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Cline & Hicks, Hicks Bus Body Co.
Cline & Hicks, 1919-1923; Hicks Bus Body Co., 1923-1953; Lebanon, Indiana
Associated Firms
Marmon Harrington

Although they're remembered by very few today, at one time the Hicks Bus Body Co. was one of the nation's largest manufacturers of school bus bodies, ranking 5th in total production at the start of the Second World War; its major competitors being Wayne, Blue Bird, Carpenter, Thomas and Ward. The firm can trace its history to a small auto top and body shop founded in 1919 by John F. Cline (b. February 3, 1892 - d. July 5, 1977) and Earl Morrell Hicks (b. Dec. 22, 1895 – d. Aug 16, 1972).

John F. Cline was born on February 3, 1892 in Washington, Boone County, Indiana to Leroy M. and Luella Cline. Siblings included Arthur C. (b.1891) James Milford (b.1896) Cline. On March 3, 1913 John F. Cline married to Della O. Whitlow and to the blessed union was born three children; Irene (b. 1915), Edith (b.1917), and John F. (b. 1919 – d. 2000) Cline (Jr.). John's World War One Draft Registration card, dated June 5, 1917, states he was working as an electrician for the Willard Service Co. In November of 1926 his wife Della passed away, and soon after he married a second time to 17-yo Myrtle Davis (b. 1910 – d. 1991), who in 1930 bore him a fourth child, Anna Maxine (b. 1930-d. 1965) Cline.

John's father Leroy was a farmer turned auto top builder, who established the Cline Top Co., in Lebanon, Indiana, its listing in the 1922 Vehicle Yearbook, under the Lebanon, Indiana heading being:

“Cline Top Co. - Leroy M. Cline and C.H. Steward, part.; Leroy M. Cline, genl. Mgr. and pur. agt.”

John F. Cline's partner, Earl Morrell Hicks, was born on December 22, 1895 to William T. (b.1866 – d. 1948) and Mary Etta (McCoy b.1869 – d.1946) Hicks. Census records list two siblings; Roy Marion (b.1890 – d.1967) and Esther M. (b.1901) Hicks. On November 28, 1917 he married Ruth Lodel Hillock (b.1898 – d.1985) and to the blessed union was born four sons, Marvin J. (b. 1919-d.1954), Russell C. (b.1922-d.1954); Howard G. (b.1923-d.1984) andLowell L. aka 'Jack' (b.1925-d.1987) Hicks.

The 1900, 1910 and 1920 US Census lists the Hicks family in Lebanon, Center township, Boone County, Indiana, his father's occupation as 'furniture refinisher' and the 1920 census listing Earl's occupation as 'furniture repairman.'

Cline & Hicks commenced business in 1919 at 418 W. South St., Lebanon, Indiana, their listing in the 1922 Vehicle Yearbook follows:

“Cline & Hicks (Wh) - John F. Cline and Earl M. Hicks, part.; E.M. Hicks, genl. Mgr.; J.F. Cline pur. agt.

The September 16, 1921 edition of the Lebanon Daily Reporter included the following display ad which is reproduced to the right:

“Auto Tops Built or Repaired – we build or repair auto tops, both open and closed. We make or repair side curtains and upholstering. Auto bodies of all kinds built for school wagons or trucks. High class workmanship guaranteed.

“See Us For Prices; Cline & Hicks, Lebanon, Indiana, 418 W. South St., Phone 126”

The April 22, 1922 edition of the Lebanon Daily Reporter announced the firm was expanding:

“Cline & Hicks Increasing Size of Their Factory

“Auto Top And Body Builders Experience Growth In Business; Addition Now Being Erected; Will Increase Force To 25 Men With Next 30 Days – Orders Coming In

“Cline & Hicks, auto top and body builders, whose factory is located on West South street, are experiencing such a growth in their business, that they are under the necessity of increasing the size of the plant in order to handle the orders that are coming in.

“C.M. Lenox, who owns the cement block building they now occupy, has under course of construction an addition which when completed will give Cline & Hicks a structure 64 to 120 feet in size. At present six men are employed in the plant. When the addition is completed, which will be within the next thirty days, Cline & Hicks will increase their force to at least twenty-five men.

“This week the firm built and delivered four Reo bus bodies. J. H. Sample, who is distributor for Cline & Hicks, and also local Reo agent, sold a Greenfield company two Reo busses complete and an Oxford company a complete Reo bus. Austin Fendley of Southport has also purchased a Reo bus which was delivered this Week. Next Sunday Cline & Hicks will deliver a Reo bus to Frank Lane of Crawfordsville for use in operating a bus line between Crawfordsville and Danville, Ill.

“Many orders have been booked ahead but owing to the limited space the firm is not able to turn out the work as rapidly as it desires. The new addition will give them facilities for more rapid work.”

