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Ken Kesey had the most magical bus in the world- The Further

The Further, or also known as the Furthur is probably one of the most famous buses in human history and the credits for that, go to one of the most prominent figures of the counterculture movement, Ken Kesey.

The author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was largely known for usage of various drugs, including LSD which was legal back in the 1960’s. The psychedelic drugs he used enabled him to cut out some out-of-mind encounters which at the same time were a source that nurtured his work of fiction. If it wasn’t for the psychedelic drugs he would have never written One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“.


Ken Kesey’s original bus “Further”, photo credit

As Kesey underwent a secretive drug testing program commissioned by the CIA, he later proceeded to experiment with the drugs on his own. Often he would host “happenings” where all his guests would participate in the “psychedelic experiences”, and those “happenings” certainly lead to the birth of the Hippie movement.

In 1964, Ken Kesey seemingly wanted to orchestrate a magical trip from his home in California all the way to New York City, a trip by bus that would announce the Hippie movement in America.

For the occasion, the author purchased a retired International Harvester school bus to carry his Merry Band of Pranksters on a trip cross-country. Kesey wished to film this journey, as it was much within the frames of today’s counterculture movement.

Furthur inside, photo credits

But the journey along with the Merry Pranksters turned out to be a total havoc that was undoubtedly a result of the usage of substances like LSD. For Kesey, it was impossible to edit the filmed material or take out some logical story out of it.

In 2011, a documentary movie under the title Magic Trip was released, and his wish eventually came true as the movie has been based on Tom Wolfe’s 1968 release The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test that depicts some of the journeys of the Further.

The journey of the magic bus

Kesey had huge ambitions. His book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was an instant success upon its release in 1962.

He was already a star in 1963 and traveled from California to New York to see the Broadway opening for the play for his book. In 1964 another journey to New York was to follow – this time for a big party on the occasion of having him published his second book – Sometimes a Great Notion.

But remember the saying it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey? This was true in Kesey’s case.

As the author was preparing for his second trip to New York, he came up with a better idea. It was triggered by Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road. Kesey suggested traveling from California to New York by bus. He also invited some of his friends to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

“Further” (also known as “Furthur”), Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters’ famous bus, Bumbershoot festival, Seattle, Washington, 1994. This is the second of the two buses by this name, photo credits

There were so many Pranksters who signed up for the mad magical journey ahead, that Kesey’s large and comfy state wagon he owned would not accommodate everyone. This was one of the greatest “happenings” he had ever organized. As the group grew in number, it was now a necessity for him to purchase the retired yellow school bus. It was a good deal as he purchased it for 1,250 bucks.

When Kesey purchased the Further, it already had some features that could accommodate a family of 12. It looked very normal. It had a kitchen, and a bathroom as well.

And about the Pranksters – this was a group of people who formed around Kesey the same year. They were known as Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and they lived communally at the author’s homes in California and Oregon. The adventure they embarked on with the Further was wild and psychedelic. Tie-dyed, in red-white-blue clothing and with very odd behavior, this group represented the heart of the counterculture movement. They were everything that the Establishment wasn’t. This was their conscious attempt to oppose the elite and the authorities.

Right rear view of second bus, photo credits

Kesey and the Merry Pranksters added a couple of more items on the Further. They applied a generator and a powerful sound system to it. There was also a seating platform on the top of the bus. And it wasn’t yellow anymore. The artists painted the bus in psychedelic colors and designs, hence the Further became one of the most recognizable symbols of the Hippie movement.

It did not have any Day-Glo paints as those were introduced after 1964, but the primary colors were dominant, plus the word “Sunshine” was written in blue. The peace symbols were also absent for the time being. Nevertheless, that’s how the bus got from the West coast to the East coast.

It picked its name from artist Roy Sebern, who first painted the word “Furthur” instead of “Further”. The word was placed on the destination placard and aimed to represent a one-word poem that will keep the group going even if the bus broke down.The misspelled name, though corrected, was still more fashionable.

Further in disrepair, photo credits

Certainly, it was an epic journey to New York and a promise for more upcoming adventures with the Further in the following years. The Further also traveled to the Woodstock festival in 1969, which was, in fact, its final journey.

Here is another Ken Kesey story from us: Ken Kesey was part of psychedelic drugs experiments before he wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” 

After that, it was parked in the swamp on Kesey’s farm in Oregon (his second home) where it decayed over the passing years. However, the memory still lives on.

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.