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My Name is Kevin...I Live in a bus

I sometimes wonder what turns in life end us up where we are. For example, I'm an intelligent, well read, educated (although not classically) middle aged married father of a college student. Sounds like a basic recipe for conservative suburbanite.

My name is Kevin. I live in a bus.

I know that there are explanations - like the fact that the bus is a school bus I converted into a living space, that I have a bedroom, dining room, and kitchen in my approximately 156 square feet of living space under the curved sheet metal roof. I have another 800 square feet of space in a rough shop with an office inside and another small outbuilding with a bathroom and shower in it. The biggest explanation is that this is "temporary" quarters while I build a house for my wife and I on the 8 acres we bought outside Spokane when we sold the house in town north of Seattle. Still…. I live in an old bus!

I like the shock value of the statement..... "I live in a bus". Actually, I rather enjoy the place - the bus has flames painted on the nose like an old hot rod from the 50's - and though it is 36 feet long it is easy to drive the few times that I have done so. I bought it after it was retired from transporting school kids in Oregon. The oddest thing about this bus is that it is not a diesel, and also does not use gasoline. It runs on clean burning propane, with a large, heavily armored tank under the bus. Oregon schools changed to clean burning fuels to try and reduce the amount of pollution they spew at the kids standing on the curb waiting for the bus to load/unload. Propane is one way – although now it is “clean burning diesel” engines that do better. I don’t get a whole lot of miles to the gallon (the thing weighs over 16,000 pounds EMPTY and gets 3¼ mpg, although propane is a bit cheaper than gas) but I was able to put about half of everything we had in our house in it AND towed one of my cars behind it when I drove over the mountains from Seattle to Spokane.

Inside the bus it is almost like a gypsy caravan. The bus roof is curved, and so when you are in the bedroom in the back reading or watching television and the curtained doorway is open you can see down the length of the bus. Cabinets and counters line the sides and a small cast iron woodstove is to one side near the midpoint of the bus across from the "kitchen table" that is big enough for two. Carpets and rugs are on the floor like any Bedouin traveler would know help make it homelike, and fabrics cover the walls in the back (for warmth, mostly – in the winter the snow outside is two feet thick).

When it rains, you can hear it on the roof, pattering against the metal. When it snows, you can see it swirling down - there are windows along both sides and a gorgeous view across the valley to the lake about two miles away, and the small mountains on the other side. The picture here is a zoom shot from the window of the office in the shop – this is what I see when I am working on my computer and turn to look outside.


We have dogs, and for the most part they know their “turf” by little radio collars that give them a beep, and then a small zap, if they cross the boundary. The boundary closes in about 5 acres of hillside and trees, so there is room to run. The dogs sleep in the bus or in the heated kennels in the shop at night - I don't want them to get out and chase deer over the moonlit hills or argue territory with coyotes. The neighbor across the road has stock, and the coyotes are scared of his donkeys and a few of his larger dogs. There is a line of pee on both sides of the road where our respective canines have marked the turf "yours" and "mine" in a well defined truce.

Wild turkeys roam out here in flocks of 3 to 30 birds, scratching in the dirt under the trees, and it is not uncommon to have white tailed deer wander past, although they tend to give us a bit of a detour so that they don't get too close to where they can smell the dogs. There are owls hooting at night, and hawks overhead looking for rabbits and such. In the summer we had a bug zapper light that attracted the insects to their doom with a purple fluorescent lamp. We had a friendly bat or two decide that when the light was on, it was chow time – and the little white bat would fly circles around the bathroom building scooping up bugs. I consider the bat my best neighbor…. those bugs could have been horrible, but between the electric chair I offered them, or being eaten alive by Batman, the flying insect population was not bad at all.

We have cats to complete our furry menagerie - they live in the bus since they are old settled house cats and clawless. The covered cat box is up front (under the dashboard, really) and since we changed from cat sand to pine shavings the odor is totally gone. Their job is indoor rodent control and so far they have been effective, or lucky, as I have not seen a single mouse in the bus. The ones outside are more likely to fall prey to the dogs - one of them (I am not always sure which) tends to leave them by the steps into the shop as a present. When I take the dead rodents away I always make sure to give the dogs a cookie and a pat on the head.

