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 Rig Revealed - Information about the bus

Preface

     This page documents our thoughts, experiences and information gathered from 8/2007 to present regarding the Bus-Stead Tour. The bus, as we affectionately call it, is a central piece of equipment to this tour and dealing with it has proven challenging at times. Both technical and non-technical subjects are covered here. The information presented herein isn't designed to sell anything or promote the RV life style. Like so many treks in life it tells of a bitter sweet experience had by two regular people. Prior to 8/2007 we had no experience with motor coach ownership and we floundered around to gain knowledge. Things we didn't know we learned by doing twice, etc. I'm compelled to tell this story not because it is profound but because I think it needs to be told. It's yet another few feet of pavement on the information super highway. I hope you enjoy reading, looking at the photos and watching imbedded video.

Introduction - 12/2009

      Our primary goal was to basically ramp up our travel activities. A secondary goal was to leave NJ and discover a better place to enjoy the activities we find additive to the quality of life. Believe me, when you cross 50 priorities change and either you embrace change, run with it or remain as you were. Either way is okay. Our scene needed to include travel. But how best to establish the means to move around the continental United States for the purposes of exploration and discovery was the operative question. When I mentioned the idea of traveling around in a bus to Jeannie she thought I was nuts! But giving the idea time to germinate allowed us both to get comfortable with it. Looking back at all the stuff we had to do to leave, it's easy to see why many would just stay put. After much research and careful consideration it was decided that a motor coach would be the most advantageous approach for us. Such a vehicle would allow the greatest range of spontaneous movement and provide a comfortable base of operations for our activities. Lots of options exist to include travel trailers, toy haulers, 5th wheel units, class A, B and C motor coaches all the way up to 45 foot Prevost buses. Prices range from several thousand dollars to over a million dollars. Keep in mind that new and more expensive will not guarantee you the best experience. Whatever you decide on it will most likely be a significant purchase and procurement which is best handled with patience, facts, figures and in depth knowledge. We didn't allow ourselves to make an excessively emotional purchase as deferred reality in such situations is usually expensive, unpleasant and disappointing. We respected the procurement process as it was a complex one. A complete treatment of it is well beyond the scope of this article. That said, I'll provide only the salient points herein, lessons learned and some good references that go further.

Requirements

     Establishing requirements up front is HUGE if you want to avoid making your life miserable on the road. In short, we wanted to structure the whole scene so it was comfortable. After all, we'd be spending a lot of time in it. Unless you have a clear understanding of what you're trying to accomplish all bets are off when the decision making needs to start. Our requirements had to include a coach rated for full time occupancy and also one that could withstand freezing temperatures. Selling the house and having an interest in skiing made these two requirements jump off the page at us. Since this was our first endeavor into full time travel, many less obvious requirements wouldn't be that easy to identify. Even though we tried hard to be as complete and thorough as possible stuff was missed anyway. Luckily none of it was major and I always say no amount of planning can replace dumb luck! Some good luck was with us. Below is a table of our requirements:


