16 September 2012
1946 1.5-Ton Chevy Shorty Bus
I would like to share the story of my 1946 Chevy 1.5-ton short bus. The image here is "pre-restoration" ... among a BUNCH of things, I plan to re-chrome the bumper!
I first got into trucks when I was younger. I had a 1940 1978 Blue Bird All American that I raised the roof on by 19 inch. I used it way back when for hauling antiques and doing shows. So buses have been near and dear to me for a long time.
This 1946 restoration project takes up where the other left off. I basically wanted a rig I could tour the country in without having to deal with motels and such. I also teach sculpting classes in different parts of the United States. I knew if I had the right rig, it would be so much simpler. It would open new territories as well.
I found the Wayne body shorty bus on eBay after searching for over a year. I fell in love with the Art Deco front end and lines. I traveled to Utah where, I finally got a look at this darlin' up close and personal. I am very happy to say, it was in better shape than I had hoped for!
There was very little rust with only a couple of small replacement patches needed next to the front fenders and one "wrinkle" next to the entry door. The latex house paint was peeling, but that was coming off anyway.
Mechanically, I was surprised at how solid the old bus was. Recent brake rebuild, working parking brake (a big deal, actually) and a snazzy new custom, aluminum radiator. The 1980's vintage 350 motor ran great but I had intentions to replace it with a Cummins 4BTAA. The original 4-speed tranny sounded good but I was hoping to get an Allison auto with 5 speeds.
Speaking of speed, as with nearly all these old hill climbers and house movers, tops is maybe 55. If the Allison gears won't bring that up enough, then a new rear end will be in order.
I have just started laying out the interior as well as a couple of exterior modifications. As you can see in the pix in the Flickr link above, it had already undergone some degree of conversion. So I had a bit of a head start there.
After some messing around in Google sketch, I messed around with a few floor plan ideas which can be seen in my Flickr album, too.
After looking at my floor plans, I found the wood burning stove seen in the pictures would not work in in the spot it was when I got the old bus. I had to remove it to accommodate the bed. I still would like to find space for it somewhere in the shorty bus eventually. Still might come in handy if I ever decide to leave the tropics and head north.
Apart from all the books and literature I have been able to find on the 1-1/2 ton Chevy truck chassis, after two months of planning I had only ordered two parts . A re-pop of the front Chevy emblem (the original was heavily painted over) and a clean YOM (year of manufacture) Texas license plate for my '46. And I only needed one. It seems Texas only issued single plates during WWII to save on metal.
I mentioned that I had only bought two parts so far. The reason is because I was still on the hunt for a good 4BT Cummins engine and a 5 or 6 speed tranny. Good thing I was in no rush, at the time I still had no Chevy shorty bus to put them in.
After planning and using Google sketch, it became apparent just how very small the interior is. Accordingly, I began work on designing an enlarged roof-rack system and an extended rear bumper deck. I wondered if anyone has tried or built a slide-out style rear deck that can be extended when parked?
I eventually found and acquired a running Cummins 4BTAA and Allison 545 tranny to re-power this little darlin'. When it arrived, I took it to Diesel Specialists, where the tech did a full body scan for general condition, and ran it. I wanted that puppy in top shape before the transplant. I was still faced with the tough task of getting it all under the hood, and I actually am still weighing the options here.
With all of the planning for the restoration, I still had to find a reliable transport service to get it from Utah to Houston. Little did I know it would be four months from when I found and bought it to get it to my home in Houston.
Lucky for me I finally found a fully insured independent owner / operator who got my bus here in short order and for a lot less than the so called "Pros." Great guy by the name of Okie Newton. He works out of Texas City near Houston, but pretty much covers the country. If anyone is looking for a hauler, I'll be more than happy to pass along his contact info.
When the old bus arrived, I immediately started gutting the interior. With the heat index here way over 110 in the shade, I didn't last too long.
