Installment Twenty Three
De Luxe Trailways
Indianapolis & Southeastern Trailways
Wesson Co. - Indiana Railroad Bus Lines
The story of these three companies, and in fact a number of other Midwest bus lines begins with two individuals in their early twenties who wanted jobs as bus drivers, Ben Kramer and C. J. (Clem) Villeneuve and their careers started with De Luxe Motor Stages of Illinois.
In the early 1930's the two young men, Kramer from Chicago and Villeneuve whose family had immigrated from Quebec in French Canada, were looking for a career as bus drivers. They came into contact with an early operator running from Chicago to St. Louis. Terms of employment hinged on a $500 investment by each young man, which was a great sum of money in those days. Leery of the money demand, Ben Kramer stipulated that their payment had to be secured with a lien on one of the buses. It was an astute move. Their employer took off for parts unknown along with their money. All of a sudden Kramer and Villeneuve were unemployed but at least they could fall back on the lien they had. They got legal possession of the bus and decided to operate their own bus line to St, Louis. Thus was born De Luxe Motor Stages of Illinois running from Chicago to St. Louis via Hammond, Indiana, Kankakee, and Decatur, Illinois. They shared the route with Santa Fe Trailways and All American Buslines. The De Luxe and Santa Fe routes were identical from Chicago to Decatur. Below Decatur De Luxe operated via Irving and East St. Louis and Santa Fe ran via Taylorville and Alton to St. Louis. Though not a founding member of National Trailways, De Luxe joined in the late 30's.
Rather than being bitter competitors, De Luxe and Santa Fe coexisted peacefully on the route, coordinating schedules throughout the history of the two companies. De Luxe always operated the majority of the service with Santa Fe considering their premier service out of Chicago to be their main line to Kansas City via Peoria and Quincy, Illinois. All American, restricted to interstate traffic only and strapped for cash and equipment was unable to compete and withdrew early from the market.
The Trailways members initially tried thru service from Chicago south to Memphis and Biloxi or New Orleans but competing with the Southern Limited and Dixie Greyhound routing via Paducah put the Trailways carriers at a disadvantage with their dog-leg through St. Louis cost them too much time to attract large amounts of traffic.
The natural traffic route for Trailways was the connection with Missouri Pacific through St. Louis, however the Missouri Pacific dropped out of Trailways around 1950 and began to connect with and feed their passengers to and from Greyhound, denying that feed to Trailways. In the mid-fifties though, the Missouri Pacific was ready to sell their bus line and Trammel Crowe from Little Rock purchased it, incorporating as Midwest Buslines and joined Trailways again. By the early 1960's, all of the De Luxe and Continental Central Lines (Santa Fe's successor).service between Chicago and St. Louis was part of thru service to and from Houston via Little Rock and Texarkana.
In 1941 Kramer and Villeneuve saw an opportunity to expand by purchasing another Trailways member, Empire Trailways, running from Chicago east to Columbus, Ohio via Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Lima and Marion, Ohio. Service was one round trip per day competing head-on with Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines. Equipment operated were Fitzjohn Falcon coaches.
Another purchase came in 1943 when Kramer and Villeneuve purchase Greenville-Dayton Transportation, duplicating Empire's authority between Ft, Wayne and Lima and also extending south to Dayton. Greenville-Dayton operated for a time as a Trailways member and was operated by the existing management who did a n excellent job until it was shut down due to lack of traffic. During the war years though, they did a booming business.
Another early Trailways member was Indianapolis & Southeastern Stages which was owned by an interurban railroad. In 1945 authority to acquire the local operator was received who ran service between Indianapolis and Cincinnati via Several routes. .
Service between Indianapolis and northern Indiana was provided for the Trailways system by Victory Trailways which was owned by Clem Villeneuve's brother Ray. Victory had authority from Indianapolis to Whiting, Indiana and access to Chicago was provided by running over Empire's route authority. In 1947 Victory was purchased from Ray Villeneuve and Victory and Empire were merged into Indianapolis & Southeastern Trailways. Now Trailways provided service from Chicago through to Cincinnati via Indianapolis, but at Cincinnati the only way to further was to transfer to Southeastern Greyhound Lines.
