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Reasons I Bought My Bluebird This is the place to list the reasons you decided to buy a Bluebird and direct others to who are considering a Bluebird.

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Old 11-02-2008
Frank W. Frank W. is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Woodbridge, VA.
Posts: 1,040
Default Our Bus...why and our first year.

Date: February 2006 - updated and such 10/2008.

Topic: I offer these comments to those starting to look into the arena of a used BlueBird….you likely have the same questions I had. Once I was a “Wanna-be”, then I was a “New-be” (still am, compared to many)…Here are my general purchase considerations, why a Class A RV based on a real bus chassis/body was my choice, why I decided to go for a BlueBird, and our first year issues with our 1985 FC 33.

My Background: I’m 50, married, two kids. I have owned and/or chartered boats (sail and power, diesel and gas). I have owned a prior RV (class “C” type Chevy/Tioga Fleetwood), and also done a lot of camping in my vans, borrowed trailers and pop-ups and off a motorcycle in a tent. I am handy around cars and the house, I can finish off a basement or build a simple shed, do simple wiring, identify common simple mechanical or electrical problems. I am not a mechanic or any other type of tradesman; I could never rebuild an engine or tackle a similar high skilled task, and I call myself a 1/4 inch carpenter…I am handy, lucky some, but not highly skilled. This was not my first step into a RV, and I have some basic experience as a user with the basic 12 & 120 volt electrical systems, plumbing systems and such on an RV.

I say all this only to demonstrate a point, not pat myself on the back…while I do not think you need to be highly skilled to go the route many of us picked, if you are not willing, wanting, and able to do learn and then do simple work and repair tasks, paying someone else to do it at common hourly shop rates will be a drain your funds, your patience, and most importantly, the enjoyment of your RV. But, new RV, old RV, new Boat or old Boat, this is about the same for about any big toy you can think of….if something breaks, it has to be fixed, and I am cheaper (and most times my work as good as or better) than anyone at a common repair/service RV shop. The parts you need you will find are available, and with friend, forum and internet resources, you are likely to be surprised what you can learn to do. If this entire area is something you are not comfortable with or do not want to be involved in, owning any older RV (or boat) is going to be a struggle for you at times.

What We Wanted: My wife and I like to travel and see the country. Our kids (6 and 9 at time of the purchase) are still at the age where they hang with the mom and the dad. We see that this window will likely close one day, and want to have some fun now. We started thinking RV as we begun to tire of our boat….we had the boat for 10 years, and were ready to move on. Flying somewhere and doing the resort thing was just too limiting for us and flying anywhere now is an absolute pain due to terrible service, lost bags, and security delays.

We decided to do an RV, our plan was to own it for many years. We wanted to have full access to the beds, food, and bathroom while on the road, so trailers or truck campers were not an option for us. We wanted diesel power; a “heavy truck” type drive train, suspension and chassis; an interior conversion that would sleep 4 with good separation for mom/dad and the kids both on the road and at camp, a dinette seating 4, and top quality materials and design. I like to pay cash for my toys….so we targeted a price range that worked for us for both the initial purchase and a reserve kitty for things that could be expected to “pop-up”. We wanted top quality, and were willing to hunt long and far for a used but not abused or neglected unit. Used also would limit depreciation to a reasonable amount.

Shopping: I quickly determined I wanted a real heavy duty commercial bus chassis and body. This foundation would provide basic reliability, serviceability, acceptable handling, ensures parts availability, and would maximize safety. I’ll explain some of these points a bit:

Good driving and handling was a focus point. My previous RV (a Class C) was only fair in this area. The frame and chassis were very nearly loaded to max, and this affected the handling. The nature of the cab and the RV box impacted side, rear and overhead vision. Crosswinds and passing trucks kept you very “alert” on the interstates. There are many RV’s from many makers that as designed and delivered are OVERWEIGHT.

