EVANSVILLE, Ind. – To anyone who has ever watched one of the nearly two-dozen different automobile restoration programs aired on the Velocity cable television channel, it’s a familiar story:
A son or daughter has inherited dad’s worn, neglected, 1950s, 60s or 70s classic car. To honor dad and his memory, the family wants the vintage auto restored to its former glory, perhaps even improved with a modern, reliable, high-output engine; better stopping power with disc brakes; and a glistening paint job dad only could have imagined in his dreams.
The bus industry equivalent of such stories was on display for three days in late September when The BusBoys Vintage Bus Rally rolled into this Ohio River town.
The rally, which by all accounts exceeded most everyone’s expectations, showcased the largest fleet of vintage buses ever assembled in North America.
Although the rally received only spotty local media attention until the last day, when it was splashed across the bottom half of the front page of the Evansville newspaper, hundreds of area residents joined bus nuts and bus industry enthusiasts from across the U.S. and Canada, and from as far away as Australia and Hungry, at the event.
One story that fit the Velocity-channel mold was the 65-year-old school bus brought to the show by Voigt’s Bus Service, a motorcoach and school bus operator based in St. Cloud, Minn.
A crash in 1952 knocked out one of the two school buses then operated by company founder Norb Voigt. A replacement was needed in a hurry, so Voigt went to the local Chevrolet dealer and purchased a new Steelcraft school bus built on a Chevy chassis.
For the company anniversary a few years ago, Voigt’s son, former company President Darwin “Butch” Voigt, decided to replicate the “first, new school bus” operated by his late father and the Voigt company.
With support from Butch Voigt’s son, current company President Troy Voigt, and a handful of employees, the result was a pristine school bus that could not have looked any better 65 years ago.
There were other restored, equally-as-handsome school buses at the Evansville rally, including a 1968 Ford school bus with a Superior body brought by Trobec’s Bus Service of St. Stephen, Minn., and a 1948 International KB6 school bus owned by Hoglund Bus Co. of Monticello, Minn. The stunning Trobec’s and Hoglund buses were award winners at the show.
Dan Shoup of Cardinal Buses in Middlebury, Ind., drove a 1965 General Motors model 4106 that his father, John, purchased new. The good-looking original, unrestored coach has 800,000 miles on it with one in-frame engine overhaul.
Because it had been a while since the 52-year-old bus had been on an extended road trip, Dan Shoup white-knuckled the coach the 345 miles from Middlebury to Evansville — and back.
The three-day rally was organized by The BusBoys Collection, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that is thought to own and operate the largest collection of vintage buses in North America.
In addition to being the principals of The BusBoys Collection, brothers Dan and Stan Holter are motorcoach company owners and operators based in Bloomington and Rochester, Minn.
At least 85 buses of all descriptions traveled to southwest Indiana for the rally, and an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 individuals, possibly more, flowed around and in the buses during the three days of the rally.
“Our flea-market vendors reported having excellent sales due to the large number of spectators,” said event co-sponsor Stan Holter. “Food-truck vendors also reported good sales, again, given the large attendance.
“Our vintage bus rides were a real hit with nearly every trip sold out. Had we anticipated crowds as large as they were, we could have added more buses/trips to accommodate more wishing to ride,” said Holter.
“It all worked out better than planned,” continued Holter. “Before the rally was even over, I had been approached by local businesses, the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce, local residents, and even a few people from other parts of the country, asking me to not only bring this event back, but to bring it to their city.
“We continue to receive rave reviews — from those who attended in one capacity or another — as to how well they thought the rally was planned and executed. So, naturally it has been a warm, heartfelt feeling to know it was so well received,” Holter said.
“So, the big question: Will we do it again? Definitely yes. The old motto adapted from a movie (“Field of Dreams”) – ‘build it and they will come’ — is not just a fairy tale.
“We’ve learned over time, in other aspects of life, that if you believe in something, it’s definitely worth taking the chance.
“Though our event went quite well,” Holter continued, “next time will definitely go better . . . The ball already is rolling. . . . We’ll see if everything comes together to announce something in the next coming months for a 2019 venue, with possibly an even larger rally that could possibly turn into a reoccurring event.
“Our endeavors and quest to preserve history is something we’re obviously passionate about . . . It’s all about sharing with the public to help keep alive what others before us started, and to encourage others to follow long after we’re gone,” Holter added.
Inevitably and unavoidably, the rally had no shortage of challenges. Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida and other southern states right before the rally, forced a number of coach owners to cancel plans to attend.
Unseasonably hot weather hit Indiana and other Midwestern states the week of the rally. The average high for late September in Evansville is 79. It was in the low to mid-90s for the three days of the rally.
The warm temperatures discouraged some owners from making the trip to Evansville, fearing the added strain on vintage bus A/C and cooling systems might be too much.
“We totally understand,” said Holter. “Mother Nature is what it is.”
Two other — of the many, many — noteworthy buses at the rally were the pair trucked to the show by Greyhound Lines.
