Spring Purge ~ Reducing Our Worldly Possessions To Fit On A Bus

Our Future Home
Spring is starting, as is the 30 day count down for our move date back to Montana and into our temporary home, while we work on restoring Norma, our 1955 school bus conversion. Currently as I write this, there are 27 days until our estimated departure date. Only 27 days to get all of our worldly possessions, our beloved stuff and things packed, sold, donated, trashed or whatever we ultimately end up doing with them. Only 27 days to clean the house out. Only 27 days to say good bye to family and friends. Only 27 days to transfer my son into and online school. Only 27 more days to make enough money for our trip. Only 27 more days until we go traveling for another 14 days. Actually, I only have one more day until I start my epic moving sale, which really puts the pressure on whole getting rid of stuff part; and really I should be preparing for the sale rather than blogging about it. But people have been asking for updates, and well...I am quite stressed about the whole moving thing and need to vent a little. Its my blog, I will do what I want.

I am actually quite pleased with my progress in the house mostly. Matt and I had a strategy for packing which has made it easy on my son and I. We allocated Rubbermaid tubs to the amount of space we will have available on the bus. My son gets three tubs, plus a traveling duffel. I get the same. Previously about three years ago, my son and I packed up everything we own into a small SUV and moved from Phoenix to Tucson. We just have not accumulated very much stuff since that point and lucky for us, we can fit everything we want to keep into the allocated tubs.
Im gonna miss my tortoise! 
Poor Matt though, he has had a hard time condensing. As a carpenter by trade, he has accumulated an egregious amount of tools that he mostly never uses. There are also the skis, the golf clubs, the bikes, the camping gear, the car parts and stuff and things. For me, its whatever~I got rid of that kind of stuff years ago. I have felt the feeling of liberation once I packed up my life. Matt is having the nostalgia complex with the stuff he has accumulated. Its okay. Honestly, there is enough room for all of his stuff, if he so chose to keep it, but I think he feels like since my son and I have gotten rid of so much that he should too. One way or another, the moving sale starts tomorrow. When we are finally packed up, I know Matt will finally feel that moment of true freedom and liberation. Like a tortoise, carrying everything he owns on his back. Along with two dogs and a puppy, a kid and myself.  Yea. Its gonna be a fun trip!

Wiggles is a Road Warrior -
This time she will be pulling a small trailer
Its gonna be even more fun on the road. I have quite a bit to look forward to this season. Our exit from Arizona begins with an epic 5 day regional gathering in the Northern part of our state. After the gathering, we will travel North towards Montana via national parks and Hot springs. While we considered going to the four corners, because none of us have seen that yet, we wanted to avoid more "boring desert" as well as the Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks because of the terrain. We are likely going to head west, and hit more of the Grand Canyon as well Zion National Park. After that we will head to Mystic Hot Springs, continuing North via Utah and Idaho while camping at more Hot Springs along the way. There is no way to avoid the Rocky Mountains, but the route we chose is good and direct. Ideally we will make it in three days. Realistically, one of the hot springs we stop at will be just too amazing to leave, and we will wind up camping an extra day somewhere. Five days max. I really want to get back to work at Eckstrom's Stage Stage by May 10th. Setting all kinds of future plans in action. Details of which will be released when my brain has time to process further forward progress...probably once we get to Montana. 

For now, I really need to think about setting up this moving sale. Cleaning my house would be ideal, but everything is such a cluttered mess at the moment I cant make any forward progress until everything is out of the way. So with my next step determined, and sufficient venting, I feel still strangely terrified and excited. Maybe its the coffee... But at least I know what I have to do. 

Thanks for reading and following...I would love it if you could leave a comment. Any type of support if meaningful and helpful. 

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If it was easy, it wouldn't be worth it.

