Chicken Limo becomes an Indianapolis icon
When Kathryn McGormley hired the Chicken Limo for her husband’s 40th birthday in June, she knew she was riding in an Indianapolis icon, but didn’t expect to attract so much attention. “We totally felt like celebrities the entire time!” the Zionsville member says. “It was so funny. Everybody was taking pictures as we drove by. We had more fun than we’ve had in a long time!”
Indeed, the Chicken Limo represents a distinctive profile around the city, grabbing attention with its bright yellow paint job and giant fiberglass chicken head and tail. Its sister vehicle, the Hippo Party Bus, cuts an equally noteworthy jib with a deep-purple paint job.
Owner and head driver John Barker says he got the chicken idea from his father, who remembered a chicken-themed limo making the Indianapolis rounds in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
With the help of some craft-handy friends, he constructed the Chicken Limo and went into business in 2006.
He says people frequently mistook him for the older limo during the first year, but he quickly established his own identity, including a high rating on Angie’s List. He entertains everything from kid’s birthday parties to weddings to bachelor parties (some of them hitting every chicken wing place in town, naturally.) Now he has a crew of several drivers working for him and imagines he could fill a book with his experiences.
“It seems like every weekend is something crazier!” he says. “I had David Arquette for all the Super Bowl parties. I’ve driven Pat McAfee around a few times. He’s a surprisingly good rapper! I had a few weddings where everyone wore purple dresses to match the hippo bus.”
But none of the experiences quite match up to the enthusiasm kids bring. “Kids go crazy for it,” he says. “I’ll pull up to a school and there will be a couple of hundred kids craning to take a look. The kids getting in think it’s the greatest thing ever.”
He notes that children are less high-maintenance than some of his other clients: “You don’t have to worry about cleaning up any beer!”
In fact, it was a kid who helped him dream up his next endeavor, the Hippo Party Bus, when he was trying to think of a way to expand his business.
“I was trying to think of animal names and came up with ‘hippo-potabus,’ and I had the limo full of kids talking about it, then this little girl says ‘I love hippos, but it would really stand out if it were purple!” Never one to argue with his youngest clientele, Barker purchased a bus in 2011, painted it purple and had the same fabricators who worked on the Chicken Limo create some hippo-themed appliances.
Now, the Hippo Party Bus runs alongside the Chicken Limo and a plain white bus, which he plans this winter to convert into a “Dragon Wagon” by painting it green and adding a dragon face and tail. He charges $75 an hour for the limo and $85 an hour on weekends. The Hippo Bus starts at $200 for a one-hour rental, but goes down in price the longer the trip, reaching $105 per hour at 8 hours or more.
Barker says he’s considering expanding the franchise into more cities. “I’m thinking of starting one up in San Diego, if I can find some reliable drivers,” he says. “It’s a nice sunny place, and they have plenty of chicken history with the San Diego Chicken!”
He says the limo’s instant-mascot status caught him by surprise, but certainly made it a worthwhile pleasure. “I read an article recently where it was named one of the top 10 most iconic things in Indianapolis, which is really cool,” Barker says. “I always wanted to leave behind some sort of tradition or trademark, not only for myself but all of Indianapolis.”