(first posted 3/7/2017) You know how I like motorhomes. And good stories. This one is a gem that combines them both.
I’ve documented a few oddball home-built ones here before, like this Toronado-powered one, and this one built out of two ’62 Buicks. But this very touching story about how this dad turned an old Ford school bus into a train-like, twin-engine motorhome with which he took his family all over the US, may just take the cake.
The full story is here, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version. In 1949, Mr. Schilling (he wrote the memoirs, and his first name isn’t given) bought a 1938 Ford school bus. After some basic outfitting for travel, it made its first trip to the Black Hills in 1950.
But Schilling’s creative juices were about to transform the school bus radically over the next six years. A 1938 Ford 2-door body was cut down the middle and a center section from another 2-door was spliced in to widen the over-engine cab to eight feet. A new Chevrolet cab-over truck front hood was rebuilt to the same proportions as the Northwestern 400 diesel train engine. The bus was outfitted with a kitchen, closets, and sleeping areas.
On its first major outing to Chicago in 1951, the tired old ’38 Ford flathead V8 died, and the bus had to be towed back home, Galesville, WI. The solution? Yank the engine out of the family 1950 Ford, and head back to Chicago. The Schillings and their rig attracted a lot of attention at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. After returning home, the borrowed V8 went back into the family Ford sedan.
Mr. Schilling then found a Ford Big Six truck engine, rebuilt it, and installed that. But later that fall, on a trip to Waterloo, IA., the engine seized up, and a friend came and pulled them back home.
The Schilling family was growing quickly during this time, so it was decided to substantially expand the Galesville Limited in order to take the whole family to see the USA. The bus was lengthened at the rear, and in order to power the much heavier vehicle, a second power train was deemed necessary. The solution? A Buick straight eight with a Dynaflow transmission mounted at the rear, driving the newly added second rear axle, which was flipped over to take the drive from the rear.
Why the Buick/Dynaflow combination? Because it didn’t need to be shifted, unlike the front engine and manual transmission. A pusher, in the true sense of the word. Unfortunately, keeping the hard-working big Buick engine cool in the back would turn out to be a continual problem.
In 1952, the nine Schillings headed east to Washington D.C., where once again they received a lot of attention, and were asked to pose for photos, including in front of the Capitol. And that includes their dinghy Jeep, which was towed behind, and was used for urban sightseeing trips, including New York City.
In 1953, the Galesville Limited headed west. In the summer heat, especially in the Rockies, issues with keeping the Buick engine cool required fabricating some additional air scoops and vents along the way. But they made it, as this shot taken in Seattle shows.
On the way back home, the Galesville Limited averaged 550 miles per day and 4 mpg, so there were a lot of gas stops. making sure all the kids were on board was a bit of an issue; at least once, a detour back to pick up a straggler was required.
The following year, in anticipation of a big Canada trip, the front Ford engine and manual transmission was replaced by a new Buick Roadmaster V8 and Dynaflow. This made driving much easier, needless to say. And the ever-clever Mr. Schilling devised a way to synchronize the two Buick engines with a device that matched the vacuum of the front engine to the rear. And now with two engines working against the Dynaflows, the Galesville Limited actually sounded more like a diesel locomotive.
But the new Dynaflow conked out on that trip, and they had to make their way home on just the rear engine. It was still under warranty, at least, so it was a free repair. One wonders why Buick would honor its warranty under this setting. The good old days.
Probably because of constant reliability issues as well as the decision to go back to farming, the Galesville Limited saw no further big trips. It was used locally in parades and such, and in 1956, it was sold to someone who was looking for a unique RV.
The deal was made, but the other transmission conked out just eight miles after the new owner drove off. And after that was fixed, the new owner ran off the highway into a tree, because of a braking issue.
But in 1977, the Galesville Limited was spotted in a junk yard, and one of the sons with his kids went to check it out. They stripped out a few interior fittings as mementos of their times in the bus.
The story ends with this finale:
“We have traveled coast-to-coast and border-to-border, but have never seen the equal of the Galesville Limited. My guess is that it was unique only because of the unlimited hours of designing and fabricating. The dollars that went into it were limited to what Mother Goose would let me spend on it.
One of our goslings summed it up by saying, “I recall our Galesville Limited trips contained a certain amount of agony, but overall they were a super experience that very few people can match and they are a source of family pride today.”
The full story is here: bundlings.com
CC The Whatchamacallit Homebuilt RV
The Shamrock: Two 1962 Buicks Re-purposed into a Home Built Motorhome
Paul, glad you finally got to this one. After the tiny bit in Hemmings’ Classic Car, my curious nature was put in overdrive and I read the bundlings. com piece. Thanks for expanding on it and adding your touch. I wonder where the Galesville Limited nose piece disappeared to?
I believe you meant Galesville, WI, as there’s not one in IL (possibly confused with Galesburg?). The placard on the back of the bus looks like it says WI, too.
Either way, it’s a great story. Reminds me of a book I read called “Ten Peas in a Pod,” about an itenerant preacher’s family that traveled the country… one of their cars was a cut-down Packard that doubled as a truck (they did landscaping and such to earn money, and used the vehicle to haul fertilizer).
