one of North America's top three school bus manufacturers - the other
two being Blue Bird (Fort Valley, Georgia) and IC - Navistar (Conway,
Arkansas) - High Point, North Carolina's Thomas Built Buses delivers
thousands of school buses to the market each year. Initially a
reorganization of High Point,
North Carolina's Southern Car Co., by its chief engineer, Perley A.
Thomas (b. Sept. 17, 1874 – d.
Apr. 28, 1958), the Perley A. Thomas Car
Works, transitioned from street car builder to school bus builder in
the mid-thirties. Thomas went on to become one of the nation's 'big
six' school bus builders and in 1972 were reorganized as Thomas Built
Buses, Inc. In 1998 the business was acquired by Freightliner LLC, and
remains in business today as a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks N.A.
Perley Albert Thomas was
born on September 17, 1874 on a farm near Chatham, Ontario, Canada to
Andrew (b.1846-d1927) and Margaret Jane (Cunningham, b.1850-d.1934)
Scottish immigrants. Siblings included George, Alex and Grace (twins),
Louise, Maude, Caroline and Rose. His father John was a journeyman
supplemented his sporadic income through farming and woodworking.
The 1881 Canadian Census lists his residence
Kent, Ontario, Canada. Young Thomas received his elementary education
public schools of Kent, Ontario, which he supplemented with a
course in mechanical drawing (drafting). Vocationally he was enamored
woodworking, and as a teenager amassed a large collection of hammers,
vises which he used to create chests of drawers, tables, chairs and
his neighbors. The 1891 Canadian Census lists his residence as Chatham,
Situated between Lake St. Clair and Lake
municipalities of Chatham - Kent were the center of much boatbuilding
at the turn of the century and Perley found work as a draftsman and
shipwright with a yet-un-named Canadian boat builder. By the time he
was 22 he
had saved an amount sufficient to marry his childhood sweetheart and on
3, 1897 wed Margaret J. (Maggie) Milne in a ceremony in Mitchell,
Ontario, Canada. Born on September 28, 1875 in Hamilton, Ontario his
wife was also the child of two Scottish immigrants named John and
(John and Margaret (Shankey) Milne). To the blessed union were born
children: Melva Isabella (m. Wm. H. Price - b. Mar. 12, 1898 in Canada,
emigrated to US in 1902, d. Dec. 21, 1991), John Willard (b. 1901 in
emigrated to US in 1902, d. 1972), James Norman (b. 1903 in Mich., d.
Mary E. (b. 1916 in N.C. - d. 1983) Thomas.
On June 6, 1901, Perley moved to Detroit,
Michigan where he took
a position as draftsman with the Detroit United Railroad (DUR), a major
metropolitan electric railway operator which offered both passenger and
service between Detroit and Toledo, Ohio. The only listing I
could locate for him in
Detroit was in
the1903 City Directory: Pearl A. Thomas, cabtmkr., h.123 22d.
In 1906, Thomas moved to the northeastern
of Collinwood, where he took a drafting position with the G.C.
Co., a subsidiary of the J.G. Brill & Co. of Philadelphia. The
United Railway was one of Kuhlman’s top customers and it’s likely he
established a connection with Kuhlmann while working for the DUR. He
continued his vocational training by taking night
engineering at Cleveland’s Case Institute of Technology and is listed
Cleveland Directories as: ‘Perley A. Thomas, draftsman, r. 954
The 1910 US Census lists Perley A. (b.1875
emigrated in 1902, occupation ‘draftsman’ at ‘car works’), Margaret
Canada, emigrated in 1902), Melva F. (b.1898 in Canada, emigrated in
John W. (b. 1901 in Canada, emigrated in 1902, d.1972) and James M.
Michigan, d. 1996) Thomas.
While working on a project
with two Stone
& Webster* engineers, Thomas was made aware of a job opening as
chief engineer with the
Company, a small streetcar manufacturer located in High Point, North
(*Founded in 1890 by two electrical
engineers, Charles Stone
and Edwin Webster, Stone & Webster, 147 Milk St., Boston, Mass.,
well-known electrical consulting firm that specialized in the
acquisition and management of electric - and later nuclear - utilities.)
He followed up on the lead and soon
found himself in
charge of Southern Car’s design and engineering department. A similar
had been tendered by the Cincinnati Car Co., a much larger concern, but
Perley’s wife Margaret, fed up with the cold and dreary northern
winters, strongly suggested he take the
North Carolina job
and he agreed.
The Southern Car Company*, which was a 1904
of the street car business of Amesbury, Massachusetts’ Briggs Carriage
Company, claimed in
they had retained ‘the services of the skilled car builders from the
had moved to North Carolina to take advantage of ‘the best timber
(*unrelated to the Southern Car &
Foundry Co. of Chicago,
Illinois; Gadsden & Adams, Alabama & Memphis & Lenoir,
another rolling stock builder.)
Founded by Richard F. Briggs in 1866, the
Briggs company had started life as a manufacturer of carriages, coaches
In 1889 they diversified into the manufacture of streetcars and other
stock constructing a new, two-story purpose-built factory with its own
siding. J.G. Brill’s George Fowler was
hired as foreman and production commenced in 1890, with coachwork
Briggs body builders. Briggs constructed hundreds of
for regional surface transportation operators and began building
bodies for Bridgeport Connecticut’s Locomobile when the streetcar
local streetcar market had becme saturated, eventually halting all
after a 3-month strike in early 1903.
Richard F. Briggs’ son Edward R., discovered
demand for streetcars
in the southern US was still expanding and convinced a group of High
North Carolina businessmen to finance a new firm, which began
business in April 1903 as the Southern Car Company. Early officers
Elwood Cox, president; Ernest Ansel Snow, vice president; Edward R.
with George Fowler – Briggs’ and Brill’s former plant manager,
Briggs influence can be seen in the design
single truck closed body and open cross bench cars; even to the point
of using pictures
of old Briggs cars in their advertising. Single truck cars of the
& Spencer Railway of North Carolina built before 1906 are said to
typical examples. Southern Car’s coaches were typical of the period
exception of the Merrymaking convertible parlor car, which allowed
passengers the option of travelling with or without the elements.
A period description of a Southern Car
stanchions placed as to encourage passengers to take the proper
boarding and alighting... instead of hand straps, white enameled tubing
arranged over the longitudinal seats in a horizontal position
handholds... the floor is of tongue and groove yellow pine with the
half inch poplar with number eight canvas duck. The interior finish is
cherry color with light green trim and the outside of the car is
painted dark green.”
