Texas Man Turns Old School Bus Into Ultimate Tiny House
Michael Talley was tired of paying huge amounts of money every month in rent, so he decided to do something radical. He bought an old school bus for next to nothing and then got to work transforming it into the tiny home of his dreams. But it didn’t come easily and it didn’t come without a price to pay. Having never built anything in his life before, Michael had his work cut out for himself. He embarked on an epic journey to carry out an ambitious bus makeover. Read on to discover what the old school bus looks like now!
1. A Man Fed Up
Michael Talley, a resident of Austin, Texas, was fed up with his living conditions and the high price of rent. He was paying $1,200 a month including bills for his North Austin studio apartment and knew that he just couldn’t continue doing that for much longer.
With the new trend of tiny houses, Michael started to develop an idea that he too would join the tiny house movement and save tons of money. As a graphic designer by profession, he started working on ideas for his own tiny house.
2. A Bus?
One idea that stuck in Michael’s head was that he could buy a bus, then turn the structure into a tiny house. “Ultimately I decided upon a school bus because I thought ‘Hey, there’s already four walls and a roof,’” Michael stated.
At first, he thought it would be as easy as just putting up some wood and light bulbs, then voilà! Insta-house. That, however, did not turn out to be the case and Michael later came to regret his cavalier attitude about the size of the project he was about to undertake. But he set out bus shopping anyway!
3. Michael’s Background
You might be thinking that a man who grew up in Texas would be good with his hands and know his way around power tool, right? Well, not Michael Talley. While he did have a background in graphic design and illustration, he didn’t have much practical experience.
“I have never built anything. Ever,” Michael admitted. But that wasn’t about to stop him from turning the bus into a tiny house. He had dreamt for years about building a tiny house and traveling. He even already had a number of designs for his tiny house ready to go.
4. The School Bus
Michael Talley ended up being very lucky in his search for a school bus. He found an auction on PublicSurplus.com selling 10 school buses. Apparently, not many people knew that the Austin School District was selling, so there were only a few bidders.
Michael bought the school bus for a mere $2,200 and according to him, he “made out like a bandit.” Another person bought all nine other busses. Just two weeks prior to him purchasing the bus he decided against the tiny house idea. Instead, he was going to do a bus conversion.
5. What Does That Mean?
So, instead of using the school bus as a frame to build a tiny house, Michael decided that he would take the plans much further. He wanted to convert the bus into a livable house, complete with a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living room.
Michael had many different ideas for a floor plan to use in his school bus conversion. One of his original ideas was taken from the adventure vehicle from the popular 1997 movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park. But ultimately he decided on another design.
6. One Tall Order
The biggest issue that Michael Talley first faced in his school bus conversion project was the height of the bus itself. The height inside of the bus measured at six feet one inch, but Michael is a rather tall guy. He stands at six feet six inches.
This meant that he was going to have to ‘raise the roof’ literally. But doing that would take a lot of time and know-how that Michael didn’t have. But that wasn’t about to stop him, even if it meant resorting to YouTube tutorials on just how to create his project.
7. The Final Design
As cool as it had seemed, Michael Talley ultimately decided on a different design plan other than the Jurassic Park one, mainly because he wanted the public areas of the home towards the front of the vehicle because he loves to entertain.
If all should go according to plan, he would have a larger kitchen than he did in his old apartment, as well as a larger desk than he ever had in his life. He planned on keeping his same couch and still there would be enough room for a Queen size bed and a large storage area.
8. From Studio To Tent
Michael was willing to do everything it took to make his project a reality, even though parts of the project would be putting his own life at risk. He was determined to make his project a reality and even moved out of his nice studio apartment in North Austin.
“I moved into a tent in order to save money while working on the bus, commuting 40 minutes to work every day, just to afford more steel and more wood,” Michael said. He parked his bus for free at one of his friend’s farms outside of the city while he worked on it.
9. The First Step
The very first step that Michael Talley took in re-constructing his used school bus was to remove all the seats. But the process was much harder than Michael originally thought it would be. The process, as Michael described it, was grueling.
“If I did this again I would have used an angle grinder, but this was still only days into the build and I was terrified of power tools,” he said. But would he be able to make his dream project a reality without power tools? Read on to find out.
10. The First Mistake
A couple came to collect the removed seats from the school bus and take it to a scrap metal place. Then the next step was removing the paneling from the ceiling of the bus. Due to Michael never even having heard of an impact drill, getting the panels off was, as he says, “the absolute worst.”
