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.
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:
1936 Automobiles Is Two Months Earlier This Year
“By Leslie Avery
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.
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.”
bus was also described in a July 4, 1936 UP Newswire article:
Given Industry By Bus Builders
“By WILEY MALONEY
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.
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
“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.
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.’
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
“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.
pointed out, ‘is because the body can be lowered because of elimination
of the drive shaft.’
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.
said to me, ‘you take the wheel.’
answered doubtfully, ‘I’ve never driven a bus.’
“‘Hell, take the
“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.
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
“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
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.
bus was also visited in a January 13, 1937 article carried by the
Science Service Newswire:
Builders Design New Bus With Low Operating Costs
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
“Here are the
achievements of the new coaches after several hundred thousand miles of
“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.
“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.”
Abstract of Knauss’ SAE technical paper ‘The Chassisless or Unit-Car
Question,’ first published in the January 1937 issue of the SAE
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.
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.
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.”
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.
of the Model D coaches was eventually transferred to Gar Wood's
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
“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.”
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,
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
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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.”
draft card dated June 9, 1917 lists his residence in Grand Rapids,
Michigan, his employer Hayes-Ionia Co., occupation purchasing agent.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
“TO BUILD TRUCK
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.
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
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.
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’.
bus body line was explained in detail in the December 22, 1922 issue of
for Reo Chassis
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
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.
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.”
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.
advertising emphasized low prices and the company's devotion to
"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."
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.
acquisition of the plant was announced in the 1923 issue of the
“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
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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).
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:
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
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.”
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:
Builds Fine Bodies
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
next is from the December 14, 1929 issue of Michigan Manufacturers and
“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
third appeared in the 1930 Detroit Auto Show issue (January 18, 1930)
of Michigan Manufacturers and Financial Record:
“Progress In Bus
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.”
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
“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
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.”
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.
Dittmar-badged motorcoach, the DMX, was built in small numbers during
the mid-thirties but FitzJohn was not involved in the project.)
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
“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.”
1936 FitzJohn took a position with General Motors Truck Co. as ‘sales
engineer’ of its Yellow Coach division, The Metropolitan reporting:
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,
1940, FitzJohn returned to bus manufacturing on a smaller scale, taking
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
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
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
company in 1916, and the name was changed to the General American Tank
Car Corp. Moodys reported the firm
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
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
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
just before the second world war, General American purchased the
business of Gar Wood Industries, Incorporated. No plant was acquired,
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
persons who came with General American was Richard Evans, who had been
superintendent at Gar Wood's. He became manager of the General American
Aerocoach plant newly established at Hegewisch, Illinois, just outside
When Evans came from Detroit he brought with him 18 men. Production in
58 coaches; in 1942, 240 units. In 1943, the war brought a stop to
production; it was resumed in 1945. In 1946, 501 Aerocoaches were
and in 1947 the division was moved to a new plant. The Hegewisch
were not owned by General American but used by arrangement with the
Steel Car Company. The new Aerocoach plant, owned by General American,
East Chicago, Indiana, about 1˝ miles from its freight car shops. The
covers 44 acres. It represents, with equipment, an investment of
$3, 500,000 and it has a capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 coaches annually.
distinctive feature of the Aerocoach is its tubular welded, single-unit
and frame construction for strength and safety. Made in both urban
suburban long-distance types, the coach is sold to numerous transit and
lines, such as Santa Fe Trailways, Quaker Stages, National Trailways,
Lines and others.
“The operating head of the Aerocoach
division is W. W.
Fowler, LeRoy Kramer is plant manager. Plant superintendent is Max P.
The sales manager is H. A. FitzJohn. A. F. Siers is the director of
“As with railroad cars, welded products
equipment, General American has no monopoly of the field in motor
Competition comes from a number of larger and smaller producers.
larger ones are General Motors Corporation and the American Car
Foundry Company. Among the others are Flxible, Twin Coach, Beck, White,
General American Aerocoach Co.'s
Employment Office was located at 13547
Brandon Ave. Hegewisch, Ill., (opposite South Shore Station) although
was located behind the train station in a massive industrial complex
the Pressed Steel Car Company, another General American Transportation
Corp.- controlled firm.
