A group of friends and I converted this 20-year-old school bus…
…into this luxury RV for 8+: The SerendipitiBus!
Back in August 2014 after the first trimester of our masters entrepreneurship program, the idea of converting a school bus into an RV was thrown out amongst myself and three classmates. We quickly discovered the "skoolie" community online and were instantly hooked.
We kicked the idea around for the next couple months until we found this beauty on craigslist in October: 1995 Carpenter school bus, 40 feet long, diesel engine, killer paint job. A couple emails and a 20 minute drive later and we were suddenly the proud owners of a bus (with nowhere to park it)!
Over the next seven months, we managed to convince four more classmates to join us and spent what little free time we had converting the bus. Our crew was quite worldly (with riders coming from Ireland, Texas, New York, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Virginia) and despite only myself having any formal construction experience, everyone stepped up to the plate and took on significant roles in the project.
From left to right: Amy [marketer/blogger extraordinaire], John [plumber/photographer], Dan [detail carpenter/house maid], Sam [interior designer/videographer], Micheal [roof deck builder/sleepyhead], Nicky K [bus dad/painter], Rory [electrician/group optimist], and me (Nick M) [salty dictator].
This album takes you through the construction process first so if you're interested in just the final product, scroll about half way down for the finish photos. You can also check out some great pictures from the 5.5 week journey we took with the bus at facebook.com/serendipitibus.
We bought the bus from Mike (right), an amazing guy who had to put his own skoolie dreams on hold. It was love at first sight for us, and the fact that we could fulfill Mike's dream for him made it all the more worthwhile.
We signed away our souls on the spot with way too little thought or hesitation.
Fortunately for us, Mike had already ripped out the seats, collected some junk furniture, and painted the outside red to change the title to an RV.
We began with the plan on the left but due to many debates during construction, our final bus looked like the plan on the right. It worked extremely well for 8+ people, providing more than enough common space plus individual private bunks for everyone.
We first bolted runners to the floor with rigid insulation between to keep out road heat and noise.
Some of this was done during snowy midwest weather, and despite the smiling faces the rest of us never heard the end of it from Rory and Micheal who "experienced 'Nam" while tightening the bolts underneath.
Plywood subflooring secured to the runners with screws and liquid nails.
We next built boxes around the wheel wells to pack with insulation – again to keep out road noise.
Followed by the framing for the bunks (which took quite the toll on some).
Jumping a little ahead, next came the framing for the couches and kitchen. After much discussion we ditched our original booth idea and moved the entire kitchen to the passenger side of the bus, making sure to run our PEX water lines underneath to the driver's side for RV hookups.
After a few fireballs during attempts to connect these gas appliances, we quickly ditched them in favor of electric appliances.
Except for when he was painting the bus, Nicky K was always dressed to impress.
Next came the electrical system.
This is with most of the paneling done before the bus' first big test run to the Kentucky Derby. We designed the bunks to be half the size of a queen bed, bought four 6" memory foam mattresses on Amazon and cut them in half with a hand saw. With Prime they were shipped for free in two days and it only cost ~$80/person for an extremely comfortable bed – one of our better decisions.
The prior paint job was done quickly so we chipped away at sanding it back to the yellow whenever we had extra hands during the build.
It only took us a day to get two coats of white primer on it and the improvement was incredible (even if it looked like a prison bus). We took it like this to the Derby and parked it next to a bus belonging to some of the Notre Dame seniors. Shows how truly massive our bus is.
One of our proudest accomplishments is not using a single ladder or saw horse during the entire build (including during the steel roof deck installation). The apartment complex's dumpster got put to good use.
After the Derby it was back to work painting the interior (for some of us at least…)
We also started building the roof deck and were lucky enough to get the help of our buddy Mike and his Baja team members who welded the entire thing for us in exchange for a case of beer.
We used vinyl planks from Menards to finish the floor which were light, flexible, waterproof and super easy to install.