From there he started to remove the insulation that was underneath the panels. “I wish that I had ended up keeping this insulation in. It was a in remarkably good shape and would have saved me a few headaches if I kept it in,” Michael lamented.
11. Kids Will Be Kids
The project did come with some entertainment. While cleaning the bus after the seats had been removed, Michael Talley found this hilarious old “Kick Me.” The sticky note had most certainly been attached to one of the unfortunate kids that rode the bus. Kids can be so cruel…
Michael’s next step in converting his school bus was removing the rubber flooring, then taking out the windows. He toyed with the idea of keeping the windows but he knew that they would rattle, not to mention provide him with VERY little privacy in his new home.
12. Raising The Roof
After the ceilings and floors were stripped bare Michael created an elaborate system of 2x4s and scaffolding to prepare the bus for raising the roof to a height that would allow him to comfortably stand up in his new home.
“As soon as I stepped onto the bus for the first time I knew me being 6’6″ was going to be a huge problem,” he admitted. “The ceiling is only 6’1, so I was going to have to do some MAJOR work to get this thing comfortable for my abnormally large [body].”
13. Enough With the Jokes!!
Michael would also like everyone to know that he absolutely hates the ‘raise the roof’ jokes that almost everybody made about this portion of the project. Now that the roof was, in fact, raised it was time to install the custom metal ribs and bolt them in.
Once the scaffolding was in place, it was time to start cutting! Michael just prayed that the roof wouldn’t come crashing down on him. He cut the sides of the bus first, where the windows had been, then he had to cut it in half.
14. Cutting the Bus in Half
Michael, along with a number of good friends, managed to raise the roof up an extra 20 inches. To do this, they cut the roof in half in two different places. He said that it was incredibly nerve-racking to basically destroy his bus like this.
Michael and his friends each raised the roof in unison using screw jacks. Initially, Michael had wanted to raise the roof 24 inches, but his helpers thought that it would be pushing their luck. So, the only choice was to alter their plans.
15. Don’t Push It
“It’s remarkable how much more spacious the bus feels than I thought it would,” Michael remarked after the roof had been raised. Next, in order to secure the roof, Michael had to obtain a set of steel ribs specially made to fit.
“I cut a section out of one of the steel ribs and took it to a metal fabricator,” he said. “I had him craft 25 identical steel ‘sleeves’ that could slip over either end of the rib once the roof was raised.” After everything was in place, Michael Talley’s project was finally starting to come together.
16. Wounds of the Flesh
After the roof was in place and secured, it was time to enclose the bus. Michael used metal panels to close the middle section of the bus where the windows had once been on the old school bus. This didn’t go over without incident, though.
One of the metal sheets fell and cut Michael’s arm so badly that it left a permanent scar. Michael stated that securing the metal paneling on the school bus was “easily the most painful and bloody part of the build.”
17. Building An Oven
Now, with the bus enclosed in metal paneling Michael Talley created something that he never imagined would be installed in a bus: an oven! “The bus is basically an oven right now, what being solid steel and in Texas. Though apparently, it’s also semi-bulletproof!”
The graphic designer and now-builder put up some decorative Christmas lights to give the empty bus a touch of some well-needed cheer. He also cut out holes in the walls of the used school bus in preparation for the installation of windows.
18. No Power Steering
Another setback that Michael Talley experienced was getting stuck in the mud with his school bus and messing up the bus’s power steering. “You have any idea how hard it is to try and parallel park a 40-foot school bus with no power steering? I do,” he said begrudgingly.
Michael also installed new insulation in the school bus to help keep the inside temperature regulated, something that he badly needed to do if he were to live full time in this bus he was spending so much time to renovate.
19. Farm Life
As mentioned before, while Michael Talley was working on converting his school bus he lived in a tent on his friend’s farm outside of Austin, Texas. His living expenses were practically $0 per month. That’s certainly a good way to save money while working on a new home.
Michael commuted back and forth to Austin daily as he was still working, saving up money to buy wood and steel to complete his school bus conversion, or a tiny house on wheels if you want to call it that. Needless to say, he was enjoying farm life in the meantime.
20. A Kitchen for a King
Now that Michael had four walls and a roof (a raised one at that) over his head, he started working on the interior of the school bus. Out of wood, he built a frame for his couch and started working on the kitchen area.
