It was not until the 1820s that public transit coaches first came into existence and in that era and time they were of course animal-powered. Beginning in the 1830s there was some experimentation with steam-powered buses, particularly in England. With the invention of electricity and the creation of electric streetcars, there came about thereafter a combination rubber-tired and electrically powered vehicle that ran on overhead wires that was dubbed the trolleybus, or as it became known in other localities, the trackless trolley.
The trolleybus was a success and still operates in many cities across the globe to this day. In our country, Dayton, Ohio, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco have a number of such lines in operation.
In the early 1900s, starting around 1905, with the invention of the gasoline motor and the creation of the automobile, it would be but a matter of time for man to reason, that if rubber-wheeled vehicles could power transportation for a few, it should not take much more innovation to equip such vehicles to carry six or more and thus was born the “omnibus” or the “autobus” as it was initially called, or as we now simply know it as the “bus.” It would take two more decades to perfect the motor coach to the point that it would be acceptable to the Tennessee Electric Power Company that then operated the transit system in Chattanooga, but with the bus’s arrival in 1925, it spelled the ultimate doom for the long-entrenched streetcars that had served the city since their inception in 1875.
Chattanooga’s transit system is not the largest transit system in the country and perhaps not its most colorful, but it has played an important part in making Chattanooga the important metropolitan city it has become. It has had a diverse array of motor coaches included in its rosters and today is one of the leaders in the use of the battery electric bus system.
The Formative Years
Planned But Never Instituted
Public transportation made its debut in Chattanooga in September of 1875 in the form of the Chattanooga Street Railroad Company. Small horse-drawn cars began to traverse the fifteen-block length of the town’s main thoroughfare of Market Street from the Tennessee River on the north to Montgomery Avenue, Main Street today, to the south. In July of 1889, the by-then outmoded and slow-gaited horsecars began to be set out to pasture when use of electric streetcars were introduced into the town. With the entry of the 20th Century, a new contraption had been created by man’s ingenuity with the birth of the gasoline motor. The automobile had been born and fast on its heels, would follow the rubber-tired bus. Anyone in the know realized, that in time, like the horsecars they had supplanted, electric trolleys were similarly destined to either complete oblivion in a given town or to be reduced to minor importance on a limited amount of routes.
Rubber-wheeled vehicles had their obvious advantages, but so did electricity. In Chattanooga, D.J. Duncan who had resigned on July 1, 1908 as general manager of the Chattanooga Railways Company, the firm then operating streetcar service in the town, announced that he and other investors were contemplating the institution of an electric trolleybus line to nearby Fairmount, Tennessee on Walden’s Ridge, better known locally today as Signal Mountain. Fast on the heels of Duncan’s revelation, locally-renowned Sam Divine of the Chattanooga Rapid Transit Company and J.H. Springfield likewise petitioned the county of Hamilton for a startling franchise for a trackless trolley route that would have extended some 30 miles north of Chattanooga to Coulterville, just south of Dayton, Tennessee in Rhea County and operate over what today is U.S. Highway 27. For whatever reason, either due to lack of funds, lack of faith in the undertaking, or the fact that the existing roads could realistically not support such a system of buses, these early bus proposals did not progress past the drawing board stage.
It took the passing of six more years, but things changed on February 17, 1914. On that cold winter Wednesday, one Lewis Duncan placed into operation the first jitney buses ever to be seen in Chattanooga. With what actually amounted to nothing more than two large touring cars, Mr. Duncan was in business. For a thin nickel, a bus could be secured operating over a set route and on a regulated schedule between 6th and Market and Main and Market Streets downtown.
In 1914 there was not a single existing regulation on the books of the City of Chattanooga relative to bus operations. Thus anyone with a large car could effectively go into the bus business. Many others were watching with great interest Duncan’s jitney line and soon plans were underway to operate buses in Chattanooga in direct competition with the trolleys in virtually every direction. However, the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County as well as the State of Tennessee were also watching with interest what had become locally known as “Duncan’s Folly.” In short order legislation was soon enacted which created a $20 state tax and a $10 Chattanooga privilege tax for anyone to enter into the bus business. In less than four months after it had commenced operations, on June 14, Lewis Duncan’s interest in the bus business, plus the interest any others might have had in implementing bus service were temporarily abandoned.
On May 28, 1916, another group of local businessmen banded together to form the Chattanooga Motorbus Company. They contended that their service was needed and they pleaded with the city fathers to grant them a free franchise without the implementation of any privilege taxes. The city’s response, however, was loud and decisive. Even stricter legislation was then enacted. To go into business, an annual fee of $100 would be required for every bus in operation, at least two buses had to be in operation at all times and the city was to have jurisdiction over the fares charged and routes that would be assumed. The Chattanooga Motorbus Company was also never heard from again.
Interurban bus lines, however, were faring considerably better at this time. With non-existing trolley service into the nearby suburbs, small bus lines were soon reaching out to such points as Signal Mountain, Cleveland and Soddy, Tennessee and into nearby Georgia points as far south as Chickamauga, Lafayette and Summerville. The histories of these lines will be discussed later on in their separate chapter.
It would take until 1925 for the first authentic buses to arrive in Chattanooga, but with their coming, anyone with vision realized that the streetcar lines would soon become a relic of the past.
Chattanooga’s First Local Bus Line
Tennessee Electric Power Company
The Tennessee Electric Power Company (TEPCO) came into existence on May 27, 1922, when the Tennessee Power Company, the Chattanooga Railway & Light Company (CR&L) and the Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power Company merged. TEPCO assumed the daily Chattanooga transit operation that had been operated by CR&L since 1909. At that time service was offered solely by electric trolley.
By 1925, the motor coach had come a long way and was beginning to entrench itself in many communities. In that year, the Chicago-based Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing Company introduced its new Z-29 Model bus, then the talk of the industry. No longer would wires have to be stretched or tracks need to be laid in city streets when a new line needed to be built. Thus, on Tuesday, April 7, when TEPCO approached the city commission at that time for permission to institute two new bus lines, their request was immediately granted. Chattanooga would be joining other towns jumping onto the bus bandwagon.
On May 21, Chattanoogans got their first glimpse of the first true city transit buses ever to be seen in the city. Five Z-29 model buses, numbered 21 through 25, arrived from Chicago. On the Wednesday morning of May 27, the neighborhoods of Brainerd and Eastdale, just to the east of locally famous Missionary Ridge, which up to that time had had no public transportation, began to be serviced half-hourly by motor coach. This was followed on Monday, December 20, 1926 by the implementation of Chattanooga’s third bus line into the northern suburb of Dallas Heights in North Chattanooga. Like the other two initial bus lines, the Dallas Heights line was a new bus line that did not supplant any existing trolley service. To implement this service, TEPCO, which also operated the transit system in Nashville, transferred two of its Yellow-built coaches from the state’s capitol to Chattanooga, which they numbered 26 and 27. To accommodate its new bus division, TEPCO built and opened a new bus barn facility just to the north of its existing streetcar barns on Market Street near West 2nd Street.
On March 17, 1917, the Chattanooga Traction Company, which had operated trolleys to the crest of Signal Mountain since 1913, began a trolley service in the valley below from downtown Chattanooga to Red Bank. By 1928, it was ready to abandon that operation and on February 6 was granted that permission from the Tennessee Railroad & Public Utilities Commission. On April 1, 1928, the new TEPCO Red Bank bus was in operation and became the first bus line in Chattanooga to directly supplant a trolley operation. An additional Yellow Coach Model Z-29 was secured for the occasion and numbered 28. On June 18, 1928, yet another Z-29 arrived in town, number 29, along with the first Twin Coach-built buses from Kent, Ohio ever to seen in Chattanooga. These Model TC-40 buses were initially numbered 500 and 501. Shortly thereafter, on August 13, TEPCO terminated the fondly remembered “Dinky Line” that operated on Lookout Mountain’s west brow between Point Park and the Ross Avenue Station and supplemented it with motor coaches.
In 1925, the Fairyland Hotel was under construction on the top of Lookout Mountain. To provide public transportation from downtown Chattanooga to the hostelry, the private Fairyland Transportation Company was created. The hotel proved a failure, but TEPCO bought the bus line and on May 16, 1929, began to offer service over its sixth bus line with two Studebaker coaches that were taken over from the Fairyland Company. These were numbered 550 and 551. Two others were transferred from the Nashville TEPCO Division and they became 552 and 553. At about the same time, an additional TC-40 Twin Coach was purchased and it became fleet number 503. At this point, TEPCO owed 16 buses, 12 of which were kept in constant use over the six routes.
1929 was a busy year for TEPCO. On June 2, the second tunnel through historic Missionary Ridge was dedicated connecting Chattanooga with its East Ridge suburb. Commencing July 15, the new East Ridge line was instituted simultaneously with a new East Chattanooga Glenwood bus line that began to service Chattanooga’s new Children’s Hospital. Beginning in September, a bus service began to be offered that would endure for many years. TEPCO began to offer school bus specials. In this inaugural instance, morning and afternoon service began to be offered from Lookout Mountain to Girls Preparatory School and Bright School then located near downtown on Palmetto Street, and to and from Chattanooga High School then located on East 3rd Street. On December 18, the Glenwood bus line was extended from the Children’s Hospital deep into East Chattanooga to Glass Street and Dodson Avenue
Beginning June 20, 1930, TEPCO began to offer service to locally famous Lake Winnepesaukah in Georgia by extending the existing East Ridge line south from McBrien and west on Lakeview Drive into the amusement park. In September of that year, TEPCO had the necessary permission to discontinue in its entirety the North Chattanooga trolley and to cut back the Riverview trolley from the Chattanooga Golf & Country Club the distance to Hixson Pike. These moves were affected Friday, November 14. To implement the service, two Twin Coach TC-20s were secured and they were numbered 50 and 51 in the fleet.
In 1931, the exact date unknown at this writing, three additional buses joined the fleet. They were two 17-passenger Reo’s mounted on Fremont bodies numbered 61 and 62 and a 14-passenger Lincoln, numbered 71 mounted on a Wayne body. Starting in June of that year, TEPCO began to offer a Sunday summer service to nearby Lake Rosetta located on old Cleveland Pike. This was a popular recreation spot for the black population of that era but for how long this service lasted and its precise routing is unknown at this writing.
As will be traced in this history, at this time in TEPCO’s history, the company began to be plagued by illegal jitney bus operators. With small and faster regular-sized cars, service was being offered to places such as Brainerd, Red Bank and Eastdale. Their existence began to seriously jeopardize TEPCO’s long entrenched legal system. Chancery Court soon had the matter under consideration, but an entire halt to the illegal operation could not be affected at that time.
