Ken Kesey's Bus ... Whatever happened to it?





magine THE SCRAPBOOK's dilemma when we ran across an Associated Press account last week about the blighted efforts to restore the late Ken (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) Kesey's psychedelic bus, which seems to be dissolving into the weeds somewhere in rural Oregon.

For those younger readers who don't know what we're talking about, here's the AP's description of this national treasure: "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"--a journey made famous in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).

As you might imagine, restoration efforts have not gone smoothly. To begin with, when he purchased a new bus 15 years ago, Kesey dumped the old one into a swamp--a storage venue not recommended by preservationists. A restaurant owner in Hollywood thought he had an understanding with the Kesey family to raise $100,000 to shine the 1939 International Harvester model until it sparkled; but they seem to have encountered creative differences--you know how that works in Hollywood--and now Kesey's daughter-in-law is reluctant to continue work until a documentary film deal can be worked out.

"I want to make sure we do this right and get involved with the right people," she told the AP. "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 [sic]. We want to be sure it's on display for the most people possible."

Thus far, the bus has been hauled from the swamp, scrubbed a little, and Willie Nelson has kindly offered to install a new biodiesel engine. But that's about it. Alas, documentary filmmakers are not exactly besieging the Kesey homestead, and frankly, the whole project taxes THE SCRAPBOOK's customary support for historic preservation.

"This is an icon of America," one ex-Merry Prankster said to the AP. "It would be nice to see it back out on the road again to bring the reality of the '60s into the 21st century." In which case, in THE SCRAPBOOK's considered opinion, Willie Nelson should save his biodiesel money and help that Hollywood restaurant owner push this icon of America safely back into the swamp where it belongs.


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