ALLEN, TX – If you attended the press conference last February when Jack Gulati was announced as the new owner of the Allen Americans you may recall the loudest cheer of the entire event was when Jack informed everyone that Big Red was not part of the deal. The Americans owned the team bus which was bought used out of Nashville when the franchise started in 2009. The bus is 22 years old, and I was told by longtime bus driver Scott Alexander, who passed away in 2014, that Big Red had close to two million miles on it.
– As much as Big Red was the subject of ridicule the fact of the matter was the players and coaches really liked the set up on the bus. The problem was Big Red became more and more unreliable as the years past with mechanical breakdowns ranging from engine issues to brake problems to no air conditioning. The trips through the Rocky Mountains the last few years became nightmares.
– If you miss Big Red and want to visit, you will have your chance since it didn’t go to the bus junkyard in the sky. It wasn’t part of the sale of the Allen Americans because the previous owners (Steven brothers) had a plan. Big Red would become the pride and joy of the Tulsa Oilers, which the Steven brothers also own. The Oilers visit Allen on October 29th so you can see Big Red parked in back of the building that night. The plan is to have the bus “rewrapped, ” but it is unclear if that has been completed.
– To understand the story of the new Allen bus you need to know a little about the owner/operator, Tim Acheson. The first point is the Allen Americans are no longer in the bus business; they don’t own the bus, they lease the bus from Tim when they have road trips.
– Tim has spent a lifetime in and around hockey. He grew up in Edmonton and played hockey, but most of his professional career was officiating hockey which he did for many years where he worked in the CHL, ECHL and the IHL before it merged with the AHL. Tim also has experience as a general manager in minor pro hockey and also as a color commentator for hockey broadcasts for several teams over 20 years. I first met Tim when he was the bus driver and color commentator for the Rapid City Rush. He worked in Rapid City for nine years. The team owned the bus, but Tim had a deal where he bought the bus from the team over a six-year period. That is how he became a bus owner.
– Here is how Tim described his venture from hockey general manager to bus driver,
“When I was a general manager one of the hardest things to do was to find a sleeper bus to haul my hockey team around. I found this company in Louisiana that would lease us a sleeper bus and we would hire our own driver to make each trip,” Acheson said. “So I thought I could do this, I am on the road with the team anyway, and I love driving, so that was the start of my bus driver career. That was back in the 1990’s.”
“I soon realized I loved driving the bus but disliked the other parts of being a general manager having to deal with owners in non-traditional hockey markets. After owning a hockey team for a year, they think they are experts. Driving allows me to still be part of the game without all of those other hassles. Since I started bus driving, I have been to every state except three (Hawaii, Alaska & Maine) and several Canadian provinces and I just love it. I am sitting on my job, but I am not sitting at a desk.”
– Tim now has a partner, Kevin St. Pierre, who was a long time goaltender who had a 14-year professional career with stops in Wichita, Nashville, Shreveport, Bakersfield, Fort Wayne, and Tulsa. They currently have two buses and are looking to purchase a third. They call their company KTE LLC. The KTE stands for Kevin and Tim’s Express. One bus is based out of Wichita and the other out of Texas (Dallas & Houston).
– With that background about the bus company here is the background on the bus Allen will be using this season.
– Per Tim, the bus was built in 2000 as a luxury motorhome at the cost of over $800,000 by a couple in California. The brand is MCI (Motor Coach Industries) which was founded in 1933. Its headquarters is in Des Plaines, Illinois with plants in Winnipeg and Pembina, North Dakota. When he bought the bus, it hadn’t yet turned over 30,000 miles, and it had always been parked inside. As Tim said, “To us, it is brand new and has not even been broken in. The important thing to us is the engine, undercarriage, transmission and all of that is basically brand new, and we are getting a sleeper bus for 25% of the cost of a new bus.
– The bus was equipped with a jacuzzi, double shower, master bedroom, washer and dryer, double fridge with ice maker, dishwasher, trash compactor and everything else you can think of. Tim and Kevin flew out to California to drive the bus back to Minnesota. Tim has a friend in Minnesota that owns an RV manufacturing company, and that is where they stripped it down to convert it to a sleeper bus. Tim was able to work out a deal where the RV company got all of the interior stuff for the cost of the removal. As Tim said, “The cost of removal was no more than the cost of gas and hotel while I was in Minnesota. The only way to get some of the interior stuff out of the bus was to remove the windshield.” The whole process worked so well we are planning to purchase another bus shortly and do the same thing.”
– The bus will eventually have 31 beds, but right now the number is 29. This bus is five feet longer than Big Red. There is an area where coach Martinson will stay that makes into a table. Each bunk has its own electricity and USB port. The bus has a satellite dish that is in the process of being hooked up.
– The maiden trip for the Americans on the new bus will be on Wednesday when the team travels to Rapid City. Tim has hired Monty Williams, who drove Big Red, as a part-time driver so Monty will be the backup driver on those long trips that require two drivers. Everyone loves Monty (in spite of him being an ardent Oklahoma Sooner fan), and it is great he will be part of the team again this season. Tim told me even on trips where he isn’t working Monty will be along most of the time just because he is such a big part of the Allen Americans.
– The Americans will be in good hands with Tim and Monty driving them around the country in this newly outfitted bus. Finally, no more coach Martinson as the backup driver.
DID YOU KNOW: You can’t say goodbye to Big Red without taking one last look at the Jarret Lukin breakdown video from 2012. I think the team was headed to Arizona and broke down on Highway 121 in McKinney just 10 minutes into the 18-hour bus ride. This will bring a few smiles to your face, and you may recognize many of those in the video.