Cashs tour bus makes local stop

Messenger photo by Andrea Cordle
June Carter would sit in this specially colored chair and fix her hair and make-up to prepare for shows. She had her own room on Johnny Cash’s tour bus which had a vanity and a sleeper sofa. Each compartment had its own door for times when Johnny and June or other band members would fight.

He’s been everywhere, man, and so has his tour bus.

JC Unit 1, the famous tour bus of music legend Johnny Cash, has taken its place in history at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland but not before stopping in Grove City for some last minute touches. Creative Mobile Interiors (CMI), a custom conversion specialist, spruced up the tour bus before the owner donated it to the museum on June 15.

The tour bus was originally built in Columbus in 1979 at Custom Coach. Cash used the bus for all his tours, including the 1991 Highwayman Tour, where the vehicle carried Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In the bus, you will see blue velour upholstered furniture, specially made for June Carter, and a coffee cup ring Cash left on the wooden table. It also comes equipped with four separate rooms decorated mainly in black. Each room has its own TV, VCR and radio. There is a center galley with sink, stove, refrigerator, freezer and dinette. The rear stateroom – or Johnny’s room – has two sleeper sofas.

Cash sold the bus three months before his death in 2003 to the American Heritage Music Foundation in Blytheville, Ark. They sold it to a company that auctioned it on e-Bay. Dave Wright, a collector of vintage motor coaches from North Carolina, bid on it but lost out. When the person who outbid him couldn’t make the payments, Wright got the bus. He paid approximately $68,000 for the tour bus, which originally cost $553,000.

Owen Connaughton, owner of CMI, said he had worked with Wright in the past. His company is an offspring of Custom Coach.

“I am honored he had enough faith in us to take on this project,” Connaughton said. “We want to make sure it’s in perfect working order when it’s dedicated to the Hall of Fame.”

This was not the first time CMI had Cash’s tour bus. In 2005, the company restored the bus by fixing the air conditioning, replacing the carpet and fixing the dents.

“When we first saw the blue furniture, we thought ‘ugh, this has to go,’ ” said Connaughton. “Then we found out it was made for June Carter and we decided not to touch it, just clean it. We didn’t want to lose the original feel.”

Wright had brought the bus in for restoration in 2005 before loaning it to The Tennessee Three, Cash’s band, for a cross country tour. After the tour, the bus went to Fender Museum of Music and Arts in California. It also made a pit stop in Los Angeles for the “Walk the Line” movie premier.

“This time around we are just doing some light repairs before the bus goes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” said Connaughton. “We’ve probably done $50,000 in conversions to it in its lifetime.”

Connaughton said the coach has a powerful motor in it, which can go in excess of 100 miles per hour.

“Johnny didn’t want to go slow,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of a Porsche in a bus.”

The bus also holds a piece of American history. The walnut in the stateroom comes from Cash’s farm in Tennessee. That farm was used by Ulysses S. Grant as his headquarters during the Civil War.

Connaughton said the bus was Cash’s refuge.

“He felt safe,” he commented. “He could just get on his bus and rest.”

Now that refuge can be viewed by anyone at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. Donna Ruckel, a marketing specialist for CMI, said the museum might use the bus to pick up other inductees instead of sending a limousine.

So why did Wright put all this money into the tour bus just to give it away?

Wright said, “This is a rolling monument to Johnny Cash, a lot of music was created and played on this bus. He is a legendary and enduring musical figure.”

“It will now be placed where it can be appreciated by anyone who wishes to visit and pay homage to the Man in Black.”

Cash is the only musician to be inducted to the Rock and Roll, Country Music and Songwriter halls of fame.

CMI is one of the few conversion specialists in the nation. They have restored the tour buses of Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers, Tommy Lee, Metallica and The Black Eyed Peas, to name a few.

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