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Converting a Bus: February 2017 Wrap-Up

This month’s Wrap-Up post is a bit different than previous ones.  Because we’re always on the move, I had started the series to allow folks following our journey to make sense of where we were, where we’d come from, and how we’d arrived.

This past month, it hasn’t been difficult to follow us.  We were in Phoenix, and now we’re in Tucson.

That’s it.

I don’t need a map to show our route.  There’s no real sense in mentioning Totoyaya’s mileage (I will, anyway, though: it’s 603,004km, meaning we drove only 451km this month– and most of those were driven by me!)

Indeed, our nomadic overlanding life has taken a backseat to one thing and one thing only – our bus conversion.

Our Big Blue Bus

Our Big Blue Bus

In my last post, I introduced you to our new bus, which for now I am calling Big Blue.  Ever since we bought it (her? I haven’t decided yet) our life has revolved entirely around our conversion.  Two nights ago, when I finally went out for a social walk called Meet Me at Maynards in downtown Tucson, it was the first touristy thing I have done since January 19th (the day we placed a deposit on Big Blue).

Becoming Un-Nomadic

On January 20th, we moved into a condo in Gilbert, a suburb of Phoenix.  We totally lucked out with this accommodation – one moment, we were aimlessly wandering the streets of Phoenix wondering where to sleep and searching Air BnB for a home rental; and the next, a friend of mine was offering us her relatives’ condo.  The individuals involved have asked to remain anonymous, but if you’re reading this, we would once again like to thank you from the bottoms of our hearts for the opportunity to begin our bus conversion from the comfort of your home.

It was key for us to be able to move into a larger space at this exact moment, because we spent most of our time in Phoenix buying the [bulky] materials we would need for our conversion.  We knew we would be moving to Tucson on February 10th (we had to move out of the condo and found accommodation more affordable in Tucson) so we wanted to maximize our time in Arizona’s largest city by buying furniture at IKEA and finding salvaged RV items at Arizona RV Salvage.

We also emptied Totoyaya of all our belongings so she would be ready to be sold.

We also emptied Totoyaya of all our belongings so she would be ready to be sold.

Everything we own in the garage of the condo.

Everything we own in the garage of the condo.

We could see Totoyaya from the window of our condo.  We

We could see Totoyaya from the window of our condo. We’re very grateful to have found such a comfortable space to begin our conversion project!

Picking through the salvaged RVs for usable parts.

Picking through the salvaged RVs for usable parts.

Disassembling hardware and cupboards inside a salvaged RV.  A very surreal experience to step inside these RVs becuase, in most instances, the owners

Disassembling hardware and cupboards inside a salvaged RV. A very surreal experience to step inside these RVs becuase, in most instances, the owners’ personal effects were still strewn about inside the vehicle. We saw tons of food, clothing, and even children’s homework! Makes you wonder what the families were up to before their personal tragedy…

Insuring and Registering our Bus

While we waited for our bus to get its new transmission, we dealt with insurance and registration.  These things proved to be much more challenging than expected.  Most companies didn’t want to insure a commercial vehicle or a bus being converted into, but not yet, an RV.  AAA spent a lot of time searching for us, without success.  I tried Progressive, National General, and Goodsam on my own (Goodsam will be able to cover us once the bus conversion is finished).

In the end, it was AIS that came to the rescue.  They called Progressive (again) and were able to insure me under their Commercial Bus Insurance.  For $685 per year (refundable if we don’t use the whole year – which we won’t), we have decent third party insurance.  Phew!

Registration was no less of a headache.  My research over previous months had shown that, if I registered the vehicle outside of Phoenix or Tucson, I could avoid yearly smog tests (which would be a big hassle from, say, Nicaragua!)  It just so happens that my friend, Erin, has parents who live in the Prescott area of Arizona.  We’d hit it off at Erin’s wedding back in 2013, and they accepted that we use their address for registration.  This meant that a) we would have an Arizona address (sort of important when registering a vehicle!), and b) we wouldn’t have to do smog tests!  Glenn and Sharon, you guys are total lifesavers!  Gems!!

