In May of 1971, while working for International Displays out of Culver City, California, I drove one of their five Freightliner trucks with a 40’ enclosed trailer to Chicago, Illinois for the Consumer Electronics Show at McCormick Place. While there, I saw my first Highway Post Office bus, commonly known as an HPO, and had to find out more about them.
It was in service at the time and the driver had stopped, so I approached him and asked, “Where did this bus come from?” He said, “This particular bus was based in Des Moines, Iowa.” He gave me the name of the company and their phone number, and that started the wheels turning in my head. I had to go to Des Moines to see how I could get one for myself. This was the beginning of my eventually acquiring a total of thirty-nine Highway Post Office buses through the years.
Since I was driving the company truck, I had no way of getting one of those HPOs to California on this trip if I were to buy one. That is unless I could find someone to drive it out for me. Fortunately, I had previously called my wife, Fran, and asked her to join me in Chicago so we could have some time together, and then ride back with me in the company truck. There was my driver!
I didn’t dare tell her of my plan for her to be the designated driver of the HPO I hoped to buy in Des Moines. We spent a few days together, then the show was over, the display was loaded in the five trucks, and she and I headed back to California in one of the company trucks.
Conveniently, Des Moines was on the route home, so I drove into town to search for the company that had the HPOs. We arrived in Des Moines on Memorial Day and I called the phone number to contact the owner of the company.
Since it was a holiday, he was at a company picnic and not available to show me the buses. I had to wait until the next day. We met at the company yard and he showed me the HPOs that he had for sale. I picked out a 35’ 1962 Crown with a 220 Cummins engine and 5-speed transmission. I paid $2,000 for my first HPO. I called my bank in California and arranged for a money transfer to make the deal.
Fran got behind the wheel of the HPO and took a half-hour driver training course in the parking lot, then off we headed to California. The bus made it to just beyond Flagstaff, Arizona before it quit. Apparently, the injection pump was contaminated because of a dirty fuel filter.
I left the bus on the side of the road, and Fran and I continued to California. (I had a lot of time to make up a good story as to why the load I was hauling took two days longer than scheduled). The next day I drove back with a friend to where I had left the bus and hired a mobile mechanic to repair the injection pump. With no more problems, we made it home to Redondo Beach, California just fine.
Through word of mouth, a friend who was an owner of a Winston West NASCAR race car heard that I had an HPO bus that would make a great race car hauler, and wanted to buy it. So, the first HPO bus I bought was sold (for a minor profit), and converted to a motorhome that could haul a race car in the back.
Now I was looking for a 40’ HPO, which would fit my needs for an idea I was exploring. My plan was to convert it into a motorhome race car hauler and tow a 25’ display trailer to various West Coast race tracks on the Winston West circuit. The hunt was on.
I went to Crown Coach in Los Angeles where the Crown HPOs were manufactured and got a list of their buyers throughout the United States. I contacted all of them to find out which ones still had HPOs available for sale.
In the meantime, I went back to Des Moines and made arrangements to buy more buses. I became an “unofficial” West Coast supplier of HPOs, eventually buying a total of 39 buses from various sources throughout the United States, and selling 38 of the buses while keeping one for myself.
In 1972 I ran an ad in the NASCAR News offering HPO buses for sale. Larry Smith, “Rookie of the Year” in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series, called me from Lenoir, North Carolina, interested in a bus. I said I had a 35’ Crown with a Cummins engine available. We agreed on a price, and I drove the bus to him.
I was in North Carolina driving on a mountainous, four-lane highway with melting snow on the road when the bus suddenly quit. Fortunately, there was an exit close by and I could see a truck stop on the opposite side of the road.
I managed to exit the highway and made a left turn onto a bridge towards the truck stop when the bus coasted to a stop. I got out on the right side of the bus and started pushing it off the bridge onto the downhill road that led to the truck stop. It picked up enough momentum that I could jump back into the bus, and coast into the truck stop parking area.
I discovered what the problem was when I removed the cover over the fuel tank, which had been left unbolted, with the bolts lying next to it, allowing water and dirt from the road to get into the tank. With the help of a mechanic from the truck stop, we got the bus into the shop, where I replaced the contaminated fuel and filter.
It’s now midnight, the mechanics are ending their shift, and the bus won’t start. I slept in the bus until 6 AM when the next shift began. They got my bus started and I was back on the road.