The news was announced to the trade in the May 1922 issue of The Automotive Manufacturer:

“Cline & Hicks, auto top and body builders, Lebanon, Ind., are building an addition 64 x 120 ft. At present firm is employing 6 men. When the addition is completed the force will be increased to at least 25. The firm specializes in bus bodies.”

The September 7, 1922 edition of the Lebanon Pioneer reported on the firm's progress, mentioned they constructed 64 bus bodies since February:

“Erecting New Buildings; Cline & Hicks Bus Body Business Outgrows Old Location

“The Cline & Hicks bus body business has grown out of all proportions to its present location, and three new buildings are being erected on Indianapolis Avenue to take care of the growth. These buildings will be ample and so arranged as to take care of the several departments of the work.’

“Cline & Hicks have since February constructed sixty-four bus bodies, including twenty-eight of the thirty-two being operated out of Indianapolis. They have built several cabs for the Yellow Bus Line in Chicago. They have just finished two new seventeen passenger buses for the Lane Brothers, of Crawfordsville, to be put on the line between Crawfordsville and Indianapolis.”

Additional progress on the firm's new factory was reported in the Friday October 13, 1922 edition of the Lebanon Daily Reporter:

“Work Progressing On New Factory Building

“First Of the Cline & Hicks’ Buildings Will Be Completed Within A Few Weeks

“Work on the Cline & Hicks factory building on South Indianapolis avenue is making rapid progress and the first building will be completed within a fe weeks. It is a concrete block, one story structure and will be used to house part of their bus body making industry. Another building will probably be built this fall and another next spring. The buildings are being erected on a site that is just south of the new garage built by E.A. Brenton.”

The real estate transfers column of the October 20, 1922 edition of the Jamestown Press (Ind.) reported the partners had purchased additional real estate:

“Elmer A. Brenton to John Cline and Earl Hicks, lot 6, Spencer and Means sub., Lebanon, $3,000.”

Six days later the October 26, 1922 edition of the Lebanon Daily Reporter revealed why the property was acquired:

“Cline and Hicks Will Construct Fourth Building

“Will Add Another Unite to Indianapolis Ave. Plant; Sales Room and Service Station; Firm Takes Over The Oakland Agency – Construction Work on Plant In Progress

“Cline and Hicks, local auto bus body manufacturers, have taken over the Oakland motor car agency for Boone county and will begin the erection of a sales room and service station on South Indianapolis avenue within the next three weeks near their other holdings.

“The building will probably be of one story brick construction, and will be 120 by 40 feet in dimensions. It will have the latest and most modern lighting system and will be strictly a first class garage building. An auto laundry as well as a repair shop will be included in the business.

“This will make the fourth building that the firm will have on their holdings when the construction program has been concluded. One building is already under construction but the work has been held up for several days because of the non-arrival of steel shipments. The steel has arrived, however, and the work on the building was resumed this morning.

“This building and two others that will be built upon the completion of the present building, will house the body making industry which, under the skillful management of the present heads of the firm, has developed amazingly in the past two years. The three factory buildings are to be constructed of concrete blocks.

“It now seems that the southeast part of the city is destined to become the factory area, at least if the present trend of things can be counted upon as indications. E.A. Brenton has already constructed a first class service station and garage just north of the buildings that Cline and Hicks are putting up and is enjoying a good business.”

The new factory addition was announced to the trade in the November 2, 1922 issue of Iron Trade:

“Lebanon, Ind. - Cline & Hicks plan a 1 story machine shop at an estimated cost of $40,000.”

An Reo Speed Wagon-based 'traveling bungalo' constructed by the firm was displayed at  the 1923 Indianpolis Auto Show, the March 15, 1923 edition of the Lebanon Pioneer reporting:

“Attracted Attention; Traveling Bungalow Build by Lebanon Concern at Auto Show.

“A traveling bungalow, designed and built by Cline, Hicks & Co., at their shop here, was a great attraction at the Indianapolis auto show last week, with the Wildhack display.

“To secure lightness in weight the bungalow is built of airplane spruce on a Reo Speed Wagon. It is designed to meet all the requirements of a touring trip. The interior, stained and varnished, is provided with a writing desk, combination buffet and ice chest, Ottoman bed of Pullman type, clothes closet, gas stove, sink, with closet for cooking utensils, hot and cold water, toilet, collapsible dining table, clock, rearview mirror, nickel-plated and glass hardware, and some lights. The ventilation is by drop windows, screened. Several orders for the bungalow were taken at the show.”

By that time Cline & Hicks had obtained the Lebanon distributorships for Reo and Oakland motor vehicles, as evidenced by a display ad in the April 12, 1923 edition of the Lebanon Pioneer:

“Cline & Hicks - Reo and Oakland Passenger Cars & Trucks; Manufacturers of Bus Bodies, Cabs & Tops, J.H. Sample, Sales Mgr. Phone 126, Ind’pls. Ave., Lebanon, Indiana”

Two motor buses constructed by the firm for the State Normal School were mentione din the July 26, 1923 edition of the Lebanon Pioneer:

“Busses That Passed Thru Here Were Built by Cline & Hicks

“Two motor buses from the Field Department of the State Normal School at Muncie, passed through Lebanon Friday enroute to the Rock Mountain National Park in Colorado.

