I just got my new skoolie, and was heading to my mother’s house to fix it up. It was my first skoolie road trip. And even though the bus was new to me, it wasn’t a new vehicle by any means. The school bus I ended up getting was a 1987 Chevy 6.2 Liter Detroit Diesel. And I had never driven a diesel vehicle either. But no matter how I got there, there I was, about to start a 1500 mile journey.
I started the journey with a short drive over to my friend’s place in down town LA. I stopped by there to say my goodbyes, and also to pick up one of my guitars too. It was a good little test drive to see how well the bus runs. It ended up being a pretty smooth ride! The only thing I noticed was I couldn’t seem to go faster than 55 miles per hour. Some older buses could have a governor built in that would limit the vehicle’s speed to 55 mph. So, I just figured that a skoolie road trip would be a bit longer than I expected..
Leaving California in the Skoolie
I left my friend’s place in LA pretty late and just got a few hours into my journey before stopping for the night. I ended up boondocking somewhere off of Route 66 near the California and Arizona border. The night was nice and mellow, it was super quiet and quite cool too; especially for being in the desert at the end of August. I got an early start on the road the next morning. Naturally, I woke up around 5am which is not normal for me. So, I warmed up the bus and headed off east to continue my journey.
I was staring down the barrel of a long, long highway tearing through the desert dunes. Where the road meets the horizon, a large red disc slowly levitated. Swaying in the waves of heat flowing off the hot desert ground. Before I knew it the sun had finished rising and the heat got intense. My bus has a TransAir air conditioner but since I was going on a long journey through the desert I didn’t want to push the bus too hard.
Arizona, The Troubles Begin…
I had made it about a quarter of the way across Arizona, when I started to notice something going wrong..My bus was billowing out white smoke.. It wasn’t too far to the next major city so I decided to try and make it there and see what a mechanic thought of the smoke issue. I made it to Flagstaff, Arizona to an O’riellys Auto Parts and I was going to see if someone there might know of an easy fix for the white smoke.
But it seemed that no matter who I asked it could be something as simple as a filter change or essentially a completely broken engine.. The bus seemed to run fine (other than the tons of smoke coming from the tailpipe) so I asked the guys at O’Riellys if I could stay the night in their lot and try to work on it in the morning. To my surprise, they were totally fine with me staying in the parking lot!
I had a peaceful night of rest there in the parking lot and was happy that I didn’t have to wake up to a security guard or police officer banging on my door in the night. This has happened to me several times before when I was traveling in my vintage RV. I made some breakfast in the lot and then got my day of mechanical work started. I bought a few things from O’Riellys that I had read online that might help calm down the smoke. I’m also lucky to have a cousin that’s a truck driver. I asked him if he thought that the problem was severe and if I should just go see a mechanic. And when I explained everything that was going on he said that it sounded like I had water in my fuel.
Apparently, diesel fuel can contain water and they have a specific filter that separates the water from the diesel fuel. I bought a new filter and after many, many Google searches to find out where the fuel filter is located I finally tried to change it on my own. I ended up finding a video on YouTube after hours of looking for my specific vehicle. But as I found out, when you’re working with a school bus, you vehicle is one of a kind. For example, my bus is built on Chevrolet G30 Van Chassis with a 6.2 Liter Detroit Diesel Engine.
But even when I looked up the engine and chassis separately every search I did online showed the fuel filter being accessed from the hood outside. But after searching and searching for the fuel filter under the hood I decided to take a look under the “dog-house”. The dog house is a cover over the engine that can be taken off from the inside by the driver’s area. When I took off the dog house, there was my fuel filter assembly. Right on the front of the engine. I changed the fuel filter and added a diesel additive. The additive is suppose to help remove water from the fuel as well and topped off my fuel tank.
I drove the bus around the parking lot and it seemed to be running better. But there was still a little bit of smoke coming out of the tailpipe. I decided to take it on a short drive down the highway to see how it preformed. And sure enough it drove great! I was lucky to have only needed a new fuel filter and that it wasn’t something more severe.
Skoolie Road Trip: New Mexico
After spending half of my day in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona I was ready to be on my way. I headed off to continue my journey. This day was a big day for driving.. I drove and drove and drove. The red painted desert sands and plateaus made the drive more enjoyable than mundane. After driving into the night and halfway into New Mexico I ended up calling it a night at a rest area. I usually don’t like staying at rest areas because there is so much noise from random travelers and also the hissing of the air brakes of the big rigs all through the night. This particular rest area was fairly full and I ended up having to park on the side of the exit road in the overflow area. But I was so worn out from the long drive that I slept just fine.
