Cross Country School Bus

Hello Folks,

I will be embarking on a US cross-country trip with a friend this October. We’ll be driving from the Pacific Northwest, through Richmond VA, up to New England, then in a southerly loop, out to Taos NM and back up along the coast to Oregon. I would like to do this exclusively on wood and possibly meet some sustainability-minded tinkerers along the way. I thought I’d post here to get people’s thoughts. Tips and suggestions for both fabrication and travels welcome!

A bit about the bus. It’s a 30-foot, 1999 Chevy Bluebird/B7 with a 454 gasoline engine. It was converted by the school system in Texas to run propane. Over the past several weeks, I’ve been fabricating a wood gasification system to be mounted on the rear. I’ve settled on a downdraft reactor based on the one in the Wood Gasifier Builder’s Bible, which seems to be a popular build. I’ll be mounting a light-weight stainless steel drum on top as a hopper for additional fuel capacity. Some other interventions are likely in order, and I have a great deal of flexibility with size and weight. I’ll be mounting everything to a very heavy-duty 32" deck on the back, which will be connected directly to the bus chassis. Radiator, condenser, and filter still to come!

Some fun thoughts I’ve been entertaining include the use of woodgas to cook and heat the vehicle when it is being used as an RV. If anyone knows of some good, woodgas-safe, heat-exchange methods for either of these purposes, I would be grateful to hear your thoughts. I was just laughing to myself about the absurdity of having a woodgas-powered, fake wood fireplace… but perhaps its not so silly!




How much wood can you haul along? What size chunks?


If western North Carolina is anywhere near your route message me on here. I can get started on making some charcoal and wood chunks for you. Good to have some charcoal in case you deplete your char bed on accident.


That’s nice looking work Billy. October is almost here. Keep in mind that someone with the skills of Marcus is still locked in the 75 per cent learning curve. I have to try and think about the Peterson gasifier but it seems that you could put a coil in the water tank and pump hot water from that through a radiator for heating.


Have not loaded it up yet, but it is a standard size 55 gallon drum. That minus a portion at the bottom of the barrel which will be screened off for water collection and feed angle, I’d say just shy of 50 gallons.


I think he also means how much fuel can you carry in the bus? Also I should have mentioned in my previous comment that I live relatively close to Interstate 85, that’s a northbound interstate so it would lead right into Virginia.


Ah, yes! Thanks, Cody.
Depending on our willingness to sacrifice free space I can envision anywhere from 1-6 other 55 gallon drums inside the bus. Honestly, I’m not too sure about the right balance of stockpiling and/or scavenging resources on the fly. I will be building a 32" deck on the back to support the gasifier. It’s quite possible to have one or two other dedicated drums live out there as well.

I’m also anticipating some intrigue with crossing state lines with “firewood”. I’m assuming it’s best to do that with recycled dimensional lumber and/or pallette wood.

The choke plate has a 4" mouth. I may adjust that once I get it running.


For storing indoors of the bus you could just use those sturdy animal food bags, but maybe you could devise a storage rack on the roof of the bus or something to store the drums?

@JocundJake didn’t you use IBC tote cages to hold your trailers full of wood?

Hopefully once you get it built you can test drive and see how far a full hopper gets you in terms of miles. Try to see how much a full hopper would weigh. Wayne Keith gets about a little over a mile per pound of wood, and with his truck it takes 16lbs of wood to equal a gallon of gasoline.


Hi Billy, welcome to DOW. A 454 cubic in. engine will require a larger restiction or choke plate than 4". The WK Gasifiers are running 7" to 8" restriction openings my gasifer is running at a 7 1/4" opening with a 318 cubic in. engine. Not sure how large your gasifer can run with out making tar. Read the specific on your gasifer build to find out. I burn a pound of wood per mile of travel at high speeds, less at 40 mph and lower speeds. There are lots of free pallets to be found. A very good wood source. It seems every town has them for free to take away. I would figure a heavy school bus with a big engine will burn more wood per mile may be 2 lbs. per mile.


See the thread “WOODGAS 2020…AGAIN”. My son, Jakob North just finished such a trip in a Dodge Dakota 2 weeks ago. Lots to be learned from him and Wayne Keith who has also made similar trips. And others here.

Crossing state lines will not matter at all. At least it didn’t for our project.

The sacrifice will not be made in terms of “space”, it will have to be made in terms of “weight”.
What is the GVW of your rig?
The more fuel (other stuff) you haul, the more fuel you need.

Will this be a hybrid vehicle?

Do you have much experience with driving on wood?

Scavenging wood for chunks is a major undertaking. And you’re usually stuck with using pallets from behind dumpsters (full of nails & hard to cut up) or low quality spruce/yellow pine scraps from construction/carpenters.

Will you have another vehicle along to run around in? Collect wood? haul wood?

I think Jakob said he got 1.3 lb/mile. in Dakota on WK.

A School bus is very heavy it seems.

If you make it to Alabama, we can load you up with a few thousand pounds of perfect kiln dried maple…(give us some lead time). I expect Wayne would help you out also. He’s farther north. and closer to interstates.


I’m a total newb, but I do have some suggestions :sweat_smile:
Consider making a youtube channel, if you haven’t already got one.
The homesteading, van life, boondocking and resilience crowd will be into what you are doing.
Maybe visit with some established youtubers, for instant channel recognition.
Some colleges with automotive and engineering departments might welcome your visit.

If you us pallet wood or dimensional lumber, maybe skip the barrels.
That wood should be able to stack nicely inside or outside the bus.
A roll of shrink wrap could help you build waterproof cubes of the stuff, so you can stack it inside or outside of the vehicle.
You could even sleep on top of it…

This idea is really outside of my experience, but bringing along a way to dry potential fuel seems like a good idea.

