This Savvy Sister Transformed an Old School Bus Into an Accessible Home for Her Paralyzed Brother

Wed Sep 07 2022

Although people who live on the road are often dubbed to be the “nomads” or “outcasts” of suburban society, their lives on Instagram often seem perfect. Whether they live in their cars, an RV, a converted van, or even a converted school bus, their picture-perfect presence online can be appealing. People around the world aim to live just like them, and they won’t let anything get in the way.

When 28-year-old Sam Scribner found himself paralyzed at such a young age, he knew that there were two options; either he could wallow in self-pity and let his disability rule his life, or he could take life by the horns and rule his disability. He opted to do the latter, and with a huge helping hand from his super-savvy sister, he’s now living life on the road in his converted – and 100% accessible – school bus. Just wait until you see inside the “Special Skoolie.”

When Sam Was Paralyzed in 2016, His Sister Didn’t Want Him To Give Up His Dream of Traveling Around the World

In 2016, Sam Scribner was involved in a freak accident that changed his life forever. While lying in a hammock just three feet off the ground, he fell out, broke his neck, and suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. His sister, Alex, knew that her family needed her at this time, so she put her life on hold and moved back to Florida to help out. More than anything, though, she knew that her brother needed her.

Before his injury, Sam had planned to travel the world – but after three months in hospital, he resigned to the fact that his plans couldn’t come to fruition. Alex could see how much this hurt her brother, and so she came up with an idea. After doing some research, Alex decided that they were going to build an accessible home on wheels for the ultimate sibling road trip. All they needed now was to find the perfect bus.

After Converting Their First Bus, Alex and Sam Got Started on Their Own Build for Their Own Road Trip

A few years after Sam’s injury, Alex put her plan in motion to buy and convert a school bus into an accessible home on wheels. And while she was extremely successful in creating a beautiful house, the siblings ultimately decided to sell the renovated bus to another wheelchair user instead. But they weren’t done. In December 2019, the siblings bought themselves a Christmas present in the form of their second bus.

On Instagram, Alex wrote that “Last week I flew to Phoenix to check out a lead on a bus and let’s just say it didn’t disappoint! I drove OUR NEW BUS all the way home to Florida and pulled in the driveway Christmas Eve! We are so stoked for this new bus and this new opportunity and we can’t wait to share some big exciting plans!” And while the end result is stunning, Alex and Sam certainly hit some snags along the way.

The Siblings Were Able To Buy a Bus With a Lift, but It Still Needed To Be Completely Gutted Inside

Of course, Alex and Sam couldn’t just buy any old bus. Thankfully, they were able to source an old school bus that already had a lift for wheelchairs attached and installed. But this did cause a few issues. That’s because these accessible buses also come with wheelchair tracks, which means that plywood is placed between the sheet metal and the vinyl on the floor. And everyone knows that plywood is a sucker for moisture.

During the demolition and gutting process, the siblings discovered that this moisture had caused surface rust on the metal, but they tried to stay positive. Alex was confident that she had what it took to transform the bus into a liveable and accessible home for her brother, and Sam backed his sister the whole way. And when the bus was stripped bare, they were finally able to envision the final product.

Before Too Long, They Were Able To Frame out the Inside of the Bus to Their Own Requirements

With the bus completely empty, Alex was able to move onto the next stage of the bus build; framing it out. Just as with any other bus renovation, the space needed to be safe and practical – especially as it also needed to be accessible for Sam in his wheelchair. So, Alex first made plans to cover up the wheel arches and frame the inside for the insulation.

From there, Alex and Sam were able to think more about the layout of their bus. They played with different ideas and thought about where the kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping space would be, and they eventually came up with a plan. However, they knew this was just the start of a very lengthy process, as they still had a huge amount to do before they could really see the bus come together.

Alex Then Installed the Practical Elements, Such As the Electrics and the Large Water Tank for the Bus

While Alex and Sam couldn’t wait to make the bus their home and add in all of their belongings and their personal touches, they also knew that before all that they had to make sure the bus was kitted out with basic utilities. After all, it needed to be a liveable and comfortable home, and that required running water and electricity.

