How to Tow A 1955 School Bus Coversion

Pulling A 1955 International School With A Dodge Truck
This is the story of Norma, a 1955 International School Bus Conversion. I bought her just over two months ago now, and getting her home was quite an adventure. As it turns out, getting a School Bus towed from Whitefish, MT was not going to be an easy task. The towing he had promised fell through several times. An axle had broken on his buddy's trailer, and the towing for 150 dollars was not panning out. After researching tow companies and getting a couple dozen different quotes, the average price to tow a 1955 International School Bus 150 miles was between 800 and 1000 dollars. The terrain between where I was located just outside of Missoula, and where Norma was stuck in Whitefish, is 150 miles of switchback mountains with some steep grades and serious turns, along with a couple of giant hills. I put out craigslist ads and calls for help to my friends. I had a trucker friend suggest a bidding company online, but no one would take on the haul.

 After a month and a half of almost patiently waiting, Matt and I decided that he was going to go to Whitefish and try to make Norma run, or tow it home himself. So Matt embarked on this weekend long adventure with his step father to make Norma run again. After days of trying and not succeeding, and a lot of wrong parts, they still couldn't get the spark Norma needed to run. At this point, exhausted and frustrated, Matt and his step dad, decided to tie Norma up to his step dad's Dodge, and pull her home. The above picture is after 20 miles, they made it into Kalispell, MT. They had to stop in this parking lot to cool off the brakes, and add more brake fluid. Apparently they were having problems with a cylinder. They said at this point, that they had many people pointing and shouting and taking pictures. They even had a sheriff come up behind them and just shake his head. If your wondering, they just have a 40 foot tow strap rigged up to pull the bus behind the dodge.

The rest of the trip was not easy going either. The brake cylinders gave out or blew up something, and they had to stop and compress them over and over. Matt was literally having to stop a 33 foot school bus with his own legs and an emergency brake. They had a lot of close calls. They pulled over in every town, considering whether they should just give up and drop the bus.  But they never did. They just kept on hauling. After the worst of the hills, and another close call, the brakes went out again. Matt was down to one back break and the emergency brake. The sun was going down and they had been in tow for over 6 hours already. They rigged up the brakes again and attempted the last leg of the journey down into Missoula. It was dark as they arrived into town. Wouldn't you know, that finally after 8 or 9 hours of towing, they got pulled over.

Matt said he had never looked so pathetic. He was covered in diesel soot (there is no windshield in the bus) sore and exhausted, he almost shed a tear to the Sheriff. The Sheriff was very understanding, and although he wouldn't let them tow it any further, he did allow him to call a friend to follow behind the bus with his hazards on for the rest of the 20 miles to where we live. The breaks went out altogether as he pulled into the yard to set her in her place. She also took out the fence on her way in. Poor Norma was as tired and sore as Matt.

Matt had to take two full days off of work to recover after literally being the brakes for the bus most of the way home. At least I know he is capable of stopping her if there is a complete brake failure. We have not fully assessed the damage of pulling Miss Norma yet either. I imagine, the brakes are going to be a doozy. We have pieces and parts that need to be exchanged, because some of the original parts that we got were for a 12 volt system rather than the original 6 volt system that is installed. There is a lot of questions we have about the motor itself. I do have some books on order, and hopefully a manual in the very near future...

So Norma made it home. Now the fun part begins. I am restoring a school bus. Its actually happening. I passed on the burn this year, in hopes that she will make it to her true home, next year. Next year was better anyways. )'(

Follow my blog to start seeing some before and after pictures of Norma. I would love to hear some feedback from you readers! If you have any good links, tips, suggestions or information for a 1955 International School Bus, I would love to see them. Thanks for reading.

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Restoration Dreams

Norma the Bus ~ And Me

Hi everyone, my name is Mandy, and this is my Bus Norma, a 1955 International School Bus. I love how she seems to be smiling in this picture. I think her smile is what made me fall in love with her in the first place. I found her on craigslist almost two months ago, and I knew instantly that she had to be mine.

I have had dreams of owning a bus and running away to travel across the country for some years now; and after a 10-day, 2200 mile road trip snuggled up with my tireless road warrior of a man, my son, and two dogs in a ford truck...I was so ready to make an impulse purchase of a giant rig that would also be my home. About a week later, we found ourselves driving an additional 150 miles, to Whitefish, Mt to meet Miss Norma in person. There are no words for what we found when we got there.

Okay there are actually a few words I can think of, like "Holy s#!t", and "I am so sorry I made you drive up here for this". It was apparent at the moment we laid eyes on her, that she was going to be a huge project, bigger than anything we have taken on before, together that is. I was pretty speechless for a few hours, all I could do was just look around in disbelief and awe. My man, my loving partner, on the other hand, was rooting around inside, underneath on top of, literally everything. Sometimes he looked confused, sometimes baffled, and a lot of the time, he just looked concerned. It was like I could see the little calculations happening in his head. I was almost positive that we were gonna walk away from Miss Norma, but for some reason, we were just so drawn to her. One thing was very clear from the start, and that was that somebody had previously spent a lot of time living in and loving on Miss Norma.

Looking forward
I found myself a quiet spot at the back of the bus, checking out the view. I am sitting in the master bedroom area, looking towards the front of the bus. The wood is cedar. They skylight is broken from the weight of snow pressing in on it over the years. The wood stove looks like it is paper thin, and must have kept someone very warm for a really long time.

An old man from across the road came along, curious about our curiosity as we had been there well over an hour, and most people leave almost immediately.

He told us that his brother used to own the property that we were on, and he had passed away the previous year. His stuff was finally being sold through estate sales, and the guy selling it to us, was just one of the investors who made a bulk purchase.

I asked the man how his brother came about having this bus. I was really hoping for a great story about an old hippy who made it for the love of his life and himself to travel around the country until they were old and gray, and that the bus just sat after they had died.

But the story went more like, "my brother liked to gamble drink. One day he was doing just that down in Kalispell, when the last Rainbow Gathering traveled through here ten or so years ago, and he won it in a drunken game of poker. Wow. Just Wow. Par for the course in Montana if you ask me.

But still, her smirk, her grin, when you are looking at her, tells me that she had sat here waiting  half her life for another hippy to pick her up and get her out of broke down hillbilly hell. Poor girl. The old man told us that over the years, some kids have come and vandalized the bus, breaking the windows and partying til the wee hours of the night. I bet that made her happy to have some company on those lonely winter nights.
Yea I know, She needs a lot of work

After the old man left, Matt and I just sat inside in silence for a really long time. Finally, I spoke up and said, "I wont be upset if you say that this project is too big for you~I am ready to walk away" But for some reason, Matt was ready to take on the project. He too felt her love and warmth. So on June 29th, we purchased Norma.

The terms of purchasing Norma were sweet and simple at first. We agreed on her price, and the fella said that he had a friend who could tow it to us 150 miles away for 150 bucks and a case of Budweiser. Sounded like a sweet deal. We planned to have it delivered after the fourth of July weekend. We left and came home anxiously awaiting the day that Norma made it home.

Follow this blog to keep up with Norma's trip home, and our pending restoration of her once she makes it here. Feel free to leave me a comment :) I would love to here what everyone thinks of Norma.

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