Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Finding Joy (part 3 of 3)


I pondered this question for months. What size bus? I decided to go for a mid-size bus. These are usually 24-30 feet long.

The short buses fit into lots of places easily but with a wheelchair I felt cramped inside.

The long buses (35-40 feet) are hard to park and have fewer campground options. These negatives make the additional interior space not worth it to me.

Next I needed to find a bus with a wheelchair lift door. I don’t care about the lift just want the door. Ideally I wanted the lift door to be near the front entrance so I could put the bed in the back (some lift doors are in the back corner).

The big question became a balancing act of money versus level of conversion. The prices are all over the place. One seller had a bus with just the seats removed and wanted $7,000. Another seller with the same level of conversion wanted $4,000.  When other factors such as electrical, plumbing and solar systems get added in the price ranges went from $15,000 - 70,000.

I wanted a bus that had the seats already removed and if possible, some good insulation on the floor, walls and ceiling. School buses are basically metal cans. For full-time living, good insulation is necessary.

When I found the right bus for me it had the seats removed and insulation in the floor and walls, a wheelchair lift door near the front of the bus, a ‘flat face’ design (think city buses), and a strong engine and transmission combination.

The bus is purchased and I am arranging to get it transported to me. I found a great place for building the conversion - an outdoor storage place with rain protection that also has a wood shop and metal shop.

I am interviewing experienced skoolie builders to find someone to work with me to implement my design.

I invite you to follow along on my adventure to Building Joy.

Monday, October 21, 2019

What I Think I want

Every day for over 2 years I wandered around the RV internet. I knew almost nothing about RVs when I started. Now I know a bit more.

My dream of what I want changed significantly over the 2 years - on everything from toilets to tires.

I am just at the beginning of my build. Here is what I think I want.


I bought a school bus and not an RV. The decision came down to the weight capacity of both. RVs are built on light frames and me and my wheelchair riding friends would have problems with our 250+ lbs. wheelchairs (that's their weight when empty). The bus has insulation on the floor and lower walls. Everything else is up to me.

I bought a 2001 International Bluebird with a strong engine/transmission combination. How do I know it's a strong combination? Because of the wise folks at

Some things that made this the "right" bus for me:

* Age of bus. I wanted to get a bus from 2004 or earlier to avoid the engine restrictions caused by post-2004 regulations.

* Wheelchair lift door. The bus has one and it's near the front door. This gives me a lot of flexibility with my interior design. Many lifts  are in the back side corner, a spot most people use for a bed.

* Flat face on the front of the bus. Many school buses have a "dog nose" meaning that the engine is in the front of the driver. The flat nose design puts the engine at the back of the bus so it's "pushing" the bus down the road.

* The flat face design also means more interior space in the same 30 feet of length.


I want to add underbody storage to the bus. John, my bus guy, says that carrying water (which weighs 8 lbs a gallon) below the frame is much easier to drive than having it inside the body of the bus.

Also underbody storage would be great for all the outdoor stuff (table, chairs, rug, canopy), spare parts, off-season stuff, etc.


I am hoping to mix staying in campgrounds and boondocking. In campgrounds I will have electrical and water hook ups, folks nearby, and some amenities like a small store, recreation area and maybe even a swimming pool.

Boondocking means parking the bus in a rural area with no hook-ups. The bus has to be complete self-sufficient to do this. My goal is to be able to boondock for 2-3 weeks at a time without needing to leave to get water or supplies.

The goal is for me to be able to live in the bus by myself for weeks at a time. I cannot find anything designed for one person who uses a wheelchair. These are my current ideas and assumptions about what will work.

Actually being in the bus, figuring out where things need to go and how I can do things independently will inevitably change the designs and my decisions. As I make final decisions I will post about them in detail.

* Power

I need power 24/7 even when I am far from an electrical outlet. Every day I need to run my CPAP and charge the wheelchair battery. The need for heat/cold, lighting, cooking, etc will vary.

In order to have reliable power every day I need a generator and lithium batteries to store the generator's output. Lithium batteries are an expensive option but also offer more power in a much smaller footprint. I am looking at solar and wind options as well.

