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Thread: Converted School Bus

  1. #1
    Member JimmyShine's Avatar
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    Default Converted School Bus

    Anyone have, or know anyone who has, lived for any extended period of time in a converted bus in AK? I've got my floorplan designed, which will include a woodstove, as well as solar panels & wind generator to recharge a battery bank.

    I was curious if anyone did anything "extra", outside of maybe additional insulation, to make things more comfortable & efficient during their stay there in a bus.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2

    Default Into The Wild

    Chris McCandless in the movie "Into the Wild" lived in an abandoned school bus he found; Thru a winter near Denali Park.
    If a motorhome would work a bus would too. Just don't froget to insulate the bottom of the floor as well.
    Lots of miners use an old school bus as a mining cabin, but summers are a lot milder than winters. Parking in the "RIGHT" location would be a major part of the equation. Where the bus had a wind break and an adequate supply of water ( it'll be hard water in winter) as well as a supply of wood for the heater,on or near a drivable surface.
    The sun doesn't charge solar collectors much in the winter as days are short and the sun is at a low angle, and wind for a windcharger isn't everywhere. So a genset/generator would be required. Fully charged batteries won't freeze, discharged batteries will. Cold batteries will produce less power and charge slower. If you want to keep the batteries at room temp and increase their production by storing them inside the living area, you'll need AGM batteries. They don't gas and release flammable hydrogen fumes. AND an awning would be good for rainy days, you could work outside under it. Just a few considerations.
    " Americans will never need the 2nd Amendment, until the government tries to take it away."

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    Member JimmyShine's Avatar
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    I had ran across some info about McCandless on the internet. If memory serves (which it doesn't always), I believe I watched a couple videos on youtube of guys riding ATVs to the location of his bus. Was it Sean Penn who directed the movie? Looked like it'd be an interesting flick of someone with a free spirit.

    My plans include 3/4" polystyrene under a 3/4" plywood floor covering. I may even remove the inner skin to reinsulate the walls (alot will depend on what bus I end up with). Many of the windows will be removed & filled as well to eliminate heatgain/loss as well as potential leaks (not to mention many will be covered by interior structures). I'm hoping to be able to eliminate the majority of any condensation caused by keeping the interior warm in the winters.

    I'm still in the "design stage" with some of the mechanicals regarding heat & water supply. I'll probably build my own woodstove, and add a heat exchanger for heating water, as well as an oven. The stove will be relatively small (since it'll be heating a small space), as well as airtiight, and set on a large box, which will be for wood storage, and have an outside door to load, and an interior door for access to the stored wood to stoke the stove with. I can always heat water in a large pot over the woodstove or outside fire for washing-up (bus will have a shower stall though). I'll have a large fresh water tank built inside underneath the bunk, and can ventilate it to the bus interior for additional freeze protection. I also have thoughts of decking the roof (for mounting solar panels, wind generator & additional storage) and adding another freshwater tank that can take advantage of solar heating, and tapping it for an outside shower. I understand the roof tank would be useless in the below freezing temps.

    I do have a 6000 watt generator that I ran my MIG welder on at some of the local trapping association meets (I did trapwork for other trappers), and will either mount that on a small deck added to the rear of the bus, or in a small enclosed trailer I have if I need the additional storage room. The batteries will also be mounted in the interior so they'll be kept reasonably warm.

    I haven't researched enough on the solar yet to determine an exact set-up, but may use 3-4 400watt panels.... I intend to have a pretty healthy battery bank . I'd read alot of folks use golf cart batteries, and venting them outside wouldn't be a problem if needed. I'd only run some (minimal) 12volt interior lighting, a 12volt freshwater pump, and a small dorm-sized 'fridge off an inverter. Hopefully I'd be oversized on the battery bank, enough to float for a few days if needed to allow either the solar/wind to recharge, or running the gen if nothing else to recharge them.

