Vail Valley Foundation’s new Magic Bus really is magic, rolling this week | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Foundation’s new Magic Bus really is magic, rolling this week

The Vail Valley Foundation's new Magic Bus is 10 tons of mobile wonder and learning … and an on-board restroom.

You don't need a special license to drive the new mobile preschool, but you do need a special heart.

Journey With Gerald continues

Across the front is emblazoned "Journey with Gerald," and for good reason.

Gerald Gallegos, Bjorn Erik Borgen, Mark Smith and a host of others launched the Magic Bus program in 2002. It's now a licensed mobile preschool.

The mission was simple: Put books in front of children, especially children who do not have easy access to libraries and books.

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Steve and Amy Coyer were Magic Bus volunteers in those early days. Those kids are now in high school.

Buses have come and gone since then. The two they have now have both been driven more the 140,000 miles. They break down with remarkable consistency … 23 days last year. At three classes a day, that's 2,208 hours of contact time with instructors the kids did not get.

Deb Dutmer drove the first Magic Bus. The new magic bus eliminates at least one logistical hurdle. It has an on-board bathroom. Before this, they had to park close to a public restroom for the kids to strap on their winter gear and toddle to the potty.

The Magic Bus is now geared at kids between 3 and 5 years old, and that age have to toddle to potty a lot, Dutmer said.

Somewhere, Gerald Gallegos is smiling down from heaven.

Down valley, up valley

The new Magic Bus is a rolling preschool that will serve Gypsum, Dotsero and Eagle. They're raising money to buy a second one for Avon and Edwards and the eastern end of the Eagle River Valley. That second one might be all electric, said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, director of the Vail Valley Foundation's education programs.

More than half of Eagle County kids do not attend preschool before they head off to kindergarten, even though studies show that 80 percent of a child's intellect, personality and social skills are developed in the first five years of life, Rewold-Thuon said.

Fully half of the families in the Magic Bus programs earn less than $25,000 a year.

Beautiful bus

Local illustrator Alice Feagon took what we think of as Vail Valley and created it as a whimsical mobile masterpiece.

Rich Grayson's local company First Chair Design built and installed the wrap. It took two and a half days.

Chris Munson, with Summit Bodyworks in Commerce City, acquired The Magic Bus from Jamie Sorenson and Winnebago in Forest City, Iowa. Winnebago built the chassis and the shell. Summit Bodyworks magically converted those parts into the Magic Bus.

Munson said they build about 250 units a year — mobile medical clinics, blood mobiles and other utilitarian and humanitarian vehicles. Building the Magic Bus was exactly what it was supposed to be … "This project was fun," Munson said.

"Thank you to Winnebago for building this beauty and to Summit Body Works for turning it into an amazing preschool classroom that will serve the children in our community for the next decade and beyond," Rewold-Thuon said.

When asked The Great American Question, "How fast does it go?" Sorenson smiled and replied, "The top speed is as fast as it needs to go."

Which means The Magic Bus travels at the speed of a child's imagination.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

The Magic Bus is …

• 33 feet, 8 inches long.

• 8.5 feet wide.

• 13 feet tall.

• Built on a Ford chassis with a Winnebago commercial shell.

• Includes an automatic leveling system. No more shaking classrooms.

• Powered by magic and a Ford V-10 engine.