In 1948 Kramer and Villeneuve did the unthinkable, they applied for rights to operate I&S buses between Cincinnati and Knoxville, Tennessee via Frankfort, Danville and Corbin, Kentucky.. The fight would take two years for hearings which would include in excess of 400 witnesses.
Meanwhile in the 40's, passenger transportation in Indiana was undergoing vast changes from a sprawling rail interurban network to highway buses. Chief of the interurban operators was the Insull Empire's Indiana Railroad operated by their Midland Utilities. Due to deep financial troubles, the Indiana Railroad bus operation was sold in 1942 to a tool and die manufacturer in Michigan named The Wesson Company. Wesson purchased the Indiana Railroad Bus Lines as a tax shelter.
This maneuver aroused the interest of the IRS who was inclined to disallow the purchase for the tax benefit and although the Wesson Company prevailed in the case, in 1950, the Wesson Company who had no interest in being in the bus business, sold the entire operation to Kramer and Villeneuve. The purchase involved violating one of Ben Kramer's sacred rules, the taking on of debt.
I&S in 1950 had purchased a fleet of General Motors PD-4102 coaches numbered in the 400 series. The indebtedness of the Wesson purchase weighed heavily on Kramer and eventually the decision was made to sell the PD-4102 fleet to an operator in Cuba, the money from the sale being used to clear the debt and making the operation free and clear.
In May 1950, authority to operate from Cincinnati to Knoxville was granted and service began offering a Chicago to Knoxville thru route. While connections into the Carolinas were excellent, Tennessee Coach Co. Was not yet a Trailways member and it took some time to convince that Greyhound connecting carrier to coordinate their Knoxville to Atlanta service with Trailways. Early on Smoky Mountain Trailways provided some limited service between Knoxville and Atlanta over a circuitous route.
In 1951 five new GM PD-4103 buses were bought, numbered in the 500 series and in 1952 a fleet of ten PD=4103's were delivered for Wesson Co.-Indiana Railroad.
The largest event of 1952 was the start of new Thru bus service between Chicago and Miami, the Chi-ami Route with I&S, Tennessee Coach, Modern and Tamiami Trailways providing the service. At the time, and until the introduction of the Greyhound Scenicruiser in the late 1954, Trailways carriers offered the only thru service between Chicago and Miami. Because the service was operated with the newest coaches, and I&S had sold their newest buses to clear the Wesson debt, the two buses put into the pool were PD-4103's, 601 and 602 from Wesson company's order of ten. I&S's portion of the 1,625 mile route was 610 miles. Service through Kentucky was heavily restricted to protect Southeastern Greyhound's rights and looking at the amount of revenue that could be generated from very limited intrastate rights against the outrageous taxes due the State of Kentucky, the decision was made to give up all Kentucky intrastate rights and there after if you got on the bus in Kentucky, you had to disembark in at the least Ohio or Tennessee.
Once the Chi-ami route was begun, a second round trip in the late 50's was added, along with thru runs from Chicago to Charlotte, Fayetteville and Camp LeJeune and from Chicago to Charleston via Spartanburg and Columbia.
In the early 60's, with American Buslines again operating, a twice daily service between Indianapolis and Detroit was begun with Indiana Railroad running the service to Ft. Wayne and American taking the bus on to Toledo and Detroit. Equipment operating this service were Flxible Vistaliner 100's.
The principle route of Indiana Railroad Bus Lines was from Ft, Wayne over two routes to Indianapolis and then to Terre-Haute. They also operated Ft. Harrison Bus Lines, an extensive commuter service from Indianapolis to Ft, Harrison .and had an additional route that for years ran once a week on Sunday between Muncie and Louisville. This route crossed I&S at Greensburg, Indiana and in 1969 a new thru route was begun from Detroit to the southeast via Ft. Wayne, Louisville, Leitchfield, Nashville and Huntsville, where two schedules went on to Birmingham and one went to Atlanta. The route involved coordinating operation by six bus companies, Continental American, Indiana Railroad Bus Lines, I&S, Kentucky Bus Lines, Continental Tennessee and Continental Crescent Lines. It was run with Silver Eagles with three round trips a day going into Detroit.
