KEEPING THE FLAME:

 

Lifelong enthusiasts keep bus history alive


We in the industry know that there are a lot of people out there with a serious, abiding interest in motor coach equipment, memorabilia, maps, routes and all things related. While some write up history, others try to keep photo records of every coach model in a particular intercity fleet or, perhaps, a foreign country. They often call themselves "bus nuts," but they're the dedicated people who keep the industry's history alive and vivid for all who might pay attention. In this article, we speak to four of them, ranging from longtime industry professionals to dedicated hobbyists. Here are their stories:

Busboys LLC:

 

Dan and Stan Holter, Rochester City Lines/Richfield Bus Company

A passion for the industry that grew with time, Dan and Stan Holter are making up for lost time by preserving the industry's heritage.

"Our father had always been a classic-car buff," says Stan Holter, who grew up in the business with his brother, Dan. "So as young boys, we also developed a passion for antique and classic cars, but the hobby of collecting classic buses didn't develop until years later. I look back and think it's interesting that I wasn't all that interested in bus history until much later in my adult years, but the passion to save our heritage and history of transportation in general and have fun with these old classics along the way has now become our main hobby."

Stan, who started getting interested about 10 years ago, soon after the Holters donated their first old bus to the Minnesota Transportation Museum ("MTM), has made up for lost time. Today, he and his brother are among the leading collectors of vintage buses. Since 2008, Stan has been the superintendent of the museum's classic-bus division. Under his guidance, Stan has helped the MTM broaden its classic bus division by donating his time and resources through the Richfield Bus Company facilities to help maintain the museum's fleet for classic bus charters.

The Mack is back

And while he's worked hard to help build the museum's operations and visibility, Stan estimates the family has some 40 vintage buses of their own. The pride of the Holters' personal collection is the only Mack C50 known to be still in existence. George and Marilyn Holter, founders of Richfield Bus Company, bought the 1952 Mack back in 1964, utilizing it on their Excelsior/Minneapolis transit line service until 1973. It was one of only 576 built, and one of the first three diesel transit buses the Holters bought as they began replacing the smaller school buses on their transit lines. Last year, Dan and Stan had the Mack restored. The Mack, which had been used as a storage shed the past many years, was still completely intact, but was very deteriorated, requiring the body to be stripped to the frame, inside and out. The boys had it restored to its original glory and presented it to their parents as a surprise tribute during their "50 Years of Service" anniversary celebration. "We had the Mack hidden away in the roundhouse of the MTM,where our 50th celebration was being held, and drove it out onto the turntable in front of several hundred guests attending the party. It looked like it had just rolled off the assembly line. It was a spectacular sight!" It has since been to local shows, parades and events, along with a restored MC-7 that Stan Holter describes as one of his favorite models.

"Mom and Dad realized what a great thing it is having the Mack restored. People come up and remember how they used to ride with them. It's nice being able to share a historic piece with its public, to rekindle their memories and reconnect friendships that once were. It's also become a fun promotional tool for our company and it's a real joy to see Mom and Dad having fun connecting with everyone through all the experiences."

Thrill of the hunt

The Holters' classic-coach interest goes beyond the family fleet. Stan says he and brother Dan spend a lot of time scanning ads and hunting down leads around the country in search of the old and unusual. Beyond some of the rare buses in their collection, one of their proudest acquisitions is a 1948 Kenworth W1 Stan found by chance. It is one of only three known to exist, and the only W1 still intact enough to restore back to original. It had spent 49 years sitting in the woods of Washington State, abandoned after someone's attempt to make it into a motor home. "They only built 26 of this model and the one we have is documented as #26 from the only batch ever made. Greyhound tried the Kenworth product for awhile and ultimately decided not to go with any more units, as GM seemed to have a better edge on the market with a product better suited for them, so Kenworth ceased production of the W1 line."

Stan hopes he can get the Kenworth fully restored in the near future retaining its original Greyhound theme, a project he estimates will cost about $100,000. He's also investigating grants for the museum to have some restoration work done on some of their fleet, which might also allow him to have some work done for the KW and donate the finished product to the museum. While he loves the buses, his desire to share them outstrips his interest in keeping them.

