Like a lot of people, I grew up as a gear head and went through a slew of hot rods, and race cars. I have spent 40+ years as a diesel/heavy equipment mechanic. During this time, I owned several different bus’s. some were turned into car haulers, and most were just used to move back and forth across the country. It was cheaper to buy a bus, gut it, and haul your belongings. Then, when you got where you were going, you had dry storage and didn’t have a time limit to return a truck ala U Haul. Once you were settled, you just sold the bus and made back some of your money. It was and is a wise way to move. Here are some of my bus’s.
However, always in the back of my head was the notion of converting a used Greyhound bus for living and traveling. The time came when I was offered an early retirement. Now would be the time. The task of finding a suitable donor bus, turned out to be quite the undertaking. There are a lot of bus’s out there, but, my demands were limiting. First, it had to be an older GMC (either buffalo, or senic-cruiser). Second, it had to be in good running condition. Third… and most important, it hard to be affordable. About a month of scouring for sale adds finally brought me to Easters Bus Sales, in Basset Virginia. Turns out that he had purchased all of Piedmont bus lines inventory when they closed their doors. He had over 100 GMC bus’s and also 100’s of MCI’s and Many Silver Eagles. It was bus nut heaven. Wife and I spent 2 days there combing over every bus in the yard. I drove the yard man crazy as he had to haul batteries around and start all the bus’s I wanted to try. Eventually I settled on a fully seated, restroom equipted 1974 GMC PD 4905A coach. AKA the buffalo. It had an 8V-71 Detroit diesel and a grumpy wet clutch 4 speed spicer trans. A bonus was the fact it only had 240,000 miles on it, and had been painted. I was able to buy it for $5000 dollars. A small price to pay seeing that this included a full oil/filter change and the bus had to pass a Va. inspection before it could leave. So, all the lights, tires, brakes, batteries (2 4d), and glass had to be up to snuff. A couple of hours later, I was on my way to Florida to start my conversion.
The bus ran flawlessly back south, although I thought it kind of lacked the power I thought it should have had. It wasn’t until I got home that the reason for lack of power came from the fact that the luggage bays were crammed full of spare bus parts. there must have been thousands of pounds of excess weight down there. A bonus for me as I was able to sell quite a few of the parts and make back a lot of the initial money I’d spent.
Once home, we started the task of stripping out the interior. Pain in the you know what pulling all the seats and the old nasty nasty restroom, but, eventually we had an empty shell.
About this time, we named the old bus “Bus Lightyear” to infinity and beyond. Once the bus was gutted, we proceeded to strip our old water damaged, wore out class A motor home “Large Marge”. A good and faithful rig that just wore out. However, the fridge, roof air, generator, hot water heater,toilet, furnace, holding tanks, propane tank, and lots of smaller parts with salvaged before sending her away. Having a parts rv will save a lot of time and money as it’s the small parts that add up quick.
With parts gathered, and all the time watching craigslist for more super deals, the real work started. First, we used tape on the floor to figure where things would fit, then I had to string 110v wire everywhere I thought I would need it and while I was at it, I added some 12 volt wire through the ceiling for any additional 12v. stuff in the back of the bus. After the wiring, came the insulation in the walls and ceiling and then the 3/4 marine plywood floor. For the ceiling, I chose 1/4 inch luan because it was flexible and easy to arch. I did however make a small set of rafters across the middle of the ceiling to allow for a slightly less curved ceiling and space for wire’s etc.
With the basic interior in, I started using some of my craigslist finds and donor pieces from Marge such as the kitchen cabinets, installed the fridge, hot water heater and framing the bedroom, bathroom, installing toilet and plumbing,
and making a set of twin beds with lift cylinders (pinto hatchback) to raise the platform and give me under bed storage. I also insulated and closed off the rear window area made a couple of rear closets and made an access panel for the oh so heavy and hard to get at Detroit starter. I then scored some awesome emerald green carpet from another re-model and bought a small piece of linoleum for the kitchen area the inside was rapidly taking shape and we were so pleased at the low cost, that we splurged and bought green glass hardware for the kitchen draws and a sheet of thin decorative paneling and a sheet of faux brick to add a little touch of something different.
The kitchen and bath finished.
I found that using clear urethane on all the wood panels and the luan made the grain jump out at you and gave a soft soothing feeling. Then, I found an acrylic mirror that was flexible enough to mount on the ceiling. The results were great.
While I was doing all the interior, I was also setting up the bottom compartments of the bus. They are huge and go all the way through. My coach came with a retractable rear donkey axle that I didn’t need, so, I removed it and installed a 60 gallon black tank, rv propane tank and spare bottle, furnace, tool box all in that bay. In the middle bay, I installed a 100 gal. fresh water tank, and a 100 gal. grey water tank. along with a whole house filter, and an 8 golf cart battery bank along with a 5000 watt inverter. Plus, a 110v electrical panel with an added 12 volt fuse panel In the front bay, I installed a generator and a washer dryer combo unit and left the entire other side of that bay open for storage, or hanging clothes to dry.
I also ran the vent pipes out the side to prevent having any extra holes in the roof. Added a trailer hitch, and installed a portable a/c unit inside the bus.(again to prevent any extra holes in roof). I installed 250 watts of solar panel on the roof and coated the top with 3 coats of Kool Seal to help fight desert heat.
In the drivers area, I built a small console with a hole for the air brake button and another for a cup holder. I then added 2 cb radios. one a normal 40 channel and the other had upper and lower sidebands. Plus a monitor for the back up camera. A small fan completed the work zone.
Back inside, I finished the living room area and installed a cut down day bed and a recliner. The wife added a lot of finishing touches and all in all, it made for a comfy coach. Between the kitchen and bed room and across from the bath, I had an unused space. We pondered it for a while and then decided to create a work space for the computer. While mulling it over, I decided to make a fold up shelf that when closed was fine for computers, but, could be opened and used as a spare bed. It also became one of the most famous (bright ideas) in our family history. I found an old hassock at a thrift store and proceeded to cut a hole in the bottom of it. then, I cut a matching hole in the floor and screwed the hassock down. Now, I had a perfect receptacle to put my smelly socks. Open the lid, drop the socks, close lid and they ended up in the basement area in a basket.
Old Bus Lightyear was finally ready for the road. A 20 foot enclosed trailer with the Camaro, and motorcycle inside and we were off on a cross country wandering. After the first month, we added a screen room addition to our supplies.
We wandered the U.S. for quite some time (see map below) and somehow ended up in Arkansas where we bought a piece of land to build a bus pad on and use for a home base. It was while setting up the pad, we decided we liked it there and so, we sold the bus and went on to our next big plan… Build our own house. Stay tuned.
Here’s the bus sitting in Arkansas on the pad that was soon to become the house site.