For at least part of last year, we were getting a little restless in our trailer. It was beautifully done, but after 5 years it was feeling a little close. A few months ago we finally decided to do something about it, and I started cruising ebay. This is what came of it.
It’s a 40 foot 1979 GMC transit bus that was purchased by a private party and converted into a “party bus”. By that I mean he painted it a nice color, took out the transit seats and lined the walls with seats that faced the middle so people could sit and talk and have a party, and added a restroom. That owner then passed away, and the person it was passed to didn’t have the room for it, nor the desire to own/operate it. We won it for less than 3 grand. It was located in the small town of Lake Zurich IL, which is just a little north of Chicago. We figured that since we LITERALLY had to drive right thru that area on our way back to Hayward, we may as well leave it there in storage and just pick it up when we went, instead of 800 miles there, 800 miles back, and then 1200 miles a couple of months later.
Fast forward to the end of March. In anticipation of moving into the bus, we cleared out the Airstream and sold it. I cried watching it drive away hitched to someone else’s truck, but I think the new owner will appreciate it. We put our memory foam mattress topper on the “bed” in the van to make it a bit more comfortable to sleep on, put our computers and a few basic needs in the van, and packed the rest of our worldly possessions into the smallest trailer uhaul offers, and headed off.
A few days later we arrived, took delivery of the bus, and started out… only to stop dead on the side of the road 15 miles away. Thankfully I signed us up for Allstate RV Roadhelp just a few months prior… after a few minutes of freaking out, we gave them a call. I got some guy with a thick Indian accent obviously reading off his form and I went around and around with him trying to impress on him that it was a 40 foot bus, and him saying “what kind of car is it?” Finally got off the phone with him, and a few minutes later the dispatcher from the tow company calls, and I ask “did they tell you it was a 40 foot BUS?” and he was like “um… noooo…” and even then he thought I was talking about a school bus, so the first truck he sent wasn’t heavy duty enough. He had to go back and get the biggest flatbed roll-off I think I’ve ever seen… but meanwhile while we’re waiting for him to come back, I get 3 phone calls from the police, and a cruiser shows up and hangs around bothering us saying it needs to be moved as soon as possible. Tow guy finally gets back and loads up the bus on the flatbed trailer (which was a trip in and of itself, because the engine wouldn’t stay running to air up the bus to release the brakes, so we had to find the external air nipple so he could plug in his air hose from the tow truck’s built in air compressor). Then there was some confusion as to if Roadhelp would actually pay for the tow because apparently the police had called for a tow also, and where we wanted it taken…etc etc etc… but I called first, my ticket took precedence, and where THEY wanted to tow it would not have been able to handle a big bus, so it was ruled my tow was paid for. In that one day alone I spent over $20 in minutes on my phone. Normally I go $15 a month and usually don’t even use it all.
The bus got dropped off in an apparently abandoned lot next door to a GMC medium-duty truck sales and service center (they use the lot as storage, but I don’t think it actually belongs to them) on Sunday the 7th and we spent the night in a nearby hotel. We showed up bright and early the next morning at the GMC place to ask them about the bus, and the shop manager gave us a funny look and basically said “that may be a GMC, but it’s a whole different vehicle than what we work on here. We don’t work on THAT here. I have no manuals no parts no nothing. i could work on it, but I would be flying blind, and that’ll be expensive”. He gave us permission to work on it ourselves. We spent the next two full weeks suffering the most miserable rainy windy crappy (even snowy one day) weather imaginable trying to puzzle out what was wrong with the bus. We had no internet unless we drove to the nearby Starbucks, so I couldn’t look up answers to our problems or find people to ask… we were flying blind also. Several of the worst days we just ran off to a nearby RV park to wait out the rain. The rest of the time we either drove to a state park with a crazy-high price ($25 for electric ONLY. No sewer, no water, no internet) or bundled up under a few blankets in the van and crashed in the Walmart parking lot.
