Photo: Clarence “Sparr” Risher (left) and Victora Dobbs (right) ready their bus for Burning Man. Photo courtesy of Buspatch.
With infrequent exceptions, few San Francisco Muni lines run outside of city limits, much less into the thickets of Pershing County, Nevada — the home of the Black Rock City and Burning Man.
But if you happen to see a 60-foot, articulated Muni bus beasting up Highway 80, through the Sierras, and into Nevada, you are not crazy. At least one group of Burning Man enthusiasts has purchased a retired Muni bus and converted it into a shuttle that, by the time you’re reading this, has whisked 13 burners from the Bay Area to Black Rock Desert.
At 10th and Folsom on Thursday, one of our loyal readers noticed a man neatly packing up crates into Muni bus No. 6420 — a 2002 articulated “Neoplan” model the city retired in October 2017. This Neoplan was initially purchased by Luke Iseman, the founder of Boxouse, a company that converts shipping containers into dwelling units. He took it to Oakland.
But the bus didn’t stay in Iseman’s hands long. No. 6420 sold again in November 2017.
The buyer: Buspatch, a nonprofit that runs an “off the grid” community of “vehicle dwellers” that started last March in an empty lot at 760 Illinois in the Dogpatch and, in November, moved to its current lot at 2835 Magnolia St. in West Oakland — property owned by Iseman.
Victoria Dobbs is one of Buspatch’s founders.
“The thing is, lots like that sit vacant for years while permits are being processed,” she said. “So we had this idea that if we could get month-to-month rent on lots being developed, we could live off the grid for super cheap.”
But for Dobbs and her partner, Clarence “Sparr” Risher (more on him later), just any manner of RV wouldn’t do the trick. Instead, Dobbs and Risher created all Buspatch’s infrastructure from retired municipal buses and other oddities. Before moving to Oakland, they used three 40-foot former municipal buses from out of state. One had been converted into a kitchen/workshop, and the other two into living areas.
As for good ‘ol No. 6420? It has been legally converted into a four-bedroom RV, complete with eight beds (one room has five bunk beds), a toilet, sink and a stove. (The law requires you to have only these things to be a legal RV.) Bus No. 6420, the couple said, has been fitted with a “modular” stove and shower, so that they can be taken out of the RV to create space while the bus is parked in the desert.
Its electrical system also is equipped with a large solar panel, so that its inhabitants do not have to use a power generator at Burning Man. They are, after all, going to be setting up in the “alternative energy zone” in Black Rock City.
Dobbs and Risher are taking 11 others with them. “We reach Burning Man at 12 midnight Saturday,” Risher said. “No way to know what the traffic is gonna be like out there.”
Risher is no stranger to giving retired vehicles new life. Several years ago, he decided to tour the country from Chicago. So he bought an old ambulance and converted it into an RV. He then sold the ambulance and converted a 35-foot bus into a rolling home, and when that began to poop out, he began to convert good ‘ol No. 6420, a 60-footer.
Risher is a computer engineer by day, but he has also built a bit of a reputation as a local mischief-maker. He made headlines last November (around the same time he purchased bus No. 6420), for bringing two humongous, 50-person inflatable life rafts to Dolores Park to use as trampolines. He received three citations from the Recreation and Park Department.
While the giant life rafts were, perhaps, a first for Dolores Park, Muni buses at Burning Man are actually nothing new. The “Playapiller,” an erstwhile 14-Mission, was dropped in a Native American reservation after breaking down following the 2012 Burning Man, and it remained there until the following year’s Burning Man, when a new crop of burners to took pictures in front of it. Little did they know that it was the same bus featured in a chase in the Italian Job.
Good ol’ No. 6420, however, is likely returning to the Bay Area and won’t be doing cameos any time soon. Dobbs and Risher, after all, need a place to sleep.