The 30s would be the years that Chattanooga’s trolley lines would begin to topple. TEPCO’s streetcars were beginning to get up in age and were in need of replacement. The company announced officially, that it had adopted a policy that the trolley lines would be abandoned instead and motor coaches would be their replacement.
And so it was! The first line to go was the East 9th Street trolley. It was abandoned on March 31 1932. Streetcars on three lines were abandoned simultaneously on October 17, 1932 on the West 6th Street, Carter Street and the Willow Street crosstown line. While the routing for the two latter lines remained the same, the West 6th Street bus route was extended past the old streetcar terminus at the top of West 6th Street at the fire hall located there for so many years, to operate to the crest of Cameron Hill at the foot of Boynton Park. To implement this service, three additional Twin Coach TC-15 17-passenger buses made their debut numbered 63 through 65. In November of that year, twenty additional new Twin Coach Model 19’s arrived in Chattanooga numbered 101-120. So proud was TEPCO of this changeover to motor coach, that a few days preceding their going into actual service, the entire new fleet was paraded along the routes to be served. Then, on November 27, 1932, these buses supplanted the venerable St. Elmo and Alton Park trolley lines.
The new year of 1933 was only three days old, when the section of the trolley line over Cedar Hill serving Fort Oglethorpe into Georgia was cut back from its entrance onto East 45th Street at Dodds Avenue the distance to the military outpost. A shuttle bus was then instituted to connect with the trolley in Rossville to operate the distance to Fort Oglethorpe. Such a loud outcry went up from Cedar Hill residents whose service had been abandoned, that TEPCO was forced to re-institute the trolley service that short distance, by extending the East Lake trolley line along the East 45th Street section. By the end of the year, however, the City of Chattanooga granted TEPCO the right to discontinue the shuttle after it was proven that the poor patronage along that section of the line no longer warranted its continuation. In the meantime, in December, four more Twin Coach-built buses arrived in town and were given the numbers 31 through 34. These Model 30-A buses became the first ones in Chattanooga with a center-exit doorway.
The slaughter continued in March of 1934, when the Chattanooga Traction Company petitioned the Tennessee Railroad & Utilities Commission to be allowed the discontinuation of what certainly was the most scenic trolley route in the city. With that permission in hand, the last Signal Mountain trolley operated on July 4 and was the following day replaced with four new TEPCO Twin Coach-built 30AS motor coaches numbered 42 through 45. Again TEPCO held a parade on Signal Mountain a few days before the buses were instituted to show off its new additions.
In 1934, TEPCO purchased yet another seven Twin Coach buses. These were Model 30-A’s and were numbered 35 through 41. Thereafter, on May 4, 1935, the Rossville trolley line was sent out to pasture, followed by the passing of the East Lake route a week thereafter on May 11. In addition, two new motor coach services commenced to operate at that time. These became the South Central line, which connected St. Elmo with Alton Park and the Foust bus line in East Lake. To establish these new routes, in early May of 1935, TEPCO purchased some 23 new Model 30-R Twin Coach vehicles. These were numbered 46 through 68 and were the first buses in the city to be equipped with their motors in the rear. At that time, a two to three minute headway was required on the busy East Lake line during rush hours, and a new Ridgedale tripper service, operating only to 23rd & Dodds Avenue began to be offered at the same time. In short order, to handle the traffic, an additional 13 30-R’s complemented the system and became numbers 69 through 81. In addition, in 1936, the only two White-built buses ever to exist in the TEPCO roster joined the fleet and were numbered 169 and 170. The 169 was a 30-passenger Model 706M and the 170 was a 32-passenger 684. These two buses became affectionately nicknamed by TEPCO “Little” and “Big” Bertha respectively.
TEPCO remained unchanged for some two years, but on Wednesday, March 31, 1937, the final Riverview trolley made its run and was replaced on April 1 by a vastly improved motor coach schedule. This was the final trolley line to operate north of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga and now only four trolley lines remained in the system. What had been a 125-mile traction empire had been reduced to only 20 miles of trackage. This line, however, would be the final streetcar line that would be discontinued by TEPCO. Thereafter, until its demise, little was destined to transpire under TEPCO, with one exception.
It is interesting to note, that whereas bus fares in Chattanooga from their inception had been 10 cents a ride, with a second zone charge of an additional nickel, protests by riders beginning in early 1932, plus the existence of cheaper, albeit illegal jitneys plaguing the system, prompted TEPCO to standardize its fare to only 10 cents on all routes, with the exception of the lengthy Signal Mountain and Fort Oglethorpe routes in the city. These had an additional 7 cents tacked on to ride to their extreme termini. In late 1938, the City of Nashville informed TEPCO that if they did not reduce their fares to a flat nickel, the municipality would build and operate its own transit system. Despite the Tennessee Railroad & Utilities Commission decision in the matter, that by a 1921 law Nashville’s fare could not go lower than 7 cents, the City of Nashville was adamant in its demand. To defuse the situation, the Public Utilities Commission compromised by offering Nashville the right to charge a 7-cent motor coach fare but offer a 5-cent reduced trolley fare. Oddly enough, TEPCO’s Chattanooga Division was also included in the order and this new fare structure went into effect February 2, 1939. Now only a trip over the state line into Georgia to Fort Oglethorpe and to the crest of Signal Mountain required a 17-cent total fare.
In 1932, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was swept into office and the following year, in his attempt to wrest the country from the grips of its many years of Depression, he introduced his “New Deal” policy. For Chattanooga and the entire Tennessee River area, this spelled the beginning of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
On Wednesday, August 16, 1939, for the sum of $78,425,095, the TVA had purchased outright all the electric power and light facilities of the existing Tennessee Electric Power Company. Not interested in going into the transit business, TEPCO was now reduced to a $2,800,000 skeleton company, operating the transit systems in both Chattanooga and Nashville plus a few other non-power related operations in the state. At that time, TEPCO changed its official corporate name to the Tennessee Utilities Corporation (TUC). But this company was short-lived. In May of 1941, the Federal Securities & Exchange Commission ordered the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, TUC’s parent company, to dispose of all its remaining non-electrical properties in Tennessee by July 1, 1942. To satisfy the government’s charge, TUC was put up for sale and in late May of 1941, the famous National City Lines of Chicago seemed poised to add the Chattanooga operations into its holdings. The deal, however, fell through at that time. In its stead, another syndicate headquartered in Nashville and organized and headed by Paul M. Davis, president of the American National Bank in Nashville and Brownlee Currey of the Equitable Securities Corporation also of Nashville, gained control of the Nashville Coach Company, then operating transit service in the state’s capitol and TUC in Chattanooga. The two transit firms were then combined into a united company renamed Southern Coach Lines, Incorporated. TEPCO and TUC had been reduced to but fond memories.
Southern Coach Lines, Incorporated
On August 29, 1941, the Chattanooga City Commission passed on final reading the act granting Southern Coach Lines, Incorporated, the right to service Chattanooga’s transit requirements. On September 23, 1941, with the approval of the Tennessee Railroad & Public Utilities Commission, for $2,100,000, SCL had been born. TEPCO’s familiar colors of maroon and aluminum finish were immediately changed to silver mine green on the bottom with a medium cream on the upper body, while the top was made aluminum. When SCL assumed the service, it was operating some 20 motor coach routes and four trolley lines, which combined were hauling some 50,000 daily commuters.
SCL’s story is one that commences in pride, but ends in failure. At its inception, in just a few months after its entrance into the Chattanooga market, America was brought into the Second World War by the attack on Pearl Harbor. With the resulting tire and gas rationing and shortage in securing new equipment and bus parts, SCL was soon being pushed to capacity to provide the necessary service for the close to 100,000 passengers it now had to serve in its territory. Between June and October of 1940, the company was able to secure four additional Twin Coach 30-R buses that were transferred from Nashville, followed in March of 1941 by five second-hand TC-40s that came from Youngstown Municipal Street Railway Company and an additional five that came second-hand from the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel Transit Company. During that period with the additional equipment, SCL began to offer express service first to Red Bank and then Brainerd, and then over virtually every major trunk line in the system. Beginning in 1942 and following into 1943, SCL secured 43 new Twin Coach 41-S motor coaches to complement the service. At that time, SCL was hauling some 28,700,000 riders annually with its 124 buses and 24 streetcars. Beginning November 13, 1941, the first electrically churned fare boxes began to appear on SCL buses and school tickets that had been in vogue were discontinued when metal school tokens began to be offered instead.
On February 28, 1942, SCL lengthened its West 6th Street line to connect Cameron Hill with the College Hill area west of the hill in the valley below. On May 8, the new North Brainerd line was created. In late 1942, to conserve rubber and gas, SCL was ordered to abandon 213 of its total 2,778 bus and trolley stops, and in that year, additional express service was provided on the North Brainerd, East Lake and Alton Park routes and service was increased on most lines to accommodate the additional ridership.
On March 31, 1944, SCL operators staged a 3-day strike for additional wages, but the National Labor War Board declared the strike illegal and service was returned to normal. On November 21, the drivers secured a 4% increase in pay. In the meantime, on September 22, a new bus line was opened to Lupton City, to serve the 1100 employees in full-time war production at the Dixie Mercerizing plant. Effective April 27, 1945, a new shuttle service began to be offered from the end of the Brainerd line that offered half-hour service to and from the Chattanooga airport, Lovell Field. By this time, however, the war was winding down and soon transit service would return to normal.
On November 6, 1945, SCL became an affiliate of the United Transit Company, comprised of some nine separate transit properties. Besides Chattanooga, these included Nashville; Richmond, Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Youngstown and Akron, Ohio and Springfield, Illinois. Jo Conn Guild who had been associated with the old TEPCO, TUC and SCL firms became Chairman of the Board of the combined operation.
With the war over, on November 16, 1945, the last streetcar was operated over the scenic Ridge carline and thereafter, by September 11, 1946, with the arrival of thirteen new 41-S Twin Coach-built motor coaches, the last Oak Street streetcar was operated. The following day service by bus began to operate when two new services, the Highland Park-Vance and Highland Park-Bailey lines were introduced.
Commencing November 11, 1946, with the opening of the new Dupont textile plant, service began to be offered to that sprawling complex north of the river. The following day, the first of six new Southern-built F-31 buses arrived, following on March 18, 1947 with the arrival of fifteen new Twin Coach-built 34-S coaches. Thereafter, on the night of April 9, the last Boyce streetcar made its final run at 11:30 p.m. to bring to a close the streetcar era in the city. On May 27, ten additional Twin Coach 41-S’s arrived to complement the system, followed in July by an additional 17. A number of these new buses were used to create the new South Brainerd line that came into operation on June 14. At that same time, the East Chattanooga Glenwood line was extended to create the Campbell Street extension. With the streetcars out of commission, it was felt that the safety islands that had existed in the middle of downtown Market Street to primarily serve the trolleys, were obsolete and effective September 2, 1947, they were abandoned. To relieve congestion of buses and other vehicular traffic on busy Market Street, all inbound buses from McCallie Avenue began to now use Broad Street instead of Market to make their turnarounds.
