Things got serious really quickly for Kim and Ethan Weiss. Within months of meeting, the two were completely bound to one another, and they were looking forward to a future together. But they didn’t want that future to be static — they wanted to always be on the move. A life on the road was the dream, but they weren’t content to just buy a run-of-the-mill camper van to make it happen. No, they had a far more interesting vehicle in mind.
Kim and Ethan met in January 2018 after matching on Tinder. Dating apps can be hit-or-miss affairs a perilous thing, but this time it really worked out. There was immediate chemistry, and they spent the following months getting to know each other.
By October that year they were already thinking ahead to their lives together. And that’s when they came across an interesting ad online.
The pair had come across an advert for an old school bus. Some people would have noted that and moved right along, but these two developed an idea: this thing could become a perfect place to live.
It would take a lot of work, of course, but they were already enamored with the notion.
The school bus was 21 years old by this stage, so it was safe to presume it would need some work. But the couple were ready for the challenge, and they put in an offer for the vehicle.
In the end, they settled on a price of $2,500. They’d just bought a new, rather unorthodox future home for themselves.
The bus purchase wasn’t the only thing going on in Kim and Ethan’s lives around this time, though. There was also the matter of them tying the knot and officially committing their futures to each other.
The big day came in January 2019 — which was just one year after they’d first met.
With that done, it was time to turn their attention once again to the old school bus. Amazingly, they weren’t concerned about how difficult their task would be — some might say they were naive.
As they admitted in an Instagram post, “If we are being honest, it’s a much bigger project than either of us had anticipated. Excitement clouded our judgment and timeline after timeline was adjusted.”
The couple were in for a rude awakening when they got to work on the bus. The first task to grapple with was gutting the entire vehicle, getting rid of all the seats to make room for their future home’s interior.
It was slow, tedious work, but eventually they got through it and had created the space they needed.
Still, the couple still had to strip down the walls and ceiling panels. That involved wrestling with a whole lot of screws, which was by no means a fun task.
The couple have since claimed that this was the worst job of the entire process. Eventually, though, they got through it.
Of course, all those screws left holes, so the couple had to cover those up. After that, they could get to work on the flooring.
They needed to treat and paint it, which was a presumably far easier task than taking out all the screws. It must have been a relief to have a less demanding job to tackle!
The couple’s attention then turned to the windows. They needed to take the existing ones out, which meant the inside of the bus was exposed to the elements outside now. They bought a tarp to offer protection from the weather.
As they noted on Instagram, “In Pittsburgh, you never know if that’s going to be snow or rain. We can experience all four seasons in a matter of one week.”
But why were they removing the windows in the first place? Well, it was because of the next major step in the process.
While Kim was the perfect height to fit in the bus, Ethan couldn’t quite stand up straight. That meant raising the roof, a step both of them viewed with no little trepidation.
In the end, they needn’t have worried. They both called in the help of their fathers, and with the help of some farm jacks, they cut the roof off and replaced it at a more suitable height. On Instagram the pair reflected, “For once, this project wasn’t actually as challenging as we thought it would be.
But that’s easy when you’re expecting the worst; so we were very happy when the top half of our bus didn’t come crashing down.”
Supported by the jacks, the roof was at the correct height now — but they needed to fit a wall beneath it. For this, rather than purchasing repurposed RV windows, they used sheet metal, through which they cut out space for windows. Why?
They explained this was “not only because we think they are more aesthetically pleasing, but because they are more efficient.”
Attention went back to the flooring now, with the couple beginning to lay down some foam boards. They also covered these with a vapor barrier layer, which would serve to keep the effects of cold and damp at bay.
On top of that they placed plywood. Insulating and damp-proofing the floor was a vital step, and it needed to be repeated for the walls, too.
To insulate the walls, the pair decided to utilize spray foam. This was no simple task, though, so they decided to employ professionals who actually knew what they were doing.
