Andrew Turnbull presents

The History of School Transportation in Mercer County, WV

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


1997-98

The late 1990s represent a surprising lull in Mercer County's school transportation history: For over a year, the Board of Education essentially went on a vehicle purchasing moratorium, possibly due to disinvestment under the Cecil Underwood administration. In the meantime, there was little to do but maintain the existing fleet.

An exception to this were two new buses purchased from AmTran. These vehicles were unique in several regards: First off, they were examples of AmTran's redesigned CS line with a wraparound windshield and redesigned driver's area, replacing the Ward Volunteer body design from the 1970s. The buses also had top-mounted wipers...an unusual stylistic feature that their maker abandoned as quickly as it embraced. Both had high-capacity bodies with wheelchair lifts, two qualities rarely found in combination. These were also likely the last AmTran buses in Mercer County. Both may have been used on midday routes to ferry people to and from the county's vocational technical school.

school bus school bus

#519, a 1997 AmTran CS with International chassis...and a truly unusual bus. [Photos by the author, 2013]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
518
1997
AmTran
International
77
Rear wheelchair lift. Served Spanishburg. Decommissioned and sold in 2010.
519
1997
AmTran
International
77
Rear wheelchair lift. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.

1998-99

1998-99 was a "return to normalcy:" The Mercer County Board of Education resumed school bus purchases with the acquisition of brand-new Blue Bird/International conventionals. Interestingly, these buses were decked out in a fairly deluxe equipment specification, complete with tinted glass. They retained the black-framed doors that had premiered on the county's previous batch of Blue Birds two years before.

These buses are seared into the author's memory from his freshman year at PikeView High School in 1999, and I remember envying the students who could ride them!

school bus

#522, a 1999 Blue Bird/International conventional model, seen shortly after being served its retirement papers. Annoyingly, the fleet number has been painted over. [Photo by the author, 2013]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
520
1999
Blue Bird
International

Served Spanishburg.
521
1999
Blue Bird International?

Served Bramwell, Montcalm.
522
1999 Blue Bird International 71
Served Spanishburg. Decommissioned by 2013.
523
1999 Blue Bird International
Served Matoaka.
524
1999 Blue Bird International?
Served Bluefield.
525
1999 Blue Bird International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2014.
526
1999 Blue Bird International
Served Oakvale.
527
1999 Blue Bird International
Served Matoaka.

1999-2000

In the early 2000s, the story of my home county's school buses played out much the same as the story of my high school years: Each year brought about a new twist on the same, usually for the worse. Likewise, tinted glass was discontinued with 2000 models.

school bus

#528, one of the county's 2000 Blue Bird/International buses. This one has a few warts: The plotched bodywork bears ample evidence of being repainted, and the original ridged bumper has been replaced with a smooth bumper from a later Vision.

school bus school bus school bus school bus

In 2016, buses #529 through #532 were decommissioned and sold. They later surfaced on the grounds of Mike & B Sales in Newcomerstown, Ohio, where they were parted and scrapped.

school bus

One final 2000 bus to round out the series! The fate of #533 is unknown.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
528
2000
Blue Bird International
Served Princeton, Bluefield.
529
2000 Blue Bird International 71
Served Princeton. Decommissioned and sold in 2016.
530
2000 Blue Bird International 71
Served Montcalm. Decommissioned and sold in 2016.
531
2000 Blue Bird International 71
Served Bluefield. Decommissioned and sold in 2016.
532
2000 Blue Bird International 59
Served Oakvale. Decommissioned and sold in 2016.
533
2000
Blue Bird International 59
Served Princeton.

2000-01

In summer of 2000, the Mercer County Board of Education purchased seven new buses for the forthcoming 2000-01 school year. All were broadly similar to the buses from the year before, but featured extended rear bodywork allowing for 13 rows of seats.

school bus

#538, one of Mercer County's "class of 2001." Note the elongated windows in the rear section of the body, allowing for an extra row of capacity.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
535
2001 Blue Bird
International
77
Served Oakvale.
536
2001 Blue Bird International
77
Served Montcalm.
537
2001 Blue Bird International 77
Served Princeton.
538
2001 Blue Bird International 77 Served Princeton.
539
2001 Blue Bird International 77
Served Bluefield.
540
2001 Blue Bird International 77
Served Athens.
541
2001
Blue Bird International 77
Served Athens.

2001-02

2002 model buses featured rather strange stylistic indulgences from the Blue Bird factory, including logo-emblazoned ovoid mirror fairings and exterior-accessible (and vandal-susceptible?) fuse panels. Eight of these vehicles were acquired by the school board in the summer of 2001, with the order divided between three capacities and configurations.

school bus school bus

#542 and #544 are both examples of 59-passenger Blue Bird/International buses, which made up the bulk of the Mercer County school board's orders for the 2002 model year. Note the ovoid side and crossover mirror fairings, the most obvious visual differences from earlier models.

school bus

#545, a bus identical in length but sporting a rear wheelchair lift on the side. Note that the Blue Bird roof "streamer" has been offset higher from its usual position in order to clear the wheelchair door.

school bus

#549, a 77-passenger model. As with the previous year's 77-passenger buses, this specimen features elongated rear bodywork and stretched windows in order to accommodate an "extra" row of seats.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
542
2002 Blue Bird International 59?

543
2002 Blue Bird International 59?
Served Athens.
544
2002 Blue Bird International 59
Served Athens.
545
2002
Blue Bird International 59
Rear wheelchair lift.
546
2002
Blue Bird International 59?

547
2002
Blue Bird
International 59?

548
2002
Blue Bird International 71?
Served Bluefield.
549
2002
Blue Bird International 77
Served Bluefield.

2002-03

For the fifth year in a row, Mercer County's school buses were sourced from Blue Bird with International chassis. There was one difference: A triumphant return for tinted glass! The author received his high school diploma in 2003, just in time to see bus numbers hit the triple-5 mark. And that was that.

school bus

#555, a 2003 Blue Bird/International model. Lurking in the background is the WPA-constructed Athens School building in the author's hometown, which opened in 1941.

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
552
2003?
Blue Bird International
Served Oakvale.
553
2003
Blue Bird International
Served Matoaka.
554
2003
Blue Bird International
Served Athens.
555
2003
Blue Bird International 77
Served Athens.
556
2003
Blue Bird International
Served Athens.

Around the same time, rumblings were brewing that would fundamentally change the character of the school bus business forever:

When the dust settled, the dozens of chassis-body combinations that prevailed as recently as the 1990s had been reduced to three.

school bus

The future meets the past: Bus #582, a modern Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 model, parked within the shadow of the historic 1912 Mercer School in Princeton.

But now we're veering dangerously toward the present, and the present is not what this history project is about. As such, we'll have to save the tale of the Thomas C2, the IC CE, and the Blue Bird Vision for a future time...






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