May 17, 2015

Bus Fans Cheer Baseball from Beyond the Fence

Randy Jackson, co-owner and original member, laughs from his perch on top high atop the House of Horns fan bus, parked just beyond the outfield wall of Disch-Falk Field. It’s the last home series of the season for the Longhorn Baseball team and the House of Horns reminisce about games long since passed. Photo by Hilary Pearson

Randy Jackson is part of a group of fans who watch baseball games from converted buses and trucks outside the stadium. Photo by Hilary Pearson/Reporting Texas

By Nick Castillo
For Reporting Texas

It all started because beer wasn’t allowed at college baseball games.

That’s why Randy Jackson started sitting on top of his old Dodge van to watch University of Texas baseball in the spring of 1988 from the other side of the fence at Disch-Falk Field.

But finding his way on top of a vehicle was an accident. In 1987, After Jackson and his brother Dean couldn’t find a parking spot, Jackson climbed on top of a man’s truck. From atop the truck’s toolbox, he saw Texas taking batting practice, players chatting and the visiting team, Lamar University, preparing for the Longhorns.

“You could see everything,” Jackson said.

Nearly 30 years later, Jackson, 58, a University of Texas graduate and a former Austin night club disc jockey, works as a mobile billboard driver. The Mexia native no longer sits on his blue van beyond left field. Jackson and his friends Earl Snyder and Jaime Lincoln teamed up to purchase an old panel truck from an East Austin salvage yard.

The truck now sits on Comal Street just beyond the right-field wall. It’s dubbed “House of Horns.” Its panels are painted a metallic burnt orange that burns with Texas pride when the sun hits it just right. It has a Longhorn emblem facing toward the field with fading autographs of Texas legends and current players.

Three other vehicles have joined them in what has become a Texas tradition. There’s a burnt orange and white painted vehicle called “Bullpen” that used to be a yellow school bus. There’s an old GMC Vandura named “Shortstop” co-owned by Dale Burnett, 59, and Larry Hufford, 58. Neither attended UT but both call themselves big baseball fans.

Finally, there’s the white bread truck labeled “Champ/Royal’s Lounge” equipped with a steel platform for watching the games. Four flags fly from the vessel – the U.S., Texas, Longhorns and the “Come and Take It” from the Battle of Gonzales in 1835 during the Texas Revolution.

About 200 people might join Jackson and the buses depending on the day, weather and opponent.

While beer fueled the tradition’s beginning, the camaraderie has kept it going. Friends share drinks, food and stories outside the confines of Disch-Falk, where lifelong friendships started, romance sparked and children have grown up on the buses’ tops.

The fans have fought to keep the tradition going. Before they had the buses, they brought scissor lifts and U-Hauls to the field. When they got the buses, they constantly moved them from parking lots to their spots on Comal because a city ordinance wouldn’t allow them to keep them parked near the stadium. They’ve done all they can to keep the tradition alive.

“It’s evolved from a blue Dodge van to what you’ve got over the right-field wall now,” Jackson said. “We’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

Watching from “House of Horns,” Jackson and his friends socialized, ate barbecue and saw Texas beat Oklahoma 4-1 on April 11. It was only the Longhorns second win in 17 days.

Coming off a College World Series appearance in 2014, Texas struggled this season, losing more games than last season. The team began the season ranked in the top 10 by multiple polls but then plummeted out of the polls.

Despite the team’s struggles, the bus fans continue to root for their Longhorns.

“You’re fans whether you’re winning or losing,” Burnett said. “You’re either a fan or you’re not. Every team will have its ups and downs. We started off this season really great but we’ve had a tough time. The team struggled last year too but ended up making it to the (College) World Series.”

It’s not about the wins or losses. It’s about being loyal and faithful to their team. They also give opposing teams grief. Jackson remembers when Oklahoma Sooners left-fielder Aric Thomas gave the bus fans a ball signed “to the best college baseball fans in America” after the Sooners eliminated Texas in the 1994 Austin Regional.

No one feels the bus fans’ passion more than Texas’ outfielders. Sophomore center fielder Zane Gurwitz admires them.

“They always tell me to throw up the (Hook ‘em) Horns,” Gurwitz said. “They’re great. They’re always yelling.”

The relationship with the players extends outside of baseball. Players swing by the buses to sign autographs and eat after games.

The bus fans enjoy the players, Hufford said. “They love us. They come out and talk with us. They appreciate us.”