NORMAN — When Harlan and Kelley Butler bought a 1967 Volkswagen Kombi bus in Waco, Texas, and brought it to Norman, they really didn’t know what they were getting into. The Hall Park couple and their Longfellow Middle School daughter knew it was a fun vehicle with an outlandish paint job. Even though the bus was over forty years old it started and ran OK. What they didn’t know was the seemingly magical effect it has on people. Everywhere they go random folks at filling stations and in parking lots are instantly attracted to the old VW.
The former owner tried to warn Butler that the questions, comments and requests for photos would never stop. “As I was driving slowly back from Texas with the bus on a trailer people in other vehicles were lagging alongside me on the interstate taking pictures with their phones,” he said. “I’ll take you for a ride in it and you’ll see.”
We’d driven a couple of blocks through their neighborhood in the bus just as two adult women were coming out of a home and onto the sidewalk. One lady looked at us driving by and immediately stuck out her hitchhiking thumb. Butler’s right. The bus is magic.
Recently he took the bus to a Veteran’s Day car show. A dozen biker dude vets in black leather pulled up on their Harleys.
“A 6 foot five guy with long hair came up and said ‘Man, I love this bus,’” Butler said. “The guy was about to cry and told me he’d lived in one just like it for two years after coming home from Viet Nam.”
The vet had traveled around California when his war was over and the bus was passport into the era’s hippie counterculture.
“He told me that bus had probably saved his life,” Butler said. “That’s one of the cool things about owning this.”