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Aerocoach, General American Aerocoach
Aerocoach, General American Aerocoach Co., 1939-1947; Hegewisch, Illinois; General American Aerocoach Co., 1947-1952; East Chicago, Indiana
Associated Firms
Gar Wood Industries, William B. Stout, Peacemaker

The buses first produced by the General American Aerocoach Company were a continuation of the monocoque Type D coaches first introduced by Gar Wood Industries in1937. Gar Wood's Type D buses were based on their Type C predecessors which were designed by aircraft designer William B. Stout in 1935.

Stout secured the financing to construct a prototype and selected Gar Wood's Detroit shops to construct it. Stout applied for a domestic patent on the bus body's construction on August 19, 1936, and on June 7, 1938 was awarded US Patent No. 2119655 which he assigned to Gar Wood Industries Inc.

Stout's unusual-looking streamliner consisted of a steel-paneled integral steel-tube monocoque chassis equipped with a rear-mounted flathead Ford V-8 that supplied motive power to the rear axle from the rear. A hatch at the front of the body held the spare tire and many of the suspension components were sourced from Ford. The unusual snout was said to improve airflow at highway speeds, and when combined with the lightweight coachwork the Stout-based coaches required significantly less fuel than their competition. After extensive testing by the Dearborn Coach Co., the firm ordered 24 examples to replace their aging fleet of Safeway Six Wheel and Fifth Avenue coaches. While the prototype Model C's headlights were placed abnormally low, production coaches featured a more conventional location, approximately 12 below the windshield. Dearborn Coach placed the first fleet of Gar Wood Coaches into service on the Dearborn to Detroit run on October 10, 1935.

A reported 75 of the original Gar Wood Type C coaches were constructed into 1937 when they were replaced with the more conventional-looking Model D coaches of which a reported 100 examples were constructed into early 1939. The Stout-designed Gar Wood bus was announced to the trade in the May 11, 1935 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries and to the public via Leslie Avery's United Press Newsire column dated October 12, 1935:

“Introduction of 1936 Automobiles Is Two Months Earlier This Year

“By Leslie Avery

“William B. Stout, noted airplane designer, finally has marketed his idea for a rear-engined car, and to none other than the famous boat builder and racer, Gar Wood. Gar Wood Industries Inc. , have taken Stout's Scarab passenger automobile as a model for a bus and produced a 24-passerger vehicle that weighs only 6,000 pounds. Its extreme lightness is possible because of close adherence to all-metal airplane construction, in which field Stout was a pioneer.

“With a smooth, streamlined exterior the body is built on a framework of steel tubing. All connections and joints are welded, with no screws, bolts or rivets used. This makes any kind of motor adaptable to the bus, since it has no chassis. The light sheet steel covering welded over the metal tubing is said to make a chassis superfluous.

“Advantages claimed for the vehicle are decreased wind resistance decreased weight per passenger necessitating less horse power quick acceleration cutting- the time between passenger stops, rear mounted engine leaving gasoline and oil fumes behind and cutting vibration to a minimum and elimination of the step at the door. The passenger steps directly from the curb to the interior.”

The bus was also described in a July 4, 1936 UP Newswire article:

“Advanced Designs Given Industry By Bus Builders


“United Press Staff Correspondent DETROIT, July 4.—(UP) — Aviation, in its infancy a -heavy borrower from the automobile industry, is partially repaying its debts today by donating advanced design to motor bus body construction.

“Heavily indebted to aviation engineering is the streamlined vehicle recently developed in the William B. Stout institute's Dearborn laboratories which also developed lightweight Pullman cars, the Ford Tri-Motor airplane and the Scarab motor car.

“The new bus is an aviation engineer's conception of how such a vehicle should be constructed. It is light, revolutionary in appearance and body and engineering design.

“It is now in construction at one of the larger industrial plants of Detroit. A few already are on the highway; more are certain to be because of the low cost, operation economy and riding comfort.

“Today I visited; the Gar Wood industries plant where the bus is being manufactured. Stanley E. Knauss, engineer and plant manager, took me through.

“On a busy production floor, the skeleton bodies of the buses look more like .air-plane fuselages. A closer examination reveals they are built the same way. Light, tubular steel is shaped into the rigid frame. All, joints, are welded. There are no bolts, rivets, screws or wood. It looked like the framework of a small dirigible.

“Instead of the customary method of construction where a body is mounted on a heavy chassis that carries the motor, axles, transmission, wheels and other mechanical parts, in the new bus the various parts were mounted directly to the body and chassis frame.

“‘You see,’ said Stanley proudly, ‘it's like a bridge. Each, part supports another and each stress and strain has been figure mathematically. The same principle is being used in the manufacture of Lincoln Zephyrs. Other automobile manufacturers are experimenting with the idea.’

“The engine is in the rear of the coach, this idea was developed by Stout in his Scarab automobile, but no automobile employing it is in actual production. Rear location of the motor permits a short drive shaft to the rear wheels and eliminates the long torque tube, which ordinarily takes up room in the regulation passenger car.

“‘The same thing,’ Stanley told me, ‘could, have been achieved through employment of a front wheel drive, but that would have been more expensive. By placing the motor to the rear we can use a standard engine. In fact, in this job you will find a Ford V-8, but a Chevrolet or Plymouth engine could be used just as well.’

“The skeleton frame, in a completed bus, is sheathed in aluminum on the inside and steel on the outside. The entire weight of each coach is only 7,300 pounds as compared with 15,000 pounds weight of the average transcontinental bus.

“We stepped into the completed job. The first thing I noticed was the space. A tall man - a 6-footer wearing a hat - could have walked the length of the vehicle without stooping.

“‘That,’ Stanley pointed out, ‘is because the body can be lowered because of elimination of the drive shaft.’

“The inside, looked like a cabin plane, except there were 24 seats, two abreast. The seats are the same as in a modern transport plane—the reclining type. The windows, as well, were sliding planes, of glass instead of the old street car type, which nobody ever has discovered how to open.

“Stanley sent for ‘Steve,’ a driver, who took me for a ride. That was a revelation.

“‘Here,’ Steve said to me, ‘you take the wheel.’

“‘But,’ I answered doubtfully, ‘I’ve never driven a bus.’

“‘Hell, take the wheel.’

“I mind bus drivers. I took the wheel, but nothing happened. It was like driving a kid’s velocipede. I could have turned it with my little finger. I did. Then too, I didn’t have to look over a long hood. I’m not a six-footer.

“‘You see,’ Steve said, ‘the weight of the motor in the rear takes the weight off the front wheels. You don’t tire driving one of these.’

“Then I noticed something else. Usually riders who sit in the front of a motor bus can't hear a word of conversation, but here we were talking in ordinary tones. I remarked about it.

“‘Yeah,’ Steve said, ‘I drove one of these for a week on the Dearborn run, and I knew when every baby was going to be born and who was stepping out with who by the time I quit.’

“Another thing I noticed was there was no smell of burned gasoline.

“I gave the wheel back to the driver and walked to the rear. We were crossing railroad tracks but I hardly noticed the bounce. I was almost as quiet in the back of the bus as in the front. But it was there I got my biggest surprise.

“Usually for the fellow that has to sit over the rear wheels with my feet jack-knifed against my stomach. But it wasn’t like that today. The seats are built over the axles and are raised in a normal position. There’s even a foot rest.”

Stanley E. Knauss was a longtime associate of Stout’s, and helped found the Stout Metal Airplane Company which was organized in late 1922 by Knauss, Stout and Glenn H. Hoppin. He also served as vice-president of Stout Airlines and a director of Stout Engineering. From 1935 to 1937 Knauss oversaw production of the Gar Wood bus as Manager of the Motor Coach Division of Gar Wood Industries Inc., being replaced by H. Sydney Snodgrass upon his resignation in 1937.

