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1951 Chevy Bus

Owner: Butch Voigt


This month’s Feature Truck certainly follows our trend of finding the more unusual among early Chevrolet and GMC vehicles.  This may be the only survivor of a 1951 Chevrolet 1 ton with a 16 passenger body. Chevrolet provided the 131” wheel base chassis with fenders, hood, grille, etc. See photo. The passenger part was made by the Carpenter Body Works in Mitchell, Indiana. The bus is so narrow it has the usual row of double seats on one side but has a row of single seats on the other side, thus the isle is not centered.  Any school district that asked for a smaller bus would probably have to use a Suburban.

Much of its life was spent hauling rural school children near Mountain Lake, a small town in Southern Minnesota.  Many years later when the bus was retired, the school district used it 20 more years for hauling freight.  With the seats removed it became the schools maintenance department pickup truck!

The next owner surely saved it from the crusher!  Bruce Goldstrand of Stillwater, MN traveled this area occasionally as an outside salesman.  As an old car collector, when he passed a salvage yard near Mountain Lake he always noticed this little bus sitting among the other discarded vehicles.  After a year of seeing it every few months it began to grow on him and he would watch for it on each trip.  One nice day, he could not resist a stop at the yard for a closer view of the bus.  Bruce knew there was space for it in one of his storage buildings but a bus certainly did not fit the image of the other unique cars in his collection.  He looked close at this little bus and was surprised at how complete it was. Yes, all but two seats were missing (it had later been the school district’s truck), there was broken glass, and badly rusted lower body panels but most of the original parts remained.

Bruce fell in love with the bus; however there was a big problem!  The salvage yard owner said he had received a down payment on it the week before, so Bruce’s hope for ownership was over. He drove home disappointed but gave the yard owner his phone number. Surprise! Two weeks later the salvage yard owner called. The person had changed his mind and Bruce could own the bus.

He quickly hauled his little bus home and made a space for it in a storage building.

The high hopes of having fun driving the little bus to antique car activities were soon lost. Bruce discovered his antique vehicle insurance company for his other older special interest cars would not insure a bus. It was suspected that the company was concerned about many passengers in one vehicle. Probably some had been used as a “party bus”.  Therefore, except for driving on the back lot it sat in his garage for 19 years.

It was then in 2011 Bruce decided he would not restore it. The bus needed a new home to give him more garage space. It was hauled to a local farm show for display with a sign on the window. An employee of a distant school bus collector saw it and made a phone call.  The bus collector-restorer was immediately interested. After negotiations on price, the bus had a new owner the next week.

This owner, Butch Voigt was a natural for owning this 60 year old bus.  Butch is a second generation owner of his family business since it was founded in 1947 as the Voigt Bus Service near St. Cloud, MN.  He has three of his children active in the business and two grandchildren that work part time that will someday be owners of the company.  Their bus company currently owns 75 newer school buses, 40 coaches and 10 vans that serve 4 school districts in the surrounding area.

His love for older school buses had immediately pulled him to Bruce’s tired little bus.  He has 6 other early school buses of different makes that he has totally restored including the 1948 Flexible Coach in the first photo.  This small 16 passenger would be just right for hauling his grandchildren to local sporting events and to the ice cream shop in the summer.

All was carefully rebuilt and reassembled like an oversize model kit.  Nothing was over looked.  His goal was to have it completed and drive it 70 miles to pickup his two grandsons on their last day of school.  It ran great (but slow) during the long distance to the school and was a real eye catcher to those along the way!  The sight of their grandfather after school waiting for these two children in his new 1951 bus should have been on film!

It is so small compared to regular buses today, yet much larger that an early Suburban.  Butch became very excited about his new little bus as it was nothing like he had ever owned.   Butch had his grandchildren in mind but also knew it would be just right for the many small summer parades in the local area, easy to park and easy to drive.

During the restoration the body was lifted from the frame rails and restored in his company bus barn.  Butch personally restored the chassis at his home.  He was surprised that some of the replaced rusty metal panels of this Carpenter body were put together at the factory with lead securing the seams (an old method) rather than welding.  Butch broke all his records and did a ground up restoration in about 6 months.

The bus has one oversize heater beside the driver and none in the back.  We know the students wanted to sit up front on cold Minnesota winter mornings.  It still has its original 216 six cylinder engine and 4 speed transmission.  The low geared rear differential makes it all possible for its little engine.

Notice the orange color on the bus body.  Butch states that in 1969 Federal regulations required all school buses to be the same yellow as today.  However, prior to this only Minnesota and Alaska used orange as their school bus color.  It was the Carpenter Bus Company that painted the body orange.  The black hood from GM was then also change to their orange.

Thanks to Butch Voigt, one of the few remaining 1951 Chevy 16 passenger Carpenter school buses is alive and well.  In fact it is above museum quality!  It is a great addition to his show quality collection of school buses that represent another era of taking children to Minnesota schools.

You can contact Butch Voigt at 1-218-765-3104

As Butch bought it in 2011.

Ready for school.

New bus seats, never used. Exact original interior color.

The large heater is ready. Sitting between the frame rails.

Cooper Lines to large bus heater.

NOTE:  FOR EVEN MORE PHOTOS OF THE ORIGINAL BUS AND THE RESTORATION OF BUTCH’S SPECIAL VEHICLE: CLICK HERE.

 

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