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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 Regina.

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 version.

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 versions.

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, says Parkin.

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 flatbed.

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 department.

He has found himself a job that satisfies his cravings and helps him support what he says is an extremely expensive hobby -- much more than golf.

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 itself.

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 vehicle
(Red Deer Advocate Feb.2011)
       News article: Parkade named Sorensen Station
(Red Deer Express June 2010)
       News article: Downtown parkade to be named after transportation pioneer Gordon Sorensen                                                                                                                
(Red Deer Advocate June 2010)
       News article: Rare GM public bus saved by city bus man
(Red Deer Express Dec.2009)

Evolution of Transit in Central Alberta
History of Red Deer Transit


 

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