• Superior Driveline Banner AD
  • National Bus Trader Banner AD
  • Flame Innovation Banner AD
  • Midwest Bus Parts Banner Ad
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Straight Line Banner AD
  • Tire Table New Banner AD
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Unforgettable Fire Banner AD
  • Ardemco Supply Banner AD
  • Shade Smith Banner Ad
  • Thinkware Dash Cam Banner AD
  • Guard1 Services Banner AD
  • Tire Table New Banner AD
  • Ardemco Supply Banner AD
  • National Bus Trader Banner AD
  • Superior Driveline Banner AD
  • Shade Smith Banner Ad
  • Guard1 Services Banner AD
  • Unforgettable Fire Banner AD
  • Straight Line Banner AD
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Thinkware Dash Cam Banner AD
  • Midwest Bus Parts Banner Ad
  • Flame Innovation Banner AD
Adam and Chelsea Gibson
April 9, 2022

Time to Go Adventure – A 2002 Blue Bird/International 3800 Skoolie

My wife and I are both from New Mexico originally but have traveled quite a bit due to both of us serving in the military. I was in the Marine Corps and Chelsea was in the Air Force as was her father. We have two sons Parker who is about to turn one, Jet who is almost five, and our daughter Lily who just turned ten.

At this point, we’re not sure how often we will be in our bus or if we’ll keep using it as a weekend warrior RV. Chelsea is a cyber-security engineer who is fortunate enough to be able to work remotely. After I separated from the Marine Corps I began training for my private pilot’s license and became a stay-at-home dad once we realized how much we were spending on childcare in the DC area.

Chelsea and I have always liked upcycling things into useful or artistic things. It’s great for us to be creative together and more often than not it seems like we’re tackling a puzzle side by side playing off of each other’s strengths.

We once found a front door in the desert (literally in the desert), cleaned it, painted it, cut it in half, and made a pretty awesome bookshelf out of it. We also both loved exploring new places and being somewhat self-sufficient while doing so.

While I was in the Marine Corps, I had a change of duty stations from North Carolina to California. We packed our home up and shipped it. We then drove our 2006 Toyota Tacoma with a rooftop tent across the country spending three weeks camping along the Trans America Trail. It’s possible that this adventure was the one that planted the seed of travel that later bloomed into us buying and converting our bus into our tiny home on wheels!

Skoolie friends are forever!

Chelsea and I actually bought our bus along with her sister and her husband (Impulsivity Inc.) They were identical buses bought at the same time. The hope was that we would finish around the same time and be able to travel altogether.

Demolition was fairly easy as four adults were working almost in shifts. There were also two teenagers helping out when they could be torn away from TikTok or Instagram. Starting out, we didn’t know which bus belonged to which family. Once both buses were both ready for the build phase, we flipped a coin.

We got a bus!!
Seats are removed and the bus is gutted.
Seats are removed and the bus is gutted.
Jet was such a trooper while we continued the build through a Maryland winter.
Jet was such a trooper while we continued the build through a Maryland winter.
www.BusConversionMagazine.com Kokopelli Trailers Jet was such a trooper while we continued the build through a Maryland winter. Simple furring strips going up for the ceiling.
Simple furring strips going up for the ceiling.

The first part of the build process we did was the ceiling and the flooring. At this point, we were still undecided as far as floor plans go. We had a rough idea but would go back and forth on aspects like woodstove/no wood-stove, L-shaped kitchen/galley style kitchen, etc.

We did know, however, that we wanted the bus to be filled with the warm feel of natural lighting bouncing off of the wooden ceiling and walls so we covered the entire ceiling in the furring strips and then applied a light stain to them.

The wood for the ceiling was only found at Lowes and they were 1” x 4” x 8’ long fur-ring strips. At $1.98 a board they were super cheap and we would come to learn extremely versatile. After pre-drilling each hole with a drill these boards were screwed directly into the ribs of the bus which are about three feet apart for the length of the bus.

We cannot stress enough how important it is to pre-drill the holes. It makes for a much easier application of the intended screw.

If you plan on doing something similar just make sure to check the length of the screws you want to use or else you could end up going through the skin of the bus and I shouldn’t have to tell you how or why that would be bad!

We left a small section towards the rear of the bus without ceiling planks so we could install the roof deck. Once the deck was installed, we used the same planks, sanded, and finished the ceiling up.

