After spending years working 9-5 jobs, Ben and Mande decided they'd had enough. So they set out to create a home for themselves - out of an old bus! Here's how they accomplished the amazing transition.
Meet Ben & Mande
Ben and Mande both grew up living in Michigan, but it wasn't until they moved back home in the summer of 2011 that they actually met. Neither of them had any idea that their soulmate was right there all along.
Before making his way back to the Great Lake State, Ben spent his time traveling around the whole country with his friends on a school bus. All while Mande was on West Coast, staying put in Utah working as a school teacher. But soon enough, these two would cross paths.
The future couple separately chose to move back to Michigan to spend their summer with friends and family. "After meeting through a mutual friend, we exchanged stories and were immediately drawn to each other's sense of adventure and appreciation for the outdoors," they later revealed.
Almost immediately, they had undeniable chemistry. They were together four years before Mande walked down the aisle, and the two officially became husband and wife. Mr. and Mrs. Tucker had settled in Michigan and were both working full-time jobs - but both had a feeling like something was missing from their life…
The School Bus
Ben was starting to feel nostalgic about his days living on the road. And that's when he got the great idea to do it again, except this time he would go with Mande. He proposed the idea, and his wife was intrigued. The two set out to find the perfect old bus to use for their adventure.
"When we found a 24-foot school bus in excellent condition with low miles, we jumped at the opportunity," the couple reported. They had found the perfect vehicle. But this was just the start of the long journey they had of turning the old school bus into their dream home.
The 1992 International 3800 School bus they bought was in use for nearly 25 years before the Tuckers became the owners. And although that long of a time could wear down a vehicle, it was only ever used in the summer, so the damage was minimal with small wears and tears and water damage.
But before getting to the heavy-duty remodeling, the couple wanted to start with the outside of the bus. Instead of having the classic yellow paint color, they chose to change it to a mint green tone and topped off the look with a white roof. It was already looking better than before.
Goodbye Old Seats
The goal was to have everything on the bus that a typical home would have. Everything from a kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom would soon be installed on the bus. So to ensure they had all the space they needed, Ben and Mande ripped out all the seats.
"We wanted to start with a blank slate, so we thoroughly gutted the bus down to bare bones," Ben and Mande explained. Together, using strong power tools, they removed each one of the old leather seats. And it was no easy task, but it would definitely be worth the hard work.
"We removed the seats, rubber mat flooring, and the bulky heating and AC units," the couple said. "We were left with a blank slate of bare sheet metal to build from." Now that the school bus was completely empty, they could start building their dream home.
One thing they did keep the same was the windows. The duo loved nature, so to be able to see outside at all times during their long drives was a major bonus. And, of course, the 6-foot tall ceilings were another thing they kept as they would give them all the space they needed!
Giving It a Name
Now that the ball was officially rolling, Ben and made decided it was time to give their new skoolie its very own name. As they began installing insulation on the walls and floor to keep the bus at a comfortable temperature, they discussed possible names.
After loads of brainstorming, they finally agreed on one. "Mande teaches second grade and was reading Charlotte's Web at the time," they said. "The name Fern stuck out and felt right for our bus." And that's how their home on wheels was named after a little girl from a children's book.
Sharing The Workload
Now that the installation was done, it was time to get to the big renovations for Fern. The couple came up with a plan that each one would have something they were in charge of. Ben handled the electrical, plumbing, and carpentry aspects of the renovation. Mande worked on interior design, upholstery, and decor.
"We were both super impressed by each other's hustle to get everything done no matter what it took," they said. "We certainly didn't go into this project having every skill mastered, but we were open and willing to learn and try constantly to overcome obstacles along the way."
House On Wheels
The way the exterior looked was a crucial part of the whole process, but so was the ability of the school bus to take the married couple anywhere their hearts desired. Ultimately the whole idea was based on the fact that they wanted to travel on the weekends with their house on wheels.
So, of course, there would be many long drives. And whoever was behind the wheel needed to be comfortable. "I'm dissecting this console up at the helm and hoping I won't regret it," Ben explained about the reconstruction of the driver's seat. "I hope to replace all the sheet metal with wood to eliminate rattling/road noise."
Due to the shape of a school bus, many individuals who turn it into their home opt to create custom-made furniture so it all can fit perfectly. Also doing it this way ensures all the space is used in an efficient matter. Luckily Ben was able to make most of the furniture on his own.
As seen in the above picture, Ben began by framing the shape of Fern’s couch. Not only did he use measurements guaranteed to fit, but he added space underneath for extra storage. While he was getting down to business, his wife started sewing the cushions and pillows.
