Photos Featured Short Bus Conversion Experience

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#1
Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this website. Squat the Planet and Skoolie.net has some great advice for anyone who is getting started on a project like this and were extremely helpful to me during the last few months.

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After weighing the pros and cons of a short bus, a van, or an RV my girlfriend and I decided to go with a bus. We checked CL and autotrader for something that would work for us. At the time we were in Indy, though, and were fortunate that a school bus dealer called Midwest Transit was located nearby. These guys only deal in busses and a lot of schools will sell their old busses to them as used inventory. They have locations throughout Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. More fortunate still they had listings in our price range. You can find listings on their website and narrow them down with the filters if you are looking for a vehicle. We ended up getting a 2005 Ford E350 short bus with a 6.0 diesel engine for $2500. It has a Thomas body. The odometer reads 160K miles. It had one owner, a school district, who had maintained it. The only problem we've had is that I had to replace the starter after 6 months. It was $65 for a new starter on Ebay and seems to be working fine.

The summer was pretty exciting for us, though we were anxious to get on the road and more anxious to get out of Indianapolis. We ended up crashing with some relatives in Northern Indiana while the real work began. The first step was getting the seats out, 5 rows in all. These things were bolted thru the floor so I couldn't just unscrew the bolts. I had to grind the heads off and pound out the bolts. I also took out the rear heater and rerouted the coolant lines into themselves courtesy of a tutorial on the skoolie website. I have pretty limited carpentry experience but once the seats were out I managed to build a bed frame with some storage underneath that can be accessed from inside the bus and from the rear emergency door. Summers in Indiana are always hot and humid but last summer was more humid then I could remember. It felt like we were working in rain forest. Next, I built a work bench which eventually turned into a kitchen counter. Everything is just plywood and wood I could reclaim. Since we didn't have money to install water and holding tanks I put in a sink and built a foot pump that pumps from one five gal. bucket and drains into another. No hot water but it has worked well enough since we can boil up on a two burner Coleman. We also carry some extra water in those five gallon Culligan things. I ended up building two benches with some storage under the seats. They sit across from each other and we can put our card table between them if we want a table inside.

Our intentions were to be pretty minimal and our funding was so little that it didn't allow for anything else. We got rid of the shit we knew we couldn't take with us or didn't need. We decided we wanted to try a composting toilet. I built a small enclosure and we DIYed a 5 gal bucket into a saw dust composting toilet. It has served us well and when people tell my girlfriend they can't believe she uses that thing it's quite amusing to hear her tell them that she can't believe they shit in their water.

After we had the basic amenities we moved in full time (along with our dog). For 150 sq feet its pretty cozy and it beat the hell out of sleeping with the bugs. The heat was pretty bad and keeping cool became an issue in the summer. The fall was great tho and we planned on heading south before it snowed.

Insurance, however, became an issue. Fuck insurance companies, dude. I knew insurance companies were real skeptical on skoolies and had read a lot of horror stories. However, I had assumed that my VIN would just read out as an E350. There was actually another thread on StP of someone who had done the same thing. I guess I was wrong though because every broker asked the same question ass soon as I gave them the VIN. Is it converted? Well, fuck.....kind of.....I guess. If you are reading this for advice and you don't want to convert to an RV title you should probably just lie. I after emailing photos to several agencies like National General and being denied by all of them we got approved for RV insurance thru Good Sam (which is National general, who had denied us). They only offered liability and it cost us $600 for the year.

So on the skoolie website I found a thread that gave the requirements for getting the title changed to RV. The thread said that in Indiana all I had to do was print of a form, have a cop come sign off on it, and take it to the BMV. I called the BMV and they affirmed this. One of the relatives we stayed with happened to have a friend on the police force and arranged for him to come sign off on the paper. It was hot as hell that day and the cop literally just came inside, said, "Whoop, it's hot in here. Yup, it's not a bus anymore." and signed off on my request for a body change form.

The local BMV wouldn't deal with me at all. They told me I had to take the thing back to Indy and have them look and sign off on my bus. I wasn't sure how to do that since it wasn't plated or registered and she said I would have to send them photos and receipts for the conversion. I called the central office in Indy and asked them about photos. "No,", they said. "You just need the request for a body change form signed by a cop." So I drove to another city (I was staying between the two) and had that BMV take a look. Be it luck or fate, the clerk looked at my title and recognized the school corporation that had owned it previously and recognized the bus number as well. She told me she went to school there and that it was the cheerleading bus. She had been a cheerleader and had ridden on it many times. She was totally on board to help us after we told her what we were doing. Predictably, with the BMV, nothing was easy. She tried to submit our request for body change and told us that it WAS requesting photos and receipts, which would need to be faxed to the central office for approval....since she was on board to help us she gave us her bosses email so we could forward the few pics we had on our phone. I told her there were no receipts because all conversion materials we used we had on hand. I had to sign a sworn affidavit saying so and she faxed it along with the photos. After two hours at the BMV they denied our request for a body change because we don't have a shower and a fridge. They were fine with the compost toilet. They said our stove had to be permanently affixed so we lied and told them our two burner was, but it all came down to the shower and refrigerator....