* Lift

In a regular school bus there is one heavy-duty lift (often Braun) that works only when the bus engine is running. It cannot be operated independently by the wheelchair rider either going in or out of the bus.

That obviously won't work for me. I don't want to have to run the engine just to work the lift. It is impossible to run the engine while I am sitting outside the bus.

I am looking at adapting an industrial crane. I am hoping to have 2 options on the crane. One option would be using an electric motor for the lifting. The other option is a pulley system that is easy enough for my arms to operate the lift.

I got some great minds thinking about this. I'll post our ideas and progress as we go along.

* Heating / cooling

I love the heat. I am hoping to have two openings in the roof of the bus. Each opening will have a skylight that opens and a fan. For most days that air flow should be enough. This is Plan A. If I get on the road and really need air conditioning (and have the off-grid power to support it) then I will look into it.

For heating I will use something connected to propane. I prefer something built in so that I keep my small open areas clear for me to get around. Haven't done enough research to know what products to consider.

* Cooking

At home I have a 2 burner cooktop and a convection/microwave that I don't use much.. For the bus I am getting two IKEA conduction cooktops. The IKEA brand tests high (usually 1 or 2) in most reviews. I'm not sure if I want a stove. If so, I will probably get a toaster oven (cuz I love toast).

* Counter / table

In my very rough design, there is one long counter running along the side of the bus. I'm planning for it to be 18" deep and have a sink installed at one end. The rest of the counter is open with some electrical outlets near the wall. I plan to use the counter for drying dishes, cooking, computer work, art making and sewing.

I envision that underneath the counter (which will be 30" high at the top) there will be 12" deep storage areas. I measure my knee clearance and only need 6" from the front edge of the counter. So I know the storage area can be a maximum of 12" deep for an 18" deep counter.

Still exploring whether I want the counter hinged at the back so I can lift it in sections to reach the storage areas - or - whether I just want to put all the storage areas in columns on lockable rollers.

In my research I found the table of my dreams. It's a table on a post but it has 2 points where it can turn 360 degrees. Plus you can install multiple bases and move the table from place to place.

* Beds
I found out that a Consumer Reports study showed that large bodied side-sleepers like me are happiest with a Sleep Number bed. The bus will be my full time home for many years. I want a comfy bed. Still trying to determine if Sleep Number beds need continuous electricity or just intermittent. Planning on a twin or full.

For horizontal partner activities that require more space, I will either get creative or just check into a hotel.

* Water in/out

I got a huge (100 gallon) fresh water tank with the bus. I also got a 45 gallon grey water tank as well. I doubt that the grey water tank will be large enough for 3 weeks of boondocking when it's likely I'll have 2 of us in the bus. Thinking about adding a second 'overflow' 45 gallon grey water tank.

I am still trying to figure out what size on-demand water heater and what kind of water pump I will need.

* Toilet

Entire books (and many internet fights) happen when the subject turns to RV toilets. After extensive consideration I am getting a composting toilet. Not sure if I will buy one or make one - but either way it will have a urine-diverting system and be easy to move to different parts of the bus.

* Seating

Some folks like to sit on their beds and do stuff. Not me. I am a sit-in-a-chair kind of gal. I am hoping to design a stable rolling chair that can be locked in place during transfers (bed, toilet). I don't want to use my manual wheelchair indoors because it's much longer than a regular chair.

In addition to a work-at-the-counter chair, I want a put-my-feet-up chair, perhaps a recliner or separate seat and ottoman combination. Some folks use put the driver's seat on a base so it can turn around.

Guests will have portable seats (perhaps even an anti-gravity lounger) as well as at least one regular chair for sitting at the counter. I am hoping to store these extra chairs under the bus when not needed.

* Outdoor rug and table

An easy way to have a dirty RV is to drag in the dirt surrounding the RV. As a wheelchair rider having a rug makes moving around on soft ground easier.

So this is my thinking for today. Who knows what new ideas will come my way tomorrow?

