One of the questions I often get asked is, “Jeff, what’s up with the buses? Do you send plumbers out in buses to unstop drains and replace water heaters or only on really big jobs when you need a bunch of people?”
It’s no wonder people ask. Let me clear the air by trying to justify this compulsion. If I don’t do a good job justifying, I may come off crazier than people think I am, and I will have real problems. I may end up an 80-year-old man alone in a 75-year-old school bus!
The Fleet of Unconventional Plumbing Vehicles
1. “The Parade Bus” — 1986 Ward/GMC school bus (8.2 diesel)
2. “The Band Bus” — 1990 Bluebird Custom Glen Rose HS band (8.2 diesel)
3. “FairWood Court” — 1988 Bluebird WanderLodge (8V92 turbo)
4. “The $50 RV” — Winnebago/Dodge (440 V8 gas)
5. “The Slant 6” — 1968 Dodge Boyertown body (Slant 6 gas)
I think there are a couple of reasons why I’m so partial to buses, but the main one is my departed brother, Greg. Greg always wanted to buy an old bus, yank the seats out, squeeze in some furniture, and bam! He could travel around the country for $2,000 (if everything went well because I know from experience that bus tires and towing aren’t cheap). We traveled a lot as kids, and I think that was definitely a motivation behind his dream: to be a vagabond and see the country from his bus, meeting new friends along the way. Around 1996, I drove from Fort Worth
up to Alaska with Greg and Davis “Dr. Psycho” for a couple of months to go be boys in the last frontier. There was a random crew of us 20-year-olds.
Greg designed a T-shirt that he printed, and we sold them on the side of the road and at festivals. The shirts he had designed read “The Great American Drifters.” Greg’s dream was to travel the country in his bus and throw a dart at the map to see what city was next.
When we came back from our trip, Greg helped me start up this plumbing business, even though his true calling was the wide-open unknown. Greg ended up in a fatal motorcycle accident not long after our business venture kicked off, but I still like his idea of buses and meeting fun people around the country in the search for the unknown.
As ClearWater Plumbers started growing, we became more involved in some of the parades around town. For a few years, we did parades with a trailer, customizing it with new designs every year. The trailers got fancier and fancier, but, eventually, we decided we needed a more permanent parade vehicle. We converted a retired school bus into a chop-top parade bus, and that’s the bus everyone sees when we go out and participate in an event. I bought this first bus in Mineral Wells for about $1,200. It’s a 1986 bus — something I would have been riding around in when I was about 9 years old — with an 8.2-liter Detroit diesel engine. One quirk of this bus is its ashtray. When I was a kid, bus drivers were allowed to “smoke butts” while they drove us around the hills surrounding Eagle Mountain Lake. You definitely don’t see that today!
After getting the bus home, we got straight to work. First, we cut off the top of it and welded a pipe rack to make a roof for the people riding inside. Now, we use it for Christmas, the Fourth of July, some Halloween events, and any other events we do.
While I’ve got some good use out of our parade bus, I’m still not sure what to do with the rest of the fleet. The good thing is, in true vagabond style, all the buses are old enough that they have reached maximum depreciation. Even if I don’t figure it out any time soon, I’ve got a good investment in several tons of rolling scrap metal.
Well, I don’t know if I justified the purchase of this “nondepreciating” fleet of rolling iron. Good thing my wife and family still tolerate my eagerness to buy big vehicles we could potentially live in while inching across the horizon. Maybe I really should start selling some of my precious inventory, or, maybe, I should park them all on a couple of acres down by the Brazos River and live in them like Greg would have.
Let me know if you would like dibs on a riverfront vacation home. Quantities are limited. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime offer. Act now!