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Long Island

Long Islanders convert old school buses into tiny homes

A fridge, a stove, a washing machine and a full bathroom are just some of the amenities on these Long Islanders' school-buses-turned-tiny-homes.

Amityville native Bill Skinner on April 19 showed off his beach-themed school bus, which he is converting into living space. (Credit: Newsday / Kimberly Yuen)

It used to be a 66-passenger school bus, but in a few months, it will become one Long Island man’s permanent home.

Bill Skinner, who has built everything from houses to boats to floating homes throughout his 40 years in construction on Long Island, says the conversion is his most difficult and longest one yet.

“You can’t use a level on a bus,” said Skinner, who was born and raised in Amityville.

“Everything has got curves on it. It was three times as hard as building a house. I could have built a house faster than I built this bus.”

He said he’s about 98 percent finished with the conversion process for the 220 square foot, cerulean blue bus that he’s decorated with mermaids, shells, and sharks with just the water system left to hook up.

Skinner, 62, currently pays about $1,500 a month for his apartment and says the bus is a good investment in the long run. Once complete, he plans to drive to Florida this summer and live in it full-time at various campsites “close to the beach.”

“The normal campgrounds are around $450 to $500 a month plus electric,” he said. Even if I’m at six or seven (hundred), I’m still saving big time compared to an apartment or a house.”  

His bus, a 2002 International, is equipped with a power generator, a full bathroom, a backup camera, GPS, two television sets, a 10 cubic-foot refrigerator, a zoned heating system, air conditioning, 24-inch electric stove, washer and dryer unit, an exterior shower and a queen size bed. On the front, he built a custom rack to hold a scooter.

He bought the used bus direct from a school bus company for $2,500 two years ago. Since then, he’s been working on it part-time during weekends and has invested not only a lot of hours into it, but cash as well.

“I stopped counting at 40 [thousand], I didn’t want to know,” he said. “I’ll be in the 50s when I’m done.”

He says he spent more than $700 just in adhesives for all of the items inside.

“Everything is glued and screwed,” Skinner said. “Every time I built a certain point, I would take it down a bumpy road to make sure [that it stuck].” So far, no shatters.  

Insurance for his bus, he says, is reasonable at $66 a month because it’s now registered as an RV.

“I pay twice that for my car,” he said.

Although Skinner doesn’t know quite yet what it’s like to live in a school bus full-time, Scott Pellegrino has been living the bus life for five months now.

Pellegrino, 35, of Oakdale, converted a bus into a home with his girlfriend Kayley Sabin, 25, and are currently traveling all over the country.

Their goal is to spend a minimum of 72 hours in each of the 48 contiguous states plus Alaska, and they are documenting their travels through their YouTube series “Roll With It.”

Both Skinner and Pellegrino were considering tiny homes until a friend told them about school bus conversions and they were immediately sold.

“I fell in love with the idea of converting a bus into a home,” said Pellegrino.

Sabin said she was initially against the idea when Pellegrino pitched it only two weeks into their relationship, but she came around. For her, one of the biggest challenges of adjusting to bus life has been downsizing, living frugally and “letting go of [her] California girl vanity.” She said that meant getting rid of her hair and eyelash extensions, high-quality make-up, fake nails and regular pedicures.

“The hardest to part ways with was my fake tan,” she said. “I became a new hippie version of myself and I’ve never been happier.”  

The first few months of the couple’s journey was a bit rough, Pellegrino admits. They were staying at various campsites, but fees for them were starting to add up.

Then, they learned about two online networks: Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome. Through these sites, campers can find local hosts who will open up their driveways, farms, and backyards to self-contained vehicles at a lower cost. The sites’ membership fees range from $30-$50 a year.

“Those two sites completely changed our lives,” Pellegrino said.  

The couple left LI on Dec. 1 last year in their newly converted bus and so far have traveled to various states like Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and are currently in Montana.

They don’t see themselves living in the bus forever. Their goal is to travel until they find a place they want to call their permanent home and then open a coffee shop together there.

Their bus is a 200 square foot, 2001 Blue Bird All American with solar panels on the roof. They bought it from an online auction out of Oregon for $7,675.

“The bus is a major upgrade from our small studio apartment that we were sharing in California,” Pellegrino said.  

Their conversion process took about six months of full-time work with the help of family and friends.

They said they strategically built the shower directly underneath the emergency exit window on the roof of the bus so they can “shower under the stars.”

“I think it’s the nicest bathroom in a school bus. I’ll let people argue that,” Pellegrino said.  

Accompanying them on their travels are their two dogs: a 10-year-old pitbull mix named O.G. (short for Oscar the Grouch) and Vox, a 6-month old Catahoula leopard mix they adopted in March.

Early into the journey, O.G. would get car sick, but eventually got used to it, Pellegrino said.

He said the dogs usually fall asleep whenever they’re driving, adding, “When the engine turns on, the dogs turn off.” 

The couple works full-time on producing their weekly YouTube series, with about 60 percent of their income coming from video views, and the rest from selling merchandise online and through pledges via their Patreon site, Pellegrino said. Patreon is a membership platform that allows fans to support their favorite artists by paying monthly or every time they release new content.

“We make a show about living on the bus that pays for our lives,” said Pellegrino, who has a background in television production. “It’s really a crazy cycle when we turn the camera on us and we can just live.”

The things he misses most about a traditional dwelling?

“Long showers,” he said. The water tank on their bus holds 40 gallons and they try to conserve by taking short, “military-style showers.”

And in terms of being away from the Island, he says, “I miss Long Island bacon-egg-and-cheese rolls more than anything.”

Editor’s Note: We’re looking for Long Islanders who live in alternative, inexpensive ways to combat LI’s cost of living. If you or someone you know has a unique housing situation, email kimberly.yuen@newsday.com.

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