We recently caught up with our friend Brock Butterfield, owner of BusLifeAdventure.com. He’s our remote tech guru from Houndstooth Tech and one of our favorite members in the skoolie community. Brock’s near death experience drove him to ultimately quit his 9-5 corporate job, buy a school bus and convert it into a tiny home for traveling and an alternative lifestyle. Although he no longer lives in his skoolie full-time, we still wanted to hear about his tricks, tips, and skoolie stories.
Q: Are you currently living in a skoolie?
Brock: Not at the moment. Weekend warrior and summer break road tripper.
Q: How long did you live in your skoolie? Why did you decide to change it up?
Brock: I lived in two different skoolies from 2014 – 2018. During my travels my wife and I fell in love with a little mountain town that still had really affordable real estate prices and we decided to invest in our first home or “basecamp” as we called it while we still traveled in our skoolie.
Q: Why did you go with the skoolie route instead of a motorhome or van?
Brock: Initially I needed something that could be modified to carry two snowmobiles on a deck platform due to traveling and filming as a professional snowboarder. A motorhome or van would’ve forced me to pull a trailer which I was trying to avoid. When I sold my first skoolie to start another project I knew more about skoolie motors, lengths, which bus manufacturers had higher ceilings, etc. so I was more comfortable going the skoolie route again as opposed to a motorhome or van.
Professional snowboarder, two-time skoolie DIYer, tech guru, media maker, etc? You are a jack of all trades.
Q: How did you go about getting started on your skoolie life? Did you start from scratch or get a bus that was already partially converted?
Brock: I started with a blank 4×4 short school bus from upstate New York.
Q: In your opinion and experience, who is the skoolie lifestyle not a good fit for?
Brock: Those who like the comfort of not being challenged almost daily. There are many challenging things that come with living in a skoolie each day. Topping off the fresh water and propane supply, dumping grey, black or composting toilet waste, being able to generate enough power from solar, shore power or driving (alternator) and finding a place to park each night are all things you have to navigate daily.
Q: When away from your bus or not on the road, what do you miss the most?
Brock: The exploration and changing your backyard view on a consistent basis.
Q: Do you have any crazy skoolie stories (e.g. saw a UFO, met a famous person, escaped a serial killer, etc.)?
Brock: Looking back I think the craziest story was what we documented in the Life In The Bus Lane series where during one winter myself and 4-5 other guys piled into 72 sq ft of skoolie with one little wood stove, a little propane stove, 5 gallon water jugs for fresh water. We had to get really creative in our sleeping arrangement and working together in such a small space when it was the only shelter from the elements sometimes. We learned quickly that we also had to plan our meals in order to not fill our small space with the methane gas being released from our rear ends. The wet boots drying by the wood stove and the lack of showers was already filling the smell waves.
Sounds cozy! And a bit smelly…
Q: How do you respond to people that are jealous of the skoolie’s free lifestyle?
Brock: Depends on how their jealousy is presented. If in a positive manner then I usually encourage the person to take the same risk in exploring a lifestyle that is more fulfilling for them. If in a negative manner then I tend to simply ignore it. Most of the time people in that mindset are unable to see things in a similar way that I do.
Q: What surprised you most about the skoolie lifestyle?
Brock: The general feeling of freedom, simplicity and how the majority of people are very intrigued by it while the Karens of the world are most definitely not.
So you’re telling me the ‘Karens’ can find you anywhere? Great.
Q: What is one item, under $100, that you find most useful for the skoolie lifestyle?
Brock: Hands down my Aeropress. The smallest and cleanest way to make a cup of Rimini Coffee in a small space.
Q: If you could go on a road trip with anyone, who would you take and why?
Brock: Well, my answer to this one is a bit sided due to the nature of the interview but I’d really like to go on a road trip with Garret Towne of AM Solar as I’ve had some hilarious lunches and general conversations with him and I know we think a lot in the similar “old man jokes”, “dad jokes”, “childish behavior” that would probably turn the trip into something that leaves your abs hurting from laughing so much.
