When Disaster Strikes

Gertie 001

“Gertie”, the bookmobile that came the rescue. Courtesy of Waukegan Public Library.    

In 2005, the Illinois city of Waukegan, best-known as Ray Bradbury’s hometown, had another claim to fame; the oldest still-running bookmobile. The 1962 Gerstenlager had been running for forty-two years. Surprisingly, “Gertie” had logged only 50,000 miles, but time was wearing down on the old book bus and the Waukegan Public Library had decided to put her out to pasture. Wanting Gertie to have a good home after so many years of dedicated service, WPL shopped around for a suitable place for her to retire. They offered her as an exhibit to the Smithsonian, an offer which was declined. Trying to sell her on Ebay fared no better. Then in 2005, an odd opportunity arose from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The natural disaster devastated the New Orleans area, leaving its residents without, among many other necessities, basic library service.  The North Suburban Library System to which WPL belongs adopted the county of Jefferson Parish, LA., and immediately solicited some 300 boxes of donated books. Shipping them south was another matter. Enter Gertie.

In the spring of 2006, Gertie’s long-time driver Joseph Kalinowski drove her out of Waukegan for the last time, to Kenosha, WI. Too old to make the trip, she was loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven to Louisiana on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. She would end up being the sole library for the citizens of Jefferson County until they were able to dig out from under the disaster. It was a fitting end for a truck that had served so faithfully for so long. As  WPL Public Relations Manager Elizabeth Stearns put it, “We like to think she’s retired to the South.”

Kuczka, Susan.  “Bookmobile gets a ride to help the Big Easy: Waukegan’s `Gertie’ will replace library.” Chicago Public Library, March 11, 2006.

Gianopulos, Peter. “Gertie the Love Bus.” North Shore August 2004, pg. 24.

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