Granite City man’s VW van has Cardinal spirit

Jim McDonnell stood a few feet from an old red and white VW van done up with a Cardinal baseball theme.

“Is that yours?” asked a guy in a Batman cap. “And you put horns on the front?”

“I was going to hang a Cub on it,” said Jim, 69, of Granite City.

He parked his creation alongside Busch Stadium before the day game Wednesday. Fans made comments and posed for photos.

“Every time I come, people take tons of pictures,” said Jim, who often wears a red visor with moppy white hair on top.

A guy in a red Holliday T-shirt pulled out his phone as he stopped near the van.

“It’s awesome,” said Chad Myers, of St. Louis. “Can we get a picture?”

His daughter Maci Jo Myers, 9, stood next to a big Angry Red Birds magnet on the van, just beneath its red plaid curtains

“Made from dish towels,” said Jim, who bought the van for about $1,500 four years ago. “It was a steal. It didn’t look it, but it ran good. The guy who had it was a mechanic. It was a rat rod (that got its name from its ratty appearance). It was painted black, and the paint was chipping off. It had big wheels on back. I put the back panels back together the way it originally looked. When I got it, it ran, but it didn’t stop.”

“All these things have stories. At one time, it was painted red, white and blue and used as a church bus. When I sanded the top down, letters started appearing. It read: ‘Where all people are welcome,’ part of the deal from when it was a church bus.”

Jim first thought he might go with a peace, love and flowers theme on the ’67 relic. The 1969 Woodstock anniversary was coming up, he said, and the peace sign was getting popular again.

“So I thought owning this would be kind of fun, having no idea where it was going to go.”

It went a different way.

“I painted this bus red and white. It just happened to be the Cardinals colors. That started the Cardinal magnets. I went from surfboard (from a guy who moved here from Florida) to Angry Red Bird magnets. The theme went off on its own and I went off for a ride.”

The avid car enthusiast did all the work himself. He tracked down a new old bumper in East Carondelet and hubcaps in Staunton.

“The bus has a life of its own. There’s an electronic horn on there. I go around the ball park after the game and blow the rooster horn. People holler and cheer.”

Jim likes the attention his Cardinal van gets.

“You know what? I pulled up at the corner down there a while ago and a guy selling brats said, ‘Man, I love that bus. What kind of sandwich do you want?’ He ran over with a brat.”

A guy carrying a backpack stopped to take a second look.

“That’s way cool,” he said. “Can you park anywhere you want?”

“No,” said Jim. “Someone told me they should get me a parking place.”

He usually finds a spot where folks keep an eye on it after he goes into the stadium.

“It’s fun coming over here. Baseball is a great entertaining sport. This is a baseball town. People really embrace the sport. I look at different ball games on TV and the stadiums are partially filled. Here, it’s always close to the max.”

Jim, who is married, has two sons and three grandchildren, grew up attending games at Sportsman’s Park.

“It was the old-time stadium, the way parks used to be. I had fun going over there as a kid.”

One of his friends, Champ Summers, went on to play 11 years in the big leagues. Summers, who died in 2013, also was first field manager for the Gateway Grizzlies.

“He was my best friend since first grade,” said Jim. “We used to go together. He was a gifted athlete. He never played ball until he got out of Vietnam.”

Jim, adept at technical things, was in computer software sales and marketing before he retired. He had a business called Tirepoint Software.

He’s been working on cars since he was 16.

“My first car was a ’53 Chevy in high school. I had to fix it to keep it going. Now, I have six. They are all a little different and have a story.”

And include a 1967 Mustang, the first car driven by his wife Linda, a retired second-grade teacher.

“I’ve rebuilt it twice.

“I have a XKE Jaguar, an Austin Healey. I’ve got a big ’59 Cadillac with big fins. I may just paint it that color red, and make it a Cardinal Cadillac. It’s a huge, bodacious thing, the opposite of that (van). Maybe I could have a hood ornament with a baseball. ...”