Disappointment comes in so many forms. I knew when we purchased our old school bus Norma, that things were not going to be easy. She is old and rusty, mostly dilapidated, and needs a rather epic amount of love. I had high hopes thinking we would be anywhere near done last summer, or anytime in 2013 for that matter. Then, when the snow came and we still were not finished working on Norma, I let disappointment get the best of me. I hated the thought of packing up to go back to the desert without her. I dreaded the idea of leaving her in the snow for yet another cold winter. Turns out it was quite the doozy of a winter too. Right now, Norma is frozen in almost 4 feet of snow.

So back here in the warm desert, Matt and I have been mentally and literally preparing for our return to Montana to rebuild Norma. Its true, we are going to rebuild her. After a couple thousand more miles of traveling in an old Ford truck with even more animals than before, we decided on a lot more conventional type of design for the bus. When we return, we are going to strip the bus down to the frame, from the doors back and the roof down. Don't worry, we are going to salvage as much as possible. After that we are going to build a wood framed tiny home on top of the frame of the bus. Doing it this way allows us to build a safer, more functional home for our needs. Plus, we don't really want to look like a spectacle rolling down the road. We would like to feel at home everywhere we go, rather than somewhat out of place.

I originally came back to the desert rather distraught this year. I was able to kick that pretty quick with the refreshed ideas about the bus. One thing I have learned since that point, is that even if we did not reach the highest goals that I set for us, we did make progress, and paved the way for this year to be much smoother. We learned a lot last year. We really needed time to absorb and think about this bus in depth, without the convolution of working on her at the same time. This year, I will still set my goals high, I will just break them up into smaller more obtainable tasks. I have faith that this will all work out. I know it wont be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth it.

In the meantime, I think I'm going to make Norma her very own Facebook page. I might even publicly share the page and see if I can get anyone to read this silly blog. I mean whats the point of writing if I don't let anyone read it?
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Inspecting The School Bus: Will Norma Run Again?

Its been a while since I have given anyone an update on Norma, my 1955 International school bus conversion, and there sure has been quite a bit of progress over the last month or two. Time flies when your busy working on your bus conversion. Or waiting for manuals and parts to come in. Sometimes it feels like restoring a bus conversion is more of a waiting game than a restoration project. Once we got Norma home we focused on making sure she was going to run, after all Matt and his step father did just drag her over 100 miles, after not being able to get her started or evaluate the brakes properly. We knew there was a possibility that she was going to be a permanent home for us in mamas back yard, although we were hoping that was not going to be the case. We would rather be able to drive back to Arizona before the snow happens here in Montana.
Inspection of the mechanical workings of the bus revealed that our biggest problem was not in getting spark to the engine as we had originally thought, but it was actually that the back brakes were broken. The back drivers side wheel cylinder was not functioning properly and brake fluid would squirt out of it. Matt tried honing it, replacing the dust cover seals, resizing the cup that goes inside, pretty much everything short of taking it to a machine shop, which was our next step. However, his wonderful and mechanical genius of a father did some serious research and found a guy who was able to find the part and get it ordered for us. That new wheel cylinder for our 1955 International R180 school bus is currently in shipping, scheduled to be here this week. All in all it took us almost a month to figure out what was wrong with that part an find a new one. Bus problems, go figure. I expect we will run into more eventually.

So here are some progress points that the inspection revealed.
  • The distributor cap and point was bad. When we found someone who knew about old engines like ours, he was able to replace it easily, as well as give us part numbers, and direct us to the parts store that has been really great about finding the other parts that we need. 
  • All the radiator hoses were pretty cracky, so we replaced them all, and bought spares for everything. 
  • Replaced our stock air filter with a K & N lifetime filter with the largest air flow possible. 
  • Freeze plugs were rusted out. Had to have a machine shop make us more. Were also installed a block heater while they were out.
  • The alternator was really old obviously, and I think it was drawing current from the battery and draining it, so we had it refurbished by an alternator specialist. 
  • The engine, transmissions and gas tank were all full of gunk. Not as big of a problem as we had initially thought. Again, his mechanical genius of a dad did some serious research and referred us to the old timer's method. It involved wall paper remover. I don't know the details really but it worked like a charm.  
All in all, it looks like Norma is going to run like a champ once we get the brakes put back together. Which is great news for me, because its really getting cold here in Montana and I am ready for some sunshine. There are definitely a few more hurdles we are going to have to jump before we can take her on a journey south across the country, but we are almost there. 
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How to Tow A 1955 School Bus Coversion

