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FitzJohn-Erwin Mfg., FitzJohn Mfg., FitzJohn Body., FitzJohn Coach
FitzJohn-Erwin Manufacturing Company, 1919–1924; FitzJohn Manufacturing Company, 1924–1935; FitzJohn Body Company, 1935–1939; FitzJohn Coach Co., 1939-1958; Muskegon, Michigan; FitzJohn Coach Co Ltd., 1949-1959; Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Associated Firms

For almost 40 years the FitzJohn-Erwin; FitzJohn Mfg. Co; FitzJohn Body Co; and FitzJohn Coach Co. constructed truck bodies, bus bodies, integral buses and airport limousines in Muskegon, Michigan – its post-War sales slogan being:

“If it's made by FitzJohn, it's made to make you money.”

Early buses were constructed primarily for REO, but a handful were mounted on third-party chassis such as Ford, GMC, Republic and White, and a line specifically constructed for Studebaker’ bus chassis debuted in the mid-thirties. Chevrolet provided the donors for most of the firm’s stretched mini-buses/airport limousines, although a few Buick stretchouts were constructed and during the Second World War they produced 100 Packard-based coaches for the US Military.

Transit and Intercity coaches wer built from the late 30sinto the early 50s when they concentrated on intercity coaches of which a small number remain in use today, mostly repurposed as recreational vehicles. A handful of the firm’s once-popular stretched airport buses also remain, one of which transported principals of the Manhattan Project while they worked in New Mexico during the Second World War.

The firm was founded by Ohio native Harry A. FitzJohn (b. June 21, 1889 in Toledo, Ohio - d. Jan 8, 1967 in Tinley Park, Cook, Illinois) in 1919.

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.”

Francis W. Feeney was born in Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan on June 20, 1905 to William F. and Mary (Schmidt) Feeney. William and Mary had met while working at the Amazon Knitting Co., which coincidentally was owned by two of FitzJohn’s incorporators, Thomas H. Hume and Walter C. Powell.

His parents later ran their own candy and soda shop at 144 Pine St. after which William took a position with the Muskegon Police Dept. where he attained the position of detective sergeant. Francis also had a younger brother, Kenneth J.(b.1907-d.1973) Feeney who became a physician.

Francis attended St. Mary's Catholic School in Muskegon, Michigan and in 1923 was given a position in the FitzJohn office by the firm’s vice-president (and family acquaintance) Thomas H. (Tim) Hume. He quickly rose up the corporate ladder being appointed purchasing agent in 1925, sales manager in 1929, general manager in 1932, and in 1935 - FitzJohn’s president.

He married Ann H. Anderson and to the blessed union was born two children, MaryAnn (m. DeWitt) and Patrick Feeney. After the passing of his first wife he remarried a widow, Mary M. Tyler, adopting her four children, Stan, Jack, Thomas and Penny (m. Stokey) Tyler.

Feeney spearheaded a 1933 redesign of the firm coaches which became much more streamlined and adopted a numeric system of identification. As before, the firm concentrated on small and medium-sized transit and intercity coaches although a handful of railway coaches (equipped with flanged wheels for use on rails) are also known to have been constructed.

The firm’s most popular coach was the 21-passenger Model 35 of which 198 were constructed between 1933 and 1939 in various iterations; 35A, 35B, 35C, 35X and 35Z. Model 35 advertising stressed its low price - $1,750 f.o.b. – and economy, stating;

“It is sturdily built and assures minimum cost per seat mile. Chassis and body rehabilitation expense is negligible. Quick investment return is made possible through many economical features of this quality coach.”

Bodies were offered for Ford, Chevrolet and Diamond T chassis and FitzJohn prepared manufacturer-specific ads and brochures that were distributed to each marques distributors.

In 1934 FitzJohn moved into a new building located at 1221 East Keating Ave. at the southeast corner of E. Keating and Roberts Ave., a structure that would serve as their home for the next 25 years.