A few hours later I delivered the bus to Larry at his shop. I hung around the shop getting to know Larry and his mechanics while waiting for the money for the bus. I then flew from Lenoir to Des Moines to pick up another HPO. Sadly, Larry was killed while racing in Talladega, Alabama August of 1973.
In January 1974, I had a few more buses left in Des Moines. My designated driver Fran, our two little children, two German shepherds, and I drove to Des Moines in my 1959 Chevy one-ton panel truck with a trailer on the back loaded with tires since, with the exception of the first one, all of the buses were bought without tires. January was not the best time of the year to be in Des Moines. It was extremely cold. I worked on two of the buses for a couple of days to get them ready for the trip back to California.
We were driving the first 150 miles on a two-lane “roller coaster” highway when the bus Fran was driving blew a radiator hose. Since there was no place to pull over, she stopped me in the roadway. I said to keep going until there was a safe place to stop; fortunately, we were able to stop at a town not too far away.
I repaired the leak and we continued on, but the bus was still heating up. At the next town, a few miles down the road, we pulled into a parking lot where I laid on a sheet of ice to pull out the 100-pound radiator, located right in the middle underneath the bus. I checked it and found nothing wrong, so put it back on and we continued southwest towards Olathe, Kansas.
The bus continued to run hot so I decided it was best to just leave it and come back later to get it. I found a large lot behind a restaurant where I got permission to park it. Since my bus was already towing the panel truck, I now had the trailer that had been behind the disabled bus to deal with. I removed the spindles, hubs, and tires to allow the trailer to fit inside the bus. Fortunately, the bus had a roll-up door to make that work out.
We were traveling on I-40 into New Mexico when we encountered a snowstorm. I followed a set of tracks in the snow and was going at a good clip when I ran up on a slow car ahead of me in the right lane. As I applied the brakes, the bus turned sideways to the left, and the panel truck jackknifed to the right. The bus was like a bowling ball heading for the “10 pin”. I accelerated to straighten out the bus and managed to get past the slow car by using the left lane. The skills I acquired as a race car driver certainly helped.
When I-40 discontinued and traffic had to exit onto Route 66 through town, there were four cars ahead of me, apparently going too fast and slid off the road while trying to make the transition. I may have been next if I hadn’t just learned my lesson to drive a little slower in the snow. Under these conditions, I could either stop and get a motel room for the night or continue driving in the storm and hope for the best.
Of course, Fran chose the motel, but so did all the other travelers, so no rooms were available. I made a good choice and kept on going. There was no other traffic on the road for several hours when the storm passed. Presumably, most of the drivers were snuggled in a warm bed in a motel room. Fortunately, the weather was great the rest of the way. However, I arrived home too late to qualify for the NASCAR race I was supposed to be in the following day in Riverside.
So now I have a broken-down bus in Olathe, Kansas. I had contacted the restaurant several times to check on the bus and was told it was still there. The last call I made, in March, the phone was disconnected. Oh my.
I immediately loaded up the family and dogs, again, and drove back to Olathe to get the bus. It was still very cold, but we had to go. We got to Olathe just as the owner of the restaurant, which was now permanently closed, was about to take possession of the bus. I hooked up the panel truck behind the bus and headed for Des Moines.
The bus continued to run hot, and I made sure the water was always full in the radiator. We drove about 200 miles, or two-thirds of the way to Des Moines, when the Leyland engine seized up on a small two-lane road out in the middle of nowhere. I parked alongside the road for the night. We were freezing cold, so I pulled up the flooring over the engine, which had access from inside the bus. The family huddled around the warmth of the engine, like a bonfire. We slept comfortably until sunrise.
When I got up that morning, I confirmed that the engine had indeed seized up, so pushed the bus with the panel truck to try to break the engine loose. It worked! I continued on successfully to Des Moines.
At the shop in Des Moines, the mechanic tore the engine down and said there was no possible explanation as to why the engine ran at all. He installed new head gaskets and showed me the minor cracks in the block. He put some “motor mender” in the water system and off we went back to California. It continued to have a heating problem, and the bus was eventually sold “as is.”
On one of my trips to Little Rock, Arkansas, around 1974, I drove my panel truck on my own. I picked up a 35’ Crown HPO and loaded it up with snacks, food, and plenty of water and drinks in preparation for the long, hot, lonely trip across West Texas.
