Curbside Classic: 1947 International Bus “Further” – Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster-Mobile

It’s bus week at CC, so how could I not show you Eugene’s most famous bus, Further. It’s not the original 1939 Further, the prototype of all hippie buses and the one that Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters drove to NYC in 1964. That was one of the seminal events of the sixties, and the basis of Tom Wolfes “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test“. The original is in terrible shape and awaiting restoration at the Kesey farm nearby. But in the eighties, Kesey bought this one to replace it, and it’s not an unfamiliar sight around town. On this occasion, it was outside the MacDonald Theater, where the premiere of the movie “Magic Trip” was about to take place, made from the many hours of film footage shot during that 1964 cross-country trip. Couldn’t miss that; when in Eugene, do as the Eugenians.

Local boy Ken Kesey was the celebrated author of “One Flew Over The Cokoo’s Nest” and other books, and was a volunteer subject of numerous LSD experiments at Stanford University in the fifties. He apparently took a shine to it, and his rural place in the hills above Palo Alto became a cradle of the counter-culture.

In 1964, he bought the 1939 International school bus for a trip to New York City for the publication of his latest book, “Sometimes A Great Notion” as well as dropping in to the 1964 World’s Fair. The bus got a wild paint job, beat-legend and speed-freak Neal Cassady signed on to “drive”, and the rest is history.

Hundreds of hours of 16mm film was shot of the original trip, but nobody was up to the task to go through it all and edit it until Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney and Allison Ellwood took it on and created the documentary “The Magic Trip” Here’s the trailer. It’s a glimpse into a moment of history that had an outsized cultural impact.

Further made a few more trips, but was retired after returning from Woodstock in 1969, and was left to rot in a swamp on the Kesey farm outside Eugene. The Smithsonian wanted Further, but the Keseys didn’t want to give up the icon.

Recently, efforts are underway to raise the $100k needed to restore it, and it was pulled out of the swamp. It’s going to take a lot of acid to get it cleaned up again.

Kesey passed away in 2001 (bio here), but his son Zane is keeping the legacy alive. Aging hippies ride around in it (and on it), trying to recapture some of the old magic.

Here’s a statue of Ken reading from one of his books in downtown Eugene’s “Kesey Square”, a misnomer if ever there was one. And appropriately enough, an old VW bus is behind him, although not sporting a psychedelic paint job. Eugene: love it or leave it. Or in Kesey’s words: You’re either on the bus or off.