New Life

My progress has been slow the last few weeks. Work has been hectic as many projects wrap up for the year and the fact that I’m still working three, no wait, four jobs, all while working on a 19 year old school bus means that free time sometimes takes a back seat. Likewise, as I have mentioned before, winter seems to have set in early. My goal was to get the demo and exterior paint done before the icy onset. So with that in mind, I sent the bus out for paint. I fully acknowledge that it’s sort of like cheating in this skoolie sub-culture, but it was a necessity to keep forward momentum. By now you’ve probably seen the prep pics, so I present to you today, the newly painted bus. I’m still not sure what I’m calling this things. Rusty? Blue? Someone even suggested Old-Yellow (as a take on Old Yeller and the fact that it used to be yellow- lol) I’d love to hear your suggestions. Send me a note using the links on the blog. In the meantime, enjoy the pics. She comes home today after work and then the fun really begins! If you need paint work done, check out the guys at Truck Painting Specialists in Indianapolis. Ask for Bill and tell him that I sent you!

Paint Prep

It’s not even Thanksgiving and we are already seeing sub 30 degree weather here in Indiana. My goal was to have the bus completely repainted before the holidays. Because of this early arctic action, I switched gears and started prepping for paint. The first step was to start removing lights, molding, etc. from the outside. This was the easy part. Remove a few screws, unplug a few wires, done.

One of the reasons I bought THIS bus was because of the awesome under-body storage compartments. Having a “basement” as I like to call it will make waste tank and accessory equipment installation ten times easier than on Skoolie V1. Having said that, all of the compartments were corroded shut, the latches rusted closed, and key locks painted closed. Solution? Where’s my drill? I just drilled out the rivets holding the latches in. Problem solved. A little rust mitigation and a little primer and that too is crossed off the list. I’ve even already purchased replacement latches with a nice chrome finish.

That’s really about it. More sanding and rust mitigation followed by primer. Repeat the process over the entire body of the bus. I did have to do a little hole patching with sheet metal, caulk, and rivets, but nothing too time intensive. The most labor here was simple time on the sander to prep the body for paint.

I’m putting more time and expense into this step because the outside will obviously get a lot of visibility. Also, I really just want the paint job to last. For that reason, I’ve decided to do a metallic blue base coat, followed by two layers of clear coat. Here’s a sneak peak of what she’s going to look like in another weeks time! Imagine this blue (I call it Tesla blue since I tried to match the color to my wife’s Tesla model X) with a thick white racing stripe down the side. The next blog is gonna be the big paint reveal! Now where’s my painters tape?

Catching Up

It’s been weeks since I’ve had time to blog, but life gets in the way sometimes. Work has been incredibly stressful for a whole host of reasons. So, despite getting a little work done on the Skoolie V2 build, I’ve simply not had time to blog. This and the next post are catch up posts.

With the coolant lines out, I turned my attention to the walls inside. If you know school buses, the interior walls are basically sheet metal screwed or riveted to the steel frame. Behind that is a lot of cotton candy style insulation (that is most often moldy, wet, and or just plain gross.) You would think that this is as simple as just removing the screws and peeling off the sheet metal. WRONG. Many of the screws are just simply rusted in place. The real kicker here though is that the top edge of the sheet metal is tack welded to the frame supporting the windows.

I stared out by removing as many screws as I possibly could (we are talking hundreds of screws.) After that, suit up with safety equipment because it’s time to break out the angle grinder again. I tried using a hammer and chisel to break the spot welds along the top, but, it just ended up tearing the sheet metal. To solve this, I just used the angle grinder to again cut the sheet metal. This is all getting covered up anyway, so I don’t mind leaving a 1 or 2 inch wide extra layer of sheet metal here.

Keep in mind that in order to do this properly, all the windows have to come out. This is a necessary step in re-sealing them all anyway, so I took the time to pull out all of the old caulking and weather stripping and used my pneumatic grinder to clean the edges and prep them for new window sealant.

Last but not least (and while the windows were out) I disconnect the buzzer and safety alarms from the emergency exits and moved them to the back of the bus. I was planning on putting sheet metal over these anyway to create more privacy in the back bedroom. This was easy, I called up Jesse Johnson, owner of Metal Supermarkets, and he custom cut me four sheets of 20gauge sheet metal to fit the windows. With the edges already cleaned up, I simply inserted these into the openings, replaced the windows and caulked the outside (and inside) edges. A little self etching primer and these babies will be ready for paint.

With the inside walls now gutted, all I have left is to finish the floor demo and remove the ceiling panels and insulation. However, winter seems to have come early this year. My goal was to get the bus prepped and painted before winter, so I’m gonna stop inside demo and prep/paint the exterior. Check back soon for my next blog post on prep and pain.

