Just Call Me Bobert
This post will be the first in what I hope to be a long detailed thread of a build Iím just starting to plan out! Several years ago I built a pretty sweet bar and home theater on the back deck of my house and used a forum site similar to this one to document my build. The advice from people following on what I was doing was invaluable. The journey is just as important as the destination and even though YouTube Channels are all the rage now over traditional blogs, I really donít like filming myself and have no patience for editing video, so Iím hoping youíll come along with me on my build in this medium.
I doní have a bus named picked out yet, but Iíve used the pseudonym Bobert on the internet before so thatíll work for a thread title for now
Iím in my mid 30s, unmarried with no kids and I live in Iowa. I work full time as a self-employed technology consultant. This has been a strategic move years-in-the-making that now allows me the flexibility to work (more or less) when I want and from wherever I want, in so long as I have fast internet access. I also make an above-average income and live fairly modestly so I can do the things I want with some thoughtful budgeting and saving, but it doesnít take me years to save for major purchases or investments.
I own party bus company (more on that later) and have had my CDL class B for longer than I can remember. I have no qualms about driving a bus.
For hobbies I enjoy camping and being outside. I have a pop-up camper that I enjoy using for trips to national and state parks. Iím not overly athletic, but do like easy hikes, kayaking, and having a couple beers around a campfire. I also like sitting in a lawn chair under a shade tree or by a creek and reading a novel.
I grew up partially in Iowa and partially in Arizona. I have modest carpentry skills, above average engineering skills, above average electrical skills, pretty weak metal-working skills, and darn-near miserable mechanical skills. I have an outstanding command of Google-fu and an ability learn anything I donít already know though!
I have adult attention deficit disorder so one of my struggles is, and will continue to be, taking on new projects that I donít get done before (squirrel!) some other new and exciting project comes along and I lose interest. However, the journey to me is more important than the actual destination.
What are my goals
My intention is not to live in the bus full-time, be a nomad, hippie, or other touring adventurist. I really just want a customized RV built more solid than the flimsy things I can find at my local Winnebago dealership. While I intend to live mostly year-round in my existing home, I do want the ability to do extended travel for up to 3 months at a time; so a solid and quality build is important. The journey is as important as the destination, so the build process is a primary driver over me just going out and buying a Winnebago.
My goal is to be done around 2023-2024 so I can drive the bus to Arizona to and start ďsnow-birding.Ē My Dad will be retiring around that time and plans to winter in Arizona as well, so that kind of aligns. Iíve got several things in-flight in my life right now so I figure it may be a year or so before I can dedicate much time to a build. I also want to wait to find ďmyĒ bus and not buy something just because itís whatís available right now.
For the bus I want something professional looking that isnít going to cost an arm and a leg. Iím not trying to do a cheap $5k build but also donít want to drop $50k into something that I may have little interest in using 5 years from now. So I plan to use a lot of recycled components, at least on the interior, to keep my investment down and try to choose the high-dollar components that I can recycle or resell if necessary if I do decide to scrap. From what Iíve seen there is very little resale value on a skoolie so Iím going with the assumption that if I decide after a year or two I donít like travelling with it that most of my non-recyclable investment is going to be lost.
The Bus Selection
My party bus company is comprised of a fleet of converted school buses, so I have a bit of a ďleg upĒ in that I have a fair amount of experience with old school buses. The vast majority of my fleet now is 2005-2007 IC (International) with a mix of conventional and pushers. I have past experience with 90s model Bluebirds, 90s models Internationals, one early 2000s Thomas with a C7, and one 2008 MaxxForce DT front-engine flat-nose.
My plan is for a 2005-2007 IC CE300 conventional with the DT466E and Allison transmission. That late of model year was past the AT545 so Iím ok with all of the Allison models of that generation. I settled on the late 2005-2007 ICs for a couple reasons. First, a friend of mine is a diesel mechanic and has convinced me of the quality of the DT466 now that Iíve ran a fleet of them for many years. I have experience with them and know what symptoms to look for and can estimate what the most common repairs are and are going to cost. My plan is to pay him to help with maintenance and make sure upon buying its road-trip ready. An engine re-seal may wind up being in order depending as well as replacing most of the HUEI system up front depending on what maintenance records are available when I purchase. On a related note, I have the adapter and software to view the engine diagnostics and tweak some parameters like the governor. Aside from the EGR, itís pre-emissions and Iíll never do another DPF-enabled or Maxxforce engine again. He will probably want me to delete the EGR, but Iím inclined to keep it just in case I need to visit an International dealer for repairs while travelling across the country.
I like the body style as well. Itís a little more curved and rounded than the pre-2005 models before IC did their own bodies. Those are much more squared off and just look too much like a traditional school bus. The 2005-2007 CE models when re-painted and the red/ambers/stop arms are taken out look more like a coach than school bus (in my opinion). Plus the ceiling height is taller at about 6í4Ē which works better than some of my shorter 2001 Internationals with the AMTRAN body.
