Friday, April 29, 2005

SEARCY ’46-’56 – Part 12

Chapter Seven

Tom Pry

Wheels – More Buses

It was easier getting from Searcy to Rosebud (or vice-versa) than it was to get from the west side of town to the east, using public transportation. This was critical to many families.

(Yeah, I know that Searcy proper had a couple of cab companies and, for a brief period of time, a bus that hit every street in town, but let’s not ruin a good introduction with The Facts).

Understand that there were no new vehicles available for sale to civilians from the beginning of 1942 until the beginning of 1946. There was a lot of traffic in used vehicles but, even if you managed to get one, you then had to face rationing for gas, oil, and tires.

The average family in the forties had one vehicle, and it was a WORK vehicle, at that. (When my wife, Karen, and I first moved back here in 1992 and went to register our car with the Tax Assessor’s Office, Karen had to face a grilling from a clerk who had great difficulty believing that two people had only ONE car. It was obvious from the look on her face that she thought we were lying about it, and she just didn’t have any way to prove it. “You don’t have a pick-up truck, too?” she asked, rather incredulously).

Enter the rural bus line.

There was a dry goods store at Spring and Market and, behind it, a dirt lot fronting on Main Street. That lot was where the buses gathered.

Being the age I was, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to details, nor do I know the schedules of those buses. (The next time I’m 10 years old, I’ll pay more attention). I do know there were quite a few of them, and that they were all re-done retired school buses, in a variety of colors.

They sat there in that lot without, usually, their owner/drivers in attendance. This does not mean you had to stand out in the elements, by any means. You just got on the bus and visited a bit, or slept. I remember once getting on, to find a young mother breast-feeding her baby. Neither the new mom nor I were embarrassed; it was part of rural life.

The operators usually showed up about 15 minutes before departure time, but didn’t collect fares until just a few minutes before the bus left.

Over the years, Searcy had a lot of different examples of sometimes-improvised bus service. There was, for instance, daily bus service to Kensett, the first bus leaving the Mayfair Hotel about 5:30 in the morning, so that people catching the first of eight passenger trains (in each direction) for the day could get there in time.

There was a similar bus operated between Kensett and Galloway College. It must’ve been a very small affair, because their luggage had to wait to show up later, in a mule-drawn wagon.

Possibly the height of creativity was reached when some bright soul took now-unoccupied auto transports, constructed sides and put a top on them, benches inside, plus a “stewardess,” and operated these impromptu buses between Searcy and Little Rock.

In any case, except for the big MoPac buses, this kind of rural transportation was on its way out. With the Big War over, wheeled transportation started coming back on the market, enough so that, by 1950, “Deac” King could build a drive-in movie theatre out somewhere in the neighborhood of the White County Medical Center, and turn a profit on it.

Some of those buses kept running into the 50s, but I suspect that the late 40s was the high water mark for that kind of service. As the buses (or their owners) wore out, I doubt they were replaced very often.

Still, it was an interesting piece of Americana, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it. A tip of the hat to Charley May (Searcy-Rosebud) and his colleagues, who got us from Here to There at a reasonable price, if not outstanding comfort.

Beat the hell out of walking the same distance.

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


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