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Tales from a Novice Bus Owner

Summer 2004

 

 

Let me preface this narrative with a little info about myself.  I can drive anything that has wheels, fly anything except helicopters or jets, and love to ride motorcycles.  I have had campers in the past from a pop-up to 30 foot travel trailer, but this is my first bus.  I am not particularly mechanically inclined, as I tend to make a 30 minute project into a half day endeavor.   I am afraid I have caught the bus fever now, and intend to make this bus into my second home.  This story is about my first encounters with my bus.

 

After my fatherís death in 1998, my brother decided to buy his bus from my mother.  He made a few changes like closing off the center door in preference to using the front door and putting down wood floors in place of some of the carpet.  He used the bus a few times before deciding that the cost of owning an older bus was too expensive and gave it back to my mother.  She had decided to sell the bus and that is where I stepped in and bought it from her.

 

This is a 1971 Flxible that my father bought in the late 1980ís in California.  He and my mother picked up the bus in California with all of the original seats in it.  They brought it back to Georgia and removed all of the seats, stripped the interior, and had it foamed.  They took it to Mexico, where they put in the windows and fixed the exterior skin, and painted the outside of the bus.

 

Over the next year, he built the bus into a coach.  I did not pay much attention to the process, as I had too much to do at the time, to get involved.  He was preparing the bus for my mother and him to travel in.  They spent the next years enjoying traveling in this bus.  As I learn more about the bus, I find that it was well built, and properly thought out.

 

When I obtained the bus, it had been sitting idle for about three years.  It was not running, and needed some work to get it back on the road.  Number one was to get a new set of batteries for the bus.  This meant buying 4 batteries in order to get the bus running; two batteries for the engine and two for the house.  I do not know much about batteries so I cannot tell you what type of batteries they are, suffice it to say, that they are large batteries.  This four hundred plus dollars was my first expense.

 

Once the batteries were installed, everything came to life, and the bus was road worthy.  Well, at least I felt like it was road worthy.  My wife, Elaine, and I decided to take the bus on a trip to Biloxi Mississippi over the New Years holiday.  I had one more item that needed attention before we could actually travel in the bus.  One of the air bags was leaking and the others were dry rotted.  We ended up having to replace all of the air bags because of the dry rot.  This repair was completed just before leaving on our first shake down cruise to Biloxi.  Now we have spent close to $2000.00 and we have not left town yet.

 

We left the day after Christmas for Biloxi.  Boy this is great, tooling down the road in your own bus.  We are making great time 60 to 65 mph across I-10.  I find that 65 mph is about top speed for the bus.  Just as we are entering Mississippi, the front end starts to bounce.  I pulled off at the next exit and started looking at the tires.  I canít find anything, but as soon as we are moving again, I notice that as we get to about 45 mph, I start getting the bounce again.

 

I get off the interstate and head south.  I figure that if I can get to Highway 90, I will be able to go to Biloxi without going too fast.  This works out, and we arrive at the campground in Biloxi, and unhook the car from the tow dolly.  Now it is time to head to the campsite.  When I crank the bus, there is a noise, that wonít go away. 

 

I get to the campsite, and back in.  I have never driven a bus before and I back into the cramped site on my first attempt.  The noise is still there.  I turn off the engine, and noise continues.  I go to the rear with the idea that I will open the engine compartment and see what is making the noise.  When I get there, I realize that I have backed in so far, that I cannot open the engine compartment because I am too close to the camper behind me.  The noise will not stop.  I try to crank the engine, but to no avail.  I finally realize that I saw a battery disconnect in one of the doors on the side of the bus.  I flip the switch, and the noise stops.  As soon as I turn the switch back on the noise returns.

 

I go ahead and hook up all of the lifelines to the water, electricity, and sewer.  Now I realize that they have put me on a 30 amp site instead of a 50 amp site.  I am stuck, because I cannot crank the engine to move.  The only thing I can do is get a refund for the difference.

