The Roof Raise: Part 1.
If you're here for a step-by-step tutorial on how to cut the roof off of a bus and then jack it up in the air and then have it stay there without crashing to the ground, boy oh boy, do I have a list of other websites for you. Google done steered you wrong if you ended up here in search of specifics, because I am (over a week later) still peeking out the window in slack-jawed amazement to find that *we* managed to cut the roof off the bus, jack it up, and not have it crash to the ground. Or, who knows! Maybe Google saved you all sorts of trouble, because here are some people far more qualified to talk about how you can make this feat of engineering and human achievement happen to your own school bus conversion (or for anyone who is living vicariously and happens to be super curious about the process):
First stop should be with my pal Wess with the Transcendence bus. (Just kidding, Wess has no clue who I am, but he *is* super helpful, and on my list of skoolie celebrities that I am bound and determined to meet one day so I can be painfully awkward and thoroughly embarrass myself with my fan-girling.) We got 94% of our how-to from him and our raise is very similar...so check out his bus for a preview of what ours will eventually, maybe, sort of look like. (But the amateur version because we're learning as we go here and messing up on the regular.)
Next, go and check in with Jim at Life is a Joy, he's got a rare video of the roof raise already done (everyone seems to show the actual raise and then their next video jumps ahead without seeing the in-between/boring stuff), and then he walks you through everything that he did. Getting to see it wrapped up and taken to that next step helped a whole lot to mentally walk ourselves through our own raise and all the stuff we hadn't thought of yet. (He's a Wess fan, too! We should start a club!)
And because Jake and I are each a different kind of learner, we read blog posts and (whoa, old school) books on the process, too. The Grumpy Dog bus was doing this way before it was cool with an MCI bus, but the process is the same. Select and Convert Your Bus has been around for a very long time and is considered to be a staple in the conversion process.
So with the above info (and so much more...we have been researching and planning this for nearly 4 months) and our game plan mapped out, we got started on Christmas Day. I thought, surely, we will be cutting this thing all up ANY MINUTE NOW.
It would take another 5 (FIVE!) days of prep before we even made the first cut and another day after that before we made the rest of the cuts and did the actual raise.
There was a whole lot of prep work that we thought we would just knock out real fast, but also no. Absolutely none of it was fast. I spent the first half of the day grinding out rivets (DAMN YOOOOU RIVETTTTSSSS!) on the inside of the bus and then Jake spent the rest of the day grinding rivets on the outside of the bus.
Then we had to move the bus across the yard. Which sounds like no big deal, but it required a higher level of husband-wife communication than we were prepared for, and a lack of top quality, Grade A talking and understanding resulted in a loose reenactment of that scene from Clueless, but I didn't leave the tree a note. 😬 (It was fine and a good learning experience about turning radiuses and remembering that specifics matter.) (SPECIFY WHICH SIDE OF THE TREE YOU'D LIKE ME TO DRIVE ON, HONEY.)
With the covers to the hat channels removed and the emergency windows finally taken out (why did we wait until this moment to do this?!) and the bus leveled and supported on the front and the back, we remembered about 43 other tiny, yet imperatively important, little things we needed to do before actually cutting anything. Annnnd then bad weather happened. Annnnnd then there were uncooperative children and appointments and other stuff that was supposed to only take a minute, but, of course, took much longer. And just when it seemed as though none of it would ever happen, it was time to get back on the grinder to remove all the adhesive from inside the hat channels so that the welds would go on bare metal. Cool. I can do that.
Look at how excited I am! Making progress! Getting shit done! I'm awesome at this! Yo ho, yo ho, a bus life for me!
*twenty minutes later*
The grinder hit an uneven edge on the metal and I just wasn't braced enough for it on the ladder and the wheel whacked me right in the chin/mouth and sent me to the ground. I immediately clapped my hand over my mouth, worried that I might have knocked all of my bottom teeth loose, and ran for the garage and Jake. I was fine, more shaken up by having my bell rung than anything else. I walked away with a sizable bruise on both my face and my ego as well as a rather painful and visible reminder that I'm a dumbass. But hey! There are people who pay for this level of exfoliation and I got it for freeeee! (And I can also say now, over a week later, that I practically have a new chin. It's so smooth and soft!) Be more careful, Dana. Now get back to work.
Here's a look at one of the support bars that will let us make fine adjustments to the raise. It's actually pretty ingenious. It's bolted into place and then once the cuts are made, it raises the roof with every turn of the nut. Of course, I only took a picture of the one without the washers, so pretend there are washers and see above for people who know what they are talking about with this thing.
But we were ready! Finally! Actually! Really! Ready!
Here comes the first cut!
Once the front was cut away, we tackled the back and made a last-minute change in the plan to cut under the window. Originally we were going to cut above the window, but once we starting looking at where the path of least resistance was, it was clear that it would be easier to raise the window along with the roof. I don't know what we were thinking before then.
And that's where we cut it (see what I did there?) for the day, as once again, everything took longer than expected. But! The next day, we were back in action and ready to do the actual raise. So while everyone else was raising the roof up in the club for New Year's...we were raising the roof at home. Literally.
We staggered the cuts on the ribs of the bus so there wasn't a weak break point and used 3 jacks to move the roof, as well as to support the weight of it.
Now, I'll just go right ahead and tell you that this whole experience was nerve-wracking. Was this going to work? Would a big wind come along and just blow the roof across the yard? Would the bus stay level? Would the jacks support the roof enough? Should we have gotten more jacks? Maybe we should have built a whole support structure? What's creaking? Is the square stock going to fit? Is our plan going to work out? Is this high enough? Is this too high? Why did we need it to be this high? Are you sure? Can you move that thing/check the supports/cut these boards/check on the kids?
Oh em gee. The kids. This whole thing is a lot of moving parts and then we added 3 kids into the mix, too. Luckily, they all have no problem playing outside and they split their time between playing in a giant pile of leaves and in the world's most white trash playpen ever.
One last look at it before...
We used carriage bolts to secure the square stock into the hat channels. Jake will come back through and weld everything into place before we move on to the next thing. But right now, we are debating back and forth about going up another 3 inches. Our plan was to go 18", but we only went 15" because it's a seriously drastic difference and 15" would still work out with our floor plan measurements. We'll take the next week to review the floor plan and see if the extra headroom is really needed/worth the effort before deciding.
I still can't get over how different it is in there.
Next up will be welding the square stock in place, as well as the new supports for the back and the front roof transition. I also need to get busy and decide on our final, final, final window sizes and placements as we will need to have the sheet metal that will cover the sides cut.
Like following along with our adventure? Support our build with a The Measure of Us logo sticker! Send $3 through our PayPal link to get one for your very own! All proceeds go right to the build and I'll even tell you what we plan on doing with those particular dollars! (You know you want brag rights to say that you helped pay for a composting toilet.)