HERSHEY, PA – Former bus company owner Tom McCaughey has been appointed to the AACA Museum here and will represent the interests of the Museum of Bus Transportation.
Museum member, volunteer and donor Tom McCaughey came by his interest in buses early.
McCaughey’s boyhood home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island was in the path of the new interstate I95. The house had a long, cherished, history in his family, so they did the only logical thing… and moved it to a parcel of land near the Boston Post Road.
Trucks passing and turning off the highway interested young Tom… but the buses fascinated him.
In 1964 his family took a Conway’s Bus Line tour to the World’s Fair in New York. The fair was great but the bus part seems to have been the grabber.
After high school, he purchased a Greyhound Ameripass that offered unlimited travel all over the U.S. and pretty much wore that jewel out. He loved the country and the bus travel. He was hooked.
After dabbling at several jobs and promising himself he would not go into the family trash hauling business…he did. They needed help, and at 25, he joined them. Over several decades Tom and his two brothers enjoyed considerable success.
Fast forward to 1999 and the McCaughey family sold the waste management business to a major consolidator.
After filling a number of roles with the company that bought the family business, Tom decided that corporate life wasn’t for him… he wanted to go from a good job to one that he really enjoyed.
On a sales call at a small local charter bus operator, he sold them a dumpster… and asked about driving buses part time. Within days he was behind the wheel and enjoying it.
Tom now had the opportunity to indulge his love of buses full time, and he ended up purchasing Dicostanzo Bus Line in 2001. This was the same company for which he had driven.
When the deal closed, on July 1, 2001, the Dicostanzo fleet Tom purchased consisted of 3 “veteran” buses, a small garage, and presumably the dumpster he sold them. The “veterans” were old enough to vote in 50 states.
For those of you too young to remember, 2001 was not an ideal year to buy a motorcoach company, and the 9-11 attacks devastated the charter bus industry.
After struggling through the 9-11 mess, Tom gradually built both quality and quantity. By 2022 he was operating 18 coaches, rebranded in 2005 as “Flagship”, had become one of New England’s premier charter carriers, and developed a reputation for helping other operators.
Several years after Tom bought Dicostanzo, and renamed it Flagship, I asked him how operating a bus company differed from his previous life in trash hauling. With a bit of a glint in his eye… he said, “they’re not too different”. The glint was because we both knew he wasn’t denigrating his customers but pointing out that in each case clients depended on reliable service provided by a fleet of complex vehicles and skilled drivers.
Flagship’s success did not go unnoticed, and McCaughey was elected President of the New England Bus Association, to the American Bus Association Board of Directors, and named to the Executive Board of National Trailways Bus System along with other honors.
Less visible, but perhaps more significantly, when legislators and regulators needed someone behind the scenes to educate them on the bus industry’s benefits and needs… he was a respected voice. This became critical during the COVID crisis.
Flagship had joined the National Trailways Bus System, and about that time, longtime Eagle bus enthusiast Larry Yohe contacted Tom about an almost mythical, pristine, 05 Eagle in Colorado. The Eagle is an iconic symbol of Trailways, and he couldn’t resist it.
He recalls “I flew out with my brother Bernie and longtime busman, Bill Donley, to buy the bus. We checked the tires, belts, fluids, etc. and drove it home from Denver. That was quite the ride, but the bus was great.”
Word of the 05 Eagle somehow reached folks in the movie industry, and McCaughey got a call that proved fortuitous. A movie project needed a vintage bus, and the Eagle was a fit.
“My first movie job was a film called “Labor Day”. My co- stars were Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin,” he points out with that same glint.
Like many businesses, movie production has a web of relationships… and word quickly got out that if you were shooting in the Northeast, and needed a bus, McCaughey was the go-to guy.
In 2006 Double A Transportation in CT was sold to a large school bus operator. Owner Tony Autorino had acquired and restored 7 antique coaches… which were often parked in front to their Rocky Hill facility. Visible from the highway, motorists sometimes slowed and looked at the buses.
A few years later Double A‘s Manager Jonathan Birdsey contacted Tom asking if he had interest in acquiring the antiques. The new school bus operators had no affinity for antique coaches, and Birdsey feared they would just deteriorate. McCaughey got in touch with “my good friend, the late Peter Wilson, he took 4 and I took 3. By then, I had done a few projects and became pretty well known in the ‘picture car business’ and received calls for buses.”
With the acquisition of the Double A buses Toms fleet of antiques had grown to 5… all of which were operable.
They appeared in both movies and series including Black Mass, Three Women, The Holdovers, Only Murders in the Building, and Julia. In some productions they were in prominent roles, photographed inside and out, while in others “populated a scene” providing historically accurate backdrop. In many cases Tom appeared in uniform as the bus driver.
“I probably did a dozen movies and several TV series, most with multiple appearances, maybe 20 plus in total. I worked in RI, MA, NY, and Baltimore on various projects. It was all a lot of fun!”
“People passing by the sets loved the old buses… they couldn’t help smiling. They’re a window into a bygone era”.
In a bit of irony… some of the antiques are younger than the fleet McCaughey started with in 2001.
Tom has a close relationship with Randy Wilcox, the Museum of Bus Transportation Fleet Manager, and when he got calls for movie buses that he couldn’t supply, he began contacting Randy for help. The museum had been doing some movie work, but wasn’t as “connected” as McCaughey, so this provided an enormous boost. Not only did the revenue help preserve history, but these movie appearances showcased the bus industry’s story.
In 2022 DATTCO, a large, diverse New England bus operator offered to buy Flagship, and Tom decided the time was right to “retire”. He retained ownership of the antique fleet and thought that donating them to the Museum of Bus Transportation/AACA Museum was a good way to give them a permanent home that was preserved and available to the public.
By early 2023 he had the 5 buses transported to Hershey… they were all at the museum in time for the Spring Fling in June. In addition to the Eagle, they included a 1964 GM “Fishbowl” Suburban, two GM “Old Looks” from the 1950’s and a 45’ 1998 MCI 102DL3. Several are different than anything in the museum’s current fleet, while a few are similar to existing buses. This offers the opportunity to replace un-restored historic vehicles with similar ones in much better condition.
Perhaps even more valuable, as a museum member and volunteer director, McCaughey brings with him his energy, expertise, and connections in the “Picture Car” business and the motorcoach industry.
Things seem to have come full circle… as a boy Tom loved buses, had the opportunity to operate them at the highest level, and now is ensuring their history is available to the kids who represent the future of the industry…