I didn’t mean it, but I should have checked first. I thought I remembered one in Illinois too, but then it’s been a while since I spent any significant time in that part of the world. Fixed now.
Mr. Schilling was actually Galesville’s mayor, which accounts for his hometown pride — not only in naming his coach after the city, but also billing Galesville as the “Garden of Eden,” as seen on the front (as seen on the 1st picture).
As far as I know, an obscure 19th century preacher once claimed that the Garden of Eden was located in SW Wisconsin near Galesville, and the City of Galesville has occasionally used the “Garden of Eden” as a slogan ever since — and may even continue to today.
Schilling also owned some sort of electrical equipment manufacturing business, which he started himself, and eventually came to be the City’s largest employer… so his creativity made him a good living, in addition to providing him with one of the most unique vehicles ever made.
I looked it up on a map and there’s a restaurant called Garden of Eatin’ downtown, lol.
Try the apple pie.
Wow, what a pile of man hours must have gone into it. Mrs Schilling must have been a very patient woman, particularly with all the mechanical breakdowns.
Mrs DougD would have put that Jeep to good use in such an emergency: “Bye, we’re going to a hotel, call us when you’ve fixed that $%%^#@^ thing”
Since it’s a very rare person who can dream that big AND make it happen with their own hands I can totally understand why subsequent owners had trouble keeping it working.
With fuel mileage at 4 mpg with at least one of the transmissions being a manual, I hate to think what it dipped to when there were *two* Dynaflows at work. It makes you wonder if some kind of genuine big truck engine (like maybe a Hall Scott) might have been a better solution than two engines and transmissions. I have a hard time seeing how much of the energy of the second drivetrain was not wasted given the imperfect synchronization between them. One would be overdriving the other much of the time, I would think.
Without getting too technical here, I’m not sure what you mean by “one would be overdriving the other much of the time”. Unless one engine had its throttle closed, and was actually being forced to spin faster than it would otherwise, I don’t see how one engine could “overdrive” the other. Or why much of the energy of the second engine would be wasted.
Which is of course why he put in the Buick/Dynflow in the back in the first place, so that it could just just constantly push regardless of being perfectly synchronized. As long as both engines were actually working above idle speed and contributing to forward propulsion instead of being spun passively, it would seem that the issue of perfect synchronization is not that big a deal.
Boats with twin engines manage it, and propeller airplanes did it.
I can see that perfect synchronization might be the ideal, but I don’t see the lack of it as being all that big a deal either, as long as both are contributing some degree of forward thrust at the same time. And both are in forward gear. 🙂
Engine – nuity !
Great story; handsome family. What wonderful memories these kids were given.
I’m no expert, but based on my experiences with old (1950s) twin engine boats, the main synchronization issue would have been noise and vibration caused by the two engines (usually side by side in close quarters under the deck) running out-of-sync. Some boats had synchronization lights between the throttles) that would go on and off until one engine was matched by slow application of throttle adjustments (up or down) until the light stayed on. But the light was not really needed, one’s ears and seat-of-the-pants feeling was all you needed.
Modern synchronizers are much more sophisticated.
On one long run in a prewar Hubert Johnson twin engine cruiser, the elderly skipper (probably younger then than I am now) sat contentedly on the bridge seemingly unaware of the thrumming vibrations of his out-of-synch engines. After a long time, I politely asked if I might make some throttle adjustments to help the boat run more smoothly. He said yes, I did, and his long suffering wife sitting next to him smiled in relief.
It’s funny the small things one remembers over the years.
Early one speed Dynaflow Buicks (those with the straight eights; late 40s and early 50s) would seem to be perfect for a two engine application like the subject bus. However, I’m not even sure if synchronization would be needed if the engines were physically separated front and rear.
Our 1950 Dynaflow Riviera sounded and ran just like our 1948 Elco cruiser. Set the throttle and the vehicle (car or boat) would eventually catch up to the rpm.
You’re right, and given that the engines in these were unique (not the same type of engine) were far apart, and drove different axles, synchronization was just not an issue.
What I believe the builder did “to synchronize the engines” was not true synchronization in the usual sense, meaning to run at the expat same rpm, but to synchronize their throttle settings so that both would operate at the same amount of manifold vacuum, which would assure that both engines were working about equally hard.
A few manufacturers and modders beside Citroën and its 2CV Sahara had built the cars with two engines and gearboxes.
I distinctively recalled Volkswagen experimenting with a twin-engined Scirocco BiMotor from the early 1980s as its answer to Audi Quattro.
Another was Honda CRX with automatic gearboxes that Car and Driver did an extensive profile in the early 1990s. This article also explained how the modder had solved the synchronisation issue.
There is a lemons Toyota with two. So long as the secondary transmission is automatic it seems to work. Just have to roughly synchronize the throttles and let the secondary follow. That’s the best I can do with typing on a phone.
I’ve often wondered what would be required to take an actual locomotive and make it roadworthy…
A whole lot more wheels than they have for the rails. 🙂
Average weight is 300,000 pounds. Set up for passive tracking so no steering linkage to trucks.
