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Fred and Laurie Woodruff
April 30, 2023
55 views

The Bus – A 1996 MCI 102D3 

Hi, my name is Fred Woodruff and my beautiful wife’s name is Laurie. We’ve recently celebrated 50 years of married life together. We live in Freeport, Illinois, and would like to share a little bit of our journey with you.

My wife and I started our RV journey in the early 1980s when we bought a beat-up truck camper that we put on our 1979 Ford pickup. We took a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina for an Amway convention, and then we went to Georgia to visit a cousin, and while there went to Stone Mountain. The kids were small then and they loved traveling in the truck camper because the front of the truck camper had a window on top and they rode above the cab lying in the bed looking out the window at all the scenery. 

After a year or so we bought a beat-up Chevy mini home. I replaced the motor in the mini home with a small block 400 cubic inch motor that had a 4-barrel carburetor. I went to Warsharsky’s Auto Parts and bought dual mufflers with glass packs and away we went. We were pretty broke back then and I was young and dumb. 

1985, our son, Bill Woodruff at 12 years old at our house in the country (Rochelle). The bus in the background is a 1942 PDA-3701.

After a couple of years with that, I found a GM coach. It was a 1942 PDA-3701 with a 4-71 Detroit Diesel engine and a 4-speed manual transmission. It had been converted but was in pretty rough shape. It had a bed in the back and four bunk beds. It also had a bathroom, sink, refrigerator, stove, and two rows of original seats in the front. After getting the engine rebuilt, we used it for several years camping and traveling in our local area of Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. 

Our most memorable trip was visiting some friends in Omaha, Nebraska. The bus would only go about 62 MPH, so you always drove it with the pedal to the metal. After we got on Interstate 80 heading to Omaha, I became tired, so I switched seats with my wife while we were moving down the road, I wouldn’t recommend anyone do that, but she couldn’t go through the gears. She had never driven the bus, and I told her what traffic sign to watch for so she could wake me up. 

I told her to hold the pedal to the metal and keep it between the fences. I then went back to the rear and took a nap. Nothing will put you to sleep better than having your bed above a purring Detroit Diesel engine going down the road. When we arrived at the place that I told my wife to look out for, she had the kids wake me up and we traded places again and I finished driving the trip. It was a lot of fun, but primitive. 

After the GM coach, we took a break from camping and RVing and got into hotel timeshares where we found out that the timeshare people are more than happy to relieve you of your money. We did really enjoy the travel for the first number of years but then the timeshare industry got so congested that it was hard to book accommodation at the places you wanted to go. So, we ended up getting out of our timeshare and just renting hotel rooms when we traveled.

This is the front view of the coach before it was upgraded.
Side view of coach before the upgrade.

Several years ago, as I was nearing retirement, I started looking online at all the coaches on the market and got the RVing itch again, and then it happened. We found a coach on Pop’s RV website about an hour away from us that my wife and I could go look at and when we did, we fell in love with it and purchased it in the fall of 2020. It was a 1996 MCI 102D3. It has a Series 60 Detroit Diesel, (425 HP) and a 6-speed Allison transmission with a transmission brake.

My wife and I wanted an MCI coach for several reasons. The Model D MCI has a proven track record of reliability and toughness. In combo with the Series 60, Pre EGR, Pre DEF diesel, and the tried and proven Allison B500R 6-speed automatic transmission, there’s no better combo on the market, even with the newer coaches.

We also had a specific purpose for the bus, so we did not want slides, solar panels, or other exterior devices that would hinder the purpose. Our purpose for the bus was to travel and see the country. Being a pastor, we also enjoy taking local trips with friends from our family and church. 

Buses are a lot more stable on the road and a lot more reliable than motorhomes. Buses are built to get on the open road and go and that’s exactly what this is allowing us to do. There’s no better ride than a coach with air ride suspension. It’s quiet, the view is great and it’s very relaxing to drive. Yes, it needed a lot of TLC, but the engine and transmission were in excellent shape and the main interior conversion had already been done. 

The rear interior area where the original toilet was. Also, there were access panels for the engine and transmission.

Editor’s Note:  If there were engine and/or transmission access panels, or any other access panels such as the fuel-sending unit, never, ever cover them up permanently.  Always leave them accessible when you complete your conversion.  Eventually, somewhere, sometime, someone will want to get in there.  If you fail to do that, you may end up tearing up your floor at a later time.

