2008 10:30 am

I wish I had the time, money, and other resources, too. About all I can think to say is don't get a rear engined bus-- the parts for those are very hard to get, from what I have been told-- plus they have cooling problems.

Good luck!
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Post by cool_monkey » Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:31 pm

Thanks for the responses. I am excited to start working out the technical details, but the realization is still a few months off.

As far as the bus being tip top, I would like that, but Breakdowns on road trips are where the fun begins, and since the nature of the project will be giving the bus attention, I expect it to be tip top by the time we arrive in BRC.

The comment offering links to other bus missions was great too. It is good to have some direct experience to compare notes with. It also brought up the concept of having a bigger mission. I will have to think about this, but as of now, I think I want to just be a bunch of dirty hippies adventuring on the open road.

I will take note of the rear engine issue and probably get an old front end hooded school bus, thanks for the tip.

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Latest Plans

Post by cool_monkey » Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:45 pm

My latest vision is to figure out a hydraulic lift located at the center of gravity of the length of the bus. attached to a solid, widely footed base that would have the ability to lift the bus a few inches and then rotate it around the center axis. Mixed with strobe lights and disco balls and a good sound system, this could be a pimpin feature of the rig.

I am imagining a hydraulic system off an old piece of construction equipment, any technical thoughts here?

Has anyone ever played with the idea of a non petroleum burning flame thrower? I know propane is the primary fuel, but I don't really want a gun if it is the only method.

Is there a better category on these forums I should post looking for trip recruits? I came here thinking mechanics and veggie enthusiasts, maybe this is the right place to stay?

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Post by BitterDan » Thu Feb 21, 2008 5:35 pm

but Breakdowns on road trips are where the fun begins
You've never been to death valley have you? There are too many places in the Americas where you do NOT want to break down.
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Post by cool_monkey » Sat Feb 23, 2008 3:01 pm

[quote]You've never been to death valley have you? There are too many places in the Americas where you do NOT want to break down.[/quote]

Culture makes us soft. That is why many of us seek escapes, if only temporary, such as festivals like Burning Man. The only true glimpse of life that many burners see during the entire year. I am a fisherman in Alaska by summer, and truck driver by winter. I promise that breaking down roadside at 70 below, outside of radio contact, no cars on the road, and two weeks of darkness before the next sunrise is no walk in the park, but like I said the first time, it is where the adventure begins. Thank you for your comments. I am looking for people interested in coming on the trip or have technical advise to offer.

That being said, the latest update is that I am going to be based out of Portland Oregon for the next bit, and this seems like a great place to find some bio-friendly folks. I should be in the area in the next week and will probably start looking at buses a week or two after that, so:

Portland Oregon! send us your poor, your tired, your huddled BUSES yearning to breathe BIODIESEL!!

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Post by Elliot » Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:44 pm

:D
I bought my Blue Bird from First Student in McMinnville, OR, last year. Very happy with it. You inspect the buses at the local depots, then conduct the transaction with the office in Texas. Nothing to it.

Here is what they show on their web site, Oregon only:

http://www.firststudentinc.com/cgi-bin/ ... Listings++

Most of these are Blue Bird "TC2-FE". That means the Transit Coach 2000 with Front Engine. That "2000" means nothing. Transit Coach means flat nose. Front Engine in a flat-nose means that the engine is right next to the driver inside the bus, under a hinged "dog house" cover.

If you want a hood, it looks like they have a couple of those also.

You might want to visit http://www.skoolie.net/forum/ to see what some of us are doing with old school buses.
:D

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Re: Latest Plans

Post by Smudge » Mon Feb 25, 2008 8:34 pm

Fun idea about the turntable. You could possibly buy a damaged excavator and put the turntable into your frame. Your bus might weigh 15,000 lb and a whole medium sized excavator might weigh similar.
There are equipment auctions available all over the country and equipment selling sites. A cheap, small excavator working excavator could possibly be bought for 9k, so a turntable from a junkyard might be aquirable for cheap. My first thought about that idea was that it would make your vehicle to heavy and that the frame is built to hold the weight differently but with further thought and memories of the bus I bought, I consider it possible albeit heavy. No bleeding clue if something like that would pass vehicle inspection.

