Bus Conversion Project

 Posted by at 12:08 am  Nick's Blog
Jun 032021

Several readers have asked me if I could share any pictures or information about the bus that Terry and I converted and lived in for over 8 1/2 years as fulltime RVers. At one time I had a series of blog posts about the bus, but in moving from different web hosts, they disappeared somewhere along the way. So I’ll give you a quick rundown with a lot of photographs.

We bought the 1976 MCI bus from a dealer in Petal, Mississippi. It had been owned by Gray Line Tours and was used to haul gamblers between San Diego and Las Vegas and on tours from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon before being retired. The previous owner had started to strip the bus out and quickly realized it was much more of a project than he wanted to tackle. Here are two pictures of what it looked like when we purchased it.

The first thing we did was strip the interior of the bus completely, walls, floor, and ceiling, getting rid of many years of accumulated goop and grime that had built up.

Since we wanted an all-weather bus, we spent a lot of time on insulation. Here Terry is installing foil-backed insulation that we used as the first layer inside the ceiling and the sidewalls of the bus. The next layer was styrofoam insulation blocks cut to fit.

Then we covered them in plywood.

We also painted several layers of an elastomeric seal coat material on the roof to provide extra insulation.

Then we laid down oak strips the length of the floor of the bus and cut sheets of insulation to fill in between the strips. Over that, we put in a carbon fiberboard insulation that was 3/4 inch thick and only weighed something like 10 pounds for a 4×8 sheet.

All of the insulation work paid off very well because a few times when we were in single-digit temperatures in northern Michigan while Terry was going back for her cancer checkups, we stayed toasty warm with just a small catalytic heater. And in the summer we were comfortable on even the hottest days with just one small roof air conditioner.

Terry said cutting the holes in the roof for the air conditioner and vent fans were one of the scariest things she did. Not because of the height but because we were cutting holes in our bus!

We also removed all the original windows and framed and covered the openings with the same gelcoat that is used on the sides of RVs. Then Terry cut holes for new windows and we installed jalousie-type RV windows that cranked open on the bottom. This let us have the windows open for cross ventilation even when it was raining.

When it comes to building or fixing things, I am pretty much worthless, with a couple of exceptions. I do understand a thing or two about electricity and wired the bus.

Terry’s dad Pete Weber helped install the final laminate flooring, which looked gorgeous.

We used tongue and groove strips on the curved ceiling, with vinyl-covered upholstered insets between them, and a center channel that held the wiring and our fluorescent lights.

Terry had never built cabinets before, but there’s nothing she can’t do. While we were dry camping, using just solar panels we had installed and a generator for power, she bought a couple of books on cabinetmaking and set to work.

Here are the kitchen and bedroom cabinets. They were absolutely beautiful and got a lot of remarks from experienced woodworkers who saw them.

We replaced the original driver’s seat and installed a matching passenger seat, which came from one of the RV surplus stores in Elkhart, Indiana.

Once, when we were at a truck stop in Arizona getting fuel, I saw a sign for polishing and went over and talked to a couple of gentlemen who quickly set to work polishing the stainless steel, and they did an excellent job.

No bus conversion is ever finished; there’s always something else you want to do, but our bus provided us with a safe and stable home for many years, and we loved it.

We built the bus while Terry was recovering from stage 4 cancer, which almost killed her, as well as taking our savings and retirement because our insurance company denied coverage since the first doctor told her she only had six weeks to live. We called it our buckboard bus because every time we got a buck, we bought another board. A friend said it was a 30-30 bus because from 30 feet away when we were driving 30 miles an hour, it looked darn good!

I used to tease Terry that when she was a little girl, and someone said she would grow up to be a homemaker someday, she never knew she would actually have to make the home. But she did 90% of the work on the bus. I installed the plumbing and electrical systems and helped her as much as my meager skills allowed, but it was her creativity and wizardry that made it so functional and beautiful.

Would I want to take on a project like that again? Not at my age. And I darn sure wouldn’t want to try to do it on the road as we did! But when you are broke and have nowhere else to turn, you do what you have to. The old bus is gone now and we have hung up the keys. And while Terry has recovered and is now cancer-free 20 years later, and our finances have recovered as well, we have memories that are priceless.

Thought For The Day – Home is where you park it.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  7 Responses to “Bus Conversion Project”

  1. Never saw the creation of your conversion, Nick! Neat!

  2. Beautiful job! Terry is phenomenal and an outstanding role model.

  3. I remember your bus. Saw you at Several places including Elkhart Campgroynd a a Life on Wheels. Good Times!!!

  4. You both did a beautiful job restoring that bus. It is gorgeous. Speaking of Elkhart, do you know what that old white foundation is remnants of that is just West of the fairgrounds?

  5. Nick, this was fascinating to read and, through other blogs you have written, I knew Terry was crafty, but I never knew she could do all of that.

  6. Absolutely impressive!

  7. I had no idea you both did so much work before traveling in it. What a great job?

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