Monday, October 10, 2016

The Almanzo bus conversion - Part 1 - Finding the right bus.

So here it is! Part one of four of a series documenting my bus conversion.

Back in 2012 I finally found the right bus, after browsing Craigslist and looking at online auctions for over a year. Perhaps I should mention that I had already bought a school bus in 2011 and started on the conversion by removing all the seats and flooring. But I ended up selling that bus as it wasn’t the right bus for my needs.

So what is the best bus for a conversion? Well this really depends on your needs and what you plan on doing with your bus once it’s converted.

If you just plan on traveling by yourself, don’t have too much stuff and want to keep fuel costs as low as possible, a small/mini school bus, often called a short bus, might be perfect for you. I really like what these guys at Bus Life Adventure did with this Ford E350 bus!

 The Bus Life Adventure bus. (images used with permission).

On the other hand, if you plan on just parking your bus somewhere and living in it without driving it, or if you need room for multiple people a 40ft school bus might be a better option for you. 

These guys at the Jeub family did a great job converting this bus and used it for their family of 11!. Their blog has lots of info on the conversion too. Another cool 40ft bus conversion I came across on the tiny house blog is this one.

 The Jeub family bus. (images used with permission).

As for me, I wanted something that was big enough for me to comfortably live in but not too big that it would be too much of a hassle finding parking spots and driving it on smaller roads. I have thought about just doing a van conversion or even buying an older chevy camper van. This option would have been much cheaper and easier but being 6'7" and living in a van for more than a few weeks at a time just didn't seem like too much fun. 

So I decided I wanted a bus instead. I also really liked the idea of being able to build it exactly the way I wanted it instead of just buying a used RV. Another reason I didn't like RV's is because they are very expensive to buy and the majority, in my opinion, are build very poorly and won't hold up well during extended travel and full time living. School buses on the other hand are build super heavy duty, just like semi trucks, and will last much much longer than a standard RV. I also always had this dream of one day buying some land and building a log home on it, so i figured doing a bus conversion would be good practice and I can even use it to live in while building a house, if I end up doing that one day.

So for me the perfect bus was a medium size one, about 30 feet long. I looked online at peoples bus conversion and the two busses that inspired me the most and where most like what I had in mind where these two. > &

So for about a year I looked at peoples blogs and read as much as I could about school bus conversions while checking Craigslist and auctions at least every week. Medium size busses are much harder to find than either a short bus or 40ft bus and a lot of busses I looked at at where either too expensive, had a lot of rust or needed mechanical work. So I was very excited when I saw an auction in Oregon for this bus!

Not only was it the perfect size it also already had an RV style door and two front seats, unlike your standard school bus. Another benefit was that it came with a generator and it wasn't yellow, which I have read is illegal in some States when the bus is no longer used as a school bus. The bus was about a full day's drive away from me, but if you are going to buy a bus at an auction I definitely recommend looking at it before you buy it as they are sold "as is" and they often aren't in as good a shape as they appear to be in the description or the description is really short giving you very little info.

This bus, which was used by Tillamook County as a bookmobile, definitely needed some TLC and had a lot of miles on it but it had nearly no rust and the engine and transmission seemed in good condition, which to me where the most important. I ended up winning the auction with my last and final bid and I think I got a pretty good deal and the bus made it all the way home to Washington without any problems.

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Besides finding the right size bus, there's a few more things you should know and consider if you're thinking about doing this. I don't want to discourage anyone, in fact I hope to inspire others to take on a project like this, as I had a lot of fun doing it and even more fun traveling and living in my bus. But let's just say it's not easy and it's probably not the best option for everyone.

Licensing, registration and insurance can be a real hassle! Until your bus is converted to a motorhome, it is considered a commercial vehicle. Please make sure you check your State's regulations before buying a bus! I can't really give you any advise on this as regulations vary widely from State to State and with the recent increased popularity in bus conversion, regulations are becoming more strict, especially getting your bus insured can be really hard. I've read multiple stories  about people that bought a bus only to find out they could not get insurance for it and ended up selling it. In most cases you can NOT get insurance on a bus unless you have a CDL and are getting (expensive) commercial insurance or until your bus is fully converted and the title is transferred to show that it is now a motorhome/RV. 

