Historic buses provide help in promoting our industry

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. My pal John was researching some family history and asked me to do a bit of research at the library in Salem, Mass.

By Dave Millhouser

He was looking for information on an ancestor whose name matched his.

I went to the assigned book, riffled through the pages, and found that in 1813 a gentleman shared not only John’s first and last names, but also his middle initial.

In a heartbeat my lengthy friendship with John snapped into focus. At last I understood him. His ancestor was a “privateer.”

The history of the bus business is, in many ways, a fascinating window into our nation’s soul. The first bus lines were started to help people get to work. We’ve been instrumental in helping our military move soldiers, and bring them home.

For the uninitiated, the only difference between them and a pirate is that the privateer is MY pirate. Governments gave these guys permission to merrily plunder their way across the seas, as long as they only attacked “enemy” vessels.

It was the economy version of a navy.

Sometimes alliances changed mid-voyage, so when in doubt, loot first, ask questions later.

Without going into detail, I now understood why, in nearly 50 years, John has never bored me. Terrified, maybe, but never bored.

Knowing your history, and that of your friends, often gives valuable insight into how things got to where they are today, offering the opportunity to learn from our forebears’ successes and avoid repeating their mistakes. It can offer a sense of pride in how far you’ve traveled.

The history of the bus business is, in many ways, a fascinating window into our nation’s soul. The first bus lines were started to help people get to work. We’ve been instrumental in helping our military move soldiers, and bring them home.

Buses take folks to events, and home to family, and help tourists take in the country. We have helped causes ranging from the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Riders to Tea Party rallies to the recent Women’s March on Washington.

We’re critical to the dialogue that makes democracy work.

I recently read Paul von Fange’s “Scenicruising,” a fine history not only of the iconic coach but of a fascinating period in our industry’s development. The Museum of Bus Transportation in Hershey, Pa. (www.busmuseum.org), is one of several organizations committed to preserving our heritage, and a number of operators have taken it upon themselves to restore historic coaches. (www.busboyscollection.org is one good example).

In addition to sharing the fun of knowing where we came from, historic buses offer the chance to show the public how far we’ve come. Our development from “people trucks” to modern motorcoaches with big windows, great HVAC, Wi-Fi connections and entertainment systems is remarkable.

This should offer a measure of pride, and the opportunity to sell folks on the real value we provide.

We move more people, more safely, than any other form of transportation (except elevators, and heck, they don’t have windows). When we can get people to look at us, they notice we now do it in style.

In some ways, we are an accurate reflection of how far our society has come.

Several years ago the Hershey museum did a display based on buses used by the old Negro baseball leagues. Two elderly former players came, and one of them asked if he could ride one of the coaches—in the third seat behind the driver.

That was “his” seat when his team traveled, and he wanted to sit there one more time. Tearing up, he told the story of the time when his ball club’s bus suffered a terminal breakdown and he was traded to another team—for their bus.

You must have mixed feelings hearing a story like that, but it surely shows how things have changed. The memories must have been bittersweet for the ballplayer, but he took the time to come and to relive a part of his life.

I’m sure my lacrosse coach would have traded me for a lug nut, if it had been offered, so this elderly ex-athlete is a far better man than me.

I’m stumbling towards two points here. First, we have a long and distinguished history. We should be proud of it and do what we can to preserve it.

And the more the public knows of that history, the more aware they are of how far we’ve come and what a great form of transportation we provide.

Sometimes we feel like we’re the runt of the transportation industry litter, somehow inferior to airlines, trains and cruise ships. We shouldn’t, because when things get ugly, we’re the ones who “git’er done.”

When there’s a catastrophe like a fire in Manitoba or a hurricane in Louisiana, they call on us, not a freaking train.

Anything you can do to preserve, and present, our distinguished history will not only give you a warm fuzzy feeling, it will benefit our industry.

It may not be sexy, but I’m proud to be a bus guy—one of you. Thanks for having me.

Dave Millhouser is a bus-industry marketing consultant and freelance writer. Contact him by email at Davemillhouser@gmail.com.

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