At the Douglasdale bus depot, a Calgary Transit driver slides his window open, and over the noise of two roaring diesel engines, calls out to Nick Blonski.
“I used to drive that bus,” the driver says. “I did the last circle run on one of those buses.”
Blonski is the proud owner of a 1982 General Motors bus nicknamed the “Fishbowl,” for its rounded windshield. The retired 40-foot Calgary Transit bus took its last trip in 2011.
“It turns heads all over the place,” Blonski said.
When the pandemic hit and the airline industry went quiet, Blonski, a pilot, had a lot more time on his hands. He drove around Calgary looking for old buses to take pictures of — and maybe even buy.
Transit enthusiasts like to keep track of trains and buses, trading photos and specs online.
One of his friends mentioned seeing an old Calgary Transit bus with the signature blue and pink striping – so he took off to investigate.
“It was just kind of sitting on an acreage, just rotting away,” Blonski said. “We found out that the owner was open to selling it. So I bought it.”
The bus cost him about $2,000 when he bought it in 2020.
And while it ran fine, a previous owner had started converting it into a camper – so almost all the blue leather seats were gone.
Blonski didn’t want to convert the bus into a camper, he wanted to restore it.
Finding spare parts and seats from other similar buses, more than a decade after they’d been sold off from Calgary Transit’s fleet proved difficult.
The benches at the back of the bus were impossible to find, so he had to build his own out of plywood and find a perfect colour match before sending them to an upholsterer.
“I’ve always been interested in buses since junior high,” Blonski said. “Back when I was in high school, these buses of this model were still in service with the city.”
Stepping into the old “Fishbowl” is like being transported back in time. Granted, it’s a near past, in 2010 the youth fare was $1.75 and adults were paying $2.75 to ride the bus.
“If you have an old bus, it’s preserved, and you climb onto it you kind of relive that moment, you know?” Blonski said. “I took this thing downtown and had my friend drive it past the bus stop where I would always catch these in service…I just stood there and just watched this thing pull up.”
Reliving that moment, he added, was surreal.
Inside he’s stocked the bus with old bus route maps. Blonski even found a wad of transfers from 1998.
The only thing he’s missing is a farebox and some ads to really complete the look.
“It was definitely a learning curve,” Blonski said. “A lot of hardships and frustrations with this thing.”
He said some parts didn’t fit right, other times the piece would work, but not be an exact match. Though, he admits, that’s part of the charm — transit buses tend to be a mishmash.
He’s documented this whole journey online, to help other transit enthusiasts with their own projects.