Classic bus cruises city streets
reprinted from Red Deer Advocate
(Brenda Kossowan) June 6, 2011
Its most intimate friends call it a baby fishbowl -- the transit
drivers' nickname for an especially rare type of bus that now makes
an occasional tour through the streets of Red Deer.
A scaled-down version of GMC's classic New Look transit bus, the
40-year-old retiree, originally based in Nelson, B.C., has to get
out on the streets once in a while, if for no other reason than to
keep its oil circulating.
Otherwise, the seals dry up and start to leak, says owner Steve
Parkin, facilities superintendent for Red Deer Transit.
Fellow transit enthusiast Simon Wiu grins from ear to ear as Parkin
brakes for a yellow light, bringing his enormous baby to a smooth
stop, right on the line. A shipping clerk based in Toronto, Wiu is
on a western tour, visiting fellow "bus geeks" in major cities
throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan, starting and stopping in
He's clearly impressed with Unit 6000, which had served for 18
years, including surviving a garage fire in 1975.
Despite its 300,000-plus kilometres, the only rattle in its vintage
chassis comes from a loose clamp on the driver's clipboard.
Unit 6000 is the rarest of the rare -- probably the only bus of its
type in Canada that hasn't been scrapped or converted to a camper,
says Parkin. He wants to maintain it in the pristine condition in
which it arrived in Red Deer, almost two years ago.
Originally run as Unit 118 for the City of Nelson, it was
transferred to BC Transit and renumbered in 1975, after damages from
the fire were repaired. BC Transit kept the bus in service in Nelson
until 1989, when it was shipped to Victoria and acquired by a local
historic group. The group later sold the bus to the private
collector from whom Parkin had purchased it.
After about a year and a half of haggling, Parkin cut a deal,
purchasing his baby fishbowl for $3,500.
The "fishbowl" nickname comes from the New Look model's six-pane
front window, which gives drivers a better view than any other bus
on the road, says Parkin. His Model TDH-3301 is called the baby
fishbowl because it is both shorter and narrower than the standard
Parkin's bus, serial number 112, was the second last of its model
that GMC built.
Three other models of the smaller buses were also built from 1969
through 1973 for a total of 510 altogether.
By comparison, the company built about 40,000 of the full-sized
Besides the visibility, the New Look buses handle very nicely and
are quite comfortable because of their air-ride suspension, although
the non-powered steering gets pretty stiff when it's full of people,
He recalls sitting in his office the day the baby was due to arrive.
He had decided that having it shipped on a transport truck, at
roughly $2,500, would be much safer and could end up a lot cheaper
than risking driving it home from Vancouver.
Parkin was worried that its aged engine, built for speeds of no more
than 80 kilometres per hour, would not be able to handle the trip.
Blowing an engine at the top of Rogers Pass would have cost an awful
lot more than what he paid to have it piggy-backed to Red Deer on a
He says his heart and his wallet both took a leap as the trucker
delivered his cargo to a loading dock and the unit he had been
haggling over for the past year and a half was finally delivered,
safe and sound.
In love with buses since he was a child, when he rode with Red Deer
Transit for the pure joy of it, Parkin drove city buses for 10 years
before moving into administration, for a total of 20 years in the
He has found himself a job that satisfies his cravings and helps him
support what he says is an extremely expensive hobby -- much more
He is already looking at $3,000 to fix the wheel rims and replace
the tires and is worried about where he'll find parts if something
happens to its Toro-Flow diesel engine, which is as rare as the bus
Those concerns aside, Parkin is king of the road when he's cruising
through the streets of Red Deer or showing his baby fishbowl off at
classic car events.
At the phenomenal rate at which it guzzles fuel, however, it's not
likely to get very far out of the city.
News article: Newest city ghost unveiled downtown
(Red Deer Express May 2012)
News article: Ghost unveiled
(Red Deer Advocate May 2012)
News article: Transit to retire last low-floor
(Red Deer Advocate Feb.2011)
News article: Parkade named Sorensen Station
(Red Deer Express June 2010)
article: Downtown parkade to be named after transportation pioneer
(Red Deer Advocate June 2010)
News article: Rare GM public bus saved by city
(Red Deer Express Dec.2009)
Evolution of Transit in Central Alberta
History of Red Deer Transit