As far as veggie fueled bus, your veggie oil conversion is the easy part, your on the road veggie oil collection/processing could be the more important and possibly complex part. biodiesel.infopop.cc is the site to look for that. Having the flour and food bits removed from your oil is important, but secondary to having the dispersed WATER removed down to a couple parts per million. Water will cavitate your injection pump and injectors. People are using centrifuges of various sorts to clean the water out.

Build a hydrogen gas generator and any fuel you use, be that diesel or veggie oil will go farther. Acquiring veggie oil these days isn't like it was just four years ago. Back then people couldn't get rid of it and had lots of clean supplies. Now everyone with a diesel pickup is waiting in line for restaurants to have clean out night. Biodiesel is a big bandwagon.

Non petroleum flamethrowers on the playa? How well can you assure your liquid will burn before it hits the ground? Just thinking earth conscious here. In 'o3 there was an art project called the hand of god which was a sheetmetal sculpture of a hand that blew plumes of flame a couple hundred feet high. I believe it spewed kerosene.
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http://images.burningman.com/index.cgi? ... _year=2003

Your ideas in general sound fun, but also sounds like you'd have to have a safety perimeter , spotters, and maybe cones around your vehicle anytime you want to do something 'fun' with it.
cool_monkey wrote:My latest vision is to figure out a hydraulic lift located at the center of gravity of the length of the bus. attached to a solid, widely footed base that would have the ability to lift the bus a few inches and then rotate it around the center axis. Mixed with strobe lights and disco balls and a good sound system, this could be a pimpin feature of the rig.

I am imagining a hydraulic system off an old piece of construction equipment, any technical thoughts here?

Has anyone ever played with the idea of a non petroleum burning flame thrower? I know propane is the primary fuel, but I don't really want a gun if it is the only method.

Is there a better category on these forums I should post looking for trip recruits? I came here thinking mechanics and veggie enthusiasts, maybe this is the right place to stay?

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Re: Latest Plans

Post by Caine » Thu Apr 10, 2008 9:39 am

cool_monkey wrote:<snip>

Has anyone ever played with the idea of a non petroleum burning flame thrower? I know propane is the primary fuel, but I don't really want a gun if it is the only method.
<snip>
Sure!

Lycopodium powder is a pollen that burns with a bright yellow flame when combined with air and lit. It is not flammable in its container.. only when scattered in the air. Feueurshow carries it, and if you google it you will likely find a few outlets:



Some use things like cornstarch for this as well. It is flammable when mixed with air and lit:




Cornstarch is not quite as impressive as Lycopodium in small amounts, but I'd bet in large amounts cornstarch wins at the "price vs fire" game. You'd have to play with your delivery methods since you can't "pump" cornstarch like you can a liquid, and you would want to avoid atomizing it until the end, but I would bet a fast auger combined with compressed air at the end would be fantastic!

:-)

I'd bet you could do quite a bit with propane igniters and cornstarch "projectors". Plus the "fuel" is dry, biodegradable, and you can make sauces with it! And um.. you can get cornstarch in VERY big quantities in the states.

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Post by Xtevan » Tue Apr 15, 2008 12:22 pm

Sounds like quite an adventure!

My Blue bird TC2000 weighed 16,900 lbs. with no seats when I registered it.

Front engine Vs Rear engine- Rear engine bus are generally quieter inside, the ride in back is smoother and engine access is much better than a flat front transit style bus. There is more room mid ship under a rear engine bus for storage lockers and water or holding tanks. If you stick with a common engine & trans combo such the cummins 5.9/allison 54x/64x the parts cost will be the same as a front engine.

The advantages of the front engines are they are way more common around here and easier to get a deal on, rear door access for easier loading of large or heavy stuff.

Flat front transit style buses give you lots more room inside for your conversion.

Rear axle gearing will have a huge effect on mpg and top speed, on a trip this length the cost of diesel could be more than the cost of the bus

If you want to run veggie oil, the rotary injector pumps work better according to my limited research.