The next morning I woke up early again; I must have been eager to make it to my mom’s place. If I really pushed myself I knew I could make it to her property late that night. I could push myself no problem but I didn’t know if my bus could handle the 600 mile drive in one day. See, I had bought the bus from my sister who had lived in it for two years. But she had it parked on private property and never drove it for the whole time she owned it. Except for maybe a day or two at the beach here and there.
I had confidence that the skoolie could make the road trip. It was preforming much better than the previous days; the fuel additive and filter change must have helped at this point. But I was just basing my confidence on faith at this point.
Skoolie Road Trip: Texas Panhandle
On this third day of my journey I drove for hours through mundane desert land once again before I made it to the border of Texas. At this point the terrain became much more flat the further I drove. Every once and a while there was a steep hill I had to pass. But I knew when those hills were coming. I just followed the signs for truck lanes opening up and just always stayed in the right hand lane. On some steep hills I had not only big rigs passing me by but a lot of larger RVs that were even towing vehicles too were passing me with ease.
I just learned that when you’re traveling in a skoolie, you just have to cruise and enjoy the ride. School buses were built with the intention of the vehicle driving short distances with a lot of stops along the way. They weren’t really built for long distance trips at highway speeds and to clear mountain passes. But this didn’t seem to hinder my bus’ ability to chug it’s way half way across the US.
I passed through the small city of Amarillo, Texas (pronounced Am – Err – illa, when spoken with a thick Texan accent). This small city is located about half way through the Texas panhandle. At this point I missed the long winding two lane highway through the desert. Back in the city I was greeted with honking, people cutting me off left and right, constant tail-gators. The list goes on… I had started this journey out in LA, a place notorious for bad drivers and horrendous traffic. So I was able to keep calm and work my way through the rude drivers in the city.
Just after Amarillo I started heading South East on my journey to the small town off of the Red River where my mom lived. The final stretch, I only had a few more hundred miles to go and the bus was driving strong still! I was so happy that it seemed that I was going to make the journey with almost no problems. But, I wasn’t going to be fully comfortable until I was pulling into my mom’s property. Or at least within a few miles so I could be towed the rest of the way if needed…
Skoolie Road Trip: Red River Country
I was driving down a long country road through miles and miles of cattle grazing land and wind turbine fields. This part of the drive was pretty nice, and the temperature was starting to drop and the sun set behind me. I decided to roll down my windows put some music on and enjoy the drive. But I forgot I was in farm land now, not a desolate desert. BANG.. PING.. POP! As the sun was setting the bugs came out in swarms! My bus was like a giant flyswatter going 60 miles an hour through a wall of insects. I was able to get my windows shut, after I got pelted in the arm by a few grasshoppers of course.
A few more hours of driving the bus down a two lane country road in the pitch black night, and I was almost finished with my journey. As I rolled through the last few small towns before my mom’s small town I began to think about what had happened to bring me to this point in my life. Everyone goes through their own journey that can bring them to where ever they are meant to be.
During the time of me traveling halfway across the country the whole world seemed to be going through a life change. Covid-19 was still alive and strong the summer of 2020 and I was trying my best to keep safe on my travels. I figured it would be safer for me to be in a small town on private property away from large groups of people than to be living in the middle of LA. But I was going to go stay at my mom’s so I really didn’t want to contract the virus on my way there. Luckily I was safe on my journey and I didn’t get the virus.
Besides the possible impending doom of the world, this time was a turning point in my life. I had just lost my grandparents around this time. With my grandfather passing just months before I started traveling east. I wanted to be closer to my mom at this time of loss in the family. I missed being away from my grandparents for the last few years of their life. And I wanted to get as much time as I could making great new memories with my mother.
Home, Sweet Home
I finally made it to the small windy and rugged road that leads to my mother’s property. The ride got a little rougher at this point but the bus was still riding smooth. I made my last turn into my mom’s long driveway. I chugged my way down the gravel road with my school bus flashers lighting woods around me with a red glow. There was my mom, in her pajamas since I didn’t make it there until almost midnight… I parked the bus in the carport and promptly went to bed, well, after a nice hot shower that is!
Now that I had made it the whole 1,500 miles on my skoolie road trip, the real work was about to begin! I was going to strip the bus clean from all of the improvements my sister had made to it. That way I could make the bus truly my own space. And after that, who knows where I’ll take it in the world! I plan on taking a journey to see any place that I haven’t seen before. If I hear of a cool place that calls to me, that’s where I’ll be going next. This is how I’ve lived my life for many years and it’s the way that works best for me. I couldn’t stand clocking in to a job day after day.. The nomadic lifestyle gave me the freedom I needed to fully embrace this beautiful life!