Story of an old bus has a happy ending

Cassandra Tiersma
One photo of Norm Bohm standing in front of newly-completed Castle Rock Elementary School library bearing his name, and a photo of bright-colored stools lined up in front of bookcases under the library bus windows dressed in multi-color curtains made by Norm's wife, Pamela Bohm.

Once upon a time, there was a school without a library... After two years without a school library, Castle Rock Elementary School’s new library is in a converted 2003 40-passenger Bluebird school bus. The newly-opened Norm Bohm Book Bus was the brainchild of Castle Rock Elementary School principal/superintendent Autumn Funk.

The idea for the project was born out of necessity after the school’s preschool – which had previously been housed in facilities across the street from the elementary school campus – had to be moved into the school’s former library quarters.

To accommodate the preschool, the entire library book inventory was put in boxes and into storage.

It was sometime during that first year without a school library that Funk came up with the idea for converting an old school bus into a library. She approached the school’s part-time maintenance man, Norm Bohm, with the idea. When Funk asked Bohm if he could convert a school bus into a library, Bohm’s first thought was, “I never built anything that big.” “But,” when later interviewed about the finished project, Bohm did say, “I’ve converted and remodeled some campers over the years.”

Before becoming a library bus engineer, Bohm was a Southern Pacific Railroad engineer for 37 years; and he also owned a machine shop for 12 years.

A new chapter begins

The school bought the decommissioned vehicle from a used bus company and had it towed to Castella from the Sacramento area. That marked the beginning of a year-long remodeling project for Bohm.

“At first it was a job,” said Bohm, “but once it got started,” it was the realization that he was doing it all for the children that inspired and motivated him throughout the duration of the project.

“It’s been really exciting for a long time. It really has,” Bohm said of the project.

Interior remodeling included taking out all the bench seats, removing windows along one side of the bus to accommodate a bus-length bank of ceiling-high bookshelves, and adding skylights to bring in more natural light.

Bohm said, “We recycled all of the shelves out of the old library.” And he “repurposed the shelves from the old library and ended up with more linear feet of book storage” space than they’d originally had in their former library.

Bohm installed 110 power, lighting, heating and air-conditioning to upcycle the bus into a fully self-contained portable “building.”

The plot thickens

Before too long into the project, Bohm knew he would need help for the most difficult part: building the support system – the undergirding that would support the 19,000 pound portable building. Bohm, 81, said there was no way he could have done that part without help.

Hero comes to the rescue

That’s when Bob Edmonds, another part-time maintenance man, was brought on board the bus project. Edmonds “was invaluable,” said Bohm. “He was a godsend to me, because he had a background in metal work.”

In describing the weight and enormity of that part of the project, Bohm said that was the “biggest job,” and they built it “bigger, heavier and more sturdy than it had to be.”

About Edmonds, Bohm said, “Bob had to be sent here by God. I was starting to get ready to jack up the bus, and I had no idea how I was going to go about it. It was just a blessing from the beginning. And we have become very close friends and fishing partners.”

Others contributed their skills, talents and expertise to make the project a success. Bohm’s wife, Pamela, was the interior decorator. She chose the colorful curtain fabric and the paint colors for the bookshelves, made the curtains, and painted all of the brightly-colored bookcases.

The final chapter

Even the school’s new full-time bus driver/maintenance man, John Tiersma, lent a helping hand on one of the last-minute finishing touches when it came time to replace a broken window in one of the bus’s folding glass doors. Maintenance/handy man, Tiersma provided and installed the full-length glass pane for the bus door.

Other finishing touches to the book bus included the addition of 10 rainbow color stools for the kids to sit on while reading books in the library, a bass fishing boat swivel chair in the place where the driver’s seat used to be, and a life-size skeleton model. And last but not least, all of the school’s library books were finally brought out, after almost two years in storage, and re-homed on the multi-color bookshelves in the new library.

Asked if he likes to read, Bohm replied, “Yes, I love to read. I read daily.” When asked if he could only have one book in the world, what would it be, Bohm immediately answered, “The Bible, because it has been the mainstay of my life for the last 35 years.”

Bohm also talked about his own fond memories of having access to libraries when he was growing up. He said, “Oh, yes. Everybody had a library card. The library was pretty important in our school years.” He said he got his first library card when he was “probably about twelve,” and he had “one for the school library, and one for the city library.” Asked if he has a library card now, Bohm said, “No. I’ve got a Kindle.”

A happy ending

When asked if he has any other big projects lined up, Bohm said, “Not now. My sweet wife has got some things that she wants us to do together.”

Reflecting on the adventure of recycling an old bus into a new school library, Bohm said, “The whole school’s proud of it. And I’m proud of it… You know, it’s gotta bring a smile to your face when you walk into a raggedy old school bus and see a library!”

In the end, Bohm summed it up by “It’s been my favorite story for a long time.”