Andrew Turnbull presents

The History of School Transportation in Mercer County, WV

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


1974-75

In January 1974, the West Virginia Board of Education revised its safety standards to require padded seatbacks and 8-way flashers with red and amber lenses on new school buses. On both fronts, the state was laudably ahead of the curve on safety trends. Safety features were also retrofitted to older buses, as described by director Harold Lytton in the 25 Aug. 1974 Bluefield Daily Telegraph: "We have installed beeper sound alarms, backup lights, and front crossover mirrors on most of our buses as a special safety feature for backing up and children crossing in front of the buses." 8-way flashers may have also been eventually retrofitted to a proportion of the pre-1974 buses still in service, but the extent of this is unknown. Seven new buses were acquired, with the body contract split between Carpenter and Blue Bird.

school bus

#279, a 1974 Blue Bird, was undoubtedly one of the very first school buses equipped to West Virginia's new and more stringent safety specifications of that year. The most visible evidence of this are the 8-way red/amber flashers, mounted here within individual square buckets. The seatbacks also have padding that extends slightly above the line of the windows. [Princeton High School yearbook, 1980]

school bus

A Blue Bird/International school bus photographed in 1977. Although no fleet number is visible, the body characteristics and newly-required 8-way flashers almost certainly also peg this specimen as a 1974 model...though from a different production lot, with combined oblong buckets for the red and amber flashers. [Bluefield High School yearbook, 1977]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
279
1974 Blue Bird International?
Served Bluefield, Glenwood. Replaced by 401 in 1985.
280




Served Ceres.
281




Served Princeton.
282




Served Oakvale, Montcalm, Matoaka.
283




Served Bluefield, Princeton.
284




Served Princeton.
285




Served Montcalm.
287




Served Glenwood.
288




Served Bluefield.
289




Served Princeton, Bluefield.
290




Served Athens, Bramwell. Replaced by 393 in 1985.
291




Served Princeton.
292




Served Oakvale, Glenwood, Bluefield.
293




Served Athens, Oakvale.
Little detailed information is known about buses from this period.

1975-77

Though the exact year is unknown, West Virginia in the mid-1970s discontinued its 1930s-holdover practice of painting the front fenders of school buses black. The reasoning was undoubtedly for safety and visibility: Black fenders visually "blended in" to surrounding streetscapes and vegetation, whereas yellow fenders were plainly visible and clearly demarcated the corners of the bus. By the end of the decade, a fair number of older buses in Mercer County had also had their fenders repainted yellow.

In a change from past practices, the district in 1975 participated in a statewide school bus purchasing pool. Ten buses were acquired by Mercer County in late 1975 for 1976 delivery, all apparently with Blue Bird bodies.

school bus

#294, a circa-1975 Carpenter, making its rounds near Matoaka in 1977. Amber flashers are barely visible on the black-highlighted areas of the roof cap, offering indubitable proof of this bus's status as a post-1973 model. [BDT 1977-04-30]

school bus

#313, a 1976 Blue Bird on duty. A vertical pole is visible inside, indicating that the bus was produced prior to the advent of 1977 safety standards dictating padded "compartmentalization" barriers forward of the frontmost seats. [Bramwell High School yearbook, 1982]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
294
1975?
Carpenter
International?

Served Matoaka.
295




Served Bluefield.
297




Served Princeton, Bluewell. Replaced by 400 in 1985.
298




Served Athens, Glenwood. Replaced by either 399 or 415.
299




Served Princeton, Spanishburg, Matoaka. Replaced by 403 in 1985. Last 200-series bus in regular service.
301




Served Montcalm, Spanishburg. Replaced by 397 in 1985.
302




Served Spanishburg, Matoaka. Replaced by 404 in 1985.
303




Served Princeton. Replaced by 411 in 1986.
304




Served Oakvale, Bluefield. Replaced by 412 in 1986.
305




Served Bramwell, Bluefield.
306




Served Princeton, Bluefield.
309




Served Matoaka.
311




Served Princeton, Montcalm. Replaced by 406 in 1986.
312




Served Princeton, Matoaka.
313
1976 Blue Bird International?
Served Bluefield, Bramwell. Replaced by 394 in 1985.
314




Served Bluefield, Princeton.
315




Served Spanishburg. Replaced by 408 in 1986.
316




Served Athens, Matoaka. Replaced by 409 in 1986.
Little detailed information is known about buses from this period.

