Kesey bus project is in idle for now
Dreams of getting author Ken Kesey’s original psychedelic bus back on the road again have hit a pothole.
The Kesey family is looking for a new sponsor to finance restoration work and a TV documentary after breaking things off with Hollywood restaurant owner David Houston, who had hoped to raise $100,000 to restore the bus made famous in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”
Stephanie Kesey, who is married to the late author’s son Zane and overseeing the project, said that the bus has been cleaned up a bit and singer Willie Nelson has offered to put in a biodiesel engine. But she said they don’t want to do any major work until they have a restoration expert and a documentary deal lined up.
Nelson’s publicist was not immediately available for comment.
“I want to make sure we do this right and get involved with the right people,” Kesey said. “This involves the memory of my father-in-law, and I take that very seriously. We just want to work with people with the same ideas about the bus as we do. We want to be sure it’s on display for the most people possible.
“We are not looking to commercialize this ... and are not out to make money or make commercials. We want to make sure it stays pure.”
Houston, who owns the Beanery, an old roadhouse, did not want to discuss details of the breakup. “I thought everything was in sync,” he said. “We wanted to restore the bus and tell the story. I think some other things were going on, I guess. They are just going with somebody else at this point. It’s unfortunate, because we were really excited about it.”
The bus became a symbol in the 1960s of a rolling LSD trip. Ken Kesey was famously quoted as saying, “You’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus,” which became a way of saying someone was part of the psychedelic explorations of the time or not.
Fresh from the stunning success of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Kesey bought the 1939 International Harvester school bus in 1964 from a San Francisco-area family that had fitted it with bunks as a motor home. With a jug of LSD-laced juice in the refrigerator, clean-cut Kesey pals known as the Merry Pranksters on board and Neal Cassady, the driver in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” at the wheel, the bus crossed the country from California to New York.
More than 15 years ago, Kesey put the old bus into retirement in a swampy patch of woods on his farm in Pleasant Hill, Ore., and bought a newer one, which in typical Prankster style he tried to pass off as the original.
After being approached by Houston with the restoration plan, Zane Kesey and some of the Pranksters towed it out of the swamp last year.
“This is an icon of America,” said Ken Babbs, a writer, Prankster and close friend of Ken Kesey. “It would be nice to see it back out on the road again to bring the reality of the ‘60s into the 21st century.
“It’s like a lot of projects. There is an initial enthusiasm. Then it becomes apparent how much work is involved ... and unless you are truly committed you back off.”