Remember last October when we announced we wuld be on Skoolie Today’s podcast? Well after overcoming technical difficulties, it has finally been published and is ready for you to listen! We did this interview after a long day at the lot, so we sound tired! But it was so much fun! And it encouraged us to start our podcast Talking Chitty! We had a great time and appreciated Oscar’s time and allowing us to share our story on his podcast!
Our names are Morgan and Ryon Crabtree and we live in a self-converted
1999 International Genesis school bus we named “Chitty Bang”. Our fellow bus
dwellers include our two daughters, Rion and Laila, our English Mastiff, Mila,
and cat, Micio. The bus is a 40-foot International Genesis flat nose with a
DT466 and Allison Transmission retired from the Independent School District of
Arizona and cost us $4,700, Ryon’s time to receive his Class C driver’s
license, and a plane ticket to Phoenix from Texas. With 253,000 original miles
on her, hrove her home where we started demolition. Overall it took us 13
months to get her 95% done and ready enough to move in. We made changes and
renovations as we lived in the bus this last year, figuring out the
functionality of these random thoughts we made into our home. We will continue
to do that this next year as well. Like every bus converter says, “you are
never really done with your bus”.
Inspiration to self-convert a school bus came in many shapes, forms,
experiences, successes, and failures over the years. We had been together for
over 11 years by 2014 and had a long history of “roll with the punches” and
adaptability. Ryon had served in the Army, did a 17 month tour in Mosul and
Baghdad, Iraq, and was then medically retired. We both had our corporate jobs,
owned houses, received our degrees, had babies, we had it figured out, right?
In 2012, we had moved into a new custom home on 3 acres, and just after a few
months of living there we experience a total loss house fire that stemmed from
the chimney while we were having a fire in the fire place. An “Act of God” is
what the conclusion the insurance company gave us. Rising from the ashes and
rebuilding was such a powerful experience that we swore we would be the ones
who built our next house. We got our little dream of a homestead up and running
with our chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and aquaponics farming and filled our new
house with lots of new furniture and “things”. As we continued to fill our
house, there was an emptiness we needed to fill. Morgan eventually lost her
corporate job and we both proceeded down a path of entrepreneurship. After much
self-reflection, we decided not to be in the rat race anymore. We knew there
was more to Life than keeping up with the Jones’. We checked all of the boxes,
now what? We began to take more control of our lives and really started doing what we wanted
to do. We wanted to explore with our children and watch them grow.
We started learning more about the Tiny House Movement and minimalism.
Eventually that led us to start selling all of our “Stuff” that we really did
not need. Every item leaving the house was a weight off of our shoulders. We
put our home on the market. We thought, if we wanted to learn how to build a
house, what better way than on a small scale? We had no prior building
experience other than our homestead projects, and not many tools since the
house fire. We didn’t have a truck to haul a tiny house at the time, and we
were not really confident in our abilities to build a tiny house on a trailer
from scratch. Then it clicked. Why not a school bus? It has the frame, can
handle large amounts of weight, and would be the perfect wagon for our pioneer
voyage to find a bigger piece of land to start a new homestead. We literally watched
every video on school bus conversions and tiny house builds that existed on the
internet by February 2015, and by the next month, Chitty Bang was in our
Our conversion plan was ever changing as the bus came together. We
gutted her and used Polyurethane caulk to fill the holes on the floor where the
seats used to be, and every rivet and seam on the roof and sides of the bus. We
took out, resealed, and re-installed all of the windows, only intending to
cover about four windows total at the time. Since the bus was from Arizona,
there was only a little rust on the floor, which we used Corroseal to convert
the rust and prime the floor for a fresh coat of Rustoleum. When she was
stripped down to bare metal we could really make sure we sealed as much as we
could, and trust us, you sleep better at night when it’s raining! Next we were
onto the actual build-up process.
We are happy to have the International Genesis, as this style has
taller ceilings than other Makes and Models. Still, Ryon is 6’2” and every inch
counted not only on the floor plan, but also on the height of the bus. For
these reasons, we did as much as we could without Ryon being uncomfortable. We
took down all of the school bus lights/speakers/exterior lights and covered
those and any other holes with 16 gauge cold rolled steel and a mix of steel
and aluminum 3/16” rivets. We also used that steel to cover 17 out of 30 windows,
which are mostly in the rear. Furring strips were glued and TEK screwed to the
floor and we decided the Foam-It Green DIY spray foam kit (a closed cell spray
foam) would be best for insulation, especially to help give it an overall seal
and structural durability. For the windows we decided on covering later due to
draftiness and functionality of the space, we used a 1” piece of foam and foil
tape to insulate the inside of the window then covered with wood. 4’x8’ sheets
of plywood were used for the subfloor and 2’x4’s for framing all of the walls.