“The buses were manufactured by Cline & Hicks, of this city, one being delivered to the college on July 5 and the other on July 17, both specially constructed for this particular trip.

“The members of the party are students in geography and geology at the State Normal College under Prof. Fred J. Breeze, who is in charge of the research work. His wife acts as chaperone. Twenty students, two drivers and Mr. and Mrs. Breeze comprise the party.”

The September 18, 1923 edition of the Lebanon Daily Reporter announced:

“Hicks Takes Over Cline’s Interest In Local Plant

“The Firm Name to be Changed to Hicks Bus Body Co.

“To Give Full Time To Body Busses: New Proprietor To Discontinue Other Lines Of Work Heretofore Undertaken

“The partnership of Cline & Hicks, manufacturers of auto tops and bus bodies, has been dissolved. John Cline retiring from the firm because of ill health. Earl Hicks has taken over the body factory which will be known as the Hicks Bus Body Company. He will retain his factory in the present site on Indianapolis avenue.

“Mr. Hicks will continue the making of bus bodies and will sell his entire output to J. H. Sample, local dealer. He will discontinue the other lines of work formerly done by the company such as repair work and the making of auto tops and will devote his entire time to the making of busses. The company has been putting out from ten to fifteen busses a month.

“Mr. Cline, the retiring member of the firm, has taken over the bus line between Lebanon and Lafayette. His father, Roy Cline, has taken over the repair and auto work and is located in a building on West South street.”

The dissolution of the partnership was announced to the trade in the November 1923 issue of American Lumberman:

“Lebanon, Ind. — Partnership of Cline & Hicks, manufacturers of auto tops and bus bodies, has been dissolved. John Cline is retiring from the firm because of ill health. Earl Hicks has taken over the body factory which will be known as the Hicks Bus Body Co. He will discontinue the other lines of work formerly done by the company and will make only bus bodies; company has been putting out from ten to fifteen busses a month.”

Two grocery stores-on-wheels constructed by the firm were highlighted in the October 6, 1926 edition of the Hammond (Ind.) Times:

“Lebanon – Motorized grocery stores will be manufactured here by the Hicks Bus Body plant. The first two trucks will be ready for delivery this week. Great praise has been given the new model throughout automobile and grocery circles.”

A further expansion of the plant was mentioned in the Indiana Weekly Industrial Review column of the September 6, 1928 edition of the Hammond Times:

“Lebanon – Hicks Bus Body company enlarges plant in this city.”

In an article detailing the improving employment situation in and around Indianapolis, Indiana, the February 3, 1931 edition of the Brazil (Ind.) Daily Times mentioned that:

“Earl Hicks, head of the Hicks Bus Body company, Lebanon, believes the company’s business during 1931 may set a new high mark. At present the company is busy with an order for forty school buses.”

During the 1930s Earl M. Hicks designed, developed and patented several bus-related inventions, one of which was one of the first driver actuated remote school bus stop signs:

Stop Signal - US1864018 - ‎Filed Mar 21, 1932 - ‎Issued Jun 21, 1932 to Earl M. Hicks

Air Cleaner and Humidifier - US1888001 - ‎Filed Jun 14, 1932 - ‎Issued Nov 15, 1932 to Earl M. Hicks

Equalizing Chassis - US1893695 - ‎Filed Mar 14, 1930 - ‎Issued Jan 10, 1933 to Jesse W. ‎Chenoweth and ‎Earl M. Hicks

Bus Body - US2059866 - ‎Filed Jul 27, 1936 - ‎Issued Nov 3, 1936 to Earl M. Hicks

Bus Body - US2104989 - ‎Filed Jun 19, 1937 - ‎Issued Jan 11, 1938 to Earl M. ‎Hicks

Bus Body - US2199101 - ‎Filed Jun 29, 1939 - ‎Issued Apr 30, 1940 to Earl M. Hicks

Also included in the forementioned patents was an all-steel bus body. Hicks built on whatever chassis desired by the customer, a surviving picture dating to 1935, shows a small fleet of Chevrolet cowl & chassis awaiting transportation to Hicks' Indianapolis Avenue plant. The chassis were ordered through the Lebanon Hardware Co., Noble P. Shelby, proprietor, a combination hardware store and automobile dealer located at  215-219 W. Main Street, Lebanon, Indiana.

A small item in a 1936 issue of the Union City (Indiana) newspaper announced that Robert Peebles had recently taken a postion as chief engineer with Hicks:

“The many friends will regret to learn that Mr. and Mrs. Robert Peebles will leave Union City, Ind. shortly after Christmas and will move to Lebanon, Ind., where Mr. Peebles has accepted a position as chief engineer of the Hicks Body Co., workers of school buses, passenger buses and funeral jobs.”