A Few Odds & Ends

I’ve been swamped at work the last few weeks, so progress has slowed on the Skoolie V2 build. In my last post, I got all the seats removed, so I next turned my attention to the coolant lines. This is rather fascinating. A school bus uses the engine heat to heat the interior of the bus by running coolant lines from the engine into the passenger compartment to radiator style heater fans on the interior of the bus. O.k., so I guess that’s a pretty unique way to cool the engine if it starts to overheat too. Likewise, these coolant lines are attached to something called a Wabasto heater. These heaters provide engine pre-heat and prevent cold starts, without idling. Webasto Coolant Heaters circulate the buses coolant over a heat exchanger to warm the engine, fuel, hydraulic fluid and interior. To get the coolant lines out, you first have to shut off the flow of coolant from the engine to the interior. Someone definitely thought ahead here as there were valves in the engine compartment for both the inflow and outflow lines.

One the valves are closed, it’s as simple as pulling the hoses. Well, sort of. You first have to pull the metal covers off the guards that run the length of the bus inside along the floor. This cover is held in place with metal screws. The screws on the walls came off just fine. Unfortunately, nearly all the screws on the floor were rusted in place and had to be ground off with the angle grinder.

Another issue is that the lines are full of coolant. You need to drain these first. To do this, just pull a line off the Wabasto heater and start at the back of the bus lifting each line high enough the drain the coolant. Once the coolant lines are out, pull the floor heaters and you’re done. Well, almost. There’s another radiator heater under the front driver compartment. I’m going to wait and extract this after I pull the drivers seat to get to the wiring and switches. With the coolant lines out, the next big hurdle will be the floor.

I didn’t want to start on the floor just yet since I didn’t have a lot of time so I decided to quickly replace the headlights. I chose LED lights. These are pretty standard 5 x 7 LEDs. If you want to put in LEDs, make sure they are DOT approved and legal in your state. They fit the original enclosure and no new aiming is required. Look at the photo below and you can easily identify which light is an LED and which is the original incandescent light.

The outside temperature dropped from 80 to 40 in less than 24 hours, so I decided to use my last free hour this week installing a heater. Last winter I had to work in the cold using nothing but a space heater when building my first bus. I didn’t want to have to go through that again, so I used my 220V 30amp outlet I installed on the side of the barn to run a wire into the bus to power a 220V 20amp electric heater. This thing essentially turns the bus into a sauna.

With the weather turning cold and likely getting bad in the next few weeks, I need to decide if I want to keep working inside the bus or turn my attention to the outside and get this thing sanded and painted before the really bad weather sets in for the year. Oh yeah, I also went ahead and order LED lights to replace ALL of the outside lights on the bus. all 7″ ovals, all rectangular Doran running lights, turn signals, brake lights, etc. These weren’t cheap either. To replace all the lights on the outside was probably close to $1000. I’ll post updated pics and share the experience in my next blog post.

Thanks for checking back in on my progress. Feel free to follow or leave me some feedback. I’ll leave you here with a video of my headlights. And just for all of the people that got fired up about these LED lights on Reddit, I checked them out properly and they don’t blind oncoming drivers and they are aimed properly.

Hurdles are Hard

The seats are all out! I still can’t believe I got it all done this weekend. I actually started last week as you can tell from my previous blog posts. I had not planned to do any more work this weekend as we drove to Ohio to visit my son. He is a freshman in college and truth be told was the brains behind the first Skoolie we did last year. Many of you have heard me reference my previous build and asked to see it. I guess this is as good a time as any. Here’s a few pics of that build that I call Skookie V1.

But we got home earlier than expected today and I had four hours to myself. This time I had a plan. The last two one hour sessions in the bus, I really just wanted to see the best way to tackle the seat removal. Today would be putting those processes into order and adding some speed. Quick note to you all; make sure you have the right tools to get the job done. In addition to some good impact sockets, make sure you have a set that you can angle as well. The bolts directly next to the seats are difficult at best to get to with your wrench. Likewise, a standard sized impact driver won’t fit under the rail on the port side of the bus. This is due to the coolant line protective cover that powers the rear and mid-ship heaters. A great angled impact socket along with a ratcheting wrench is important.

It only took about four hours work today, but ALL the seats are out! BOOM. You heard me right, I got them all out today. I also removed the emergency exit row seat and the kick walls at the front of the bus on each side. Note that the bolts that hold the emergency exit row seating to the floor are larger (9/16″) than the standard seat bolts (1/2″.) It’s a great feeling to have cleared the first big hurdle in my Skoolie V2 build. This is what I have typically regarded as the worst part (removing the seats) of the most fun (building a skoolie) you can ever have.

There are sure to be many more hurdles in this build, but I look forward to the challenge. Now for a little clean up before I move on to the puke mat and the sub flooring. It’s all coming up so that I can patch holes and mitigate rust. See you next time.

The Nuts and Bolts of Demo

I strung up some LED lighting in the bus to make it easier to work. Last winter when working on Skoolie #1 we were using flashlights or iphones and never had enough light to see what we were doing. This time I sprung for a string of construction lights. As a result, I had no excuse to not go out and start demo tonight after work and dinner. Besides, I was anxious to see if my new method for seat removal proved any faster the second time around.

