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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 protected] or 1-(855) 469-2626) took good care of them and got the job done.
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.
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 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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