Point Five Ambo Build

patoz

Expedition Leader
#1
Hi guys,

I have a 1993 E350, 7.3 diesel engine, Type III Ambulance, built by Wheeled Coach. It is almost identical to the Belafonte Build with a few minor differences, such as the type of warning lights, etc. His build thread has been a great help to me because if I wanted to know what was inside a wall, all I had to do was look at his pictures instead of taking mine all apart. My project will be somewhat different as I'm going to remove the cab, engine, transmission, front axle, etc. I will then add a tongue, coupler, tool box, etc. and make mine into a camper trailer, which I will tow with a 2004 F250 Super Duty with the V10 Triton engine.

I am a DoD District Fire Chief/EMT (retired), and I also operated ambulance units similar to these for ten years on the side. In addition to my regular duties, I was also the Communications Officer, and did most of the installs for the emergency systems on the vehicles. The last few years of my career I thought an Ambulance would make a great camper since most of everything you need is already there, and built much more heavy duty than any standard camper that size. Apparently, they do as confirmed by this forum.

I purchased my ambulance at a local county surplus vehicle auction about at a year ago. So far I have been reading, researching, and commenting on other people's threads, hopefully contributing something. I live in Pensacola, Florida and now that it has finally cooled off some I'm actually working on it, so I thought it was about time to start my own build thread. So, welcome to the ‘Point Five Ambo' build thread. I named it ‘Point Five Ambo' because I'm only building half an Ambo!

I put the word out among my EMS friends that I was looking for an ambulance to buy locally, and it didn't take long. Here it was sitting in a compound under an oak tree minding its own business, and then I came along.

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I called the County and found out there was an auction coming up in three weeks, so I made plans to be there and registered. The auction went well, and I bought it for an unbelievable low price. There was only one other bidder, and he only made one offer. He wanted to bury it and make a shelter out of it. Can you believe that?

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The interior of the rear is in very good condition.

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I already knew it was not going to start, so I had a rollback wrecker transport it to my house, where it has sat until about two weeks ago. During that time I have planned, plotted, explored, traced wiring, and daydreamed a lot about what I could do with it. Now that I look back, I'm glad I didn't jump right on it, because I would have made so many mistakes, or at least poor choices.
 
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patoz

Expedition Leader
#2
One of the first things I did was call the DMV to make sure I could do what I wanted, which was technically convert a van into a trailer, and be able to register it as an RV and get a tag for it. After three phone calls and talking to four different people, no one could comprehend what I wanted to do so I decided to pay them a visit in person. Based on the intelligence level I had incurred on the phone, I made two diagrams and labeled them ‘Before' and ‘After'. That did the trick!

Before…

Ambulance Before.jpg

After...

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I found out in Florida all you have to have to qualify as an RV is to have any one of:

1. 110 VAC circuits
2. LP Gas system
3. Water plumbing system connected to a permanently attached water using toilet

Since the ambulance already has 110VAC outlets and shore power capability, it's good to go.

I had pretty much made up my mind that I wanted a trailer instead of a full vehicle, because I already have a 2004 F250 Super Duty PU, with the V10 Triton engine that's in pretty good condition. The ambulance is twenty one years old, has 262,159 miles on it, three previous owner/organizations, and has been rode hard and put up wet.

After about an hour underneath it, I was convinced I made the right decision. Everything was worn slap out including every rubber bushing, steering linkage, shocks, exhaust system, brake cylinders leaking, oil leaks, and rust everywhere. Plus the brake master cylinder had leaked down onto the large fuse panel mounted directly under it, ruining all of the fuses, wiring, and the box itself. Now add that tiny hood space to work on that huge engine…no thanks!

My other justification was because I live in a hurricane prone area. If I have to evacuate, I can only drive one vehicle and I didn't want it (the ambulance) to be an undependable one. This way I can take the PU and tow the trailer and have the best of both worlds.

The next thing I did was start pulling all of the emergency equipment related circuits and wiring back from the engine compartment and cab back into the module (rear box) at the base of the electrical panels.

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Once everything was disconnected between the cab and the back module, I made arrangement with a friend of mine who is a welder, to remove the cab, engine, transmission, front axle, etc. and then fabricate a tongue and install it. He lives seventy miles away, so it went for another wrecker ride.

My welder buddy has been out of a job for some time now, so plenty of time to work on my project...or so I thought. We towed it to his house two weeks ago from last Friday, with the impression it would be cut and the tongue installed by that Sunday night. The steel supplier closed early at noon that Friday, so I didn't make it in time to get what we needed. Then my buddy gets a call that Friday afternoon saying he has gotten a job he applied for, and needs to start Monday morning. Now, he's working 10 hrs. a day on a bridge and has no energy to work on mine at night, so it's been weekends only.

Anyway, we have spent the last two weekends working on it mostly at night (up to 1:30 am) and here is where we are right now. We cut everything structural away with a cutting torch, all lines were cut with a knife or bolt cutters including the A/C lines to the rear. We checked the lines first and fortunately the system was bone dry, so no Freon escaped into the atmosphere for you eco types. Then we used a Kubota tractor with a bucket to lift the cab off.

