Andrew Turnbull presents

The History of School Transportation in Mercer County, WV

1936-63 - 1963-74 - 1974-84 - 1984-91 - 1991-97 - 1997-2003


1963-67

After several years with Blue Bird, Mercer County in the early 1960s turned to the Wayne Corporation of Richmond, Indiana (via the Baker Company, an intermediary dealership) as its preferred school bus body supplier. Beginning in 1964, the Wayne bodies featured boxy styling that looked very unorthodox by the standards of the time. The county's fleet numbers reached 200 the same year.

school bus

Five recently-acquired Wayne/Ford buses (and one Wayne/Chevrolet) pose for a group shot in Princeton in 1964. Strangely, the Ford chassis are 1963 models bearing a 1963-specific horizontal bar grille...suggesting that either Wayne was a year late delivering the buses, the Wayne factory was overstocked with year-old Ford chassis, or the newspaper slipped up and published a year-old photo. The buses also lack central clearance markers, suggesting that West Virginia slacked off on its lighting requirements in this timeframe. No fleet numbers are visible, but these buses would have borne numbers in the 190s. [BDT 1964-10-01]

school bus

#197, a 1964 Wayne. At the time of this photo, the bus was fourteen years old and had almost certainly been relegated to grounds storage or maintenance purposes. The bus also bears an early, low-numbered example of West Virginia's current white-on-red "County" licence plate design, which had just recently come into use in 1964. [Bluefield High School yearbook, 1978]

school bus school bus

#200, a 1964 Wayne/Ford model, features a notably-revised front body with a squarer and more modern roof cap. This amazingly well-preserved specimen has been sitting in place for more than 40 years, and it might be the oldest Mercer County school bus that's still in existence. [Photos by the author, 2013]

school bus

Fleet number 204 is plainly visible on the far end of yet another group shot of the school board's latest vehicles and their drivers. Wayne's body design seemed to evolve on a year-by-year basis in the mid-1960s, with these 1965 models appending new squared rear styling to match the front. Mercer County also began to alternate between Ford and Dodge chassis from year to year, with 1965's new buses falling into the Dodge camp. [BDT 1965-10-17]

school bus school bus

It is probable that the bus depicted in both of these images is #214, a 1966 Wayne/Ford example. A later Blue Bird/Chevrolet is visible in the background of the second picture. [Princeton High School yearbook, 1969 and 1972]

school bus

Yet another 1960s Wayne bus of unknown chassis and model year served as the backdrop for this yearbook photo of Athens school bus drivers. Note that a side emergency exit is visible just fore of the rear wheel...a very proactive safety feature for 1967. [Athens High School yearbook, 1967]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
191
1963
Wayne
Chevrolet
48
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
192
1963
Wayne Ford 60

193
1963
Wayne Ford 60

194
1963
Wayne
Ford 60
Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
195
1963
Wayne
Ford 60
Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
196
1963
Wayne Ford 60

197
1964
Wayne Ford? 60
Served Glenwood.
198
1964
Wayne? Ford 60
Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
199
1964
Wayne? Ford 60
Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
200
1964
Wayne
Ford
60
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
202
1964 Wayne
Ford
60
Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
203
1965 Wayne?
Dodge 60 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
204
1965 Wayne Dodge 60 Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
205
1965 Wayne? Dodge 60 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
206
1965 Wayne? Dodge 60 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
207
1965 Wayne? Dodge 66
Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
208
1965 Wayne? Dodge 66 Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
209
1965 Wayne? Dodge 66 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
210
1965
Wayne? Dodge
66 Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
211
1966 Wayne?
Ford 66 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
212
1966 Wayne? Ford?

213
1966 Wayne? Ford 66 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
214
1966 Wayne? Ford?
Served Princeton.
215
1966
Wayne? Ford 66 Decommissioned and sold in 1979.

