Manufacturer: Thomas Built Year: 2002 Length: 26 ft. Engine: Cummins 5.9 230hp Transmission: Allison 2000 Brakes: Air Miles: 85,000
We bought our bus in November 2018 from Charlotte, North Carolina (hence her name, “Charlotte”!). Once we knew we wanted to purchase a school bus and take on the challenge of renovating it, David came across the 2002 Thomas Built bus on Instagram a lot sooner than we thought we’d actually be purchasing a bus. He came across a bus that was for sale, medium-sized, and flat nose with only 85,000 miles. It ticked all of our boxes and was kept down south which limited the chance of rust. The cost was at $10,000 and way past our budget of $5,000, but I told David to give the guy a call just in case. Long story short, we flew down to Charlotte, North Carolina a week later to look at and purchase our new home.
Originally, our bus was used at Robins Air Force Base as a transport vehicle. We did wind up purchasing the bus for $5,000 and spending an extra $1,250 to ship it back to New Jersey.
Our Conversion Plans
Before we knew it, we had to sit down and come up with a budget, timeline, and personal checklists. We were eager to get started as fast as we could. We set a budget for $30,000 and a timeline for the departure on the 2nd week of July 2019. David’s goal was to quit his job and spend a couple of months working on the bus full time.
We kept the bus at a generous friend’s house for the entire duration of its build. We were lucky – we had electricity, heat, and a place to stay while we worked on the project.
When we first started, we knew we wanted a functional bus with as much storage as possible. We wanted to engineer things into the bus that would make our space super usable. We also wanted a “garage space”, plenty of kitchen counter space, 2 full-size beds, a shower, a toilet, and a comfortable place to work and eat.
Our plans quickly became more specific. Currently, our bus features a roof deck, radiant heat floors, a recirculating shower, composting toilet, a pull-out bed and couch, dinette area, heated towel rack, 4 355w solar panels (total of 1420w of solar), 135 gallons of water storage (90 gallons of fresh water inside, 45 gallons outside, & a 35 gallon gray water tank outside with its own radiant heat zone), outdoor shower, among many other things. Our goal was to create a bus that was completely sustainable and capable of remaining off-grid for large periods of time. Furthermore, we’d love for it to be as environmentally friendly as we can make it.
What We Love Most About Our Bus
Super Unique Past: For one, the fact that our bus is a US Air Force veteran bus makes it have so much character. We even have her dog tags!
Medium Sized Length: We loved the rare shape of our bus. We were looking for a medium bus and knew they were hard to come by, especially in a flat nose style.
Long Windows: She has windows that are unlike any we usually see when it comes to school buses. It just added to her uniqueness!
Great Engine & Mileage: Just because people say that school buses last forever, doesn’t always mean it’s always true. Some people buy their buses with 200,000 miles, but we wanted something with lower miles. This gem was only at 85,000 miles. On top of that, the bus came with a Cummins 5.9 Diesel engine and Allison Transmission. It had a clean bill of health from a recent inspection a few months prior to our purchase, as well.
Little to No Rust: Being that we’re from NJ, we were worried that buses around us would be too rusty. We weren’t wrong. But, we were incredibly surprised when we found how little rust this bus had. Even when we tore up the flooring, we didn’t find much!