My Wife and I love Cynthie Fisher's Work
How It BeganMy wife Cathy and I had been camping with our kids for several years with our motorhome. I don't know exactly how I got the bug. Admiring various buses along the way of our travels, we met Ken and Pat Olson of McFarland, WI. Then things really started brewing. He showed us his 1965 GM 4106 that he converted himself. What a beauty. Ken gave me a copy of Bus Conversions Magazine on that day and I read the book cover to cover several times and subscribed to it myself.
About a year had passed with me just looking at buses, and somewhere in that time I had decided this is what I was going to do. I looked at several buses to convert, but nothing I really liked. My wife, Cathy, was not thrilled about the bus thing, so I just kept looking. Cathy thinks I'm too young to convert a bus. (I'm 38) I feel you don't have to be retired to enjoy the comfort and self-satisfaction of converting a bus.
Living in Wisconsin it's hard to find a good old corrosion-free bus. So I wanted to find one from the Western states. One-day back in October 1995, I was talking to a man who lives near me and drives truck out to the West Coast. I had mentioned I was looking to buy a bus. He said he would keep an eye out for me. About a week went by and I couldn't wait to hear from Ed, so I called and spoke to Mary. Ed's partner. She told me they saw some buses in Green River Wyoming. They had stopped to get information on the buses and there was nothing. All we had was a location. I thought my best bet now would be the telephone. I got the operator for Green River and got numbers for Gas Stations, Repair Shops or anyone who might know something about the buses with no luck. My next step was the Chamber of Commerce for Green River. It just so happened that I got a lady who knew of these buses and also knew the owner. What a Break, So I called the owner of LE Bus in Rock Springs Wyoming. Jim Zanetti. The buses Ed had seen in Green River were in deed for sale. He had some older GMC's for sale. About 6-4106's and 4-4107's. The Prices started at $4,500.00. I thanked him for the information and that was that.
The next few days I was trying to find a way to tell Cathy I wanted to go and look at these buses. Also, figure out a way to get to Wyoming and bring home a bus. A few weeks went by and one day a good friend of mine, Wilbur, came up to me at work and asked if I would be interested in going to Longmont Colorado with him to deliver a snowmobile trailer to his brother Joe. I agreed to go but asked if we could take an extra day and drive up to Rock Springs. I had some vacation to use up before the end of the year, so off we went.
Wilbur and I left Fort Atkinson, WI after work on Tuesday, November 27th. The Adventure was on. We drove through the night and the next morning we were in Longmont CO at 10:00am. 19 Hours straight through. Unloaded the car and the trailer and went and did some sightseeing. Who could sleep? We did finally sleep that afternoon. That night we were making plans to go to Rock Springs in the morning and Joe decided he wanted to go too. He took a day of vacation for Thursday and we were off again at 5:00am. We arrived in Rock Springs at 10:30am. I found Jim Zanetti at his shop and introduced Wilbur, Joe, and myself. Jim's shop had some Eagles and Prevosts. All the GMC's were in Green River. Jim had taken the GMC's out of service because people didn't want to ride in them anymore. The GMC's had all been parked since 1988. We had to wait for the mechanic, Jim's son Boyd, to arrive before we headed over there. About 11:30 we were heading to Green River. All the buses were stored outside just off I80. The closer we got, the rougher they looked. They had been vandalized, parts robbed off, baggage doors were missing and windows were broken. Jim hadn't seen the buses for a year or so. I asked which one was $4,500, he replied, whichever one you want. So I looked the buses over, and I didn't know what to say. Finally, I said "If I were going to buy one I would take this one." It was a 1962 4106. The baggage doors were off, cracks in the tires you could put your little finger in. One side window was cracked and a few B.B. holes in the windshield, But there were only a few dents and the structure of the bus was sound. With that, Jim had Boyd get the batteries out of the truck. "Let's see if it will start." Some of the battery cables were gone so we could only use one battery. Jim told Boyd to get in and try it as Jim sprayed a little starting fluid in the blower. The bus didn't ever turn over one or two revolutions and IT STARTED. Very little smoke and it sounded Great!! Jim got in and revved it up to see if the air compressor worked and up the bus came. The air bags still held air. Then I asked, "Can we go for a ride?" Jim said, "Let's go." We all piled in and we drove down the frontage road, cracked tires and all. Not long and we came to a good-sized hill and Wilbur said to Jim, "Think we will need to gear down?" Jim put his foot down and we went up the grade in fourth gear and we didn't even drop two-MPH. I was impressed with the power. (Keep in mind, I've never even been in a bus in my life, other than a school bus.) Jim said that he had changed some gears to a lower gear for the mountains and top end was only 60 to 65 MPH, but could it climb. After about 10 miles we were back to where we started. We got out and looked it over some more. The motor sounded great, still no smoke.