I learned something here and that was how to apply the stain correctly. I started with a brush and got about halfway through the ceiling before switching to a roller. The roller was applying the stain at a much quicker rate as well as it coming out more even.

Masking tape helped us get a feel for our layout.
Thank goodness we did this because our layout wasn’t quite right at first.

There were a few different things that happened simultaneously at this stage in the build. Before putting down the flooring we used masking tape to tape out our entire floor plan so we could do a walkthrough. This helped us get a feel for what our floor plan would be like which is good because we ended up making some pretty big changes.

We laid our floor down under the entire build.
We love a good sweep after bus work.

Wheel Wells and Rust Patching

The flooring went in next because we thought it’d be easy to simply build on top of it, rather than worry about cutting around cabinets, the couch, etc.

This is also where we boxed off the wheel wells in the rear of the bus. One would be part of the bathroom and above the other the kids’ bunk beds. If you are hesitant about taking the factory floor up this is where I would strongly recommend taking it up, no matter how good of a condition you might think the floor is in.

From inside the bus, we felt no “crunchy” spots and there were no indications of rust but when we peeled the rubber/laminate factory flooring up we found some spots up against the wheel wells that needed repair. It makes sense though with all of the salt and moisture that the wheels kick up that these spots would need some TLC.

We had a couple of holes roughly the size of a softball or a dollar. We didn’t have a welding machine at this point so we decided to use a carbon fiber kit. It couldn’t have been simpler. First, the area of rust needs to be ground or cut out.

Then all we had to do was cut the fiber mat to size (1’’ larger than the hole it was going to cover) and coat it in the provided epoxy. It’s moldable when still wet so using disposable gloves it’s very malleable. Once the current layer was dry, we added a few more layers, and voila, good as new.

Homemade cedar live edge table before treating it.
One of our first trips in the bus was down to Assateague Island near Maryland.

The first real aspect of woodworking in our opinion came with the creation and addition of our live edge desk piece. This was my one demand for buying and building a Skoolie. I wanted a huge natural live edge desk that could be multifunctional.

After finding our slab of cedar from a local family-owned mill in western Maryland (Ko-kinda and Sons, LLC.) We sanded and added a clear coat of polyurethane and the result was amazing. We had never made anything like this it turned out so well. We use it for drinks, eating, and even sitting on. It’s honestly the first thing most people comment on when they first step into the bus.

Our couch version 1.0! We eventually changed the front to thick plywood.
We need as much storage as possible.
Chelsea and the kids modeling our couch version 2.0.
Chelsea and the kids modeling our couch version 2.0.

Next, we needed to build a couch and some of the walls around the passenger side wheel well which would become the spot for our composting toilet. We initially wanted to build one of the slide-out style couches that turn into a spare bed like we have seen on numerous Skoolie builds but we weren’t confident enough in our carpentry skills!

So, without a real plan, we started trying to measure an angle for the back part of the couch, and then we began building our L-shaped couch. We knew we wanted to use the inside for storage so we created lids where the seat portions are for access to the storage underneath. Truth be told, our couch has undergone a few makeovers as we weren’t pleased with the white panel board type façade after the initial construction.

The kitchen really started coming together with the counters.

The kitchen was one of the spaces we were most excited about during the planning and building phases. We love food! We love cooking too but we’re not all that great at it! Our boys are constantly eating so we knew we needed a full-sized fridge and plenty of pantry space.

We opted to build pantry drawers that slide out next to the fridge as well as a pretty large space above the fridge for extra food storage. We also took advantage of the wheel well space and chose not to insulate part of it for use as a hidden wine storage area! If you ever see us out on the bus, ask us to see it!

Can you spot our hidden spice rack?
Yep, you found it!

Also built into the kitchen was the hidden spice rack. The siding rack came from Amazon and we simply anchored it to the countertop. From there we measured and cut out the facade piece that hides the rack and attached the pull hardware! The rack can hold all of our spices and then some.

The cabinets were just the stock options you can get for fairly cheap at the hardware store and we reinforced them where we could just to give us some peace of mind. We didn’t want to have to replace the cabinets if they couldn’t stand up to bus life.

We opted for a kitchen without a backslash to maximize the views.
We went with a propane-fueled two-burner cooktop.

The sink we got from Ruvati and we couldn’t be happier with it. It’s on the small side but we didn’t want to lose out on counter space if we were doing dishes. On the opposite side of the sink is our two-burner stovetop and a smaller cabinet.

