The Year of the Bus

There’s a bus parked in front of our house several days a week. Not every week, but more weeks than not. A school bus, to be exact.

Our daughter, Kate, has taken a hiatus from her busy life in Chattanooga, TN to live with us, rent-free, while she builds her own home on wheels. For many years now, Kate has worked several jobs on top of teaching art at Covenant College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Honestly, she’s one of the hardest working people I know. From bartending to dog-sitting, Kate managed to make ends meet, but that was about it. She wasn’t frivolous with her money (well, there was a lot of pizza…), and she rarely took time to simply rest. And even still, the rising cost of housing meant that she could rent an apartment or make her car payments, but not both—not if she also wanted to eat, put gas in said car, and maybe get a few hours of sleep at night. After much research, prayer, and considering her options, she decided to build a “skoolie” —a school bus converted into a motor home.

So, last December, at the close of the fall semester, Kate packed up all her worldly goods and she and her dog Penny moved in with us here in south-central Texas. She has a part-time virtual job that keeps her busy four days a week, giving her three-day weekends for this project, which is perfect. In March she found and bought her bus almost as soon as she began looking for one. Having done her research, she was quickly able to purchase many of the items she’ll need for the “building” phase of her project: the oven, fridge, bed, and solar components which are warehoused in our garage and home office along with a lot of other stuff.

Her timeline, however, has needed some revising. Many aspects of the “demo” phase have taken longer than any of us expected. As it happens, many of the folks who post videos of their own bus conversions leave out some of the difficulties and the time-consuming obstacles. For example, there are so many wires involved (so, so many), and few of them are obvious as to their function or even if they’re necessary. Quite a number of the wires actually have no function whatsoever in her bus, but were just part of the standard package of wiring installed when it was built, serving only to complicate matters.

Another unexpected hurdle was how very long it took to remove each of the windows to clean off the old sealant and prepare them for resealing. As it happens, in our triple-digit summer heat the old sealant becomes, as my daughter-in-law named it, “Satan’s Silly-Putty.” As Kate and Faith scraped away at the black, sticky substance I was reminded of Uncle Remus’s tale of the Tar Baby. Not only was it difficult to remove, it got everywhere.

Even though it’s taking longer than we expected, there is an end we’re aiming for. Someday soon we will turn the corner from prepping the bus to the fun part of actually building the interior to make it a livable space for Kate and Penny. One of these days it will be time to do the spray foam insulation and then re-fit the ceiling and lay the floor. Painting the exterior of the bus will make a huge difference, and we already have a variety of color swatches that Kate’s mulling over—not an easy choice. We’ve had some setbacks and some disappointments, and we all took a needed break in the middle of the most brutal heat of summer.

But I’ve got to say, there have been some unexpected blessings that have come from this project. For one, we’ve met more of our neighbors than we had previously. We’ve only lived here a little over two years (having moved in the middle of the pandemic shutdown) and made friends with many of our immediate neighbors. But when we parked the bus in front of our house, it became a magnet of interest for the neighborhood and we’ve met a number of folks who are curious, fascinated, and even interested in lending a hand. We learned that long before Instagram and #skoolie hashtags, one of our dear neighbors lived in a school bus out in west Texas. Another neighbor gave us some unique, sturdy material to make a shade canopy for outside the bus when it’s finished and parked in its home in Chattanooga.

Another blessing has been watching our Kate tackle so many new things—things which were never part of buying a home for me. Never once have I needed to trace all the wiring in my house or remove all my windows in order to reseal them. Some folks like the challenge of a “fixer-upper,” but that’s not my cup of tea. I’ll re-paint, maybe, and re-arrange the furniture. But removing ceiling, walls, and floors—no, thank you. And yet I’ve watched Kate do even more than that. She’s drained hydraulic fluid, used an angle grinder to cut the thousands of rivets (so, so many rivets) holding all the interior panels, and made sense of a spaghetti-tangle of wiring throughout the body of her bus.

Someday soon, this project will be finished, and Kate and Penny will drive away in their new home, returning to Chattanooga and re-establishing the roots she’s set down there. Our driveway will be ours again, and our projects will be tamer—redoing the laundry room, taking dominion over the back yard, trimming the trees. But this year will be remembered as the year of the bus, with all its challenges and rewards. I’m so glad we’ve been able to help Kate in this way and I can’t wait to see what the Lord has planned for her future. I pray that it includes some rest, she’s earned it.

*If you’re interested in following Kate’s progress with the bus (or stories about her dog Penny), you can follow her on Instagram where she shares not only the cute and fun aspects of “skoolie life,” but the unexpected hurdles as well.

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