Industry pays tribute to bus historian Bill Luke

William A. Luke, known to his friends as Bill, is being remembered as an ambassador and eminent historian of the bus industry. He chronicled buses as a publisher of Bus Ride magazine and author of more than 15 books under Friendship Publications. Luke died on Jan. 23 at age 97 in hospice care in Spokane, Washington, as his final book neared completion. 

Much of his collection, which he spent most of his life gathering, will live on at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.

Bill Luke
Bill Luke in front of an MCI coach.

The loss of an icon

The industry is mourning the loss of an icon, says Stan Holter, a friend of Luke’s and co-founder of the Busboys Collection Museum in Rochester, Minnesota.

“Bill truly was the most informed historian of our industry, surely more than anyone ever before, or ever will be, given all his experiences and all he was involved in,” said Holter, who reached out to Luke often to ask bus questions. “Bill was a walking encyclopedia of information of our industry with his vast knowledge and experiences. Bill had traveled the world studying bus transportation, but his love and passion for our industry’s heritage were truly what he seemed to enjoy most the past many years. … Bill will truly be remembered as a legend of our industry and sorely missed.”

In addition to publishing Bus Ride magazine for 30 years, Luke was the originator of the Bus Garage Index, the Bus Industry Directory and the Bus Ride Bus Maintenance Forums, which promoted bus safety.

Bill Luke
Bill Luke with buses, and his friend, Stan Holter.

Bus Ride founder

Luke entered the industry in 1948 when he went to work for Jefferson Lines in Minnesota. He accelerated his collecting when he and his wife, Adelene, founded Bus Ride in 1965. The publication grew out of a newsletter for a historical association Luke created with other bus enthusiasts. 

The couple sold Friendship Publications, which produced Bus Ride and the other publications in 1996, after which Luke continued his historical collecting and stepped up his historical writing. 

He and his principal collaborator, Linda Metler, compiled and wrote more than a dozen books, often called “photo archives,” that chronicle the history of various aspects of the industry, focusing primarily on bus types and brands.

“The research was all in Bill’s brain. He knew so much, you could ask him just about anything. Like, what model bus did you ride when you went to such and such, and he knew. He decided at the age of 12, he was going to be a bus person,” Metler said, adding the favorite book she has worked on is his last because it is filled with personal experiences. “He typed up the entire thing. He took wonderful notes. He was a good boss.”

Donating his collection

In 2013, Luke donated his massive collection of photographs, publications, tour and travel literature and other information to both The Henry Ford and the Northwestern University Transportation Library in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern has the international collection, while the William Luke Bus Collection at Henry Ford includes rare uniform patches, tickets, company publications, timetables and route maps for bus lines operating throughout the United States. 

“The Henry Ford people are very interested and enthusiastic about having the bus industry represented. I am very happy about this because The Henry Ford is a prestigious organization, in a very accessible location, and has an excellent research department,” Luke told Bus & Motorcoach News at the time.

The Henry Ford and its world-famous Greenfield Village have been preserving and displaying the culture of the United States for nearly a century. The museum is also home to the Rosa Parks Bus, a key artifact of the civil rights movement.

“Certainly, the bus industry has been and is an important contributor to the culture and history” of the U.S., Luke said at the time.

Final project

Luke’s last project is an autobiography he was working on with Metler and Rich Broderhausen.

“It’s quite informative, speaks a lot about his history in the bus business, as well as his personal story, and all of the literally thousands of people that he met all over the world. I told him that we would have that in his hands, finished, by his birthday,” said Broderhausen, Luke’s former pastor and guardian.

Both Metler and Broderhausen still hope to have the book completed by Feb. 26, when Luke would have celebrated his 98th birthday.

Bill Luke
Bill Luke in his younger years with buses.

An early love of buses

Luke became a devotee of buses and bus travel at a very early age. He was born in Duluth, Minnesota, an area that was home to several early bus companies, including Greyhound and National City Lines. As a kid, Luke became enthralled with the history and activities of these major lines. 

“His love of buses was phenomenal. He first fell in love with buses when he was about 6 years old. There was a bus route that ran right in front of their house, and he just became totally fascinated with buses,” Broderhausen said.

