Nick said a huge thank you in his own words, “The trip was an incredible journey through so many amazing national parks, cities, and landmarks. Unfortunately it has now come to an end as half of us go on to real jobs and the remaining four of us work on securing jobs of our own. Big thank you’s to all our friends and family, the gofundme donors that helped us pay for our broken transmission and the sponsors who helped make this a little easier.”
For those who are interested in doing their own version of this DIY, Nick says, “We highly encourage anyone interested in building their own skoolie to just do it! It may seem daunting at first but when you’re rolling down the interstate with panoramic views from your “living room” you’ll realize it was all worth it. There are a ton of great projects online like ‘Hank Bought a Bus’ and ‘Project Moose’ who were inspirations to us and can help guide you through the process. Instagram #skoolie is also a great resource.”
Now that you have all of the information, would you restore your very own school bus and go on a long road trip? WE WOULD!
This is the story of how eight Notre Dame grad students transformed an old school bus they bought for very cheap into a dream RV. The whole idea was started out by Nick Machesney and two of his fellow friends at the university. The planned out and executed the makeover of dreams to make the ultimate driving mini home for the summer. They had everything you could ever want on this bus: comfortable beds, tons of seating space on the custom-made sofas, electrical outlets, roof deck and refrigerator for beer. Here’s how they did it!
Nick and his friend bought an old Indiana school bus for close to nothing. The bus was functional but in terrible condition, having not much to offer those who purchase it at the state it originally was. However, what they planned to do to the bus would have them gutting the bus anyway. The whole project cost these students a total of $20,000. It was worth every penny. When they would be done with the bus it would be the greatest way to travel around the country.
The students got to work on the bus, calling it SerendipitiBus. While the idea was originally by Nick and two other friends, there was a total of eight students who eventually signed on to fund and build the project as they knew it was a sensational idea. They wanted to have the best summer between the first year and second year of their Master’s program. Here we see the bunch at Mount Rushmore at one of their pit stops.
No construction experience
The eight students were very bright indeed, but they did not have much construction experience. However, they knew that they could get the job done and decided to dedicate every moment they weren’t studying to the reconstruction of this great piece of auto machinery. The 40-foot bus would need to be entirely gutted and redesigned from the inside out. The students were most certainly up to the task.
The photo here is of the interior plan of the bus, which was purchased by the group from a guy named Mike, who wanted to do the very same thing with the bus but never got around to it. The plan was to get the bus to the standards that they wanted and take it on an 8,000-mile ride from Indiana, through, Seattle, Los Angeles, Texas, and back again. Nick, who was the original brains behind the operation, said, “You can kind of do anything you put your mind to, and that’s what we learned through this.”
When Nick and the group bought the bus off of Mike, it had already had some renovations done to it, a move that made it easier for the group to make the bus what they wanted. Mike had already taken out all of the seats and put some old furniture inside it to take it from normal school bus to something much more. Buying the bus wasn’t a complicated task and as soon as it was theirs, the bus began getting the new face and interior that the group designed for it.
Indiana can get rather cold in the winter, and school buses are not insulated to say the least. The first thing the group needed to do was insulate the bus to make sure it kept the outside conditions from getting inside. Nick remembered the first time he saw the bus, stating, “It was basically an empty shell with a terrible paint job and a bunch of junk on the inside.”
The best part about the bus was that when they bought it, it only had 123,000 miles on it and contained a 5.9 liter Cummins diesel engine, which was a very powerful one to have under the hood. While Nick brought about the entire idea, it was Rory Dunne who was all over the electrical work on the bus. He installed five batteries on the bus. Another friend, John Wetzel, took care of all of the plumbing issues, and Samantha Coughlin was all over the wallpaper and interior design.
The bedding, for all eight of the students involved in this project, was done by buying queen size mattresses online and cutting them up upon arrival to make them fit into the bunks they were planning on building into the side of the back of the bus. The layout was a very smart one, as there was an area for lounging around together and a separate area for sleeping.
In the middle of the lounging area, the students decided they wanted a giant sofa that they could play around with. They got several cushions and boards to build the sofa and used extra boards and the back cushions to make an area in the middle that would connect the two sides of the bus into one giant sofa for everyone to relax on at any given time.
Trouble along the way
When the students decided to take the bus on its first run, they were met with some mechanical issues they didn’t see coming. First, the bus ran radiator fluid – that needed to be repaired. Secondly, the bus stopped and had to be towed to a nearby casino. Once there they were met with a huge transmission issue that left them no choice but to repair it for $7,000.