I was in the middle of Texas in the middle of the night and everything was going well until the alternator quit. Nothing around me but dried bones of dead cattle, broken fences, and a few small towns. The batteries were getting low on voltage and I didn’t dare stop because there wasn’t enough power to get the bus started again. I was all by myself.
I spotted an abandoned, stripped-down General Motors car in a field alongside the road on the outskirts of a small town. I stopped and saw that it still had an alternator so I removed it and hooked it up to the bus. It was kind of tricky.
Crown has two 100-amp alternators with a double pulley, and neither one was functioning. While the engine was running, I removed the rear alternator and replaced it with the 37-amp General Motors alternator. It was challenging, but I managed to get at least one of the two belts back on. The GM alternator was only a single pulley.
I got back in the bus and continued driving across Texas. The system worked, although it was slow to charge. The next day I was driving along in the heat, and the temperature of the bus was running high. I turned on all five of the heaters in the bus, which cooled the engine, but ran the battery down. I had to keep turning the heater fans on to cool the engine, then turn them off to charge the battery.
I only had to do this during the day when it was hot outside – all the way to California. Palm Springs was a challenge because of the heat and strong winds. At night the outside temperature was cool enough that I didn’t have to run the heaters. I also tried drafting behind a semi-truck, which cooled the engine, but the drivers really didn’t like that very much and would pull away. I couldn’t blame them. I wouldn’t like it either.
The story behind the ten buses purchased from Tal Williams Traders Chevrolet in Greensboro, North Carolina in June 1974: Through the contacts, I made regarding HPO’s, I was told about a bunch of buses out of use in Greensboro, owned by a car dealership, Tal Williams Traders Chevrolet. I contacted Tal Williams personally, and we discussed the purchase of these buses. He said that “some” needed repairs and he would take $10,000 for all ten of them. They came as a package deal.
This proposed transaction made the news in a local newspaper published June 15, 1974. “Mobile Postal Vans Now Rust in Weeds.” The article noted, “The remains of the Greensboro Highway Post Office service, which once provided isolated communities across the state with speedy mail delivery, lie in a weed-infested lot on the outskirts of the city. A buyer in California has expressed interest in purchasing the entire fleet (to make into motorhomes) so in the near future the HPOs might be gone from Greensboro forever, leaving an overgrown lot and memories of days past.”
Shortly after our conversation, I flew from Los Angeles to Greensboro with three suitcases full of tools and some clothing, prepared to buy all ten and started getting them ready to drive to California.
When I arrived in Greensboro, Tal Williams directed me to the buses and offered any help needed to get them roadworthy When I saw the buses parked in an open area near a public highway, I was shocked at their overall poor condition but was ready to tackle this project.
One bus had been turned over on its side, and I ended up selling it “as is, where is.” That is after I removed much-needed parts for the other buses. None of the buses ran; some had broken windshields and smashed gauges. The crankshaft was out of one and the pan missing. One was missing a transmission. Numerous running parts were broken or missing. And it was no surprise that I discovered other issues as I began working on them.
After I observed the condition of the buses, I went back to Tal, we were now on first name basis, and bought them, knowing that what I see is what I get.
I got myself a hotel room and bought a well-used 1965 Chevy wagon to get around in while working on the buses. The next day I started working on the buses. I worked on a long list of repairs continuously for the next three months. I rebuilt at least one engine and did major repairs on others.
Finally, most were pretty much ready to drive back. I drove what I considered the most reliable bus out to California; I made a good choice because I had no problems during the 2,200 miles cross-country trip.
The other buses were left behind for me to finish at a later date. I ended up making several trips to pick up the rest of the buses one or two at a time. The guys at the Chevy dealer and Cummins Carolina were a great help, and we remain friends to this day.
May 1975, I left Los Angeles in my 1959 Chevy one-ton panel truck, with a guy I hired to help drive a bus back from North Carolina. I’ll call him Joe. In getting the buses ready for the cross-country-trip, Joe was preparing to drive one of the buses out of a tight parking spot. I told him not to move it until I was there to guide him.
I walked away and he proceeded to drive the bus out of the spot, successfully. He was so happy that he got it out all by himself! He set the parking brake, then jumped up out of his seat, forgetting the bus was still running and in gear. This caused the driveshaft to break, which now needed to be replaced before we left. Fortunately, I had another one there.
