This converted school bus is making an N.L. mom one happy camper

·4 min read
Jim Dyke, left, and Syed Pirzada estimate they spent about 200 hours working on converting the school bus into a camper. Many more hours were spent researching ideas and advice online. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)
Jim Dyke, left, and Syed Pirzada estimate they spent about 200 hours working on converting the school bus into a camper. Many more hours were spent researching ideas and advice online. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC - image credit)

While it's safe to assume most people have done things for their mothers in their lifetime, few have likely taken on a project as big — literally — as Syed Pirzada.

The undertaking of the St. John's man: converting a former school bus into a camper.

The idea formed when Pirzada's mother, who used to frequently travel to Ontario or the U.S., felt unsafe doing so by plane during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was suddenly stuck at home, and Pirzada wanted to give her an alternative way of travelling. The idea to remodel a used school bus was born.

"Basically, it's a house on wheels," said Pirzada, proud of the result of almost two years' work.

While Pirzada was the one to dream it up, the vision wouldn't have come to life without the help of Jim Dyke. Dyke, who has been friends with Pirzada for decades and describes himself as "sort of a handyman, carpenter, bit of everything," initially wasn't on board with the idea, though.

"I didn't believe it at first. I looked at him, I said, 'No, why don't you just go and buy a camper?'" said Dyke.

"Anyhow, I just didn't think nothing of it. And then a year later, the bus showed up. 'Are you ready to go to work on it?' I said, 'Okay, let's do it.'"

Pirzada says he settled on a school bus after doing some research online and finding out that while RVs are made of fibreglass, school buses are made of steel.

"A school bus is actually made to protect children," said Pirzada. "That's how I decided that I don't want to have [a] regular RV, I want to have something different, which will last longer."

Once the bus, which was shipped from Toronto, arrived in St. John's, Dyke got to work.

"It started with a sketch of what [Syed] wanted. It got changed three or four times," said Dyke.

"I was busy. Trying to figure out what he wanted and make everything fit. That was my job, basically."

Even though supply shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic created some unforeseen roadblocks for the duo's DIY project, Pirzada and Dyke persistently worked their way down the long list of needed changes.

Among the first on the list: removing any characteristics of a school bus, including its flashing lights, stop sign and typical yellow paint job, to be able to register the vehicle as an RV.

"Before that, … you can't even drive," said Pirzada. "I had to tow the bus, by a tow truck ... to the paint shop."

After an estimated 200 hours of manual labour, and many more hours spent researching ideas and advice online, the two ended up with a fully-functional camper.

Among many other features, the bus now includes a dinette, a kitchen area with four-cooker propane stove and oven, full fridge and freezer, a combined washer-dryer unit, a washroom, bunk beds and a separate bedroom.

In the back, campers can sit on a little patio and enjoy a barbecue when the bus is parked.

"Daytime, nighttime, weekends…. Whenever we had time to work on it, we worked on it. Got it done."

Pirzada didn't just want to bring his mother comfortably from A to B, he also wanted to represent both his origins and his current home — a golden maple leaf on the hood is complemented by colourful Pakistani truck art on the back windows.

"It's quite famous all over the world," said Pirzada, adding that the different window designs each represent one of the four Pakistani provinces.

Where former displays on front and back read 'school bus', the camper shows the words 'Tando Jam' — the name of Pirzada's hometown.

"It is very close to my heart, and I always dream about going there, because we live so far away," said Pirzada.

"It reminds me of my childhood and reminds me of the place where I grew up."

Henrike Wilhelm/CBC
Henrike Wilhelm/CBC

For Pirzada, all the hard work was worth it when he saw his mother's reaction.

"She was taken by surprise," said Pirzada, adding that she immediately inquired when she'd be able to go for a ride. "She absolutely was thrilled."

Before making big trips, Pirzada wants to get the feel for his new vehicle at home, during trips to national parks such as Gros Morne or Terra Nova.

"We want to get to know the workings of the bus, because there are a lot of things you need to be familiar with," said Pirzada.

In between family road trips, Dyke might steal the bus for a spin. After all, he knows where the keys are.

"He has keys. He has keys of our house, he has keys of everything," said Pirzada, laughing.

"He's lost without me," Dyke agreed.

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