Operation Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Follow our progress on renovating our 1999 International School Bus into our Tiny House that will take us around the United States to find our next homestead location! Maybe you can pick up some tips along the way too:)
Stage 5 of Operation Chitty Bang is Sanding and Killing the Rust. We decided to take off the next two days after the night of scrubbing and the day Crab passed his driver’s test for his Class B License. Once we were restored and free of appointments, we decided to tackle the rust on the floor. We had a hand held drill with a wire brush attachment, and a bigger tool with a bigger wire brush on it. I can’t remember the name of the tool, but we also used it for grinding down the rusty nails. We definitely could have benefited from renting a sander, but we stuck with our attachments Crab just purchased to try and do it ourselves with what we had.
I used the hand drill/wire brush and wheel attachment to get in all the cracks where I saw any rust, as well as the sides of the bus. Crab used the bigger sanding tool on the big spots on the floor. In the pic below, you can see what the rust spots looked like after we were done sanding.
Next, we tried a “car guy” on YouTube’s advice and mixed together a 4 parts water and 1 part vinegar solution. Then we used the “scotch brite” green pads (the rough kind only) and scrubbed the solution into the floor. I showed the girls how to do it, then let them take over that job!
The final results of all of the back breaking work we all did. Thank goodness we have kids to help:)
This definitely is not the end of the Rust “removal/conversion” but while we researched what products were best, we took a couple of days off for some appointments we had and then started..
Later that night, after removing the rest of the flooring, heaters, and upper side panels, we decided to go ahead and give Chitty Bang a good Scrub Down so we could tell where the dirt ended and the rust began. We blew it out with our leaf blower, bought a big work light and some scrubbing brushes (broom with hard bristles and a handheld hard bristle brush), made a soapy bucket with Dawn Dish Soap, and went to town.
We kept our big workshop fan blowing to help dry it faster, and we would clean in sections and then wash down with the hose. Crab used our broom with the squeegee on it to help move the water out of the back of the bus. After just a couple of hours, Chitty Bang was as good as new, and we had a better idea of where our Rust was.
Stage 3 of Operation Chitty Bang was finishing up the prior day’s floor demo and tearing out some lights/speakers/panels that run along the top sides of the interior. This was the day we actually removed the heaters (did a little research on skoolie.net for heater help) and looped the coolant hoses under the bus.
We finished the side panel removal where the speakers and lights were. This also exposed the fiberglass insulation that was underneath and under the roof. That project will prove to be a little more difficult than anticipated…
The hoses for the heaters went through a hole between the floor and behind the driver’s seat (something we will need to seal soon!). So we followed the lines under the bus and “looped” them the only way that seemed possible by cutting the hoses much shorter, and reclamping them to the pump they were connected to. I am sure we can take out more of the hoses and maybe even that pump, but that will be a project when we are with our diesel mechanic friend!
We let the bus run for about 20 minutes after we looped it and refilled the coolant to make sure all of the gauges stayed in the green, and no codes came up on the scan gauge reader. This helped us to be sure we did it right:)
Nuts and Bolts, Nuts and Bolts, We Got Lots of Screws!!
Yes, we are totally keeping all of these treasures because you know how it goes on a homestead. You can always re-use it!! Even if it’s broke, you can still try to fix it or use it in some other way. Or you sell it and make some money off of it:)
The day Crab made it back home it was late in the day, but I still could not help myself. We took out 10 bus seats and called it quits for the day. LOL. Some people I have seen do these renovations have had to cut the seats out because the bolts were so rusted, or for preference I guess. Our bolts were easy enough…I had to be under the bus reaching through metal slats, axles, tanks, and other greasy grimey stuff to hold each floor bolt’s washer while Crab unscrewed it from the top with our hand drill. Needless to say, I definitely had the nastiest job. But I did it with pride, and with only one busted knuckle!
We also took the flooring out on one side, starting with the rubber mats, and then the plywood. Surprisingly for a 16 year old bus, the plywood was still in pretty good shape! The other side of the flooring had the heaters on top, which also had hoses of coolant attached to them. We ended up cutting the wrong line to remove the heaters, and antifreeze started pouring out. Mistake #1. No biggie though. We read (after the coolant was emptied lol) that you can loop the heater hose if you want to remove them, which we did. One worked and the other did not, and I Want to find something more energy efficient since our ultimate goal is to use 100% solar power, with a plug in option and an option to charge our house batteries with the bus engine.