At that time I had to make a decision, should I buy it or shouldn't I? I'm 1,300 miles from home, and a wife that don't want a bus. So I went to Wilbur for advice, he was no help; he just said, "Go for it". I went to Jim and said I guess I'll take it. Next thing I knew Jim and I were in the bus and the others followed in the trucks as we headed back to Rock Springs. A couple of miles down I80 I could smell something getting hot. I said there must be a brake hanging up, and Jim agreed but said it would be all right until we got back to the shop. And we made it. Jim assured me that after I paid him and made the commitment, he would do everything he could to see that I make it back to Wisconsin without problems.
At the shop Him and Boyd did just that. It's 2:30pm and we all got to work. Jim had two of his employees' go to work on cleaning the inside of the bus. Boyd was busy on the Mechanical stuff. Brakes first!! I was under the back changing the oil and filters. Wilbur and Joe were changing fuel filters and helping me. After the oil stuff, we worked on getting the baggage doors on. Three of them were off because the rubber hinge had rotted off. What a job getting out the old rubber from the groove. We greased the chassis, put on one side mirror, put on wiper arms, put on more battery cables, two new batteries. All of which had been robbed off this bus. Six radial tires were replaced with tires from a bus in his fleet. Then we washed the outside of the bus and it looked like a million bucks.
After all that was done it was about 8:45 PM Thursday night. Jim asked if I wanted a driving lesson. I didn't hesitate. The five of us piled in again with me driving. Never driven a bus in my life, I needed all the help I could get. With Jim coaching and me grinding the gears we were back at the shop in about 20 Minutes. It's now after 9:00 and I have 6 Hours to drive a strange bus with Joe in the back trying to sleep before work the next day. Wilbur followed with my car. About 20 miles down I80, It was getting cold up front, so I reached for the defroster switch, out went the headlights. I wiggled the light switch and they came back on. What a rush! I was so tense. Further down I80 I came upon a bunch of semis in the left lane as we went up the steepest hill I have ever seen. I had a good run going in the right lane when about mid-way up a semi pulled out to pass another in front of me. I had to slow down, I didn't know how to downshift, so I kept it to the floor and I was able to keep my speed at 40 MPH and didn't need to downshift.
Before we got to Longmont my headlights went out three more times. I was still able to wiggle the switch and get them back on. We got back to Joe's house at about 3:30 am. I went and sat in the hot tub to try and get my neck muscles to loosen up. The next day Wilbur and I got up to look at the bus. We slept 4 hours. Who can sleep?
First I checked the engine; it had a few oil leaks, but nothing major. Then I check out the headlight switch and found someone had replaced the toggle switch with too small of amp rating. It had burned itself out. I don't know how I had lights at all. We went to the local parts store and got a switch and were all set for our adventure home.
Wilbur and I went for lunch and sightseeing to kill a little time until Joe got home from work at 4:30 PM Friday. Said our good-byes and Thank Yous and were on our way again, back to WI.
To end this story we drove 1,000 miles back home. 7 MPG. Beyond tired and with no Brake lights or Directionals. The Directional switch shorted out somewhere in Nebraska. But with Wilbur following me it wasn't a problem. We had portable CB's. Somewhere before we got to Iowa, Wilbur said he got too close behind me and got oil on the windshield. I asked how much and he said " A couple" I thought he said " A cupful". As my heart raced, I was sure I had blown an oil line or something and pulled over to check it out. Oil was still dripping from the seal in the fan but nothing major. Then Wilbur informed me of my miscommunication. I CAN'T WAIT TO GET HOME!!
I backed in my driveway at 5:00 PM Saturday. My wife and two girls, Christine and LeeAnn were happy to see me, but not too much was said about the bus. The next day we put the bus in storage until the weather warms up and the wife cools down.
Can't wait until spring to start my conversion. I'm sure it too will be "An Adventure"