Home » Someone Converted A School Bus Into A Double Decker Pirate Ship Motorhome And It’s Glorious

Someone Converted A School Bus Into A Double Decker Pirate Ship Motorhome And It’s Glorious

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I’ve often said that if the recreational vehicles getting churned out of Indiana aren’t for you, try looking at something vintage. If that still doesn’t fit your fancy, there’s always the wild world of custom conversions. A properly ridiculous example of do-it-yourself creativity has popped up on Craigslist and it doesn’t seem all that bad. This 1970 GMC 5500 Wayne school bus has been converted into a mobile roadgoing pirate ship complete with a mast and removable parts so you can fit it under bridges.

Our Discord server, which you totally should join, has been chock-full of weird motorhomes lately. As many of you already know, we’re looking for something to call the official Autopian mobile command center! Our requirements are somewhat simple: The vehicle needs to be able to sleep three, it should have a manual transmission, and it should be weird. Oh, and the “sleep three” requirement doesn’t mean sleeping in comfort. We’re somewhat savages, here. There has been a constant flow of suggestions in Discord, including that wild DayStar coach. Here’s another RV and it came from Mike Harrell in our comments, and it’s just plain silly, in a good way.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

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The seller for this $29,500 wonder says the build has been their labor of love for years. However, the adventure is coming to an end as the seller no longer lives in Oregon and it’s time for the unit to move on. Amazingly, despite appearances, the bus still runs and drives. The seller even says that the engine was replaced in 2014!

158 Years Of Transit

Hiding under the pirate ship attachments is a GMC 5500 conventional school bus chassis. When this chassis was new, GMC boasted a bus that would stretch a school district’s budget thanks to its “advanced design and manufacturing excellence.” GMC said in its brochures that you could save money with a GMC school bus chassis because bus bodies may be mounted with minimal effort and expense. The manufacturer further states that the chassis front-end design was compatible with the bodies of all major builders, saving even more dough.

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Gmc70s
GMC via eBay

GMC’s buses during this era were based on a heavy truck platform and a brochure notes these buses had recirculating-ball steering, optional power steering, two-speed axles, hydraulic brakes for shorter units, and air brakes for longer buses. Deeper in the advertising, GMC showed even smaller school bus options including a Suburban-based bus and a Handi-Van bus.

This GMC chassis has a school bus body by Wayne Works. As the Morrisson-Reeves Library writes, Wayne started in 1837 as a foundry in Dublin, Indiana. John Whippo, with brothers Caleb and James Witt, started Wayne as a manufacturer of stoves. Over time, Wayne began building farm implements and by 1868, the company finally incorporated as Wayne Agricultural Works, taking its name from Wayne County, Indiana.

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Wayne Works

Wayne would later move to Richmond, Indiana and by the 1890s it was already building an early form of school bus. The firm had begun building horse-drawn vehicles and in 1892, a school district commissioned a student transport vehicle from Wayne. The “School Car,” which would also be known as a”School Hack” or “Kid Hack,” was a horse-drawn wagon with seating for students. Going into the early 1900s, Wayne pivoted to building automotive bodies as well as its own car, called the Richmond.

In 1914 and using the Ford Model T as a base, Wayne created a new School Car, its first motorized school bus. From there, Wayne began leaning in on transportation as its future. In the 1920s, Wayne even built early bus-based motorhomes called the Touring Home and by 1927, it was giving buses metal body panels mounted to wood framing.

Wayne Works was a trailblazer in school bus design and has often been cited as building the first all-metal school bus in 1930. Though, a number of other manufacturers, including Blue Bird, were experimenting with all-metal buses during the era. Wayne was one of the first builders to incorporate safety glass into school buses in 1933. Wayne was also an early adopter of the heavy-duty side impact rails that are still seen on buses today.

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Fast-forward to the 1970s and Wayne became the Wayne Corporation after changing hands a couple of times. In the early 1970s, Wayne was among the first manufacturers to start turning cutaway vans into small, agile school buses. Sadly, the story of Wayne came to an end in 1995.

This Pirate Ship Bus

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That leaves us with the bus you see here today. This wasn’t a cutaway chassis but a conventional, higher-capacity bus. Sadly, so much of the body has been changed I’m unsure of the exact model of Wayne body it wears. And yes, this bus is now a double-decker!

