A Study of Art, Adventure, Engineering and Enterprise
Category: School Bus
Welcome to the home of the El Dorado school bus conversion. We know we want a beautiful place to live while we travel around northern America building our online business. Even though the idea is exciting, the execution is full of fearful questions.
Ian and V’s School Bus Conversion
Is this legal? What challenges does owning a 30,000 pound vehicle bring about? Is this something for crazy people? Will I end up wasting too much money?
To be honest, I still don’t know the answer to these questions. But we’re doing it. Here’s our bus:
Left to Right – V, Ian & Jamie. Jamie (of Whole Foods) sold us the bus.
How Much Does a School Bus Conversion Cost?
We don’t know yet. That said, you can see our expense spreadsheet as they happen. Once we’re done, you can look at the below spreadsheet to get a great idea for every expense. That said, we’re in it now, so the spreadsheet just shows you how much we’ve spent this far. Feel free to check it out:
Today we spent the day removing things that are generally part of a school bus. Things like the kid gate, the stop sign and the internal heaters for the bus.
The back exit (emergency exit) had some sort of a short so we decided to take all the electrical aspects out it. Now the back door doesn’t have running emergency red light or the buzzers if someone opens the emergency door.
There were two heaters that warmed up due to the engine coolant running through the bus. To take those out, I got a little dirty crawling under the bus and reconnecting all the coolant hoses. We have a lot of nice coolant hosing now. That was a really dirty afternoon.
The New Fuel Pump Problem
It lead to a fuel problem. Now when we start the bus, the fuel filter pours out diesel. So I’m seeking a solution to that problem.
Big Thank You
Big thanks to Erik for being our sparky. We couldn’t have done it without you buddy.
If you’re reading this, I’m in the process of designing the flooring system. So my notes and ideas are shown in real time in this blog.
Once I commit to a strategy and implement it, this blog will explain of the floor’s design and the implementation process.
Later, once we spend more time in the home, I’ll share my results here. Thank you for reading.
To Remove Existing School Bus Floor or Not to Remove
From the looks of our existing floor, it seems like we might not need to take it out. I can’t see any places where the flooring is in terrible condition.
That said, we’re building something that we want to last for at least 100 years. I can’t make the assumption that everything is fine under there. We’ve decided to take the existing flooring out so that we can seal the existing metal floor with anti-rust paint and rebuild a bulletproof strategy for going forward.
Rust Proofing the Existing School Bus Metal Floor
I’m going to experiment with bondo and epoxy to plug any existing holes in the floor. We want to the bus to be water tight. All the holes made to secure seats will need to be sealed in a bulletproof manner.
We would like this bus to be rated to live in Lake Tahoe in the winter so we are going with the upper range of Zone 5 as recommended by the US Department of Energy (DOE).
This means the following insulation ratings for our walls, floor and ceiling if we’re to spend much of our time in the Lake Tahoe area:
Floor – (R25 to R30)
Ceiling – (R49 to R60)
Walls – (R15)
So it turns out that in order for us to get that DOE rated insulation, we will need to extend the roof of the bus. To get simple R15 insulation, the best thing I could find is 3 1/2″ inches deep which is too little insulation in too thick of a space.
I couldn’t find any R50 insulation that is 2 inches or less in thickness. Indeed, we would need another foot in the roof to get close to the reccomendations suggested by the DOE. This doesn’t seem prudent to me.
Also, the DEO is writing these requirements for relatively large homes. The heating expense of this bus will be a fraction of what a normal house would require.
The Plan for the Ceiling Insulation
We are very lucky with our bus. The existing insulation is in excellent condition. There isn’t a drop of mold on any of the main parts. The biggest weakness to the existing insulation is that it doesn’t fill the roof cavities entirely.
To solve that, I plan to buy some spray insulation to fill the gaps left from the regular insulation. I’m exploring the following products:
* This spray foam could be used on the bottom of the bus as well as the product brags that it adheres to metal
Floor Material Design
We don’t want to build up with floor height much as there is limited vertical space in the bus. That said, the bus needs to be as comfortable as possible. Here is how I see the plan for floor materials:
When you’ve got a phillips head screw that is stripped beyond repair, what I like to do us use a grinder to cut a slot in the screw. Then that defunct phillips head becomes a straight, fresh metal slot head screw.
Then it’s easy to take out with a nice fat flat head screw driver.
How to Take Ceiling Panels out of a 2001 Thomas School Bus
Use the impact drill. In the movie above, you’ll see me using the regular drill almost the whole time. That was a dumb waste of energy. I was also using the impact drill head with the regular drill, which was also a waste of resources.