Those are mostly ¾” & ¼” sanded plywood (birch and maple) and We painted a
lot of them a light gray, Planetary Silver by Behr, and some were stained with
Jacobean and Natural stains. We used trim painted white to really accent our
finishing work, complete with floor moulding, crown moulding, and everywhere in
between. For the electrical, we installed our outlet boxes after we put walls
up, so they are set on top of the walls instead of flush.
When entering our home you notice the RV door with a frosted glass window that we use where the school bus door used to be. We fabricated the frame with square tubing, welding, and a couple of L brackets. The steps are set off by a diamond plate backing with Purple Heart Wood steps. To the left is a little cubby with hooks to hold shoes, pet leashes and purses, and to the right are hooks to hold coats and umbrellas. We use the dog house of the bus engine to hold our English Mastiff’s food and the dash to hold our cat’s food, a fan to blow air down the long hallway, and gaming systems we may be playing. The driver’s seat turns into a laundry hamper holder and “outgoing” stuff catch all. If this were a full sized house and the driver’s seat was a room, that would be the one we would keep the door closed on. We use Reflectix to cover the windshield and driver’s windows, and cover it with a light gray curtain to add a homey touch. On the front head board of the bus, above the windshield, hangs a 40” flat screen, taken down while traveling.
Standing in the living room, you immediately notice the galvanized corrugated metal ceiling, set off by LED strip lights that run along the ceiling. The living room starts with an 80” long couch to the right, We originally topped these with some cushions Morgan made and upholstered, but recently found a memory foam mattress that we cut to fit. They are really comfortable! There is a nice end table top next to the kid’s couch with two cup holders made into it (That was Laila’s idea!), as well. This is our main living area where we eat dinner, play games, and watch TV.
Next, you would enter the kitchen area which is set off with a
beautiful, sleek white marbled granite countertops and backsplash, and a large
stainless steel sink perfect for big pots, on the left side. The custom
cabinets we built are ¾” sanded plywood and the cabinets and drawers are
installed with Blum Brand hardware so they would “lock” in for travel. We added
a floor to ceiling pantry on the right side of the kitchen which holds a ton of
food and cooking supplies. And above, the recently added Atwood 15021/15026
works as an A/C, heater, or dehumidifier and works really well considering the
length of the bus. We also care quite a bit about the quality of our water, so
we invested some money in an APEC Reverse Osmosis Filtration System with 5
filters. A few months into our journey, Ryon added a UV light to the RO system,
as well as 3 outdoor filters and a portable water softener. Since we never know
what the water quality is when we fill our fresh water tank, we figured the
more filters the better.
We use curtains to section the house off into different rooms for
privacy, climate control, and showering. This also helps also cut down on noise
through the house. Passing past the first curtain, the bathroom will be on the
left which houses our Natures Head Compost Toilet, our Precision Temp RV-550
water heater (covered by a custom wood box, cover for top coming soon), and a
32”x32” shower pan.
On the right, the utility closet is hidden behind a curtain and displays the brains of our electrical system. Hanging on the walls are the “house” breaker boxes which contains our 50 Amp set up ran with standard 12/3 Romex, and the Solar Set up.
Next is the
bunk room. This area has a large closet space on the right and the kids’ bunk
beds on the left which are covered with a rock wall face for climbing into the
top bunk, and fun on rainy days. The last room is the master suite complete
with a Queen bed, 2 closets with shelves, curtain rods, and organizing boxes,
and mirrors to open the small space up.
<Insert MasterSuite.jpg (Underneath the bed houses a 42-gallon RV water tank, the city water and fill-up inlet box, and a sur-flo pump. We decided to keep the water tank inside of the bus just in case were somewhere it was really cold. Our dog also has her bed under there as it is a nice, large space for her to lay down comfortably without being in the way.)
On the exterior of the bus, we added 6 storage boxes underneath on
either side and also extended the frame 3’ to add a “garage” area. We
fabricated a tool box and a propane cage that are bolted to the extension, as
well as a ramp/deck hinged off the back.
For safety, we also make sure to have at least 4 fire extinguishers on board, working fire/CO2 alarms, and propane sensors at each propane connection inside.
