Thursday, April 28, 2005

SEARCY ’46-’56 – Part 11

Chapter Six

Tom Pry

Wheels - Buses

Picking buses as the first entry in a set on wheeled transportation is just about putting the cart before the horse ‘cause, you see, this country’s nationwide bus system was started by .. railroads.

Yep. The idea was to use the bus company’s wheels to get travelers to the nearest train station, there to climb on the train and get to where they were going. The progenitors of Greyhound and Trailways had never given a thought to people traveling hundreds of miles by bus. Bus takes to train, train takes them hundreds of miles, bus takes them to final destination.

It was probably some variant of that idea that prompted the Missouri Pacific Railroad (otherwise known as the MoPac) to start their own bus company. As was the case with Greyhound and Trailways, though, their creation assumed a life of its own.

I’m sure that G & T had a presence someplace in Arkansas, if no place else, passing along US70 to get from Ft. Smith to Memphis and vice-versa but, really, there was only one bus company in this neck of the woods: the MoPac.

Their buses were big, clean, frequent, and had a total disregard for speed limit signs. (I was doing around 80 coming down from Bald Knob on 67 one day, when a MoPac bus blew around me like I was parked).

They stopped at every hamlet and town along their route; you could, if you had to, flag them down between stops, too. The drivers didn’t like it, but they’d do it.

Periodically, the bus stop would be something more than a gas station. Those buses did NOT have a lavatory in them (and, really, would you like to be shut into a small, wet closet in the rear of a vehicle careening down narrow, curvy roads at 90 m.p.h.?) and, besides, people have to eat once-in-a-while, too.

Searcy was just such a major stop, and the designated stopping point was … the Rendezvous Café.

NOW you know why that parking lot is so big. Had to be; I’ve seen two and three buses at a time parked nose-in to that building.

The Rendezvous was hopping. The downstairs was not just a large restaurant and lunch counter, but a ticket window AND a freight room.


Oh, yeah, that was as important as the people it carried. There was no such thing as UPS and FedEx; there was Railway Express (later called REA Express, and of which we’ll hear more later) and buses, unless you had a truckload of something.

The freight service was so good and the buses so frequent … well, let me give you a scenario. “In the old days …” if you had a picture to run in the Searcy Citizen, the printing technology of the time demanded that the photo be etched into a thin medal plate attached to a block of wood. The Citizen did not have the technology to do that. So, the pictures for the next edition were bundled up in the morning and put on the next bus for Little Rock. A courier from the Arkansas Gazette (the Dem-Gaz was, at the time, two different and quite competitive papers) would pick them up and take them over to the Gazette Building, where the requisite etching was done. Then the courier would take them back to the bus terminal, put them on the next bus to Searcy, and they’d get here in enough time to make up the mats and plates for the afternoon’s paper.

Here’s another one: There was a period in 1955 and 56 when I was – believe it or not, folks! – the Artificial Insemination Technician for the county Dairy Cattle Breeding Association. The prepared semen was shipped several times a week from the UofA in Fayetteville.

In a masterpiece of economical improvisation, they would freeze large tin cans of water, wrap a paper towel around it, snap a large rubber band around that, and then slip the labeled GLASS test tubes under the rubber band. That was put into a corrugated box and sealed. Then it was put on a MoPac bus.

It is a longish haul from here to Fayetteville, especially when you consider that had to come via Little Rock yet, on the hottest day, those cans were still cold when they got to me, the same day they were shipped, and I think in all that time, only one test tube got broken.

That’s good service any way you’d care to look at it.

There’s a joke in the southeastern United States to the effect that, “Even if you’re going to hell, you’ve got to make connections in Atlanta.” Well, in Arkansas, those connections had to be made in Little Rock. If I wanted to come home from school in Conway, there was no bus running the roughly 60 miles from there to here. Nope, it was Conway to Little Rock, THEN to Searcy, so that a one hour trip was more like three or four.

However, other than that, it was about a good a transportation system as you could ask for, and served rural Arkansas and small businesses well for many years.

Original sketch of the Rendevous Posted by Hello

A slightly-out-of-context footnote about The Rendezvous Café, if I might. Besides being a very busy (and, really, rather good) restaurant, plus transportation center, the Rendezvous was The Place to have a fairly decent gathering. If you were a school group operating on the cheap, and it was a weeknight, you could usually get the school cafeteria (that’s where I attended my first FFA Father & Son Banquet, sans Father). For real ritz, there was the Country Club (now one of the buildings at the County Fairground; in 1956, the SHS Senior Prom was held there). For a non-catered gathering of the mingle-and-dance variety there was the smallish fieldstone building on the square, next to Bobby’s Restaurant which, over the years, was the Draft Board and, I think, the American Legion Hall, but it was Available.

Most used was the second floor of the Rendezvous. Our Junior-Senior banquet was there, both Ernie and I have dined and appeared there at Lions’ Club meetings. The food was good, the prices reasonable, the space ample and flexible, the service experienced and good.

After being occupied for some years by a local insurance company, someone made a stab at resurrecting the Rendezvous in its original site. (As of now, April of 2005, it’s a coffeeshop).

(Also as of 4/05, the only bus service left is a small commuter line out of Newport).

(Series originally published late 2003/early 2004 on the old site).


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