Today we met a couple traveling through the country in their waste vegetable oil powered school bus. We spent some time getting to know one another as we helped pump vegetable oil into their tanks. This was a chance for us and our teenage kids to hear and share stories with some foreign travelers and learn about other amazing lifestyles.
Justin and Rachel are from Canada and they have converted a retired school bus into an almost fully carbon-neutral form of transportation and lodging. Their main goal for doing this is to minimize their impact in the environment, and of course to travel for extended times and distances on a low budget. They also are continuing to use a vehicle that would have ended up at the junkyard, or being recycled, which can be quite energy intensive. But it’s the opportunities to meet other creative folks that make the adventure for more memorable than traveling by traditional means.
As Justin and Rachel travel through the United States, they routinely meet other alternative fuel fans and hobbyists. They shared a story about driving along the Bible Belt one night looking for reclaimed vegetable oil that sounded quite exciting. I hope they will post the story on a blog someday. Then there are the stories of what can happen during nights spent parked at Las Vegas casinos and Walmart parking lots in various states. We were happy to hear that their stay in New Mexico had been uneventful, and as we saw firsthand they are traveling very comfortably.
This is not your kid’s school bus, and the interior is far more inviting than one expects. The first impression blows away any notion that there was once a sterile row of bench seats running down front to back. The interior looks more like what one might find in a custom made R.V. (recreational vehicle for our foreign readers). Very personal and very comfortable.
From the outside the leading sign that this bus is not on official school business is the drapes along all of the side windows. An alert observer might spot the additional tanks mounted underneath the bus, not all of which are used for storing vegetable oil. We were fascinated to learn that one of the tanks is used as part of a grey water system. In case you’re not familiar with grey-water system, it’s basically a way to catch not-too-dirty water and instead of flushing it down the drain, hold it in a tank for later recycling.
The roof of the bus houses 800 watts of photovoltaic (the kind to make electricity) solar panels. I didn’t get to ask, but I can tell you that this is more than enough to power an efficient refrigerator, various water pumps, fans, electronics and other amenities. For example we own a 12V/24V Japanese made portable refrigerator that only needs about 40-60 watts. Justin is quite the handyman and he mentioned that he installed the solar panels “while on the road”, in an installation that looks as good as something that I would do while “at home” myself.
So this Thanksgiving morning we were grateful to be part of their adventure for a few hours. We spend the time under an unusually warm New Mexico sun talking and working together. We wish Rachel & Justin a safe journey back to Canada. I hope that their story inspires others to find ways to enjoy life and be able to travel for extended periods of time, sustainably and inexpensively.