The first thing you, as a would-be bus owner, will have to do is shop around for a vehicle that satisfies your needs and won't empty your pocketbook.
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Robert J. Filipovich discovers a green way to relocate house from Minnesota to Montana by using a mass-transit vehicle when moving.
There are any number of popular songs that make "movin' on down the highway" sound like a fulfilling, and even exhilarating, experience . . . but when a change of job or lifestyle makes relocation necessary, most folks find the task a good bit less than pleasant. In fact, moving can be not only a tremendous hassle, but also a pretty darned expensive one.
That second concern loomed pretty large several years ago when my family of four had to leave Minneapolis, Minnesota for the western part of Montana, a distance of about 1,200 miles. We couldn't afford to hire a professional company—since I was fresh out of school at the time—and even the $600 fee stipulated by the local you-drive agency seemed a bit beyond the reach of our budget. In short, we knew we had to come up with a less conventional, lower-cost way to get there.
Happily enough, after a few hours of deliberation we hit upon what turned out to be the perfect answer to our moving woes: using a mass-transit vehicle when moving! After all (we reasoned), with its seats removed, a bus would have a lot of cargo space . . . it would be equipped with an engine designed to haul hefty loads . . . and we could probably sell the vehicle at our journey's end or—at the very least—put it to use as a portable outbuilding.
The idea proved to be a practical one, too. We've changed homes twice since that first jaunt to Montana and have used a bus on each occasion. So why shouldn't you try the same thing?
FINDING THE BEST DEAL ON A MASS-TRANSIT VEHICLE
Of course, the first thing you, as a would-be bus owner, will have to do is shop around for a vehicle that satisfies your needs and won't empty your pocketbook. Our initial buy was an orange International Harvester 48-seater that we purchased secondhand from a transit company. School systems and churches can also be counted upon to sell old buses from time to time.
Use care (and be patient) when making your choice. Remember that the ideal machine will not only haul all your belongings a long way, but also provide you with a profit upon resale. I suggest, then, that you buy from either a reputable transit company or a good school district, because such organizations generally make every effort to keep their buses in working order and will often have up-to-date maintenance and safety inspection records for each one. Mileage data and information on individual vehicle peccadilloes will often be scribbled in the margins of the forms as well. Ask to see the sheets and check them carefully . . . you'll likely be able to eliminate a lot of potential buys on the basis of their service records alone.
Once you've narrowed the list to the buses that seem to be worth looking at, it's time to go on out to the lot and examine the vehicles firsthand. When you do so, don't let such cosmetic problems as slashed seats and graffiti worry you. Those eyesores may well be among the reasons why the bus is for sale in the first place, but they're irrelevant as far as the moving potential of the vehicle is concerned.
However, while minor scars can be ignored, you will want to be sure that the doors swing wide open (for ease of loading and unloading) and that the lights, horn, mirrors, fans, heaters, and such are in good working order.
Crawl under the vehicle to check the security of the tailpipe, and—while you're down there—look for leaks. Wipe off any wet spots . . then, after your test drive, you can go below again to make sure there's no new fluid on those places. Be certain to inspect the underside for any signs of severe rusting, too.
The next step, if you're still happy with the bus after your initial inspection, will be to take it out on the road. Should you be unable to start the engine at first, it s all right to let whoever's showing you the vehicle crank it into action (it may have been standing unused for quite a while and thus be difficult to start). Once that's done, though, turn the motor off and fire it up yourself. Remember, you're the person who'll have to get that loaded monster down Route 66!
If you doubt your own ability to determine the health of a motor, you'd do well to enlist the services of a friend with more mechanical know-how. After all, although most of the buses I've tested have run surprisingly well, such a vehicle does represent a substantial investment, and you'll want to cover every possible angle in order to make an informed choice.
When you're satisfied with the sound of the engine at idle, take the bus for a spin. Don't be alarmed if the test vehicle seems cumbersome compared with your car .. you'll get used to handling a bigger rig in time. Do start off slowly, though, and allow yourself plenty of driving space to maneuver in.
Once you've found a bus that's to your liking, it's time to begin dickering. You may be able to get minor repairs and removal of the seats included in the bargain. But even if such extras can't be arranged, you can probably find an affordable deal. Our first bus cost us $600—roughly the price of renting a truck big enough to move our household—and when we got to Montana, we sold it to a country music band for a whopping $1,200!
After you've purchased your vehicle, you may want to paint it. Indeed, if you've got yourself a potential moving van colored national school-bus yellow, you must do so, because a federal regulation requires that at least half of the original hue be covered. I suggest simply giving the vehicle a couple of coats of primer . . . in order to prepare it for whatever color its next owner might prefer.
Then—if the seller didn't do the job for you—you'll need to remove the seats to open up the cargo area. The best tools for this task are a cold chisel, a hammer, and a strong arm. Begin by forcing the heads off the bolts that hold the legs of the seats to the floor. Just place the chisel blade at the base of the bolt head and then apply the hammer with enthusiasm until the ornery little fastener is decapitated.
Most of the seats will probably be secured to the side of the bus as well as to the floor. The wall bolts can be difficult to get at with hammer and chisel, so you may want to spray them with penetrating oil and take a wrench to them. If they turn out to be too stubborn even for that approach, you'll have to enlist the service of a blowtorch and cut the heads off. When you do, though, be sure that you have a full bucket of water and a pile of wet rags nearby to cool down the floor and the sides of the bus as you work. And, of course, don't use the torch on the bolts nearest the gas tank!
With the passenger seats out, go on to remove the stop sign and any special warning lights from the front and rear of the vehicle . . these modifications are required by law. Fortunately, they're jobs that can be easily performed with a screwdriver.
It might be worth your while to try to sell the seats, sign, and lights for a few bucks (you should at least be able to barter them for help on moving day). They're just excess baggage to you now, and you might as well turn them into gas money if you can.
MAKING YOUR MASS-TRANSIT VEHICLE LEGAL
You're almost home free at this point, but before you can load up and get on down the road, you'll need to weigh the empty bus in order to obtain either a license or a permit. Every state has different rules about such things (which may be more complex if you're moving from one state to another), so you'll just have to call your local license bureau and the nearest highway patrol office and then take the least expensive option they offer you. Try for a permit . . a license could cost as much as $60, whereas—when we moved to Montana—we needed only a 21-day permit, which set us back a mere $4.00.
Before the time comes to pack, you'll want to scrub out the interior of the bus thoroughly. Then buy a couple of 4 foot by 8 foot sheets of hardboard (which can sometimes be purchased secondhand) and cut them lengthwise to cover the windows inside the bus. These panels will protect your investment's glass from attacks by rocking chair arms and the like.
It took us just four hours (with the help of neighbors) to load the contents of our entire house into our first moving bus. It's best to load through the rear doors, and to begin by putting your mattresses and box springs behind the driver's seat . . . they'll serve to protect the operator from anything that might come rolling his or her way in the event of a sudden stop or skid. Be sure, as you pack, to consider weight distribution. And make efficient use of space by fitting such uneven objects as bicycles around the wheel wells.
Admittedly, the tasks involved in converting a people-hauler into a moving van—and in then trying to remarket that converted vehicle at a profit—will seem pretty imposing to some folks. But anyone who's bucks down (or simply thrifty) ought to give the idea some consideration. Can you think of any other way to get your family moved and make a profit in the process?