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Caleb Brackney (left) and his brothers play music outside the school bus he converted into an RV where he lives. The tiny home is named the Roamer.

UT graduate student Caleb Brackney bought a Thomas International school bus on Facebook Marketplace last summer for $3,000, spent another $7,000 to turn it into a tiny house on wheels, parked it on his parents’ five acres in north Knoxville, and took up residence with his goldendoodle Ivy, who spends her days running back and forth looking out of the 26 windows.

Brackney, a dual architecture/landscape architecture master’s student, started UT’s four-year master’s program in the College of Architecture and Design in 2018. “I thought landscape architecture was only aethestics,” he says, “but UT expanded my vision toward the cultural implications of landscape design, including regional thinking to create richer ecosystems that benefit the environment and individuals.”

Through the front door of his converted tiny home, you enter into the kitchen, which leads to a seven-foot bar where Brackney can eat and do homework. This leads to a living area with a couch and a TV, then on to the bedroom, with the bathroom in the back. “I modified the back door as a shower access, so I can wash Ivy or rinse off a bike without worrying about dirt getting inside.”

a planter box adds to the Roamer's exterior
A planter box adds to the Roamer’s exterior.

He painted the outside a sand-brown color that aligns with his love of nature and the philosophy of sustainability in landscape architecture. “I believe all space should promote wellness, inspiration, and collaboration,” he says. “These three attributes increase productivity, happiness, and health.”

The oldest of seven children homeschooled by their parents, Brackney has always liked to work with his hands and help others. He coached basketball at the YMCA, served meals once a month at the Volunteer Ministry Center, organized items in Habitat for Humanity stores, and volunteered during summers. He started Brackney Brothers Lawncare and Design as a teenager but was inspired to make it his career thanks to his banjo teacher, Knoxville landscape architect Tim Worman. “I wanted to be a landscape architect and I wanted to go to UT,” says Brackney, who honed his Volunteer spirit even more while on Rocky Top.

During the 2019-20 school year, he lived at UT’s Christian Student Center, where he helped with food drives. He also sold rally towels at football games to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank, filled boxes during volunteer days there, and continued serving Wednesday meals at the VMC, until the COVID-19 shutdown ended those activities.

Caleb Brackney sitting atop the Roamer.
Brackney bought the bus for $3,000 and spent another $7,000 to convert it.

When he’s not at home, Brackney serves as a graduate assistant to Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Plant Sciences Brad Collett and as a researcher on the Tennessee RiverLine, a wide-ranging project working to develop a continuous multimodal trail system along the entire length of the Tennessee River. “It’s been one of the highlights of being at UT,” says Brackney. “I love Professor Collett’s vision of the Tennessee River in the context of its regional identity and the way it can play into social health and environmental resiliency across the region. He has taught me the impact that good landscape architecture can have. I had the opportunity to drive next to the whole Tennessee River, talking with community members, seeing how important a role the river plays in the regional economy, agriculture, and daily life.”

Brackney also assists in the College of Architecture and Design’s Fab Lab, helping in the woodshop and assisting users with 3D printing and tools like the laser and water jet cutters. The Fab Lab came in handy when he got the idea of converting a bus into a tiny home. “A friend of mine was featured on HGTV with his tiny home he’d built,” says Brackney. “I realized how economical and practical it could be. But after looking through dozens of precedents for tiny houses, I realized they all looked the same. But this is totally unique. It took long-term planning as well as a willingness to jump into projects where I didn’t know what I was doing unless I could learn on the fly. An electrician friend who works at KUB came and helped me with the wiring, but I learned how to do the plumbing and woodworking.”

Photos and details of the conversion are available on Brackney’s Instagram account.

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CONTACT

Amanda Johnson (865-974-6401, amandajohnson@utk.edu)