Dennis King began working at his father’s transportation company in 1988, shortly after the company was formed. He bought the company from his father in October of 2003 and now serves as president and general manager of King Ward Coach Lines in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
He does more than own and run a bus company. He’s also a collector of promotional bus banks, bus signs and related memorabilia. There are other people who collect bus memorabilia, like signs, fare boxes and the plastic banks. But the King Ward collection is practically a bus history museum in itself.
“I haven’t seen anybody with the collection that I have,” King said.
The first thing people say when they see it is, “Wow, what a collection.” People are welcome to come check out the collection. Fellow bus owners tend to appreciate it more than people who aren’t in the industry, but there are always a few “bus nuts” stopping by.
How it started: a Vermont Transit bus bank
King was given his first bus bank–the plastic bus banks used for promotional purposes–in 1995. It came from Vermont Transit because King Ward was servicing some of their buses.
“I’d never seen them before, to be honest with you,” King said. He saw it and thought, “Wow, these are neat.”
Then he started collecting them.
“I’d get them at tradeshows or on eBay,” King said. “Then I found an ad somewhere, this guy had a big collection, so I bought some.” Later, the same guy who ran the ad simply gave King the rest of his collection.
Suddenly, King had all of these bus banks and didn’t know where to put them all. So, he turned to the internet. He found display cases with mirrored backs. He now has more than 20, all filled with bus banks.
“The nice thing is, you don’t have to dust them,” he said. “Those cases have been moved from one office to another, and one building to another. Their current location is the longest time they’ve been in a certain place.”
Over the years, King Ward has moved to many different homes, starting with a small two-bay garage on Union Street in West Springfield. From there, it moved to Agawam, then back to West Springfield, then on to a large warehouse facility at 380 Union Street. In 1996, the company moved on to Holyoke and then finally moved to a building of their own in Chicopee.
King’s collection has moved with the company and finally has a permanent home. It is displayed prominently in the front office, the first thing you notice when you walk in.
Elena Dore, a King Ward employee, said about the bus banks: “There’s a lot of them, and they look really cool. No two pieces are the same. People love looking at them.”
According to King, the most valuable bus banks in his collection are from the companies that are no longer around. He has entire cabinets of bus banks from companies that were acquired, went bankrupt or are simply no longer in business.
First banks, then bus signs
Once he started collecting bus banks, King began scouting for other pieces of transit history.
“I don’t know how the signs came about,” he said. “I found a few of them at flea markets.” Not really sure what he was going to do with them, his wife suggested that he take them to work.
The collection includes bus signs, bus stop signs and the signs put on the front of buses. “I haven’t seen anyone with the collection that I have. It’s actually expanded out into the garage now because we ran out of space,” King said.
His favorite sign in the collection is from a company called White Bus. “One of my employees actually worked for that company, and he remembers putting that sign on a bus. This was way before my time,” King said. “Companies used to have to affix metal signs to the sides of buses, before there were vinyls and decals.”
An ever-expanding collection
King is always looking for new pieces. Currently there’s a sign in the hallway that still needs to be put up. When he and his wife are on vacation, he’ll be poking around antique shops and might find something cool.
They were recently in Maine, where he found a new sign. He also checks eBay and makes a point to go to the Brimfield Flea Market, where he’s always able to buy one or two signs every year.
If you have a collection you’re looking to get rid of, or even a few items, contact Dennis King at King Ward. He’s always excited to add to his collection.