How a vintage Calgary Transit bus took owner on 'trip of a lifetime' to Toronto

The decades-old bus was bought as a personal toy for a man who lives on the Toronto Islands, and it's now being noticed by Calgarians in Ontario.

Spruced up from its Spruce Meadows colour-scheme, the bus has been repainted to its original blue

Restored to its original paint scheme, this Calgary Transit bus has a new home on the Toronto Islands. (Sean Tamblyn)

If you visit the Toronto Islands, you might find an old-time bus that's a little far from home.

The owner, Manuel Cappel, has it parked there, where he lives. He spoke to The Homestretch about how he went about restoring and relocating a coach that used to be a part of Calgary Transit's fleet, operating as bus No. 619.

Cappel bought the bus when he was 65 and took it on the trip of its lifetime — and now it's getting noticed by Calgarians in its new home.

"It's basically a private toy," Cappel said. "Once every two or three weeks I like to fire it up to keep it alive."

Spotted by Calgarians

He said most people who see the vehicle don't know it's a Calgary relic. But he's chuffed when he meets people familiar with the paint job.

"I get people saying: 'Oh, I used to ride buses like that when I was a kid back in Calgary,'" he said. "I say: 'Yes, you may well have ridden this one.'"

He's not sure what routes the bus took, but since it's been spotted by its former owners and operators who know about the set of wheels, he's hoping to find out a little about its history.

All-Canadian shuttle

From what he understands, the coach started off in London, Ont., in 1967. Its unique look is called the "fishbowl" — others might know it as a GM New Look.

It stayed with Calgary Transit until the early '80s and then it was sold to Red Arrow Motorcoach, an Alberta-based company that is part of Pacific Western Transportation.

The vintage bus is still being refurbished and Manuel Cappel wants to bring it back to its Calgary Transit glory days, down to the fare box inside. (Manuel Cappel )

Cross-Canada adventure

Then it ended up as a shuttle for Spruce Meadows. In 30 years, the bus only had one driver, Cappel, said, so he's the coach's third operator. And, because it was in great condition, he took bus No. 619 on the trip of its lifetime — a little farther afield than southwest Calgary.

"It was one of the great adventures of my life," Cappel said. "I love a road trip, and this has to be about the best one possible."

Despite his enthusiasm for the journey, Cappel described the new-to-him ride as "ponderously slow."

He explained it's a two-speed automatic transmission. So, he took the Trans-Canada Highway.

"I'd roll along, pedal to the metal at about 85 kilometres an hour," he said. "Everything went just fine. There were very, very few mechanical problems with it and they were all very minor."

Hitchhikers lend helping hand

He used to be a truck driver and loved driving big rigs. So he was able to drive six to seven hours a day, stopping for fuel for him and his bus.

Cappel picked up hitchhikers, too, including two brothers in Medicine Hat who were heading home to Quebec City. He picked up another young man headed to Montreal. They were 20-somethings, so Cappel said they mostly kept to themselves, or were wrapped up in their smartphones, but were good company on the 11-day trip.

"They got a ride clean across the country," he said.

His hitchhikers helped him every day by washing the bus and sleeping on board as "security" while Cappel slept in motels.

Three hitchhikers called the vintage bus home on an 11-day trip across Canada. (Manuel Cappel )

New paint job

The bus itself cost $2,000. After an extra drum of oil and a mechanical checkup and insurance, it ran him an extra $600. Then, the drive from Calgary to Toronto was a $1,000 trip.

In Ontario, it had to be inspected again, which cost him an extra $7,000.

Then he wanted to return the No. 619 to its former glory. Because of the coach's time at Spruce Meadows, it was painted a green colour and didn't have its original transit logos.

"That paint scheme was a little tired and faded," he said. His friend, who also loves buses, sent him a picture of its original stripes — the double blue scheme — and Cappel thought that looked terrific.

This is what the Calgary Transit bus looked like when new owner Manuel Cappel picked it up. It had been painted green because it was being used as a shuttle for Spruce Meadows. (Manuel Cappel )

So, now that it's repainted, he's looking for other ways to bring the bus back its former glory. And next on his list is a vintage fare box. It's called a Duncan fare box and he's hoping sooner or later one will pop up on eBay.

With files from The Homestretch.