Updated: Sep 18
This is the second article in what will be a series of articles of our family's life on the road adventures, which occurred from the fall of 1995 through late summer of 1998. If you haven't read the first chapter, you may want to read that before reading this one.
I answered the knock at our front door and was surprised to see a good friend of ours, Keith Rhudy, standing on the front steps with a man I’d never seen before. Keith quickly explained that he had heard of our plans to take life on the road, and he was quite sure we’d like to meet his friend Zeke. As it turned out, Zeke, his wife Susie, and their son, Nathan, had been living the bus life for years, and he was sure he could help us as we prepared for our journey.
Though we didn’t realize it at the time, meeting Zeke was definitely a first of many “God Things”. For starters, Zeke had been searching for a new bus for their family and knew the stories on three old buses perched up on a hill in north Rapid City. We were definitely interested in anything Zeke could teach us, and it wasn’t long before Bob and I found ourselves touring the buses as visions of renovating one of them danced in our heads.
One particular bus stood out as the one for us, and so we began the process of making it our own. The bus was an old MCI charter bus with the seats still in it, so one thing we knew for sure is that it would need to be completely gutted. Before making a final decision to purchase the bus, Bob decided to follow Zeke’s wise advice to check for antifreeze in the oil. A sample was sent off to the lab, and while we were waiting for the results we made plans for how we would refurbish the bus into a home for our family of five.
Now, it would have been awesome if we would have had a bunch of money in savings to buy this bus, however, we did not, But we did have a lot of stuff we could sell, so we spread the word that we had a conversion van to sell, and started to go through literally every thing we owned to decide what we needed or wanted to keep and what we could sell. The following Monday morning, we were ready to start our week-long moving sale. Each day, the kids and I (and Bob when he wasn’t working) willingly went through our possessions and came up with more toys, books, games and household items we could add to the sale.
People would ask us where we were moving to and it was always fun to see the expression on their faces when we told them, “All over the place” or “Anywhere the wind blows us.” Once we told people we were going to buy a bus, fix it up and travel in it, most people thought it was pretty cool and admitted they wished they could do something like that.
About mid-week, we learned the bus we wanted did indeed have antifreeze in the oil. We were so disappointed, but at the same time rejoiced that God did not allow us to purchase a bus that would have needed major engine work. That turned out to be the first of many things that indicated and assured us that God was leading us and watching out for us.
We continued on with the moving sale, and during that week, our landlord paid us for all of our appliances and some of our furniture. On Saturday, with only a couple hours of the sale to go, God came through for us again. The usual conversation between us and one of our customers occurred, and when we got to the part about having no idea what we were going to travel and live in, another “God Thing” happened when the guy said, “Hey our neighbor has an old bus he converted into an RV and he’s trying to sell it.
Bob and I looked at each other and then turned to Josh, our oldest, and said, “You watch the sale. We’re going to go look at a bus.” I cannot even begin to tell you the excitement Bob and I were experiencing the whole way out to Rapid Valley. The excitement continued as we drove up to the place to see the most awesome bus we had ever seen–just like one you’d see in an old movie. Well, except for the fact that the front of it was painted a candy apple red. We couldn’t wait to see the inside.
About that time the owner of the bus came out to greet us and we explained why we were there. Bob Clarke invited us in to see the bus as he explained that he had bought the old 1948 GMC Greyhound bus with a Detroit diesel engine, gutted it and using parts from an AirStream camper, had transformed it into an RV he used for fishing and camping. So why did he want to sell it? His wife had talked him into buying a newer RV and he couldn’t afford to keep both of them.
My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I walked through the front door. What I saw was even more than I had envisioned for the first bus we had considered buying. From the plush burgundy Flexsteel bench sofa and swivel chairs in the small–yet surprisingly spacious–living area, and the compact kitchen with plenty of storage, to the rose colored velvety curtains and the multi-textured-multi-colored carpet to match, this 8 foot x 35 foot bus/motorhome, was a dream come true.
Of course, while I was most excited about how pretty the bus was on the inside, and began envisioning ways we could make this work for us, Bob was most thrilled with the systems located in the bays under the living quarters: the hoses and two tanks of the water system, the Onan generator, the back up battery systems for storing electricity, and all that other guy stuff.