"With the insurance and everything, there's little to no income from doing the vintage-bus thing. It's done out of a love for the industry. A lot of the stuff we collect because we want to keep it from going to scrap. At least if we've preserved it, the history won't die out and will be there for others who follow us with the same passions."

Enjoying the Bus Ride:

 

Bill Luke

When Bill Luke was a schoolboy in Virginia, Minnesota, in the 1930s and '40s, he carefully saved his paper-route money just so he could take 25-cent rides on local intercity buses, occasionally popping a full $2.50 for trips to Duluth. During World War II, he was glad to be assigned to the amphibious engineers because of the heavy equipment involved — even though it meant landing on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. And when he returned to Minnesota after the war, buses were still on his mind, even as he attended college in preparation for a career. Soon, he took a job with Jefferson Lines in Minneapolis. And in 1965, he started a little magazine called "Bus Ride."

A bus-transportation legend was born.

"The people in the industry were very friendly and encouraged me to take an interest," says Luke about his earliest attraction to riding buses. "I was still doing a lot of riding even when I got into bus management. By 1950, I had been to every state in the union — all 48 of them."

Lure of the West

Luke was also writing articles for various bus magazines, taking pictures and in general pursuing his interest in all things motor-coach related. After more than 20 years with Jefferson Lines, Luke and his wife followed their heart west to Spokane, Washington, where another bus management job awaited. But it wasn't long before he turned all of his attention to his publication.

"There was a good demand for the magazine, and we went full-time in about 1974," says Luke. "It just seemed like the industry was in need of a publication they could relate to."

Relate to they did. "Our bus-maintenance seminars were very popular, and they gave me an opportunity to meet people from all over the world."

In 1996, Luke sold the magazine. But he didn't entirely retire. "It was the end of the century, and it gave me the idea to write a book about buses in the 20th Century. In my travels, I had picked up a lot of historical material, and I illustrated the book with pictures I had taken over my career. It was a fun thing to do."

"City Transit Buses of the 20th Century" and "Highway Buses of the 20th Century" became classics in bus circles, and Luke has authored or co-authored a total of 14 books. "It's been fun," says Luke. "I've been able to share a lot of pictures I've collected from different companies. They've been popular with old-time bus drivers and many of the bus companies that had historic routes."

Still riding

Luke is still riding and consulting. "My wife and I travel extensively." says Luke, who has experienced transit around the world and helped a group in Norway set up a Trailways-type of organization. He also helped found the Bus History Association. He is also proud of the scholarships his publication gave out and is happy to have been able to give back to an industry he feels has been good to him.

Luke these days is working on his memoirs — he's up to 1997, he says. Not that he doesn't still have his eye on the future. "The bus industry seems to be moving along pretty good these days, even despite the recessions. My observation is that the peaks and valleys aren't as severe as in other industries. The bus industry attracts people going to and from places to visit people. Colleges and universities depend quite a bit on bus transportation, and people use buses even while looking for work. It's about opportunity."

The roving publisher: Larry Plachno

Larry Plachno came to bus fandom via another mode of transportation. "My father was a railroad fan," says the publisher of Bus Tours and National Bus Trader magazines. "I started out as a rail fan, and by time I got to be a teen I developed an interest in buses, too."

Not to mention ships and planes. Plachno, a member of the Titanic Historic Society and one-time owner of three different airplanes, has done it all, including working for Midstate Airlines. "I used to fly charters out of O'Hare, which is why I got into buses."

Industry insider

In 1963, Plachno bought his first bus, with two partners. The partners didn't last, but his bus career did. Over the years, he worked at Glenview Bus Company, Valley Transit, Coach Travel Unlimited and Munsen's Discovery Tours. He owned Skokie Valley Lines, Executive Commuter Coach and Wisconsin Illinois Stages. He did well. At one point he acquired Greyhound's route from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to Madison, Wisconsin, when the company went on strike in the early 1980s, hanging onto to the route even after the strike ended.

He says he enjoyed running routes. But he also loved publications. "I was always a writer," says Plachno. "I started publishing in high school and it helped pay my way through college." To please his parents, he entered college as a chemistry major. Struggling, and still interested in writing and publishing, he switched his major and ended up with a degree in English and minors in Geography and Philosophy from De Paul University in Chicago.

