Generational motorcoach companies that have been passed along to two, three or four generations make up the core of the industry. Most of the owners know each other and look forward to catching up every year at UMA Motorcoach EXPO.
Last month, we profiled four such operators, and this month we introduce five more, all of them United Motorcoach Association Members. Most will be attending this year’s EXPO on April 21-25 in Orlando, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the industry organization with the theme of A Generational Gathering.
Klein Transportation, Douglassville, Pennsylvania
Klein Transportation is more than 60 years old and four generations strong. John Klein started the family-owned company in the 1950s and passed it along in the 1960s to his son, Bill, who continued running the business until the 1990s.
Bill’s son, Wayne, started working at Klein Transportation in the 1970s when he got out of school. “I did pretty much everything,” Wayne says, “cleaning buses, working in the shop, driving buses, anything that was needed.”
Wayne, who took over as president in 1999, drove buses for 25 years, including long tours to places like Walt Disney World and Nashville with his wife, Adele, serving as tour guide. “I drove until my back couldn’t handle it anymore,” he says.
His son helped out in the business early on but decided to go in a different direction. “He said, ‘Dad, you work too hard,’” Wayne says.
But his daughter, Alison Klein Sherman, did take an interest in the business, answering phones and helping with paperwork as a teen and then working there on and off for years before settling in as president, with her dad serving as CEO.
“She’s in charge of the day-to-day operations,” Wayne says. “I’m available to her but I don’t get in her way. I did some things differently than my father, and I’m sure she will, too. I’m very proud of her.”
Sherman, who studied business administration, marketing, and travel and tourism in college, says the motorcoach industry “kind of gets in your blood a little bit. It was not something I was forced into. My parents made it clear it was my own decision. I love people, I love talking to people, making them happy, helping them plan their vacations. It’s very gratifying.”
Sherman has three children, but she doesn’t know at this point if any of them will want to join the business. “You never know,” she says. “I want my kids to figure it out for themselves. If it continues on as a fifth-generation company, I would love that.”
So would her father, but he also says he doesn’t want to push his grandchildren into something they don’t want. “In this industry, because of the long hours, you need that dedication. You’ve got to have a love of the industry.”
Leisure Time Charters & Tours, Emerson, Georgia
This female-owned bus business is now in its third generation, and could end up with a fourth down the road. Joye Darwin and her daughter, Brenda Tidwell, started the company in 1992 and bought their first bus in 1993.
Darwin’s other daughter, Patricia Burton, had two young children at the time but she eventually joined the business, as well. “We really needed her,” Tidwell says. “She’s brilliant.”
Burton, the company’s office manager, says she now “eats, sleeps and breathes motorcoaches. Most of the time, it is great. Sometimes I hate it, like when we can’t find drivers. But when it is going well, which is 95% of the time, it’s great.”
Third-generation Members of the family were involved in the business when they were young, but only one ended up joining the company full time. Burton’s children used to help out, cleaning buses and answering phones, “and knew everything there was to do in the bus business. But they wanted nothing to do with it. I would have welcomed them with open arms, but they have to make their own choices in life.”
Tidwell’s daughter, Elizabethe Tidwell, also was involved in the company while she was in high school, but she moved to Hawaii for four years before returning to help with the company in 2000. She left again in 2005 to work in Florida, where she did hotel group sales and was a wedding coordinator.
But she returned four years later to take over as tour manager for Leisure Time and has been there ever since. “I love the business. It’s part of me,” Elizabethe says.
The women all cross-trained on each other’s jobs “so we always have help,” Burton says. “We depend on each other and, no matter what, we always help each other out. That is huge.”
It is unclear if there will be a fourth-generation family member in the business. Elizabethe’s 12-year-old daughter, Ingrid Brinkley, has been around the bus business since she was a toddler, but the family isn’t pushing her. “I want her to do something she loves,” Elizabethe says. “I would be great if she decided to join us, but our goal is to put her through college, then she can make her decision.”
Brenda Tidwell agrees. “We’ve never felt like we had to impose it on our children. I’m very happy Elizabethe went into it, but I don’t want anybody in the family to work with us if they don’t want to.”