For water heating, there are off the shelf marine water heaters that use a heat exchanger to tap into the motors coolant.
There are also propane powered water heaters , intended for camping, that might be able to run off of woodgas.


A lot of the bluebirds made for up north used a coolant heat exchanger for the student area of the bus
You might be able to find the plumbing for that online.


I am only going to address your use of Ben Petersons Book and Book-system as the basis for you attempt.
I am very, very hands on familiar with most all of his stainless steel systems.
I never had an interest to operate any of his earlier 5-7 carbon steel systems.
And I’ve yet to hands on operate one of his made-by-plans Book systems. Fellows actually electrical generator running says works fine for them.

His Book system will be too small for your proposed usage.
And what is this talk about '“lower moisture” collection??
Not in the book. Never been in any of his hearthing systems. And only a few (NOT the Book system) had hopper condensation features. Down stream separations, cooling and filtering; sure moisture collecting at these points; sure all systems.

Page 29 of his 2020 Mastery Edition says system dimensions maximum for a 5.0L (302CID) engine.
You want to fuel a very heavily loaded down 454CID engine.
1/2 again times bigger engine; and with the greater system demand loading, than a 302CID would ever have, you will need to greatly increase the gasifier dimensions.
Greater gas production demands will mean greater thermal heating the metals have to resist and dissipate.
He uses thicker metals propane tanks, with smaller engines and lower gas loading demands.
You are trying to use thin 55 gallon barrels.

So please do not call your not-proven, DIY make-up, a Ben Peterson. You are far off his published proven pathways.

With your engine size and loading use you would be much better off, DOW Premium Member signing up, and supported building up a WK system.
IT HAS been large loaded engines proven in Waynes own larger Dodge V-10; Waynes early 460 CID Fords; and others large block engines.
Steve unruh



Plenty of wood here if you want to loop down in Alabama :blush:


Somewhere we have a thread about vehicle profile and wind resistance .

I can’t find it right now but will look again when I get in tonight .

You can get some idea of wood consumption by the gasoline mileage of the bus.


No i built a cage out of cattle panel and mounted it on the trailer then just filled bags. and stacked them in there. I do use ibc tanks some for storage of chunks.


Thanks Robert. The choke plate is something I should consider enlarging, but like you say, I’m not sure how far it can be pushed before running up against the design of the reactor. I will look more into the WK designs and weigh my options from here. Do you know of a good, preferably free online resource for that?

I am, however, optimistic that I can successfully riff on this current design. The bus has a governor. I have only once gotten it in the upper 60’s and am in no hurry to do that again. Generally I accelerate and drive slowly. My whole trip to Fairbanks and back was done ~45mph on propane, which as a fuel presents a significant power reduction not incomparable to wood. I would call my set up anti-performance automotive… I even once ran the 454 on four cylinders! (whoops)


Fantastic about your son’s trip! I will have a close look at that. Good also to hear interstate wood transportation wasn’t a problem.

The GWV is 23,100. Weigh stations put it’s actual weight in at about half of that. I may be adding several hundred pounds to the rear wit the gasifier, but I am also going to remove the 20-year-inactive gasoline tank. I don’t think it’s been filled once in the bus’s life!.. Must be a few hundred pounds empty with brackets and all. I’ll drop that today or tomorrow.

You question about hybrid: currently it is a propane-only vehicle. But the neat thing about propane is that, like wood, it’s on-demand/pumpless, vacuum-based system. I have a propane mixer which is a little convoluted compared to other models in terms of sensors & computer regulation, but your question raises some neat possibilities. Perhaps some hybrid system will help to amend the power shortage that many here are cautioning about.

The only time I ever drove on wood was the Kiskatinaw Bridge on the Alaskan highway : ) No longer open, but at the time that was several hundred feet of “driving on wood”!

As for wood prep, I’ll certainly have to be more prepared than just scavenging scrap on the fly. I’ll consider other storage methods and maybe get a system down for processing pallets.more generally

Thank you for the wood offering! I’ll certainly give you a holler if we’ll be going through AL.


Thanks for your good points about the reactor size, Steve. I agree it seems I will likely have to change elements of the reactor or run it as a hybrid with the current propane system. I certainly do not want to push it into tar-production territory.

As for the design, the reactor is, as you say of the Peterson reactor design, fabricated from various propane tanks. The walls are thick, and the combustion zone uses an even heavier gauge for the inner, rolled stainless cylinder.

Distinct from the reactor, the thinner steel drum you mentioned is for the hopper, which must be wider than the reactor and will condense moisture around its cooler surfaces. I don’t intend to expose it to substantial heat, but the idea is that it will receive radiant heat from the reactor and force moisture from the fuel to the outside of the container where it may then condense. The hopper will have its own drain. That’s all I meant by moisture collection.

No intention here to offend your reverence for the Peterson builds. I simply followed plans for the reactor quite faithfully because they were freely available online. (see schematics offered for free from proceeds of his publications, as well as many YouTube instructional videos. I think page 9 of the pdf mentions a “condensate collector” that I riffed on) The few other design adjustment I made were to introduce more air jets, a wider air intake, increase the height of the jets above the choke, and perhaps now a widened choke mouth as well.

Hindsight is 20/20, and perhaps I would have done better to riff off of the WK instead. As things stand now though, I have an excellent, perhaps under-powered reactor which can also be used to power a generator and auxiliary heating systems. It may need to be run as a propane hybrid, or perhaps just at reduced power. We’ll see!


@Tone made a good, simple propane mixer. Gas "carbourator" - #97 by Tone