Some States, such as WA, sell trip permits which allow you to move a otherwise un-registered vehicle on the public roadway. I used this to drive my bus home and then parked it on my private property until I at least partially converted the bus to the point where it met the State requirements for motorhome registration. If you live in a city, make sure you check the parking regulations as parking an unregistered vehicle or parking a commercial vehicle is often not allowed. A good website with lots of info on bus conversions is Besides lots of blogs of people that converted busses, this website has a lot of info on regulations and insurance.

One more thing to consider is if the bus has a gas or diesel engine. There's a lot of pro's and con's for either but the main thing you should know is that gas engines are much cheaper to buy and maintain but diesel engines will get twice the milage and last on average 3x as long. Even a 40ft diesel bus will still average about 10mpg whereas a 25ft gasoline engine bus will only get about 3-5mpg. This is the main reason I ended up selling my first school bus I bought in 2011. I only paid $1100 for it but it had a gas engine and I found out that driving it long distance was just not feasible unless I won the jackpot. It would have been great for someone wanting to park a bus somewhere permanently though. 

If you are considering a bus conversion please check back here soon to read (and see) all about how I turned my bus in to the perfect motorhome in part 2 & 3. I hope you found this info helpful and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Almanzo bus conversion - Intro -

As I am writing this post I am already happily living and traveling in my converted bus, aka self sustainable mobile cabin / tiny home. But every time I post a photo of my bus on Facebook and while traveling, people keep asking me for more pictures and info on how this project came to life.

So in the next couple weeks I will be talking about bus conversions. Putting together some information and how to for those wanting to do the same, discuss advantages and disadvantages of different types of bus conversions and of-couse a full documentation of my own bus, Almanzo.

This will be a four part series and I will be updating this intro with clickable links to all chapters as I finish this project.

Part 1 - Finding the right bus.
Part 2 - The initial conversion.
Part 3 - The full conversion.
Part 4 - Living in the bus.

My bus when I bought her in Oregon back in 2012.

What my bus currently looks like. Not completely finished yet but livable and functional.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Where have I been?

To those that have been following my blog, sorry I quit posting during the middle of my road trip, and it has been almost two years now without an update. Perhaps maintaining a blog was a little too ambitious of an undertaking. Especially with everything else going on in my life at the time.

There won’t be a post for days 15 -30 of my Rocky Mountain road trip. But I will share that those 30 days on the road and out in the mountains where vital in figuring out the direction of my life. I found out that the only cure for wanderlust is to embrace it. For years I tried to tame my adventurous soul, I made many mistakes and passed up great opportunities. I was living the American dream, of capitalism, homeownership, a career, stability... But I somehow lost track of my own dream.

A lot has changed in the last two years. Less than six months after I returned from my month long road trip I quit my job, rented out my house and sold most of my belongings. I didn’t know yet at the time what would happen next but I ended up finding my dream job as a Park Ranger. Working seasonally in the great Alaskan wilderness and being able to spend “the off season” traveling and taking pictures. It has been a dream come true, in some ways even better than I could have imagined. Although it also comes with its challenges, living a nomadic lifestyle, only getting paid for part of the year and never really knowing what's going to be next... I have no regrets though, I am 100% happier now than I was two years ago.

During the winter of 2015, in my “off season”, I converted a school bus that I had bought at an auction and turned it in to a motorhome. It is now my home and mobile photography studio, allowing me to travel and work on the road as an independent photographer/journalist. This is all still kinda new and I have no idea how it will work out. But that is what adventure is all about, embracing the unknown.

I am not going to promise you regular blog updates from now on, most likely they will be occasional and sporadic, kinda like my life right now. There is also something about writing that I can’t quite describe. Sometimes I spend hours trying to put words to my thoughts yet not come up with anything but then there are times where I just start writing and it all happens. 

