When Chris Deyo drives around in his work vehicle, he usually encounters frantic beeping and waving as kids and adults try to get his attention.
Twenty years ago, he found it weird. Now, it’s all part of having a yellow, red and blue, star-adorned “gym on wheels.”
“People know Tumblebus,” Deyo said.
They also know “Mr. Chris,” as he has been known to the 2- to 6-year-olds he’s taught since the Tumblebus came on the scene in the State College area in January 2000. With a background in gymnastics and coaching, Deyo had been involved with a similar operation in Williamsport when he decided to give it a try himself. He bought a bus through Tumblebus Inc., a national program that has sold more than 300 buses throughout the United States and Canada. It’s not a franchise — once the keys were in his hands, he became the owner of the bus, the monkey bars, zip line and other equipment inside of it, and his own small business.
Daily stops at area day cares and preschools make up the bulk of Deyo’s business, where kids enrolled in the Tumblebus program get on board for 30-minute sessions in the bus that has had its seats replaced by various instruments of fun and a lot of padding.
Troy Morgan, co-owner of ABC Children’s Center, where Deyo has held his program for more than a decade, said he can always tell when “Mr. Chris” arrives because of the excitement in the hallways.
“He does a great job with the kids and gives them a different outlet for activity,” Morgan said. “It’s been very positive for ABC and the families.”
The Tumblebus also gets booked at birthday parties, company picnics, community festivals and a multitude of other events where little ones are running around. No matter what the occasion, Deyo said the the purpose is always the same, and it’s not just about fun.
“Kids don’t realize it’s a class-like feel, but the parents will watch and say, ‘They’re really learning something here,’ ” Deyo said.
Every visit to the bus is structured, Deyo said, and customized by age group. Mixed in with learning headstands and forward rolls are lessons in how to fall and how to recover from a fall. Even and especially at the very beginner level, Deyo thinks gymnastics has broad implications.
“Gymnastics is the basics, it’s the foundation of any sport,” he said. “If they get a gymnastics background, then they’re safer in any sport they go into.”
Behind the scenes, Deyo said there’s “constant maintenance, constant cleaning” that goes into the Tumblebus. And after decades in the sport, he said his knees are beginning to feel the wear and tear. But even after his own kids have long outgrown the bus, he has no plans to stop running the Tumblebus any time soon. Recently, while working his side job as an Uber driver, he picked up a college-aged woman. They got to talking, and Deyo said it ended with his passenger in tears when she recognized “Mr. Chris” and started talking about her childhood memories in the Tumblebus.
“I have encounters like that all the time where I bump into kids who are in college now and they still remember the Tumblebus,” Deyo said. “Those types of stories really keep me motivated.”
The Tumblebus will be at the People’s Choice Festival in Boalsburg from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. July 14.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/TumblebusofStateCollege.