The bus was also visited in a January 13, 1937 article carried by the Science Service Newswire:

“Aircraft Builders Design New Bus With Low Operating Costs

“Detroit, Jan. 13. – A new light weight motor bus, designed, engineered and built by aviation personnel, seized the spotlight of discussion here this morning at the meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers. The economies achieved with these novel motor coaches in experimental operation, promise to turn borderline profits with heavy, present day equipment into real black ink on the accountant’s books of the operating companies.

“Here are the achievements of the new coaches after several hundred thousand miles of operation:

“1 – Gasoline mileage cut in half for an ordinary coach of similar seating capacity
“2 – Tire mileage of 60,000 miles a seat.
“3 – Brake lining lasting 40,000 miles.

“The new buses which bring a clean break with automotive conception of engineering and apply the lessons learned in aviation were conceived by William B. Stout, well known in aeronautical circles. These were described at the technical sessions of the SAE by Stanley E. Knauss, of the Gar Wood Industries, Inc., of Detroit.

“Double Problem

“Besieged on one side by lower fares and improved coach accommodations on railroads and on the other by rising fuel costs, the only hope of the motor bus operator is to find a coach with lower operating cost and more passenger appeal, said Knauss.

“To get rid of vibration, noise, heat and odors for the passengers the new coach has its engine in the rear. And it has special springs instead of truck springs now in use which Knauss pointed out, tend to give a truck ride. A 24-passenger bus weighs only 6,500 pounds because its framework is of metal tubing, welded throughout.

“The light weight permits smaller power plants to be used and the auxiliary transmissions and clutches which are readily available by present mass-production techniques. Repair shops for such motors are plentiful and the bug-a-boo department of most bus operators – the stock room – can virtually be eliminated.”

The Abstract of Knauss’ SAE technical paper ‘The Chassisless or Unit-Car Question,’ first published in the January 1937 issue of the SAE Journal, follows:

“The experience gained over a period of many years in the development of light-weight, high-strength structures is now finding its way into the bus industry.

“Investigation of present-day bus operations showed the need for a road vehicle that would carry the greatest possible payload of passengers with a smaller horsepower engine without dragging along a load of dead weight and useless structure that would eat up gasoline instead of miles.

“A motor coach is now available in which are incorporated aircraft materials, design, and construction features resulting in a vehicle that is approximately 1000 lb. lighter than the lightest conventional design with the same engine horsepower and seating accommodations.

“Motor-bus operators today can reduce costs by the use of light-weight equipment provided there is no sacrifice of strength and reliability. They must also meet the ever-increasing demands of the public for quietness, comfort, absence of vibration and engine odors - all of which can be accomplished by placing the engine in the rear which automatically gives a better distribution of weight than has heretofore been possible with the front-engine design.”

A circa-1938 brochure from the Dutch Diamond T distributor, N.V. Beers, shows a Diamond T Type ET Coach, which looks identical to the Gar Wood Model D, so it's possible a few Gar Wood buses ended up in the Netherlands at the start of the Second World War. The very same design was also licensed by the French bus manufacturer Isobloc who produced small numbers of the vehicles before and after the War, albeit with a facelifted front end.

Manufacture of the Model D coaches was eventually transferred to Gar Wood's Marysville Boat plant as the Detroit facility changed over to war-time production. In August, 1939 Gar Wood Industries sold off their bus manufacturing operation to the General American Transportation Co. of Chicago, the August 12, 1939 issue of the New York Times reporting:

“Buys Gar Wood Division

“Chicago, Aug 11 – General American Transportation Corporation today announced acquisition of the motor coach division of Gar Wood Industries, Inc. This is the second step taken by General American within six months toward diversification of its activities. Last March the corporation, which is engaged in the construction and leasing of railroad freight equipment, with headquarters in Chicago, acquired the controlling interest in Barkley-Grow Aircraft Company, Detroit. Max Epstein, chairman, said the new unit will be transferred to Hegewisch, Ill., adjoining the company’s present car-building plant. Executives of the bus division of Gar Wood Company will be retained by General American.”

This corporation then organized General American Aerocoach Company which commenced building Gar Wood coaches under the Aerocoach brand name. The former Model D Gar Wood Coaches were renamed the Aerocoach Type EFI (33-passenger) and Type EFS (37-passenger). Max Epstein hired one of the most experienced busmen in the business to help sell the buses, Harry A. Fitzjohn.

Harry Alphonse FitzJohn was born in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio on June 21, 1889 to Alphonse and Sarah May (Fairchild) FitzJohn. His father, a longtime insurance man, was born in Middlesex, England in November of 1849, and emigrated to the United States in 1870. Harry’s siblings included Nellie (b. 1876), Edward (b.1876), Bertha (b.1881), and Frank (b.1884) FitzJohn. Alphonse spent many years as an independent insurance representative, but for a short time worked for the Toledo Blade as a salesman, but after a few short years returned to insurance sales.

Harry A. FitzJohn attended the public schools of his native city until the age of 15 when he took a position with the US Department of Agriculture’s Weather Bureau as a messenger, his appointment being noted in the Dept.’s 1905 annual report as follows:

“Mr. Harry A. FitzJohn appointed a messenger boy at $360 per annum, to take effect on Sept. 1, 1905. His services are necessary in the performance of work of the Bureau at the station to which he will be assigned.”

Harry worked for the Weather Bureau into 1907 when he moved to Detroit to take a position as clerk with the Cadillac Motor Car Co., a job confirmed by his listing in the 1908 Detroit City Directory. One source claims he worked for the Oakland Automobile Co, of Pontiac, Michigan at about the same time (1908), but I could not confirm it. In 1910 he moved to Muskegon, Michigan to take a position with the Hudson Motor Car Co. and in 1912 became associated with the Continental Motors Corporation, as production manager of its Muskegon, Michigan facility.

On April 8, 1912, (April 11?) in Muskegon, he wedded Margaret Pearl Eileen Fallon (b. April 4, 1887 in Chicago, Ill-d.Jan. 1976 in Oak Forest, Ill.), daughter of James Kearn and Mary Ellen ‘Nellie’ (Timberlake) Fallon, of Muskegon, and to the blessed union was born five children: Harry A., Jr. (b.1913), Helen M. (b.1916), Robert K. (b.1919), Thomas E. (b.1922) and Margaret E. (b.1928) FitzJohn. The 1913 Detroit directory (pub.1912) lists him as an ‘agent’, no employer given.

The 1915 Muskegon City Directory lists him as Dept. Mngr., Continental Motor Mnfg. Co., and shortly thereafter he took a position with the Springfield Body Corp., as its Detroit purchasing agent, the September 16, 1916 issue of Automobile Topics reporting:

“Fitzjohn Buys for Springfield Body

“H. A. Fitzjohn, formerly production manager at the Muskegon, Mich., plant of the Continental Motors Co., has resigned, and now is purchasing agent for the Springfield Body Corp., Detroit. He is succeeded in the Continental plant by F. W. Sutton, who was his assistant.”

That position led to his April 1917 appointment as purchasing agent of the Hayes –Ionia Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the ‘Personals’ column of the May 3, 1917 The Automobile:

“Detroit, April 27—Harry A. FitzJohn has been appointed director of purchases for the Hayes-Ionia company of Grand Rapids. Mr. FitzJohn was formerly purchasing agent for the Springfield Body Corp. and resigned to assume his new duties.”

FitzJohn’s draft card dated June 9, 1917 lists his residence in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his employer Hayes-Ionia Co., occupation purchasing agent.

When the United States entered the World war he was called into service as production manager of the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, in Dayton, Ohio. During the course of the war, Dayton-Wright produced approximately 3,000 DeHavilland DH-4 bombers and 400 Standard SJ-1 trainers. FitzJohn remained at Dayton-Wright into 1919 when he returned to Grand Rapids, where he’s listed in the 1919 directory as a Mfr.’s Agt., at No. 834, Michigan Trust Bldg.