Sam hard at work modge-podging. She found nine early 1900s maps of the Yellowstone online, painstakingly stitched them into one massive map, and printed it tiled across (30) 11×17 sheets. Another awesome addition that changed the entire vibe of the interior.
After weeks of searching, we found an amazing company in LA that were able to custom cut our cushions and ship them to us in Indiana in only three days! Anyone looking to make their own cushions – contact Josh at Murano, Inc. ([email protected]
or 1-(855) 469-2626). He's a great guy and really knows his stuff.
My mom sewed all these covers, and then her and Michel's mom spent a day graciously sewing them onto the cushions while they were here for graduation.
John starting to install the plumbing system. Our system includes fresh and grey water tanks, two sinks, a faucet that could potentially be used as a shower, an electric water pump, and an external RV hose hookup.
Amy worked with McDonalds who hooked us up with an amazing sponsorship. Along with allowing us to eat at (way too many) Mickey D's during the trip, they also set up a sendoff event at the local franchise where we bought meals for unsuspecting guests. It was part of South Bend's 150th Birthday week so we had the Mayor and several news stations at the event….crazy stuff.
We were working right up until 4am the day we left and after a quick photoshoot at the famed golden dome, our journey began!
Finally! The Finish Photos!
Our phone covers always matched our book covers.
Rory designed an amazing electrical system with five house batteries and a Schneider inverter/converter that we used to power phone chargers, computers, a mini-fridge, a microwave, and even an AC unit. Along with housing the breaker box, the counter also popped off for shoe storage below.
Storage under all 21' of couch.
Six boards we stored in back spanned the gap between the couches where the couch back cushions fit perfectly to form the "MEGAcouch."
Outlets at each end of the couches for convenient charging.
Books to make us look intelligent and Advil to be realistic.
The kitchen with space next to the sink for a double hot plate/propane camp-stove.
The all-important liquor drawer, designed and built by Dan.
Pull-out trash can with a hole above for easy waste-disposal.
Storage inside the map wall. All the doors were bought at the Habitat Humanity ReStore for only $2/each, as were all kitchen cabinet doors. This is a great store if you're looking for reasonably priced building materials/furniture.
Close-up of the map wall. From a distance it looked like carrara marble – very cool effect.
Now, back to where the magic happens…
The plywood under each bed is on hinges to allow for access to storage beneath.
Handles for easy lifting.
Personal cubbies with an outlet in each bunk.
We left the original lights and added switches.
Curtains for when the magic is happening.
The bathroom with a removable toilet.
The storage unit – above the rod is a bungee cord to keep the hangers from flying off during bumps. The AC unit is installed below this shelf with a collapsable vent pipe to allow us to slide the unit out to the beds.
Along with six large compartments below the bus for storage, the roof deck also became mainly for storage.
Somehow we found several incredible parking spots during the trip, like this one on the SF Bay!
When a thrift store at our first stop had enough different colors for each of us (plus two guests) we couldn't pass up on these pants. They became our go to outfit at the big tourist spots and never disappointed in getting questioning looks.
The trip was an incredible journey through so many amazing national parks, cities, and landmarks. Unfortunately it has now come to an end as half of us go on to real jobs and the remaining four of us work on securing jobs of our own.
Big thank you's to all our friends and family, the gofundme donors that helped us pay for our broken transmission and the sponsors who helped make this a little easier (Giddy Apps and their Derby Jackpot app, Interstate Batteries, Murano Inc., McDonalds, and the Notre Dame ESTEEM program).
We highly encourage anyone interested in building their own skoolie to just do it! It may seem daunting at first but when you're rolling down the interstate with panoramic views from your "living room" you'll realize it was all worth it. There are a ton of great projects online like 'Hank Bought a Bus' and 'Project Moose' who were inspirations to us and can help guide you through the process. Instagram #skoolie is also a great resource.
OR you could save yourself a ton of work and buy the Serendipitibus! She's for sale now and we could potentially work out delivery. Shoot us a message at [email protected] if you're interested or with any and all questions about the bus. We'd love to help anyone trying to build their own.