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First Person: Steve Buster

Restoring ‘Old Blood and Guts’ ” wheels

California banker brings Patton’s command car to street

First Person: Steve Buster




Ten-shun! Steve and Blair Buster by Patton’s WC-57 Command Car. Buster also owns a pair of six-wheeled Swiss “Pinzgauers.”



If a machine-gun blast, an air horn, and a siren are the response to your friendly wave on a California road, and the driver’s wearing the uniform of a three-star general and accompanied by a woman in nurse’s whites, chances are you’ve just seen Steven and Blair Buster out for a spin.

Buster, president and CEO at $2.9 billion-assets Mechanics Bank, Richmond, goes in for atypical hobbies. While in working in England for another bank, he went fox hunting. When in Singapore, he bought a Harley and participated in a ride that included the Sultan of Brunei. Some weekends you’ll find him with cronies fire cannons—real ones—using old bowling bowls.

Buster also has a keen interest in military vehicles. In 1995 he acquired the front half of a 1942 WC-57 Dodge Command Car. The vehicles somewhat resemble old Jeeps, but are about one and a half times the size. They were used on battlefields by generals to get close to the action and to rally frontline troops.

After the war, the command car had been sold at auction to an Idaho farmer. He removed the rear to refit the vehicle for hauling. The back end, badly rusted, remained on the farm after the rest had been sold. After buying the front section, Buster tracked down the original rear end on the farm.

“We purchased it in 1995 knowing extensive renovation would be required. Never do that!” says Buster. “It took seven years by my restorers, who worked weekends. We had a great relationship. They sent pictures and I sent money. More and more money.” In the end, Buster put more than $35,000 into his project, getting a museum-quality restoration with only two assemblies that aren’t vintage—the brakes, which weren’t great on the original, and power steering, so his wife could drive it.

Along the way, Buster discovered this wasn’t just anybody’s command car. It was one of 11 used during the war by General George S. Patton, Jr., who, coincidentally, came from California.

“Patton was such a colorful character,” says Buster.

Many generals eventually avoided the command cars, Buster says, because German pilots targeted them when it became known they carried “brass.” Buster says his research indicates Patton, known never to hide his presence on a battlefield, didn’t follow the other generals’ lead. Indeed, while the cars were designed to put the brass in back, Patton typically rode shotgun, often standing up with the windshield for support. (The 1970 movie, “Patton,” shows him doing that in an early scene.)

Buster takes the command car out several times a month. The machine gun is a replica of the original 30 caliber gun mounted on the vehicle’s running board. Using an oxygen-propane mix, the replica simulates the blast of the real weapon.

“I feel like I brought a piece of history back,” says Buster.

 
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Online Extra:

Pick a pair of Pinzgauers

Hint: They are not German working dogs

“I like to do different things,” says California banker Steven Buster. As you read in the magazine story, Buster has fox-hunted in England, ridden a Harley in a major rally while working in banking in Singapore, fired cannons in California, and restored a command car used by General George S. Patton.

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A typical vintage Pinzgauer. The name came from an Austrian horse breed.

 

  But he also keeps a pair of Pinzgauers.

Now, the Pinzgauer is not a massive foreign canine, but it is known as a real working beast.

“It is the backbone of the Swiss Army,” says Buster, who owns a used 1972 model and a used 1973 model. Both are six-wheel-drive troop carriers, designed to convey 14 soldiers, including the driver.

“They can go up hills like a goat,” Buster notes.

Buster, who lives near his northern California bank, in Lafayette, keeps one near Yosemite National Park, locked up in a storage container. He also keeps one at his home in Pasadena, in southern California.

The latter Pinzgauer led to a funny story.

Buster’s Southern California home sits across the road from the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel and Spa. One day, Buster had parked the massive vehicle, with a tarp suitable for covering soldiers over the passenger section, across from the ultra-fancy hotel.

The next day, he received a letter from the Ritz-Carlton’s Assistant Manager, Frank Schnitzel, taking him to task.

“Our patrons are expecting the highest of standards,” Buster recalls the letter stating. It closed, he says, with words to the effect of “Would you get that eyesore off the road and out of their sight?”

Buster got steamed. He fired back a letter of his own, pointing out that a Pinzgauer, new, costs more than a Rolls Royce.

The next day, he received a phone call, instead of a letter.

“Mr. Buster,” the Ritz-Carlton representative stated, “we have no Frank Schnitzel working at this hotel. Someone is trying to get your goat.”

To this day, Buster doesn’t know who “Schnitzel” really was. 
 
 
 
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[This article was posted on November 2011, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2011 by the American Bankers Association.]    
Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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