While I was working on the buses in Greensboro, two mechanics from the Chevy dealer volunteered to help drive back two of the buses back with me. The four of us left North Carolina with two HPOs and my panel truck. Everything was going great at the time we stopped in Little Rock and picked up two more HPOs that I had bought previously. Now I had four drivers and four buses. Perfect.
On the way to Dallas, we discovered that one of the buses was blowing out a huge amount of oil. I put a large vent hose from the crankcase through the bus, out a window, and to the roof of the bus. It didn’t improve the problem. Another truck driver I talked to suggested I use Ajax cleanser in the engine to seal the rings. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that didn’t work either. It only got worse. The bus was getting eight miles per gallon of oil, so I got a 55-gallon drum of drain oil and ran a line inside the bus from the drum directly to the engine.
All went well until we were about 200 miles from El Paso. The driver I brought from Los Angeles, Joe, lost a water hose on the engine of the bus he was driving. He sped up to catch up with the other three buses and while doing so put a rod through the block, blowing the engine.
I hooked that bus up to another bus with a chain and proceeded down the road towing it. With no running engine, there was no way to build up air pressure to release the brakes. I had a portable gas engine air compressor with me which I used to operate the HPO air brakes.
When we got to El Paso, I disconnected the panel truck from its bus and drove across the border to Juarez, Mexico to buy diesel fuel at a discounted price. I had seven 55-gallon drums in the back of the panel truck and filled all seven with $0.15 per gallon diesel fuel. I drove back to El Paso and filled all the buses with 350 gallons of diesel.
When I was re-loading the drums back into the panel truck, I noticed that one had been leaking so I knew not to put fuel in it. I drove back to Juarez and filled six drums with fuel and left the leaking one empty.
At the check station in Juarez, the guard noticed the drums in the back of my panel truck and recognized me from the first trip into Juarez. He asked what I was doing with those drums. I opened the rear doors of the panel and showed him that they were empty by rattling the only empty one. He gave me the okay to continue on. Sure, wouldn’t try that today.
It is now Saturday morning and we are getting ready to eat breakfast in El Paso, when one of the mechanics from North Carolina, who was helping drive a bus, told me he had to get back home for work immediately. The trip was taking too long. He unloaded his motorcycle from one of the buses and headed back to North Carolina.
Now I’m short a driver. So that morning I called my reliable wife, Fran, who is three months pregnant, works full time, and has two little children, and asked her to get on the next plane to El Paso to help drive a bus home. She arranged for the care of the children, then off she flew to El Paso, arriving just as we were finishing breakfast three hours later.
We all took off from El Paso soon after Fran arrived. She was driving the smoker until we approached New Mexico. Before we got to the check station, I hooked up the smoking bus with a chain to one of the other buses. At the checkpoint the officer noticed the bus being towed by a chain and said it can’t be towed that way.
I told him because New Mexico charges a fuel tax on all fuel in the tank, I just ran out of fuel. I only needed to tow the bus to the next truck stop. He gave me the “okay” to go on. I unchained the smoker, and Fran got back behind the wheel, continuing to cover cars on the road with oil. Some of the drivers behind us would try and clean their windshield by using the wipers. Many made an obscene gesture as they passed.
A few miles from Phoenix a Highway Patrolman stopped us after seeing the smoke billowing out and wrote Fran a “fix It” ticket, and said to go into town to get the problem repaired. Of course, I had no intention of fixing the problem in Phoenix, so we continued on through town and driving west on city streets because I-10 was not yet finished.
After stopping at a traffic light, the bus left a plume of dense smoke a block long, drawing the attention of a policeman who was talking to some kids alongside the road. He immediately got into his car, chased us down and pulled us over, and said we could not go any further, that we were a hazard on the road. I explained that we were just trying to get to the interstate and the bus would be less of a problem once it was on the straightaway. He gave permission to tow it to the new section of the Interstate about 10 miles ahead.
Now it’s Sunday night. Fran is supposed to be at work Monday morning, and we are only in Phoenix. Another 400 miles yet to go. We stopped to rest at a new service station under construction alongside the interstate. We were hot and tired, yet the warm cement slab felt good to lie on. We all got about two to three hours of sleep in a day and a half.
Before the sun was up Monday morning our caravan took off towards the California border, about 125 miles away. We were not looking forward to what might be a roadblock at the Inspection station, as California does not look kindly on vehicles being towed by a chain or gross polluters on the Interstate, of which we had both. However, the gross polluter coasted on through and the towed bus wasn’t even an issue. Whew!
