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Big Ugly: 1935 GMC Northern Pacific Van

left front

Whatever it is, it’s listed on eBay and located in Ottertail, Minnesota. It’s 30 feet long and 10 feet tall. This Barn Find is almost a barn itself. It’s a crew bus the railroad used to deliver men and equipment to work sites. The crew had leather seats up front with equipment and tools in the back. It’s hard to imagine this thing ever looking beautiful, but it must have looked imposing with its shiny aluminum sides trimmed in railroad colors.


The engine is a 181 CID OHV 6 and is not seized. It definitely needs a good cleaning.


There’s lots of room in back for tools. Perhaps there’s room for a car in there.


There are some interesting trucks in the background. The headlights have been moved from stalks on the radiator to the fenders and the grill is gone. What could one do with this old bus? There’s a big market for vintage SUVs. This would make an interesting start. Or, it would make a great car hauler for car shows. Perhaps the drive train, suspension and brakes could be upgraded. It would take a lot of work to make the aluminum sides look nice again. It will be interesting to see what ideas our readers have for this bus truck thing.


  1. jimbosidecar

    I bought a 1050 Studebaker Coupe from this seller a couple years ago. he has a slew of old trucks and cars and, surprisingly for Minnesota, they are mostly rust fee except for surface rust only.

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  2. William H

    It would make for an interesting camper conversion. Definitely a conversation starter at the campground. If the aluminum sides are straight they can be buffed to a mirror finish. I had a ’70’s Airstream that I had polish out and it turned out beautiful. The polisher looks like a paint roller and has the polish material pumped through it while it “rolls”. Pretty interesting process and no swirl marks.

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    • Brad

      That tool is called an AirMark I believe… originally designed to polish aircraft, but you’re right – Airstream restoration shops also occasionally use them too.

      I agree it would be a wonderful camper — tough to resist putting a bunch of windows in the side, but I’d sure try and not ruin the exterior. Has a great, monolithic shape. Reminds me a bit of the Sandcrawler used by the Jawas in Star Wars. : )

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    I don’t think 181 cu. in. would even get this moving!

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    • Steve

      It’s not about horsepower. It probably has 6 series gears in the rear axle, 5 something at least… Now, top speed is another matter…

      I have several old farmall cub and Super A tractors. They only have 9 to 15 horsepower, but 6 (or 7) something rear axle ratios. Believe it or not, even with water and sodium chloride in the tires, as well as huge cast iron wheel weights, they are traction limited, not power limited. I have never bogged the engines down with a load. The tires will spin first! Maybe I need duals!

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  4. john C

    Do not try to slide under the canopy at any McDonalds’ drivethru in this vehicle !!!

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  5. Charles

    Wonder what the horse power would be from the 181 cu. in. engine? Seems like a small engine to move that monster especially when loaded with men and equipment back in the day. Would take a lot of time, effort and money to make this vehicle worthwhile, even if made into a camper as someone suggested. Think I will pass….

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  6. Dave Wright

    I think the highest and best use for this would be as a vendor’s vehicle at car shows and swap meets. Open the side to display your wares……..

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  7. Van

    I’d love to build a camper with this.
    Polish the aluminium.
    I know it’s blasphemy but the engine and trans would go on a show stand. 2008-10 Escalade engine and trans would make this thing go down the Eisenhower interstate system just fine.
    Who could I get to sponsor this thing. If the advertising on the side was respectfull to the vintage I’d enjoy it just fine.
    Maybe REI, or would my boss go for an 6 inch orange stripe down the side with Home Depot, 6″ letters just above the stripe.
    I can here it too, Steven Tyler, Dream on.

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    • Steve

      Duramax/ Allison swap!

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      • Brad

        Agreed – diesel is really the only reasonable way to go with this one, if you plan on taking it further than a few miles from home.

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  8. Howard A Member

    Things moved a lot slower in 1935, and 30 mph in something like this loaded was probably quite a handful. Like I’ve said before, I always judge how hard a vehicle is to drive, by the number of spokes in the steering wheel. Don’t be fooled, while this was only about 100 hp., it had torque up the ying-yang, and low gearing probably moved it just fine, just not too fast. If a RR museum wouldn’t want it, it would make a great shed.

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  9. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Man that thing is sweet looking! I don’t have the time to put her back on the road but I could make time to turn her into a nice clubhouse or ice shack.

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  10. Steve

    If only trucks could talk…I’ll bet this ol’ girl would have some tales to tell!

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  11. Brad

    For what it’s worth, here’s a toy (ahem, scale model!) of a ’57 International support vehicle for Northern Pacific. If the colors are correct, it could be a helpful clue in restoring this bad boy.

    And speaking of details, check out the decorative piece along the roofline. Looks like it may have been an aluminum escutcheon for the NP logo.

    Makes you wonder how many of these vehicles were in the original fleet…

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  12. Vegaman Dan

    Northern Pacific Transport is correct. These are LTL or less than load vehicles, often used as bus/cargo for tourist destinations like Yellowstone Park and points away from the railroad itself. Think FedEx/UPS.

    Railroad vehicles for transporting personnel and equipment to sites were much simpler and more rough. Often just a track speeder and material cart being towed.

    This is a vehicle the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Society would be very interested in.

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  13. al watkins

    is it for sale

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