Tiny School Bus Home

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About: Retired Tool Maker ( 1980 ) Retired Mechanical Engineer ( 2009 ) Full time Tinkerer

Intro: Tiny School Bus Home

So the year is 1979 and my friends all live in old school buses. I was tired of living in the City and paying rent so I decided to build my own Tiny School Bus Home. About the same time I found a book: "Rolling Homes" by Jane Lidz that lifted bus living to an art form. I also found "Mansions on Rails" by Lucius Beebe inspiring. Since the floor area was only 200 square feet I decided that better materials wouldn't cost much more.

Step 1: Getting Started

The very first step was to buy an old school bus, which I did at a clearance auction. Next I removed all the seats, extra heater and the Stop Sign! The exterior "Stop" lights were painted over too. With the seats out I screwed down a 1/2" sub floor of plywood. Around the front and at the back door I put an Oak trim board to finish the edge of the hardwood floor. So it wouldn't show if the floor wasn't straight I put the wood strips in on a herring bone pattern. It was a bunch of work, but it looked nice.

Step 2: Kitchen Cabinets

To keep the weight down and have maximum storage space I built my own cabinets. Using left over oak floor boards and 6mm oak plywood I made panels for the sides and fronts of the cabinets. Friends gave me a great stove with an eye level oven. It had two burners exposed and you could pull the stove top out to have four burners. I put a LP tank under the floor for the stove and water heater. The drawers were wood front and back with the sides and bottom of sheet metal. To cut the cabinets to fit the curve of the bus interior I cut a template from cardboard. For water lines I used poly butylene since it was flexible enough to resist freezing. ( now they call it PEX ) A trailer supply house supplied a gray water holding tank that I plumbed with the water hoses from the bus heater. I used a breaker box with two breakers for electricity. All the wires were run through the walls and outlets mounted in the panels under the windows. I used stranded wire since it would be in a moving vehicle.

Step 3: Sofa / Bed

The left side had a sofa / bed over the wheel well. The top deck of the sofa would pull out into the isle to form a double bed when the seat cushions were unfolded. My sleeping bag would roll up to form the sofa's back rest. Night stand chest of drawers at the left end and a clothes closet at the right end. The closet had four drawers for socks and underwear. Extra linens and blankets would store under the bed. I used plastic packing straps with a snap at both ends for curtain rods. They snapped into fitting above the windows.

Step 4: Sky Light Over the Bed

This was the view looking up from bed. The sky light was a side window meant for a van. It was a nice view, but it always leaked. I made covers for it, one to reflect sun light away and the other to insulate in Winter.

Step 5: Picture Window

To open up the table area I put in a casement window. The corners are real stained glass made by a friend. The rest of the panels were Plexiglas. The first photo is of the neighbors who helped the day we cut the wall out. Hottest day in 1980 and the backs of my legs were sunburned to a crisp!

Step 6: Finished Picture Window

The window was very nice and with screens let a lot of fresh air in. I put screens over all the windows to keep the Folly Beach mosquitoes out. Below the window you can see a door to one of the four compartments I built under the floor. Great for extra storage.

Step 7: Wood Stove for Heat

I moved in after 6 months of building, but I really thought it was finished when I put in a wood stove. I used refrigerator doors to protect the walls from heat. ( like a steel wall would catch on fire?? ) The legs were set on porcelain cups and are bolted to the floor. The wood floor did need protection from the stove. I used a triple wall chimney through the roof. Lots of caulk on all the roof openings. The bread box under the stove is for ashes. Loading fire wood in the back door was handy. Tea kettle kept the air moist in the winter time.

Step 8: Shower and Toilet

At the front door I had all the toilet facilities. Just behind the side door was a waterless composting toilet. The step area could be enclosed for a shower. There was a sink on the side of the toilet compartment. Above the toilet was a cabinet for the stereo. I used four car door speakers in the ceiling for sound.

Step 9: Driver's Seat / Towel Bar

A friend gave me the back seat from his jeep for a driver's seat. When parked the seat could be swiveled to face the right side and made a nice sofa. The driver's visor made a nice towel bar for the shower. More small cabinets over this area for toilet paper and band aids.

Step 10: Work Shop Area

The front area was the work shop. On the right side there was a solid work bench with a vise and drill press. Various tools were stored under the bench. On the left side I bolted my roll a round tool cabinet to the wall and used turnbuckles to hold the tool boxes on top. Next to the tool cabinet was room for my 10" table saw. One drawer in the tool cabinet had a miniature Unimat metal lathe / milling machine. And you just have to have some cute kitten photos. The kitten on the ladder is near the hatch to the roof deck where I pitched a tent in the Summer. It was cooler, but the mosquitoes would bite you through the nylon tent wall!