There is also a parrot - "Squirt" is a yellow headed amazon without much language but a truly piercing squawk. His cage is towards the front of the bus, and we have a little portable perch for him to sit and watch television on. He likes horror movies - when the monsters are chasing people and there is a lot of screaming and roaring the bird will laugh and laugh. The cats don't bug him much - he does bite sometimes. The only real problem with a bird in a bus is the acoustics are such that the curved roof can amplify his squawking.

When we first moved out here last spring, we had three visitors from across the street. I named them Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle - after one of the bad guys and his two moronic henchmen in the "Harry Potter" books. The bravest, cockiest one (Malfoy) was of course, the one who would come closest to the bus. It seems that these three roosters from across the way thought that my bus was a funny kind of chicken coop, and they wanted to know what kind of bird was squawking out the windows. It was funny the first time.

The next day, at around 4 in the morning..... we awoke to the roosters crowing challenges from right under the window. The bus is over 300 feet from the road, and the roosters had to have made a rather lengthy trip across the road and up the hill.... but now we know WHY the chickens crossed the road. To argue with the parrot!

When we got here last spring, we made a very fast descent from “civilized” housing. We started out living in a 20 foot trailer (a small box on wheels with a stove, sink, toilet, and a table). It had water tanks inside, but we did not have a working well yet - so we collected rainwater runoff from the awning during the spring storms and filled the tanks. Drinking water came from town in 5 gallon jugs. After the well pump was put in and I did all the plumbing, I could fill the tanks in the trailer from a long hose.... although there was no electricity to power the well pump unless I ran the gasoline generator. I built an 8 foot by 12 foot shed, and put a shower, sink, and toilet into it.

We set up a bedroom in the fully gutted and partially converted school bus. Our recreation and treat to ourselves when we first moved out here would be to fire up the generator behind the bus, retreat into the trailer with the propane heater keeping it warm, and watch a movie on the little 14 inch screen on my laptop computer.

Slowly we moved from roughing it, to more “normal” conditions. Yes, I know that in some parts of the world (or here, about 50 years ago) we would be considered the rich folk with the fancy digs…. but we went from a 2,800 square foot home in town to an unheated trailer in the country with no running water…. it was a bit of an adjustment.  Slowly we built up. I built a pump house over the well – and we get clean untreated water naturally filtered through the sand – our well is 200 feet deep and the water is always cool in the summer.

The day that I got the power turned on at the temporary meter in the middle of the property (someone had a mobile home here at one time, so there was a power meter stuck to a post) and wired up a few exterior sockets we celebrated by having electric lighting inside the bus and we could plug in the refrigerator and stop using an ice chest. That was my first time dealing with an electrical inspector. All my electrical work is done by me; it is legal for me to be my own electrician because I am not getting paid. Plus – this is the country, and there are rednecks all over these woods that would revolt if they had to have everything inspected. I was able to use the classes I took in high school in electronics to make sure everything was done correctly and safely. I’m probably OVER-cautious about electric work (the real electricians I know say I am) but I don’t care. I will shut down the entire property just to change a socket if I feel like it (and I did just that once – to be safe).

With electricity then came running water from the pump on the well any time you turn on the faucet or the shower in the bathroom. I put a little 6 gallon electric water heater in the bathroom so that a shower did not have to include heating water on the stove, first. Standing in my shower with hot water coming down was much nicer than my first shower out here….. standing behind a small stand of trees on the hillside with a water bag of cold water hanging from another tree, and 3 deer looking at me wondering what kind of animal I was, and how come I did not have much fur?