    An awning would be a definate plus, but an expensive one. Maybe I could luck onto one from an old RV for a decent price down the road. I also will carry 150 pounds of LPG to run a 2-3 burner cooktop on the days it's too warm for a cooking fire, or I'm just not in the mood to fool with it just to heat-up something to eat. I'll have loads of storage space, mostly to carry a good supply of food, and by the time I'm ready to hit the road, will have eliminated any & all useless & un-needed items from my life, but will carry a fair amount of tools on the road (as well as a few spare parts, and extra fuel).

    It'll be an interesting project to say the least. Perhaps I'd plan my AK visit in the warmer part of the year & see where it went from there. I'm unsure how much of a climate (temp) difference there is within the state, but being mobile, I could take advantage of the warmer areas.

    Thanks for the thoughts & ideas. Also, if you've seen the movie (Into The Wild)....let me know if you liked it, and how "accurate" it is in regards to life in AK.

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    The movie made the guy out to be pretty much an idiot... He was a free spirit though. I am just dissapointed cause my kid ran into Penn at a cafe in the valley and didn't kick him in the shins like I would have hoped

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    Member JimmyShine's Avatar
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    That's too bad, I think Penn spent something like 10 years sucking-up to the family.....evidently it was just for the money. Some people can't understand anything if they can't put a dollar-value on it.......have to be a sad way to live. Of course we know Penn can't be right in the head, after all......he was married to Madonna

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    I don't think I'd use McCandless as an example of how to make it in Alaska. I haven't seen the movie, but have seen the book, and some other info about him, and have the impression that he truly was an idiot. He refused advice and help, and he paid the price. His past exploits only reinforce the idiot title. There are numerous better examples of how to make it in Alaska.

    In any event, if you are able to vent batteries to the outside, they are going to get cold. You can't really have it both ways, in where it's warm, and vent to the outside. I have doubts you will be able to keep a large water storage tank of water from freezing. If it has exposure to an outside wall, it will get cold. I don't think anything you've experienced in Indiana will prepare you for Alaska temps. I'm not trying to be condescending or argumentative, just give you a heads up. I lived in a motor home in Wyoming for several winters, things happen in real cold, (and it doesnt get nearly as cold here as most of Alaska) that once they happen, you can't fix or change till it warms up. I had trouble keeping things from freezing, and had trouble keeping it warm enough to be comfortable in the 20 below temps. A couple tons of straw bales stacked around the lower half help a lot. Removable skirting would be of value if straw wasnt available.


    My thoughts would be towards a motor home or camper trailer, already built and engineered to be living space. The newer ones have pretty good insulation and design. You can pick a floor plan that works for you.

  7. #7

    Default Magic Bus

    While I said look a McCandless, I didn't mean to copy him ! The bus Chris lived in was an abandoned bus he found in the wilderness, and used for shelter.
    School buses that come from the northern most climates are beter insulated than ones in southern climates. Windows in buses aren't energy effecient"AT ALL", the fewer the better. The windows you don't want to use cover on the outside to prevent offroad breakage (rocks and limbs etc). You could probably use an aluminum to cover the windows with a pink foam underneath on both sides.
    Cold transfers through metals and as such a skirt or wind blocking device for the undercarrage is advised. If your planning on being mobile you could do like the horses and go to the SE in the winter. The temps there are much milder than the interior, BUT they get more snow.
    Just some reminders.
    " Americans will never need the 2nd Amendment, until the government tries to take it away."

    On the road of life..... Pot holes keep things interesting !

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    Default Alaska bus

    In true McCandless form, donít forget to equip your bus with a bag of rice.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coaldust View Post
    In true McCandless form, donít forget to equip your bus with a bag of rice.
    Good luck finding a bag of rice !!
    " Americans will never need the 2nd Amendment, until the government tries to take it away."

    On the road of life..... Pot holes keep things interesting !