Patronage was beginning to fall over the system now and on November 22, 1948, SCL introduced a 90-day trial express service to entice riders into the new Hedgewood section of Red Bank north of the river. The service, however, proved a failure and was abandoned after the three months’ period. Between November 23 and December 14, some 10 additional Southern F35M’s arrived in town in SCL’s continued attempt to provide the newest equipment to get riders back to the buses.
Patronage was now beginning to tumble and left with no choice, effective July 19, 1951, drastic service reductions were introduced systemwide. Considerable weekend service was abolished as well as daily late evening service and some mid-day non-rush hour services. The McFarland Gap line in North Georgia was eliminated in its entirety. On October 1 of that year, a trial service that had been undertaken to serve Stuart Heights in North Chattanooga was also eliminated after having proved a dismal failure. One service that was still maintaining itself well was bus service that was provided in the summer on Lookout Mountain. To bolster this service and its charter service in general, SCL converted one of its old 41-S Twin Coach buses into an open summer vehicle and introduced it as “The TenneSEEr” on April 14, 1952. In its continued efforts to draw riders onto its buses, SCL purchased 10 new 45-passenger Southern–built Model S45HS for its busy East Chattanooga-East Lake operation. But this, and despite heavy advertising in the local newspapers, did not remedy the situation and more service reductions were made to the North Brainerd, Ridge, North Chattanooga and Dallas Heights lines at that time. The situation had now become so serious, that the City of Chattanooga, for the first time, rescinded its bus franchise tax charged SCL for use of the city’s streets and this would be the first of many assists that would be given the company in its struggle to continue to function.
The famous Gray Line sightseeing service was introduced into Chattanooga the summer of 1957 and beginning July 12, was in business as an affiliate of SCL using a rejuvenated 34-S Twin Coach motor coach and a smaller Volkswagen van as needed. Lamentably, it too would prove a failure and exist only for a few years. Nonetheless in its continued attempt to salvage its ridership, on November 21 of that year, 12 new Southern-built 41-D 41-passenger buses were introduced in the system. These were billed as “air-ride” buses and were an improvement over the buses that had been in use up to then, but still, for the 11th consecutive year, ridership continued to drop and now was down to an all-time low of only 11,767,061 annual riders. Effective November 18, additional night service was eliminated on the North Brainerd and Ridge lines. Effective May 20, 1959, the fare was raised from 15-cents to 2/35-cents and school tokens went from 6 to 9-cents. On August 11, SCL introduced express service into the Foxwood Heights, Indian Hills and Woodmere sections and the new service was dubbed “The Friendly Flyer.” Poor patronage caused it to be discontinued on October 24. Because of this latest failure with express buses, on November 20, 1959, when the new Olgiati Bridge over the Tennessee River from downtown and the accompanied freeway were opened, SCL announced that no attempts would be made to offer express bus services to northern suburbs it served. Some 3,000 daily school children, however, were still utilizing SCL special school trippers and to supplement the existing service, in late 1959, some six ACF-Brill motor coaches second-hand from Nashville were placed into the service.
The biggest attempt SCL took to encourage more riders aboard occurred on January 15, 1960. At that time, SCL secured 10 new GM-built 4517 buses and two of them were air-conditioned, making them the first such equipment ever to be had in the system. SCL made a big parade for the occasion, but this would also be a vain attempt at stopping the ever-growing loss of patronage SCL would continue to experience.
On August 29, 1960, SCL asked the city to be allowed another fare increase. Instead, the city hired transit consultants to make a comprehensive transit study and on January 24, 1961, Wilber Smith & Associates presented their findings. Included were adding zone fares to all lines operating east of the McCallie Tunnel, elimination of the jitney line then in operation, raising select fares, making additional schedule adjustments, the purchase of additional improved equipment, especially air-conditioned buses and having a more active public relations program. At that time, the report showed that SCL had earned a meager $23,170 in profit for 1960 and in that year had lost an additional 769,028 riders. On March 1, 1961, the city acquiesced and the fares were allowed to be raised to a straight 20-cents with school tokens becoming 11-cents a ride at that time. Nonetheless, on May 14, 1961, service reductions had to again be instituted, when it was revealed that SCL had suffered yet another 6.9% decline in patronage. Annual revenue miles were now reduced to 3,080,639.
In March of 1962, American Transportation Enterprises (ATE) of New York City, purchased the controlling interest in United Transit of which SCL had been a subsidiary since 1945. The two properties now consisted besides Chattanooga, of transit properties in Nashville, Akron and Youngstown, Ohio; Baton Route, Louisiana and Springfield, Illinois; Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia, Allentown, Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Omaha, Wilmington, Delaware and the Cincinnati, Newport & Covington Transportation Company operating in Cincinnati and its Kentucky suburbs.
On September 19, 1962, for the first time, SCL advised that it had to have another fare increase to justify continuation of the service, or either be subsidized to some extent by Chattanooga and the area towns it was then serving, or be liquidated and bought out by the local area governments in its entirety. On October the city fathers denied SCL its fare increase, noting that this was not going to solve the problem as had been shown in the past. SCL advised that it wished to therefore begin immediate negotiations for its takeover by the city and a crisis was now underway that would take some 11 years to resolve.
Again the city acquiesced and effective March 29, 1963, the fares went to 25-cents with a straight nickel transfer charge. In addition, on April 1, additional major route reductions were once again effected over the system. Once again, effective January 14, 1964, the fare was increased to 30-cents, but four tokens began to be offered for $1.10, a 20-ticket booklet became available for $5.00, as well as a 40-ticket booklet for $9.50. School fares became 20 for $3.75, up a quarter from the previous $3.50.
By April 1963, the entire 85-bus SCL fleet had been painted into ATE’s standard colors of aluminum with a green stripe. The interiors were altered to light green instead of dark green to provide a more airy and appealing appearance.
On September 8, 1963, the Riverview bus line was abandoned. In its stead, the Dallas Heights line was routed so as to encompass parts of the old Riverview route. On November 29, SCL issued a new system map in color that showed the remaining 21 bus routes SCL was then operating.
On April 21, 1965, SCL was able to advise, that with the fare hikes of the previous year and the service reductions, the company had managed to earn $76,183 in 1964, but its annual ridership had fallen to 5,020,060. At the end of the year 1966, SCL noted that for the previous year it had managed to earn $85,774 but again had experienced a 5.2% drop in ridership. To bolster its equipment roster and to retire some older pieces of equipment, SCL in 1966 secured two second-hand GM TDH 3714’s from Nashville. Thereafter, ten additional used GM 4512’s arrived from White Transit Company in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Tourism on Lookout Mountain was still a paying venture, particularly in the summer. In 1967, SCL redid its “TenneSEEr” bus, by outfitting it with an overhead canopy and otherwise sprucing it up for the season. One of the ACF-Brill buses was also equipped for the season to increase the company’s capacity to offer additional charter service and it entered service on August 27 of that year. Figures for fiscal 1966 showed an additional loss of 27% in revenue, earning the company but $62,272 and a loss of 3.2% in ridership. In October of 1967, evening service was dropped on the Red Bank, Rossville and Fort Oglethorpe lines.
On June 8, 1968, the fares were once again raised. A ride became 35-cents, four tokens went to $1.20, a 20-ticket book became $5.50 and a 40-ticket booklet was raised to $10.00. School tickets went to 20 for $3.50. Exactly a year later, on June 8 of 1969, some 14 routes had drastic curtailments made to their schedules. This included additional abandonment of night and weekend service. An additional 1,400 operating miles per week were thus eliminated. Annual ridership was now down to but 4,180,410.
By this point in time, it was obvious that it would be but a matter of time before SCL would call it quits and the city would have to assume the transit service. To this end, on July 30, 1969, the first meeting of the new City Transit Task Force was held to lay the groundwork for the city’s eventual takeover of the system. At that time, some five sub-committees were established for that purpose. This Task Force went on to present four recommendations, one of which being, that the city provide some sort of monetary subsidy to the ailing SCL to insure its continued operation until the city could actually assume the operation. Other area towns also agreed at that time to payment of subsidies, which would ensure continued service into their municipalities. These included Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Red Bank, East Ridge, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee and Georgia, Signal Mountain and Ridgeside.
As was becoming the norm for most transit systems across the country, SCL introduced its Exact Fare Plan whereby drivers would no longer give change on the buses. This was done to speed up the service and prevent robberies that were common to the drivers.
On March 11, 1970, SCL announced that revenue fares were down again by 8.9% and now only 3,549,039 had been coaxed about SCL buses for the fiscal year,
A surprise proposal was presented to the Chattanooga City Commission on March 31, 1970, when a group of local businessmen, headed by George Morgan, local mobile home and truck dealer, and George Perry, truck division official with Forrest Cate Ford Company, offered to assume the transit system and operate the buses in the area. Their plan called for the operation of 11 to 38-passenger vehicles, understood to include a number of school-type buses. The promise was that quality service could be offered at a fraction of what it would cost for SCL or the city to operate a system and the group, it was reported, was only asking for “a little help from the city.” Mayor Bender announced an interest in the project and the group was referred to John Dyer, Chattanooga’s federal program coordinator. A meeting between the two was held on May 6, but after that, it was not heard from again. Thereafter, on April 21, J.W. Whitaker, of the local Whitaker Transportation Company offered a similar transit proposal, but he was also never heard from thereafter. Left now with no alternative, the city asked SCL to consider continued operating of the buses, which by now SCL had advised, it was no longer interesting in doing. SCL advised that it would consider the proposal, but company officials advised that by May 1 it had to give notice to the union, whose contract was up for renewal in July, that this contract would be cancelled on June 30 if the city could not come up with some subsidy plan to continue the service. On May 4, city fathers admonished that they had determined that the city could no longer subsidize or even consider the outright purchase of the transit system, which they had decided was too expensive of an undertaking for the city at that time. On that same May 4 day, “For Sale” signs were immediately posted on two parcels of SCL land between Market and Broad Street at 3rd where SCL maintained its company’s bus barn and offices. The realization was had that for the first time in Chattanooga’s 95 years of continuous transit service, Chattanoogans might wake up on July 1 without any public transportation. This was fortified by the union’s decision on June 20 by a margin of 66 to 6, that it would reject SCL’s offer of a wage increase that would have given them a 4-cent increase in July, an addition 4-cents in January 1971 and an additional 4-cents in April, bringing their hourly pay to $3.14. On June 25, SCL took out large ads in both Chattanooga papers to announce that there would be a termination of service as of the end of June 30, 1970.