The death valley type break down at $250 hook up and $1 a mile tow both ways is my worst fear. Makes an unlimited mileage RV towing package look cheap.

Like Ellliot said- Skoolies.net is a great source of info for the bus converter.

Looking forward to seeing your completed project on the playa

Xtevan

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Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 15, 2008 1:51 pm

Xtevan wrote:The death valley type break down at $250 hook up and $1 a mile tow both ways is my worst fear. Makes an unlimited mileage RV towing package look cheap.
That would be the cheapest big-truck tow rate I'd heard of lately!

The lift-and-rotate idea could certainly be done. I'm going to assume that if you're serious, you are already a good fabricator...
A school bus would be the right rig to use, because unlike a regular freeway coach bus it has a full frame and lots of ground clearance. I don't think you'd have any frame bending issues.
My first thought is to get a set of electric leveling jacks from a motorhome to do the lifting. That would be affordable and relatively lightweight and they're already designed to mount under a big vehicle and lift it. Maybe mount your turntable to the bottom of the jacks... I'll have to think awhile about what would work well to make it spin...
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Post by EspressoDude » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:10 pm

A note of caution about the turntable idea:

Trucks and busses are designed to be supported at the wheels that are about 1/4 and 3/4 along the length (or 1/8 and 3/4, whatever) This means that the frame is designed to support about 1/2 the weight balanced over the front wheels, and about 1/2 the weight balanced over the rear wheels. This means very little weight/strength at the middle. I think that if you try to support the bus by the middle of the frame, the ends will sag about 4 - 8 times the amount of sag in the designed configuration. And in the opposite direction. Damn iffy/risky

Try a 1 x 4 several (5 - 8 ) feet long as a simulated bus frame. Support it at 1/4 and 3/4 of its length. Place one full row of bricks on it, maybe 2 where the motor is. Measure sag in middle and ends. Now try it with one middle support only.

If you are at PDX, you might check with Chambers Motors in Boring, OR.

They have used busses and tow wrecked busses and might have more ideas about picking up a bus in the center.
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Post by mdmf007 » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:33 pm

check out wrecking yards for heavy equipment. The rotating plate from an excavator would be an ideal mount.

They have thrust plates that can take hundreds of thousands of pounds of torque, are relatively cheap as they rarely wear out - so theres a large supply of them.

have fun - good luck.

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Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 15, 2008 4:13 pm

School bus frames aren't weaker in the middle... they're usually the same large c-channel the whole length of the bus. I understand the 1x4 and bricks illustration, but a bus frame isn't the same thing. And actually, if you look at a school bus, the rear axle is nearly in the middle of the load area.

So, between myself and mdmf, looks like the idea so far is to use RV levelling jacks with an excavator turntable... I think it'd work!
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Post by EspressoDude » Tue Apr 15, 2008 4:23 pm

CG I agree that the C channel is essentially the same for the length of the frame, but the concept of one center support vs. two supports requires a deeper section in the middle to control the bending. The standard bus frame "may" be adequate....with minor inconveniences like doors that won't open, etc.
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Post by EspressoDude » Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:03 pm

here is an example of the brick and board test with real bricks, board and measurements.
The board represents a uniform frame section.

"wheels" are 1.32" diameter.

Image

With only a center support the frame deflection is about 3 times that as supported by 2 axles and wheels.
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Post by MozyBonz » Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:52 pm

Huh. Hasn’t anyone herd of boxing in a C frame and adding gussets and additional cross members. If you look at some flat bed truck trailers the beams are bent in an upward arch, which flattens out with a load. Its steel so weld something to it.

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Post by AntiM » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:01 pm

Also, check the DOT regulations for bus weight which includes load. You can scale your loaded us at most truckstops, just look for the CAT scales sign, costs around $10 or so.

I know a Utah burner got nailed outside of Elko for being overweight, the highway patrol has portable scales. Of course, he'd loaded it badly, causing visible sway, but he was over weight limits. If another Utahn in an RV hadn't been close by and could take some of the load (carpets on the roof I think) then they would have impounded the vehicle. As it was, the extra weight tore up the roof rack of the RV which rescued him.

