Day 3: First Impressions

Dusk at the Devil's Tower

Dusk at the Devil’s Tower

I’ve just woken up from my second night on the bus, a stone’s throw from Devil’s Tower, and I feel like it has finally been christened (as our first overnight stop involved an interstate rest station and only a few hours of sleep, I would argue this was our first night really utilizing the space). I feel so at home that I haven’t even changed out of my pajamas yet. Although to be honest, as long as I’m on the bus I’ll probably be in them all day.

Waking up on the bus is, in a word, satisfying.

If I could add a few more words, they would include: haphazard, clumsy, and altogether glorious.

We’re very much in the discovery phase of this journey. Some things work, some things don’t. Some can be fixed using the battery of tools we packed, others we’ll just have to live with. The last 24 hours have really been the first time any of these systems were depended on, and each newly used function brings a sense of pride, mixed with a hint of hesitation and anxiety. And that’s just for the systems that appear to be working.

For example, the storage space is functioning incredibly well. Justin is thrilled with his own lockable storage compartment for camera gear, the under-bed drawers are more than adequate for our giant packs, and the compartments under the mattresses are holding enough tools for a small shop.

Also, the roof of the bus has been surprisingly useful. The skylights are a bit thrown together, and may not handle the heavy use. They are taken off and put back on multiple times a day, and the plastic trim around the skylight is beginning to show wear. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be abandoning the roof. It’s a vantage point that’s too nice to give up.

Quick stop for a panoramic vista somewhere in South Dakota.

Quick stop for a panoramic vista somewhere in South Dakota.

The electrical system, on the other hand, is giving us fits. We’re currently on our third inverter, which converts the 12v electricity from the batteries into 120v for a normal outlet. I fried the first one testing it with a power tool (I am not a bright man), and the second one turned out to be undersized for Justin’s beloved kettle. (What good is his primo coffee, lovingly steeped using an iphone timer and a digital scale if he can’t heat water water to 5 degrees short of boiling?) We picked up our third inverter yesterday, a full 1500w to handle the beastly kettle. To our (Justin’s) great disappointment, when fired up the kettle would simply give a single beep of despair before collapsing back into silence. He tried to tell me it wasn’t a big deal, but the look of sadness on his face could have killed a kitten. Thankfully we were able to run an extension cord to the campsite hookup for the morning, but there is certainly more work to be done.

All over the bus there are quirks like this. Solutions that I thought were final have turned out to be only prototypes. Essentially V1.0 of an endless number of versions and iterations. It’s like a giant livable testbed.

From the start, this project has been about design at full scale. Not just for the sake of understanding how parts fit together, but for the sake of understanding how they work together. So much of my architectural education relied on the (often misplaced) assumption that what was drawn was not only possible, but functional. Converting this bus has been an incredible lesson in the importance of full scale work. Throughout my final semester I dealt with technical issues that could have been easily glossed over if only drafted on paper. I was extremely satisfied with the progress made on the bus, demonstrating that I could design a space that was without a doubt, build-able, because I had proof.

But that final review did little to prove that this space is functional. It just sat there and looked (quite) pretty.

In a way, I’m looking at this journey as an extension of my thesis project. By living in and depending on this bus for the next three weeks, we will truly test the functionality of the design. Hypothetical usage becomes more irrelevant each day as we continue to embed ourselves into the space and slowly “move in”. We can start addressing the questions and concerns raised when proposing whether a school bus, or any tiny space can become a home. Is the privacy sufficient? Are the systems adequate? Is it psychologically constricting? Is it a real solution, or just a gimmick?

If nothing else, I hope this experience can help expand the dialogue about tiny living spaces and their viability. The bus prompts lots of interesting questions that could (and have) led to hours of discussion, which is truly the point. Our definition of home is so narrow, and our image of a mobile home is even more limited (and generally looked down upon). I think the tiny house movement is terribly interesting, if not entirely viable as a large scale solution. It helps remind those of us who have grown up in a traditional home that we could get by with less. A lot less. 200sqft is small, but I know people who have lived in apartments that are smaller. I want people to see the bus, be shocked at how comfortable, functional, and affordable it is, and maybe reassess what they’re willing to consider a viable home.

Lazy morning in comfy pants.

Lazy morning in comfy pants.