The rear interior area after the upgrade.

When we bought the bus, it was set up as a day bus. It didn’t have a bed in the back, just a U-shaped sitting arrangement. So, we went to work and tore out the old U-shaped seating in the back and fixed the floor and area where the original toilet was located, insulating, and sealing up any holes to keep the varmints and elements out. 

Because of not being winterized, it needed pipes and drains fixed that were broken. The toilet was also broken and needed to be replaced. We replaced the old toilet with a new porcelain ADA-elongated bowl RV toilet. The rest of the bus just needed a good going-through to get it up to par. 

The 102 in the model means it’s 102 inches (8-½ ft.) wide. D is the model and D3 means it’s 40ft. long. It’s the perfect length for traveling and getting around.

After we purchased the bus, we took it to the MCI Regional Center on East Oakton St. in Des Plaines, IL to get a bumper-to-bumper checkup. This was during the fall of 2020 when COVID really hit the travel industry hard, especially the bus industry. They were glad to have a project to work on, and that’s where I met the shop foreman, Marcos, and the Service Manager, Cary, both were great professionals to work with and we were also able to meet some of the great technicians that work on the buses to keep the local fleets in top shape.

Because the workload was especially slow because of COVID, Marcos, and Cary were anxious to work with us to develop a plan to update the bus to give it a more modern look.

The Onan 12.5 KW Quiet Diesel generator that powers all the coach house accessories.
The rear of the coach showing the unbeatable 12.7 L. Series 60 Detroit Diesel engine.
The front passenger Captain’s Chair.

Marcos oversaw all the mechanical work that needed to be done, replacing the kingpins, the wheel seals, and any other leaking seals, air hoses, and a couple of airbags, changing all the fluids in the transmission, engine, rear axle, servicing the coach from bumper to bumper and mechanically getting the coach in a like-new travel condition. I also purchased a Recaro air ride seat to replace the driver’s seat and a reclining Captains seat from Shop4Seats.com for the front passenger side. My wife really likes the seat that I bought for her because it has a kick-out to support her legs.

My wife and I have followed several bus builds over the last couple of years and in the majority of the builds they completely tore out the OEM Heating/Air Conditioning systems in the buses and replaced them with mini-splits or other units. We wanted to keep the original system in this bus because it has a climate control system and a very efficient A/C and heating setup in the front dash to cool/warm the cab area when you’re going down the road on a hot summer day or a cold winter day. We’ve found ourselves to be right, regardless of the weather, we’re very comfortable in the front of the bus. You set the temperature and that’s where it stays. 

I couldn’t see how totally gutting out the original equipment would serve us better for the purpose that we were going to use the bus. So, we had MCI update and go through the OEM HVAC system and updated it with new freon, checking out the climate control system and making sure that everything was working properly. They replaced the OEM air conditioning compressor, checked the blower motors that blow the air throughout the coach, replaced the filters, and brought it to a fully functioning level.

The front of the bus in the body shop.
The 2021 front cap being installed in the body shop.
The front end after coming out of the paint shop.

Then the bus went to Cary, who also oversees the full-service paint and body shop. They totally sanded down the bus, installed a 2021 front cap on the bus, and gave it an OEM paint job with 2-part epoxy paint. They also installed new fiberglass wheel wells, and front and rear bumpers and replaced all the old exterior lighting with new LED lights.

Since then, we have installed a Sleep Number queen-size bed in the rear of the bus. It didn’t have a bed in the rear when we bought it. Remember, it was set up as a day coach. We also replaced the tires in late 2022. Ouch, have you checked the price of tires since COVID? In 2022 we also replace the rooftop A/C units with Houghton low-profile heat pumps. Wow, what a difference. 

The old Carrier units were still working, but they were high profile on the roof and were very noisy. We’ve also added a tire pressure monitoring system, bought a Garmin truck and coach GPS to keep us on the main roads and out from underneath low bridges, and a backup camera system to keep an eye on vehicles when we’re towing.

Going inside the RV part of the bus, let’s start with the freshwater system. The bus has a 95-gallon freshwater tank that we use for everything but drinking. I installed a particulate water filter at the inlet hose connection to prevent any aggregate from getting into the system. If the water is non-chlorinated, I’ll also add a cup of bleach to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. We have a bottled water dispenser that we put 5-gallon bottles into for drinking water. 

