Hemphill Brothers Coach Co., known for high-profile clients like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, recently added another big name to its list of customers — George W. Bush. The president’s use of the Nashville-based coach operator, coupled with his opponent John Kerry’s similar commitment to bus travel, has illuminated the growing popularity of motorcoach chartering for political campaigns.
Bush first made headlines by touring parts of the Midwest in a Prevost H3-45 coach outfitted with amenities suitable for a traveling president. In fact, obtaining as much comfort as possible during grueling cross-country treks is one of the main reasons the use of coaches has become more prevalent in campaigns.
Conversion companies and coach manufacturers have partnered to capitalize on that reasoning by producing mobile comfort zones for just about any purpose. Nowhere is this more evident than in the two Bush-chartered Hemphill Brothers coaches, which are reportedly equipped with flip-down TV screens, satellite programming provided by KVH Industries Inc., a leather recliner for the president, three passenger compartments, two bathrooms and a kitchen.
According to Hemphill Brothers co-owner Trent Hemphill, the use of motorcoaches allows the president, or any campaigner, to be more in-touch with the American people by allowing off-the-record stops anywhere to meet people who wouldn’t regularly be at scheduled events. Essentially, buses give the president the opportunity to connect with people the way jets or other means can’t.
“A motorcoach is a rolling billboard,” said Hemphill. “It’s 45 feet long and almost 13 feet high, and you can basically have a slogan on the vehicle as your message — not only your name, but also whatever you’re trying to portray at the time.” A candidate can even change that slogan while moving through the campaign, he added.
Hemphill Brothers handled the transformation from bus shell to VIP motorcoach for the Bush campaign. To outfit the buses, the company spent $1 million on each, according to USA Today, while “the Bush campaign is leasing the buses for $45,000 a week.”
But the Bush administration isn’t the only entity looking to motorcoaches for campaign-related travel. Hemphill Brothers also customized coaches for ABC News. Three buses, “Red,” “White” and “Blue,” are being used as mobile television studios by ABC reporters covering the 2004 presidential elections. Additionally, Kerry has been seen jumping in and out of his own chartered Prevost bus at campaign stops.