Andrew Turnbull presents

The History of School Transportation in Mercer County, WV

1936-63 - 1963-74 - 1974-84 - 1984-91 - 1991-98 - 1998-2004 - 2004-09 - 2009-14 - 2014-21


2014-15

To no one's surprise, 2014's new year coincided with about half a dozen new Blue Bird buses being added to the fleet. This time around, however, there were a few surprises in store!

For starters, this year's buses were the first in Mercer County to be equipped with stop-arm cameras. These cameras were the product of a WVDOT task force aimed towards reducing the number of illegal "stop-arm runners," and have the ability to record passing vehicles and their licence number.

The 2015 model year was a big one for Blue Bird, with their conventional Vision model sporting its biggest visible design changes in seven years. The grille emblem was enlarged, and the flush-mounted headlight clusters were now one-piece units designed for easy aiming. High headroom was made standard across the entire lineup, with the previous low-headroom body discontinued. The roof's white-to-yellow transition was moved above the line of the flashers, and a tapered "half-streamer" was added to the Blue Bird roof logo. Clearance lights were also reduced in size, and now took on the appearance of luminous marbles.

After six years, however, the Vision's time in the local limelight was almost through. An advantageous bid from Matheny Motors meant that a change of brands was in the air...and this season brought the first new Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 buses to the school board's fleet since the 2009 model year. Mercer County's new C2s differed visually from earlier models in the use of yellow rather than black window framing, white roofs, and LED lighting.

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The 2015 model year was the "last hurrah" for the Blue Bird Vision in Mercer County's fleet. #627 and #628 are lift-equipped 59-passenger models and feature stop-arm cameras, visible as a white protrusion aft of the battery door. [Photos by Adam Ross, 2020]

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2015 also saw the triumphant return of the Thomas C2 to the fleet...with yellow window framing and other detail changes. #629 and #630 both seat 71 passengers. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

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#631 and #632, both of which are Vision lift buses identical to the numbers above. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

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#633 was the sole Blue Bird full-size conventional bus in this year's slate of acquisitions. As a non-accessible model, it features larger wheels and wheel wells than comparable lift-equipped Blue Bird buses. [Photo by Adam, 2020]

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2015 saw Mercer County Schools receive its very first "TX4" Blue Bird All American transit-style bus, numbered #634. The TX4 represented a rationalization of the Blue Bird Type D lineup, with the redesigned front structure of the TX3 combined with the curved roof and rear of the older-style TC3000. The TX4 also featured interior changes, shared with the year's Blue Bird Vision. [Photo by Adam, 2020]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
627 2015 Blue Bird (Vision) 59 Rear wheelchair lift.
628 2015 Blue Bird (Vision) 59 Rear wheelchair lift.
629 2015 Thomas (C2) 71
630 2015 Thomas (C2) 71
631 2015 Blue Bird (Vision) 59 Rear wheelchair lift.
632 2015 Blue Bird (Vision) 59 Rear wheelchair lift.
633 2015 Blue Bird (Vision) 77
634 2015 Blue Bird (Type D) 89

2015-16

This season saw Mercer County complete its transition back to the "Thomas Camp," with five new Saf-T-Liner C2s.

When the Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 entered production in 2004, several provisions of West Virginia's Minimum Requirements for Design and Equipment of School Buses had to be waived or amended in order to legalize the new model. One such requirement that fell by the wayside were flasher visors, used since the 1950s to increase the apparent contrast of warning signals in sun-lit conditions. The state reconsidered this exception when time came for the 2016 models, however...and this year's C2s were equipped with "shields over lamps, painted black."

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#635 and #636 both appear to be 59-passenger buses. They're not identical, though: #635 has a fixed rear side window, while #636 does not. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

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#637, a Thomas C2 of indeterminate capacity backing into the sun. [Photo by Adam, 2020]

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#638 and #639 are longer flavours of the C2, in 71-passenger configuration. All of this year's buses have fleet numbers emblazoned on both corners of the front bumper, allowing for easy identification both from the curb and from opposing lanes. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
635 2016 Thomas (C2) 59
636 2016 Thomas (C2) 59
637 2016 Thomas (C2)
638 2016 Thomas (C2) 71
639 2016 Thomas (C2) 71

2016-17

With specifications standing pat, 2017's Thomas C2s were largely a repeat of those the year before. One subtle change was visible by the door: All Thomas Built buses this year carried a "One Hundred Years" medallion commemmorating the centenary of the company. Canadian-American industrialist Perley A. Thomas founded his namesake Car Works in High Point, North Carolina in 1916, focusing on streetcars in the heyday of rail transportation and transitioning to bus bodies in the 1930s.