As of now we are kind of in a legal gray zone with all these bureaucrats. She ended up registering us as a private bus since we couldn't change our title. The plate says "not for hire" in big letters. Our insurance is RV insurance though, because no one will insure us commercially. Technically I think we're legal with proof of insurance but if we ever got into an accident I'm sure Good Sam would drop us.

I got offered a little under the table work after Thanksgiving and decided to stay in Indiana til after the holidays. We plan on heading south in two weeks and are very much looking forward to it because we did not make it out before the snow. In fact, two days from now is has a low forecast of -19 degrees. I woke up two days ago and our floor was frosted over so I got some carpet remnants and covered up the rubber bus floor. It seems to have helped. Our portable Mr. Heater is definitely our lifeline right now and these next two weeks couldn't go by fast enough. I imagine I won't be seeing this family anytime soon though, so I'm making the best of it. We were flying by the seat of our pants this whole time and even starting with basically no money I'm pretty happy with how its gone so far. We got kicked a canoe and are taking it with us. It is strapped to the roof so we lose all of our stealthiness, but the bus wasn't very stealthy to begin with. Looking forward to the future! Stay warm out there!!
 
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E

etpyh

I deleted myself
#2
you sure do have some great vans and buses for low prices in the us.
 

Matt Derrick

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#3
Man that is really amazing, especially for the price! I'm so jealous, I want one just like this... Do you have any more pictures of the inside or any videos of it?

Thanks for taking the time to post this, I'll definitely be adding it to our featured threads section!

Sent from my LG-H815 using the Squat the Planet mobile app!
 
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jack boy
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#4
Some pictures are older than others. Hopefully I managed to upload them properly. In the newer ones the windows are insulated with blankets and we got some carpet down because it got so cold out.

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The front of the bus is currently being used as a walk-in fridge. Our eggs were frozen this morning but we have a curtain to keep the heat in the back.

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This is our kitchen area. The sink pumps water with a foot pump and drains into this bucket for grey water.

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The seat backs fold down and the benches lift up for storage. Since we couldn't get converted to an RV title I installed seat belts.

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We have a small wood burning stove made for ice fishing shanties so I made this hearth out of old license plates. We aren't using it right now but if it gets any colder it may be worth unpacking from under the bed. The stove pipe just feeds out the window with a fitting I made. Currently we have a portable propane sitting here and a folded up canopy.

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Here's the bed and some storage space I built from the scraps.

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And now we have carpet down. Its pretty comfortable for the three of us. Hope you enjoyed the tour!
 
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#5
nice - home conversions always have much more character than 'professional' jobs and so much cheaper- and 6 litre engine sounds ideal for cruising long distance - over here a bus that size would have a shitty little 2.5 litre coz our diesels so expensive
 
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#6
this is amazing. sorry to hear you had so much trouble with the dmv. typical govt nonsense. looks amazing and I am definitely super jelly.
 

faa

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#7
That bus is fucking awesome!!!! And great perseverance!! Its a big accomplishment finishing that signifigant of a project, mad props to you two
 
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#10
Really COOL! I have the same bus but 2003 e450 7.3 150k miles I had problems with back taxes and registration in California So I went to AZ and took about 30 minutes and 170$ for 2 years! The lady was super nice and did everything I wanted :) I have not transferred my insurance over to yet but I Hope I will have no problems :) I love yours, How did you do the ceiling? I just got 1200watts of solar panels to put on the roof but all this math is giving me a headache, I cant wait to start on the inside
 
