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Catonsville Ravens fans transform bus into ultimate tailgate vehicle

Sunday's win over the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium may have prolonged the Baltimore Ravens' season by at least another week.

But the victory was the final for fans whose cheers helped give the Ravens an undefeated record at home.

From here on out, the Ravens will only play on the road and for a group of Ravens fans from Catonsville, that means the best part of the season is over.

Catonsville residents Jack Bosley and Bob Barbagallo are the primary owners of a 35-year-old short bus that has served as a popular tailgating destination at every Ravens regular and post season home game for the past three years.

The bus won't make the drive up to New England when the Ravens play the Patriots Sunday for the AFC Championship.

A victory there means another road trip, this time to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

"It is a little bittersweet," Barbagallo said. "But it's probably a good thing that we have the rest of the year to recover for next season."

The recovery is necessary because Sunday's pregame party swelled to more than 100 people by 11 a.m., Barbagallo said.

"It's probably one of the best ones we've ever had," Bosley, 47, said about a half hour before he drove the bus back to its storage facility in Elkridge Monday morning. "It was like a crowded bar for 21- to 25-year olds.

"The Ravens might go 2-6 at home, but we have never lost a tailgate," Jack said, repeating a mantra of the tailgating regulars.

Nearly a dozen people can claim a stake in the bus, but the two primary owners are Rosewood Avenue neighbors Bosley and Barbagallo.

It all started just over three years ago when Bosley, Barbagallo and some friends, collectively known as the Shed Guys, talked about upgrading the Chevrolet Suburban that served as their home base for tailgating in Lot H of Ravens games.

"One day, I was driving through Ellicott City and I saw what looked to be a piece of junk," said Bosley about the day he found the bus. "It was a no-brainer. It had us written all over it."

Bosley told the rest of his crew about the gem he found, and they agreed that the primer white, 1977 short bus would be perfect for epic tailgating parties.

Barbagallo said the group paid $3,800 for the bus and spent another $3,000 to customize it for its weekend duty in the fall.

They did nearly all the work themselves, and there was a lot to do.

"There was carpet on the inside from the window down to the bottom," Barbagallo, 53, said. "There were four patio chairs bolted to the bottom of the bus."

Bosley and Barbagallo ripped the chairs and carpeting out, laid plywood on the floor and had it sprayed with the lining used in pickup truck beds.

Replacing the patio chairs is bench seating that flips up and acts as storage for the cafeteria's-worth of food and drinks they bring to every game.

A neighbor up the street who had painted cars when he was younger volunteered his expertise, Barbagallo said, and now the bus is Ravens purple inside and out.

"It hasn't been a financial burden for any one person," Barbagallo said. "If we need something, everybody will pitch in."

Before each season, Bosley and Barbagallo collect dues from the regular tailgaters, typically about $400.

That pays for maintenance and upgrades to the bus and tailgating supplies.

Bosley noted that some of the dues are used to keep the bus in storage until it's time to bring it out for Ravens games or as unique transportation to a prom.

The bus will make its next appearance at this spring's senior prom at Catonsville High School.

After Sunday's tailgate, Bosley, his wife, Julie, Barbagallo and his wife, Katie, spent three hours on Monday morning cleaning the bus, Bosley said.

"It looked like a tornado went through it, like an 'Animal House' frat party," Jack said.

While they cleaned, Katie said, the guys floated some ideas about how to improve the bus.

Last year, they installed a 32-inch flat-screen television to the bus.

Unfortunately, there was no generator to power it. The day of a game, Bob recalled, they called tailgater Billy Cook and asked him to bring a generator.

He did, the regulars divvied up the cost and they had their television.

"We're all just chipping in together. It's just a lot of fun," Jack said.

"We choose to drive this bus and put it in a parking lot, when we could be in our nice houses," he said with a laugh.

It's not as if the group roughs it while sitting outside of M&T Bank Stadium.

In addition to food and television, the bus has a portable bathroom, Jack said, so they can avoid waiting in line.

Jack, Bob and the rest of the gang admit they couldn't have done it without the support of their understanding wives.

Jack said Julie, also a huge Ravens and tailgating fan, supported the decision to buy the bus and never complained as the purple vehicle sat in their driveway for two years.

Katie said the wives supported the idea and even helped to customize the bus by making the tops for the benches.

"It's typical with this group of guys," Katie said. "They get these ideas that we think are ridiculous and ludicrous and they make it work."

"We take our tailgates seriously in that we like to be there by 9 a.m.," Katie added. "You get to know everybody around you and everyone invites their friends. It's a wonderful party."

With the Ravens playing in New England next week, the Barbagallos and Bosleys will go to a friend's house to watch the game.

Jack said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the Ravens will pull out another victory against the Patriots.

Bob was more confident, predicting the Ravens would win a close contest.

But win or lose, the group is already thinking about the future.

"We'll get revved up for next season," Bob said about the bus.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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