While idly motoring along Greg Street on a day before Christmas , to my aging eyes appeared a specter from my past, a flashback to a bygone era, a bus, not an ordinary bus but a bus with an orange body beneath a roof of pale yellow. I did a double take; while the thing was half-again the size of the buses that Gene Lane and the Blakely kids and Mike Doyle and the Cardinal twins and I used to ride to Reno High School in 1957, it was like seeing a ghost. I looked down to assure myself that I wasn’t back in my 1951 Chevy with Richie Valens on the AM radio, and then looked up again. Right here on Greg was a retro-bus; a grown-up version of the ones so many of us rode and remember! [pictured above]
Sensing a column-in-the-making, I hied myself to the Regional Transportation Commission’s shops under the freeway by the airport. I was fortunate enough to there receive the hospitality of one Tina Wu, a happenin’ lady who knows her buses cold and knew just where my mind was going. The retro buses – there are two – were both out on the street, but “Would you like to see our restored coach 109?” Would I? Off through the shops we walked. (109 emerges from the barn for Hot August Nights occasionally, but it’s been a while for me.)
Parked all by its lonesome in a corner of the garage was Coach 109 – and again the flashbacks started. The little coach, following its seven-year tenure as a Reno Bus Lines asset starting in 1957, fell off the radar for seven years in 1964, and then was acquired by the Glory Temple Church, hauling a choir around for two years. Then for ten years it sat in a field going to glory until it was located and rescued by Reno bus historian Jim Fairchild.
The restoration that Fairchild and the RTC crew did is phenomenal, no other word for it, worthy of any rod we see during Hot August Nights or of Morrison-Knudsen’s restoration of San Francisco’s F-line streetcars. Paint, smooth as glass, inside and out. Upholstery, like new on the 31 passenger and driver’s seats. The dashboard and controls, factory-grade. Window glass, replaced; dome light lenses, replaced; the floor tread impeccable, the chrome seat grip bars replated, the gas engine, brakes and transmission rebuilt – it probably looked better than when it rolled out of GMC’s plant in 1957. And Tina knew every detail about it like the back of her hand.
Seated in the driver’s seat my flashback continued. I sat in the Sky Room of the Mapes watching four like buses – two pointed north, two more south, at the top of any hour, on the Virginia Street bridge. In unison they would roll off to the four quadrants of Reno, each on kind of a looping route. During the school year the No. 4 bus, southwest Reno, would pull into Reno High’s north parking lot in the morning and afternoon run to pick us up, and kids from the other three quadrants became pretty adept at gathering on the bridge to await the No. 4, which would get pretty crowded. A friend of mine, while we were having a little bus-talk, said that she could probably drive the No. 4 route, even today. And I’d guess that she could…
The buses were our wheels in the years following WWII – the price was right (15 cents). We took care of the buses and the men who drove them, for that day that we didn’t have 15 cents but needed a ride. The bus company operated its 11 coaches also for the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls, YWCA and the 4-H. This service was mostly for trips to summer camps. The company’s cash cow was Stead Air Force Base, and the company’s 1964 exit from business roughly parallels the closing of Stead. But Reno Bus Lines, like its competitor Nevada Transit, which provided service from Reno to Sparks, and within Sparks, served our little towns admirably.
If you noted one of the the new, gleaming biodiesel umpteen-passenger current buses in Reno Bus Lines livery (shown below), parked next to the little 27-foot, gas, 31-passenger GMC, I gotta ask: Which one would you take cruising on Hot August Nights? And about Tina, what can I say? If RTC can put our ol’ buddy Jerry Hall’s name on their bus barn, and PanAm can use dignitaries’ names on their 747 Clippers, then I say there should be a coach marked “Tina Wu” plying the streets of Reno and Sparks – she’s that great a credit to the Regional Transportation Commission!
Have a nice Sunday; use your sunscreen, Go Niners (again)! and God bless America
© RGJ January 2014