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How I Lived in a Bus
My name is Brian and Bob asked me to write a piece about a rig I lived in once.
My fascination with all things with the infernal combustion engine goes back to my childhood and the first Whizzer motorbike I saw. I never got one but I have had a bunch of motors. In fact I made my living as a mechanic for a number of years, drove long haul truck, lived in a variety of vehicles and have owned many motorcycles. This all seems to help balance never getting a Whizzer.
What Bob wanted me to write about however took place in 1981 as I was trying to get my life in order after many years of drug and alcohol abuse. I was getting sober and had a great job in a beautiful National Park in Alaska as a mechanic.
I had been heading downhill fast after returning from Vietnam and drinking and drugging through the sixties and seventies , burning bridges and marriages, losing jobs and hurting those I loved. Now the world was new to me, I saw it through clear eyes and in my attempt to get things together I was offered an old bus for $500. It became a special bus to me. The owner and her 16 year old son had bought it and fixed it up some for camping. When the woman was a year sober, her son was killed in front of her in a car accident and as devastating as that was, she remained sober. That made a great impression on me as I had two young sons and worried about something happening to them and whether that would make me drink again. She gave me huge hope.
The bus was a wreck. It had been sitting for several years in the Alaskan bush and nearly every window was broken. Kids had been partying in it and leaving their trash. It had been shot at and had several bullet holes just below the windshield . The saving grace is that she had a rebuilt engine installed shortly before it was parked and abandoned. The other saving grace is that she would take a hundred dollars a payday until it was paid for and I did have child support to pay. I could see the finished bus in my mind’s eye and it was great. It was a 1959 GMC ¾ length full adult height ex-Air Force bus and absolutely perfect for me.
The amazing thing is that when I brought a battery and some gas and tinkered a bit it started right up. I first drove to the dump, shoveled out all the junk and trash the partiers had left and stripped it pretty much clean. Then on to a work-mates house where I could work on it and had some help with the heavier stuff. I finished stripping the inside and carefully covered the windows I didn’t need with plywood and sheet metal. There were a couple still intact so they went in the spots I wanted windows and I measured for windshield glass and made cardboard templates for the oddly shaped rear windows. I was able to find some salvage glass and got a deal on some other tinted glass the glass shop had.
The first incarnation of “Eekabus” had a plywood bed with a salvaged foam mattress, a salvaged kitchen table for a kitchen counter, two bench bus seats facing each other with a handmade table between, an icebox salvaged from an old junk trailer, an antique gas hotplate converted to propane and that’s about it. I built a wood heat stove out of an old 5 gallon barrel. I built a Dutch door for the entry. I had a lot of mechanical stuff to do, tires to find, painting done by brush and roller and general odds and ends but the great thing is it gave me something to do when I wasn’t working and kept my mind off “me.”
I don’t think I had ever been so delighted with life. “Eekabus” was perfect. My expenses were minimal. Registration, insurance, gas, food and tobacco…oh yeah and child support. I loved the feeling of having my home with me. It was very much like I felt when I backpacked. I was able to add stuff as I could afford it…Alpine stereo with ADS speakers came along. A bumper sticker that said, “Don’t laugh, your daughter might be in here”. I would park in some pullout overlooking the Nenana River, make a cup of good coffee and kick back in my salvaged oak office chair and dig the view and soak in the peace. What a simple life.
That first summer I parked it in the gravel parking lot up by the dog kennels in Denali Park headquarters area. The next summer I drove it out to the road camp I worked in and used a gravel travel trailer pad to park on. There I had power and water. I built a pair of nice bunkbeds for my two sons when they came for the summer. It was an art project in progress. It kept ‘becoming,’ much like I was.
The bus went through another complete renovation with real butcher block counter and cabinets, an apartment-size gas stove with oven, a jewelers bench, and many more conveniences and extras. The one thing that held true through it all is that the spirit of the dead teenager was with us always. He had a great sense of humor and would hide things once in a while, move things sometimes, but always with a feeling of approval and joy.
Eekabus made several trips down to Haines, Alaska where my sons lived with their mom and it would wait there for me while I traveled for the winter. I also drove it down the Alcan to Oregon and back one winter. That was a great adventure and I was able to help a woman who was traveling alone by using the CB radio as we traveled through whiteout conditions.
I remarried and we lived in the bus the first winter near Denali Park. That is another story. We moved to the Kenai Peninsula and bought land where Eekabus became a guest house and I began the ultimate renovation with blown in urethane insulation and knotty pine tongue and groove ceiling but I got sidetracked and motorcycles got in the way.
We sold the land eventually with Eekabus included and moved on to the lower 48. The good news is that we now have another bus, a 1963 Dodge shorty with the same 6’ 2” interior, which is in the beginnings of a conversion.
More will be revealed.