Young Life Transportation

Whether by bus, boat or personal vehicle, transportation has always been a critical component to the success of Young Life camping. Today, it is normal to see chartered buses hauling kids to and from camp in style; however, in the early days of the mission, such services were not as easily attained and the challenge of moving people in a safe and affordable manner was ever-present. Fortunately, at this juncture of our mission’s history, there was a group of pioneers who stepped in the transportation “gap” for kids and leaders; these were the men and women of Young Life Transportation.

   The year was 1968, the Young Life mission was growing, and areas were using whatever they could find to haul leaders and kids to camp. Recognizing a need and an opportunity to save money, Young Life Transportation was created and found “traction” under the capable leadership of Joe Shelly. In fact, in its first summer of operations, from June to September 1968, Young Life Transportation drove 2,040 campers 127,836 miles and saved the mission almost $35,000 when compared to the lowest excursion bus rates available at that time. Areas using this service in its inaugural year included Denver, Phoenix, Wichita, Kansas City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and many others. Originally based at Frontier Ranch, where Joe Shelly was a mechanic, Young Life Transportation soon outgrew this home base and made a move to a garage and a bit more land in Buena Vista, Colorado. This was known as the “nerve center” of Young Life Transportation and not only served as a place for buses to be parked and maintained, but also as a hub around which lifelong friendships and memories would be made.

   Early in the life of Young Life Transportation, it was determined that college-aged guys would be perfect candidates as drivers. In the words of John Oakman, a past driver for Young Life Transportation, “some of us would drive close to 50,000 miles from mid-May to mid-August. Then we would head back to college to take classes and work with Young Life as volunteers in the local clubs.” Though in the early days Young Life Transportation had a bit of a reputation for breakdowns and no air conditioning, according to driver Dave Millhouser, “We also had the most highly motivated and skilled bunch of drivers around — young, but exceptional. Kids loved the drivers to the point that they complained on occasion when they didn’t break down. Their friends had had a breakdown that was fun, so why couldn’t they!?”

   Millhouser goes on, “Often, as we drove all night and all day, kids would come to the front of the bus and talk with us— sometimes for entertainment, sometimes for self-preservation (they wanted to make sure we stayed awake.), and sometimes to really 'talk.' Some of those talks still echo through generations.”

   Driver, mechanic, tour guide, counselor and minister are all words that could be used to describe the role of a Young Life Transportation driver. And then, there is the word, “blessed.” According to driver John Oakman, “Though Young Life Transportation did eventually close its doors in the mid-70s (after moving to a new facility in Colorado Springs), the Lord had a vision for Young Life Transportation, and it moved many of us into what we are doing today. The Lord has blessed all of us in one way or the other. Many have given back to Young Life in the form of time, energy and money. All of us were blessed by lifelong relationships and the opportunity to serve such a great mission.”

   Were you, or was someone you know, a passenger with Young Life Transportation? Were you a driver, a staff person or a volunteer during this era? Do you have a story or picture to share, or would you like to enjoy those of others? Go to the Young Life Transportation Facebook Group Page and join the fun!