Finding such an expert was easier said than done, but eventually they found the right person. Their work, in the end, was perfect.
Around this point, Kim and Ethan decided they wanted more light in their space, so they cut out a couple of skylights in their roof. It already had one, so with this step they’d created three.
Into the two newest holes, they fitted hatches which had previously been used on a boat. This latest modification meant the interior was now suffused with natural light.
The core elements of the project had now been accomplished, which meant they could move onto the next stage. That was working out the layout of the space, which both Kim and Ethan thought would be easy.
That was optimistic, and it actually took a great deal of thought to settle on a final plan. They got there in the end, though.
The plan was to have a sitting area with two sofas at the front of the bus. Behind that would be a kitchen area, which would lead to a hallway. On one side of this small passage would be a bathroom, while on the other would be a closet and a pantry.
At the back, they planned to build their bedroom, plus a little storage area. There would be a lot of rooms in a very small space.
With their plan decided, the couple still needed to complete the ceiling and the walls. They cut out holes for the electrics, before installing LED lights they’d ordered from Amazon.
They then painted the ceiling black, which they completed with some wooden panels. This made the bus seem bigger than it was.
The couple also started to install the walls around this time. This needed some thought, as this was a moving home, after all.
The walls would need to remain steady, even when the bus was in motion. With that in mind, they held them down with both adhesive and screws.
For the bedroom, Kim got to work making a unique headboard.
Basically, she drew her designs onto cardboard, cut up wood in the shape of her drawings, and then fitted them together and smoothed them out. Then she painted them and stuck them all to the wall with nails and glue.
To make the closet, the couple asked Ethan’s father for help: he was a carpenter after all!
The finished result was split into two different parts, with the space on the right being reserved for clothing. The left side would later be filled by a fridge and the food pantry.
The kitchen cabinets were installed, while the RV windows were altered by Ethan’s father.
On Instagram the couple explained, “A jig was made to match the corners of the window, then several pieces of wood were pieced together, glued and clamped until dry. The back edge was routed out to allow the jamb to fit inside the… frame.”
Not all the work was focused on the inside of the bus. Before long, the pair were giving their new home’s exterior a lick of paint.
They opted to go with a combination of blue and gray, which was a big change from the old yellow hue when it was a school bus. The roof, meanwhile, was painted white.
But the work on the outside of the bus wasn’t simply cosmetic. They also placed solar panels on the roof, which would provide their home with power.
And not only that, but Ethan also built a deck up there, too. That would make for a nice place to sit and watch the sun go down.
Back inside, the final decorative touches were made to the kitchen. A few things were tried out, but they didn’t quite work.
Eventually, the couple found the look they wanted, and they could begin to equip their kitchen with things every residence needs. They’d be able to make meals in their mobile home now.
In the living room, optimizing space was an important aim for the couple. So, one couch doubled as a spare bed to accommodate visitors. Plus, it was also constructed with extra storage space hidden away.
The pair didn’t put a TV inside their living room, but they did bring a projector for watching films.
In the bathroom, the couple spent something like nine whole hours installing a special shower. It features a specific kind of head that splits water into countless tiny droplets.
The upshot of that is it feels like more water is coming out of it compared to a normal shower head. That was important, because their water tank storage capacity was limited.
The couple’s bedroom also features some innovative ideas. They have two dogs who live with them, and the pets most certainly need bedding, too.
So, there’s a space underneath their own bed where the two pups can curl up each night. It’s the same spot as where the water tank is located.
All in all, the whole process took about two years to complete. But in the end, slowly but surely, the pair eventually transformed the old school bus into their dream mobile home.
With that, there was nothing stopping them hitting the road and traveling around America in comfort and style. Kim and Ethan are far from the only pair to have made an astonishing home on wheels, though.
The McVays set out on a simple but unique lifestyle — in an incredible converted school bus. The couple risked everything to hit the road and get away from it all.