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#640 and #642 are identical 72-passenger 2016 Thomas C2 buses. Note the commemorative medallion. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
640 2017 Thomas (C2) 71
641 2017 Thomas? (C2?)
642 2017 Thomas (C2) 71
643 2017 Thomas? (C2?)
644 2017 Thomas? (C2?)

2017-19

Visible year-to-year changes between annual orders of buses largely ceased with the acquisition of Mercer County's 2018 and 2019 models. Both orders consisted of Thomas C2s, primarily of 71-passenger capacity and identical in specification to those that had come before.

With this year's round of developments came the advent of the school board's eighth transportation director: Oka Boothe, a veteran driver with nearly three decades of experience.

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#645, #647, and #648, 72-passenger 2018 Thomas C2 buses. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

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#652 and #653, 72-passenger 2019 Thomas C2 buses. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
645 2018 Thomas (C2) 71
646 2018 Thomas? (C2?)
647 2018 Thomas (C2) 71
648 2018 Thomas (C2) 71
649 2018 Thomas? (C2?)
650 2018 Thomas? (C2?)
651 2018 Thomas? (C2?)
652 2019 Thomas (C2) 71
653 2019 Thomas (C2) 71
654 2019 Thomas? (C2?)
655 2019 Thomas? (C2?)
656 2019 Thomas? (C2?)

2019-20

After half a decade with Blue Bird and half a decade with Thomas, Mercer County's school fleet in 2019 was ripe for another vendor change. So it came to pass...the dust settled, and the school board found itself in the customer's seat of Worldwide Equipment, an IC Bus dealership with branches in West Virginia and six other eastern states.

This was a homecoming: The first International-based school buses in the county since 2003, and the first new IC, Ward, or AmTran buses since 1997. Of course, these buses were a far cry from the Wards and AmTrans of old: The IC CE featured a modern, car-like driver's area with ergonomic controls and a one-piece windshield. Chassis and cowl were based upon International's contemporary 4000-series DuraStar trucks. International had long been renowned for its diesel engines; however, major reliability issues with the MaxxForce 13 line and its proprietary EGR technology severely tarnished their standing in this area. IC switched its line to Cummins engines with the 2016 model year, and Mercer County's 2020 buses were equipped accordingly.

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It can't be said that the IC CE doesn't have a very commanding stance. #657-659 are 77-passenger models with 13 windows per side, contrasting with the 12-window arrangement with unequally-sized panes used by equivalent-capacity Blue Bird buses. Note also the four sets of backup lights, similar to the configuration on Thomas C2s. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

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#660 and #662 are 59-passenger IC CE buses, respectively without and with wheelchair lifts. These buses retain the vertical rear panel first seen on Ward bodies in the 1970s, but with taller windows, high headroom, and a redesigned roof cap. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
657 2020 IC (CE) 77
658 2020 IC (CE) 77
659 2020 IC (CE) 77
660 2020 IC (CE) 59
661 2020 IC? (CE?)
662 2020 IC (CE) 59 Rear wheelchair lift.

2020-21

If Mercer County's 2020 model IC buses seemed to hark back to an earlier era, its 2021 models were even more of a throwback. The superfluous model-year suffixes that had been appended to fleet numbers for the previous ten years finally began to be omitted this year, leaving the flanks of buses demarcated by clear and easy-to-read three-digit numbers for the first time since 2010.

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2021's buses are of a more heterogeneous capacity mix than the previous year's, with #663 being the only 77-passenger example in the mix. [Photo by Adam, 2020]

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#664 and #665 are both short models of 47-passenger capacity. Buses of this size are relatively uncommon, but have always been a fundamental part of the county's fleet since full-size buses are incapable of traversing the most treacherous, winding mountain roads. [Photos by Adam, 2020]

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#667 through #670 are wheelchair-accessible lift buses. (So, where's the bus #666?) [Photos by Adam, 2020]

Bus
Year
Body
Chassis
Cap.
Notes
663 2021 IC (CE) 77
664 2021 IC (CE) 47
665 2021 IC (CE) 47
666 Presumably skipped.
667 2021 IC (CE) 53 Rear wheelchair lift.
668 2021 IC (CE) 53 Rear wheelchair lift.
669 2021 IC? (CE?)
670 2021 IC (CE) 53 Rear wheelchair lift.

This brings us up to the present day, and the end of our 85-year timeline. Though dozens of local schools, hundreds of buses, and tens of thousands of riders have come and gone since 1936, one value has stayed true the entire time: Taking collective, public responsibility for public transportation to public education, and performing it with a safety, punctuality, and reliability unmatched. The History of School Transportation in Mercer County, WV is truly remarkable to behold.






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