Andrew Turnbull presents

The History of School Transportation in Mercer County, WV

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


1991-92

Mercer County reverted to Blue Bird during the 1991-92 school year...its first large order with the company in six years. Blue Bird would continue to be the county's foremost school bus supplier until the 2000s, when the company's competitive stature was reduced by the collusion of other body builders with chassis suppliers. This year's school buses were conspicuous by the absence of later-required safety features.

Due to the timing of Mercer County's school bus order, most of the vehicles from this batch carried 1991 VINs...same as the previous year's buses. Chassis "model years" became even more increasingly muddled and meaningless from this point on...and a given batch of buses could contain VINs from the current year, the next year, or even both years mixed together depending on whatever chassis were on hand at the body factory at manufacturing time.

school bus

The author strongly suspects that this activity bus owned by a "Christian" pseudo-school near the Summers-Mercer county line originated as one of the 1991 Blue Bird/Internationals in Mercer County's fleet. [Photo by the author, 2013]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
468
1991?
Blue Bird
International

Served Oakvale.
469
1991?
Blue Bird International
Served Matoaka.
470
1991
Blue Bird International 71
Served Princeton, Spanishburg. Replaced by 554 in 2003. Decommissioned and sold in 2007.
471
1991
Blue Bird International 71
Served Athens. Replaced by 555 in 2003. Decommissioned and sold in 2007.
472
1991?
Blue Bird International 71
Served Athens. Replaced by 556 in 2003.
473
1991?
Blue Bird International
Served Matoaka. Replaced by 558.
474
1991
Blue Bird International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2007.
475
1992?
Blue Bird (Type D)

Served Princeton. Replaced by 560.

1992-94

In 1992, school buses in West Virginia began to bear many new safety and conspicuity features that hadn't been widely seen before. Driver's seats gained high whiplash-resistant seatbacks with lap-and-shoulder belts. Side mirrors now consisted of flat and convex panes of equal, rectangular shape and size, and the passenger-side mirror began to be mounted further forward in order to ensure greater visibility. Reflective tape was added to side and rear flanks, and the roofcap-mounted "School Bus" signs also gained a reflective backing. Instead of having a single emergency exit per side, newly-ordered buses now came with two, three, or even more per side depending on their capacity and length. Strobe lights were added to roofs, and the lights on the side stop sign were also made to strobe rather than pulse with the flashers.

Most of these changes were motivated by the objective of collision avoidance. Although school buses were inherently safe vehicles, their visibility was often imperilled by early-morning lighting conditions...and a not-insignificant number of collisions resulted from cars blindly careening into school buses stopped in their way. This situation was exacerbated by many schools in the state moving to earlier opening hours...resulting in more and more buses traversing the roads before the break of dawn. Strobe lights and reflective materials were effective remedies to make buses visible in dim lighting, fog, and inclement weather, and many other states and provinces later followed West Virginia's lead.

school bus school bus

At left is a poorly-developed shot of #485 (a 1993 Blue Bird/International) taken on hand-rolled film for a high school photography class. At right is Cornbread Ridge Road in central Mercer County...seen through the windshield of the exact same bus. [Photos by the author on the ride home, 2000]

school bus

#488, a similar 1993 Blue Bird/International model. Note the redesigned two-piece side mirrors, with separate flat and convex lenses. [BDT 1998-10-30]

school bus

#489, yet another 1993-94 Blue Bird and a twin to the last. As of 2013 this vehicle had become the oldest bus in the district's possession, and it had already had its signage defaced in preparation for decommissioning. [Photo by the author, 2013]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
476
1992?
Blue Bird International?

Rear wheelchair lift? Served Bluefield.
477
1993 Blue Bird International
Served Spanishburg.
478
1992? Blue Bird International?
Served Spanishburg.
479
1993 Blue Bird International
Served Princeton.
480
1993 Blue Bird International 71
Served Oakvale. Decommissioned and sold in 2007.
481
1994 Blue Bird International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2007.
482
1993? Blue Bird International?
Served Princeton.
483
1993? Blue Bird International?
Served Princeton. Possibly the last 400-series bus in regular service?
484
1993? Blue Bird International?
Served Bramwell, Montcalm.
485
1993 Blue Bird International 65
Served Athens. Decommissioned and sold in 2007.
486
1994 Blue Bird International 71
Served Matoaka. Decommissioned and sold in 2008.
487
1993 Blue Bird International 65
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2011.
488
1993 Blue Bird International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2011.
489
1993 Blue Bird International 71
Served Princeton, Bluefield. Decommissioned by 2013.
490
1994 Blue Bird International 71
Served Bramwell, Bluewell, Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 2011.
491
1994? Blue Bird International
Served Matoaka.
492
1994? Blue Bird International?
Served Montcalm.

