One man, one car, one special bond

Jordan Smith

Fixing a 99-year-old Model T is not easy.

It takes a person certain skills and talents to do it. Ed Bain was just the man for that job, and he happened upon it almost by accident.

Bain worked at SDSU for just shy of 37 years. He began working for SDSU in 1974, and in 1976 he began working maintenance in the Student Union.

His work on the Bum Mobile began by chance in the early 1980s.

Before Bain, Reuben Granham from Agriculture Engineering worked on it. Bain started because around Hobo Day, there was trouble getting the Bum Mobile to run, and there was no one to fix it.

Bain had a friend with a Model T so he decided to go take a look at it and was able to get it going.

It became an annual occurrence.

Since he worked maintenance in the Student Union, he was naturally involved with Student Activities, and since Hobo Day is the biggest student activity of the year, it was fitting.

Nick Wendell, assistant director of Student Activities, worked closely with Bain both when he was a student at SDSU and now as an SDSU staff member.

“Ed has been a big part of the restoration of the car,” Wendell said. “We needed Ed to define the projects needed for restoration and also for the store and showcasing of the car, as it is over 100 years old.”

Driving the Model T is a lot different than a modern car. There are three pedals: the left pedal is forward, the middle pedal puts it in reverse, and the right pedal is the brake.  The throttle is near the steering wheel as is the gearshift.

Over the years, Ed taught many Grand Poobas how to drive the Bum Mobile, which includes some accidents. The car has been backed into buildings and has even caught on fire, though never during the parade.

Bain said when he was teaching Sarah French — a past Grand Pooba — to drive the Bum Mobile they were driving down Medary and a tire flew off.

“She handled it very well,” he said.

Wendell said it takes a certain type of person to teach others how to drive the Bum Mobile.

“Ed is very patient. To him driving the car is second nature, but he has a special appreciation for the car and passes that along each year when he teaches students to drive it,” Wendell stated.

Although he taught others to drive the Bum Mobile, Bain has sat in the driver’s seat a time or two for the Hobo Day parade.  He said around 2000 he drove the car personally, fully dressed as a Hawaiian Hobo to correspond with the Hobo Day theme that year.

Another year, he dressed as a woman on the prairie, complete with a dress.

“Ed really loves it,” Wendell says.

Working on the car is mostly maintenance to keep it running.  The maintenance begins in the spring so it is ready for Convocation.  Bain says after Hobo Day it seems everyone is relieved after the parade and then it gets cold so no one is thinking about it much. Then there always ends up being a rush to get maintenance on it going again, he said.

“Getting it to run has to do with many things. You have to have a feel for it. It’s about adjusting the carburetor, knowing whether or not to give it more choke, and to advance or retard the timing, among other things.”

Bain has made it through every parade that he’s been a part of except for last year.  The Model T died during the parade.

“It was neat, though, because alum and old Hobo Day members came out of the crowd and pushed it through the rest of the parade,” he said.

Wendell said one thing about Bain being a part of the Bum Mobile is that he makes sure each driver knows the importance of the car.

“Ed is really a bigger part of the process than just doing maintenance on the Bum Mobile,” Wendell said. “He really makes sure that students understand the history of the car and that the Grand Poobas are simply stewards of the vehicle, who continue the tradition and pass it on year after year.”

One story Bain told was about the 2005 Hobo Day when the theme was “Hobos Under Construction.”  Since it was so late in the year he wanted an original costume and he dressed up as Santa Claus. His suit had blue and gold patches to look like Hobo Santa, and as usual, he had a cigar.  As he drove past the Campanile a little boy yelled out “Santa! Stop smoking!”

Bain has been imperative in helping the Bum Mobile work. However, he said he cannot take all the credit.

“I have also had a lot of help over the years, so you can’t give me all of the credit said Bain. “Randy Lund and Jim Dimmit had a hand it the process.”

His thoughts on being the “Bum Mobile Whisperer,” he laughed and said, “I don’t know if I’m the only one to get it running, maybe I’ve just been lucky.”