.In 1987 the Chi-ami Route was going strong. I&S was running brand new Model 10 Eagles as their part of the pool, now numbered in the five digit 73000 series when their world was stood on end, Trailways Inc. Was sold to Greyhound. The Knoxville to Miami 1,000 mile segment of the route was gone.
For a number of reasons, Greyhound's Fred Currey offered I&S and De Luxe a new concept, "revenue sharing." Essentially, while I&S and De Luxe both continued to provide buses and drivers, the entire remainder of the operational responsibilities fell to Greyhound, who made all the decisions. Ben Kramer was simply guaranteed a percentage of the revenue based on their percentage of the entire Greyhound-Trailways service levels at the time of the contract.
The next ten years saw the ending of charter service at Cincinnati and the loss of service to all of I&S's local points between Knoxville and Chicago in Kentucky and Indiana. De Luxe's authority was folded into I&S, now called Southeastern Trailways, Inc., and in 1998 the entire line operation was sold to Greyhound. The De Luxe charter operation run by Ben's son Mike Kramer in Chicago was closed down. What remains is a charter operation in Indianapolis run by Marty Kramer, still running under the name Southeastern Trailways, Inc. Clem Villeneuve passed away years ago and finally Ben Kramer died at Sun City, Arizona, just a few years ago. John Morley who functioned as Vice President of I&S from 1946 on when asked about the two men said, "they were absolutely the finest people I could ever ask to work for."
...And if you think we've mentioned all their bus activities, we didn't even touch on Peoria-Rockford Bus Co., Blue Bird Coach Lines, West Suburban Transit Lines, etc.
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Installment Twenty Four
The beginnings of Virginia Stage Lines came on March 21, 1925, the date of its organization and incorporation, with offices and garage at Louisa. However, the founders were not the Jessup family who are so closely associated with Virginia Stage Lines, but with four individuals, J. W. Walker, Jr., P. B. Porter, W. S. Pettit and John O. Rhodes, Jr. The original route of the company was from Culpeper down U.S. Hwy. 15 through Orange to Gordonsville, then over U.S. Hwy. 33 to Richmond.
Meanwhile, in 1924, Claude Jessup had begun bus service from Charlottesville to Crozet, about 11 miles west of Charlottesville and halfway to Waynesboro. Claude's father, Samuel A. Jessup, a wealthy Charlottesville businessman with various interests, purchased a substantial interest in the young Virginia Stage Lines in September 1926 Claude's operation to Crozet was combined into Virginia Stage Lines and the offices were moved from Louisa to Charlottesville, where Sam Jessup oversaw his other businesses. With the move, Claude was named general manager of the combined company.
The two routes were linked by a connecting line between Charlottesville and a point known as Mechanicsville Junction and the service to Culpeper was extended to Washington, DC via Warrenton and Centerville. This gave the company three distinct routes: Washington to Charlottesville, Richmond to Charlottesville, and Claude Jessup's original route, Charlottesville to Crozet.
About 1929, Fisher Brothers' line was purchased which extended service to Staunton and a new service was begun from Charlottesville to Harrisonburg. During 1932 a brief attempt was made to extend from Richmond to the tidewater area at Norfolk, but Virginia was unable to make any competitive inroads against Peninsula Rapid Transit who ran service over two routes. Many years later, when Peninsula was merged into Richmond Greyhound Lines, Peninsula's route from Richmond to Norfolk on the south side of the James River had to be given up as a condition of the sale, but the route went not to Virginia, but to Carolina Coach.
In late 1932, Piedmont Bus Corp. Was purchased. This eliminated competition between Washington and Charlottesville and also added Piedmont's's route down U.S. Hwy. 29 to Lynchburg. Very quickly, American Bus Lines was acquired bringing their route between Lynchburg and Danville and in 1934, American's management sold them Lynchburg-Durham Bus Lines The Durham line was sold in North Carolina and leased in Virginia to Southern Passenger Motor Lines who was a competitor over the route, giving Southern Passenger full rights in both Virginia and North Carolina.