The school bus business operated on an unusual schedule for most of the 20th century. Although school boards and superintendents put off ordering new buses for the coming school year until the very last minute – typically April or May – they demanded the vehicles be ready in time for the upcoming school year, typically the last two weeks of August or first week of September.

Unless the constructor was well-heeled, building school bus bodies was a highly seasonal enterprise, with four months on, then eight months off. Money was unavailable until deposits were made in the spring, and the flow of money ended when the buses were delivered in August. Consequently many Hicks employees were part-time farmers, relying upon their bus building income to tide them over during the hot summer sabbatical.

A rise in fatal school bus accidents resulted in an April 1939 conference in New York City where representatives from all 48 states gathered to develop a set of national standards for school bus construction and operation. The symposium was chaired by Frank W. Cyr, a Columbia University professor and a former superintendent of the Chappell, Nebraska school district.

The conference was attended by representatives of the bus body industry and at the end of the 7-day event the group released a list of minimum standards and recommendations. Among them were specifications for type of construction, body length, ceiling height and aisle width and color.

Strips of different colors were hung from the wall and the participants in the conference slowly narrowed down the colors until three slightly different shades of yellow remained.

National School Bus Chrome became the chosen shade with slight variations allowed as yellow was a difficult color to reproduce exactly. Yellow had been decided upon because it provided good visibility in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon.

Since then, 12 National School Transportation Conferences have been held, giving state and industry representatives a forum to revise existing and establish new safety guidelines operating procedures for school buses.

For many years the Federal Government allowed he industry to regulate itself, but they became directly involved in motor vehicle safety with the passing of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. A School Bus Safety Amendment was passed in 1974, and since that time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued 36 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) which apply to school buses.

International school bus catalogs of the late 1930s often pictures Hicks' coachwork, which was amongst the most attractive of the period, and was offered with the option of forward-control for customers seeking maximum capacity with a small footprint.

In 1940 G.W. Gayle, Wayne Works sales manager, sent out four damning letters (they called them 'Inter Office Correpondance') to their dealer network, many of which distributed both firm's products, advising that Hicks (Wayne Works' chief competitor in the midwest school bus field) was experiencing some 'manufacturing difficulties' implying they were knocking on death's door.  Two of the letters, which are so libelous as to be laughable, are included as appendix 2.

Unsurprisingly Hicks took Wayne Works to court, whereupon they were awarded a $35,000 judgement. Wayne Works appealed the decision in 1944, requesting a new trial, which was denied on June 5, 1944 by State of Indiana Appeals Court Justice Floyd S. Draper, who wrote:

“It is alleged that these letters were written and published with the intent and design that they should be repeated and circulated, and that said letters and their contents were circulated by said regional administrators, their agents, representatives and employees to various named persons at stated times and in certain portions of the United States, 'and to many and divers other persons, boards and prospective purchasers not at this time known with certainty to plaintiff but known to the defendant and, therefore, not alleged.

“That by reason of such circulation and publication by the defendant the contents of said letters became the subject of rumor and trade-talk injurious to the plaintiff in the trade throughout the United States of America.

“That said publication irreparably damaged the credit, business reputation, trade, custom and business of the plaintiff throughout the United States of America.

“That each of the statements contained in said letters were false and injurious in and of themselves to said appellee and its business reputation, trade, credit, custom and business, and the appellee prayed for a recovery of general damages, no specific damages being alleged.

“The evidence, including the letters themselves, shows they were written and mailed with the intention that their contents should be further circulated. The financial standing of the appellee was in fact good. It was not in financial difficulties. It had never actually suspended operation of its plant. It had made its commitments for materials for further production, had obtained its literature for 1940 in April, 1940, which was somewhat later than usual, and was able to and did fill all of the orders received by it in that year.

“Since the evidence under consideration is equivocal and indecisive and would not, in our opinion, render it reasonably certain that another trial would bring a different result, other aspects of the showing need not be considered.

“Judgment affirmed.”

On December 16, 1942 Hicks won a contract to produce ST-6 Ordnance Shop Truck Bodies (used in repair of small arms in the field) for the US Army. During the War they produced over 10,000 units and were cited by the government for excellence in production and other services. One version, the CF 351, or K18 in Signal Corps parlance, was used as a transmitting and receiving station. 367 K18s were constructed during the War, 258 in 1941 and 109 in 1942.

To make sure that labor strife did not disrupt the round-the-clock manufacturing going on all over the nation, the federal government required that all manufacturers of transportation equipment invite the United Auto Workers / America Federation of Labor to organize their work forces, a decision that later proved devastating to Hicks.