Last minute negotiations, however, prevented a shutdown, when the union, on June 27, accepted the city’s last minute proposal that would give the men a 20-cent hourly pay increase over the new one-year contract, with 6-cents to be added in October, 4 additional cents on January 1 and 4-cents on April 1, 1971. The union announced that it had accepted this contract because it had been given the assurance that the city would definitely purchase the system and create a new municipal transit authority. Effective July 1, 1971, SCL fares were once again raised to a 40-cent straight fare, with no ticket or token reductions to be offered. For SCL to continue the operation, it had been additionally agreed, that the city would pay SCL a $35,000 managerial fee and would pick up the tab for any operation costs over $75,000.
With the dawn of July 1, 1970, bus service was continued in the city, but was discontinued in the towns of Ridgeside and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, after those communities refused to go along with the payment of their share of subsidies. Service was continued in Signal Mountain and East Ridge, as well as Red Bank, which at the last minute agreed to go along with its subsidy costs.
In mid-September of 1971, the City of Chattanooga, in cooperation with the Chattanooga Area Regional Council of Governments (CARCOG), headed by Executive Director Charles Thrailkill and Gordon Mellencamp, federal programs coordinator in the Chattanooga area, began preliminary consideration for the creation of a regional transit authority. On December 22, CARCOG did indeed approve the proposition.
On May 3, 1972, without debate and with but one dissenting vote, the Tennessee State house sent to the senate the bill that would pave the way for a publicly-owned mass transit system in Chattanooga. On May 5, the senate had created that authority and with the bill’s signature on May 10 by Governor Dunn, the long battle for its enactment had been terminated. The Chattanooga Area Transportation Authority (CARTA) could now go into official operation. Until such time as CARTA could actually assume the day-to-day operations, SCL agreed to continue the service with the payment of the agreed-upon subsidies and the managerial fees as in the past. To date these subsidies had amounted to some $142,500. Indeed on June 28, the Chattanooga City Commission authorized a three-months’ subsidy extension to enable CARTA to put its house in order for actual takeover of the bus system. These conditions were met until January 28, 1973, when CARTA officially assumed the reins of Chattanooga’s transit system to commence the next era in the city’s transportation history.
Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority
With CARTA now able to legally commence actual day-to-day operations, the first CARTA board meeting was held September 11, 1971, at which time officers were elected to the CARTA board to represent the eight communities that had elected to join the system. This action was finalized on October 21, at which time a $2,366,152.65 application was made to the United States Department of Transportation and a search was begun for a general manager. Thereafter, on November 18, CARTA began the thorny task of tackling the jitney problem and on that date appointed a committee to meet with the jitney operators themselves to discuss the issue. On January 20, 1972, Charles W. Mann was appointed CARTA’s Executive Director to be effective February 1. On June 6 the DOT announced approval of a $3,698,743 grant for CARTA. Thereafter, on July 18, Albert K. Meinze assumed the duties of Resident Manager for the system.
On December 15, CARTA advertised for bids for 45 new 43-passenger buses to be opened on January 25, 1973. Announcement was also made that CARTA had dropped its originally planned color scheme for its buses of emphasizing gold and had instead adopted a color plan of dark and light blue and white.
By January 11, CARTA and SCL reported that they had come to a mutual agreement for the purchase price for the existing SCL facilities and equipment. On January 20, CARTA announced that it would at long last assume the reins of public transportation at 12:01 the morning of January 28. On January 25, CARTA announced that the low bidder for the 45 new motor coaches was the General Motors Corporation with its $1,792,801.25 bid. Since it was noted that it could take up to 213 calendar days to receive the new equipment, starting with the first trips 7:00 a.m. the Sunday Morning of January 28, 1972, old Southern Coach Line equipment was utilized in the interim that had been painted in the new CARTA blue color scheme. To accomplish this, it had taken three 18-hour shifts to paint all the buses in question.
It should be noted that with the commencement of service by CARTA, the following were the lines that were initially operated:
Alton Park-Piney Wood and Alton Park-Wheeler Homes
Cherokee Boulevard (Remnant of the Red Bank line)
East Chattanooga-Avondale, Campbell Street, Glenwood & Industrial Eastdale (operating mid-day service via Highland Park)
East Ninth Street
Signal Mountain (all service via Woodland Heights)
Woodland Heights (provided via Signal Mountain line)
Lookout Mountain local service
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
On June 2 and 3 of 1973, CARTA implemented its Phase I Transit Improvement Plan that brought increased service on ten existing lines and brought about the creation of the new Northgate route. CARTA also implemented new and nicely printed schedules and maps for patrons and assigned route numbers to each bus line, a practice that had not been followed since TEPCO days. On June 20, 13 new GMC 4523A motor coaches arrived and were numbered in the 900-series.
On June 29, the purchase of suburban bus company Cherokee Bus Lines was finalized and CARTA assumed the service to Collegedale and Soddy-Daisy. This was followed on August 1 by the purchase of Hale Bus Lines that began to offer service to New Salem at the north end of Hamilton County and to Tyner-Silverdale.
On September 9, 1973, service was again restored to East Ridge, when that town joined the CARTA family. The following day, CARTA implemented its Phase II Transit Improvement Plan with the creation of several express suburban routes. Specifically, express service commenced on the new No. 28-Amnicola Highway 58 route and a new local route, No. 21-Golden Gateway was created, along with improved transit services on existing lines.
On October 5, CARTA sold the first of 38 old retired buses and these included 15 Twin Coach 41-S motor coaches, 11 Twin Coach 38-S models and 12 Southern-built 41 DHL’s. Improvements continued beginning November 23, when CARTA introduced its new DASH (Downtown Area Shop Hop) program, which allowed free usage of CARTA buses in a designated section of downtown Chattanooga. On December 1, the town of Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia joined CARTA and service to that north Georgia town was restored March 4, 1974.
On May 3, 12 additional old SCL buses were sent out to pasture. These were 12 Southern-built 41-DHL’s. Shortly thereafter, on June 12, CARTA secured the first three of 24 additional GMC 4523s.
Additional improvements were fast in coming, when on July 1, the town of Red Bank elected to join the CARTA camp. On December 2, a new express line was introduced as the No. 29-Spring Valley-Mountain Creek line. On July 14, new Tiftonia express service was instituted, followed on August 4 by the inauguration of the new No. 31-Lookout Mountain bus route, that began to offer service directly from downtown Chattanooga to the crest of Lookout Mountain
On January 12, 1976, 7 new 16-passenger Mercedes-Benz minibuses joined the CARTA fleet numbered in the 500-series, and they were placed into immediate service on two new downtown circular routes, North-South and East-West. They, however, did not prove successful and were shortly thereafter removed from the company’s itinerary,
Such was the initial success of CARTA in the Chattanooga area and at this writing, CARTA still maintains the Chattanooga bus system. This writer left Chattanooga in 1983 and so this history ends at that time.
It is hoped that the history can be brought up to date at some later date. Suffice it to say, however, that today the system comprises some 16 fixed bus routes, as well as the famous Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, in continuous use since 1895. In addition CARTA operates one of the largest battery-electric operated bus systems in the country over two downtown shuttle routes that connect the Chattanooga Choo Choo vacation complex on the south edge of the downtown business district, with the city’s acclaimed state aquarium on the north end at the Tennessee River, and an additional electric route that connects the aquarium with the north side attractions on the other side of the river. Some 750,000 annual passengers are handled over the system that operates on approximate 5-minute headway from early morning to late at night. With the opening of the $2 billion Volkswagen automobile plant in the Tyner section of the city, CARTA is currently operating four branches on its No. 3 line which offers service to the plant from downtown Chattanooga, Northgate, Ooltewah and the East Ridge sections of town.
It is hoped that the readers will agree with the author, that Chattanooga’s transit history was deserving of being recorded herewith.
The Jitneys of Chattanooga
Early Tennessee law defined a jitney to be “a self-propelling vehicle other than a streetcar traversing the public streets between certain definite points or termini, and as a common carrier, conveying passengers at a 5-cent or some small fare between such termini and intermediate points, and so held out, advertised or announced.” A jitney could thus be described as one operating over a fixed route but with a variable schedule, a hybrid between regular fixed route transit and what we today would call “Para-transit,” ranging from private share-riding, conventional taxi services and such things as Dial-A-Ride operations.
No rules or regulations existed on the books of the City of Chattanooga in February of 1915, when the Chattanooga Daily Times reported a jitney bus to be in operation along Market Street from 6th to Main Street. Without advance notice, Lewis Duncan placed into service a large touring car on the 17th of that month and was successful enough to place a second vehicle along the route the following day. Some two weeks before, on February 4, W. Scott Raulston had announced even more ambitious plans of operating a 20-passenger automobile on a scheduled route from downtown to Highland Park and Ridge Junction at Chamberlain and Dodds Avenues, utilizing McCallie Avenue the entire distance. Raulston announced his goal was to offer service into every suburb where existing streetcar transportation was offered, but his operation never made it past the drawing board stage.
Duncan’s experiment had been in operation but one week, when Chattanooga Mayor Thompson decided that some regulations regarding jitneys were in order. An ordinance was passed regulating fares, routes and taxes. Meanwhile, in April of 1915, the Tennessee Legislature got into the act by passing a bill requiring jitney operators to post bond for each car in operation. On June 15, less than four months after Duncan’s jitney had taken to the city streets, a halt was brought to his operation.
But there was money to be had in the jitney business and on March 28, 1916, a company styled as the Chattanooga Motor Bus Company approached the city fathers and petitioned for an operating franchise. But the city was unimpressed and on final reading on May 17 granted the company its desired franchise but tacked on with a number of unacceptable conditions. The franchise was valid for 10 years only, the service had to commence within 90 days, a $100 annual privilege tax had to paid for every vehicle placed into service, at least two cars had to be in constant service, the cars could not have less than a 7-passenger capacity and no more than 10 buses could be in operation at a time. Only one route was authorized and it had to operate from 6:00 in the morning until midnight, the fare could not exceed a nickel and 100 tickets had to be offered for $4.00. All drivers had to pass a drivers test as well as a physical exam, and all equipment had to pass a city inspection. Needless to say, the Chattanooga Motor Bus Company was never heard from again!
In January of 1905, the State of Tennessee passed what later became known as the “Jim Crow” law, that required the separation of whites and blacks on all publicly-operated vehicles. Effective July 5 of that year, these laws began to be enforced. Many blacks began to immediately boycott the city’s streetcars and a horse-drawn hack line was simultaneously established that July 5 day. Operating between downtown and the Bushtown-Churchville section, the line proved a dismal failure from the onset. Horses could not compete in speed with streetcars and in rainy and inclement weather, with the existing dirt roads, the hack could not operate at all. With such unreliable service, slowly but surely the blacks returned to the streetcars and the black business venture became but a fond memory.
