No ads have been saved yet.
Your last viewed and saved ads will appear here

Samantha & Herb's Bus Conversion Journey - Part One | Let’s Start At The Very Beginning

Hello and welcome to my new renovation and styling series. My name is Samantha and along with my husband Herb, we are the dynamic duo behind @hello_mr_pemberton, which is our self converted 2002 Toyota Coaster.  This love story started in November 2021, but in order to fully understand and appreciate the full magnitude of this renovation, I want to take you back to the beginning… back to where a crazy idea, a dream, a yearning for travel in this foreign new world began. So to do that, I’d like to briefly introduce you to Hunter.
I am going to cast my mind back to mid June 2020, just in the midst of the first signs that the Pandemic was going to affect all our lives in ways we had never imagined. I was working as a Property Stylist and Interior Designer, going through some sort of mid-life crisis and we had some other personal family things occupying our hearts and mind.
Now while most people were taking a step back, re-evaluating what was important to them and working from home, I threw myself into work, as did my husband. We were both working crazy hours… in excess of 60 hours a week each and then every single weekend without fail, we were dedicated to our new project, our vintage caravan we affectionately called Hunter.
I had this crazy idea that after spending so many years renovating property, that I would jump on the latest trend and that we would renovate a vintage caravan.  The market was red hot and caravans were being sold on Facebook Marketplace the same day there were listed. It was like every single person wanted a vintage caravan to turn into their dream tiny home and I think looking back I had a bad case of FOMO.
I’d miss out on so many vans, but happened to be online at just the right time as a new one emerged.  It was only an hour from my work, so I took an early extended lunch break, withdrew some cash along the way and headed to a paddock north of Brisbane, where I fell in love with what we now affectionally recall as the worst caravan for sale in potentially the whole of Australia.
A picture containing outdoor, sky, grass, tree

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: Hunter in the paddock)
I won’t bore you with all the details (we’ve only just met), but it leaked like a sieve, had missing windows, in excess of 900 hail-damaged dents, an inside toilet that was a box over the wheel arch, hatches that were boarded over with old tin and a real estate sign, a static single bed complete with a red satin sleeping bag, old milo tins for downlights and a canvas mural that depicted penguins in the Artic… don’t ask, I have no idea!
But despite all that, I fell in love, so deeply in love. He was just the distraction I needed!  The caravan was sitting in the middle of a field surrounded by wildflowers (they were actually weeds), but I couldn’t part with my money quickly enough. I believed the sob story that the hustler who was selling the van told me and she lined up a friend called “Porky” to deliver it to us a few days after I had transferred the remainder of the money to her.  The cost of the van was $2100 and I thought I had snagged a bargain… little did I know what lay ahead.  Looking back, it all made sense that I had probably just purchased the worst caravan ever, but I was so determined that he would become our tiny little hotel on wheels.
A picture containing text, indoor, floor, open

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: Hunter before conversion)
A picture containing indoor, floor, bed, room

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: Hunter after conversion)
I am going to leave Hunter’s renovation story at this point as it’s a story I would love to share with you in greater detail at a later date.  So, let’s skip forward to February 2021 and Hunter was finally finished.  The van that had resembled a vehicle designed for the local tip had been reimagined in a way that astounded so many.  He was bold, he was black and he was our amazing new hotel on wheels.  Herb and I both resigned from our jobs for early retirement and we started the process of getting ready to live our dream gypsy life.  
We booked into a caravan park for eight days.  It was only about 5 hours from where we lived.  I hated that first night!  I hated it so much that I thought after the 8 days we would put the caravan on the market and make a quick dollar.  Our initial plans were to go overseas, but as we all know, that took a backburner and we were a little lost as to what to do next.
I can’t tell you why I hated it so much, it just didn’t fit with the dream I had in my head.  I think I was still too wound up from work and while we had downsized living arrangements over the years, this was by far the smallest space we had ever lived in.
Skip forward again to October 2021 and we had travelled down the east coast of Australia for the last seven months.  I grew to love Hunter and our new life and connected with so many like-minded people on Instagram.  I had been talking to one of our followers for some months and she said that if we ever decided to sell Hunter that she would be very interested.  Caught in a lockdown in the beautiful town of Byron Bay for six weeks, we felt the time was right to sell and in November 2021, that same follower came to us and purchased our caravan.
A picture containing sky, outdoor, road, transport

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: External shot of Hunter)
I know that was a long and in some ways brief introduction, but it leads you to the beginning of what this renovation series is all about and that is Mr Pemberton.  In the lead-up to selling the caravan, we had been searching for a bus.  We loved the idea of seeing vans and buses just pull up to a beachside spot and cook up some lunch and be all set up without the need of unhitching, levelling and reversing a caravan.
The bus was owned by a mechanical engineer who had it hired out for the past 10 years as a school bus.  He had sold his mechanics shop where the bus was parked and so it was the next thing to go.  We bargained hard and took him for a test drive and decided that mechanically we were not going to find a better bus in the current climate.  We purchased the bus and had to leave it in New South Wales for over a month, while the border to Queensland was still closed.
The inside of a vehicle