What I can tell you is that the bus used to have a GMC 351M V6, which produced 254 HP. In 2014, the seller replaced it with a 305 cubic inch V6 and transferred over parts from the old 351. A 1970 305C V6 in this bus application was good for 170 HP gross.  The “M” parts of a 351 include a two-barrel carburetor, an open port intake, enlarged ports, larger valves, and larger exhaust manifolds.

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It’s unclear what kind of power this Frankenstein monster 305 is making. But the important part is that this bus does run and drive. There are 72,000 miles on the odometer, but the seller also notes that said odometer has also rolled over.

The pirate ship bits that are said to be too high are removable. I’ll just let Mike, the seller (who isn’t the same Mike who found this bus), explain what you’re looking at here:

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The wood stove pops out and lifts off. The top of the middle loft room, which we use as a closet, comes off and is built to be lightweight. It stows on the deck for transport. The mast is hinged and folds down easily. It isn’t just for looks, that’s a projector screen and there is a projector stand as well. Movies on the deck are a ton of fun.

Mike has me sold on this idea of sitting on the bow of this beauty and watching a movie projected on the mast. Wait, is that a chandelier hanging in front of the hood of this thing?

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In terms of amenities, the listing states you get a 240V, 50 amp electrical system. Each room has its own breaker and there’s an outdoor outlet as well. The electrical system has three dedicated heater circuits, an electric water heater, and a gas on-demand water heater. Apparently, the shower is hooked up to the on-demand heater while the kitchen sink feeds from the electric tank heater. In terms of holding tanks, you get 60 gallons for the gray tank and another 30 gallons for waste. There’s also a macerator pump onboard.

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Pirate Bus Int

Now, before you get too excited, it does seem like this build isn’t entirely finished. The shower empties into a sizable tub. Maybe it’s my eyes, but it looks like it’s not finished? Maybe it needs refreshing? Flip through the pictures and you’ll see exposed wiring, uncovered insulation, and other bits that aren’t the quality that you’d see in some other builds. But you know what? Those campers don’t look like pirate ships! Still, temper your expectations.

I see this as a fun project to continue. Or, if you don’t care, just run it as is. Surely, the pirate jokes will never end. Our Mark Tucker already made a joke, saying to back it up, you’ll put it in “arrr,” oy vey. If you feel like traveling while dressed up as a pirate, this camper is $29,500 in Cheshire, Oregon. Should you be the one to buy this masterpiece, we’d love to interview you, then drive the pirate ship, too, of course.

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(Photos: Mike via Craigslist, unless otherwise noted.)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
10 months ago

This is ABSOLUTELY the RV you should buy.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
10 months ago

Setting sail in this must be quite the apostrophe!

[Editor’s Note: I believe you mean an epiphany.]

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
10 months ago
Reply to  Zeppelopod

And so now I have to do this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p2z8TLRNUQ

Birk
Birk
10 months ago

Builds like this were sort of common on the roads in New Zealand when I was living down there ~2005. Basically Victorian homes built on old bus or truck chassis. First couple I saw, I was amazed. Then they became kind of regular to spot when traveling. Still amazed they made it onto and down some of those roads.

Mercedes, I’m sure you’re backed up with articles already, but I’d love to read about the evolution of those Kiwi Gypsy Caravans!

Ben
Ben
10 months ago

It looks janky AF, but still probably has better build quality than what’s coming out of Elkhart these days.

Stink E. Jones
Stink E. Jones
10 months ago

“It’s Glorious”
Narrator: Despite the aspirational headline, it was, in fact, not glorious.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
10 months ago

Discord link shows as “Invalid or expired.”

Jesus Helicoptering Christ
Jesus Helicoptering Christ
10 months ago

As somebody who has resided in the UK my entire life, thus is used to MOT tests and a much higher baseline of basic roadworthiness… I’m just absolutely mortified at the idea of this going within 50ft of a public road.

No.
Nope.
Nuh-uh.
No.

For one, that door! A frigging solid wood door completely blocking all of your view out of the passenger side from the driver’s seat! The visibility from the driver’s seat must be atrocious. That door alone would be bad enough on an otherwise standard bus, but on this the issue is just compounded several times over.