The two cabinets have racks and shelves in them so we’re able to store all of our dishes, pots, pans, kettle, coffee mugs, cutting boards, etc., in them. We also keep some household cleaning materials in them.

Tiny homes need tiny sinks.
Mirrors can help open up a space.
These built-in shelves were tedious and a pain but they were so worth it in the end.
What’s a modern farmhouse without a barn door?

The bathroom was the hardest part of the bus build. It was difficult simply because this room is where so many areas come together. One wall would be the interior of the bathroom but would also be the interior wall of the “bedroom” as well as the hall. The walls also needed to be able to hold the tile in the shower portion of the bathroom so the thickness of the walls came into play.

The first thing we did was build the walls around the area where the compost toilet will go and the hallway wall. Two walls, easy enough. Then came the shower/tub…

Not bad for our first time tiling.

Truth be told we put this part off for as long as we could. We would do trim work around the couch, run wires and install our backup camera, install our water dish to begin plumbing, and we even built the live edge desk while putting off the shower/tub. Then we realized it had to happen eventually so we set out to finalize the location of the tub liner.

Once it was where we all agreed on, we made our first mistake…. we began building the frame for the tub as well as installing a concrete backer board and eventually a few boxes of subway tiles! We totally overlooked the building and ensuring the drain hole was installed!

By skipping the drain and building the frame for the tub it was infinitely more difficult to install the drain when we finally came around to our mistake. There was already tile and it wasn’t coming down!

Plenty of storage on the left of the kids’ bunk beds.

Across from the bathroom we built our sons’ bunk beds. Again, we wanted somewhat of a minimalist vibe so we have open-faced bunks with simple wooden facades to keep the boys in bed… once we can wrangle them into bed of course. Both the bathroom and bunk beds were treated with the same light stain found throughout the bus.

Our dogs have a home underneath our queen-size bed.
Our bedroom is so cozy!

About this time, we realized that if we were going to get a full-sized fridge in the bus, we’d have to do it soon before the master bed was built. We purchased our fridge and prebuilt cabinets and fit them in where we had measured and taped out. Miraculously they fit within inches, making for a great fit between the couch and the pantry.

The “entertainment center” holds our movies, games, Xbox, and a few books.

From there it was buying pieces of the build here and there whenever we could afford it and spare the time to get out to the bus to put the work in. We’ve done the majority of the work ourselves except for some help from some carpenters in Maryland for our cabinet doors and drawers (we can’t do hinges well for some reason)!

Once we got rid of the yellow, the rest of the painting just flew by!
Our mural was painted.

Painting a Skoolie was honestly one of the things we didn’t want to tackle ourselves. A paint job on a vehicle regardless of its size can either look showroom great or look like a child with spray paint and too much sugar just went to town.

Seeing as how we were hoping for the former, we were considering having a body shop do the paint. However, not many body shops in our area can accommodate a 33’ school bus. We were left with two choices; leave it the school bus yellow (which we’re sure the neighbors loved) or paint it ourselves.

Editor’s Note: In some states, converting a school bus into an RV, requires it to be painted a different color than National School Bus Yellow.

Turns out Rustoleum had everything we needed. They have a pretty forgiving primer (can be used on bare, painted, or lightly rust-ed surfaces), an oil-based protective enamel paint (the almond), a satin black that was used for trim, and the front bumper, and even a clear coat for automotive uses.

The types of paint used are important because the bus will be constantly exposed to the elements, so it’s imperative to use suitable paint for a vehicle! Our roof already had a thick coat of Henry’s Tropicool for added insulation and to seal up the seams on the roof, so we had to tape off the roof along with the windows.

Using orbital sanders and 220 grit sanding discs we scuffed the entire bus…which took quite a while. There was an old clear coat over the front of the bus that took a while to completely remove but it had to be done. Headlights, the large hood-mounted mirrors, and various trim pieces were removed for the upcoming paint. We also taped off all of the windows along the side with plastic.

Again, our paint was pretty thick so we used a paint thinner made for oil-based paint so the sprayer would be able to atomize it efficiently. Just follow the mixing ratios on the paint container if you need to do this!

We tried a cheap gravity-fed spray gun from our local Napa store first. That lasted for about 10 minutes before a metal piece inside broke…So a trip to Home Depot later we had a Wagner Flexio 3000… sounds intimidating but it is fairly simple to operate and works like a dream. It was more expensive but ultimately worth the extra cost…buy cheap…buy twice…

With the Wagner Flexio paint gun, no compressed air is needed. Just plug it in and go. The spray pattern and its “reach” took some time to learn and understand but by the time half of the bus had primer we had it down. Multiple light coats look much better than fewer thick coats as thick coats can drip and look splotchy.