Good answer. We’ll make sure to slip you that $5 bill.
Q: What is the top speed you have achieved in your skoolie?
Brock: 75mph but I definitely noticed very quickly and backed off. I’ve found my bus really likes to chug along at 55mph. My wallet also likes the 55mph as opposed to anything faster.
So we won’t be racing cheetahs anytime soon…
Q: If your skoolie was also a time machine, when would you go?
Brock: Aw… Trick question but if I could have assurance that I wouldn’t break down or need to find a mechanic during my time travels, I would prefer to travel back to a time when roads across the US were just being completed or when National Parks first started opening.
Q: What advice do you have for someone considering starting the skoolie life?
Brock: Go down the rabbit hole of researching everything about it and understand all the steps you’ll need to complete to get there. I always recommend not hit the road unless you have around $2k in savings that you can rely on in the event of a breakdown or major repair. However, rolling the dice is also an option and you learn from your mistakes so if it gets too overwhelming, just go for it and address problems as they arise.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you can give for someone looking to start a skoolie build?
Brock: Find a rust-free bus to start. As Charlie Kern from Chrome Yellow Corp. says, “Rust never sleeps.” This advice is coming from someone who regrets buying a cheaper school bus that had very low miles on the good motor but had lots of rust.
Q: What is your biggest skoolie-related mistake?
Brock: Buying a bus with lots of rust.
Q: I’m curious about the guts of your DIY skoolie. Can you describe your skoolie power system?
Brock: Two 300w Grape Solar panels with a Victron Energy MultiPlus Compact 12V | 2000VA | 80A inverter, BMV-712 Smart battery monitor, MPPT 100/50 charge controller and two LiON Lithium batteries that I believe are around 200 amp hours.
Although many of these products Brock used are no longer available, we do have recommendations for the most up-to-date products at the bottom of this page.
Q: Can you tell me about a time you found your skoolie power system to be inadequate?
Brock: AM Solar did a pretty good job initially guiding me through my power system setup but it became inadequate when my old AGM batteries had been through about two years of use and after I upgraded to lithium batteries it was adequate again. Sometimes in very hot climates we notice our batteries just can’t keep up as they’re running our fans on high 24/7 as well as our fridge and freezer. That’s more of a problem with the climate than the power system.
Q: Can you tell me about a time you were surprised by what your power system could do?
Brock: The day I pulled a shot of espresso and made a latte on our Breville for my wife was truly surprising. It’s a good amount of power needed to instantly heat up water that hot.
Q: Selfishly, we gotta know… How did AM Solar help support you with your skoolie conversion?
Brock: My relationship with AM Solar and Garret stems from 2014 when I was reaching out to anyone that would give me 15 seconds to pitch the making of Life In The Bus Lane and the first conversion of my bus. Garret was working for Grape Solar at the time before becoming President of AM Solar. Throughout the years Garret took many of my calls while on the road trying to troubleshoot something related to my solar setup that always ended up in a mistake on my end that I had made. That same service carried on when Garret moved to AM Solar and I started working with Mitchell to troubleshoot or plan my current power system. I initially tried to figure out a lot of it on my own but after seeing how well AM Solar knows their stuff, I put it all in their hands to guide me in making the best decision.
Thank you Brock! We love getting to hear about life on the road from our customers. We highly suggest checking out Brock’s skoolie documentary and website. If you have any questions about a custom quote for your rig, we’re always excited to help get people off on their dream mobile lifestyle.
Looking for some brief takeaways? We got you!
Don’t buy a bus with rust!
Save up money for emergency repairs on the road.
Get yourself an Aeropress for some amazing coffee.
Never pass up the opportunity to take a road trip with Garret Towne.
Trust AM Solar with your mobile power needs. Check out our Skoolie page and then submit a Quote Request when you’re ready for a custom quote.