Greyhound sent the two oldest buses in its Los Angeles-based historic fleet. One was a 1914 right-hand drive Hupmobile, which is a restored replica of the first bus operated by Greyhound founder Carl Eric Wickman from Hibbing to Alice, Minn., to transport iron miners.
The other was Greyhound’s dazzling 1931 Mack bus, which was originally designed for Greyhound by the Mack Truck Co. The 1931 Mack Greyhound is a near twin to the coach made famous in the 1934 motion picture “It Happened One Night,” which is periodically shown on Turner Classic Movies. Much of the movie is set on an overnight bus trip.
The film is famous because it was the first motion picture to win the top-five Academy Awards (best movie, best director, best actor, best actress and best writing). It starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and is often credited as inventing the romantic comedy genre.
The Greyhound Mack has still-comfortable, mohair-covered seats stuffed with horsehair. Each window has full side curtains. It was the most luxurious bus of its day and the first to be linked to the slogan, “It’s as sleek as a Greyhound.”
It is estimated that Greyhound spent upwards of $20,000 to have its two vintage buses trucked to the rally.
Still, the unabashed “bus star” of the rally was a sightseeing coach created by a Mack/Volvo/Isuzu/UD truck dealer based in Roseville, Minn., with branches in six other Minnesota cities.
The bus folk attending the rally appeared only modestly chagrined that the most spectacular bus at their rally was the brainchild and creation of a truck guy, Greg Nuss, chief operating officer of Nuss Truck & Equipment of Roseville.
Nuss is building a collection of restored and rebuilt vintage Mack Trucks and he had gotten to the point he wanted to create a one-of-a-kind “Mack Touring Coach” with a “sight ‘C’ing cabin.”
What he ended up with is a world-class bus creation.
The basis of the bus is a 1926 Mack AP hook-and-ladder fire truck chassis, with design of the completely handcrafted, metal-framed bus cabin based on horse and motorized sightseeing vehicles of the early 1900s.
All of the metalwork was custom made, much of it using vintage tools like an English wheel, and a specialty wood-working company supplied wood flooring; ceiling, bulkhead and sidewall panels; running boards; and cabin trim that was so exquisitely and finely detailed and finished it looks too nice to be real, but it is.
The 1926 Mack Touring Coach has a near 21-foot wheelbase and is powered by a 707-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine that develops 106 horsepower. Power is delivered to the rear wheels via a dual-chain drive.
The Evansville show marked only the third time the Mack Touring Coach has been displayed publicly. The first two occurred at the Antique Truck Club of America show in Macungie, Penn., and the American Truck Historical Society in Des Moines, Iowa.
While the 1926 Mack coach runs and is driveable, it is essentially a show bus. It was trucked to the rally in a covered semi-trailer.
The focal point and catalyst for the show – besides the rare buses — was the former Greyhound Bus Terminal in Evansville.
The 78-year-old bus station is believed to be one of only two surviving examples of the Art Deco architecture adopted by Greyhound for new terminals in the late 1930s.
The former station has been completely renovated. Indiana Landmarks, which spent two years restoring and repurposing the building, helps Indiana communities and individuals rescue endangered landmarks.
As a result of the extensive renovation, which included removing and refurbishing the building’s exterior steel panels, the station appears today as it did nearly 80 years ago, with the exception of minor signage.
Most of the space in the former Greyhound station, which is near downtown Evansville, has been leased to a regional chain of restaurants, Bru Burger Bar.
The bus show also made a strong point of promoting the heritage of the North American bus industry.
At an awards luncheon on the last day of the event, eight bus museums and history groups gave short presentations on what they are doing to preserve the industry’s history and heritage.
At the awards lunch, 10 owners were recognized for their efforts to preserve their buses. The winners were:
- Specialty Bus – Greg Nuss (1926 Mack “Touring Coach”)
- Original Coach — Chuck Schroedel (1974 GM 4108A)
- Modified Coach — John Maryo (1954 Flxible Visicoach)
- Original Private Coach – Michael Lillard (1975 MCI MC-5a)
- Modified Private Coach – Joe Moore (1985 Prevost)
- Original School Bus – Tim Schubert (1968 Ford Superior)
- Modified School Bus – Tom Kline (1948 International KB6)
- Original Transit Bus – Manuel Cappel (1967 GM 5303)
- Modified Transit Bus – Paul Collyer (1968 GM 5303)
- Farthest Traveled – Frank Gonzales (1954 GM Scenicruiser), Los Angeles
The rally ended with a bus parade through downtown Evansville. Nearly 70 buses hung around to participate in the parade.
The BusBoys Collection started as a hobby of the Holter brothers while operating their companies, Richfield Bus Company and Rochester City Lines. Dan Holter is general manager of Rochester City Lines, while Stan is G.M. of Richfield, which is a member of International Motorcoach Group.
Their vintage bus collection includes more than 90 buses — transit and intercity — plus school buses and novelty vehicles.