A fire destroyed the main structure of the
Car Company during the evening of February 8, 1908; the February 10,
of the High Point Daily Enterprise reporting:
“Southern Car Company Sustains Heavy Loss
“Main Building Covering Over An Acre is
Burned: Loss between $80,000 and $100,000
“Insurance Carried only $28,000. A Big
– Twenty-three Valuable Cars are Burned – Will Build Block as Soon as
“One of the most destructive fires in the
history of the
city in dollars and cents occurred here Saturday night when the main
the Southern Car Co. was completely destroyed, together with all
alarm was sounded at 10:15 o’clock and the firemen responded promptly,
that could be done was to save the adjacent buildings.
“The loss is between $80,000 and $100,000,
$30,000 insurance. There were 23 cars, worth several thousand dollars,
of which were ready to go out and these were also destroyed. The origin
fire is unknown, but it is believed to have stared in the cabinet room.
“The plant is located almost a mile from
section of the city and by the time the fire companies arrived the
building was on fire all over and there was no chances to save it. Work
then directed to saving new addition; a number of cars were also in
construction and which is used as a finishing room and for other
and other buildings and a string of box cars standing on the side
saved by the firemen or the loss would have been at least double what
The cars caught fire twice, but were promptly put out.
“A large black horse belonging to the
company was driven from the stables only to return at once and drop
dead from the heat by
the time the stable was reached.
“The Southern Car Co. was organized in
buildings were of brick. It was the only company making electric cars
kind south of Wilmington, Delaware.
“The officers of the company are:
J. Elwood Cox;
Vice-President, E.A. Snow; Secretary and Treasurer, E.R. Briggs. The
loss is a
heavy one to the stockholders and High Point, also in that it was the
factory of its kind here, and it is to be hoped that out of the ashes
arise a better and larger plant, this being given out by Mr. Briggs
Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour the whole city seemed to be
witness the big fire, which burned for several hours.
“A meeting of the stockholders will be
in a few days.
“The Enterprise feels keenly the loss of
this plant to the town and sympathizes with the losers.”
One week later the February 19, 1908 edition
of the High Point
Enterprise announced the owners 'will rebuild at once':
“Though the Smoke Has Scarcely Died Away
Rebuilding Has Begun
“Will Rebuild At Once
“Southern Car Plant to Rise From Ashes –
of the Best Plants in Every Way in The City
“As announced Wednesday the meeting of the
the Southern Car Co. was held this morning. There was full attendance.
Briggs, of Amesbury was here to attend the meeting.
“It was decided at the meeting this
to rebuild the
shops at once. This is all the business transacted at today’s meeting.
“The decision to rebuild the plant will be
good news to all.
In fact High Point could entertain no other idea that to replace the
The firm's hiring of Thomas coincided with a
reorganization and recapitalization of the firm, the April 7, 1911
issue of Railway Age
“Plans for the reorganization of the
Southern Car Company,
High Point, NC, have been completed. J.B. Duke, president of the
Tobacco Company, Jersey City, N.J. and W.G. Brokaw of New York have
lead in the reorganization.”
The April 28, 1911 issue of Railway Age
Gazette confirmed the recapitalization via a $200,000 offering of new
“The Southern Car Company, High Point, N.
will increase its capital stock from $100,000 to $300,000.”
The $200,000 would finance
Southern Car’s transition from manufacturing wood streetcars to
all-steel units, a program
spearheaded by its new designer, Perley A. Thomas, J.L. Morris, the
firm’s new president, and Albert H. Sisson, the firm's new production
manager who came to the firm with a stunning
resume (Jewett Car, St. Louis Car and Forsyth Bros.).
Car went on to produce small numbers of all-steel cars for the
Philadelphia and Western Railway (11
cars), Capitol Transit of Washington, DC (10 cars), and the New Orleans
Light Company which ordered 52 400-series cars in 1915. The
400s were comfortable and well-ventilated, proving popular with
operators in northern (New York City) and southern (San Juan, Puerto
The 1915 NC Corporation Commission Report,
Vol. 16, reported Southern Car Co. had issued 249,212 shares of capital
stock valued at
$50,000, $21,000 assessed value of real estate. Unfortunately increased
competition in the
form of deals and price cuts from Brill and St Louis Car, forced
Southern Car into
receivership and closure in early 1916.
Southern’s skilled woodworkers found jobs
with High Point’s
furniture factories, while Perley A. Thomas started his own firm, the
Mantel Company, specializing in hardwood offices, fireplace mantels,
staircases, home furnishings and parochial furniture.
During the summer
he was approached by a Charlotte, North Carolina streetcar operator who
him to convert their fleet of open coaches into convertible ones.
Thomas sent a small crew of ex-Southern Car
Charlotte to complete the work, which was done in the car barns of the
Public Utilities Co.
Thomas rationalized that there were other
might be interested in having similar work done, and with a $6,000 loan
High Point banker purchased Southern Car’s equipment at its bankruptcy
and installed it in the former Sunnyside Ice Co. plant. His
two sons, John Willard and James Norman
Thomas, joined him in the new enterprise which began conducting
the style of the Perley A. Thomas Car Works.
The skeleton crew now numbered thirty, who
were kept busy converting
4 more cars for the Winston-Salem branch of the Southern Public
Utilities’ electric railroad. In April of 1917 the Car Works won an
additional contract to
convert 9 coaches for the U.S. Navy shipyards in Mobile, Alabama. The
Trade Notes column of the January 5,
1918 issue of Electric Railway Journal announced the organization of
enterprise to the trade:
“Perley A. Thomas, formerly chief engineer
of the Southern Car Company, has now established a business for himself
in High Point,
NC. Mr. Thomas has had many years’ experience in car work of all kinds.”
The same issue’s Rolling Stock column stated
they had also completed some cars for the Montgomery Alabama streetcar
“Southern Public Utilities Company,
Charlotte, NC, and the Montgomery Light & Traction Company,
Montgomery, Ala., have
recently changed a number of their open end cars to the prepayment
work was done in the shops of Perley A. Thomas, High Point, NC.”
The Rolling Stock column of the June 8, 1918
issue of Electric Railway Journal listed additional projects:
“Perley A. Thomas Car Works, High Point,
will be the builder of the four steel cars for the Southern Public
Company, mentioned in this department two weeks ago, and not the
Company. The Perley Thomas company has succeeded to the business and
the Southern Car Company.”
The July 6, 1918 issue of Transit Journal
published a clarification:
“Perley A. Thomas, manufacturer of cars
and car materials, High Point, N. C., writes that he did not take over
manufacturing plant of the Southern Car Company, as mentioned in a
recent note in these columns, but conducts only the Perley A. Thomas
The Car Works also commenced manufacturing
all-new cars; during 1918 Southern Public Utilities ordered two
streetcars for its
Winston-Salem operations and the Manhattan Three Cent Line ordered two
new cars for
its Manhattan Bridge crossing. Another Manhattan-based firm, the
Copper Co., purchased 4 streetcars to transport miners in Montana,
orders included 12 cars for Miami, 4 for San Juan, Puerto Rico and a
car for Havana, Cuba.
