HICKORY HERITAGE: Iconic ‘Hoosiers’ vehicles entice owners to call Greenfield home

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GREENFIELD — On Saturday, two iconic vehicles from the movie “Hoosiers” will cruise down Main Street as part of the Riley Festival parade in downtown Greenfield.

The two men behind the wheel are super fans of the movie, to say the least.

Darryll Baker owns the Hickory Huskers team bus from the film. Bob Brown owns the 1951 Chevy coupe driven by Coach Dale, portrayed by Gene Hackman.

Each of the men recently bought homes in Greenfield to be closer to the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, where the Huskers’ home games were filmed.

Baker lived on the East Coast.

Brown lived on the West Coast.

The two didn’t know one another when they each made the decision to convince their wives to follow them to central Indiana this year so they could share their own piece of cinematic history with fellow fans.

The movie “Hoosiers” has been ranked as the best sports movie of all time by a variety of outlets over the years, including The Associated Press last year.

Released in 1986, the film tells the story of the fictional Hickory Huskers and the ragtag team’s journey to the 1952 state basketball championship. The story is loosely based on the Milan High School team’s quest to win the state title in 1954.

Brown loved the movie so much, 20 years ago he tracked down the Chevy coupe driven by Hackman throughout the film.

Baker’s ties to the 1939 Chevy bus he owns go back much further than that.

His grandfather, Jack Baker, bought the bus from a junkyard near Crawfordsville in 1949, after it was retired from use in the Lebanon, Indiana, school system.

He converted the old bus into an RV and spent the next 35 years or so driving his kids and grandkids on various trips around the country, visiting 39 states in all.

Baker’s grandfather eventually sold the bus, but Baker bought it back about 20 years ago.

He and Brown are both thrilled that their passion purchases led them to lay down roots in Greenfield, less than a 30-mile drive to the Hoosier Gym, arguably the most iconic location in the film.

These days, the two men can often be found driving their automotive memorabilia in events like this weekend’s Riley Festival parade, or parking them outside the Knightstown gym, to the delight of fellow “Hoosiers” fans.

Last week, a couple from northern Indiana were thrilled to see the two Chevrolets parked outside the gym when they stopped by during a road trip.

“This is just so neat,” said Delia Waits, of Goshen, as her husband Tim snapped pictures of the bus. The couple even got to go for a spin in Brown’s Chevy coupe.

Brown had his eye on the car ever since he read about it in a vintage car club magazine in 1987. Barbara Romeiser, a teacher at the time at Broad Ripple High School, won the car in a drawing at the filming of the final scenes in “Hoosiers.”

“The producers could get enough people to fill the small gyms in the movie, but they couldn’t get enough to fill the gym at Hinkle Fieldhouse for the championship game, so they hosted a high school game there and offered prizes to those who stuck around to film the final scenes,” Brown said.

Romeiser was the lucky one whose name was drawn to win one of the two Chevy coupes featured in the film. The other is thought to be owned by a car enthusiast in California.

When “Hoosiers” popped up on TV about 20 yeas ago, Brown wondered whatever happened to the famous car, so he took out an ad in the same magazine asking about its whereabouts. A reader reached out and gave him Romeiser’s address.

Brown reached out to the woman, who said she was giving it to her son. But later she called back to say her son wasn’t interested, and she was willing to sell.

“She said, ‘For ten thousand, it’s yours.’ I looked it up and those cars were worth around $8,500 at the time,” recalled Brown, who considered offering less until his wife Jan intervened.

“My wife looked at me and said, ‘If you have the chance to buy this car and you don’t do it, I don’t want to hear about it for the rest of our life,’” said Brown, who then happily sent his payment. He and his wife flew to Indiana to pick up the car, and drove it back home to California.

The couple still maintain a home on the West Coast, but are happily adjusting to living part of the time in Indiana.

The same is true of Baker and his wife, who had spent most of her life in Maryland before transplanting to the Midwest.