But what could be so great as to lure you away from your place in a stable yet stationary home, with what some would say was a perfect life? “We were classed as successful and should have been wildly happy, but we weren’t,” 34-year-old Tawny told British newspaper The Sun in 2019.
She’s right, too — at least from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps it was the couple’s trip to Rome that made them realize how restricted their regimented life was.
Whatever the cause, they decided there was something missing from their lives, and they didn’t know what until they saw another family’s story. It sparked a fire underneath them to change their lifestyle in a drastic way.
Tawny elaborated, “In early spring of 2018 we saw a documentary about a couple who converted a school bus into a tiny home. We did some research and put our house on the market a few weeks later.”
It wasn’t just the house they sold, either — by the time they were finished, the McVays had auctioned off most of their worldly possessions.
“Within two months, we had sold most of our belongings and had the house and our business under contract,” Tawny said. “We searched and searched for the perfect bus, finally found it, and with everything tied up, we bought the bus and jumped in.”
They discovered the bus in question quite serendipitously from a big truck retailer. Yet their happy accident quickly turned into a disaster.
Initially, the 2004 school bus — which the McVays called “Oliver” after their beloved missing cat with whom they’d intended to travel — set them back $5,000, though their losses were almost considerably more.
“Our house fell through two days before closing the deal,” Tawny revealed. “And the person buying our business pulled out.” So they were left with no money, no home… nothing.
Tawny continued, “We had to move in with Mike’s parents, and it was a very taxing six months. According to the numbers we were a week away from bankruptcy.” At one point, Tawny was even on the floor in tears.
Luckily their fortunes turned around at the last moment. Before the end of the year both business and house were sold, and converting Oliver began in earnest shortly after.
So how do you go about turning an old school bus into not just a home on wheels, but one as beautiful as the McVays created?
Well, they didn’t plan on taking a bus full of schoolkids with them, so the first things to go were the seats. Their Instagram account — titled “Since We Woke Up” — recorded every step of the journey.
Renovating Oliver wasn’t an easy task, either. It took a team including, at various times, both the McVays, their two children, Tawny’s brothers and her father. To give you some perspective, it took a couple of days just to remove the seats!
Apparently, Tawny’s son was particularly interested in the demolition side of things, and she cunningly put the young child’s love of destruction to use.
“This kid is obsessed with the bus,” Tawny said of her son. “I think he’d live in it right now if we let him, but in the meantime he’s content to sit out there for hours at a time helping us tear it apart.”
They didn’t stop at the seats, though. “I would have loved to skip that particular adventure,” the mom wrote on Instagram regarding seat removal.
The family also completely gutted the interior along with the seats, removing the walls and floor, too. They did all of this themselves, although they admitted that some of the work was just temporary until they could get professionals in.
This was the case with their first paint job, for instance, which turned the yellow school bus into a lovely white.
The couple replied to a comment on Instagram, “We used a special metal paint from Rustoleum that had primer already. We plan to get it professionally painted next year, so this was an interim measure before he gets super-classy.”
This radical change of lifestyle seemed a lot of effort to go to when the McVays seemed to have had it all. So there’s just one question. Why?
Apparently, it’s a common question people ask Mike and Tawny. “We get asked a lot why we made the decision to sell off almost everything we own to live in an old school bus,” they said. “The answer is pretty simple, really. Freedom. We had a beautiful life.
A gorgeous five-bedroom craftsman in a lovely little neighborhood, a brand new car, and all kinds of little toys to keep us busy and happy. Except, we weren’t.”
They continued, “We were working to pay for a house we were only able to spend one day a week at and a car we only got to drive to and from the gym because two weeks of the year was all we could manage to grab away for ourselves.”
Then, the couple said that one day they had an epiphany. They wrote, “We suddenly realized how incredibly ludicrous it was, and made the decision that same day to change it all.”
So they began work on Oliver to find both home and freedom combined. The more they worked on the bus, the more they felt progress towards their goal, too.
