1937 Ford Model BB Touring Bus

Since the days of the Model T, Ford Motor Company has recognized the importance of trucks and commercial vehicles to their bottom line. The earliest Model TT truck, introduced in 1917, shared many components with the Model T but featured a heavier 1-ton capacity frame and axles. Next came the Model AA, followed by Ford’s first V8-powered truck, the BB, in 1932. With each iteration, Ford’s medium and heavy trucks became more specialized for commercial duty, with unique styling and technical features to withstand the rigors of commercial duty.

In 1937, the Board of Trustees of Chicago’s beloved Morton Arboretum financed the purchase of a new motorized touring bus, which they envisioned would be used to shuttle visitors around their expansive 1,700-acre facility in the heart of Chicago’s western suburbs. The arboretum was established in 1922 by Joy Morton, founder of Morton Salt Company, as a public garden, outdoor museum, and research center. The Morton family had a passion for nature which ran in their blood. Joy’s father, Julius Morton, is noted for founding Arbor Day in 1872, and he later served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland. Joy Morton founded the arboretum to celebrate nature and preserve its beauty in the heart of one of America’s largest industrial cities.

With funding in place, the trustees purchased a new 1937 Ford Model BB truck, powered by a flathead V8 engine and riding on a 157-inch wheelbase chassis. Before it could be put to work hauling guests, the Ford chassis took a trip across town to Schukraft & Company, a respected wagon and truck-body builder. In their hands, the wheelbase was stretched to 180 inches, and their craftsmen created this one-off open touring bus body. The unique layout featured wide running boards running the length of the vehicle, which gave easy access to any of the seven rows of extra-wide benches. The driver’s seat is set lower, so guests have a clear view all around. From the cowl-forward, it’s all Ford, with the lovely, flowing fenders and the elegant radiator grille that was the signature of Ford’s notably attractive truck line for 1937.

Upon delivery to the Morton Arboretum in late 1937, the touring bus was put to work, shuttling visitors, special guests, and student groups around their remarkable facility. Incredibly, this wonderful Ford bus remained in regular service for over 50 years! It dutifully served its caretakers nearly every day, only getting the occasional respite in bad weather – with the original 100-horsepower 239 cubic-inch flathead V8 chugging along faithfully for all those years. Archival photos provided by the arboretum showed the bus when it was new, with others depicting it in action, full of students and teachers riding through the grounds.

The Morton ’37 Ford touring bus was officially retired in the late 1980s when a new enclosed bus was purchased. But even in retirement, it made occasional appearances for special events and celebrations. In many ways, the familiar Ford bus was as much a part of the Morton Arboretum as many of the trees themselves.

As offered today, this delightful bus benefits from a comprehensive restoration, and has been refinished in a handsome shade of dark green. It is finished off with Morton Arboretum livery and a period-appropriate canvas canopy. This unique Ford is in excellent condition throughout, with attractive paintwork and period-appropriate detailing. All the bench seats have been re-trimmed in brown upholstery, and the driver’s compartment features the original wheel, correct instrumentation, and the proper rubber floor liners. Similarly, the engine bay is appropriately detailed in the correct shade of Ford green, and the flathead runs well – burbling along ease.

This truly unique and marvelous vehicle has a rich history, and is ideal for use on historic estates, wineries, or in any place where this historically significant and distinctly stylish people-mover will be cherished and appreciated.

Historic photographs courtesy of the Morton Arboretum  


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