At the end of its first official year in
business, The Thomas Car Works purchased a 30-acre parcel to provide
room for the
expanding operation, the December 28, 1918 issue of the Electric
“Perley A. Thomas, High Point, NC, has
purchased 30 acres of
land upon which he has erected several new buildings which, in addition
mill and cabinet shop which he already had, puts him in position to
of construction of steel or wooden cars, or to repair cars. He has now
orders for steel cars going through the shop and is repairing quite a
The 1920 US Census lists the Thomas family
in High Point, N.C.
as follows: Perley A. (b.1875 in Canada, emigrated in 1902, occupation
‘manager’ at ‘car works’), his wife Margaret (b.1875 in Canada,
1902), and children; Melvia F. (b.1898 in Canada, emigrated in 1902),
John W. (b. 1901 in
Canada, emigrated in 1902, d.1972), James N. (b.1903 in Michigan, d.
Mary E. (b.1916-d.1983) Thomas.
In 1921, New Orleans Public Service, Inc.
(aka NOPSI), the successor to NORL, decided to standardize on Thomas’
design, placing a
series of orders, eventually numbering 150 cars, that were to be
delivered from late 1921 into 1924. As the small Thomas works couldn't
cope with the numbers required, in order to meet deadlines, they were
forced to sublet some of the orders to Brill,
but all the streetcars were based on his design.
The company had already delivered 25
streetcars to New Orleans when disaster struck
in late 1921. A fire, apparently starting in a clogged-up dust removal
swept through the plant, destroying 14 uncompleted New Orleans
streetcars, the September 19, 1922 edition of the High Point
Enterprise (NC) reporting:
“Thomas Car Works Destroyed By Fire Here
Last Night: Loss of About $225,000 Is Incurred
“Fire of undermined origin here shortly
after 6 o’clock last night partly destroyed the plant of the P. A.
Thomas Car Works, west of
the city on the Southern railroad tracks, entailing a loss estimated
by P.A. Thomas to reach $225,000.
“The fire is believed originated in the
woodworking shop, but what caused the blaze had not been determined by
Mr. Thomas today.
“An alarm was turned in and the firemen
responded promptly, but they were unable to make any headway in
combatting the flames
because of the distance of the plant from a water hydrant, the plant
the city limits.
“Forty links of hose were connected,
furnishing one stream of water, but this was insufficient for the
firemen to make any success
in fighting the blaze.
“Mr. Thomas today estimated loss to
electrical equipment to reach $15,800; air break equipment, $8,000; and
losses in other
departments reaching a total of $225,000.
“It was explained that the car works
recently received a contract for 25 trolley cars for New Orleans. Work
on these cars was
under way. This contract called for an expenditure of approximately
“Insurance men are expected her Friday to
look into the situation, and Mr. Thomas did not state today whether he
would open the plant
again. He said he hoped to do this, however, it depending upon the
results of the
conference with the insurance men.
“Workmen were not in the plant at the time
of the fire. They stopped work at 5:30, and the flames were discovered
shortly before 6
Within a few hours of the fire, the
president of the J.G. Brill Car Company in Philadelphia called Thomas
with an offer of $25,000 of he would agree not to build any streetcars
for the next five years.
Realizing more money could be had by staying in business, Thomas
refused and go back to work. He took a $100,000 deposit from NOPSI (New
Orleans) and purchased all the parts needed for the next batch of 55
cars. During the coming year Thomas filled that 55-car order, plus a
second for 25 additional cars.
Between 1916 and 1928 New Orleans would receive more than 100
streetcars manufactured by the
Thomas Car Works, a quarter of the firm total production. Before
2005’s hurricane Katrina,
there were 35 cars of the 900-series built in 1922/23 still running on
St. Charles line.
During the mid-twenties Thomas advertised
its 'DUCO' process to residents of North Carolina, through display ads
in local and regional newpapers, although automtive refinishing was
never a large part of the firm's business. The firm's 125 workman
were kept busy in the main factory where a total of nine street cars (3
parallel siding, holding 3 cars each) could be found in various states
of construction. It took about six days to build a single streetcar,
and the factory's output averaged seven cars per week. Despite the
space limitations, Thomas was the fourth largest street car
manufacturer in the U.S. during 1924, with only the J.G. Brill, St.
Louis Car and Cincinnati Car having a larger share of the market.
A period Thomas ad proclaimed:
“Thomas Built cars are going everywhere in
ever-increasing numbers. Why do traction companies come to High Point,
for new cars? Because 'Thomas Built cars' are built with an individual
attention to details that insures attractive finish throughout and a
long life of satis factory service. Furthermore, Perley A. Thomas'
quick deliveries appeal to the railway field. Let us quote on your new
Another large order came from the Detroit
United Railroad which ordered 100 cars in 1926, the Associated Press
newswire for October 11, 1926 reporting:
“Detroit (AP) – The city council today
approved purchase of 100 street cars from the Perley A. Thomas Car
Works, High Point, N.C.,
for $13,600 each.”
The 52-passenger DUR cars, which weren' t
completed until 1929, were the longest the company had ever made, at
more than 48 feet
long and had the largest doorways, 5 ft. 4 in. wide. During their 14
years in the street car business the Thomas Car Works delivered cars to
railway systems in Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; New York
City; Chicago, IL; New Orleans, LA; Charlotte, NC; Greenville, NC; High
Point, NC; Mobile, AL;
Sheffield, AL; Detroit, MI; Miami, FL; Augusta, GA; Knoxville, TN; San
Juan, Puerto Rico and Havana, Cuba.
Thomas' last order for streetcars came in
1930 when Mobile, Alabama's surface transit operator ordered 4 cars.
That same year Thomas brought his children into the business as
stockholders, reorganizing the firm as a stock company, the Perley A.
Thomas Car Co., Inc. His two sons, John Willard, and James M.
Thomas, worked at the plant off and on while attending high school and
college. In 1929 they were joined by their older sister Melva, who had
gone to college, moved to Macon, Georgia, married (to William H. Price)
and returned to High Point taking a postion as the firm's bookkeeper.
Melva proved invaluable to the firm in later years serving as payroll
supervisor, secretary to the president, office and
manager and check writer - the Car Works 'Help Wanted' classifieds for
the next several decades listed Melva as the
No one could have predicted the devestating
effect the Depression would have on the firm. Between 1929 and 1934
Thomas’ work force
suffered a 10-fold decrease, from 125 to less than a dozen, 3 of whom
were his 0wn children. Thomas was determined to keep the company, John
W. Thomas was forced to drop out of college and Perley returned to hand
crafting furniture whenever he
a customer. The plant took in what little automobile refinishing
and collision work was available and constructed an occasional
school bus and delivery truck body when the opportunity presented
itself. Despite the Thomas' family's valiant efforts one of the
firm's creditors filed for receivership. As locating a buyer for the
firm was unlikely, the judge agreed to let the firm continue its
operations under the carfeul eye of the bank's representative, and they
managed to sruvive, but just barely.
