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Frontline: A Look at Krapf’s Coaches of West Chester

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Campaign Cruising
Thanks to Krapf’s, the state’s gubernatorial candidates rode in style.

When voters go to the polls to choose a governor this month, they’ll be weighing lots of things—incumbent vs. newcomer; Republican vs. Democrat; hoagie-loving former Philly mayor vs. handsome color-commentator and former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.

What won’t be at issue is whether Democratic incumbent Gov. Ed Rendell or Republican challenger Lynn Swann traveled in style during the hectic months leading up to the election.

Both crisscrossed our expansive state in full-sized motor coaches, each fitted with a jaw-dropping array of luxury appointments. The candidates can thank the bipartisan charter policies of Krapf’s Coaches of West Chester, which this year leased each of its two VIP coaches to the candidates.

When not serving as rolling billboards-cum-transportation for gubernatorial hopefuls, the coaches are marketed to business groups, bridal parties, touring performers and other large groups as comfortable, luxurious and relatively affordable ways to travel, says Karen Ferry, director of sales for Krapf’s charter operations. For candidates who can expect to spend much of the last few months before an election on the road, they are indispensable.

This campaign marks the second for which Rendell used the Krapf’s VIP bus that is normally reserved for charter, Ferry says. When Rendell’s handlers first approached Krapf’s Coaches about transportation for his 2002 campaign, it was in the interest of comfortably and inexpensively traveling around our immense state.

Dan Fee, press secretary for the Rendell camp, says that after the governor logged nearly 75,000 miles on board his Krapf’s coach during his first run, the choice for this campaign was obvious. Krapf’s is “a high-quality company with great buses,” he says.

“It was a complete package, not only the quality of the bus and that it was a local company, but that we would get what we needed and they would work with us.”

Swann became a client after the Chester County Republican Party contacted Ferry about chartering a similar VIP coach leading up to the announcement of Swann’s candidacy in January. Krapf’s sent over the bus originally used by Rendell and they liked what they saw.

The only problem was that Rendell had already requested his old bus, and the company had only one VIP coach left—the one normally reserved for private use by company owner Dale Krapf. He agreed hand over his bus, and Swann immediately dubbed it “Reform One,” using his own money to perform a minor retrofit so that it would burn soybean-based biodiesel, complimenting his platform issue supporting alternative energy sources. Because there are so few Pennsylvania biodiesel vendors, Reform One can’t stop just anywhere, says Melissa Walters, press secretary for the Swann campaign. “It does require some planning ahead.”

Nice Ride
Environmental austerity aside, Krapf’s buses are plush. For many voters, it’s likely the interior of the VIP model is roomier and better appointed than their first apartment. The coach’s expansive “main salon” has leather couches and swivel chairs set up along interior walls. At full capacity, the buses can carry 22 passengers comfortably, with room to stretch their legs and easily maneuver the aisle.

Toward the center of the bus is a galley worthy of a fine yacht or a small condo. Hungry, governor? Well, just pull that cheesesteak out of the full-sized refrigerator/freezer and pop it in the built-in microwave. For something a bit more elaborate—say some canapés for the Swann staff—there’s the range with a two-burner cook top. No word on which campaign minions got stuck doing the dishes. There’s a sink, but no dishwasher.

The full bathroom (with shower) could rival those in a home’s master suite, and beyond is the rear salon, with seating for eight around a large conference table. “We set up our laptops back there, and it’s like a little moving office in the back of the bus,” Walters says.

A king-size bed is optional for that space, but Ferry says that neither candidate chose one. Fee notes that Rendell did all his sleeping at home or in hotels while on the campaign trail, bristling when it was suggested that campaign bus sleeping quarters might have a few Clintonian implications.

Other bells and whistles include televisions in each salon that automatically orient themselves to the DirecTV satellite, DVD/VCR players, 10-disc CD player, fax machine, two closets and cavernous luggage space below the passenger area.

Each bus was “wrapped” at the candi-dates’ expense in the same manner as SEPTA buses, ensuring that the smiling face of each would dominate the media events, craft festivals, political rallies and discount-store parking lots.

“We find that when we go to events and bring the bus, it draws crowds and builds excitement,” Walters says. “We find it generates a buzz.”

One would think by now that Krapf’s would find it useful to bill itself as “the governor’s choice,” but Ferry says such a marketing push wouldn’t happen until well after the election. As it is, the company is simply enjoying its bipartisan good fortune.

“People are curious how it happened because they know for the last election we had Gov. Rendell. We just think it’s great that this side of the state has both vehicles,” she says. “It was just good luck on our account.”