After we stopped filming for the day, I started using the impact drill and it worked great. I actually removed more than 50% of the ceiling panel screws. It goes fast when you know how.
Contemplating the Future of the Bus
Aside from a general design idea, I don’t have a specific plan for the build. So today I started working with SketchUp to do some accurate drawings of the bus. More design ideas will come. For now, we’ve got this Pinterest board which contains a lot of ideas for what we’re thinking will guide the aesthetics of what we’re building.
So one of my favorite YouTubbers is a guy named Jimmy DiResta. In one of his videos he talks about how he uses white spray paint on many of his tools as a way for him to engage his audience. I think this is genius.
School bus seat removal is actually a lot tougher than you might initially think. Many of the bolts that we removed from our bus had lug nuts that were basically welded with rust. Despite using penetrating oil and wicked strong leverage, we found ourselves unable to remove the stripped bolts and lug nuts. So we used a grinder to remove the immovable bolts.
Seat Removal Gets Serious
Today we get far more serious about the seat removal. We start by getting the easy stuff out of the way. The part of the seats that you sit on is easy to take out because they have a mechanism that you just turn and you pull the seats up.
The bolts that are inside the bus never experience a whole lot of rust so it’s easy to pull those bolts.
The Tough Bolts
We used WD-40 to lubricate the bolts that went through the floor and connected with lug nuts below the bus. These bolts were the ones that have had the last 16 years worth of water, dirt and salt sprayed on them.
Not to mention, the lug nuts were hard to reach. I’m assuming that the body of the bus was lowered onto the chassis after it was assembled.
We made a mistake by using a ratchet wrench while removing these bolts. By the end of the day, we had destroyed the ratchet. I wish we hadn’t killed it. But it’s gone.
First off, I start this video doing the work by myself. I rapidly learned that this would be far to slow. Asking for help is a valuable thing in all aspects of life. When building a house out of a school bus, this is especially true.
Another lesson learned quickly – most of the bolts on this bus were welded together with rust. Though we started this process on the easiest seats to take out, we would spend the rest of our time fighting with really, really difficult bolt situations.
Removing Seats from a Thomas Bus
With bus seats, the part o f the seat where you sit on, well that comes off very easily. Just rotate the metal lock that connects the heel of the seat to the frame. Once you get them up, the clips that hold the front of the seats can be lifted up and carried away.
Do this first when removing the seats from a Thomas Bus. It allows you to have a far greater range of motion for when you do battle with the more challenging bolts. If you want a demonstration of that, check out the next video.
Check out the next post for lessons on removing the more challenging bolts.
This is the story of us buying a retired school bus.
It involves a flight from Sacramento to Salt Lake City. Then Salt Lake City to Portland. Our friend Jonah helped us drive around the city to go to the bank and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Finally, after jumping through some loops, we had the legal requirements organized and the story goes on from there.
A Little About the Bus
So this one is a 40′ 2001 Thomas School Bus.
We plan to convert it to what is commonly known as a tiny house. It could be used for a million things, but we plan to make it a comfortable little place to live and work out of while we travel around the United States.
The project is a physical one, which is something I’ve been interested in for a while. As we do most of our work on the computers and the internets, I find myself wishing I had physical projects to work on. This bus is a big, physical project.
The bus was taken out of service at the end of class in the year 2016. It was previously owned and operated by Forest Grove School District.
It has a 5.9L Cummins engine. So it’s basically a giant, unstoppable beast.
Managing the Fear
So basically, I’m scared of this project. I am a believer that it’s often a good idea to do the things that make people
Anyways, this is the first in a series of School Bus conversion videos. It’s going to be remarkable.
So we thought we could fly to Portland, OR – Buy a school bus and drive said school bus to the woods in Nevada County, CA in a single day. That was an inaccurate assumption.
It turns out that busses are quite slow to drive. We met hills that brought our speed from 70 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour. That kind of a slow down really is sort of a big deal and it’s especially intense if you experience driving 600 miles through southern Oregon and Northern California.
One thing I’d like to note, it’s not hard to drive a school bus.
Just because the thing weighs 30,000 pounds and has these strange air brakes, it doesn’t mean it’s all that different from driving a regular car. You just go slower and stay more alert to people slowing down in front of you.
The most important part is to pay attention when making tight corners. These flat nose busses have the wheels far behind the driver. That means that when you’re driving, you want to initiate the turns far later. It feels like you are making a terrible mistake for the first 10 turns. Once the driver gets the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
Driving the bus back was an adventure. At the same time, it’s a giant project and it makes me feel really fearful for some reason. All my past carpentry and demolition skills will come into play over the next few moths. I hope they are good enough to make the bus livable, and desirable.
The last thing I want is a giant school bus that no one wants.