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Wulf Ward
December 2, 2023
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My Experience Converting Buses

The LTD

Back in about 1990, I still had my Fleetwood LDT motorhome. I damaged the side door at a Texas animal park where I made the wrong turn and ended up on a narrow car trail. Squeezing through a narrow bridge, I ripped my side door off. Luckily, the LDT has both driver and passenger doors. 

I ordered the new door to be picked up in Elkhart, Indiana (the Motorhome Capital of the World). It was wintertime and most motorhome dealers had their demo units sitting and running outside to keep the insides warm and cozy (diesel prices were no issue in 1990). Too long ago to remember everything, but I think it was a Holiday Rambler, a bus-looking pusher. I went inside and talked to the salesperson. After some discussion, he let me take it for a ride. I was impressed. 

Now I started looking for that type of motorhome. I still had enough money in 1990 to buy one, but what I could afford was nothing as nice as my LTD motorhome. Going through FMC (Family Motor Coach Magazine), I started reading about bus conversions and that’s when my search for a bus began. That seemed like a better way to travel than in a factory-built stick-n-staple unit.

The LTD.

The only bus I knew anything about about at the time was the Prevost because my mother organized bus trips and she told me that was the bus they had just started using.The Prevost leaked in the rain and all her group had to make up garbage bag ponchos, to protect against the water leaking from the top of the wrap-around windows. I never liked Prevost buses after that. LOL. Other than that, I knew nothing about buses. But I was a fast study. 

Looking for bus conversions for sale, I found Rambling Fever, in Janesville, Wisconsin. My friend and working partner took a drive to check out the buses they had for sale. It was a wake-up experience for me. They had three Model 05 Eagles for sale in different stages of completion. Maybe I did not have the same optimism as I had after I built five of my own conversions, but I still knew I could do a lot better, building my own and for less money. The better part worked out, the less money did not. 

My First Bus, a 1982 Model 10 Eagle

Going through the FMC magazine, I saw an ad by Bill Lowman. He was selling his book “How to Convert Buses into Motorhomes”. We talked over the phone about my interest, and I asked for his help. He had an older Model 05 Eagle, painted all white, and had named it “White Eagle”. Makes sense. LOL. 

He worked with Hausman Bus Sales in Des Planes, Illinois. They had a lot of Model 10 Eagles for sale. He said he would come to Chicago to find the best Eagle for me. 

He asked for $500 for his ticket, room, and board. He was coming up from Florida and ended up bringing his wife Bonnie and he covered her costs. Bonnie was a real sweetheart. They stayed two weeks, and we became really good friends. He never took the $500. 

When we arrived at Hausman, Bill looked for the number one problem with Eagles: rust. There were a few relatively rust-free Eagles and we started test-driving a few. I had never driven a bus before, but the first thing I noticed was the ride, it drove and handled much like a car. I have a lot of nice riding cars, including a 1985 Rolls Royce Silver Spur, but nothing rides like an Eagle. 

Bus conversions got their start in the South because African-American bands had a difficult time staying at regular lodging establishments. Converted buses were the best way to solve that issue. Eagles were their first choice because their smooth ride made it possible to sleep comfortably while traveling from place to place. 

My wife was a teacher and only had three months to travel in the summer. I had sold the LDT to my friend John R.I.P. and hence, I needed the Eagle converted ASAP. I am sure it is some kind of record, but my friend Dieter R.I.P. and I converted the bus in about ten weeks. Unlike all my other buses that took years.

My Eagle.

Dieter drank beer all day, and I, being German of course joined him. He made a lot of expensive mistakes. Not as bad as Diesel Bob and Jerry did on my other buses as you can read about in my previous articles. LOL.  When I was ready to pull out of the driveway, he confessed that he had drilled a hole in my refrigerator condenser line. Luckily, it was an easy fix, but I lost a day leaving. l had a full tank of fuel, but after about 20 miles, my gauge showed I was low. l thought it must be a bad gauge. l pulled into the next service station to top it off. 

I thought, maybe it was not full to start to with, but when I walked back to my bus there was a gigantic diesel puddle under the bus. Dieter had drilled a hole in the side of one tank half the way down when he built a dog cage in one of the luggage compartments. We kept going and after we came back, I removed the paneling and put a screw and washer in the hole. It held. 

