- Written by Patrick Schmidt
Is that a Sprinter Van? A Box Truck? An Airstream?! No, it's a converted Short School Bus!
“We had no idea that Skoolies were a thing until we were nearly done with our build, we just did it because it made sense! Come to find out, people have been converting school buses for a long time.”
~School Bus Conversion By: Brett and Jade Evans ~
~Interview By: Patrick Schmidt ~
-Make: Ford - Collins Bus Body – 23 Pax w/Wheelchair Life
-Model: E-450 Dually
-Motor: 7.3L Diesel w/ 230k miles
-Interior Square Footage: 115
-Current Location: Private plot of land in the jungles of Hawaii!
-Purchased From/Location: Craigslist! Met a guy who bought busses at auction, did a little bit of work on them if needed and flipped them. We paid too much I'm sure, but it was ready to go with new tires and all.
-Cost in materials for the conversion: $10,000 - Bus $4,500 / Materials $5,500
Insurance was easy. Showed them pictures of the completed build and answered a few questions. Received a very cheap rate that same day and off we went! They didn't physically inspect it, pictures were sufficient.
Did you title it as a Motor Home?
Yes we went to the DMV in Arizona and had it inspected. We this and insurance only after the complete conversion. It was a very easy process at least in AZ, they looked at the manufacturer gross weight stickers and such, looked around inside real quick and that's it.
Let's meet Bruce and Expedition Evans!
If you haven't heard about Brett and Jade, you are missing out! Lucky for you, we had the chance to interview these two DIY’ers. They completed their Shorty Bus Build in only 6 weeks, and the outcome is PHENOMENAL! Serious Bus-Home envy over here!
Their artfully painted Shorty shares its name with the original Bus Life Adventure Bus – BRUCE. We fell in love instantly. A legitimate Tiny Home with some incredibly unique things that we have not seen in many Skoolie builds: a cement like counter-top, rain catchment system, and the idea of building all cabinets outside and then installing them into the bus. Imagine that – the “ Assemble-Your-Own-Skoolie-Interior-Kit” shipped right to your door.
Let’s get into our conversation with Expedition Evans.
So Brett and Jade, why a school bus? Why the Bus-Lifestyle?
Because Sprinter’s are too freaking expensive!
Our nomadic dream began with us wanting to do something a little unconventional. From early on in our dating and courtship, my wife Jade was following people building Tiny Houses on flatbed trailers. The concept seemed absolutely crazy to me! I had little to no desire to ever do anything of the sort. I was much more conventional in my thinking. (Get married, get a little house, have a couple kids, 9-5 etc.)
Throughout our relationship, she had planted the desire for ‘more’ in me. So I spent hours and hours over countless weeks researching how to build a Tiny House on a trailer, and decided we could not do it. We didn’t have the space, the time, the resources, and nowhere near the skills I felt were required. I was confident that we would get seriously hurt or killed if we tried to do it.
So we looked for other Tiny Living options.
We were pretty sold on renovating an Airstream for a while and actually bought a big 4x4 tow ready Nissan Titan to do it. But life happens and we never found the right Airstream.
So the tiny hunt continued, this time in the form of Van’s. We looked into full size Econoline vans, Sprinters, how to raise the roof, how to be stealth and so on. Eventually, not sure how, but I had the idea to look at a van but with a bigger body- like a Uhaul box truck, shuttle, or SCHOOL BUS! That’s pretty much how the thought process went.
You mention "no experience" Could you explain a bit how little/how much you knew going into this? Knew your way around tools?
Neither of us has worked construction, and I have minimal experience helping with home repairs. I had seen my dad do a little bit of plumbing, drywalling, but the most experience we’d really had was painting in our houses growing up. I will say I came into this project with some useful skills though. I have been a diy mechanic for many years and in my late teens was an apprentice mechanic in a busy automotive repair shop. I am very handy and thrived on the required tasks necessary to make the bus “work” as a home. I spent hours pouring over youtube and google on how to wire solar, how to mount water tanks under the bus, etc. I loved it, and still do. We have both learned so much from this build, that we hope to take with us to future projects. We now know about 12v wiring, distances, gauges, fuses, solar in series vs parallel, mppt vs pwm, grey water vs black water tanks, how much water do we need to live, and so so much more.