Coincident with a notable increase in Hicks' school bus orders, AFL workers struck Hicks in early November, 1945. Continued labor problems prompted a visit from Charles W. Kern, the State of Indiana’s Labor Commissioner, the January 31, 1946 edition of the Kokomo Tribune reporting:

“Kern Will Visit Strike-Bound Plants

“Indianapolis, Jan. 31 - Charles W. Kern, state labor commissioner, was to visit strike –bound plants in Lebanon and Gary today to determine whether the state department could assist labor and management in reaching agreements.

“Kern said he learned the Hicks Bus Body plant at Lebanon, closed several weeks by a strike, was to be opened by the management today. He said he had received information from Hugh Gormley, a representative of the American Federation of Labor, that strikers would attempt to prevent the plant from re-opening.”

Hicks opened the plant using non-AFL members, the resulting tensions often resulting in clashes between replacement workers and union picketers. During the coming months the United Press newswire reported the following incidents.

February 15, 1946:

“3 Injured in Clash Of Pickets, Non-Strikers

“Lebanon, Ind. - (UP) - Three persons were injured Thursday in clashes between A.F.L. pickets and non-strikers at the Hicks Body Co. plant. Clarence Bishop, a plant worker, and Mrs. Evelyn Park, a picket, were hurt when 75 non-union workers tried to cross the picket lines. Later in the day William Rosemeyeare, a non-striker, was injured when pickets overturned his car.”

March 2, 1946:

“Lebanon, Ind. - (UP) - A conference at Lebanon in the four-month-old dispute at the Hicks Bus Body company plants brought forth an announcement. The conferees planned to meet again and said a statement now ‘might disrupt chances of conciliation.’”

March 7, 1946:

“Lebanon, Ind. - (UP) - A truck driver was injured and an automobile overturned in fighting on the picket line at the strike-bound Hicks Body Co. plant, Lebanon, Ind.”

April 30, 1946:

“Six Months Old Strike Ended At Hicks Plant

“Lebanon, Ind. – (UP) - A strike which had halted production at the Hicks bus body plant since last Nov. 1, ended Saturday as AFL workers voted to accept a new union-management contract.

“About 150 Hicks employees voted unanimously in favor of the agreement.

“President Russell C. Hicks, newly-elected head of the firm, said the plant would re-open today. He said company officials hoped to be in full production within two weeks.

“Some 350 employees went on strike nearly six months ago in a closed shop dispute prompted by the dismissal of a union employee. The new contract contained a closed shop clause.

“Frequent violence market the work stoppage as back-to-work movements developed among non-striking workers. Five suits were still pending in local courts today as a result of allegedly injuries received and assaults made during the labor violence.”

For many years the system for school bus purchases varied from state to state. Some state governments pooled all of their counties' orders together, others published a list of approved vendors, and a few provided no guidance whatsoever.

In the days before the government got involved in the purchase of school buses, more often than not, coaches were sold to third parties unconnected to the school district. Most were local individuals or small fleet operators who had won a bid for transporting a certain number of students to a certain school. The sale of a school bus was more akin to selling a motor vehicle to a single customer, sometimes a lot of leg work was involved in order to get a single bus sold and financed. After the War more money became available for school transportation and many school districts began operating their own fleets, buying their own buses and hiring their own drivers on a non-profit absolute cost basis.

Bids for bus fleets would be let at a certain place and time, each salesman knowing that if he could learn the exact amount of his competitors’ bids, he would more often than not win the contract, even if he beat it by just a dollar or two. 

A salesman for Blue Bird named 'Red Willie' once described a popular scheme he had used to drum up business, called ‘the pigeon drop.’ It utilized an ‘inside man’, typically a secretary or assistant superintendent who was short on cash. Our salesman's ‘friend’ would place a fictitious too-high bid from his firm in plain sight on top of his desk just before a competing salesman was due to arrive. The 'mark' would submit a slightly lower bid, believeing his was now the lowest. Later in the day, our 'resourceful' salesman would arrive at his appointeded time with an even lower bid, and if the superintendent hadn't caught on, would be awarded the contract, as the low bidder was always awarded the contract.

Several of the nations 20+ school bus body builders competed in Hicks' home markets, and as time went on they found it harder and harder to compete with the larger firms, in particular their Indiana neighbor, Wayne Works.

In 1953 Hicks entered into an 8-10 year agreement with Conway, Arkansas' Ward Body Works in which Ward would construct as many as 12,000 Hicks school bus bodies in their Conway plant using dies, tools and other equipment supplied by Hicks. The resulting buses would be badged as Hicks' bodies and sold through Hicks network of established dealers.  Hicks manufacturing operations in Lebanon were shuttered and the plant put up for sale, the April 25, 1953 edition of the Anderson Herald Bulletin announced the upcoming auction:


• Complete Plant • 15 Acres of Land • Machinery & Equipment •

By Order of the Board of Directors of the HICKS BODY CO., INC., LEBANON, IND.

April 27-28-29-30-10 A.M. to 5 P. M.-6 P.M. to 10 P.M.

