Wyoming and Union Pacific Railroad have grown up together.
The railroad opened the Cowboy State and moved millions of people between the eastern United States and the American West. For more than 150 years, UP has been a vital artery for commerce and industry as well.
The Union Pacific Railroad was built across Wyoming in 1867 to 1868, corresponding with the incorporation of Cheyenne as the state’s capital city, which quickly became an important commercial hub for the region.
That history fascinates Cheyenne resident Michael Pannell, along with those giant locomotives, cars and cabooses. In fact, he collects them.
And he’s added a unique part of UP history to his collection: A rare 1949 GMC Union Pacific passenger bus, one of only two still known to exist.
UP Ran Buses?
That’s right, Union Pacific Railroad was once in the bus business, expanding its role of moving people across the country to also moving them around some of the West’s largest cities once they arrived.
As much as Pannell loves everything UP, he never knew the company ran buses until recently when he saw an ad selling one of only two of the 1949 GMC UP passenger buses still known to exist. In fact, there were only 13 in the fleet. They operated in and around Los Angeles, he said.
“I didn’t know any of these existed, but it came up on Facebook for sale,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “The guy had started converting it to a camper. He put water tanks in and the kitchen, but had run out of steam.”
The first thing Pannell thought was that was all wrong.
“This bus is way too important to do that to it,” he said. “It’s OK for any other bus, but not this one.”
Then he saw the asking price “was ridiculously cheap,” so he bought it.
Now the bus has been carefully packed up and is on its way to his property outside Cheyenne.
‘A Perfect Place’
Pannell said it seems a little bit like divine intervention that a Union Pacific aficionado in Cheyenne would cross paths with a rare and important piece of UP history.
“I’ve never seen one before and never realized any of them existed,” he said. “I collect Union Pacific stuff. I have Union Pacific cabooses, Union Pacific boxcars and passenger cars from the 1800s.
“But this bus is so rare, I knew that someone has to look after it.”
And to Pannell’s mind, there’s no better place for that to happen than Cheyenne.
“I thought, ‘Cheyenne is the perfect place for this,’” he said. “That’s because they at one time actually had a UP bus that ran from Cheyenne to Denver.”
While that wasn’t one of the 1949 GMC buses like his No. 23, it’s still a nugget of local transportation history many have forgotten about.
That the city remains an active Union Pacific town is gratifying, Pannell said, adding he plans to keep collecting.
“When I moved here, we found some of this stuff lying around town, and it’s absolutely priceless, and people didn’t care about it,” he said. “But this is all stuff from some of Cheyenne’s earliest history just lying around. It’s really, really important history.”
It Still Runs
Pannell plans to restore the bus and bring it out into the community for special events to share it with everyone.
And despite being nearly 75 years old, No. 23 still runs. It helps that it didn’t get as much day-to-day use as others in the small fleet because it was a standby bus. The buses were used for decades, running into the mid-1970s.
“It runs and drives,” Pannell said, adding that the person he bought it from “has done hundreds of miles on it over the last two years.”
The bus should arrive in Cheyenne soon, then Pannell said he’ll get to work, and he can’t wait for others around the city to see it.
He envisions having it in local parades and at “any other kind of events and things we can help promote it at.”
But that doesn’t mean he won’t get an itch to just saddle up and take No. 23 out for another run.