Wheels on the Bus

local rod shop renovating 1930s Elk Mound school bus

Thom Fountain, photos by Andrea Paulseth

The crew at Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop, helmed by Fred Kappus (second from right) pose with the Elk Mound School Bus in its current form.
The crew at Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop, helmed by Fred Kappus (second from right)
pose with the Elk Mound School Bus in its current form.

Walking into Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop (Eau Claire) is sort of like walking into a museum, except a bit louder. The front door opens into a spacious garage with a gorgeous green 1970 Dodge Challenger to your right and a decked out black Trans-Am to your left. The centerpiece of the room is a bit bigger than the sleek, aerodynamic muscle cars that litter the floor, though. Towering above is the skeleton of a relic: a local school bus that might have taken kids on field trips to real museums back in the 1930s and ’40s.

The bus as it stands now is just a framework for what’s to come: Fred Kappus, Fast Freddie himself, was commissioned to fix up the vintage bus from Eau Claire’s Student Transit. The company has been in possession of the vehicle since they rescued it from a farm field in the 1970s. They had it up and running on and off through the years but have decided to bring it back to its original form – with a few modern conveniences added.

When Fred Kappus talks about cars he and his team have worked on you can tell he loves recounting the stories and every detail of each one.

Kappus is a jovial guy who clearly has a passion for what he does. He started working on cars with his dad in high school, rebuilding a Camaro in their garage. He wanted to continue working with cars, but went to school for management at UW-Eau Claire instead of to an automotive program. He found himself as a business manager at a restoration shop and picked up the trade at the garage before starting his Fast Freddie’s in 2008. Despite the risk of starting his business just as the economy was falling, Kappus thought if he could make it then, he could make it for the long haul. And he did just that, slowly building the small team he has now. Kappus likes keeping the operation small because for him it’s all about the details, which may get lost when you’re trying to balance scores of projects at once. Currently, Fast Freddie’s is working on eight to ten projects at any given time, giving them plenty of attention.

When he talks about the cars he and his team have worked on you can tell Kappus loves recounting the stories and the details of each one: The hand shaved glass of the windshield, the airbrushed logo on the dashboard, turning decorative vents into important pieces of the car so that nothing is wasted.

And there’s a lot of details that come with each project. Kappus said that each car they work on has up to 10,000 pieces, many of which need to be cleaned, replaced, primped or upgraded to get a classic car back up to shape and looking great.

Each car in the shop had a  story behind all the details. That green Challenger was a family car for years that had taken trips cross country with a trailer on the back as the family moved. Recently the owner wanted to restore it to the condition it deserved to be in, despite its years of heavy use for his family. Or take a silver 1969 Camaro that has evolved and changed so much they named it just that: Evolved. The car is absolutely gorgeous from the outside and just as gorgeous inside, with a custom console and a modern, Bluetooth sound system (that shows another evolution entirely). Or the Dodge Dart that serves as the shop’s car and has been featured in a number of publications and won awards left and right at shows (as well as carried its restorers thousands of miles between those shows). Each of these stories is told by Kappus through each detail and builds up to be the completely car.

Kappus gets that light in his eyes when he talks about the details that’ll make the Elk Mound bus. He’ll be adding hardword flooring from a ripped up basketball court and they already molded a custom visor that’ll sit above the windshield. On top of the restoration, the team will also give the bus the more modern technology that our cars have to make it safer and a little easier to drive around. You can tell he’s excited to be involved in something new, something that’ll be in the community for years showing up in parades and at events.

Those details take time, though. Kappus said he expects the bus to take up to a year finish, giving each detail the time and attention it deserves.

“It’s like what they say about how to eat an elephant: Just one bite at a time.”

You can find more photos of the Elk Mound school bus and other projects Fast Freddie’s is working on at FastFreddiesRodShop.com.

Step by Step

The team at Fast Freddies brought the bus in from Student Transit and stripped it down to its skeleton. Now, over the next year they’ll build it back up into its original form, with some modern conveniences and safety features added ...

Photos and illustration from Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop

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