With every moment of the tour, Bob and I were more convinced that this was the bus we wanted and needed for our adventure. The seller had been asking $11,000, but now was willing to let it go for $10,000. So we gave the man all the money we had–some $3,000–and a promise to pay the rest within 30 days. This we felt was pretty doable, since we still had a van to sell, and were expecting income from work Bob had already done.
Amazingly, Bob Clarke allowed us to take possession of the bus a few days later, after paying him only a couple hundred dollars more. Friends agreed to let us move the bus to their campground west of Rapid City, so Bob and Zeke could ready it for our travels. Are you noticing all these “God Things”?
Over the next three weeks or so, we saw many more "God Things" as the adventure unfolded step by step.
Zeke worked on updating the wiring and making sure all the systems were working properly. He also remodeled the back bedroom into a cozy space for our boys, building two bunks with drawers and a cupboard under each for their clothes and other personal items. The origianl luggage rack was still intact around the perimeter of the room, which gave them added storage.
Since we planned to travel with a desktop computer, Zeke also built a combination desk and bookcase on the living room side of the existing table and benches (the kind you typically find in a camper), which would double as Tasha’s bedroom. The bench tops lifted up to reveal space for her to store her clothes and toys, and a curtain was hung on a rod to give her privacy.
Another friend built a padded bench on top of two deep drawers to sit across from the sofa. The bench could be lifted up and turned around to meet up with the sofa when it was laid down, to provide a queen-sized bed for Bob and me. The two drawers served as our dresser.
Every week Bob took whatever money he could scrape together to Bob Clarke, however when day 29 came, we still hadn’t sold our van and the anticipated accounts receivables had not arrived. We were still thousands of dollars short of our goal of paying off the bus in 30 days, and Mr. Clarke informed us that if we failed to pay him the money we still owed by the next day, he would take his bus back, and keep the money we had already paid.
We were heart-broken and panicked and had no idea what we would do. But God knew. We prayed and asked God to show us what to do and then Bob spoke with a long-time client who managed the credit union in nearby Sturgis. During the course of their conversation, Cindy asked Bob how the plans were coming along for our bus adventure. Bob told her what was happening and she told him to meet her at the credit union first thing in the morning. She assured him that we would be able to get a loan to pay off the bus.
Though we had really hoped to pull things off without borrowing any money, we felt we had no choice, so Bob arrived in Sturgis 15 minutes before they opened for business. A few minutes later, the papers were signed, the loan secured, and Bob was on his way to Rapid Valley to pay off the bus. On his way back into Rapid City he got a call on his car phone. It was Dave, a guy from our church, who was interested in buying the van. Dave agreed to meet later in the day when he would have the cash for the van.
Bob was ecstatic to say the least. However, he still had one more place to stop before heading out to the campground–our mail box. He couldn’t believe it when he looked through the stack of mail to find a check for the accounts receivables we had been expecting. It wasn’t just any check. At that point, it was actually the biggest check we had ever received in the history of our business. That check, added to the cash for the van, was more than the amount of the loan he had just secured that morning!
Bob couldn’t wait to tell the family about these latest “God Things”.
It took a little longer than Dave expected to get his hands on the cash, so we dined on sub sandwiches at his sub shop while we waited. By the time the deal was done, it was about 4:45. As crazy as it sounds, selling the van left us with no transportation except the bus itself, and that was at the campground. So Dave graciously agreed to let us borrow back the van we had just sold him and told us we could return it to him the next day on our way out of town with the bus.
But it gets even better! As we left the sub shop, Bob decided to call Cindy at the credit union to tell her he had the money to pay off the loan. She told him they normally close at 5:00, but she would stay until he got there. By 5:15 the loan was paid in full, and since it was taken out and paid off in the same day, he didn’t even have to pay interest (though to show his appreciation for his friends at the credit union, he did leave enough extra cash to buy donuts for them).
In about a five or six-week span, we experience so many “God Things” we literally could not count them.
Stay tuned for future blog posts recounting more of our bus story and life on the road, which took place long before people were blogging. As I dig through my journals and photo albums, I hope to have plenty to share!