I don't always buy a school bus, but when I do, I wear a shirt to match.
Where did you convert it? Looks like some sort of build yard? Backyard?
We did most of the demolition in Jade’s sisters side yard. The bus fit perfectly behind the RV gate, and that is where we did all the demolition and laying the flooring. We then moved the bus to a house that we were house sitting, with permission from the owners of course. They had a big back/side yard that was perfect for us.
The bus cost $4,500 (so did mine!!) How much did everything else cost? Did you have to buy any tools? Or mostly material and Amazon boxes?
After purchasing building materials, mostly the MDF wood boards, as well as appliances, etc... we spent right around $5,500 for stuff, so a total of $10,000. In hindsight, the MDF was not the best purchase, but it got the job done.
We sold off the seats and the wheelchair lift and anything else we could (including scrap metal).
We didn’t have to buy any tools. We are blessed to have a lot family who willingly lent us all their tools, which keep in mind, none of our family members work construction so the tools lent were not professional quality anything. We used a compact portable Ryobi table saw and basic skill saw for almost everything!
You mentioned the floor was donated to you?
Yes the floor was generously given to us by the same cousin which we house sat for and did the majority of building in their yard. They do home renovations and had a pile of wood flooring in a shed. It had been there for years and they told us to use what we want, sell what we could after that, and toss anything left over.
Looks like Jade is the painting expert?
Jade is actually an art major and more specifically, a painter. So yes, she is absolutely the expert painter! I did a decent job with a spray gun to paint all the cabinets, but anything that wasn’t just bulk application was delegated to her!
Hardest thing about this whole lifestyle change/ living in a bus?
Hardest thing is probably just the lack of personal space. Our bus is very small and really the only time you are “alone” is when you are in the bathroom. But even then, you are only about an arms reach away! Other than that is really isn’t bad. We both loathed and rejoiced downsizing our wardrobes and accumulated stuff. We moved into our bus from a 2 bedroom 1100 square foot apartment, where the second bedroom was full of boxes of stuff.
Having it be ours and not having neighbors above, below, and beside us. It is nice to come home and have it be our home. Not a rental, not a mortgage- ours.
Did you at any point feel like quitting? Backup plan if this didn't work?
Right now where we are parked it is very muddy. And that is by far the hardest part. Just keeping things clean in general. Because it is so small, if something gets dirty, everything feels dirty. It only takes 1 dish out of place for the bus to feel like a pig sty. We most certainly have the option of quitting anytime we want, and sometimes even talk about it. We know we could get an apartment or even start renting a small home/condo. But every time we do, we remember what that life was like, and compare it to this life and realize this is better. At least right now. We have no plans to move into a home anytime soon. In fact we have plans to change what type of tiny home we are in, but no plans to go full size. Later in life, who knows though, I sure don’t!
Has your relationship changed from before the Bus Build?
Before building the bus our biggest “building” accomplishment was assembling a 6 piece IKEA TV stand. It’s funny, but I will say that successfully building that IKEA furniture without a fight gave us a lot of confidence to build the bus! If someone is wondering if their relationship has what it takes to build a bus together, maybe start with IKEA, call it a litmus test.
Has our relationship changed? Absolutely.
We have become a lot closer, and not just physically because of the reduced quarters! We had a lot of challenges, hurdles, and hiccups. We had a couple weeks there where we slept maybe 2 or 3 hours a day trying to get it done. We saw the good the bad and the ugly in each other and loved each other more in the end. I’d say we are stronger as a couple, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally from building the bus.
Getting used to the toilet? How is that coming along?
The toilet has probably been the hardest part to get used to, and we aren’t there yet. I’m proud of the hard work and ingenuity it took to build ours, but it’s just more convenient to use public toilets when we can. Since we are away from home.
Ours is fine, but eventually I might buy a Nature’s Head or something similar, if I can find a really good deal on one.
How/where did you get the idea for the countertops?
