Wednesday, September 7, 2016
BUS By Larry Mountainborn Harmon > Made in 1949, the Chevrolet school bus had been Mena schools #9 bus. After years of service with the Mena School, the old bus then became the property of the Mena Boy Scout troop where it was worn out for the second time. In later years the bus became the property of a Mena outdoors man that converted it to a hunting/fishing camper. When I saw the ad in the classified section of the Mena Star, the local newspaper, it was simple and straight forward. FOR SALE; camper school bus, ready to hunt or fish. I called the telephone number and talked to an older man with a slight quaver to his voice. It was obvious that he was turning loose of a retired hunting lifestyle and was a bit reluctant. He had built the camper to suit him and health was forcing him to let it go. He loved that old bus and it had been the center of many adventures. He loved it enough that he could hardly stand to let it sit and rust away. He wanted to see it out there doing what he had built it to do. The inside was laid out as follows: On the highway side right behind the driver’s seat was a full size propane refrigerator. Next to it on the left was a four burner with oven, apartment size cook stove, followed by a double kitchen sink. Next on that side was a set of bunk beds that could fold up out of the way. The bathroom was all of the way to the back. On the curb side as you came up the stairs was the kitchen dinette that used two of the bus’s original seats with storage underneath. Then a cabinet and counter top, kitchen work space, followed by a closet and shelves. Behind that was two more bunks that could fold up out of the way. Mounted on the curb side rear bumper and standing straight up was the one hundred pound propane tank. On the highway side was the television antenna. The bus was painted hunter green with two black stripes down the sides. There was no insulation in the bus, that was added later. A Honda QA50, the folding handle bar mini trail, was small enough to ride under the kitchen dinette. It quickly became standard operating practice to leave Arkansas in late winter or early spring to go west and work various construction jobs. Then in the fall return to Arkansas to “winter up” for the holidays with family. When passing through or working in Arizona, Dad’s house in Tucson or Mom’s house in Superior were regular driveway surfing spots where we could catch up on family events. For a few years there were construction jobs in Southern California and in-laws there to visit. While there, the military surplus yards provided many parts to upgrade and improve performance on the bus. One of the first upgrades was a vacuum shift two speed rear end or third member which really improved our gas mileage and hill climbing ability. Hot rodder’s home brewed split manifolds for both intake and exhaust were added to a upgraded 235 six cylinder engine that had replaced the old 216 cubic inch engine. During our visits Brother Phillip developed an interest in our Nomadic lifestyle and one spring when we were heading west to California, he told us to stop by and pick him up on our way through Tucson. It was late at night because we were traveling long hours to make the construction job on time. We pulled up and he came out with a gym bag, then we were on our way. It was several days later in California that we learned that he hadn’t told anyone in Tucson that he was leaving. It was about a year or so later, as we were nearing Tucson that he said he was ready to be dropped off at Dad’s. He had traveled with us from coast to coast. One winter we had decided to spend CHRISTmas in Florida and we were running a chain service station for KAYO Oil Company in Lakeland Florida. It turned cold and snowed about an inch ! We decided that we could be at home in Arkansas where it was actually warmer for CHRISTmas. I called the company, dropped the keys in the safe, and headed for Arkansas. When we woke up CHRISTmas morning, we were in Grandma’s driveway. We sometimes pulled a trailer. At one point a trailer with a Lloyd automobile on it. We were usually loaded pretty heavy and that put extra work on the engine. Parts were cheap and readily available. That insured regular rebuilds and modifications for performance. As the price of gas worked it’s way back up over a dollar a gallon, it was time to go back to standard manifolds for improved mileage and dependability. I missed the sound of those dual carburetors sucking air and the dual exhaust sounding off on a long pull up a steep grade in the Smokey Mountains ! One summer our job had wrapped up early, catching us by surprise and we were headed back to Arkansas, a bit short on cash. Interstate highway I-40 was under construction and we were coming out of the Carolinas, jumping on and off of completed and detour sections of the interstate. The completed sections of the interstate were not built up and if you needed gas, sometimes you would have to drive a short distance into a by passed town to a service station. On a long gradual downgrade the engine backfired and died. Ahead was a off ramp with a dug out slate pit and we coasted on in. It was hot in that slate pit without a breath of air moving. The next day the radiator was out and the front of the engine was off, to reveal a broken fiber timing gear. The distributor had seized up and the timing gear had broken. Those Tennessee mountain boys at a local service station had a good used distributor and I replaced the timing gear with a aftermarket metal gear. Three sunburnt, greasy days later, we are on the road again. This time totally strapped for cash. When we got to Benton Arkansas I traded a half case of STP oil treatment for a tank of gas and that would get us home to Hatfield. There was no by-pass in Hot Springs Arkansas and as we are passing through about noon, I began to think about that cool mountain stream near Joplin Arkansas that ran right beside the highway. It had been a hot, sweaty, greasy, three days and was thinking about taking a bath in that cool water. As I pulled into that rest area parking and set the brakes, I thought to grab a bar of soap and a towel on the way to the creek. I must have looked a real fright to those Mom’s whose kids were playing in the water. I was so focused on how good that water felt as I soaped up, that it wasn’t until I heard them calling their kids out of the water that it dawned on me. There I was, flip flops, greasy cut offs, badly sun burnt, with wild hair, soaping up and polluting their play area. I kept on scrubbing, even after they had gathered up their kids and left. Man, oh man was it ever good to be back in Arkansas ! When Hurricane Camille dead centered Gulfport Mississippi, Phillip and I decided to go down there to help rebuild and make a little bit of money too. Yeah, well, it didn’t work out that way ! We got there early found a great camping place and went looking for work. Everyone that we talked to took one look at that bus and decided that we couldn’t be trusted and some even treated us like we were going to start looting any minute. The last straw was the day that the local employment office told us it would be weeks before they were ready to put anyone to work. We gave up and left. On the way down to Gulfport the small outer wheel bearing on the steering axle driver’s side seized up while going through a town. We immediately pulled into a shopping center parking lot and it even had a auto parts house in it ! They didn’t have the bearing in stock but could have it the next day. The wrong bearing came in and it took an extra day. After taking the brake drum off, we discovered that the bearing puller wouldn’t budge the inner bearing race, no matter how much pressure we put on it,or how hard we beat on it. It was time for ole redneck ingenuity ! We filed as deep of a slot in the race as possible, wrapped a shop towel tightly around it, put a chisel in the slot and hit it with a hammer. The race split and was loose enough to take off of the spindle by hand. Soon we were on our way again.