Oh hold on, we’re pulling over for a hitch-hiker.

Ciao!

48 Responses to Day 3: First Impressions

  1. HammyDavisJr

    Great idea and great site. Definitely along for the ride. Good luck!

  2. Tyler

    Hey Hank,
    Been following your journey and am excited for more updates! Safe travels to you and enjoy!

    Tyler

  3. DOUG

    I found this blog via Justin’s facebook. I’m so stoked to see you two putting dreams into concrete form. Looking forward to reading more about the journey. Safe and Happy Trails!

  4. Mitch Ruter

    Hank! I see you are coming through Denver at some point. When you do, I would love to see you and check out the bus if you’re planning to make a stop. Good luck on your trip!

    Mitch

    • Hank Butitta

      Mitch! We blew through Denver, got in late one night, and had to leave early the next day. Sorry I didn’t see you dude, hope everything’s going well!

  5. Alan

    Hank!

    I hope your journey continues to be exciting and fruitful.

    -Alan

  6. William

    Did you tour any camper manufacturers when designing the systems within the bus? Would you keep it as one large open space if you had to start over? Any thought about a flexible “door” to shift public and private zones within the bus from day to day? I am interested to see how your experiences shift as the tenants vary from a few to a slew along the way.

    Sorry for the quick random thoughts – iPhone typing. . .

    • Hank Butitta

      Didn’t tour anywhere! Lots of research on skoolie.net for systems. I definitely want to keep one large open space, doors/walls start to cramp things pretty quickly…

  7. Uncle Brad

    Great start to the trip – good blogging Hank.

  8. Ryan

    Very Cool! Can’t wait to here more.

  9. marko

    Hy Hank, this was my dream project ever. I will follow you and would love to stay in touch because it is my intention to buy a bus and spend a bit of time (at least 6 months) on it. I am Italian and I do not know whether it is possible to stay longer in states with tourist visa. In any case I would like to have more details as possible, perhaps in a private email to the type of bus etc.
    Carry On Hank!

    • Hank Butitta

      That’s fantastic! I would love to do a trip like this around Italy! I lived for four months in Sicily and backpacked a bit of the mainland, what a beautiful country! Good luck with your American travels!

  10. Melody

    Really amazing! I just got home from a similar trip around the U.S. for the past five weeks! I wasn’t traveling a beautiful bus (just a jeep and a tent) but it was great … it’s so freeing to have so little with you and yet realize you still have everything you need! Love the idea of living simpler and it’ll be great to see what you conclude about the tiny house movement. Can’t wait to read and follow along your journey! It’s almost the exact route that I took 🙂 Good luck!

    • Hank Butitta

      There’s so much to see, I’m starting to realize three weeks isn’t enough! And it’s amazing how little you can survive in! Any major misadventure on your journey?

      • Rhyan

        Hank! Melody and I were travel companions (it is always so wonderful to experience travel – new places, new food, new people – with a good friend or two!) and you can check out our little adventure at wherethemountainsmeetthesky.com (:

        We’ve debriefed for a while since we returned last week and have concluded that the only thing we would have liked to change was all the rain. But who do you think we are, weather magicians?? Seriously though, we don’t remember too many misadventures. I am a little jealous that your route goes through more of the midwest instead of the gulf swamp land, but there is always time in the future for more trips. (Any room on the bus next year??)

        And while I’ve go you here, can I just say one word. PASEO!!

        • Hank Butitta

          PASEO!! Also, congrats on a successful journey!

      • Melody

        It’s true! Even five weeks was just scratching the surface of each place! On more than one occasion I was longing to stay put for a few more days or even a week, just to see/do more, but it was always on to the next place to stay on schedule (which is a terrible word when you’re doing a trip like this.) No misadventures at all, aside from some pretty insane storms while we were camping/hiking, but that really falls more under the “adventure” side of things. You should definitely prolong your adventure and come on over to the East Coast/DC area (: ! And keep the gorgeous pics coming! (also, Paseo = life changing)

      • Rhyan

        Hank! I was Melody’s travel companion (it is always so wonderful to experience travel – new places, new FOOD, new people – with a good friend or two!) and you can follow our little adventure at wherethemountainsmeetthesky.com (:

        We debriefed for a while after returning from our trip last week and the only thing we wish we could have changed was all the rain! But who do you think we are, weather magicians!?! So we stuck it out, made some of the sites (PCH) a little more surreal. Your picture of the coast, rocks standing guard, made me immediately nostalgic. While I wouldn’t say we had any misadventures along the way, I am a little jealous you all are going through more of the midwest instead of the swampy gulf states, but there are always more trips in the future (any room on the bus next year??).

