~ 1988 Short Bus Conversion Completed By Two Young Filmmakers ~
Interview by: Brock Butterfield
Conversion by: James and Jen West
James and Jen Martin are a couple of graphic design artists and filmmakers who wanted a bus conversion with a bar for serving delicious cocktails and traveling to film festivals around the US.
-Model: School Bus (now titled as a Motorhome)
-Motor: 8.2L Diesel
-Interior Square Footage: 123
-Current Location: Atlanta, GA
-Purchased From/Location: McDonough, GA
-Cost in materials for the conversion: ~$11,500
What made you want to complete a bus conversion?
Jen's parents have an RV, so several times a year we'd find ourselves renting yurts or cabins to stay in at the RV campgrounds with her family. So a couple of years ago we started scheming about getting our own RV so that we could not only stay cheaply during those get togethers, but also travel more on our own. The thing is, the premanufactured RVs that we could afford had poor designs (in our opinion), so the more we researched the more we noticed other folks doing bus conversions. We joined a couple of facebook groups/forums and James immersed himself into the process of a potential build-out. In March of 2016, we purchased our bus and began working on it.
What type of skills for the bus conversion did you have prior and what did you learn or teach yourself along the way?
James had some prior experience with woodworking (we're talking junior high woodshop class), and Jen had renovated a small dwelling a few years ago, including a lot of finishing work. The great thing about the forum and facebook groups is that people are willing to share their processes along the way. Any questions that came up, we could usually find in the archives, or simply ask and start a new discussion. We ended up doing everything ourselves, with the exception of some electrical work by fellow skoolie owner JT Lane (@schooloflifebus), welding by a local artist in Atlanta name Jac Coffey, and curtain sewing & seat cover help by Christy Schreck & Dave West respectively (Jen's siblings).
What was the hardest part of the bus conversion and what guidance would you give others for that part?
The hardest part is committing to an idea and following through with it. It's easy to get distracted by what other folks are doing, or to become so overwhelmed that you freeze. You've got to create momentum, and never stop. Don't be afraid to ask others for help or guidance along the way. Most everyone we've met with a skoolie has been immensely helpful. We've got to give a shout-out to Zack (@naturalstatenomads) for helping so much with ideas and insight with small projects along the way, including the plumbing!
How were you able to get your bus registered as a motorhome or RV?
We're in Fulton County in Atlanta, and our process was surprisingly simple, but lengthy. When we first bought the bus and changed the title to our name, we asked what the process was re-title as a motorhome. They looked at us like we were crazy. A few weeks later we called the office to inquire again, and were told to call the state and ask them what to do. The state told us that as long as we document the build and print out the photos of the conversion, then we could change the title. The only hiccup was that we had to actually convert it all. After about six months of work we had the bus in a state good enough to stage and take photos. Thankfully, the woman who was helping us at the DMV called the state to verify the instructions we were given and changed our title over. We took the bus for a joy ride the next day!
Who did you get insurance for your bus conversion from?
We got our insurance and roadside assistance through Good Sam.
How many can the bus sleep?
The bus is a full shorty and is currently set up to sleep us and our dog Cilantro on the inside. However, we have a rooftop deck that could probably make for a great night's sleep for a couple others.
What make and model did you end using for the following:
- Solar panels, charge controller and batteries: No solar panels quite yet, although they are in the works. We're using two 6v Trojan T105's wired in series to give us 12v and enough battery to run lights and light charging. We also have a Smart Dual Battery 140A Isolator so that we can charge up our batteries while driving to our camping destinations.
- Kitchen stove: We're going to be using a camp stove once we're parked, and a simple electric skillet for rainy days.
- Kitchen sink, faucet and pump: The sink and faucet we got at Ikea. It's the RINGSKÄR Single lever kitchen faucet and simply square sink. The water pump is the SHURflo 4008 Revolution Water Pump, that's worked perfectly for us. We're using two 25 gallon tanks, one fresh and one gray, that we've mounted underneath.
- Toilet: Thetford Porta Potti Curve Portable Toilet
- Shower or hot water source: We're going to be getting the Eccotemp L5 Portable Tankless Water Heater and Outdoor Shower soon and mounting it on the side of the bus for when we're dry camping. We're mostly be in campgrounds that will have facilities that we can use.
- Any other unique and helpful items you’d recommend?
We installed a backup camera and monitor with things from Amazon for about $50. You can find the details for that here. It's so worth being able to see exactly where you're backing this big thing up.
What is the most unique feature of your conversion?
We're huge fans of our custom rooftop deck. It's one of our favorite places to hang out. It will double as storage for outdoor things (grill, chairs, etc) while traveling, but will then become a preferred hangout spot once we're parked. We also built custom booths with storage below, a couch/pullout bed and a hidden compartment somewhere on the bus!
What do you do for income?
We're both filmmakers and graphic designers. We'll be using the bus as our mobile studio on the road.
What is the plan now that your bus conversion is road ready?
We're really thrilled to be taking the bus to film festivals over the next month to use the bus as a mobile VIP lounge. We'll be in Chattanooga, TN for the Chattanooga Film Festival April 4-7 and Columbia, SC for Indie Grits Film Festival April 21-23. We're excited to hang out with fellow filmmakers and let them check out what we've been working on for the past year. Beyond that our goal is to take a big trip out West in the fall, and as many camping trips as we can leading up to that. We'll also be at Bonnaroo Music Festival in June.
Film Production Website: http://fourxproductions.com