The complicated part came here: we knew we could get a temporary 30-day registration for the bus, allowing us to drive on the roads (to buy parts, visit the mechanic, move to Tucson), but we also knew that 30 days wouldn’t be enough for us to finish the conversion and register the vehicle as an RV.  I learned about a temporary 90-day registration, and called twice to confirm that we would qualify.  We were told we would.  Double phew!  This meant we would have 90 days to finish the conversion and officially register the vehicle.

Only, when we got to the DMV office, this turned out not to be the case.  We didn’t qualify for the 90-day registration.  We could get 30 days and that was it.

I admit that, by this point in life, I was a big ball of stress and anxiety.  A lot of that had to do with the challenges I recently talked about regarding living in Totoyaya, and part of it was the frustration of the vehicle search itself.  I started to get angry and cry a little bit.  I must have freaked out the lady at the DMV office, because she agreed to allow us to register the bus as a commercial vehicle (its current form of registration), give us the rest of the year to convert the bus and come back when it was finished to register the bus as an RV.  Commercial registration would cost us more, she said, but when she quoted $112, we jumped on the opportunity!

Sticking the registration onto our new Arizona license plate!

Sticking the registration onto our new Arizona license plate!

Woo woo, we

Woo woo, we’re registered in Arizona!

Prepping the Bus for Conversion

While the bus was still at American Truck Salvage, we popped over one day to remove all its seats.  It was surprisingly easy, and I’m proud to say I did most of it myself (while Bruno familiarized himself with the electronics of the vehicle).  That same day at the dealership, we found a used truck seat and paid an employee cash to install it up front as a passenger seat.  And we had the guys take out the Air Conditioning system, which was bulky and ugly and we already knew we wouldn’t use.  We gave them the seats and AC system, so everyone was happy.

The day we officially purchased the bus, we brought it to a mechanic friend we had made months early during our vehicle search.  He did a full inspection and changed all the filters and oils.  We wanted to start our journey with Big Blue fresh.

Picking out the best used seat to install for a passenger (me).

Picking out the best used seat to install for a passenger (me).

Getting my new (used) passenger seat installed.

Getting my new (used) passenger seat installed.

Before.

Before.

Taking the seats out of the bus all by myself!

During. Taking the seats out of the bus all by myself!

After.  Wow, right?

After. Wow, right?

There, THAT

There, THAT’S better! (Notice the AC is gone, too.)

A Few Snags

We brought our bus back to the condo facility and parked it along a long dirt parking lot we’d been pretty stoked to see when we’d moved it.  It wasn’t even a day before we learned we had to move the bus or it would be towed.  Apparently it lowered the visual appeal of the condo facility.  We had to quickly think of a backup plan.  We checked out a few storage facilities but they were all expensive and had strict rules about not being able to work on the bus there.

At the last moment, we found a gravel storage facility owned by a couple that were much more chilled out about things.  We gave them $50 cash and they gave us permission to do some work inside the bus.  We really lucked out again, because over the next two weeks, Bruno and I put in the flooring, he opened up the ceiling, took out a bunch of useless wiring, took out the giant AC condenser unit and all its cables, repaired the front bumper, and continued trying to make sense of the electronics and wiring in the vehicle (without the aid of any technical manual!).

On our final day in Phoenix, as we were filling the bus with all our belongings (everything we had emptied from Totoyaya and all the things we’d purchased in Phoenix), Bruno discovered two problems: the new transmission we’d just had installed was leaking, and the “Check Engine Light” was going on and off.  As we scrambled back to the mechanics’ and the dealership where we’d purchased the vehicle, Bruno cursed his new bus.

The storage space where we parked Big Blue.  Bruo would drive Totoyaya there in the mornings to do some work on the bus.

The storage space where we parked Big Blue. Bruno would drive Totoyaya there in the mornings to do some work on the bus.

Moving all our stuff (including new purchases) from Phoenix to Tucson!

Moving all our stuff (including new purchases) from Phoenix to Tucson!

