During the years I was busy growing up in Long Beach, CA, my maternal grandfather came to celebrate each holiday with us. Having been long divorced from my grandmother, with whom we made our home, he lived alone in the tiny town of Tujunga, nestled in the arid foothills of the San Gabriel mountains east of the city of Los Angeles. He moved there sometime in the 1930’s, taking advantage of the dry mountain climate as a palliative for his asthma.
I remember the long hot, infrequent drives we made when we visited him. Upon arrival, we asked for him by name, and were directed to the clump of large oak trees in the park, where card tables with other old men seemed to play unending cribbage games. But our best visits were when he came to stay with us.
It never occurred to me to wonder how he got to our house. He had no car, yet there he would be standing on our front porch; a small grey man, dressed in a grey suit and wool cap, carrying a battered cardboard suitcase and a jolly smile. To my knowledge he never owned a car, so he took the bus whenever and wherever he wanted to travel.
“GO GREYHOUND AND LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US”
Aptly named, the Greyhound bus has been in operation since 1914, thanks to a young entrepreneur named Carl Eric Wickman, who came from Sweden in 1905 to work in the mines in Minnesota. When he was laid off in 1914, he went to work as a Hupmobile salesman. Failing as a car salesman, he took his own vehicle, a seven passenger car, and transported mine workers from Hibbing, Minnesota to Alice, Minnesota, (which also happened to be where the saloons were) for 15 cents a ride.
In 1915 he joined forces with a similar service going as far as Duluth, Minnesota. By the end of World War 1, Wickman had 18 buses, and saw a profit of $40,000. Four years later, he purchased a West Coast operation and began the first national intercity bus company.
The Greyhound name had its origins on the inaugural run from Superior. Wisconsin to Wausau, Wisconsin, when the operator, Ed Stone, saw the reflection of his 1920’s bus in a store window as they passed. For some reason it reminded him of a greyhound dog, so he changed the name of that segment of the route from the Blue Goose Lines to Greyhound. The name became popular, calling to mind the speed of the greyhound dog, and later applied to the entire network.
After my father retired from the Navy, he and my mother moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, my father’s hometown. In order for me to visit, I had to drive or take the bus, as there was no airport, and the railroad only went as far as Dunsmuir, CA. So gathering my two daughters aged four and six, the three of us set off on our first Greyhound bus ride. My husband drove us to the downtown station in Oakland, CA for an overnight adventure. And an adventure it was.
A big city bus station at night was seemingly a gathering place for people who had no place else to go. As I look back on it, it brings back memories of the depressing Marilyn Monroe movie “Bus Stop” But a night trip with small children seemed a better option for us,.
Once on the bus, we found it to be large, spacious and clean, with enough room to spread out. I had packed enough snacks to last the night, but the convenience or inconvenience of bus travel is that it stops at every small station along the way to pick up or drop off passengers. Greyhound operates 2,700 stations across America, but in small to mid-size cities, an agent can operate from a convenience store or a roadside stop.
It seemed that just as we fell asleep, we were awakened by the bright lights of a new stop, and the voice of the driver telling us to get off and stretch our legs, drink coffee, or get a bite to eat. Luggage is stored in an enormous cavern under the bus, which sends bangs and crashes throughout the night as it is loaded. Then we were back in the bus and on our way again.
The long night over, in bright sunshine with dry mouths and sleepy eyes, we were met at the Greyhound bus station in Grants Pass by happy grandparents. A successful journey.
The Greyhound bus can take you anywhere, anytime.
9 thoughts on “THE GREYHOUND BUS”
I took some Greyhound trips in the past. Was a lifesaver when I couldn’t afford a train or airplane. Nice to learn about the history of it. Thanks!
My father in law always wanted to take a cross country trip with Greyhound. Didn’t happen though. Not much different from a bus trip through Europe I suppose. Except you stay at nicer hotels!
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Wickman came from Sweden just about the time my paternal grandparents did. They didn’t know one another, but came on the same ship, and then met in Minneapolis. Grandpa had been a miner in Sweden, and landed first at the ore mines. Then, he and Grandma met and moved to Iowa, where he began mining coal.
I’ve ridden Greyhound a time or two, but I’m not certain I’d be willing to do it now. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend any time in the bus station here. Like the Amtrak station, it’s — uh — less than welcoming. In fact, Amtrak in Houston has no amenities at all, as a way of discouraging loiterers. There’s no wifi, no vending machines, few chairs, and so on. There’s not much that bothers me about traveling, but those stations bother me. It might be different in different cities.
On another note entirely, I think you might be interested in this NY Times article about artists and vision loss. I found it fascinating, and strangely heartening.
Interesting that your grandparents knew Wickman. Shows what a small world it really is. The inside a a bus station is not a great place to be I agree. I’m sure it hasn’t changed much. Cheap travel, the homeless problem, drug problem etc. would make it very unpleasant. But the company has survived and given a lot of people a way to travel from one place to another. I took it again years later while my mother was ill in Brookings, Oregon, where there was no other option except driving. I spent the last two months of her life there with her. I don’t remember it being such a traumatic trip as the first one, but then I didn’t have two small children in tow.
I was so happy to read the New York Times article. Good for him. It really is a challenge because you can’t see what you are doing. I find if I raise my eyes just above the paper or canvas, I see color I didn’t see looking straight on, You have to get splashy. Then I got a big thrill when I clicked onto the gallery site. I didn’t recognize most of the artists, but when I saw the large pot I knew in a minute it was Doug Hyde! What a thrill as I remember him from Santa Fe. Nice guy and a great artist. Thanks for the link.
Another fascinating tidbit of history. These trips by bus do lodge themselves in one’s memory and your evocative words bring them up again.
I remember the bus stopping in the middle of the night to pick up someone waiting at the side of the road. I wonder if they do that now? Years ago we had a young 18 year old son of friends who stayed with us awhile, then took the Greyhound across country. I follow him on Facebook today. He is a fantastic photographer who loves to travel, although today he flies. The travel bug bit him early.
What an evocative story! What are the Greyhounds like now?
It is certainly a fine way to travel. No worries. I don’t know about them now, never see any in our city, but when I researched them, they are still going strong.
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Glad to hear it! x