In 1936 General American Transportation
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
Stock Company to build railroad cars. In 1912 the company was
the Western Steel Car & Foundry, and in 1926 was taken over by its
company, the Pressed Steel Car Company of Cincinnati, Ohio (organized
In addition to building wooden and steel
railcars and streetcars,
Car manufactured truck trailers and during the Second World War
(Sherman) tanks for the US Army. They also manufactured tanks during
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
supply warehouse. Today the plant at 13535 S. Torrence Ave, Chicago,
is called the Chicago Enterprise Center and its tenants are mostly
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
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
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
“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
who was one of the two major sub-contractors for the DeKalb plant, was
in the production of fuselage and inner wings for the Navy department.
“Approximately 400 workers were released.
however, expect to obtain a new contract soon. Investigation is now
by the representative of the war production board in cooperation with
military service to see if there is the possibility of placing other
contracts in the near future. The classification of workers who were
of work will be handled by the United States Employment service and
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
engaged in making wing panels and empennage can probably be assigned to
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
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
“In August 1943, National City Lines,
Phillips Petroleum, Standard Oil of California (through its Federal
Corp.) Firestone Tire and Rubber, and General American
Aerocoach formed American City Lines. Capital and management came
and the suppliers. In December 1944 ACL acquired the Los Angeles
about $13 million.”
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
licenses to operate competing franchises, in order to boost sales. The
also credited with putting together many of the deals that
helped General Motors eliminate the nation's streetcars and
what became known as the 'Great American Streetcar Scandal' or
'Great Streetcar Swindle'.
The term refers to the decades-long practice
companies buying controlling interest in hundreds of regional streetcar
interurban rail operators who subsequently replaced their rolling stock
General Motors-built transit coaches. Although none of the holding
were owned directly by General Motors, many were controlled by General
directors and shareholders.
Although it's probable most of those small
have eventually replaced their rail and street cars with motor buses,
no denying General Motors involvement hastened the process, hence the
'Scandal'. Firms involved included Omnibus Corp., National City
Lines, American City Lines, Pacific City Lines and United Cities Motor
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
Garrett, company president, announced.
“A fleet of 20 new parlor coaches
expenditure of approximately a quarter of a million dollars – has been
from General American Aerocoach company since early last year. Delivery
first 20 buses which have been approved by the Office of Defense
was started last December. First coaches received were put into service
Indianapolis-Terre Haute division, and as further deliveries are made
now and April, new vehicles will be added to Indianapolis-Ft. Wayne,
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
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:
“FITZ JOHN HEAD OF MOTOR COACH
“The board of directors of the General
company has announced the election of Harry A. Fitz John as vice
charge of sales. Mr. Fitz John Joined the General American Aerocoach
which is the motor coach division of the General American
corporation, immediately after its organization in 1939.
“In his capacity of vice president in
of sales, Mr.
Fitz John heads up a sales organization that is specially keyed to fill
needs of the inter-city and transit Industries. Mr. Fitz John's
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
“A wide-range of improvement in motor
was outlined by
L.H. Smith, engineering vice president of the General American
Company of Chicago, such as air-conditioned compartments, circulating
water, Polaroid windows and turbine-electric drive with speed of 100
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
“Aerocoach Lays Off 480; Blames Lack of
“HEGEWISCH. March 1—Assembly line
today at the General American Aerocoach Co.’s plant here by a shortage
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
“The plant, a subsidiary of the General
Transportation Corp., located on the Pressed Steel Car Co. site,
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
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
the not too distant future. Evans stated
the plant will continue to produce parts needed for the inter-city type
now in operation, principally by the Greyhound and Southern Limited
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
export customers approximating $45,750,000 at the close of 1946, Ernest
president, informed stockholders in the annual report yesterday.