Over the years since the enactment of Jim Crow laws in 1905, segregation of the races on Chattanooga’s streetcars had for the most part been ignored and not enforced. By the mid-teens, however, there was a change in attitude and segregation became a fact. The blacks of predominant Churchville were in a dilemma. Oftentimes, by the time the Boyce car reached their neighborhood, the car was already packed with riders. Sometimes the motormen would not stop and blacks were left standing on the corner. When the cars did stop, if it was a one-man operated streetcar, they were asked to step to the rear. If a conductor manned the car in the rear, blacks were asked to move to the front. If the cars became filled with white patrons, blacks were asked to give up their seats.
To assure the black population a ride in dignity, on July 4, 1917, Carl Angel, with his old model 7-passenger Cadillacs and Packards, organized the first black jitney operation in the city. Assisted by others, they began to cruise the route of the Boyce streetcar line and pick up black people waiting for the trolley. It is reputed that on his first day of operation, Angel took in over $100, but the following day, he had been arrested and sent to jail and his cars had been confiscated. Angel secured a white lawyer, J.B. Frazier, and the next day after being fined, he and his cars were released and placed back into service. Angel vowed that he was determined that the jitney line prevail, although he knew from the onset there would be harassment the entire way.
Times were hard in 1917 and this only attracted more people into the jitney business, both white and black, especially those who had recently bought an automobile but could not find any gainful employment. In the meantime, on March 19, 1918, the Chattanooga Board of Aldermen wrote into official legislation that effective that date, all blacks must move to the rear of all streetcars. This only caused the black community to unite all the more and by November of 1918, it was reported that some 100 jitneys were in operation in Chattanooga. On February 21, 1921, Harry Cook cranked up the motor of his 6-cylinder Chalmers and drove along East 3rd Street from Churchville. He then altered his course until he reached Chestnut and Broad and meandered on his way until he reached the sprawling Crane Company plant in South Chattanooga. Along the way he picked up passengers and he became yet another in the long list of black jitneys drivers. Early 1921 had brought with it a severity of the times and men were out of work. The black jitney had caught on.
Initially the jitneys were individually owned and maintained. One exception was the Eastdale Cab Company, a black jitney operation, which lasted but a short time. Here several operators banded together to pool their services into a small association. Carl Angel was one of these drivers and was the envy of the group because he drove a 1918 “Style 57” Cadillac, while the other mostly operated the old Packard Twin 6. Malcolm Upchurch, another black driver, reminisced about the jitney he drove to St. Elmo. Although the trolley was a nickel and he charged a dime, he made the trip in 15-minutes compared to the trolley’s 30. A certain car dealer in town was in receivership and was prevented from selling the several autos he still had on his lot. For $10 to $20 a week, Malcolm Upchurch leased these vehicles and his favorite as he recalls, was a 7-passenger Pierce Arrow. Business was good, but with the constant harassment that was always coming his way, he left the jitney line in 1933 to become, of all things, the city’s taxi inspector! “Doc” Gray, a white jitney operator and later co-owner of the Gray Cab Company, remembers that when he began his line in 1928, he had several others working for him and service was being operated at that time into the white sections of Brainerd, Eastdale, Red Bank, Rossville and St. Elmo.
While in 1916 Chattanooga’s legitimate Chattanooga Railway & Light Company’s streetcars had earned the company $365,614, the next year, after a devastating strike and great increase in inflation, the company registered a $119,594 deficit. In April of 1919 the company was declared insolvent and placed into receivership. To some degree for certain, the jitneys had made their contribution.
In 1922, the Tennessee Electric Power Company assumed the transit reins in Chattanooga, but the late 1920s and early ‘30s only brought with them a deepening of the great depression. More and more jitneys were infiltrating most sections of the city and these bootleg operations caused TEPCO to determine that once and for all they had to be disbanded. So difficult had things become by January 29, 1932, that TEPCO’s Jo Conn Guild admonished the City of Chattanooga, that if it would not protect his company’s vested rights once and for all, he would be compelled to go out of business.
Beginning in 1931, a systematic effort was made to once and for all eradicate the jitney lines. With no permits, insurance and licenses, it would have seemed that arrests could be easily made and indeed they came in cycles every two to three months. But, arrests were difficult for local police to enforce. In fact, after being arrested, drivers would immediately post bond and be back in business the next day! This was due in part to the large amount of jitney operators and the limited resources of the police department. Faults in both state and local city statues failed to eliminate the traffic, since the city was required to show evidence that transportation was being provided on a “for hire” basis. An easy way a driver could be apprehended was in the exchange of currency, but most drivers knew their clientele and often extended credit to their riders so that money changed hands infrequently. On occasion the police would plant a potential customer and offer a fare at which time the driver would be arrested. As one driver, however, put it, being transported off to jail was not at all that bad. Times were hard and at least in jail there was a free meal! Later the city passed an ordinance requiring all taxi and jitney operators to maintain a company headquarters and maintain a telephone line. Malcolm Upchurch recalls how he dutifully complied with the law by listing the address and phone number of his good friend’s barbershop where a phone was located!
An example of how difficult it was for TEPCO to control the situation occurred on July 9, 1931. On that date, TEPCO went to Chancery Court to enjoin jitney operators C. Miller from operating in Brainerd, Grady Howard from operating in Red Bank and W. Snider running into Eastdale. A few days later, A.M. Croft was arrested operating into East Chattanooga and Robert Walker for operating into St. Elmo. On July 27, despite the court issuing an injunction against continued operations of these lines, the next day, these men simply removed the signs in the front of their cars advertising themselves as jitneys and showing the price and their routing and they continued to operate. On August 4, TEPCO returned the defendants to court and accused them of maliciously violating the recent injunction against them. On August 18, after lengthy testimony, the charges were all dismissed when nothing could be proven against them and added life was given to the jitneys’ existence.
By the mid-1930s, virtually all the white jitney operators had pulled out of the jitney business. A return of better times, allowing for other more lucrative and more legal ways of making a living without the constant harassment the jitney operators were experiencing, plus the ability of more people to afford a private automobile, minimized the need for jitneys in the white community. The black jitney, however, was still needed, especially on the original Churchville route and it continued to operate as in the past unabated but highly harassed.
In 1937, jitney operator Ernest Jackson was fined in city court for operating his jitney as a common carrier without license or permit. Jackson appealed the case and it was transferred to the Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court reversed the lower court’s decision, by ruling that the 1915 state law which had given municipalities jurisdiction over jitneys, had become void by Chapter 119 written into the State Act passed 1933. This act broadly confined power to the Tennessee Public Utilities Commission to regulate transportation by motor vehicles on all public highways. By definition of “public highways,” the court ruled this to mean and include all streets within municipalities as well. As could be expected, the City of Chattanooga sought to appeal that decision, demanding that a higher court examine the case for reconsideration.
That occurred on January 18, 1938, when the State Supreme Court dealt a serious blow to the jitneys. That court overturned the Court of Appeals’ ruling, judging in essence that the extension of regulatory power over motor vehicles to the Public Utilities Commission conveyed no intention of depriving the cities of their power to regulate use of their streets by motor carriers for hire within the corporate limits of any town. Nonetheless, despite this judgment and its reaffirming of the fines, the jitneys somehow managed to continue to roll on into the 1940s.
World War II brought with it an era of prosperity for Southern Coach Lines, Incorporated, by then operating the city’s transit system. SCL was having difficulty enough trying to provide the needed services to the nearly 100, 000 daily riders in its system. Thus little desire or interest was had at that time to disturb the remaining black jitney operation in town. With the war’s end and a steady decline in patronage, SCL began to once again point a finger in the jitneys’ direction. Matters reached crisis proportions in the 1950s when SCL notified city officials of the need to abolish the jitney system.
The city was in a dilemma. Legally it was indeed required to protect what was considered the bonafide franchised Southern Coach Lines Company. At the same time, however, there was an ever-growing awareness of the civil rights movement, which might trigger discontent and possible violence. Harassment of the black drivers had been the rule for all the years. Still it had had little effect in reducing the number of vehicles on the streets and certainly not produced their total elimination. By this late date, most jitneys being operated at that time were licensed taxicabs, although most continued to operate as jitneys. If a driver was arrested, another would simply take his place. If a taxi permit were taken away, the driver in many instances would just continue to operate without a permit. All kinds of schemes and methods had been attempted. A new city ordinance required the installation of meters in all the cars. Operators were told what kind of identification marks to paint on their vehicles. Any auto over six years of age could not be used on the streets. Nothing had helped. By this time, also, an association of many jitney drivers had been formed known as the Chattanooga Cruising Cab Association; “cruising cab” being the preferred term jitney operators wanted their operation to be called. Led by influential blacks, the city was wont to try and uproot a system which to a large extent had become enmeshed in the social fiber of the black community.
On October 24, 1955, SCL sought its own relief by routing its 9th Street bus line over the long-established jitney route along Palmetto Street from 9th to 3rd Streets instead of its regular Central Avenue routing. A heated fight then openly broke out in the city between the two factions and the city feared that violence might be the end result. A suggestion was made at that time, that the cruising cab line should be absorbed into the bonafide Southern Coach Line system and that the drivers be absorbed into the operation. Policy at that time, however, precluded this from transpiring and the issue soon reached dangerous proportions. The issue was defused, however, when SCL announced that “traffic hazards” along the Palmetto Street route had prompted the company to return its buses to the Central Avenue thoroughfare. The jitneys continued to operate.
In December of 1961, Wilbur Smith & Associates, a traffic consulting firm released their study which once again recommended the elimination of the jitneys because of their unfair competition with SCL. By 1969, losses for SCL had become so acute, that in July of that year Wilbur Smith recommended the creation of a publicly owned and operated transit system. The jitneys were blamed in part for the loss of some $175,000 annual income, not to mention the increased problems it was said the jitneys were causing to downtown traffic congestion.
A publicly operated transit authority, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority was indeed created on June 30, 1971. Included in the bill creating CARTA, was the placing of the cruising cabs under CARTA’s jurisdiction. CARTA immediately informed the jitneys operators that they would no longer be permitted to interfere with their fixed-route system. At that time there were, however, no repercussions.
In May of 1973, the Chattanooga Cruising Cab Association approached the city for relief from what it claimed was harassment once again from CARTA. Specifically, they noted that a woman had died who owned two cruising cabs and had willed her business to her grandson. CARTA wanted to allow the continuation of only one cruising cab and then only from a stand instead of cruising the jitney route. William Lee, head of the Association was of the opinion, that should anyone die or become disabled, jitney operators should be permitted to will, sell or transfer their business to allow for its continuation. City Taxi Inspector John Russell advised the city commission, that CARTA had formed a new cruising cab to study the problem and that group adopted a compromise in the cruising cab’s suggestion. This allowed for the transfer of the taxi permit in question but avowed that in the future, no additional permits would be issued to anyone unless it was agreed that the taxi would operate from a taxi stand and be on on-call basis.
