For more than an hour, Travis and Jordan Swonger played with about $250,000 worth of camera, computer and audio equipment in the 45-foot bright yellow bus, parked in the grass next to the Jones Intercable Studios in Gambrills Friday.
"It's not even close to the school bus we ride on," Travis said. "The only thing that's even close to being the same is the driver's seat."
The Kent Island youngsters were among about 30 people who toured the $500,000 school bus as part of a C-SPAN promotion.
"The bus was built as an outreach vehicle to communicate with people and show them what C-SPAN has to offer," said Alisa FTC Samples, a marketing coordinator for Jones' studios. "The best way to do that is to take the bus on a drive because it's an actual production facility on wheels."
Friday was the fifth day of the bus' second tour since November. The bus has visited Charlottesville and Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore last week before its stop in Gambrills.
Travis and Jordan squinted at the bus through bright sun Friday, wondering what could be in it.
"Now I can tell you everything that's on that bus," Jordan, 12, announced later. "A lot of cameras, TVs, lights . . . "
"And computers and smart people," chimed in his brother Travis, 9, as he gathered his souvenirs -- a pencil and a C-SPAN bumper sticker -- and stepped off the 12-foot-high bus.
The four-member staff allowed visitors to use the computer, laser, camera and lighting equipment to see how the public-affairs channel makes its shows.
"All their equipment is so sophisticated," said Jeff Czorapinski, 17, of Crofton, who makes videos.
"I wish I could live in here," he said, as he pushed buttons on a $70,000 video switcher that makes fading effects. "Seeing all this equipment stuff gives us something to shoot for."
The bus was designed by C-SPAN engineers and manufactured by Custom Coach in Cleveland last fall. It left Washington, D.C., Nov. 1 for an eight-month nationwide tour. About 2,000 teachers and 9,100 students in cities such as Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Des Moines and Pittsburgh have toured the bus.
Cable television companies are paying for the bus to visit.
Driver Michael Connors said that the odometer read 30,019 miles when it pulled in at the Jones studio.
"We've been to about 80 communities so far, and we won't even hit the same ones on this second tour," Mr. Connors said. "We're taking this bus outside of the Beltway to show viewers all over the place how the studio operates. You wouldn't believe how many people watch the programs and are interested in knowing how it's all done."
Using a CD-ROM encyclopedia, Mary Mullen, a C-SPAN representative, moved a computer mouse across a screen, clicked it twice and instantly, a color picture of John F. Kennedy ++ giving a speech at Rice University appeared.
Jordan found his home on Route 8, then typed in a destination -- Los Angeles -- using an AutoMap program. In about 30 seconds, a red arrow traced the route and a message across the the screen told him it would take $167.77 worth of gas to travel the 6,497-mile round trip.
Linda Swonger, Jordan's mother and a seventh-grade teacher at Magothy River Middle School, said she will use C-SPAN archives based at Purdue University for her social studies class on historical events.
"I thought C-SPAN was just a congressional-type network, but I can use their lesson plans and bring their programs into my classroom to teach students the most up-to-date information," she said. "Their programs can basically give you a Library of Congress right at your doorstep."
C-SPAN provides coverage of congressional debates, hearings and Washington news conferences, as well as some public events.
Two robotic cameras, an eight-channel audio board, lights, videocassette recorders, computers and CD-ROMs allow two people to produce a live show from the bus, said bus manager Richard Weinstein.
Updates on C-SPAN tell cable viewers about the bus's journey across the country.
Kathy Kozak, 43, of Crofton said she began watching the bus's journey in December.
"It's a great way for people to see technological equipment," she said. The bus was to stop in Annapolis before leaving yesterday for Newport, R.I., for the New England Cable Television Association's conference.
C-SPAN has scheduled a show at 8 p.m. tomorrow that reviews the bus's journey, which is to end in May in Utah.
"As long as it [the bus] stays popular, we'll rock on," Mr. Connors said.