His decade-long experience in manufacturing left him well-prepared to form his own manufacturing firm and in the Fall of 1919 he formed the FitzJohn-Erwin Manufacturing Company in partnership with L.B. Erwin, W.C. Powell, and T.H. Hume, the November 1919 issue of the Automotive Manufacturer announced the formation of the firm to the trade:

“H. A. Fitz John, former production manager Continental Motors Corp., Muskegon, and during the war director of purchases and in charge of production at Dayton Wright Airplane Co., Dayton, O., has embarked in the manufacture of truck bodies at Muskegon, having formed the Fitz John-Erwin Mfg. Co., of which he is president, for this purpose.”

Thomas H. Hume (b. 1889) and Walter C. Powell (b.1879) were both officers and directors of the Amazon Knitting Machine Co. of Muskegon. Hume was also associated with his father in Hackley & Hume, Muskegon’s largest lumber company. Lewis B. Erwin (b. Jan. 21, 1892) was a trained engineer and the son of George L. Erwin, a prominent Muskegon realtor and businessman formerly connected with the Grand Rapids Power Co. (1911), Michigan Railway Engineering Co. (1914) and Gen. Mgr. of the Consumers Power Co. (1921) of Grand Rapids.

The firm’s first plant was a 50’ x 125’ three story brick structure constructed in 1891 for the Nelson Piano Co., at the intersection of Manahan Avenue and Sixth Street in Muskegon Heights. Additional details of the firm’s organization were included in the November 27, 1919 issue of Automotive Industries:


“Muskegon, Mich., Nov. 17.— The FitzJohn-Erwin Manufacturing Co. has just been incorporated with a capital stock of $100,000 for manufacture of truck bodies and cabs. These will be sold direct to leading truck manufacturers Because of the prominence of several stockholders in the automotive field, contracts have already been secured from several prominent truck manufacturers.

“The Fitz John-Irwin Manufacturing Co. is at Muskegon, and the initial building comprises 25,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The present factory is situated on an eight-acre tract of ground which permits ready expansion for future growth.

“H. A. Fitz John is president and general manager; W. C. Powell, vice-president; L. B. Erwin, secretary, and T. H. Hume, treasurer. FitzJohn has been associated with the industry for many years. His experience with the Hudson Motor Car Co. and as production manager of the Continental Motors Corp. has fitted him for factory production which already is well under way.

“During the war, Fitz John was director of purchases and in charge of production at the Dayton Wright Airplane Co., Dayton. His associates are men of long business experience.”

Early on FitzJohn-Erwin specialized in the construction of truck cabs, bus and panel truck bodies for Lansing, Michigan’s REO which were made available through REO’s network of distributors. As were all early commercial bodies, FitzJohn-Erwins were shipped to the dealer, unassembled and crated, to save on shipping and storage costs. Automobile accessories such as battery boxes, etc. were also offered and very soon a line of ‘Fitz-Er’ bodies for Ford Model T and TT chassis were added to the mix. An advertisement in the July 15, 1920 Commercial Car Journal offered the ‘Fitz-Er truck cab’... ‘Built to a Standard’ and available in closed, semi-closed and open styles.

Lewis B. Erwin did not remain with FitzJohn-Erwin long and in 1921 his interests were acquired by the other partners, and the corporate name was changed. Erwin took a position as engineer with the C.W. Spooner Co. of Grand Rapids, later on working for his father at Consumer’s Power Co. His exit coincided with the re-branding of the firm’s bodies from ‘Fitz-Er’ to ‘FitzJohn’.

FitzJohn’s bus body line was explained in detail in the December 22, 1922 issue of Bus Transportation:

“Standard Body for Reo Chassis

“The FitzJohn-Erwin Manufacturing Company, Muskegon, Mich., is building three models of bus bodies, all designed for application on Reo Speed Wagon chassis. The Model E-60 body, shown on page 654, carries eighteen passengers, including the driver. Wells are provided at front and rear, as shown in the accompanying drawing.

“The service door is of the double folding type, and swings in and forward. This has wired plate glass in the lower section and ordinary plate glass in the upper section. The emergency door, in the middle of the rear of the body, has a 24-in. opening. The center rear seat is removable to give quick access.

“The body framing, of oak and ash, is covered below the belt rail with 20-gage sheet steel. The front end has a stream-line effect, because of the 18-in. radius at the corners.

“The roof is of the arch type reinforced by steel carlines. On the outside it is covered with 12-oz. black oiled duck. The ceiling inside is paneled with beaver board.

“Fresh air is provided by two Nichols-Lintern ventilators, faced on the ceiling with polished aluminum grills. The windows raise to a 15-in. clear opening. Glass is glazed in rubber channel sections, set in Rex brass sash. The top sash above the windows is Florentine glass.

“The fittings include three-piece plate-glass windshield, pipe heating system installed complete, signal system with a push button at each seat, advertising rack on each side of the body, and four side ceiling pendants with Alba shades.”

Unlike the firm’s ‘knocked-down’ truck and van bodies, FitzJohn’s complex Motor Coach bodies had to be fitted on the donor chassis at the FitzJohn plant by its own skilled mechanics, after which the completed coaches were delivered by rail, or drive-away to individual REO dealers across the country.

1923 advertising emphasized low prices and the company's devotion to standardization:

"Dealers who sell FitzJohn bodies tell us that our low price is our greatest obstacle. How can the body be so good and priced so low. The answer is simple. We are located in the heart of the wood-working industry. We have a large wood-working population to draw from. The labor market is here, and we don't have to go into distant fields and bid against other makers to draw their workmen to Muskegon."

1923-1924 marked a number of changes for the firm, Thomas Edward Abbott was appointed production manager, the name was changed from Fitzjohn-Erwin Mfg. Co. to the Fitzjohn Mfg. Co., and they moved into a larger facility located on Central Avenue, adjacent to the main line of the Pere Marquette and Pennsylvania Railroad.

The acquisition of the plant was announced in the 1923 issue of the Automotive Manufacturer:

“Kelly Valve Co., Muskegon, Mich., has sold its plant at the east end of the city to the Fitzjohn Irwin Mfg. Co., Muskegon Heights, manufacturer of automobile bus and commercial bodies. The purchaser will add to the plant to increase output 400 per cent or up to 80 bodies per month. The valve company will probably occupy a portion of the Enterprise Brass Co. plant or a part of the Michigan Washing Machine Co. plant at Muskegon Heights.”

The new plant was outfitted to produce bodies for the new purpose-built REO Model W bus chassis and FitzJohn announced that completed bus bodies would be shipped to Lansing where they would be mounted by REO. Up until that time the firm had constructed mainly transit coaches designed for city service, but a new 22-passenger sedan-type parlor coach debuted for use on REO’s Model W chassis in 1924.

Studebaker commenced the production of a purpose-built 184” wheelbase bus chassis in 1925 and soon-after FitzJohn began supplying the South Bend, Indiana manufacturer with series-built coachwork in transit and intercity flavors.

The firm occasionally constructed bodies on chassis other than REO and Studebaker, and a least one Observation Coach body was constructed for a Republic Model 62 truck chassis in early 1928.

In 1927 FitzJohn constructed a special truck body for two local celebrities, Eva, ‘the human elephant’ and Topsy, ‘the wonder zebra.’ The two performers were the stars of Max Gruber’s, ‘Oddities of the Jungle’ a Muskegon-based circus side-show.

FitzJohn introduced a new line of buses in the late Twenties that were available in both pay-to-enter and intercity versions. Available in seating capacities of 12, 14, 17, 21, 25 and 29 passengers, the coaches were marketed under various names (Utility, Pay-Enter Grand and Observation) and alphabetic Model numbers (Models B, C, D,F, K and L).

The firm’s records start with the 1928 model year in which 271 bodies were constructed, with only 13 more bodies (284) being constructed during the following model year (1929).