“Pressed Steel Car sold a 40 per cent
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
and we have
been released from our guarantee of the outstanding bank loan
Aerocoach,’ it said. ‘The repayment of such advances has enabled us to
our long-term indebtedness by approximately $1,479,000. The proceeds of
sale of Aerocoach stock also will be applied in the reduction of our
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
“Additionally, its manufacturing
building of motorcoaches. This Division, known as General American
Company, recently had to make a move from one large factory to yet a
one on account of the greatly increased number of orders for
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
“TRAVELING TO SKI CENTERS BECOMES LUXURIOUS
“This winter sportsmen will find all kinds
equipment ready to take them out where there is snow. One of the newest
1947 Aerocoach Ski Cruiser, a snow bus designed to carry thirty-three
forty-five passengers in comfort and luxury. The radio-equipped bus has
reclining seats, pillow service, indirect reading lights, heaters
combat zero temperatures, under-floor luggage space, card tables,
service and a porter.
“A small cooking range installed at the
of the bus
provides snacks and even full meals. Trips to the snow country need no
be punctuated by stops for lunch; the skiers will be able to eat and
“Imperial Transit, which is operating
Cruisers in the New York area, does not plan to run regular public
Instead it will charter its buses to ski groups, clubs or small parties
one-day basis covering 200 miles, two-day trips covering 500 miles in
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
July 09, 1948 issue of the New York Times providing the details:
“GREYHOUND PLANNING TO REBUILD 376 BUSES
“WASHINGTON, July 8 -- The Greyhound
Corporation and its
subsidiary bus companies are planning a $3,760,000 project to rebuild
so they may be continued in use for the next three years. The
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,
will be done by the General American Aerocoach Company of East Chicago,
“Three of the Greyhound subsidiaries today
Interstate Commerce Commission for authority to issue $607,000 of the
They were: Atlantic Greyhound Corporation, of Charlestown. W. Va.;
Greyhound Lines, of Cincinnati, Ohio; and Dixie Greyhound Lines, Inc.
“Previously the parent company, the
of Chicago, asked authority to issue $75,000 of notes and to guarantee
of not more than $2,745,000 of its subsidiaries’ notes.
“Each of the notes will carry interest at
Ľ per cent, and
will be payable in ten equal quarterly installments. The corporation
that the cost of reconditioning each bus would be $10,000.”
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
A. FitzJohn remained in Chicago after his forced retirement, passing
January 8, 1967 in Tinley Park, Illinois at the age of 77.
Aerocoach plant became
home to the Steel Car Co., another subsidiary of the General American
Transportation Corp. It later housed the Graver Tank &
and in 1969 the facility was purchased by the Chicago-based Union
Co. who produced 70,000 tank cars in the facility until relocating its
building operations to a new facility in Alexandria, Louisiana in 2006.
East Chicago facility was shuttered on May 30, 2008 and 445 employees
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
Car Co. plans to close its northwestern Indiana plant this spring.
“A declining market for railroad tank cars
and the cost of operating an
factory forced the closing, Union Tank spokesman Bruce Winslow said
Chicago-based company has owned the factory for more than 40
“Kelly Hounshell, president of the plant's
Boilermakers Local 524, said
believed the company was moving production to its newer, nonunion
Texas and Louisiana.
“The plant was building about 60 tanks per
week as recently as
the company laid off about 100 workers early this year as production
30 tanks a week.
“'I absolutely believe that they're
closing this plant because both
the South are nonunion and they can make the tank cars cheaper there,
they're taking work from here to down there,' Hounshell said.
“Winslow, however, said that the company
was 'reducing production
“Union Tank said it was cutting 70
salaried employees and 375 hourly
with the closure, scheduled for May 30.