(Terms and Conditions of Sale as Posted in Plant)


All small equipment, tools, and parts will be sold on first three days of sale – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, April 27-28-29.

Thousands of items, including:

160 Electric Tools, 110 Air Drills, 28 Hobart Arc Welders, 50 Large Fans, 1500' Monorail Conveyor, 500' Belt Conveyor, 500' Steel Floor Conveyor. Also tractors, trucks, hoists, welders, generators, electric floor blocks, fluorescent fixtures and many others. PLUS complete set of parts, jigs and tools for prefab building.

Heavy machinery, big tools, plant and 15 acres of land to be sold on fourth day - Thursday, April 30.

1 Bertsch Square Shear, 1 Cincinnati Press Brake, 1 Bliss 4-Crank Press, 1 270-ton Wood Cupping Press, 1 Dreiss & Kramp Press Brake, 96 other valuable items.  - ALSO - Complete modern plant - 135,000 sq. ft. floor space, Floor level box car loading dock and spur to New York Central main line, 15 acres - plant and surrounding territory

Written Bids on Building and Land accepted up to 10 A. M., April 10th

HICKS BODY CO., INC., Lebanon, Ind.”

One year later the Hicks family suffered a tragic loss when Earl M. Hicks' two sons, Russel and Marvin - both Hicks Body Co. executives - were killed in Florida, the April 13, 1954 edition of the Anderson (Ind.) Herald reporting:

“Body of Ex-Hoosier Recovered in Florida

“Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP) – The body of Marvin Hicks, 34, formerly of Lebanon, Ind., washed ashore here Monday, some 12 hours after the body of his brother, Russell, 32, Lebanon, was found.

“The two perished in choppy seas that capsized their small fiberglass fishing boat on a reef 500 yards off the beach where they had gone on a night fishing trip.

“Both were associated with the Hicks Bus Body Co. of Lebanon. Marvin, a vice-president of the company, moved here to supervise a firm making the type fishing boat the two were using. Russell was the firm’s salesman for the western US district.

“The wives of the two men had planned to go fishing with them but decided that the surf was too rough.”

Personal tragedy was closely followed by the cancellation by Ward Body Works of it s contract to furnish school bus bodies to Hicks. Although the move was prompted by increased sales of its own line of school bus bodies, Hicks sued, the Thursday, July 22, 1954 edition of the Camden (Ark.) News reporting:

“Little Rock, Ark. (AP) – The Ward Body Works of Conway yesterday was sued for $885,600 in Federal Court here.

“The suit was brought by Hicks Body Co., Inc., of Lebanon, Ind.

“The suit charges that the Conway firm repudiated a contract for the construction of Hicks bus bodies.”

The January 5, 1955 edition of the Camden (Ark.) News reported that Federal Judge Thomas C. Trimble had dismissed the suit:

“Federal Judge Upholds Company

“LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Federal Judge Thomas C. Trimble today sustained a motion by Ward Body Works Inc. of Conway to dismiss a suit brought by Hicks Body Co. Inc., of Lebanon, Ind., to gain damages of $885,600 for alleged breach of oral contract.

“The controversy, which has been pending since July 21, stemmed from an alleged agreement by the Conway firm to supply the Indiana company with 12,000 school bus bodies. In a memorandum, Judge Trimble said:

“1. The written contract between parties, in letter form, is an Arkansas contract, not an Indiana contract.

“2. Act 131 does not constitute a substitution for Act 887, nor does it repeal invalidating contracts of foreign corporations doing business in Arkansas without qualifying as required by law. Hicks admittedly had not complied with state requirements.

“3. Hicks, a foreign corporation, is therefore not in position to enforce such a contract.

“4. The Indiana firm also is not in position to enforce any rights or claims arising from the void contract.”

Unsurprisingly Hicks appealed, the May 16, 1955 edition of the Camden (Ark.) News reporting on the scond verdict, which once again ruled against Hicks:

“Conway Bus Firm Wins Suit In U.S. Court

“St Louis, Mo. - (AP) – The U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a finding that Hicks Body Co., Lebanon, Ind., is without the right to sue Ward Body Works of Conway, Ark., for breach of contract.

“The Indiana firm contended the Arkansas company failed to fulfill a contract to manufacture for it 12,000 school buses over a period of eight to ten years.”

Although he had suffered both great personal and finiancial loss, Earl M. Hicks continued to develop safety devices for school buses and in 1956 was awarded the following two patents:

Vehicle Safety Exit Window Structure - US2736402 - ‎Filed Apr 13, 1950 - ‎Issued Feb 28, 1956 to Earl M. Hicks

Sash Latch - US2768852 - ‎Filed Aug 6, 1954 - ‎Issued Oct 30, 1956 to Earl M. Hicks.

