The funky old country band tour bus that has enhanced the parking lot decor at the Broken Spoke honky-tonk on South Lamar Boulevard has taken an unscheduled road trip.
Even though it doesn’t run and no one can say for sure if or when it’s coming back.
James White, the Spoke’s owner, isn’t happy about it, either.
He misses the bus with the Lone Star beer logo on the side. He wants it back.
I don’t know if the gnarly old bus qualifies as iconic. But, along with the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue and the Frost Bank Tower, a photo of the bus is featured on souvenir coasters and coffee cups sold around Austin.
“I’m upset; the guy who gave it to me 14 years ago came back and stole it from me,” James said.
I’m not sure “stole” is the right word here; perhaps reclaimed is. Or how about “took back”? Either way, James filed a police report. He says the bus was hauled away between 4 and 8 a.m. on March 24.
On that particular Sunday around 8 in the morning, James stopped off at the Spoke to make sure the doors were locked. James noticed the bus was missing. The contents of the bus, including Christmas decorations, had been dumped on the Broken Spoke’s front porch. Someone had to bust the padlock on the bus to haul it away, said Jessie Mathieson, a Spoke bartender.
On the Spoke’s front door, James found an envelope with a note inside from Ray Sczepanik of San Antonio, manager and leader of the Texas Top Hands, a country band that years ago toured in the 1948 model bus.
“Mr. James White:” Sczepanik’s note began. “I am the owner and hold a valid State of Texas Certificate of Motor Vehicle Title to the 1948 Texas Top Hands Band tour bus. You and I had a mutual and good faith agreement and one that you proposed, that you would restore the historic bus to what it was originally. Unfortunately, that was not accomplished. Therefore, I am taking the bus back. Kindest regards, Ray Sczepanik.”
It would have been thoughtful if Sczepanik had called ahead before he grabbed it, right?
James says Sczepanik gave him the bus 14 years ago. He says it had been sitting in a vacant lot in San Antonio next to Sczepanik’s house. The bus had bullet holes in it, and the engine was burned out. James says Sczepanik told him to come get it. James liked the look of the bus, so he had it hauled from San Antonio back north to the Broken Spoke.
“No, I never told him anything,” James said of Sczepanik’s restoration claim. “I just wanted the bus to sit out front of the Broken Spoke. One time he wanted me to put a roof over it, but that’s been 10 years ago.”
I called Sczepanik on Thursday. “I hauled it away,” Sczepanik said of the bus. “Nobody else hauled it away. I hauled it away. I picked the bus up. And it’s my bus.” He also repeated that he indeed holds the title to the bus.
He wouldn’t tell me the bus’s the current location. “I have it my possession,” was all he would say.
James isn’t the only one who’s chapped about the relocation. Transwestern, the development company building the two apartment complexes that will flank the Spoke when completed, is about $10,000 worth of ticked off.
The company recently put up nearly that much money to fix up the bus, in part for safety reasons. The bus got a new set of tires, broken windows were replaced, the paint was touched up, and minor adjustments were made to the interior.
But not many Austinites had a chance to see the improvements. After the work was finished, Transwestern returned the bus to the Spoke on March 8. On March 24, poof, it had disappeared.
“We consider it property of the Broken Spoke,” said Josh Delk, Transwestern’s vice president of development. “I’m hoping there’s not a war over the bus.”
So where’s the bus? On the Sunday it went missing, Jessie, the Spoke bartender, drove from Austin down to Adkins, outside San Antonio. She says she found the bus sitting behind Texas Pride Barbecue on Loop 1604.
“It was kind of stuck back in the back,” she said. “It wasn’t hidden, but it was not prominently displayed.”
How did she know where to look? James said that about five years ago Sczepanik told him he was lucky to have the bus because there was a certain BBQ joint in the San Antonio area that really wanted the bus.
“I can’t believe he did it,” James said. “You know the bad thing I really hate? I called him up and started cussing, ‘Why did you steal the bus?’ He said, ‘I can’t hear you, I’m eating now, I’ll call you back.’ ”
James figures Sczepanik was chowing down at Texas Pride at the time.
“He sold it out for a plate of barbecue on Loop 1604,” James quipped.
Does that come with sides, James? “I think I got it on the side,” he said.