The Bus Blog

Behind the Scenes 2015: The Making of Hip Image

January 5, 2016

By Monique de St. Croix


Chapter 1: The Honeymoon Period

“Let’s buy a bus!”




“I want to turn it into a photo booth!”


My colleague Jo Williams of 10 years spoke with great excitement. Is it because I am a former teacher she wanted to get a school bus?


Lesson #1: That really cool vintage VW hippy van is actually called a bus.

Things begin to make sense, and I jump on board with the project, entering the sub-culture of VW Vintage. Like with anything unique, there is a following of all things hip and cool!


“No pressure, Monique, but I’ve got us a gig in May.”


“What?! We don’t even have a van, er, bus yet!”


This bus term was going to take some getting used to!


I am a fan of Kijiji, both for buying and selling. I have an APP for that. Sure enough, in less than a week, we find a bus.


Thankfully, the man selling has good Kijiji etiquette, respecting the first contact, first priority despite others offering him more than what he was asking. Whew!


“It smells a lot like gas back here,” says Jo during the test drive.


“Well, that’s where the engine is! It’s not a new, air-tight car,” I respond.


The test drive in winter on icy corners is a bit unnerving, but already, yeah, this is really fun! And such a pretty blue. More importantly, it started, was running, and moving. Not fast, but hey, it was slippery.


I call this The Honeymoon Period.


After we excitedly signed on the dotted line, the seller made a vague reference to only filling the gas tank to halfway, something about the gauge not working. Hey, it started, it was running and moving. We were happy. More to come on that later.


Test drive: An excited pair riding in a moving vintage VW bus!

Test drive: An excited pair riding in a moving vintage VW bus!



Next are all the details and paperwork that I’m not as good at organizing, but Jo is wicked at this.


It’s my first business partnership, and already I’m recognizing how nice it is to have someone share the workload! Brilliant, actually. I, on the other hand, get to source the renovation materials, the ideas for layout, the equipment, the software, the… whoa… there is a lot of stuff to get ready in time for MAY (only a couple of months away)!


Organizing schedules for between soccer games and my one-hour commute is one challenge before us. Jo has family stuff going on, and my two cats are safe to be left on their own for hours at a time.


Clean up first. Lots of work ahead.

Clean up first. Lots of work ahead.


We figured out the name Hip Image via text, which would also be the method of how we finalized the sale of The 1972 Bus, organized transport, communicated about breakdowns-more to come on that later, and set up other important meetings. 1972, welcome to 2015!


The first time Buttercup got towed was actually planned. This was post sale, pre-mechanical inspection, in winter, and well, we just wanted to get her to her destination safely, an underground parking facility not too far from her first home. It was warm inside. We could clean her. We could have meetings with experts there. We could show her off, but we couldn’t actually get to the nitty gritty of working on her.


The Planned Tow

The Planned Tow


Finally, warm days, temporary insurance papers in hand and scheduled time to work together with Jo and I pulled the key to pick up Buttercup and drive her to her summer home, a sheltered place where Jo and I, cabinet makers, fabric designers, IT professionals, helpful friends all could gather, input expertise to prepare our little princess for her new destiny as a Photomobile, the Hip Image Photo Booth.


She started, she was running, she was moving…and then, she stopped. She simply sputtered and pooped out, right as I turned the corner onto a very busy 14 Street at Heritage Drive, just as rush hour was about to begin.


I call this moment The End of the Honeymoon Period.


I’ve run out of gas.


Distant words whisper in my memory about a gas tank gauge not reading correctly, or was it something about half-full…regardless, I’m out of gas.


Lesson #2: Always check the gas level.

I text Jo. She is on her way, now, with a red gas can, but I have bigger problems. Red and blue flashing light problems that I can see in the side mirror.

People you don’t want to see in your rearview mirror.

People you don’t want to see in your rearview mirror.


Oh boy.


The cop slowing walks alongside, swaggers a little, leans over to examine the tail-lights maybe? I lower the window, and wait sheepishly, digging for my papers. Will I have to show them? It’s not as if I was speeding or anything!


“Sweet ride,”she says, head nodding approval.
Timely buzz on my phone, a text from my sister: “Is that you stopped on Heritage? I’m across the street, waving!”


The cop motions for her to move along, before I say, “That’s my sister.”


Thankfully, Jo pulls up as I’m explaining the out of gas, broken gauge thing. We all gather for a chat at the gas tank. I personally can’t easily lift the FULL gas can, but the cop sure can! Talk about Calgary Police Service going above and beyond!

Constable Helpful assisting with filling the gas tank.

Constable Helpful assisting with filling the gas tank.

She was great, loved our ride, loved our plans for it, and promised to look for us at all the upcoming fantastic events. She also refused to leave until I moved along. Buttercup started, moved about twenty feet, and sputtered out again. Oh boy. I have AMA, but a cop’s call has top priority during rush hour.


She called for a tow truck for a VW BUS.


I’m impressed. She knows the lingo. So we wait. And wait.


And wait. I’m tempted to call my AMA, but finally, almost 50 minutes later, A REALLY BIG tow truck arrives. A haggard tow truck driver hops down from the cab.


“I was lookin’ for a bus? Dammit, our smallest tow truck can handle this thing. Why did they send the biggest truck?”


I guess dispatch doesn’t know VW lingo.


“I dunno if I can take ‘er? I’m too big!”


Thankfully, this man of experience did figure out a way. Before long, we were towed to Concept One, the specialist for vintage VW in Calgary, or what I call: The Beginning of an Important Relationship stage.


In short order, yes, we had run out of gas, thus dredging up gunk at the bottom of the tank which would normally be filtered out had the fuel line filters actually been installed.


Subsequently, the carburetors were clogged good and proper, and well, also really old, so it would cost the same to put in new ones instead of cleaning up the old.


I did ask if we should consider changing the gas tank, but since it is not a cheap thing to do, we decided it is better to just keep at least half a tank full. Oh, they fixed a tail-light and put in those pesky fuel filters too.


Finally, we get Buttercup back to the summer shelter where we can work on her. New siding, new interior roof, more cleaning, designing.


Curtains are on order. IT consultant Rebus arrives with ideas too.


She is coming together quickly!


After all the work with doors open and interior lights left on we notice that Buttercup wouldn’t start as easily. She needed a bit of a boost. There might be a short somewhere? Never mind. The trickle charger boosts the battery enough to start her up.


The plans are drawn for the cabinet maker. Can he do the work at his shop in Okotooks?


Famous last words: Sure! We’ll drive it out next week.


Feeling the fun driving a VW bus

Feeling the fun driving a VW bus


Check back tomorrow for more excitement in Chapter 2: “Status Check: It’s Complicated.”

Check the coolest photo booth in Calgary!

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