 

Mind you, Iím not much of a mechanic.  I ask at the campground office who to call, and they seem as lost as me.  Elaine and I get in the car, and drive to a local truck stop where they give me the name of Night Rider truck repair.  I call him, and he says he will come out tomorrow and see about me.  Off to the casinos we go to try to have a little fun.

 

Night Rider finally shows up and after some looking, he finds that the starter is toast and it will have to be rebuilt.  He pulls the starter off of the bus and disappears to have it rebuilt.  He informs me that it will be tomorrow before he will be back.  He comes back the next day with a completely rebuilt starter and leaves with $600.00 of my money.  Donít get me wrong, I thought the guy was really nice and he did a good job, I just wasnít ready for a money pit called Flxible.  While he was there, he jacked up the bus and we determined that my front tire was separating and would not make the trip back home. 

 

When we pulled out to head home, I stopped at a local tire store to purchase a new tire for the trip home.  Do you know how hard it is to find a 12R22.5 tire?  The bus has 12R22.5 tires all around.  I remember hearing my dad say he wanted heavier tires for the traveling they did.  They crossed the country a couple of times and went to Mexico a couple of times.  There are plenty of 11R22.5 tires, but no 12R22.5.  We finally took the spare out from under the bus (an 11R22.5 tire) and put it on.  To remove the spare there is a place on the side of the bus to put a handle, and it raises and lowers the spare tire. When we tried to put the 12R22.5 tire back in the place the 11R22.5 tire came from, it would not fit.  With the help of the tire guy, we rolled the large tire up and into the bus.  Luckily there is a space in the living area that will allow the tire to lay flat.  We laid down an old quilt and put the tire on it. 

 

After arriving home, I decided to replace the tire.  Much to my disappointment I find that all six tires are dry rotted and would need to be replaced.  First price I got was around $2850.00.  After I picked myself up off of the ground, I took the bus to my office and parked it out back.  It took me about a month to finally find a set of tires.  I talked to every tire man in Albany Georgia.  The one thing that came out of this was an education on tires and loading.  I find that I can return to 11R22.5 tires and still meet all of my load requirements.  While the bus was sitting at my office, one of the rear tires blew a hole in the sidewall while parked.  There is a god who looks after fools and the uninformed.  I finally found a set of tires for $125.00 per tire including rims at a junk yard.  These were new tires not recaps with almost all new tread.  I had been told the last thing I wanted to do was put recaps on the bus.  If the recaps came apart, they would do a lot of damage.

 

Now I have 6 tires already mounted on rims, so all I have to do is call a tire man I know, and get him to mount them on the bus.  I rented a heated pressure washer and removed all of the grease and grime from the rims, and they look almost brand new.  The tire man arrives to put the tires on the bus, and the first thing he says, is that the rims on the bus are different from the rims I bought.  So much for the best laid plans.  Now we have to dismount the tires and mount them back on my original rims.  Donít ask me what the difference was in the rims, he showed me, but I did not understand.  It had something to do with the way the holes were made in the rims.  He mounted the tires and now the bus has new rubber all around.

 

Letís see, I have made one trip in the bus, and have spent close to $3500.00.  This doesnít include diesel fuel, which at the time was $1.36 per gallon.  The trip out to Biloxi and back cost me about $200.00 in fuel.  Gosh, I could have almost bought a motel for this price.  I could have stayed in a luxury suite for the price of diesel fuel.  Funny thing is I am starting to like traveling in my bus, with my own bed and food.

 

So far, I have only been traveling in the cooler months.  The main basement model air conditioner is not working, and when traveling during hot weather, we cannot cool the bus enough with only the front roof mount air conditioner.  The lone front a/c will do fine when parked in the spring and fall, but not in summer.

 

My second trip to Clayton Georgia was for the most part uneventful.  We had a good time except for the rain.  When the rain hit, the front windshield leaked like a sieve.  We used every towel we had to mop up the water.  When I returned, I applied silicone around the edge of the windshield and that so far has stopped the leak.  I guess I am going to have to find some windshield rubber seals somewhere.

 

On my third trip, we decided to go back to the Biloxi area.  We went a little past Biloxi to Bay St. Louis.  We stayed at Casino Magic where they have their own campground on site.  We went with just the bus, and no car to get around.  The trip was uneventful going out, and we had a great time while in Bay St. Louis Mississippi.

