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Katie and Eric Fowler
December 4, 2023
81 views

The Roaming Fowler Bus A 2004 Blue Bird All-American 

Our Skoolie dreams started as a wild pipedream. Eric and I have always enjoyed watching tiny home-related YouTube videos and shows like ‘Tiny House Nation.’ The thought of living tiny has intrigued us for years. However, I do have to be completely honest. Eric was the one who had the bus conversion dreams. He brought up the idea about ten(ish) years ago and I immediately shut him down. No discussion, just no. Then insert our growing family, losing loved ones, and 2020. My entire idea of what I wanted in life shifted. Both of our mindsets changed. 

In the spring of 2020, I approached Eric with the idea of traveling the country in a motorhome. Not sure if you caught that but not a bus. I was still against doing a bus conversion. Crazy, I know. I still feel a bit of guilt for all the time we wasted, but I’m chalking that up to God’s timing. We unfortunately spent an insane amount of time scouring RV sales lots and every RV website known to man. We searched from October 2020 through March 2021 for the “perfect RV.” When the lots didn’t pan out, we decided to try online bidding. 

We ended up putting in a few bids but lost out on all of them. I was feeling defeated at this point. It seemed like my grand idea was fading away. Then about a week later Eric and I went to dinner and talked about everything. We sat there for hours talking about what we wanted in life. We discussed all the long-term dreams and goals we had for our family. Eric brought up the advantages of a bus conversion again. 

He laid out everything that the conversion would entail. He even drew up a rough sketch on a napkin. That night was a complete turning point for me. After listening to Eric, I was all in. I can’t express enough how happy I am that I finally came around because this is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made together. 

I talk about God’s timing a lot and I fully believe he played a part in the process of us buying our bus. The night we decided a conversion was the way to go, we also decided to list our camper on Facebook Marketplace. Originally, we were planning to use it as a trade-in for another RV. I listed our camper on a random Wednesday night and by Thursday morning we had over thirty offers! My inbox was FULL, and I was completely overwhelmed. 

We eventually weeded through everyone and had our camper sold and we had cash in our hand early Saturday morning. The VERY next day Eric found a listing on Craigslist for a retired school bus. It was listed in a town that was only three hours away. We called the owner and scheduled our meet up and two days later we purchased it right on the spot. Thus began our conversion journey. 

Let me backtrack to the day we purchased our bus. I don’t think Eric and I slept at all the night before. It was like the night before an epic trip or Christmas. I’m probably exaggerating a little, but I think you get the idea of how excited we were. Early that morning we dropped our littles off at Eric’s parents’ and started our three-hour journey to the bus. We were anxious the entire ride and even though we weren’t 100% sure we were going to purchase the bus we still talked about everything we wanted to do with it! 

The first day we brought the bus home! All our family members came over and joined in on our excitement!
The cockpit area when the bus was brought home.
The first photo I snapped of the interior of the bus.

When we arrived, the bus was parked outside of the owner’s barn, and it just gleamed. It was perfect. The owners had purchased the bus from a school lot, and they only took it on one trip (Mt. Rushmore). It had been safely tucked in their barn for a little over a year. We really lucked out! Eric inspected it the best he could. He walked through the bus and all around the outside. He asked a lot of questions, then he checked the tires, windows, and underbelly for rust. We chatted privately for a few minutes and then we handed the cash over and we were given the keys and title! 

It was such a surreal moment. Watching Eric fire our bus up for the first time was a moment filled with so much excitement followed by “holy crap we just bought a bus!”  A memory I vividly remember was the previous owner asking Eric, “Have you ever driven a bus before?” and Eric replied, “Nope, never.” We all laughed, and he replied, “Ah, you’ll be fine.” 

Of course, Eric drove the bus home like he’d been doing it his whole life. We hit a major highway here in Indiana at rush hour and he crushed it. I was so proud of him! The highlight of that whole day was bringing the bus home to our nuggets. They were a part of the RV search and all the conversations about the bus, so they were just as elated as we were! That was a pretty big day for our family.