The new factory allowed the firm to take on larger orders and a line of new sedan-based airport limousines and shuttle buses debuted in 1934, the June 9, 1934 issue of the Ludington Daily News announced its debut:

“M. J. Dahringer Converts Sedan into Passenger Bus

“Introducing a new type of bus. M. J. Dahringer, of Dahringer Greyhound lines with headquarters in Ludington, has had a 1934 Chevrolet Master sedan, converted into an 11-passenger carrier.

“Essentially, the conversion was done by sawing the sedan in half, pulling the halves apart and interposing two additional sets of doors and two regular sedan seats. The completed job is a very long, Chevrolet sedan, streamlined, comfortable and fast.

“Gets Idea from Picture

“Mr. Dahringer derived the idea from a magazine picture and conferred with the magazine writer. With Dr. J.F. Wood of Mason Chevrolet Sales Co., and with the FitzJohn Auto Body Co. of Muskegon. He then purchased a regular Master sedan from the floor of Mason Chevrolet Sales Co. and sent it to the FitzJohn company, for rebuilding.

“In addition to constructing and interposing the center section, the body company lengthened, spliced and reinforced the frame and installed a longer drive shaft and reinforced all springs. Gear ratio was not changed. Mr. Dahringer fitted the new bus with oversize tires and had it painted and lettered.

“It may be seen in the shop of Dahringer Bus and Taxi Line, a blue, gold and chrome vision of the ultra-modern bus. The interior is as luxurious as any 1934 model sedan; the 80-horsepower motor is smooth and economical. It has wheelbase of 186 inches, 112 inches before conversion. The frame being lengthened six feet.

“Safety and Comfort

“In addition to its fine appearance and low operating cost (expected to average 18 miles to a gallon of gasoline), the bus provides maximum safety and comfort for its passengers. Knee-action, wheelbase and springing, as well as three separate heating units, contribute to comfort while shatter-proof safety glass throughout and sturdy construction contribute to safety.

“The new bus, plus an identical one now under construction, will probably be used between Traverse City and Grand Rapids.”

Sedan-based coaches were becoming popular around the nation and numerous coachbuilders introduced similarly-constructed vehicles during the same period. Most ‘Stretchouts’, as FitzJohn called them, were constructed using frame extension manufactured by Stockbridge, Michigan’s W.G. Reeves.

Reeves had introduced frame extension for Ford Trucks during the late Twenties and starting in 1933 began offering similar extensions for Ford’s V-8 equipped Ford Model 40/46 commercial car chassis. Initially available in two lengths, 18" and 36", Reeves supplied their cut-frame extensions to all three of the firms known to have built professional cars on Ford's commercial car chassis; A.J. Miller, Siebert and the lesser-known Automobile Coach Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.

Soon afterward Reeves began to offer 48”, 54” and 72” extensions and developed a similar line for Chevrolet chassis in lengths from 18” to 72”, many of which made their to professional car builders (hearse, ambulance and airport bus) who specialized in Chevrolet conversions.

FitzJohn’s Chevrolet-based ‘stretch-out’ was marketed as the 'Model 100 Stretchout Master Sedan' and became quite popular with Midwest airlines and surface transportation operators who wanted a budget-priced vehicle capable of carrying 11-15 passengers over a short distance and a reported 776 ‘stretch-outs’ were constructed by the firm over the next decade.

FitzJohn’s full-sized buses became significantly more streamlined as the decade wore on, and the popular Model 35 series was joined by the Model 200 and 300 series which offered seating from 16 to 25 passengers in both transit and intercity editions. The coachwork of the firm’s first all-metal flat-front coach, the Model 250, was sheathed in duralumin and mounted on top of a White Model 706-M COE chassis. The attractive Model 250 intercity coach debuted in 1934 and was eventually replaced by the Model 325 which was constructed into 1940 on both White and Chevrolet COE chassis.

In the fall of 1936, Reo designed introduced their first rear-engined ‘pusher’ bus chassis for which FitzJohn constructed 25 all-metal transit bodies for use as demonstrators by the Lansing, Mich. manufacturer. Designated the Model 350, the attractive coaches were the first FitzJohn’s to feature an entrance ahead of the front axle.