Effective January 1, 1929, FitzJohn stopped selling bus bodies through chassis manufacturers and auto dealers and began selling directly to its customers, the January 19, 1929 issue of Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record reporting:

“Great Muskegon Bus Industry

“The Fitzjohn Manufacturing Company was originally organized as Fitzjohn-Erwin Manufacturing Company in 1919 and was located in Muskegon Heights, Mich., the plant having an area of 15,000 square feet. In the year 1921 the Erwin interests were acquired by Mr. Fitzjohn and others, and the corporate name was changed.

“In 1923 owing to the increase of business it became necessary to look for new and larger headquarters. A plant at the outskirts of the city of Muskegon, located on the Pere Marquette and Pennsylvania Railroad was available at that time and was acquired by this company. This is a steel and brick constructed building with a floor area of 12,000 square feet. The company immediately added an addition of 15,000 square feet, and through the years 1924 and 1925 made additions to the plant, bringing the total floor area to 55,615 square feet exclusive of lumber and storage sheds.

“The FitzJohn Manufacturing Company is one of the pioneers to engage in bus body building and manufactures exclusively bus, moving van, and panel bodies. In addition to being a pioneer in bus body building, the FitzJohn Company was particularly active in advancing the standardization of parts.

“All FitzJohn bodies are constructed from jigs and patterns in such a manner as to insure full interchangeability. Operators from experience have proved that standardization of all parts assists material in replacement of parts made necessary either from accident of normal wear.

“The company has manufactured and sold in excess of 2,000 FitzJohn bodies. This includes pay-enter, parlor coach and school buses. Bodies manufactured and sold in the first year of the company's corporate existence are still running. Many shipments have been made to foreign countries including South America, New Zealand, Australia and Puerto Rico.

“A stock of bodies ranging from 12 to 29-passenger pay-enter and parlor coach type is always kept on hand suitable for mounting on such chassis as the Reo, Studebaker, Dodge, G.M. C., and White. Deliveries usually can be made within ten days from receipt of the chassis.

“Mr. FitzJohn, president of the company, in speaking of future plans and the outlook of the bus business says, 'We are well aware that the bus industry is still in its infancy and is annually gaining in its stride, and appreciate the fact that its limitations cannot be safely predicted.' The success of the company is due to its standardization, quality of product and correct construction in regard to size and symmetrical appearance, resembling in many cases the stream lines so prevalent in passenger car coach building. Again quoting Mr. FitzJohn: 'Our plans for the future call for the constant analysis of bus trends in order that we may foresee what operators are going to need, what is best suited for traffic in our larger cities, and build our bodies to meet these requirements. We knew that only by keeping in close touch with this rapidly growing industry can we maintain our present high position.'

“As of January 1, 1929, the company inaugurated a ‘manufacturer to operator’ sales policy, selling direct to fleet owner - municipalities, boards of education and individual operators. This, together with the already large business connection made through Reo, Studebaker and other distributors and dealers, we feel will keep our plant in full operation throughout the coming year.

“The company employs an average of 175 men. Its engineering and designing departments and has a modern plant suitable for the tine work necessary in the producing of high grade bus body equipment.”

In 1929 a sales office was established in Detroit’s General Motors building (5th floor, suite 208) with Francis W. Feeney as its manager, and he spent many hours preparing press releases for the regional trades of which a few more examples follow. The first is from the October 22, 1929 issue of Michigan Manufacturers and Financial Record:

“Muskegon Company Builds Fine Bodies

“The FitzJohn Manufacturing Company, Muskegon, in the past few months has manufactured and delivered, through the White and Studebaker distributor organizations, new models of bus bodies conservatively designed and of larger capacity than has been their standard for some time. Appreciating the fact that passenger comfort and excellent equipment and appointments help to accomplish for the bus operator more interest in his equipment and greater pay loads, these new models offer the public the utmost ease and comfort since the buses are equipped with reclining chairs, electric fans, thermos  water bottles, adequate heating apparatus, full vision windows, and inside luggage lofts. Passengers may enter and load or unload their own hand baggage while standing in an upright position, become seated and recline in three different positions. Air equipment is used in many of the larger buses both for braking purposes and alarm signals.

“Organized in 1919, the company has grown from time to time until today it has a total floor area of 55,615 square feet, exclusive of lumber and storage sheds. It has pioneered in many ways the building and manufacturing of bus bodies and in addition to its bus business enjoys an exclusive line of moving van and panel bodies for commercial use. Standardization has always been an interesting subject to H. A. FitzJohn, president of the company, and wherever possible all bodies are constructed through jigs and patterns making possible an interchange of most of the major parts of all bodies constructed.

“The company’s product is becoming world known as shipments have been made to Europe, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico and San Domingo. Pay enter or street car and parlor coach types, ranging from 12 to 29-passenger capacity are kept on hand suitable for mounting on standard  bus chassis such as the Reo, Studebaker, Dodge, G. M. C, Federal, International and White, while milled parts are in stock for  the larger models, the 29 to 41-passenger bodies.

“Constant analysis of the operators' requirements in the matter of construction, are being studied by the engineering and designing departments. Just as the passenger car business has found it necessary to change its models, so have the bus body manufacturers had to meet the various demands for finer and better equipment to keep in step with the wonderful progress being made in all automotive transportation.

“The company employs an average of 175 men and has a modern plant suitable for the fine work necessary in the producing of high quality bus body equipment. Mr. FitzJohn, who has been president and general manger since the plant’s inception, is active in the management of the business and has been assisted since the first of the year by G.W. Davies, sales manager.”

The next is from the December 14, 1929 issue of Michigan Manufacturers and Financial Record:

“Sees Business Increase

“The close of 1929 will show a record production year for the FitzJohn Manufacturing Company, Muskegon, but indications point to a substantial increase in business in 1930, states Harry A. FitzJohn, president of the company.”

A third appeared in the 1930 Detroit Auto Show issue (January 18, 1930) of Michigan Manufacturers and Financial Record:

“Progress In Bus Body Building

“The FitzJohn Manufacturing Company which originally, when organized in 1919, was the FitzJohn-Erwin Manufacturing Company, Muskegon Heights, Michigan, were manufacturers of automobile accessories, particularly small wood parts such as battery boxes, etc.

“An addition of 18,000 square feet has just been completed.

“Standardization of all types of bus bodies has been worked out through jigs and patterns making possible the interchangeability of parts in case of accident or normal wear. The company’s product is being operated in every state of the union and shipments have been made to Europe, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Puerto Rico and San Domingo.

“Located at Muskegon, the company is in excellent position geographically since we are adjacent to all the principal bus chassis manufacturers. H. A. FITZ-JOHN President, Fitz-John Manufacturing Co., Muskegon the company branched out and designed bus bodies suitable for mounting on the White, Studebaker. A. C. F., Mack, G. M. C, and other standard bus chassis equipment. Bus bodies of the Street car or Pay Enter type, Observation type and our latest creation — 'Commander of the Highways' coaches are manufactured in the following capacities...

“The company has enjoyed an increase of business each year over the previous year since its inception showing a 17 1/2 % increase in sales in 1929 over the year 1928. The company maintains engineering and designing departments and employs an average of 225 men. Its plant is of steel and brick construction and is sprinkled throughout for fire protection.

“H.A. FitzJohn, who has been president and general manager since the plant’s inception, is active in the management of the business and is assisted by G.W. Davies, sales manager.”

In 1930 FitzJohn introduced a 21-passenger short-haul bus body for the new 157” wheelbase Ford Model AA chassis that was featured in the automaker’s 1930 Truck Salesman's handbook. It was constructed of hardwood framework with metal bracing with an oiled duck roof, linoleum flooring and body panels made from sheet steel. Included were 3 dome lights, roof ventilators and a hot air heater for the passengers. The front door was folding and an emergency exit opened on the left side towards the rear. Shatterproof glass was a $112 option as was a $40 roof rack. Base price for the body was $1,750, f.o.b. Muskegon.