Please, Autopian staff, don’t buy this. It just looks like a huge liability on wheels.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
10 months ago

Hah? You should have seen some of the hippy buses we lived in in the 80s/90s! They made this thing look eminently reasonable.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
10 months ago

I’m from Kentucky where it’s not uncommon to see a pickup truck with a chassis that’s rusted in half hauling twice the weight in the bed it was designed for, pulling an overloaded trailer that was originally intended for a boat with the driver leaning out of the window and using an old hoodie to wipe the rain from the broken windshield. Oh and it’s got at least one low tire and the rear brake lines were just sealed off instead of replaced when they rusted through.

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
10 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

I too have lived in Kentucky and have seen this myself. However, at least its not indiana, where all of these same things would be true, but they have no lift laws so the truck would also have a 3 ft stacked block lift on it.

Last edited 10 months ago by Lockleaf
Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
10 months ago
Reply to  Lockleaf

Yep. A janky lift, some hideous wheels that don’t fit, a hilariously bad mural in the back window of some kind of part eagle part flag monstrosity, and all sorts of gun, bullet and cross stickers anywhere they’ll fit.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
10 months ago

The idea is amazing! The execution, not so much. I think you could make it really cool, but it would take a lot of work, and probably rebuilding stuff that has already been done. This would be really cool to park on secluded lake or river somewhere. I can’t imagine it would survive road trips too well, long term.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

It’s the single 4X4 holding up the bedroom that bothers to me.
The one that looks like it’s blocking the rear emergency exit.
What could be a nice mud room/back porch is relegated to a wasted space devoted to haphazardly propping up a dangerous looking place to sleep.
I’ll take the bones of the build for $10,000, shoddy electrical work included.
But I’m not gonna haul off all your crap for $29,500.

Last edited 10 months ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Millermatic
Millermatic
10 months ago

Done correctly… I wouldn’t be too concerned about a 4×4 holding up that space.

Problem is… that isn’t done correctly. And it’s a 2×4.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
10 months ago

“But I don’t want to be a Pirate.”

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Thanks for the full on belly laugh!
Well done.

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 months ago

the listing states you get a 240V, 50 amp electrical system

That’s a fair amount of juice – nice.

I really like the idea of this, but I’m not a fan of the execution – especially for the price. It would be great to recreate the design using modern lightweight materials.

And I would put a lid on the fish tank.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
10 months ago

I meant to add regarding the shower it appears that it is a tile job that is partially finished. Definitely tiles on the side of the tub and that red appears to be redguard a coating for water proofing behind tile. The floor of it does seem to be tiled too, it just needs the deck and wall done.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
10 months ago

I thought this looked familiar at least that back dome portion and wasn’t surprised when I clicked the link and found it was on the Eugene Or Craigslist. I’m certain it was featured years ago on Curbside Classic I think in a slightly less completed state.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

Ran when scuttled.

DaChicken
DaChicken
10 months ago

Runs on (ocean) spray

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
10 months ago

I’m with the peanut gallery here in thinking, $29k FFS!

It’s a great idea, but I bet you could buy a newer bus and build it out like this for about $15k to a much higher quality of finish.

Church
Church
10 months ago

But where is the secret compartment for all my clothes?

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago

In Florida this would be a major roadside attraction reselling theme park tickets.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
10 months ago

This is a fire or a flood, possibly both, possibly simultaneously, just waiting to happen.

It’s not a pirate ship. It’s the lone RV of the apocalypse.

AlienProbe
AlienProbe
10 months ago

lol crackpipe.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

$30,000?
Shiver me timbers!
This scallywag must be three sheets to the wind. Are they trying to run a rig or downright hornswaggle us.

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
10 months ago

If you try to drive this monstrosity there’s going to be plenty of timber shivering.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
10 months ago

I hate to be a hater. $29K for what is essentially a Burning Man art car is asking a lot.

It’s going to take a special person to take on an unfinished project. Finding a special person who really likes the pirate aesthetic will be tough, and more power to them.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
10 months ago

“…Mike, the seller…”

I wish to state quite clearly for the record that the seller is a different Mike. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I would ever sell this.

Last edited 10 months ago by Mike Harrell
Scoutdude
Scoutdude
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Just to be clear you are stating that IF you owned this wonderful machine that there would be no way that you would ever consider selling it?

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
10 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

Just revel in the delightful ambiguity!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

It’s been for sale for a while. Seems like a good way to garner attention for your add Mike.

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