For example, installing a subfloor and insulation into their bus was a great step to making it feel more homely. That sensation only intensified when the real floor was in place.
Most of the McVays’ work is DIY — they even fitted the windows themselves. They described on Instagram how they considered three different window options: without glass or “opened”; with glass or “covered;” and completely obstructed, or “skinned.”
Keeping them open obviously meant exposure to the elements and skinning them wasn’t appealing. But the middle option seemed just right… with one small tweak.
Instead the couple covered the bus windows with tinted glass, making vision almost one-way from the inside. “Putting this on was a chore, but worth the effort,” they reported.
“And not having to lose the aesthetic of the school bus windows from the outside in favor of metal was a huge plus for us.” All told, they had to cover 59 side windows, hence the challenge.
Of course, the McVays were up to the challenge, especially Tawny. She’s actually the mastermind behind Oliver, despite people assuming her husband Mike is the DIY guy.
“[People are] always a little shocked when I tell them the bus plan and design are all mine, and that a lot of what they see I helped build with these two little hands,” she admitted.
And on the subject of DIY, the McVays designed Oliver to live as simple a life as possible. Alongside the windows, which let in and out a certain amount of heat, they went low-tech with temperature regulation.
For instance, they made use of a Jotul wood stove, which they purchased for a mere $40 from a friend, rather than opting for expensive electrical heaters.
Despite eschewing some of the trappings of modern life, the McVays do still use electricity. Even those who have chosen to live an off-grid or minimalist life often do. That’s where portable generators and solar arrays come in handy.
In the McVays’ case, they’re using it to record their story and upload it to followers online to entertain and inspire.
They have plenty of pictures of their DIY journey, too. As soon as they laid down the laminate floor the McVays began creating the layout for their new home. It wasn’t long before they had the building blocks for several rooms, including the bathroom and bedroom.
The latter was actually fitted above the bus’s rear engine block, unusual among similar bus conversions. Tawny just couldn’t bear to let the rear window go unused.
The couple also installed appliances on Oliver.
Tawny told The Sun the vehicle’s amenities include a “full kitchen with range and fridge, bathroom with a composting toilet, shower and washer/dryer combo… There’s almost 100 gallons of fresh water, two propane tanks and a solar system with 600W of panels and 600 Ah batteries.” But what about the exterior?
Well, when they first got him, Oliver was the typical yellow of your average school bus — but as we previously hinted, the McVays wanted their mobile home white. Even this process inspired their social media viewers!
“I’m planning on sailboat and or RV living and these pictures are motivating,” one follower wrote. “Just know that you’re making a difference to [the] people that view.”
Back inside, work was progressing nicely on making Oliver look a little more like a home than a bus. And one of the best ways of doing that was adding fixtures.
Once the McVays had installed their counters, the plan for the mobile home started to take shape. And although their concrete overlay only came later, the difference they made was still impressive.
Sure enough, the time came when the McVays were putting the finishing touches to their masterpiece. “So the bus is so close to finished it’s freaking ridiculous,” Tawny wrote on Instagram.
“Interestingly enough, it’s making me not want to post photos, because I want that ’TA-DA’ magical unveiling effect. There’s all these little projects to finish, but the groundwork is all there now. It’s a home. Our home.”
So where do you call home when you don’t have a backyard? The answer is simple: everywhere! The couple wrote on Instagram how they’re now experiencing the freedom they deserve thanks to their gambit. And they don’t regret a thing!
But if the McVays’ story hasn’t convinced you to shed your old life so far, when you see the results their argument only gets stronger.
When Tawny and Mike first got the bus they so affectionately called Oliver, it was just a rundown old yellow clunker. But after an incredible amount of care and attention he’s been transformed into the home of their dreams.
By now you’re probably wondering how much they spent on renovations, right? Well, it cost $15,000. And they reckon it was worth every cent.
We present you the fruits of the McVays’ labor — Oliver’s interior! And it looks just as cozy as any stationary house you’ll see on the market.
