The Great American School Bus Conversion: Part 2

I was just thinking about fifteen minutes ago, “I don’t think I’ve ever personally used the word foist before”. Not that I remember every word I’ve said, necessarily, but I think I’d remember if I said foist. Today I resolve to use the word foist at least once in a natural context – so watch out for that.

When we last left our heroes, we had just taken all of the seats out of our mighty new school bus.

To get this party started, check out the official BtyB-Time-Machine satellite photo of the bus. This is in no way blantantly ripped from google maps :

Before going any further, we wanted to get some driving experience under our belts. I pulled up behind a bus at a bus stop and got out. The real bus driver was smoking a cigarette and waiting for his bus to fill up.

“I have a question… we just bought that school bus and want some practice driving it. Can we take some of your customers?”

It was an insane request, and I really had no expectation that he would allow it. He glanced at the giant school bus tentatively.

“Yeah, I guess that would be ok.”
“Great. Can you come with me on your bus so that people will believe me?”
“Well… ok.”

We got on the front of the nearly full bus. It was full of students, teachers, and a few families. The end of the day had come and they were ready to go home.

“Hi,” I began, “Right behind this bus is another bus that my friends and I just bought. We want to practice driving it, so if anyone wants to ride on it, it’s free and we’ll take you to your door.”

No one budged.

“It’s true,” chimed in the bus driver.

Slowly a Chinese family stood up. Our first passengers.

As they climbed into the bus it was obvious that they were not expecting what was inside. Five college kids filling the carcass of a school bus, with nowhere to sit. I could see that they considered leaving, but got on the bus anyway.

By the time we reached their house they had accepted the discomfort of sitting on tool boxes and the floor, and were grateful for the ride. On the way back we stopped at another bus stop and told the girls that their bus was broken and that we’d give them a ride. They didn’t believe us.

We had a plan, but it was rather rudimentary. The plan was this : “build a kick-ass school bus and go to Alaska”, so you can see that we had to come up with some of the details on the fly. We’d read somewhere that insulating the floor and the walls was important for keeping the temperature and sound levels reasonable (note : it did neither), so we built a new floor and walls that went up to the bottom of the windows.

When I do something, I do it right. Usually. We were in Home Depot, deciding which plywood to use, and for some reason the cheap plywood wasn’t good enough for us. No… six college students traveling around the US in a giant school bus had to be surrounded in nothing but Home Depot’s finest oak paneling.

None of us had any practical experience building anything. My father is a carpenter, so the role of “guy who knows what he’s doing” was foisted upon me. We had a motley collection of tools, including several hand me downs from my father, a table saw stored at Austin’s parents’ house, and whatever other tools we could find around there. After doing something wrong with the table saw and having a piece of 3/4″ oak shot at my stomach, I shyed away from future table saw use.

How is that thing even legal? I can’t think of anything more dangerous than a table saw, besides a wild pack of tigers. And no one uses tigers for construction. To this day I hate the table saw and refuse to use them.

We drew out some rough plans. The bus was to have a large living room area in the front, a kitchen, pantry, and storage room in the middle, and a bedroom in the back. Then we winged it. The first order of business was building the counter for the kitchen and the storage area. By the time we got working on that we realized that bunk beds in the back were going to be far too difficult.




One lingering problem was carpeting. I did some research into it, and it turns out that laying carpet is no trivial task. Further complicating the problem, the rest of the bus was coming out so well that we couldn’t have a second rate carpeting job done.

Adam and I went to a carpet store with our story ready to roll.

“Hi, we’re from the Christian Students Association, and we’re making a school bus to travel through the US and go on mission. Could we get a discount?”

Ok… so we’re not Christians. And we’re not going on missions. And also we are in no way a student association – but we did have a school bus, and that’s what was important. He agreed to give us a good price, and we began shopping. We settled on a brown, hoping that it would conceal dirt pretty well. I felt a bit guilty about the whole charade, to be honest, but my only priority was to get this school bus done. We worked on it nearly every single day for three months, and it was quickly becoming our baby.

We finished the interior, and were lucky enough to find a huge sectional couch set that was exactly the right size, if not the right color. They filled out the living room perfectly, leaving enough room for the hallway through the middle. Unfortunately we never considered that we might want to try lying down on these couches, since a few of us would be sleeping on them every night – they turned out to be slightly more comfortable than sleeping on sharp rocks.