As always join me Rolling Joy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Finding Joy - Buses (part 2 of 3)


School bus conversions have come a long way since they were moveable hippie communes following rock bands.

School districts sell off thousands of buses every year. With prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand, they are a great base for building a custom home.

For my purposes, school buses provide a very strong base. Unlike RV trailers that often have a top weight limit of 6,000 lbs a school bus top weight limit is often over 25,000. No matter how many wheelchairs I put into the bus, their weight will not be a problem.

Converted school buses are called “skoolies”. Over the past 20 years people documented their designs and builds so that information is widely available.

Since every conversion is unique, there are innumerable variations. From short buses which are less than 20 feet long to full size buses at 40 feet long, every type of person can find a bus and design that works for them.

There are very few wheelchair folks living in either RVs or school buses.. Most “wheelchair friendly” RV or skoolie designs presume the disabled person is not cooking or driving. Neither are they cleaning, showering, or toileting without assistance. Many don’t have options for the disabled person to get in and out of the RV by themself.

The good news: dream up a design.
The bad news: figure it out yourself

Luckily I’m connected to some disabled and nondisabled designers, builders, and dreamers. Their support and guidance emboldens me to move forward.

SKOOLIE.NET functions as a clubhouse for modifying and selling skoolies (school buses converted to tiny homes). You can find everything from electrical schematics to tire recommendations. This is where the smartest skoolie folks hang out and share their knowledge. CRAIGSLIST is the most common place to find converted school buses for sale. Many (maybe the majority) of folks who buy and start to convert a bus stop after the grueling work of taking out the seats, sanding out the rust and putting in some insulation. Since Craigslist is everywhere, many folks turn to it as the first place they advertise the bus.

OTHER - Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, Tiny House and Bus Life have a much smaller selection for sale and they tend to be finished conversions.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Finding Joy - RVs (part 1 of 3)

For the past year I researched all things RV. I am losing my housing and need to find someplace to live. Though very sad it’s also an opportunity.

I love travel and hate to fly. I also use a wheelchair which means hotels are often a hassle due to lack of wheelchair access.

Having my own vehicle is perfect for me. I can design my bed, kitchen, work area and bathroom just for my own needs.


Even before I began the search, I knew I would call my new-to-me home on wheels "Joy". So the search for my RV became the search for Finding Joy.

Image result for travel trailer
Photo of an Airstream travel trailer being pulled by a pick up truck

I started out looking at RVs. The prices soon sent me to travel trailers (think Airstream but cheaper). They are designed to be pulled by a vehicle.

One type of travel trailer is called a toy hauler. Basically it’s boxier than an Airstream and the back door drops down to become a ramp. Folks use these to bring their all-terrain vehicles (ATV) with them.

Image result for travel trailer toy hauler
Photo of sideways view of a toy hauler travel trailer by Ed Simmons

They seemed to offer some great advantages for me as a wheelchair user. I’d have a built-in ramp, the back half of toy haulers are open so I could build in whatever I needed

But toy haulers have some drawbacks as well. How would I open and close the back ramp? It’s usually 7 feet by 8 feet and heavy.

Image result for toy hauler layout
Layout of 2018 Jayco SuperLite 161 showing a bathroom and kitchen at the front end and removable bed and table at the back end.

RVs come with the kitchen and bathroom already built in. So I would have to modify those as well. With used toy hauler travel trailers costing over $10,000, the changes I need would increase my costs quickly.

The bigger problem with travel trailers and traditional RVs in general is that they are not built for adding a lot of weight to them. The frames and building materials are light so that more different types of cars and trucks can tow them.

This is a problem when I am adding wheelchairs that weigh over 250 lbs without anyone in them. Also lifting a wheelchair from the side door would stress out the RV frame and tires.

RESOURCES FOR RV SEARCHING RV TRADER Want to see tons of different types of RVs? RV Trader is a great online resource.

YOUTUBE Hundreds of YouTube videos made by RVers giving video tours of their RVs and discussing different features.

Check out the next 2 parts in the Finding Joy series: Part 2 - Skoolies (converted school buses) Part 3 - What I chose and why

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