• Become a Member Bannert AD
  • Midwest Bus Parts Banner Ad
  • Superior Driveline Banner AD
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Flame Innovation Banner AD
  • Thinkware Dash Cam Banner AD
  • Unforgettable Fire Banner AD
  • National Bus Trader Banner AD
  • Tire Table New Banner AD
  • Ardemco Supply Banner AD
  • Guard1 Services Banner AD
  • Become a Member Bannert AD
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Straight Line Banner AD
  • Shade Smith Banner Ad
  • National Bus Trader Banner AD
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Become a Member Bannert AD
  • Unforgettable Fire Banner AD
  • Tire Table New Banner AD
  • Thinkware Dash Cam Banner AD
  • Become a Member Bannert AD
  • Shade Smith Banner Ad
  • Bus Manuals Banner AD
  • Ardemco Supply Banner AD
  • Straight Line Banner AD
  • Guard1 Services Banner AD
  • Midwest Bus Parts Banner Ad
  • Flame Innovation Banner AD
  • Superior Driveline Banner AD
Kevin Daniels
February 26, 2024
102 views

A Late Bloomer

In 1995 one more International truck was assembled and it looked like every other International born that year.  This one had standard equipment, a stock white cab, a standard transmission, a DT444 V8 diesel engine, and two skinny black rails sticking out back. And $110,000 later a toter-home (towing motor home) was created complete with a queen bed, stove, fridge, bathroom, shower, built-in TV, a dinette, and small basement compartments.  The plan for this truck would be to haul FEMA trailers for emergency disaster relief and use the box as an overnight bunk.  But this machine that was built to run the pavement its whole life was retired early, very early, after just 35,000 miles. Barely broken in, it was parked in Missouri at a storage lot where the elements pounded the truck year after year. Kevin Daniels owned the storage lot and noticed a small split in the over-cab area.  He quickly tarped the area and called the owner.  But life got busy for the owner and he did not address the leak for an extended period of time. The leak worsened and the wind turned the tarp into a frayed mess, the victim of time and neglect. Soon the over-cab area took on water during each and every rain.   

Neglected and rotting, this diamond in the rough was desperately in need of some TLC.

By 2011, the tires were sinking into the lot, the engine would no longer start, the mice had taken the storage areas as their own, and the battery was beyond dead.  The rain had swelled the over-the-cab bed area and now the wooden structure was beginning to sag.  It came to rest on top of the cab. 

Water damaged over-the-cab area is resting on the roof of the cab.

Kevin called the owner, made an offer, and eventually bought the unit “as-is”. By this time, it had been years since the engine had even turned over, much less started. He called his mechanic and told him to get it running, for he planned to drive it to Connecticut where he now lived. Kevin knew this was a dangerous move but the truck had very few miles and he knew the engine was in good shape when it was parked. 

By week´s end the mechanic called and said with a new battery and a little tweaking it actually started and was running well. Since the cab was coming apart, Kevin bought 3” ratchet straps and literally strapped the bed area together to keep the top from flying apart on the trip home. During the trip, he would stop at rest areas, climb up on top, and cut away the pieces of the roof that had torn loose since the last rest stop.   It was quite a sight. Kevin remembers one fella coming up to the truck to offer some unwanted advice.  This guy put his hands on his hips, leaned back laughed, and said that truck belonged in the junkyard.  But this 1995 International that had not run in years, made a 1,100-mile journey, in a snowstorm and arrived in its new home with absolutely no problem.  The more it was driven, the better it seemed to get.   

But once in Connecticut the truck was soon sitting again.  And after just a few thousand miles on this reborn truck, Kevin’s family was not catching the vision of a renovation.  A family spat broke out over this diamond-in-the-rough becoming their new long-term motorhome!  So a year or so later the Internationa was on Craig’s list where Dan Bureau was looking for a low-cost conversion, with the caveat that he wanted something that matched his home-built trailer.   

Dan Bureau
Dan Bureau

Dan is a French Canadian carpenter in his 40s who loves playing music with his bluegrass band (called the Karl Shifflet Big Country Show) and traveling across the USA.  But now he was ready to see America from his own wheeled house instead of from one of the bunks in the band’s bus.  He intended to use his carpentry skills to get small jobs on the road converting bus interiors, and the toter-home would be a perfect mobile shop or extra band bunk house and he could live in his trailer.

Kevin and Dan entered negotiations on this International and for nearly a month they went back and forth trying to make a deal.  The transaction was completed but only after Dan threw in a drum set and a sound system to reach a final agreement.  Dan was not comfortable driving the unit 90 miles to his house so Kevin and his wife drove the truck to Dan’s place where they were able to see Dan’s last project, a tiny home/camper that Dan built from scratch on a 24’ boat trailer some eight years earlier.  Kevin and Lisa instantly knew Dan was the right guy to make the International bloom even if it was late in its life.  

Dan’s camper trailer.
Dan’s camper trailer.

