(Click to enlarge pictures)
Since so many readers have asked us to keep them updated on our bus conversion project, we wrote several articles on our progress in a series of issues. Though the Gypsy Journal is an RV publication, to us the bus project is no more than building the ultimate motorhome for our personal needs. We hope to show readers our progress, and possibly inspire others who may be considering such an undertaking. We are by no means professional bus converters, in fact I have a reputation for being rather inept with tools, but in seeing the shoddy workmanship in our own, as well as so many other RVs, we believe we can at least do better than much of what is being sold today.
This is a long term project, done on a tight budget. So donít expect us to be done in a month, or even a year. And if you are expecting the finished product to have the mirrored ceilings, track lighting, and glitz of some of the upscale bus conversions displayed at many of the RV shows, you will be disappointed.
Our goal is to make the bus livable as soon as possible, and improve as we go, to create a comfortable, workable, affordable home and office on wheels. By livable, we mean basic electrical, plumbing, and propane systems in, facilities for cooking, bathing, and working, and some basic creature comforts, such as television and seating. Even if you have never contemplated building your own motorhome, we hope readers will find our project interesting.
In The Beginning
We started fulltiming in a 1998 Pace Arrow Vision 36 foot Class A motorhome, which has been a consistent source of irritation and frustration. Regular readers will know why we refer to our Fleetwood nightmare as the Motorhome From Hell.
We have been plagued by constant breakdowns, including having the hydraulic system suffer major failures fourteen times in eighteen months. This has included having our bedroom and living room slideouts extend while going down the highway, having them refuse to retract when we make ready to hit the road, having the bedroom slide drop down and crack the fiberglass side of the motorhome, and, most recently, extending the bedroom slide and having it tear the bed, pedestal, and night stands off the wall. More times than we can recall, the hydraulic system for our stabilizing jacks has failed, and repeated trips to repair facilities have not solved the problem.
In addition, we have had several close calls with fire, due to wiring problems; the fiberglass side of the motorhome began delaminating within the first year we owned it; the stove and water heater both had to have major repairs; both slideout seals have leaked from the first day; and many other problems that have not been resolved, regardless of our many complaints to Fleetwood, both verbally, in writing, and through this publication.
Even worse than the structural and construction defects are the RVís poor handling characteristics, as evidenced by the low highway safety rating given it by the RV Consumer Group. Difficult to handle in even a light breeze, stronger winds and passing trucks have literally blown us off the road more than once. And this is what our dealer, Earnhardtís RV in Mesa, Arizona, calls Fleetwoodís top of the line gasoline model! I shudder to think what the lower priced units are like. We recently learned that Fleetwood admitted to the Arizona State Attorney Generalís office that they had been engaged in selling recreational vehicles in Arizona that were buy-back units under other statesí lemon laws, and have every reason to believe that our motorhome was one such unit. A call to Fleetwood did not produce a denial to that accusation.
In frustration, we began looking for an alternative to our Motorhome From Hell, and quickly discovered that many of the production motorhomes sold today, regardless of manufacturer, have the same defects and poor workmanship, though not usually to the extent of our rig. Others, the better units with better reputations, were out of our price range. We couldnít afford anything better, since most of our nest egg was already tied up in the Pace Arrow. We didnít want to give up our life on the road, nor did we want to continue living and traveling in such a poorly designed and manufactured RV. We also realized that, given the problems we continue to have with our present RV, it was only a matter of time until it became unusable. What to do?
And The Answer Is....
That is when we discovered bus conversions. Someone pulled into the Escapees Rainbows End park in Livingston, Texas in an old GMC bus conversion, and I wandered over to check out this unique motorhome. One look at the immense storage bays under that old bus, and one look at its solid construction, and I fell in love immediately. I began looking at every bus I spotted. If one pulled into a campground where we were staying, I knocked on the door and asked the owners about their rig. I began reading the two or three bus. conversion magazines published, devouring every word and photograph on the pages. I was hooked. I had to have a bus!
Miss Terry was skeptical at first, since she knows how little mechanical ability I have. But after dragging her through a few bus conversions, and after it became apparent our problems with the RV were only getting worse by the day, she began to casually leaf through my bus magazines, and started pointing out buses that she spotted passing us on the highway. I knew her bus fever was in full force the day she suggested we check out a bus parked in a campground.
Buses offer certain major advantages over production motorhomes. They are designed to go a million miles or more with regular maintenance, they are built to carry passengers in commercial service, so many safety features are built in to them, and their payload capacity is much more than standard motorhomes, which are often close to being overweight by the time you fuel them and fill the fresh water holding tank. The diesel engines on these buses, designed to carry 40 or 50 passengers and all of their baggage, are more than capable of hauling two people and their traveling home with no strain at all.
Okay, so we know we want a bus. But who can afford one? Donít buses cost a small fortune? There was no way our tiny budget would stretch to cover a price tag that high. Or so we thought. When we began looking at buses seriously, we were surprised to learn that there are a lot of very good running, structurally sound older buses on the market that can be had for very reasonable prices. These are usually former charter or Greyhound buses that have been replaced when the fleet was upgraded. By shopping carefully, one can find a good bus that will still render many, many years of service for about what you would expect to pay for the down payment on a new gasoline powered motorhome. So now we knew we wanted a bus, but which bus?