Short-Medium Bus: 1951 International School Bus

If I had an extremely large family, I can think of no better way to shuttle them around town than in this 1951 International School Bus, for sale here on Craigslist in Madison, Wisconsin.  Of course, I’d probably want to do a little bit of restoration work first.  While the asking price of $2,000 isn’t too steep, finding parts for this bus might be a little more challenging and costly than ordering modern reproduction parts out of a Year-One catalog for a ’57 Chevy.  Thanks to Chris A for the submission!

The International Harvester L-series trucks were available in a wide range of sizes, from pickups to tractor-trailers.  This bus looks to be based on the L-160, which would have been a medium-duty truck chassis.  It should have been factory-equipped with a 100HP, 269ci inline-6 engine, so it probably wasn’t much faster when new than it is as it currently sits.

While this bus appears to be very complete given its age, I think it would take a tremendous amount of work to turn it into something useful and enjoyable.  The rear panels are plenty rusty at their bottom edges, and the interior also exhibits a good bit of rust on many of the flat surfaces.  There aren’t any photos showing the undercarriage, but it’s probably safe to assume there is more rust there, also.  The seller says the engine and transmission are original, but that the truck hasn’t been started in over 20 years, so some mechanical freshening is likely needed, too.

I have a soft spot for vehicles like this, as it seems that few medium-duty trucks survive to this age.  Most were put to work as intended and then scrapped when their serviceable lives ended.  Still, I’m not sure what one would do with this bus.  The seller suggests that it could be made into an RV, and I think it would be fantastic outfitted with modern amenities on the inside and restored to as-new condition on the outside.  However, that sounds like a long, costly and difficult endeavor, and I’m not sure there are too many folks out there who are looking for such a project.  What other uses do you see for this old bus?

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  1. Beatnik Bedouin

    Cool bus for someone looking for a serious project and has panel fabricating skills.

  2. Davis

    Years ago in the town where I grew up, across the street from my house there was a similar one abandoned behind the curling rink. As a kid I would “drive” the old bus for fun.

  3. Steve R

    Unfortunately there is too much stigma associated with a “short bus” to consider it an option.

    Steve R

    • grant

      Wow Steve. Don’t be so insecure.

  4. Fred H

    About 1965 I rode in a 51 International school bus on cold days it had icicles hanging from the roof .I was colder in the bus than outside ))

  5. Kenneth Carney

    Used to ride in one similar to this one
    in the early ’70’s when I played guitar in
    a band that toured in the Midwest playing
    one-nighters and county fairs. Ours had
    a hitch around back for pulling a trailer,
    that carried our instruments and our
    luggage. It may have been slow and
    uncomfortable, but it got us there on
    time and in one piece. Nice to see
    there’s still a few left.

    • Dick Johnson

      Were your tires ‘square’ for 10 miles after sitting between gigs? Our ’52 Chevy long bus was good for 45 mph on flat stretches. Without band equipment; 45 mph. Getting the B3 onboard was a struggle.

      • Chinga-Trailer

        After reading your first sentence, it reminded me of what my Grandpa said when I was a very little kid – “I remember the invention of triangular wheels, they were great as they eliminated one bump per revolution!”

  6. 86_Vette_Convertible

    There’s a few people that have hot rodded old busses and some have turned out to be fairly incredible. Check out there:….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..2.13.2593.0..0j35i39k1j0i131k1j0i20i264k1j0i131i20i264k1j0i10k1j0i13i30k1.0.G3WhDrrDwhU

    • lowbusman

      Mine included!

  7. jw454

    First grade through fourth, starting in 1961, the bus was a 1955 Chevrolet 48 passenger, the driver’s name was Mr. Day. He looked like he was about 100 years old and he didn’t like kids. He was a chain smoker and the smoke would fill the air near the top of the bus. Very often, when children would cause a disturbance, he would stop the bus, grab the kid, shake them very hard while shouting at them, and aggressively set them back in the seat. This was a treatment that I received more than once in the four years I rode his bus. It was a common occurrence for many of us on the bus. In today’s world, he would have been in court the first time.

    The featured bus could be made into a cool parts hauler.

  8. Ben T. Spanner

    Our substitute bus was a 1949 or so GMC. The driver’s seat was so shot that the driver could just peer over the huge steering wheel. Lots of grinding and howling from the transmission and rear end.
    We usually rode in new 1959 GMC snub nose bus. Someone had the idea that constant fresh air would eliminate the possibility of CO poisoning. Therefore there were metal stops keeping the winows open one inch: and this was Northeastern Ohio. A phillips screwdriver fixed one window at a time.

    • Fred W

      As a kid I was still a gearhead and noticed that the “flat nosed” rear engine buses rode a lot smoother than the front engine ones.

      • Chebby Staff

        They had air suspension while the front-engine buses had springs.

  9. Fred W

    The steel grab bar above each seat was specially positioned to take out a kid’s teeth in a 5mph fender bender.

  10. Kenneth Carney

    @Dick Johnson: Sure felt that way! Factor in the short wheel base, and
    you had the ride from hell. Riding
    in the back of one of these could
    quite litterally jar the fillings right
    out of your teeth! I’ll bet you used
    the emergency door to load the Hammond didn’t you? If you did,
    that certainly was a challenge too.
    The fellow I worked for had a double
    axle trailer into which we loaded the
    PA system, 2 Fender Super Showman
    amps, the lighting, when needed, our
    guitars, and then our luggage. Not
    to mention the miles and miles of
    cable it took to connect everything
    together! If your bus was like ours,
    you froze your ass off in winter and
    baked in the summer too. Not long
    after that, the boss man bought a
    flatnosed diesel pusher and turned
    it into a motor home of sorts with
    everything but a kitchen. And he still
    pulled that same trailer too. By the
    time I retired, (1990) we used a regular
    style motorhome….and that same trailer

  11. David Miraglia

    Being the only professional bus driver here. This bus is a catch. Been driving all types of buses for 28 years. Manual steering,shift etc would love to get my hands on this one.

    • Chebby Staff

      (Former) professional bus driver here as well: GMC Fishbowls and Old-Looks and a 1982 Prevost that was like a spaceship by comparison. The crash box transmissions were fun, manual steering less so.

  12. Mitchell Ross

    6BT 5.9 Cummins with 5 speed NV4500 trans and it will run

  13. Dustin

    Convert into an RV.

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