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Restoring Kesey's Famed 'Acid Test' School Bus

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Restoring Kesey's Famed 'Acid Test' School Bus

Pop Culture

Restoring Kesey's Famed 'Acid Test' School Bus

Restoring Kesey's Famed 'Acid Test' School Bus

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5165208/5165209" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Four years after Ken Kesey's death, a restaurateur in Los Angeles has stepped forward in a serious bid to restore the author's famed bus "Further" — the vehicle that carried the Merry Pranksters on their 1964 "acid test" trip across the country. Alex Chadwick talks to Kesey's son Zane about the legacy of the 1939 International Harvester and what it will take to restore it. It sat for years in a swampy area of Kesey's Oregon farm, rusting and covered with moss.

CHADWICK: And we're staying in Oregon but heading to the Willamette Valley where a man named Zane Kesey lives. He is the son of the late Author Ken Kesey. For the last 15 years Zane's father's bus, the ones whose destination was "Further," has lain undisturbed in a swamp on the family farm.

We called Zane Kesey because we heard he was getting ready to restore that famous bus.

Mr. ZANE KESEY (Son of Late Author Ken Kesey): It's been out in the rain under the trees, in what we call the swamp. But it's really just a creek in our trees that spreads out for, oh acres. And it's happy to be up out of there.

CHADWICK: You're dad actually got a new bus and this one was kind of retired. But a man who owns a little restaurant and eatery down here in Los Angeles asked if he could restore the old bus because he would like to show it off. Do I have the facts correct?

Mr. KESEY: Yeah, at first I thought that he would take a look at it and give up. But he was undaunted and he came down and took a look at it and felt its energy and he's really been pushing forward on it.

CHADWICK: This is the bus that had that famous across the top in the little destination thing that the buses have on the outside to tell you where there going. Someone had painted "Further" on this bus and he drove it all over the country. It had an extraordinary paint job I guess.

Mr. KESEY: Yeah they had painted it all psychedelic. I helped paint it when I was, you know, three years old. And I can definitely remember riding on top down the California Coast Highway around those corners looking down the cliffs as you lean around it going too fast.

CHADWICK: Are you saying you were three years old and you were riding on top of the bus, not in it?

Mr. KESEY: Yeah there's a platform and a windshield to ride up on top.

CHADWICK: Well, 15 years in a swamp, what's happened, how does it look now?

Mr. KESEY: It's pretty rusted up. I can put my finger through in a few places here and there. But the tires are still full of air so it rolled up on out of the swamp just fine.

CHADWICK: Did your dad ever express any wishes for what would happen to the bus?

Mr. KESEY: Oh, he didn't really have a will. That would be too well planned out for him.

CHADWICK: Well he's a man who worked on books and he wrote books that a whole generation absolutely loved like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. But here's a quote from him in 2000, "When people ask what my best work is, it's the bus."

Mr. KESEY: He took everything that he had when he'd come out with his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in order to get this bus and take his friends across the country having this wild time. That turned into, well essentially the 1960s.

CHADWICK: This bus was kind of a rallying icon for what, 1960s idea and the spirit of the 1960s and anti-war protest and all that sort of stuff?

MR. KESEY: Yes and then it turned into more than just the bus itself. Eventually there got to be a saying of you're either on the bus or off the bus. And finally there were people that had never even seen the bus and they were on the bus. And it meant that you were in the spirit. Sometimes on Grateful Dead tour meant you were on the bus, sometimes it meant that you've experienced psychedelics before.

The amount of people that are on the bus nowadays is vast and there already to see the bus that their on.

CHADWICK: Zane Kesey taking the bus of the merry pranksters, maybe further again.

Zane Kesey thank you for speaking with us.

MR. KESEY: You're welcome.

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