Moving to Tucson

Since we moved into our Air BnB house here in Tucson, we’ve settled into a sort of rhythm.  Bruno is putting in 10-hour days inside the bus, and I’m acting as a sort of project manager.  I make aesthetic decisions, run errands, pick up hardware and building materials, do research and purchase parts like insulation, grey water tank, fridge, water pump and heater, lighting, toilet, fans, etc.  I also maintain the house by cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking the most energizing and uplifting meals I can to keep us on track.

We have also enlisted a bit of help from some volunteers through an organization called HelpX.  For the past two weeks we have had someone living with us in our rental house and helping Bruno in the bus.  I’m super excited to share more about this experience, but will leave that for a future post.

I am personally feeling more balanced this month than back in January.  We finally have our vehicle and are taking daily concrete steps toward our dream.  We’re in a comfortable home with enough space to move around, a kitchen, hot water, and shelter from the winter.  And, despite the intense work schedule, I’m making time to occasionally get to the yoga studio and a Traditional Chinese Medicine School clinic.

The night we arrived at our Air BnB in Tucson.  Nice kitchen, right?

The night we arrived at our Air BnB in Tucson. Nice kitchen, right?  I’m going to save the rest of my Tucson photos for later posts! :)

All in all, February has been challenging – and unlike any month we’ve ever experienced – but we are both feeling the concrete progress of our work.  In my next post, I’ll show you pictures of our conversion work so far!

On the Cards Next Month

Bruno and I have extended our stay in Tucson until March 26th, both because we are so comfortable and because our conversion work is advancing so slowly!  When we leave Tucson, we will be forced to head straight to Baja California, Mexico, because our US visas are almost up.  We will continue our work down there, but we are hoping to be able to do it from a campsite rather than a house.  Our finances are running really low so we would like to start living in the bus as soon as possible.  This means we have a lot of work to do in the next 3.5 weeks!

  • Auntie Freya - Brittany and Bruno,
    I’m so proud of the headway you are making with “Big Blue”. You’ll soon be on your way to more adventures! I’m off to Egypt on 3/16 with a very special tour (only about 20 people) lead by an archeologist (and past Ministry of Antiquities) and Anwar Sadat’s wife. It should be very interesting. You still owe me an email!
    Love, FreyaReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thanks for the note, Freya! It’s so encouraging to know our project is being avidly followed by so many… definitely keeps us motivated!

      I SO hope you enjoy your trip to Egypt! Can’t wait to hear about it on your return. Best. :)ReplyCancel

  • Louise Jones-Takata - Tough! Keep up the good work. Big Blue lookin’ good.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Thank for the encouragement, Louise! I guess the name of the bus is catching on! :)ReplyCancel

  • Leslie Brown - I’m sure I am among many of you readers who admire your hard work to overcome the difficulties of making your blue bus a beautiful new home.Your determination will be your reward. I will look forward to see it someday.
    Love , GrampaReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Thank you for the kind words, Grampa! I sure do wish I had a handyman such as yourself here right now to help Bruno! Eh well, we’ll manage – things are coming along and I can’t wait to post an update for everyone to see! :)ReplyCancel

  • Annette Gaudet - Looking forward to seeing the next pictures ! Good luck ! 😊ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Thank you, Annette! It’s nice to know people are watching with interest! If you have Facebook or Instagram, you can see more up-to-date photos of our bus conversion by following/liking our page. Otherwise, my next post will have a ton more photos of our work so far. :)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth S. - Glad to see things are progressing and you are learning new skills, Brittany!ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Yes, despite my best efforts to never learn anything related to vehicle mechanics and construction, I AM learning!ReplyCancel

  • Rcs - Can’t wait til I see the final version of Big Blue.
    You’re becoming quite the bus mechanic!ReplyCancel

    • Brittany Caumette - Thanks, I can’t wait either! :)ReplyCancel

  • Brittany - Thank you for visiting our humble little blog and stopping into say hello! We’re happy to know someone will be following along with us during our bus conversion – it’ll help motivate us during the challenging moments!:)ReplyCancel

  • Daniel McDougall - It is great to learn about your bus conversion. I hope it goes well for you and look forward to future posts.ReplyCancel

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