For this step, the siblings could have gone for the cheapest options, but they noted that “we are happy to spend the extra money for quality and peace of mind.” So, they opted for more expensive stranded marine wire cables and a large water tank which they stood on its side to maximize the space in the bus. When this was all done, Alex boxed in the tank, ready for the bed to go right on top of it. Then, it was time to tackle the outside of the bus…

By July 2020, They Decided To Change the Outside of the Bus To Fit Their Personalities Better

After spending months working on the basic structure of the inside of their bus, Alex and her brother wanted to make a drastic change that would alter the bus entirely. And while the school bus yellow color was bright and vibrant, they wanted their bus to fit them more. So, Alex made her way outside and turned her attention to changing the color.

In the end, they opted for a sage green color and even added a wooden cladding effect to the front – but Alex didn’t want her followers to think that this process was easy. She wrote on Instagram that when “I FINALLY pulled all that tape and paper off, I just sat and cried because the paint job looked so terrible. There was so many drips and chips and tears in the paint.” However, she eventually resigned to the fact that this was their “perfectly imperfect painted skoolie.”

Because of Sam’s Injury, They Next Had To Install a Top-of-the-Range AC Unit To Control His Temperature

While Sam doesn’t want his disability to control his life, there are certain things that Alex had to take into consideration when building the Special Skoolie. That’s because Sam does not sweat due to his spinal cord injury, which means that he cannot be exposed to drastic temperature changes. In order to keep his internal thermostat regulated, the siblings decided to install a top-of-the-range AC unit.

On Instagram, Sam wrote that “Alex being the seasoned bus build research veteran that she is, did all of the appropriate research to land on this 12,000 BTU Pioneer A/C unit.” Amazingly, this unit was kindly gifted by Sam’s driving instructor Marino (pictured), who reportedly wanted to help “in any way he could.” This helped the siblings immensely, who ultimately spent $35,000 of their own money on the bus conversion.

Next, They Wanted To Get the Inside of the Bus Insulated so They Could Properly Start Work on the Interior

With the exterior of the bus completed, and the utilities and air conditioning installed, the siblings could finally turn their attention to the inside of the bus. However, this wasn’t something that Alex felt confident about. In fact, Sam wrote on Instagram that “Alex has been absolutely nonstop lately getting so many things done. She and I sat down about a week ago and she voiced her concerns about moving to the interior projects.”

He expanded that “Now that we’re moving into the interior, we’re having to keep so many things in mind before we pull the trigger on one simple task… Instagram may seem like butterflies and rainbows but I can assure you there are quite a few hours of every day we both spend staring blankly into space.” However, Alex sought advice from others who had undergone a school bus renovation, and eventually completed the insulation installation.

While Kitting Out the Inside, Alex Made a Makeshift Kitchen on the Side of the School Bus

Despite the fact that the inside wasn’t finished, Alex and Sam still wanted to make use of their home on wheels in December 2020. The siblings wanted to attend a festival, and so they put their heads together to figure out how they could attend the festival with a school bus that was still so barren inside. In the end, Alex decided to craft a makeshift kitchen for the outside of the bus.

She noted that “I cranked out this table and boy am I glad I did! Having the table right under the kitchen window that opens was RAD and a smart little feature I’m glad we thought to incorporate. I’m no cook, but this little spot made warming up a chai or some sandwiches for new friends kinda fun!” Not only did this allow Sam to whip something up to eat, but it also came in handy as they were just about to lay the floors inside.

Before Too Long, Alex Had Managed To Lay the Wheelchair-Friendly Flooring on the Inside of the Bus

When it came to the inside of the bus, Alex knew that she wanted to work in a very specific order. So, she covered up the insulation with some beautiful white cladding that made the space look much bigger and homey. Then she needed to tackle the floor, but finding the right flooring for a wheelchair proved to be quite difficult.

In the end, she went for a smooth wooden floor, and she hoped that it would pass the Sam test. Thankfully, Sam posted this photo on their Instagram page and wrote: “Life on wheels gives you a pretty incredible awareness of floor surfaces. I’ve gotta tell ya, I’m digging this stuff. Alex said it wasn’t super easy, but pop was able to lend a hand and they knocked it out.” Next, it was time to tackle the big stuff.

