‘Da Bus’ owner cooks up joy

By Lindsey Woods

Tim “Timmy from Da Bus” Shanley, 51, has a lot on his plate. He is raising twin 3-year-old girls, running a plumbing business and traveling between Austin, Texas and Chicago to manage Da Bus.

Da Bus is a 1974 school bus, allegedly won in a game of cards in 1989, that two generations of Bears tailgaters have renovated. Shanley got a hold of it in 2000 and gave the International Harvester 1500 series bus a new motor and new brakes.

“Da Bus has been to the Superbowl, Miami, Buffalo [NY], San Francisco. It travels,” Shanley said. “It’s road worthy at top speeds of 54 miles per hour, which is not a coincidence. It’s in honor of [No. 54] Brian Urlacher.”

The affectionate nickname fits the mission and style of Da Bus, according to the Commissioner of Tailgating Joe Cahn, who is also Shanley’s friend.

“It looked good, and it wasn’t slick,” Cahn said. “It was just Da Bus. There was no better name for it.”

For the first 48 years of his life, Shanley lived in the South Side community of Bridgeport, where his father owned a bar. Because of his father’s influence, Shanley grew up with sports all around him.

“I didn’t choose the Bears, they chose me,” he said. “I was born in Chicago. My father took me to Soldier Field in 1971 when the Bears moved there, and when you grow up like that on the South Side of Chicago, sports are in your DNA.”

After his father passed away when he was 16, Shanley continued to support the Bears as a tribute to his father. In many ways, he said he keeps his father’s spirit alive through Da Bus.

The design of the blue and orange bus is all about football and the Bears. On the inside, it’s made to look like a gridiron, complete with yard markers. The 30-yard lines have been changed to “34” in honor of running back Walter Payton. One end-zone is the “Chicago Bears Hall of Fame,” with autographs from players like Mike “Da Coach” Ditka, defensive tackle Stan Jones and hall-of-famer Dick Butkis. Every decade from 1940 on is memorialized on that end zone. Every other window is a tribute to a famous Bears player.

Shanley knows his Bears history, having only missed six home games in the past 26 years. And he’s not just passionate about the game but passionate about the tailgate.

“Not only did Timmy have this vehicle, but he was one of the great passionate fans of the Bears,” Cahn said.

With his passion comes an almost die-hard dedication. Eight weeks out of every year, not including play-off games, Shanley travels from his home in Austin to Chicago, racking up 62,000 miles in four seasons.

“I can do it because of passion,” he said. “Put that in capital letters, with exclamation points around it, underline it 17 times, in blue and orange writing. It’s all passion.”

A facet of tailgating that has gotten Shanley and Da Bus national attention is the food. Two years ago, the Food Network television series, “Tailgate Warriors,” reached out to Shanley and his crew, and they took on Buffalo in a tailgating cook-off, where they ultimately came out on top.

On a chilly night in November 2010, the Bears tailgaters gathered for a viewing party. They didn’t know the outcome of the show yet, and when it was announced they won, the whole place celebrated as if it were the Super Bowl.

In a subsequent episode, Da Bus lost to Seattle, which Shanley said “was the first dink in the armor of Da Bus.” He also learned a lot from the experience, he said.

“I learned to lose from Da Bus, and I learned how to do it gracefully,” he said.

Most of the recipes used for tailgates are original recipes by Shanley.  All of the food is prepared either the day before or the day of the tailgate on grills made by Bob “Da Bus” Doctor, who also takes care of any technical problems the bus may have.

“Timmy loves food, he loves cooking and he loves making people happy,” Cahn said. “Not only with a Bears win but with a brat.”

On any given game day, Shanley buys 40 pounds of chicken wings, 40 pounds of chicken thighs, 25–30 pounds of pork loins, 25–30 pounds of beef roast, pulled pork and ingredients for chili on cold days. The cooking starts at 7:30 a.m., when the charcoal grills are fired up for the 100-plus pounds of meat Shanley has to cook.

The tailgate doesn’t start with the cooking though. Shanley starts his weekend on Saturday with an early morning flight to Chicago, where he goes shopping directly after he lands, then starts preparing the food.

Sundays start early at 5:00 a.m., when he drives to Soldier Field and starts up the grills. The crowd arrives at about 8:00 a.m., then comes the music, then the food, then the game, clean-up after the game and an attempt at resting before the flight back on Monday morning.

On top of the difficulties of travel and preparing such a big event, Shanley and other tailgaters have to comply with the rules and regulations of Soldier Field.

According to Luca Serra, director of Sponsorship and Media for Soldier Field, tailgaters are not allowed to use pop-up tents or anything that would block aisle ways. They also are not to tailgate during the event itself, meaning that before kickoff tailgaters have to pack it up.

“When people come to the lots, the intent is that they’re coming to the event,” Serra said.  “It’s not a place to park the party.”

Shanley loves the crowds, food and football, but his favorite part has nothing to do with tailgating or football.

“I have to say, my favorite part of a tailgating party is later in the year when it starts to get cold, and the kitchen is all set up,” he said. “I’ve got this little bit of time, after all the hectic travel, and all the planning and everything else, I get to my spot on the lakefront. It’s crisp and cold, and I have 15 minutes to myself. That’s the time I really appreciate and reflect on what we’re doing out there.”