I found out that the only cure for wanderlust is to embrace it. (Alaska - October 2015)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Rocky Mountain Road trip days 12, 13 & 14

Monday Sept 22

It got pretty cold out last night so I didn't want to get up and leave my warm sleeping bag, so it was a little bit of slow morning. I drove back in to Glacier NP and did some hiking around Medicine Lake. I had a break at Aster Falls, I found some nice rocks to sit on right next to the falls and overlooking the mountains.

I spend about 2 hours there and since I had brought my Ipad, I was able to type some blog posts. The weather was sunny once again and by 10am it had already gotten warm enough to only wear a t-shirt. I had lunch at the lake and spend the afternoon exploring the 'many glacier" area of the park.

Some clouds had stated to move in by the afternoon so I was able to do some timelapse photography. I spend the night in East Glacier at the Brownies hostel. It was nice to take a shower again!

Tuesday Sept 23

I woke up early and checked out of the hostel. It was only $17.50 to stay in the dorm thanks to my Hosteling International membership, making it the cheapest hostel so far. I mainly did a lot of driving today to get to Yellowstone National Park. Most of Montana is hills with grass so it was kind of a boring drive. The speed limit is really high here though, even on winding roads with potholes and cows on them, it was still 70mph. You have to be really careful, twice I got stuck in a herd of 100+ cows that ranchers where trying to move through the road. 

I stopped on my way for lunch and supplies in Helena and made it to Yellowstone late afternoon. Almost right after entering the park I spotted some Elk walking in the river. I stopped and took some pictures and then drove to the Grand Prismatic Spring. I got there just in time to catch the last of the sunset. 

I took some pictures and did a quick timelapse. It was super beautiful! I found a good spot to car camp and shortly after it had gotten completely dark I could hear the Wolf's howl. It was a great sound to fall asleep to!

Wednesday Sept 24

I woke up at sunrise but it was very foggy out so you could't even see the sun. The cool thing about the fog though was that I was able to take pictures of the Bizon with nothing but fog around them. 

It took about 3 hours to clear up and the rest of the day was sunny. I spend the morning exploring more of Yellowstone but since I had been here before and only driven through the Grand Tetons, I decided to drive there in the afternoon so I could spend one more day exploring Grand Teton National Park. 

I got there in the late afternoon and was able to watch the sunset and take some nighttime pictures from the top of Signal Mountain, where I also camped. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Rocky Mountain Road Trip - Days 9, 10 & 11

Friday Sept 19

I woke up at 8am, the dorm that I stayed in had only one other guest, an older guy, but for some reason he got up every 1-2 hours and was wearing sandals which made a loud clicking noise on the floors. Needles to say I didn't sleep very well. The hostel was otherwise really awesome, very clean and at a beautiful location. I checked out and made a quick stop in town at the visitor center to use their wifi and post some updates to my blog, I bought some groceries and breakfast at Safeway and hit the road. I took HWY 1 East and then HWY 40 South through Kananaskis Country which was beautiful. 

The fall colors where amazing and I made lots of stops to take pictures and do some timelapse photography. There where lots of clouds out but it was otherwise sunny, which made for great pictures. 

Once I got in to eastern Alberta the landscape changed a lot. Just before dark I arrived in Waterton Lakes National Park. I was lucky to be able to find a good spot to car camp before it got dark.