Then It Was Time To Start Pulling the Kitchen Together, and Adding Their Own Colourful Touches

By the time May 2021 came around, the basic shell of the bus had been completed. The outside had been painted, the inside had been fitted with water and electricity, and now had walls and flooring. All they had to do now was complete the different living sections, and the kitchen was first on their agenda. Alex worked hard to bring their kitchen to life, and they even made it their own with the colorful wallpaper.

But Alex didn’t want to hide the fact that their build experience had been challenging. They were building in the midst of a pandemic, and the build was throwing unwanted problems into the mix. So, they were over the moon when they saw their kitchen. Alex wrote that “Seeing the kitchen come together with the painted cabinets, beautiful butcher block, and captivating wallpaper was just the boost we have needed lately.”

Alex Also Made Sure To Add an Accessible Area in the Kitchen for Sam To Use in His Wheelchair

However, turning an area of their bus into a working kitchen wasn’t as simple as painting cabinets and hanging wallpaper. Due to the accessibility requirements of their renovation, the siblings had to come up with practical solutions that would allow Sam to use every inch of the bus. In the end, Alex opted to add an accessible counter area in the kitchen for Sam.

When showing off this new addition on Instagram, Alex wrote: “It’s the perfect height for him to wheel under and it’s mounted on hinges so I can lift it to help maneuver into place. This space will serve as a cook or work spot and has the added bonus of opening to the view! Adding wheelchair minded additions to the bus is what has inspired this all and what continues to make the long days and nights very worth it. To watch Sam wheel through this bus is a little boost to the motivation and I simply can’t wait until the day he gets to call this place home!”

The Siblings Also Focused on Little Projects, Like Transforming the Steps Leading Into the Bus

As well as focusing on bigger and more practical projects, like the kitchen, Alex also wanted to make sure that their Special Skoolie bus looked like a home and fit both of their personalities. They wanted to inject humor and color everywhere, and so when Alex wanted to take a break from these larger projects she opted to finish smaller projects like these steps.

When the siblings bought the bus, the steps were like any other you’d expect from a school bus. They were a mix of grey metal and a black surround, and they were pretty boring. In order to jazz them up a bit – and make them more practical for her muddy feet – Alex made each step into its own little doormat. She also clad around the step area, added some lights, and put on some beautiful green tiles.

They Also Made Sure That They Had Enough Storage To Comfortably and Cleanly Live on the Bus

During their build, Alex and Sam knew that storage would be an issue they needed to sort out along the way. Unlike a house, a school bus doesn’t have space for large closets or a huge amount of cabinets or drawers. Instead, they had to come up with savvy ideas to include storage without taking up too much space. In the end, they opted for two closets (like the one on the right) with drawer and storage options, as well as a cupboard for their electrical components (the one on the left).

As the siblings opted for solar panels as a way to power their home on wheels, they used the storage space on the left for all of the solar components – and the added addition of the rattan finish also served a practical purpose. Alex noted that “temperature is a major factor to take into account to allow your power system to breathe and I’m so happy we dedicated the space for these important pieces to work as they’re intended to.”

Before Too Long the Bedroom Area Was Completely Finished, and Looking Incredibly Cozy

While Alex and Sam had storage, a kitchen, and some neat little steps in their school bus, what they needed more than anything was a bedroom. Thankfully, this job was pretty easy. The siblings had already planned for their bed to go above the water tank at the back of the bus, and so all they needed to do was finish off the framework and add a mattress into the mix.

By the time the bedroom was finished, Alex and Sam were over the moon with their “delightful and comfortable” bedroom. One of them even explained their choice of wallpaper to their followers on Instagram, writing that they “Strategically put topography print in the bedroom so I could practice immersion therapy while I’m sleeping. Perhaps this will help me to muster the courage to tackle those mountain climbs to higher elevations and beautiful views??! I’m sure it can’t hurt.”

Next, Alex Started Work on Building a Wheelchair-Accessible Bathroom in the School Bus

With a kitchen and bedroom finished, Alex and Sam next needed to think about a bathroom. While many people on the road use nature’s bathroom to do their business and wash themselves, the siblings knew that it was important to incorporate an accessible bathroom into their bus. And after coming up with countless plans, the siblings eventually settled on one that they knew would work.

