Houston, we have a bus!

Around 12noon on Monday 12th of November, 2012, Jimmy turned to me and said, “so, are you interested?”. I looked at him, eyes wide with an overwhelming emotional blend of excitement, awe and nerves… and said, categorically: “Yes”.

Houston, we have a bus!

Well, technically we have *found* a bus; we haven’t yet done the exchange-cash-for-paperwork-and-keys thing. But we have most assuredly found the bus that will become Home, James. And she’s a girl! (sorry James ;P)

Here, to whet your devoutly patient appetites, are some photos of what we shall henceforth refer to as “the BEFORE shots”.

The story

This project has already started gathering so many stories, but this one has to be my absolute favourite.

Some of you will know (or have read about) our beautiful friend James who died from liver cancer earlier this year. His love of the reallybigroadtrip concept (and buses in general) was just one of the reasons I decided to name my future bus “Home, James” in his honour. People often ask if your vehicle has a name, and if so why you chose that name. The thought of being able to share stories about James as I travel around the country makes me very, very happy.

Fast-forward a few months. I have been through the whirlwind rollercoaster ride of the crowdfunding campaign – and astonishingly come out the other side successful! I have run around the country earning some income and generating even more of a buzz about this national [ad]venture. I have knitted and packaged and returned the first rewards to campaign supporters. And I have secured (and schemed with) more project partners and sponsors to make this dream even bigger and better.

But I still hadn’t found the bus.

I’ve been trying to be patient, believing that things happen in their own good time, knowing that I had been so busy with gigs that I hadn’t even been in town long enough to go tyre-kicking. But sometimes that’s been hard, especially when the first question everyone (understandably) asks is “So, have you got your bus yet?“!

I’ve also been quite worried that since I’m no mechanic I’d fall in love with some old wreck, or something that looked OK but ended up being a lemon. It’s also been very hard for Geoff Cobham and Tim Willett (my bus conversion dreamteam) to even begin designing/sourcing; what we can/will do depends greatly on whether the bus is an empty shell or already has some sort of motorhome contents.

And then, about a month ago, Jimmy contacted me through my Home, James blogpost:

jimmy's blog comment

jimmy’s blog comment

So we started an email dialogue. It turned out he’d been googling design inspiration for a bus conversion of his own. He’d seen the cute little yellow coaster I’d used in my post, clicked on it, read about my plans and then reached the end only to see his cousin’s name appear. My reply to his comment was “actually yes you can help heaps – I need interior bus measurements to give Geoff Cobham, somewhere to park the bus while we modify it… oh, and a bus!”.

Jimmy and his dad Tim run Roundabout Charter, a fleet of Coasters that commute school children. As luck (or fate, or perhaps a few cosmic nudges from the lovely James) would have it, they were considering selling one of their fleet. The bus in question is a 6cylinder Toyota Coaster Deluxe, one of their first buses which was now coming to the end of its commercial life.

Yesterday was the first time we were able to chat on the phone. Jimmy confirmed that yes the bus was going to be de-registered and was available. I had assumed it would be out of my price range, but on hearing the $15,000 price mark, well, I jumped straight into a taxi and hot-footed it over for a reccie.

You can see for yourself that she’s in great condition; there’s been a whole lot of love put into that vehicle. The engine has done 930,000kms, but (in the way Coasters do) runs perfectly smoothly. And what I love is that after a few test-runs I’ll be starting the project on zero! It’s also the perfect engine if I decide to give the veg oil conversion a try… if it fails/clogs/goes horribly wrong I will just need to find another $4-5000 to buy a new one ;P

Getting on with it

Geoff & Tim now have the photos and an invitation to go reccie the bus themselves. This is the REALLY REALLY FUN BIT! So many people have offered suggestions & advice on pimping my ride, from the Hackerspace Adelaide, FabLab Adelaide and Off Grid Energy crews to individuals around the country (and world) who have shared the journey so far. Adelaide artist Ryan Sims actually pledged money in the campaign so HE could make ME a steering wheel cover (which is why there’s a special photo in the flickr set above just for him ;P). Please note: you are now all on alert to get planning/making/foraging!

Legally the bus needs to be de-registered as a commercial vehicle and re-registered as a recreational vehicle before we can complete the deal. But Roundabout Charter have incredibly generously offered access to their garage and their lovely team to help with some of the major construction & repaint work until December 12th (when the fleet comes back for the Christmas holiday lockdown). Work can of course continue beyond then, and really this whole thing will constantly flux, change, morph and grow as the trip evolves. But it all starts here.

“That old girl was one of our first coasters and has been very good to us over the years. It’s nice to see her going somewhere worthy… “

What’s possibly most delightful is that I know for a fact that I trust these people. I have met quite a few of the (considerable) Mellor family network, and every single one of them has been an absolute bloody diamond. Jimmy told me by sms last night “That old girl was one of our first coasters and has been very good to us over the years. It’s nice to see her going somewhere worthy… I look forward to it all beginning and the fitout happening soon. Like I said I’m excited aswell”. See what I mean?! (Oh and this is how we know she’s a girl, or as Geoff describes her, “gender confused” :)

I’m far from being a mechanic, but I have always had an interest in tinkering with anything, including engines. I have helped people with far greater experience than me on various tasks, serviced my own vehicles and used the internet and Haynes Manuals to work out how you do things like change a clutch. I even did a basic mechanics course at WEA earlier in the year and I’ve applied for a grant so I can do an online mechanics course through Open Colleges. But even when it comes to the engine side of things, I feel like things are going to be OK. Apparently their mechanic is some kind of crazy genius. If one of their fleet has a problem, the driver can phone up, hold the phone to the engine and the mechanic will tell him over the air what the problem is and how to fix it. If things get bad ever, Jimmy says I should call them; this bus will be loved wherever it is around the country.

This might sound strange, but the day James died I told my Grandad, Arthur Cooper (who died in 2003), to keep an eye out for him and share a few ethereal whiskies. I’m not religious in the slightest, but I know Grandad has kept an eye on me over the years and I knew he and James would get on like a house on fire. I strongly believe that both he and my dear, silly, wonderful friend James have been watching reallybigroadtrip evolve over the last year… and that they have colluded to find me a bus. How else do you explain this massive turn of events?! Thanks guys, I love and miss you heaps and I shall continue to share your love and laughter every day.

Oh, and one final thing. I shared my nerves, excitement and then later a few photos on facebook & twitter yesterday with a promise to share this story. The response was wild; you guys really care about this thing don’t you?! Thank you massively to the several hundred ‘likes’, reposts and lovely comments you have shared across my social media feeds. Yesterday’s abundant traffic threw me straight back to “the twitter day” when the campaign went viral. The love you have shown me and this crazy adventure has been unreal; thank you ALL x

Bring on the modding!

UPDATE 12/12/12 (heh): Follow the #busmod developments as we get her ready to leave the workshop.