The year 1934 also saw a new connecting line started between Warrenton and Elkton, allowing for through service over the new route to Washington. Other route extensions were Centerville-Manassas, Luray-New Market, Montpelier-Richmond via Ashland, and Lynchburg-Forks of Ivy. These plus the afore
mentioned routes were all part of Virginia Stage Lines on June 1, 1935 and thus were grand fathered under the Interstate Commerce Act, under MC59238, issued on June 15, 1937.
There were a few other routes that didn't qualify. Those were continued and later ICC authority for them was obtained. The most important of these routes was between Richmond and Fredericksburg over U.S. Hwy. 301. The line was acquired in November 1935 from Bristow Brothers who ran it as an intrastate operation. Virginia continued to operate it on that basis until in April 1935 when a connecting Fredericksburg-Manassas link made possible through service between Richmond and Washington, DC The other two routes which were disqualified under ICC "grandfather" certificate were Staunton-Clifton Forge and the route from Lynchburg to Durham which was being leased to Southern Passenger. Virginia Stage Lines owned the Virginia rights and Southern Passenger owned the North Carolina rights, a fact that also kept Southern Passenger from becoming an interstate carrier. The problem of the Lynchburg-Durham route would be solved in 1936 with Virginia's purchase of Southern Passenger. The ICC took two years to approve the purchase and Virginia's operation of the route was, in fact, illegal for two years, but these defacto mergers were common in the late 30's.
By 1938, interstate rights over the Fredericksburg-Richmond line was also approved making that operation legal too, as well as a route from Gainesville to Front Royal.
Through the 30's Virginia Stage Lines along with the forerunner of Safeway Trails, Carolina Coach, Adirondack Transit and others had been operating as part of Vanderbilt's Short Line System. However Greyhound purchased several large components of this system which had the effect of disabling this alliance as a competitor (much like they would do to Trailways years later) and in 1938, Virginia Stage Lines joined the National Trailways Bus System. In 1937 the Jessup family had become a major shareholder in Safeway Trails, and along with Virginia, Safeway and Carolina also joined Trailways.
The 1940's found Virginia Trailways operating a 2,000 mile system, but the weakest link was their route between Richmond and Washington which was routes circuitously through Manassas. It was 17 miles farther and half an hour longer than Richmond Greyhound's direct service over U.S. Hwy. 1. Between Fredericksburg and Richmond, Virginia's route over 301 was parallel and just as good as Greyhound's route on U.S. Hwy/1, but north of Fredericksburg there was no parallel route. In 1946, the ICC granted Virginia the right to use U.S. Hwy. 1, but operating with closed doors, thus improving their competitive position.
After the war, Virginia scrambled to add bigger and newer buses and Aerocoaches, Brills and GM buses were purchased. At the same time the Jessup family acquired the city transit companies in Roanoke, and Lynchburg, VA and Wilmington, NC, and was added to other Jessup holdings like the Pepsi Cola Bottling Co. Of Virginia and the tourist attraction at Natural Bridge.
The last link of the far flung system was added in 1953 when operating rights between Lynchburg and Roanoke through Bedford were awarded. Virginia had already acquired some local routes in southwestern Virginia to points like Hillsville and Galax, and there was some realignment of service as Roanoke came on line.
In December 1955, Virginia Stage Lines acquired the stock of Jack Crafts bus line begun in 1930, Consolidated Bus Lines. Craft was a colorful operator who had built a bus line beginning with sedan cars running local service in West Virginia into an operation which stretched from Roanoke westward through West Virginia, Kentucky and extending to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a very large and prosperous company, originally with operations centered around Logan, Welch and Bluefield, they extended into Roanoke in the late 30's which stretched his company from Huntington to Roanoke.
