It will be anti-climactic for some bus converters; it was for me. I spent over half a million dollars and at least 15,000 hours of my time converting five buses in total. I started my first bus, an Eagle, in 1998. At about the same time, I start working on my first restaurant Le Loup (The Wolf in French). It was just a build-out, of an existing restaurant. Interesting fact: It used to be a Speak-Easy. I had Bill Lowman (he wrote the book How to Convert Buses into Motorhomes) help me to pick out the best rust-free Eagle he could find. As I remember, I paid $10,000 for it.
A bus like the Eagle can be used as is. Many buses are sold without tires, but Bill knew the seller at Hausman Bus Sales. It had a “run forever” Series 60 engine. The average service life of the 2-cycle engine is about 400,000 miles but can be a lot less if not properly maintained. Most 4-cycle engines can run at least twice that before they need to be rebuilt.
At first, I did all of the work on the Eagle at my house, an 8,500-square-foot Wicker Park Mansion. The house was empty for a long time and a lot of damage was done. I worked on the house about the same time I had the Eagle in my yard. The conversion and the house went slow. My friend Dieter was as German as I and we drank a lot of Beck’s beer when we worked on the bus...LOL.
The house was a 3-story building, with an elevator going to the third floor that was used as a recreation room with a dance floor. It still had a Grand Piano in it, only because it was too difficult to take down the stairs. A big commercial kitchen was in the basement with a walk-in cooler. The house had a dumbwaiter going to the 1st-floor dining room.
The house only had three bedrooms. A master bedroom with a fireplace and a bathroom. It was connected to a smaller baby room and a guest room. On the other side, there were maid’s quarters. The house had no central A/C, hot water, or heat. It was sitting on a 7,500-square-foot lot and it came with an attached 7,500-square-foot lot.
I did most of the work on the house myself, with the help of Dieter. I sold the empty lot for $130,000 (it was worth three times that much). The bus was coming along with the house, between beers.
The first thing we did to the Eagle, was to remove the seats. That requires a lot of cutting of rusty bolts. The seats were like new, and I sold them back to Hausman. Then we cut all the luggage racks and lights etc. After that, we removed the decals from the outside and prepped the bus for paint.
I was desperately looking for a place to work on the bus inside, out of the weather. My friend Diesel Bob (RIP) found a place in Wisconsin. It was at Javco trailer. I had the use of all five acres and had one inside stall. That’s when I got in deep into the Bus Nut thing.
Now I had all the room needed to get more buses. I used to go to the Madison Bus Auction. Their buses were all in fair shape and running. I used to buy all their RTS buses. I usually had about 20 buses in my yard at one time.
At the start, I had a company buying my RTS buses so that they could cut them down to 30’ buses and make emergency vehicles out of them. At some auctions, some buses did not sell and they just gave them to me for free. I used to run the buses that ran through the bus wash and check them for safety, before making the 50-mile drive to my place.
I bought some buses from Milwaukee too, just the Suburban RTS buses, because they had the 8V92 engines with higher gearing. The basic RTS has the 6V92 engine, but earlier models, like the 79 model I bought had the 8V71 and 6V71 engines, which I later changed to 300 HP 6V92 Engines.
The 8V71 is a 318 HP engine, and the turbo-charged model is a 350. I sold a few engines to GMC converters because they easily can be made to fit. Also, the Allison V730 replaces the GMC 2-speed transmission. They also had Ross power steering.
I need to add a (now) funny story. My mechanic Diesel Bob Installed a power steering box in my friend’s bus, a Suburban “Fish-bowl”. Bob told me it did not fit and that he needed to modify it to fit, which he did.
A week later my friend was to take his bus to the Florida Harley Fest and came to pick up the bus. When he started to drive away, the bus was steering in the wrong direction, left to right and right to left. Diesel Bob was nowhere to be found. We had plenty of power steering boxes to fix the problem, but the one Bob put in, he welded it in place. My helper Tyron and I fixed it, but my friend was very upset. Bob made even more costly mistakes, which could be stories on their own.
My house was pretty much finished by then. I spent little time at my house because driving the 60 miles to Wisconsin most days was too much for just one day. I stayed in my RTS bus most nights and on weekends. My wife and dogs used to join me. It was one of the best times in my life.
I sold the house for four times what I paid for it if I include the sale of the empty lot. I bought a big house in Three Oaks on three acres about an hour closer to my Wisconsin place. It was a big house, with an in-ground heated swimming pool. However, I did not spend much time there.
My Dina was parked there for a while because there was plenty of room. The Dina was a ready-to-be-converted bus shell. No seats were to be removed and the windows were covered over. I only had that house for a short time.
I then spent most of my time at my shop, sleeping in my RTS conversion, or my lakefront condo.
This may be a long story, but it’s only a drop in the bucket of my house and bus experience. And I am the Wayward Wulf, converter of many buses as you can see by the many articles, I have written for BCM over the years.
Editors Note: To read other articles by Wulf, click HERE to see the list of articles that were run in BCM over the years by searching for “Wulf”.