Birth of the RB

Ever since I drove a campus bus in college, I’ve wanted to convert one into an RV. I’d done a little searching over the past few years and came across a pretty good deal in November 2014 on Craigslist right in Virginia Beach.

This church was retiring some of their fleet and only wanted $2000 for a 1994 Blue Bird TC 2000. I figured it was worth checking out and made a trip over to the beach for a test drive.

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The beast

 

The bus drove well, so I offered them $1500 for it as long as it passed a state inspection. Upon getting an inspection, I learned that it passed on everything except the wipers, front tire, and tie rod end. All of that could be repaired for around $600, so I went back and made a counter offer of $1000. They accepted, so the next week, I picked a cashier’s check from my bank, a coworker to drive me, and I went to pick up the bus. I immediately dropped it off at the place I got it inspected, where they installed the parts and gave it a passing inspection sticker.

Once I got the bus home, we proceeded with the daunting task of stripping out the entire interior. This beast had seen many years of abuse by thousands of rowdy schoolchildren. the seats were worn and torn, the driver’s area had seen better days, and the interior had that wonderful “bus smell” that I remembered from my middle school years.

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All the seats before removal
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Rules for the bus
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The driver’s area
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The seat has seen better days

 

We began by removing the seats. Some were much easier than others. Each leg is thru-bolted through the floor, and I believe they were all attached to the body before the bus body was attached to the frame. The seats in the middle of the bus weren’t so bad, but all the seats over the axles proved very hard to remove. We eventually resorted to cutting the bolts with a cutting wheel to speed up the process. As we removed the seats, we also tore off the rubber flooring below.

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First seat out!
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Holding the nut from under the bus
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All the seats removed
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Cutting down a few bolts

Once the interior was stripped, we began laying down plywood to make a smooth base to install the linoleum and interior pieces.

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Plywood ready to be screwed down

After we laid the plywood, my mother and sister were nice enough to paint the ceiling and sidewalls with some matching paint. Then one of the following weekends, my coworker Ryan came by to assist in installing the linoleum.

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Ryan lending an assist
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Elizabeth and Ryan spreading out the glue
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Linoleum installed

Once the weather warmed up, we tackled the exterior. My mom and sister started with the sides while I painted the roof with some reflective elastomeric roof paint.

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Elizabeth painting the sides
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Matt on a hot tin roof

After finishing the roof, I made my way inside and began to black out and insulate the rear windows, frame out the bunk beds and start building the couches and eventually the dinette. We also bought some kitchen cabinets and a countertop from Lowes. They were surprisingly inexpensive if you bought the stainable cabinets and that allowed us to match the color of the cabinets to the walls. Using jigsaw and a circular saw, we cut the countertop down to the proper length and made a hole for the sink.

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Sealed, blacked out, and insulated the rear windows where the bunk beds will go
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The beginnings of a couch
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Framing out the dinette
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Adding mounts for the posts
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Now it can drop down and turn into a couch/bed, just like the on a boat
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New kitchen cabinets ready to be stained
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The bunks are starting to come together. The water tanks will go in the space under the rear bed.

I also bought a hole saw on Amazon and began to cut holes for the speakers for the radio. I also bought a radio adapter on Amazon and used it to fabricate a slot for a standard car stereo. In retrospect, a jigsaw would have probably made less of a mess than a cutting wheel.

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Speaker holes cut
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Stereo housing is in

I also used the hole saw to cut a hole for the shower drain. After burning out two lesser drills on this project (one in the course of 5 minutes when I cut the shower drain), I highly recommend the Milwaukee Magnum.

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Shower drain is cut

Ryan was also kind enough to come by again to help install the air conditioner one weekend. It took three people to haul it onto the roof and it took the two of us the greater part of an hour to cut through the two layers of sheet metal to make a hole for it. Then another half hour to snake the wire through the ceiling and to the spot for the electrical panel.

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Ryan slicing a hole for the A/C
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All cut and ready for shims and wire
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It was really hot that day, so it was such a relief to turn this thing on

I also made careful use of a cutting wheel and made a nice hole for the 30-amp plug on the driver’s side of the bus.

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Another hour to install the power plug

Now we were ready to start the plumbing. We decided to use half-inch PEX for all of the plumbing. It only needs elbows for the tightest of turns and it resists freezing pretty well. Originally I planned for a shower and kitchen sink, with the ability to add a bathroom sink later on.

I also purchased all the water tanks for the RV. Instead of getting one two 80-gallon tanks for fresh and gray water, I found out that it was cheaper (especially for shipping) to purchase four 40-gallon tanks and plumb them together. The fresh water tanks will go underneath the rear bed and the gray tanks will be placed in a frame underneath the RV.

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Test fitting one of the tanks underneath the bed
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Plumbing the shower valve
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Building out the shower
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Shower all finished
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Thru-bolting the brackets for the water tanks underneath the RV

 

With all the framing, plumbing, and electrical work done, It was time to install the stained wood panels, electrical sockets, lights, and electrical panels.

For the main ceiling lights, I replaced all the bulbs with LEDs and I pulled back the wiring from the driver’s panel and ran it to a 3-way switch at the front and back of the RV. This allowed them to be powered by the house batteries instead of the coach batteries that are used to start the engine. For the kitchen and bathroom, I bought a pack of five 12 volt LED lights on Amazon.

I installed two electrical systems, just like in a standard RV: one AC system and one DC system. The AC system powers the air conditioner, 120v outlets, and battery charger. The DC system powers the lights, radio, water pump, and 12v power ports.

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Panels and lights being installed
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Beds are all done
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Light switch and power port for the rear bed

 

Once the interior was complete, it was time to take all the pictures of the finished product and submit all the paperwork to the Virginia DMV to change the designation from bus to motorhome. Although I have a Class B CDL and could drive it, making it officially an RV allows my family/friends to drive it and makes it much easier to sell to somebody when the time comes.

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The view looking forward

 

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Looking towards the back
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The kitchen with running water
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The beds
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The wonderful Army Green paint job

Overall, working 2-3 weekends per month, the vehicle took from December 2014 to May 2016 to complete, with a few tailgates and trips in between.

The real test came at the end of May 2016 when the six of us took it on it across the country, all the way to Michigan, Kansas, and back to Virginia. Overall, she achieved nearly nine miles per gallon over 3000 miles, drank about a gallon of coolant, and only used two quarts of oil.

Overall, the entire process has been a tremendous adventure and hopefully this post inspires at least one other person to build a schoolie of their own.

Happy travels!

-Matt

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