Famous McCandless 'Bus 142′ moved to UAF’s Museum of the North

The Magic Bus is brought to the University of Alaska Museum of the North on the University of...
The Magic Bus is brought to the University of Alaska Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Campus.(Ryan Osborne)
Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 1:32 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Since it’s rise to fame through the story of Chris McCandless, the rust covered green and yellow “Magic Bus” or “Bus 142” has been an enticing and dangerous destination for hikers. To prevent further tragedy the Department of Natural Resources removed the bus from it’s long held home on the Stampede Trail outside of Healy, Alaska this past summer. Now the famous bus is settling into a new home at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, where it will be renovated and installed as an exhibition to immortalize it’s many stories.

“So the bus has a long a storied history, but unfortunately there were some tragedies associated with people trying to see the bus. And so earlier this summer in June, the DNR removed the bus. And then was looking for a safe place to put the bus where it’s story could be told," said Museum of the North Curator Dr. Pat Druckenmiller. "Throughout the summer we’ve been in touch with our partners In DNR, and fortunately we were able to come to an arrangement that the Museum of the North will be the long-term stewards of the bus so that we can allow people to see it, to see it for free in an outdoor exhibition, and tell the whole story of the bus not- you know there’s the famous story of Chris McCandless, but there’s also a lot of other interesting aspects that we want to share with the public.”

“Ultimately our plan here is to create a safe, meaningful exhibition about the bus. To tell it’s whole story and to do that we have a lot of steps in the process. The first big steps will involve the conservation process, making sure that the bus is properly taken care of and in good shape. Eventually when we feel that we’ve got the bus in proper working order, well conserved and stabilized, we’re going to create an outdoor exhibit, hopefully right behind the museum in a wooded setting, where we can allow people to visit the bus for free and have exhibition panels to tell the whole story.” Druckenmiller said.

Before anyone will be able to come and see the bus exhibit for themselves, there is a lot of restoration work that needs to be completed. Senior Collections Manager Angela Linn details the process of preparing the bus for this exciting new museum showcase.

“We will bring in a conservator, a professional conservator who specializes in historic automobiles and they will come in to work with us to assess the physical stability, the structural stability of the bus and determine the approach we want to take in terms of what needs to happen for the safety of people around it, for the structural safety of the vehicle itself. Make a plan as far as what enhances the interpretive value of the bus as well. So we’re in discussions for what the goal is for that. Once that assessment is done, then we work on the fundraising to do that work [because] that’ll be a long and expensive process,” said Linn.

“While that’s happening we’ll be working on the exhibit plans, clearing facilities, and assessing what we’re capable of doing. What protection we physically need at the site. Both for the security of the bus, but also again for the safety and security of the bus. Kind of covering what we need to have that will protect it while outside and bringing together a wide group of people for the interpretation, because that’s really gonna be a challenging part obviously there’s a lot of divergent opinions about the stories that are associated with the bus, most dramatically with the Chris McCandless story,” Linn continued. “And so we want to make sure that we represent all those voices and figure out what the best stories are to tell as part of that interpretation. Because again this bus has witnessed a ton of history. And that’s our job is to pull out those elements.”

Dr. Druckenmiller elaborates further on the museums goals for restoring this piece and the delicate balance of repairing it’s decaying remains while also retaining it’s historical value.

“The conservation process is one really of making sure first and foremost that we preserve the long-term integrity of the bus so that it doesn’t degrade any further and part of the process sometimes may be fixing a few holes, and banging out a few dents, things like that. But eventually we want something that’s safe for people to see, and that will probably resemble what the bus looked like during some of it’s more famous stages. So we will try to fix a few holes, especially things that make it structurally unsound, or helpful with it’s preservation. But we’re not planning on doing an exhaustive overhaul of the bus in any way, it’s as you see it, that is it’s history, and that’s what we want to preserve we just don’t want it getting any worse.” Druckenmiller said.

Visitors to the Museum of the North can look forward to seeing Bus 142 on display in the future, without having to take their own life threatening hike into the wild.

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