We at Topo Rigs know our favorite parts of doing camper van conversions. We enjoy puzzling out and making the most of a small space, creating beautiful and functional interiors, finding the perfect materials and solutions to fit our clients’ needs, and seeing the joy and satisfaction that come with a job well done. But it’s important to hear the other side of the story too. What is the client experience like? What is their favorite part of seeing their van (or, in this case, bus) interiors transformed into a home away from home?
Sarah Sturm came to us in 2020 with her 1998 short bus, and while we usually specialize specifically in vans, we couldn’t pass up the challenge. Check out a conversation with Sarah below about her hopes for the bus and her experience working with Topo Rigs.
How did you decide to work with Topo rigs for your Bus Buildout?
Well first, I quickly realized that doing a build out myself was out of the question. I didn’t have the skill set, the time, or the tools.
Also, working with someone local was important to me. I just felt like Topo Rigs, being here in the Southwest, would understand the sorts of adventures we’d be going on and the types of accessories and things that we would want and need for those adventures.
And I really wanted to work with someone who was open to doing a creative build out. I have a 1998 short bus, so it’s not your standard Ford Transit or Mercedes Sprinter Van.
Speaking of a local company understanding your needs, what did you need the bus to do for you?
So, my initial plan for the bus—which has panned out—was to drive it to bike races. I needed it to be functional, because it has to be my little mini house while I'm doing my super weird job as a bike racer. And while it had to be functional, I also needed it to be eye-catching and inviting enough for people to come and hang out and chill. It had to be kind of a central meetup spot too.
And is there anything different that you wanted from in the bus, versus needed?
Oh, yeah! I wanted it to be really clean and simple and bright. I really liked Topo Rigs’ style of build outs. Instead of everything feeling very dark and cave-like, all of their builds are beautiful and simple and not overdone. That is a design aesthetic I am really attracted to, so I wanted to recreate that in the bus. I like the cleanliness, and the simplicity, and that’s something I wanted for the space.
How was working with the team at Topo? What was the process like and how was the experience for you?
It was a huge contrast to all the other steps with the bus that we had experienced from the beginning. Everything was so much harder because it was an old bus and not something new and straightforward. It was really discouraging every step of the way, right up until we started working with Topo Rigs. It was like this breath of fresh air and positivity. They asked us what we wanted and then they just did it.
I was so surprised when we went in to see the progress. I thought we were gonna go look at how things were going, and it was finished. And it was done so beautifully well, and with so much care. It truly was a surprise when we picked it up. That was just such a testament to how they work and their professionalism and ability to do these complicated build outs. I know their specialty is in more of a stock build, so if they can be so efficient and professional with a really old, rusted school bus, then I can only imagine how those other build outs must go. It’s amazing.
How was camping in the bus for the first time?
Oh my god. I remember driving it to the house that we were renting at the time—which is a nice rental in Durango—and thinking, wow, this is the nicest thing I own. It has tongue and groove ceilings with recessed lighting and a custom shoe rack and shelving. Even now, I own a house and the bus is still the nicest thing I own.
It was such a cool experience to drive out into the San Juan mountains that weekend and just park on this quiet dirt road in the woods somewhere. The bus was just our little house away from our house. That first night was probably the best night of camping because we were so excited. It was such a nice experience to pull off the road and crawl into the back of the bus and have the dreamiest night’s sleep ever, and then wake up and make coffee in there. It was beautiful and quiet and glampy and just good.
What’s your favorite thing now that you've spent some time in the converted bus?
I love the shoe rack and the gear rack! But really, I’m in and out of this thing constantly with riding bikes and meeting friends for dinner and hiking and driving from the mountains down through cities, and I really love just having stuff super accessible. Also, when you're traveling on the road for weeks at a time, clutter gets really frustrating really fast, but the bus is still easy to keep clean and everything is so efficient. Actually, even now, I’m doing this interview from the road. I'm on week three, and even though we’re parked in a friend’s driveway in Bellingham, I still prefer sleeping in the bus to using a friend’s guest room.
Are there any other points you wanted to
Yeah! Now that bike racing is back on after COVID, it's been really fun to invite people inside the bus and watch their reactions. We had the bus for a solid summer during COVID, and we got to use it a lot as a safe little escape haven during the pandemic. Now though, as we are all feeling safer, it’s fun to open it up to friends and get to show it off. I think they're expecting it to be like a gross, dingy, DIY build out on the inside, and I love that it always kind of blows people away. They go in and it’s like this bougie, beautiful clean interior, with a wild looking paint job on the outside. That’s been super fun.
Also, our dog Norman loves, LOVES the bus. I mean, it is kind of his home where he can stay safe while we ride bikes in the summer, but I think he thinks it’s actually his…