Reliability and parts; I thought would be very good for the basic engine, suspension and drive train found on a heavy duty mass produced bus. The set up would be “basic truck”, and would be simple in design. All aspects would be very heavy and made to last in rugged duty fleet service. Thousands of these busses are on the roads and lots of truck repair shops carry parts common to them and the knowledge to fix them.

I saw and heard about trying to work on some RV’s….limited production, built to meet a price point, lots of custom parts, and depending on the make/model, getting “in” to fix or diagnose problems could be very hard. The design and construction concepts seen in some coaches (remove the rear bed to work on the engine or anything made with glue and staples) are a NO SALE for me. The FC chassis allowed easy access to engine (I have swing radiator) and the front and overhead opening panels to the wiring. Again, I could see the fleet design aspects.

Accident safety was a factor for me. In my experience highway accident survivability requires mass and solid structure along with crush zones that will protect critical passenger areas. I have seen the results of accidents involving trailers (not occupied) – they look like a tornado hit them, all structure above the frame is basically fragmented and scattered, not much left of the frame either. I have seen one major RV motor home accident; the frame held up fair, the body was fragmented in the impact area and most importantly, the impact crush penetration into the passenger area was enough to cause severe injury to any occupant unlucky enough to be in the crush area. This motor home was hit by a full size pickup while parked on the shoulder of an interstate. Other than the main frame rails, there just was not any significant structure/frame in the body of the motor home. A thin outer skin, a thin paneling interior, foam insulation, 1” aluminum square tube internal frame and construction adhesive about sums it up. All things considered, this light construction is seen on most RV’s and provides reasonable protection from rain, cold, some noise reduction, saves weight and allows use of a lighter engine and frame…but does not protect from impact or roll-over. Major impact structural integrity in my opinion was/is not a significant design factor in the common run of the mill RV. A secondary safety factor is that the interior fittings (cabinets, appliances, furniture, and the contents of these items) must remain in place during an accident. These items cannot be allowed to become secondary projectiles in an accident. Several busses I looked at had cabinet attachments or other fixture attachments that I questioned would hold up in an accident.

We looked first at some converted busses on various platforms (Eagle, Prevost, MCI), as well as some other brands. I also considered a “from the shell” do it myself conversion. Check out BusNutsOnline for a lot of good conversion material and sources.

I saw some nice possibilities, but also ran into concerns with this possible conversion RV route. Many small builder conversions were basically “one offs” or limited runs, many converters had it seems no consistency in the planning, design, or materials...One company made the bus, someone else did parts of the conversion. I found too many residential refrigerators and home type cabinets poorly secured in case of an accident and with light or no catches to keep doors closed, very large un-compartmentalized storage areas (your items rattle around, and you have to dig), insufficient lighting, questionable electrical wiring, windows that did not open (or if they did, sometimes no screens), no awnings, no roof access, and a trend to an all electric bus…meaning very dependant on shore power or generator and very limited boondocking capability. Few OTR busses offered any type of site leveling system, and the automatic air leveling systems I did find often did not hold up long due to air leaks and the control systems seemed complex.

Other big issues for me was the lack of detailed reference plans or manuals, wasted space, and off the wall interior styling. When trying to ask questions, there is no-one to turn to either…many of these “custom bus firms” come and go quickly and there is no source for coach plans, wiring or plumbing diagrams. The nagging question for me was ”what was beneath the granite countertops and behind the mirrors” (and how to get in there)?

Some higher end conversions’ were excellent in both design and construction. I still dream of some of these busses, but the price was simply in excess of what I wanted to spend (and in many cases, well beyond what I would be able to afford). But good used busses are out there, and some are in good condition and reasonably priced.

As far as doing it all myself, after what I found on the market, yes, I could do it myself, but realistically, likely it would take 2 years to finish to my satisfaction. Selling the self converted bus eventually would be a problem too – there really is not much of a market for these home done units. And after long consideration, I determined I valued the 2 years of time more than having me do it myself.

A BlueBird?

