Former school bus becomes tailgate headquarters

Story and photos by Casey Sill, NewsNetNebraska

If you would have driven through the county roads around Broken Bow, Neb. in the late 1990s, you might have run across a broken-down bus.

It wasn’t much. Abandoned. Forgotten. Its number was up.

Then along came Jerry Szalawiga.

The Lincoln native and Husker football fanatic spotted the bus while driving those dusty roads and thought of just one thing – tailgating.

Szalawiga adopted the elderly bus and gave it a Husker makeover.

“It’s been a slow transformation,” he said. “It’s always a work in progress.”

Faded yellow became scarlet red. Seats usually occupied by overexcited third graders became the resting place of anxious Husker fans, and the horn once used to impatiently announce the arrival of the school day now sings, “There is No Place Like Nebraska.”

For the last 13 years the bus has been the centerpiece to Szalawiga’s game day tailgates.

“We always have a lot of family and friends here,” he said. “It’s a great time getting together.”

It’s also a lot of work. The bus arrives four hours before kickoff every Saturday to get everything ready. Family and friends pitch in, and Szalawiga said after more than a decade, they have developed a bit of a routine.

“Everybody knows what needs to get done,” he said. “It’s like a pit crew around here.”

With nearly a full buffet, all the beer you can drink and multiple high definition TVs, the party is a well-oiled machine. And the only thing that runs smoother than Szalawiga’s tailgates is the bus he drives to them.

A trek across Lincoln on fall Saturdays is no problem for the old gal. She’s come a long way from Broken Bow, but Szalawiga said don’t expect to see her in Ann Arbor or Iowa City anytime soon.

“The bus gets four and a half mpg,” he said. “So we don’t want to go far.”

Jerry Szalawiga talks about his tailgating bus:

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