FitzJohn acquired the services of Yellow Truck & Coach’s brilliant body engineer James J. St. Croix (b. Sep. 26, 1894-d. Jun. 1, 1966) at about the same time, and he spearheaded the firm’s move into manufacturing complete or ‘integral’ motor coaches. The Model 325 was discontinued in 1940 and replaced by two new integral St. Croix-designed intercity coaches, the Model 500 Duraliner and the Model 600 Falcon.

The 24-32 passenger Model 500 Duraliner was equipped with a Chevrolet or Hercules engine mounted over the front axle. The Model 600 Falcon was furnished with a Hercules or Waukesha engine mounted behind the front axle, a troublesome position that was eliminated with the debut of the Model 610 in 1940 whose engine resided above the front axle.

The US involvement in the European conflict brought about a pronounced reduction in the availability of raw materials and standard bus production was put on hiatus for the duration of the Second World War. Many of FitzJohn’s skilled mechanics entered the service and those that remained were kept busy constructing war worker coaches and trailer buses – the latter were constructed from disused auto-haulers in order to transport war workers to and from their jobs at regional defense plants. Both products were pictured in the June 1943 issue of Popular Science with the following caption:

“Transportation of War Workers to and from plants has proved an acute problem, which the two vehicles show here are helping to solve. The one above was built from an ordinary sedan. This was cut into two sections, and a 6’ extension was added between the two parts. Fifteen passengers ride to work in this sedan-bus, which has a large compartment in the rear for storage of work clothes, tools, and the like, uses a minimum of critical materials, and requires little more gasoline than did the original car. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos at the right show how an automobile-transport trailer has been converted into a coach trailer that will seat 100 war workers comfortably. In converting the transport trailer, the superstructure was removed and a new steel framework built on the lower structure. The result is a unit that is comparable to many standard buses both in comfort and efficiency.”

The construction of the trailer buses was shared with the Superior Coach Corp. in Lima, Ohio and other mid-west coachbuilders and Fitzjohn completed one 62-unit batch of converted trailers during 1943. Superior and Fitzjohn were just two of the numerous firms that supplied the coaches to the Government and its estimated 3,000 trailers of all types were converted to buses during the War. Another picture of the firm’s auto carrier-based trailer buses appeared in the September 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics with the following caption:

“Auto Carriers Given A New Job Hauling War Workers

“Forced to retire from their former task of carrying new automobiles from factory to showrooms, the familiar transport trailers are being converted into busses for the more vital duty of hauling defense workers. This idea was originated by the sale manager of Jackson Brothers, of Beaumont and Orange, Tex., whose fleet of transports stood idle while workers in nearby shipyards had difficulty getting to and from their jobs. The bus, operated by the Bayshore Bus Lines between Lake Charles, LA., and Orange, seats 88 men and stands about 25 more. Only a few slight alterations were necessary in the conversion of a transport to a bus, as the trailers have a large amount of framing.”

The firm’s long experience in the construction of altered wheelbase Chevrolet sedans (Model 100 Stretchout) put it at an advantage when dealing with the War Production Board and the firm received a number of contracts from the Office of Defense Transportation during the War. Most were constructed using Chevrolet 5-passenger coaches, but one order of 100 Packard-based stretch-outs commenced production in 1942. Total producion of all series 100 strecth-outs was placed at 776 - which incldues the war worker coaches consturcted during hte War. According to George H. Dammann and James A. Wren:

“Sometime in early 1942, the US Army bought a total of 487 Packards. Of these, 100 were junior chassis-only units which were stretched into 12 and 15 passenger vehicles, similar to airport limousines, for special troop movement within various camps.”

Pictured to the right are a handful of pictures of FitzJohn president Francis W. Feeney explaining one of the Packard’s construction to Joseph B. Eastman, Director of the Office of Defense Transportation. They were captioned as follows:

“War workers' coach.

“Francis W. Feeney, president of the Fitz John Coach Company, shows a fifteen-passenger war workers' coach that his company made from a standard five-passenger light sedan with the use of only 300 additional pounds of steel. The six-foot central section was made largely of wood and other non-critical materials.

“War workers' coach.