I did my furthest traveling in the Eagle. I went to Yellowstone National Park three times, Florida twice, and three times to Texas. It was the best bus on the road. It had no rust issues but had other problems. Because it had a plastic dash, getting a good ground to the gauges was always a problem and caused some gauges to give bad readings. The engine shutdown did not always work, and I had to move the bed to access the engine compartment to manually shut the engine down. 

I am sure it could have been fixed, but I never bothered with it. I had some unexplainable air losses, that locked up the spring brakes. I used to keep a 1 HP air compressor on board to use it to find the leaks. You can’t find leaks with the bus engine running because of the noise. 

My Second Bus, the RTS

By now I was working on my second bus, the RTS. When the RTS was about ready to hit the road, I sold the Eagle to John, and then bought it back and ended up trading it for a restored 36 Ford Coupe and $40,000. 

That was still about $50,000 less than what I had in cash in it, plus about 3,000 hours of my time. It was fun converting it, so time doesn’t count. Ralph Nader would have loved the RTS. Unsafe at any speed. LOL. 

The RTS.

As a city bus, the RTS doesn’t have brakes like an inter-city bus. The RTS has wedge brakes, that need air pressure to activate. So, if you lose air pressure, you have no brakes, unlike cam brakes, which stop the bus when air pressure is lost. With some engine modifications, such as bigger injectors, a bigger turbo, and a 100% bypass blower, plus a final gear change, 80 MPH is obtainable on the highway. 

The RTS reminds me of the saying, “She sure looks good, but can she cook”. I still think the RTS was a great bus to convert. But it is also ironic because it will never look like a bus.  It looked more like a larger GMC motorhome. 

The GMC Motorhome was discontinued in 1978 I think, about the same time the GMC RTS was started. In its early years, there was not a bus built that was as futuristic as the RTS. Disney used them because they looked like their monorail on wheels. Hertz and Avis used them too. They were built well enough to be remanufactured by Blitz in Chicago, and then TMC, after GMC stopped building them. I think 11,000 were built by GMC alone. I am not sure of the total. 

It has some shortcomings, besides the wedge brakes. The compartments are 5’ wide, but only about 24” deep. It makes placing fresh water and wastewater tanks an engineering challenge. I still have 75 gallons of combined wastewater in two tanks and 100 gallons of fresh water under the bed. To be fair, buses like the Blue Bird Wanderlodge had very few usable compartments and the GMC Motorhome had none. 

We did take the RTS on a couple of long road trips. We went to the Rockies, Florida, and Texas.  We also spent a lot of weekends on short trips. Mostly we would go to my place in Wisconsin, about a two-hour drive. The lot was all closed in and we could let our dogs run free. It was some of our best times. I lived in it for three years after my wife passed. Regardless, I lost a lot of money when I finally sold it. At that time, I still had three buses, my Spaceliner, the RTS, and the Dina. I needed the space more than the money. 

The third Bus, the Spaceliner 

I was still working with Hausman Bus Sales buying, and selling their cast-off buses. One day they called me and told me there was some kind of inspection coming up and they needed three derelict buses off their lot quickly and to make them an offer. They were Neoplan Spaceliners. 

One bus was running, and one bus was nice but had no engine or transmission. I offered them $1,000 for all three buses and they took my offer. l moved the three buses to my place in Wisconsin. The running bus, I cleaned up some and sold it for $80,000. The junk bus I stripped for parts for myself, and gave the rest to Miller Compressing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As for the nice bus, I bought an engine and transmission and converted it. 

Somehow, the bus I got for nothing, cost the most to convert. Also, things that were at first attractive, ended up killing the fun and made me sell it. The Spaceliner is a bi-level bus, and each level has only limited standing room. Even the center walkway is only 75” high and just 18” wide. I ended up doing a lot of cutting to make the sides wide enough to end up with a 36” wide walkway. Because of all the steel support removal, I ended up welding steel plates in the side walls and all framing was done in lightweight steel. 

Working on the Spaceliner.
The Spaceliner needed a lot of work.

I went to Stuttgart, Germany in 2005. I visited the Neoplan factory, where I made friends with their General Manager Bob Midgley. He was from the U.S. but spoke perfect German. He took us to lunch, to their museum, and through their plant. Interestingly, their building is too small for a complete line. Buses go down the line, where they are turned around on a turntable to move in the opposite direction. After most of the basic work is done, they are pulled off the line and finished by a team in attached rooms. 

The welding is done on the second floor in small sections and passed down through a hole in the ceiling. They also make their own seats on the third floor. I had a long talk with Bob and told him I was planning to write an article about my visit to Neoplan.

