Restored school bus spreads love of reading through south Fort Worth neighborhood

Posted Friday, Oct. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Martha Gonzalez was curious about the white bus parked in the 1400 block of West Magnolia.

The hostess/cashier at Benito’s Mexican restaurant had noticed the 30-foot vehicle sitting alone on a vacant lot for a week or longer.

Gonzalez crossed the street for a closer look.

It was as if the bus were waiting just for her, its entry door folded open, invitingly.

The woman climbed two steep steps, like so many noisy children with pent-up energy once had done at the end of every school day.

Her eyes took in the curved ceiling covered with pages from famous literary works — Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, among others.

Four metal shelves holding hardbacks and paperbacks lined the walls.

New cushioned bench seats provided reading areas.

A blue curtain veiled the rear window, and shiny wood laminate covered the floor. Small rugs, throw pillows and whimsical touches (Scrabble tiles arranged to spell out words) gave the place a homey feel.

A cheery yellow sign rested against the driver’s seat.

“Welcome to WOW. Words On Wheels.”

Tina Stovall is the creative inspiration behind this unusual mobile library, her gift to Fort Worth’s near south side, where she works and lives.

“A community service,” Stovall called the book mobile. “It’s a nice addition to the neighborhood.”

Gonzalez, an avid reader, silently browsed the rows of categorized books, hands folded in front of her, head cocked as she read the titles.

The WOW bus contains a few hundred books, everything from The Holy Bible to The Berenstain Bears In The Dark. Biographies. Mysteries. Science fiction. Children’s books. Cookbooks. History. Wellness. Self-help.

The collection is as eclectic as the revitalized neighborhood.

Gonzalez was told she didn’t need to check out items.

She could take one, or as many as she wanted, and bring them back at her convenience.

Or she was welcome to keep them — no charge.

“Really?” she asked, surprised.

Stovall heard similar responses when her WOW bus made its debut at the recent ArtsGoggle event that celebrates Fort Worth’s artistic spirit.

“The books are free?” some festival goers asked.

“You sure?” others wondered.

Gonzalez spotted an interesting title about holistic healing. Removing it from a shelf, she flipped through the pages and pored over the cover, front and back.

Pleased with the find, and her unexpected good fortune, Stovall’s neighbor stepped off the bus and headed for work, a smile lighting her face in the morning sunshine, her new treasure cradled in one arm.

Passion for books

Stovall remembers how she spent much of her leisure time while growing up on the tortilla-flat landscape of West Texas. An only child, the Midland native never felt alone at home. Books were her comforting companions.

Passion for the printed word is still as much a part of her as her community spirit and big brown eyes.

In January, the 50-year-old Fort Worth freelance copywriter looked around her split-level townhouse and heaved an inner sigh. Books. Books. Everywhere. Over time, she has collected more books than her current dwelling can accommodate.

Stovall preferred giving most of them away rather than selling them to a discount book store for pennies on the dollar. But how to distribute them?

The wheels of her mind turned round and round, round and round, until the idea formed.

A cartoon light bulb turned on overhead.

Stovall searched Craigslist on the Internet and found a church in Austin that was offering to sell a mid-size 1990 International diesel bus that originally had been property of the Round Rock school district.

She traveled to Austin, inspected the vehicle and later bought it for $5,000, slightly less than the asking price.

Stovall and her boyfriend, Heagan Bayles, worked tirelessly on the project throughout the summer. The transformation cost about as much as the purchase price.

The couple gutted the bus, removing the double row of seats, a challenge that tested their perseverance and patience.

Holding a wrench, Bayles lay on his back beneath the carriage, pouring sweat, his face smudged with dust and falling specks of road grime. Following his instructions, Stovall removed the bolts from above, using an impact driver.

During the ordeal Bayles suffered a spider bite, causing his arm to balloon. But the two continued their labor of love. He laid the flooring. He measured, cut and installed the trim. She primed and painted.

The project looked finished once the shelves were filled. Stovall now hopes that as the inventory dwindles, she can restock the bus (thewowbus.com) with books from those who wish to donate.

A book, any book, is a gift one can open again and again.

Author and poet Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Who knows, that little book may sit on a shelf.

Above four great big wheels.

In a vacant lot.

On West Magnolia Avenue.

“Maybe some kid will come by,” Stovall said, hoping, “and take a book that will spark his interest.

“And years later he’ll think ‘I remember this bus I went to …’ ”

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