“We came back for a family reunion in January, and I convinced her to at least look at some homes in central Indiana,” said Baker, who showed her around Carmel, Fishers and other nearby towns before they fell in love with a home in Greenfield.

Baker is a born and bred Hoosier, having graduated from Lebanon High School and Purdue University.

His childhood is packed with fond memories of his family going on camping adventures in the 1939 Chevy bus. No one ever could have guessed it would one day make it onto the silver screen, and into the hearts of “Hoosiers” fans everywhere.

“People get so excited when they see it up close,” said Baker, who loves driving the bus in the Indianapolis 500 parade and other events.

He once drove it around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track as part of a Hickory Pacers marketing campaign for the Indiana Pacers.

The team’s cheerleaders and mascot piled in as Baker took the bus for a spin around the oval, then headed to Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the team reenacted the scene where Coach Dale has the Huskers measure the court.

Now that he’s retired, Baker can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than sharing the Huskers bus with fans, but he’ll always cherish the time he spent on the bus as a kid.

“We had a couch, bed, stove and ice box in this thing,” said Baker, who can recall cackling while bouncing up and down on the couch as the bus lumbered down the interstate.

Baker was devastated to learn his granddad had sold the bus more than 20 yeas ago while he was away serving a five-year stint in the Navy.

“He thought none of us wanted it,” recalled Baker, who made it his mission to get the bus back from its new owner, a woman his grandfather had grown up with in the small town of New Ross, near Crawfordsville.

Despite being an old family friend, the woman said she’d already promised the bus to one of two bidders — the high school basketball coach at the time in Milan, or the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.

She begrudgingly changed her mind, however, when Baker’s grandfather stopped by on his way through town, and she saw his face light up when he climbed into the driver’s seat.

Elated to have the bus back in the family, Baker spent the next four years restoring it back to his former glory. He and his dad then took it on a road trip from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C.

Baker couldn’t be happier to now have the bus back in Indiana, near the fictitious Hickory Huskers home gym.

He said his whole family “just goes nuts” whenever they watch “Hoosiers,” and see the iconic bus on the screen.

“I’m thrilled to be back in Indiana,” said Baker, who said he takes the bus out on appearances as often as he can. Sometimes, he and his wife go for a short joyride, although he tries to limit the drives to 30 or 40 minutes at a time.

“It is 82 yeas old, so we have to take care of it,” he said.

He drove the bus to Knightstown for the 25th anniversary of the making of “Hoosiers,” when he got to meet the producer, director and some key actors from the film at the Hoosier Gym.

He’ll be there for the 35th anniversary celebration of the film this December, when the Hoosier Gym will host a screening of the celebrated film.

CELEBRATION COMING UP

In November, the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of the movie “Hoosiers” and the 100th anniversary of the first game played at the historic gym.

On Nov. 13, fans will have the chance to watch “Hoosiers” sitting in the very gym that served as the hometown court for the Hickory Huskers in the film.

Doors open at 5 p.m., and the movie starts at 6 p.m. The cost for admission is a donation of non-perishable food items for Cheer Guild Christmas. Donations to the gym are also appreciated.

On Nov. 20, the gym will host a 35th Anniversary Celebration for “Hoosiers,” starting with a Hickory Huskers jersey retirement ceremony at 1 p.m.

A panel discussion will take place from 2-2:30 p.m., followed by an autograph session from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Autographs are limited to one item that’s brought in and one item purchased at the gym per person.

On Nov. 24, the public is invited to a 100th anniversary celebration of the first game played in the Hoosier Gym.

A doubleheader of boys and girls varsity teams will recreate the first game that was held in the gym on Nov. 25, 1921, when the Knightstown Falcons played the Sulphur Springs Blue Birds.

Special edition merchandise will be available for purchase.

Information: thehoosiergym.com and hoosiergym2021.com

The Hoosier Gym is at 355 N. Washington St. in Knightstown