He told me they did not stock many parts at the Stuttgart location. Mostly just leftover and experimental pieces. He took me to look at what he had. He had the mounting hardware for the new style front mirrors and the newer style breastplate, a bumper, and headlights. He gave them to me, but I paid for shipping. Regardless, it was the biggest improvement on my bus, because it made the bus look like their newer models. At the time of my visit, they were building Starliners. They were beautiful buses. 

A Neoplan Starliner. What a breathtaking bus.

I never used my Spaceliner on any trips. I just drove it back and forth from my shop to the school I bought and lived in, Lee Center, by Amboy, Illinois. It was a two-hour ride, and we made the trip a few times. What killed the bus for me, were all the things I loved originally. The big size and the two front doors.

Mostly the extra height gave me a problem with low bridges and the side doors were impracticable for getting out of the driver’s seat. 

Because there was not enough room for a big (fat) man like me to get out of my seat and squeeze through the narrow gangway to get to the back. The side door was on the passenger’s side, and I had to get out of my driver’s seat and walk around to the other side to get into the upper level. No fun on a cold and rainy day. Also, there was no driving in my underwear due to the low windows, like I was driving sometimes in all my buses. I sold it for $79,000, $1,000 less than what I got for the running Spaceliner. 

My last bus, the Dina 

Not well known as a conversion, but it is in my own experience, the best bus to convert. It has the modern look of the RTS and is a real bus like the Eagle and its suspension. Most buses that come from Texas are rust-free. They all have the Detroit 60 Series, million miles engine, and the bulletproof Allison Transmission. Mine has the 11.1 liters (677 cu. in.) and the Allison B500 transmission. 

Dina S.A. built buses since 1951 and merged with MCI in 1994. They worked with Flxible until 1969 when Flxible left the intercity market. By the year 2000, their merger with MCI ended. It retained the torsilastic suspension from the Flxible, but the tag axle had airbags that could be retracted. It eliminates the tire scuffing on sharp turns the Eagle tag axle gives. The driver’s window slides back, and I find that great, but they are not electric, like in my LDT. As an inexpensive shell, it still has a modern and better look than a lot of newer buses. 

I bought the bus, without seeing it, and my wife and I went to Dallas, Texas to pick it up. I was shocked about the excellent condition the bus was in. It had new tires on new Alcoa wheels, new batteries, and was completely serviced. Because it was originally sold for $125,000 as a conversion shell, everything had to be worth the money. The empty bus got about 10 MPG driving back to my house in Libertyville, Illinois. It was winter and I did not want to have problems starting it again, so we drove straight through to Chicago, taking turns driving.

It has basically the same suspension, but it does not ride as nice as the Eagle. It’s a 102” by 43’ bus and that’s just perfect. I still had the Eagle, which I bought back from John, the RTS, and the Spaceliner. I was still working on the Spaceliner and worked on the Dina too. All my buses were in the gym of the school I had bought in Lee Center by Amboy Illinois. There I also stored my classic cars. 

The conversion still needed to be finished but was road ready. In 2004 my wife passed and all work on the Dina stopped. I finished it in 2006 and went to Florida the next summer and the next year to the Rockies. My wife was from Dallas, Texas and I no longer went to Texas after she passed. 

Now that the Dina was just parked for years not going anywhere. I moved it from Lee Center to my shop in Chicago, where there was room Inside. After I moved to a smaller place, there was no room inside, so I moved it to a camping place about two hours from Chicago. About a week later, I moved it back to a lot just a few blocks from my new location. It would be better to sell it at that location. 

How much money do I have in my four conversions? Let’s just say, I could have bought a nice conversion for less than half of what I had invested in buses, but there is something to be said for converting your bus the way you want it. 

And I am the WAYWARD WULF.

Editor’s Note: For more information on Wulf’s recommendations on whether it is more cost-effective to buy a bus in good condition or one in bad condition, read his article HERE.  

Editor’s Note: Wulf’s Dina is for sale. Click HERE to see his Dana.

My Eagle leaving town.
Article written by Wulf Ward
Wulf Ward started converting buses in 1994 after not finding what he wanted in a factory motorhome. It was an evolutionary process involving five conversions over a 20 year period.Wulf was always looking for the right bus to be the last one to convert. Maybe his last bus, the Dina is finally what he was looking for, or he ran out of money and time to do a sixth conversion.

Wulf can be contacted at: Wulf@MenAtWorkCS.com Visit his Website at MenAtWorkSCS.com

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