Working On The Bedroom
Before getting started on making all the furniture, Ben and Mande created a floor plan for their home. The living room would be located in front of the bus, and the kitchen would go behind it. And all the way at the back of the bus would be the couple's bedroom.
Above is the framing for the bed. "We're currently trimming out the bed area," Ben shared. "The shelf-looking thing is part of the bed platform and will be connected to the starboard side once I'm ready to give up use of the back door. It's been my main door during construction, and I'll be bummed to see it blocked off."
Amongst The Chaos
At the start of the construction, the bus looked like a mess, total chaos! But as time went by, the pieces were all coming together - and things were forming into their dream home. After 7 months of hard work, and all while still working their 9-5, Fern was finally finished.
As seen in the above photo, the future couch would be placed on the left side. Located directly next to the oven is the unfinished kitchen area, and behind that is the undone bedroom. "I'm about to build a wall to separate the bed and living area," Ben explained. "Hopefully, it won't make our short bus feel any shorter."
The Color Choice
As Ben worked on the heavy duty parts on their project, Mande was busy making sure the final results were aesthetic and beautiful. She picked out her favorite cushions and curtains and also was the one in charge of picking out the color palette for the bus.
"Mande is throwing up some paint on the interior trim and loving the clean look," Ben wrote on his social media page. After looking through many choices, they ended up choosing to go with a light color theme that would match perfectly with the white-painted walls.
Sinks & Faucets
The kitchen was nearly done. Mr. and Mrs. Tucker had already installed the frames for the cabinet doors, the oven/stove, and the faucet. At this point, they only had one thing missing: "We're dreaming about sinks and faucets over here," they teased on Instagram.
After the sink was put in place, the couple had to ensure they'd have running water! "Water is plumbed to our faucet and outdoor shower, supplied by 25 gallons of freshwater and captured by a 25-gallon greywater system," they revealed. "The outdoor shower is plumbed through a tankless water heater for on-demand hot water."
Now that the water system was installed, Ben and Mande could drive anywhere they wanted while still having a fully functional kitchen and shower to brush their teeth and wash the dishes. Their next task to tackle was getting the electrical system in place.
"We're powered by both 12 and 120 V electricity," the couple explained. "On the road, our house battery and inverter keeps our phones, computers, and our fantastic vent fan running for up to a week while off the grid." For the oven, stove, and tankless hot water heater, they opted to use liquefied petroleum gas.
Driving on the road in a full home has many advantages, but there were many things that needed to be done before heading out on their next adventure. For one, the couple still needed cabinet doors for their kitchen so all their stuff could safely be stored away and not fly out while driving.
Luckily Ben knew what to do when it came time to install the cabinets. And while it did take him a bit of time, by the time he finished, it matched the rustic aesthetic perfectly. The cupboards had small grey rocks to use as knobs, but the white color made them look sleek.
Working On The Bathroom
Now that the kitchen was done and the bedroom was well on its way, the Tuckers began working on what would be their future bathroom. "This is where the toilet will go! Remember: we're keeping it simple," they shared with their followers. "With a short bus, we don't have much space, so every square inch is valuable real estate."
"This has led us to do an outdoor shower," they added. "We haven't designed it yet, but we're dreaming of a simple shower curtain with a removable shower head on the exterior of Fern. That means this is a warm-weather rig for now!" The final touch was to work on the outside of Fern.
Installing a Rooftop Deck
Using every inch of a school bus is necessary when turning it into a home on wheels. That's how the idea for creating a rooftop deck came to Ben and Mande. "Climbing to the deck gives us a whole new perspective and an elevated view," they explained how it would be a perfect spot to watch beautiful views.
This new addition also gave them extra storage for the new homeowners' paddleboards and hammocks they would be using on their trips. "We can easily install four posts that extend over the deck, allowing us to swing our hammock high up in the sky," the couple explained.
The Final Reveal
From an old yellow school bus to a completely decked-out stunning home, Ben and Mande were finally done with their long-awaited project. By the time they were done, the transformation had made the vehicle look totally different - all thanks to the mint green color and new additions.
The photo above shows off the whole area where the Tuckers would be spending their weekends traveling anywhere their adventurous hearts desired! With Ben’s building ability and Mande’s eye for design, they had created a very cozy and functional home.
A More Detailed Look
The bus-turned-home was looking as fresh and chic as ever, thanks to the design details of the interior of the vehicle. With Mande’s suggestion, the duo choose to use butcher block for their countertops and poplar wood for their cabinets that suited the stone doorknobs.
While majority of the details were a light color, Ben and Mande opted for a darker tone for their floors with real Acacia wood. Luckily this decision was a good one because it was perfect for disguising unclean floors. "Dirt and dust and stinky boots are an endless battle," the couple revealed about living on the road.
