In May 2017, film professor David George began transforming a school bus into his own personal vehicle. He originally undertook this endeavor to take his family on a roadtrip to the West Coast, but his new bus-turned-RV—“Blue Skies,” he calls her—has become an unexpectedly helpful and abundant source of joy for him and his family.
“I miss driving Blue Skies right now. I mean, the pride of seeing the creation come together…film projects are probably the closest comparison,” George said. “…It just makes me happy when I go in and turn on the water, and the water runs. And I turn on the lights, and the lights come on. And I can be in the middle of nowhere and have power for everything. It just feels cool.”
The idea of buying a school bus first arose when the family was discussing the possibility of a two-month road trip from Tennessee to the West Coast. When thinking of ways to make the trip both quickly and comfortably, George’s oldest daughter Julianna said, “Why don’t we just get a school bus?” And before long, George committed to making the idea a reality.
According to George, converting school buses into RVs has recently grown in popularity. In fact, these altered school buses are now customarily referred to as “skoolies.” A quick Google search will reveal dozens of sites and web forums devoted to the subject. George found such sources of information indispensable in his pursuit of his very own skoolie.
The first step was to find a quality, affordable school bus. Though the “affordable” part may sound troublesome, school buses are relatively inexpensive. According to federal law, school buses cannot be used by schools for more than 15 years, so many buses are put out of commission in perfect working condition. Consequently, many of the school buses George considered only cost a few thousand dollars, even less than most cars.
After George found and bought the right bus, the hard work began. The vehicular components themselves—the engine, drivetrain and so on—were in great condition. The interior, however, needed to be entirely remodeled. After removing all of the seats and having the interior spray-foamed for insulation, George installed a running sink, a refrigerator, a stove oven, a microwave, smooth kitchen counters, a bathroom with a shower and toilet, a master bedroom, a bed for each of his daughters and a myriad of other items and features inside the bus. He did most of this work, including the plumbing, entirely by himself.
“What settled on me after I started the project was like, ‘Wait, I’m making a thing that needs to carry my family safely. This can’t burn down. I can’t have a propane leak in here. I can’t start an electrical fire. I can’t put this together in a way where if we’re in a wreck, everyone’s going to die. I have a responsibility here,’” George said. “So I took it very seriously.”
After finishing work on the interior, George began work on the exterior. With help from his family, he painted the bus white, light blue and dark blue. To be precise, George’s daughter designed the exterior in Photoshop, then George used a projector to project the design onto the bus itself, which he then painted over. After the work was complete, the family painted the words “Blue Skies” by the door, thus making their new bus’ name official.
From there, George and his family drove 7,000 miles from their Ooltewah home to the California coast. Beginning in San Diego, Blue Skies carried the family up along the coastline to some of the most beautiful spots on America’s west coast, including Yosemite, Portland, Redwood National Park and many others.
George said, “Driving Blue Skies just feels so cool. There’s something about driving this big bus on the road that feels powerful and…just good!”
Much of George’s work on Blue Skies occurred simultaneously with his teaching duties at Southern. The project attracted much attention from students, especially when the project reached its completion.
Junior film student Jared Mathias said, “The fact that professor David George literally took a bus and made it a home on wheels is nothing short of impressive, not to mention that he did it while still teaching.”
Another film student, Joshua Trevilcock, said, “It’s the type of thing you only read about or see in movies.”
George currently uses Blue Skies’ quiet, insulated interior as a recording studio for his new podcast, “Picture’s Up,” in which he discusses what it is like to work in film as a career. The podcast is available for free streaming on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast networks.