My trip to Green Tortoise’s former “R&D” Facility in Lowell, OR. to shoot the Super Golden Eagle was a decade later than it should have been, as it’s been closed and most of the buses are gone, their regular Seattle-San Francisco route having shut down in 2001. But Green Tortoise Tours is still at it, offering an unconventional (and cheap) way to tour the most compelling sites of North America.
Green Tortoise was founded in 1974, as an alternative bus service on a few key runs on the West Coast as well as extended tours, across the country on various routes, Alaska, Mexico, and all points between. Their current slogan is “Nothing Like Your Last Bus Ride”.
The buses, which traditionally have been old GMC transit buses and coaches, were converted at the GT facility in Lowell so that there is a combination of sitting and lounging areas which are converted to sleeping accommodations. The GT generally travels at night, saving on overnight expenses. There are two drivers who work in shifts, and who also buy the food and organize communal meals. A former GT driver has a site that describes it all in greater detail at brioncechony.com. Not surprisingly, the prime demographic is young adults 18-34, the majority from Europe and other countries.
I’ve noticed the GT R&D facility, a former freight train depot, since shortly after arriving in Eugene, as it sits right on the way to one of our favorite hiking spots (Fall Creek). Why I’ve waited so long to finally walk in and look around is another matter, as this lot was once chock-full of old buses, both awaiting being converted as well as just for parts. Today, there’s just a handful of buses left, along with the Super Golden Eagle. I would have kicked myslef if that had disappeared before I shot it.
Although Green Tortoise has moved on to more modern coaches in recent years, they favored old GMC transit buses for much of their forty years in business, and for good reason: they were cheap to come by, very ruggedly built, and parts were plentiful. Here’s two of the most common GT buses, used until not that long ago: an “Old-Look” and “New Look” GMC transit bus.
Here’s a look inside the older bus. Most of the furnishings are gone, but the overhead bunk beds are still in place.
The newer bus is in similar condition. I bet these buses have some colorful stories to tell.
A few remaining transmissions. I imagine keeping these old relics rolling was an interesting challenge for the GT mechanics. I wonder how often one broke down in the middle of nowhere.
Here’s a newer bus at the spit in Homer Alaska. Is the engine open to shed some warmth, or?
Keeping the vibes positive was perhaps a bigger challenge than keeping the old Jimmys running. Being in such intimate quarters with 25-30 other people for up to two weeks is no joke.
For Green Tortoise travelers, this slogan undoubtedly has more significance.
Here’s a look at the Green Tortoise Facility shot and written up about ten years ago, when it was winding down and there were more buses around.