They left the truck and thought they would never see Dan again. But RV sellers and buyers often become friends.  Four years later Dan looked up Kevin’s number, to thank him for the sale and for changing his life through this transaction.  Soon he was back at Kevin and Lisa’s house showing them this late bloomer and telling them the rest of the story.  It went like this:

After the purchase from Kevin, Dan borrowed a heated garage from a friend and began to look under the hood for the next three months.  The engine, body and drive components were all fine, but the living quarters were worse than expected.  As he kept removing panels, he saw that the water leakage had taken a serious toll.  Eventually Dan decided to abandon the entire living area and start over.  So the box was removed and discarded.  He only kept the doors, the entry stairs, the cab transition pieces, the basement compartments, some plumbing and almost everything else was tossed.  Dan has a Disney-like vision for what he wants and has no problem making it a reality with very little cost. He is the kind of guy that can find an old piece of wire and build a guitar around it. Repurposing items that others throw away comes natural to him and that certainly helps his goal. It also helps that he is a complete perfectionist!  

Curbside view of completed toter-home and trailer.
Curbside view of completed toter-home and trailer.

He stretched the frame 10 feet and had the basement storage compartments sandblasted and repainted. A new wood and aluminum box was constructed from scratch.  In his usual way Dan would not stand for a unit with a flat roof so instead he added a rolled train car type roof by cutting 2x6 pine boards with a reciprocating saw and covering them with plywood.  Spray bed liner covered by epoxy paint now serves as the exterior top coat and barrier. 

Water tank supported using a discarded conveyor belt.
Water tank supported using a discarded conveyor belt.
The toter-home includes Dan’s mobile shop.
The toter-home includes Dan’s mobile shop.
Dan’s camper trailer.
Dan’s camper trailer.

He used real wood white cedar siding that is used on the expensive Connecticut homes near the water. Each piece of cedar was hand nailed in place.  (Since the shakes are only rated to 150 MPH winds, Dan has to drive at speeds less than that!) Recycled plastic trim adds a lasting decoration for the windows.

He had purchased a pair of copper lamps for the trailer’s porch for $3 at a flea market. So for the toter-home fabrication, he found the same vendor and had two matching lamps made, except this time they were $100 a piece, but they matched!  The water tanks are comprised of two 35-gallon recycled plastic drums held in place with of course... a discarded conveyor belt. An attic stair ladder from a 200-year-old house became a great way to reach the bunk. Two boxes were built as “reach-in” closets accessible only from the bunk area.  

But perhaps the biggest obstacle was where to find a molded front end for the over-cab construction.  So Dan found himself in Elkhart Indiana (where he slept in his Volvo for three days) combing through the vendors to find something that would fit the front of this 20-year-old contraption.  Day three of the search brought success while digging through old fiberglass molds that were stacked in the weeds behind a warehouse.  The owners had no idea why they ever acquired this mold or what it matched, but it was a perfect fit! Weeks later Dan was back in Elkhart to pick up the new fiberglass nose.  He says you should know that a nose cone will dwarf a Volvo when tied on top!  Dan said it looked pretty funny, but he thinks it actually improved the car’s mileage on the way back!  Shortly thereafter a new perfect-fitting fiberglass nose was in place and it looked like it came straight from the factory.  

Customized couch pulls out into a bed.

Like the toter-home, the trailer is full of repurposed things of every shape and size. The couch in the living area was a chair that Dan cut in half and put back together as a couch. He built storage underneath and his mom Doris (who he calls ‘” The Magnificent”) whipped out the sewing machine and fabricated custom cushions. The columns over the bed were part of a demolition job when Dan worked at the Mystic Connecticut Masonic Lodge. An old junk organ lost its legs to Dan’s stainless kitchen sink and discarded storefront French doors were stripped of their paint and re-stained to give a vintage look. The floor is recycled distressed pine with screw and peg construction and supports the smallest pot belly stove you have ever seen. The stove vent goes through the wall and then up. The external part of the vent is easily removed and the opening is capped for travel. A four-foot copper-clad skylight graces the ceiling and supports a tarnished chandelier that adds charm for the evenings. Once again Mom made the curtains, bedspread, and just about anything else that is cloth.  In the end, the extended unit ended up 100 pounds. lighter than the original, shorter truck, and averages 10.5 miles per gallon.     

Copper clad skylight and classic tarnished chandelier provide ample light day or night.
Copper clad skylight and classic tarnished chandelier provide ample light day or night.
Kitchen and wood stove.

Dan says it took countless hours of work, but it was worth the time. Soon his house is going to be sold or rented and this new rig will be home. Now this late bloomer and her tag-along trailer will begin her maiden voyage over 20 years later. Dan plans to travel around the USA with the rig serving as a shop, home, and display. She runs perfectly, has new tires and everything has a blinding shine. Dan says that people run across the parking lot waving arms and yelling “Stop!” to get a closer look at this eclectic contraption that is his new rolling cottage.  

But at the end of the conversation, they will realize that the toter-home and trailer are a living example of his skill and they will likely hire him right on the spot for some small project or to modify their bus or RV. He’s pretty easy to spot on the road and you won’t see another like this so if you cross paths, flag him down and ask for a tour or hire him for a small project!

PS.  Kevin’s family finally agreed on a new motorhome project that is currently under construction as well! 

Article written by Kevin Daniels

Kevin Daniels was an electrical engineer for 10 years and designed aircraft electrical systems. In 2007 he became the President of Tribute Financial, a financial advisory firm in St. Louis, Missouri and Wallingford, Connecticut. He has been married 27 years to Lisa and has six children. He says he deals with paper and numbers all day, so when he comes home he is ready to get his hands dirty with a project.

Contact Information:
KjDaniels7@gmail.com

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

Related Posts

crosschevron-right