“Joseph B. Eastman, Director of the Office of Defense Transportation, inspects a new fifteen-passenger war workers' coach made from a standard five-passenger sedan with the use of only 300 additional pounds of steel. Left to right: Francis W. Feeney, president of the Fitz John Coach Company, which made the vehicle; Mr. Eastman; Frank H. Shepard, Special Assistant in the Office of Defense Transportation's Local Transportation Division; Guy A. Richardson, Director of the Local Transportation Division.”

When delivered to the US Army, FitzJohn’s Chevrolet -based stretch-out was known as the 4x2 US Army "BG1503" 6-cyl. 83 h.p. 3F1R Military conversion. After the donor sedan was cut in half, a set of 72” metal frame extensions were fitted between the two sections, to which was added a centrally mounted carrier bearing, cross braces and a lengthened driveshaft. The white ash center section framework was constructed in a large body-building jig after which it was inserted between the two halves of the bisected body. The center section was fitted with a single pair of doors on the passenger side after which the entire center section was sheathed with molded tempered Masonite panels and fitted with a pair of 3-passenger wood-framed bench seats mounted back-to back.

A restored FitzJohn Packard war worker coach currently resides in the collection of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The vehicle was used to transport personnel from the train station in Lamy, New Mexico to the University of California's project office in Santa Fe for in-processing, and thence up to the project site in Los Alamos.

The demand for war worker coaches and trailer buses were fulfilled by late 1943 and the War Production Board allowed the firm to commence the manufacture of motor coaches in December of 1943. Production of the firm’s Duraliner and Falcon coaches, introduced just before the start of the War, commenced on a limited schedule into 1945 due to the lack of raw materials and personnel.

The 36-passenger Super Duraliner replaced the Falcon after the 1946 model year and the firm’s transit coaches were now offered in three sizes (27/29-pass., 33/35-pass and 37/39-pass.) and marketed under the Cityliner moniker. The 28-passenger Duraliner remained FitzJohn’s most popular model and between 1946 and 1952 499 examples were constructed – during the same period only 25 Super Duraliners were built and the model was discontinued in 1949.

At the end of the War General Motors couldn’t keep up with the demand for their highly-regarded diesel transit coaches to the benefit of the nation’s smaller bus manufacturers such as Fitzjohn who remained viable despite the fact the continued to offer only gasoline-powered motor coaches.

FitzJohn’s Toronto-based Canadian distributor, J.E. Fawkes, had enjoyed a brisk business both before and after the War and in 1949 it was decided to form a Canadian subsidiary which would manufacture Cityliner transit coaches for the Canadian market in Canada. A suitable facility was located at the Brantford, Ontario airport, the January 1950 edition of Bus Transportation reporting:

“FITZJOHN COACH COMPANY, Muskegon, Mich., is now establishing a Canadian factory for the production of Fitzjohn buses. Starting December 1st, the FitzJohn Company began preparing their plant and assembly line in the main factory at Brantford, Ontario. 42,000 square feet of floor space will be used to produce Fitzjohn coaches for the Canadian market.

“The company has been incorporated as Fitzjohn Coach of Canada, Ltd., and is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Fitzjohn Coach Company.

“The officers are F. W. Feeney, president; T. H. Hume, treasurer; and A. M. Port, vice president and secretary. B. H. Measley is sales manager, and B. J. Hickey is Canadian sales representative. A complete parts depot will also be established at Brantford with a large stock of parts and facilities for servicing the several hundred Fitzjohn coaches now in Canada.”

The Canadian subsidiary was successful at first but sales dropped off sharply after 1952 and only 197 vehicles had been constructed when the plant was shuttered late in the decade.

A rear-engined Cityliner debuted in 1950 which offered a choice of gasoline (FTG) or diesel (FTD) power for the first time. A commuter version that bridged the gap between a transit and intercity coach was also constructed which included high-backed seats and no center door.

At the end of the War FitzJohn had established a Mexico City office (Omnibus FitzJohn) which was joined by a Cuban sales office in Havana (Omnibus FitzJohn de Cuba) and by 1953 domestic sales were overshadowed by the firm’s exports, which were almost exclusively Duraliners.