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    Member JimmyShine's Avatar
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    I don't know enough of the story about McCandless to really comment, and might have to read the book someday (though I'm not much of a reader). I know Brav01 wasn't using him as an "example to follow. I'm aware some admired him (I think more for his spirt than anything), and others think he was a nutcase, many may have thought similar of Dick Proenneke. Now Treadwell.....there's a nutcase! I watched a video on youtube this morning.....the guy taping stold the instrument cluster from the bus & sold it on Ebay (rather low in my opinion, same for the one who bought it). The theft was basically documented by the guy filming, one minute the gauges were there & the next there was just a hole in the dash Some will do anythng for $$

    As far a my venture to AK (if it actually becomes reality), I already know I'm not in the physical condition to be attempting to run-off into the bush, or in trying to survive 500 miles from nowhere. I'm just looking to see some of the scenery, meet some folks, and get out of this god-forsaken place for awhile. Mom's gone (passed away) & dad's in his mid-80's. I have 3 other siblings (2 here & 1 in Florida), but we're not a real close-knit family. I have no kids so there's not much tying me down here. I just need to make-up for some of the lost time in my life & try to recover some sanity.

    As far as batteries, if they aren't wet-cells, they won't require venting. Again, I haven't studied the solar set-up enough at this point in time to make a decision on battery selection. I need to determine what I'll have as far as actual loads & calculate from there. On the water tank, I have no doubts I can keep it from freezing. It will be under the bunk, the external wall insulated, and access for air provided to circulate around it from inside the cabin. It will basically be the same temp (within a few degrees) of the interior of the bus. I'm more than comfortable at 60*F, but I doubt I'd intentionally stay somewhere it was extremely cold, there'd be no reason for me to when I could be anywhere I wanted. I heated strictly with wood for over 20 years, so I got used to waking-up to feed the stove when needed. I'm not going to build the bus specifically for AK, because I don't have the intent of living there, but I won't count it out 100%, I'd have to make that call after spending some time there.

    I'd never compare the winters here with those there, though we have had some bad ones. Being as I did furnace repairs, I was always out in them at all hours of the night, I plowed snow as well. We've had -30 windchills, and 8' drifts, though it isn't the norm. Please don't worry about being "condenscending or argumentative", I don't take it that way, and matter of fact prefer straight-out "tell it like it is". I'm pretty much the same way, and pretty thick-skinned, so no bruised feelings here

    I know folks in AK hear, read, and deal with people all the time with wild dreams of doing some crazy things......hell, 20 years ago I could have very well been one of them I may never be able to make the trip myself, but I'm keeping hold of the hope that my life will oneday get back somewhat of how it used to be..some of those hopes are all that keep me going.

    I'd never buy a motor home or travel trailer, seen how too many of them were built. I used to work on the furnaces & A/C in some here for a local dealer. I'd rather build my own & know exactly what I had. It'd be cheaper anyway & exactly how I wanted it.....lol, and plenty of rice storage.

  11. #11

    Default Jimmy

    Take it one day ata time.
    " Americans will never need the 2nd Amendment, until the government tries to take it away."

    On the road of life..... Pot holes keep things interesting !

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    Having the option of going anywhere you want is a nice thing. I used to be more footloose, it's a good feeling. If you arent planning on living in your bus/camper all winter, you have more leeway in design. If you like Alaska, you might consider renting a cabin for winter, you can still make short trips to see different places, but have a base camp. Some places you can (or could last I checked) rent a dry cabin (no running water) for a couple hundred a month. Most laundromats have showers, and have big sinks that you can get drinking water in your 5 or 6 gal containers. It's not an uncommon lifestyle in some places.


    I had trouble keeping my 26' Winny at 45 deg in -20 or lower temps with the Suburban 28,000 btu furnace running full time. That's ambient temp, not wind chill. The wind can make it even harder. A wood stove may be able to do it, but you should think about some way to force circulate the air, particularly around the water tank. Grey water tank will freeze too. You can drain it directly on the ground as you use it, I did, and it still froze up and backed up. If you can arrange your sewage tank to take nothing but the toilet, and you'll be happier. Filling it up with unecessary grey water and not being able to use the john in winter is a drag. It will take much longer between dumps too. When it warms up enough to dump, you can dilute and flush it out with water. Your holding tank valves and lines can freeze and break also, as can your holding tanks if they are full of water. Any metal surfaces in your camper that connect to the outside will have frost on them.