        And while I have you here, can I just say one word: PASEO.

  11. Leigh

    Wonderful blog and so many gorgeous photos. May I ask what kind of camera you use for the photos and the video?

    Looking forward to following your journey. Good luck!

    • Hank Butitta

      Justin is shooting with a MKII and MKIII, the images are indeed pretty fantastic.

  12. Deborah

    My question is simple: Bathroom? Do you have one? What kind? How? etc….
    That’s my biggest drawback to doing something like this (although I’d probably go tiny house as opposed to bus conversion).

    • Hank Butitta

      We’ve got a compartment in the back with a portable toilet. We use restaurants and rest stops when we can, but it’s terrible handy on the road!

  13. Cami

    Have ever thought about doing a cross country trip from California to Maine? Your ideas are so innovative. Good Luck!

  14. LK

    Your bus is AMAZING! But I have to say, as someone who spends most of her year living on a tour bus, seeing the pillows at the front end of the beds scares me. If anyone is laying there while the bus is in motion always remember “feet forward”.
    Anyway, brilliant work, very inspiring. Happy and safe travels!

    • Hank Butitta

      That’s great advice! We’ll switch it up! Happy touring!

  15. Alexandra

    just a little word from south of France. Thanks to you (and a little bit to the web 😉 )we ‘re travelling too, Pictures are amazing. have fun guys.

  16. Annette Terrazas

    I love that you point out the fact “assumption that what was drawn was not only possible, but functional”. My husband has been in construction all his life, from Commercial to residential and anything in between. When he was in high school he took an Architectural drafting course. He said that had it not been for his history in building actual hands on work he would have made many mistakes as he has seen happen often with others who have only studied but have not actually build anything. So the comprehension comes with putting your hands in and getting them dirty to realize the full scope of your ideas.

    Best wishes on your journey!

  17. Alex

    Hey guys and gals,

    many greets from Croatia! 🙂 I think what you have done is pure awesomeness. It looks good, It seems to work well and it makes one think -do we really need such a lifestyle where we lock ourselves up in a 30 year fixed, for a space that isn’t always what we’d like it to be and which basically makes us slaves?

    I own a small plot of land close to the city in which I live in and am currently inspecting my options… A camper van, a camper (like an airstream) or a small cabin. The main issue I see with dwellings like your bus is heating. How could it work in a colder climates? It’s probably OK for Cali but Montana…?

    Keep it up!
    Alex

    • Hank Butitta

      It’s tough to tell without testing it out! We hope to have a heater in the not too distant future, hopefully it holds up!

  18. fake.ono

    i was at twin lakes last week, would have loved to see this.
    i have conversion plans for a short bus.

  19. Tony

    Found your site off of Dailymail.co.uk, what an awesome story and adventure. Have fun exploring the parts of America that are often overlooked.

  20. Erik T.

    Hi Hank, I just by coincidence came across your fantastic and working-in-real-life ” project ”
    Respect ! Here in Belgium ( one of the tiniest countries of Europe ) discussion is also being started up
    that we all should reconsider for the future the way in which our ” housing system ” has become a threat
    to the limited space available. I have seen people living in ” pimped up ” / adapted old sea-ship-containers, but your idea, and the way in which you materialized it is so much more appealing I wish you a lot of success
    and fine moments in, with and during your 1st trip in your ” Hank’s bus ” !

  21. Karen

    Great idea Hank! I think this is amazing! Good luck with your travels.