First step is to remove the seat tops. Each seat top is held in place with four phillips-head screws. This is the easy part. Take the top off and discard appropriately.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to remove 19 year old bolts from the floor of a school bus? Rusty bolts that is. I remember how much a pain in the ass this was the first go around. Each seat is held in place by three 1/2″ bolts holding the seat to the side rail by the window and four 1/2″ bolts on the feet/legs nearest the isle.

I used a 1/2′ wrench to hold the nuts on the side rails, while using a 1/2″ impact socket on my dewalt driver to remove the bolts. The floor bolts however were a bit more difficult. Most of the bolts were too rusted in place to even turn and the ones that did turn spun the nut and bolt together. Many blogs advocate sending a partner under the bus with a socket or wrench to hold the nuts, but when working solo, this isn’t an option. I thought about using my cutting torch, but then had visions of the bus going up in flames. I opted to use my angle grinder with a cutting wheel. You don’t even have to get all the way through the bolt, but just enough so that it breaks when hit with a hammer. This proved to be fast and effective. I removed three seats total tonight. It took about 45 minutes so that should be my pace the next time I do more demo.

Thanks for checking back in. See you again next time.

Home Sweet Home!

Today was the day! After a much anticipated week or final repairs from the dealer, my skoolie came home today. I picked her up after work and drove her home. I asked the dealer to make a few repairs after the purchase. New pinion seal, new air brake cylinders (front and back), as well as some new hinges on the engine compartment doors. Truth be told, the extra week was nice before bringing her home. This gave me time to wire up some permanent electrical outlets that I showed you in the last blog post. Likewise, I was able to get insurance!!! Yeah, I was shocked too. Our agent was able to insure me (minimum liability is all I wanted) BEFORE the conversion to RV was completed. I simply had to promise to not stop and pick up any school kids. We even got a discount for having two skoolies on the same policy! If you need Skoolie insurance, call Kenya Duckworth at A.I. King Insurance (and be sure to tell her that Michael Kaufmann sent you too. – 317-841-6004.

With new brakes, a solid transmission, and a DT466 engine she drove smooth and easy on the way home. It took me about an hour to get there, but pulling down my long driveway and coming to a stop was just awesome. Here’s a 360 degree walk around.

Once I got her home, I drove her back to the workshop.  This is really gonna be a great setup to start the conversion.  Plenty of work space, heat, air conditioning inside my shop, great internet, access to all my tools, welder, carpentry equipment, etc.  Also, not that I care, but the bus is pretty well concealed behind the shop as to keep the Mrs. happy.  Here she is in the wild. 


After dinner the family came out for the grand tour.  My 16 and 15 year olds were the first to claim the stop signs and unbolt them from the body.  My older daughter thought it was pretty cool too.  My oldest son who’s away at college was the master mind behind the first skoolie conversion.  He thought it was pretty cool too!  I ended up parking on top of pressure treated 2×12’s that I picked up from Lowe’s and cut in half.  This should help keep the tires off the ground and help keep her from sinking into the dirt this winter.  Oh yea, I highly recommend opening up a Lowe’s credit card before starting a project this size.  5% savings on all purchases adds up.  I wish I had done that with the first skoolie. 

I’ll leave you all today with a few more pics and videos of me bringing her home today.  There’s also a great picture of what salty roads in Indiana will do to your air brake cylinders.  Thanks for checking back in.  Leave me some comments if you like the blog and feel free to send the URL to your skoolie friends too. 





So, the bus didn’t come home today. There was a delay in getting some parts at the dealer. Fortunately for me, the dealer I bought the bus from decided to replace both front AND rear brake cylinders prior to closing the sale. Even better, they did it at no additional cost. I used the extra day to prep my site at home. The first time we built a Skoolie, we did so outside our horse barn. It’s on our property and has great parking, but no heat, no tools, and only 60 amp electrical service. Needless to say, we spent the winter resetting breakers every time the saw and the heater were both plugged in. This time around, I’m moving the bus build out to my wood/workshop. To facilitate this, I ran two dedicated 20 amp circuits to the outside. I also wired in a 30 amp 220v plug so we can run a dedicated heater in addition to our power tools. Photos attached. The bus comes home tomorrow and all will be right in the world. I’m thinking of adding a Skoolie cam so you all can follow the live progress. Not sure though that I want everyone peering in 24/7. Let me know how you like the blog.

30 amp 220v outlet

My First Blog Post

The Unicorn

She comes home on Monday.

Meet my new bus! This is a 2001 International 78 passenger school bus. I found her after months of looking. I call this one a unicorn by every definition. Well, at least as old school buses are concerned. DT466 engine (and with none of that EGR stuff either), Allison MD3060 six speed transmission, little to no rust, under-body storage, 99,000 original miles, high ceilings, and runs GREAT. Purchase price $3000. I had the dealer change the air brake cylinder, the pinion seal, and fix the engine compartment doors before I sealed the deal. Total price with repairs $5000.