Meet Ben and Meag Poirier, free spirits who are taking time off to find themselves — in a renovated prison bus
Photography by Irvin Serrano
On a recent summer morning at Kennebunkport’s Sandy Pines Campground, Ben and Meag Poirier’s 31-foot-long teal bus stood out like a trail blaze in a forest filled with tidy white RVs. Inside, Meag, her long blonde hair loose, lounged on a sofa built in beneath narrow metal windows while Ben, olive-skinned with a mop of curly brown hair, leaned against a platform bed he constructed behind the rear wheels. Splayed out on the gleaming, reclaimed-maple floor, the couple’s snoozing bull terrier mutt, Moose, occupied approximately one-sixth of the unaccounted-for space in their 165-square-foot motor home.
The stint at Sandy Pines was the latest on a cross-country tour the couple calls their “year of discovery,” or as its known to their 12,000 Instagram followers, the “Wild Drive Life.” Meag, 29, who previously worked for the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce, and Ben, 30, a former manager at Berwick’s Longleaf Lumber, are taking time off to rethink their careers and personal goals and enjoy a grand adventure before (maybe someday) settling down. Their home base during this period of footloose exploration? They recognize the irony: It’s a former prison bus.
Two winters ago, the Poiriers were living in Old Orchard Beach and scouring Craigslist for a wheeled tiny house for their discovery year — Meag had a retro camper in mind — when they stumbled upon a 1989 black “dog- nose” prison bus that had also once been the mobile command center for the sheriff of Fairfax County, Virginia. “I thought it was really neat with the cages and bars,” Ben says. “Like we could make something cool out of this.”
In fact, the bus’s white metal interior included three floor-to-ceiling cage dividers, a handful of tables and seats bolted to the floor, and bars over all the side windows. “It was very scary looking, I won’t lie,” Meag says. But with only 19,000 miles on the odometer and sporting a virtually rust-free exterior and top-of-the-line generator, the pen had potential. After watching the Massachusetts seller start it right up on a frigid February afternoon, the couple forked over $8,000 for it.
Converting the slammer into a “skoolie” — a term referring to a school bus turned tiny home that surely applies here — cost them another $15,000 and two years worth of weekends and evenings. They started by gutting and insulating the interior and painting it a warm cream. Ben lined the curved metal ceiling with layers of rigid and reflective insulation that captures 90 percent of the sun’s radiant energy, keeping the bus comfortable without AC even on a 90-degree day. “I love when it’s really hot out and I can touch the ceiling and say, ‘Yep, it’s still working,’” he says. Next, they painted the body bright turquoise — Meag’s favorite color because, she says, “it makes you happy” — using YouTube videos by classic car enthusiasts as a guide. On the roof, three 300-watt solar panels power their dorm-size refrigerator, sconces crafted from plumbing pipes, and composting toilet fan, while helping to mitigate the eco-guilt engendered by driving a “beast” (Meag’s endearment) that gets just 10 miles to the gallon.
Maple-covered boxes containing a composting toilet (left) and tub double as nightstands. The loo’s top flips up and there’s a pine door on the front. “We wanted an open concept and don’t really miss having walls and doors,” Meag says.
Their space-maximizing interior design includes the queen bed platform, rendered with storage underneath. Along the sidewalls, Ben installed a composting toilet housed in a covered maple-and-pine box (between the fan and an integrated vent pipe, “there’s absolutely no smell,” he swears), the sofa, fitted with cocoa-colored cushions Meag sewed, ivory kitchen cabinets topped with varnished maple, and his pièce de résistance: a miniature woodstove perched (fittingly) atop a granite pedestal. Beside the faux- brick tile hearth, bitty logs fill a slender plumbing pipe stand. “I didn’t want a bus; I wanted a woodstove,” Ben jokes. “I just built a bus around it.”
The couple cooks on a single portable butane burner and eats at a 33-inch-wide fold-down maple table. Their stainless steel double sink is an upgrade from the micro one they initially installed. “We were like, ‘we’re minimalists, we’ve got this,’” Meag says of the bantam basin. “No, it was terrible. I’m used to having a good amount of space in the kitchen and I feel like we still do,” she says, gesturing around the cheerful work area, enlivened with salvaged aqua beadboard paneling and graphic pastel wallpaper over the portal to the driver’s and passenger’s seats.
Their latest creature comfort: a 34-inch-deep Japanese soaking tub situated next to the bed. Lined with reclaimed Southern yellow pine and trimmed with an antique brass faucet, the tub is a step up from the campground bathing the couple has become accustomed to. “You’ve got to have some luxuries,” Ben says over the whir of a tiny fan drying the waterproofing epoxy he’s just applied to the tiny tub. “You don’t want to sacrifice the joy in life to live in a small space.”