They say “necessity is the mother of invention” and that pretty much sums it up. Like most of our ideas, it came from trying to solve a problem without spending a bunch of money. We wanted something solid, but didn’t like the butcher block we’d seen in other tiny house builds, and refused to do laminate. So we brainstormed. I came up with the concrete counter-top idea, but it was thrown out once I realized how thick (and heavy!) it would be. Then Jade found people using Ardex on a Pinterest post, giving looks similar to concrete and so it came to be!
Left the ceiling alone? Insulation? Any leaks you had to fix? Mechanical issues? Rust?
To stay within our budget, we gave the ceiling a spray of silver to make it not feel like the plain old white bus ceiling. We had a small rain leak above the driver’s head, which we learned about the hard way driving through a storm. That was a surprise!
Knowing where we would be traveling and parking, we chose not to insulate any more than Collins did when they built the bus. Thus far we haven’t had any issues. Couple fans for when it’s hot, blankets for when it’s cold and we’re perfect.
Only mechanical issue we had was right before we left we went to get gas and couldn’t get it to drive again. It would start up fine and as soon as we put it in Drive with would turn off. Spent the next 12 hours or so researching, replacing a couple engine sensors, only to figure out it just the fuel filter. Turns out our 7.3L engine is very particular when it comes to this! Swapped out the filter (which is an easy job on a truck with the same engine, not so easy with a van nose!) and were good to go.
Other than that it’s a pretty solid bus, barely any rust despite coming from Colorado. There were a couple spots of rust on the exterior by the back windows which we ground down and painted with rust killing paint- fingers crossed.
Please explain the Rain Catchment system?!
Very simple system. We utilize a tarp strung up between the bus and a fence which runs down into a bucket. A pump mounted under the bus sucks it from the bucket through a couple of filters and into our water tank. It rains every day where we are parked, so we have plenty of water. It isn’t perfect and we’ll make it better someday, but it works! I would like to have a more legitimate water catch, which we plan to do when we build an awning.
How is your solar working out? Batteries? Fridge?
Solar is good, not great. It was fantastic when we were road tripping. We had plenty of sun and never worried about electricity. Now that we are parked, and with it being winter, we get a lot less sun. We have sadly had to resort to buying a small generator and run it about once a week to recharge the house batteries. We have 2x255ah batteries and from what I can tell, are holding up great despite this torture. Fridge is great and we’ve come to the point now that we don’t really think about it being different than a normal fridge. We have more food in it that we can eat and everything stays super cold. No complaints on the fridge! And if you’re curious, it is running on 12v. Only time we run the inverter is to charge laptops, run blenders etc.
Is there anything you settled on temporarily with the intention of upgrading soon?
Well, I am tinkerer and always want to work on something but I hate spending money and when something works, I hate to break it.
Some day I’ll get additional solar panels to utilize more of the sun and treat the batteries better; I hate having to run a generator.
And as mentioned before, probably going to upgrade the toilet at some point. But honestly, if nothing changes, we’re 100% content as is and it doesn’t need to change!
Tips/tricks to help others have who want/are converting a vehicle? Something you wish you had known going into this?
I wish I’d known how to weld. Probably the one skill that would have made this project so much easier. Having to bolt things together took so much more time than welding!
Other than that, start watching people’s YouTube videos. Look through Pinterest. Get inspired!
Get “the bug” so bad that you think about it all day and all night. If buses aren’t your thing, maybe it’s a van, or a car, or motorcycle, or boat!
Where will you be 3 months from now?
3 months from now we will likely still be living in our bus, still living our dream. But, if we play our cards right we’ll be working on our next tiny dream. We dream of sailing, and with the confidence and skills we’ve gained building this tiny house, we are ready for more. We want to buy a boat that needs some love and fix her up and sail!
In all seriousness, with hindsight and looking towards the future - Would you recommend this to people who are considering living in a Bus?
I wish I’d known (earlier) that normal people can live in a bus.
Seriously! I work a normal job and my wife attends a normal college; we’re pretty “normal”.
DO IT. That’s my recommendation, just do it. If you can, or even if you don’t think you can, you can! So do it! It has been one heck of a journey, and one that I’m glad we’ve been able to be a part of.
Link up with Expedition Evans through their social media!