The firm's official history lists no
projects during the years 1931 to 1932, the first glimmer of hope
appearing in the form of an order for 4 trolley coaches - 2 for
Greensboro, NC in 1933, and 2 for Greenville,
SC in 1934. The trolley coach was a hybrid of the streetcar and
an electric-powered, rubber-tired bus that could move to the curb to
passengers, then swing back into the center of the street underneath
electric power lines.
In 1934 Thomas won an order for 10
transit buses for Anderson, South Carolina from Duke Power Co.,
the successor to the Southern Public Utilities
Co. an early Thomas Car Works customer. Duke Power was being generous
to the firm as they had given a much larger order to Ohio's Twin Coach
Co. for nearly identical coaches (Twin Coach model 23-R).
In 1936 the state of North Carolina
advertised for bids for
the construction of 500 wooden school bus bodies for its school system.
Although most street cars had converted over
to all-metal construction in the teens, school buses were another
matter. Although all-metal transit buses had been in production for
more than a decade, school buses were another matter, as the safety of
children was considered a low priority at the time. The contract called
for a basic body with an all-weather roof, window openings with canvas
shades and bi-lateral rows of inward-facing longitudenal bench seats
running the length of the body. The driver had the benefit of the
windshield and wiper motor furnished with the cowl and chassis, but
even the headlights were deleted to save money - the buses would be
driven during daylight hours only.
Knowing that they would have to beat the
offers of their compeititors, which included Fort Valley Georgia's Blue
Bird and Wilson, North Carolina's Hackney Bros. Thomas' family
history reports that the competition spread rumors about Perley A.
Thomas Car Work's inability to meet the
bid's financing and its specifications. One went so far as to suggest
that the company didn't have access to the
oak beams that secured the bus body to the frame. When he heard
the erroneous claims Thomas fired off a letter to N.C.
School Transportation Superintendent C.C. Brown
confirming that the company did indeed have the wooden supports and
invited him to visit the factory to inspect them.
With a carefully prepared bid of $195 for a
17-foot bus, $205
for a 19-footer, and $225 for a 21-footer Thomas handily won the order,
however their quote specified they could supply only 200 bodies in
total as it couldn't afford to finance the capital required to purchase
the raw materials need for the remaining 300. Consequently the state
split the order between Thomas and Hackney Bros. The school bus order
was completed in five months at which time Melva Price,
Thomas' bookkeeper, announced that the company had
made a profit on the order.
The next year North Carolina required 400
new buses, whose specifications were significantly revised compared to
the previous year's requirements, the May 7, 1937 edition of the
(Lumberton, N.C.) reporting:
“State Buys 400 Bus Chassis and Bodies
“Raleigh - (AP) – The state board of
week 400 school bus chassis and composite bodies for $387,305.
awarded in all cases to low bidders.
“The Sanders Motor company of Raleigh,
supply the state with 400 16-foot chassis at $532 each. Perley A.
Thomas Car Works, Inc., of High
Point, will furnish 150 steel-and-wood bodies at $435 each and the
Hackney Brothers company of Wilson will supply 250 similar bodies at
$437.02. “The purchases brought the number of buses
bought since the 1937 generally assembly adjourned to 750, for which a
total of $737,339 was spent.”
During the late 1930's Thomas manufactured
small numbers of travel trailers. Just as he had with his streetcars,
insisted the quality of the woodwork exceed the competition's.
Available in lengths of
21-feet the trailers were popular with traveling salesman and showmen
and were even equipped with an outhouse-style toilet - essentially a
seat mounted on a box above a 5-gallon bucket. Once the firm's school
bus body business took off, they were forgotten, just like Thomas'
bakery and milk trucks and unfortunately only a single picture survives
which shows a lavish dark wooden interior more appropriate for a
yachtsman than a 'tin
1938 Thomas Car Works introduced their first all-steel school bus body.
The construction of Thomas' all-steel buses differed from the
competitions by their utilization of a stamped single steel bow which
extended in a large arc from one side of the bus to the other. Most of
their competitors used a three-piece bow which was bolted or welded
together. Thomas felt his competitors bolts or welds might fail in a
crash or rollover, claiming his single piece of steel would fare much
better. Thomas also weleded the bow to the outside of the frame,
extending the ribs
below the floor by several inches to stop
smaller vehicles from running underneath the bus and overturning it in
the event of a side-impact. Other features included a reinforced fire
wall and outward-opening folding doors- at that time some of his
competitors used a system where one door opened out, and the other
opened in. Thomas reasoned that an accident might jam the inward door
in the closed postion, his system allowed the doors to be forced open,
a feature which soon became standard on all school buses.
A rise in fatal school bus accidents
resulted in an April
1939 conference in New York City where representatives from all 48
gathered to develop a set of national standards for school bus
operation. The symposium was chaired by Frank W. Cyr, a Columbia
professor and a former superintendent of the Chappell, Nebraska school
The conference was attended by
representatives of the bus
body industry and at the end of the 7-day event the group released a
minimum standards and recommendations. Among them were specifications
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
slightly different shades of yellow remained.
National School Bus Chrome became the chosen
slight variations allowed as yellow was a difficult color to reproduce
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
have been held, giving state and industry representatives a forum to
existing and establish new safety guidelines operating procedures for
For many years the Federal Government
allowed the industry to
regulate itself, but they became directly involved in motor vehicle
the passing of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of
School Bus Safety Amendment was passed in 1974, and since that time the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued 36 Federal
Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) which apply to school buses.
Two years after winning their first contract
from the state
of North Carolina, they won another bid for an additional 900 units,
the firm on firm financial ground, or so they thought. Unfortunately
of the Second World War put a halt to all school bus production, as the
transportation of students in modern school buses became a low
last order for buses went to the U.S. Marine Corps. who ordered a small
to transport new recruits at Camp Lejune, North Carolina.
the 1940s began, Perley A. Thomas turned over the day-to-day operation
of the firm to his children although he remained president; John
Willard Thomas oversaw the
firm's sales and management; James Norman
Thomas oversaw factory production, engineering and purchasing while
Melva Thomas Price kept track of everything else, handling hiring and
firing, bill paying and accounts receivable. She was assisted by their
younger sister Mary
Thomas, who joined
the company in 1946, by which time John Willard’s two sons, John and
Pat Thomas, and Melva's son, Bill Price, were also working for the
At the onset of the War the Thomas Car Works
were awarded a number of military contracts. One was for metal pontoons
to be used by
Army engineers to bridge rivers, and the second was for a truck bodies
2½-Ton, 6×6, CCKW military ordnance trucks which was shared with Ward
Body Works of Conway, Arkansas, another school bus body builder.