FitzJohn was hard hit by the Depression and like numerous firm engaged in the auto body business, its sales fell dramatically (by 40%) during 1930. 1931 proved even more disastrous and on June 8, 1931, the company entered receivership, the news being announced to the auto trade in the June 20, 1931 issue of Automotive News:

“Fitzjohn Gets Receiver

“DETROIT, June 16- The Bankers Trust Co. has been named receiver of the FitzJohn Mfg. Co., Muskegon, Mich., manufacturer of bus bodies. The company was organized October, 1931. July 13 has been set as the date for the preliminary court hearing.”

Although he little to do with the firm’s current problems, FitzJohn was made the scapegoat and during the subsequent reorganization he was forced out of the firm bearing his name. Thomas H. Hume, an original partner was elected president and treasurer and Muskegon local Francis W. Feeney was appointed plant manager, the January 1932 issue of Bus Transportation reporting:

“Purchase of the assets of the FitzJohn Manufacturing Company from the Bankers Trust Company, Muskegon, receiver, is announced by the FitzJohn Body Company, a new organization formed by a group of key men of the old company, who will take over and operated the complete body-building plant at Muskegon, Mich.

“Francis W. Feeney, who has been associated for the past nine years with the old company, will be manager. Production will be under the direction of Harold Begley, associated with the original company since its inception. A complete line of city and intercity bodies for all makes of chassis will be built.”

After being forced out of the firm bearing his name in 1931 FitzJohn’s founder, Harry A. FitzJohn, teamed up with Paul O. Dittmar in the design of a 12-15 passenger parlor coach for the Safe Way Lines, a small Chicago to New York operation based out of Harvey, Illinois. Ten examples of the Autocoach are known to have been constructed by REO for the Dittmar-controlled busline, but further manufacture of the Autocoach is undocumented.

(Another Dittmar-badged motorcoach, the DMX, was built in small numbers during the mid-thirties but FitzJohn was not involved in the project.)

The Autocoach project put FitzJohn back in touch with his old friends at REO and shortly thereafter the Lansing-based manufacturer announced a new bus division, the January 1933 edition of Automotive Industries reporting:

“New Reo Bus Head - Harry A. FitzJohn, organizer and former head of the FitzJohn Mfg. Co., Muskegon, Mich., has been named head of the newly formed bus division of the Reo Motor Car Co., Lansing.”

In 1936 FitzJohn took a position with General Motors Truck Co. as ‘sales engineer’ of its Yellow Coach division, The Metropolitan reporting:

“Harry A. FitzJohn, formerly president of the FitzJohn Body Company, Muskegon, Mich., will represent General Motors Truck Company, Yellow Coach division, as sales engineer. He will maintain headquarters at Pontiac, Mich.”

In 1940, FitzJohn returned to bus manufacturing on a smaller scale, taking a position with the newly organized General American Aerocoach Co. of Chicago as Sales Manager. The firm was created after it parent, the General American Transportation Corp., a builder and lessor of railroad cars, purchased the bus manufacturing assets of Gar Wood Industries in 1939.

The General American Transportation Corporation dates to 1898 when Max Epstein founded a railcar leasing firm called the Atlantic Seaboard Dispatch. One of the first companies to specialize in leasing railcars, Epstein commenced operations out of Chicago using 28 used cars.

The firm was reogoranized in 1902 as the German-American Car Company and by 1907 owned a fleet of 400 railcars, most of which were tankers lined with glass or nickel for the transportation of sterile (milk) or corrosive (acid) liquids. A repair and maintenance shop was established in the Chicago suburb of East Chicago, Indiana, and the firm soon embarked upon the manufacture of its own rolling stock. 

The company was reorganized as a public stock company in 1916, and the name was changed to the General American Tank Car Corp. Moodys reported the firm operated a fleet of 2,300 tankcars and enjoyed annual revenues of over $3 million. A satellite plant was established at Warren, Ohio and by the early Twenties the firm had sales in excess of $20 million with its Indiana and Ohio plants producing 10,000+ tankcars per year.

By 1933  General American Tank Car owned a fleet of 50,000 railcars, reorganizing once again as the General American Transportation Corp. During the 1940s and 1950s GATX , as it was commonly referred to, had become  the nation's largest lessor of railcars, with an annual revenue of $250 million. It changed its name to GATX Corp. in 1975 and expanded into the financial services and aircraft leasing industry. Although it eventually exited the tank car manufacturing business, revenues continued to increase and by  the turn of the century (2000) it employed 6,000, owned a fleet of 90,000 railcars, and had revenues approaching $2 billion annually.

Ralph C. Epstein's GATX: A History of General American Transportation Corp. provides the following information in regards to the Aerocoach acquisition:

“In earlier pursuance of the same policy of diversification, just before the second world war, General American purchased the motor bus business of Gar Wood Industries, Incorporated. No plant was acquired, but the designs of a new type of welded tubular frame bus, an inventory of parts and a core of experienced manufacturing personnel were obtained. Chief among the persons who came with General American was Richard Evans, who had been the superintendent at Gar Wood's. He became manager of the General American Aerocoach plant newly established at Hegewisch, Illinois, just outside Chicago. When Evans came from Detroit he brought with him 18 men. Production in 1940 was 58 coaches; in 1942, 240 units. In 1943, the war brought a stop to bus production; it was resumed in 1945. In 1946, 501 Aerocoaches were made, and in 1947 the division was moved to a new plant. The Hegewisch facilities were not owned by General American but used by arrangement with the Pressed Steel Car Company. The new Aerocoach plant, owned by General American, is at East Chicago, Indiana, about 1˝ miles from its freight car shops. The plant covers 44 acres. It represents, with equipment, an investment of approximately $3, 500,000 and it has a capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 coaches annually. The distinctive feature of the Aerocoach is its tubular welded, single-unit body and frame construction for strength and safety. Made in both urban transit and suburban long-distance types, the coach is sold to numerous transit and bus lines, such as Santa Fe Trailways, Quaker Stages, National Trailways, Greyhound Lines and others.

“The operating head of the Aerocoach division is W. W. Fowler, LeRoy Kramer is plant manager. Plant superintendent is Max P. Murray. The sales manager is H. A. FitzJohn. A. F. Siers is the director of Aerocoach engineering.

“As with railroad cars, welded products and process equipment, General American has no monopoly of the field in motor buses. Competition comes from a number of larger and smaller producers. The larger ones are General Motors Corporation and the American Car and Foundry Company. Among the others are Flxible, Twin Coach, Beck, White, and Mack.”

General American Aerocoach Co.'s Employment Office was located at 13547 Brandon Ave. Hegewisch, Ill., (opposite South Shore Station) although the actual plant was located behind the train station in a massive industrial complex owned by the Pressed Steel Car Company, another General American Transportation Corp.- controlled firm.

In 1936 General American Transportation Corp. took over management of the Pressed Steel Car Company, the nation's third largest manufacturer of railcars. The latter firm dates to 1882 when Adolph Hegewisch founded the United States Rolling Stock Company to build railroad cars. In 1912 the company was reorganized as the Western Steel Car & Foundry, and in 1926 was taken over by its parent company, the Pressed Steel Car Company of Cincinnati, Ohio (organized in 1897).

In addition to building wooden and steel railcars and streetcars, Pressed Steel Car manufactured truck trailers and during the Second World War produced M-4 (Sherman) tanks for the US Army. They also manufactured tanks during the Korean War but were forced into bankruptcy in the mid-1950s after which their Hegewisch properties were acquired by U.S. Steel who used the property as a supply warehouse. Today the plant at 13535 S. Torrence Ave, Chicago, Illinois is called the Chicago Enterprise Center and its tenants are mostly involved in the steel business.