The next building to go up was the workshop. This structure doubles as a bit of storage, a place to work out of the rain (and later, snow) and a place to put the office. The original design came about when I got a deal on a bunch of building materials. Someone had an oversized carport come down due to rotting support posts on the bottom and a very big windstorm. In exchange to cleaning up the debris, I was able to take the roof trusses. I was able to piece together enough undamaged trusses for a building 24 feet wide and 32 feet long. The next task was to design it to take advantage of the (also scrounged) windows I had, and figure out how to make it fit on my sloping ground. I decided to build it up on pillars, hooked up a trailer to my pickup, and went shopping. It took a long time that afternoon, but even though the stock boys thought I could not get it all loaded in one trip – I did. There is a few thousand pounds of lumber and plywood on my truck and trailer in the picture here.

A picture of the building half way through construction shows how it is up on “stilts” as the ground slopes. I have storage under the building for bicycles and lawn mowers and such. One thing to realize, I built this building almost entirely by myself. I had Robin help push two of the walls up, about half the roof trusses, and she helped hold the sides on while I nailed them on – but other than that, this was a one man show. By the time I was done it had lighting, electric circuits, windows, doors, insulation (in the office, at least – the corner closest in this picture), heat, and air conditioning. The office doubles as our “living room” and “guest room”. When Rowan was home from college on break she used the office as her room.

I have never lived where it snowed. Not where it snowed with any seriousness, anyway. There were a few days or even up to 20 weeks where there was snow on the ground in Snohomish (in western Washington just north of Seattle) at an elevation of around 100 feet above sea level, and even a few days with snow on the roads to deal with. This year, we live outside of Spokane - and it our property is at around 2,000 feet above sea level. Hills, trees, and snow fell in November. By early December all our property was white, and now in mid February it is STARTING to clear a bit. I have a small spot about 5 feet across on my driveway where you can see the dirt (but only because I plowed several times and then took a shovel and broke up the 3 inches of ice under the snow). Up until a week ago my driveway was at least 12 inches deep, with some huge ruts where I have been able to drive up the driveway in my 4x4 pickup truck. The car that Robin has been driving has not been up the driveway for almost 3 weeks - it has to park down at the bottom. The driveway is about 200 feet long, shaped like a boomerang and it goes uphill after the "bend" to where the shop and the bus are. Actually the driveway is a circular loop - maybe 8 times around is a mile- but the other "leg" of it is under 2 feet of snow and is steeper, so we stopped using it in December.

The cold is a strange adversary. The first problem we had was the water lines from the pump house (temporary pipes and hoses) to the bathroom froze at night, and then thawed again during the day. Eventually they froze and never thawed out. I had to put water tanks in the bathroom and a separate little pump so that I could take a 300 foot hose, connect it from the well pump to the tanks in the bathroom, and fill them up once a week.  When the snow falls, it gets on the satellite dish. We live in an area that does not have cable television or any other kind of “high speed” internet – so I have my internet connection through a company that has me bounce my signals off a satellite in orbit and back down to earth. All my email travels about 50,000 miles, even if it only goes 5 miles “as the crow flies”. During a snow storm when the computer is not working – you go outside with a long handled push broom and sweep the snow off the dish. The dish is mounted to the side of the shop just outside the office.

It is slow going. One thing that I’ve noticed is my internal thermostat has adapted. When we lived in Phoenix we got used to temperatures above 110 degrees as “normal” for months at a time. Now, after spending the winter living in the bus, I’m luxuriating in working outside in the “warmth” of the day…. after all, today it was a few degrees ABOVE freezing – I hardly need a coat!




This was not the case about 3 weeks ago. I wondered why it seemed so cold in the bus that morning…. I found out the reason was that it was eight degrees below zero that morning. We had about 2 weeks where it was getting UP into the teens, and down at night below zero. Brrrr! Good thing I got a coat for Christmas. I found myself absolutely loving my “expedition parka” – it is good down to about 50 below, so I was actually toasty once I put that on.


The driveway has been a problem all winter. When I finally could not get my truck up the drive I knew I had to figure out a solution. We ended up spending the Christmas money and bought a little tractor with a plow on it. I had to modify it, of course…. I built a bracket on the back to hold some extra weight to keep the rear tires from spinning (I put extra batteries there) and modified the brackets up front for the plow blade. I have been able to get the 2 feet of snow off the drive, and I wonder why I had not done this back in December?