INSTAGRAM : instagram.com/expeditionevans
FACEBOOK : facebook.com/expeditionevans
VIDEO TOUR : instagram.com/expeditionevans
PHOTO TOUR : https://imgur.com/a/yCMJc
BUILD SPECS : https://tinyurl.com/y9q78u8v
Make it a great, everyone!
Items Used By Expedition Evans
- Written by Brock Butterfield
200 square foot skoolie home for two avid fishers with a passion for travel.
"Experiencing those emotions are what life is all about. Some of the toughest moments end up being the most defining and the sense of accomplishment far outweighs the struggle."
~School Bus Conversion By: Keaton and Nicole Chandler-Autrey ~
~Interview By: Brock Butterfield ~
-Make: Blue Bird
-Model: TC 2000
-Motor: 5.9 liter Cummins
-Interior Square Footage: about 200
-Current Location: Florida is home, but currently Colorado.
-Purchased From/Location: B.G.A. School Buses Inc. in Hudson, FL their website is www.wesellschoolbuses.com
-Cost in materials for the conversion: $30,000.
-I’m seeing that you guys like fishing. Was the bus build inspired off of your passion to travel and fish or where there others reasons behind your school bus conversion? Our passion for fishing was a huge drive behind our conversion, but we also needed some freedom from the monotonous daily routine. We had this long list of places we wanted to see, but no time or money to see them. It sounds cliche, but we only get one chance at this life and we decided we want to do our best to live it to the fullest. For us, that means seeing all we can on this Earth and making more time for the people and activities we love!
-What prior experience did you have in construction or building things with your hands? Keaton had minimal experience working in home remodeling. He learned a lot in the few months he was doing remodels and even more during the build. A friend of ours, Rick, is a contractor and taught us SO much. He helped guide us through the majority of the build.
-Where did you gain most of your inspiration and ideas for your school bus conversion? Tiny house shows, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest etc. We crammed our brains with everything tiny living and tried to apply it to our own personal needs.
-How do you two plan to make a living while on the road? We actually saved enough money to take a leave of absence from our jobs and travel across the US. We traveled the first 4 months with no income. It doesn’t cost as much to travel as society would make you believe. We don’t have the luxurious hotels and fancy dinners, but we’ve seen more parks and monuments than most people see in their lifetime. We are currently parked for the winter at my brother’s where we’re doing side work for him while we launch our new online shop. We’ve collected interesting elements during our travels that we’re making into wearable art. Each piece is unique and handmade capturing an experience we’ve had and sharing it with others. Some of our work is featured on our Instagram page. More to come!
-What has been the hardest part of the school bus conversion? The hardest part was racing against deadlines. We began every project with a timeline and almost every project it took longer than anticipated. When things are custom made, they take much more time and patience.
-What would you say is the most creative or unique part of your bus conversion? Probably our platform bed storage. We tried to keep the acronym KISS in mind throughout the process. Keep It Simple Stupid. Everything needed to be functional for us but didn't need to be complicated. We built a platform so we could keep the comfortable king size bed but still utilize the space below. We have our solar battery bank, inverter, camping gear, tools, firewood, 6 organized labeled totes, a dog bed, and room for more under our bed. The totes all have paracord attached so they're easy to grab and we can access everything from the back door, handicap door, and inside.
-To help others looking to convert a school bus can you let us know what you used in your build that has done well so far?
- Solar (panels, charge controller, batteries, inverter etc) 2 Sunmodule 280 watt panels, 4 Duracell platinum AGM 12v deep cycle batteries, heart interface Freedom combi inverter 2500w, Freedom remote control panel, TriStar solar system controller TS-MPPT-45, Tri-Metric battery system monitor TM-2030-RV, Blue Sea Systems SI-ACR automatic charging relay with start insolation
- Kitchen stove 2 burner Whirlpool electric cooktop
- Kitchen sink (sink, faucet, pump, etc) Phoenix undermount stainless square sink, bar sink pull out swivel spout faucet (found on eBay), 12v pump
- Fridge Insignia 9.9 cu ft refrigerator/freezer combo Energy Star certified
- Heat source Dometic RV Heater and heat from engine
- AC Dometic 13500 BTU
- Lighting We kept the original lighting and switched the bulbs for LED, we also have a few battery powered LED lights
- Toilet Nature's Head composting
- Hot water source Marey power pak plus tankless water heater
Bathroom complete with a composting toilet that separates solids from liquids.