The gross polluter bus was back to spewing oil all over the road and passing cars. Several drivers were very upset, and I believe at least one reported us to the Highway Patrol. We made it to the first truck stop and laid low for a few hours. We watched two Highway Patrol vehicles circle the truck stop a couple of times looking for us as we ate breakfast inside.
When the coast was clear, we went back to the buses and I unhooked my panel truck from the tow bar on one of the good running buses. I then attached the tow bar to the smokey bus and hooked the panel truck to it. Then I chained the smokey bus to the good running bus. So now I have a 35’ bus, a 15’ chain, and another 35’ bus, the panel truck with a tow bar is another 20 feet, making the whole “elephant train” about 110 feet long. I believe the legal maximum length in California is 75 feet.
Now the challenge is to make it home from here. We were on the road for about two hours and all was going well until about 30 miles from Indio approaching Chiriaco Summit when a Highway Patrolman going the other way spotted us.
He turned around and stopped both me and my other driver Timmy, and said, “You can’t tow on a chain like this. You must have a rigid tow bar. Go two exits ahead and maybe you can rent a tow bar there. If not go to Indio about 30 miles away and get one there.” (I needed two tow bars – one for the blown engine bus and one for the smoker.)
He left us with two tickets, one for me and one for Timmy, that had numerous violations leaving no room for more to be written. We did as he suggested and found the place closed.
So, back on the I-10 we went, only to be stopped again about two miles down the interstate. This time there were two Highway Patrolmen, one being the original officer. And boy was he mad. He wrote us up two additional tickets, more serious than the first. He said that he told me to go to Indio, which I was doing. However, he didn’t say not to drive the buses there, which I was doing. He ordered me to turn around and park the buses and don’t move them until they are legal to be on the road.
I did as he said; I unhooked my panel truck and we all got in it and headed for Indio. On the way, I passed by a Highway Patrol office and decided I was going to contest the tickets. Fran, Timmy, and I went inside where I talked to the Desk Sergeant about the list of violations and how unfair it was.
During that time the officer who wrote the tickets stepped out from behind a curtain about three feet away, listening to me complaining. After a brief encounter, the Desk Sergeant interrupted by asking to see my driver’s license. When he saw that I had a commercial license, he threw the license back at me and told me to get out! That I of all people I should know the law and he had no patience with me.
Now it’s 9:00 o’clock Monday night and I’m in Indio looking for a welding shop. I found one that was closing. I talked to the owner and explained my dilemma. Our conversation turned to racing and we found out we both were into oval track racing, which lead him to trust me enough to use his shop, and he went home. I made two hitches, closed his shop up, and drove back to the buses. I got the hitches installed by 4 AM Tuesday and was ready to go.
I’m on the frontage road ready to enter the Interstate. When I turned right the bus being towed turned left, twisting the tow bar. The other tow bar had no problem. I unhooked the panel truck and Fran drove it home, arriving just in time to turn around and go to work Tuesday morning.
The remaining three of us stayed behind and got the buses off the road. I removed the twisted tow bar, then we all took a brief rest until daylight. Around 7:00 Tuesday morning, we hopped in one of the good buses and drove into Indio for breakfast, then drove back to the welding shop. I talked to the owner again and explained my situation. He was willing to make the tow bar for me, but he needed the bus there. So back to the buses we went.
We took two buses to Indio, leaving the other two. I was driving the smokey bus and got stopped again by a different Highway Patrolman who gave me a “Fix It” ticket for smoking.
While the owner of the welding shop was working on the tow bar, I took my two drivers and the welder’s son (to represent a fourth driver) in the good bus and went to the Indio Court House to take care of the four big tickets. I found out that they weren’t holding court that day. I explained to the clerk that I was going to be out of town for the next six months flying tankers in Redmond, Oregon during the fire season. I needed to take care of these tickets before I left. And my driver, Timmy, was going home to North Carolina the next day and would never be back in California.
A man standing next to the clerk overheard our conversation and wanted to know more about the tickets. It turned out he was a Judge and said he would hold a special session for us. The four of us and the judge went into a courtroom. He patiently listened to my sad story, then said he would get rid of the tickets, which he called the “Death Sentence,” with the promise that neither Timmy nor I would get any more of “these.” I didn’t dare tell him that I had just gotten another one a few hours earlier.
