Vandalia Bus Lines is marking 90 years in the bus industry and, for most of its history, the company has been operated by the Streif family.
“The company was started in 1932 in a small town called Vandalia, Illinois, and that’s how we got the name. It was purchased through our family in 1975. My grandpa owned a school bus company, a small school bus company, and he began expansion and experimenting with the charter service,” said Phil Streif, the third generation of the Streif family to be involved in the business.
Under the Streif family, Vandalia Bus Lines has grown into one of the largest privately owned fleets in the St. Louis area. The family recently shared highlights of their business’ history and the secret behind their success in a video created by Ryan and Jill Kelly, of Terrapin Blue.
Matriarch Judy Streif remembers when she and her husband, Leon, started out. They did everything, down to cooking meals for the passengers, who they often took on trips to visit the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
“I was the hostess. I prepared food on a Friday night for Saturday trips. It went from sandwiches to fried chicken, until my husband had to fry chicken one Friday night. He decided to find a restaurant in Kentucky that did lunches, so we did that,” Judy shares in the video.
‘We all had to work hard’
The business was a big part of her children’s life growing up.
“We all had to work hard,” said Dennis Streif, who is Phil’s dad. “My dad was struggling to grow some businesses and get businesses going, and he had 10 mouths to feed. So, what better to do than have kids work in the business? At age 7, 8, 9 or 10, you would go into the shop and clean the bathrooms, empty the trash and do those types of things.”
His sister, Melissa Kaemmerer, remembers the five years the family lived above the business when she was in grade school.
“I was playing in the shop a lot, riding my bicycle down in the shop. I used to go bug the mechanics for quarters for the soda machine,” Melissa said.
Brothers Dale and Dennis didn’t mind getting assigned bus-washing duties if it meant getting behind the wheel to drive the buses on the back streets to take them for a wash.
“I started driving coaches when I got old enough to get a CDL (commercial driver’s license). I drove coaches all over,” Dale said.
Adds Dennis: “Sure, I had to wash them, but I was able to drive from one side of town to the other to go wash them. Somebody had to do it.
“So it was cool. I’d go around, drive by my friend’s house and honk the horn,” Dennis said.
Judy remembers fondly working side by side with her husband, and learning to do the bookkeeping and other skills needed to run the growing operation.
“We eventually moved up above the business for five years, so it was very convenient for us. If we don’t get it done during the day, we finished it in the evening. And then we grew from there. My husband passed in 1996. And the boys came in and took over the business, and they’re doing a wonderful job. I retired. I do come in here occasionally. This is my legacy. And I call myself one of the pioneers, along with my husband,” Judy said.
A huge milestone
Nine decades is a huge milestone for a motorcoach business.
“It means a lot to me that we’ve lasted this long, and continue to be profitable and growing, and sustaining our business,” said Phil.
Melissa credits the longevity to the quality of the staff.
“They’re the ones that are out there representing our company. We’ve come a long way from really nothing that Mom and Dad started and built, and left for us to carry on, and continue and build greater. But it all goes back to the starting factors, which is my mom and dad,” she said.
Phil says he is appreciative of his grandparents’ vision and the hard work the entire Streif family put into the business through the decades.
“I’m excited to bring my knowledge and experiences. I’m learning to grow the business even more and to always make improvements. And I’d also like to say a huge thank you to our loyal customers throughout the years, who have always brought business back to us. You guys are what drives our business, and we cannot thank you enough for all the years of loyalty you’ve provided to us,” Phil said.