While it’s safe to assume that most people have done things for their moms in their lifetime, few have probably taken on a project as literally as big as Syed Pirzada.
Johannismann’s undertaking: converting a former school bus into a mobile home.
The idea came about when Pirzada’s mother, who used to travel frequently to Ontario or the US, felt unsure about doing so by plane during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She was suddenly stuck at home and Pirzada wanted to offer her an alternative way of traveling. The idea of converting a used school bus was born.
“It’s basically a house on wheels,” says Pirzada, proud of the result of almost two years of work.
While Pirzada was the one who dreamed it up, the vision would not have come to life without the help of Jim Dyke. Dyke, who has been friends with Pirzada for decades and describes himself as “a kind of craftsman, carpenter, a little bit of everything”, was initially not enthusiastic about the idea.
“I didn’t believe it at first. I looked at him and said, ‘No, why don’t you just go and buy a camper?'” Dyke said.
“Anyway, I just didn’t think anything of it. And then, a year later, the bus showed up. ‘Are you ready to work on it?’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”
Pirzada says he decided on a school bus after researching online and finding that while RVs are made of fiberglass, school buses are made of steel.
“A school bus is actually made to protect children,” says Pirzada. “So I decided I didn’t want that [a] normal RV, I want something different that will last longer.”
As soon as the bus shipped from Toronto arrived at St. John’s, Dyke got to work.
“It started with a sketch of what [Syed] searched. It’s been changed three or four times,” Dyke said.
“I was busy. I tried to figure out what he wanted and make everything fit. That was basically my job.”
Although supply shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic caused some unforeseen obstacles for the duo’s DIY project, Pirzada and Dyke worked tenaciously through the long list of changes needed.
First on the list: removing all school bus features, including flashing lights, stop sign, and typical yellow paintwork, to allow the vehicle to be registered as an RV.
“Before that… you can’t even drive,” Pirzada said. “I had to tow the bus, with a tow truck…to the paint shop.”
After an estimated 200 hours of manual labor and many more hours of researching ideas and advice online, the two finally had a fully functional camper.
Among many other features, the bus now has a dining area, a kitchen area with a four-burner propane stove and oven, a full-size refrigerator and freezer, a combined washer-dryer unit, a washroom, bunk beds, and a separate bedroom.
At the back, campers can sit and BBQ on a small patio when the bus is parked.
“Day, night, weekends… Whenever we had time to work on it, we worked on it.
Pirzada not only wanted to get his mother from A to B in comfort, he also wanted to represent his heritage and current home – a gold maple leaf on the hood is complemented by colorful Pakistani truck art on the rear windows.
“It’s quite famous around the world,” Pirzada said, adding that the different window designs each represent one of Pakistan’s four provinces.
Where it used to say “Schoolbus” on the front and back, the mobile home now reads “Tando Jam” – the name of Pirzada’s hometown.
“It’s very important to me and I always dream of going there because we live so far away,” said Pirzada.
“It reminds me of my childhood and reminds me of the place I grew up.”
Hard work paid off for Pirzada when he saw his mother’s reaction.
“She was surprised,” Pirzada said, adding that she immediately asked when she could have a ride. “She absolutely loved it.”
Before long trips, Pirzada wants to get a feel for his new vehicle at home on trips to national parks such as Gros Morne or Terra Nova.
“We want to learn how the bus works, because there are many things that you have to be familiar with,” said Pirzada.
In between family outings, Dyke might steal the bus for a spin. After all, he knows where the keys are.
“He has keys. He has keys from our house, he has keys from everything,” Pirzada said, laughing.
“He’s lost without me,” Dyke agreed.
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