Early lessons in bus ownership

We had no idea what we where doing. Buses are a completely different type of vehicle to buy. Add to that, we are complete novices with RVs. I spent hours reading and researching, but I suspect that no amount of learning will prepare you for the realities of ownership.

Our budget was $12,000 and we had seven months. This didn’t leave much in the way of options. Had the situation been different, we would have started from a base bus and built it out to our preferences. We scoured Craigslist and bus conversion listing on the web. Several peaked our interest, but we settled on a 1992 International from the Des Moines, IA area. We had a third party shop review the bus, and based on that we felt the price was right. We flew to Des Moines, paid $10,000, and drove it back to Denver, CO. The drive back provided our first lesson.

  1. Retread tires are not reliable. The tires on the bus were old retreads. We had been told that there was plenty of tread on them and they seemed in good shape, but would need replacing eventually. “No problem,” we thought. That seems like a logical eventuality. However, a couple hours outside of Denver we had a blow out. This ended up being a huge bump in the road for our plans. It took over a month to repair the resulting damage. Don’t cheap out on tires.

The time we had planned to upgrade and customize the interior of the bus was absorbed by blow out repairs and some mechanical issues discovered along the way. (There is more to the story of the repairs and insurance issues involved, but I’ll save that for another day)

By the time we got the bus back, we were four days behind schedule. We had no time to do a thorough check of the systems. The bus was packed and we were on our way to Oregon. Learning how the systems worked would have to happen on the road. Which lead us to our second lesson.

2) You’ve got to roll with the punches, but always be prepared. When we hooked up at our first RV park we realalized that it was going to be a chilly night, and had no idea if the furnace was broken or if it was user error. Instead we used a little electric heater I had from my old office. It kept my feet warm on cold days; now it kept my family warm in our tiny home. It worked pretty well considering it’s size. With plenty of blankets and a Scooda foot warmer (our dog), we survived not one but three separate nights on the road when the temperature dipped into the 30s.

After we landed in our new Oregon parking spot, we discovered a few more issues. The worst was a bad water heater. For nearly two weeks we relied on the generosity of our landlords for hot showers. My husband and I are also greatful for the advice and assistance that they provided us regarding the replacement of the unit.

We did the vast majority of the work ourselves. After a few visits to the store and several attempts to stop some leaking, it was ready for a test run. By this time our nerves had been rattled, we’d had more than one fight, and I could not watch the final test. I smoked a cigarette in the driveway, far from the fumes of LP. When I returned, it was working. It gave me that feeling you get at a restaurant. You know, the one you get when you leave the table and come back to your food waiting for you. But it was better. We both felt a weight lifting off our shoulders. I was the first to take a shower and wash away the grime and grit of frustration.

It felt great. After this repair, I realized the newest lesson.

3) It’s not whether you succeed or fail, it’s that you keep trying. Unscrew and re-screw that pipe into the fitting 40 times if you have to. There is always more teflon tape.