One body was outfitted as a mobile small
arms repair shop (M7A1 & M7A2), and a second variation was used by
Corps. as a general repair truck (M30 & M31). A reported 15
examples were constructed each day, with over
a thousand examples completed during the war. The bodies were given
several numerical designations as follows:
G138 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton,
CCKW; M7A1 Small Arms Repair Truck; M7A2 Small Arms Repair Truck
G229 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton,
CCKW; M31 signal corps general repair truck
G235 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton,
CCKW; M30 signal corps general repair truck
G508 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton,
CCKW; M7 Van, small arms repair: M30 Signal corps repair
G711 – Signal Corp Communications Truck,
K-53 Truck - 2½-Ton,
6×6, GMC CCKW; Signal Corps Van Body
During the War the Car Works also
constructed several orders for military buses and also performed body
repairs on army vehicles. For their efforts during the conflict Thomas
Car Works received a citation from the Ordinance Section, U.S. Army.
To make sure that labor strife did not
disrupt the round-the-clock manufacturing going on all over the nation,
government required that all its manufacturers of transportation
equipment invite the United Auto Workers to organize their work forces.
they were 'invited' to participate by Thomas management, the union was
narrowly voted down by Thomas workers,
the May 23, 1942 edition of the High Point Enterprise reporting:
“Election at Thomas Car Works Here Lost By
CIO Auto Workers.
“The United Automobile Workers of
lost an election conducted under the supervision of the fifth region
Labor Relations Board at the Thomas Car Works yesterday.
“Of a total of 123 eligible to vote, 106
their ballots. Forty-seven voted in favor of the union as bargaining
forty-nine voted against it. The election was held by R.D. Windstead,
War-time activity for the firm was the refurbishing of streetcars, the
May 24, 1942 edition of the High Point Enterprise included an interview
with James Norman Thomas, who discusses the project:
“Thomas Car Works is Remodeling St. Cars
“There is a substantial demand for new
street cars in these
days of restricted transportation, but ‘it is out of the question’ to
them. J. Norman Thomas vice-president of the P. A. Thomas Car Works
“Thomas, commenting on reports his company
was making a
large number of street cars, said the rumor probably originated from
that the concern was nearing completion of a contract for the
remodeling of a
number of street cars.
“‘There is quite a demand for street car's
now,’ he added
‘but it is just out of the question to build them, because there is no
“‘And even if we could get the material
our street cars,
it would be useless to build them for any city which did not already
tracks in place and available, because there is no material available
“A number of cities, however, still do
their tracks in
place, even though street car service has been abandoned in favor of
there were indications that in the event the materials situation should
less acute before the transportation system shows signs of improvement
would be a revived interest in street cars.
“The cars Thomas Car has been remodeling
will be used in
Birmingham, Ala., whose street cars have never been abandoned. The cars
sent here from a New England town and Thomas said it was necessary to
them ‘to meet the different conditions to be found in Birmingham.’
“Last of the cars being remodeled will be
shipped south next
week, Thomas said.”
the war, the demand for school buses
returned. The system for school bus purchases varied state to
state. Some state governments pooled all of their counties' orders
others published a list of approved vendors, and a few provided no
guidance whatsoever. Five of the nations 20+ school bus body builders
competed in Thomas' home
markets of North and
South Carolina, and as time went on Thomas became better recognized in
surrounding states. After the War A.S. Priddy, Thomas' first national
sales manager, established the firm's first distributorship in
the state of Pennsylvania.
distributorships in Alabama,
Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia, soon
October 15, 1948 edition of the Daily News
(Huntington, Penn.) included an article on a new Fiberglas reinforced
rubber gasket Thomas had adopted for use on their bus bodies:
“New Type Gasket Material Used on Bus Doors
“A new-type, rot-proof gasket material,
designed to remain pliable and resilient under cold weather conditions
and long service
use, is being installed on the vertical and windshield edges of folding
of school busses built by the Perley A. Thomas Car Works, High Point,
N. C. The
material, consisting of Fiberglas cloth coated with rubber, replaces a
rubber-coated organic fabric formerly used on vertical door edges, and
rubber material used on windshield edges.
“Purpose of the gasket material on the
vertical edges is two-fold - to make the doors weather-tight and to
provide a safety
factor. School bus standards, prepared by the
National Council of Chief State School Officers and the National
Commission on Safety Education, require a clearance between folding
doors so that a
child’s hand or fingers will not get be caught should the driver close
doors before the child is clear of them. In cold weather, the
gasket material became so stiff that it could not make a weather-tight
“Pliability and resilience of the
gasket material - manufactured by St. Clair Rubber Company, Marysville,
Michigan – is not appreciably affected by temperature conditions, this
providing a weather-tight closure at all times. Installed on windshield
edges, the resilient Fiberglas-rubber material is able to stand up
jarring caused by opening and closing the doors, that in time broke
molded rubber material.”
story that appears in the firm's official history describes a tour of
the Thomas plant by a long-term
prospect from New York State, who remarked on how modern the plant was.
When prodded, the gentleman admitted to his hosts, J.W. and J.N.
Thomas, that sales representative for their competition hadtold him
“...the entire Thomas factory was
more than a barn with dirt floors... the employees worked in
feet... and its workers were uneducated hicks who did not know how to
At the time the firm operated a totally
modern assembly line manned by 350 skilled
laborers with an output of from 6 to 7 finished buses per day.
February 4, 1949 edition of the Biloxi Daily Herald announced that
Thomas had been one of the low bidders on a contract to provide the
state with all-steel bus bodies:
“Name Low Bidders For School Buses
“Jackson, Feb. 4 (AP) – The Mississippi
Education has named three low bidders for contracts to sell 400
school bus bodies to the state.
“T.H. Naylor, building and transportation
they were the Bluebird Body Company of Fort Valley, Ga., the Wayne
Richmond, Ind., and the Perley A. Thomas Car Works of High Point, N.C.
companies bid on the bodies and more than 180 bids were entered for
to furnish the chassis.”
grandson, William E. Price Jr.
(Melva's son) is credited with coming up with the 'Chick Bus' concept
after observing a local chicken breeder who was using an old Thomas bus
to transport cages of baby chicks from the hatchery to
a grow-out farm. Price ran the project by the firm engineers, who after
consulting with local breeders and processors, came up with a the
Thomas-built 'Chick Bus.' The purpose-built vehicle included windows
that opened from the outside, a ventilated floor and side walls and a
heating/cooling system that kept the chicks at a constant temperature,
year 'round. Soon afterwards a number of their competitors (Blue Bird)
were building their own 'chick buses.'
John Willard Thomas' sons, John W. Jr. and
Perley A. (Pat) Thomas were
also contributing to the firm's success. Using experience gained
as a Naval supply
officer, Pat assumed responsibility for
Thomas' parts department and eventualy rested control of government
contracts from his father. The US Government was a valued client, even
during peacetime, its contracts for buses, trailers and other projects
helped keep the plant buys duing the winter months when most bus
producion was put on hiatus.
school bus business operated on an unusual schedule for most of the
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.
