It all started with a craigslist ad. I woke up late on a Sunday morning intending to skip church like the heathen I am, when my wife Ashley said “I think I have found our bus”. Having heard this statement in the past, I brushed it off, grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down to mindlessly check social media. Sensing her urgency, I asked her about the details.
The ad was for a 1999 Bluebird 8.3l Cummins rear pusher 84 passenger school bus for $4400. The bus was also located only a 10 hour drive away in the small town of Ennis Texas. So, I called the owner and asked him questions like “What type of transmission does it have?” and “Do you have the service records”. Although the answers would be meaningless to me (not a car guy), they seemed like the right things to ask. Luckily for me most of his answers were vague. I did find out that it was a retired school bus gone church bus and it “runs good”.
Knowing nothing about busses (driving, purchasing, etc…), I decided to take my good friend Denver (from Miller Adventures) with me to pick up the bus.
The plan was simple. We would take a 3PM flight that day and arrive around 5. We would go pay for the bus and leave early the next morning. This would get us back to Albuquerque by mid day. Of course this was wishful thinking.
First our flight was delayed due to weather. We didn’t actually take off until slightly after 7PM. This made it impossible to see the bus that day and it would further push out our travel plans.
The flight was pretty smooth and we arrived at the Love Field airport in Fort Worth Texas. Next, we took a 45 minute (felt like 45 hour) Uber ride south east to a little town called Ennis. I have discovered that the first rule of riding in an Uber is you have to listen to the driver complain about Uber (it also happens to be the second rule).
We finally arrived at our hotel which was straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We then had the best IHOP food of our life and hit the sack.
The next morning, we were picked up by the bus’ owner and he took us to meet the bus for the first time. He was extremely hesitant to sell us the bus at first as we didn’t have insurance or a CDL (commercial driver’s license). He wouldn’t even let us test drive the bus until we purchased it. We did a quick check, she started right up, we pulled it forward and pulled it backwards. This was enough. We were sold.
When you first go look at a bus, be prepared to see what it could be instead of what it is. Most of them are pretty hideous inside and maybe even have some slight body dammage (our’s does). All of this will be worked out as you convert the bus, so focus on things like engine, body style, space, rust, etc… You are really interested in purchasing a box with a solid engine. So as long as the box and engine are in good shape, you’re golden.
David the owner and I
The Long Wait
When taking a bus home, you really need 3 major things (to be discussed in detail in a later post). But for now, those things are
- Commercial Vehicle Insurance
- Temp Tags
- CDL (Commercial Driver’s License)
Reading through the skoolie forums, you will see everyone has a different story about how they had some or none of these requirements. Everything from “I brought my buddy with a CDL to drive us home” to “Drive it like you stole it”. We opted for 2/3 of these requirements.
The owner dropped us off at a coffee shop to begin the process. Denver had a “guy” (he always has a guy for something) that could help with insurance and another for registration, However it was only 9am Texas time which was 8am NM time. So we had to wait at least an hour for everything to open. So, I decided to hit the phones and call around to other known insurance companies. Almost immediatly, the person on the other end of the phone would say “we can’t insure it until after it’s been converted”. I tried this 3 or 4 times and as you can imagine became extremely discouraged. Denver keeping his cool said “just wait for my guy”.
9am eventually rolled around and we got a hold of the insurance broker he used to register his bus. Within a few minutes, we sent her everything she needed and she responded with an insurance policy and ID cards. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. ($250 up front was pretty brutal though, but worth the piece of mind)
Once we had the insurance in-hand we headed over to the local Bank of America to grab the cash. A little old lady sensed my urgency and allowed me to go ahead of her as she was going to be “long”. Like the big jerk I am, I took the opportunity. Now, cash in hand, we called the owner and he brought us back to the church.
The last step was to acquire the temp tags so that we would be less susceptible to getting pulled over. Denver called another one of his “guys” and kicked the process off. Well, this must have been the world’s slowest MVD Express because we would wait another 2.5 hours in this guys office staring at our hands and making small talk. Did I mention we hadn’t eaten a single thing today except one small piece of a Texas-shaped waffle? It was now 1:30pm and I was hangry.
Finally, the tags were emailed over, we printed them out, and taped them on to the bus. It was time to bring her home. We left at 2PM instead of the original 5am per the original plan. If we didn’t stop once and maintained a constant 65 MPH, we could be home by midnight.
Amarillo By Morning
The moment we left that church parking lot, Denver and I were giddy. If you have never driven a bus its a hilarious experience. First stop: Chick-Fil-a!
Once we began driving, it was quickly apparent that both the speedometer and gas gage were non functional. So, we had to improvise. To solve the speedometer issue, we downloaded an app called Speedometer that used the phone’s GPS to track your speed. Using our engineering genious, we mounted the phone to the dashboard using a backpack and soda bottle.
To solve the gas gauge issue, we filled the bus to the max. Then just used our math brains to figure out MPG using distance and gallons on the next fill up. For those wondering, we got about 7 MPG which was slightly less than expected given the 25MPH headwinds we faced as we drove west through a storm heading east.
Filling up with gas was quite the experience. The first decision you have to make when arriving at a gas station was “big trucks” or “cars” entrance. We opted for the “big trucks” entrance. This was both a great and terrible idea. First, it was great because there was plenty of space to pull the bus in, we had no problem maneuvering to the pump and the truckers were actually quite patient while we figured things out. The bad is listed below:
- At stations like LOVES, you can’t use a credit card to just ‘fill up’. You must prepay unless you have some fancy trucker card. This required a bit of guesswork on our part.
- The pumps are on both sides. This is so truckers can fill both of their tanks at the same time. Unlucky for us, the master pump was on the side opposite of our gas tank. This required one of us to hold the master pump on our hand while the other filled up.
- The pressure of the pumps was insane! We learned this early on as diesel fuel sprayed out of the tank covering us in fuel. This made for a stinkier ride home.
As I mentioned, you have to prepay. We found one LOVEs attendant that was kind enough to open the pump before we paid, so we could ensure a full tank. After filling up $75 worth, I went back inside to pay. Since I was using my credit cards from anther state, the banks thought it would be fun to play a joke on me and ensure they ALL declined. The gas station attendant was not amused. Using that math brain again, I just grabbed cash out of the ATM and paid the attendant.
After 9 hours of driving we were finally in the least Texas-y part of Texas that we had encourntered: Amarillo. We arrived just before 11pm allowing us to enjoy some MUCH needed Starbucks. You might be wondering why we are at 9 hours and still so far from Albuquerque. Well, we noticed that once we hit 60+ MPH, the dashboard would illuminate a “high engine temperature” light. This of course scared me to death as I deduced from this that the bus would explode any minute. Denver assured me that it was just the panel malfunctioning as our engine temperature showed a healthy 190 degrees. Needless to say, when it was my turn to drive, I kept her at a cool 55MPH increasing the time of our trip.
The Home Stretch
Denver decided to snooze while I drove to Santa Rosa, NM. By the time we got there, I was delirious. It was now 2am. We switched positions and began our final 2 hours to Albuquerque. Remember when I mentioned the storm? Well, by the time we got into the mountains, we were getting hammered with a mix of snow and rain. The road was completely white and the lines invisible. Denver and I had to decide to press on or stop at a nearby hotel. Drawing from our experience of playing the Oregon Trail, we decided to forge the river hoping no one dies of dysentery. This was by far the scariest part of the trip (and perhaps my life).
We eventually dropped Denver off at his house and I drove another 5 miles to my house. I have never been so happy to see my home in my life. I parked the bus, went inside and collapsed on my bed after traveling for the past 33 hours.
Now it’s time to get to work.
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