General American Aerocoach constructed 29 and 33-passenger buses using its predecessor’s welded tube framework, and its early products were indistinguishable from the last Gar Wood Model D motor coaches, save for a vertical nose molding that included the Aerocoach moniker. When production of the coaches ended in 1943, the firm had sold approximately 250 Gar Wood Model D-style Aerocoaches.

An all-new larger Aerocoach joined the Gar-Wood style lineup in 1940, the September 23, 1940 issue of the Hammond Times (Indiana) announcing that the firm was doubling its capacity to produce the new coaches:

“The General American Aerocoach company will double the size of its Hegewisch plant which was organized a year ago. General plant modernization will include new tooling machines for the production of buses.”

300 of the new-style Aerocaoches were constructed into 1943  when the plant was converted over for War production, the September 24, 1944 issue of the Hammond Times (Indiana) reveals the plant constructed fuselages and inner wings for the Navy:

“Aerocoach Plant Shut: 400 Laid Off as Navy Halts Production

“The General American Aerocoach company of East Chicago was shut down today when the Navy department discontinued the production of aircraft at Interstate Aircraft corporation at DeKalb, Ill., General American, who was one of the two major sub-contractors for the DeKalb plant, was engaged in the production of fuselage and inner wings for the Navy department.

“Approximately 400 workers were released. Plant officials, however, expect to obtain a new contract soon. Investigation is now being made by the representative of the war production board in cooperation with the military service to see if there is the possibility of placing other war contracts in the near future. The classification of workers who were thrown out of work will be handled by the United States Employment service and referrals to other war plants will be issued.

“Also involved in the stoppage of production, was employees of the Wurlitzer plant, located in DeKalb, Ill., where 200 to 250 people engaged in making wing panels and empennage can probably be assigned to other aircraft work in the same plant to a considerable degree.”

Although the investment had little effect on their bus manufacturing operations, General American Transportation Corp. was indirectly involved with the General Motors-controlled National City Lines. In his 1986 book, 'The motorization of American Cities', David James St. Clair states that GATX, through their General American Aerocoach subsidiary, made a substantial investment in American City Lines, one of the numerous General Motors-controlled firms that were buying up the nation's streetcar lines in order to convert them over to bus routes:

“In August 1943, National City Lines, General Motors, Phillips Petroleum, Standard Oil of California (through its Federal Engineering Corp.) Firestone Tire and Rubber, and General American Aerocoach formed American City Lines. Capital and management came from NCL and the suppliers. In December 1944 ACL acquired the Los Angeles Railway for about $13 million.”

Soon after, American City Lines began converting the majority (19 of 25) of the Los Angeles Railway's electric streetcar lines into motor bus routes, all of which featured coaches constructed by General Motors' subsidiaries.

Yellow Coach executives Oscar L. Arnold and Herbert E. Listman spearheaded General Motors involvement (through sharing directors/stockholders) or indirect investment (through subsidiaries or purchase of stock) in holding companies that either controlled existing operators, purchased existing operators, or obtained new licenses to operate competing franchises, in order to boost sales. The pair are also credited with putting together many of the deals that surreptitiously helped General Motors eliminate the nation's streetcars and interurbans, in what became known as the 'Great American Streetcar Scandal' or 'Great Streetcar Swindle'.

The term refers to the decades-long practice of holding companies buying controlling interest in hundreds of regional streetcar and interurban rail operators who subsequently replaced their rolling stock with General Motors-built transit coaches. Although none of the holding companies were owned directly by General Motors, many were controlled by General Motors directors and shareholders.

Although it's probable most of those small operators would have eventually replaced their rail and street cars with motor buses, there's no denying General Motors involvement hastened the process, hence the term 'Scandal'. Firms involved included Omnibus Corp., National City Lines, American City Lines, Pacific City Lines and United Cities Motor Transport.

Only the new larger-style Aerocoaches introduced in 1940 were continued when production resumed in late 1944 and over the next six years, an additional 2,350 buses were built by the firm. The January 29, 1945 issue of the Kokomo Tribune mentions that production of Aerocoaches had resumed in December of 1944:

“Indiana Railroad Buys New Buses

“Indianapolis, Jan. 29 — First of Indiana Railroad's new buses for the Indianapolis-Peru division were put into service over the weekend, Jay Garrett, company president, announced.

“A fleet of 20 new parlor coaches —representing an expenditure of approximately a quarter of a million dollars – has been on order from General American Aerocoach company since early last year. Delivery on the first 20 buses which have been approved by the Office of Defense Transportation was started last December. First coaches received were put into service on the Indianapolis-Terre Haute division, and as further deliveries are made between now and April, new vehicles will be added to Indianapolis-Ft. Wayne, via Peru and Muncie routes.

“The new buses have a wheelbase of 280 inches; they are heavier built, and have a 37-passenger seating capacity. Aisle seats are of the recliner type, and reading lights are individually controlled by passengers. Streamlined In design, the coaches are being painted in the company's traditional orange and green colors.”

On October 11, 1945 Harry A. Fitz John was made a vice-president, the Calumet News (East Chicago) reporting:


“The board of directors of the General American Aerocoach company has announced the election of Harry A. Fitz John as vice president in charge of sales. Mr. Fitz John Joined the General American Aerocoach company, which is the motor coach division of the General American Transportation corporation, immediately after its organization in 1939.

“In his capacity of vice president in charge of sales, Mr. Fitz John heads up a sales organization that is specially keyed to fill the needs of the inter-city and transit Industries. Mr. Fitz John's headquarters are in the Field building in Chicago.”

In a paper presented at a January 9, 1946 meeting of the SAE, L.H. Smith, Aerocoach's vice president of engineering, gave the group a glimpze into the future of the motor coach the January 9, 1946 issue of the New York Times reporting:

“Detroit, Jan. 8 - At a meeting today of the Society of Automotive Engineers:

“A wide-range of improvement in motor buses was outlined by L.H. Smith, engineering vice president of the General American Aerocoach Company of Chicago, such as air-conditioned compartments, circulating ice water, Polaroid windows and turbine-electric drive with speed of 100 miles when Superhighways permitted such a rate of travel.”

The transportaion industry suffered severe shortages of raw materials when production resumed after the War, the March 1, 1946 issue of the Hammond Times (Indiana) reporting on how the lack of materials effected the Aerocoach plant:

“Aerocoach Lays Off 480; Blames Lack of Materials

“HEGEWISCH. March 1—Assembly line operations were halted today at the General American Aerocoach Co.’s plant here by a shortage of material in the manufacture of buses.

“Richard Evans, plant superintendent, announced 480 workers have been laid off and a force of 150 will be maintained in repair and experimental divisions.

“The plant, a subsidiary of the General American Transportation Corp., located on the Pressed Steel Car Co. site, maintained a daily output of three 37-passenger coaches a year ago.

“An estimated 230 workers were laid off in November and last week production was curtailed to one unequipped bus each day.  The company amassed a stock of buses which will be completed with the near-future delivery of integral parts.'

“Lack of numerous parts needed to complete assembly of the coaches has been attributed to delays in delivery, unsettled labor conditions and other factors.

“With a backlog of orders, Evans said, the plant may require more than its maximum force of 630 workers when full production is resumed in the not too distant future. Evans stated the plant will continue to produce parts needed for the inter-city type buses now in operation, principally by the Greyhound and Southern Limited transit firms.”

The lack of material effected Pressed Steel Car as well, the March 11, 1947 issue of the New York Times announcing that the firm had a backlog of orders totalling $45 million, prompting it to sell its 40% share in Aerocoach:

“Pressed Steel Car Reports $445,535 Loss With Backlog of $45,750,000 in Orders

“The Pressed Steel Car Company, Inc., of Pittsburgh had a backlog of orders for freight and industrial cars and parts from domestic and export customers approximating $45,750,000 at the close of 1946, Ernest Murphy, president, informed stockholders in the annual report yesterday.

“Pressed Steel Car sold a 40 per cent stock interest in the General American Aerocoach Company on Feb. 28, 1947, at a net profit of $670,723, the report continued.

