Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bus Blog 1 Who, Why, What, Where?

I had talked about it in college a little, and a little afterward I'm told.  But it was just a fleeting idea until one night, sitting around the dinner table at my first Permaculture Design Course, I just blurted it out, "I think I'm going to buy a school bus and turn it into a mobile home."  The people around smiled and looked at me, nodding and uttering encouragements.  Of course I've only now realized that they nodded and uttered the same kinds of encouragements when I came up with the idea of converting old washing machines into composting toilets, but maybe they're just all super positive people.

The idea of converting a school bus into a motor home is not new by any stretch.  Hundreds of buses are fully and partially converted each year, to provide cheap, labor-intensive alternatives to buying a traditional motor home.  I've worked as a carpenter and handyman for years, so the idea of substituting work for money and getting something truly custom really hit the mark.  Plus the fact that I was planning to drive the 1600 miles from Calgary to Chicago to visit my folks with my wife and 2 boys, both under the age of 2 made me lean toward a big, safe vehicle where the kids could watch a movie and nap if they needed to.  And of course there is the "What-the-hell?" factor.

After a bit of searching online, I found a 72 seat bus for $1700.  For forty dollars, I convinced a Calgary based vehicle inspector, Doug, to come for a drive and check out the potential buy.  We drove out on the skinny road (referd to as the "Intestine" among cartographers) leading out of town and after an hour of gut wrenching drops and bankless turns, found ourselves in front of a small tent and a giant school bus, both reading "White Water Rafting".  I was, well, impressed by the size of the bus.  Note: Big things are always bigger in person.  Even now, when I sleep in it, I think, "Yeah it's big", then I get out the next morning and think "Has it grown?"  

As Doug climbed around the bus, turning dials and pulling open housings to peer in with a flashlight, I walked around the interior and exterior seeing what I could make of this thing.  The interior was filled with a suffocating smell of mildew but wasn't in bad shape: no rust and nothing really missing.  While the exterior had the average few rust spots and faded paint, a four foot long dent on the back half and wave in the roof told that maybe this had been the 'practice' bus for a bit.  When Doug had finished the serious part of his inspection, we tested the lights and signals, then he concluded, "I figure you've got another 400,000 miles to go before you need any serious repairs.  Just keep up the on the filters and hoses and fluids."

With that, I got out my check book and haggled enough to knock a hundred dollars off the price.  After registering and insuring the bus, my wife and I drove back out to pick it up.  You can read about that in the next blog, subtitled: "Knowing where your windshield wipers are before you drive."

If you're thinking about converting a bus yourself, this book gave me a few ideas, you might find it useful: Bus Conversion Floor Plans