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Old jitney bus may travel Tarpon Springs streets again

TARPON SPRINGS — When Hercules Ypsilanti sold his prized possession, he turned down a $5,000 offer in favor of $10 and three avocados.

The Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society collected his father's 1926 Chevrolet "jitney" bus from his shed the day after Christmas, nearly a century after Kevitos Ypsilanti started shuttling residents around town in it for about a dime per ride.

It's fitting that Cyndi Tarapani, president of the historical society and original owner of those avocados, commissioned a father-son team, Wayne and Marc Hancock, to restore the bus. It hasn't known life outside a dusty shed since 1951.

"We want to put it back on the streets so that people can see it and appreciate it as part of Tarpon's history," Tarapani said.

Nearly a century ago, the jitney bus was one of five or six in Tarpon Springs. Now, it might be the only one left.

The society plans to showcase it during parades and special events. They may also let residents take a ride one Saturday each month.

The restoration is a $35,000 project, the costliest the society's ever taken on. Tarapani said they've raised about $16,000 so far from residents who want their family names or businesses on the side of the bus.

The Hancocks will restore the bus using only parts that were available in 1926, with only a few exceptions required for safety of passengers.

"I just think it's an exciting project," said Marc Hancock, 40, of Tampa. "I can't wait to drive it, just to feel it."

The Hancocks hope the bus will be street-ready in a year to a year and a half. But first, there's a wooden frame to be restored, a body to be painted, electrical work to be done and more.

They're not worried. They've restored at least 10 vehicles together, many of them 1920s cars.

"We like the challenges," said Brooksville resident Wayne Hancock, 75.

Former Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos, now 71, collected money from jitney passengers in a cigar box years ago. She and other girls would ride the bus all day while eating bread, cheese and salami from local Greek businesses. Protos now sits on the historical society's board.

"It wasn't just Greek people who rode it," she said. "These are the roots of the entire community."

Old jitney bus may travel Tarpon Springs streets again 01/07/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 3:54pm]
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