There is a certain romance in touring the country in an RV, going wherever the road takes you. These 8 Notre Dame grad students took this adventure up a notch and renovated an old school bus!
It started with a plan and three easy steps.
Step 1: Get an old school bus on the cheap.
Step 2: Transform it from a hollowed out rust bucket into a hip and happening mini apartment on wheels.
Step 3: Take it on a most epic 8,000-mile road trip across the United States.
Nick Machesney sat down with two of his classmates and started sketching out a plan for the conversion. They talked about what they would include in the rig, what problems they were likely to encounter, and how they would fix them. The floorpan was impressive and had many of the comforts of home. They invested their own money, $20,000, to complete the project. Over the following months that plan took shape and rolled across the country. This story goes far beyond the transformation of a bus. Get ready to be impressed.
The crew assembled. Amy, John, Dan, Sam, Michael, Nicky K, Rory, and Nick came together to bring the dream to life. Over the next seven months, every spare moment they had was devoted to converting the bus.
Their adventure would be transforming in ways no one could have imagined. Machesney had some experience with building. He’d worked for a general contractor as a project manager and had held some handyman jobs. He knew his way around tools and was confident that he could handle the basic renovation tasks. What he didn’t know was how to do the electrical and plumbing. The internet came in handy as Machesney and his friends sought advice from other skoolie owners who were more than happy to offer advice.
This story begins as so many intriguing stories do – with an ad on Craigslist. Nick and friends answered an ad for a 40 foot 1995 Carpenter school bus. The owner, an amateur blacksmith, had long held the dream of turning the bus into a skoolie – a school bus converted into an RV.
He had gotten as far as tearing the seats out and slapping on some paint, but that’s where the project ended for him. It was an eyesore and in need of a lot of TLC, but still the students saw potential. The conversion would be quite an undertaking, but they decided it was s dream worth pursuing.
This is the incredible story of the amazing SerenditpitiBus.
As they surveyed that shell of a bus with a lousy paint job and an odd collection of junk inside they still saw promise. They paid the $3,000 to make the old Carpenter their own and gave it a second chance at becoming a skoolie. What came next was nothing short of incredible.
And the project was afoot.
Because the previous owner had painted the exterior, removed the seats, and done some other things, the bus was able to be titled as an RV. This was a huge help to the students. Some of the hardest work was already done!
Once they’d rid the bus of the odd sofas, tables, and other junk, they were ready to get down to business. They began building the framing for the interior infrastructure. The empty shell was beginning to come to life.
It had good bones but it was going to need a lot of work.
Logistics was a challenge at first. They determined that the skoolie needed to sleep at least 8 so they needed to install bunks. But it would also be lived in so it would need other “livable” features as well.
From hollowed out school bus to luxury RV, the fun was just beginning! An Adventure on the open road with all the comforts of home – or most of them anyway.
The layout was simple: Bathroom, bunks, a sitting area, and the cabin. The sitting area would convert to a huge bed. Just wait until you see it.
The outside needed almost as much work as the inside. This called for a complete aesthetic makeover. The group set about giving the bus a brand new paint job.
They began by sanding to reach the original yellow where possible, providing a smooth, even surface for the white primer.
The interior had to be painted as well.
Their project was really starting to shape up!
The initial floor plan changed from the time it was first sketched out to the time it was finished. They made adjustments as they went along. On the left is the original plan and on the right is how it ended up.
It was as important to have plenty of common space as it was to have private sleeping quarters for each passenger.
The group took a very hands-on approach, doing all of the work themselves. What they didn’t know, they studied and learned. Impressive.
The electrical work was a bit of a challenge, but the group took it on with a little help from the skoolie community. Rory took on the electrical work, installing the lights and charging stations – all the modern conveniences of home.
He used a five battery bank to power it all: computers, microwave, phone chargers, mini-fridge, and an AC unit. The breaker box was housed in a cabinet that had shoe storage under the counter.
Wow! When you see the bus next to a regular school bus you can see just how huge it is.
Over seven months and the passing of several seasons, the team worked to make the bus livable. Through sometimes harsh Indiana weather, they continued to toil and soon it began to take shape.
Snow and ice was not going to stop these guys from making their skoolie dreams a reality.
It was exhausting work. The students grabbed naps whenever and wherever they could.
They installed insulated runners to keep out road noise and heat then laid the base for the flooring which also served as an anchor point for the interior structures such as the couches and other furniture.