I stumbled onto a couple of the BlueBird orientated sites, the original Wanderlodge Forum, Vintage Birds, Bird Connection, etc. I was impressed with the fact that the factory still would help and had many parts for the older units. Many of the chassis parts and bus components were common to thousands of BB All-American type school busses, many sources of supply still remained for the RV items, and the engine, chassis and drive train were common truck/bus items. The overall design of the FC also seemed to offer ease of service access, and reasonable power (mid to late 80’s models).

Also, this was a manufacturer that clearly was top of the line, from the bottom to the roof, these busses were built to last with passenger safety being considered. Well designed, perfectly finished, with full factory and owner forum support. Plus, they came with detailed manuals, plans and drawings.

After looking at a local BB for sale, I knew we had found something deserving further examination. Although the initial bus did not pan out, mostly due to the rear queen bed, the mid range size (I had looked at a 90SP36), mid-entry and high level of design and quality had grabbed our attention. So we kept looking and focused on Blue-Birds.

Looking & Finding Our Bus:

We kept our eyes open and decided to look east of the Mississippi River for a BB bus, as we live near Washington DC. We “got set” by getting ready a “go bag” of tools, flashlight, voltage meter and a set of coveralls and got our money ready. I set up an arrangement with my auto insurance agent to cover a new bus purchase when and if I called him with a VIN number. If we went on a bus trip…we decided to go with an open mind and an open return ticket. We were set to buy or walk away, no sad feelings.

After a lot of thinking, we decided that we wanted a rear twins set up. Normally the kids would have the rear, we would sleep forward. The reason for this was we wanted the kids to have their own “space” and not have to use any sort of a convertible bed. Rear twins gave them a “room” that all their clothes/stuff would be in. My wife and I also have the run of the bus when the kids went to bed early, in most rear queen set-ups, once the kids were asleep forward, we would have to tip-toe around the bus to eat, get a drink or use the bathroom.

We also became convinced that the “range of use” that we would make of any bus we bought supported a moderate length. Something in the 30-35 foot size range offered reasonable accommodation, and yet easy driving and parking in areas that might challenge a longer chassis. Our plan was to carry bikes and a canoe/kayak, but not normally tow a car. We do take long trips lasting many weeks, but we also use the bus for day trips (amusement parks, sport events) and the shorter length makes this easy.

We found a 1985 FC(Forward Control) SB(Side Bath), 33’ bus in Georgia listed on the internet. Owner sent additional photos and filled in a lot of details over some phone calls. This was a very well cared for and maintained bus being sold from the second owner. This specific bus was both used and loved. Not neglected or parked and left to rot. The bus was listed at a fair price. We flew down, test drove and looked around the bus, all of the driving and looking took a full day. A mentioned previously, I took a set of greasy clothes, flashlight, simple tools, I had an open mind and was prepared to walk away or buy…. We bought the bus and drove it home to Northern VA the next day.

The First Year and some: My major repair issues and some solutions in our first year are listed below. With few exceptions, I did the work myself, a bit at a time. The most common root problems tend to be: 1; poor electrical connections, due to age and/or minor corrosion at terminals. 2: aged/worn rubber parts (air bag, “o” rings and rubber seals and such….they just don’t last 20+ years). 3: lack of preventive maintenance or regular use.

Finally, here is an opinionated observation: I have not had to fix anything built with cheap materials, stupid design or due to a cost saving manufacturing shortcut (based on what was available 20 years ago)…Thanks BlueBird!