I took out the RV 12-volt water pump and replaced it with a 120-volt shallow well pump that I purchased from Harbor Freight. It gives us a constant 50 PSI water source that is available all the time. When we’re plugged into shore power it draws from that for power and when we’re on the road, I have a 3000-Watt inverter that it draws from for power.

We have one wastewater tank on the bus that has a capacity of 100 gallons, and it takes care of all the grey and black water. Both fresh and wastewater tanks are poly tanks.

Next, the electricity. The bus has three electric sources, the first one is the 24 VDC system that the bus runs on. When the bus engine is running, all of the electricity needed in the bus is drawn from the bus charging system. I purchased a 3000 Watt 24 VDC to 120 VAC industrial grade Pure Sine wave inverter from Aims Power Corporation to provide any AC that would be needed while driving down the road. Remember, the OEM HVAC on the bus is fully functional, so an added AC load for air conditioning is not needed. When the bus is started, switching relays automatically power the 120 VAC breaker panel from the Aims inverter.

Second, the 12.5 KVA Onan Quiet Diesel generator is powered up when we’re parked or boondocking, it is automatically switched to power the breaker panel providing all the power necessary to run all the AC loads at one time. When the Onan generator or shore power is connected, I also have a 100 Amp 120 VAC to 12 VDC converter that automatically switches online to power any 12-volt load in the bus. Some of the interior lighting is 12 VDC and needs power from a converter when the engine is not running.

The last power system is shore power. That’s when we hook up to a campsite or other external power source. The AC panel and system have a capacity of 120/240 VAC 50 Amp. I have switching relays wired in to automatically sense whether the AC power is coming from the shore, generator, or inverter and the relays automatically do the switching for the electricity to flow to the panel without me having to manually switch circuits or move cables around.

The wrap-around dinette seats four people.
The 2-burner stove top and 2-basin sink.
The shower, elongated ADA toilet and sink.

Inside the bus, starting from the back to front, we have a Sleep Number bed that we installed. In front of that are the shower, toilet area on the driver’s side, and a closet with the breaker panel on the passenger side. Next up is the pantry on the passenger side and a continuation of the restroom on the driver’s side. 

Next to the pantry are the refrigerator, sink, stovetop, and cabinets. In front of the restroom on the driver’s side is a wrap-around dinette. Then in the main open area, we have two jack-knife couches and four-barrel chairs. 

Our longest trip to date was in September 2021, when we went to visit my wife’s cousin in Ocala, Florida. We stayed a week and found an RV park about a ½ mile from Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. We had a great time checking out the museum and the local attractions and enjoying the local eateries. Time spent with family is always a good time. 

When we left Ocala, we traveled to Gulf Shores, Alabama to visit a retired church member who had moved there. We then went north of Birmingham, Alabama where I have a cousin that we visited. 

The windows hinge out to provide access to move appliances in and out.
This is a finished driver’s side view.
Interior picture looking from front to back.

Our final stop before going home was to visit an ex-church member that was living in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, we visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a must-see for all museum enthusiasts. After leaving Huntsville, it was a day trip to get back home again. The whole trip had no hiccups or issues. The bus performed beautifully.

We’ve done some traveling in the past year, mostly local sightseeing trips, but 2023 is going to be the year that we travel throughout the U.S. seeing this beautiful country that God has blessed us with to be born in. In June we are going to Humble, Texas for a minister’s conference and then to an FMCA regional rally in Chippewa Falls, WI. We hope to see you on the road. We plan on continually upgrading and making improvements to the bus while we enjoy using it.

Article written by Fred and Laurie Woodruff

Fred met Laurie at a hamburger joint/pool hall in Lena, Illinois in 1972. Fred and a friend went there to play pool and get a burger and fries. He asked her out, she said, “Yes.” and they’ve been together ever since. Fred and Laurie have now been married for 50 years. They have two children and five granchildren. They’ve enjoyed living life together.

Finding time to get out and see the world was hard but they have been living bi-vocational for many years now. Although they still pastor a church in Freeport, Illinois, they are both retired from full-time employment and are now starting to travel for leisure and enjoyment.

Their coach is an ongoing project. They keep updating and changing as they go along. But right now, it’s time to get on the road!

You can follow Fred and Laurie on Facebook and/or
you can contact Fred at PastorFred2009@live.com

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