1977-79

In April 1977 the U.S. federal standard known as FMVSS 222 went into effect, mandating features in school buses such as high-back "compartmentalized" seats and perimeter frame cages around fuel tanks in order to enhance crash safety. These standards had repercussions that became dramatically apparent in later years. In the wake of the 1988 Carrollton bus disaster, the neighbouring state of Virginia demanded that all pre-1977 school buses be retired by 1992. Tazewell County (adjacent to Mercer) was put into a crunch, tasked with the chore of having to replace 40% of its bus fleet on short notice.

There was no such crunch in Mercer County, West Virginia: The district's last pre-1977 buses were decommissioned by the late 1980s. West Virginia had also been ahead of the curve on safety, requiring side emergency exits as early as the 1960s and padded seatbacks in 1974...a manifestation of the socially-conscious and progressive reputation the state (sometimes) enjoyed before West Virginia's racist and religious elements made a mockery of it all.

Seven new buses were purchased in 1977, split between gasoline-powered Wayne conventionals and diesel-powered Blue Bird transits. These were Mercer County's very first diesel buses, chosen as part of a trial run "to experiment for effectiveness."

This year's Wayne buses may have been the first operated by the district to feature their maker's innovative "Lifeguard" body design, characterized by seamless longitudinal body panels and tall aluminum-frame windows.

school bus

#321, a 1977 Wayne/International model, could very well have been the very last gasoline-engine bus in Mercer County's fleet. The plain flanks and yellow rub rails of West Virginia's pre-1980s school bus livery are very much in evidence here, as well as a framed and illuminated "School Bus" sign...a feature that briefly appeared in the state specification for a few years in this timeframe. [Photo by the author, 2013]

school bus

Yet another Wayne/International of similar era; possibly a sister bus to the last. The lumpy cowl line indicates that this bus features a 1978 or earlier International Loadstar chassis...but it probably isn't much older than that. [Princeton High School yearbook, 1985]

school bus

#323, a 1977 Blue Bird All American transit-style model, as seen during an evacuation demonstration. This bus was one of the very first in the county with high-back "compartmentalized" seats that rose above the window line. Another feature that links this bus squarely to its era of manufacture is the rounded edge of the rearmost side window, abandoned on new Blue Bird production by 1979.

Note the illuminated "School Bus" sign. The bus also has an illuminated "BACKING" sign below the left-side taillights, which was a feature that appeared off and on through the 1970s without any real consistency. [BDT 1983-10-09]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
317
1977? Wayne? International?
Served Athens, Spanishburg. Replaced by 439 in 1988.
318
1977? Wayne? International?
Served Princeton.
319
1977?
Wayne? International?
Served Princeton. Replaced by 416 in 1986.
320
1977
Wayne?
International?

Served Princeton. Replaced by 422 in 1987.
321
1977
Wayne
International
66
Served Matoaka, Athens. Replaced by 423 in 1987. Decommissioned and sold in 1993. Possibly the last gasoline bus in the fleet.
322
1977
Blue Bird
(Type D)
72
Served Oakvale, Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 1990.
323
1977
Blue Bird (Type D) 72
Served Bluefield, Melrose. Decommissioned and sold in 1990.
324
1978
unknown International
48
Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
326
1978 unknown International?
Served Matoaka.
327
1978 unknown International?
Served Princeton. Replaced by 426 in 1987.
328
1978 unknown International 66
Served Oakvale, Spanishburg. Replaced by 427 in 1987. Decommissioned and sold in 1990.
329
1978 unknown International 66
Served Bluefield, Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 1990.
330
1978 unknown International 66
Served Princeton, Athens. Replaced by 429 in 1987. Decommissioned and sold in 1990.
331
1978 unknown International?
Served Glenwood, Bramwell. Replaced by 421 in 1987.
332
1978 unknown International?
Served Oakvale, Montcalm.

