For more than a decade, Royal Soward rolled into N.C. State football games riding the splashiest tailgating bus in the lot – a pair of wolf’s eyes painted over the windshield, a Mr. Wuf logo affixed to the grill and red Mardi Gras beads dangling from the rear-view mirror.
With this fabulous bus, he could entertain up to 20 guests, offering them a lounge with wooden floors and a red pleather couch, a stocked refrigerator, a sink and shower to freshen up and even a kid cave for watching movies on a queen-sized bed.
And now, retired at age 70, he offers this 40-foot party wagon for a modest $10,500 – a price available even to a fan of the Carolina blue persuasion.
“As long as they want a red and white bus,” Soward said. “If you are looking for something like this, I’ve never seen anything better.”
In its four decades, the Wolfpack-themed Freightliner has logged 650,000 miles, roughly 26 times around the equator or the length of 9.3 million football fields.
Originally, it hauled cross-country travelers. Then in 2003, Soward’s brother bought it in Louisiana, where it had been spending its retirement as a fan bus for Louisiana State University – painted purple and yellow.
“They would say purple and gold,” Soward corrected.
Once back in Garner, it acquired its red and white decor, and its interior gained framed photographs of David Thompson and Sidney Lowe on the covers of Sports Illustrated – Wolfpack greats who played a rounder variety of ball. The signs on the shower door – “Losing cannot and will not be tolerated in anything we do” – came from the Wendell Murphy Football Center after Coach Chuck Amato departed with his red shoes in 2006.
“My neighbors saw this bus,” Soward said, “and they thought I worked at N.C. State and was a chauffeur.”
At the moment, the 1977 beauty needs a starter and a fuel line, but it carries more character than a sterile Winnebago. When it came time to part, Soward’s wife joked that their Freightliner might be permanently placed on blocks among its tailgating brothers.
But Soward, who confides that he is actually an East Carolina University alumnus, wants to see his bus carry a new generation of fans into Carter-Finley stadium, bathed in its history. As the bus rolls away, its giant red S fading from view, he will take comfort in the memory of its redness and its grit – the most Wolfpack of qualities.