Park City, Utah 12/8/2009 10F Degrees


Play Me

Our Requirements List
Full time rating Units rated for full time living are generally made a little more sturdy. It doesn't always work out that way, however. As mentioned, there is a lot of junk out there.
Freezing temperature operation Plumbing and tankage systems need to be contained in a heated area which is usually a special storage bay. No pipes on exterior walls. Gas absorption refrigerator needs a special installation to keep it from freezing. Thermopane windows and good gaskets also help.
40' long Longer than this and it's illegal in some states. Also makes it tougher to drive, maneuver and find parking. Smaller means possible cramped living space. Turns out 40' has been perfect for us.
Tag axle Very important for stable driving at highway speeds and in wind. Also reduces over hang and increases payload capacity. We can carry about 9K Lbs. Improved braking with two extra drums on those wheels.
Class A diesel pusher Diesel is a safer fuel. Diesel engines run about 25-30% more efficient which reduces fuel costs. Engines last longer and deliver high torque. Engine is mounted behind rear wheels, hence pusher.
Two bathroom sinks This one is HUGE. Allows two peope to run in parallel when doing routine body maintenance. May avoid fights and tension.
Floor to ceiling double closet Great for coats and other long garments. You can put a vacuum cleaner in there for easy access. Good storage helps avoid clutter in the main living spaces.
Lots of cabinets Cabinet storage should be well designed, flexible and robust. You'll need to store lots of stuff and be in and out of cabinets everyday. Movable shelves really helps customize storage space. Lost storage or difficult access means trouble.
Standard ceramic water closet When nature calls who wants to deal with some dinky plastic camping toilet. Most toilets are low flush so they must be designed properly to handle the big jobs. You'll be sitting in the reading room every day so it needs to be comfortable.
Auto leveling system Comes with air ride suspension. After a long day on the road this makes leveling quick and easy. No manual jacks or blocks are required. Jacks can punch holes in pavement or sink into the ground.
Dinette table with separate chairs (not a booth) Being able to move chairs away from dining room table improves efficiency and comfort. Good if you have friends over. Our table pulls out for extra space which is nice.
Computer table An extra dedicated table with AC outlets is more useful than you think. Great for PC, dedicated lighting and handling paperwork.
Mixed tile and carpet in main living area Looks great and keeps carpet away from kitchen spills. Mix provides just enough carpet in the right places to be warm and cozy.
Light colored cabinets Helps increase the sense of space in small areas. Improves reflected lighting and avoids a tomb look. Brighter is better.
Neutral decor Not into weird colors, ceiling mirrors, etc. Neutral colors and wood tones go with just about anything. Easier to keep looking clean.
Separate washer and dryer units Big convenience for socks, shirts, underwear, towels and pants. Separate units mean washing and drying can be done at the same time which saves time. More like a house setup.
4 slide outs Makes a HUGE difference with interior space especially in bedroom. Slides must be designed well to operate properly and not leak air/water. Chassis must also allow for structural integrity with 4 holes knocked in side walls.
Side mounted radiator Makes engine access easier from rear and avoids frying your tow vehicle with hot air.
10K Lbs towing capacity Based on weight of tow vehicle. Van weighs about 8K Lbs empty + all the crap we haul around. Tow capacity should also include the extra brakes needed to slow it all down. Tag axle helps all of this.
Fiberglass one piece roof Strongest way to put a roof on. Lower maintenance than EPDM rubber roofing materials. Very slippery in winter if you need to walk around up there.
110 gallon fresh water tank This sounds like a lot but two people can go through this much water in 3-4 days. Required if holding up in remote areas that lack services. Also good if the RV park's water system fails. Waste water is usually 60% and sewage about 40% of total fresh water. All tanks need to be sized to work as a system.
Good highway control index This is the ratio of total vehicle length to distance between front/rear axles. Too much body overhang behind rear wheels creates dangerous instability. Not an issue with tag axle equipped chassis.
Air conditioning Properly sized air conditioning units is critical especially on those hot summer days. Like a car the bus heats up real fast!
Hydronic heating system Diesel fired heat transfer fluid reservoir which makes continuous hot water. It also provides hot water to three heat exchangers located in the living space for domestic heat. Diesel fuel has higher BTU rating than propane and is safer.
True sine wave inverter If you need to run from batteries, microwave ovens don't like square waves or modified square waves. In fact anything other than a sine wave can do damage. Get a 2800 watt unit minimum and make sure cables to it are properly sized. If you run from shore power this isn't a big deal.
On board generator Good insurance to be able to generate your own electricity. Short term use only as this is a very expensive power company. But in an emergency or during power outages it might make a big difference in pulling through. Genset should cover all loads.
Radiant floor heat This is a cold weather perk and a nice one at that. Keeps floors warm and comfortable. Used only with tile floors like kitchen, shower area and bathroom.
Quality slide mechanisms and tight gaskets Slides are nice to have but introduce another mechanical thing that can break. Slide mechanisms, bearings, hydraulics and gaskets need to be designed properly. Chassis design must also account for extra weight and structural implications of slide outs. You don't want junk!!
Single pull out couch This is nice to have for extra comfort seating. Good when company comes too. If it pulls out into a bed that might be nice. We've found the storage space under it to be the most useful. This unit is usually bolted to the floor.
Quality electrical wiring Silicone jacket wiring is best. Use all high flex cabling especially on heavy gauge runs. Avoid chafe points and restrain cables properly. Connectors and connections should be of top quality. Ground runs need to come back to a common point on the chassis. Low voltage connections need to be coated with terminal grease. All circuits need proper fuses and circuit breakers. You'll be dealing with both 12VDC and 120VAC systems. Poor wiring could mean a fire so don't even think about cutting corners.
Quality plumbing PEX tubing is good provided its connections are brass with crimp rings. Some setups use plastic fittings and elbows which isn't as good. Water leaks aren't fun and can do damage. Plumbing system is subject to mechanical stresses during travel. It needs to be designed to withstand this.
Produced by reputable coach works Given changing economic times, who's to say what companies will survive and/or maintain good ethics. At the time of this writing, many coach works have faced bankruptcy. Some operate under chapter 11 (like Country Coach) and others just shut down totally. Other have managed to stay the course. Your guess is as good as mine on this one as we deal with changing times.

