Kingston Springs Mayor Tony Gross is the proud owner of a Skoolie RV, which is a school bus that has been converted into a recreational vehicle.
Gross, who is also a marathon runner, started looking for a way to travel to events, as well as take his family and three dogs on vacation.
“All trips got cancelled due to COVID,” said Gross. “So, we wanted a way to be able to take vacations to New Mexico or Seattle, go hiking in the Cascades as planned. So many flights had been cancelled. So, we needed a COVID project.”
The “we” includes his wife, Joy.
“This year, we gutted and remodeled our 100-year-old house,” he said,
Tony said he wanted to get a van that could be turned into a camper. He said however that Joy suggested getting a small school bus.
“We looked in Cheatham County first,” he said. “Then we found this bus in Illinois for $2,400 or $2,700. We had to get the turbo fixed on it and a few other things. In the summer we started gutting it and ripping all the seats out. Patching holes and taking old floors out. The hardest part was cutting the seats out with a grinder. Plus, there was a (500-pound) wheelchair platform lift. We had to drill out every single screw.”
T.J. Jordi, the former director of Cheatham County Animal Control, helped with the electrical and plumbing systems as well as solar power for the renovated RV they call Miss Maple, named after the family’s 100-year-old home that is on Maple Street in Kingston Springs.
“This has given us the opportunity to learn about different things that we’d never done before like learning about plumbing; setting up solar panels and mechanical systems,” said Joy. “We’d never even worked on our cars before.”
Both Tony and Joy agreed that the project has been fun and challenging but also gratifying because it resulted in getting them exactly what they wanted.
“It becomes like building a room in your house,” said Tony. “There is an empty space. So, I attached wooden rails on each side so we’d have something to attach things to. Joy put all of the insulation in.”
There is still work to be done that includes painting and cutting panels to cover up rusted spots outside, and there are cabinets to be touched up. There is no bathroom on board yet.
They plan to paint Miss Maple the same color as the family house.
The vehicle features a queen-sized mattress for Tony and Joy and a twin bed that pulls out for their daughter, Sophie. The Skoolie has two solar panels with a 12 volt and 110-volt system with an inverter to charge the batteries. There is also a diesel heater on board.
“If the sun was out, we could turn the inverter on to make coffee and run the toaster oven,” said Tony. “Hooking up for power was rarely needed.”
Building cabinets and putting in a bed frame came next with Christmas Eve as the deadline for travel.
“Joy had booked campsites in October so that we would have a hard, established deadline to meet,” he said.
“The Wednesday before Christmas we went to Indianapolis to see Joy’s parents, and we stayed in Miss Maple. We came back to Kingston Springs after Christmas. That Saturday night we headed to Mississippi Lake and then Grand Isle in New Orleans for a day, Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi and then a couple days at Gulf National Seashore in Ocean Springs, Miss. Then we finished up at Dauphin Island in Alabama, where I got to run with Albert. So, we hit five states that also included Texas.”
Their three dogs are Albert, Charlie (a female Labrador mix) and Cecil (a Pomeranian-Yorkie mix).
“It was rough at first because it took a while for the dogs to adjust,” said Joy. “We’d never vacationed with them before. They were terrified at first, afraid we were going to leave them. Now Tony could wake up and take Albert for a run on the beach. The dogs love the beach, and it’s nice to include them.”
Tony said that he’s planning to drive to the Grand Canyon where he’ll run from rim to rim and back again for a 47-mile run.
“Our next trip is in mid-January out to Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee,” said Tony. “I’ll be training for the 100-mile race I’m running in April out in Utah. I’m going to Frozen Head to do some runs. They have some good trails there.
“Hoping to try for two trips a month. Go to East Tennessee for hiking. Maybe have three-day weekends to the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia.”
“It’s fun and challenging and we learn a lot,” said Joy. “We get to do it ourselves and get exactly what we want even though it’s a lot of work to do.”