A tale of two buses

Eight tour buses plied the roads of Alaska between 1969 and 2005. Now, one of the classic GMCs is on the big screen. Another is in Pouce Coupe

For decades, a fleet of eight blue and silver 1969 GMC buses ferried Alaska tourists from cruise ships in Skagway to the state's rugged interior, the workhorses of a major sightseeing company.

The fleet was decommissioned in the early 2000s, but at least two of the buses have had eventful retirements. One bus recently played a bit part in a Disney movie. Another is sitting in a yard in Pouce Coupe. One is loosely associated with George Clooney, the other has a stove.

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Bus 208, done up to look like a 1964 Greyhound on the set of Tomorrowland at the University of B.C. Its former stablemate is sitting in a yard in Pouce Coupe. - yvrshoots.com

Bus number 212 occupies a corner of Victor Purdy's yard in the village of Pouce Coupe, population 700. A previous owner stripped the seats to convert the bus into a camper, but the outside is still stately.

Earlier this month, Purdy listed the bus for $4,000 on a Dawson Creek classifieds website, after his plan to use the bus as an RV stalled. If it sells, it would be another chapter in the bus's strange journey.

At first, Purdy thought he had an old Vancouver transit bus. A placard above the windshield reads "Transit Terminal," while a revolving sign in the side window lists a dozen Lower Mainland destinations, including Ladner Exchange, Tsawwassen Ferry, Coquitlam Centre and UBC. But the faded words "Gray Line of Alaska" along the length of the bus add to the
mystery.

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A former owner stripped a 1969 Alaska tour bus of seats and added a stove. - Jonny Wakefield

John Day knows that part of the story. A member of the B.C. Transit Museum Society, Day is also 212's former owner. In 2005, his now-defunct Vancouver tour company bought the bus that's now in Pouce Coupe from Gray Line.

The company had moved the bus to its headquarters in Seattle after its tour in Alaska, and the old Alaska buses were appealing because they were only used in summer, meaning they tended to have fewer miles on them.

Day acquired a second of the original eight from a collector in Dallas and drove it across the continent.

Day's company installed the route signs that made the bus appear to be part of a transit fleet — the signs were set to "charter" when Day ran Vancouver tours. The bus's raised seating platform, dome windows and luggage storage indicate it was built for highways, Day said.

Eventually, Day's company decided to buy newer buses and put the two GMCs on the market. A movie company in Vancouver bought one. In 2009, Kim Trask's dad bought the other.

"We looked online and we saw one in Vancouver for sale," said Trask, a resident of Charlie Lake. Her dad, Russell, had been living in a converted school bus in Peace Island Park, where he was the caretaker. When his TV caught fire and the bus burned down, he needed a new place to live.

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Victor Purdy shows off his 1969 Alaska tour bus. - Jonny Wakefield

"He purchased it and [he and a relative] drove it all the way up here and converted it into a camper," she said.

The family sold the bus to Purdy in the summer of 2014. Meanwhile, its stablemate was being readied for the big screen. Painted as a 1960s Greyhound, the bus appeared in "Tomorrowland," the Disney sci-fi film starring George Clooney. According to YVRshoots, a website that tracks movie filming locations in Vancouver, the movie filmed at the University of B.C. in the summer of 2013. The scene featured actor Thomas Robinson stepping off the bus onto the midway of the 1964 World's Fair.

When 212 came to rest in Purdy's yard, the odometer in the rear wheel hub sat at 32,214.5 miles. Day guesses the bus's actual mileage is closer to half a million, saying the odometers are sometimes swapped out after a major engine rebuild. In other words, the bus has life left in it.

On seeing photos of 212, Day was surprised by how well the old diesel had aged. Unlike its movie star counterpart, it looked much as it did more than 45 years ago in the Alaska wilds.   

"It's got our numbering on it still," he said. "It was our 212, it was Gray Line's 212. It's always had the same number."

reporter@dcdn.ca

© Copyright 2018 Dawson Creek Mirror News

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