I went back and forth on a pusher and a conventional for my skoolie. While I personally like driving the flat-nose pushers with my current fleet, they are a bit harder to maneuver in tight spaces like campgrounds. I also intend to flat-tow my 2013 Toyota Corolla (5-speed) so the added maneuverability of the shorter wheel base will be better. Plus in my (limited) research on the topic so far, getting setup for towing is more difficult with an RE because of the framing around the engine. Also, most conventional school buses have side-exhaust which will keep the car cleaner than having to create exhaust dams or re-route exhaust under the bus. Iíll never do another front-engine flat-nose, primarily because theyíre a nightmare to work on, but also theyíre noisy and hot when driving. On my road trips I often drive for long-days rather than stretch out my driving over many days of shorter-distances. So a conventional keeps most of the heat and engine noise outside.
Air brakes are a requirement, I donít deal with hydraulic brakes on buses. The parking brakes suck and often fail. And if I have a service brake failure, Iíd rather fail-stop then fail-rolling (that happened to me once with a party bus Ė I vowed never to drive a hydraulic-brake system bus ever again after that
A 100 gallon fuel tank is also a requirement. I donít really care on air or electrical powered door as I plan to modify that. While a side-emergency door would be a nice-to-have, itís not a deal-breaker. Underbelly storage is pretty rare on most CE300s, so I plan to utilize the ďgarageĒ space for most of my storage needs. Iíll also be towing my car for some outdoor storage type stuff. Minimal-rust southern bus a must. I have enough fun with my Midwest-run rust buckets in the party bus fleet, lol
For those not as familiar with the IC models, here is a photo of something similar to what I want to buy:
I want something that is on the exterior visually appealing and doesnít stand out in a crowd. Essentially, a clean-looking exterior is a must for me. Iíve seen some very ďuniqueĒ fabricated and painted builds online. Iím not knocking people who build or own buses like that, itís just theyíre not my style, and donít align with my goals. My build isnít going to have much, if any, custom metal work on the outside. No roof raises, no windows removed (I think Iíve seen this called skinning?), no rooftop patio, no rear-bumper deck. One reason is simplicity, but second Iíve read some of the horror stories about getting insured with these high-risk modifications.
I have experience sanding down buses and, repriming, and hand painting with Rustoleum. I donít have facilities for spraying, and Iíve had the best luck with clean painting without runs by hand-painting in multiple thin coats.
All of the windows will be tinted anyway, but for the ones that are covered inside by a wall theyíll be painted over from the inside.
Iím thinking a hunter green color, black trim, and the white Tropicool roof; but may go with something lighter for the primary color for heat management. Iím open to feedback on that.
My electrical plan (more on that later) includes flexible flush-mount solar panels on the roof.
This generation IC buses have either air or electrical doors that swing out from each side. My intention is to modify these to be one solid door that opens out. I donít want a household door, I want it to look original, but actually be one solid piece that swings out towards the front bumper. The factory dual-swing out doors really donít stay shut worth a darn while driving down the road and warp. Then they donít seal up when parked, so some fabrication here is going to be a must.
This is a rough floor plan, although not even closely drawn to scale or including utilities.
I do have some back issues from an old injury, so I try to avoid bending over or squatting too much. Therefore I plan to build most of my storage spaces ďupĒ and utilize low-areas for infrequently accessed utilities.
My (current, most likely subject to change) floor plan roughly calls for the traditional bedroom in the back, a closet and bathroom, living/work area, then the kitchen up front. The living/kitchen area is a reverse from many common builds.
On the inside I want a ďlog cabinĒ look and feel. Iím not really into the modern/contemporary or painted looks. Stained tongue-and groove on the ceiling, and probably LVP flooring for durability. Unsure on walls yet, they may get a painted look so as to not completely feel like a wood box, ha ha. Stained wood cabinets and walls, stone-looking surfaces for counters, desk, etc. Some of the puck-style LED lights in the ceiling on two-way switches. A shelf-type perimeter mounted along the roof line above the windows. Iím also thinking these can double as recessed reverse-mirror lighting as well as serve as pull-down shades for most of the windows.
Bedroom is in the very back with a queen bed. I havenít laid out exact measurements yet, but Iím thinking the bed against one side with a small walkway on the other, maybe with a very narrow armour-style cabinet. Some headboard-type storage along the bed as well perhaps. Unless I do dual water-tanks in which case the bed would be more centered with horizontal cubby-based storage on each side.
Probably make the bed hinge-based for under-bed access. I donít intend to put much accessible storage under there, but rather use the space for water tanks and ďgarageĒ access through the back door.
From what Iíve seen most people are recommending utilities on the drivers-side for campground hookups, so the bathroom will either be split on both sides of the hallway or entirely on the drivers side. Iíve gone back and forth on traditional versus composting toilet and Iím leaning compost. Probably a 30x30 shower.