Jean’s Bus Service, Greenville, South Carolina
John and Jean Cauley got into the motorcoach business by accident when they bought two used buses in 1979 with plans to resell them. Instead, they had a disagreement with a guy who was supposed to buy them, and the Cauleys were stuck with the buses.
So they decided to try and recoup their investment by getting paying passengers to ride on the buses. Jean’s Bus Service was born the following year, with John, a former mechanical engineer and homebuilder, handling the driving and his wife running the administrative end from the basement of their home.
These days, the company is a family affair, with the Cauleys’ three children all working in the business. Their daughter Jo Lynn Lott handles tour planning; their son Johnny specializes in air-conditioning and electronic repair; and their son Robbie, who was 13 when the company started, is a certified diesel mechanic and shop foreman.
“He’s one of the top-notch diesel mechanics in South Carolina,” Lott says of Robbie. “And Johnny is in charge of the annual driver competition at EXPO.”
She says their parents are “pretty much in charge of the company, but we run it. Sometimes we have our differences, but we mostly get along. I love working with my family.”
In 2013, Jean’s Bus Service became a third-generation operator with Johnny’s daughter, Erica Cauley Cooper, coming on board after she graduated from college as a civil engineer. “It was difficult finding a job in my field, so I started helping out,” Cooper says. She now works with her aunt on the tour side.
Lott says it doesn’t appear that any other younger family Members are interested in joining the company. “Erica is the only one,” she says. “I guess when we retire, we’ll give it all to her. But I doubt we’ll ever retire.”
Escot Bus Lines, Largo, Florida
Brian Scott and his sister, Pamela Scott Calixto, have been involved in the family business since their parents, Lewis and Diane Scott, started the company in 1983.
“If you count washing buses, we were involved from day one,” Brian says. “My sister and I were cheap labor.”
He was joking — mostly — and acknowledges that, before long, the motorcoach business got into his blood. Scott and Calixto purchased Escot Bus Lines from their parents in 2008, with Brian running the business and Pamela handling the accounting and customer relationships.
Unlike many family-owned businesses, which can be passed along to three, four or even five generations, Escot is likely to end after two generations.
“There is no third generation, that’s for sure,” says Scott, a former UMA board Chair. “My wife has two children, but they are off doing stuff on their own.”
He says passing down the business to another generation is “a nice idea, a nice thought, but there is no guarantee. I don’t know if I’d encourage them to do it. There are less-risky businesses to go into. Plus it is hard work. It either gets in your blood or it doesn’t.”
Someday, when he and his sister decide to retire and get out of the bus business, there will have to be some sort of ownership transfer, either by selling the company or shutting it down and selling off the buses and other assets.
“It’s the only end game,” Scott says.
Ready Bus Line, La Crescent, Minnesota
Tom Ready had a number of “real nice jobs” at the bus company his father, Joe — one of the founders of what is now UMA — started in 1954, the year Tom was born. While in school, he molded fiberglass light covers, painted buses, plowed snow and opened the manual garage doors for drivers “to get in shape for football.”
When he was a senior in high school, Ready drove a school bus route in the mornings and afternoons. When he was 21, he drove his first long motorcoach trip, to Miami Beach.
“I loved it,” Ready says. “I drove a lot to get to know the U.S. and to learn about the travel business. It’s a 24/7 thing, and you have to be people-friendly. If a bus has an electrical problem or some other problem, you can’t leave your customers sitting on the side of the road. You have to get to know people across the country. We all help each other out. It’s a brotherhood.”
He bought Ready Bus Line from his father in 1976, after he got out of college, and continued running the company until 2014. He says his son, Dayton, used to follow him around, attending conventions like EXPO. But in the end, “he wanted to try something else. I don’t think he wanted to own a business.”
Ready, a longtime UMA board Member and former Chair, decided he wanted to get out of the motorcoach business in 2014, when he turned 60. “So I called my son and said, ‘I’m going to sell it unless you want it.’ He passed on it.”
He says it would have been nice if his son became the third-generation owner of the company, “but I wanted him to decide just like my dad let me choose.”
Ready sold the company that year to Minnesota Coaches.