1979-81

1979 was the year in which International Harvester unveiled a completely redesigned line of medium-duty trucks and chassis-cowls. Dubbed the S-series, the new line replaced the venerable Loadstar of 1963-78 and featured rectilinear styling with a standard flip hood. It also made its first appearance in the Mercer County bus fleet in time for the 1979-80 school year. Wayne Corporation furnished the bodies. These would be the last Wayne-bodied buses the county school board would acquire for nearly a decade.

In addition to changes in school bus styling, Mercer County also underwent changes in school bus personnel. Upon transportation director Harold Lytton's retirement in 1979, his duties were assumed by Robert Bailey, then by Jim Akers following Bailey's 1980 promotion to director of vocational education. Energy conservation was likely the dominant theme of directorial conversations in these years.

school bus

A representative example of one of the county's 1979 Wayne/International 66-passenger buses. The fleet number of this bus is unclear, but it might be 339. The dark speck above the entrance door is a stencilled roof logo for Indian Head Corporation, Wayne's corporate owner. [BDT 1989-05-20]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
333
1979
Wayne?
International?
48?
Served Princeton. Replaced by 434 in 1988.
334
1979
Wayne?
International?
48?
Served Matoaka.
335
1979
Wayne International
66
Served Oakvale. Replaced by 437 in 1988. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
336
1979 Wayne International 66
Served Princeton, Bluefield. Replaced by 441 in 1988. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
337
1979 Wayne International 66
Served Matoaka. Replaced by 435 in 1988. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
338
1979 Wayne International 66
Served Bluefield, Glenwood. Replaced by 442 in 1988. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
339
1979 Wayne International 66
Served Princeton. Replaced by 443 in 1988. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
340
1979 Wayne International 66
Served Spanishburg. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
341
1979 Wayne International 66
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
342
1979 Wayne
International 66
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
343
1980 Wayne? Chevrolet?
32
Served Spanishburg.
344
1980 Wayne? Chevrolet? 32
Served Athens.
345
1980
Wayne?
Chevrolet
32
Decommissioned and sold in 1991. Last Chevrolet bus confirmed for the district.
346
1979
Blue Bird
(Type D)
88
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
348
1980
Wayne? International
47
Served Athens. Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
349
1980
Wayne? International 47
Decommissioned and sold in 1991.
350
1980
Wayne?
International 47
Decommissioned and sold in 1991.

1981-82

Interestingly, Mercer County's conventional bus orders in 1981 appear to have been split between two manufacturers: Ward, and Carpenter. Ward School Bus Manufacturing of Conway, Arkansas was in dire financial straits at the end of the 1970s and was forced to suspend production under Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 1980. Although the assets of Ward were subsequently restructured as AmTran, the Mercer County school board may have had difficulty securing deliveries of Ward buses in the aftermath and was thus "forced" to go with Carpenter as a second-source alternative. These were likely the last Carpenter buses ever acquired by the district. This batch was also the last to be decked out in West Virginia's archaic "all-yellow" pre-1980s school bus livery, with no contrast paint on rub rails.