Looking backward in time now the above list becomes all the features that our bus currently has. Luckily we were able to get almost 100% of what we wanted in a used coach and in areas of differences the deviations are only slight ones. This is all very personal and the time spent on figuring it all out was well worth the effort. Missing requirements or things that should have been listed but got missed can be difficult to deal with once you're on the road. No matter how well you plan, things get missed or requirements change as experience is gained. You just have to do the best you can then run with it. Don't analyze to the point of paralysis.

Procurement

     Once we had a good idea of the usage pattern and personal requirements we hit the bricks to locate a unit that fit the bill. This is where you transition from paper to real world reality. There is a lot of junk out there and that's a scary thought. It's your classic exercise in kissing a lot of toads before getting to the prince. Kissing during the research phase is far less expensive so buyer beware. Dealers are also lower than whale crap in the ocean when it comes to ethics. Most will stop at nothing to grab your money and see you out the door. Buying from a private owner is a good alternative to sitting down at the bargaining table with professional swindlers. If you don't have the bread to pay cash, some dealers have financing options which might be helpful. We didn't rush the procurement phase. Research, see what's out there, do walk throughs and open the hood. Reach out to organizations made up of owner operators. The good news is tons of information exists and it's all over. Deciding on what you want and like is an evolving process. It helps to be flexible with your requirements if possible. Some stuff is just "must have" but other items might be open to alternatives. Know what you want and be prepared to travel to get it. In our case the coach that fit our requirements was parked on a dealer's lot in Florida. The elderly couple from Marco Island traded it in after one year and some 18,000 miles. It had everything we wanted and more. Later we would find out why it was traded in so early in its life. It took us about 4 months of looking through hundreds of listings, conducting a bunch of disappointing walk throughs and making two 1,400 mile trips (one way) to locate our purchase. It was a fun time to say the least but it all worked out well. We used the RV Consumer Group material and found it an excellent source of information. JD Gallant's book "How to Select, Inspect and Buy an RV" was also an excellent read. They publish a ratings CD which we found very helpful in weeding out the junk. Online forums like www.escapees.com and www.fmca.com are great for meeting owner operators. News groups are also formed around specific makes and they too can be very informative. Just remember knowledge is power.

The Lemon Coach

     Coaches are not mass produced by precise machines. They are custom built in relatively small quantities by humans right here in the good old US of A. What does this mean? That depends on the calendar to a large extent. Years ago, when we still knew how to work with our hands, it meant craftsmen doing quality work with pride. Today it means a few craftsmen dealing with ignorant irrate workers under an incompetent management regime that isn't really concerned about quality. Economic down turns, lawsuits, high fuel prices, ticked off customers and the country's movement away from manufacturing jobs hasn't helped. Sales, marketing and customer service departments are trained in the art of fake, phony and fraud. Real customer committment and expectations go unfilled and an honest day's work is gone. When you walk in the door and want the job done properly you immediately become the "fussy" customer. Being a savvy consumer means looking deeper into the process as the truth no longer exists on the surface. Asking someone usually doesn't help either. Many that control the process don't want you to see inside which further makes a tough job tougher. Buyer beware.

