- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

Darryll Baker's grandfather, the late Jesse Baker better known as Jack is doubly responsible for the survival of this 1939 Chevrolet bus since he bought it once and helped buy it a second time.
He was living in New Ross, Ind., after World War II when a neighboring school district replaced its 10-year-old school buses with new 1949 models.
Recreational vehicles were barely a concept at that time. Wanting one, he purchased a trade-in bus, a four-speed 1939 Chevrolet with five rows of double seats to accommodate 20 passengers.
After removing all the seats, he installed carpeting, curtains for the 19 windows along with a couple of couches. After the conversion from bus to RV, the 216-cubic-inch, 85-horsepower stovebolt six-cylinder engine was checked out and found to be healthy.
The next year Mr. Baker's grandfather, a couple of friends and Mr. Baker's father who was 15 years old took the old Chevrolet on a two-month, 19-state hunting and fishing trip across the western United States.
"Safetywise," Mr. Baker said, "It must have been awful."
Upon returning to Indiana Mr. Baker's grandfather moved to Lebanon, Ind., where the bus mostly sat, occasionally interrupted by parade duties.
In 1968 Mr. Baker's father, Darrell, and grandfather Jesse took the bus on a monthlong trip through the southern United States. This time Mr. Baker and his mother went along for the journey to Mississippi and back through Texas and Oklahoma.
Mr. Baker recalls that on the home stretch of the trip his mother, Florence, was at the steering wheel cruising through the Missouri Ozarks at 80 mph when the 1953 Chevrolet, 235-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine threw a rod.
The damage was repaired in a couple of days, and the family bused on back to Indiana.
Later on, whenever Mr. Baker interrupted his schooling at Purdue for a visit to his grandfather the old bus was always there. Over the years it had been painted yellow, tan, brown, white, gray and finally, in 1986, burgundy.
That's when Hollywood came calling and wanted to use the bus in the filming of "Hoosiers." "I think they offered Granddad $800 for the use of the bus, and they painted it burgundy before returning it," Mr. Baker recalls. The interior "lounge" was replaced with school bus seats.
Soon afterward, with the family scattered, Mr. Baker's grandfather, believing no family member was interested in the bus, sold it to a neighbor.
Mr. Baker, now a foreign service officer with the State Department, was horrified. That bus was the one constant in the family history.
After he returned from an overseas assignment in 1996, Mr. Baker visited Indiana and discovered the man who bought the bus had died. He paid the widow a visit and explained how his grandfather had sold the bus without knowing how much it meant to the family.
The sympathetic widow responded that she understood but that she had two other offers for the bus. The notoriety the bus had gained as a movie star in "Hoosiers" had made it a desirable vehicle.
Mr. Baker returned the next day with his 91-year-old grandfather Jesse by his side and the widow agreed to sell back the bus. "His presence is what did it," Mr. Baker said. "He didn't say anything. He just had to be there."
Now that he had the bus back, the problem was what to do with it since it hadn't been started in five years.
An unlikely savior was found in Whiteside, Ind. Terry Nichols is usually a race-car mechanic, but he agreed to tackle the strange task of restoring the 1939 bus to health.
After Mr. Nichols worked his mechanical magic, Dale Roll in English, Ind., finished the cosmetics. The task consumed three years. The 1953 Chevrolet engine was replaced with an improved 1955 version. Rusted metal was cut out and healthy steel welded in place.
New wiring was installed, a rear bumper attached and brass window channel guides were fabricated and installed. Each of the many side windows now operated smoothly by turning the thumbscrew handles.
Molding on the exterior provides a small steel awning over each side window.
Mr. Baker decided the front fenders, wheels, rear bumper and side rub rails had to be painted black. He was dissuaded from painting the bus body yellow by the thought that it would be illegal. Consequently, the bus is red with a silver-gray top that also acts as a sealer.
The grille and front bumper are painted silver.
Inside the bus are five ribs supporting the roof. Above the center aisle are three dome lights.
"I love the reaction I get from people on the street," Mr. Baker said while driving his 8-foot-4-inch-tall bus that is 7 feet, 11 inches wide. It is almost 22 and 1/2 feet long.
"It's an event driving this thing," Mr. Baker explains as he double clutches the four-speed transmission.
Above the windshield, which tilts out at the bottom for ventilation, are a pair of white clearance lights. At the top of the rear of the bus are three central blue clearance lights with a red one at each corner.
Below the rear windows are a pair of large brake lights that when illuminated spell out "STOP." Of course if you're close enough to read the message you've probably already hit the bus.
The bus is based on a 1 and 2/3-ton Chevrolet truck chassis with two 6.50x20-inch tires in the front and four 7.00x20-inch tires in the back.
Mr. Baker went to Indiana in August to retrieve his grandfather's bus and found it ready to go except for an ailing radiator. A local radiator shop recommended a five-core radiator, but they didn't have one. When told they had two days to get one, a replacement was flown in from California.
For the 600-mile trip to his Falls Church home Mr. Baker had company his father, who 50 years before had journeyed through 19 states in the same bus. It was old then.
Father and son left Indiana Aug. 11 and arrived in Falls Church, Va., the next day with no mishaps. The bus achieved 8 to 9 miles per gallon on the trip.
Since having his bus at home Mr. Baker has entered a few antique vehicle shows and his daughter Brooke, 7, has birthday party plans for the bus.
Mr. Baker is always looking for places to show his bus, which has been to about 30 states. "It hasn't been to New England yet," he said.
He hopes to continue showing the bus until his next overseas assignment in the summer of 2001.
Until then Mr. Baker is content with his semirefurbished bus. "Right now," he said, "everything works except when it doesn't."

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