A group of Tulsans is introducing residents to a new type of transportation.
Business partners Dan Smolen, Oleg Roytman, David Warta and Don Smolen purchased two 1978 double-decker buses in July 2012 and have refurbished them to create a charter, tour and transit company.
Cheyenne Bus Co. started with a snow cone.
Tulsa attorney Dan Smolen and his family were en route to a snow cone stand when he saw a double-decker bus, looming large over everything else in a roadside junkyard.
Perhaps because the icy, summery treats were on his mind, Dan “became obsessed” with the idea of opening a snow cone stand out of a restored double-decker bus.
He brought the idea to his business partners Donnie Smolen (Dan’s brother), David Warta and Oleg Roytman, but the bus idea was met with more enthusiasm than the snow cones.
“We came up with all these ways you could use a really cool double-decker bus,” Donnie says. “Kids’ birthday parties, architectural tours, catered dinners, tailgates, wine tasting, speed dating ...”
And so, the snow cone stand dissolved into a charter, tour and transit bus company.
The partners purchased two 1978 Bristol VRTs in July 2012. The buses were driven to Tulsa from Minnesota at what was then their maximum speed of 38 miles per hour — without air conditioning.
“No mechanic wanted to take on these buses,” Dan says. “Eventually we were referred to this company in Claremore called Anderson Classics and Kustoms.”
There, owner Jason Anderson and his team completed all the needed body, paint and upholstery work.
When it was time to address the mechanical work, the group got lucky with another local referral.
“We called four different states to put heat and air in these things,” Dan says. “Everyone in every state referred us back to KenKool Inc. right here in Tulsa.”
Both buses were originally used for public transportation in London, but after all the Tulsa-area renovation work, Dan says, “They are definitely Oklahoma buses now.”
The double-deckers are strikingly tall at 13 feet, 8 inches.
“There’s a bridge on Riverside that is 13 feet, 10 inches,” Donnie says. “Sitting on top of the bus, watching yourself come at that bridge looks pretty weird.”
“But the height is one of the differences between this and a limo,” Warta says. “You can actually stand up on both floors.”
The buses have been restored to honor their original style with custom leather upholstery and woodwork. In true double-decker fashion, the driver’s seat is on the right side of the bus.
At the back, Dan opens a compartment to reveal a huge, impossibly shiny diesel engine.
“They still make engines like this,” he says, “but now they put them in yachts.”
Eric Fransen, the carpenter who did most of the buses’ woodwork, says the renovation process has “been organic because we have been out on the bus using it. On purpose, we would sit in different seats and think about drink trays and dance parties.”
Laura Smolen, Dan’s wife, is the company’s lead designer. She says, “The buses have a retro, classic feel. Most other buses we’ve seen have the poles and crazy lights. No one has redone them like we have.”
However, the buses have been updated for today’s party needs. They boast Wi-Fi, lounge seating for 60, flat screen TVs, large-scale power generators, a window-rattling sound system and a wood veneer bar.
Joe Chadwick of KenKool Inc. worked hard to make sure riders would be comfortable despite Oklahoma weather.
“It took about a month of research to find products that would work” on buses this size, he says. But now, “there’s enough air conditioning on this bus for two very good-sized houses.”
The double-deckers are kept in a warehouse on North Cheyenne Avenue in the Brady Arts District. From this base, partygoers can park and ride to events across Oklahoma.
In addition to rentals, the partners plan to make each bus available for a Monday-Friday lunch route, connecting the downtown business district to Cherry Street and Brady Arts District restaurants. The buses will offer pay-per-ride services and run a loop, allowing riders to be at any point on the route within 15 minutes.
“One thing I love about Tulsa is that, especially in the last few years, it seems like there are more young people getting invested in the ommunity,” Laura says. “It feels fun to contribute to what’s going on in Tulsa.”
From bachelorette parties to a child’s 6th birthday, Cheyenne Bus Co. rides in style.
Perhaps you could even take it for a snow cone.