By November 2015 it was time to start our Maiden Voyage where we traveled through Texas just in case we had to repair or change anything before getting too far out. The only plan we really had in the beginning of our journey was to find a homestead. We gave ourselves 3 months in each location to decide if we liked the area/state/land/laws and then we moved on. We mostly visited friends in Family in Texas for the first few months since we had been building the bus that last year plus a few months. It gave us time to figure out a routine and how to even live in this thing.
We got the chance to partake in a Skoolie Meetup near Dallas where we met some amazing folks and had a great start our voyage to the Pacific Northwest March 2017. We took about 3 weeks and explored Roswell, the Four Corners, Southwest Colorado, and started speeding the journey up through Utah. We were finding that it was really easy to find water and parking for our big rig, which was awesome because We had no idea what to expect. We were able to easily use Solar power while parked at rest stops on the trip, or plug into shore power at an RV park. Everything was working like it should. The confidence we feel every day from that is just indescribable. If something breaks, we know we can fix it or at least figure it out enough to understand the problem!
We stayed in Olympia,
Washington for 3 months plugged into a friend’s house for water, and on Solar
Power. The panels did FANTASTIC during the cloudy PNW Spring. By this point, we
could fully clean the house in 30 minutes, had a regular school work routine,
and weren’t bumping into each other as often walking down the hallway. Traffic
flow is something we struggled with at first. We decided to get out of the busy
city for a while and find a quiet place to try Workamping for the summer. By
July, we found ourselves in Klamath, California in the middle of the Redwoods
where we spent the summer “disconnected” on the Klamath River, 1 mile from the
Pacific Ocean, and it was all one of the greatest things we had ever seen. Our
kids were in charge of the Kids Club at the campground and they learned about
managing an office and all that real-life stuff because they could come watch
and help their parents do it. Roadschooling at its finest!
September rolled around in the Redwoods, our time was ending and we found another workamping gig except this one we would also get paid. To dry out from the soggy Pacific North West, we headed down to Arizona to manage a pumpkin patch, Christmas tree lot, and fireworks stand for the next 3 months. Our opinion as first timers, it was good pay for what we put in and we will be doing it again this year. It was definitely a great way to save some money for our future homestead and get to know an area.
We have met some amazing people on our journey and having a little over
a year of travel experience under our belts, we are so excited for this year!
We have learned that traveling for long periods without stopping is exhausting.
You stress about the engine, your stuff breaking or being lost, and having to
always pack things away. Breaks from traveling are good. It also gives us a
chance to meetup with some homeschool groups in the area. We can figure out if
we like a place in 2 weeks. We can save and/or make money by Workamping. Go
when we aren’t happy. That is the point we live in a rolling home, right?
We have loved being able to give our children a childhood of adventure and being able to really spend quality time with them on our journey together. I know that when we are old and look back, that time we bought a bus and traveled with our kids will still have been the best decision we had ever made. It isn’t always glitter and rainbows. The point is Life isn’t meant to be lived in a box. Get uncomfortable. Let your inner weird out and embrace it. Without all of the money in the world, we have memories, experiences, and a closeness that we never would have been able to attain in another way of life. We think we can live with that. Until then, we will keep searching for our homestead and enjoy big living, living tiny.
(Article as featured in November 2018 Bus Conversion Magazine)
After spending a year and a half converting our ‘99 International Genesis, Chitty Bang, into a Tiny House/Skoolie for our family of four, I started to wonder how hard it would be to park at a typical rv park or campground? What about a resort? Would they love my bus as much as we did?
She definitely does not look like an RV with the few school bus windows that are still showing from either side. The RV door does not disguise her total originality of previously being a big yellow bus that carted kids and boogers around Arizona’s ISD.
Of course, we did not want to “run with the pack” and be in crowded places. We wanted to boon dock and use this amazing solar setup we installed. We wanted to park on friend’s and family’s property while we visited and explored their state and sights.
So who cares if we don’t fit in at an RV Park with all of those unoriginal motor homes? The different “suburbs” of the traveling world, as we came to describe them.
Well, believe it or not, despite our passion for off grid living, we did find ourselves staying at just a few RV parks, campgrounds, and even a resort while traveling around the last 2 years.
Randomly, I would see a post on a Skoolie or Bus Conversion Facebook Group Page where yet another bus converter was turned away from an RV park because of stereotypes, the way their rig looked, the rules of the park itself, etc. It totally happens!
After seeing this become more of a common post, I began to exercise my due diligence before having my husband drive our big rig and entire family somewhere just to get turned away. It really is stressful enough driving our big rigs, isn’t it?
So, I researched. I start with GOOGLE MAPS and search the terms “RV”, “rv park”, “campground”, and “resort”. Then I search the area where we are wanting to go and search a certain radius. Next, I open up each place’s website (if they have one) and write down any contact info they have.