We eventually determined (with some help from online searching and asking questions while hanging around the Starbucks) that there was potentially a problem with the voltage regulator (among other, slightly more minor problems). However, by this point we were low on time, money, and sanity. We bought batteries… they were the wrong kind. We took them back and got more batteries, wires touched that should never have met, and the lead posts on 2 of the batteries insta-melted… we took those back and got MORE batteries (yay Walmart!). Those got drained and damaged by a combo of something in the bus sucking voltage out of them that we were unaware of, and a cold snap. We took THOSE back and got one more set, which we installed on Monday the 22nd. Our plan was to start the bus, and once it was going… just not shut it off, just drive (we were still worried the voltage regulator was faulty, and if it was, it would fry the batteries and we would be unable to restart the bus if we shut it off). Try to push to make it all the way in one day. We were sick and tired of the whole thing and just wanted it to be OVER… well, we fought with the bus all morning and part of the afternoon to start it (turned out to just be an air valve or something. When we turned it, the bus cranked right up immediately like a champ), and we finally hit the road about 5:30pm. Our fears about the voltage regulator were realized and the 4 brand new batteries were fried before we made our first pit stop… but the bus stayed running. I know a lot of people were praying hard because of what happened over the course of the trip.
Our original intention was to push thru the night (400 mile trip at 55mph) but by our second pit stop all the electric had died in the bus. No headlights, no taillights, no brake lights, no gauges, no nothing. Fortunately the vital stuff (brakes, power steering, etc) is all air or engine powered, but this also meant we could not drive through the night as we originally intended. At the time, we were dismayed, but there was nothing we could do about it. We stopped for the night at 7:45pm in a rest stop 100 miles into our trip, left the bus idle, and bundled up in the van and slept till first light. It dawned dreary and grey with threatening clouds. Weather said rain was expected. This presented another problem… most states now have a ‘wipers on, headlights on’ law, and even without the law, headlights are better for visibility when it rains. The wipers are air powered, so we could have used them, but of course no headlights. All day long as I drove in front (with electric out, no working speedometer in the bus, so I provided the “pace car”) I prayed that we would make it safe and that the weather would hold. The “rain” never got heavier than a mist, and by the time we reached the home stretch last 50-60 miles the sky was clearing. It was still a long tense harrowing trip where I think I spent more time looking in my rearview to make sure the bus was still keeping up with me and not conking out than I did looking at the road before me, and full of fears of things like running out of fuel because we had no idea what kind of MPG the bus got, nor how much it used while idling for 10 hours, and with no gauges we had no idea how much fuel we had left, and fears of the overheated batteries exploding and/or bursting into flames, and the rain, and getting pulled over for whatever reason, and any myriad of other worries.
God has a sense of humor. For 400 miles I prayed we would make the trip safe and sound… that we would get there. We got there alright. But at some point in the last few miles the air hose that fueled the air-ride driver’s seat came loose or popped or something, and when we pulled into the (SNOWY) driveway of the park the bus had finally lost enough air that it crossed the threshold and triggered the emergency brake. We made it 400 miles only to get stuck in the driveway. While Eric ripped the seat off to find the leak, I chatted with my new co-workers and found out that the snow was fresh. If we had driven through the night as we had originally intended, we would have driven straight into a blizzard that dropped 8-10 inches of snow on the area. Thank God! As it was, we had a site plowed out waiting for us on the front row. Eric pinched the air line, built the air back up and moved the bus around to our site… but 400 miles of highway driving is not the same as maneuvering a 40 foot bus in the confines of a very tree-filled park. Two mishaps later (one scrape against a tree, and one broken fiberglass bay door on a site marker post) and we were finally in our site. Eric and I have never been big drinkers, but I am not ashamed to admit that 3 wine coolers were consumed by each of us that evening, followed by two days of doing nothing much important to unwind from 16 days of hell.
we're here now, tho, and safe. so now the adventure begins again soon... i'll try to keep up with the building of the bus into a right and proper home for us.