Domestic orders continued to trickle in for Fitzjohn’s Cityliner and Duraliner coaches, but like their main competitors, C.D. Beck, ACF-Brill and Flxible, post war sales disappeared once it became known that new Diesel-equipped GM Silversides were available. GM was especially hard to compete against as many independent Trailways and Greyhound operators were required to buy from the General.

In 1954 FitzJohn scrapped its existing models and introduced the Roadrunner intercity coach. Available in gasoline (FIG) or diesel (FID) versions in 33- and 37-passenger versions both of which could be outfitted with air-conditioning and roof-mounted observation windows.

Although the Roadrunner was arguably the firm’s most attractive motor coach to date, it was virtually impossible to compete with General Motors, and most Roadrunners were shipped to Cuba and Mexico. The firm’s last order was to a Mexican operator who purchased 54 Cummins-equipped diesels, the last of which was delivered in May of 1958.

FitzJohn’s Brantford facility was converted over to the manufacture of Bluebird School buses in 1959 and arrangements were made to continue Roadrunner production in Mexico.

At the end the firm’s officers were much the same as they had been since the early 1930s;

“Pres. & Adv. Mgr. – Francis W. Feeney; V-P & Treas. – Thomas H. Hume; Secy. & Purch. Agt – Albert M. Port; Pers. Dir. - J.B. Capdarest; Supt. – G.W. Lindholm.

Francis W. Feeney remained in the bus business, moving to Bruges, Belgium where he oversaw the production of Silver Eagle Coaches for Trailways. He retired in 1966 and moved to Palm Springs, California, passing away on November 26, 2006 at the ripe old age of 101. His obituary appeared in the November 28, 2006 Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

“Francis W. Feeney, 101 Venice and formerly Nokomis, died Nov. 26, 2006. He was born in June 20, 1905 is Muskegon, Mich., and after retiring in 1966 came to Nokomis from Palm Springs, Calif. He had owned FitJohn Bus Co. and later built a plant in Brugges, Belgium, to manufacture buses for Continental Trailways. He was appointed by the King of Belgium as an officer of the Order of King Leopold the Second. Survivors included children MaryAnn DeWitt and Patrick; stepchildren Dr. Thomas Tyler and Penny Stokey; four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, 14 step great-grandchildren; and his caregiver, Evelyn Morgan.”

During FitzJohn’s 38 years in business it constructed an estimated 5,300 vehicles. Approximately 40% were truck and bus bodies with the remainder being 2,621 complete buses and 838 sedan stretch-outs and trailer conversions. Its last plant, 1221 E. Keating Ave., remains standing at the southeast corner of Roberts Ave. and is currently the home of a number of small industrial firms, which include the Muskegon branch of Amstore Corp., a Grand Rapids-based manufacturer of store fixtures.

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 small 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 firm constructed 29 and 33-passenger buses using its predecessor’s welded tube framework, and its early products were indistinguishable from the last Gar Wood motor coaches. An all-new larger coach debuted in 1940 and up until the end of production in 1943, the firm sold approximately 250 Aerocoaches of the Gar Wood type and 300 of the new larger type. When production resumed in 1944 only the larger type was offered and over the next six years, an additional 2,350 buses were built by the firm.

By 1952 it was virtually impossible to compete with General Motors, and most Aerocoaches constructed in it later years (1950-1952) were shipped to Mexico and South and Central America. An in­teresting sideline was the rebuilding of prewar Greyhound Yellow Coaches with diesel engines and new interiors in the postwar years, under contract to Greyhound. The firm withdrew from business at the end of 1952.

