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October 16, 2008 3:07 am

Old Powell activity bus returns to Powell via the movies

Written by Tribune Staff

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The Panther Bus, pride of Powell High School, debuted in the fall of 1957. Its first athletic mission was to carry the Powell Panther football team across the state to a non-conference game at Evanston. Boarding the bus for its maiden voyage were (l-r) head football coach Harold Hand, Panther senior players Stan Takeuchi, Ron Nay and Eddie Kawano and Dave Bonner, student trainer. The Powell team rode the Panther Bus to an undefeated state football championship in 1957. Courtesy photo

Powell High School alumni, especially those who rode the old activity bus, might want to take in a movie this week.

Among the characters in “The Express,” playing this week at the Vali Twin Cinemas, one is familiar to PHS students from more than four decades — the old PHS activity bus.

The bus, a 1957 General Motors model PD4104, was purchased new by the Powell school district, and on its maiden voyage carried the Panther football team to Evanston, according to Tribune publisher Dave Bonner, who made that ride as a team manager.

The bus continued to ferry PHS students to athletic contests, FFA events, speech meets and other activities for 43 years before being sold in 2000.

“There are probably over 1,000 people in Powell who rode that bus, including my three kids,” said Dennis Wegner, transportation supervisor for School District No. 1.

Wegner said the bus was sold to a man in Chicago, who later resold it. Wegner said he saw it advertised on eBay, but did not know who had purchased the bus.

Last week, though, the original purchaser sent Wegner an e-mail to tell him the bus was in the movie.
“I saw the movie Saturday, and it definitely was our bus,” Wegner said.

When it was purchased, the bus was the top of the line, according to Bonner, and provided a comfortable ride for all the Panthers who rode it.

“It was a bus ahead of its time,” Bonner said.

“The Express” tells the story of Ernie Davis, who starred at Syracuse University from 1959-61. He led Syracuse to its only national championship in 1959 and in 1961 was the first African-American winner of football's Heisman Trophy. He died in 1963 of leukemia.

The old Powell bus probably felt right at home helping tell Davis' story, because he and his teammates dressed appropriately.

Like the Panthers, they wore orange.