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Old-school bus historically significant to Monarchs

Group traveling on 1947 Flxible Clipper similar to vehicles Negro League teams used

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- By the time their 23-day, 21-city barnstorming journey comes to a close, the Anderson Monarchs will have logged some 4,000 miles spanning from the Northeast to the Deep South to the Midwest and back home to Philadelphia.

And they're doing this all on a non-air-conditioned bus that is nearly 70 years old, containing none of the amenities found on a typical vehicle designed for long distances.

And they're loving it.

The Monarchs, a youth sports organization filled with 13- and 14-year-old baseball players including its most famous teammate, Mo'ne Davis, are traveling the country in a 29-seat authentic 1947 Flxible Clipper touring bus that looks very much like the buses the Negro League teams used for travel during their heyday.

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There's no mistaking who the Monarchs are when they arrive to their next destination, which is helpful, considering how many sites the group is visiting in a short amount of time. They will have visited many significant historical civil rights landmarks by the time this trip is over, from the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham to the church attended by a young Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.

On Thursday, the bus traveled to Montgomery, where the kids visited the Rosa Parks Library and Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial Center.

Everywhere they go, media and a handful of onlookers gape at a bus that Monarchs director and coach Steve Bandura calls a "time machine."

Bandura came up with the idea to find something like this back in 1997, when he wanted to figure out a special way to honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's entry into the Major Leagues as the game's first black player.

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This 1947 model was uncovered after extensive searching by Tom Murphy, a mechanic who scoured the commercial vehicle sections of old issues of national publications that may be able to give them some direction. And there was the Flxible Clipper.

Originally a Warner Bros. fleet bus that carried cast and crew members to shoots around Southern California, the Clipper was sold in 1973 to someone from the Northeast who had intentions to turn it into an RV but instead just let it sit, unused, for years.

"I found it but didn't know what it was," Murphy said. "It just said it was a 29-passenger. I had never heard of a Flxible Clipper. We sucked the rust out of the gas tank and restored it."

The actual date that Murphy first laid eyes on the bus happened to be April 15, 1997 -- the exact 50th anniversary of Robinson's first game.

The bus gets 8 1/2 to nine miles to the gallon, but other than not being terribly economic, it is, as Murphy said, "a very able machine." It doesn't move quickly up hills, and it definitely doesn't keep up with the rest of the speedy cars on highways. But it's safe and reliable and is doing a great job getting the Monarchs from point A to point B to point C and beyond.

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"The engine's almost 50 years old and the bus is almost 70," Murphy said. "The transmission's from 2006. It's a little bit of everything. But the unit itself is like a 99,000-mile unit. The suspension, the steering, they're like new. It was designed to go many miles."

And it does. Driven by Jay McGee, a longtime friend of Bandura, the bus is hard to miss when it's out on the open road. The sides are painted in bold lettering with the team's name, and on the back is "Anderson Monarchs Civil Rights Barnstorming Tour," with each city the group will travel to listed in order.

Other than the spectacle it creates, actually driving it is, according to McGee, not much different from driving a more standard vehicle.

"The hills are hard but nothing really is too difficult," he said. "The hills are the most challenging because it doesn't have the pull power to keep speed up. Other than that, it's pretty standard, normal driving."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.