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Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:02 pm

A bus frame isn't made of 1x4s!
I'm a heavy equipment operator/truck driver/mechanic by trade myself. I just had a conversation with a buddy of mine who sets up hydraulic lifts for auto and truck shops. He's picked up a lot of busses. He says there'd be no problem with lifting a school bus by a 4 or 5 foot area in the middle of the chassis. If anything, you might consider adding an extra crossmember or two to prevent twisting, since at the extreme limit it's the rails twisting that would most likely be the issue. School busses have truck frames stout enough for LOTS of weight. It may flex a little, and it's supposed to.
He says a pneumatic jack, basically a big air bag, would be a good way to go, but I wonder about stability... if you use a turntable from an excavator and are going to use the hydraulic motor to turn the bus, meaning you'll be installing some sort of hydraulic pump, then some hydraulic rams to lift the bus would be an easy deal.

We're both intrigued by this whole idea, we think it can be done and wanna see it!
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Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:17 pm

AntiM wrote:Also, check the DOT regulations for bus weight which includes load. You can scale your loaded us at most truckstops, just look for the CAT scales sign, costs around $10 or so.
A school bus generally weights around 16000 - 17000 empty, and is legal to 26000 at which point you'll need a CDL to drive it, UNLESS you re-register it as a motorhome. Then, 20,000 on the rear, 12000 on the front will be max on the original size tires in this state, but it varies state-to-state.
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Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:19 pm

A bus frame isn't made of 1x4s!
I'm a heavy equipment operator/truck driver/mechanic by trade myself. I just had a conversation with a buddy of mine who sets up hydraulic lifts for auto and truck shops. He's picked up a lot of busses. He says there'd be no problem with lifting a school bus by a 4 or 5 foot area in the middle of the chassis. If anything, you might consider adding an extra crossmember or two to prevent twisting, since at the extreme limit it's the rails twisting that would most likely be the issue. School busses have truck frames stout enough for LOTS of weight. It may flex a little, and it's supposed to.
He says a pneumatic jack, basically a big air bag, would be a good way to go, but I wonder about stability... if you use a turntable from an excavator and are going to use the hydraulic motor to turn the bus, meaning you'll be installing some sort of hydraulic pump, then some hydraulic rams to lift the bus would be an easy deal.

We're both intrigued by this whole idea, we think it can be done and wanna see it!
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Post by EspressoDude » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:33 pm

never said a bus frame was made of 1 x 4's

that was a comparison of flexing of semi-rigid frames with different support points. If the frame can tolerate it, great.

Boxing of frames is common, but must be done with caution, because of the stress concentration at the end of the boxing and welds. I've done it. I have also repaired cracked frames that were reinforced incorrectly.

Main point is, if a person is going to put unusual stresses on a frame of a vehicle for cross country or ALCAN hwy. driving, it is better to ask questions and do it right, than to break the frame between bum-fuck and plum-dang, and not be able to drive it again.
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Post by Captain Goddammit » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:39 pm

Shhh... Espresso Dude, be quiet... he said he WANTED to have breakdown adventures!
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Post by MozyBonz » Tue Apr 15, 2008 8:44 pm

Image


My point is that anything can be pulled off if you really want to do it.

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Post by motskyroonmatick » Tue Apr 15, 2008 9:07 pm

The track and turntable portion of an excavator is quite heavy but there are some preexisting attributes that make it perfect for the application. The turntable is the necessity. It has hydraulic connections for the tracking motors that pivot in unlimited 360 rotation. These could be repurposed to power hydraulic rams that would lower a big plate or four pads that would lift the bus. It would be mounted in its normal orientation. The top of the turn table is usually a thick plate that could be welded right to the frame. A PTO powered hydraulic pump could operate the swing motor to turn the buss and operate the lifting rams.
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Post by Captain Goddammit » Thu Apr 17, 2008 5:53 am

I'd suggest bolting to the frame, it's generally not recommended to weld directly to truck frame rails. It's supposed to screw up the heat-treating, and frames do flex, you'll end up with cracks.
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