In the 1969 Wilbur Smith Mass Transit Report, jitneys were sampled at five different locations over a 12-hour period. Their study found 74 jitneys to be in operation passing on the average about one every 6.8 minutes. They discharged 1,552 passengers downtown and boarded 1,634 outbound. Numerous riders were picked up and discharged along the way who did not enter into the downtown district. In 1975, an estimated 1,224,700 passengers were noted still using the system annually, averaging out to more than 3,300 riders daily. In 1976, the Transportation Center at the University of Tennessee did an in-depth study of the Chattanooga jitney line and they found service being operated some 12-hours daily from about 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening. Peak periods were found to be between 10 and 11 in the morning and 3 and 4 in the afternoon. During these periods, only 22% of the total ridership was carried, indicating that a large volume of business was being transacted throughout the entire 12-hour period.
As late as 1977, the basic fare to any point along the line was still 25-cents. This was thereafter increased to 35 and then 45 cents. On October 17, 1969, the fare went to 65-cents. Although at that time, this was 5-cents higher than the 60-cent CARTA bus fare, when queried, the riders preferred use of the jitney where possible because of the frequency of service and its reliability. In addition, for an added quarter, if a driver were asked to deviate a few blocks from the standard route, the patron would be brought directly to his door.
By the 1980’s, many change adversely effected the jitney operation that brought about considerable loss of patronage. The first of these was the creation of CARTA in 1973. Although CARTA never banned or forced the jitneys off the streets, as recorded, agreements were able to be negotiated to eventually tie down the great majority of jitneys to cab stands and conventional taxi operations. With public ownership of the transit system and the advent of deficit operations that were subsidized by tax dollars, an unfavorable climate was created for the cruising cab operation. A second factor was the creation of the Chattanooga Human Services (HSD). With their 37 vans, including several lift-equipped vehicles for wheelchair clients, they transported riders free of charge door-to-door to any of 27 authorized delivery points in the city. Many of those eligible for this service lived along the jitney route. A third important contribution to the decline in ridership, was the city’s Urban Renewal Program. This had removed much of the old sub-standard housing along the route and had relocated former riders to housing projects far removed from the basic cruising cab line. The economic existence of the jitney line had been contingent upon the high population density of the route which was now seriously diminished. The dramatic increase in gasoline prices and other related automobile maintenance played another important part in the line’s continued operation. Whereas in the past the jitneys constantly paraded around the route, this was now less feasible, and with taxis parked at taxi stands waiting for riders to walk up for the services, it no longer provided the wages to which the drivers had been accustomed. Nonetheless, despite the numerous difficulties that were marring the colorful jitney line in the 1980s, some nine different companies were still plying the route. ABS Cab, Avondale Cab, Mercury Cab, Midway Cab, George Williams Cab, West Side Cab, Foster’s Cab, Sonny’s Cab and United Taxi Operators.
This writer left Chattanooga in the 1980s and was not there to record when exactly the final jitney made its run in Chattanooga. It definitely occurred sometime in the late 1990s and today exists no more.
There are those that will insist that legally, according to the strict letter of the law, the cruising cars should never have been allowed to exist. Others are of the opinion that they should have been granted authority to expand into other areas of the city and be made an integral party of the existing transit system. Regardless of one’s feelings about the jitney line, Chattanooga had the distinction of having one of the oldest and largest jitney lines in operation in our country.
The History of Local Motor Coach Development in Chattanooga
Research reveals that it was Monday, June 7, 1915, that the D.G. McLain Jitney Line commenced a bus operation to the nearby town of Cleveland, Tennessee some 30 miles north of Chattanooga utilizing a 15-passenger jitney bus. By the operator’s own admittance, he advised that the bus line was planned to directly compete with the long entrenched local train schedules provided then by the Southern Railway Company. Fast on the heels of this initial bus line, on June 24 of that year, a large ad in the local newspapers proclaimed that a cooperative pooling of services by four operators had begun service connecting Chattanooga with the nearby community of Waldens Ridge, more commonly referred today as Signal Mountain. Commencing July 3, yet another bus service was underway that met every Chattanooga Traction Company’s streetcar at their Signal Mountain terminus at Signal Inn to operate the distance to nearby Summertown via Mabbit Springs. This particular service had a short history, when after only five days of operation, it came to an abrupt halt due to the shabby condition of the roads then in vogue and the equally poor patronage. On July 12, however, S.W. Ault and W.R. Bonner created their Ault’s Automobile Transit and six round-trips began to once again be offered as far as Summertown, with special service being arranged the remaining distance to Fairmount as needed.
In rapid succession, little lines began to spring up to serve other neighboring towns. Beginning July 29, 1916, J. Alfred Williams began his Chattanooga-Dayton Bus line the 40 miles’ distance to that Tennessee town. By November of that year, at least eight separate companies were in operation. This is corroborated by the fact by that date, Hamilton County had enacted legislation that required payment of a privilege tax to operate buses within their jurisdictional territory. Companies from whom payment was being sought from included the above-mentioned D.G. Main Bus Line; Cox & Hawkins, operating to Rossville, Georgia; L.M. Roberts, operating to Soddy, Tennessee; Tom Dalton, operating a service to Chickamauga, Georgia; W.T. Thomas, running into Ringgold, Georgia; Hegewood Brothers Bus Line, offering service to Lafayette, Georgia, Wylie Burns Bus Line, running to Trion, Georgia and John Ray Bus Line, offering service to Summerville, Georgia. On July 15, 1917, the Post Bus line was inaugurated, offering service into Chickamauga National Military Park and the huge 6th Calvary army post located at that point. On October 27, 1919, the Deakon-Walton Bus Line commenced service between Chattanooga and Dayton, Tennessee.
Intercity bus companies remember the 1920s and ‘30s as the era of greatest growth and development. Motorbuses as opposed to jitneys and touring cars began to take shape in design. Bus terminals began to come into existence as opposed to the waiting-at-corners downtown that had been the established practice in most communities. Marked improvements were made to bus equipment and operating procedures and bus systems and fleets of buses under one ownership were beginning to emerge. In Chattanooga, many small privately-owned bus lines were not experiencing the growth needed to keep them in business, but usually, with the demise of a route by one operator, another individual would come along to assume the terminated service. One successful local independent operator during this time, however, became the Tom Dalton line, which by April of 1920, was offering expanded service to Lafayette, Chickamauga and Estelle, Georgia. In July of that year, yet another line, known as the Dayton Bus Company and owned and operated by J.S. Card began four daily round-trips to that community. Of note, is the fact that on September 20, 1920, an inbound 20-passenger bus from Soddy, Tennessee, smashed into a garbage truck at the south end of the Market Street Bridge in downtown Chattanooga, in what probably became the first wreck involving an intercity bus in the city.
In May of 1921, Ford’s Bus line was in business from its 525 Market Street station, offering service to nearby Whitwell, Tennessee, and Sanford Auto Bus Line was operating daily service to nearby Lookout Lake. By October of that year, Tom Dalton Bus Line had expanded its operations into Dayton and Soddy, Tennessee, as well as Lafayette and Davis Cross Roads in Georgia, with expanded service to Lafayette and Chickamauga, Georgia effected October 1, 1921.
On April 20, 1924, two new Reo-built coaches belonging to the Tom Dalton Bus Line and locally dubbed “Blue Gooses,” were introduced into new service. Although surely outmoded in our day and time, these buses were then the “talk of the town.” Additionally, 1924 saw the introduction of a most important bus service by Southern Motor Coach Company, which began to offer through service to Knoxville, Tennessee. It was joined thereafter by the White Arrow Coach Line which also operating to Knoxville, formed a pooling service with Southern Motor Coach in the Knoxville operation. On November 1 of 1924, a new company, Ford & Blessing Bus Line was in operation offering service to Whitwell, Tennessee, utilizing 16-passenger buses and operating out of 501 Market Street. This service was complemented by two round trips daily to Pikeville, Tennessee, but that service was soon abandoned for lack of patronage. In May of 1925, it was again resumed by a new operator, Barker & Johnson Bus Line, operating from the corner of 9th and Broad Streets in downtown Chattanooga. Effective October 1, 1925, Ford & Blessing inaugurated service with 15-passenger Reo buses over the new Dixie Highway the 63-mile distance to Winchester, Tennessee via Jasper, Monteagle and Cowan.
In early 1926, the important Baker Bus Line began scheduled service daily to Atlanta, Georgia, utilizing Studebaker equipment. Service was offered via today’s U.S. Highway 27 via Lafayette, Trion, Summerville, Rome, Cartersville and Marietta. By May 15, 1926, the Shearer Bus Line was offering service to South Pittsburg, Tennessee near the Tennessee-Alabama border. With improvements now being made to local roads and highways, more long distance bus routes began to spring up. On Friday, July 2, 1926, a new and important service was undertaken by the Dixie Safety Coach Company, owned and operated by Captain Gordon Roper of Atlanta, Georgia. Headquartered in Chattanooga’s Hotel Patten, initially this company began to offer a second routing to Atlanta via what today is U.S. Highway 41 through Dalton and Rome. In early 1929, this company would become affiliated with the Consolidated Coach Company, destined to become Southeastern Greyhound Lines and today an important segment of the Greyhound Bus system.
On Tuesday, August 16, 1927, Chattanooga’s small, but first authentic bus depot opened its doors at 1250 Market Street. Given the name Interurban Bus Terminal, Southern Motor Coach Company and its pooling partner White Arrow Coach bus initially leased the building for their operations to Knoxville. Other bus companies were offered joint use of the 40 x 55-foot facility. Being offered the first month’s rent free for a trial, by the first week in September some ten bus companies began joint use of the station, said to be accommodating at that time some 1,200 daily riders. The lone dissident was the Ford & Blessing line that continued to use The Read House at 9th and Broad as its downtown terminal.
With little or no governmental regulations of the buses, some unscrupulous individuals soon deluged areas with schedules that existed on paper only, operated vehicles that unregistered, were becoming involved in numerous accidents and were subject to frequent mechanical breakdowns. Cases were documented where many operators simply deserted their bus and literally left their passengers stranded to do for themselves. On November 15, 1927, the City of Chattanooga passed an act forbidding buses from parking for longer than two minutes just to load and unload passengers on any street between Broad on the west, Georgia Avenue on the east, the Tennessee River on the north and Main Street on the south. Future companies were forbidden to use this area even to load and unload passengers. On November 23, it became illegal for any company to enlarge their depots without the expressed consent of the city.
