The overall design of the big yellow school bus hasn’t changed much over the past 70+ years. The same garish paint to alert early morning caffeine-deprived motorists. Same tightly spaced seats so that anyone over 5’2” needs to hug their knees into their chest in order to sit even somewhat comfortably. And the same snappy windows that pinch little fingers and let in less air than a pocket fan. In fact, the familiar experience of riding in a school bus may be one of the few things children today can actually share with their parents.
“Back in my day, we didn’t even have seat belts on the bus!”
“Umm, Dad? We, like, still don’t have those.”
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Despite the large number of aging buses still carting children to and fro, most school districts upgrade their fleets every 10-15 years. And with over 13,500 districts in the United States alone, that means a lot of buses get retired. Do you ever wonder what happens to all those big yellow time capsules of chewed gum and spitballs? Quite a lot actually. From food trucks to off-grid living, mobile libraries to hot rods, these vehicles get picked up by some of the most creative among us. And they are recycled, reused, and repurposed into some truly wild rigs. Here are six of the coolest bus builds that will make you want to find an auction and hit the road.
While not as shiny as some of the other bus builds on this list, the camioneta or what tourists like to call “chicken bus,” is perhaps the most common destination for decommissioned school buses. Usually found in Central American countries, camionetas are plucked up at auction, driven south, and then overhauled into brightly colored and wildly designed forms of public transportation. They are heavily modified in order to handle rougher terrain as well as significantly more passengers, their luggage, and the occasional livestock. (Hence the moniker, “chicken bus.”) For many Central Americans the camioneta is an everyday experience and a testament to their peoples’ resourcefulness.
Lunch Time Memories
For those strange people who wish to revisit the years of braces, bowl cuts, and burgeoning puberty (Why, God, why?) what better way than through the bright yellow school bus that dutifully delivered you to your state-mandated penance everyday? Several food truck entrepreneurs have capitalized on this nostalgia with some savvy retrofitted school bus builds. The Grilled Cheese Grill in Portland, Oregon is serving up every lactose-friendly kid’s comfort food in a 1972 school bus turned dining car. And in Houston, Texas, the Ladybird food truck is putting a twist on those timeless sandwiches, as well as other kid-friendly foods, by offering unique eats like kimchi hot dogs and truffle tater tots from a 1995 International school bus turned grill.
The Roving Residence
We’ve already discussed the adventurous souls who’ve adopted #vanlife. But for those who want the mobility of a van, and yet a little more whimsy than an RV, converted school buses make excellent blank canvases. Some of these off-grid bus builds are truly impressive with creative layouts and storage solutions, thoughtful modifications to improve power or sustainability, and unique homey touches. A simple Google search of “school bus home conversion” will yield nearly infinite results, so we chose to feature one of our personal faves: a couple who turned a $4,000 school bus into a beautiful modern home with craftsman touches.
For more than a century, traveling book shops and libraries have been spreading knowledge to those eager to learn. And if you have a passion for sharing books, what better way to streamline that love of literature than through a school bus turned library?
The Words on Wheels (WoW) Bus in Fort Worth, Texas (sadly, currently out of commission) was a traveling library that welcomes readers to donate, borrow, or even keep books, as well as sit down for a spell in its cozy, creatively-decorated interior. And in the Alvin school district of Houston, Texas, highschoolers in the career and technical education programs joined forces to turn an old school bus into a mobile book bus for the younger students, many of whom have limited access to new books because of their financial circumstances. This might be the most heartfelt of the bus builds on our list, and one that we hope catches on across the country.
In Finland, where saunas are an important part of the culture, the peculiarity of a mobile sauna isn’t all that…peculiar. For years, companies and organizations have manufactured and rented out sauna buses for parties and groups. Many of them even come standard with on-board karaoke equipment! And now, it seems this trend is starting to take off in other parts of the world as well. In Vancouver, members of a special events production company retrofitted an already modified skoolie into a mobile sauna/hospitality suite for corporate and community events. We’d pick one of these relaxing bus builds over traditional “team building” exercises any day!
School Bus Hot Rod
Looking for a way to get your kids really excited about school? How about rolling up in one of these hot rod bus builds? One of the more incredible rigs we found was a 1927 Whippet Overland school bus powered by a 2003 Z06 LS 6 engine with seating for twelve of your friends. Apparently, we’re not the only ones who were impressed, as it sold for a cool $97,500 at auction! Equally impressive is the Shortcut High Bus created from a 1949 Ford bus with the frame of a Cadillac Eldorado, and the 1955 Chevy Superior Pro Street School Bus putting out 1000 ponies thanks to a motor built by drag racing legend Hans Kessel.
So, what do you think? Do these bus builds have you reconsidering “School is Cool”?