Pulling A 1955 International School With A Dodge Truck
This is the story of Norma, a 1955 International School Bus Conversion. I bought her just over two months ago now, and getting her home was quite an adventure. As it turns out, getting a School Bus towed from Whitefish, MT was not going to be an easy task. The towing he had promised fell through several times. An axle had broken on his buddy's trailer, and the towing for 150 dollars was not panning out. After researching tow companies and getting a couple dozen different quotes, the average price to tow a 1955 International School Bus 150 miles was between 800 and 1000 dollars. The terrain between where I was located just outside of Missoula, and where Norma was stuck in Whitefish, is 150 miles of switchback mountains with some steep grades and serious turns, along with a couple of giant hills. I put out craigslist ads and calls for help to my friends. I had a trucker friend suggest a bidding company online, but no one would take on the haul.

 After a month and a half of almost patiently waiting, Matt and I decided that he was going to go to Whitefish and try to make Norma run, or tow it home himself. So Matt embarked on this weekend long adventure with his step father to make Norma run again. After days of trying and not succeeding, and a lot of wrong parts, they still couldn't get the spark Norma needed to run. At this point, exhausted and frustrated, Matt and his step dad, decided to tie Norma up to his step dad's Dodge, and pull her home. The above picture is after 20 miles, they made it into Kalispell, MT. They had to stop in this parking lot to cool off the brakes, and add more brake fluid. Apparently they were having problems with a cylinder. They said at this point, that they had many people pointing and shouting and taking pictures. They even had a sheriff come up behind them and just shake his head. If your wondering, they just have a 40 foot tow strap rigged up to pull the bus behind the dodge.

The rest of the trip was not easy going either. The brake cylinders gave out or blew up something, and they had to stop and compress them over and over. Matt was literally having to stop a 33 foot school bus with his own legs and an emergency brake. They had a lot of close calls. They pulled over in every town, considering whether they should just give up and drop the bus.  But they never did. They just kept on hauling. After the worst of the hills, and another close call, the brakes went out again. Matt was down to one back break and the emergency brake. The sun was going down and they had been in tow for over 6 hours already. They rigged up the brakes again and attempted the last leg of the journey down into Missoula. It was dark as they arrived into town. Wouldn't you know, that finally after 8 or 9 hours of towing, they got pulled over.

Matt said he had never looked so pathetic. He was covered in diesel soot (there is no windshield in the bus) sore and exhausted, he almost shed a tear to the Sheriff. The Sheriff was very understanding, and although he wouldn't let them tow it any further, he did allow him to call a friend to follow behind the bus with his hazards on for the rest of the 20 miles to where we live. The breaks went out altogether as he pulled into the yard to set her in her place. She also took out the fence on her way in. Poor Norma was as tired and sore as Matt.

Matt had to take two full days off of work to recover after literally being the brakes for the bus most of the way home. At least I know he is capable of stopping her if there is a complete brake failure. We have not fully assessed the damage of pulling Miss Norma yet either. I imagine, the brakes are going to be a doozy. We have pieces and parts that need to be exchanged, because some of the original parts that we got were for a 12 volt system rather than the original 6 volt system that is installed. There is a lot of questions we have about the motor itself. I do have some books on order, and hopefully a manual in the very near future...