Life in publications

In 1977, he founded National Bus Trader and, in 1979, Bus Tours Magazine. Based in Polo, Illinois, both are important industry resources. Plachno has also published several books on bus history, including the well-regarded Modern Intercity Coaches: A Review of Over-The-Road Coaches and Manufacturers Active in the United States and Canada from 1953 to 1993.

"We received a lot of compliments on that book," says Plachno. "We have many file folders of material. If I ever get around to retiring, it might be nice to convert it into pdf or an e-book."

Plachno spends a lot of time on the open road traveling with his family as well. He owns two MCI conversion coaches, a 102C3 converted by Custom Coach and an MC-9. He uses them for family trips (he has seven children) as well as mobile offices. He just returned from an 11-day family vacation to Walt Disney World, Sea World and Beverly Beach where, according to Plachno, his MCI 102C3 operated flawlessly following a complete inspection at the Des Plaines, Illinois, MCI service center prior to his trip. Plus, he says, he's always wanted to own an MC-5C. "I did have an MC-5A. It was one of the best coaches I ever owned."

Plachno is a great fan and supporter of the industry. "Like many people, we are into the moving-people scenario. It's just kind of fascinating. I've enjoyed the buses and the people. There are so many nice people in the industry that it's been a pleasure to be a part of it."

The driver-historian:

 

Doc Rushing

Go trawling the World Wide Web, and chances are you'll find a treasure trove of passionate historians whose works cannot yet be found in bookstores. One of the best is D.B. "Doc" Rushing, who has chronicled the golden years of Greyhound and Trailways operations from a mostly Tennessee-centric point of view at http://www.bluehoundsandredhounds.info, where he includes a chapter of his autobiography titled "Growing Up at Greyhound." There he details operations from 1926 to 1960, along with plenty of personal stories.

Rushing's fascination with all things buses begins with his boyhood admiration for his father, a 37-year Greyhound driver. His memories are vivid.  Rushing seemingly remembers every driver and coach model he encountered, and every route he ever rode. He says his interest started even before he was three years old, and by the age of eight he wanted a Greyhound bus of his own — to ferry his friends to school. He credits his mastery of detail to a vivid memory and says it is a reflection of the depth of his interest — maybe not so shocking for a child who knew how to double-clutch by the time he was nine.

"The entire subject area of motor coaches, the coach industries and the operations of the companies has excited me and enthralled me more than I can describe," says Rushing. "That, I think, is what we mean when we say, 'It's in my blood.'"

The lure of buses remained great through several careers. Rushing, who holds a doctorate degree, did stints as a submarine officer in the Navy, a college professor and a business owner. He drove trucks and buses on the side on and off for years but hadn't considered it as a full-time career.

Then, he says, "I stumbled across an opportunity — to indulge a lifelong passion and follow in my father's tracks as a Greyhound coach operator. A number of people gave me a hard time about what they regarded as a waste of my mind and education. True success consists of doing what one really wishes to do."

For the next three years, he says he got paid for doing something he would have paid to do. He eventually resigned to buy a truck, which he drove with his wife and co-pilot Marda, who left nursing for the road. They tried to retire in 2001, signing up with Mercy Ships, a medical organization that serves the Third World, but the retirement didn't take.

Rushing still drives today at the age of 70. His road trips have taken him all over the place, including the MCI plant in Winnipeg, where he arranged for a tour a few months back ("one of the richest and most enjoyable experiences of my life," he says). He's also toured other plants, and he regularly visits transportation museums and events during the course of his travels. "Often I stop at junkyards if I happen see the carcass of an old bus," says Rushing.

One of his recent thrills was an April reunion of Greyhound Scenicruisers. He was able to ride one one of the Super Scenicruisers from Illinois to Texas and had the "deliriously delicious joy" of driving it part of the way.

So why is he so eager to share his experiences? He writes: "After I die, and after a few other similarly inclined people die, then who will recall many of the nuggets or scraps of knowledge about many of the early happenings in the motor-coach industry?"

His friends are encouraging him to get some of his work off the Web and onto the printed page. Says Rushing, "I've begun thinking about that."

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