Anybody who is thinking of learning to drive the bus should read this document carefully. But in no way should this document be considered sufficient training to be able to drive the bus alone. Please seek instruction from an experienced bus driver before attempting to drive it yourself. I strongly encourage anybody who will be doing a lot of driving to get a commercial driver's license. While it is not legally required, the training is very relevant, and it gives you more legitimacy as the driver. This document only describes how to drive to vehicle. It does not cover starting the vehicle, or safety checks, both of which are necessary for safely using the bus. Starting the bus is really more of a maintenance task. The basics
On one level, driving the bus is just like driving a regular (albeit very large) manual transmission passenger vehicle. The controls are the same -- a steering wheel, a brake pedal, a clutch pedal and an accelerator pedal (not gas -- this is a diesel). You have windshield wipers, headlights and turn signals. The most obvious difference is that the transmission on the bus is unsynchronized, meaning that you need to double clutch every time you shift. More on this later. But in another sense, driving the bus could be hardly more different. It is 35 feet long and 8 feet wide. It weighs 22,000 pounds when empty. It uses air brakes, which are extremely powerful, but lacks almost any other safety provisions. As the driver, you'll be separated from anything you hit by only a few feet of air and a thin sheet of metal. Also remember that when you are driving it, there could easily be a dozen of your close friends who have trusted their lives to you in the back. Big diesel engines
Before discussing the transmission, I'd like to make a few notes about the engine in the bus. It is a huge powerful diesel engine, the size you'd find in some semi trucks. It has gone over 400,000 miles, and with good care could do that much again. We clearly do not care for the engine that well, but we should do our best to keep it from dying. Large diesel engines are all rev-limited. For our bus the maximum engine speed is about 2200 RPM. The letter is not like one you'd find in a passenger car either. In passenger cars, when you go too fast they abruptly cut off the fuel, and the vehicle becomes difficult to operate. With a large diesel, it will run very smoothly against the limiter. In fact, these engines are running their best when they are running at their maximum speed. Whenever straining the engine, such as when going up a hill, you should leave the engine running at maximum RPM. Similarly, you should never stress the engine by asking it for a lot of power at lower RPM. This is called lugging, and is the worst thing you can do for a diesel engine. More on this in the hill driving section. The transmission
The bus uses a five-speed stick shift transmission. The gears are laid out in a slightly different manner from what you're used to in a standard double-H configuration. Be sure to look at the metal plate describing the gear placement next to the stick shift. Before you start driving, remind yourself of these differences. I have provided a diagram here for reference purposes.
Another important difference between the bus' stick shift and a standard double-H concerns the placement of springs in the transmission. There are three neutral positions for the stick to be in: the one between the reverse and first gear (the left position), the one between second and third gear (the center position) and the one between fourth and fifth gear (the right position). In a normal passenger car stick shift, there are springs which naturally draw the gear into the center neutral position, when you pull it out of any gear. The springs on the bus' stick shift are different however. There's a strong spring pushing left between center and right positions -- similar to normal cars but stiffer. There's little or no spring between left in center...
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