“Union Tank Car was among more than 100
manufacturing companies owned
Pritzger family's Marmon Holdings, until 60 percent of the conglomerate
was sold to Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The deal was
“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
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
“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
“Union president Kelly Hounshell terms it
‘a bad time in people's
“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
the face of a declining market for tank car sales and leases and taking
jobs of 70 salaried employees and 375 hourly union workers with it.
“‘We are sad this happened,' Winslow said.
‘It was caused by the
“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
union, said ‘no one was jumping up and down for joy' at the plant
“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
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
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
about the same time as the Thrall Car Manufacturing Co. facility in
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
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
tour the country as part of the outreach mission of The Twelve Tribes,
international messianic religious group founded by Elbert Eugene
The buses provide complimentary medical care
at large public
gatherings and concerts (Phish, My Morning Jacket, Dark Star, Ratdog,
Ones, Bob Dylan, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart etc.) frequented by Dead Heads,
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
expansive system of hostels, health food stores, restaurants (Yellow
gift shops. If you frequent farmer’s markets in the Northeast, you’ve
encountered members of The Community selling organic food, furniture
handicrafts and their (excellent!) bread at one time or another. The
Tribes have three communities in Vermont (Bellows Falls, Island Pond,
farms in Cambridge and Ithaca, New York; a large ranch in Valley
California and a short-lived coachworks in Lancaster, New Hampshire.
also affiliated with dozens of smaller Communities (or ‘Sprigs’)
the continental U.S. (New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Tennessee,
Colorado, and Florida) and in several other countries (Australia,
Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom).
The Peacemaker I was conceived in 1986 as an
the Grateful Dead concertgoers and was constructed using a
motor coach topped off with the upper section of a 1950 General
observation coach. The rear half of the coach was raised approximately
provide it with a bi-level or stepped greenhouse and pieces fabricated
in the gaps. The high quality work was completed over a three month
the beginning of 1987. In a brochure entitled ‘A Bus Called Peacemaker’
Tribes community member ‘Anak’ describes the process of fusing two
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
metamorphosis. The next three months was a labor of self-sacrificing
some truly spiritual men who spent 16 to 20 hours a day in a
unheated barn in northern Vermont in January, February, and
The Peacemaker moniker is related to a riot
between the Pittsburgh Police and a group of Dead Heads on April 3,
bus and members of the Twelve Tribes community were in attendance
medical care to the concertgoers.
Someone within the unruly crowd congregating
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
reported 500 Dead Heads were arrested. Tensions remained high and the
Police enlisted the help of The Community to try and calm things down.
megaphone was provided to Community member ‘Gladheart’ (real name
Cantrell) who spoke up telling everyone to be ‘peacemakers.’ Twelve
members started dancing and playing music in the chasm separating the
and the angry Dead Heads. As time went on much of the formerly angry
happily clapping to the beat and further violence was averted. The
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
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
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
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
complete their vision and construction commenced in a small auto body
located on Summer St. in Lancaster, New Hampshire. Thankfully The
documented its construction in the series of photographs seen
Long story short, the ten-wheeled
was horizontally bisected above the wheels retaining the original
The top half was raised approximately 24” to provide it with the same
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
with side windows taken from the Aerocoach. The styling was
from that of the original Peacemaker by installing forward-facing
the bi-level roof and the quality of its construction exceeded the
work found on the original vehicle.
The exterior was finished off with a
maroon and cream paint job with the front marquee bearing the bus'
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
front and a kitchenette in the rear.
The Peacemaker II debuted in
April 2007 at a Yellow
Deli reunion in Chattanooga, Tennessee. From there,
& II embarked on a West Coast Tour that traveled from The Morning
Ranch in Valley Center, CA to Vancouver, BC. The buses
the country through the Twelve Tribes midwest communities and then
an East Coast tour. More recently
II accompanied the 2012-2013 Bob Dylan tour,
memento pamphlet of Dylan's songs and insights and appeared in the
Lakes region at various tall ship events alongside the Twelve
tall ship. Click Here to
see more pictures of the Peacemaker coaches.
Mark Theobald for Coachbuilt.com