Track is 56.5″ with wheels enclosed so tires would not clear. Wheel diameter 40″.
Height over 15′, length around 70′. Cab width 10′.
Tractive effort around 100k pounds. 3000HP.
Convinced yet? Your local DOT would be.
Think about how heavy a semi trailer is, then consider that a train can haul miles of them, on cars that weigh 50k pounds each. A stack train comes in at about 8-14k tons. People really don’t get how heavy they are until they see a wreck that was going less than 5 mph and the cars are spread everywhere and mowed down anything in their path.
All that work for 6 years of traveling. The dedication that must have took is impressive.
Amazing story and machine. It is certainly a shame it could not have retired with a little more dignity but hardly surprisingly the new owners could not keep it on the road.
Wouldn’t buying an old GM or greyhound bus have been easier and much cheaper, not to mention more reliable with twice the gas mileage?
But hardly as distinctive. A wonderful tale, even if a not unexpected ending. Catching it that last time must have been a bitter-sweet moment. Old man Schilling must have had a creative eye realising he could that loco cab shape out of largely normal automotive parts.
This kind of “can do” optimism was once seen a lot more often, though not usually on such a grand scale. Todays zoning laws don’t allow the “resource piles” necessary to build stuff like this.
I wouldn’t blame it on zoning. these folks most likely lived in the country. There’s other reasons.
I wonder if its still sitting in the junkyard in Hastings MN?
No wonder the new owner totalled the thing – how would you see out of it?
Reading about the 500 mile per day trip home, it seems like they could actually cruise at 55 mph, which is both impressive and mildly terrifying for what is essentially a 1930’s truck.
Six children ! Amazing that he had the time – or energy.
Seven, in the later pictures!
My brother has seven kids. He escapes the mayhem by taking one or two of them at a time camping.
I can imagine that “I need to work on the motorhome” would be a nice escape as well.
Seven kids!?! In the 21st century!?! Wow. My hat’s off to him.
6 boys = non stop violence 🙂
Fascinating story and vehicle – first I’ve heard of it. Thanks.
The family should have just taken the train and saved themselves a whole passel of trouble!
The work that must have gone into building that contraption gives me a headache.
I do approve of the railroad styling, though.
Amazing with all that welding he was doing, he didn’t weld up the openings on the rear, rooftop radiator and turn it 90 degrees, or find one already oriented for horizontal use, instead of building such a massive shroud.
Amazing story and motorhome. I have to agree with other readers that perhaps the best way to get this thing to work would have been to adapt a large truck engine to run in the rear of the vehicle. Something with lots of torque and more internal strength.
How did he find time to do all that with six kids and a business to run while being mayor?
I’m quite sure he was mayor and ran that business after these adventures. And he had seven kids, as the later pictures show.
I grew up with Mark Schilling in Galesville. I saw this in their garage and went inside numerous times. I don’t recall anything but the outside though. A train on the road. Cool then and even cooler to think about it now. I just had a wild hair to look for it today and found this article. Very cool. Takes me back to my youth in beautiful Galesville, Wisconsin.
True American exceptionalism! Give a man with a “can do” attitude, a welder, a well stocked tool shed, and a lot of moxie, and look what they can come up with! Of course there were easier alternatives; a newer converted bus, a commercial truck pulling a large camper trailer, or any combination of the two. I love the rail road theme, and that was probably a lot of the attraction of the project, and while my skills pale in comparison to Mr. Schilling, I sometimes get that bug “to do things my way” even if it might be done another way better or even cheaper.
On the other hand, transporting a family of eight or nine members would be quite expensive, even if you took a train or a bus, or especially an airplane, and the costs of lodging and meals, would be prohibitive, plus you wouldn’t have the freedom to explore or stop anywhere you wish. Towing that Jeep was a wise choice.
Chicken and egg… I don’t know if doing weird stuff like this is more common or just more widely known today because of social media, but I think a lot of people are doing weird stuff like this just for the clicks/views.
Like a fellow I’m following on YouTube who is in process of turning a 6×6 concrete mixer truck into an off-road beast.
By my calculation, on his trip from Seattle back to Wisconsin, he was spending around $40/day for gas (4mpg, 500 miles, avg of $0.28/gal in 1953). That was some serious money for vacation travel for most people in 1953, I’d imagine. That’s dedication.
I love this story.
That vacuum throttle is such a brilliant simple solution. A distributor vacuum installed so if front engine is at full vacuum idles down the rear and as vacuum in front engine drops under load the rear rpm is pulled up by the vacuum spring. Obviously some tuning required by very doable with that auto transmission. Genius!
The guy was some kind of mad genius, two straight 8s might have been better but quite an effort to build and run this thing, I drove a petrol powered Bedford truck that did between 4 & 6 mpg depending on the terrain and load so I know what that fuel consumption looks like, BMC had a couple of tries at twin engines a moke prototype appeared and John Cooper produce a twin engined Cooper S which nearly killed him, all manual shift which must have been complicated.
You just have to admire the guy who built this for his ability to think outside the box, problem solving ability, mechanical skills and sheer persistence!