Fluffy’s bound for glory, giving and art in the Nevada desert

This story has been updated and expanded since it was originally released online.

On Monday, Fluffy had a dress rehearsal.

And Fluffy is just a newborn. Or more accurately, a newly reborn.

Fluffy is a 40-foot, flat-nosed school bus that has been reborn into an “art car,” replete with clouds, LED lights and much more.

Fluffy the school bus is almost set to fly with its departure set for this Saturday to Burning Man in Nevada.
Fluffy the school bus is almost set to fly with its departure set for this Saturday to Burning Man in Nevada.

The dress rehearsal took place on Monday, Aug. 15, at Earthkeep Farmcommon on Route 7 just north of Charlotte.

Like most dress rehearsals, Fluffy still had a number of glitches, which Duane Peterson, the owner, organizer and instigator behind the tricked-out bus, said would have he and many others working hard for the five days before its Saturday evening departure.

That night, Peterson and Fluffy headed to Burning Man, the annual event in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Peterson said Burning Man’s Black Rock City is a “pop-up city” of more than 70,000 people who gather about two hours north of Reno for the week before Labor Day.

The event features art, community, self-expression and self-reliance, culminating with the burning of a 40- to 100-foot wooden “man” on the closing Saturday night.

“It’s not a festival. It’s not something that somebody else produces for spectators. We put it on for ourselves and for each other,” Peterson said. “It’s based on a gift economy, so there’s nothing for sale there; it’s not even for barter. It’s just about gifting and artistic creativity.”

Fluffy puts Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to shame. This is just a portion of its 14,000 LED lights.

Peterson bought the bus at the end of March and said he had the sense to know he couldn’t design and produce what needed to happen to realize a vision of transforming a school bus into a cloud-themed art car, so artists and crafty types brought their skills to the project.

Will Raap of Earthkeep Farmcommon supplied the space for about 100 artists, mostly based in Burlington, with skills including carpentry, welding and electricity to work on the bus since the spring. With Saturday bearing down, Peterson and crew went into “full sprint.”

The workers “are our folks who have been part of this kind of art event for some time,” Peterson said. They are people who have shared the Burning Man experience with him for over 16 years.

Transforming the bus fits with the panoptic vision for Earthkeep Farmcommon, said Raap. “One of the things we aspire to do is be a place where art is expressed, mainly sort of land-based, environmental art.”

He thinks once the barn is renovated, artists may be located there.

For the past 20-30 years Charlotte has been transitioning from a farming community into a “suburban bedroom community.”

Raap would like for Earthkeep Farmcommon to help the town maintain its agricultural heritage by becoming a 21st century realization of an agricultural community center, being more than just a place to buy things like vegetables, eggs, dairy products, meat, bread — and shrimp. His vision is for the farm to be a vibrant piece of the local economy.

“When you talk about a vibrant economy, you’re also talking about a larger view, things that include art, music and other kinds of ways people come together. We’re not trying to be only a farm; we’re trying to be a gathering space,” Raap said.

Sounds a lot like Burning Man.

Burning Man has been on pandemic hiatus for two years, but Peterson said they had been “noodling” over the idea of refurbishing a school bus to be a mobile art project that would qualify for certification by Black Rock City’s DMV at the event before it was shutdown.

Black Rock City is an actual annual temporary city with its own U.S. post office, radio station, hospital, a Federal Aviation Administration-approved airport, fire department and DMV, which at Burning Man stands for Department of Mutant Vehicles.

The city is five miles by five miles so a public transit system is needed — a fleet of 800 art cars that people bring from all over the world, Peterson said. In order to get a permit from the Black Rock City DMV, you have to affirm that you will give free rides to fellow residents.

It took some time to find a suitable school bus because Peterson was insistent that Fluffy needed to be a bus with a wheelchair lift.

People with disabilities are often left behind in society at large, and even at times, in the stress of producing art for Burning Man, they are left behind there, he said. “I’m hoping to bring joy to all kinds of folks.”

So, the handrails will have Braille.

Fluffy features a flame blaster, a mast and 14,000 LED lights, all of which had to be taken down at Earthkeep Farmcommon and packed up, so it could be driven legally for the three-and-half-day trip to Nevada. Once they arrive, they’ll jump into reassembling it, which will probably take another three or four days.

Peterson said the bus gets about nine miles per gallon. As one of the founders of SunCommon, the solar power company, that mileage does not thrill him, but he will buy carbon offsets to match the gas that’s burned in traveling.

Black Rock City is broken up into camps and Peterson’s camp will have about 16 residents going by the name of Duane’s Whirld. Click to find out more.