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 Thomas employees were part-time farmers, relying upon
their bus building income to tide them over during the hot summer
The April 13, 1954 edition of the
Lumberton Robesonian reported on a recent contract shared between
Thomas and their North Carolina neighbors:
“Raleigh (AP) – The State Board of Award
650 new school buses. Quality Equipment Supply of Charlotte will
and Hackney Bros. of Wilson and Perley A. Thomas Car Works of
Point, 150 each. They will mount the bus bodies on chassis furnished by
Motors' Chevrolet division and International Harvester Co.”
in 1948, Charlotte's Quality Equipment & Supply was not a bus
body-builder, but rather a bus and truck body distributor who handled
various manufacturer's lines.
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. During the 1950s 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.
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
'Saf-T-Liner' trade name first poped up in Thomas advertisements during
the late-1950s concurrent with the introduction of the Saf-T-Vue
windshield. During the 1950s the term 'Saf-T-Vue' referred to
Thomas' new two-piece wrap-around windshield. More recently
Thomas used 'Safe-T-Vue' to describe the bonded glass window in the
passenger side footwell of the 'Saf-T-Liner' C2. Located just ahead of
the front entrance doors, the window allows the driver to see students
in the right front blind spot in front of the stairwell. Both terms
appeared sporadically during the next two decades, with Saf-T-Liner
becoming a standard part of their exploitation from the mid-1970s
onward. The following text is from a 1957 advertisement in Metropolitan
“Your Safest Investment • Thomas
every angle • Safety is standard in Saf-T-Liners by Thomas. Since 1916,
has converted quality materials into safe, comfortable, durable
More safety per dollar is the logical result of these 41 years
applied toward ever higher standards. It pays to compare! Before you
any school bus, insist on a demonstration. Compare all buses for safety
. . .
feature by ... feature and dollar for dollar. You'll find, as so
others have found, that SAF-T-LINER by Thomas gives your school
protection for your money. Thomas again demonstrates its leadership in
school transportation field with an improved safety feature ...
a .. curved,
larger SAF-T-VUE windshield. Vision is increased 30% to give operators
safety sightline. It's just one of the many safety features
Thomas. Thomas' economical operation gives you more for your
dollar. Arrange now for a demonstration! Free Booklet - Write today for
fully illustrated brochure on the Thomas SAF-T-LINER. Also we will send
name of your nearby Thomas distributor who will gladly arrange a
you and answer all your questions.”
Perley A. Thomas retired from active
management of the
company in the late 1940s but retained the title of president until his
passing on April 28, 1958 at the
84. He was survived by his four children, and his second wife, Joan
(Madden, b.1880) Thomas.
a long-time member of High Point's First Baptist Church, as well as the
Elk and Masonic Lodges. He passsed away at his winter home in
Jacksonville, Fla., where
interred in Greenlawn Cemetery.
Although the Auto Workers Union had been
voted down by Thomas' workers druing the First World War, it had been
approved shortly thereafter although no action had been initiated at
the plant until mid- 1958, the January 4, 1959 edition of the Rocky
Mount Evening Telegram reporting:
“Strike Vote Set Next Thursday
“High Point, N.C. (AP) — Union members
take a strike
vote Thursday if agreement, on a renewed contract is not reached before
with the Thomas Car Works here.
“The company makes school bus bodies and
fits them to truck
chassis. James White, president of Local 63, United Auto Workers, said
local will vote Thursday whether to seek authorization from the
“The contract expired Nov. 27. White said
some progress was
made in first meetings with management, which began Nov. 17, but later
were stalemated. Company officials said negotiations were continuing.
“The issues at stake were not announced.
About 120 workers
will be eligible to vote Thursday. That's the normal work force, but
40 are working at present.
“A 10-day strike ended last summer with a
wage raise of 12
to 16 cents more per worker for each unit produced.”
The April 7, 1960 edition of the High Point
an entire page devoted to the history of the Car Works, which included
a detailed description of the bus building process:
“P.A. Thomas Car Works Plant Goes From
Trolley Cars To Buses
“by Robert Marks, Enterprise Sunday Editor
“Somewhere in the Old Quarter of New
Streetcar No. 853 — the famous Streetcar Named Desire.
“In Mexico City, 100 trolley cars, built
years ago and
recently purchased from the City of Detroit, have been placed in
service in the
city's transit system.
“Somewhere in North Carolina tomorrow,
children will ride to
school in a bright new orange bus.
“The New Orleans streetcar, the Mexico
trolleys and the
North Carolina school bus are linked by a common thread. They all were
High Point's P.A. Thomas Car Works Inc.
“The car works plant on Tryon Street is
of the city's
largest, and unique, industries. It employs nearly 275 workers and can
school buses, its principal item of production, at the rate of one
“Founded in 1918 by Perley A. Thomas, the
car works in the
beginning manufactured trolley cars. But the trolley car market
declined as the
automobile came into greater use. The last big order came in 1930, when
company sold 100 trolley cars to Detroit. These were the cars recently
purchased by Mexico City.
“Since 1930, the company has concentrated
of school bus bodies. Today, it has markets in more than 30 states as
in Canada and in Central and South America.
“How to develop these markets further will
be one of the
major items of discussion when the car works holds its annual sales
here tomorrow and Tuesday.
“The assembly line is used in the
of the bus
bodies. Parts are fed to the U-shaped line as it curves through the
“The line begins with the welding of the
floor for the bus
body. The framework is added next. Then come the roof and side panels,
doors, and the installation of wiring and lights. At the far turn of
the U in
the assembly line, the body is attached to the truck bed. A paint booth
then an infra-red quick dry chamber put the finishing touches on the
Glass and seats are installed, the interior is finished, a final check,
of the body, and the bus is then ready for delivery.
“The State of North Carolina is the
company's largest single
customer. Basically, the school buses for the various states are
there are some differences. Both North Carolina and Minnesota, for
want their buses painted a bright orange. For other states, the color
“The car works also fills orders for
recently completed work on a ‘Chick’ bus. Made to order, the ‘Chick’
designed to haul chicks up and down the East Coast. It required the
installation of wider doors and a special heating system for handling
“Perley Thomas died in April, 1959, but
still in the Thomas family, being operated today by the children of the
founder. J. W. Thomas Sr. is president; J. N. Thomas, vice president;
Melva Thomas Price, treasurer; and Miss Mary Thomas, secretary.
“Their children, in turn, are active in
management of the car works.”
