Posts Tagged ‘schoolbus’

Legends, the Series 1: “Dead On” Kaptain Randy Turley

August 29, 2009

I’m going to try and pull off an idea from long ago when I decided to make profiles of all the people that were hanging out in my circle of friends. Back then, many of the descriptions were less than flattering and overall the whole thing was subjective and flawed in so many ways, so I scrapped ever releasing it on the Internet.

This time I’m starting fresh, and each person I describe will be lovingly portrayed with nothing but the best of intentions in an effort to share all that is great about them with the world. This is a celebration of positivity and a tribute to the people I meet on the road. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I do writing them.

Randy at the driver's seat

Randy at the driver's helm

Our first legend is “Dead On” Kaptain Randy Turley. More simply known as just Randy, this man is one of the most amazing characters you will ever meet. His prime focus in life is to hit the open road on adventures around the country, and do so in impossibly old vehicles that have a high probability of breaking down. In the case that anything quits working on the vehicle, Randy will usually fix the problem within a small period of time under great duress, using basic tools from his famous toolbox. To someone who doesn’t know him, it can be more simply stated that he is a McGyver of automobiles. Originally from Oklahoma, he ended up in California during the early 70’s and became owner and driver of the infamous “Dead On” bus (as well as many others). He brought passengers along on many Grateful Dead tours from the 70’s-90’s. He has also driven the Prankster’s new Further bus, and has been a great friend to many a fellow bus owner over the years, helping secure parts, perform repairs, lend rides, and generally bend over backwards to bail a brother or sister out.

I met Randy through our mutual friend Jesse Mosher (soon to be added to the Legends series), and had heard a lot about him from his close friend Scotty Don’t (also due up for a Legends entry), who had borrowed one of Randy’s vehicles to help drive us on (my rock band) Strangefeather’s ’08 Summer Tour. My first interaction with Randy was when we took the aforementioned vehicle (aptly named “Sky Beast”) on a road trip to play a couple of gigs in Phoenix, AZ. It was a precarious ’84 4-cylinder Toyota with Chinook-style camper on the back, towing a crap-colored Datsun truck trailer behind with all our gear in it. I remember the tires kept exploding as we went down the road. Randy would usually find a throwaway tire at a gas station, pull the dead tire off the rim, and remount it with the “new” one in about 30 minutes, using a jack, tire iron and screwdriver. He drove us about 12 hours straight from Phoenix to SF before finally handing over the wheel to someone else so that I could get to work on time at 8am the next morning. He was splashing himself in the face with water to try and stay awake towards the end there.

The next adventure Randy signed on for was Strangefeather’s two-month US Spring ’09 “Get on the Bus Tour” that covered 30 states and 50 gigs in about 60 days. This time, he broke out the Sunchaser, a 1964 International Harvester school bus, painted white w/ blue trim, complete with 2 beds and PanAm airline seats from the 70’s, reupholstered in 80’s neon orange, green and black. This experience was life-changing on so many levels, and Randy was there for almost all of it (more on that in a little bit). He drove us from New Orleans to New York without power steering. Most memorable moments were when we going through a snowstorm in Arizona (yes, I said snow), and the engine shut off coming around a corner and I woke up to the bus skidding around a tight corner with the power steering gone. Randy remained cool through it all (he is unflappable). I also remember it took us 4 hours to get from the Holland Tunnel to downtown Manhattan in a rainstorm. Randy had his CB radio hooked up to a loudspeaker on the outside of the bus. He was navigating downtown New York with only one windshield wiper and no power steering, and he kept telling people on the street to watch out or they would get hit!

Randy's 1964 International Harvester, being used as a dancefloor

Randy's 1964 International Harvester, being used as a dancefloor

This same tour coincided with the Dead tour that Spring, and we stopped in the parking lots at most of their shows and played in front of the bus down by Shakedown Street using generators. Randy was there for all of them except for one, the famed show at the Gorge in Washington. He usually got miracled into the Dead’s performances, and would take riders from show to show for a little gas money, and he would almost always be there when Strangefeather played a set on the tour. He left the band under Scotty Dont’s supervision once we reached Denver in order to attend the anniversary party of the Acid Test in San Francisco with the Merry Pranksters. After that he followed the Further bus up all the way to Grants Pass, OR, with plans to meet up with Strangefeather at the Gorge. Instead, the Further bus blew an engine and he stayed behind in Grants Pass to help them install a new one. He missed the Gorge show altogether and it turned out to be the best show of our tour! I know he was superbly bummed by this, but Randy is the kind of friend who will stick by you no matter what – it is a very endearing quality that is rare to find in this day and age to be sure.

Fixin' the truck - "It's nothing major, I'll just spray a little Ether on it"

Fixin' the truck - "It's nothing major, I'll just spray a little ether on it"

I just got back from another Summer tour through the Pacific Northwest, and we had a great time. It’s complicated, but Strangefeather broke apart the day before the tour, and Randy was the one who suggested I go on the road and play the shows anyway, and I’m glad I did. As soon as he pulled up in his giant Ford Centurion, rusted and falling apart with doors that didn’t lock and a hood that didn’t go down all the way, I felt like everything was going to be alright. When we ran out of gas in the middle of a busy intersection in Eugene, I watched as he pulled out his can of “ether” and popped open the hood, sprayed a little on the starter, switched over to the backup tank and got the truck rolling again in under 2 minutes without barely blocking traffic. All I could do was laugh and smile, because I know Randy is made for those kinds of situations, and everything was going to be just fine.

Randy checks out a painting of the Further Bus in Central Point, OR

Randy checks out a painting of the Further Bus in Central Point, OR

Randy is filled with nothing but generosity, empathy, kindness, and wisdom from years of experience driving trucks and buses for employment and fun. I have never seen him be anything but gentle and thoughtful towards all of the people that he meets. His spirit is very young, and his excitement for life without material comforts is both inspiring and respectful. He is usually covered in oil and grease (a by-product of being such a great mechanic), and he dresses very simply and practical. I joked with him the other day that he looks better dirty than clean, and it’s really true – he is the Real Deal. Randy represents the type of man that we see less of and need more of in this country, a dying breed if you will. He is hardworking, free-spirited, poetic, and completely down to earth. I have learned so much about how to live and treat other just by watching and conversing with him. Some might call him a Deadhead, and he is closer to what a true Grateful Dead fan is really like than what most people think of when using that term, but I hope my tribute enforces the fact that he is so much more than just a Deadhead. Others might call him a Pranskter, but that is not completely true, either. Randy is first and foremost a “Kaptain” in every sense of the word, and when he gets behind the wheel I cannot think of a more comforting and ensuring feeling in my life. When you step into one of his rides, you will enter a machine that preserves the spirit of the open road, opening possibilities to a life that most people only read about in books. Randy Turley is a legend because he has revealed a most simple equation to live by:

Velocity + Uncertainty = Freedom!

(I encourage you to befriend Randy on MySpace –