North Jackson, OH 44451
2001 Thomas School Bus
Cummins 5.9L Diesel Engine
Registered as in Ohio as an RV
We also have the components for a 1350 Watt Solar panel system for an additional $1500.
After a year of time, sweat, and pride, we’ve decided to sell the Blunderbus. We love her dearly, but it has become clear that when we go camping, we need another vehicle. There are now 9 of us, and renting a vehicle that can transport us when we arrive at a destination costs nearly as much as a hotel.
We had initially planned on using the bus as a Big Metal Tent when visiting the orchard, but it has become so much more. Even so, our losses in the orchard have made spending the night and working all weekend superfluous, so it’s time to let the bus go. We will miss her!
- The interior space is amazing and is one of a kind.
- The dinettes have seat belts for 11 passengers.
- The kitchen cabinets are far nicer than I’ve seen in any RV.
- Skoolies are made from steel, not wood and fiberglass.
- The vehicle has 120,000 miles on a solid cummins 5.9L diesel engine.
- The payload is amazing! While a typical RV has a payload of about a ton, this vehicle is radically more substantial.
- Sleeping for 6, or more if you are creative. There are provisions to turn each dinette into a short bunk as well.
The Not so Good:
- The air chambers/tanks are rusty and should probably be replaced. They work just fine right now.
- There is sheetmetal damage to the door of the storage bay and the body just behind. It is visible in the beginning of the walkthrough. Meyers Equipment has replacement doors available.
- The floor of the storage bay is pretty rusted and would need body work before it would be useable.
- There is rust on the frame and the body, so the blunderbus isn’t going to be winning any beauty contests, though she should have many years left in her.
- There are no water systems and only a porta-pottie (never used) as shown in the walkthrough. We use 5 gallon water-cooler jugs for drinking & dishes. We use campground facilities for rest rooms.
We went back and forth trying to plan a simple, rigid bed that maximized useful space below. We came to a simple and elegant solution.
We mounted a piece of angle iron to each wall of the bus with a screw in each of the steel studs.
This provided a stable shelf to support our bed frame.
Once we had a stable base, we framed the bed platform with 2x4s and quality plywood. This is subtly different from framing a wall of a house. In a house, you have a sill and a plate that run the full width of the wall. On the bus, the “studs” are full length so that the end of each is supported directly on the angle iron. We made two pieces rather than one as the platform is king-sized and therefore larger than a sheet of plywood. This makes the whole platform removable if we need access to this giant area.
Two screws into each platform through the bottom of of the angle iron are sufficient to secure the bed.
Notice that the top of the platform is aligned to the bottom of the window. This is maximizes the verticle space above the bed and gives a huge clear space below as a play area or extra storage. We could even roll out a few extra sleeping bags if we needed the bus to sleep even more people!
Jacob has been been a hobbyist woodworker for years, so custom dinette tables seemed like the obvious choice. He fired up Sketchup and got to work.
There are several key measurements to keep in mind. The height above the floor needs to be high enough to be comfortable but not interfere with the windows. The height above the seat needs to allow comfortable seating. The distance of the legs needs to be far enough from the wall of the bus to not interfere with the wheel-well. The length of the table needs to be long enough to be useful but short enough to allow someone to walk through the aisle without interference.
Three or four models later, we took a break and measured our folding table… the fit was perfect! So it was time to keep it simple.
We purchased a new table and disassembled it in ten minutes. Each half of the table hinged on a steel tube running through the center. We left it attached to one half, and used an oak dowel on the other so that each could still fold individually.
To mount the tables, we used heavy-duty broom clips that are usually mounted to garage walls. They clip to the hinge tube on one table and the oak dowel on the other to hold them at the correct height. It’s not perfect, as heavy pressure near the wall will push the table down a few millimeters, but it is good enough. We may eventually use shims to limit the downward movement.
Now our tables can snap in and out of place in seconds, and they can be folded and put away when not needed.
When you have eight people in a tiny space, an open feeling becomes critical. With this in mind, we have left all the windows, kept the paint light, and intentionally avoided overhead storage.
There are five cabinets in our mobile kitchen. We emphasized drawers wherever possible as this accounts for most of the storage available in the bus. We left 25 inches at the end of one bay to allow for a refrigerator. For now, a mini-fridge is adequate but if we start using the bus for longer periods of time, we can replace it with a taller apartment model with much greater capacity.
Look at all that floorspace! That aisle is a decadent 42 inches wide!
The cabinets are screwed together to make one unit, and then the back of each cabinet is screwed into the steel ribs that run up between each window. The big self-tapping screws were supposed to be able to power through the steel ribs, but we found pre-drilling to be a must.
Interfacing with the windows was a real challenge, but after measuring three or four times, we realized that removing the toe kick from the cabinets (a quick but nerve-wracking job with a circular saw) dropped the height to just where we wanted it. Then we ordered the countertop without a backsplash and everything fit perfectly!
Believe it or not, this kitchen has more linear feet of counter-space than the one in our home.
One thing it does not have, is a sink. We have a sink base cabinet in place, but we are going to try and camp in it a few times to see if the sink is truly necessary. Water systems are complicated and the fewer systems we add to Blunderbus, the less there is to go wrong.