By 1981, Mercer County had fully switched from gasoline engines to diesel engines on new buses. Diesels had numerous advantages for school bus applications including greater torque, durability, and economy. The last point was a sticking point of major significance...and the county likely solidified its decision to convert when the 1979 energy crisis cast its ready access to gasoline into question.

school bus

#355, a 1981 Ward/International model. The focus of this photograph was on an obsolete bridge requiring school bus riders to dismount and reboard to avoid overloading the structure. [BDT 1984-09-14]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
351
1981 Ward?
International
65
Served Montcalm. Replaced by 444 in 1989. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
352
1981 Ward? International 65
Served Montcalm. Replaced by 425 or 445? Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
353
1981 Ward? International 65
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
354
1981 Ward? International 65
Served Oakvale. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
355
1981 Ward
International 65
Served Oakvale. Replaced by 448 in 1989. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
356
1981 Blue Bird
(Type D)
89
Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
357
1981 Carpenter
International 47
Served Glenwood. Likely later repurposed as a maintenance vehicle. Sold in 1999.
358
1981 Carpenter International 47
Served Spanishburg. Replaced by 454 in 1989. Later repurposed as a maintenance vehicle. Sold in 1999.
359
1981 Carpenter? International 47
Served Bluewell. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
360
1981 Carpenter? International 47
Served Athens. Replaced by 463 in 1990. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
361
1981 Carpenter? International 71
Served Montcalm. Replaced by 456 in 1990. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
362
1981 Carpenter? International 71
Served Princeton. Replaced by 457 in 1990. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
363
1981
Carpenter? International 71
Served Princeton. Replaced by 458 in 1990. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.

1982-83

West Virginia's school buses looked different in 1982. Rub rails were now painted black for greater conspicuity, lending a "bumblebee" appearance that contrasted with the plain yellow flanks that 1960s and 1970s buses had. 1982 may have also been the year the state dropped the backlit "School Bus" sign as a requirement. The county's body contract was awarded to Blue Bird this year via its Blue Bird East division in Buena Vista, Virginia.

school bus

A brand-new 1982 Blue Bird All American Type D bus with black rub rails waits between older Ward and Blue Bird buses with yellow rails at Bluefield High School. The fleet number of the bus is unclear, but it might be 370. [BDT 1982-09-05]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
364
1982
Blue Bird?
International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
365
1982 Blue Bird? International 71
Served Athens. Replaced by 461 in 1990. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
366
1982 Blue Bird? International 71
Served Athens. Replaced by 460 in 1990. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
367
1982 Blue Bird? International 47
Served Spanishburg. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
369
1982 Blue Bird International
47
Front wheelchair lift. Later repurposed as a maintenance vehicle.
370
1982 Blue Bird?
Type D?


371
1982 Blue Bird (Type D)
89
Served Glenwood. Last 300-series bus in regular service. Decommissioned and sold in 1997.

1983-84

11 new buses were purchased in 1983, all of them diesels. Although no photographic evidence has yet surfaced, I strongly suspect that the county's bus manufacturer reverted to Ward this year.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
372
1983
Ward?
International 71
Served Athens. Replaced by 471 in 1991. Decommissioned and sold in 1997.
373
1983 Ward? International 71
Served Princeton. Replaced by 472 in 1991. Decommissioned and sold in 1997.
374
1983 Ward? International 71
Served Matoaka. Replaced by 473 in 1991. Decommissioned and sold in 1997.
375
1983 Ward? International 71
Served Bluefield. Replaced by 474 in 1991. Decommissioned and sold in 1994.
376
1983 Ward? International 59
Served Princeton, Matoaka, Spanishburg. Replaced by 470 in 1991. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
377
1983 Ward? International 59 Served Oakvale. Decommissioned and sold in 1992.
378
1983 Ward? International 59 Served Matoaka. Decommissioned and sold in 1993.
379
1983
Ward?
International


380
1983 Ward? International
47 Wheelchair lift. Decommissioned and sold in 1999.
381
1983 Blue Bird
(Type D) 89
Served Bluefield, Bluewell. Decommissioned and sold in 1997.
382
1983 Blue Bird (Type D)
89
Served Oakvale, Glenwood. Decommissioned and sold in 1997.

Continued...






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