So Norma made it home. Now the fun part begins. I am restoring a school bus. Its actually happening. I passed on the burn this year, in hopes that she will make it to her true home, next year. Next year was better anyways. )'(

Follow my blog to start seeing some before and after pictures of Norma. I would love to hear some feedback from you readers! If you have any good links, tips, suggestions or information for a 1955 International School Bus, I would love to see them. Thanks for reading.

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Restoration Dreams

Norma the Bus ~ And Me

Hi everyone, my name is Mandy, and this is my Bus Norma, a 1955 International School Bus. I love how she seems to be smiling in this picture. I think her smile is what made me fall in love with her in the first place. I found her on craigslist almost two months ago, and I knew instantly that she had to be mine.

I have had dreams of owning a bus and running away to travel across the country for some years now; and after a 10-day, 2200 mile road trip snuggled up with my tireless road warrior of a man, my son, and two dogs in a ford truck...I was so ready to make an impulse purchase of a giant rig that would also be my home. About a week later, we found ourselves driving an additional 150 miles, to Whitefish, Mt to meet Miss Norma in person. There are no words for what we found when we got there.

Okay there are actually a few words I can think of, like "Holy s#!t", and "I am so sorry I made you drive up here for this". It was apparent at the moment we laid eyes on her, that she was going to be a huge project, bigger than anything we have taken on before, together that is. I was pretty speechless for a few hours, all I could do was just look around in disbelief and awe. My man, my loving partner, on the other hand, was rooting around inside, underneath on top of, literally everything. Sometimes he looked confused, sometimes baffled, and a lot of the time, he just looked concerned. It was like I could see the little calculations happening in his head. I was almost positive that we were gonna walk away from Miss Norma, but for some reason, we were just so drawn to her. One thing was very clear from the start, and that was that somebody had previously spent a lot of time living in and loving on Miss Norma.

Looking forward
I found myself a quiet spot at the back of the bus, checking out the view. I am sitting in the master bedroom area, looking towards the front of the bus. The wood is cedar. They skylight is broken from the weight of snow pressing in on it over the years. The wood stove looks like it is paper thin, and must have kept someone very warm for a really long time.

An old man from across the road came along, curious about our curiosity as we had been there well over an hour, and most people leave almost immediately.

He told us that his brother used to own the property that we were on, and he had passed away the previous year. His stuff was finally being sold through estate sales, and the guy selling it to us, was just one of the investors who made a bulk purchase.

I asked the man how his brother came about having this bus. I was really hoping for a great story about an old hippy who made it for the love of his life and himself to travel around the country until they were old and gray, and that the bus just sat after they had died.

But the story went more like, "my brother liked to gamble drink. One day he was doing just that down in Kalispell, when the last Rainbow Gathering traveled through here ten or so years ago, and he won it in a drunken game of poker. Wow. Just Wow. Par for the course in Montana if you ask me.

But still, her smirk, her grin, when you are looking at her, tells me that she had sat here waiting  half her life for another hippy to pick her up and get her out of broke down hillbilly hell. Poor girl. The old man told us that over the years, some kids have come and vandalized the bus, breaking the windows and partying til the wee hours of the night. I bet that made her happy to have some company on those lonely winter nights.
Yea I know, She needs a lot of work

After the old man left, Matt and I just sat inside in silence for a really long time. Finally, I spoke up and said, "I wont be upset if you say that this project is too big for you~I am ready to walk away" But for some reason, Matt was ready to take on the project. He too felt her love and warmth. So on June 29th, we purchased Norma.

The terms of purchasing Norma were sweet and simple at first. We agreed on her price, and the fella said that he had a friend who could tow it to us 150 miles away for 150 bucks and a case of Budweiser. Sounded like a sweet deal. We planned to have it delivered after the fourth of July weekend. We left and came home anxiously awaiting the day that Norma made it home.

Follow this blog to keep up with Norma's trip home, and our pending restoration of her once she makes it here. Feel free to leave me a comment :) I would love to here what everyone thinks of Norma.

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