As part of the shopping process, I re-evaluated my priorities from last time, and re-considered the pros and cons of different sorts of vehicles. Most of those conclusions remained the same, and I won't re-cover them here. There were a couple of significant departures, though.
I was under more time pressure this time. Last time I had my ambulance in good running condition for the duration of my quest. This time, my bus was mostly stationary and I'd lost a lot of the perks of having a home that is mobile (not to be confused with the idiomatic "mobile home"). The net result here was a loosening of some of my criteria.
Owning a bus from an uncommon manufacturer proved to be a mistake. I had trouble finding mechanics who would work on it, and found little to no information online about it. I eventually secured an operator's manual, but never managed to find a service or maintenance manual. Operations as trivial as finding and removing the air filter were painfully time consuming and difficult. My strong preference this time was to go with a "household name" brand.
I started the process by re-creating my email notification rules on publicsurplus.com and govdeals.com, the two biggest government property auction consolidation sites. Although I did occasionally check individual city and county and university sites, the bulk of my leads came from those two. I asked for emails about newly listed buses across the country, and bus auctions that were about to end, or as close as I could get with each site's notification settings.
Then began a waiting game. Most used buses sell for "reasonable" prices, which make commercial sense for a buyer with plans to recoup their investment, but not as much for an individual who just wants the vehicle. I saw and sadly ignored many auctions that ended, or even started, in that fashion. Anyone with a $10-40k budget can buy a much nicer bus at a more convenient sale than I need.
Along the way I pursued a few leads to some significant degree.
The Oakland CA airport sold off a small fleet of buses they no longer needed. I went so far as to schedule an in-person inspection and take a staggering number of photos in an attempt to locate the one I wanted. In the end it didn't matter; a local bus refurbishing company bought up almost the whole lot for $8-9k each.
The Livermore transit agency sold their old fleet, but I ignored it because the buses were longer than I wanted. I regret that now, and wish I had gone to see them.
A small town in Georgia had a bus that I was very interested in, with minor damage that would be inconsequential to me but require costly body repairs for a reseller or commercial user. I paid a friend who lived a few hours away to drive down and get photos and video of it. That one sold for an amount just slightly higher than I had bid. I would have enjoyed a cross-country road trip with friends from Atlanta.
I finally struck gold in Des Moines, Iowa. Their transit agency is in the process of replacing a whole 12-15 year old fleet, and opened the process with two bus auctions in parallel, and a third ending a few days later. The buses are longer than I wanted (same size as the Livermore buses I passed up), but otherwise a good match. I watched the auctions eagerly, and as they came to a close I jumped in and got the first two for $1520 and $2000 (plus taxes and auction fees totaling about 20%). I had hopes to win the third one, and placed a bid on it early, but got outbid with a few days left. This was actually good news; the later unit being bid up gave me a good idea that I had gotten a steal on the earlier ones.
While watching those auctions I had corresponded with some old friends about working together to road trip them back to San Francisco. Plans were made for the 2 or 3 bus eventuality, some plane and train tickets were bought, and I started laying logistical plans for RV conversion and registration once we got back to CA.
After winning the auctions, I pulled the trigger on the tickets and plans, and my next post will pick up with a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, proceeding through the retrieval and road trip back to the west coast.