This post has been a long time coming! If we’ve met you in person and you’ve asked us anything about the bus, it’s likely you’ve heard bits of this saga, but here it is in full…
Over the past 8 years of photographing weddings, there’s been one part of it that I’ve always particularly enjoyed, and I’ve enjoyed other people enjoying it too; the photo booths. They’ve been so popular at the weddings and other events that they’ve been part of, and bit by bit the props selection has been added to and the overall setup has been improved until it has become something a little different to any other I’ve seen (there are so many wonderful and hugely talented wedding photographers whose gear bags I’m not fit to carry, but for the most part I like my photo booth better than the rest…is that attitude allowed in NI?? *gasp*). David and I often joked that if we had a camper van or a Citroen ‘H’ Van we could use it for coffee or as a photo booth (not realising that the latter was a thing! There are great ones in the US and some in England, but there were none in NI or ROI). Then one day I saw an Instagram post from a friend living in San Francisco of a photo strip from a booth, and as soon as I realised it was inside a camper van I knew this was what we needed to do. When the idea wouldn’t leave me I finally told David about it; he got on board and was so supportive despite the uncertainty and investment involved. Starting up in wedding photography was easy in comparison as I was working full time and it grew gradually over a few years, so it was a fairly gentle (if busy) transition between being employed full time, to working two nearly full time jobs, before finally being completely self-employed. This new idea meant getting a loan to get started and pushing hard to have it earning money to cover repayments and wages… that’s not scary in the slightest…(!) But it became as much David’s as mine, and he put a huge amount of time and hard work into making it happen, not to mention ensuring he was off work for each booking later in my pregnancy when my bump didn’t fit behind the steering wheel anymore…!
Back to the saga! After doing lots of research we finally fell in love with this unusual bus in England. We got all our ducks in a row and flew over to check it out, hand over the money, and drive it home via the Holyhead ferry.
We set off all nervous and excited, with me behind the wheel… until 45mins along the motorway the gear stick popped out – no gears to be found! We pulled over and (thanks to the advice of a fellow bus-owner to get breakdown cover) phoned the RAC. We got the most amazing guy who got straight underneath and got it back in working order, then said he’d shadow us until the next services just to be sure we were ok. (Cue ferry time change #1.)
Just as well, because another couple of miles up the road the engine overheated and seized, forcing us to pull over in the worst possible place – between an off-ramp and an on-ramp. Game over! He couldn’t leave us there so he tethered the front axle of the bus to the back of his van, and pulled us to the services a couple of miles away. I can say with complete conviction that I would rather go through childbirth again than be towed…there’s nothing that gives me a sick feeling in my gut like remembering that experience (and my labour wasn’t straightforward!). But again, the RAC guy was amazing and ordered a truck to come and get us. (Cue ferry time change #2.)
Due to our first truck driver reaching his limit of miles for the day, we got switched to a private contractor’s truck (boy, was he a character! Proper old school mechanic type, with the baggiest jeans I’ve ever seen on a man of his advanced years) and continued our journey to the ferry.
By the time we reached the docks we were exhausted in every way, and just wanted the day to be over. But then we had to get towed…again…by the same vehicle that was pulling the huge articulated lorries on; I had visions of our axle being ripped clean off! After all that we were so drained we opted for an upgrade to the quiet lounge.
Finally, we arrived in to Dublin port and were met right away by our next steed, which carried us right to our driveway. Yet again, we had someone great who seemed to appreciate how tired we were and just let us sit/sleep quietly in the cab (we repaid him with coffee for the journey back south, before David quickly changed and went straight to work – what a trooper!). All we can say is – God bless the RAC for carrying us all the way home.
So the start of our adventure didn’t quite go to plan, but our motor problems led us to Shane Lawlor of Lawlor Customs! Shane is such a legend – by day, an ace technology teacher, and by night/weekends/holidays a VW air-cooled engine specialist with a passion for Bugs and Buses. So much so that he now owns a life-sized replica of Herbie (alongside an itty-bitty battery powered one his wee boy rides in – it’s incredible). Shane loved our plans, and we loved him – he worked tirelessly for us to get the bus ready for launching at the end of January 2016. We really can’t stress enough how key he was to bringing this all together, and our Brazilian bus kept him on his toes, as some parts are the older split screen bus parts, while others are the later bay window bus parts. His words after explaining each challenge are always “…but I love it”.
There were some modifications to the bus that he undid for us (like the grille at the front, which was put back in, as was the passenger door handle, and more authentic lights at the back) and after going back and forth with many different colour suggestions we opted for Jupiter Grey, one of the original VW colours, with white roof and bumpers. As we were developing the concept and design of the bus, it started to take on an old cinema vibe, which then influenced some decisions (or was it the other way around…? Bit of a chicken/egg situation!); rich red seat cushions like classic cinema seats, matching fabric door cards, the genuine cinema/theatre sign letters that we imported from the US for the sign…
…and, of course, the name and branding. Once we had the name decided and the look of the bus nailed, we contacted Ben Connolly from Angel & Anchor. He did a great job coming up with concepts for our branding, and it was so hard to choose! But in the end we went for the logo you’ll have seen already:
As I mentioned, Shane worked every spare moment so that we could have the bus ready for launching. We decided to go big and take it to the Wedding Journal Show. At this stage the engine wasn’t quite finished, so Shane brought it down on his trailer and we pushed it in to place, where I polished it within an inch of its life! It was so great to see people’s reactions to it (after we kept it a closely-guarded secret for months) and have so many people climb in for a go – it was a good, good feeling!
Shane took the bus (by this time named Hector – after the dedication on the bench we got engaged on in Edinburgh) back to the workshop and got the engine looking and running beautifully (seriously, the man is a legend…did I mention??). Our first booking was to be the first of many visits to Orange Tree House in Greyabbey, for Leah and Ken’s wedding. It was such a sweet day, with a sunset to match (I swear that sunset backdrop alone got us a few bookings!) and it couldn’t have gone better.
Since then we’ve celebrated at weddings from Drenagh to Darver, brought the craic at festivals, met Goldilocks at a Teddy Bears Picnic, welcomed the summer coming at school fayres, and supported competitors at a coffee event – to name a few. We’re still only at the start of this adventure, especially as it feels a little like starting over this year because of taking a step back for the wintertime while I was on maternity leave. So we’ve lots of plans, things we want to develop, and ways we want to promote what we’re doing. We’re immensely proud of what we’ve done up to now (with help from the RAC, Shane and friends, Ben C, and our family), so we believe in this venture and want to see The Picture Bus go far.