It has been one year since Bus Conversion Magazine published our story as their cover and centerfold piece! If you did not get to read it, check it out below at the link or read here!
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 driveway.
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.