The morning after we brought our bus home we got to work. I remember being blown away by Eric. He was removing rivets and panels like a professional, and I kept thinking, “What are we doing?” A little non-pro tip, we found out that an air chisel works amazingly well to get all those pesky rivets out. We knew right away we wanted to gut our bus almost 100%. We removed every rivet, panel, and seat. 

We chucked the original A/C and heating units. We stripped the floors to the original metal and carefully removed the wheelchair lift. The only thing we didn’t touch was our windows. Thankfully they were in excellent condition and had zero leaks. This project quickly became a family affair. Our littles loved being a part of the demo and it made the process so much more memorable. The entire gut job took us a little over a month and then we went right into the conversion process.  

Day one of the demolition process.

I’m sure all of you know. Converting a bus is no small feat. We knew in the beginning, it was going to be quite an undertaking. We had high hopes of completing it in 9-12 months but that definitely did not happen. And that’s okay. We quickly realized that we needed to remain realistic with our goals. Eric has a full-time job, and we have three little ones who are in sports and activities, so we decided to not give ourselves a completion date. Once we did away with timelines, we were able to enjoy the process. 

We started with our floors first. We stripped them down to the original metal flooring and Eric addressed all the rust. He sanded and welded for a couple of weeks. Then our oldest nugget and I put a fresh coat of Rust-oleum’s professional protective enamel on the entire floor. Next, we framed them, added insulation, and topped them with plywood. 

We finished our floors with vinyl plank flooring and so far, we’re extremely happy with it. I should note we did not add the vinyl plank flooring until the very end. We just laid down a piece of remnant while we worked. We were concerned the flooring would get destroyed during the rest of the conversion process. 

After the floors, we started on the electrical system. Surprisingly this process went incredibly smoothly. Eric took his time figuring out what wire went to what and he slowly deleted the unnecessary wires. In just five days Eric managed to get our system down to seven wires! From there I feel like we worked randomly but not. (Not sure if that makes any sense.) We had so many projects unfolding at once. Eric was working on side walls and deleting windows and I was taking off decals and reflectors on the exterior of the bus. 

There definitely was no shortage of work! We were fortunate enough to receive some help from a few family members. When it came time to install our lighting system my (Katie’s) dad helped us knock that out in one weekend! Eric’s dad and uncle helped us with the entire exterior painting process. If you’ve ever painted anything that size, then you know how tedious the process is. It took us two days just to tape the entire bus off! The actual painting only took Eric a couple of hours. 

While we were knocking projects off our list, we were also trying to perfect our layout and order all of the components we needed. We spent a lot of time shopping around and looking for the best deals. I’d say solar took Eric the longest to decide on and that’s also where the biggest chunk of our budget was spent. Eric spent a lot of time planning that all out. It’s all foreign to me but I’m learning! 

We spent a lot of time working on our kitchen. We ended up changing the layout four or five times. Like most families, it’s the heart of our home and we wanted it to be as perfect as possible. Originally, we wanted both bottom and upper cabinets, but we changed our minds at the last minute. So far, they’re working out great and it’s keeping us from having too many unnecessary items. We may change our minds again down the road, but right we’re really happy with them. 

We decided to go with butcher block countertops simply because we love the look of them. We have seven feet of counter space (including the sink) that we are extremely grateful for! Tons of counter space was a must because we love to cook and bake as a family. We were lucky enough to have some butcher block left over so we made an open shelf with part of it and the rest was used to create a fold-down table. We love how everything turned out. We really were able to utilize the space. The entire front living space is my absolute favorite! I know so many memories will be made there. 

Another area I really enjoy is our nugget’s bunk spaces. Eric came up with this random design one night and I immediately fell in love! They’re modern meets Bohemian. Two of the bunks have storage underneath for their clothes. We planned to put a washer and dryer on the side that wasn’t a bed but our oldest needed more space height-wise, so we lowered her area. Now it is a pretty cool play area! It turned out better than we imagined!  It flows so well with the front of the bus and our littles are incredibly happy!  

A big concern for us was privacy.  We are very much a tight-knit family; however, we knew we would need a little bit of space and separation. I don’t think tiny living means you have to sacrifice ALL your personal space. We decided to put our bathroom in between the littles’ bunks and our master bedroom. We chose to do one room for our bathroom. We have a sink, vanity, standing shower, composting toilet, and skylights in this space. 