After court, we went back to the welding shop and installed the tow bar, and back again to Chiriaco Summit to get the other two buses, then headed for home, again. By this time, it is about 9 PM Tuesday. We arrived in Redondo Beach around 1 AM Wednesday “without a hitch.” I took my hired driver Joe home, never to see or hear from him again.
Wednesday, after a much need rest, Fran and I took Timmy to a nice seafood dinner at the pier in Redondo Beach, then to the Los Angeles airport, to send him on his way back to North Carolina. Thursday, I got a phone call around noon telling me I needed to report to work in Redmond, Oregon first thing Friday morning. I still had the buses to unload, unpack, and then re-pack for my next trip.
During the fire season, I was a co-pilot on a DC-7 air tanker, flying for Butler Aircraft. Fortunately, I was back home just in time to turn around and leave the very next day for six months. The trip normally took four days, this one took ten. (My getting to Oregon is another story in itself.)
Another memorable trip was a return to North Carolina in the summer of 1977, with my family: Fran, our nine-year-old son Brent, seven-year-old daughter Brenda, one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Lynnette, and our two German shepherds. We traveled in the panel truck, making it a “family vacation” that ended up taking six and a half weeks.
Our route took us through Detroit, Michigan, where we received a police escort to the Canadian border due to being in an “unsafe area”, and up to Ontario, Canada, then over to Niagara Falls, and down to New York City, and Washington DC before ending up in North Carolina, where we stayed in High Point for four weeks. It was over 100 degrees during the day and 90 degrees at night.
It took only a week to get the next bus ready, but I got side-tracked and bought a 13-ton forklift that had to be disassembled, then I bought a trailer for the hoist. I ended up buying a GMC truck and removed the cab, using the chassis as a trailer to transport the forklift frame.
Fortunately, my newly made friends in High Point couldn’t have helped me more. They let me have full use of their yards and garages. I couldn’t have done what I did without their help. True “Southern hospitality.” Fran and I celebrated our birthdays during our stay in High Point – her 35th and my 38th.
It took seven days to get home, but we didn’t have any real major trouble. We’d stop for a brief rest, then continue hopefully on when invariably something would go wrong. For instance, the bus wouldn’t start and I had to jump it with the panel truck. Then the bus ran out of fuel while idling. Then the panel truck wouldn’t start. All of this very minor, but most time-consuming.
It was like that all the way home. If it wasn’t fuel, it was the trailer lights not working or a flat tire. Fran was driving the panel truck towing the car trailer with the kids and dogs, and I was driving the HPO and towing the GMC trailer. We stopped somewhere in Arkansas to siphon fuel into the bus. The mosquitoes attacked Fran and left her with over 300 bites. The mosquitoes were even worse at the truck stop, where we parked for the night next to a swamp.
We started our last leg home just east of Tucson, Arizona. Fran and the kids arrived home before me around 6:00 AM. Somehow, we got separated on the freeway coming from San Diego to Los Angeles. When I stopped to buy fuel for the bus, I found a major oil line break and had to fix it without turning off the engine. That was tricky. I finally made it home around 10 AM.
Between the years 1971 and 1978, in no specific order, I acquired three 40’ Crown HPOs from O&A Stage Lines in Lubbock, Texas; two 35’ Crown HPOs from Continental Trailways in Dallas; two 40’ Crown HPOs in Muskogee, Oklahoma; ten 35’ Highway Products HPOs from Tal Williams Chevrolet Dealership in Greensboro; 13 total HPOs from Des Moines – a variety of 35’ Highway Products, 35’ Twin Coaches, and 35’ and 40’ Crowns; a total of eight 35’ and 40’ Crown HPOs from Little Rock; and one 40’ Crown HPO from Continental Trailways in Los Angeles. The buses from Des Moines had either Cummins or Leyland pancake engines. All of the others had Cummins.
The following is what some of the HPO’s were used for after I sold them:
- Eight of them were converted to motorhomes.
- Two of them were converted into race car haulers. One went to Larry Smith, NASCAR “Rookie of the Year” in 1972 from Lenoir, North Carolina, and the other to a Winston West Division of NASCAR driver from San Fernando Valley, California.
- Two were converted to haul motorcycles: one for oval track racing and the other for Don Vesco, who set the land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1972.
- One was used as a mobile aquarium.
- Two were purchased by a Hollywood movie studio and used on location as a dressing room and a generator for power.