The Interurban Bus Terminal proved too small for the needed facility in Chattanooga. On January 28, 1928, the city granted the bus lines a permit to operate a larger facility from the recently completed Volunteer State Life Insurance garage on East 9th Street at Lindsay. On Wednesday, February 1, this larger station, the Union Bus Depot, opened to twelve companies that began to use the station. These included the Baker Bus Line to Atlanta; the Chattanooga-Nashville Bus Company; Southern Motor Coach-White Arrow Line to Knoxville; Cherokee Motor Coach to Manchester, Monteagle, Tullahoma, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama; W.T. Thomas Bus Line to Atlanta; Chattanooga, South Pittsburg & Huntsville Bus Company; Dunlap-Pikeville Bus Line; Barker & Johnson Line to Whitwell and Pikeville; Chattanooga-Decatur Bus Line; Chattanooga-Dayton Bus Line; Chattanooga-Lookout Mountain Bus Line and Chattanooga-Lake Winnepasaukah Bus Line. One company, Dixie Safety Coach was denied access into the new station initially. As recorded this company was operating into Atlanta and was directly competing with Baker Bus Lines which had been first to operate into Atlanta. Because Safety Coach refused to coordinate its schedules with Baker Bus Line it was refused entry into the new facility. By August, a pool arrangement had been arranged between the two companies, but once Dixie Safety Coach gained access into the terminal, they once again began to compete schedule-wise with Barker. What soon flared up into a raging battle, however, was shortly thereafter resolved, when Consolidated Coach Corporation (CCC), a predecessor of Southeastern Greyhound Lines entered the picture. CCC and Dixie Safety became affiliated partners by early January 1929. On January 8 of that year, the local newspapers ran large ads showing thru-service now being offered by the pair from Union Bus Depot the distance south to Jacksonville, Florida and to Cincinnati and other northern points.
Because of problems such as the one just mentioned, some 33 individual bus companies formed the Tennessee Motor Carriers Association. They petitioned the Tennessee Railroad & Public Utilities Commission on January 26, 1928, to assert its jurisdiction over motor coach companies operating within the state. On February 28, Chancellor John R. Aust handed down his opinion that indeed the Public Utilities Commission had the legal jurisdiction over bus operations and it became law February 10.
The late 1920s and early ‘30s brought with them inflation and the great Depression. These years became a great weeding out period for motor carriers and really were for them a blessing in disguise. Inefficient lines were forced out of business, while others merged and were reorganized. Bus companies enjoyed a brief strengthening period just prior to the outbreak of the catastrophic Second World War.
The year 1928 brought about the creation of one of the more important local carriers in the Chattanooga area. The Cherokee Motor Coach Company was incorporated by the Levan Brothers of Chattanooga. With 11 pieces of equipment, initial service was offered to Manchester, Monteagle and Tullahoma, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama. By August 10, 1928, thru service could be had to Nashville via connections in Manchester and Murfreesboro.
September of 1929 brought entry in the city of yet another large bus company, Colonial Stages Company, later renamed Colonial Short Line Company. Although it has not been substantiated, it is believed that this operation had purchased the original Baker Bus Line. Headquartered in Cincinnati, this company was attempting to compete with the already entrenched Consolidated Coach Company (CCC), which as detailed, later became Southeastern Greyhound Lines. Because of this direct competition, Colonial Stages was denied entry into Union Bus Terminal, but had to content itself initially with a station it set up on a vacant lot near the corner of East 9th and Georgia. In April 1930, the site was moved to 22 East 9th Street. This remained the case until July 5, 1933, at which time a mutual understanding was worked out between Southeastern Greyhound and Colonial Short Lines for a mutual interline schedule and routing setup. After that date, Colonial, which on January 22, 1932, had leased property at 924 Market Street across from the new Union Bus Terminal which had been erected at the corner of 10th and Market Streets, joined the other companies in combined used of the one central station.
In the meantime, for the sum of $197,000, on December 1, 1928, Southern Motor Coach and White Arrow Coach sold their Knoxville franchise to the new Tennessee Coach Company. On April 26, 1929, Barker & Johnson sold their Pikeville route to G.K. Henard Bus Line for $7,000. On May 22, 1929, Ford & Denton Bus Line, which had been operating in partnership to Kingston, Tennessee via State Route 58, sold the line to F.S. Wingate of Chattanooga. Wingate had already been offering local Chattanooga service to Lupton City. On May 15, 1930, a new important service was begun by Smith Motor Coach Company, offering thru service to Memphis, Tennessee via Fayetteville and Lawrenceburg, Tennessee over what today is U.S. Highway 64.
By 1930, some 13 major intercity lines were operating in Chattanooga. These included Colonial Short Line to Atlanta; Consolidated Coach Company to Cincinnati and Louisville; Southeastern Greyhound Lines to Atlanta and south; Cherokee Motor Coach to Nashville and intermediate points; Tennessee Coach to Knoxville; W.T. Thomas to Ringgold, Chatsworth and Dalton, Georgia; Smith Motor Coach to Memphis; Alabama Bus Company to Birmingham and intermediate points; G.K. Henard Bus Line to Pikeville and Crossville, Tennessee; Yellow Cab Bus Line to Cleveland, Benton and Maryville; Air Line Coaches to Dayton, Rockwood, Harriman and Kingston; Dalton Bus Line to nearby north Georgia points and Chattanooga-Dayton Bus Line serving Dayton, Decatur and nearby Lupton City.
On October 1, 1930, Yellow Cab Bus Line sold its Cleveland and Maryville line to the Tennessee Coach Company for $20,000. This was followed in late 1930 by the sale of Smith Motor Coach to Dixie Greyhound Lines, Incorporated, which assumed the important Memphis route over U.S. Highway 64. By 1932, the Chattanooga-Huntsville Bus Line commenced operations over U.S. 72 to northern Alabama points, followed on May 23, 1932 when H.W. Blessing bought the Cherokee Motor Coach route from Chattanooga into Huntsville, Alabama. On June 3 G.K. Henard sold his Crossville route to the Shearer Bus Line.
Chattanooga was again in need of a larger terminal. On June 4, 1931, a new site was chosen at the corner of 10th and Market Streets. For $135,000, the old West Construction Company building was torn down to make way for the new 60-foot by 160-foot building. On January 25, 1932, Chattanooga’s new Union Bus Terminal was opened to the public after an entire day transit progress parade and banquet was held to mark the occasion. Users of this new station became Dixie and Southeastern Greyhound Lines; Consolidated Coach Corporation; Alabama Bus Company; Tennessee Coach Company; Cherokee Motor Coach Company; Union Transfer Company, operating pool service with Cherokee into Nashville; Dalton Bus Line; Henard Bus Line and Air Line Coaches.
On April 11, 1933, the Tennessee Railroad & Public Utilities Commission approved the sale of the Chattanooga-Huntsville Bus Line to Cumberland Coach Company. Cumberland only operated the service until May 23, 1934, at which time it was sold to Capital Motor Lines of Montgomery, Alabama. This line was destined to become yet another link in the soon-to-be created Trailways Bus System. With Capital offering service from Chattanooga through to Florence, Alabama, at which point Mo-Ark Coach Lines connected to Memphis, a second thru route to that important city had been created. On July 11, 1933, L.H. Park was given authority to operate a service to nearby suburban Apison.
From October 30, 1933 until December 2 of that year, the Tennessee Railroad & Public Utilities Commission granted several Chattanooga bus lines the right to haul intrastate parcels and packages, but service was only granted to places not then being furnished service by the long entrenched Southeastern Express Company. On January 31, 1934, Dixie Greyhound was granted permission to haul express interstate followed on February 8 by a similar grant to Consolidated Coach and Tennessee Coach Company. In the meantime, on January 12, Union Bus Company, headquartered in Jacksonville became the newest operator to enter the Chattanooga market. It had become affiliated with Consolidated Coach Company, and operating into Atlanta and southern points, it became an important link in the ever-growing Greyhound system.
On January 26, 1934, the Public Utilities Commission approved the lease of the Shearer Bus Line route to Whitwell to Red Star Bus Line and on April 12 agreed to a similar lease of the Chattanooga to Copperhill route belonging to W.M. Lowery to Smoky Mountain Stages of Asheville, North Carolina, headed by Joel Wright and his son Wayne E. Offering thru service to that western North Carolina city, this line was destined to become yet another link in the Trailways System in Chattanooga. Effective that April 12 date, that company was granted permission to operate out of Union Bus Terminal at 10th and Market Streets.
On July 20, 1934, Cherokee Motor Coach leased the old Air Line Coaches’ route to Harriman, Tennessee and on that date Air Line’s certificate of operation was turned over to Frank S. Wingate who assumed the existing operations.
During the 1930s, Southeastern Greyhound secured Union Transfer Company of Nashville and began to offer thru service to the state’s capitol. By this late date, all of what was destined to become Greyhound’s routes outs of Chattanooga had been established with but one exception. Greyhound was operating the original Consolidated Coach route to Cincinnati, to Memphis via Dixie Greyhound, to Birmingham via Southeastern Greyhound Lines of Alabama, to Nashville via Southeastern Greyhound of Tennessee and to Atlanta and points south. The one remaining line remaining to be acquired was the purchase of Cherokee Motor Coach’s routes to Rockwood and to Knoxville. This would not transpire until 1949.
In early 1938, a new company, Consolidated Bus Lines began operating a service to Nashville via Whitwell in Sequatchie Valley, McMinnville and Smithville, Tennessee. On July 31, 1947, Central Bus Lines which had been operating in middle Tennessee from Nashville to Crossville via Lebanon, Carthage and Cookeville, was granted Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to absorb into its holdings the routes held by the larger Consolidated Bus Lines. This merger was approved on August 30 and the combined operation was renamed Central Trailways. On March 1, 1954, by approval of the Tennessee Utilities Commission, Central Trailways was merged into Continental Tennessee Lines, Incorporated, yet another company operating in the Trailways family.
In 1942, William M. Beck of Fort Payne, Alabama secured a franchise to operate an interstate bus service named Northeast Alabama Bus Company and initially it operated between Chattanooga and Albertville, Alabama on Sand Mountain. At about the same time, Crescent Stages, headquartered in Anniston, Alabama, secured permission to operate a bus line connecting Birmingham and Albertville. In late 1948,, Crescent Stages bought out Northeast Alabama’s Albertville to Chattanooga route and began offering service between Chattanooga and Birmingham. Interesting is the fact that this “back hills” route was still comprised of mostly narrow and unpaved dirt roads. On December 1, 1953, Continental Crescent Lines bought out Crescent Stages and the route became an integral part of the Trailways system.