    My stay in the motor home was very educational! I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about them.

    I understand what you mean about how campers are built, but it's at least a place to live without the investment of time a custom built bus/camper would be. It looks like it could be a long project. I'd say, if you want to go to Alaska, just go, even if its in a camper, a tent, or in the back of your truck. Figure out the details along the way. A custom built camper would be nice, but if it hampers actually making it up, I'd opt for just heading out. It's been several years since I made it up, and there's always some reason,.... When I have made it up, I just headed out, and had a blast.

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    Member JimmyShine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brav01 View Post
    Take it one day ata time.
    That's about all any of us can do

    Malamute- That's an option I've usually had (purposely) in my life, but isn't an option currently, I think that's one of the harder things to deal with right now. Once the bus is built, I'll be living in it 24/7/365, regardless of where I am, it'll be my new home. That's a good bit of information about the cabins & laundromats, thanks!

    I'm kicking around a couple ideas on the waste tanks. I initially intended on a grey water & solid waste being seperate tanks. I would probably drain grey water to the ground, and may not even have a solid tank, since I already have a portable (self-contained) toilet which can be emptied by removing the bottom 1/2 & disposing of it in an appropriate manner. That would eliminate the cost of a tank, as well as any related "problems" (such as freezing & dump stations). Also, I'm WAY early into the planning phase, but had kicked-around the idea of adding a coil into the grey water tank that circulated warm glycol to prevent freezing. This would be another "loop" off the woodstove, similar to one I'd have for domestic hot water. I've went as far as to consider a wood-fired hydronic (boiler) system, with divided sections serving different functions. I'm a "tinkerer" at heart, plus have the occupational background which will be helpful while setting up things in the bus. I've got plenty of time, so it'll be hard telling what I'll end-up with.

    I'll keep my kerosene heater with me as well as a few gallons, in the event I'd run out of solid fuel, or possibly just to knock-off a chill. The cabin will be very well insulated, granted I'm unfamiliar with the climate there though. I'd be more concerned about freezing the fluids before I'd get cold, wouldn't be the 1st time I'd slept in a pair of Carharts. I'm anxious to see how this new knee does in the cold & damp, it used to serve as a pretty good barometer!

    Busses are double-walled, and insulated between, however it's not unusual to have a loss of intregrity of the insulation (especially the walls) from window leaks over the years. I think if I remove the inner wall panels & insulation, add polystyrene, a vapor barrier, & replace the metal inner panels with 1/2" wood, I'd eliminate alot of the heat transfer through the walls. Eliminating many of the windows will help as well as replacing the remaining windows with ones more efficient (as newer RV windows). Fortunately, I grew-up spending every weekend (except winters) in a converted bus. Dad converted 2 of them over the years, and had plenty of room for the 7 of us....yep, maw & paw & 5 of us kids all in a bus ....I'm suprised dad wasn't a drinker.

    I hoped no one thinks I was knocking campers, I wasn't I just don't care to own one for the purpose of living in it full-time. I currently have an '86 chevy truck with a freshly rebuilt 350, and 700R4 transmission. I also have a 6'X10' enclosed trailer I used for camping. It was where I stowed all my gear, so it was just a matter of tossing in some clothes & grub & I was ready to go. I used to sleep in it at the weekend trapping conventions as well. It's lined with 1/2" R-max on the roof & walls, I can heat it with a candle. I'd hook them up & leave tonight if I were able to. Sadly, my current situation prevents me from doing anything that quickly (as much as I'd like to), it'll be a bit before I'm prepared to hit the road. I'm still working on the rehab of the knee. Had a Neurologist wanting to use my neck as a pin-cushion a couple weeks ago for a couple problems in my neck....told him "no thanks" after I asked him the worst that could happen.....and he answered "death" It's not all bad though, I've been able to spend more time with dad than I had in the past several years I was working.