During World War II, Luke served as a clerk for an engineering battalion. When he returned home, he began collecting bus memorabilia as he started a career in the bus industry, working for the Jefferson Transportation Co. in Minneapolis and, later, for Empire Lines in Spokane. 

A lifelong partner

Luke’s partner was his wife, Adelene, who was a key player in the founding and running of Friendship Publications, the company that published Bus Ride magazine and his many books. She died in 2016 at 88.

Bill and Adelene during a trip to Argentina.

The couple’s well-known bus and motorcoach trade publication covered the people, products and services in this ever-evolving industry. After selling Bus Ride, the couple traveled around the world, visiting bus transit operations in different countries.

“He traveled in over 75 countries. There’s a reason some folks call him the dean of the bus transportation industry,” Broderhausen said.

With both Motor Coach and New Flyer (formerly Western Flyer) both located in Winnipeg, Luke had been regular visitor to the Canadian city during his working career begining in 1949. After concluding each business trip, and with camera in hand, Luke would set some aside extra time to photograph many of the transit and highway buses operating on Winnipeg’s streets, recalled longtime friend Alex Regiec, the Communications Chair for the Manitoba Transit Heritage Association, Inc.

In 2007, Luke donated a series of Winnipeg bus pictures and other memorabilia he had gathered over the years to the museum collection of the Manitoba Transit Heritage Association (MTHA). In return for his generous donation, MTHA gifted Bill with a lifetime membership to the association at a dinner in his honor.

“Perhaps the highlight of Bill’s visit in 2007 was when we picked him up with our fully restored 1937 Twin Coach 23-R bus to go out for supper. The look of excitment on Bill’s face as the bus pulled in was priceless! We are truely grateful for Bill’s friendship, knowledge and support to our association. He will missed and remembered in our hearts and minds always,” Regiec said. 

Bill Luke
Bill Luke during one of his visits to Winnipeg.

‘Always humble’

Despite his many accomplishments, Luke was always humble, says Dave Millhouser, a former longtime Bus & Motorcoach News columnist, who reviewed some of Luke’s books, including Sedan Buses.

“The first time I met Bill, he was at a bus show reporting for Bus Ride … and he had gotten there by Greyhound. Bill often traveled by bus to events,” said Millhouser. “He was universally liked and respected by the industry. Everyone who loves buses, the bus industry, or even rode a bus in the past 60 years, owes Bill.”

David Hubbard remembers the industry icon calling out of the blue in 2004 to welcome him into the industry, as Hubbard was settling into a position as a writer and editor of Luke’s former magazine.

“Bill shared his approval of my work as well as a few sage suggestions going forward, which I regarded as an early milestone as a stranger entering into this new world filled with buses and bus people,” said Hubbard, who wrote own tribute to Luke for Metro magazine.

Publishing and seminars

Sharing an interest in buses, Bill and Adelene began presenting seminars in 1964 to the bus industry on maintenance, safety and other subjects. At the peak of the program, there were 10 seminars a year, which took place throughout the country. 

Bill Luke
Luke was inducted into the APTA Hall of Fame in 1998.

Adelene’s desire to live in the West was fulfilled in 1969, when she and Bill moved to Spokane. She worked full time for their business, while Bill worked part time in addition to his full-time position at Empire Lines. By 1973, their publishing and seminar business had grown to the point that they both needed to devote full time to the business, which was incorporated as Friendship Publications.

Adelene was named the corporate president, and always wrote the main editorial for those issues that featured influential women in the industry. 

A valuable lesson

A career highlight for the couple was the 25th anniversary of  Bus Ride. They celebrated the occasion with a banquet in Spokane attended by 100 guests, including some from overseas. 

Keynote speaker for the evening was Luke’s good friend Jim Lehrer, a bus enthusiast and at the time host on PBS’s “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” according to Adelene’s obituary. 

Victor Parra, former President and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association, recalls how Luke welcomed him into the industry and conveyed the importance of his role in supporting private coach operators.

“Bill was one of the first to call me when I joined UMA in 1998 and welcome me to the industry. He explained the powerful relationship nature of the private bus business,” Parra said. “He encouraged me to meet the members, but also get to know their families and to recognize how important they are to the success of each company. This proved to be a most valuable lesson.” 


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