Additionally, we bought a blue recliner to serve as the shotgun chair. It was pretty awesome – when fully reclined the footrest was at the same level as the dashboard.

A mini roadtrip to Houston was executed to meet with a shady car audio guy in a flea market. We bought dual 12″ subwoofers, four 6×9 speakers, an amp, and a head unit. We rigged it up as we drove home.

Next we went to a tinting place and worked out a good deal to tint the whole bus. We had initially tried to do it ourselves, but that proved to be an enormous disaster. We got the darkest tint available, hoping to keep some of the heat out of the bus. After all, we had no air conditioner.

With a week until our first trip, the bus was finally complete. The day we departed we were presented by Austin’s parents with a huge sign for each side of the bus with the bus’ full name spelled out : “The Great American Old School Giddyup”. My mother got us a little framed Ken Kesey quote that said : “Either you’re on the bus or you’re off the bus”. True indeed.

The trips we went on with the bus were legendary, and full of unthinkable adventure and memories in their own right. Coming soon are stories of those trips complete with pictures and video. Until then, here are pictures of the final product :


Ok.. fine… and a preview of one of the trips :

Published

26 comments

  1. Omg damit. If only I was there I can make anything…. I have an 15y old Celica and I am fixing everything by miself except engine and brakes. Paint, tint, carpet, not to mention construction that Is my job….ahhh you could have saved some money and learned something new. Ah well…. the party is what counts I guess 🙂 Where did the electricity for kitchen come from?

  2. Hah hah. You are a man among men. I need to get my ass in gear, take some notes from you, and do something inane.

  3. Do you still have the bus? If so, what do you use it for? If not, what happened to it?

    PS, I can’t seem to post comments with Firefox.

  4. All I can say is Wow! yall actually went on trips with the bus!!! I bought a bus in 03 and the only trips I have taken is when my mother politely told me to get it out of her yard or she would cut off my ear . I have pics of the bus if you would like to see them. Yalls bus rocks ! best of luck with it in the future

  5. Yes, where did the electricity for the kitchen come from? I am in the middle of a similar project……
    Thanks, Jen

  6. Hey Guys! I’m from Newfoundland, Canada.
    Me and my friends have thought about doing this for a roadtrip to Oklahoma. The roadtrip is for the DDAY paintball week… which looks awesome by the way… we aren’t going until 2009… cuz we are poor… and we thought about hotels and food and such… and we came to the conclusion that its gonna be a MIGHTY hefty penny… so we are gonna Convert a bus! just wondering… if you could email me some photos… some plans or any input you guys would have when we do this… anything would be greatly appreicated! best kind! ROCK ON!
    btw… LOVES the bus!! its looks HOT!

    Mike

  7. Im a tour driver for bands. Mostly from London but but on tour here in the united states. Ive had this same idea for some time to convert a school bus. Glad to see you guys are doing it. Im getting close to purchasing one 40 footer. Looking into public auctions. Just missed one that sold a 130 fleet of them in Miami florida. It’s hard to keep up and find out when these auctions are going to take place. My plan is to convert the engine to bio-diesel vegetable oil. The electronics off solar power and back up batteries nad outlets. (my brother is a profeshional electrician) otherwise that would be way out of budget. Almost everything is out of budget now buit i figure one thing at a time. Im also an artist that does art festivals etc. so this lifestyle on the road might last year round .I plan to travel where roads will take me selling my art and once a year drive for a band or two. If anyone has conections with auctions or any questions in general feel free to write me. Thanks for the inspiration. Mike

  8. i had no idea that there were so many people out there with this idea i met some kids once who were running there bus off used veg. oil and had the whole thing pimped out so now we’re in the market for a cheap bus to travel in. we’re too nomadic to “settle down”
    peace to all the cool people!

  9. I found your sight by looking for a used school bus to convert myself. Being the free spirit, I enjoyed your story so far and I look forward to reading more about your adventures in your school bus. By the way how much does that bus require to fill up?

  10. What type of License did yall need? Me and a group of friends are planing the same thing right after we get out of high school.

  11. Are you sure you didnt rip that bus off a bunch of blind kids like in the movie Road Trip? LOL

    Nice job guys, must have been great fun.

  12. Hi Wayne. My name is V and although I am neither a student nor a Christian, I appreciate nice plywood, beige carpet and a decent sound system. What I want to know is – are you willing to sell your vehicle?

