Let’s go Into the Money


The late Chris McCandless’s self portrait in front of Fairbanks City Transit System bus #142 abandoned along the Stampede Trail/Wikimedia Commons


With the state of Alaska facing a fiscal crisis that calls for both cutting the cost of state government and raising state revenues, the time has come to cash in on the death of poor, misguided Chris McCandless and eliminate an attractive nuisance that regularly forces the expenditure of public funds.

Certainly writer John Krakauer has made enough money off the young man from the country’s East Coast who ended up alone and dead of starvation in an abandoned bus on the outskirts of Healy, the coal-mining capital of the 49th state.

Krakauer went Into the Wild. The state now needs to go Into the Money.

The state needs to monetize that “Magic Bus” that McCandless turned into his tomb.

Haul it out of the woods west of Healy. Cut it up into little pieces. And sell the pieces as souvenirs to all the strangely misguided souls who want some sort of touchstone to a young man who starved to death on the edge of the wilderness as if that sort of epic failure says something about the meaning of life.

The numbers

Let’s do some math:

The “Magic Bus,” apparently so named by someone who found the deserted vehicle a magic shelter in the years before McCandless’s 1992 arrival in the north,  is built on an old International Harvester K-5 truck frame. The frame originally weighed 3,600 to 3,800 pounds.

Calculating another 500 pounds or more for the bus superstructure, but deducting for material lost to rust on what’s left out there along the road near the Sushana River, leads to a reasonable conclusion that the wreck could still weigh 3,000 to 3,500 pounds, or 48,000 to 56,000 ounces.

Cut into half-ounce pieces, the state could have 96,000 to 112,00o tokens to sell. Or better yet, let’s melt the whole bus down and have it pressed into commemorative coins.

A U.S. quarter weighs 1/80th of a pound. 

Figure 3,500 pounds of metal pressed into quarter-size coins bearing the image of a scrawny, near-dead McCandless sitting in front of a bus could yield somewhere close to 300,000 coins.

Sold for $20 each, they’d bring in about $6 million. Figure $1 million in production costs for getting the bus out of the wildernss, melting it and stamping the coins, and the state still nets $5 million.

Search and rescue savings

That’s about how much was cut from the budget of the Alaska Department of Public Safety this year. Public safety includes the division of the Alaska State Troopers, which is responsible for coordinating search-and-rescue (SAR) operations in Alaska.

Every year now, there is some sort of SAR launched to retrieve pilgrims who have decided to trek to the bus only to get into trouble. Remove the bus, and there are likely to be fewer trekkers, or maybe not.

So OK, the state could take some of the money made off the sale of bus coins and uses it to build an all-terrain-vehicle accessible bridge across the Teklinka River, the biggest obstacle between the site of the bus and the George Parks Highway.

The U.S. Forest Service built a really nice, 280-foot-long bridge to nowhere across the Placer River on the Kenai Peninsula for $1.6 million. The bridge was touted in Architect Magazine as designed to survive the harshest of environments, “most notably wind gusts up to 120 mph, 200-per-square-foot ground snow load, flooding potential, and high seismic events.”

There are no trails to or from the bridge. It sits in the middle of an isolated section of the Kenai Peninsula. The only way to get there in summer is on the Alaska Railroad. But once there, the bridge makes it possible to hike a limited trail system around the Spencer Glacier.

The Forest Service calls the bridge a “critical linkage between the Spencer and Grandview whistle stops” on the railroad. A Teklanika bridge would be an even more critical link between the former site of the McCandless bus and the Parks Highways.

The Teklanika has been the site of numerous costly rescues or attempted rescues and one death by drowning. It is only by luck other deaths have been avoided.

Removing the bus could remove the lure that keeps geting people into trouble. Melting the bus down to make commemorative coins could make the state millions of dollars. And using some of those millions to finance a bridge to end problems at the Teklanika if people keep coming (some likley will no matter what is done) would make life easier for everyone.

What’s not to like here?








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2 replies »

  1. I agree with Tim. I’d like to see a wax replica of a starving McCandless sitting in the bus as well. The tackier it is the better. “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public” said HL Mencken. We’ve got Krakauer doing the advertising for us so why not?

  2. Craig, Yep, the state could make a quick 6 million off of your idea. But then the money would stop. So why not try to capitalize off the fact that the bus is one of the most revered religious sites in the world? They change 50 euros for a tour of the Vatican. So put the magic bus behind a big fence and charge $20 for pilgrims to see and touch it. Probably 100,000 would visit it each year. So that’s 2 million a year. Up the admission price to $40 to go inside the bus. No cameras or phones unless you pay an extra $20. Concessionaires, that pay a commission to the state, would be on site to sell tourist crap like t-shirts, hats, key chains, miniature 142 busses and McCandless statues, etc. An ice cream stand would sell Krakauer inspired flavors, like potato seed. Total take for the state would probably be 4 million a year. Every year! With no end in sight! This business model works well for the Vatican, so it should be a winner move for the State of Alaska.

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