"Galloping Brunella was a real bucket of bolts," says Kittle. He's well into his eighth hour of bus tales, though he shows no signs of tiring. "She was a rickety, rackety Reo Speed Wagon with wicker seats, rag curtains and the words PONCA CITY ANGELS flaking off the side. I used to floor that sonuvabitch, but I never got her past 45 miles an hour. Didn't get to drive her till 1937, when she must have been a hundred years old.
"So it's four-thirty in the morning and we're on a dirt road about five miles out of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and closing in on Ponca City. All of a sudden Brunella lets out a Boom! Boom! BOOM! We look under the hood and there's a hole in the motor the size of a watermelon! Our manager, Goldie Holt, decides to hitchhike into Ponca City to get another bus. The rest of us lay down by the road and roll up our uniforms for pillows. I'm thinkin', To hell with this, I'll go see the little gal I know in Pawhuska. A farmer gives me a ride. But when I get there, Goldie's on a corner.
" 'Hub,' he tells me. 'Go back to Brunella and set her on fire.' He was thinking of the insurance, you see.
"So I head back out, and another farmer takes me up the road a piece and drops me off. I get out and see one of them old swaybacked mares. I sneak under some barbed wire, mount the mare, slap her on the flank and gallop down the fence line toward the bus. They must have thought I was leading the Seventh Cavalry.
"I see my roomie, Dominick Castro. A good catcher, Dominick, with knobs all over his fingers. 'Get over here,' I say. "We got to cremate Brunella.'
" 'What you been drinking?' Castro asks.
" 'Ain't drinking nothing. Goldie wants us to blow her up.' I find a Prince Albert tobacco can and fill it with gas. I dump the gas into the carburetor, sprinkle it over the hood and light a match. VROOOOM! Well, actually, it takes three or four matches to really get her going. Anyway, Brunella's going pretty good when here comes a Greyhound from Ponca City. The driver hops on his brakes, grabs a fire extinguisher and starts putting out the flames for us.
"We pat him on the back and say, 'Thanks bussy. You saved our life.'
"Well, as soon as he's gone, we pour on more gas and stick cigarette stubs in the wicker seats. But we never could get Brunella going. Truth is, it's tough to blow up a bus. That afternoon Goldie shows up in another bus and drops us at the stadium in Ponca City. After the game he and the team owner pay Brunella another visit. They make a rope out of sweat socks and shove one end in the gas tank. Then they hide in an irrigation ditch and put a match to the sock rope. BOOM! Brunella goes sky-high. There's nothing left but frames, rims and a chunk of the engine.
"A few weeks later the team owner tells me to go to the railroad station because the new bus is in. It's sitting on a sidetrack on a flatbed car: fire-engine red with PONCA CITY ANGELS in big white letters. She's got a big horn, a radio and push-button reclining seats. Oh man, she's nice. I'm so damn happy, I drive her to the ballpark, circle the outfield and howl to a halt on the pitching mound. I blow her horn. Woo! Woo! Woo! It's louder than hell. The players all form a ring around the bus and inspect her. They nod and smile and a few even weep. That night we all sit in the bus and get drunker than $700 bills.