What’s become something of a roadside attraction for travelers to Palouse Falls and Washington State University in Pullman may go missing from its remote home.
For decades a yellow school bus sat rusting away on state Department of Natural Resources land along Highway 260, about eight miles south of the tiny town of Washtucna.
Then bits of graffiti began to decorate its sides. Now its a full-fledged display of what can be done with spray paint.
“It has become known as a great place to stop and take a photo on the way to Palouse Falls,” said Bob Redling, a spokesman for the state agency.
The bus stands alone in the grass, with low hills and sky as a backdrop.
Search Instagram, Facebook or Flickr for #ThatNWBus and you’ll see pictures of twentysomethings leaning out its glassless windows, jumping on the roof and posing against its ever-changing colors.
Some photographers have gone to the trouble of lighting the inside and then photographing it against the starry night sky.
“I’ve been taking pictures of the bus for years,” said Lee Ann Blankenship, who moved to Washtucna in 1974.
“It’s a chameleon,” she said. “It is quite funny.”
It definitely will not be in the same place, but whether it goes to a scrapyard or some other place is up in the air.
Bob Redling, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources
Most recently “Wanderland” has been painted across its side in yellow letters outlined in black.
But while some travelers and some people in the community of Washtucna consider it a local landmark, its popularity has the state somewhat concerned.
The department is making plans to move the bus, which sits on state trust land that the state leases for agriculture. It is on a section of land that is not being farmed.
“It definitely will not be in the same place, but whether it goes to a scrapyard or some other place is up in the air,” said Bob Redling, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.
The issue is liability.
Not only is it “a tetanus magnet” for those who climb on it, but it has at times been an issue for law enforcement, he said. The occasional party is held there.
A state employee trained in cultural issues resources has not found that the bus has a historical or cultural significance, Redling said.
If you ever make your way out to Palouse Falls, you can’t forget to stop and check out
Facebook post by Jena Green
But the Washtucna Historical Museum, which Blankenship helped start, still is interested.
Blankenship has arranged a lease on land at the edge of Washtucna and the museum’s liability insurance would cover it, although at least initially people would not be allowed inside the bus.
Some picnic tables might be added.
Blankenship hopes that people would still use it for their artwork, but that its less remote location would prevent any law enforcement issues.
She’s preparing a letter now to the Department of Natural Resources to explain the local significance of the bus and its history.
She remembers that it was originally used by a crop duster, who stored his supplies in it near a small airstrip. It was then abandoned.
The biggest hurdle for the museum might be getting the bus moved.
It will take a crane to lift it. But a case might be made that the Department of Natural Resources would pay less to haul it to a site nearby than to haul it farther to a scrapyard.
Blankenship worked in the Tri-Cities as a nurse for a while, and drove by the bus regularly, always looking forward to seeing the latest artwork.
There was only one time that she was tempted to paint it herself — when a political message appeared. But that, too, was soon covered with a fresh coat of paint.