With the sun going down at five, it's hard to get work done on the bus during the week so we are trying to use our time after work for the research and planning stages. This week, we worked on design layouts. I already had a layout and I sat down with Craig to review it. As a disclosure, I've never designed anything in my life and have never used Sketchup (a free program that allows you to draw out designs). One look at my drawings and Craig had a lot of questions, pointing out my many design flaws. I was listening, but didn't want to hear what he had to say. I slept on it and woke up the next morning to do some research on tiny house design and see if I could get the design somewhere he would be happy with it. If Craig doesn't like the design, there's no way he's going to help me build it, so I had to find a better solution.
First (Failed) Design Attempt
What was wrong with it?
With the Tiny House movement taking off, there are thousands of genius ideas out there. Since I'm not a designer, I figured I'd borrow some ideas from people who have already built their tiny spaces. Many tiny homes have lofted beds. Since the ceilings of the bus aren't so high and I have a dog that I like to cuddle with, we didn't want a lofted bed. I searched for tiny homes with bedrooms on the first floor and found some great ideas!
Taking all my new inspiration into account (and Craig's feedback) I began to redesign the bus. The materials and colors are not final, but it's a general idea of what I want. I'm sure there will be many more changes to the design, but overall we are happy with this layout and think it really maximizes our space.
This is the overhead perspective. From left to right you have the front of the bus. Then the kitchen and living room, then the bathroom, and bedroom.
Hover over the dots to get more info!
I did a ton of research on RV refrigerators this week. I just cannot wrap my mind around spending $1000 for 1.7 cubic feet of fridge space. Basically, there are only 2 companies that make RV fridges - Norcold and Dometic. An RV fridge is a special fridge that can run off propane or electric.
On Saturday, our friends Molly and Hank came out to help on the bus. Hank owns Ithaca Ice Company and knows a lot about keeping things cold! We talked about my dilemma and he suggested building an ice box. Fridges for the home were not even invented until 1913! It seems ridiculous that people could live for so long without a fridge, and here I am considering how I can put one on a bus! The ice box idea is perfect. It's very simple - you have two compartments. The block of ice goes in the top compartment and the goods go below. We are thinking we will connect it to our grey water tank and let it drain itself there. We can probably build this for under $300 - a price tag I'm much more comfortable with.
Since the caulk was going to take 7-14 days to completely set, we had to hold off on painting with Rustoleum. I'll be away for two weeks and when I come back, it will be December and temperatures are dropping fast. We decided it'd be good to get some insulation in the walls so the bus isn't a complete ice box when I get back. We got 1 1/2" rigid foam board for the walls. We got 3 sheets to insulate the walls. They cost $30 usually, but one was 70% off because it wasn't in perfect shape. It was perfect for our needs though! We also signed up for a HomeDepot credit card which gave us $50 off. The purchase for insulation for the walls and floors, and some of the materials we need to start building up the floors was $150 total with the discounts! NOT BAD!
I can't believe how easy insulation is. You measure, cut, snap and slide it in. We were going for a really tight fit so it took a bit of hammering, but we got the walls all insulated in 2 hours of work. We probably could have done it in 45 minutes, but we were messin around!
Here I was thinking I'd have nothing to write about this week and this post is way too long. JEESH! Next steps -- I'll be going away for 2 weeks for vacation and Thanksgiving. We'll have a little break from the bus :( but when we return, it's time to get buildin! We'll be painting the floors with rust neutralizer, finalizing our floor plan, then insulating and laying down the flooring. I CAN'T FREAKIN WAIT!
Last week it was easy to see how much progress we were making. Getting the wheel chair lift out and the floors out was such rewarding progress. This week, things went a lot slower, were even more grueling and it's hard to see what we really did. This week was about getting the floors prepped for rust neutralizer. We still aren't so good at setting reasonable goals. We thought we would have the paint down by the end of the weekend... we're still grinding. We read on Outside Found that they ground the floors of their bus for 8 hours. We said "Well our bus is half the size so it will never take that long." Boy were we wrong! We are probably 6 hours into grinding and still have about half the bus to go.
Removing the Mounts and Nails
We went to Home Depot to buy a titanium blade for the Sawzall so we could cut out all the wheelchair mounts and nails sticking up. This thing was a very good investment. We got all of the mounts and nails off in about 20 minutes with the right blade. Now we are left with tons of tiny holes in the floor we will need to fill. Project for the week is figuring out the right product for the job.
Removing the Front Floors
Getting the floors out in the front of the bus was a pain in the butt. They go under the front dashboard so you have to cut them out or remove the entire thing. It's tough to get up there under the pedals and the chair and everything is at weird angles. The floor is held down by a piece of metal in the front of the bus as well. Taking out the floor in the front was hard on the back and the patience, but it had to be done. We worked together to fit in the tight spots and hand eachother the tools needed for the job and got 'er done!