- One was used as a mobile tailoring facility, where airline flight attendant uniforms were made and altered.
- One of the Highway Products HPOs was rented out to a movie studio and used in the movie “Darktown Strutters.” To my knowledge the movie was never released, but the bus came back with 252 holes in it and painted white, including the tires. It eventually was sold; I have no idea what happened to it after that.
Now about my own HPO bus: In 1973, when I was 34 years old, I bought a 1963 40’ HPO bus from O&A Stage Lines in Lubbock, Texas. It was the “pick of the litter” with the best chassis; however, the engine had failed with just under 90,000 miles. I bought a used engine in Des Moines and installed it in the bus in Lubbock, and then drove it home to California.
There I started customizing it to fit my needs. The first thing I did was install spring brakes. Then I removed all of the post office equipment inside. About a year later I replaced the narrow single door in the back with a set of double doors from a semi-trailer, which would enable a car to be driven inside.
The interior of the bus was open and spacious, except for the wheel wells, leaving adequate room for a race car and a motorhome conversion. Eventually, I replaced the 5-speed manual transmission with a 13-speed Road Ranger manual transmission. A few other things were done like updating the size of the tires and wheels.
My HPO never hauled a race car inside, nor was it ever converted into a motorhome, yet throughout the years it has been used in a variety of ways.
For instance, I loaded a houseful of furniture and a 1964 Cor-Van pick-up in the bus, towing a 190 International tow truck, while moving a friend and his family from Los Angeles to Killeen, Texas. There was barely enough room for them inside the bus as they were packed like sardines.
After unloading the bus in Texas, I bought two firetrucks – a 1928 Seagraves with 24-inch wheels and a 1932 Chevrolet. I had to cut the bumper and rear frame of the Chevrolet in order to close the back door of the bus. Other than that, both fire trucks fit perfectly for the trip back to California.
Many trips were made in the bus to NASCAR races, hauling my race car on a trailer behind the bus. I raced at Riverside National Raceway, and various other racetracks in California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.
On one of my bus trips, three friends and I drove to Oregon and Washington for a week of racing. As I was driving on the interstate in Oregon, one of the guys opened the rear side door, which opens inward, and sat on a chair drinking a beer for all to see. A policeman pulled me over because my passenger did not have a seat belt on and was drinking alcohol in a moving vehicle.
My friend informed the policeman that it wasn’t against the law to drink in a motorhome, nor did he require a seat belt. The policeman had to look up the law and agreed that it was perfectly legal to drink and be without a seatbelt in a motorhome if you are in the “living area” of the RV. I’m not sure how a chair in the middle of an otherwise empty bus qualified as a living area, or the bus qualified as a motorhome, but the officer left without writing me a ticket. (I guess it’s all in the interpretation of the law.)
In 1981 I transported two new pick-up beds from Orange County, California to Pocatello, Idaho in exchange for a wrecked 1981 Ford police car that I brought back with me. It was a quick non-stop trip; I drove at night and Fran drove during the day. I used all of the mechanical parts and put them together with a new 1981 Mercury frame and body to build my parents a brand, new car!
The bus was also used to haul two cement pumps to Arizona for my boss.
The last big trip I took with my bus was in 2008 when it was converted to an “Allied Moving Van”, to move our daughter Brenda’s family of six from Orange County back to their house in Mesa, Arizona.
When I pulled up in front, fully loaded from floor to ceiling with their belongings, it brought all of the neighbors out to see this unusual sight. They are still talking about it to this day. Since then, the bus made many trips locally from Hemet to Orange County, towing 26’ semi-trailers, 40’ Crown HPOs, and a 35’ school bus.
It has been fifty years since my introduction to the Highway Post Office bus, and I’m now in my 80s. Life doesn’t always turn out exactly as planned or envisioned. However, my life has been good. I have enjoyed the blessings of being a father of four wonderful children, a grandfather of eleven grandchildren, and a husband to my wife who has stayed by my side for almost 59 years.
Countless blessings of wonderful memories, as well as cherished friendships, are due to my owning an HPO bus. My bus never got converted to a motorhome and now sits on my property as an “unfinished project,” ready to become a part of someone else’s future plans.
Editor’s Note: LaMarr’s last HPO bus is looking for a good home. If you want a rugged bus that will probably last you for several years to come, look no further. You can see it in our Classified ads (Click HERE)