In fact it’s even more so, because the couple have made incredible use of the limited space a bus provides. They have every amenity you could wish for, including a TV and a creatively-shaped bookshelf that fits Oliver’s contours.
And as you can see, there’s plenty of room for the family. In fact, there are hints of just how much Oliver can hold in the background.
The kitchen is cunningly designed to follow the shape of the bus’ walls, and Tawny’s decision to “cover” the windows was dead on. Oliver gets plenty of light through the many windows, and his white color helps keep things feeling bright and fresh.
The couple turned one end of the bus into a living nook and incorporated a steering wheel into its design. Not only have they kept the vehicle aesthetic, but they have turned its fixtures into a point of interest.
And the McVays have ingeniously managed to balance the industrial elements with rustic designs such as the natural chest and wood burner-style heater.
The bohemian look runs throughout Oliver, and the McVays have even gone so far as to use traditionally outdoor furniture to compliment the style. For example, they have a hammock which isn’t just a handy comfort tool for their adventures in nature.
It also doubles as a lounger while the family’s parked. It’s hard to recognize the driving area now.
So what does a kitchen look like in a mobile bus home? Well, much like any you’d find in a regular house, of course! The basic plan for the kitchen has stayed pretty much the same throughout — even the travel map on the wall is the same.
Still, everything’s been tightened up, the breakfast bar’s been given its top layer and now the map has many more locations charted on it.
And as for the bedroom, remember when Tawny was so insistent on keeping that big rear window? She got it, and it’s everything she hoped for. Even in the bad weather, she can enjoy being close to nature without having to experience it first-hand.
“We’re enjoying a beautiful rainy fall morning today,” she wrote on Instagram. “And the only reason I will be moving from this spot is to get more coffee.”
That’s not to say there hasn’t been some remodeling done along the way, though. No one gets things done right the first time, every time. The McVays replaced their toilet with a concrete bathing space during the bus’ development.
“We created the drain to hook up to a rain barrel so we could reuse the water in our future garden,” they wrote. “We use homemade soaps with natural ingredients.”
Meanwhile, they moved the toilet to the opposite side of the bathroom to consolidate some space, but the end result was worth it.
They explained, “We took out the bulky vanity that housed a washer/dryer unit, swapped the side of the bathroom our toilet was on, put in a smaller vanity, and created a built-in bathtub where the toilet used to sit.”
So now they have their ideal mobile home, what’s next for Tawny and Mike? Well, Tawny has written a book on her life-changing experience with the same title as their instagram account, Since We Woke Up.
There was quite a setback when the first batch were misprints, but they were ready to ship just a few weeks later.
Beyond that, the couple live their lives the way they had always dreamed! They travel from place to place in Oliver, living about as far off-the-grid as is possible for avid social-media users!
One of Tawny’s posts reminisces “about that time in the desert I woke up before everyone else to watch the full moon set with my coffee as the sun rose behind me in a pastel sky.”
That’s not to say a life on the road is completely smooth sailing, though. As Tawny told The Sun, “Every lifestyle comes with pros and cons.”
She explained, “Having a home on wheels isn’t always an easy choice; it takes determination, as you have breakdowns and travel issues to deal with.” So have they encountered many along the way?
She continued, "We’ve been very fortunate to not have too many problems while on the road. We have our Great Dane called Apollo to protect us, but thankfully the only thing ever going bump in the night has been the occasional wild animal when we stay in the woods.
Sometimes it can be tricky finding somewhere to fill up on water or find a place to park the bus when we are visiting bigger cities.”
“Where will we go next?” she asked on Instagram. “Our answer is always the same — we don’t know. I’m sure we won’t live in the bus forever. We have always been people who prefer frequent change, and I’m sure that at some point we will want to move on to a new experience.”
To The Sun she concluded, “To be honest, as the saying goes, we would rather die on an adventure like this than live standing still.”