  13. Hey…..I’d started out looking up a site listed for an auction I saw on a door of an out-of-business shop downtown, couldn’t remember what’d been there… (ended up being a restaurant supply company)anyway I ended up going from that auction site located in Kansas or somewhere, to looking at other auctions on the site, to seeing one with a huge train car for sale in someone’s yard, to wondering if anybody has tried turning one into a cabin or something…thought I remembered restaurants from trains, vaguely, anyway after a couple more hours of research I found out that cabooses are no longer in use since 20+ years ago and people were using them for many things, inc. a 8 (or was it 14? 9?) ‘caboose’ hotel in Pennsylvania I believe. So right then I decided I was going to find one, convert it into a cabin, or an art studio or something, concentrating on a certain period for ‘decor’ (taking ideas from old upscale passanger trains, Then went to bed, woke up, realized that I am a housewife with four kids and 3 dogs and a couple of guinea pigs and a husband that doesn’t even let me buy groceries….hey maybe a caboose oughta be my permanent residence!! Anyway, my point here…pimp out your buses and cabooses (that sounded odd) while you still can!!!!!
    Thanks for your stories, never thought I’d relate so well to a ‘young male pick-up artist.’ 🙂
    so where are the stories, man??

  14. I am in the middle of a very similar project. Your bus looked awesome.. How did you attach the sectional to the floor?

  15. Reading this entry reminded me of one of my better stories. It took place in eighth grade. I wonder if they are related?

    Two friends and I were biking around our neighborhood (lost creek) one evening when a school bus pulled up to a stop sign. Something didn’t make sense as it was about six thirty PM and bass was pulsing from the bus. Naturally we followed the bus on our bikes and found it parked at a house down the hill.

    Now it wasn’t too often that you find a school bus that plays rap music driving around at dusk, so we decided to knock on the door and ask to see the ride. Two guys answered and gave us a tour of the bus.

    Then one of the guys had an epiphany. He realized that project graduation was happening that night at westlake high school, and that we should get in line with the other buses to drop off some middle schoolers. My buddies and I then volunteered to get off of the bus in our underwear for comedic effect.

    So it was decided that my two friends and I would crash project graduation in our underwear in a retrofitted schoolbus driven by two random guys from our neighborhood.

    We got to project graduation and managed to get last in line with the buses that were dropping off high schoolers for their graduation party. When we pulled up and got off of the bus we where greeted by three volunteer moms who voraciously shooed us back on to the bus. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem phased by the whole situation, as if the were used to seeing mischief of this caliber and the bar had been raised before us.

    Since we where already driving around, we decided to take the bus to sixth street for some ghostriding. That was back in 2001 so I’m not even sure if ghostriding had gotten mainstream at that point. (Does anyone know the history of ghostriding?)

    We where turning from 360 onto mopac en route to sixth, when…

    Bang!

    we heard a loud noise and the bus jostled a little bit. I thought we had hit one of those roadside electrical boxes or run over a curb. We pulled the bus over and discovered a red Chevy Tracker behind us. Somehow this guy had rear ended us and crashed his chevy. It’s front grille and headlights where crushed beyond recognition.

    When we checked the bumper of the bus for damage, it was completely unscathed. That’s right, not a dent, scratch, or blemish. After talking with the driver we agreed to forgo the insurance and go our separate ways. Impressed by the indestructibility of our school bus we headed up mopac to sixth street.

    Now sixth street is pretty cool, right? Now imagine how cool it was for three kids, on a pimped out school bus, who weren’t old enough to drive, let alone party on sixth street.

    We were dancing out the windows, bumping the music, and bringing people on board, epitomizing the slogan “keep austin wierd”.

    The whole experience gave me a good deal of faith in serendipity.

    I’m not sure if you were one of the two guys or not, I’m looking forward to more entries on the bus adventures.

    Cheers,
    Brian

    P.S. Give Stephen a call and ask him about new employees. I know he likes working with entrepreneurial minds, Check out my site at http://www.souleblog.com.

    P.P.S. I just shot one of my friends who lived in Tokyo for two years a message. I’ll let you know if she knows of any cool places to live.

  16. Hey,
    I’m a Production Coordinator out of Dallas TX and am desperately looking for an old school bus to use in a TV commercial this Friday in Brenham Tx. (between Austin and Houston) If you could pass on the contact info for the old bus dealership in Austin it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,

    Emily Armstrong

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