V L Harris family on the second-hand bus

Adventures in a unique camp rig

“Rolling, rolling, rolling . . . Keep this old bus rolling.” My father’s mellow tenor belted out his paraphrase of Rawhide‘s theme song as we bounced along. Like journalist Charles Kuralt, we were on the road . . . again. Adventures beckoned, and a 1950 school bus was our chariot.

Oh, it was a sight! Still painted bright yellow, “Jimmy” was crowned with an airplane’s wing tank that provided water to the sink. Shiny screens framed the windows, and Mother sewed emerald privacy curtains. It had shelves, a butane stove-top, and my parents’ double bed across the back. People stared.

During several summers in the early 1960s, we crisscrossed America. High-speed touring was not the goal; “leisurely” and “laid back” set the pace. We met wonderful people as my parents’ friendliness invited impromptu conversations. Like turtles, we trundled everywhere in our little home. Like gypsies, we felt colorful and carefree, loving the road’s rhythm and Daddy’s songs. “There’s a long, long, trail a-winding” and “Those faraway places, with the strange-sounding names” led us onward.

The bus roused curiosity coast to coast. Two genteel ladies in Georgia gave us two huge tomatoes after peeking inside, exclaiming, “Well, I declare!” At Luray Caverns, Virginia, a 16-year-old guide came to visit. In northern New Mexico’s desolation, a patrolman pulled us over, perhaps expecting illegal immigrants. No one believed we were speeding.

Sometimes, Daddy’s song became the chant “I think I can, I think I can.” We lurched over Wolf Creek Pass . . . barely. We held our breath in San Francisco as Daddy struggled to control “Jimmy” atop steep streets (muttering, not singing). In southern Utah, we fought desert heat among Arches National Monument’s amazing formations; 115 degrees makes old engines touchy.

V L Harris with Jimmy the bus

I learned to navigate, pre-GPS, in strange cities, to guide the bus onto leveling blocks, and to stand unconcernedly atop the bus with a garden hose as if this were normal. I saw our country’s fullness and beauty. I found that being different is okay, especially when dreams pass from father to daughter.

Time softened some frustrations, so wanderlust returns every summer. Shortly before his death, Daddy said that the bus trips were probably his happiest times. I have no bus now, nor any intention of getting one. My family travels more conventionally, but I have a secret when asked to tell something unique about myself.

I hear strains of “Homeward Bound” or “Red Sails in the Sunset” echoing distantly from a funny little bus.

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