It takes a special kind of couple to live out of a school bus, but as long as Andrew Hennigh and Jen Callahan have known each other, they’ve been up for the challenge.
It is a sleeting kind of day in early spring and I walk around to the back of Sky Tavern’s lodge and down the manmade snow steps to the school bus’s entrance. Once inside, I sit at the dining room table across from the kitchen. Hennigh hands me an iced lime-strawberry gin drink. The bus is warm, cozy and surprisingly spacious. Callahan comes home from work and has wet under layers, so she slips behind the partition in the back of bus in the bedroom/closet space and changes into dry clothes to join us.
“Congratulations from one homeowner to another,” Callahan tells me as we clink our glasses together.
“Buying a big home isn’t attainable [for our generation] anymore and people are more environmentally conscious, especially in Tahoe.” -Andrew Hennigh
When they bought the Santa Clarita school bus for $750 in October 2015, Hennigh and Callahan were living in Reno. They renovated the 250-square-foot space to make it habitable. They tore out all the seats, installed a stove and put in hardwood floors.
“I’ve wanted a bus since I was 10 years old,” says Hennigh .
As he got older, he worked as a ski patroller in Utah and then came to Lake Tahoe in 2013 with his two dogs and a camper. He soon caught Callahan’s eye at Mount Rose where the two of them were working; she was a lift operator. A nomad-like lifestyle with Hennigh escalated from there.
“I had been hitting on him for two years, ever since he started working at Mount Rose,” Callahan says. She told her friend Jess her feelings toward Hennigh and word soon made it back to him.
“He came up to me and said he wanted to take me on a super fancy date, then asked if I had a climbing rope,” she says.
“And a pair of skis,” Hennigh chimes in.
“We spent the whole day climbing and skiing,” Callahan says, adding that they skied white gold in the back country — unusual since it was the middle of a drought year. Aside from the perfect ski conditions and atmosphere, Callahan says their first date was kind of uneventful until Hennigh brought out a deluxe picnic spread of olives and cheese. It also happened to be a full moon and when the couple had their first kiss, Hennigh ’s dogs ran up and started licking them.
“It was like they gave their stamp of approval,” Callahan says. The following summer, Callahan sold her truck and moved into Hennigh ’s camper with him and the dogs.
“I signed onto Hennigh ’s dream and we lived in a truck for six months traveling the countryside. It was the happiest time of our life,” says Callahan, although they were broke and living out of a van. She added that there were times when they had some meltdowns, but eventually they found their unique living situation working out for them in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
“There were a ton of jobs and no housing, but we had the camper,” Callahan says.
However, eventually Callahan reached a point when she wanted a proper roof over her head. So, the following winter they rented a place in Reno. Lovingly looking back at the past summer, they realized that they missed the freedom and flexibility of having a mobile home.
Hennigh bought The Lorax, as it’s become known, in October 2015 and started trying to make it livable and when Callahan’s lease ended, they found a place to park their new home at Sky Tavern. Executive director Bill Henderson had problems with kids poaching at the resort and realized that he needed a 24/7 caretaker. Callahan and Hennigh were the perfect fit.
They say that the best thing about living in a bus is the realization of being a homeowner.
“Everything we put into this house is ours,” says Hennigh.
“And I don’t know, I just love the idea of living in a school bus,” adds Callahan.
“I think the tiny home movement is the way the world’s going,” says Hennigh . “Buying a big home isn’t attainable [for our generation] anymore and people are more environmentally conscious, especially in Tahoe. I think people want smaller houses and more land.”
“We love hosting people, having dinner parties and being on the Mt. Rose Highway. We wanted a place for friends to come crash on our couch,” Callahan says.
Ironically, right at that time a neighbor came by with his dog. The Lorax easily — and comfortably — accommodated four people, three dogs and a lot of love.