1967-70

school bus

Newly-acquired Mercer County school buses with Wayne bodies await service in the summer of 1967. The fleet number "221" is visible on the fifth bus from the left, implying that the lot may have consisted of #217 through #225. One appears to be equipped with an air horn. All have Chevrolet chassis aside from #217 at the left end, which is a Dodge. 1967 was the first production year for this particular design of General Motors bus chassis, which had an incredibly long production life. Indeed, more than two decades later Mercer County would acquire some 1990 Ward/GMC buses that retained the exact same dashboard as these 1967 examples! [BDT 1967-08-31]

school bus

#231, a 66-passenger 1968 Wayne/Chevrolet model. An earlier 1963 or 1964 Wayne with a fleet number in the 190s is visible in the distance. [Bluefield High School yearbook, 1969]

school bus

The challenge of marking buses in accordance with West Virginia's 1949 state law remained an issue without resolve in 1971. The state seemed to foster a new solution to its marking requirements every few years...and by 1971, it was painting the word "STOP" across the central panel of emergency doors in a fashion identical to what is still done in Ohio today. Transportation director Randy Robinette is visible at left, posing with a Wayne bus in what feels like a re-creation of this photo from 1949. [BDT 1971-03-21]

school bus

Yet another Wayne/Chevrolet of unknown fleet number and manufacture, hailing from Mercer County. Black fenders had been a standard characteristic of West Virginia school buses from the 1930s on; however, this bus appears to have had its fenders repainted yellow for superior visibility in a mid-1970s refurbishment. [Bluefield High School yearbook, 1976]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
217
1967 Wayne
Dodge
36
Decommissioned and sold in 1979.
218
1967 Wayne
Chevrolet

Served Athens, Princeton.
221
1967 Wayne Chevrolet
Served Montcalm, Bramwell.
222
1967 Wayne Chevrolet

223
1967 Wayne Chevrolet

224
1967
Wayne Chevrolet

225
1967
Wayne Chevrolet
Served Athens, Glenwood.
226
1968?
Wayne? Chevrolet?

Served Spanishburg.
230

Wayne? Unknown

231
1968
Wayne Chevrolet 66
Served Bluefield, Bluewell.
232

Wayne? Unknown

233

Wayne? Unknown
Served Bluefield.
234

Wayne? Unknown
Served Athens.
235

Wayne? Unknown
Served Montcalm.
236
1969
Wayne
Chevrolet
20
Decommissioned and sold in 1977.
238

Wayne? Unknown
Served Bluefield.
239

Wayne? Unknown
Served Princeton.
240

Wayne? Unknown
Served Princeton.
241

Wayne? Unknown
Served Princeton.
243

Wayne? Unknown
Served Athens, Princeton.

1970-72

The biggest developments effecting school transportation in Mercer County at the dawn of the 1970s came in the field of special education. Enrolment and staffing of the county's Special Education Program had expanded dramatically in the late 1960s as awareness of the needs of exceptional students grew...and with this awareness and expansion came an acute need to arrange transportation. In response, the county acquired a small fleet of specially-equipped "buses" made from off-the-shelf vehicles. One of these was acquired in February 1970, and consisted of a four-door International Travelall wagon retrofitted with a raised roof, school bus livery, and warning flashers.

"Nonconforming" trucks and vans would later lose favour with schools due to safety concerns and the need to accommodate wheelchairs. By the late 1980s, Mercer County had replaced its fleet of Travelalls with short conventional buses equipped with seatbelts and wheelchair lifts.

school bus

Q: When is a school bus not a school bus? A: When it's a 1970 International Travelall! This vehicle bore the fleet number 246, and also appeared in a photo published in the 1973 Bluefield High School yearbook. [BDT 1970-02-25]

The county didn't forget about full-size buses...though here too, change was in the air with a shift away from the Wayne-only homogeneity of the previous seven years. 8 Chevrolet-chassis vehicles were purchased in 1970 with Wayne and Blue Bird bodies, followed by 8 Blue Birds with Dodge and International chassis the following year. Diesel buses were investigated for consideration in 1972, but the proposal was not carried through. Diesels would eventually have their due, but not until later in the decade.