This was another area that took a lot of time to decide on the layout. We went back and forth a lot!  Overall, we are loving how it turned out. I really enjoy that our littles can use the sink easily and we can get up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night without waking them. We put their needs at the forefront of a lot of our design. Like our bedroom.  

I knew we had to have a queen-sized bed. We love movie nights and cozy weekend cuddles. Plus, our youngest still enjoys co-sleeping most nights. One request I had for our master was that I could walk around part of the bed. I did not want to have to climb over Eric to get in and out. I don’t know how he did it, but he created the most perfect master bedroom for us! We have a queen-sized bed (with freshwater tanks underneath), a small closet (the water heater is in here), open shelving above the bed, a mirror, a cube shelf, and a small TV and DVD player mounted to the wall. I know I keep saying it, but I love this space! 

The next biggest portion of our build was spent on materials. Truthfully, we did not start this project at an ideal time. Lumber and material prices were through the roof, so our conversion took a little longer because of that. We had to step back and reevaluate our budget a couple of times. Fortunately, we were blessed with a load of lumber from one of Eric’s uncles. He happened to know a guy (best kinds of deals) at a sawmill who had wormy maple for a cheap price. 

Eric’s dad drove down to Tennessee to pick it up for us and we ended up using it for our ceiling. It looks absolutely beautiful, and we saved a TON of money. We will be forever grateful for all the help and encouragement we’ve received. Fast forward nineteen months and we’re so happy with our build. We’re still not saying that we’re 100% finished but our bus is livable. 

We’re adding a few things to make it feel more like home to us. I have this vision of a cozy, Bohemian space, and we’re almost there.  

We have a pellet stove! It’s a Master Forge brand that we purchased from Menards, and we love it! We’re able to set the temp and control it all digitally. We buy our bags of pellets from our local Tractor and Supply store, and they cost us five dollars a bag. Currently, we’re averaging about one bag every two weeks, but we haven’t hit winter yet. 

We are working on adding some final touches to our pantry and master closet. After all these projects, I think we’ll officially be done. Maybe. I hope! (ha-ha!) 

We have a little advice for anyone who is thinking of starting a conversion or is in the beginning stages: 

Stick with a realistic budget that works for you. 

Give yourself grace and know that mistakes are going to happen. 

Never be afraid to ask for help. We all need it sometimes. 

Do not compare yourself to people you see on social media. Doing so can steal your joy. 

Remember to enjoy the process. This is such an amazing journey, soak it up! 

So, the number one question we get asked is “Why did you choose a bus over another type of RV?”  We have a few answers to that. After owning a camper, we knew what the materials they used to build those were like. We’ve seen gorgeous campers, but the structure is just not there. We needed something more durable. We knew we needed something that would work as a semi-long-term home for us. 

We plan on traveling for 1-2 years but we will always keep our bus. Our travels are going to include us looking for the place where we want to put down roots and start our homestead. We will be living in our bus while we build our next home and then we’ll keep it as a spot for family to stay and as vacation property.

We want this bus to last us at least 3-4 years so we had to have something that would, 

Last structurally 

Could withstand an Indiana winter, and 

Could be made to fit our family’s exact needs. 

This leads to another major reason we went with a bus. I fell in love with the idea of designing the entire thing from top to bottom. That sold me! This reason is probably a given, but we know that buses carry littles day in and day out, and with us having three we wanted the safest option. We feel confident that our tiny home on wheels will keep us safe while on the road. 

As of fall 2023, we have taken our bus on its first adventure. We visited our first campground/state park in April 2023, and in July 2023 we drove it from Indiana to Tennessee. I do want to add we spend most weekends living in our bus so we can get used to living tiny. 

Future bus plans… Our goal is to sell our current home and move into our bus full-time. Our tiny home will be parked on Eric’s parents’ property. From there, who knows? This part of our journey is just beginning.

