MORRIS – To say that Dave Harkness is a man on the go would be an understatement.
Most days you can find him driving a school bus for All-Star Transportation in Washington. But he also runs a successful garlic festival, operates three concession trailers, restores old furniture, does some landscaping, and in his limited spare time, he collects and restores old school buses.
“I’m on the go every day,” he says. “And in the evenings, I’m in my office processing vendor applications and planning for the garlic festival.”
The garlic festival is held every fall at the Bethlehem Fairgrounds. It’s something that Harkness started 13 years ago with a few vendors and limited public interest. This year’s festival, which will be held Oct. 7-8, will have nearly 250 vendors, cooking demonstrations and live entertainment. And it is certain to be a sellout.
“A friend of mine pitched me the idea of a garlic festival,” Harkness recalls, explaining that such festivals were popular in other states, but Connecticut didn’t have one. His first festival was a disappointment. Only 30 vendors were registered, and after torrential rain on the first day, just 16 vendors opened for business. Now, the festival “has it all,” according to the Connecticut Post, and has become a must-attend event.
Harkness’ other successful venture involves three concession trailers. One sells mini donuts, the second sells lemonade and the third offers Italian ice. While the three visit various venues throughout the region, you can always find them on Sundays at the Elephant’s Truck flea market in New Milford. The flea market is a frequent location for the HGTV show, Flea Market Flip, and occasionally when the TV cameras pan the area, you can get a glimpse of the long lines at Dave’s Donuts, the name of his popular donut concession stand.
“I make the donuts fresh. They are mini donuts, plain or coated with cinnamon & sugar. I sell around 300 bags a day,” Harkness says. “It took a while to establish, but now people line up, place their orders, and there could be a 20-to-30-minute wait on busy days.”
The success of these ventures might be enough to keep most people busy, but not Harkness. His main interest, and passion, is collecting school buses.
“I’ve always wanted to be a school bus driver,” he says. While a student at the University Connecticut, where he earned a degree in horticulture, Harkness drove the campus shuttle buses for three years. In 2005, after graduating from UConn, he became a full-time bus driver for All-Star at its terminal in Washington. He went back to UConn in 2012 and drove their shuttle buses once again for two years before deciding “it wasn’t for me” and returning to All-Star.
In 2002, he bought his first school bus. It was a 1991 Ward International that had originally been a part of the First Student fleet. The bus was in rough shape with extensive rust, and so Harkness eventually sold it to a scrapper. Later, he learned the bus had been exported to Haiti, where it continues to provide service.
Harkness purchased his second bus in 2004, a 1993 Blue Bird International that he picked up at an auction, originally run by Dufour Transportation in Cornwall. He kept the bus until 2010, when it was sold and exported to Guatemala. A photo of the bus that Harkness posted online has become a hit on the Internet. The Espar heater company used the photo in an ad campaign, and the photo has since been converted to clipart that’s now being used on a T-shirt being sold online.
He acquired his next bus in 2007, a spare from All-Star’s Washington terminal. “I always enjoyed driving it, so I bought it,” he says. By 2010, he had the bus restored inside and out, and repainted grey and navy blue. He wanted to keep it yellow, but that’s not allowed for retired school buses registered in Connecticut. In the spring, he drives the bus to the Antique Automobile Club (AACA) Museum bus show in Hershey, PA. There, he parks it for others to admire.
His fourth bus was a 1962 Mack B-61 with a Wayne body that had spent most of its life in California. It was one of two ever built, and one of the earliest examples of a diesel/ air brake school bus put into service in the United States. He recently sold that to a Mack truck collector in New Hampshire. Harkness’ fifth, and most recent, acquisition is a snub-nosed, tandem axle 1980 Crown Supercoach that he bought in April. The bus is in good condition inside and out, although Harkness is planning some restoration work.
“It’s the heaviest duty and largest school bus ever built, and that’s why I wanted it,” he says. “These buses are becoming rarer and rarer. They were mainly used in California.”
Then pausing to admire his latest acquisition, he adds, “I just love the look of this bus.”