We bought our 2010 Chevy Duramax Diesel short school bus in June 2019 from a school bus dealership in New York State. As soon as it made it to Vermont, we were raring to get started with the demolition.
In this post: Seats Floor Rear Heater Ceiling & Wall Panels Electrical Wires
In our school bus conversion posts, we have included tips for anyone who has little to no experience with conversions or tools. If you’re a seasoned handyman or woman, familiar with tools and basic conversion knowhow, you may want to skip over these boxes.
Getting the Seats Out
The seats were each bolted down through the floor of the bus (4 bolts, 2 in each of the aisle legs) and through a metal lip on the walls. The bolts that were secured through the interior metal lips were relatively easy to remove as they hadn’t been exposed to the elements and were in better shape. We could simply hold the nut with pliers and use a socket wrench to rotate the bolt free.
Tip: If you just tried to use the wrench on the bolt without holding the nut on the bottom, the nut would just spin with the bolt. The only way you can get the bolt free is for it to rotate independently so that the nut twists off the bolt's threading and then you can pull the bolt out.
The bolts that went through the floor were another story. To get these bolts out, one of us had to get under the bus and hold the nut with pliers while the other took a socket wrench to the bolt in the bus. Having a socket wrench set with all different sizes was pretty helpful for selecting just the right tool for the job.
Seems easy, right? Well, not so fast…
When your bus is 10 years old, there are bolts and nuts that are significantly rusted and degraded. In some cases, they’re extremely hard to rotate independently. In this case, Kara was using her leg power to kick the socket wrench to force it to budge while Travis held the nut underneath the bus. This worked on some of the rusted bolts but many needed to be grinded off with an angle grinder.
Tip: The angle grinder is used to sheer off the head of the bolt so it can just fall through the hole. Once the head is off, most of the time they need a good wack from a hammer to easily pop them through the hole.
The most important thing with an angle grinder is to wear protection (sleeves and a face shield) and to pay attention to where the sparks are flying. These tiny bright pieces of hot metal aren’t much of a threat during the demolition where most nearby things are rubber/metal or are destined for the dump but as you’ll see later in the conversion, sometimes you need to use an angle grinder near things that you don’t want burned or damaged. That’s what tarps are for. But they don’t make it through without significant burn holes!
Removing the Floor
We didn’t want a 10 year old rubber floor with who knows what underneath it. We decided to take up the whole floor including the plywood to get right down to the sheet metal. From what we’ve seen, this is a pretty common approach because salt and rust can hide in pockets under the floor and you don’t want them sitting there while you make the place your new home.
Also, you just made a bunch of little holes in your floor and those are generally best repaired on the metal itself rather than on top of the plywood and rubber, which just add more depth to the holes that you don’t need.
We used a pry bar to separate the rubber from the plywood and essentially peel it off. Overall, it was surprisingly easy in most spots because once you got a piece up, you could put the pry bar down and just pull it off with your hands.
That’s when we got our first good look at the plywood. From what we’ve seen in other conversions, it really didn’t look too bad. We even considered keeping it to save time and money but we only wanted to do this once and we wanted to do it right. Without truly knowing the state of the floor underneath the plywood, we didn’t feel completely comfortable leaving the plywood.
So we continued on with the pry bar…
Under the plywood were many pockets of salt, grime, and even some holes. We took out an incredible amount of rusty screws that secured the plywood to the sheet metal floor by using a screw driver and occasionally the angle grinder. Once those were out, we were left with TONS of holes in the floor. But that was it for the floor demolition!
Removing the Rear Heater
Unfortunately, our short bus had an extra heater that was under one of the first passenger seats on the driver side. We knew we didn’t want to keep this because it would take up space, it was really old and probably not in the best condition, and we anticipated traveling with the weather so we’re more concerned about being too hot than being too cold.
The coolant lines run from the engine into the heater and back up to the engine. To remove the heater, we had to cut the lines to it and close the loop. We planned to buy the brass elbow fitting needed to connect the hoses before cutting them, so we researched the diameter of most school bus coolant hoses and bought a brass elbow accordingly.
We cut the hoses going to the heater and clamped the two ends with trigger clamps so we wouldn’t get drenched with coolant. Unfortunately, it turned out that the brass fitting we bought was too small and the size we needed was so big that it wasn’t in stock at any local hardware store. We ordered the correct fitting and waited for it to be shipped to us… but now we had two already cut hoses hanging around.
So we leaned a bucket up against the bus and left the hoses clamped above the bucket to catch any coolant leaks. This was our makeshift solution while we waited days for the correct brass elbow fitting to arrive.
Once the right brass fitting came in, we installed it with hose clamps, added foam pipe insulation to the hoses, and attached the coolant line back to the underside of the bus.
Tip: The hose clamps (silver rings around the hoses) keep the hoses secured to the brass fitting. We used the foam pipe insulation to help protect the hoses.
Removing the Ceiling and Wall Panels
Both the ceiling and the wall panels in the bus are fastened to the structure with rivets. The best tool for removing these rivets is an air hammer. Initially, we didn’t have an air hammer or an air compressor to run the air hammer so we tried multiple other ways of getting the rivets out but it was painstakingly difficult to make progress.
A lot of resources we found suggested using a center punch tool to punch out the center of the rivet and then use a step drill bit to remove the rivet. However, we found that the step drill bit would dig out the rivet to a point and then the rivet would just start spinning and wouldn’t come out any further. So that was pretty unsuccessful. Then we thought maybe we could use the angle grinder to sheer off the rivets but it was too difficult to get underneath them with an angle grinder so this method was too time consuming an honestly a bit of overkill.
That’s when we decided to buy an air hammer, which was about $30 but what we wanted to avoid was having to buy an air compressor to run it. Luckily, Travis had both a grandfather and a coworker who owned one so we were able to borrow them. Travis punched out the center of the rivets and then we hooked up the air hammer with a chisel attachment and went at the rivets from the side until they popped right off!
A side effect of using the air hammer was hand and arm soreness in the following days. You may not realize it while you’re working, but the air hammer’s strong and constant vibrations are a lot of impact for your muscles and nerves to take for an extended period of time.
Removing the Electrical Wires
The fuse box above the driver’s seat has a lot of wires running to the rest of the bus. These include all of the lights (ceiling lights, marking lights, emergency lights, etc), speakers, and emergency sounds (reverse beeper).
Some of these wires we were obligated to disable and some of them we decided we didn’t need. One of the requirements for passing our vehicle inspection was to remove all of the strobe lights as we could no longer appear as (or have the functionalities of) a public safety vehicle. That meant removing the wires to these lights and even spray painting the lights black so that it was evident that they would not and could not be used.
We also had a flip-out stop sign to remove so we cut and removed those wires, epoxied a patch of metal on the hole inside the bus, and used Bondo to level out the indent on the outside of the bus. Lastly, the rear speakers that came with the bus sounded terrible. We decided that we didn’t want any rear speakers and updated the front speakers so we’d have better sound quality for long drives.
Tip: Bondo is a strong paintable putty that can be used as an automotive body filler. It is best applied with a putty knife and should be sanded before being painted.
All in all, Travis tracked and cut the wires we didn’t need and ended up with 15 pounds of removed wires!
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Pry Bar Brass Elbow Fitting Trigger Clamps Hose Clamps Foam Pipe Insulation Air Hammer Air Compressor Bondo