-What is one piece of advice you’d give to others looking to convert a school bus into a tiny home? Just do it. It's an emotional rollercoaster with many challenges to overcome. Some days were frustrating, some days were sad, and some were happy. Experiencing those emotions are what life is all about. Some of the toughest moments end up being the most defining and the sense of accomplishment far outweighs the struggle.
-Where can people continue to follow your adventures? Instagram @allbusnofuss and we started a blog at www.allbusnofuss.com
Full video tour of the converted school bus.
All Bus No Fuss School Bus Conversion Products Used
- Written by Brock Butterfield
National Parks pin and patch freelance artist converts a short school bus into a boho chic skoolie.
~School Bus Conversion By: Heidi Michele
~Photos By: Heather Jackson
~Interview By: Brock Butterfield
You may remember Heidi Miller from the Life In The Bus Lane documentary and her short appearance of when she was in the beginning stages of her short bus conversion. Now with the bus conversion nearly complete Heidi has already shown her bus at the Tiny House Living Festival stop in Portland summer 2017.
Professional photographer Heather Jackson was shooting Heidi's engagement photos and decided to take some of her skoolie as well. Enjoy the photos and be on the lookout for this school bus conversion to possibly show up on AirBnB just outside Eugene, OR.
-Model: G30 Van
-Motor: Chevy 350
-Interior Square Footage: 80 sq ft
-Current Location: Oakridge, Oregon
-Purchased From/Location: Denver, Colorado
-Does your bus have a name? Valerie
-Cost in materials for the conversion: I'd say around $10k with bus purchase included.
Heidi enjoys tea inside her hippy chic short school bus conversion.
- What was the main goal and idea behind your school bus conversion?
I wanted to buy a house, but wasn't sure where I wanted to live yet, so my mom told me to buy a bus instead.
- What were the top three hardest things to learn with your short bus conversion?
1. Mechanical work (still learning)
2. Electrical (still learning and need to install)
3. Finding the bus in the first place and knowing what to get/ where to buy it from…. I probably bought the wrong one hehe oops! I found your blog on how to find school buses for sale after I had already purchased mine...
- What is the most unique part or feature of your skoolie?
Valerie's hippy chic or boho chic style as well as her bucket kitchen sink, the wood stove made from an old ammunition can and the custom boxed wine holder.
Kitchen faucet with a bucket sink.
Water foot pump for the kitchen sink.
T coat hooks for holding mugs when parked and stationary.
Heidi found this old lamp shade at a thrift store and turned it into a fruit basket.
Custom built kitchen shelving, license plate utensil holder and a two burner propane Atwood RV stove.
Folding table bracketsare a good way to conserve space but still have plenty of counter space when needed.
Who doesn't need a boxed wine cabinet in their skoolie?
Kitchen storage and propane tank access.
Yes. That's a cute little wood stove made out of an ammunition case.
Copper piping spacers and license plates to deflect the heat.
Secret hiding place!
-How do you make a living to support your bus life?
I’m a graphic designer. I design pins and patches for the National Parks as a freelance contracted designer so it allows me to work from the road as I go and gain inspiration at National Parks year round. I also have my own design and product development business where I create pin maps, artisan trucker hats, earrings, patches, pins, buttons and tapestries of which I sell on Heidi Michele Design
Just some of Heidi's artisan trucker hats that she hand sews.
-When you say "pin maps" do you mean like those corkboard backed maps that people stick pins in?
Not exactly. They're whimsical canvas maps of the US that help you keep track of the pins from National Parks or other places you've visited. The small size has been the favorite of bus life and van life people.
One of Heidi's pin maps that she sells on her website.
-What have you learned about the bus life or skoolie community?
That the bus life community is AWESOME! I’ve definitely found my people. Everyone is so helpful and supportive. I've also noticed that a lot of us are choosing this lifestyle because we have the ability to work remotely or adapt and find work wherever we may end up.
-What are the plans now for Valerie now that she is all finished?
She’s still not quite all the way done as I still have a little finish work to do. I was going to drive her around the country but being that she still needs mechanical work, she will sit in my backyard for now. I am going to place her on AirBnB this spring to give others in the Oregon area a chance to come and experience short bus life before they take the plunge.