Instead of building their bathroom into its own little corner of the bus, they needed to ensure that Sam and his waterproof wheelchair would have enough space to shower. So, they opted to create a walk/wheel-through area just before the bedroom that would offer ample space. They also chose this area, as it was right below their skylight. This would allow them to shower under the stars.

She Also Built a Toilet in the Same Area, Creating an Amazing and Accessible Bathroom for Sam

As well as offering a beautiful shower location, Alex also had to work on getting a toilet together. Thankfully, there was more than enough space in their designated bathroom area to build a toilet area as well. Even more impressively, Alex was able to turn what could have been a relatively normal and boring area of the bus into a beautiful addition.

Alex seemed pretty pleased with her creation, too. When posting photos of their new bathroom on Instagram she wrote, “Welcome to the most glamorous place to do your least glamorous biz. Our DIY setup is perfect for us and we are jazzed with how all the details came together- between the cedar bench & ceiling to the PVC bead board siding to the white tile and black grout, this timeless bathroom offers not only a bit of style but also PLENTY of space for you to relax- wheelchair or not.”

As a Digital Nomad, Sam Also Wanted To Have a Space Where He Could Work on the Bus

Since his accident, Sam has continued to make waves in his personal life and career. He now works as a photographer, capturing surfers working their magic on the beach. In fact, both Alex and Sam are digital nomads, working as photographers and traveling around the country. Because of this, they wanted to ensure that they had enough space in their school bus to work.

The siblings now have a couple of places to catch up on their editing work, from the kitchen counter to the little dining table that they fashioned towards the end of their build. Speaking about this little corner of their bus, they confessed that “To transform this space was a long time coming, but boy oh boy do we love this little work/eat/ride/relax space and the lovely addition it brings to our tiny home.”

Their Finished Interior Living Space Was Completely Transformed During Their Renovation Project

Despite the fact that Alex and Sam suffered some complications and problems throughout the course of their renovation project, pictures like the one below show just how far they have come. They originally bought an old school bus with the seats still intact, and after stripping it down to the bare bones they build it back up to what it is today.

This photo shows you everything from the kitchen down to the driver’s seat, and it’s clear to see that a huge amount of hard work and determination has gone into it. Their bus looks cozy but still large enough to live in, and they have everything they could possibly need for a life on the road – including a full-size refrigerator! But even when the inside was completed, they knew they hadn’t quite finished.

Alex Then Decided To Add a Floating Deck to the Top of Their Bus, To Enjoy Some Fresh Air on the Road

Like many other people who live in converted school buses on the road, Alex and Sam took inspiration from social media and their skoolie friends. They looked to them for ideas on how to improve their bus, and little touches that could really turn their bus into a home. In the end, Alex decided that she’d really love to add a roof deck to the top of the bus.

Without a yard or outdoor space when parked up on the side of the road, this roof deck will now allow Alex the chance to relax and unwind after a long day of driving or work. Like with the whole process, though, Alex kept it real online, stating that “this project was far from easy.” But with the help of a metal fabricator friend, they managed to get the whole thing done.

Now, the Siblings Are Officially Living on the Road and Making the Most of Their School Bus Home

With the inside and the outside of their bus complete, Alex and Sam only had one last thing to do; they had to set off and start their adventures. This momentous day came in May 2022 when they left their home in Florida and set off on their route. They were conscious to do things properly, though, which is why they only originally planned a route close to home to learn as much as they could.

Since then, the siblings have gone further afield and taken their Special Skoolie on even bigger adventures. They’ve been able to work throughout this journey, adding money to their bank accounts while also seeing new parts of the country and trying new things. Both Alex and Sam have loved it, and have shared their experiences on social media. After all, they have a big message to share.

They Want To Show Other People That Anyone Can Live Their Lifestyle, Regardless of Their Position

While many people would assume that the opportunity to live in a converted school bus would only present itself to someone who wasn’t in a wheelchair, Sam has never been one for assumptions. His mentality is focused on adventure and pushing himself beyond his supposed limits, and living in the Special Skoolie has allowed his dreams of adventure to come true.

Alex spoke to Metro about their achievements, stating that “People assume that this kind of living would not be possible for someone in Sam’s position, but as you can see that isn’t true. So if you want a nomad lifestyle go and get it.” And there’s no doubt about the fact that this sentiment, and Alex’s impressive building skills, has inspired a whole new group of people.