It was 1987.
I was in the 7th grade and our neighbor – a young adult – invited the neighborhood for a cookout.
It must have been summer and the sun had fallen. While the adults sat around a fire, I commandeered the boom box. I had VERY strong opinions about music at the time, nearly all of them wrong.
I shudder to think what I subjected the crowd to as I confidently played DJ and juggled my way through a couple of cases worth of cassettes.
In retrospect, I imagine there was likely more silence than music as I fast-forwarded and rewound my way through mid-80s pop, hair metal and rap.
At one point our host got up and handed me a cassette and said, “Play this. Don’t change it.”
I popped it in and pressed play. And the world-weary voice of Bob Seger came out. Not the up-tempo, party time rock. This wasn’t “Ramblin’ Gamblin Man” or “Old Time Rock and Roll”. This was the tired, melancholic slice of Seger, the voice that sold a hundred million Chevy Trucks.
It was “Turn The Page”, Seger’s lament about life on the road, life as an outsider, paid to jump up on stage every night and entertain the faceless crowds. In other words, whether he was in the mood or not.
Music hits differently when you’re young. Particularly when you’re a highly opinionated, imaginative middle schooler with a penchant for drama.
Sitting there in the dark, listening to the song, I was immediately transported into Seger’s shoes. I was in the next bunk bed on the bus, ears ringing from the amplifiers, shaking off the cold and lonely road.
Of course, not every tour bus experience is the same.
For example, consider Pro Football Hall of Fame member John Madden and the famous Madden Cruiser. The football coach turned color analyst became famous for traveling all over the whole United States by bus.
Madden flew as a football coach. But when he got into TV, he stopped flying. Many thought Madden’s fear came from the California Polytechnic State University football team plane crash.
However, Madden later admitted he disliked being in the plane itself.
Dolly Parton’s tour bus: The Gypsy Wagon
And that my friends, brings us to Dolly Parton.
Like Madden, the Pigeon Forge legend wasn’t especially big on flying. And like Seger, she started out touring the country in a tour bus of varying levels of comfort.
By the time Madden got into TV, Dolly Parton had herself a pretty nice tour bus. And Madden had been getting to games via a train. But when a CBS executive learned Madden preferred a bus, he contacted Parton’s people and rented her bus while it wasn’t in use.
Madden went from Atlanta to Las Vegas to Philly and loved it. He soon contacted Greyhound, and for $500,000, the Madden Cruiser was born.
The whereabouts of that particular tour bus are unknown today. But by 1994, Dolly was a global icon and was ready for a tour bus befitting a queen. As a result, she designed the Gypsy Wagon, a Prevost Car tour bus.
Over her lengthy career, you’d think Dolly would have a fleet of luxury buses, but the country singer got her money’s worth. In fact, the Gypsy Wagon served as Dolly’s bus for years and years. It accumulated more than 600,000 miles.
“Designed by Dolly’s longtime road manager, bus driver and friend Don Warden and his wife Ann, the 1994 Prevost features hand-tooled leather from Germany on the sofa and chairs, cherry cabinets and brass fixtures,” says the Dollywood website.
The bus features three bunks beds for her family members, as well as two bathrooms and a shower.
The tour of her bus includes the convection oven, which Dolly would use to make her own meals. It also has a satellite TV and a half bath. The back of the bus reveals the pink bedroom, complete with a queen-sized bed.
Dolly’s bedroom features three clocks, set for different time zones. One is set on Los Angeles time, one on Nashville time and the other on Dollywood time.
The Gypsy Wagon is now on permanent display to the general public inside the Dollywood theme park. The Dolly Parton tour bus is parked in front of the Chasing Rainbows Museum in Adventures in Imagination.
The old bus, with its distinct paint job and signature butterflies, gives an inside look at Dolly’s road life.
In 2008, Dolly Parton’s tour bus was upgraded to a new model, which she showed off on the Oprah Winfrey show. It was on Dolly’s vlog, the “Dolly Parton Tour TV”.
DreamMore’s Suite 1986 bus
Additionally, for those who visit the Great Smoky Mountains and the National Park in hopes of learning more about Dolly, there’s hope on the way.
Another of Dolly’s old buses is being turned into Suite 1986 at the DreamMore Resort. The “suite” will actually be made of Dolly’s most recent tour bus – the one she showed off to Oprah.
Guests will be able to sleep in it.
How much did Dolly Parton’s tour bus cost?
The Gypsy Wagon tour bus, which is on display at Dollywood, cost $750,000.
Who was Dolly Parton’s bus driver?
Don Warden, who passed in 2017, served as Dolly’s right-hand man from her days on the Porter Wagoner Show.
Warden – who reportedly had a knack for finding and fixing up tour buses – left the show when she did and stayed at her side.
Dolly called him her “Mr. Everything”. In addition to driving and designing the tour buses, he was a renowned steel guitar player and tenor. Dolly called him “a man of many colors”, according to the Dolly Parton website.
Mr. Warden handled band accounts, promoted shows, coordinated merch and even served as the bus mechanic when necessary. After he passed, Dolly had a plaque in his honor mounted at the entrance to the Gypsy Wagon.
Tim Dunlap also served as a bus driver for Dolly.
How does Dolly Parton travel?
In 2018, Parton told the Bobby Bones Show that she’s afraid of flying.
“I’m like my daddy,” she said. “I don’t want to go no higher up than pulling corn and no lower down than pickin’ taters.”
It doesn’t mean she won’t fly. She has and will.
“I don’t know if I’m just a scaredy cat or just the motion,” she said. “It’s probably a little bit both. I don’t like that helpless feeling that I can’t get out if I want to. I want to be on the ground. If I want to stop, I want to get out. You can’t very well go up to the pilot and say, ‘I wanna get out now.'”
When she flies, it’s on a private jet because it’s easier and well, she’s Dolly Parton and can afford it. But she still prefers her custom abode.
“When I do fly, I fly private jet because it’s hard doing commercial anymore because it’s such a zoo anyway,” she said. “I just take my bus anytime I can.”
She also confirmed this sentiment in her vlog episode, which is embedded above.
“I don’t enjoy flying … I don’t like to be couped up,” she says in the episode.
“[The bus is] my favorite home. I have homes all over … but my favorite place is the bus… I’m a true gypsy at heart.”
But Dolly has other ways to get around.
When I was in the park for the opening of Wildwood Grove, she was being interviewed by the Today Show. The park had a special windowless van to get her where she needed to be.
When you’re a global icon like Dolly, you get to make your own travel arrangements to fit whatever whim you have.
Remember, if you’re planning a trip to Dollywood, check Tripster for discounts.
Have you visited the Dolly Parton tour bus at Dollywood? Tell us what you think in the comments!