The website itself can give a lot of information about a place. You can see the amenities, the costs, the rules and regulations, pictures, how close it is to attractions, etc.
My requirements on where we stay usually depend on the reviews, what kind of rules they have, and how it looks. If I do not think we will be comfortable there, then I pass. I also use the street view on the maps as well to get an idea of the surrounding area.
By the time I go through the site, I know if it is an adult park where kids aren’t even allowed, a 55+ park where none of us are allowed, or if they even allow rigs older than 10 years, or my English Mastiff.
Let me tell you a secret though, even though they have these rules, if you really want to go, JUST ASK.
Email them. Call them. I have emailed many places just being honest about how old the rig is, who is traveling with us, that my husband is Retired Army (I think that helps let them know our character as well), and I send pictures of the bus (one inside and one outside), as well as a family pic of all of us. I feel honesty is the best policy especially if you are staying there for more than a few days.
To my surprise, I would get responses from 55+ and Adult parks saying it was totally fine if we stayed, but no more than a month since we did not meet the age/no children requirements. I would get replies from parks that would not allow rigs 10 years or older, but yet we were invited to stay.
Now, a few things, I believe, influenced the decision from these folks. One, we were always asking parks during their non-busy seasons. Two, we keep our bus pretty well maintained and painted, and she looks really nice inside, which is why I send the inside pics. I think it helps to show people that we are clean and will respect their property if we respect our own. Three, I also mention that we were in Bus Conversion Magazine and send the Cover Photo from the Magazine! That definitely helps!
I get the occasional replies, “We are full,” “We don’t take older rigs,” “We don’t take school bus conversions”, or no response at all! That is fine. Do NOT get your feelings hurt! Just take your answer and move on.
We did not get into this kind of a tiny home or lifestyle if we wanted an easy route or to fit in with the crowd. We just research, reach out, take the answers, and celebrate or move on.
As the features and amenities added up, so did the price of our rent. We had previously stayed on private land for $100/month, $200/month, with just water and electric hookups; Workamped for Full Hook Ups at a campground; Workamped in the middle of a city with full hook ups and we get paid for that gig as well; on the higher end, the Resort we stayed at was $635/month. So as you can see, the prices vary greatly depending on where you go, what you get, and what work you do.
We are the type of road warriors that like to stay in one spot for a month or more to really figure a place out. We learn about the people, the sights, and the opportunities for the kids to become a regular somewhere. We found that we also save money when we are not always traveling because the cost at places is less for a whole month as opposed to weekly or daily rates. And you save money on gas!
In the spirit of saving money, let us not forget about the FREE places that most already know about, but why not list them here too? Places like BLM land where you can stay up to 2 weeks for free boondocking, but there is no special requirement for your rig and they have some pretty great spots to camp (i.e. South Rim of the Grand Canyon)!
We have even stayed at truck stops from one night for up to 3 days! Rest areas are a great stopping place for a break too, as well. Most have a “No More than 8 Hours” Rule, but we have always stayed like 10 or 12 hours and never had any issues.
You may ask, “How do you know when a rest area, truck stop, or free place is available and how far are you from it?” Great Question! Technology has really come a long way helping those of us who live a life of traveling!
I use the apps TruckersPath and FreeCampsites.net. There are also a number of great RV park/campground applications you can download that all pretty much do the same thing for those search options.
I mostly use the two aforementioned apps while plotting the course to our destination before we head out, as well as during travel. TruckersPath will have up to date information on if there spaces available at rest areas, truck stops, and parking lots (i.e. Walmart, Home Depot, etc) as long as people are using the app.
FreeCampsites.net app links you to their website and shows a map of places people have personally used and reviewed to camp or park for free or small fee. Lots of BLM land, state land, parking lots, truck stops, etc. Use the tools at your fingertips to make traveling less stressful!
With every place we went, the price changed, the effort for services was different, and amenities were variable. You pay to play. If you are traveling in your bus conversion and just never bothered with the perks these other RVers are taking advantage of, take it from me, it is definitely worth the ask.
Just make sure you research and do your due diligence before you roll into a place, get rejected, and have a bad night at a rest stop somewhere! Take advantage of technology and apps, prepare as much as you can, and enjoy the journey! Safe Travels!
Also check out my other blogs/vlogs that will correspond with this article and more on our experiences. Links are below:
Check out what we are up to after our workamping gig ended this winter! We take a nice long break with limited people interactions and really just do what we want to! Time to decompress and get organized for our plans for the year!