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Our Bus Q&A – Plans, Creepy Cages, and American Pickers, oh my!

prison bus conversion tiny home project

We’ve all had 48 hours or so to let the tiny home conversion news sink in, so how about a little Be Free Bus background information to help solidify this excitement? This is a REALLY neat find, we promise. You’ll want to hear this.

Overarching disclaimer regarding the Be Free Bus purchase:

Don’t worry, we didn’t just wake up one day, go online, type in, click on the first picture of hunk of metal with wheels and blow our entire savings on it. You read my student loan debt payoff post, right? You know me better than that. Spending money is at the bottom of my list of favorite things to do. It’s something that comes with HEAVY planning, going back and forth-ing, and preparation to ensure life will go on. The Be Free Bus purchase was a very calculated decision. We’re both college-educated, gainfully employed individuals who just happen to want to live in a bus. 🙂

I answered a few questions about the Be Free Bus purchase and conversion in the post below. Let me know if you have any more questions at all. This bus to tiny home conversion project is really exciting for us, we’re all ears!!


So, why a bus?!

We’ve always been interested in the Tiny Home movement, and the simple back to basics lifestyle therein. Tiny houses can be difficult to transport and require a vehicle to tow it. For us, for now, the bus option works better; especially THIS bus. We already have two vehicles, one of which we’ll likely get rid of in the future but neither of them could tow a tiny house. For the solid condition that the bus is in, it makes the most financial sense vs. starting from scratch on a tiny home and having to acquire transport. That being said, we aren’t ruling out a tiny home in the future, especially if HGTV can feature us on an episode of Tiny House, Big Living. A girl can dream.

be free bus sheriffs office paint


Where in the world did you find this thing?

Ben and I are ALWAYS browsing online for potential abodes so as to help us grow up and stop being baby-adults. We browse houses, land, RV’s, and more.  Over the past four months of blissful student loan free living, we’ve done a lot of searching for potential housing options, and exactly zero buying. We looked at a couple more duplexes for sale last month and at the end of the day, we just didn’t want it. THEN, three weeks ago, we found the 1989 Chevy Bus listed for sale on Craigslist in western Massachusetts. So I guess we did just go online and type, but with some other logical steps before and after. We contacted the seller and we went to look at it the following weekend.


Who sold you this bus?!

The man that sold us the bus is awesome. He’s a real deal, no-frills lover of antiques, and unique cars, trucks, and hot rods. He is a businessman, a collector, pilot, and a neat character too. He was on Season 4 Episode 12 of American Pickers, no joke, if you want to check that out. He bought the bus sight unseen from an auction in Washington, D.C. a few months ago. When he heard about it’s back story, low mileage, etc. he said he had to have it. His plan was to renovate it himself into an RV but his wife shot that plan down REAL quick.

He struck us as a GREAT guy from the beginning which isn’t always easy to say especially when someone is selling you something, but, I think we lucked out. The first time we drove down to look at the bus, he took us for a ride around town, let my husband drive the bus, and gave us a narrated tour of Clinton, MA and the surrounding areas. Truly awesome.

the wild drive bus conversion tiny home


What’s the semi-creepy background story?

We hear that the bus was originally used/meant for prisoner transport down in Virginia and then converted into a mobile command center for the Virginia Sheriff’s Department. The front of the bus still says in faded letters “SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT” as you see in the photo above. Classy! The inside of the bus was likely set up with lots of equipment and workspaces and still has metal racks, fold down tables, and dozens of outlets where equipment once was. Did I mention that it has a generator already?!

The creepiest remnants of it’s prior intended use are three metal locking gates/cages. They’re evenly spaced down along the length of the bus. We’re not 100% sure if we’re going to repurpose those or sell them. With some creative paneling or something, they would make a nice wall, perhaps for the bedroom area in the back. They are moveable, which is nice. We’ll see. The bus also has a 30ft. pneumatic antennae on the back which was probably used for covert surveillance ops! COOL! We’re not sure what to do with it yet, definitely not planning on keeping it.

the wild drive bus conversion project
Just beyond the longer desks there’s another section with two smaller tables with bus seats on either side. Oh yes, you need to go through one of the scary locking cages to get into that section of the bus.


How does it run?!

To our surprise, the Be Free Bus runs like a dream! It’s a 1989 Chevy B6P (I think, I don’t have the title right in front of me) with a little over 19,000 miles on it. I know zero about cars but what I do know is that what’s under the hood of this bus looks 1,000 times better than my 2004 Subaru did just before I sold it last year. We drove it 100 miles to where it’s currently parked, most of which was highway, with zero issues. My husband had it up to 65 mph on the highway. I LOVED driving behind him and seeing the looks on everyone’s faces as we passed by. Double-takes galore. It was well taken care of by the good folks of the Commonwealth of Virginia (that’s what the title says!). It’s 26 years old but it didn’t spend those years enduring freezing, salt-laden Maine winters so no serious rust!


What did you need to prepare to make the bus purchase happen?

I’ve never purchased a vehicle from a private seller, or from another state. I was pretty in the dark to start. As I mentioned above, the seller collects and trades all sorts of things, so he drew up the bill of sale, that part was covered. Beyond that, purchasing a vehicle or RV (speaking about the state of Maine) requires a transit plate, which you can get at the BMV. A transit plate costs about $12 and requires proof of insurance on the unit/vehicle you’re purchasing.

I called my insurance company and excitedly said, “HEY! I’m buying an old bus to renovate into a tiny home!” To which they quickly replied, “Nooo, can’t do it.” Unwilling to accept defeat, I didn’t stop until I not only found coverage for the bus, but also found a better policy for our other two vehicles, yielding a net SAVINGS at the end of the day of $170/year from what I was paying before. Win! Once we were insured, we grabbed the transit plate and our creepy envelope of cash and we were on our way!


Are you going to paint it? It looks kind of scary.

YES! TEAL! Joking, we haven’t decided on a color yet. We’ve also thought about wrapping it… This will probably be one of the first items on the project list once it’s warmer out this spring. We will need to sand out areas of surface rust first, of course. The bus was this weird crusty red/brown color, and then a smooth yucky black/gray. A winning combination! Not. We have a lot of work to do. Will we have it professionally painted or do it ourselves? I’m not sure but It’s not something we’ll likely skimp on. I’m always open to suggestions from anyone who’s been through the process before! 🙂 🙂

school bus conversion project


How long will the bus to tiny home conversion project take?

We project that it will take us a year+, but, that all depends on how things go along the way. I’m sure there will be pivots and crossroads along the way as we dive deeper into the bones of this bus, but we’re excited. We’ve drawn up preliminary plans that include a sleeping area toward the back of the bus, kitchen toward the front, bathroom in the middle (dry toilet most likely for those of you curious about that, I know I was!), and functional living/seating space. In terms of a heating system, we’ll likely have a small efficient wood stove like this one. There will be storage areas incorporated throughout all of the design elements, everything must have a purpose. It has to in such a small space, right? The first step will be insulation and paneling. I should probably get more into Pinterest, huh?


Are you planning on living in the bus full time?

That is a really good question. Yes, oddly enough I can actually picture us in it very clearly. When exactly this will happen is up for debate. We are really trying to just go with the flow of the conversion project and let that progress guide the next steps. The most logical way to go once the bus is ready would be to find a piece of land, preferably one that has utilities already on it (am I a dreamer or what?). I feel like that’s not so much to ask, but, it’s really hard to find! Chances are we would have to put a well/septic in ourselves, but that’s okay given the cost savings on the living space front.


Do you have any more questions for us?! Let me know on Facebook or in the comments.

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