The early 1970s would also be marked by tragedy: In June 1971, Mercer County transportation director Randy Robinette died of an apparent heart attack at age 51. Succeeding him was chief mechanic Harold Lytton, who would oversee the county's school transportation for the rest of the decade.

school bus

At the dawn of the 1970s, school buses in West Virginia began to bear black contrast paint around the flashers in order to afford better contrast and visibility for the signals. Mercer County continued to purchase school buses with Wayne bodies in this era, but they no longer made up the sole consist of fleet additions as they had in the 1960s. No fleet number is visible on this bus, but it's likely a 1970 66-passenger model built on a Chevrolet chassis. [Matoaka High School yearbook, 1972]

school bus

Lurking in the background of this group photo is a Blue Bird bus bearing the 4-way flasher arrangement, plain yellow flanks, and emergency door lettering that were all characteristic of West Virginia school buses at the time. The full fleet number is not discernable from the image, but it appears to be in the 260s...which pinpoints the bus as a 1971 model at earliest. [Matoaka High School yearbook, 1972]

school bus

#258, a 1971 Blue Bird/International bus, appeared as a dusty background element in this 1980s yearbook photo. At some point in the decade the county began adding front-facing fleet numbers to its buses, and this number is visible here next to the driver's-side headlight. [Bramwell High School yearbook, 1981]

school bus

Although this image is rather blurry and does not have a fleet number visible, it's a tantalizing glimpse at a rare configuration: A Dodge chassis with a Thomas body, hailing from sometime between 1970 and 1973. This picture is the only evidence the author has found of Thomas buses being operated in Mercer County prior to the 2000s. [Matoaka High School yearbook, 1975]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
246
1970
(Modified Travelall) International
Served Bluefield, Princeton?
247




Served Athens.
250




Served Matoaka.
251




Served Bluefield, Matoaka.
252




Served Matoaka.
253




Served Athens.
254




Served Oakvale, Bluefield.
255




Served Bluefield.
256




Served Glenwood.
257




Served Princeton.
258
1971 Blue Bird International
Served Bluefield, Bramwell.
259




Served Spanishburg.
260
1971?


Served Athens, Princeton, Matoaka.
262




Served Princeton, Matoaka.
263




Served Princeton.
Little detailed information is known about buses from this period.

1972-74

The Mercer County school bus fleet became more and more diverse as the 1970s progressed. 1972 brought about the delivery of the county's first buses from the Carpenter Body Works in Mitchell, Indiana. In 1973, the Mercer County Board of Education purchased 11 buses in five capacities. Each capacity configuration was treated as an independent bid, so the county ended up purchasing five different chassis-body combinations: Chevrolet, Carpenter/International, Blue Bird/International, Blue Bird/Ford, and Blue Bird All American Type D.

school bus school bus

#268, a 66-passenger 1972 Carpenter/International model. Carpenter school bus bodies through this year of manufacture featured a distinctive windshield design that peaked in the centre, and this is present here. Also visible is the Ohio-like "STOP/State Law" lettering that West Virginia was still keeping up at the time, though this practice had ceased by 1977. [Bluefield High School yearbook, 1973]

school bus

Another 1972 International/Carpenter school bus appears buried in the background of this 1983 Princeton yearbook shot. The county turned over vehicles rapidly in this era, so it's a bit surprising to see that a then 11-year-old bus was still in active use! It also bears evidence of later modifications: This bus wouldn't have been equipped with a passenger-side crossover mirror in 1972, nor would the fenders have originally been painted yellow. [Princeton High School yearbook, 1983]

school bus

A 36-passenger Carpenter/International school bus on duty in Bluefield in the mid-1970s. This bus appears to be specifically a 1973 model due to the level upper windshield edge and the lack of amber flashers. Though 8-way red/amber flashers were still a year away from being implemented in West Virginia, black backgrounds had already been added to the red flashers to afford better contrast. This bus appears to have borne the fleet number 274. [Bluefield High School yearbook, 1976]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
266




Served Oakvale, Princeton.
267




Served Bluefield.
268
1972 Carpenter International 66 Served Bluefield, Oakvale.
270




Served Princeton.
271




Served Princeton, Montcalm.
272




Served Oakvale.
273
1973
Carpenter
International 36
Served Princeton. May have later been repurposed as a maintenance vehicle. Sold in 1993.
274
1973
Carpenter
International
36
May have later been repurposed as a maintenance vehicle. Sold in 1993.
275




Served Princeton.
276




Served Princeton. Replaced by 395 in 1985.
277




Served Bramwell, Athens. Replaced by 398 in 1985.
278




Served Glenwood, Bramwell.

Continued...






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