Most likely no dedicated sink in the bathroom.
I donít have a large need for a lot of hanging clothes, so most of the closet space is going to be cabinet-based and storage-drawer type. Back here will also be a combo washer/dryer. I have no patience for sitting in laundromats so this is a must for me.
This area is probably the most important. I donít really entertain and when Iím camping if I have company weíre mostly outside anyway. So building out a large couch, chairs, table and room for people just isnít very important to me. However, since I will have to work from my bus, a large work-area is important. So on one side Iíll build a relatively large desk and plan on buying another office desk chair like my one at home (which Iíll have to find a way to secure while traveling). The desk will have a couple permanently mounted large monitors and room for my peripherals and other necessary work material. Iím thinking of mounting a 32Ē (or so) TV in the corner of the desk near the closet that can double as another external monitor.
Across from the desk Iíll build a relatively simple couch. I will probably make this a pull-out/futon style that Iíve seen many do on the rare occasion I do have overnight company. I plan on housing most of my electrical components under this couch. I may have to reverse the desk/couch from my diagram for weight distribution reasons. I think Iíll also build a collapsible combination coffee table/ottoman as I do sometimes work from the couch. I also like watching movies at night with my feet up
Both at home in the summer and when camping I mostly like to cook and eat outside, so I want the kitchen area closer to the door, so hence the variation from the ďcommonĒ floor plan. A fully functional kitchen is important to me, even though I prefer cooking outside. Plan here is for a large, deep, single-bay sink, and full LP oven/range on the drivers side. This area will have relatively little workspace, so the passenger side will primarily be counter space and more cabinets and drawers. Standard 110v household fridge on probably this side to keep away from the heat of the oven. Iíll likely place the fridge fairly close to the front door to be easily accessible while on the road. Under cabinet lights on the overhead cabinets for the workspace.
- as much solar as I can get. I figure that even if I do decide to eventually scrap the skoolie many of these components can be re-purposed at my rural workshop, so Iím ok with a larger investment here. The plan is for the flexible flush-mounted solar panels on the roof with enough to power the mini-split while travelling. I also intend to do a few suitcase style portable solar units. When in hotter climates I much prefer to park in the shade which I know will limit my solar production. However, I do want some solar generation while travelling, so a hybrid setup of both fixed rooftop and portable solar makes most sense to me.
Enough lithium batteries on a large enough inverter/charger for whatever I calculate out my power requirements to be. Given the electrical nature of my day job Iím guessing this will be fairly high. Some of this may change, but initially planning as much as I can get. Shore hookups built into the bus of course.
110v Electrical System Ė run throughout. My motto when building/remodeling has always been put outlets even where you donít think youíll use them. Better to have too many than not enough or have them in places where you have to run extension cords. Major appliances should just be the fridge and the A/C unit(s). Iím still debating about running some outlets outside. While I want to keep the outside clean and factory as possible (and also do as little metal work as I have to as thatís not a strong skill of mine), running cords back inside through doors or windows is also inconvenient.
12v Electrical System Ė run throughout. Most of the LED lighting, water pump, USB chargers, diesel heaters.
One (maybe two) diesel heaters connected directly into the busí fuel tank. Factory coolant heaters will come out. The in-dash heater and defroster will be good enough while driving and my understanding is these diesel heaters can be run while travelling anyway.
One (maybe two) mini-split A/C units. This will be one of the few areas that will require some outside fabrication to mount the outside units. The IC bus has a pretty lengthly skirt around the outside that I should be able to mount outside and get high enough as to not ride too low. Some good metal fabrication should make these look flush and clean. If my purchased bus has factory A/C that will have to come out. Iím going to try to find a bus that doesnít have it though.
I may do some 12v fans built-in throughout the living areas for air circulation. Maxforce fan in the ceiling for sure.
Outside mounted LP tanks on an auto-changeover. In-line on-demand LP hot water heater. The only other LP appliance should be the range/stove.
One, maybe two, 100-gallon fresh water tanks in the bedroom for freshwater. City and gravity fill hookups. I go through a lot of water and like to boondock so as much water as I can get. The catch here is going to be gray/black water. I want to make sure that I have an equal amount of graywater storage as I do fresh so Iíll largely be inhibited by my under-chassis area to mount greywater tanks.
Water connections will be PEX with a water pump and accumulator. These are pretty standard for builds based on what Iíve seen.
Iím planning on doing a composting toilet with a slight modification in that the liquid side will drain into the ďgreywaterĒ tanks (technically theyíre blackwater tanks). Standard RV flush connections with a stinky slinky for dump stations or sites with full-hookups.
Ė fast and reliable internet connection is a necessity for my job. Iím hoping by the time Iím ready to go with this that Starlink has evolved to support easier mobility. A usual cellular hot-spot for backup.
So, if youíve read all that thanks for your time and I look forward to your feedback as I get rolling!