The list:
• 3 tires needed replacement due to age (after 5+ years of age, start saving for tires).
• Jacobs Electric Retarder did not work. My labor, about 6 hours; bad ground and power connection, bad points in relay box.
• New coach batteries; convert to 6 volt golf cart type batteries. 3 hours.
• Windshield washer; replaced some tubing, fixed connections at pump; 3 hours my labor.
• No dash AC; a pain in the *** job; my labor about 20 hours; parts and some AC help, all told about $1800-2000. I posted this project on the forums.
• Battery Charger replacement. Upgrade to a fully automatic 3 stage charger. 4 hours.
• Air Bag replaced when failed. Commercial shop job.
• Sporlan Valve replaced (water system supply). 2 hours.
• Water pump (RV water supply) failed and was replaced. 2 hours.
• Engine heater and battery blanket replaced. 2 hours.
• Add roof top solar panel and controller. I posted this project on the forums, 8 hours.
• Replace OEM radio with CD and XM Radio, replace 2 speakers.
• Fix/repair/replace a few electrical wiring connections…the cause of most non-functioning electrical items….basically just old, poor connections.
• Fix tilt wheel system…air valve stuck. 2 hours.
• Replace both rear brake actuators…one was leaking air, you don’t want to run brakes all the way to failure before replacement. This was a commercial shop job.
• Adjust valves…another commercial shop job.
• Re-insulate dog house. 10 hours.
• Install cargo box on roof.
• Replace sewage hose.
• Re-die front seat leather.
• Add access port to fresh water tank. 2 hours.
• Add pistol safe to front closet.
• Clean and adjust the 3 propane furnaces. 6 hours.
• Fiddle and fix HWH jacks…again, an electrical connection issue. 4 hours.
• Replace electric bath heater. 4 hours.

The FUN – first two years:

• Month trip to Canada.
• 2 spring break trips to the Florida Keys
• Month trip to Texas.
• 2 one week trips to local area beaches.
• Lots of local 1-2 night trips to local ski areas, Kings Dominion, and other local sites.
• Can carry 10 girl scouts + 2 adults; all with seat belts!!!
• During hurricane Isabel we were out of power for 3 days…BlueBird makes a great “lifeboat” for your family in a crisis either to support you in your home or in case of evacuation. All you need is an open road and a place to park.

Regrets, none! :

• We love this bus. It does what we need. We feel very safe traveling in it. We eat, dress and sleep like kings in it.
• We are generally approached in almost every campground with questions.
• OK, we do not have 4 slides, or satellite TV, or a 3 foot plasma TV, but we got the bus to take us to nice places and then get off the bus. We do have a portable TV/DVD unit that is used in the rear and the front as desired.
• When we lost the suspension air bag, a regular truck stop had the part right off the interstate and we were on the road again in 5 hours at a fair price. Thank you, BEAM MACK Truck Repair, Elmira, NY!
• Our 33’ foot bus fits about anywhere; we carry bikes, no toad. Going downtown is not a problem (Washington DC; Baltimore; Savannah; San Antonio)
• Carrying up to 230 gallons of fuel can be nice, fill up at “cheap fuel” states and roam thru the expensive ones…I really impressed some RV’ers in Canada when I said I did not have to buy fuel in Canada (due to the high price)…those 40 footers with 90 gallon tanks were really moaning! I estimate about 8.5 to 9 MPG at a comfortable speed of 60-62 mph on east (flat) coast. We split between interstates and primary state roads to vary the scenery. I wish sometimes for more speed, but overall I think that for the size of the bus and all, I am safer at 60 than 70 or + and this aspect of our lives was not supposed to be a race to the finish line anyway.
• The FC has easy roof access, a solid roof platform, and good tie-down for our kayak. Fun to sit and watch a NASA rocket launch from here too!
• The roof pod makes up in part for lack of large storage bays. The other part is planning and common sense about stuff to bring.
• The challenges of learning about the bus and fixing the “big list” in the first year was not a big problem…got lots of help from other owners on the forums and from BB. It is part of the adventure in my mind, not just a chore to do.
• There is a learning curve, it’s about a year. Jump in and swim with the rest of us, there is a lot of help available!
• And No, my bus is not for sale.
Frank W.
Woodbridge, VA.

Coach photos & comments: http://www.wanderlodgeownersgroup.co...php?albumid=79
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Old 11-02-2008
Posts: n/a

Wow Frank, Wish I was your neighbor.

I just bought my 83 FC35 and I am where you where a year ago.

Thank you for the great post.

I will be looking for you post on the Dash AC.
Did you do the swing out rad yourself?