     Back in 2008 I remember going with a friend to a Prevost repair facility and walking around looking at perhaps 30 busses on their lot. For those that don't know, Prevost is a Canadian based company that builds high end commercial busses. A Prevost conversion refers to a commercial Prevost bus converted into a motor home. Many of the US based coach builders have a high end Prevost model. They buy the basics from Prevost and finish it off in their facility. Entry level units start at around $1M and are regarded as top of the line. So I'm padding around this lot looking at all these expensive busses. I'm seeing paint chipping off, loose gaskets, delaminating woodwork, slide mechanisms with worn paint down to the metal and a host of other maladies that seemed unbecoming to such an expensive unit. It occurred to me that we've lost our ability to work with our hands. This plague has been with us so long now no one seems to notice anymore. There is a high correlation between hands on US labor and poor quality especially with consumer products. Add to this that coaches don't come under the watchful eye of highway vehicle safety standards. Coach safety and quality are at the discretion of the coach builder. When you read the recalls and safety issues caught after the fact you begin to realize how messed up this is. For example, one builder puts the propane tank and generator in the same compartment. In summer the generator runs and creates a temperature rise sufficient enough to blow the safety release valve on the propane tank. The result is an explosion and fire. They had a recall on this one. Norcold gas absorption refrigerators are another one. A slow leak in the system results in a fire that burns down your bus. The list just goes on and on. Buyer beware!

     The take away is that all these mobile travel units have issues. It doesn't matter who makes them, how much they cost or what model it is, new and used alike have issues. From 2006 forward I think new means take an even closer look. The buyer ultimately assumes the responsibility for safety and inherits all the problems. New units have lots of bugs that need to get ironed out. In short, all coaches are lemons to varying degrees. What good is your factory warranty issued from a company 2000 miles away. If no authorized repair facilities exist you're pretty much up a creek as they say. Understanding how these vehicles are built and knowing the systems that make them up is almost mandatory. Being handy helps. All that said, you can get a good unit with known problems that can be resolved. The key is first knowing where the problems are and having the means to remediate. Basically you fix the thing yourself or hire the repairs out. Most likely you'll do both as we've learned during our adventure travels. The learning curve is steep and knowledge comes slowly over time. The documentation package for our bus weighs about 25 Lbs and it isn't all there either. In some cases repairs get expensive but that goes along with the territory. Make sure you plan for it. The good news is you can handle things by being smart, practical, patient, diligent and resourceful. Pay attention to the details.

The Bus-Stead Unit

Bus sitting on dealer's lot in Florida 8/6/2007

     After soul searching, grinding through the requirements and surviving procurement we purchased a used Country Coach 2006 Allure 430 series from a dealer in Florida. We flew down then drove it 1400 miles back to NJ. This is a 40' class A ISL 400 Cummins diesel pusher. It was an early delivery model made in the summer and fall of 2005. Country Coach is located in Junction City Oregon and as of 2009 it continues to operate under chapter 11 bankruptcy. Chassis usually rolls into the yard up to a year before the coach building starts which turned out to be lucky for us. Cummins diesel had connecting rod failures in newer ISL engines. Basically the engine throws a rod which cracks the block and you come coasting to the side of the road. Five gallons of engine oil then leak out onto the road or where ever you end up. We missed this because our engine was made prior to Cummins enacting their cost cutting measures. All emergency vehicles with ISL engines received immediate rebuilds. Coach owners received a bandaid. Country Coach had some 1200 units affected by this and a ton of pissed off owners to deal with. The one we didn't miss was the Owens-Corning fiberglass class action lawsuit. They settled with Country Coach for $850K which was money to be passed along to affected coach owners. Instead they stole the money. Owners never saw a dime. The court has frozen all Country Coach's assets under bankruptcy so you can stand in line with all the rest of the creditors. This one is purely cosmetic and manifests itself as small checking in the paint. No safety or operational issues prevail. So you just keep moving forward and deal with the day to day issues that need attention.