Bus Specifications

General:

Year: 2004

Manufacturer: Blue Bird

Model: All-American

Weight: Just Under 26,000 lbs.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 100 Gallons

Engine: Cummins ISC 8.3 liters Turbo Diesel 

Transmission: Allison Automatic Transmission 

Overall Length: 40 feet 

Interior Width: 7 feet 6 inches

Interior Height: 6 feet 4 inches

Raised Roof: None

Solar Power: Purchased from a Solar Shop

Total: 3200 Watts on the Roof - 8 Panels 

House batteries: (1) Large Battery - 48V 12KWH 233 Amp Hours

Inverter:

Size (watts): 6,000-watt - Split Phase 120V/ 240V Output 48V All-in-one Solar Inverter/Charger 2x MPPT’s 8,000-watts of Solar Input 

External Equipment:

Fresh Water Tank Capacity: 200 Gallons

Black Water Tank Capacity: None (Composting Toilet)

Gray Water Tank Capacity: 175 Gallons 

Gray Tank Material: Stainless steel (Eric made/welded it)

Water Heater Type: Navient Instantaneous (Propane) 

Plumbing Materials Used: PEX

Propane: (2) Tanks that are Removable and stationery (Total capacity: 30 lbs. a piece - They each hold 7 Gallons of Propane)

Internal Equipment:

Stove/ Oven: 4-Burner - Frigidaire Gas Range 

Refrigerator: 20.5 cubic ft. - Frigidaire

Heating & A/C: Mr. Cool- 12,000 BTU 120V DIY Mini-Split and a pellet stove (Master Forge). 

TVs: (2) 24-inch smart TVs. One is in our living room and the other is in our master bedroom. They each have a DVD player mounted behind them. 

Beds (How many and what sizes): 4 beds- Our master bed is queen-size. Two of our bunks are twins, but cut a smidge off to fit lengthwise. We also have a standard-size toddler bed in the third bunk space. 

Interior: 

Wall Material: Utility board - 1st layer was 1 by’s, 2nd layer is polystyrene insulation, 3rd layer was 6-millimeter plastic sheeting and 4th layer is ¼ utility board.

Ceiling Material: Wormy Maple

Flooring Material: Layer of polystyrene, a layer of ½ inch plywood, vinyl plank flooring

Type of Insulation: The floors and walls are polystyrene & Ceiling we used spray foam. 2 inches closed cell. 

Cabinets: We have 5 feet of bottom cabinets-Hampton Bay (purchased from Home Depot) No upper cabinets

Countertop Material: Butcher Block

Window Coverings: Right now, we are using handmade curtains, but we’ll be changing soon to something that helps combat the weather. 

Lighting Type: LED 6-inch 850 lumen switchable round dimmable LED can less recessed downlight

Miscellaneous: 

How long have we owned our bus? Since April 2021

Did you do the conversion yourselves? We did almost everything on our own. We did have help from Katie’s dad. He’s a master electrician and helped with our lighting system and Eric’s dad and uncle helped with the entire exterior painting process.

How much did the bus cost? $4,000

How much was spent on the conversion? We’re not completely wrapped up, but we calculated, and we will come in right at $29,000 (we’re working on adding outside storage and a wood stove, so we factored that in.)

Notable features: We strived to have an open floor plan and a standard-size couch and shower. I am also very grateful that Eric could put a large bookshelf up front for me! We homeschool and have a pretty big children’s book collection that I didn’t want to leave behind.

What would you do differently next time? This is a tough one for us. As of right now, we don’t have anything we would change but I know this will change as we live init full-time and as our littles grow. 

Article written by Katie and Eric Fowler

There is so much more than corn in Indiana, but the Hoosier-based Fowler family is ready to explore outside of their home state. Katie, Eric, and their three littles are wrapping up all the final touches on their first school bus conversion.

When Katie and Eric got married ten years ago, they put their nomadic dreams on hold to start their family. They believed they needed to follow the “American Dream.” Fortunately, in 2020 they both agreed it was time to chase that old dream and pave their own path.

Their plans are a little up in the air right now however, they have a goal to pass through as many U.S. small towns as they possibly can. Their love of nature, food, history, funky roadside attractions, and mom-and-pop shops will be the driving force behind their travels. They cannot wait to spend their days traveling on the open road.

While their hearts will always be connected to Indiana, they just can’t help but wonder what else is out there.

Follow along with their adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
Feel free to email them with any questions at AdventuringFowlers@gmail.com

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