So you have spent years, weeks, or maybe even just a few days looking at all the Skoolie conversions on Pinterest, on YouTube, and of course Facebook! You’re ready right! Sounds easy, rip out the seats, fancy floor, paint the ceiling, and add some cool ass custom furniture; piece of cake.
Photo credit: Michel Curi via Visual hunt / CC BY
Slow down Sunshine. There are a couple of things you should be ready for before you buy the school bus of your dreams. Let’s be clear, I am in no way trying to talk anyone out of it. But it’s a LONG-TERM project. It’s best to go into it as mentally prepared as possible.
If you are a carpenter, painter, plumber, electrician, mechanic, interior designer, AND an auto body professional all rolled into one, you can stop reading. If not I’ve got some advice that will hopefully save you some time, effort and best of all, money!
When I thought about starting a blog it was going to be about how to convert a school bus into a Skoolie, but here I am writing a blog post on what not to do. To say we made a few mistakes is an understatement, but hopefully I’ll save you a few.
Be Ready for the Unexpected.
We took our skoolie to the welders one fine afternoon. The door in the front of the bus wouldn’t stay closed while we were driving. We pulled over three times to try to get it closed. We also noticed the back wheel-well was sitting really low, close to the tires. Two not very big issues, but something to worry about later.
When we got to the welders we found out there was a small leek in a line under the bus. Which line? How would we know! It turned out it was the brake line, SCARY. Who knew our brakes, air lock door and suspension all run on the same pressure system. Our welding now took a backseat to fixing the brakes. Which brings me to my next point.
Prepare to be Learning Constantly.
That day, Ryan learned how to repair a brake line. We were both a bit nervous about doing it ourselves. But we had two choices. Have it towed, or fix it ourselves. If he loused it up, we were right back to having it towed. But maybe, just maybe he could do it. Well, he did!
Get ready you’re gonna have to school, Google, and Youtube yourself nuts. Can’t get that bolt out, YouTube. Need to build an electrical system, blogs. Need design ideas, Pinterest!
We got lucky early on and found a Skoolie Converter page on Facebook. The admin guy takes it real serious, so don’t piss him off, but it’s a resource we have gone back to time and time again.
To be learning constantly you need to…
Research To Death
No seriously. Research everything, even if you know it all. I guarantee, someone knows more. At the very least you will see a different perspective than your own.
When you get to that breaking point, the one when you have run completely out of ideas, open your browser.
There was a point when Ryan and I couldn’t get some tracks out of the floor. They ran the length of the bus. We posted the problem on the Skoolie Facebook Page mentioned earlier. We got 25 responses in a matter of an hour.
Also worth noting; look up tasks you think you can accomplish no problem. We spent hours breaking down pallets using a Sawzall (saws-all). It worked fine, took time and muscle, but we broke them down.
Eight months later we watched The Pallet Pal, break down a pallet in seconds. I was almost mad watching him breeze thru pallets to the hallelujah song. Ok fine, I was super pissed or maybe jealous that I hadn’t thought of this or seen this video sooner. But, I’ll save you my hurt, watch The Pallet Pal.
Breaking down pallets took us hours instead of minutes. That’s important to keep in mind.
Be Flexible with Your Timetables
It took me a day and a half to clean the metal frames of the windows. A day and a half to clean windows! Can you even comprehend that? Painting the bus will take the better part of a week, we estimated 2-3 days. The floors could have been installed in one day but we hit a design snag that pushed it back a week!
Notice in the clip that the green dresser disappears along with a change in outfits. We ended up scrapping that dresser and buying new. Look for upcoming post about laying the skoolie floors for the full story.
I was just recently finishing the panel walls when I realized I couldn’t finish the side panel walls until I finished the divider walls for the bed room, which lead to painting the divider walls and the ceiling, then cleaning those damned windows!
My point is that unless you have been converting busses into Skoolies for years then you are going to underestimate the time that it takes to do each project. Plan on it. If you have been converting busses into Skoolies for years then why are you reading my blog!
Each of those situations above recently happened, and there have been months worth of those situations happening before that. To get through it all we exercised a lot of…
This one was tough at first. We had that fire under our butts and those boondocking dreams in our heads. In time, both of us had learned the lessons above and learned to just roll with the punches.
Photo credit: Robb North via VisualHunt / CC BY
When doing this with another person patience is especially important. Each person will have their own expectations and their own let downs. It becomes really important for each of you to be able to talk the other person down when they get to a breaking point.
Speaking of that other person, they will also have a different vision than you. Even if you seem to be on the same page, things will come up. Design differences, construction methods, color variations, the list will go on.
Compromise with your partner. They like light colored woods, you like dark. They want a rooftop deck, you’re afraid of heights. Give when you can give and hopefully they are just as kind. I got lucky, Ryan lets me have my way a lot more than I even realize. I’ll admit that I am a type “A” personality and that can get annoying. He goes with the flow but when he tells me he wants something specific, I listen because I know he really wants it.
That’s how I got a pair of these on the front of our bus.
Compromise with Yourself! Things add up quick. You may want that washer/dryer combo machine, but maybe you can’t afford it or maybe you can’t afford the space. Maybe you can’t afford the electric draw. There are lots of things to consider. Weight, size, energy, storage, and thats before you get into design!
This is not like building a house in a new cookie cutter community. You don’t get a book of choices; this brick or that brick, this countertop or that countertop. It is not prefab, that’s not who you are. This is all custom baby, no ones Skoolie will be like YOUR Skoolie.
Having a hard-nosed plan can be deadly. It’s like being on a boat, stiff as a board. When the swells come you will jerk with tension and fall over. But if you are loose, you’ll sway with the boat and enjoy the ride.
My last piece of advice is a hard one for me, and for a lot of people.
Ask for Help
There are several different times when asking for help is important. I have already mentioned that almost every thing you are about to do, someone has already done. Looking on line for answers is colossally different than asking for answers.
Lowe’s Home Improvement & Home Depot are the two main stores we use for supplies. We have had some rough experiences asking the staff there for ideas with whatever we were working on.
There was a flooring question that left a guy at Home Depot stumped for close to five minutes. Which left me standing there looking at him, trying not to be rude by just walking away.
We asked a plumbing helper for a copper tubing. When he asked and we explained what it was for, he damn near called us idiots for trying such a dumb idea…he also happened to be right that time.
But then just two days ago we had a question about flexible trim (for the curved ceiling) and we were actively looking for the tall, older guy with the grey beard. He had helped us a few times before and was someone that we knew and trusted.
As a bartender, I have gained experience from so many different types of people just by striking up a conversation with them. This may surprise you, but I don’t like to talk to people all the time! But alas, there is no better way to gain a different perspective, and it is particularly helpful when you are stuck on a problem when building your Skoolie.
The point is “Closed mouths never get fed.” If we hadn’t told the guy at the auto store that we needed duck tape to patch a hole in the brake line, we would have no idea that was a terrible idea. Secondly, we would never have been told how to fix the brake line.
Ask your friends, ask your groups, ask your sales people, ask anyone you come into contact with. Everyone has a back story, that annoying guy in your office may have a background in solar energy.
Scared yet? Don’t be. Converting our Skoolie has been one of the most rewarding achievements of my life and I have had a few good ones. Creating the home of your dreams and seeing all the pieces come together is truly gratifying. We haven’t even hit the road yet.
Now you know how tough it can be. Do it. Find your bus, build your home, and live your dreams! Go!