In the late 1950s the former Hicks body plant was leased by Cardair, a manufacturer of compressors, compression systems, valves and air purification equipment. Cardair was a subsidiary of Marmon Herrington. Cardair Division of Marmon-Herrington Co., Inc., 502-510 Indianapolis Ave., Lebanon, Ind.

Although Hicks lost the war with Ward, he did eventually receive a cash settlement of $80,150, the October 11, 1961 edition of the Hope Star (Ark.) reporting:

$80,150 Judgment Is Awarded:

“Little Rock, (AP) - U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Young awarded Hicks Body Co. Inc., of Lebanon, Ind., an $80,150 judgment against the Ward Body Works of Conway, Ark., Tuesday.

“The order said that the money would compensate the Hicks firm for dies, tools and other equipment it furnished Ward in 1953 in connection with a contract for manufacture of bus bodies.

“Hicks had asked for a judgment of $150,000. The firm said Ward filed to live up to a contract to furnish bus bodies for sale by Hicks.”

In the late 1960s Marmon-Herrington relocated its school bus, trolley coach and Ford four-wheel-drive conversion center to the Cardair plant.

Earl M. Hicks Obituary appeared in the August 16, 1972 issue of the Lebanon newspaper:

“Earl Morrell Hicks was a pioneer in the engineering field and gained international prominence for the manufacture of bus bodies as well as wartime work, Earl M. Hicks, passed away early this morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“Mr. Hicks, who was 76 years of age, had been in poor health five years and for the past four months had been in the Convalescent Home in Fort Lauderdale.

“He started his career in 1919, developing school and passenger buses. He was appointed on a committee of the National Education to write the National School Bus Standards and Specifications.

“Mr. Hick's firm, Hicks Bus Body, located on Indianapolis Avenue and for many years one of the leading industrial plants of the community, built the first all steel school bus body in 1936.

“Mr. Hicks also designed, developed and patented the school bus stop sign, as well as accomplishing many engineering feats. Many of these patents are still in existence today and many of Mr. Hick's designs are incorporated in present bus bodies.

“Always concerned about safety and young people in general, he gave the patent on the school bus stop sign to the school children of America. Through this generous gift, the entire industry benefitted from royalty rights.

“In 1942 he designed the ST-6, a mobile shop unit used in repair of small arms in the field. During the war years, his company produced over 10,000 units and cited by the government for production and other services.

“Mr. Hicks quit the bus body business in 1956, but remained active in other businesses until retirement in 1965. He had a very keen, innovative mind and his counsel was often sought by other engineering firms. His sons were in business with him.

“Also, Mr. Hicks, was very civic-minded and when residing in Lebanon helped many people and took an active part in school and community affairs. He also was a family man devoted to his family and their interests. He was a member of the First Baptist Church, Elks Club, Odd Fellows, Society of American Engineers, America Military Engineers and received an honorary degree from Columbia University for his contributions and work in the engineering field. He had resided in Fort Lauderdale the past 18 years.

“A native of Lebanon, he was born December 22, 1895, the son of William T. and Mary Etta (McCoy) Hicks. He was married November 28, 1917 in Danville, Ill., to Ruth L. Hillock who survives.

“In addition to the widow, he leaves two sons, Jack L. Hicks of Lebanon and Howard G. Hicks of Fort Lauderdale; a sister, Mrs. Ethel Crawford of Indianapolis; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Two sons, Marvin J. and Russell C., a brother Roy and two grandchildren preceded him in death.

“Last rites are set for 3 p.m. Saturday at the Russell and Hitch Funeral Home in Lebanon with the Rev. Clifford Antcliff of Goodland officiating. Interment is to follow in Oak Hill Cemetery.

“Calling at the funeral home will be after noon on Friday.”

© 2015 Mark Theobald for

Appendix 1 US Patents issued to or acquired by Earl M. Hicks

Speed Boat Construction - US1858030 - ‎Filed May 31, 1930 - ‎Issued May 10, 1932 to Bernard R. Batty and assigned to ‎Earl M. Hicks

Stop Signal - US1864018 - ‎Filed Mar 21, 1932 - ‎Issued Jun 21, 1932 to Earl M Hicks

Air Cleaner and Humidifier - US1888001 - ‎Filed Jun 14, 1932 - ‎Issued Nov 15, 1932 to Earl M. Hicks

Equalizing Chassis - US1893695 - ‎Filed Mar 14, 1930 - ‎Issued Jan 10, 1933 to Jesse W. ‎Chenoweth and ‎Earl M. Hicks

Bus Body - US2059866 - ‎Filed Jul 27, 1936 - ‎Issued Nov 3, 1936 to Earl M. Hicks

Bus Body - US2104989 - ‎Filed Jun 19, 1937 - ‎Issued Jan 11, 1938 to Earl M. ‎Hicks

Bus Body - US2199101 - ‎Filed Jun 29, 1939 - ‎Issued Apr 30, 1940 to Earl M. Hicks

Vehicle Safety Exit Window Structure - US2736402 - ‎Filed Apr 13, 1950 - ‎Issued Feb 28, 1956 to Earl M. Hicks

Sash Latch - US2768852 - ‎Filed Aug 6, 1954 - ‎Issued Oct 30, 1956 to Earl M. Hicks

Appendix 2 Wayne Works Libelous Interoffice Correspondence of 1940:

Letter Number 1

'The Wayne Works, Since 1868, Richmond, Ind., U. S. A.