    I've got more time to invest than money, so I won't mind investing either into the project. When it's completed I can know I did it myself & it'll be exactly how I wanted it. I think once it's all said & done, the bus will be more of an asset than a hinderence, even with the time involved. It wouldn't be too long of a project. I've got friends who owe me tons of favors (we'll see if they remember it), and even dad would love to pitch-in. I'd have atleast $10G in a decent trailer large enough to live in, and I wouldn't want to pull a loaded 30'er with my 1/2-ton truck, so I'd have to upgrade it as well.

    I'm usually the fly by the seat of the pants type myself....just can't do it in this situation, and probably just as well. It's a 3500 mile trip there for me....lol, and I'd like those miles to be uneventful ones, at least as far as problems go. Patience was never one of my virtues, but I guess I'm forced to learn it....whether I want to or not

    Thanks for all the info!

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    I hope you post pics as you go, I'd like to see your bus project. I knew a guy that built a bus/camper from a city bus, it took him 2 or 3 years, but it was real nice when it was done. I believe he and his wife moved into it full time and semi-retired when it was done.

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    I will, I plan to take pics & post them of each phase so it might help someone else interested in doing a conversion. I've got a few ideas I'm hoping to "experiment" with on the conversion. I don't intend to go too fancy,....more like a man cave kind of theme A few tanned critter hides, some antique traps on the walls, I think I have several wolf pics packed-away somewhere.....

    Most transit busses have more headroom as opposed to a skoolie (school bus). I'm 6' 2-3" & will have to get used to ducking alot. Once the funds & bus are available, I think I could have it road-ready in a couple of months, depending upon the season and if I have an indoor area to work on it (which I think I could find).

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    where at in Indiana? I grew up there and if close to "the region" may be able to help out with electrical, plumbing or insulation. I live in AK now on Uncle Sams dime and can appreciate the dream of getting up here.

    Joe

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    Member JimmyShine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by boejali View Post
    where at in Indiana? I grew up there and if close to "the region" may be able to help out with electrical, plumbing or insulation. I live in AK now on Uncle Sams dime and can appreciate the dream of getting up here.

    Joe
    Hi Joe! I'm currently in Madison County, near Anderson which is about 25 miles NE of Indianapolis. Where abouts did you grow-up here? I've still got a wait before I'm able to get the ball rolling, just trying to get all my ducks in a row ahead of time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    ....I am just dissapointed cause my kid ran into Penn at a cafe in the valley and didn't kick him in the shins like I would have hoped


    A kid could get away with that, too..........

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    Quote Originally Posted by JimmyShine View Post
    Hi Joe! I'm currently in Madison County, near Anderson which is about 25 miles NE of Indianapolis. Where abouts did you grow-up here? I've still got a wait before I'm able to get the ball rolling, just trying to get all my ducks in a row ahead of time.

    take I-65 north a bit, right next to Gary, dont know anyone down there

  20. #20

    Default Alaska is not Florida, I repeat, not Florida!

    Neat idea but better plan on around Anchorage or somewhere abit more temperate, and you might freeze to death there anyway. Do you realize that -35 to -50 is the norm here in the interior and that -72 isn't that unusual? People with sturdy, well-built log homes have trouble keeping them heated in the winter. Forget grey water tanks, fresh water tanks and expect to use 5 gal. water jugs stored next to the woodstove just to keep them from freezing up. Most school buses are not wall-insulated, just a wee bit in the roof and floors are definitely not insulated. You might find one that someone has started to do some work on already and has insulated it for you. We've owned 2 school buses, lived in 1 for 4 1/2 years with 2 kids ... rough with both space and dealing with cold in the winter and heat in the summer ... and that was in northern AZ. Our bus now is just a fair-weather Alaska bus for fishing and camping, still with heat and most all the amenities. Do your bus conversion but try a more temperate climate first and see if your bus (home) does well in low temps and maybe then you'll be prepared to tackle a cold climate. The idiot that lived in the school bus walked in in the spring, idealistic and probably a good kid, but without a brain in his head in my opinion. Alaska is a gorgeous place with beautiful country but it can be extremely unkind to those not prepared to deal with severe cold, long dark days and pretty steep prices for things like heating fuel and propane. Do abit more homework before you jump in unprepared, or worse yet, think you can deal with what you know not!

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