By Patricia Griffin Mangan
Dr. Charles Harris of Cicero surprised friends and patients and even himself when he started his part time business a decade ago. The family practice doctor knew early on that he liked driving a bus. As a student in Bloomington, he took on a job driving other students around campus and this became his second calling. “I found great enjoyment in meeting people and I just liked driving.” After completing medical school, he did some traveling but 12 years ago he decided he missed driving and applied for a CDL (commercial driver’s license). “So I went to the bus company and said ‘I am a doctor and I want to drive a bus’ and after they stopped laughing, they gave me a job.”
The birth of Chuck’s Wagon Tours took place a decade ago when Harris got the urge to start taking people on trips. He purchased a bus uniform and put up signs of forthcoming trips near his office in Cicero. He did research on his destinations and printed brochures. Patients, his nurses and office staff began spreading the word and accompanying him in his rented luxury motor coach. He serves as the tour guide. The buses are comfortable, with reclining seats, DVD and VCR, and a restroom. Generally the trips include tourist towns where shopping and good restaurants are part of the getaway. “I went into this traveling as it became my passion and not for financial gain” said Harris.
He meets with patients and friends to pick cities and towns to visit. He also asks travelers where they would like to go on future trips. “Word of mouth built the trip schedule and people of all ages meet at the Noblesville High School north lot in early mornings on weekends to have fun, socialize and get away,” he says. Retired seniors often join his trips as his prices are reasonable. Very few trips have been cancelled due to not filling the bus. Harris chooses mid-priced hotels and has the know-how to save passengers money and will not even accept a tip at the end of the trip. He furnishes snacks and beverages as well and his nurse helps distribute the goodies.
This year’s trips included The Holland, Michigan Tulip Festival, as well as a mystery trip, both one day excursions. A full busload visited Kentucky on the mystery trip, touring a distillery, enjoying a gourmet dinner on a train through the hills of Kentucky, horse and buggy rides to town and a tour of a mansion visited by songwriter Stephen Foster.
Recurring annual trips include a Chicago Cub vs. St. Louis Cardinals game and Christmas shopping in Chicago. This year there were also trips to Gettysburg, PA, Washington D.C. and a year-end trip to Nashville, TN, and Disneyworld.
Prospects for next year include a one day trip to Warsaw, Indiana’s salt mines stores, Winona on the Lake, a theatre and railroad station, a turkey farm in Valparaiso and an estate in Dyer, IN, where peacocks roam the premises. Two and three day trips are being considered to Ohio and Illinois destinations. Being a busy doctor during the week, Harris prefers to drive no more than 250 miles, with a few exceptions for 2 and 3 day trips.
Harris was born in East Chicago and his family moved to the west side of Indianapolis when he was young. He graduated from Ben Davis High School, attended IU, and did his internship in Oak Park, Illinois, where he met his wife, Cyndi, a nurse. They have three children, all grown. Cyndi and the kids travel with him occasionally.
Harris did his residency in Quincy, Illinois but decided to remain a Hoosier and relocate to Hamilton County. He has been with Riverview Hospital for 26 years. Harris first began his practice in Arcadia in l986 and moved to Cicero in l991. He thought his life was planned strictly in medicine and helping people but things took a curve as he ventured out into the world of travel. “Some guys like golf and are big sports fans but I like to drive a bus” he says. And, if anyone gets sick, there is a doctor available.
Get more info on Chuck’s Wagon Tours at 773-263-0827 or 317-385-1364.