When Wendy and I married, our family vehicle was a 1980 Chevette. It didn’t take long to grow into the 4-door sedan, then to a Toyota minivan, then to a 9-seat Suburban, and now to a 15-passenger van. Our vehicles have grown as our family has grown, but in 2004 we made the ultimate plunge: we bought a bus.
Before you think, “Great for you but not for me,” enjoy this article first. There are many great reasons we chose to invest in a bus, and it probably would have made little difference if we were a large or small family. In fact, the crazy idea of owning a school bus came from a bigger family than ours.
Four parents and 26 children
Wendy and I have 13 children, 11 of whom are still at home. Most see us as a huge family, but not to our Minnesotan friends the Heppners. They have 16 children. They brought 11 of them with when they visited in 2003and they traveled in their school bus.
DuWayne and Miriam insisted they put me behind the wheel. We took quite the trip to the local ice cream parlorme in the front with 20+ kids in the back! Needless to say, I was impressed by how easy the bus handled and how situated the kids were during travel.
The Heppner bus was not the typical school bus; in fact, this was a licensed RV. Those in the bus conversion community term school bus conversions as “schoolies.”
At the time of writing this article, Wendy and I are enjoying 11 children at home. The school bus we own is not your regular sardine-rows of green seats. Rather, our bus is a schoolie, a registered RV ready to travel.
Good Reasons for a Schoolie
After that first test drive of the Heppners’ bus, we began shopping for our own. We visited many bus sites and a local school bus liquidation lot. After thinking I would be spending approximately $10k for a mediocre school bus, the Lord brought us to a used bus for sale at a charter school. This school saw leasing from the public school district as more affordable than maintaining their own bus, so they were practically begging someone to take it. We quickly became the proud owners of a 1984 GMC 66-passenger with only 40,000 miles on it for $1200. With typical RV prices well over $50k, price is one good reason to go the bus route!
The bus came with all the ugly green seats you likely remember from your public school horror days. We spent an entire weekend unbolting seats and scrubbing the monster down. The kids had a blast finding loose change and other treasures. As a family we researched bus conversion Web sites and ordered many books on the subject. You may be surprised to know that there is a magazine called Bus Conversions Magazine with a circulation of over 4,000! Of course, we are one of the proud subscribers who look forward to every issue.
On graph paper with a #2 pencil, we drafted at least a dozen sample floor plans. Unless you have the thousands of dollars to custom build your own RV, you won’t have the flexibility we had with our schoolie. The sky was the limit! Did we want running water? Yes, but did we need a toilet? After some thought, we settled on a porta-potty. We wanted electricity, so a marine battery would be needed, and a converter at that. Consideration was given to kitchen sink, counter, stove and cupboards. Dinettes should we have them side-by-side or back-to-back? Bunks would have to be made for our family, but storage space was needed too. The couch was a hide-a-bed, but where should we put that?
This second reasonflexibilitywas a lot of fun as a family. Our Web site has the original floor plan, but it changed quite a bit as we built into the bus. The bus conversion community is an incredible group of creative people who make their dream mobile homes from gutted-out busses. Many of them are retired contractors or engineers who put their lifetime trade to work on their bus conversion. I have met missionary families who saw the bus conversion as a means for bringing resources to Mexico and Central America. I have met families from home school conventions who travel the country in their converted bus doing ministry or running a business. Some are families like mine simply looking for a recreational vehicle to bring to haul a bunch of kids around. When you purchase your school busraw and ready to convertyou have all the flexibility in the world to make it into the vehicle you want.
The thought of having 11 children running around a moving bus with no seatbelts scares most people. My research, however, has given me the utmost confidence that my bus is the safest vehicle on the roadsafer than my kids strapped in my 15-passenger van and definitely safer than most RVs. Consider this: my schoolie weighs nearly 20,000 pounds. In order for me to feel an impact, I would have to hit another bus! Because most drivers get out of the way of a humongous school bus and because the weight of my bus would win in an accident, I have few worries of collisions. However, the safety hazard for rolling a bus is very real. Just as seatbelts are a necessity in a small automobile, so is bolting all furniture to the floor a necessity for a school bus. Even our couch is bolted through the floor to secure it.
There is one more good reason for our schoolie: fun. It has been an incredible adventure developing our own bus. The kids have helped every step of the way, from cleaning to modeling to painting. Packing up and heading to the mountains has never been more enjoyable than with our bus. The kids play games at the dinettes and Mom takes care of the little ones on the couch. We have been to Minnesota for a family reunion and Missouri for a wedding, and we made sure we made tourist stops along the way. Every so often we venture to church with the bus and our kids are the envy of the rest of the churcheveryone wishes they owned a bus, too!
Have I persuaded you? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, here are some considerations in developing your own schoolie.
- Spend the time and money in research. The books I purchased were over $200, not cheap but worth every penny. I encourage everyone to spend a lot of time searching Web sites, reading books, and rolling around in the idea of owning before purchasing.
- You have to be a handyman. If cordless drills and contractors caulk intimidate you, a bus conversion likely isn’t for you. There are some outfits that will convert a bus for you for a price, but don’t expect your local general contractor to take on the liability. There are no building codes or permit requirements for bus conversions. You will have to do virtually everything on your own.
- Find requirements for your state. Every state is different in their requirements for RV-bus conversions. Some require painting other than yellow, some don’t. Some require the lights to be removed, some don’t. I think all states require the stop sign to be taken down (bummer I was originally looking forward to controlling traffic). My Web site lists the requirements for Colorado, but you will have to find it out for yourself at your local DMV.
- Be considerate of your neighbors. We live out in the country with great, distant neighbors, but most neighbors would likely frown on a school bus in your driveway. There are creative ways to handle this, like building an overhang for your RV or painting it the same color as your house. You might invest in storing your schoolie at a local RV park through the winter.
- Schoolies may be cheap, but gas isn’t. My GMC schoolie runs on gas, not diesel, and gets a whopping six miles per gallon. This makes for expensive cross-country trips. However, for the one-hour trips to the campsite, this is perfect. Besides, we rely on our 15-passenger van for most of our tripsthe RV being merely recreationalso gas is manageable.
Again, have I persuaded you? Surely I persuaded you that owning a school bus isn’t necessarily a wacky idea. Wendy and I took the kids to an end-of-the-year home school gathering last year. “Why not,” we thought? “Let’s take the bus!” We were quite the conversation piece when we arrived, and we gave tours.
One home school dad shared this with me:
“I am a truck driver for a living. I see families like yours driving down the highway and I usually think, ‘They’re crazy!’ But now that I have actually met one, I think to myself, ‘Who are the crazy ones here? I strap my kids to the seat in the minivan and drive us all crazy on long trips.’ If anything is crazy, that is!”
We laughed at my friend’s humor, but the thought is somewhat revealing. Our schoolie has brought such adventure these last two years, so much so that I can’t imagine traveling long distances without it. Sure, we are somewhat strange taking on the ownership of this massive school bus, but we are convinced that God has brought us joyous adventures that we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
See a step-by-step conversion of the Jeub’s bus at www.jeubfamily.com/bus.
Other bus conversion Web sites:
- RV-Bus Conversions: www.rv-busconversions.com
- Bus Conversions Magazine: www.busconversions.com
- Rocky Mountain Bus Sales: www.rockymtnbus.com
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