by Steven Henriksen

Lindsey and I are native to the Pacific Northwest, but after a job opportunity came up we decided that we would give living in Florida a shot. It seemed like a great reason to check out the other corner of the country, and we told ourselves that we could always move on whenever we wanted to.

While there are some interesting things about living in the south, it definitely wasn’t home. We longed for our rainy mountains and the food and beer culture that surrounded us when we lived in Portland. Being away from our families and friends was also tough, so we decided that once the lease on our house was up it would be time to return home. When we moved to Florida in early May of 2013 we packed all our things into my Ford truck and set off. We were in a hurry to get there so I could start work, so we didn’t really take any time to explore on our road trip down. This time around we were determined to do it properly. We wanted to spend the summer traveling the US, camping and exploring along the way.

Our next big decision was deciding what vehicle to take. We looked at all kinds of trucks and vans; including nice newer diesels and old beat up VW’s. We just couldn’t settle on anything that was in our price range that would fit our household items, and would allow us to live inside. It was late one night while we were planning the trip that the bus idea came up. Several months previously we had seen some really nice bus conversions online, and thought that it would be a really fun project, but never gave it much serious thought. Now we had a reason to get serious about it.

When we decided that we were going to buy a bus, we had a lot of questions. First off was the size. How do you get around in a giant bus? How do we title and insure it? We started reading about buses online and learned quite a bit, but we needed to go look at some in person. It had been years since either of us had set foot in a school bus, and we didn’t know what to expect. We found a dealer in Tampa who carried quite a few retired school buses and went to check them out. After spending a few hours in the lot we found what we thought was the ideal setup. It was a mid 90’s Blue Bird, with a standard truck hood and Navistar 7.3 diesel. This bus was known as a half size, about 28ft long, and it had a wheelchair lift in the back. We thought the large handicap door would prove useful for getting larger items in and out, and the length seemed just right. I even felt comfortable behind the wheel, as it was so similar to other large trucks I have driven. We negotiated the asking price down to $4200 and promised to return the next weekend with cash in hand.

Unfortunately, we were too slow. The bus we had picked out was sold before we could come back with the money. We were sad, but the hunt continued. Our time was running out, the lease on our house was up at the end of May and we needed to be out. I scoured Craigslist and EBay every evening after work, bidding on a few buses only to be outbid at the last minute. Then one night after I should have been in bed I found our bus. It was listed on the South Georgia craigslist, hidden deep in the lists without a proper title. I was dubious but I clicked on the link. I was greeted with the glorious sight of a classic Blue Bird; it’s quad headlights winking at me. I studied the grainy photos in the ad, and fired off an email to the seller. I crossed my fingers, and the next morning I found a reply email waiting. The seller was the football coach at the small private school in Damascus, GA, and while being an incredibly nice guy could hardly tell me anything about the bus. I arranged a meeting for the weekend, and Saturday morning Lindsey and I took off on the 6-hour drive north. We met with the coach and had a look around the bus. We were immediately surprised by the size; it looked smaller in the ad! We measured and found it was indeed a full size 40 foot bus, much more than we had anticipated using. But as we explored further we realized the white factory paint was in pretty good condition still, the interior paint was excellent, and it had the large sliding windows, that seal and latch so much better than regular school bus windows. I also discovered it had a really nice 4 cylinder Yanmar diesel factory mounted midship to run the AC system. We took it out on the little country road for a test drive, it was my first time driving a forward control vehicle like this, and it took a little leap of faith to pull out on the road. The bus was surprisingly easy to drive, and felt good going down the road.

After pulling back in to the school we summoned up the courage and agreed to buy it. The school didn’t know much about it and didn’t really know what to ask, so we tossed a few offers back and forth and finally agreed on $2,000. That’s right, we only paid $2,000 for this giant bus, which was running and driving pretty well. Lindsey and I quickly unloaded some supplies we had brought, checked the oil in the engine and transmission and topped up as necessary, cleaned the mildew off the drivers seat and steering wheel, cleaned all the mirrors and windshield, and chased away some spiders and wasps that were hanging around. We set off on our adventure home, a 6+ hour drive back to Mount Dora. Along the way I got to figure out what all the buttons and knobs did, how to open the air powered door, and of course, how the air horn sounded. It was an uneventful drive back down south with Lindsey leading the way in our Jetta. I am so happy that we found our bus, it is perfect for us. Sometimes it would be nice to have a shorter vehicle but having all the space we do can’t be beat. It is an All American body, but it has factory white paint, and doesn’t have any school bus lights on it. That combined with the interesting seating layout and large sliding windows leads me to believe this was some sort of charter bus when it was new. It makes the perfect base for a bus conversion; we absolutely love all the windows and have no plans to remove any of them.
At the time, I was working for a company that ran a couple of farms in the area (the reason we moved to FL) and my boss kindly agreed to let us park the bus on one of the properties. That is where we dropped it after bringing it down from Georgia, fortunately it was only a 5 minute drive from our house, so it was quick to get back and forth while working on it.  There it sat for the next 7 weeks while we worked on stripping the old interior and building it back up. I was fortunate enough to have an understanding boss who let us do the conversion on the property, which really solved a lot of problems for us as our house had a little driveway on a tiny residential street.

People often ask us how we can afford to travel for so long without working, and our simple answer is it is about saving money and living debt free. After we decided to take the summer off and road trip around the country we really started putting away savings. That combined with living cheaply, as well as selling off all our cars and large household items built us a modest savings account that we could live on for a few months. We budgeted carefully; our biggest expense is fuel of course. Food and drink is also a big part of the budget, since that is one of the things that make us happy. It might sound daunting, but anyone can do it with a little motivation!

Lindsey and I have some big plans for this old bus when we reach Oregon. After traveling and living in it for most of the summer, we have really grown attached. We are so proud of this old vehicle that has hauled us up and down the United States, it would be impossible for us to part with her now. As we drive we brainstorm on ways to improve upon the interior, adding a shower, building a much larger solar array. We want to add a wood burning stove for heat in the winter, and a bigger refrigerator. When we finally land back in Oregon we will begin the hunt for the perfect piece of property to park it on, turning it into our semi-permanent tiny home. Until now we are enjoying a life on the road, something everyone should experience at least once in his or her lives.

If you would like to learn more about Lindsey and Steven’s bus and follow their journey, you can follow them at theneworegontrail.com

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  1. Steve Bryant

    Nice conversion! Where are y’all ending up? We’re in Bend, and it is pretty awesome, but we’re looking for land as well.