Heating and cooling
Some of the most complicated things to be done to the bus were not in the building but in the electrical and temperature genre. The bus was fitted with an AC unit and heat-repelling paint in order to make sure the habitants were cool and comfortable when they would reach warmer destinations. The students also had bikes of their own, which they liked to keep on top of the bus where they planned out a rooftop deck that rarely got used.
The flooring of the bus is both plywood and vinyl planks in two distinct layers. As Nick said, “Plywood sub flooring secured to the runners with screws and liquid nails. We next built boxes around the wheel wells to pack with insulation – again to keep out road noise.” They made a point of making sure that all road noise, engine noise and outside temperature would stay out of the interior of the bus to make it as smooth and as comfortable as possible.
In terms of the kitchen, the original design was set to have the kitchen closer to the front and in booth formation. They instead decided to take it farther back. Nick said, “Jumping a little ahead, next came the framing for the couches and kitchen. After much discussion we ditched our original booth idea and moved the entire kitchen to the passenger side of the bus, making sure to run our PEX water lines underneath to the driver’s side for RV hookups.”
The kitchen was initially meant to be gas based but they quickly realized that was a horrible idea and a huge safety risk, so they made all of the appliances electric instead. Nick recollected, “After a few fireballs during attempts to connect these gas appliances, we quickly ditched them in favor of electric appliances.” The kitchen was followed by the electrical system.
Nick was very proud of the way they decided to make the bunk beds. He said, “We designed the bunks to be half the size of a queen bed, bought four 6″ memory foam mattresses on Amazon and cut them in half with a hand saw. With Prime they were shipped for free in two days and it only cost ~$80/person for an extremely comfortable bed – one of our better decisions.”
“John starting to install the plumbing system. Our system includes fresh and grey water tanks, two sinks, a faucet that could potentially be used as a shower, an electric water pump, and an external RV hose hookup.” This was what Nick described as the work done in terms of the plumbing system, which we all know is a crucial part of any place you would be living in.
The reason for the logo in the photo was due to the fact that Amy, who was a part of the team, “worked with McDonalds who hooked us up with an amazing sponsorship. Along with allowing us to eat at (way too many) Mickey D’s during the trip, they also set up a sendoff event at the local franchise where we bought meals for unsuspecting guests.”
The exterior of the bus was something that took less time but was just as important. The initial paint job that was done on the bus was chipping away and rusting. The team decided to remove excess paint, proceeding to add two coats of primer to give it a fresh base. Nick said, “It only took us a day to get two coats of white primer on it and the improvement was incredible (even if it looked like a prison bus). We took it like this to the Derby and parked it next to a bus belonging to some of the Notre Dame seniors. Shows how truly massive our bus is.”
With this beautiful bus ready to go and looking like it should be featured in an interior design catalog, the students set off on a 19 state road trip. Nick said, “I would encourage anyone that wants to do it. It could be done a lot more affordably than we did it—and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.” Nick and company were sure they were going to have the very best summer with one another and this really sweet ride they created for themselves.
And so they did. Here we see Nick sitting on the 21 inch couch which is also a storage couch as it has boxes on stuff under each and every cushion to make it even more practical and smart. “Six boards we stored in back spanned the gap between the couches where the couch back cushions fit perfectly to form the ‘MEGAcouch’.”
Every inch of space on this bus was used and it was built with the intent to make every piece of furniture extra storage as well. The couch, as we said, as well as the walls, drawers, cabinets in narrow endings of the tables and many more other smart hacks. The kitchen space was the most tricky, using the “space next to the sink for a double hot plate/propane camp stove.” There was a wall map on the bus (of the area that they were going to be traveling through).
In the map wall there were cabinets where they stored anything and everything they need to while they were on the road. They didn’t leave anything to chance. The bunk beds were spaced enough apart that you got your own privacy, not to mention curtains that could be closed when one is in the bunk and wanting some personal space of their own.
Once they were on the road, epic eight as we like to call them got to see some incredible American views. Here they are in San Francisco overlooking the Bay. The bus they worked so hard on gifted these students the summer of their dreams, seeing places they otherwise would need to fly to in a very cool way. After the road trip, the group said that they would sell SerendipitiBus so that someone else could enjoy what they did.
It cost the group $20,000 in total for this road trip to happen. They plan on selling the bus for $16,000. What that means is that they each spent $500 for a summer of incredible experiences (that started from the moment the decided to make this bus from simple to magnificent). Whoever decides to buy the bus is sure to get a lot of adventures out of it.
SerendipitiBus has both an Instagram and Twitter account that were very active in 2015 when the epic eight were on the road as well as preparing to go on the road. Now, the accounts are no longer active but they still show the many incredible moments that they went through on their road to the road! Their Twitter profile states, “A converted school bus journeys across the USA to meet interesting people and see the US. Follow us on our trip for fun, cool photos and lots of adventures!”