  22. Klaus Elmfelt

    Hello Hank.
    What a great idea, and truly inspirational. I have one question though. Which bluebird did you buy. The 59 passenger one..? Happy travels.. Kind regards. Klaus

  23. Samantha

    Perhaps a bit more research would have benefitted you and your friend’s need for his morning coffee. The trucking industry has already created ways to solve many of your power issues..and ways to conserve fuel, etc. through auxiliary power units. Though these units carry a hefty initial price tag of approx. $8000. However, the savings in fuel, vehicle maintenance and the increase of your comfort level when the temperatures inside become too uncomfortable for restful sleep (to ensure optimum performance of the driver when they’re awake and behind the wheel) far outweighs the cost. Obviously you have already found out that 1500W power inverter is not large enough a 3500W to 4000W inverter should give you less trouble, both with the equipment, and with a potentially grumpy friend who becomes caffeine deficient. LOL The power units also will solve the cold start problems you talk about in a later installment of your blog.

    • Hank Butitta

      Wow! That’s almost as much as the whole project has cost so far! We’ll have to put that one on the back burner (rimshot).

  24. Jonathan T

    Just heard about you on tiny house blog and have joined your journey. Beautiful Home!! Just finalized a divorce and am putting together ideas of my new “home”. I have always locked tiny spaces but living in one is a true question. I will follow your journey and see the ups and downs of living life on the road in an amazing home.
    •••
    Safe Travels
    J TELFER

  25. Dennis

    Hank, great blog. Great bus! I’ve travelled most of the areas you’ve mapped out by motorcycle. There is just never enough time to see what this great country has to offer. Enjoy your travels and be safe. I look forward to reading all about it.

    Dennis

    • Rainfly

      Show honor to you !!!

  26. Jack

    I wondered if you have considered adding a small soar array to your home on wheels. Coupled with a charge controller and some deep cycle batteries, it would provide you with some additional power to use for running your computer and other accessories. Have an awesome journey, stay safe.

    Jack

    • Hank Butitta

      I initially anticipated the vehicle being parked mostly in the woods, where solar wouldn’t help terribly, but now that I see it will regularly be on the road I’m starting to do more research into solar cells. It will be a huge help!

  27. Rainfly

    Being a US citizen
    IS GOD’s gift. great country , greate people. greate journey
    A poor civilian from China.

  28. Great Grandma Ginny

    Hi Hank,

    I have been following the Tiny House movement and dreaming about living in the woods someday. Even when we are old we can still dream on. Just found your blog today and I am really looking forward to getting caught up and then following along. You seem to have received a great education and will have a bright future.

    I wanted to tell you that my sons are both in construction. My youngest had an awesome mentor and is highly esteemed in our area. Many, many times he has had to “adjust” the architects drawings because they just would not work in reality.

    In the 70’s in my prime I was asked by a local city to open and operate a facility for them. It was totally designed by an architect, all on paper. They hired an equipment company to build it. I had to have them tear it all out and rebuild it for it to function at all.

    I think as you move forward in your career perhaps you could remember:
    If you are going to design
    a LIBRARY, consult a LIBRARIAN;
    a RESTAURANT a CHEF;
    a HOSPITAL then NURSES & DOCTORS.

    Perhaps if you are designing a “Camper/Travel Bus/ RV perhaps consult multiple members of a RV clubs.

    Just a thot… looking forward to following your exciting journey and what we will learn along the way…

    Blessings & safe journey…
    Ginny

  29. Linda Sand

    Your bus is beautiful! I hear you about finding the glitches in it now that you are on the road, though. Here’s a resource you might find helpful: http://cheaprvlivingblog.com. The writer is experienced at converting vans and cargo trailers into mobile living places so his right hand column includes the results of many years of research which he updates regularly. I winter in a conversion van so I might just see you on the road someday.

  30. Scott Cowden

    Aloha Hank!

    Just found out about your adventure thru “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” blog…what a great story! I’m late to the road trip, but am going to spend part of today reliving it thru your site. I hope it was a grand trip!! (I’ll know soon…!)

    http://www.ripleys.com/weird/daily-dose-of-weird-wtf-blog/astonishing-architecture/grad-student-converts-old-school-bus-into-rad-mobile-home/#comment-18754

    Mahalo,
    Scott

  31. Christopher Rutt

    Hank! Honestly…the first words that came out of my mouth when I saw the interior of your home was; “whoooooah.” Spectacular execution. Simply superb. My girlfriend and I love the tiny home movement and last year we purchased a pop up trailer…of epic proportions…two king beds, superslide out, potty.etc…but can be towed by her Huyndai Santa fe! We love it! Can’t wait to read more about your journey! I would love to take your bus to Big Sur and drive it up and down PCH!

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