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Published July 27 2013

Customized campers, buses make for unique traveling experiences

FARGO – Matt Evans wanted a vehicle that he could use to take his family on long road trips, but he couldn’t find one he liked.

With a minivan, Evans, his wife and their three kids would always have to find a hotel where they could spend a night, and that can be stressful and expensive, Evans says.

On the other hand, an RV or camper would provide a place for everyone to sleep, but wouldn’t have front-facing seats where Evans and his wife could strap in car seats for their young kids.

“What I found is that no one made everything that fit our needs,” says Evans, a software tester at Microsoft in Fargo.

So, Evans decided to make his own.

Two years ago, he purchased a full-sized school bus for $1,900 from a seller near Alexandria, Minn., and went to work.

He installed wood floors, a full kitchen, a full electrical system to operate a fan in the back of the bus, eight front-facing seats and more. He stores containers of water and extra golf cart batteries underneath the bus.

Evans estimates that he put $10,000 in renovations into the vehicle.

Though a customized school bus might seem like an unusual choice for family vacations, Evans says it “seemed like the least ridiculous thing to do,” given the specific features he and his wife were looking for in a vehicle.

Last summer, the family took the bus for its maiden voyage on a trek to California. Driving the bus on that trip was a bit of a learning experience, Evans admits.

“If you don’t ever drive something bigger, you take a lot of things for granted,” he says.

He plans to take the bus out for another road trip this summer, but before then, he hopes to install a bunk bed for the kids. Eventually he plans to address the exterior of the bus, which is painted blue and still has the lettering of the Christian school that once owned the bus.

“It could look better,” he says.

Until that next big trip, though, the bus sits in the driveway of their Fargo home, where Evans says it attracts plenty of attention.

“I do like that not everyone knows what to make of it,” he says, laughing. “Not everyone has a school bus.”

Tailgating

It’s not all that uncommon for F-M residents to personalize a smaller-sized camper or RV, especially if it’s used for tailgating before North Dakota State University home football games.

That’s how it is for Chris Deery, of Fargo, who bought a 1976 Dodge Tioga camper specifically for tailgating purposes.

Deery bought the vehicle two years ago for about $3,500 from someone in Duluth, Minn., he says, and has since put about 100 hours and $1,500 worth of renovations into it.

He installed a working TV, decorated the inside of the vehicle with Bison memorabilia and painted the camper’s exteriors green and gold. (Deery is also a Green Bay Packers fan, so the color scheme works out for both teams.)

The camper provides a central tailgating location for Deery and his friends during Bison games.

“It’s just the convenience, getting everyone together,” he says.

The camper isn’t just for football games. Deery has brought it to WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, and has driven it for a wedding party, where 15 people fit inside.

“It’s been working out really well,” he says.

This fall, Deery hopes to drive the camper to Kansas for NDSU’s football game against Kansas State on Aug. 30.

“We’ll see how that goes,” he says.

Cruisin’ around town

Not every customized camper gets used for road trips or for tailgating, though.

Some, like Rob Mynheir’s “hippie bus,” are mostly just for cruising around town and showing off.

The colorful vehicle – a 1974 Volkswagen bus – stands out in the parking lot of Garden Hut, 3471 S. University Dr., Fargo, which Mynheir owns.

Mynheir, his wife and some of their friends bought the bus about eight years ago on something of a whim from a retired pastor in Cloquet, Minn., he says.

The bus, with only 50,000 miles, had been sitting unused in the same spot for 22 years.

Once back in Fargo, Mynheir and his friends spent four months restoring the vehicle. They put in close to $4,000 worth of updates, including new tires, new brakes and more.

Mynheir ordered many of the bus’s parts from Mexico, where they were cheaper than in the U.S., he says.

For the art on the bus’s exterior, Mynheir’s wife and her friends found pictures on the Internet and turned those images into transparencies. They projected the pictures onto the side of the van to use as outlines to color in.

For added hippie effect, Mynheir added black lights to the bus’s grill and underbody.

The result is a colorful eye-catcher. Whether it’s cruising up and down Broadway or participating in a parade, Mynheir says he’ll often get people coming up to him to ask for a ride.

“You get such a range of reactions,” he says. “It’s just so fun.”

Mynheir has twice gotten offers of $10,000 from people wanting to buy the bus, but he’s turned them both down.

“It’s about the statement and fun, not the money,” he says. “It’s about an era that’s come and gone.”