We sprayed 3 or 4 coats of the almond color before we were satisfied with it. It took about a week to accomplish this while we were working around the rain and our three-year-old. Once it was dry, we took to taping off the trim areas to paint the black parts.

We had to be cautious while we did this because the slightest breeze could blow black paint up onto the almond color and it would be extremely noticeable. Jet helped us tape painters’ paper along the side and we got the trim pieces done pretty quickly relative to the almond color, simply due to the small amount of trim that would be black.

Now it was time to decide whether we wanted to buy and apply vinyl decals or have a local artist paint a mural. We were honestly going with decals until a friend mentioned her brother was a tattoo artist but also did murals. We got in touch with him and it turns out he owns a tattoo shop in Damascus, Maryland.

Due to Covid, their tattoo shop wasn’t allowed to open for business and we just so happened to be finishing our almond color base coat around the same time. They mocked up our ideas on a tablet and once we gave them the thumbs up it only took two guys two days to complete our black mountains and trees!

Aside from doing AMAZING tattoos, these guys were able to take our thoughts from a quick phone conversation and put them into a feasible piece of art. We loved what they did for us and could not be happier!

After the mural was on and completely dried it was time to apply the final step…the clear coat! We were so worried about this phase because if this got screwed up it’d be hard to fix it without getting into the primer or almond layers. Turns out we were worried for nothing though, it was just like applying the other coats, loading up the gun, making sure the wind wasn’t too crazy, and spraying light even coats.

The best advice we can give when applying the clear coat is to use the sun to your advantage and look for the “wet spots” of recently applied coats. The clear coat we used had no re-coat time so coats could be applied rather quickly but if you’re using light, even coats, it dries quickly anyway.

Finally, it was time to remove all of the tape and plastic that was covering the windows, windshield, and auxiliary lights. This was the moment we had done so much work to get to! Once all the windows were visible again it really looked amazing! We were so hesitant to tackle painting the bus ourselves but it was honestly so worth it! If we can do it anybody can!

Our exterior fold-up table locks neatly for travel.
The table opens up and adds to our outdoor living space!

The table has a story that is almost as special as the table itself. While on a trip around the country, we met up with our friends from Arbour Season in Boise, Idaho. They were playing a show at the home of Steve and Dot-tie Bledsoe and they had graciously invited us to stay a night or two parked on their property with Arbour Season.

Steve and I (Adam) began chatting about busses, and carpentry, and effortlessly had a connection over working with our hands. With his workshop at our disposal, he asked if there was anything we’d like to build for the bus with some of his leftover wood from various projects.

Chelsea and I had been admiring the Painted Buffalo and Arbour Season’s outside table for months and it seemed as though now was our turn! The wood was leftover wood flooring planks and Steve took the lead on the job.

It’s hard to imagine how much one could learn in the three hours it took to build the table but by the end of the day, I was beaming. I couldn’t believe that we had taken trash-destined wood and turned it into the beautiful table it had become. We were so grateful for the Bledsoes and think of them each time we use our table!

Feeling at home in the mountains.

One of the things we like most about our bus is the ability to meet new people and introduce our children to new things, new foods, new sights, etc. The amount of creativity and inventiveness in the Skoolie community blows us away.

We went to Skooliepalooza 2021 before our build was even finished just to meet some of the folks in the community and we
were not disappointed!

One of the other benefits we found was that our family got to spend more quality time together. We noticed we spent less time playing video games or going out and spending money on material things, and more time playing, teaching, and exploring together.

Article written by Adam and Chelsea Gibson

Chelsea is a working professional that has made herself an astounding career in the information technology industry. Adam recently dove headfirst into the world of a stay-at-home father/teacher/nurse/coach among other things and could not be happier.

They are originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico but live just outside of Washington D.C. After nine years in the Marine Corps, they trekked across the country (again) to begin their new life.

Adam and Chelsea enjoy music, tacos, and trying new craft beers!

You can follow them on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
You can also visit their website, or email them: TimeToGoAdventure@gmail.com

Click HERE to read other articles by this Author
To be the first to read many new articles, and to read all articles back to 1992, become a member of BCM.
Click HERE to become a Member now!
  • Active Controlsll 1/4 AD

You may also like