Another short biography of the firm included
a story on how Perley A. (Pat) Thomas, the founder's grandson, had
helped the Federal Goverment reduce overseas shipping costs, the March
9, 1961 edition of the High Point
“Featured in the State Ports Magazine
currently is a High
Point Industry. It is the P.A. Thomas Car Works which was founded here
for the manufacture of street cars. It is a family owned business,
being in hands of J.W. Thomas as president; J. N. Thomas as
Mrs. Melva Thomas Price as treasurer, and Miss Mary Thomas as
members of the third generation are also active in the operation and
management. The company, which employs 275 people, produces one bus
minutes. School and light transit buses have constituted 95 per cent of
firm's business since 1930, with sales ranging from Canada to South
Largest single customer is the State of North Carolina which is among
largest users of school buses in the nation.
“Occasion of the story is the fact Thomas
has come to be an
important shipper through the State Ports with savings of thousands of
for the Air Force. The whole thing started when Pat Thomas, in charge
government sales for Thomas, came to realization that buses being made
firm for the government were being driven to Charleston and Norfolk for
aboard ships. He found that taking the same bus to Wilmington cost only
against $116 to Charleston and $86 to Norfolk. Thomas, working with
Jackson, traffic manager for the State Ports Authority, got Wilmington
Morehead City added to the list of East Coast ports through which
shipments could be sent. December saw the first such consignment go
then same hundred or so buses have been shipped through the Port of
some few others through Morehead City. It has resulted, too, in
being included as a possible port of exit for several other government
contracts out for bids and more military shipments through State Port
facilities, additional cargoes accruing at limes because they go along
buses. This way the money remains in North Carolina instead of securing
another east coast state. Such things helped the Port Authority to
the Stale recently a check for $100,000 as profits from operation of
Ports, but the larger profit has been in the stimulation of trade
the stale by those ports.”
the Thomas' family's exhaustive efforts to stay on the up and up,
Thomas and their Austin, Texas distributor, J.K. Hurst, were
accused of price rigging, the April 26, 1961 edition of the San Antonio
Express and News reporting:
“School Bus Makers Hit With Suits
“Four school bus body manufacturers and
Texas dealers were named defendants Friday in anti-trust suits filed in
and San Antonio by Atty. Gen. Will Wilson. Wilson said the suits are
ancillary actions to a suit he filed Aug. 16 accusing 16 Texas firms
individuals of rigging bids to fix prices on the sale in Texas of 5,100
buses costing $23 million.
“‘The exclusive contracts between these
Texas dealers and
the manufacturing companies made possible the bid-rigging by the
dealers,’ Wilson said.
“The latest suits allege a ‘conspiracy in
restraint of trade,’ by destroying competition through exclusive sales
contracts for the purchase and sale of school bus bodies in Texas.
Wilson seeks permanent injunctions against further restraint of trade
by the firms,
and varying statutory penalties that could collectively total
“At San Antonio, Carpenter Body Works,
of Mitchell, Ind., and its Texas distributor, Commercial Body Corp.,
headed by John
T. Lawson, 501 Eighth St., San Antonio, were named defendants.
“Named defendants in the suits filed in
three Travis County district courts in Austin were:
“Blue Bird Body Co., of Fort Valley,
Georgia, and its Texas distributor. Austin Sales Co., Inc., headed by
Jack G. Fisk, 8419 N. Lamar Blvd.,
“Ward Body Works of Texas, Inc., of
Charles D. Ward of 4201 S. Congress Ave., Austin, and The Texacoach
Austin, headed by Fred Stroud. 106 Brown Bldg., Austin.
“Perley A. Thomas Car Works Inc., of High
Point. N.C., and its Texas distributor. Hurst Bus Sales Co., headed by
J. K. Hurst,
3913 Balcones Drive, Austin.
“Wilson asks the courts to assign
of $50 to $1,500 per day for each day of the alleged conspiracy, or
totals of $226,000
to $6,780,000 for all eight defendants. The earlier suit sought to
possible penalties of $58 million.
“Ward Body Works and Texacoach are alleged
to have violated the anti-trust statutes since Jan. 1, 1959; the Blue
Bird and Austin
Sales since Dec. 7, 1960; Thomas Car Works and Hurst Bus Sales since
1, 1959; and Carpenter Body Works and Commercial Body Corps. since Jan.
lawsuit's resolution is currently unknown, although it's likely the
local distributors took the fall, receiving a slap on the wrist and a
addition to putting the Car Works' parts department in order, Willard's
son, Perley A. (Pat) Thomas helped established the Car Works
international company. He first ventured south of the border looking
for prospective distributors in the late 1950s, eventually establishing
assembly plants in
Quito, Ecuador (Carrocerias Ecuatorianas Thomas, S.A.) and Callao, Peru
(Carrocerias Thomas del Peru, S.A. ) where CKD (completely knocked
down) Thomas bus bodies
were assembled and installed on locally-sourced chassis.
Pat's older brother, John W.
Thomas, Jr., started
working for the company in 1943 sweeping floors and helping the
mechanics to 'buck' rivets,
a noisey process that involved flattening the heads of solid rivets
with a big air hammer. John enrolled in the chemical engineering
program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, later switching over to
Upon graduating he worked in Thomas' drafting and design department,
then moved on to sales, eventually becoming National Sales Director.
John explored a request by a Candian firm to distribute Thomas built
buses north of the border, he quickly realized that the only solution
was to establish a Canadian assembly plant, much like his brother had
done in South America. A 100,000 facility was purchased in Woodstock,
Ontario, Canada and in 1962 Thomas Built Buses of Canada Ltd. started
assembling buses for the Canadian market under the direction of former
regional sales managerJames T.
The December 18, 1962 edition of the High
Point Enterprise announced that Thomas had won part of a $4 million
“Local Firms Share School Bus Contract
“Raleigh - Two High Point firms have been
for supplying school bus bodies and frames to the state. The High Point
are among three in the state sharing the contracts, worth about $4
“Lyles Chevrolet Co. of High Point was
awarded the chassis
contract. Worth about $2 million, the contract was held by Carpenter
of Durham this year.
“The body contract, also worth about $2
million, was awarded to P.A. Thomas Car Works of High Point and
Carolina Bus Sales of
Asheville. The 1962 contract was held by Thomas Car Works and Superior
- Moore Sales
Co. of Salisbury.
“About 700 buses will be supplied the
under the 1963 contract, according to A.W. Allers of the State Purchase
that time Thomas was the third-largest school bus company in the
nation, battling for market share with five others; Blue Bird,
Carpenter, Superior (Pathfinder), Ward and Wayne Works. Several
competitors - Hicks, Oneida, Hackney and Marmon-Herrington - had
already withdrawn from the field.
one years of its establishment, Thomas' Canadian plant won an award
from the Prime Minister, the September 23, 1963 High Point Enterprise:
“Thomas Car Subsidiary Wins Honor
“Woodstock, Ontario – The Canadian
subsidiary of a North Carolina firm today received Ontario’s highest
industrial citation, the
‘A for Achievement’ award. Honored was Thomas Built Buses (Canada)
subsidiary of the Perlay A. Thomas Cars Works, Inc., High Point, N.C.