Saturday Sept 20 (day 10)

I woke up right at sunrise. When I was just about to step outside my car, I spotted a black bear only about 20ft away, so I waited a little longer before getting out. When I got out I could see that some people where camped nearby and had left all sorts of stuff laying outside on the picnic table and around their tent, including a cooler with food in it. The bear was now at their campsite and going though all the stuff they left out. Fortunately it wasn't able to open the cooler and got scared when a bunch of people showed up along the road trying to take pictures. The bear took off in the woods a little ways but still stayed close by, presumably waiting for the people to leave. It really pisses me off when people are so dumb and careless to leave food and other thing laying outside. Bears are normally not dangerous and usually scared of humans but when things like this happen they start to associate people with food and they will become problem bears that could be aggressive and even attack humans. When this happens they have to kill the bear. I really wanted to give these people a speech about bear safety but they where either still sleeping in their tent or they weren't around. The bear stayed around though and now a whole group of people had gathered to take pictures. I left and luckily not much  later I saw a Park Warden driving by, so I flagged him down and informed him of the situation. He thanked me and took off with his emergency lights on. I kinda wanted to go back and see what was going to happen but instead I choose to spend the morning exploring Waterton Lakes National Park. 

Around 1;30pm I drove across the border in to the USA. I stopped for groceries in St Mary, Montana and then went to Glacier National Park. The sign at the entrance said that they where closing the going to the sun road on Monday morning, so I was happy to get there just in time to still experience this iconic drive. I didn't have much time left so I drove across Logan Pass with a few photo stops here and there. 

I found a beautiful camping spot right on Lake McDonald, where I watched the sunset and spend the night.

Sunday Sept 21

I had set my alarm early and woke up just before sunrise. I packed up my stuff, had breakfast and right when it started to get light out, I drove to Logan Pass to do some hiking. The sun was just coming across the mountain tops when I got there, the perfect time to start my hike to Hidden Lake. 

I hiked a little ways beyond the overlook and found a ledge overlooking the lake below. It was the perfect spot for a break. 

I was enjoying the sunshine and beautiful mountain views when all the sudden I hear something behind me. I looked over and there was a Mountain Goat standing about 10-15ft from me, looking right at me. 

I didn't even have my camera ready but I was bale to snap a few pictures with my phone. The Mountain Goat walked a little further away from me and then laid down on the same ledge as me. It stayed there for about 15 minutes and then about 7 other Mountain Goats showed up. I now had my camera ready and spend the next hour taking pictures of all the goats. A bunch of other people had showed up to and where doing the same thing. The goats where not scared at all and let us come within about 30-40ft. I got some really amazing pictures and I would say this was definitely one of the best days of my trip, at least so far. Most of the goats had radio or GPS collars on and I read later that they are doing a study in this particular area. I hiked back down with some other photographers and we chatted along the way.

I spend the afternoon driving the rest of the Going To The Sun Road and exploring some more of the park, it was beautiful and the fall colors where amazing although nothing could top my goat encounter that morning. 

Towards the afternoon I drove to Kalispell and got some groceries and dinner.
I spend the night at one of the Forest Service Campgrounds along HWY 2, just outside the National Park.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My last days in the Canadian Rockies, days 7 & 8

Wednesday Sept 17

I slept in a little today since I was pretty tired. After having breakfast and a quick stop at Safeway and the visitor center, I drove to Lake Louise. Both parking lots where filled with cars and it was super busy at the lake. I got my hiking gear and camera out and started hiking up the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. It starts right out at Lake Louise, in front of the hotel. The first 2km follows along the lake, then the trail starts going up towards the glaciers for about 4km until you reach the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. 

There is another short 1km trail to a view point closer to the glaciers but what I didn't know was that the climbing route starts of the view point trail just past the tea house.

I walked of the trail a little ways to get some better pictures of the Larch trees and then I noticed another trail, going right up through all the Larches. It was not marked and barely even visible from the main trail but I decided to go up it and check it out. It soon got steeper and steeper but with each switchback the views got better, so I kept on going. After about 2km I reached a meadow with incredible views in all directions. You could see the tea house and Lake Louise way below and I was surrounded by snow covered mountains and Glaciers. I could hear small waterfalls coming down the mountains and the occasional rumbling of an avalanche. There where a few lonely Larch trees which had turned a beautiful golden. I felt like I was in paradise! Also I had the whole place to myself as all the tourists only went as far as the tea house. It felt incredible to be up here all by myself enjoying amazing views in all directions.