In early December 1946, the 1915-established W.T. Thomas Bus Line was sold to Tom M. Lambert and George T. Morris and they changed the name of the company to Georgia-Tennessee Coaches. Headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, this company also operated service out of Dalton to Cleveland, Tennessee, Lafayette, Chatsworth and Elijay, Georgia as well as offering local city service in the town of Dalton itself. In 1949, Georgia-Tennessee joined the ever-growing number of small independent lines becoming affiliated with the blossoming Trailways Bus System. For a short while the company had a pooling arrangement with Modern Coach Company which allowed for thru Chattanooga to Tallahassee, Florida service. This arrangement, however, proved unsuccessful and was shortly abandoned. On May 5, 1953, for $40,000, Georgia-Tennessee Coaches sold out to Southeastern Motor Lines, located in Carrollton, Georgia. With the old Tennessee-Georgia Coaches operating south only as far as Chatsworth, Georgia and Southeastern Motor Lines operating north only to Calhoun, a 20-mile gap existed between the two properties. Although authorized to join the two segments, delay in the building of a bridge along the route prevented the start of thru service until 1955. Unlike Georgia-Tennessee Coaches, Southeastern Motor Lines chose not to join the Trailways Bus System.
In 1946, Cherokee Motor Coach sought to sell its long-haul routes to Knoxville via U.S. Highway 27 via Rockwood and Harriman and over State Route 58 via Decatur to Southeastern Greyhound Lines. Tennessee Coach Lines, however, vehemently protested the sale and it was called off. In early May of 1949, however, Cherokee secured the permission to make the sale and on May 6, for $525,000, the deal was consummated. To accommodate its buses on its Chattanooga routes, in December 1947, Southeastern Greyhound opened its new nearly block-long garage facility on East 10th Street.
During 1947, over Trailways’ objections, American Buslines acquired the Memphis-Florence Mo-Ark Coach Line route. American then leased and on July 10, 1948 purchased outright Capital Motor Line’s Florence to Chattanooga route. Shortly thereafter, on July 26, although American Buslines was not then yet a Trailways affiliate, an agreement was worked out so that Trailways thru-ticketing could continue.
On December 2, 1948, Georgia-Tennessee Coaches claimed that they were being harassed by Greyhound to leave their 10th and Market Street terminal. They claimed that Greyhound was attempting to take them over and they soon took out an injunction in chancery court. By that time some five companies in the Chattanooga area had become Trailways affiliates. These included Smoky Mountain Trailways to Asheville, American Buslines to Memphis, Central Trailways to Nashville, Crescent Trailways to Birmingham and the Georgia-Tennessee operation. On April 8, 1949, what had been anticipated occurred. The above-enumerated carriers announced their plans for the building of the own depot. On November 15, Trailways’ depot opened at 525 Broad Street.
Not to be outdone by Trailways, on May 3, 1950, Greyhound announced plans for the building of a newer and larger facility just south of its existing terminal on Market at 10th Street. On March 16 of the following year, Greyhound’s new $300,000 station with its 13 loading tracks and utilized by 6,000 daily riders was open for business. Besides Greyhound, local carriers Hamilton County Coaches and Chattanooga-Chickamauga Bus Line operated through the terminal. In July of 1952, Greyhound opened its new Tour Bureau office in the station and special package tours, including a completely planned bus itinerary out of Chattanooga began to be offered.
As early as 1953, Tennessee Coach Company expressed its desire to sell its entire operations. On Tuesday, August 28, that sale took place, when Tennessee Trailways, Incorporated secured the line. On that date, the company switched its operations over to Trailways’ 525 Broad Street location. On September 30, 1957, this company applied to the ICC for permission to purchase Southeastern Motor Lines’ Chattanooga-to-Chatsworth route over Highway 76, which beginning in 1954, it had utilized to operate a more direct service into Atlanta. By 1957, Southeastern Motor was willing to sell outright that section of its operation. This purchase was approved by the ICC on January 21, 1958, making Trailways operations through Chattanooga complete.
On April 25, 1958, Tennessee Trailways sustained a strike for several months, but it was finally settled only to be followed in July of that year by a lengthy strike of American Buslines, operating to Memphis. On December 10 the ICC recommended that Continental Tennessee Lines be granted approval to purchase the route, which it did at that time.
In 1937, Consolidated Bus Lines of Nashville purchased from Cherokee Motor Coach, its Chattanooga to Jamesville, Kentucky via Crossville line. In 1952, Central Trailways, its new owner, entirely abandoned the Chattanooga to Crossville operation. Service remained unavailable until July 11, 1958, when Charles C. Moody and Charles Williams of Chattanooga began to offer an independent service through Trailways station twice daily. This service did not last long, and thereafter it was assumed by Cherokee Bus Company, who switched the service back over to the Greyhound depot.
On August 29, 1960, Tennessee Coach Company headquartered in Knoxville, was sold for $2,400,000 to three other Trailways affiliates. The new owner became Continental Tennessee Lines, Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental Southern, Virginia Stage Lines and Smoky Mountain Stages. A new division named Tennessee Trailways, Incorporated was formed to carry out the actual purchase which was consummated December 21, 1961.
On March 18, 1969, Southern Greyhound Lines announced that their terminal had once again become too small for the expansion this company had in mind. An attempt was made to purchase the old Ford Bus Company garage site just down the street from the existing station on Broad Street at 11th, but it was discovered that the parcel had been sold just the day before. A new site was accepted instead on Chestnut Street at West 5th Street, on the opposite side of the street from Trailways bus center. On September 25, 1970, Greyhound announced that all planning details had been worked out for the new $1 million terminal. In the meantime, effective October 15, 1970, Greyhound sold its Chattanooga to Memphis operation to Gulf Transport Company. With their takeover the route, Greyhound’s two round trips daily were reduced to but one each way. On March 23, 1971, groundbreaking services were held for the new Greyhound station and on December 7, 1971, the first schedule was operated of the new facility at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon.
By this point in time, like the railroads before them that they had put out of business, bus companies were now finding it difficult to financially maintain local service to smaller communities where so many riders had abandoned them for their private cars. On November 15, 1975, Trailways buses to Atlanta were given authority by the Georgia Public Service Commission to operate interstate only between the two points because of dwindling patronage. Service was discontinued to some 41 communities, including the larger towns of Elijay and Chatsworth, Georgia.
An 18-day strike commenced on May 2, 1975 over the Continental Trailways Bus System but was finally terminated by the employees’ acceptance of a new 3-year contract containing a wage increase and better fringe benefits. On November 6 of 1976, service to Asheville was halted by another strike by Continental Southeastern Lines when the employees went off their jobs in North and South Carolina. Despite this adverse situation, Trailways announced on November 13 that it had acquired a 25,000 square foot parcel of land at the corner of Broad and West 5th Street and would build a new station. On Wednesday, June 29, 1977, Trailway’s new $500,000 investment was dedicated to the riding public. In late August 1977, demolition of Greyhound’s old 10th and Market Street station was underway to build the city’s new Civic Forum. This was followed by an announcement in early January of 1978 that the old Trailways depot on Broad Street would also be leveled to make way for future development. By late summer of that year, both stations had become but fond memories.
This writer left Chattanooga in the summer of 1982. Thus this history ends at that point. It is hoped that at some point in the future, the history can be updated once again.
Transferred from Nashville March 8, 1932
1A Acquired May, 1929 from Nashville
1B One came from Fairyland Company; one from Lookout Mountain Company
2 On arrival in 1935 of 30-R buses Nos. 46-68, TC-20’s Nos. 50 & 51 were
renumbered 150 & 151. Similarly TC-15 Nos. 64 & 65 became Nos. 164 &
165. 1673 was destroyed in an accident on Ringgold Road. 164 still exists at
at this writing as CARTA’s antique bus and is in good running order. After
use by SCL, it became their Service Department vehicle C-8. Reo 61 & 62 as
well as Lincoln 71 were long abandoned by 1935 and the arrival of the
3 Several units transferred to Nashville in 1942 as follows:
June 19, 1942……………#66/68/69
September 25, 1942……..#49/51/52/53/55/56
4 Several units were transferred to Nashville in 1942 as follows:
September 25, 1940………#120
January 31, 1941………….#117:
February 4, 1941………….#119
September 25, 1941………#116
May 3, 1942………………#111 & #115
June 19, 1942……………..#114
July 1, 1942……………….#112 & #113
September 25, 1942……….#101. #102
No. 150 & 151 transferred to Nashville June 5, 1942
6 949 was transferred to Nashville May 16, 1942
950 was transferred to Nashville July 3, 1942
7 No. 82 originally bought for Nashville was transferred to Chattanooga June 10, 1940
No. 83 “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ September 7, 1940
No. 84 “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ November 1, 1940
No. 85 “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ October 25, 1940
8 Body of No. 500 was rebuilt October 7, 1937
Body of No. 501 was rebuilt July 7, 1935
Body of No. 502 was rebuilt March 31, 1936
Body of No. 503 was rebuilt February 3, 1938
9 Re-numbered 1211, 1212, 1213 and 1214 on arrival of additional used Model TC-40s from
Youngstown, Ohio and Detroit
10 In late 1948 and early 1949, motors were changed from Hercules 558 to Faegeol-FTC 180
on Nos. 856/858/859/860/864/865/866/867/868/870/871/872/874/875/876/877/880/882
Around 1949, Southern Coach Lines began to use TC-15 No. 164 as a Shop Paint Truck
If this story finds favor in the eyes of its readers, I must acknowledge my sincere thanks and appreciation to all those who made it possible.
First and foremost my thanks to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library for having had the research materials and the facilities to record the history of motor coach transportation in Chattanooga. Because small independent companies from the formative years in the teens and 20’s have long since ceased to exist, without the complete collection of local Chattanooga newspapers for the era discussed, there would have been no way that their stories could have been recorded. In addition, the many years that I perused all those newspapers in the local history section of the library were made so much more enjoyable by the attitude and attention shown me by the competent and friendly staff at the Chattanooga library. My thanks to all of you for your efforts in my behalf!
Southern Coach Lines is long out of existence, but accolades are in order for the many favors that SCL bestowed upon me; including the many operators and mechanics that I knew, as well as key management personnel. Whenever I visited them seeking historical information or personal recollections, or for permission to take photos or the like, they were always ready to assist me. The passage of years has caused me to forget the names of many of these individuals, but some that stick out clearly in my mind are operators P.F. “Red” Moore, Paul Beasley, Operators St. Clair, Shutters and Hale and General Manager Dyer Butterfield and Alf Law in the accounting department.
I spent many hours in the Hamilton County Court House perusing whatever official documentation I could dig out of their archives and I am grateful to them for having preserved the materials available for my perusal and making them available to me.
I owe a real debt of gratitude to Mr. J. Roddy Huff of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Mr. Huff was able to secure the official photo albums from the predecessor Tennessee Electric Power Company that contained a world of bus and trolley photos and he graciously shared them all with me. Without these photos, Chattanooga’s bus story could never have been complete. I am so sorry that Mr. Huff has passed on and will not see what his donation was able to accomplish.