So, you may have gathered by now that I’m a committed model railroader. I have a layout that takes my half of the garage (my wife parks her car in her half, something I actually understand on cold mornings when I must scrape frost off my windshield). The setting is the rail line between Denver and Winter Park. Turns out there’s a ski resort at Winter Park. I know, I was surprised too. And this ski resort is the hub of a vast, if scattered, array of condos catering to skiers. And these skiers like to ski, which is done up at the resort. Which means they have to get there. Which brings us to the subject of this post: the fleet of shuttle buses known as The Lift. See what they did there? It’s a play on the concept of ski lifts, which is something skiers need to get to the top of the mountain. Very clever. Especially since the skiers need the buses to get to the bottom of the mountain.
We first discovered these buses in 1993, the occasion of our very first trip on the erstwhile Ski Train. Unlike the regular Amtrak trains, the Ski Train disembarked passengers right at the base of the ski mountain. So who needs the bus, if you’re already at the resort? We did. Because, we’re not downhill skiers; we were headed down valley to the (also erstwhile) Idlewild cross-country facility. Enter the shuttle buses, literally. The whole Middle Park region is served by these gray-and-blue buses, which are free for the using. The system has been funded by a consortium of businesses, headed by the resort itself. From what I can gather, it’s been in place for about 30 years, though the system contracted somewhat in recent years, trimming the routes down to Granby and possibly others. When we first became acquainted with it, the buses were uniformly of the school-bus variety, sans yellow paint. As time progressed they added a few different, and more comfortable types, but the International buses have remained. The one at the top of this post was pictured in December 2004. More recent photos show that they’ve dispensed with the signage on the sides, but the overall scheme remains essentially the same.
So, back to the model railroad. A prominent feature of my layout is the Winter Park area, including part of the town formerly known as Hideaway Park (now simply Winter Park). Since the buses are such a prominent feature of the area, I thought that I should like to model some to decorate the layout. Accordingly, since the mid-1990s I have slowly accumulated HO-scale school buses, with the intent of repainting them. A year or so, I finally got around to it.
There are a few considerations that must be dealt with before one busts out the airbrush. These include:
- Source photos. These are remarkably hard to come by, unless you make a trip there and photograph some. And then, all you’ll get is contemporary views. As it turns out, the best photo I could find is a slide that I took myself (at top, again). Google images will get you three or four more, and that’s about it.
- Graphics. The buses had a sign on each side and a modified version on the front above the windshield, a red stripe, and all the usual safety markings. You’re not going to find any of this stuff from the usual decal vendors (except the red stripes).
- Sign Boards to support the signs. Notice those ribs on the sides of the buses? Yeah, they cut a piece of sheet metal and bolted it on, so that the signs would be flat. You need to do that for these buses.
- Ski racks. On the door side there are racks for stowing skis so people don’t have to wrestle them down the aisle.
Fortunately, a few years ago I discovered the Testors decal system, and am fairly good with Photoshop Elements. Basically, in the proud tradition of Colorado, I rolled my own. I created all the “The Lift” graphics, stripes, Emergency Exit and Emergency Door signs, no-right-turn sign, and license plates. I printed all this on white-back decal paper. Next time I am doing a sheet of clear decals for something, I’ll do the bus numbers too (4 per bus).
Once I’d cobbled together some ski racks and signboards for my buses, I disassembled the bodies and primed and painted them. The bodies are medium gray and the roofs are dark blue– my shade of blue is very dark, but I don’t really care that much. I also masked the grilles and the lights. Once the paint was dry, I peeled the masking and applied the decals, and voila! Resort Shuttle buses.
Of course it’s a little more involved than that, especially since the decals aren’t separated like typical commercial ones and you have to trim them right down to the art, no border allowed. But I mass-produced three of them so it wasn’t horribly difficult.
Incidentally, the numbers on my license plates are accurate for specific buses. Yeah, I’m that OCD.
Now I have three buses in the motor pool, just about right for the amount of scenery I have to cover, and I’m tickled at how they turned out.
Incidentally, if you are interested in painting some of these for your own needs and need the decals, drop me a note in the comments and I can help you with that.