Step 11: Near the End

I lived in the bus full time for five years. At first campgrounds were inexpensive by the month. Then I spent two years out in the woods in Missouri, the winters were cold and I burned a load of wood to keep warm. The last year I stayed at a KOA near work, and it cost almost as much as a crummy apartment. I did learn keep track of things and always put stuff back when finished to keep the rest of the bus clear for moving around. When I did drive it to a new spot it cost about $100 a day, so not a cheap vacation vehicle. After leaving KOA the Bus lived in the back yard as a guest house. When I moved to a larger house it was just a storage area. Then the snakes and rats moved in so it was time to say Good Bye. I paid more to have it towed to Don's Auto Crushing than I paid for the Bus at the auction. At least Don gave a good metal scrap rate!

If I built today I would try to put in a mini-split air conditioner.

I hoped you enjoyed the story of the Bus and the ideas may help you decide how to build your own tiny house.

Write if you have any questions.

Best wishes, Carl.

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    15 Discussions

    Hello Asher:

    Yes, I actually lived in the Bus from April 1980 to January 1985 straight with only time off for weekend visits. Weather conditions from below 0°F to over 100°F. The photos of a nice clean bus were from the 1980's and the dirty, dingy photos were from last year.

    It was an experence I will never forget.

    Thanks, Carl.

    Hello Asher:

    Heating and cooling were the biggest chalenges. When it got hot the bus was just hot, and held the heat into the evening. When the weather turned cold, the bus was basicly a heat sink even with the insulation I added. Sleeping next to the refridgerator was a bit noisy, not a big problem, but not the nicest.

    Carl.

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    SusanYoung1982

    5 weeks ago on Step 11

    Carl, I just love all the 70's pictures and the fact that you lived in the bus for 5 years. I guess the tiny house movement has been around much longer than I thought. This is a wonderful story, and your skills were amazing. Thanks for sharing!

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    Gadisha

    7 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing, I'd love to live there, as a kid/teenager I dreamed of converting an old train unit into a home, I still think that it would be perfect... but a bus like this one would be great to :)

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    carl5blumGadisha

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    Hello Gadisha: My runner up idea was a house boat / bardge. I thought I could park my VW Bug on the back to run a paddle wheel. Then I realized I could only tour rivers and would need to stay at marinas. Beebe and Clegg wrote about their private railroad car, The Virginia City". It cost them $240 a day to travel on the railroads, back in 1959! Best wishes, Carl.

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    sylviahamilton

    7 weeks ago

    Thank you for taking the time to write this up (bet that was fun for you :0) Beautiful story, makes me wish I had my life to do over! Love your creativity and your scrounging abilities. Looks like both those abilities came together perfectly.

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    MooseForest

    7 weeks ago

    This is really cool! Nice idea and I love the little touch of the stained glass window! Thank you for sharing

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    Elvisisnotabeachboy

    7 weeks ago

    Some nice ideas you had. Not perfect but it's sharing like this that helps make better versions for the future. Tent camping used to be cheap too but now it's almost as much as a cheap hotel room.

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    the_tool_man

    8 weeks ago

    I've always wondered about converting a school bus to an RV. Love your story. Sorry to see how it ended. But many things in life end up that way once they've lived an interesting life. One minor note, polybutylene (PB) is NOT the same as PEX. PEX is cross-linked, and won't suffer degradation from chlorine like PB did.

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    carl5blumthe_tool_man

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Hi Tool Man:

    Back in 1979 PEX wasn't available, only metal and PVC. Polybutylene from Qest was the new kid on the block. I had two fitting failures, both my fault. I put fittings directly into the water heater tank, just where the instructions said not to.

    Thanks, Carl.

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    SpiderMax95

    8 weeks ago

    Cool story, but sad to see the bus in such a run down state...

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    carl5blumSpiderMax95

    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Hello SpiderMax:

    When I lived in the Bus it was always clean and had fresh paint on the outside. Over 30 years in the yard with little maintenance took its toll. There is still an empty spot in the back yard and my heart where it last rested.

    Thanks, Carl.

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    Kink Jarfold

    8 weeks ago on Step 11

    Hi, Carl, I think I remember the 70s. This was a very nostalgic trip down memory lane for you, I bet. You stuck it out for a number of years, though. Thanks for taking us on this wonderful journey.

    KJ

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