Getting the Bus Moving

Bright and early the day after Thanksgiving, I met my friends Mark and Wesley Christian near Farmer to get the school bus ready to move.

They now work for McRae Roofing, but Mark has been one of my go-to guys for construction and heavy lifting ever since I renovated my law office in 1997.

Thankfully they were able to get the use of the McRae boom truck, which turned out to be invaluable (and perhaps the only practicable way the bus body could have been moved).

(Thanks and a tip of the hat to Tim Allen and McRae Roofing for the use of their boom truck!!)

I got there first, to ready things for the move. I raked the leaves away 4 feet all around the bus, and uncovered quite a bit of broken window glass. I also swept the interior of the bus, collecting 3 seat brackets and several pieces of stray (but bright orange painted) wood. The interior of the bus was actually in better shape than we’d feared, as the pine flooring had rotten only around the edges of the frame where the broken windows and open sides had allowed rain to blow in. The roof- plywood with metal covering- was still in great shape, and totally kept the center of the floor in good shape. Spots where the bracket feet had been screwed to the floor were evident.

The bus body is 13 feet long, 7 feet 3 inches wide, and 57 inches tall at the center. The rear door is 23 and a half inches wide. The body uses steel angle iron for the frame, with oak ribs on 24-inch centers to produce the slight curve at the bottom and sides. I’ll have more of the technical details later, when we start the official measurement project so we can create the virtual reconstruction model.

The first important finding was that the body had sunk slightly into the ground (or the ground built up slightly around it), with the front (end toward the driver) buried more deeply than the rear.

I took a mattock and shovel and dug around the frame, and by the time Mark and Wesley arrived with the truck, it was obvious that the floor joists were in better condition than we’d thought. They were not just wood (probably oak), but a sandwich of oak between two pieces of angle iron. While the oak joists had rotted in several spots at the ends, the middle was still in good condition, and it looked like the body might move as one unit (we had been very concerned that the top and sides might separate from the floor when we tried to lift it).

About 10AM Mark began to back the truck up the old farm road where the truck had been unloaded years ago. Last weekend my son Vladimir and I had come down to the site and chainsawed out of the way a bunch of little pines and cedar sprouts which had grown up in the way, so at least that was open. Using the rear cable drum Mark was able to pull the rear end of the truck into position where the boom could maneuver right over the bus. He had made a side trip to Lowes and arrived with lumber which he and Wesley proceeded to place strategically so that the actual lift would pull on new wood, not the old oak and iron. The 2x4s went in from side to side through the broken windows spaces; the 4x4s were wired to the 2x4s, with one on each side of the body. The boom, with a metal rack they custom-built in the past that came in very handy, was chained to the 4x4s.

Martin Davis, who lives nearby and is the son of Eddie Davis, who donated the bus, arrived about then to watch and be a safety supervisor. Braced with wood and wired up like a package, the whole bus was gradually lifted off the ground and gently dropped onto the back of the McRae truck. Only the last rear floor joist remained stuck in the ground, and I dug that out and slid it into the bus.

About 11:30, the bus was back on the road for the first time in at least a half century. It’s now awaiting further restoration work, in Franklinville.

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