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Man takes the bus

Local resident restores 1947 ACF Brill

Local resident restores 1947 ACF Brill

November 22, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Gene Kelly Sr. doesn't accept fares or unknown passengers on his city bus - a 1947 ACF Brill that he bought and restored to fulfill a lifelong dream.

"I've just liked buses ever since I was a kid, especially the Brill bus" with its rounded windshield, snazzy exterior lights and extra side door, said Kelly, 63, of Hagerstown.

Growing up in south Hagerstown, he rode the city bus to Hagerstown High School. Kelly frequently stopped to chat with porters at the old bus terminal on Antietam Street, and admired the buses parked in the garage on Baltimore Street.

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"I could tell you every bus number and every route. I memorized 'em," Kelly said.

One room in his West End home is filled with model buses and old photographs of buses. So it's not surprising that Kelly hit the brakes when he saw yellow No. 2700 for sale on a plot of Potomac Edison (now Allegheny Energy) property about eight years ago.

"I got all excited about it," he said.

His wife, Betty, didn't.

"I hate yellow. There were no seats. There was junk laying everywhere inside. I thought, 'What is this? Why does he want this thing?'" she said.

After 45 years in service, No. 2700 was in fairly poor condition, Kelly said. The bus carried passengers in St. Louis for 10 years before Potomac Edison bought it in 1957 for use as a rolling maintenance shop for the company's substation operations in Front Royal, Va.

Despite the lack of seats and original interior lights, rust, grease, disconnected wiring and the fact that the bus wouldn't start, Kelly bid $200 for it.

After giving the engine the tuneup it needed to get started, Kelly drove the bus to Pangborn Corp. - where he worked as a security guard for 30 years - to begin the restoration project. With the help of friends, family and co-workers, Kelly devoted his spare time over the next three years to restoring the old bus to its former glory.

"I'm not a professional," Kelly said. "But I think we did a pretty good job."

Pangborn donated the metal to replace exposed and rusted areas on the bus, and company officials allowed Kelly to use Pangborn's paint booth to repaint the bus' yellow exterior. He painted the bus red and white to emulate the Brill buses that replaced the trolleys that carried passengers to and from Hagerstown and Williamsport, Kelly said.

He painted the interior of the bus green, rewired the electrical system and replaced the heater cores and four rear tires, Kelly said. He combed junkyards in Maryland and Pennsylvania for seats, interior lights and a destination sign that now reads "Pangborn" in honor of his employer's help.

Years of work and about $10,000 worth of parts and accessories have transformed the bus into a prized possession that even Betty Kelly enjoys.

"It's just amazing what he's done to it. That bus is his baby," she said. "And I love it."

Kelly displays his bus at area shows and picks his grandchildren up at school in it. His dog, Oreo, likes puttering around town in the bus - which doesn't go faster than 45 mph.

"I'd never sell it," Kelly said. "It gives me pleasure just to go out and look at it."

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