John Whitbread has been a wheelchair user for 33 years, and for much of that time he has been looking for the perfect vehicle to go camping in with his wife, who also uses a wheelchair. He looked at RVs, but couldn’t find a good one that wasn’t cost-prohibitive. He looked at trailers and toy haulers, but the ramps were too steep and they didn’t seem convenient. Finally, he settled on something a little more unique — a bus. “I decided I’d get a bus that came with a wheelchair lift and make the insides the way I want them,” he says.
After years of looking, he found his ideal bus — one with a side lift instead of a rear entry — on eBay. In January 2017 he bought it, flew to Atlanta to pick it up, and drove it home. Once he got the bus home, he got to work. “I stripped down all the seats and took out all the nails, took everything off the floor, cleaned it as much as possible, coated it with some Henry waterproofing and laid down some tongue in groove plywood,” he says. “It was cheap, only a couple hundred bucks.”
From there, he installed a bed at the back of the bus and has plans to build cabinets above the wheel wells and a small kitchenette. With two wheelchairs, maximizing floor space is key. “I can’t have an aisle. I need space for my wife and I to pass each other in chairs, and that’s it, it’s just going to be as wide open but accommodating as possible.” For now, Whitbread is not planning to install plumbing or heating but says that could change.
Keeping costs down has been a priority, though Whitbread admits that if he had all the money in the world he would paint the bus black with chrome trim and alloy wheels. That would definitely change how others perceive the bus. “When I drive it around, people behave around me like a school bus,” he says. “Kids start waving at me.”
With only 130,000 miles, the bus should be good for a number of big trips once Whitbread is finished. He says Mexico, where his wife is from, and Canada, where he is from, will both be on the destination list, as will a number of shorter trips for disability-related events and the like. He is already looking to what’s next. “I’m just going to try to do as much of it myself as I can and spend as little money as possible and if somebody wants to buy it, I’ll sell it and then start again,” he says. “I would sell this one and go get another one and do it again for myself. I’ve got so many more ideas now.”