As she ambled around the junkyard on a September afternoon, Blair Belt pointed out vintage vans and broken trailers.
That one could work, she told her boyfriend, Jason Clark. Or that one. But Belt had her heart set on the 1954 bus she saw at the beginning, despite the fact it was filled with broken seats and tumbleweeds.
“We kept coming back to the bus,” Belt said. “It’s 20 acres around the junkyard and we thought, ‘Yeah, that’s our number one. That’s the one we want.’ ”
That’s the one, they thought. That could be their new home.
They knew what they were planning sounded crazy, but they wanted an adventure.
Originally, Clark and Belt thought they were going to buy a trailer and build a tiny home on top of it. At one point they thought maybe they could combine some vintage vehicles to create a hodgepodge home on wheels, like the Weasley’s Burrow in Harry Potter. As an avid Harry Potter fan, Belt liked that idea.
When they found the filthy bus sitting at Martin’s Salvage Yard, however, Belt said she just knew it was going to be their home.
Clark, 28, and Belt, 23, had plans to build a tiny home and take a nine-month trip around the US They would probably live in it for a few years after they arrived to their final destination in Vermont, where Belt plans to attend circus school.
After a failed bartering session — Belt got too excited and offered the full $1,000 they had budgeted up front — they purchased the bus that September day and picked it up a month later.
On Dec. 31, the couple plans to pull out of the driveway of their 2,100-square-foot loft in downtown Greeley to start a new life with a few possessions and their two dogs in the bus and its 100-square-feet of space.
The pair decided to try living tiny after they stayed for three days on a converted bus in Vermont. They were visiting the New England Center for Circus Arts.
Blair will be starting circus school in the fall to learn about aerial silk, like in Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil is Belt’s big dream, and the bus will be the catalyst to getting her there.
In the loft, they’re constantly stepping over boxes labeled for Goodwill. And on the bus, it feels like a circus act, like the clowns in the car, trying to get everything they need to fit.
There were many challenges and times when their parents encouraged them to cut their losses and sell it. But they persevered. They both finished their jobs this past week. Their new life begins with the New Year.
Belt and Clark admit they’re a little nervous but mostly excited for what they call the adventure of a lifetime.
“These will be the crazy stories we tell our kids someday,” Clark said.
Belt and Clark believe when they leave behind their huge apartment in Greeley for the comforts of the 100-square-foot school bus, they’ll miss their long, hot showers most.
There’s no plumbing on the bus, so soon their showers will be spent hovering over a portable toilet — yes, you read that right — with water fed through the window from buckets outside.
At least it will be heated.
They bought the $1,000 bus shell in September and Trailermade Custom Trailers welded it to the trailer for $3,400. They got it back mid-November and have been working on it every day since.
That was about half of the cost of the whole project — so far, at least. The rest has been smaller expenses. So far they have about $7,500 into the whole process, Clark said, and the goal is to keep it below $10,000.
The bus itself won’t be drivable because of how it’s mounted on the trailer. They will pull it behind Clark’s truck.
They will have a bedroom, a living/dining room, (all of which will be the same space) a kitchen, a bathroom and storage space tucked in wherever it fits, such as under the couches, under the back deck and in shelves above the kitchen. They’ll even have a small closet beside the bathroom.
They plan to power the bus with solar panels the two are putting together themselves. They will also have a backup generator and a battery pack tucked in where the drivers feet would go if they’d kept the driver’s seat.
Over the past month, the loft has been a revolving door for friends who came to help.
Clark said it’s been a lot of guesswork and taking help when and where they can get it.
The curves in the bus made it hard to measure things in a definitive way, so there was a lot of cutting, placing and trimming. Clark said it’s been a long, hard project, but it’s theirs and they’re happy.
In their apartment, they’ve been tripping over boxes for weeks. Some are labeled for Goodwill, some are to be given away and others were filled with stuff that might — or might not — make the cut for the bus.
Belt and Clark teased each other about how each of them can only take two pairs of shoes and a pair of jeans because they won’t have the space for much more.
Getting rid of stuff was the goal, but there were still some painful sacrifices.
Clark said the hardest thing to give up was his collection of LEGOs.
“Those were like my nostalgic little vice,” he said. “When I needed to turn my brain off after building sets all day, I’d tinker with my LEGOs.”
Out of seven big totes, he kept only enough to build a scaled-down Hogwarts — a promise he made to the lady of the tiny house.
Belt said she had a hard time giving up clothes and shoes, but what has been the hardest for her is the nostalgic stuff. She said she might cheat on tiny living just a little and gather a trunk of pictures and old cards from her family to leave at her mom’s house.
Every time they had to give something up, they would remember it’s for the bus. That made it easier, Clark said.
“In order for us to have a more adventurous life, we have to let go of the things that are holding us down,” Belt said.
Belt and Clark are part of a growing movement to live in tiny places. HGTV even has several TV shows devoted to the idea.
For many tiny livers, it’s a financial statement.
Thetinylife.com said 78 percent of tiny house dwellers own their home, compared to only 65 percent of homeowners in traditional houses.
Additionally, about 55 percent of tiny house livers have more savings than the average American with a median of $10,972 in the bank.
That was a huge motivator for Clark and Belt.
Sure, Belt and Clark could continue renting apartments in Vermont, but Belt said they want the financial freedom a tiny house will give them. They spent $12,000 on rent this past year and had nothing to show for it. That money, Belt said, could have paid for trips to the mountains.
They think the tiny house will help them live within their means.
“We’re children of the ’90s, so we saw our parents in this absolute consumer phase of ‘the economy is doing well, we’ve got credit, let’s spend it,'” Clark said. “Then the economy crashed and through that I think people have come back to more living off of what (they) have.”
He said he thinks that upbringing has helped shape the tiny house movement. “I think that has made our generation much more thrifty in that we all understand a little bit more the meaning of a dollar, and we’re tired of throwing away our rent to something we don’t even own,” Clark said. “I thought, ‘Let’s take that money and invest it in something that is ours, something that is unique.'”
Belt said the positive response when she tells someone what she’s doing with the bus is sometimes overwhelming and really encouraging.
Most people are a little jealous, saying they wish they had done something like it when they were younger.
Many even offer to help out.
Staff at Uncle Benny’s Building Supplies in Loveland offered to help them hang the door if they bought it at the store.
They spent the first month of the build in a workshop space donated by Victoria Allison, the owner of Modern Spaces, a small spaces remodel company based in west Greeley. They were both able to stay out of the Colorado weather and use some of Allison’s expertise.
The couple also had friends come from all over Colorado to help with the nuts and bolts.
They had help or input on everything from building the custom-made furniture to cleaning the dirty shell to building the caboose porch.
“As much as this is our project, we would not be anywhere close to where we are without our friends,” and others who helped, Clark said. “It takes a village to build a bus.”
For anything they didn’t know how to do, they’ve relied on the “skoolie” community. Skoolies are people who have converted school buses into homes. They come armed with knowledge, suggestions and advice, without which Belt said they’d be lost.
YouTube and videos have also been a huge help in the project.
“The power of YouTube has been amazing,” Clark said, “and the blind ignorance of not realizing what we’re doing is foolish.”
Clark loves the idea of the freedoms tiny living will offer.
“We could wake up looking at the Grand Canyon or the Teton Mountains, and the next week be on the Appalachian Trail,” Clark said.
Belt said she can’t wait to get on the road. They have a plan to hit 11 states, traveling a little less than 5,000 miles, but it changes every time Belt or Clark find a new destination they want to see.
“Everything we’re going to get to see,” Belt said with a huge smile. “We’re just going to live free for a minute.”