This floor base would also be covered with vinyl plank flooring to give the bus more of an apartment look and feel. Its flexible, light, and waterproof traits would also help to help maintain the interior temperatures once they were on the road and make clean up easier.
Framing up the bunks took some planning and work, but soon it was starting to look less like a hollowed out bus and more like a place for human habitation. It needed to sleep at least eight so they decided to build eight bunks, four on either side.
And of course there had to be a liquor cabinet for when those big wheels weren’t rolling.
The more comfortable they became with these newly acquired skills, the more they added to the skoolie – including a roof deck.
Their friend Mike along with his Baja team members helped make this dream come true– for the bargain price of a case of beer.
They were proud of the fact that throughout the entire project they did not use a single saw horse or ladder. Enthusiasm was far more abundant than experience as the students pursued their project. They walked away at the end with new skills in addition to a sense of accomplishment.
With the seats gone, the empty shell was basically a clean canvas ready to capture whatever their imaginations wanted to paint on it.
Samantha (Sam) accepted the task of giving the space life by dressing it up. As a graphic design student, she put her education and talent to work creating beautiful wallpaper from nine maps of Yellowstone Park that dated back to the 1900s. She stitched them together to create one large map then printed it, 30 tiles to an 11 x 17 sheet.
Every great recreational vehicle has to have a bathroom and this skoolie was no exception. John was the team plumber, installing the entire system which was no easy feat. It included a grey water tank, a fresh water tank, two sinks and an electric water pump.
There was a faucet that could be used as a shower, an external RV hose hook up and a removable toilet.
Gas appliances were the first choice but that idea was abandoned after several fireballs threatened to set the place on fire. Electric appliances offered a much safer (and less potentially explosive) option. Some things really should be left to the professionals and these guys accepted that and moved on.
The kitchen area had a small fridge tucked under a high counter. A lower counter stood next to it and housed the sink and stove. A table with a fold down leaf stood opposite the fridge giving the crew a space for some good old fashioned home cooking.
Home improvement stores were a lifeline with their abundance of products – and expert advice. Whether it was nails, boards, or fixtures, most of what the group needed was right there on those friendly, lifesaving shelves.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore was also a great resource. They found all of their storage doors there for just $2 each as well as the cabinet doors in the kitchen.
Despite the 40 feet of space that the bus offered, it was still tight. Every inch of space needed to be utilized. To remedy this, the students build cabinets and bookshelves into the walls and installed additional storage under the beds, sofas and the counter behind the driver’s seat.
Pull-out trash can was a space-saver must.
Amazon Prime to the rescue. They got four queen memory foam mattresses that were 6 inches thick for only $80 per person and their Prime membership got them two-day free shipping! They used a hand saw to cut them in half, creating eight very comfortable beds.
Each bunk also had its own personal cubby and storage beneath.
Adding handles made it easier to lift the bed to get to the storage.
The beds were half the width of queen size beds and the bunks had curtains to provide privacy so each person had their own special space.
The two large sofas stood across from each other. Instead of purchasing them, the students opted to build their own, making it fully customized and completely their design.
Which turned into a mega-bed to offer additional sleeping room.
The sofas were odd sized (21 inches) so the team located a company, Murano, Inc., that was able to quickly and inexpensively custom cut the cushions. Josh (email@example.com or 1-(855) 469-2626) took good care of them and got the job done.
A couple of the mothers took on sewing the covers and then sewing them onto the cushions. Moms are awesome!
There was storage under each cushion of the sofas.
Outlets were located at each end of both sofas for charging and other electrical needs.
Thanks to Amy’s job at McDonald’s the team got connected with a great sponsorship. This included plenty of Mickey D’s meals along the way as well as a sendoff event at one of the local franchises.
They burned the midnight oil and worked until 4 am on the departure day, rolling out shortly thereafter. Those big wheels were turning, the adventure was beginning, and all the hard work was finally coming together.
The finishing touches were amazing! A luxury apartment on wheels!
The crew headed westward.
Rory was the first one behind the wheel and in the beginning of the trip was the only one willing to drive. As the others warmed up to the idea they discovered the rush of sitting up above the other cars on the road and harnessing the power as they piloted the rig down the road.
The trip was briefly halted when the bus suffered transmission trouble in South Dakota, but 7 days and $7,000 later they were on the road again and not looking back.
The SerenditpitiBus carried its passengers across the U.S. for five exciting weeks, but the memories will last a lifetime. The sense of accomplishment that these students gained, the new skills and the lifelong friendships, have forever marked them. They transformed a bus, but the bus also transformed them.
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