I spent a few days gutting the interior and checking things out. The Flickr album has some pictures of this. The only serious rust I found was where I expected it -- around the wheel wells. But the big surprise was that this Wayne body is 100% screwed together, inside and out there are no rivets! So far, I've only had to grind a few, most have yielded to a hand impact driver. And the old galvanized floor is in rock-solid shape. Pretty amazing condition overall. Especially when you consider that at 65 ... it is old enough to qualify for Medicare!
When I made the run out to Diesel Specialists for the first look at my “FleaBay” engine assembled and running I got the old "We got good news ... and we got bad news" story.
The bad news was that the turbo is toast. Not a cheap fix. Then there was the exhaust manifold -- rusted away to junk and had to go (but not much of a surprise since it looked that way). Next, the idler pulley needed replacing. Then there was the fuel pump solenoid that still waited on testing and a few other items to go on the shopping list.
Then there was good news. The basic engine (the really expensive stuff) appeared very tight and solid. Zero blow-by, no smoke and tight compression.
I wanted to get the engine and tranny as bullet proof as possible before the install. For instance, new main seals are a piece of cake (and cheap) sitting on a work stand, but the can be a real PITA (and $$$) after it's in. But I was in no rush to get it rolling as I had the entire bus to rebuild before launching anyway.
I tore out the lower interior sheet metal and replaced it with new insulation. I also had to weld up a couple hundred old screw holes in the floor and build the new entry door frame. A couple of very small angles complicated that process. It wasn't until I was fitting some 1-1/2" square tube in place that I even noticed the angles.
At nine months, things were still moving along albeit slowly. Gotta do the work that pays for the fun stuff. I managed to source a variety of items including a big ol' aluminum fuel tank, a holding tank, giant chromed brass hinges for the door, replacement body spacers, new body sheet metal panels and some other odds 'n ends. I found two vintage turn signals on eBay. Way better than the aftermarket plastic hockey pucks it came with.
Over a year after the find and purchase, I was starting to look towards the transplant of the engine. Trying to stuff a Cummins 4BTAA and Allison 6-speed auto into that Art Deco front would no doubt be a challenge. In fact, I decided that if I can find a good custom builder in these parts, I will gladly pay for some expertise.
I was disappointed to hear that the zero-mile, 2012 Allison 2200HS 6-speed auto I had lined up was sold by a different salesman at the dealership out from under me! Luckily, the Allison tech I'm working with said he found one with 100 miles on it. We'll see if this one makes it home.
I finally gave away the good running 350 Chevy to make room for the Cummins 4BT. I gave it to a friend who runs the Art Car Museum here in exchange for some labor and installation assistance. I was still waiting to hear the price on a new Allison, double overdrive, six-speed tranny. But I was very nervous about the price -- I still am not sure what that will be.
I have a acquired a new and slightly narrower intercooler. Working out the piping is going to be interesting. It needs to be routed through the inner grille panels, into the wheel wells, and then back into the engine compartment via the inner fender panels. However, I came to find that the new intercooler is actually wider than the stock set up. The angles are all wrong and won't work. Now to deal with the dreaded "return" and get the right sized unit.
I am having some concerns now about engine movement. These little Cummins "Paintshakers" are notorious for thrashing side to side on start-up and shutdown by several inches and can pull any fixed electrical, fuel or air lines loose as they do it. I'm considering mounting a couple of shock absorbers to the motor to limit the movement. We'll see.
At a year into this project (and still going), the plan is to swap the Chevy 350 engine for a little Cummins 4BT in order to get as much mpg for the buck as possible. Paired with the brand new from the factory Allison 6-speed transmission I am trying to get, the computer models run by Stewart & Stevenson bear good tidings for the "near 30 MPG" target I set going in.
It will be a fully self-sufficient unit that can be dry camped for about a month at a time. A kitchenette, combo shower toilet and jack-knife sofa bed are all there. There is room for some "hauling" space in the back for my teaching equipment. It will be tight, but then, I don't need a lot of space. That's what the "great outdoors" will provide.
I am also in the process of shopping small plots of undeveloped land in different parts of the US to use as bases. Places that I can just pull onto and park, live and use as needed. No improvements required. The bus will have everything I need on board.
Well ... that's the plan. We'll see how it goes.
Thanks for listening.
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