After almost two years of drawing charts and saving money, Cleveland seniors Noah Clark and Jeremy Johnson bought a 1997 E450 Ford 7.3 L turbo diesel school bus. It took a while to convince their parents, but by Aug. 2, all the parts fell into place and they bought the bus that they now call “Dougan,” named after Dougan Falls in Washington.
Clark and Johnson transformed the old Ford into a cedarwood-lined-tricked-out house. Their inspiration came from YouTube accounts like “Adrenaline Addiction,” the idea of living in a tiny house and the opportunity to renovate everything themselves.
Entering the front of “Dougan,” there is a makeshift kitchen to the right (soon to be hardwood), complete with a sink and cooktop. To the left is a pullout couch with a wood frame. In the back are two twin beds separated with unique wood paneling. The beds are high enough off the ground that Johnson and Clark will have plenty of room to store clothes, backpacking gear, ski gear and whatever else they need for the adventures they are after. They have paid $5,500 for the bus and renovations. A few fixes need to be done, like taming a rats nest of wires, but “Dougan” is livable and ready to roll.
It all started one day when Johnson popped the question, “What if we got a bus?” When Johnson proposed the bus idea to Clark he said, “[A tiny house] was in the back burner and I knew I wanted to do that. When Jeremy was like ‘What if we got a bus?’ I was 100 percent down.”
Clark and Johnson’s idea is to take a gap year after senior year of high school to travel around North America. However, they will have to work hard to raise enough money for their voyage because they are paying for everything themselves. To raise funds, they plan to become firefighters through EFP (Ellipse Global Firefighter) enterprises.
Clark said, “They fly you out to where the fire is, so if there is a fire burning in Alaska and they need a crew in Alaska to help fight that fire, they will load us up onto an airplane and fly us to Alaska. Then, we will work 12 days on and three days off and then work another 12 days until the fire is out or they need us somewhere else. So we will work 12 days at a time and almost 100 hours a week. It seems sick, and you’ll make a fair amount of money,” he said.
As far as where exactly they will go from firefighting, it is still up in the air. Johnson said, “We definitely want to do a lot of skiing, so probably camp out at some ski resort. Or go up to Alaska, maybe the Arctic Circle.”
Clark explained how they want to head to Colorado and Utah and hang out there for a bit, then hop over to Baja, California and spend the winter there. Next, they want to make their way up north, and come spring “put the pedal to the metal” and see how far they can get. Ultimately, since the bus is completely financed by them, the voyage will last as long as the boys can stretch their pockets.
With all the time in close quarters, they aren’t worried about any arguments between themselves or any other tensions along the trip. They couldn’t imagine this journey with anyone else.
“We have always done stuff like this, we have pretty similar mind lengths,” Johnson said.
The two have been building projects together since elementary school, some of the first being a lazer gun, digging tunnels under Johnson’s yard, and constructing a potato gun that may or may not have launched a spud through a neighbor’s house. More recently, Clark and Johnson created their own cutting board business with another Cleveland senior, Coleman Neher.
Clark said, “We have been best friends since third grade and good friends since second grade. We get along pretty well and it’s the same mindset. We both think the same. I don’t think we have ever gotten in a fight.”
Clark and Johnson are both looking forward to the amount of independence they will have on the road. Johnson said, “I’ve never really had to work for things to this extent in my life. So, hopefully this will be a new opportunity to really ration food and manage your money and work on what we want to do. I am confident we can do it.”
“It is like total independence,” said Clark, “and whatever mistakes we make, we have to live with it. It is cool to have that power, it is also a little scary.”
Both boys are most scared about “Dougan.” Clark said, “I am terrified the bus is going to break down. I’m worried Dougan is going to go kaputz.”
The only regret Johnson and Clark have about the bus is that they didn’t make the leap earlier. To others who are curious, Johnson notes that you’ll never regret at least trying and that information on how to do a conversion lies all over YouTube and the Internet. In addition, their background in woodworking granted them a lot of the skills they needed for the conversion.
Senior Tade Mutrie helped throughout the bus build and said, “I’m just super impressed with the way the bus turned out. Even though it’s not yet in its final form, it looks super good. I think that in the end, it’s going to throw some curveballs at them, but I definitely think with their handiness they will be able to handle it.
To keep up on the adventure of Dougan, Clark and Johnson, follow @dougan_the_bus on Instagram.