'Regional Letter No. 46, June 8, 1940

'Inter Office Correspondence

'To: All Regional Administrators

'Subject: Hicks' Manufacturing Difficulties

'For more than a month we have been hearing all sorts of rumors regarding the difficulties of the Hicks Company at Lebanon. Information has reached us that during the past month there have never been more than eight or ten men in the plant, and these have been more or less on maintenance. It is our understanding that they have not been in production for at least that length of time and that they are not in production at the present time.

'We are told that their difficulties have arisen from controversies they have had in connection with the wages and hours act, as well as some labor trouble. They have had an election which was supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, but even following this election (about two weeks ago) production has not been resumed.

'It is our understanding that no commitments have been made for materials for the manufacture of buses for 1940; that no literature covering 1940 equipment has been prepared, and that the only thing that has been accomplished is the manufacture of two demonstrators and the issuance of a price schedule.

'We have had no definite confirmation of the information

given above. It has been received here in a variety of ways and over a considerable period. All of these rumors and reports are in agreement as to statements above.

'We felt that this was information that might readily affect the interests of your distributors, and, accordingly, we pass it on to you for your further use and distribution as you see fit. You will appreciate that we would prefer not issuing a general letter regarding this. You, however, are at liberty to use it in any manner that may benefit you or your field organization.

'Cordially yours, Wayne Works, J. W. Gayle, Sales Manager.


Wayne Works Letter Number 2

'The Wayne Works, Since 1868, Richmond, Ind., U. S. A.

'Regional Letter No. 47, June 19, 1940

'Inter Office Correspondence

'To: All Regional Administrators

'Subject: Status of Hicks Body Company

'Ed Herrmann, of Indianapolis, has very kindly given me a report on the Hicks Body Company as of last Sunday afternoon. I quote from his letter as follows:

'After learning last week that Hicks had resumed operations, I drove over to Lebanon Sunday afternoon and did all the snooping I could.

'I counted 54 International Trucks in the parking lot waiting for body installations. Note, please, I say International. There is not a Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge or anything else on the place. According to the four Hicks men who are working in our plant, Earl Hicks, in an attempt to resume operations, is advising his shop men that he has an order from International for 500 bodies (no doubt subject to a lot of discounting) for delivery to Texas. These chassis may be part of such an order. I could not get close enough to them to read the tags. I might suggest that you have Phil and Jim Hudson check into this, because from what I observe Hicks will be a long time getting these jobs completed. I did not see any finished assembled bodies at either of his plants, and it seems to be a foregone Conclusion that Hicks will get nowhere this year.

'I was informed by a local source in Lebanon that Hicks succeeded in putting 12 men back on the job last week. I was told that two trailer loads of sheet steel were in Lebanon held for delivery until cash to cover the C.O.D. terms was produced. I can well understand that his vendors would place him on a C.O.D. basis, because his funds will not permit him to meet a 'shut down' situation very long.

'I noticed the large press delivered to Lebanon last fall is still outdoors in the yard and has never been set up for operation. All in all, it's a sad picture for Hicks.

'One more thing, June, I was advised by a filling station attendant across the road from Hicks Plant No. 2 that Bishop & Bishop, from Ohio (he could not recall the town), had taken delivery Saturday on one Hicks job. This dealer has an order with Hicks for five, and he was given no assurance that he would get more than one. Sorry I could not get the town or the make of chassis, but maybe Dick Stanley or one of the other Ohio distributors can run this down and resurrect the deal for Wayne.

'If I get any further news I will advise you promptly.'

'All in all, it looks as though the Hicks Company would have an extremely difficult time in developing any sales volume during the current year. So far as we can learn, they do not have any literature issued. Price lists have been released for several months. The literature itself has not been in evidence -- at least, we haven't received any copies.

'If they are now beginning to start their manufacturing program, we feel it is utterly impossible for them to build -- even at their fastest manufacturing rate -- as much as a fraction of the number manufactured last year. It doesn't seem humanly possible that they could start production at this late time and accomplish very much. If so, that means that you and your distributors have the opportunity for an even closer cooperation with International and that you further have an even greater potential for bus sales that will be well worth your careful and aggressive cultivation.

'Please do not quote this letter verbatim, although this information contained in it is at your disposal for distribution to the distributors in your region.

'As further reports are received, we will advise you.

'Cordially yours, Wayne Works, J. W. Gayle, Sales Manager.


© 2015 Mark Theobald for







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