Sorry for the crappy pictures. These were taken with my HTC cell phone and ever since HTC released the last update, the camera has been screwed.

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These were taken with my old iPhone 4 and are a little better.

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patoz

Expedition Leader
#3
Next came the engine, transmission, and front end, all at one time. We put jack stands under everything and cut the frame on each side where it starts to narrow, just in front of the middle cab mount. Then we lifted the tail shaft of the transmission with a chain to the Kubota bucket top and wedged the front of the frame against the bucket bottom edge. After that, we just lifted a little and rolled it back out of the way.


My buddy doing his thing.

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The balancing act.

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It got tricky here.

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Looks kinda lonely, doesn't it?

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We then braced up the opening with some old deck board pieces, and screwed up some pegboard pieces I had laying around. The opening is too large for one 4' x 8' panel to cover, which means the aluminum diamond deck to cover the whole front is going to cost a fortune! We later covered it with plastic sheeting and duct tape.

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Next came the tongue. Here it is tacked in place while we square it up. We ended up trimming the frame further back to make it match up with the 3" x 5" angle we used for the tongue. That size was not our first choice, but it was the only thing close the steel supplier had at the time.

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The camper met its first campfire! It was about 1:00 am, the temperature had dropped to about 54*, and a little breeze had picked up. And before you guys up north fall out of your chairs laughing, I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals. The temperature that afternoon had been around 85*.

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In order to square the coupler/tongue properly, you're supposed to take a measurement from the center of the ball to the exact same spot on each end of the rear axle. Plus or minus 1/8" is acceptable. With the rear wheels still mounted and jack stands everywhere, we could not get a clear shot to the rear axle to the same spot on each side no matter how hard we tried. So, we did the next best thing which was to tack 4" channel to each side of the frame and center the coupler in the center. We took dozens of measurements and kept making adjustments until we were satisfied it was centered. The big variable is if that section of the frame is not square to the rear axle.

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Another factor that could affect its tracking is, I have a 10,000 lb. Rockwell American trailer axle with electric brakes ordered, so the Dana 60 will be replaced, but that's another post. I hope we got it right, but if we didn't I guess we'll just have to break out the cutting torch again! :(

My buddy called me last night and said he had the braces installed and the tongue was now solid as a rock. This coming Saturday we hope to finish up the rough spots on the tongue, mount the safety chains and the Barker 3,500 lb. electric tongue jack, and finish removing the drive shaft, exhaust system, etc.

And that is pretty much were I am on it right now.
 
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patoz

Expedition Leader
#4
Plans for the outside!

The first and most pressing thing is to get some semi-permanent panel(s) installed to cover the opening in the front where the cab was. It will have to be something waterproof that will seal against the body, but yet be able to be opened so I can have access to the electrical, heat and A/C system inside to work on it. This area was designed to be normally accessed via the cab, which is now gone. Right now I'm thinking of some kind of white shower panels and industrial 2” Velcro to hold it in place. If the Velcro will not keep water out, I may have to add some very thin weather stripping around the edges also.

My finish plan is to cover the entire front of the module with aluminum diamond deck. I want a window at the top of the old walk thru doorway area, and it will need to have access panels also, but hidden if possible.

On the tongue there will be a 6' x 2' x 2' matching aluminum diamond deck tool box running crossways just in front of the module. That's why we left 30” of factory frame sticking out before we formed our triangle for the tongue. This box may house my generator, gas cans, etc. or it may just be storage for all the required camper junk like jack plates, leveling blocks, gas and water cans, hoses, power cables, etc.

In front of the tool box will be two propane tanks and regulator assembly. After weighing all of the pros and cons of having an installed LPG tank on the frame, I decided against it.

  1. As far as I can tell, the tank needs to be visible and accessible to the person filling it. Since the ambulance compartments take up all the space on the outside of the frame that would mean it would have to be mounted on the inside, which would not make it visible or accessible to the person filling it.
  2. Considering mine will be a camper trailer vs. a complete vehicle, I believe removable portable bottles are the way to go for me. It will be a lot easier to grab the bottles and run up to the local store and swap them out, or even take them to a refilling station (if I purchase ones I want to keep), than it would be to hook up the rig and tow the whole thing to a refilling station.
I'm even considering a couple of these fiberglass propane tanks, unless I hear some reason not to use them. They're more expensive up front, but half the weight of steel, non-corrosive, will not explode (BLEVE) in a fire, and translucent so you always know at a glance how full they are.

Also, filling your own bottles is generally cheaper than doing the cylinder exchange thing at a convenience store, Walmart, etc. I have weighed some of those cylinders after I got home with them and found less than the required 17 lbs. that they put in a 20 lb. bottle, and claim that's all that will go in there due to the new Overfill Prevention Device (OPD) valve assemblies. That's one thing I like about the fiberglass wrapped cylinders, they are clear so ‘what you see is what you get'. It's also easy to see what your rate of usage is for a certain appliance if you need to know.

I have several steel cylinders I use around the house and for my grill, so I will have spares for that impromptu midnight camping trip, or that last minute hurricane evacuation I didn't plan on doing.