“‘Our advances to Aerocoach have been repaid and we have been released from our guarantee of the outstanding bank loan indebtedness of Aerocoach,’ it said. ‘The repayment of such advances has enabled us to reduce our long-term indebtedness by approximately $1,479,000. The proceeds of the sale of Aerocoach stock also will be applied in the reduction of our long-term indebtedness.’”

In 1947 General American Aerocoach relocated to a new modern plant located in the Pressed Steel Car Company complex at 300 W. 151st Street, East Chicago, Indiana, due to a increase in demand for motor coaches, the November 28, 1947, Hearne Democrat (Texas) reporting:

“Additionally, its manufacturing operations include the building of motorcoaches. This Division, known as General American Aerocoach Company, recently had to make a move from one large factory to yet a greater one on account of the greatly increased number of orders for Aerocoaches, which have proven so acceptable in the bus industry.”

Just before the War Aerocoach had introduced the Astraview observation coach which was equipped with roof-mounted windows and target towards tour operators such as Gray Line. A number of other Aerocoaches were offered after th War, one popular model, the Ski Cruiser, was described in the December 7, 1947 issue of the New York Times:


“This winter sportsmen will find all kinds of deluxe equipment ready to take them out where there is snow. One of the newest is the 1947 Aerocoach Ski Cruiser, a snow bus designed to carry thirty-three to forty-five passengers in comfort and luxury. The radio-equipped bus has reclining seats, pillow service, indirect reading lights, heaters geared to combat zero temperatures, under-floor luggage space, card tables, dining table service and a porter.

“A small cooking range installed at the back of the bus provides snacks and even full meals. Trips to the snow country need no longer be punctuated by stops for lunch; the skiers will be able to eat and drink en route.

“Imperial Transit, which is operating these deluxe Ski Cruisers in the New York area, does not plan to run regular public trips. Instead it will charter its buses to ski groups, clubs or small parties on a one-day basis covering 200 miles, two-day trips covering 500 miles in fifty hours, or week-end junkets.”

Another custom-built coach was supplied to the Hughes Aircraft Corporation for use as a motor home in 1944. The aluminum on steel multifuel coach was built with air conditioning, a bathroom with a one-piece aluminum shower, a galley kitchen and a sleeping chamber with two twin beds. Hughes' coach was equipped with an International Harvester Red Diamond 501 propane/gasoline engine that would start on gas and automatically convert over to propane once the engine reached operating temperature. It included a 10 gallon gas tank and a 300 lb propane tank (equal in size to a 100 gallon gas tank). It's assumed that it was used by Hughes Aircraft's eccentric founder Howard Hughes, although its current owners have yet to uncover documentation that proves it.

A line of 36- and 45-passenger pay-enter transit buses were introduced in 1948, which were available with fully automatic heating and ventilating systems. At much the same time the firm was awarded a large contract to equip 376 pre-war Yellow Coaches with  new interiors and Diesel engines, the July 09, 1948 issue of the New York Times providing the details:


“WASHINGTON, July 8 -- The Greyhound Corporation and its subsidiary bus companies are planning a $3,760,000 project to rebuild 376 buses so they may be continued in use for the next three years. The corporation said it was impossible to purchase a sufficient number of new buses.

“Notes for about $2,800,000 will be issued to the National City Bank of New York to finance 75 per cent of the cost of rebuilding, which will be done by the General American Aerocoach Company of East Chicago, Ind.

“Three of the Greyhound subsidiaries today asked the Interstate Commerce Commission for authority to issue $607,000 of the notes. They were: Atlantic Greyhound Corporation, of Charlestown. W. Va.; Capitol Greyhound Lines, of Cincinnati, Ohio; and Dixie Greyhound Lines, Inc. of Memphis, Tenn.

“Previously the parent company, the Greyhound Corporation, of Chicago, asked authority to issue $75,000 of notes and to guarantee payment of not more than $2,745,000 of its subsidiaries’ notes.

“Each of the notes will carry interest at 2 Ľ per cent, and will be payable in ten equal quarterly installments. The corporation estimated that the cost of reconditioning each bus would be $10,000.”

By 1952 it was virtually impossible to compete with General Motors, and most Aerocoaches constructed in it later years (1950-1952) were shipped to Cuba, Mexico and South and Central America. The firm's 'Help Wanted' ads stopped in July of 1952 and the firm withdrew from business shortly thereafter. Harry A. FitzJohn remained in Chicago after his forced retirement, passing away on January 8, 1967 in Tinley Park, Illinois at the age of 77.

The Aerocoach plant became home to the Steel Car Co., another subsidiary of the General American Transportation Corp. It later housed the Graver Tank & Manufacturing Co. and in 1969 the facility was purchased by the Chicago-based Union Tank Car Co. who produced 70,000 tank cars in the facility until relocating its tank car building operations to a new facility in Alexandria, Louisiana in 2006. The East Chicago facility was shuttered on May 30, 2008 and 445 employees were put out of work, the
March 3, 2008 AP Newsire announcing the sad news to the community:

“450-Worker Plant in East Chicago to Close

“EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) - Nearly 450 people will lose their jobs as Union Tank Car Co. plans to close its northwestern Indiana plant this spring.

“A declining market for railroad tank cars and the cost of operating an older factory forced the closing, Union Tank spokesman Bruce Winslow said Friday. The Chicago-based company has owned the factory for more than 40 years.

“Kelly Hounshell, president of the plant's Boilermakers Local 524, said she believed the company was moving production to its newer, nonunion factories in Texas and Louisiana.

“The plant was building about 60 tanks per week as recently as September, but the company laid off about 100 workers early this year as production dropped to 30 tanks a week.

“'I absolutely believe that they're closing this plant because both plants in the South are nonunion and they can make the tank cars cheaper there, and that they're taking work from here to down there,' Hounshell said.

“Winslow, however, said that the company was 'reducing production overall, not shifting production.'

“Union Tank said it was cutting 70 salaried employees and 375 hourly employees with the closure, scheduled for May 30.

“Union Tank Car was among more than 100 manufacturing companies owned by the Pritzger family's Marmon Holdings, until 60 percent of the conglomerate was sold to Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The deal was completed March 18.

“The sale had no effect on the decision to close the East Chicago plant, Winslow said.

“East Chicago Mayor George Pabey said the city had given Union Tank numerous property tax abatements in recent years and that he might seek to recoup that money since the company is leaving the city.

“'I will be meeting with city attorneys to see what our options are in that regard,' Pabey said.”

The May 30, 2008 issue of the Times of Northwest Indiana included the following obtiuary for the the plant:

“Union Tank closing East Chicago plant today

“Times of Northwest Indiana

“BY BILL BERO, Times of Northwest Indiana

“EAST CHICAGO - Union Tank Car Co. spokesman Bruce Winslow calls today ‘a sad one for the plant's family.’

“Union president Kelly Hounshell terms it ‘a bad time in people's lives.’

“Both on Thursday were lamenting on the eve of termination of operations at the plant at 300 W. 151st St. The plant is shutting after 40 years of operation in the face of a declining market for tank car sales and leases and taking the jobs of 70 salaried employees and 375 hourly union workers with it.

“‘We are sad this happened,' Winslow said. ‘It was caused by the economic downturn.’

“He expressed hope workers won't be unemployed for long.

“‘There is a lot of interest in the guys. They are skilled workers and we hope they find great positions to extend their careers.’

‘But Winslow said there are no plans to transfer them to other plants.

“Winslow has said the company will shift production to its newer facilities in Sheldon, Texas, and Alexandria, La. Unlike the East Chicago plant, both the facilities are nonunion.

“Hounshell, who is president of Local 524 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers union, said ‘no one was jumping up and down for joy' at the plant Thursday.

“Hounshell, who has worked at the plant for more than 21 years, said he is seeking employment elsewhere but had not yet found another job. He said he knows some workers have landed new positions.

