I’ve never been tempted to take a long trip by bus. I guess I just spent too many hours on the school bus as a kid. I have been on a few tour buses in Europe, but somehow I just don’t think it is the same.
Buses had a lot of competition in the late 1940s and early 50s when these ads appeared in Holiday magazine. Trains still had passenger service all over the US, air travel was becoming more common, and the American love affair with the automobile was well established. So the bus companies had to base their ads on why they were a better choice than the other options: it was cheaper, it was easier, it was connected to more places.
In the long run, the buses lost out to the car and to air travel. I can’t think of a single person I know who has been on a bus trip except for tours, in the past 30 years. The last person I know who traveled by bus was my Aunt Belle, and bus trips always remind me of her.
Belle grew up poor in the mountains of North Carolina, and she ended up living much of her life in Gastonia, a Carolina cotton mill town. There wasn’t a lot of money for vacations and travelling. When she was in her 70s, she and a friend were sitting around lamenting the fact that neither of them had ever been west of the Mississippi. They both started talking about how they had always wanted to see Texas.
Pretty soon, the two of them decided to just up and go. So they called the bus station and found out that there was a bus to Dallas that very evening. Without hesitation, they threw a few things in a bag, made a few sandwiches and rushed to meet the bus. 16 hours later, they were in Texas. I never could get her to tell me what they did there. It was always just, “We saw Texas.”
And they weren’t kidding. A 4 day, 3 night Washington, DC vacation was $19.75, and 11 days in the Florida sunshine weighed in at just $81.05, plus the cost of the bus ticket.
But even more astounding is the way our travelers are dressed. This was 1950, when one got dressed to travel. Now get on any plane with a flight time of more than 4 hours and you are very likely to have several people on board wearing their pajamas… and slippers.
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This ad is from a magazine put out by Greyhound Bus Lines called The Highway Traveler. And the ad is correct, before there were good highways, most people did not travel for recreation. But even though Greyhound is obviously pushing tourism, the bus companies at that time relied more on people traveling for business than for pleasure. I’m not talking about the long-distance business traveler of today, but the commuter business traveler of yesterday.
By the late 1930s, many large cities had developed public transportation, and there were train lines that also took people to their jobs evey day. But in the rural South, there were fewer options. As the country geared up for war, jobs were opening up in smaller cities like Asheville, but that was a long distance for people who often did not own a car. And as the war progressed, those who had a car could not get enough gasoline to drive very much.
My mother-in-law attended business college in Asheville starting in 1940. To get there, everyday she and her sister rode the Trailways bus the distance of about 30 miles. The bus route went past their house and even made a special stop to pick them up. After the war started they got jobs with the War Department in Asheville and continued to ride the Trailways. The route they were on started in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and luckily for them, got to their house about 7 am. The bus drivers would even wait for them if the girls were running a bit late! And after they arrived at the station, some of the drivers would then take the girls on to their office building, which was several blocks away from the station and out of the way.
The bus headed back to Chattanooga left Asheville at 5 pm. There was always a rush for seats, but somehow the girls usually managed to get a seat in the front where they could chat with the driver on the way back home. They knew how to keep on the good side of their drivers!
Full ad, 1949.