Skoolie Part I: We Bought A Bus

Written by Nick

September 27, 2021

Introduction
Hello! I'm Nick, and my girlfriend (Abby) and I are going to attempt to convert this bus into a home.

After months of discussion, research, theorizing, and bus hunting, we really went and did it.

I think we will probably be making an "about us" post or something at some point in the future, but for now that's the end of the intro. Let's talk about this bus.


Us and our bus!


The Bus:
  • Year: 2012
  • Make: International
  • Model: Rear engine
  • Fuel: Diesel
  • Transmission: Allison Automatic
  • Type of brakes: Air brakes
  • Length: 40" (84 passenger)
  • Extras: Under carriage storage

For those curious, we found the bus on govdeals.com, which turns out to be a completely legitimate website (even though it looks like it's from the 90's and might be trying to steal your credit card info!).

In our bus search, we were looking for a relatively newer bus (as far as skoolies go), and we were willing to spend a little more money for the peace of mind that a newer, low mileage bus might offer. The bus needed to be structurally and mechanically sound so that it didn't quickly die on us after we spent our time and money converting it. We wanted to put the mileage, rust, dents, wear, and tear on it ourselves.

We also decided pretty early on that we wanted a full-sized 40" bus, mostly for comfort and quality of life. We knew going in that there can be pretty significant drawbacks to having a super long bus (lots of state and national parks have length restrictions, and in general parking will be more difficult), but we thought the extra square footage outweighed the travel restrictions.

We liked this one in particular because it was low-mileage, single-owner, and the bones of the bus looked really healthy. Public schools also keep a detailed maintenance log, which is really nice to have in your hands.

The bus also came with undercarriage storage which, if that wasn't present, we would've been installing ourselves. So having the storage was one less project we had to worry about.

Overall, we were happy with this soon-to-be purchase, as long as there weren't any surprises when we got there.

I was skeptical going into the actual trading hands of money (as I am with any transactions with strangers), but eventually I was able to get on the phone with a very nice man who was verifiably an employee of a school district in Birmingham, Alabama. We settled on a price, and not too long after that we were buying our plane tickets to go down there and get ourselves a bus.

Travel
One last piece of preparation before we flew down to pickup the bus—insurance. We got insurance through Farm Bureau (which was not cheap) and filled out a "Prospective Purchaser's Trip Permit" from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Finally the day came, and on Sunday, July 18th, we flew to Birmingham, Alabama to buy our bus.



We were met at the airport by the bus-seller himself and he chauffeured us to the bus lot.

He was a true Alabaman. As it was Sunday, we talked about his church, how they had not been gathering during Covid (which was the reason he was free and able to pick us up from the airport and sell the bus to us today!), and he asked us which denomination we were. I didn't know it at the time but Abby told me later that Alabamans are known for asking which Christian denomination people are in the same way that New Yorkers are known for asking what your job, or even your salary, is.

Arriving through the chain-link fence of the bus lot, we weaved through the retired fleet on Alabaman school buses and found our way to our subject. We received a tour of the bus, and we partook in some quick tutorials, including starting the bus, different sensors and alarms, which buttons do what, reviewing air-brake stuff, etc.

Abby and I asked all of the questions we knew to ask, which meant asking about the engine, why he was selling the bus, looking for rust, checking tire condition, looking for mold or mildew, leaks, strange smells, and anything else that caught our eye.

Everything looked good, and after a while, all we had left was to sign the paperwork.

Bus secured.

Getting The Bus Home
Part of the reason we decided to pursue bus life was that I (Nick) actually have my commercial driving license (CDL) from a previous chapter of my life. I drove a whitewater rafting shuttle bus for a few years, so thankfully a lot of the material the bus seller went over was just review. But he did tell us some stories of people showing up to buy buses from him with no driving experience other than a single YouTube video.

Even with my previous experience I was a little nervous driving off of the lot, so I can't imagine what those other people must've felt driving a bus for the first time.



So, it was a Sunday afternoon and we had just bought a bus. Now we had to get it back to Virginia.

Luckily, we planned ahead and decided earlier that week that we didn't want to force ourselves to fly down there and drive the full distance back home in one sitting. So instead, we booked an Airbnb at a spot along the Saluda River in South Carolina (which was at the halfway point between Alabama and Virginia).

So we left the bus lot and headed towards our destination in South Carolina. On our way Abby was doing some research and we realized the Airbnb was actually more akin to camping than anything else and that they actually recommended bringing sleeping bags or your own bedding for the cots. Since we didn't have anything with us, we made our first ever bus stop at a Walmart. We bought a blanket and some snacks before continuing on our way.


Saluda River


Four or five hours later we were nearing our destination. Unfortunately, parking the bus for the night was a little terrifying. By this point the sun had already set, so it was quite dark, and we had to navigate the bus down a very steep, narrow, gravel road and turn around on the bank of a river. I'm sure it was quite a spectacle to behold for anyone not involved. But eventually we did it, the bus was unscathed, and we got to get some good rest before the last leg of our adventure.

One thing to note about the tiny house—one of the walls was transparent. Pretty strange, but there should not have really been any foot traffic anyway.


Tiny house (with a transparant wall??)

Then, the next day when we were getting gas, a grown man drove up next to us and said, "WOAH! You guys drive a bus??????".

His wife was in the passenger seat next to him rolling her eyes at her husband's complete and pure child-like awe. It was sort of like the kid on the tricycle chewing bubble gum from the first Incredicles movie.



The rest of that day and the rest of the journey home was pretty smooth. Besides a few dozen emergency alarms.

The emergency alarm goes off whenever one of the emergency exits is open. Which is fine, but driving along the highway was enough to pop open one of the window exits just enough for the alarm to go off. The first time it happened we actually pulled over on the shoulder of a very busy South Carolina highway to deal with it, worried it might be an engine problem causing the alarm. But by the end of the trip we were expert emergency-exit-alarm-silencers. Well, really Abby is—I was stuck in the driver's seat. Regardless, it's going to be nice when we get to disconnect the emergency alarm during the build.

What's Next?
Thanks for reading our first skoolie post! We'll be writing something soon about our experience removing the seats from the bus, so keep an eye out for that.

Part II of our skoolie build series can be found here.

Abby has been posting on Instagram throughout the process but we have some friends, family, and coworkers who have been asking where to find updates, and not everyone is on social media. So this is sort of going to be the centralized spot where we post skoolie build progress and updates. If you're interested, bookmark this blog and sign up for the newsletter!

(You can also send us a message if you have any questions or just wanna talk!)

- Nick and Abby