“‘The local gave each of the 10 departments enough money out of the treasury to throw barbecues for each,' so workers could gather a last time, he added.

“The plant was building about 60 tanks per week with about 650 represented workers from late 2006 to September, when weekly tank car production dropped to 50, then to 40 in October and to 30 in early January.

“The railroad freight and tank car industry has all but disappeared from the region. GATX Rail Corp. closed its plant in East Chicago in February 2001, about the same time as the Thrall Car Manufacturing Co. facility in Chicago Heights was shuttered.

“Union Tank Car's home office will continue to be located in Chicago, Winslow has said.

“Union Tank Car was one of more than 100 manufacturing companies owned by the Pritzger family's Marmon Holdings, until 60 percent of the conglomerate was sold to Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The deal was completed March 18. The sale had no effect on the decision to close the East Chicago plant, Winslow said.”

The structures were subsequently razed to reduce the property owner's tax liability and as of this writing the 48.5 acre property remains for sale.

A handful of surviving Aerocoaches can be found today in the hands of private enthusiasts and museums (AACA in Hershey, PA). However you’re much more likely to encounter one of the two Aerocoach-sourced GM Motor Coaches, named Peacemaker I and Peacemaker II, which tour the country as part of the outreach mission of The Twelve Tribes, an international messianic religious group founded by Elbert Eugene Spriggs in 1972.

The buses provide complimentary medical care at large public gatherings and concerts (Phish, My Morning Jacket, Dark Star, Ratdog, The Other Ones, Bob Dylan, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart etc.) frequented by Dead Heads, so named for their love of the Grateful Dead.

The Twelve Tribes (known informally as ‘The Community’ or as ‘Yahshuas’ by Dead Heads) are headquartered in Vermont and operate an expansive system of hostels, health food stores, restaurants (Yellow Deli), and gift shops. If you frequent farmer’s markets in the Northeast, you’ve likely encountered members of The Community selling organic food, furniture handicrafts and their (excellent!) bread at one time or another. The Twelve Tribes have three communities in Vermont (Bellows Falls, Island Pond, Rutland); farms in Cambridge and Ithaca, New York; a large ranch in Valley Center, California and a short-lived coachworks in Lancaster, New Hampshire. They are also affiliated with dozens of smaller Communities (or ‘Sprigs’) located across the continental U.S. (New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Tennessee, Colorado, and Florida) and in several other countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom).

The Peacemaker I was conceived in 1986 as an outreach to the Grateful Dead concertgoers and was constructed using a 1961 GM motor coach topped off with the upper section of a 1950 General American Aerocoach observation coach. The rear half of the coach was raised approximately 24” to provide it with a bi-level or stepped greenhouse and pieces fabricated to fill in the gaps. The high quality work was completed over a three month period at the beginning of 1987. In a brochure entitled ‘A Bus Called Peacemaker’ Twelve Tribes community member ‘Anak’ describes the process of fusing two buses together to create a bus with character:

“A couple of months later the ‘cocoon’ was prepared (a 100 year old barn was bisected to fit a bus) and the ‘caterpillar’ went in for the metamorphosis. The next three months was a labor of self-sacrificing love by some truly spiritual men who spent 16 to 20 hours a day in a practically unheated barn in northern Vermont in January, February, and March.”

The Peacemaker moniker is related to a riot that ensued between the Pittsburgh Police and a group of Dead Heads on April 3, 1989. The bus and members of the Twelve Tribes community were in attendance offering free medical care to the concertgoers.

Someone within the unruly crowd congregating outside the Grateful Dead concert venue threw a beer bottle at one of the officers, splitting his head open. The PPD’s Riot Squad arrived moments later and a reported 500 Dead Heads were arrested. Tensions remained high and the Pittsburgh Police enlisted the help of The Community to try and calm things down. A megaphone was provided to Community member ‘Gladheart’ (real name Richard Cantrell) who spoke up telling everyone to be ‘peacemakers.’ Twelve Tribes members started dancing and playing music in the chasm separating the police and the angry Dead Heads. As time went on much of the formerly angry crowd were happily clapping to the beat and further violence was averted. The chief of police commended the actions of The Community members stating "You are peacemakers!" and from that day on the name stuck.

During the next 15 years Peacemaker I travelled over a half million miles during which time it required 3 replacement engines and transmissions as well as countless sets of tires. The coachwork held up well although it required reupholstering and was repainted three times.

It eventually became apparent that a replacement was sorely needed and it was decided to create a much-improved version of the original Peacemaker bus that would be longer, taller, and would hold more people. It would also be equipped with air conditioning, an onboard generator, and a shower – three items the original Peacemaker had done without.

In 2004 the Community acquired the two vehicles required; a 1955 GMC Scenicruiser and a 1949 General American Aerocoach Observation Coach, to complete their vision and construction commenced in a small auto body shop located on Summer St. in Lancaster, New Hampshire. Thankfully The Community documented its construction in the series of photographs seen here.

Long story short, the ten-wheeled 1955 Scenicruiser was horizontally bisected above the wheels retaining the original running gear. The top half was raised approximately 24” to provide it with the same stepped greenhouse seen on the original coach and its roof replaced with that of the 1949 Aerocoach. Once again pieces were hand-fabricated to fill in the gaps and outfitted with side windows taken from the Aerocoach. The styling was substantially upgraded from that of the original Peacemaker by installing forward-facing windows below the bi-level roof and the quality of its construction exceeded the excellent work found on the original vehicle.

The exterior was finished off with a beautiful two-tone maroon and cream paint job with the front marquee bearing the bus' name: ‘Peacemaker’. The interior was modeled after a wooden ship and was finished in cherry, ash and mahogany hardwoods. It can sleep up to 24 with convertible bunks and 2 overhead lofts and has a stainless steel bathroom with shower in the front and a kitchenette in the rear.

The Peacemaker II debuted in April 2007 at a Yellow Deli reunion in Chattanooga, Tennessee. From there, Peacemaker I & II embarked on a West Coast Tour that traveled from The Morning Star Ranch in Valley Center, CA to Vancouver, BC. The buses crossed the country through the Twelve Tribes midwest communities and then embarked on an East Coast tour. More recently the Peacemaker II accompanied the 2012-2013 Bob Dylan tour, distributing a memento pamphlet of Dylan's songs and insights and appeared in the Great Lakes region at various tall ship events alongside the Twelve Tribes’ Peacemaker tall ship. Click Here to see more pictures of the Peacemaker coaches.

© 2014 Mark Theobald for







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Jack & Ken Schramm - The Dearborn Coach Company, The Dearborn Historian, Vol. 45 No. 1, Winter 2005 issue

Steve Bloom - Deadheads, High Times; June, 1990 issue

Albert E. Meier - Made to Make You Money, Motor Coach Age, Vol. 21 No. 3, March 1969 issue

Dale Martin - Twelve Tribes Community makes a two-to-one bus, Great Northwoods Journal, Jan 7, 2006 issue

Albert E. Meier & John P. Hoschek - Over The Road: A History of Intercity Bus Transportation in the United States, pub. 1975

David James St. Clair - The motorization of American Cities, pub. 1986

Stephen B. Goddard  - Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century, pub. 1994

James L. Smith An account of Muskegon County, pub. 1924

James L. Smith - Historic Michigan; Muskegon County, pub. 1924

Muskegon Chronicle - Romance of Muskegon, Michigan, pub. 1937

George H. Dammann and James A. Wren – Packard, pub. 1996

Ken Chapman - The Packard Airport Limousine, Packard Cormorant No. 135, Summer 2009 issue.

Ed Strauss & Karen Strauss - The Bus World Encyclopedia of Buses

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Donald F. Wood - American Buses

Denis Miller - The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trucks and Buses

Susan Meikle Mandell - A Historical Survey of Transit Buses in the United States

David Jacobs - American Buses, Greyhound, Trailways and Urban Transportation

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