Now that the bunk beds were in, it was time to make them pretty. We decided to go with amber shellac as we always loved the warmth and sheen it leaves. We just keep forgetting what a pain it is to apply…
The boss is getting down to business. If you want it done right, you better shellac it yourself.
It was a rather simple task, but it made a huge difference.
Our biggest shellacking helper.
Next up, let’s build a kitchen!
The bunk beds proved to be the most difficult, and most often redesigned part of our conversion. Luckily we had plenty of help.
The initial plan was a solid headboard and footboard scribed to the wall and the ceiling. We spent at least six hours, two calendar weeks, and countless pieces of cardboard before we managed to get a decent template for the first headboard. Then we slid the prototype down to the footboard location. Time to go back to the drawing board! Neither wall is straight, and each of the four boards would need to be significantly different in order to fit their location. In the end, we decided to make avoiding the wall and the ceiling a design feature in an attempt to save my remaining sanity.
Once we had a plan, I was able to build the beds at home during the week. When we where happy, we had a very nice kit ready to take back to the farm and assemble.
We used aluminum c-channel screwed to the floor to layout the anchor the bunks. The rail for the top bunk is screwed securely to the steel ribs between the windows. There were a few custom curves where the wire chase runs near the top of the bunk, but these could be trimmed a little at a time with a jigsaw. Need a little off? Take a little off and see how it fits.
Notice how none of the boards actually follow the profile of the bus? No? Neither does anybody else!
Many a motor home is equipped tiny dinette barely seating four, but that isn’t going to work with 6 kids! The plywood boxes screwed to the floor don’t make us overflow in confidence either.
If only we had some nice steel benches that we could bolt to the frame of the bus and maybe even attach seat belts, that would be great!
We lucked out as the benches that came with our bus were seat belt ready. We just needed to bolt them on.
We eventually found that removing the sheetmetal strip and routing the underneath the rear bar allows the belts to come out at a better angle. I’ll have to find a pic of the improved mounting.
We have three benches with three seat belts and one smaller bench with two which gives us a total seating capacity of twelve including the driver. Bear in mind, that is twelve if they have very small butts. Double dinettes also allows a more reasonable eating arrangement.
The first living area of the bus is starting to come together.
Next step, bunkbeds!
It was an incredible rush to finish the Blunderbus in time for an epic family road trip to Colorado for a graduation. We focused more on getting things done than on writing about what we were doing. Unfortunately, new mechanical problems cropped up 2 miles down the road and we had to turn around. It was actually a blessing in disguise as we had a great trip in spite of leaving the bus behind.
I do have a lot of rage towards the mechanic who performed our pre-purchase inspection…
The end result is that we now have a poorly-documented, uninsured, mechanically-unsound skoolie. Luckily, the first problem is one we can fix so expect more posts on the conversion process!
The farm has us equally demoralized, as our tree losses are much higher than we expected. The farm has been thoroughly relegated to the status of “hobby” and we’ve given up the idea of making a profit for the time being. This takes a little pressure off and lets us focus on having some fun again. We are also doing several experiments at home in our tiny back yard so there are more posts to come.
In the meantime, perhaps I can appease my dear readers with gratuitous cuteness?
I just realized I skipped a post so let’s look at ripping out that rubber flooring.
A spud-bar, several crow-bars, and a prodigious amount of scraping resulted in a nice clean subfloor with no nasty smell. We tried using a heat gun, but it is a long distance from the house and there wasn’t enough juice at the end of that cord. Elbow grease it is!
We went down the aisle and used spray foam insulation to seal the bolt holes from the seats. After that, we chucked a wire wheel into a drill and stripped any interior rust spots. A spot coat of black rust-converting spray paint should help keep the metal in good shape. After that, we followed with a nice flat grey paint that nearly perfectly matches the existing color. That’s weird, I always thought the inside was blue!
This is a family project, and we start ’em young!
The subfloor of the bus is uneven steel topped with a layer of 3/4 inch plywood. The rubber floor is glued on top of that which gives you that lovely school bus smell…
After a few hours with a spud bar, we had the rubber ripped out. The Plywood flooring was in decent shape so we decided to keep it. What should we put down on top of it?
Flooring is a tricky business. The chosen material must be able to handle freezing regularly without developing cold cracks. Water infiltration is bound to happen eventually, so there should be some water resistance. We need it to look nice and clean easily too. Once you have that figured out, you have to contend with the bus bouncing across the country…
We spent many moons debating tile, linoleum, laminate, or hardwood. In the end, we went with something completely different. The 90 inch width of the bus just happens to match the width of a typical garage bay. We found PVC sheeting material intended for garage flooring which exactly matches. We just need to roll out the sheets.
We rolled out the sheets and let it warm up so that most of the wrinkles relax out.
I’m very excited about this material, but it isn’t perfect. It still expands and contracts with temperature risking cracks, it is very difficult to move as one piece, it is only sold as full sheets so you’ll end up purchasing extra material, and it seems to stretch ever so slightly out of square. We hope to avoid cracking by puncturing the flooring in as few places as possible, but these issues mean that we’ll probably never get it completely flat.
Even so, I think it is awfully pretty.