Thanks allot for the rundown.
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Old 11-02-2008
Dieselbird01's Avatar
Dieselbird01 Dieselbird01 is offline
John Wyatt – Administrator/Moderator
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Titusville
Posts: 4,163

Hi Frank,

Very thorough and realistic write-up on owning a Bird.

John Wyatt
Titusville, Florida
1991 40' WLWB-WTB
Body Number F095567
My Location: http://www.bbirdmaps.com/user1.cfm?user=4

1991 40' WB ...From 2008 - Present
1984 ½ PT-36 .From 2000 - 2008
1973 FC-31 .....From 1991 - 2001
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Old 11-02-2008
Rob Robinson's Avatar
Rob Robinson Rob Robinson is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Victoria
Posts: 4,390

During the designing phase of this site I asked for this forum (Reasons I bought my BB) just so we'd get posts like yours. Posts of this quality help us greatly in our quest to convince wannabees and convert others. Bravo Zulu
Rob Robinson
Victoria, British Columbia
1999 LXi
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Old 11-02-2008
Posts: n/a


Any thoughts of something like a Mentor program?
I belong to a couple of other special interest groups that have that available.
Maybe as simple as posting your location and saying that you are available to help.

Just a thought from a newb.....
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Old 11-02-2008
Crit Bliss's Avatar
Crit Bliss Crit Bliss is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Cape Cod
Posts: 4,344

Great post Frank, if you are interested, I can tell you how to get the 3 foot LCD in a FC.
Crit Bliss
Cape Cod,ma
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Old 11-02-2008
Dennis Dennis is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Malibu
Posts: 867


I really enjoyed reading your well written, well reasoned story. My wife and I waited for over 20 years to get a BB. We use to rent luxery motorhomes owned by private parties, but once I saw a BB, my first, and the quality of the coach nothing else would do; it was a BB or nothing for me. (I did have a number of airplanes before buying my BB.) My wife did not fully understand my need for a BB or nothing, but I just can not bring myself to spend hard earned money on junk quality. I told her I would rather have a 20 year old BB than a new stick and staple built coach; appearance is not everything and granite counter tops do not make up for poor quality. Thanks again for a good read.


Dennis Torres
2004 M380
Malibu, California
Email DennisTorresMalibu@gmail.com
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Old 11-02-2008
bubblerboy64 bubblerboy64 is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Shippensburg Pa
Posts: 6,842
Default Me TOO

Very interesting post. And here I thought I was the only one workin on an older Bird. Very similar experiences actually. Have learned a lot, have more to learn. I like the idea of a starter coach project. You don't feel intimidated so much, and of course mine at least is a lot simpler to work on. You can take it as far or a short as you want too. I have been very fortunate to have been helped out by friends that I have made a long the path. Shane, Tom, Paul, Rob, Bill, Gardner. GREAT bunch of fellows who have never failed to advise or assist me when I needed help. The fellowship and fun is as important as the "project". I think Frank would agree that working on a BB is problem solving at its best. You have to be willing to jump into it but a person becomes more willing to do so when you have a back up from forum members who are always willing to help, or set you straight if that is required. For me the setting straight is most likely the most critical part of it, few will disagree with that statement. I usually come around in time. So Frank I am with you all the way. Most everything I have tackled as worked out well, always taken way more time then my estimation, and of course cost more as well. I am looking to upgrade and specifically looking for a coach with a shorter list of have to does, but knowing that I would not be completely happy with anything that I buy which doesn't need at least some "personalization".

John Heckman
Shippensburg Pa
1987 PT 36
The Bella Mia Sold
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Old 11-02-2008
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Mike Hohnstein Mike Hohnstein is offline
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Location: NW Milwaukee Metro Area
Posts: 4,636

All good, obviously you are not a 'consumer'.
Mike Hohnstein
FMCA 97824
Germantown, WI/Myrtle ID

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Old 11-02-2008
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Randy Dupree Randy Dupree is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Port St Joe,Fl
Posts: 37,782

great post!
if Mike approves,you have got to be good!
email me at randy@randydupree.com only.

Randy Dupree
2000 LXI 43
Port St Joe Fl.

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