The Adventure Begins: 15,000 Pounds of Steel Joins the Family

It was cool, rainy November Saturday in Rural South Georgia when we finally forked over a good part of our collective life savings, signed some paperwork and purchased a 20 year-old International 3800 School Bus. The grass along the two-lane highway was still clinging to the last of it’s summer green before it adopted it’s oaty-winter gold and a healthy square-headed blonde farm dog investigated puddles amongst gently-rusting work trucks, three slightly-mildewy school buses and a conspicuously-clean vintage Chattanooga City firetruck. The time had finally come to enact our plan and do the thing. So many hours of combing craigslist, dozens of phone calls, days of searching for a work site and months of ongoing conversations with my fiancee were finally coalescing into the beginning of our next adventure: buying a bus and building our home on wheels. We climbed out of the car, still stiff from the 4 1/2hour drive up from Jacksonville, Charlie losing his mind crying at the sight of another dog to play with, and quickly shuffled through the rain to the seller’s steel-sided shop building where we transferred an envelope of cash and received our crisp new Georgia Title and we were off to work.

Our stock 1998 International 3800 with T444e just as she came from her days hauling kindergarteners.
Seating for you and your 66 best friends. They’re all coming out.

Just as soon as we had the title in hand, out came my trusty old Ryobi 4 1/2 inch angle grinder. Besides a massive old “Globemaster” brand 12″ flathead screw driver I’ve named “The Persuader” and an off-brand 90° ratcheting screwdriver, this grinder is my favorite tool I have ever owned. Slice, dice, shave, sculpt, polish and cut; this thing rocks. Aside from a great ratchet set and a dewalt cordless drill, this thing has proved more useful than just about one other tool in the tool kit. So we got to work removing seats.

Luckily, our lower cushions on the seats were held in by two clips and two toggles. Simply spin but toggles and pull and the cushion popped out. I had all of them out in about 20 minutes. Next came the seats themselves. First, we had to scrape out 20 years of elementary school trash that had been stuck between the seat cushions and the wall. This was super gross (although it might’ve proved to be an interesting study in snack food wrappers and mechanical pencil design over the last 20 years if urban archeology was your thing). With the sidewall area clear and two trashbags full of trash, Sarah went to work with the ratchet set and a box wrench to get the seats dismounted from the walls. While she was doing that, I attacked the through bolts holding the seats to the floor. I briefly humored the idea of cranking all 88 bolts with second person and a ratchet set but then I came to the conclusion, “why?” Way easier to make some sparks and chop the heads off in half the time by myself. Armed with 4 new bimetal cutting disks and two fresh flapper disks, I made cuts at about 20° into the bolt head, moved onto the next one and continued until I finished about 8 seats then swapped over to the flapper disk and just ground the remaining head off. As I did the back of the bus, Sarah ratcheted on the front seats then we swapped (so I didn’t set her or her chaco-clad toes on fire with my substantial plume of sparks and metal shavings). We had all the seats loose in about two hours. Freakin’ sweet. Day one was a success. Off to Motel 6 to rest our sweet little filthy heads.

dramatic spark-throwing action
Seats almost bolt-free. Thank god.

The seller was gracious enough to let us leave the bus at his house that night and come back the next day to actually remove all the seats, stack them up in his now bright and sunny yard and take our photographs for the insurance company. In about 30 minutes all the seats were unloaded and she was looking a hell of a lot more spacious than before, finally we could imagine the things to come.

Now that our seats were out, the next thing to do was to load them back up to take them to the scrap yard and more importantly, drive the behemoth home to Florida.

An empty bus and a blank canvas.

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