This summer, I started a massive project: converting a school bus into a livable space, or skoolie in DIY parlance. When completed, the bus will be my full-time abode. It’ll have an electrical system powered by solar panels, a toilet, a bed, a desk, the whole nine yards. I’ll be able to set up wherever I desire: a deep-woods dispersed camping site, the driveway or yard of friends and family, a campground with shore power, or simply a free public parking space that allows overnight parking.
I haven’t written about this, because I’ve been busy with the conversion, and with other things in my life. (My oft-neglected Author Platform is, of course, gathering more cobwebs than usual.)
I also have little desire to be a “skoolie guru,” and write how-to guides that don’t actually tell you how to do anything. There are enough “gurus” out there already. (My inbox is filled with self-publishing gurus who supposedly have the map to Shangri-La. I keep subscribed because they make me chuckle.)
I’ll admit up front that I’m an amateur; any time I write about my skoolie, I’ll make it clear that the way I did things is not the only way, and may even be inefficient.
I had no DIY skills when I started this, and while my DIY prowess has increased, I’m no professional. This project has required me to cram a bunch of new knowledge into my sometimes resistant brain – and we’re just getting to the wiring and solar portion, which is a whole new bundle of thorns entirely. Even with the help of my awesome Dad (who would say my brain is always resistant), it’s been a challenge.
But the end of the project is within sight, and I’ll be able to move into my diesel-powered home and rumble along in skoolie bliss. And I’ll be firing up the novel-writing again, and will release such a torrent of high-quality fiction that the world will gape in awe…
…maybe. Hopefully. Hey, if I could get fifty reviews on Amazon, that’d be a good enough start.
So what led me to undertake this adventure in alternative living?
I have no deep philosophical reason for doing this, and I didn’t do it because I thought it’d be neat. I simply needed a viable living area.
For the past few years, I’ve had bad luck with apartments. I’m very susceptible to mold and other allergens, and all my apartments had mold issues. These places weren’t exactly dumps; they just hadn’t been properly maintained. Even the most opulent mansion will develop mold if its owners don’t keep it up.
Mold causes numerous problems: sneezing, red and itchy eyes, and the main derailer, mind fog. On my worst days, I’d read for an hour and feel wiped out, and spend the rest of the day trying to focus on the simplest tasks. I remember once taking a walk on the beach and quite literally being unable to think – I tried to look at the ocean and conjure up thoughts and memories, but nothing of any complexity came to the surface. It was like trying to boot up a laptop on low battery power; you might make it to the desktop, but eventually it’s going to shut down.
I tried cleaning thoroughly, altering my diet, using a dehumidifier, and taking supplements – everything you can do to combat mold’s effect on the body. But if your environment is poisonous, you’re going to get poisoned. You can vacuum all you want and run a dehumidifier twenty-four hours a day – if mold is in places you can’t get to or are unaware of, it’s going to affect you.
Right about now, some helpful person is going to say, “Did you ask your landlords to fix things? Just tell them what’s wrong and force them to make it right!”
Apparently these people live in self-contained worlds where everyone does what they say. Unfortunately, in the real world all landlords aren’t benevolent angels who will do everything in their power to make their tenants’ lives safe and enjoyable.
I have dealt with decent landlords, but even the best one isn’t going to tear through every inch of an apartment to fix something that, to them, isn’t an issue. Their thought process is, “No one else has complained of mold in that apartment, and we’ve already spent such-and-such to fix it for him. What else does he want?”
I could storm and fume, and threaten to take them to court (I have done the first, but not the second), but what’s the point? Relationships become toxic and effort is wasted. Lease or no lease, the bottom line is an apartment isn’t my property, and so I have to abide by someone else’s rules.
But this school bus is my property, and I can do whatever the hell I want with it.
I can construct my bus however I wish – and if I decide to demolish it and rebuild, the only approval I need to seek is my own.
It’s a wonderful feeling. I never wanted to own a home – thought it would be too much trouble. I was happy to live in an apartment and let other people worry about upkeep, lawn care, property taxes, and all that malarkey…
…until I wasn’t. But now that’s over with – maybe not forever, but hopefully for a very, very long time.
Of course, there’s no guarantee this bus will be mold-free. But, again, if problems arise, I can go into scorched earth mode without asking for permission from some uninterested landlord. And I’m trying to make this bus as mold-resistant as I can. It’ll be sealed up as tight as I can get it to keep out moisture, it’ll be insulated with spray foam, all the interior studs are covered with two coats of paint for protection, and so on.
I considered other economical living options, such as a tiny home, an RV, or simply a small van. A tiny home would’ve been nice, but it also would’ve also required a heavy-duty trailer and a heavy-duty truck to tow all of it if I wanted to be mobile. An RV would be a good out-of-the-box solution (no removing school bus seats under the hot summer sun), but from what I’ve read, craftsmanship in the RV industry is shoddy. And a pre-owned RV is much like an apartment: you don’t know what its previous users have done to it. A van – either a smaller Econoline type, or a larger stepvan – was another intriguing option, but those vehicles were just too small.
In the end, I went with the bus.
So that’s what I’ve been up to. A lot of grunting, sweating, planning, re-planning, painting, more painting, head-scratching, sighing, cursing, arguing, staring at the sky and wondering what it’s all about, hammering, nailing, whacking, bending, contorting…I think you get the point.
A guy at the local hardware store always makes a crack about “Cowper Bus Conversions.” Trust me, you won’t see that business sprouting up anytime soon. I will feel a sense of achievement when this is all over, but I certainly don’t want to start all over again on a new skoolie.
Got any questions for me about the project? Have a skoolie project of your own? Got a hip name you want to give my unnamed bus? Let me know in the comments.