How we got Betty [Austin]

Ashley here… I want to start sharing the story of Betty, and the best way is to share the post my husband made about her in skoolie.net. Enjoy his words and POV! I’ll share my experiences soon. – Ashley 

Originally posted June 1, 2015 on skoolie.net 

Saturday was a long day, but we finally made it home with our new project. We named her Betty. After B*tch*ng Betty: the automated voice in the cockpit of many aircraft that likes to complain about her problems. You’ll see why in a minute. 

She’s a 1988 Blue Bird TC/2000. From the plate in the bus I’ve figured out that she’s four months older than my wife and 13 months older than me. She has a 5.9L Cummins that looks to be in great shape. Right at about 160,000 miles. She starts easily and always on the first try. Betty has the Allison AT545, and I can’t see what everyone dislikes about it. I have no complaints about the transmission (so far). The axle ratio is 4.33. With 38.5″ tires, that equates to about 65 mph at 2,500 rpm. With the pedal floored it does about 2,400ish rpm in the highest gear. I felt pretty comfortable at that speed. I stayed between 60-70 mph driving her in the relatively un-hilly hills of east Texas on the way home. 

The bus is about 26′ overall with about 22′ of livable space behind the driver’s seat. Not quite a shorty, but not a long bus either. The wheelbase is 12′. Sitting in front of the front axle took a little getting used to, but the bus is quite maneuverable. 

Much like any vehicle that’s lived in east Texas for 27 years, she has a bit of rust. Hopefully not too much. We’ll see when I pull up the floor. The exhaust pipe is rusted through right after the muffler. A

There’s no A/C on the bus, but the fans work. The defogger works too, which was useful because it rained a lot on the ride back. There was an old wasp’s nest in the fan that fell down into the blades and exploded all over me while I was driving. That freaked me out quite a bit. 

Some of the taillights need some work in order to pass inspection. The stop sign doesn’t work. The reflectors look ugly. One of the windows is shattered. Some of the tires are from the 1900’s, so they’ll need to be replaced.

So, now for the story of how Betty came into our lives on Saturday:

My wife and I left our home around 7am and picked up my father-in-law. The drive from Houston TX to Minden LA is about 4.5 hours. We stopped in Shreveport to pick up some fuel treatment and brake fluid. At O’Reilly my father-in-law told me I’d need a can of PB Blaster when taking out the seats. I picked up the can, looked at it, and put it back on the shelf (foreshadowing).

We stopped off in Minden to thank a friend of mine who checked out the bus for me a few days before. Then we headed to meet the bus we’d eventually name Betty. I bought the bus from a women’s rehabilitation center. The bus was donated to them from a church in east Texas. The center’s higher organization told them they’d need to put A/C in before they could use it; but that wasn’t in their budget. They needed money for a new transmission in one of their vans, and have had this bus sitting for a year. They never even registered it or put insurance on it.

We checked out the bus a bit, took it for a test drive, and went and did the paperwork while my father-in-law put Rain-X on the windshield. There was a problem with some of the paperwork and we needed another signature/notary to finish the paperwork. Luckily, the place we needed to go was on the way back to Texas. 

That’s when the problems started . . .

We made it about 10 miles when I noticed the temperature gauge was pegged as high as it would go. Scared to death, I pulled into the nearest parking lot (a Family Dollar). We let it cool a bit while we went inside and bought some distilled water and antifreeze. The man who sold me the bus apologized and offered to take it back. My father-in-law checked the oil and it looked very clean (not milky/watery). We opened the radiator to add water, but it took less than two quarts. The sight glass showed a beautifully clean green color.

We got back in the bus, fired it up, and the temperature gauge immediately went back to normal. A mile or so later the gauge spiked back up as high as it would go. I tapped on the gauge and it went back to normal. My father-in-law thinks there may be a problem with the sending unit. 
We stopped off at a gas station to fuel up and add the diesel treatment. The compartment where the tank is located is a little cramped, and it’s hard to get the nozzle in to fill up. I’m not sure how big my tank is, but it took 20 gallons and the fuel gauge went from about a quarter to about three quarters full. 

We got back on the road and then had another problem. The bus wouldn’t shift out of first gear. Less than a mile of that and the transmission was getting pretty hot. We pulled off in to the nearest parking lot (a Baptist church). 

Upon further inspection, we noticed that the right rear brake was extremely hot. I’d been told that there was a very slow leak in the hydraulic braking system, so during the test drive I slammed the brakes to make sure they worked. Someone at some point had put disc brakes on it. 

We called around trying to find a truck service that’d come out to fix it. One recommended spraying the brake with PB Blaster and trying to move it with a screwdriver. The thought being that some rust probably got dislodged and was holding the brake pad against the rotor. My wife and father-in-law went to get PB blaster while the man selling the bus went to finish the paperwork. I sat in the bus and seriously contemplated the offer to call the deal off. 

We soaked the brake in PB Blaster and drove it around a bit. It was still a little hot, but the bus shifted gears, so we limped it back to the gas station we were at earlier. We went inside the diner (Huddle House) and ate dinner. That was around 6pm and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. At dinner my wife asked me what we were going to name the bus. I couldn’t think of anything nice to say about it. That’s when B*tch*ng Betty popped into my head. 

We were waiting on a call back because a lady at the truck service said she’d get us a quote to fix the brake and put some new (to us) tires on it. I had a dollar amount in my head that I was willing to spend, otherwise I’d take the offer to return the bus and call it a wasted day. 

The lady at the trucking service didn’t call us back. We called her after dinner. She said to drop the bus off at her shop and they’d get us the quote on Monday. 
We drove the bus to her shop, intently focused on the gauges, with my wife behind us in her truck looking for smoke coming from the brake. Right around sunset we parked the bus at her shop and out of curiosity decided to look at the brake again. That wheel was just as cold as the other four. In a couple of hours the PB Blaster must’ve dissolved some stuff and allowed the brake to work properly 
In that pivotal moment, we decided to drive her back to Houston; stopping every hour just to check on things. We made it home around 2am. 
So, I’m excited about this new project. My wife has been on Pinterest looking at things we need to spend money on to make it pretty. I’ve got a list of things to be done to get it mechanically sound. 
This post ended up being nearly 1,400 words long. I think it’s time to wrap this up by saying that despite the minor setbacks in the first hours of owning Betty the Bus, I’m quite excited to join the skoolie community. 

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