     Country Coach generally makes a good coach but none are without issues. In our case we've dealt with a rash of minor pain in the butt type things. Which is somewhat of a joke given Country Coach touts itself as building the finest motor coaches. Plumbing is good, electrical is good, drive train is good and the layout is comfortable. The bus handles extremely well and is adequately powered. I'm sure the previous owners (an elderly couple) were fed up with constant problems and having to constantly return somewhere for repairs. My guess is they unloaded the coach for that reason. The unit was in brand new condition when we took delivery. Everything was spotless down to all the storage bays. Buying used meant we got a significant discount and lots of the bugs had been worked out. Keep in mind I said lots of bugs not all of them. We set the rig up behind my shop and worked through the issues one at a time from 8/2007 until 9/2008 when we left NJ to go on the road. It's a steep learning curve and learn you do. A good portion of that time was spent on upgrading the power system, adding solar panels and improving efficiency inside. Routine maintenance was done to establish an accurate service interval. (The dealer said service was done but I believe they lied through their teeth.) We also did some cold weather testing through the winter. Working through problems with an equipped shop 100 feet away was a major perk. Our house was still around so living quarters wasn't a problem either. We knew ahead of time the plug would get pulled on the house so we wanted to be comfortable that the "bus" was ready for full time occupancy and fully functional. On May 20, 2008 we dumped the house and moved into the bus to live behind the shop from May until September. So we continued to go from bumper to bumper looking for problems, issues and anything that might bite us in the ass down the road. And we almost fixed everything too. The list is below and covers most of it.

Fix It and Repair List (On Going)
Driver seat swivel binding The cotter pin broke on the retaining nut causing it to over tighten and bind the swivel mechanism. Replaced cotter pin to solve problem.
Passenger seat power loss Poor wire routing caused a short to a sharp frame piece that cut insulation. Circuit breaker tripped avoiding a possible fire. Removed seat to fix wiring and add tie wraps to keep wires safe.
Passenger seat foot rest broken Worm gear mechanism got caught in seat springs which created a jam up. Remove seat and install a shield to keep mechanism running free and away from seat springs.
Fix broken conduit on genset Factory didn't run cable properly to allow genset to slide in and out. Opening nose twisted cable and broke sheath exposing wires.
Fix broken level switch on Hydro-Hot Aqua-Hot installed cheap plastic switch which cracked after being exposed to 190F transfer fluid. Replaced with brass one.
Fix broken tie wraps on selected wiring Sloppy wire restraints in numerous spots. Added nylon tie wraps.
Perform running light recall upgrade CC put too many running lights on over head and not enough side markers. Failed DOT. They issued a kit to correct problem.
Fix broken vents Gear motors on vent hoods didn't work properly. Acquired new motors which fixed problem.
Fix sub woofer cabinet Cabinet makers didn't put enough stiffening braces in sub woofer enclosure so it vibrated. Needed to add bolster molding.
Fix living room light switch Incorrect DIP switch settings on lighting control board needed to be corrected.
Fix echo charger Broken fuse holder created a bad connection. Put in new fuse holder.
Glue various slide gaskets EPDM gaskets needed proper gluing. Job looked rushed at factory.
Repair awnings Awning brackets needed to be realigned and screws tightened. Sloppy work at factory.
Deal with loose or missing body screws Tighten, replace and seal screws as needed. Sloppy work at factory.
Replace water pump & filter Water pump intake restricted. Pump also failed. Filter was located in difficult spot to service. Relocate for easy access.
Fix loose diesel supply filter to Hydro-Hot Burner oil filter bracket loose with stripped screws.

