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A man renovated his grandparents’ old school bus and now he’s re-creating their 1970s road trip

Summary List PlacementJosh Jackling's grandparents, Joseph and Inez Jackling, were essentially van life pioneers. While it feels like van life and school bus (aka "skoolie") renovations are exploding in popularity these days, these transformations were already gaining steam in the '70s, when Josh's grandparents renovated a 1954 vintage school bus...

'50s bus, josh and carolyn

Summary List Placement

Josh Jackling’s grandparents, Joseph and Inez Jackling, were essentially van life pioneers.

While it feels like van life and school bus (aka “skoolie”) renovations are exploding in popularity these days, these transformations were already gaining steam in the ’70s, when Josh’s grandparents renovated a 1954 vintage school bus to drive over 275,000 miles across two continents, going as far as the very tip of Argentina.

'50s bus, newspaper

Now, that same bus is hitting the road again, as Josh, 42, and his wife, Carolyn McKenna, 37, plan to spend the next few years re-creating parts of Josh’s grandparents’ trip.

Josh inherited the bus at 16, when his grandfather died, and then spent two years living in it in his grandmother’s yard.

“I was really always attracted to the bus, as a kid I’d go to my grandparents’ house and just climb around underneath it and look through all the compartments,” Josh told Insider. “I was just always fascinated by the thing. And now it’s just become part of our lives.”

Josh Jackling dreamt of fixing up the vintage bus and following in his grandparents’ footsteps

'50s bus, grandfather

Josh started renovations on the bus 10 years ago, only to abandon them. However, he said taking a personal development class reinvigorated him, and he picked up the renovations once more, this time spending three years painstakingly turning the bus into a stylish house on wheels.

'50s bus, interior

Josh said his priority was to open the space up since it felt a little dark and claustrophobic. To do this, he cut off the roof and raised it by 13 inches, and removed all overhead cabinets. 

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Though there isn’t much space for personal belongings, Josh prioritized room for water and a large battery, resulting in enough of both to last around 14 days off the grid so that Josh and McKenna can go without refilling water, dumping tanks, or needing to plug in to water or electricity anywhere for two weeks.

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To update the now 67-year-old bus, Josh rewired the electric, added solar panels, and replaced the motor, brakes, and entire undercarriage. The brakes were so old that Josh said he was told to check a museum for spare parts.

The rebuild involved a lot of trial and error, he said, and a few mistakes that needed correcting along the way.

'50s bus, build

The 35-foot-long, 260-square-foot bus now has a full-sized tile shower with a heated floor, electric toilet, queen-sized bed, full couch, and wood-fired stove. There’s also a kitchen with a microwave, oven, and grill combo; large sink; two small fridges; and a 9-foot bar made of reclaimed pine that’s a dining area and work space.

The bus also has A/C and heating, as well as LED lighting, and, according to Josh, everything is energy efficient.

The couple sold everything in anticipation of their trip

'50s bus, interior

Josh said he and his wife shut down a construction company that he’d been running for over 20 years, rented out their home, and sold most of their belongings before moving into the bus. They plan to hit the road in the next month.

“The big thing is making the change from doing what I know really well, which is my construction business, to entering a new frontier, really,” he said. “We’re shutting off our income, pursuing something totally new and different, and just making money on the road.”

While McKenna has an online consulting business that she’ll continue to run, Jackling plans on monetizing their social-media presence while traveling.

'50s bus, exterior

“We’re pursuing the dream life of traveling around the country and just adventuring versus staying home, being comfortable, making good money and not really living out what I picture could be an amazing life,” he said.

He added that downsizing has been emotional and the biggest challenge.

“Getting rid of stuff is like taking a load off you, it lightens you up,” he said. “That feels really good, however, letting go is a bit scary.”

Josh’s grandparents bought the 1954 Crown school bus in the early ’70s

'50s bus, newspaper

Josh said his grandparents didn’t have a lot of money when they bought the school bus in the early ’70s — at the time the vehicle was almost 20 years old — but were super thrifty. They fixed the bus up themselves, using all secondhand items, he said. They even shuttled passengers to and from Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium in the bus to earn back the $2,800 they spent on the vehicle at the time.

Then, in 1972, they spent over three years traveling across the country in the bus.

Josh said he and his wife are loosely duplicating his grandparents’ journey. While they don’t have a route planned besides visiting family on the East Coast, they hope to eventually cross through Canada to Alaska, just like Josh’s grandparents did. 

Josh’s grandmother rode the finished bus before she died

'50s bus, guestbook

Josh said it was a goal of his to give his grandmother a ride on the completed bus, and he was able to do that before she died.

“She was just blown away, crying, saying ‘look at what you’ve done to my bus! Your grandpa would be so proud,'” he said. 

“We took her for a spin around the block and two months later, she passed away at 96,” he said.

'50s bus, steering

Before his grandmother died, Josh said she gave him a “guestbook” that she and her husband kept to hold a record of the people they met on their travels as well as the stops they made.

Inspired by his grandparents’ vacations in the bus, Josh hopes that the trip will allow him and his wife to “enjoy and explore and meet people and give to those that need us.”

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SEE ALSO: A couple turned a 544-square-foot bus with a fireplace, bathtub, and walk-in closet into their dream tiny home

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