 

As we headed home, we noticed that there was a strong smell of diesel in the bus.  We stopped at a rest area just after entering Alabama, and there was smoke coming out of the window sills in the bedroom.  I opened the rear compartment, but I couldnít see anything unusual.  I had been noticing that I had smoke coming from one of the exhaust heat shields, but that had been going on for a while. 

 

After getting back up to highway speed (65 mph), I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a ton of white smoke pouring out of the rear of the bus.  I pulled off the side of the road and opened the engine compartment.  I did not see anything wrong, so I decided to crank the engine and see what happened.  I started the engine and walked back to the rear, and the entire engine compartment was on fire.  I ran to the front, switched off the engine and grabbed a fire extinguisher.  I put out the fire, and started looking for the problem.

 

I finally found the fuel line for the diesel generator had come in contact with something and had melted in half.  When I started the engine, it was spraying diesel all over the engine.  This was what was causing the white smoke and the fire.  I finally tracked down the line under the bus and clamped it off with a pair of vise grips.  After I clamped the vise grips on the line, I tied the vise grips with wire ties to keep them from opening again, and tied the vise grips to the frame with another set of wire ties.

 

I have to say here that no matter what you touch on a diesel, you come away black from the soot and grease (am I preaching to the choir here?).  Well, when I came out from under the bus, I think every square inch of my hands, arms, and part of my face was covered in grease and grime.  I washed and washed, but I think I was still wearing some of that grime when I got home.  God bless the mighty diesel.

 

During the hour I spent on the side of the road, not one car stopped to see about me.  Someone called the fire department, because about 15 minutes after stopping, they showed up.  The fire department hung around until I finally started the engine.  They wanted to be sure it didnít catch fire again.

 

After returning to Albany, I took the bus to Rainbow Trucking, a local truck repair place my father used, since they were already familiar with the bus.  He called me a few days later, to ask if the bus could be out of fuel.  I told him I had filled it up before I left Biloxi, and it normally takes about 65 gallons to run back.  He found that it was out of fuel.  That means I had blown over 30 gallons of diesel fuel over a hot engine before I found the problem.  I guess someone was looking over me.  When I got it back, I also got a bill for a little over $2000.00.  They had to do some exhaust work, fix some wiring that got burned, fix the fuel line, put a new sending unit on the fuel tank for the gauge to work, and numerous other things that needed attention.

 

My wife and I are in the process of replacing cabinet doors and generally fixing up the bus.  We have moved the main door back to the middle of the coach.  We did not like getting in through the front door.  Some things I am doing myself, and some I am hiring done.  We now are die hard bus nuts, as we love to travel in the bus.  It seems that the bus likes to go north, because we have been to Clayton Georgia area three times with no problems.  It must not like to go west, because we have problems every time we go that way.

 

The bus drives great, is rattle free, and has plenty of power.  I am running a 903 Cummings engine, and Allison transmission.  The 7.5 Kw diesel generator will supply enough power to run everything at the same time.  I have had the rear air fixed, so now we can travel during the summer months.  I am sure that a lot of your readers understand that any bus is always a work in progress.

 

I get a lot of comments on the bus everywhere I go.  I am still learning a lot about the operation of the bus, and what the bus has on it.  I have removed the dishwasher because I could not find parts for it and made a cabinet out the space.  This bus was built in the late 1980ís and I am finding that a lot of the equipment is no longer available, thus there are no parts to fix it.  The backup camera is not working, the cruise is not working, and the washer dryer has a broken handle on the door.  Most of these items are no longer made and parts are nonexistent.  This means replacement instead of repair.  Oh well; Itís only money.

 

Hopefully a lot of your readers will recognize this bus.  I know that the members of the Southeast Bus Nuts will remember the Mindy-Lou, as my dad was president of the organization at the time of his death.  When I finally get it back in shape, I will contact you about Bus of the Month.  For more info on Ray Hinman, visit my website at: www.rayhinman.com

 

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