And under the tongue, or just under the front of the module, will be the spare tire mounted with the winch assembly from a Ford PU truck, at least that's the plan. My lower back is shot, and I don't want to be crawling under the rear step of this thing and dropping a 65 lb. tire and rim on my chest, when I unbolt an impossibly tight holding bracket, using only hand tools in the mud. No thanks!

Coming around the top, all of the 7” x 9” emergency lights will be converted to clear lenses with LEDs inside for use as work lights. Eventually, I will convert all of the tail, stop, turn, marker, and ID lights to LED also.

The light bars are staying, but I haven't decided exactly what to use them for yet. Since the housing is basically an aluminum ‘C' channel, the rear one could be gutted and used to store a DIY canopy on a roller like the factory ones, or if left intact the outer lenses could be changed to amber for breakdowns on the side of the road, with clear back up and work lights in between. The front one could be used for clear work lights and mounting any antennas, weather station sensors, etc., so no holes need be drilled in the roof. I'm open to suggestions here…

Ambulance exterior compartments are numbered in a counter clockwise direction starting with the left front compartment. And as you can see in these pictures, the yard apes at the compound where I bought it used straight edge razor blades to scrape most of the lettering off, gouging the paint all the way down to the aluminum (fortunately aluminum doesn't rust), so now I have to have the entire thing repainted. I don't have pictures of the body without the cab yet, so these will have to do for now.

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# 1 - is the tall narrow O2 cylinder compartment - possible use is for long handled tools such as shovels, axes, high lift jack etc.

# 2 - is designated for a Honda EU3000iS Generator mounted on a roll out tray. Clearance is very tight, but I think it will fit. If not, it will have to go in the box on the front.

# 3 - is designated for an outside hand/wall mount shower hose and sprayer, mixing valves, propane endless water heater, etc.

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# 4 - is about 30” deep and designated for a folding table and lawn chairs.

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# 5 - is tall and skinny so it's designated for any awning, tent, flagpoles, etc. and could also be used for tall tools if compartment # 1 is needed for something else.

# 6 - is not specifically designated yet, but possibilities are for gas BBQ grill, smaller LPG cylinders, etc.

# 7 - is a compartment that is accessible from both the outside and inside. Basically, it's the cabinet with the A/C at the top, and the heat unit at the bottom, and the door gives access to a set of adjustable shelves in the center. This is really the only location large enough to install a refrigerator if I chose to put one in, so that's what may go there.

# 8 - is the battery compartment. It has a roll out tray designed for two batteries.

The roof - Basically, I'm trying to keep the roof clean (no holes means no leaks and better overhead clearance) unless I decide to add solar panels at a later date, which I may. Of course, I could always use removable panels mounted on a stand which attaches to the tongue somehow. If I mount anything up there, I will probably also add steps or a ladder on the right rear back side.

The undercarriage - Freshwater tank (35-40 gal.), gray water tank (35-40 gal.), and spare tire. Since there is no longer any drivetrain, exhaust system, or fuel tank, the center is wide open.
 
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patoz

Expedition Leader
#7
Oh yeah, the forum will only allow you to post 10 pic per post, so that's why I reserved the three post so I can get the thread caught up. I'm working on it now.
 

patoz

Expedition Leader
#9
Congrats on the project.
The members of this forum have been very unselfish in sharing their knowledge and experiences.
I agree, I spent almost a year reading before I actually started my project, and feel I am way ahead of the game because I have learned so much from other's experiences with basically the same platform (vehicle). Also, what the best equipment is to put in it.
 
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patoz

Expedition Leader
#11
Looking good. Do you feel the angle will be string enough with such a heavy trailer?
My welder says it will be, plus he has added a bunch of cross braces that you don't see in those pictures. I also discussed this with a professional trailer builder, and he agreed. When I see it next Saturday and jump up and down on it several times (I'm a big guy) I'll see what my gut says. When I leave there with it, I'm going straight to the scales to see how much it actually weighs without everything we removed.
 
#12
All I got from your first post is that you've cheated. No ripping it apart and trying to make it go back again for hours? Not an ambo build!

Look who finally has a build thread! Congrats Pat!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

patoz

Expedition Leader
#13
All I got from your first post is that you've cheated. No ripping it apart and trying to make it go back again for hours? Not an ambo build!

Look who finally has a build thread! Congrats Pat!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Hey Alex!

Since I can't do any work on it until Saturday when my welder buddy gets off from work, I decided now was a good time to get a thread started. But, I think sitting in front of this computer documenting everything, is much harder than doing the actual work I've found.

As far as cheating goes, I've had most everything in the back apart to see what's actually there. And remember that big box of wire and cables you sent me, well I have one that size sitting in the back and one end of all that is still connected to the electrical panels. Once I get it back, I'll have to figure out that mess and redesign where it will all go. Fun, fun, fun!

No, it's not a true ambo build, but that's why I named the thread 'Point Five Ambo' build (.5 aka one half of an ambo) build. :)
 

tgreening

Expedition Leader
#15