I remember when I told my dad I bought a bus to convert into a home. The inflection in his voice turned to one of concern. What was a moment of triumph for me was a moment of heartbreak for him.
He always wanted the best for me and to him the best would be the “American Dream” — a house, kids, white picket fence and a dog in the yard. And don’t get me wrong, all that’s great. It’s just not the life my wife, Jenn, and I want anymore.
When the American Dream was born, houses were $5,000. A trip into the city cost $20, and that got you gas, groceries and a meal for two, or so my grandparents told me on countless occasions. So if you look at our decision to ditch suburban life for “skoolie life” in that light, this type of small living is getting back to that.
I understand that it sounds a little crazy. When Jenn brought up “going tiny” I thought it was crazy, too. I wanted that “normal” dream. But the more life I live the more I realize my wife is right. (There! I said it! In writing!) Going tiny makes sense for us.
The next thing my father asked me was, What’s your goal? And he wanted to know (like many people) why we would willingly stuff a family of four and an orange tabby cat into a 180-foot living space.
That was easy. We wanted a place where we didn’t have to work our lives away just to pay the mortgage, where we could have experiences instead of things. We wanted a place that would allow us to really enjoy life, because we only have this life to live.
Jenn and I both work multiple jobs and pursue certain hobbies that take their own amount of time and focus, such as creating feature-length documentaries.
Stand by for shameless self promotion: ManKIND is a documentary on kindness available on amazon.com.
Right now we rent a poorly maintained apartment in Marietta, Ga. The thought of having a big ol’ house that will tie us to one location, with big ol’ maintenance fees and big ol’ utility bills, seems overwhelming. So, in essence, a bus is our ticket off this ride.
So why not a tiny house?
Jenn and I did a lot of research. We watched tiny house shows, made a list of pros and cons, and came to the conclusion that a skoolie (a school bus converted into a home) rather than a tiny house, RV or camper, made the most sense to us because it was easier to customize and travel with.
We’ve tried our hands at this kind of renovation before. Jenn and I took apart a camper trailer once with the goal of converting it into a home. During the demo we found a lot of holes leading to the outside and noticed it was mostly held together with staples. A school bus, on the other hand, is solid steel held together with rivets and screws.
We began our search for the perfect school bus on Craigslist and Facebook Market Place and found several prospects. One bus came with a rooftop AC unit that needed to be installed. That one seemed too rough.
We visited a man who buys and sells old school buses for a living — he had a whole field of them — but none of those felt right.
Then we met an older fellow who had a bus for sale from a local school. He was very friendly, answered all of our questions, and the bus was in great shape. As strange as it may sound, this bus felt like home. So we shook hands, handed over $2,800, and we officially had ourselves a bus.
I know what you’re thinking. Everyone asks it. “So where you gonna park it?”
Yeah, we get that a lot.
Once the bus is converted the answer is easy. There are websites and apps that list places where skoolies are welcome and where we can boondock (places to park in the great outdoors with no hook ups). And if we’re in a pinch we can always rely on the Walmart parking lot because many allow travelers to stay overnight in their lots.
But until the bus is transformed, we needed a place to park it where we could work on it. We looked high and low and finally found a tiny house build site in Cumming, Ga., where we could park the bus. As a bonus, the new location gave us access to tools and tiny house expertise from Dan Louche, the founder of Tiny Home Builders in Northern Georgia.
With a school bus in our possession and a place to build, it was time for the fun stuff. Jenn and I filled our Pinterest boards with inspiration. We were ready to start the renovations, in theory anyway. Since the last thing I built without instructions was a bird house, we had some concerns: What to do about plumbing? Should we wire the bus for electrical or solar panels? Will our marriage survive the renovation? It barely survives building an IKEA bookshelf.
But we have faith things will work out. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. The trick is to try and see them coming. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.
Next time on Redefining the American Dream: What have I gotten myself into? Why has YouTube forsaken me?! Why don’t I have stock in Home Depot? Answers to those questions and more. Same bus time, same bus article.
Steve Dassatti is a husband, father, film school graduate and now bus renovator. Despite his best efforts he has not lost his mind, or an appendage, yet. Follow his journey on Instagram @Thosemodernhippies.