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#12
Thanks for all the positive feedback y'all. In case anyone is interested in hearing how it's going we're currently in Tucson. On the way west we definitely have some problems. Our brakes went out while going thru the Ozarks so i had to replace a vacuum pump in an orielly parking lot. Next we had some problems with the wiring for the fan clutch...I've rewired it 3 times now bc we get a no start w/o it. Hopeful this is the last time. I wired it completely away from the fan to prevent further probs...knock on wood. Then our starter went out literally two days after I fixed the vacuum pump. Got a new one plus the relay put in and It went out less than a week later, this time in West Texas. Actually the starter is still good and our warranty covered the bad relay so all good. Made it to Tucson and finally got new glow plugs! We're still having problems with the BMV, tho. Tried to renew our plates online and find out we have to go thru a safety inspection...and it has to be done in Indiana.....so yeah, If its not one thing its another. @Milespa I'd be interested to hear how it went with you in AZ. Where did you get it done? I don't want to do it in Pima Co bc they have an emmision test I'm sure i will fail. I guess not all counties require it tho. My plates expire in 6 days so I have to do it soon. Fortunately I do have some family out there for an address and all. btw out ceiling is some bullshit cardboard panelling shit. it was cheap and put up mostly for aesthetics...my gf wanted it. it has been a big issue tho bc our cieiling was perforated with holes. Im guessing it was to help with airflow and prevent condensation. we've had problems with condensation and eventually the ceiling will need stripped out. I woudn't reccommend doing it this way. Moisture is the enemy!!
 
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#14
that is a pretty quaint and cozy dwelling space you've got there!

i hate to be that guy, but do you not have anything separating the back from the driving area other than a curtain? it just seems that you have a lot of stuff that is not tied down in any way, and in the event of a crash, that could be super horrible.

i'm assuming that the photos are of its non-driving setup, but for the benefit of everyone reading this, a reminder: these houses on wheels are actually vehicles and driving is one of the deadliest things most of us will ever do. you may say "it's just a cup, fork, camping latern, etc.", but when it becomes a cup flying at the back of your head at 50+mph, you aren't going to be the one saying "i told you so."

carry on, safely.
 
B

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#15
Good read for a lot of us looking to convert a bus. Its ideal neing a nomad to have a homebase such as a van or rv. Its expensive, thats a lot of the problem packing in a vehicle.
 
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#16
Can't really decide between an RV, van, or bus. Can you stand up in your short bus? Do you think a 6'1" person could stand up in it?

Love the conversion tho
 
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#17
I realize everyone has different perceptions of what allows you to be "free", but automobiles of every form are endless money pits that you become chained to. I must confess that I own one (a relatively cheap to maintain Toyota Tacoma w/camper shell), but I'm in the process of ridding myself of my beloved Earth destroying internal combustion engine in favor of bicycling. The benefits include:

+Healthy for you
+Healthy for the planet and its inhabitants
+Super cheap (often free) to purchase and maintain
+No insurance, registration, or driver license required
+Easy to stealth camp anywhere
+No police hassling
+Couchsurfing/Warmshowers for when you need a break from the road
+People admire/envy you and often offer a meal and or place to crash

You can fit your bike with racks and panniers (luggage) and carry the necessities of life (less is more). You can go anywhere you want, including roads and trails that an automobile can't. You can ride from Alaska to South America and beyond. You go slow (really, what's the hurry?!), stopping as often as you want to check things out. Once you're in a little better shape, 50-100 mile days become the norm. Yeah, hills suck, but you get to the top and you get to coast down.

I'm not here to bag on rubber tramps and bus/van dwellers; that was previously my dream. I just wanted to offer another option that's worth a serious look. There's a lot of info and inspiring stories in the Bike Touring section on here, check it out. Peace.
 
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#18
Jack Boy, we have a bus looking similar E350 Ford so appreciate your photos and advice. Update us every now and then, please! Have not had the insurance issues you had but friends in other states very similar..depends on who you get a DMV/MVD. We broke down in Gallup NM and it took Ford dealer 8 wks to fix and more money than I care to mention. Hope you have safe travels.
 
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#19
@Dunedrifter I think we've all heard of bikes dude. And I believe there's a sub forum for that. Most of us rubber tramps (at least on stp) started traveling by riding trains, hitchhiking, or biking/walking. The decision to get an automobile was one most of us, certainly me, considered heavily and then worked hard to achieve. I'm not trying to be rude but be careful when you're suggesting that people change how they live.
 
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#20
Jack Boy, we have a bus looking similar E350 Ford so appreciate your photos and advice. Update us every now and then, please! Have not had the insurance issues you had but friends in other states very similar..depends on who you get a DMV/MVD. We broke down in Gallup NM and it took Ford dealer 8 wks to fix and more money than I care to mention. Hope you have safe travels.
Congrats on your bus! We have a e450 bus and we love it. Been in it 6 months now. Do you have the diesel too? Feel free to dm me if you have any questions,I might be able to help out. Good luck!
 

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