Taking Fern On The Road
Now that everything was ready in the skoolie, the pair didn’t wait too long before taking Fern onto her first adventure! They suspected it would be hard to drive a big bus rather than a small car, but Ben had some experience maneuvering larger vehicles.
Things were working out because, based on what the couple said, Fern was easy to drive. Apparently, the reconstructed vehicle was a "perfect balance of being a large and spacious home, while also being maneuverable and compact enough to take us almost anywhere."
For a while, the duo had always dreamt of exploring North America, seeing amazing sights, and meeting new people. Having Fern was the best way to turn this dream into reality! The first few places they headed towards were South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Canada.
"We knew there was so much unbelievable beauty and solitude to be found out there," Mr. and Mrs. Tucker explained of their travels. "So many fascinating people to meet and stories to exchange, and we wanted more of it." But what was it really like to live on an old school bus?
Living On The Road
The main reason behind this whole adventure was for the couple to have a change of routine and not be stuck in a 9-5 job. "Comfort can lead to complacency, but the adventure is deliberate," they explained. "Taking life on the road is our way of breaking out of habits and shifting momentum in a new direction."
Having a skoolie and being on the road was everything they had hoped for. "We're able to eliminate the burden of distractions and let hectic routines fall away," the pair added. "In this simplicity, we find that freedom comes to the forefront... We find that we value relationships and experiences over things."
Finding Peace In Nature
An added bonus of Ben and Mande's new lifestyle was being able to connect with nature whenever they wanted. "In a small space, you're more tuned in with nature," the two revealed. "We adapt to the natural rhythms of day and night and the mood of the weather."
They added, "Living in our bus, we're a bit more impacted by the rainstorms and wind gusts, the heat waves and cold snaps. For the most part, this is an absolutely positive thing. However, when it's rainy for long periods, everything can become damp, and we find ourselves confined inside."
Another downside of rainy and windy days was the fact that it hindered the couple from being able to clean themselves properly. Since they built an outdoor shower to save room, Ben and Mande preferred having sunny and bright days to take their showers.
Underneath the bed in the bedroom became known as the “garage” that the couple used to store items not always in use. For example, their shower supplies were stored there and were taken out whenever they used the shower - which had a tankless water heater, a removable showerhead, and a curtain for privacy.
From seeing the great outdoors to living in a beautiful tiny home, there were many benefits - but neither of those was the couple's favorite part. "Our favorite aspect of being on the road and living in the bus is meeting people we wouldn't have the opportunity to get to know otherwise," the two said.
"The bus is unique enough that people are drawn to approach it, pop their head in to say hello, and chat for a while. People everywhere have been warm and kind, and hospitable. We're so refreshed and optimistic because of the people!" they continued. Many times they even met other skoolie owners.
Fern’s Best Part
Ben and Mande made it clear that their favorite part of traveling was meeting new people, but what was their favorite part about their dream home? "Our favorite feature is that she's always in progress, a perpetual state of modification," they gushed.
"As we spend more time living in the bus, we find little things to add or change," they added. "Since we built everything with our own two hands, we know her ins and outs and are capable of giving her little renovations whenever needed. We love that Fern continues to be our blank canvas and is happy to adapt with us."
Addition To The Family
After one whole year of just Ben, Mande, and Fern, the couple found out that they were expecting a new addition to the family. In just 9 months they would be parents! "We are excited to bring a sweet boy into the world this spring," they shared on Instagram.
When their son, Sawyer, was born, he got to grow up in an unconventional yet fun way! From bath time in Fern's kitchen sink to trips around the country. But before the boy was welcomed into the world, his parents ensured the bus was filled with diapers, baby food, and more on their "must-have" list.
"Still Have the Same Goals"
Having a baby on board didn't change things as much as they thought. The couple stayed in Michigan instead of traveling too much. Yet they were still devoted to their wanderlust. "Life looks very different than when we first started this journey. But one thing is for sure: adventure is something our grateful souls crave."
"What started out the two of us is now the three of us, and we still have the same goals: live simply enough to have it all," Ben and Mande continued. "Travel, spontaneity, stability, comfort, freedom, balance... There is very little relaxing to be done when there is such a big world to discover!"
Only Up From Here…
Together, Ben, Mande, Sawyer, and Fern had embarked on many fun journeys. But after celebrating their son’s first birthday, the couple decided they wanted a new home that would be better for the baby. So they said goodbye to Fern and soon enough bought what would become Fern2!
They used the same floorplan the original bus had - except this time, the shower and bathroom would be indoors. "It'll look pretty different but hopefully feel similar and more convenient," they explained. And that was how their next adventure began…