Calgary

This Calgarian made sure he'll never miss the bus again — by buying one

This transit enthusiast can now cruise the streets in his own GM 'Fishbowl' bus.

Transit enthusiast can now cruise the streets in his own GM 'Fishbowl' bus

Nick Blonski bought bus 1130 from a property outside of Calgary where it was sitting unused. (Helen Pike/CBC)

At the Douglasdale bus depot, a Calgary Transit driver slides his window open, and over the noise of two roaring diesel engines, calls out to Nick Blonski. 

"I used to drive that bus," the driver says. "I did the last circle run on one of those buses." 

Blonski is the proud owner of a 1982 General Motors bus nicknamed the "Fishbowl," for its rounded windshield. The retired 40-foot Calgary Transit bus took its last trip in 2011.

"It turns heads all over the place," Blonski said. 

Nick Blonski is a pilot, but in his spare time he's been working away on his latest hobby: restoring a decomissioned Calgary Transit bus. (Helen Pike/CBC)

When the pandemic hit and the airline industry went quiet, Blonski, a pilot, had a lot more time on his hands. He drove around Calgary looking for old buses to take pictures of — and maybe even buy. 

Transit enthusiasts like to keep track of trains and buses, trading photos and specs online.

One of his friends mentioned seeing an old Calgary Transit bus with the signature blue and pink striping – so he took off to investigate.

"It was just kind of sitting on an acreage, just rotting away," Blonski said. "We found out that the owner was open to selling it. So I bought it."

Tracking down the blue seats was one of the harder parts of this transit bus restoration. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The bus cost him about $2,000 when he bought it in 2020.

And while it ran fine, a previous owner had started converting it into a camper — so almost all the blue leather seats were gone. 

Blonski didn't want to convert the bus into a camper, he wanted to restore it.

Finding spare parts and seats from other similar buses, more than a decade after they'd been sold off from Calgary Transit's fleet proved difficult. 

Stephen Tauro with Calgary Transit said those old buses were decommissioned a long time ago. 

"We do not have any of those on the street. It's a cool story," he said in an email.

The benches at the back of the bus were impossible to find, so he had to build his own out of plywood and find a perfect colour match before sending them to an upholsterer. 

"I've always been interested in buses since junior high," Blonski said. "Back when I was in high school, these buses of this model were still in service with the city."

Nick Blonski paid $2,000 to buy bus number 1130 from a rural property owner. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Stepping into the old "Fishbowl" is like being transported back in time. Granted, it's a near past, in 2010 the youth fare was $1.75 and adults were paying $2.75 to ride the bus. 

"If you have an old bus, it's preserved, and you climb onto it you kind of relive that moment, you know?" Blonski said. "I took this thing downtown and had my friend drive it past the bus stop where I would always catch these in service…I just stood there and just watched this thing pull up."

Reliving that moment, he added, was surreal. 

Inside he's stocked the bus with old bus route maps. Blonski even found a wad of transfers from 1998. 

This booklet of Calgary Transit transfers from October 1998 is an original touch Blonski added to his retired bus. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The only thing he's missing is a farebox and some ads to really complete the look. 

"It was definitely a learning curve," Blonski said. "A lot of hardships and frustrations with this thing."

He said some parts didn't fit right, other times the piece would work, but not be an exact match. Though, he admits, that's part of the charm — transit buses tend to be a mishmash.

He's documented this whole journey online, to help other transit enthusiasts with their own projects. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen Pike

Reporter

Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.

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