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
(Pictured: Original Mr Pemberton)
We took photos, a video and plenty of measurements with us back to Queensland and started the process of design.  It actually turned into two and a half months before we were able to start work on the bus at a friend’s property.  They had a huge shed and we worked and lived in there during the entire build.  The time apart from Mr Pemberton in the very beginning served us well.  We made detailed plans and shopped up a storm in the pre and post-Christmas sales.  
We also spent the time researching every single aspect of the build.  Building a bus is actually a lot simpler in many respects than the build we did with Hunter.  The frame of the bus was straight as a die and if we measured one side, we knew that the other side was the exact same measurement.  This was not the case with the vintage caravan and while the frame was made of aluminium, years of being on the road and movement, meant that nothing was no longer square or straight.  Measurements seemed to be in an old imperial system, consistent with his age of nearly 50 years, while the bus was merely 20 years old and the Japanese certainly know how to build a product that lasts.
Our research had us following others online that had already completed similar builds both here in Australia and overseas.  We eagerly asked many questions, went away and did more research and then asked some more.  There were more than a dozen people who were an instrumental part of our build and we watched hours and hours of YouTube videos.  There was a folder on my computer full of screenshots, diagrams, inspiration pics, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube accounts.
We were staying with our son and one of the spare bedrooms in his house became the storage warehouse for all the bus build items.  We purchased our entire electrical system set up, the kitchen (a flatpack from Ikea), the bedframe, mattress, linen, crockery, flooring, plumbing items, roof racks and even the tap and kitchen sink.  We saved thousands of dollars buying online and comparing between retailers to get the best deals and often free shipping.
My previous career in design and our experience in renovating houses, apartments and caravans put us in good stead to know exactly what we wanted.  My moodboard remained largely unchanged during the build and since completion, I have only updated soft furnishings.  All purchases were logged on a spreadsheet that listed the cost, supplier, warranty details, date of purchase and website.
We moved into our friend’s shed at Stanthorpe just before Christmas of 2021, spent a little more time with our son in Brisbane and then went back to start in earnest on 1st January 2022.  After so many months of planning, we were so excited to finally start (well I was super excited, Herb was a little nervous and took a little coaxing).  Our first task was to strip the inside of the bus.  
A picture containing ground

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: Mr Pemberton in the shed)
Now in theory, that sounds super easy to just remove everything from the inside.  However, that bus was so well built that there were several things that proved very challenging.  The seats were initially easy to unbolt, however, there were brackets that were left behind that had been bolted from underneath or what seemed like externally from the bus before the outer layer had been added.  These all needed to be ground off with an angle grinder.  There were diesel floor heaters which also proved challenging and were connected to the vehicle's coolant system, which we had to reroute underneath the bus.
The lining itself came down fairly easily once we had unscrewed what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of screws.  The next challenge came when we had to remove the ceiling insulation.  The type used was highly flammable and we were advised to remove it.  It initially pulled off in large chunks, but we soon realised the remainder was actually glued to the ceiling and it was super itchy as it fell on our bodies.  We engaged the help of a wire wheel on the end of our drill and after a few hours, we had a relatively clean ceiling.
The floor was in amazing condition, so we decided to leave it and only plug the hole that had come about from the removal of the diesel heaters and some of the seats.  It had a waterproof vinyl that would become our first layer of protection over the timber floor.
That demolition phase took us an entire week, so I thought this would be a great time to leave you here to ponder how on earth we went from this now vacant shell to the bus conversion we live in today, in just over three months.  Until next week…
A picture containing indoor, cooking

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: Mr Pemberton before)
A picture containing indoor, floor, ceiling, area

Description automatically generated
(Pictured: Mr Pemberton after)

Read the next part of Samantha & Herb's bus conversion adventure here 

Samantha Platt
Caravans For Sale Content Contributor
Published on 29-03-2023
Samantha is an Interior Designer by profession who decided that two years ago, there had to be more to life than working the 9-5 grind. She started her professional life with a Degree in Criminology that came crashing down when she wasn't accepted into the police force to work in Forensics due to a physical disability (she is totally blind in one eye). Not to be deterred, she changed pace dramatically and became a flight attendant for eight years and did a further degree in Interior Design and Construction. When the airline she worked for collapsed she once again pivoted and ran her own business, was a retail manager and later became a business consultant, visual merchandiser and then followed her one true passion and became an interior stylist and designer. During all those career changes, Samantha and her husband renovated and flipped houses and apartments... 13 in fact! She became a mother and then decided in 2020 that she would tackle a new kind of renovation... a vintage caravan. Growing up, like many of us Samantha thought that the dream was the large home, backyard, inground pool and double garage. However, as she grew older and wiser, she and Herb started to downsize before realising that some of her fondest childhood memories stemmed back to a cubby house that her father built her when she was just five. Complete with an intercom, curtains, front deck and kitchen, going back to her roots meant a newfound hobby and passion and it ignited something that she proclaims is hard to describe. She certainly takes after her dad and her only regret in life is that she didn't get to know him better and that he is not around to see what a beautiful life she has created and how much of an influence he has actually been. Samantha renovated 'Hunter' (a 1973 Viscount Royal) with her husband and then worked on the renovation flips of 'Daisy' and 'Clementine' with a friend (also vintage caravans). All three were sold and that brings you up to date with the story of Mr Pemberton, the very much loved bus conversion and tiny home that Samantha and Herb now travel around Australia in.