Where did he go for the butcher block, cabinets and drawers? IKEA, of course. Michael made a steal on clearance items, buying the cabinets and drawers for a mere $30 and the huge butcher block countertop for only $120. The kitchen area was already bigger than the one he had in his expensive North Austin studio apartment!
21. Repurposing Old Stuff
In order to save a few bucks, and not let anything go to waste, Michael used parts of his old couch for the school bus conversion. He rebuilt the couch frame, then right next to it made a frame for his water storage system, then a frame for the bathroom.
“I took my IKEA Karlstad couch from my apartment and took off the back, arms, and feet so I was left with the cushions and the box spring base,” he said. “I built that into the bus for added comfort and style.”
22. Another Snafu
Michael ran into another slight snafu while spraying insulation on the ceilings. He accidentally sprayed some on his long beard and only noticed a few hours later. He was forced to shave the whole thing off to get out the insulation.
After that, Michael moved on to finishing the walls with a type of hardboard called Masonite because the material is light, sturdy, flexible and cheap. He also tiled the wall in the kitchen to make cleaning up after cooking more simple. But what he did next really brought everything together.
23. Solar Sensation
To create his own electricity in sunny Texas, Michael installed solar panels on the roof of the old school bus. But to him, it was about the toughest day of the entire build. Things just didn’t want to work out for him that day.
“This was the most frustrating day of the build,” he said. “I was doing it myself, it was very windy, and things kept falling off the roof.” With the solar panels, Michael is able to generate most of his electricity himself, off the grid.
Michael used wood for the finishing on the ceiling and walls of the living areas. But he didn’t have to go out and buy more wood, which would have been expensive. He lucked out and found the wood he needed and simply repurposed it.
“I need to say I SUPER lucked out with this wood,” he said. “It’s reclaimed floorboards from a house here in Hyde Park in Austin, from 1941. I just flipped it upside down and used the unfinished sides for all my accent walls/couch.”
25. The Work Space
As a graphic designer, Michael Talley needed a proper workspace for his craft. But he didn’t plan to settle for a teeny tiny desk. He made sure to create a large and comfortable area to work with a massive desk.
“Being a graphic designer I need a proper workspace. Most tiny houses have these little dinky desks that flip up from a wall or are tucked away in a small alcove,” he said. “This desk is 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep, the largest desk I’ve ever owned!”
26. The Bathroom
Michael finished his bathroom, complete with a fully-functional shower and toilet. He used a restored wooden barn door as the door to the bathroom. But he admits that he rarely uses them. In fact, the bathroom would soon have a completely different purpose.
“I can use the bathroom in it, however, I rarely do. I pee outside like the good Lord intended,” he casually remarked. “As for showering and stuff, I built an awesome little outdoor shower or I shower at the gym.”
27. Paint It White
Once the interior of the school bus makeover was complete, Michael felt like it should probably be a different color than a regular school buses driving around town. So, he decided that he would paint the converted school bus white, mostly out of necessity.
“White is best for the heat here in Texas, and leaves me open to add colors down the road,” he said. “I also couldn’t think of what colors would go with my wood interiors. I park it in South Austin, in someone’s shady side yard and pay less than $100 a month in rent and utilities.”
28. A Rough Year
The entire school bus conversion project took Michael Talley around five months to complete. The work was hard and there was plenty of blood, sweat and tears, but that wasn’t the only hardship that Michael went through during the project.
Michael and his girlfriend ended their long-term relationship after he started the school bus conversion project. He also had to deal with the death of his grandfather and his beloved dog. It was certainly a rough year for the graphic designer.
29. ‘Keep Austin Weird’
Michael Talley now lives in his converted school bus full time and pays less than $100 for rent and utilities together. Now that’s saving money! He is currently working on his van so he can travel around the country more. In total, Michael spent around $15,000 remodeling the school bus into his new home.
“I design T-shirts for a living. I lost my last job while building the bus actually, but got a much better one once the bus was completed,” Michael Talley told Chron.com. “Perfectly enough, I work for the company that is responsible for all those “Keep Austin Weird” shirts around town.”
30. The Next Project
Now that the converted school bus is complete, Michael Talley is already eyeing his next big project. And why not? He needs something to do with all those heaps of money that he’s saving by living in his tiny house on wheels.
“I have a composting toilet that works great, and it just so happens that I get by using the one at work,” Michael said. “The bathroom is mostly used for storing materials for my current van conversion project.” That’s right, Michael is now working on giving a van a total makeover!
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