Some people collect coins. Pinal County resident Richard Johnson collects buses. Though buses are harder to store and more expensive to maintain than more traditional collections, Johnson and his wife, Michelle, are using their assortment to build a Hollywood-inspired business.
With nicknames such as Old Blue, Hollywood, Skittles and Speed — an actual bus used in the Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock movie “Speed” — the Johnsons started AZ FilmCars, a vintage bus restoration and rental company that rents out buses for Hollywood movies, music videos and advertising. The buses typically rent for $625 a day.
“They’re used for period pieces,” Michelle Johnson said.
The Johnsons have seven vintage coaches with the oldest from 1961 to the newest from 1980. One of the buses is being used in Canada in the filming of the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
“I’m proud to keep pieces of history alive,” Michelle Johnson said. “You wouldn’t think anybody would care about these buses, but the collectors, they do.”
Richard Johnson said he hopes having companies like this will attract more filmmakers to Arizona.
The Johnsons also offer their buses for advertising — wrap the bus with your message and drive it around.
Richard Johnson’s interest in buses began when he drove them for Continental Trailways, a competitor to Greyhound, between 1981 and 2007. He owns two of the buses he drove professionally.
Buses are his passion. He tracks buses for sale online, does work on his buses and even changes around the destination signs on the vintage coaches.
“You can’t help but think about the people who rode on the bus, what they were dressed like, where they were going, what kind of cars this bus saw,” he said.
The Johnsons have attracted attention from neighbors and workers in the area. Recently, a man delivering garbage cans saw one of the three buses parked outside of the Johnsons’ home and walked over saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s the ‘Speed’ bus,” Michelle Johnson said.
“People get really excited,” she said. “I never thought about it, but now I watch movies and pay attention to the buses.”