In 1954, Consolidated joined the Trailways association concurrent with their purchase of GM's new 4104 diesels. Then in 1955, urged on by Trailways members, Consolidated purchased a 150 mile long company running west out of Huntington to Cincinnati that had been around since the mid-20's, Blue Ribbon Lines. A new thru service called the Anthracite Route was started, connecting Washington and Cincinnati where it connected with Indianapolis & Southeastern Trailways for Chicago. Chief competitor between DC and Cincinnati was Capitol Greyhound who used highway 50 giving them hours better running times.
Unlike Virginia, which was not unionized, Consolidated's drivers were unionized and represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union. Although one company after the sale, the two divisions would remain union and non-union until the sale of Virginia to Continental Trailways. With the sale came only Consolidated's GM diesel equipment, models PDA-4101, PD-4103 and PD-4104. Only the 4101's and 4104's, though actually operated for Virginia, the 4103's were sold by the Jessup's to New Jersey's Royal Blue Coaches.
Meanwhile, in 1954, the Asleton Brother's Trailways of New England filed for reorganization under the bankruptcy laws. Despite their intentions, the hard partying Asleton's weren't able to rescue their foundering company and in 1956, Virginia Trailways and Safeway Trailways purchased Trailways of New England for $102,000 cash and $80,000 in outstanding debenture bonds. Because the Jessups already owned 25% of Safeway, they ended up technically owning 75% of TNE. Virginia also transferred six nearly brand new Flxible VL-100 buses to TNE.
The passing of Sam Jessup in 1960 heralded the start on a busy decade. Claude Jessup succeeded his father and Burkett Reynolds became Virginia's general manager.
In 1964 Virginia and Queen City Coach Co., another Trailways member, purchased the bus operating assets of Hamish Turner. With the acquisition came Carolina Scenic Stages, Coastal Stages Corp., Gray Line of Charleston and Southeastern Motor Lines. Immediately necessary was an infusion of more modern equipment from both company's fleets and then regular new purchases from GM.
The following year, 1965, saw two more cooperative ventures. First, Virginia, Smoky Mountain Stages and Continental Tennessee Lines each purchased one-third of Tennessee Coach Co., creating a new company called Tennessee Trailways, Inc. Always a profitable company, Tennessee now meant that Claude Jessup was directly involved in the management of bus lines stretching from Portland, Maine to Knoxville, TN and Atlanta, GA.
The second venture was to rescue Service Coach Lines, an important key in Trailways north-south Atlantic States Route from Maine to Miami. Service Coach was slipping into bankruptcy and Virginia, Carolina Coach and Tamiami Trailways each went together for a third of the company. Again each company had to immediately infuse Service Coach's operation with both money and equipment.
In 1968, a deal which had been underway for several years, was approved by the ICC, and saw Claude Jessup sell all his bus interests to Dallas based Continental Bus System. The deal involved both cash and stock and Claude Jessup was elected chairman of the board of Continental based on the amount of stock he owned.
In 1969 the office was relocated from Charlottesville to Washington, DC. Carl Harmon became Virginia's head and Continental was sold to Holiday Inns of America. Virginia Stage Lines as a corporation survived the sale from Holiday Inns to Pittsburgh financier Henry Hillman and virtually up to the collapse of the organization and sale to Fred Currey's Greyhound in the late 80's.
Worthy of note is Virginia's operation of Trailways' signature Five Star Service. Virginia operated two routes a various times. The original foray into Five Stars was with GM 4104 buses and operated between Washington and Norfolk with Carolina Trailways operating the service from Richmond to Norfolk. It is not clear whether Virginia actually had any of its own buses configured as Five Stars or used Safeway buses. Carolina used other carriers buses and hostesses.
In 1969, Five Star service was inaugurated between Washington and Atlanta with Virginia, Carolina, Queen City and Smoky Mountain as participants in the thru route. This service was run with square look 05 Eagles and Virginia had one Golden Eagle, 34301. Queen City and Smoky Mountain also had one bus each. Again, Carolina did not have any of their own equipment. All the hostesses were employed by Queen City and worked out of Charlotte. The service was a twelve hour run, was the fastest bus service between Washington and Atlanta and was very popular.
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