Grinding the Floors
I worked for about 3 hours on the bus on Wednesday by myself using the small grinder you see in the photo above. After 2 hours of work, Craig's dad showed up with the larger grinder. This thing is AWESOME! 3x as big means 3x as fast! I wish I had started out with this guy! I got through a ton of rust on Wednesday, but even when you think you are done, there is still more to do. We're looking to get off the old paint and the rust to leave us with a shiny metal floor.
Removing the Caulk
There was sticky caulk sealing the perimeter of the bus. It was covered in rust and grime and needed to be removed so that we have flat edges to lay down the floors. This was a slow tedious (gross) process that involved scraping, cutting, and pulling the caulk out.
Keep on grinding! We're hoping to finish grinding the floors this week and then fill in some holes. Once the holes are filled we will be able paint them with Rust Neutralizer. I've never been more excited to paint something in my life!
We took a bunch of measurements of the bus at the end of the day on Sunday. We are working on a plan for insulation and getting a full list of materials we need so that hopefully we can find some second hand. I really don't want to buy everything new from Home Depot. I know we can find a lot of needed materials on Craigslist and from other sources in the area. We just need to look!
We put daylight savings to good use this weekend. That extra hour was much needed after a night of partying for Halloween! This weekend was all about getting that massive wheel chair lift out of the bus and taking up the floors. We also thought it was about time to introduce my dog, Zeek, to the bus and get him used to it. He shockingly was very well behaved all weekend. I think he's going to like this bus!
Rubber Floor Removal
Taking up the rubber was really easy. We got 2 crow bars and just started by tearing out the center aisle strip. From there it probably took 30 minutes to get up all the rubber and reveal the plywood underneath. We were expecting what we found - it was damp and falling apart. Nothing too shocking there.
The bus was built to hold 3 wheel chairs and has a bunch of mounts in the floor to strap in wheel chair passengers. These mounts were holding down the plywood and the sockets were completely rusted out so we could not remove them. We decided to get a circular saw and do plunge cuts around the mounts so we could remove the plywood around them and then we would be able to access underneath the mounts and cut through the bolts. Once we got all the cuts done, getting the floor up was easy!
We're going to have to learn how to weld :(
While trying to remove the rubber from the stairs, they crumbled beneath us. Looks like we are going to need to learn to weld and build a new stair case.
Removing the lift
The bus had a wheelchair lift. We were thinking of trying to sell it, but when it came time to remove it, it didn't quite work and getting it out of the bus proved to be difficult. We decided to dismantle it and will be scraping it. Lifts are extremely heavy and there is a real danger of crushing your fingers. I left this job to Craig and Pete. They grabbed some long metal bars to assist them in pushing the lift off the bus. We brought the bus over to our junk pile and lowered the lift out. Once the base of the lift was on the ground we disassembled it from the top. Once it was all loose Craig and his dad pushed it forward and out of the bus.
Next we will be cutting out all of the rusty nails that are still stuck in the bus and cutting through the bolts to remove the wheelchair mounts.
We spent most of the week struggling to get the ceiling off. We tried every method out there for rivet removal, but it all came down to finding the right tools!
Drill Removal - Good for the walls
On Monday, we did some more research on removing rivets since we were moving so slowly last week. We went to home depot and bought 2 brand new titanium drill bits in hopes they would be strong enough and not break. We used a punch to punch through all the rivets in the bus and then took the drill to drill through the centers. This worked great on the walls and we got them out pretty fast.
Air Chisel - Not good for anything
When we moved on to the ceiling, the rivets were stronger and not allowing a drill to pass through them with the drill. We tried grinding but the sparks falling down in our face and the weight of the grinder really wasn't ideal. Feeling frustrated, we decided to get an air chisel on Tuesday (a suggestion from a youtube video). The air chisel was only about $25 so we thought if it could save us a bunch of time it was worth it. We excitedly tested the air chisel on the first rivet and FAIL. It kept slipping - it was obvious this was not the solution we were looking for. I think because we were upside down working on the ceiling we couldn't put the amount of pressure needed to get under the rivet head. Conclusion - we're returning the air chisel.
Pry Bar - Good for the ceiling
We got a big pry bar and started just using sheer force to pull the panels down. This actually was working pretty well. We aren't saving the metal from the roof so we didn't care about damaging it.We got two of the ceiling panels off this way and decided this was going to be our method. It took us about 2 hours with 3 people to get off just those two panels. It was hard, but the easiest way we had found and we thought if we could spend a good chunk of our weekend on it we would get it done. When we stopped by Craig's parents house after, his dad Pete asked us if he could try a tool on the roof to see if it would be easier. Pete just retired this month and is a seasoned builder and get-shit-doner! I told Pete if he wants to try anything on the bus, he can go right ahead!
Pickle Bar and Sledge Hammer - The ULTIMATE solution!
On Wednesday, I got a text from Pete. The text included a picture of the entire ceiling removed and a tool called a pickle bar. He said it took him just 45 minutes by himself to remove the entire ceiling! I can't tell you how excited I was. This pushed our progress ahead by days. I was so fed up with those darn rivets. With the ceilings now off, we could use the weekend to remove the floors! I learned that it's all about using the right tools and that if I am ever in a pickle (ha) to just ask Pete!