Tighten loose hose connections on heating system

Several connections had loose clamps. Big mess if they let go.
Fix dead AC outlets on passenger side Bad connection in one AC connector. Difficult to find and access.
Fix loose outlets in 2 places Add proper screws to AC outlets for secure mounting.
Reglue bathroom mirror to door Bathroom mirror fell off its door. Luckily it didn't break. Sloppy work at factory again.
Tighten loose cabinet knobs Retainer screws not proper. Replace and tighten.
Tighten loose faucet knobs Simple enough. Use screw driver and tighten.
Fix condensation in refrigerator Condensate pan drain hose wasn't connected causing puddles of water in refrigerator. Easy fix.
Fix engine cooling system leak Had slight antifreeze smell but could never find a leak. This one led to a bad radiator that we found later on. Expensive and obnoxious repair. I remember the big puddle of antifreeze at a rest area in Texas.
Fix loose hydraulic hose in engine compartment Factory failed to put in proper hose restraint. Made custom bracket to fix.
Prime and paint selected surface rust Not a big deal if caught early. Can't have exposed metal.
Fix radiator cowling gasket Gasket slipped off track. Add glue and reinstall.
Replace melted air compressor hose Leveling system air compressor outlet used plastic hose. Compressed air is hot and melted hose. Replaced this with a copper line.
Fix level sensor mounting Level sensor bracket poorly designed. Easy fix by adding rubber to tighten bracket.
Fix bay door security switch Just a broken door switch and an easy fix.
Tighten loose canopy support brackets Canopies have riser bars. Brackets were loose and needed tightening. Had to take canopy off to access.
Grout tile in multiple places Mechanical stress cracked grout in several areas. Fix with flexible compound.
Repair/replace various stripped screws Just more sloppy factory labor.
Replace burned out entry door handle light LED burned out in door handle. Not easy to get at.
Adjust cabinet door hinges Euro style hinges are easy to adjust luckily.
Polish Corian edges where missed They missed several edges that should have been polished. Easy fix.
Replace several oil pan bolts Each bolt has a rubber gasket. Several had broken which needed replacing. Had to get parts from Cummins.
Beauty ring missing on bathroom towel bar Replace with new ring. Parts still available luckily.
Norcold 1200LRIM cooling unit failed Replaced with Pines RV Refrigeration aftermarket CU. A brutal repair to say the least.
Hydro-Hot turbine not stopping properly Replaced Webasto control box.
Loose frame ground connection in large storage bay Tighten screw and apply NCP-2
Stitching rotted on awning toppers Remove affected toppers and re-stitch as required.
Various broken storage bay latches Replace with new ones.
Bathroom vent cover broken Replace with new one & caulk hinge.
Jamo power amp failed Replace with Yamah 5.1 power amp
Jamo subwoofer amp failed Replace with Dayton amp.
Water leak on A slide bottom Replace rotted floor section and caulk moldings.
Water leak on D slide top Butter caulk joint and dry interior wall out. Drill weep holes.
Entrance lock stopped working Fix broken wire in entrance door jamb.
Rear skirt dragging on one side Move SS plate up and fix mounting bracket.
Bedroom closet door latch fell off Reinstall with longer screws.
Stripped awning bracket screws Replace with #12 SS screws.

Once the above were out of the way we could go to work on improvements and upgrades. These are the things that personalize the bus to meet your exact lifestyle and usage patterns. Comfort and convenience are very important especially with things you deal with everyday. A slight pain in the ass becomes a huge pain in the ass when you deal with short comings over and over again. Personal usage patterns also will dictate certain improvements. The bottom line is you want to be functional, capable and comfortable. Below is our upgrade/improvements list:

Upgrades, Innovations and Improvements
Replace house and chassis batteries (see note 1) OEM batteries crapped out. Replaced them with Rolls Marine FLA first then Lifeline AGMs.
Upgrade inverter to 2800 watt pure sine wave (see note 1) OEM modified square wave inverter didn't cover the microwave oven.
Add drink holder for driver You can get thirsty during a long drive. By drink I mean soda not booze.
Install 8 panel solar system (see note 1) In anticipation of being in areas without AC power. Solar isn't what you think it is.
Add remote reading outdoor temperature sensor Use this one all the time.
Make counter top extension Need to make every square inch of counter space count.
Make extension for sofabed Basically the bus is a two person deal but an extra bed comes in handy at times. Extension required since couch converts to a youth bed and was not large enough for an adult.
Add hinges to closed access panels (see note 1) Converting wasted space into functional space.
Make moveable shower spray holder Increases flexibility and improves bathing options.
Add inside temperature and humidity instruments Very important to know what the air you breathe is doing.
Add water conservation valve in shower Saves lots of fresh water without degrading the showering experience.
Upgrade filters in AC units (see note 2) Removing dust is very important to keep air clean and healthy. Prevents mold and mildew in ducts.
Add dual direction control to fan (see note 2) Venting needs to change when cooking. Especially when using garlic.
Add dust control filter to fan (see note 2) Dry areas of the country produce tons of dust. It's best to keep dust outside where it belongs.
Add additional towel bars An extra hand towel is always handy to have.
Design bay storage system We had lots of stuff to take with us. Storing it and being able to get at it was a challenge.
Add skid plates to storage bays This protects bay bottoms and allows easier sliding of storage items to include heavy containers.

Notes:
1) More information available under Power, Fuel & Energy.
2) More information available under HVAC menu item.

Cargo Van (More than just a tow vehicle)

1998 Ford E250 Econoline Van Tow Vehicle

     Our cargo van is the unsung hero of getting setup properly. It completes our transportation package in three important areas. Although it isn't the most exciting aspect to our travels the van provides storage, equipment transportation and local area access. Using our portable storage tanks we can easily transport a 100 gallons of both water and fuel. By placing a plank on the roof rack the van acts as a rolling scaffolding platform which is kind of unique and funky. A 2400 watt inverter was installed in the van to provide AC power to operate power tools and anything that can be plugged into a standard 20A AC outlet. When we do water or fuel transport the AC power runs the portable pumps. So the van is our "do everything" vehicle by providing a powered work bench or taking us to our favorite restaurant. It's also fun to watch the looks on people's faces when we drive it through the rich snobby neighborhoods. The van might be a lot of things but it isn't ticking.


     You can also think of the van as kind of a shuttle craft or dingy. We drive the bus into the epicenter of our activities, get it parked, connected, plugged in, leveled and setup. So many nice RV resorts exist we've always been able to find a nice place to park the bus near the things we want to see. Once home base is established, the van then allows us to satellite out from there. We typically run out anywhere from several to over a hundred miles. Depending on what's available in an area we may stay several weeks or 6 months. The goal is to get as close as possible to the main attractions. This approach has offered us complete flexibility to see the best places at the best times. One limitation we've encountered is the van will only carry a driver and one passenger. Every once in a blue moon it would be nice to carry a third person.

     Setting the van up took a lot more work than expected. But if a job goes easily Murphy said you've overlooked something. Looking into the future and trying to figure out what we would need in a lifestyle we hadn't started living yet was challenging. Again we thought carefully, did research and used some common sense. To date the van setup has worked out extremely well for us. Below is a list of the conversions we made:

Van Conversion List
2400 watt modified square wave inverter Use AC power for tools and pumps. Very handy to have.
Drive shaft disconnect Required to protect transmission given we tow four wheels down.
Center storage console Storage is always good to organize your stuff. Provides arm rest and drink holder too.
Two extra storage bins Always can use a few extra storage compartments.
Cargo area safety cage Keeps cargo from cutting your head off during sudden stops.
Tow plate Creates two sockets which receive the tow bar. Super convenient setup.
Trailer lighting socket Bus needs to operate the van lights during towing. This socket allows that connection.
Cargo area tie down points Need places to hold cinch down straps especially for the motorcycles.
Amp and rear speakers We both like music so you've got to have a sound system.
Fluorescent cargo area light When you load/unload cargo at night it's good to see what's going on. Customs agents also like an illuminated cargo area during nightime border crossings.
Industrial grade roof rack Holds cargo boxes, ladder and scaffolding plank. Don't go cheap here!
Two roof top cargo boxes Extra outside storage that keeps things dry. Thule brand storage units are junk and their boxes crack too easily.
Security system Helps deter theft. We typically don't bother traveling in high crime areas.
5 Lb CO2 fire extinguisher Good insurance for you or someone else that bursts into flames.
Rubber cargo mat and plastic skid sheet Helps protect metal cargo floor and is just a nicer surface to work with.
4 way lug wrench and small floor jack Helps jack up the van and loosen lug nuts put on with an impact wrench.
Full wheel chains Van is poor in snow. Chains allow it to go almost anywhere in snow/ice.