Removing the flooring was probably one of the easiest tasks, despite the heaters on one side. All of our boards were in pretty good shape except for a back corner section where some screws rusted and stayed in the floor. We had to grind those down, but that was pretty fast anyway. Well, Day 1 was definitely exhausting, but we got a lot of progress done!
Operation Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Stage 1: Purchase and Deliver School Bus
We did it! We found an old school bus that fit all of our criteria and were able to purchase it the first week of April in Phoenix, AZ! She is a 1999 Genesis International with a DT466 Engine, Allison Transmission, 250,000 miles (which is nothing for this engine), and in great shape! Crab flew into Phoenix to purchase it, and then drove it all the way back to Central Texas! A few things to think about if you are doing something like this, is to find insurance, check your state laws on types of drivers licenses needed to drive a bus, have enough money in gas (costs about $200 to fill the tank on average), have a friend who is or knows a diesel mechanic, and look for a bus in areas that have less moisture which will keep you from having any major rust issues.He also ordered a gauge reader from Amazon that he could plug into the bus to check to be sure there were no major codes that came up while he drove the bus before he bought it. We were able to find a dealer that had 4 of the same types of buses, 3 were left by the time Crab was able to get there. He checked under the buses, around them, the codes on his gauge, drove them, and then decided. Thank GOD he bought the gauge reader, because codes popped up on 2 of the 3 buses, and when he inspected under the hood and under the buses, he saw hanging lines and leaky hoses. He is not a mechanic, and only knows some things about vehicles, so the gauge reader helped him keep an eye out for things he may have missed. The third bus had the most miles, but no codes and looked the best over all. Then, he bought her for $4,700.
I was able to contact a local Texas insurance Company (not a name I ever heard of, and I can’t remember it) and the agent I was given was super helpful. He was able to get us coverage through Progressive under a Commercial Policy, for now. I am going to try to change this once we can register the bus as an RV as it is more expensive under commercial. The cost is $1400 a year…a little steep for just liability but for peace of mind for Crab to get home, I can handle it.
In Texas, you need a Class B license (not a CHL license) to drive a bus. You have to pass a written test and bring your bus to take the drivers test, to get your license….so how do you get your bus with no license? Find a friend, or play the “dance in the gray area game”. Crab has driven several types of military vehicles during his service in the Army as an Airborne Infantryman. They ranged from Susvees (spelling) in Alaska to Stryker Vehicles (tanks on wheels). His confidence in driving the bus was pretty high to begin with, so that helped my nerves! After studying all night, he passed his Written Test with flying colors before he left to check out and buy our bus. The DMV employee told him to remove all of the seats and have “school bus” painted over before he brought it to her to do his drivers test. Since none of our friends who possess CHL licenses could just up and leave their jobs to drive our bus back from Phoenix, we decided to dance in that gray area of the law. I don’t recommend it, as it was definitely stressful! But it worked out. Having insurance for Crab on his way home helped him look somewhat squared away if he was pulled over, and since he would be so close to border checkpoints it made his nerves a bit more shaky! But even after stopping at a checkpoint, he was clear to go and did not have any issues on his way home:) We def had to break the law to become in compliant with the law, but it worked out. And Crab passed his driving test this week so now we are 100% good to go until we need to register the bus as an RV, still doing research on that one though.
The driving and written tests does not include the school bus portion as long as your bus does not have school bus on it or the seats in it. Definitely check your state laws though because they are VERY different state to state.
We surround ourselves with quality friends, as quantity doesn’t matter. This is a lesson we learned a few years ago as we hit some milestones in our ever growing and changing lives. One of those great friends, Jimbo, was an Army buddy of Crab’s and his brother-in-law is a diesel mechanic. His house is a little north, in west Texas and more than half way between Phoenix and our place. This made an excellent stopping spot for Crab to have the bus inspected by a no Bull**** mechanic (I hear there are some that rip you off), especially after driving 1000 miles from Phoenix. That bus probably never went that far for that long. The mechanic confirmed the gauge’s readings and said we got an excellent deal on the bus. He suggested one thing that would need to be replaced in the future, but overall it was in great shape. We plan on going back to him when we need to work on the bus so he can teach us how to do it ourselves.
Crab finally sent me a picture of him driving the bus to curb my excitement a little. The girls and I were completely ecstatic and could not wait for him to get home with our future tiny house!