Alan Thrasher recently had the honor of driving yet another GMC Greyhound to its final destination. This time, he was behind the wheel of a restored PD-4905, which will be part of the restored Greyhound station in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. The station is being repurposed as an office building, but the refreshed sign, the new silver dog and the two buses give it authenticity.
The assignment was particularly special for Thrasher, co-owner of Thrasher Brothers Trailways of Birmingham, whose childhood was filled with buses. His first job was washing buses at Thrasher Brothers, his father’s business, at age 11. He worked in the business throughout high school and college before going on the road to tour with entertainers for a decade.
His father, Jim Thrasher, was a member of the Thrasher Brothers gospel singing group, a trio inducted in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He started buying buses back in the early 1960s and later started building conversion interiors for use as tour buses.
As a teenager, Alan Thrasher watched Eagle buses converted to 12 sleeper tour buses, the first version of the entertainer coach. The process involved raising the roof of the bus up a foot so it could fit the custom interior.
In the 1970s, Thrasher remembers his dad bringing home 102-inch-wide O7 model Eagle cargo buses — with 36 seats and a big side door for freight — from Trailways in Denver. Vulcan Coach of Birmingham did the bodywork and interior conversions. In 1988, Eagle began to build 45-foot conversion shells, even though technically, the 45-foot buses weren’t legal until 1993 when MCI in Canada requested another 5 feet in order to meet ADA requirements for a wheelchair lift.
“When I was 14, I had a wrench and I was in there taking the seats out of the floor. I pulled more Eagle seats out of a bus than I can remember because that’s what Dad would pay me to do as a teenager. I’d make extra money taking those things apart,” he said.
Thrasher, 58, learned how to drive a GMC bus when he was 14, and an Eagle when he was 17. By the time he was 19, he was hauling college teams. He says he was grandfathered when the commercial driver’s license (CDL) came out in 1996, so he never took a test.
‘I lived in a bus’
Despite growing up in a family of musicians, Thrasher says he wasn’t blessed with the God-given talent. Thrasher, who graduated from Samford University in Birmingham with a degree in business, spent his 20s as a tour bus driver.
“I lived on a bus,” Thrasher said. “I did production and tour management. Eventually, I started driving the bus because I started watching who had the easiest job on the road. The driver just eats, sleeps, drinks coffee and shows up. So, I started driving bands in the late ’80s and ’90s, and that’s what got me involved in the music side of the bus business when I was around it.” Since then, he’s lived in the bus business, presently serving on the UMA Board of Directors.
Thrasher and his sister Alyce Thrasher Davidson now own and operate the charter company their dad started. “We are happy to be around to celebrate 50 years in business after the year of the Covid crisis.”
With a lifetime of bus experience, it isn’t surprising that he was contacted to play a role in restoring Birmingham’s Greyhound station into an office complex. The Art Deco-styled facility is located in the heart of the city’s financial district with City Hall right across the street. Capstone Investments owns the property.
Locating vintage buses
Thrasher was brought into the project when a friend of the developer — who he knew from high school — reached out to him about helping to locate vintage buses.
He reached out to Mark Szyperski, president of On Your Mark Transportation, whose father worked for Greyhound and has taken on Greyhound restoration projects. Szyperski assisted in locating some other bus memorabilia, then put them in touch with Stan Holter, of Bus Boys Collection in Minneapolis.
“I have spent a lot of time over my years inside Greyhound Bus Terminals, including Birmingham’s. When I heard that they were not only keeping the building but also trying to restore it as much as possible, I had to be a part of this amazing project!,” said Szyperski.
Holter helped locate a 4106 and a 4905, which were still roadworthy and not eaten up with rust. The vehicles were restored to make them fully operational and painted turquoise blue, the original Greyhound colors of the day.
The buses arrived in Birmingham on a flatbed from Minnesota. They were stored at Thrasher’s property for a few months before he drove them over to the former station.
“I got them up to 55 miles an hour, rumbling and shaking, but the motor was running strong and it wasn’t smoking,” said Thrasher. “When I went that first quarter-mile, it was pouring smoke out like a mosquito fogger, but it cleared up and I got on the interstate with it. The tires held up, thank goodness.”
Thrasher expects the renovated Greyhound station with the vintage buses to reopen sometime in 2022.