Conclusions and Thoughts

     As of 12/2009 we've been on the road full time just short of 15 months. It has indeed been an educational, enjoyable and challenging experience for both of us. Our rig, to include both the bus and van, has performed reasonably well in spite of issues, problems and over the road repairs. We haven't come coasting to the side of the road yet although I thought that coolant puddle in a Texas rest stop was surely going to put us on the tow hook. Neither one of us are afraid of work so you dig in, get dirty sometimes and get the job done. Knowing how to improvise is key in getting out of situations unscathed. Traveling is somewhat of a street based existence with the usual suspects. You need to be comfortable with that and the thought of constantly moving around. First time around the loop you find yourself in unknown places. A pleasant surprise is that we've achieved a safety and comfortable level far beyond expectations. Like so many other ignorant people, we thought this might turn into a trailer trash experience. To see the areas we wanted to see we imagined a life consisting of one muddy campground after another where the unshaven man next door yells for a beer, beats up his girlfriend then speeds away in a rusty pickup truck. This experience may be out there but it certainly has not been our experience. In fact just the opposite has been true. You meet interesting people from all walks of life that run the gammit from extreme wealth to the working man and everything in between. You can have a doctor pull his million dollar Prevost bus in on one side and have a retired small business owner on the other side. Everyone gets along and it all works somehow. Almost all the RV parks, resorts, campgrounds, mobile communities or whatever you term them have been spotless, quiet and safe places to live. Many are down right beautiful. Once parked you'll feel a definite sense of community made up of people that believe nice matters. And it really does. If I had to correlate, most folks we meet are in the mid to late afternoon of their lives. Many are retired but not everyone. Professional entertainers and mobile workers are the exceptions. The people we've met are well settled, interesting and comfortable financially. They don't have time to tote around excess emotional baggage. On a rare occasion you'll encounter some posturing snobby jerkoff but those types usually self destruct quickly in an environment of people that would rather embrace community and exude respect.

     This lifestyle is a physically demanding one as we continue to find out. For safety reasons you need your health and mobility to deal with moving and maintaining a large vehicle. For us we like the rough and tumble stuff so staying in good shape is essential. You also need to be able to get up on the roof to inspect things and broom away the snow. Both Jeannie and I have our Texas class B CDLs required to drive any non-commercial vehicle over 26,000 pounds. The bus weighs 42,000 Lbs and tows an 8K Lb van. It's big, long and heavy. With a 4 down tow vehicle attached you can't back up more than a few feet. The tow vehicle's steering doesn't track the hitch point well if at all going in reverse. We set daily driving limits to between 300 and 400 miles which is plenty. At times it is rigorous. We share the driving load which helps. It's also a good idea to have two drivers in case one is sick or injured. This way you can keep the rig moving and make your destinations ahead of traffic and possible bad weather. Although the bus drives and handles exceptionally well it's no fun when the traffic starts. It's somewhat of a 3D driving experience that requires extreme powers of concentration. If you make a mistake and have a bad accident it's pretty much curtains. The real scary part is if someone else makes a mistake and leaves you in a bad way it can be curtains. On open roads in good weather driving is just another day at the office. When you need to move the rig you plan your route carefully to avoid problems, problem areas and bad weather. As of this writing (12/2009) we've been able to move about safely and without incident. We're hoping for continued good luck in that area. At some point the tour will end like all things do. I hope the knowledge we've gained and the lessons learned during our travels will allow us to locate the perfect resting spot. Not sure at this point how it will all work out. For now, however, we continue with this site's theme of ageless exploration and discovery made possible through our travels in the bus.