GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The family of writer Ken Kesey is reviving plans to restore his original psychedelic bus in time for the 50th anniversary of its passengers’ LSD-laced trip across America.
Stephanie Kesey has created a foundation to raise money for the restoration as a tribute to her late father-in-law.
“It’s the private Ken Kesey I’m saying thank you to, but in a very public way,” she said from her home in Pleasant Hill, a short way from the Willamette Valley farm where Ken Kesey settled after the bus trip.
Fresh from the stunning success of his novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey bought the 1939 International school bus in 1964 from a San Francisco Bay Area family who fitted it with bunks as a motor home.
With a jug of LSD-laced juice in the refrigerator, clean-cut Kesey pals known as The Merry Pranksters on board, and Neal Cassady, the driver in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, at the wheel, the bus crossed the country from California to New York to visit the World’s Fair.
The journey was made famous by the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Kesey put the old bus, called “Further,” into retirement in a swampy patch of woods on his farm, and years later bought a newer one, which in typical Prankster style he tried to pass off as the original.
“The bus is essentially the best icon of the `60’s,” said his son, Zane Kesey.
Ken Kesey died in 2001. Four years later, a Hollywood restaurateur offered to pay to restore the bus, and the family hauled it out of the swamp. But the deal fell through.
Stephanie Kesey said the project is back on track, and her family is under the gun to get it finished by next summer, the 50th anniversary of the trip across America. They are putting updates on Zane Kesey’s Facebook page and building a website for the project.
“We are in the middle of finding out how much money this is going to cost,” Stephanie Kesey said. “We get one shot at doing this. We definitely want to do it right.”
The goal is to do a museum-quality restoration, preserving as much of the rusty old original as possible, and to secure a trailer for it to ride around in. They hope to produce a documentary on the work.
Zane Kesey said the family will hold a vote to decide which of the constantly evolving psychedelic paint jobs to put on the bus. They have plenty of photos and film footage to consider, and plenty of members of The Merry Pranksters to do the work.
“Part of me was willing to let it rust away out in the woods,” Zane Kesey said. “It was beautiful and happy out there. But eventually it wouldn’t be beautiful and happy.”