I was a little disappointed I had only brought one of my cameras though and no tripod, so I couldn't do any time-lapse photography, but non the less this was one of the most incredible places I have ever been and I hadn't felt this alive and overcome with joy in quite some time.

On the way down I met a Canadian couple who asked me how far it was to the tea house. They still had to go about 4km and it was getting dark soon so they decided to turn around. We talked the whole way back and I found out that they just came from Glacier National Park, where I am going next. They showed me pictures on their phone and I showed them a few pictures of the hike I just did and told them about my travels. We said our final goodbye back at the trail head. I drove back to Canmore to get dinner and find a campsite. It got dark before I got there which made it a little harder to find a spot to camp so I ended up just car camping at a trailhead. It also started to get really clouded out and looked like it might rain, so it tuned out to be a good decision. Best day of the trip so far!

Thursday Sept 18

I woke up to another car parking next to me at the trail head. It was still really early and just starting to get light out. Lots of clouds had moved in overnight and more where coming my way but there where still a couple clear spots in the sky which made a good time lapse photography opportunity, so I quickly got out my camera and tripod and set it up. I had breakfast while I let my camera do the work. The clouds where moving really fast and about an hour later it was completely clouded.

I drove to town and stopped at the visitor center to use their wifi and update my blog.  After I was all done it was almost noon so I bought lunch and headed out to drive the more scenic HWY 1A towards Lake Louise. The clouds got more and more grey and soon it started raining. It didn't stop me from still taking some cool pictures of the fall colors but I decided not to go hiking today. 

Instead I kinda took the day off and just relaxed for the afternoon. I stopped in Banff to buy some postcards but everything was so expensive that I only bought one really nice one to send out. I found out that my favorite restaurant in Banff was no longer there so I had dinner in Canmore instead and then went to the Hosteling International just outside of Canmore. The building is shared with the Alpine Club of Canada and it looks more like a resort than a hostel. 

Definitely the nicest hostel I have ever stayed at! It was still early and although it had stopped raining it was still completely clouded out so I didn't expect to be able to do any sunset photography and instead enjoyed sitting on the deck at the hostel, catching up on my blog for the last 2 days. There where some German guys behind me, so I tried to understand some of what they where saying. My German is definitely not what it used to be but I was still able to sort of follow along.
I took a nice hot shower and went to bed early to get some good sleep before the long drive to Waterton Lakes and Glacier NP, the next day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

30 Day Road trip to the Rockies, days 5 & 6

Monday Sept 15

I started my day with a drive down the Icefields parkway. I did the HWY 93 and 93A loop and stopped at Anthabasca Falls. The Falls are a must see if you ever come up to Jasper! It is a major tourist attraction though, so if you want any sort of solitude, you should go super early. I got there just after 9am and there where already about a hundred others there. The weather was absolutely gorgeous all day long, although no clouds meant that I couldn't do any timelapse photography.

I drove back to Hinton in the afternoon to get some more food and fuel and once again took the long drive down to Maligne Lake. This time the skies where clear and I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding mountains. I stayed to watch the sunset and take pictures. When it got dark I went back to my car and had some Chinese food for dinner that I had bought in Hinton. I got caught up on my blog and by the time I was all done it was dark enough to go back to the lake for some night time photography. It was midnight by the time I got back to the Hostel.

Tuesday Sept 16

I got up early and checked out of the Jasper Hostel. I am a little disappointed I didn't get to hang out at the hostel and only spend the nights there. It seems like they had all sorts of cool activities during the evening and a large fire pit outside, plus so many people from all across the world stayed there. Hopefully I will have a chance to come back here sometime. 

I took HWY 93 South from Jasper to Lake Louise. It was the most scenic drive of my road trip so far, Fall colors where out everywhere along the road. 

I stopped at Sunwapta Falls and of-course the Anthabasca Glacier. 

It stayed sunny out all day and I found a free campsite near Canmore where I spend the night. It was another great day in the Canadian Rockies!