Our first year living in a converted bus: Year in review, Part I

We began converting an old Ford E-450 in March 2017 into a tiny house on wheels.

If you are interested in living in a bus, or a van, or a tiny home, and you are reading this post, then you have already put more effort into researching the lifestyle than we did. In March 2017, we bought a 1999 Ford E-450 v10 shuttle bus. With little in savings, we had a week to move in before our lease was up. 

It came equipped with 16 passenger seats, a bench, and a wheelchair lift. Naturally, the seats were the first to go, selling them for under $100. The guy was over in fifteen minutes after we posted the ad on craigslist, and they were out that first day. Cody handled the seats, as I made dinner and continued packing. Later that evening, Cody came running in, distressed. He didn't have time to tell me the problem, as he ran back out with a roll of paper towels. I followed to find coolant all over the bus floor, and the passenger seat heater line cut. 

He was trying to remove the under-seat heater from the back of the bus. Taking his knife, he sliced down the side of the tubing, releasing the liquid from its sealed compartment. New rule: don't cut any lines until you are sure what they are. Panicking, I called a Ford dealership, asking them how concerned I should have been. They informed me that the passenger heater was attached to the engine, meaning if we decided to drive it, the coolant would bubble out and destroy the bus.

Next question, how do you get a bus to a dealership with a coolant leak?

You don't. We hopped on our bikes, grabbed a pipe/tube clamp, and fixed it the best we could. We cut back the line, re-affixed the heater, and googled the shit out of acceptable coolant levels, and coolant types, and bus manuals. We walked away from a possible $5,000 problem with only a $5 charge at Home Depot. Week one. 

Feeling like hot shit for fixing our mistake, we got to work on the wheelchair ramp. I figured the Ford dealership guy was pretty nice, so I'd just schedule an appointment and get it done in a couple of days. He ended the call laughing, wishing me luck. Forget a quote, he couldn't even come up with a recommendation for me. Calling two more dealerships, they both spoke with their managers, returning to the phone with an apology. Not a fucking chance. 

Wracking my brain, I tried to come up with places that frequently had wheelchairs, or accessibility vans. We called Trimet, Goodwill, several churches, and metal recycling joints. I put the pressure on, attempting the not-take-no technique. When that didn't work, I tried to evoke pity. It was more effective, and one person went to speak with their boss again, but it always ended in a no. 

Cody came up with the idea to look at less reputable auto shops - the two star-ers that have hand painted signage, rows of dilapidated cars, and negotiable pricing.

The first place we called said to come by tomorrow around noon. They'd do it for a hundred bucks, and it would only take an hour. Elated and with only a day left before move in, we piled in everything, leaving access to the ramp in the back. Less than 24 hours later, we pulled away with our open rectangle - thus beginning our ongoing game of Tetris. As Cody drove, I propped myself up against all our shit, so as to keep everything from crashing or falling. Watching the road, I predicted the turns, and held that in which I thought would be affected by the force. Dresser drawers became my highest priority, followed by the free standing bikes that were gently propped against the wall. Tensions grew as Cody misread a corner, riding the rear tire up on the curb. This tilted my world, followed by a cataclysmic earthquake. Jars of pasta sauce and shoes went flying, as drawers were opened and slammed shut. Standing, I'd stagger like a drunkard, shouting obscenities, protecting my head from anything that would fall from the overhead storage.

We had borrowed $15,000 from a credit union. That was what we had needed to buy the rig, nothing more. As we pulled into Home Depot, we set out to convert this rig to an accommodating living environment for as little as possible. All we needed were bungee cords, and gorilla glue. Converting a bus is so easy! Oh wait, we need storage, organization, safety. We can't just drill into the floor, we have to look for wiring, so we need a plan. Ah, fuck it. We can figure it out as we go. So, that's what we did. If something was an issue, we'd fix it, we thought. Looking back, we had no idea just how many problems we would face.