1994-95

In 1992, the American Transportation Corporation of Arkansas (which had acquired the assets of Ward School Bus Manufacturing in 1980, and continued the production of their product) rebranded their entire product line as "AmTran." Two years later, Mercer County's school bus contract was awarded to AmTran, yielding a batch of familiar-looking buses bearing a new name and a host of new features: Thinner rub rails, thinner-framed doors, lighter-hued interiors, and the same roster of new safety features that had premiered statewide two years before.

These school buses were the last in Mercer County to bear the "sagging" windshield that had been a characteristic feature of the Ward body design since the 1960s. These also had incredible longevity, with many of the buses in this lot being maintained for twenty years...a duration that would have been unheard of in the 1980s!

From this point forward, all colour photos were taken by the author in 2013.

school bus

#493, one of several 1994-95 International/AmTran buses that lingered in the county's fleet for many years. This may have been the only one equipped with a wheelchair lift, though.

school bus

#494, a midsize 59-passenger example. Note the stretched first-row side window, a characteristic of all these buses devised to accommodate a slightly staggered seating arrangement.

school bus

#495, identical to the previous number in the fleet. The author rode this very bus during a portion of his high school years.

school bus

#496, the longest specimen of the lot.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
493
1994
AmTran
International
53
Rear wheelchair lift. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
494
1995
AmTran International
59
Served Matoaka, Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
495
1994
AmTran International 59
Served Athens. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
496
1995
AmTran International 71
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
497
1995
AmTran International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2010.
498
1995
AmTran
International 71
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.

1995-96

Fleet numbers hit the magic "500" mark during the 1995-96 school year. Mercer County's body contract reverted to Blue Bird and roughly twenty buses were purchased over two years, split between conventional and transit-style (Type D) varieties.

school bus school bus

#501 and #503, two identical 1996 Blue Bird All American Type D models. Note the wide entrance door and rectangular headlights that had been implemented in Blue Bird's Type D design by this point. [B&W photo: BDT 2002-02-07]

school bus school bus

#504, a 35-passenger 1996 Blue Bird/International. Conventional school buses don't get much shorter than this! [Photos by the author, 2013]

school bus

#506, a 47-passenger model equipped with a wheelchair lift. Note that the Blue Bird roof "streamer" has been offset higher from its usual position in order to clear the wheelchair door. [Princeton High School yearbook, 1999]

school bus

#509, another 1996 conventional model of more typical 71-passenger length and proportions. At the time of photography, this bus had been waylaid by an inspection failure.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
499
1996 Blue Bird
International 71
Served Glenwood, Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2009.
500
1996 Blue Bird (Type D)

Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2008.
501
1996 Blue Bird (Type D) 89
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
502
1996 Blue Bird (Type D) 89
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2009.
503
1996 Blue Bird (Type D) 89
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2009.
504
1996
Blue Bird International
35
Served Matoaka.
505
1996
Blue Bird International 47
Served Matoaka. Decommissioned and sold in 2009.
506
1997
Blue Bird International 47
Rear wheelchair lift. Served Princeton.
507
1996? Blue Bird International?
Served Spanishburg.
508
1996 Blue Bird International? 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2011.
509
1996
Blue Bird International 71
Served Bramwell, Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.

1996-97

As expected, 1996-97 was more of the same. There was one difference: This year's conventional Blue Bird buses were the first to be equipped with outward-opening doors with black frames, which lent a very sleek appearance to the entrance area.

school bus

#510, one of two 89-passenger Blue Bird All American Type D buses acquired for the 1996-97 school year. In terms of appearance and specification, these were identical to the Type Ds acquired the year before.

school bus

The author was surprised to stumble upon the chassis of #512 at an equipment shop north of Princeton; its original fleet number still barely visible on the bumper. What happened to the rest of it, though?

school bus school bus

#515 and #516, two identical 1997 71-passenger Blue Bird/International models.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
510
1997 Blue Bird (Type D) 89
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
511
1997 Blue Bird (Type D) 89
Served Athens, Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2011.
512
1997 Blue Bird International
Decommissioned and sold by 2013.
513
1997 Blue Bird International 53
Rear wheelchair lift. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
514
1997 Blue Bird International 53
Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
515
1997 Blue Bird International 71
Served Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
516
1997 Blue Bird International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
517
1997
Blue Bird International
71
Served Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.

Continued...






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