Lesson learned? Maybe we were a little too ambitious for day 1.
We started our day at 8:00 AM dropping my dad off at the bus to get him back home. We then headed straight to Home Depot to buy a cone bit for the drill. We were told this would be the best way to remove the rivets. We got to the bus, tried our brand new $20 cone bit and in SNAPPED! We spent probably the first 2 hours of the day trying to figure out the best way to remove rivets. I had done research before hand, but nothing we were trying was working. We broke about 6 drill bits in the process. We tried grinding them, but it produced so much spark it was terrifying and it wasn't working so well. Around lunch, Craig's dad came out and gave us a stronger drill and a whole set of bits he said he didn't care about. We started using a nail punch to punch through the center of the rivet. Then we took a drill bit and drilled through until the rivet spun or broke off. I'm still not convinced this is the best method. We still have tons more rivets to remove so there will be much more experimenting.
Our friend Molly showed up around 3:00 to help out! She went to work on the rivets. I had already punched them out and she took the drill to them and the cats paw with a hammer. She killed it! She got way further than I did and got us way further ahead than we would have been without her! Go MOLLY!
He didn't know I was filming him. This is one of many dance breaks to come!
There was a lot of rust so removing the seats cleanly was not an option. After trying to get them out with a socket wrench and a crow bar, we decided that the grinder was going to have to do it. We ended up cutting out the seats and then using the crow bar and hammer to remove the rusted out sockets. It took most of the day to get out the 4 seats and 2 front barriers. All I could think was how glad I was there weren't 12 rows of seats!
After months of searching Craigslist and calling bus companies, I finally bought a bus! I spent a lot of time searching Craigslist using SearchTempest which allows you to search all Craigslists at a time. I wasn't finding anything that appealed to me that I felt was coming from a trustworthy home where I could get a title and not have issues getting insurance and legal plates. I decided to turn to a dealership. I lucked out to find out there was one only 40 minutes from my parents house, which was perfect. I bought the bus from Don Brown Bus Sales in Johnstown, NY. It's about 30 minutes from Albany, NY. They sell buses all over the world. They keep their inventory very up to date and you can search it online.
At first, I thought I wanted a short bus (4 windows) but once I saw the half size, I knew that was my bus. A full size bus was just way too big for my needs. I bought an International Bluebird 2001. It's diesel, automatic with 130,000 miles on it, which I've been told isn't much on a diesel. It got a T444E engine. When I went to look at the bus initially, I paid a diesel mechanic to come with me. We looked under the bus and took a look at the engine. We looked at one other bus that had a Caterpillar engine and was much heavier duty with way bigger wheels. It was a standard and the wheel wells came into the bus. I chose the International because it was Automatic and the wheel wells don't come above the floor, which will make designing it way easier.
Finding a bus in your price range
The bus was originally posted at $7,000, but I called Don Brown's and asked them if they had any buses in my price range. My cap was $3,500. They showed me this bus and the final price was $3,100. I learned that if you see a bus you like but it is above your price range it is good to call and tell a bus company your price range and see what they show you!
Getting insurance proved to be a pain in the butt. I had advice from multiple skoolie owners on how to go about it. I read a lot online about people lying to insurance agents that the bus was an RV but I didn't feel comfortable doing that incase there was a serious issue on the drive from the dealership back to Ithaca, NY. I called about 15 different insurance companies, even ones that explicitly say online they can do it. When I called Progressive, they told me they could not cover me but if I called a local insurance agent that they might be able to help me get insured through Progressive. They suggested 3 agents in Itahca. I ended up getting insurance through True Insurance.
The DMV in Ithaca recommended that I just get an In-Transit permit so that I did not have to pay to have the bus registered while I was transporting it. When I called the DMV in Johnstown they said they could not do an in-transit permit for a bus moving within NY State even though I was holding an application for an in-transit permit that said that was a possibility. They recommended I call the DMV in the town over (Fonda, NY) and see if they could do it. They said yes, so after I paid for the bus and got my title, I headed to the DMV,
At the Fonda DMV they said it would be cheaper to register the bus for 2 years. Then, once I got to Ithaca and took it off the road, I could go to the Ithaca DMV and ask them to store my plates for the winter. I'm not sure they are going to do that for me. The other option is to have them destroy the plates and put the money for the registration as a credit towards when I decide to register the bus once it's converted. All in all, it was a lot of jumping through hoops. I knew that the purchase, insurance, registration process wouldn't be an easy one so I tried to get as much information before hand as possible. I called all the DMV's before going and insured I had all the correct paperwork and IDs to make the process as smooth as possible.
The Inaugural Journey
Hey there! I'm Karli
I bought a bus in October 2015 and have been working on converting it since with the help of my boyfriend Craig. We don't have any timeline for the project. We are working on it when we can and hope to get on the road someday for a grand adventure! I'll be blogging about the process along the way and sharing the details of our successes and failures to help future skoolie builders!