Harry A. FitzJohn remained in Chicago after his retirement, passing away on January 8, 1967 in Tinley Park, Illinois at the age of 77.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for

Appendix 1

The following chart was mostly created from information compiled by transport historian Albert E. Meier who published it in the March 1969 issue of Motor Coach Age:

F-60 18 transit 1921–1927 for ľ-ton Reo Speed Wagon chassis; replaced by model F
F-75 18 parlor 1921–? sedan-style; for ľ-ton Reo Speed Wagon chassis
B-51 21 transit 1922–1928 for ľ-ton Reo Speed Wagon chassis; replaced by model B
unk 22 parlor 1924–1927 for Reo W chassis
B 21 transit 1927–1933 Pay-Enter Grand; Seneca without upper sash windows, Sioux with upper sash windows
C 17–25 parlor 1927–1933 Observation Coach (21 seats) Mohawk with 17 seats, Tecumseh with 25 seats
D 12–17 transit / suburban 1927–1933 Utility Coach; Algonquin with 12 seats, Juniata with 14 seats, Apache with 17 seats
F 17 transit 1927–1928
G 21 parlor ?–1933 Observation Coach; Tomahawk with inside lofts, Shiawassee without inside lofts
H 29 transit ?–1933 Pensacola
K 25 transit / suburban 1928–1933 Navajo
L 19–29 parlor 1928–1933 Commander of the Highways (19 seats); Chippewa with 21 seats, Shawnee with 25 seats, Pocahontas with 29 seats
S various school ?–1933 Hiawatha
5 13 parlor 1933–? streamlined body; only 3 built
10 16 parlor 1933–? streamlined body; only 7 built (2 as railbuses)
15 na na 1933–? no details
20 na na 1933–? no details
25 na na 1933–? no details
30 na na 1933–? no details
35 21–29 transit 1933–1939 198 built (includes 35A, 35B, 35C, 35X and streamlined 35Z versions)
100 11–15 sedan 1934–194x Stretch-out Chevrolet Master Sedan; 776 built; 15-seat version built during World War 2
135 na parlor 1935 2 built
150 na parlor 1934–? Deluxe Streamlined Intercity
175 na parlor na no details
215 16–21 transit 1934–? 101 built
250 21–25 parlor >1934–? Dural Intercity: all-metal flat-front duralumin body; replaced by model 325
300 na transit 193x–1942 245 built (14 as bodies only); replaced by model 310
310 27–39 transit 1944–1950 Cityliner; forward-entrance flat-front bus; also offered with Hercules JXLD engine; standee windows added in 1947; replaced by models FTD & FTG
325 na parlor ?–1940 available as body-only or integral coach; replaced by models 500 & 600
350 na transit 1936–1937 forward-entrance flat-front all-metal body for Reo 3P7 chassis; 25 built
500 24–32 parlor 1939–1945 Duraliner; 243 built; replaced by model 510
510 24–32 parlor 1946–1952 Duraliner; 499 built
525 28 parlor ;? Duraliner; 7 built
600 36 parlor 1939–1940 Falcon; mid-ship underfloor engine
610 36 parlor 1940–1946 Falcon; front engine; replaced by model 635
615 36 parlor ?–1946 Falcon; air-conditioned version of the 610; replaced by model 635
625 na parlor 1940 last body-only design; for White 1012 chassis
635 36–40 parlor 1949 Super Duraliner; 25 built; export version sold in Mexico until 1956
FTD na transit 1950–1954 Cityliner; rear diesel engine (usually Cummins JT-6B)
FTG na transit 1950–1954 Cityliner; rear gasoline engine (usually Waukesha 140-GK)
FSD/FSG na suburban ? Suburbanliner; high-back seats and no center door; only 3 built
FID/FIG 33–37 interurban 1954–1958 Roadrunner; Sightseer offered with roof windows; 14 FIG built
unk na trailer 1943 auto-hauling trailers converted to passenger units; 62 built








Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

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

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

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

William A. Luke & Linda L. Metler - Highway Buses of the 20th Century: A Photo Gallery 

William A. Luke & Brian Grams - Buses of Motorcoach Industries 1932-2000 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Greyhound Buses 1914-2000 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Flxible Intercity Buses 1924-1970 Photo Archive

William A. Luke - Trailways Buses 1936-2001 Photo Archive

Brian Grams & Andrew Gold - GM Intercity Coaches 1944-1980 Photo Archive

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

John McKane - Flxible Transit Buses: 1953 Through 1995 Photo Archive

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