Dining table with room for five. End of table also folds up.
Sheep skin from her parent's honeymoon to New Zealand.
National Park Service wood art from BAN Supply Co. out of Salt Lake City, UT.
The Nature's Head Composting toilet stows away under the closet and can be slid out for use.
Hooks on the ceiling allows Heidi to hang privacy curtains and blankets.
The Fantastic Fan runs on 12 volts and provides air circulation for cooking in the kitchen as well as for the whole bus.
Shower curtain rods repurposed for book shelf.
The couch is also a bed that slides out when needed.
Reba sneaking a belly rub in during the photo shoot.
Look out AirBnB. Here comes a dreamy boho chic style short school bus ready for guests in Oregon.
-Where can we find more information on you and Valerie bus?
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- Written by Brock Butterfield
This old school bus has a new purpose after Caged Crow Customs was hired out to turn it into a food truck. The attention to detail and custom fabrication work is stunning.
~Interview By: Brock Butterfield
~School Bus Conversion By: Josh Romaker of Caged Crow Customs~
Tell us a little bit about what Caged Crow does:
Caged Crow specializes in building unique, custom mobile kitchens and businesses that stand out. We design and build trailers from the frame up and focus on more unique vehicle conversions. Instead of the typical food truck with graphic wraps, we focus on converting vehicles that can turn heads without large decals or graphic wraps. We add a lot of handmade accents into the mix. Josh (Romaker, owner of Caged Crow) is also a blacksmith and metal artist, so the creativity in his mind usually rolls out into the details of each build.
Our market tends to be the customers that want something that they’ve never seen before. We aren’t the average Food Truck Builder. We are a small crew and really focus on making each build unique from the next, while keeping it fully functional for that customer’s purpose. We do shipping container build outs, mobile retail units, and are set up for just about any crazy idea thrown our way.
Are you self taught in your skill-sets or did you learn from others?
Both. Growing up around many Wisconsin farms, Josh learned to weld at a young age. When Josh wanted to get back into welding, he had a great mentor that helped take his welding skills to a level that started this business. Josh has the work ethic of a farmer and a skill set that doesn’t end. He’s constantly learning new things when it comes to metal fabrication and metal shaping, and then putting them to the test to perfect them.
What is the main goal of the bus conversion food truck?
The main goal with the bus conversion was to create an atmosphere for whatever opportunities the owner may have. David (Rodriguez, owner of The Fine Dining Food Truck) wanted a truck that he could use for catering events as well as offering a private dinner service for a more intimate, fine dining experience. David may also rent out the bus to other chef’s and event professionals in the future. We built the dining area in the back of the bus with that in mind. The kitchen is fully functional and built to the same codes that is required with any commercial kitchen or restaurant. The dining area could swap a small chef’s table with a farmhouse table and benches, depending on the service.
What type of unique materials did you use during the build?
We used a LOT of stainless steel and aluminum paneling in this build. Being that this is a mobile kitchen, we have to follow the codes required of commercial kitchens. Surfaces need to be smooth and easy to clean so the interior is mostly constructed of aluminum and stainless. We used aluminum diamond plate flooring in the kitchen and hardwood flooring in the dining area.
The exterior work included a lot of wood, aluminum and stainless. The exterior trim work was pretty time consuming, as you can tell from the photos. That’s a lot of windows to work around, all being done by hand. It was worth it, though.
What’s the most unique build you’ve ever done for a client?
The bus is probably the largest and most unique build to date. All of our builds have their own level of uniqueness and you can check out our website to see our past work and follow us to our future builds. We are currently working on a Pirate Ship Themed Concession Trailer and then will be building out a unique Shipping Container Food Trailer for Candyland (World Famous Popcorn Company). We get really into every build here!
How do people get a hold of you or see more of your work?
We have several online avenues to get in touch:
Find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cagedcrowfabrication/
Follow us on Twitter:
Or give us a call (608) 886-7397
Visit us in person if you happen to be going through the “Northwoods” of Wisconsin. We are located in Saint Germain, next to the Snowmobile Capital of the World and just south of the Muskie Capital of the World.