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:
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.
In a few days, we fly up to Portland, Oregon to check out the bus that we think will work best for our bus conversion. Here are some pictures of it:
I’m not going to lie. This is a scary thing to undertake. It’s a good chunk of money and a big time commitment. And it’s going to be alot of really hard work.
But it’s such a big, empty, powerful canvas to use to create something amazing.
Look at all those mirrors.
That swinging yellow bar will have to go.
I’ve read that the flat nose buses have much better turning radiuses.
If we get this bus, those seats are dust.
I count 24 seats. Is that what you got?
It’s a bit dusty, but everything looks in order.
If we get this bus, that seat will have to go too.
We’ll need something that can swivel.
Maybe I could convert it into a swivel chair….
Mucho dust. No mucho miles.
These busses are built to do 500,000 miles.
Apparently this bus weighs 30,000 pounds which is a challenge for the regulators. According to the rules, V will have to get a class A drivers license with the State of Nevada in order to drive this beast.
Massive Safety Test Done on a Trolley with the same motor as our bus- Documentation
Non Commercial Class A, B and J Endorsements for the State of Nevada (Documentation)
History Lesson of the Thomas Bus Company
Ok so this is a Thomas Bus. Thomas Intl. is a company based in North Carolina and is the oldest surviving American bus company.
They were founded in 1916. That’s 101 years in business.
Thomas A. Perley was an excellent craftsman and his first employer lost him to the Southern Car Company who hired him away as their chief engineer and draftsman. But the Southern Car Company folded in 1916 which made it so that Thomas A. Perley was officially laid off.
That didn’t wipe him out though. He received a contract with the Southern Public Utilities Company to help them improve their rail cars. A year later, he started a company called Perley A. Thomas Car Works. They went on to become famous for their streetcars.
You could find the Perley A. Thomas Car Works’s street cars all over the world in places like Detroit, Michigan, New York City, Miami, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico. They were known everywhere. In fact, if it weren’t for Perley A. Thomas Car Works, there may have never been a play set in New Orleans. You might have heard of it, it was called A Streetcar Named Desire.
In 1936, Thomas came to the realization that the future of the transportation industry would lay in buses. Later they changed the companies name to Thomas Built Buses, Inc., and grew into one of the the three largest bus building companies in the United States of America.
Thomas Built Buses, Inc. stopped building busses during World War 2. Their building capacities were put towards creating trucks for soldiers. Thomas Built Buses, Inc. was put to work building trucks like these:
Perley A. Thomas may have died in 1958, but his company lives on. To this day, Thomas Built Buses, Inc. is the oldest surviving American bus manufacturing company.
Though the bus we found in Portland was built in 2001, we plan to breath new life into this vehicle which is a symbol of American design and ingenuity.
Today we purchased tickets from Sacramento (SMF) to Portland (PDX). We arrive to Portland late Tuesday evening, to have a look at the beast Wednesday morning. Providing all the details that the seller has provided are accurate, we plan to drive the bus from Portland back to our woods cabin in Grass Valley, California. It should take us 1 full day if all goes to plan. Then we’ll begin converting the bus into the greatest school bus conversion tiny home that the world has ever known.
First off, we need to get some rest. Speak to you soon. Thank you for reading.