The world renowned Spruce Meadows equestrian venue operates, via a private contractor, a fleet of guest shuttles, comprised of vintage buses from the 1960s-1990s. These green and white beasts earn their keep taking people to and from parking lots and transit stations to the huge event facility located at the south end of Calgary, for horse shows, cultural events and the like. Some of these buses once belonged to Calgary Transit.
When not in use the buses are stored at a large lot on the eastern outskirts of town. We choose to look at them here then trying to catch them in service. Spruce Meadows is too crowded!
The current fleet includes seven GMC “New Look”, aka “Fishbowl” buses. We saw six this day: #656, #665, #669, #670, #1436 and one #67-something – we could not see the last digit. These are all those ex-Calgary Transit buses mentioned earlier. Built in the years 1967-1975, most were retired from CTS service by the late 1980s. They are now owned by Red Arrow Coach, the same company that provides highway bus service to the oil sands of northern Alberta. Only one of these buses came to the firm directly from CTS. All others were bought third hand from various sources.
The Fishbowl nickname comes from the multi-angled front window that can distort the outward view somewhat, depending on where you sit in the bus, much like looking through a water filled aquarium.
This model was hands down the most popular transit bus of its time in Canada and was made here from 1962-1986. It also sold well in the US and was in production there from 1959-1977. It was so well liked by US transit agencies that they continued to buy Canadian built examples after American production ceased. Calgary Transit once operated hundreds of these buses, built as late as 1982. The last examples were only retired in 2013! In fact, well into the 2000s it was common to see these buses in service all over the country. They held up that well.
Canadian made Fishbowls (recall official name New Look) were made from 1962-1980-ish at the General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD) locomotive plant in London Ontario. For the last half dozen years of production they were made at a new factory in Quebec.
Given their advanced age, one has to speculate how much time these buses have. No one at Red Arrow I spoke with could tell if plans are afoot to retire any of these old timers. No news is good news, perhaps? We’ll keep an eye on this.
The Classic, introduced in the early 1980s and for a time produced concurrently with the older model, was GMC’s eventual successor to the Fishbowl. The two models under the hood are quite similar.
In the later half of the 1980s GM wanted out of the transit bus business and sold the factory and the Classic design, in 1987, to Motor Coach Industries (MCI, who makes Greyhound and other highway buses). All of Spruce Meadows Classics were made during the MCI era (1990 and 1991 in this case). None of these are from Calgary Transit, who BTW just retired its last Classic only a couple months ago, and instead came second or third hand from other transit agencies across North America (Canadian made Classics were popular here and in the US).
When MCI decided to leave the transit bus field, in 1993, they sold the operation to NovaBus, who continued to makes Classics for a few years more before moving to other models. They still manufacture buses and CTS has some.
The four Spruce Meadows Classic buses were only purchased in the last few years. We saw #3524, #3526 and one whose number we could not make out from our position. Another Classic, numbered #1999 and not in Spruce Meadow’s colours, was seen too. Perhaps a new acquisition? We could not find a history on it. Incidentally, a number of other unmarked Classics were seen on the far side of the lot, almost out of view. Who they belong to is unknown.
Some of these Classics have roof-top AC units. The Fishbowls lack any cooling features, unless you count open windows.
A new addition to the fleet is a mid-1990s New Flyer D40LF bought just this year. That maker is from Winnipeg Manitoba and is the biggest transit bus manufacturer currently in North America and the firm that has built most of Calgary Transit’s current fleet of buses. This one has yet to get a new paint job.
This example came from a US transit agency, via another charter operator. It’s a low floor bus, a style that’s been popular since the mid-1990s. These allow easy entry for handicapped people and those with carts and baby buggies. The Fishbowls and Classics are high floor models, meaning you have to step up to enter. Is this new bus (relatively new by this fleets standards anyway) a harbinger of things to come? Will new additions cause the older buses to be retired? Who knows, but nothing’s forever. By the way, a second D40LF (also white) was also seen in the group but it’s not showing up on any records so for now it remains a bit of a mystery. Parts? Another new addition? Who knows.
All these buses are occasionally used for charter work and as shuttles for other events too. Since they are used rather sparingly, a few weekends here, a few weekends there, they don’t rack up that much mileage. This alone may account for their longevity.
The school buses seen in our photos belong to Red Arrow’s sister company Southland Transportation who also uses the lot.
The Spruce Meadows venue dates from the 1970s and is host to many show jumping events throughout the year, plus farmer’s and Christmas markets.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.