“Ontario’s Premier John Roberts made the
award on the basis of the firm’s new product development – the
manufacture of school
buses, not previously made in Canada. Receiving the ‘A’ award was J.T.
firm attracted much national attention when the distributed a
wire-photo of a full-size Chevrolet-Thomas school bus resting on top of
another to demonstrate the strength and safety of Thomas' all-steel
bodies, the June 24, 1964 edition of the Valparaiso Vidette Messenger
(Ind.) included the following caption underneath the photo:
“Anyone notice where I parked my bus last
night? Not, that’s not the question. Nor
is it a
question of limited parking space. Perley A. Thomas Car Works, Inc.,
Point, N.C., manufacturer, wanted to demonstrate strength and safety of
all-steel school buses and hoisted on 5 ½ - ton bus atop other with
Husky truck-crane. Manufacturer felt this safety load test is more
easier to comprehend that usual dead load test which employs piles of
on roof. Thomas is a Bethlehem Steel Company customer of steel sheet.”
pioneered the placing of convex blind spot mirrors at the front of its
school buses, the January 5, 1969 edition of the High Point Enterprise
“Safety Mirrors Okayed For State School
“All North Carolina school buses will have
cross-over mirrors on the left front fenders by the spring.
“The mirrors were designed and are being
installed to enable
drivers to spot a small child who otherwise might be hidden by the
“The plan to install the mirrors on all
state school buses
was approved by the State Board of Education last week. The cost is
to be from $30,000 to $50,000.
“The mirrors have been installed on all
buses made by
the Perley A. Thomas Car Works in High Point for the last two years,
to Willard Thomas, an official of the company. Thomas is one of the
manufacturers of school buses in the world. Its
buses are sold throughout the United States, as well
as in Canada and
in South America and in other countries.”
Holt McPherson’s ‘Good Morning’ column in
the January 5,
1969 edition of the High Point Enterprise made further mention of
Thomas' blind spot mirrors:
“Perley A. Thomas Car Works here, largest
school busses-for North Carolina use and with distribution reaching all
states and several foreign countries for two years has made safety
mirrors standard equipment on busses it has manufactured for North
use. Now the State Board of Education has ordered their installation as
catchup on all busses to correct a ‘blind spot’ and thus give the
clear panaromic front view and accurate rear view of the tiniest tyke
wander about this vehicle. The safety cross mirror is quite a safety
one the Thomas designers recognized and embraced a couple of years ago
— it is
optional equipment for busses going outside this state, but a must on
manufactured for Tar Heel use. Sixteen states require the safety cross
which eliminates the blind spot in front of the school bus with help of
convex lens that provides 150 degrees of vision. Several deaths have
reported from other states that could have been prevented by such
On April 20, 1971 the US Supreme Court ruled
unanimously (in Swann
vs. Charlotte - Mecklenburg Board of Education) that forced
students could be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. Shortly
thereafter the Danville, Virginia Register contacted sales manager
James T. Vance, to see if the decision had had any effect on school bus
sales, his response appearing in the paper'sJuly 29, 1971 issue:
“School Bus Manufacturer Sees No Order
“High Point, N.C. (AP) —Officials of the
P.A. Thomas Car
Works, which manufacturers most of North Carolina's public school buses
they have not noticed any great increase in orders due to desegregation
“Jimmy Vance, advertising director of the
although ‘we haven’t felt any wave of increased demand for school
probably beginning to see an increase a little later as the feeling
(busing to achieve integration) has to be done spreads.’
“He said many North Carolina school
districts seem to be
taking a wait-and-see attitude before purchasing additional buses.
Vance said he believed the market has
because as some public school districts increase their orders, other
reduce theirs due to competition from private schools.
“Some of the districts which operated
transportation systems in the past have curtailed the transportation,
as the private schools cut into their enrollment.
“As for private schools, he said many are
difficulties and therefore are using old, renovated buses.”
In 1972 James Norman Thomas temporarily
assumed the firm's presidency following the unexpected death (heart
attack) of his brother, John Willard Thomas Sr. As James had already
planned on retiring, as did his older sister Melva Thomas Price, it
proved to be an opportune moment for the third generation of the Thomas
family to take the reigns of the family business, which was
as Thomas Built
Buses, Inc., to better reflect the firm's main line of business.
Following Norman's resignation in 1973, John
Willard Thomas Jr., was elected president; William E. Price, Jr.,
vice president of sales; Perley A. (Pat) Thomas, vice president of
international operations; James T. Vance, vice president of domestic
operations, and James Tidings, chief engineer.
Holt McPherson's ‘Good Afternoon’ column
in the November 20, 1973
edition of the High Point Enterprise provided a number of details on
the firm's reorganized operations:
“Because Perley A. Thomas wanted to stay
High Point when
the old Southern Car Company — he was its chief engineer — closed
around 1915, hundreds
of thousands of students in this country, and beyond, ride to schools
Built Buses. The 4,000 sturdy buses Thomas turns out each year haul not
school children safely but also everybody else from church members to
“As Company of the Month in this month's
story is told graphically of how on a recent afternoon the Thomas plant
“A right-hand drive bus with steel spiked
tires that was going
to Sumatra in the Far East...A United Nations' Children's Fund bus also
for a foreign land...a bus for a church congregation on Long Island...a
specially heated and cooled bus to haul chickens...a fleet of buses for
University of Illinois.
“For the first 14 years of its history,
Thomas Car Works was
one of the nation's leading producers of street cars. The first two
built went to Winston-Salem, but others followed on flat cars to points
divergent as Miami, Detroit and New Orleans — one that went to New
Orleans was reclaimed
some years ago for the local museum. But by 1930 the building of street
was a dying business and the late P.A. Thomas began looking for new
transportation that led him into the challenging field of bus building
his firm has emerged as the nation's top producer of such vehicles.
“During World War II, Thomas suspended bus
production to make
war goods and vehicles, but following the war the company moved to the
fore in the
field of bus production. In 1962, a plant was opened at Woodstock,
since then new plants have been set up at Quito, Ecuador, and Lima,
“Bus bodies are constructed on the chassis
of the customer – whether that be a Baptist congregation in South
the school system of Minnesota. When a bus is given its final okay, it
everything down to and including the correct name painted on it. Then
is notified to come to High Point and drive it to its destination.
“Thomas officials are optimistic about the
1930, the number of bus manufacturing facilities in the United States
dropped from 15 to eight. Thomas has thrived where others abandoned the
“Recently Thomas took some significant
toward the future.
After more than half a century as Perley A. Thomas Car Works, Inc., the
was changed to Thomas Built Buses, Inc. To facilitate future growth,
catch up with its market, a long needed expansion program was launched
will greatly increase production to meet increasing demand for its
are only preliminary moves in the direction of a new, more aggressive,
company - all because Perley A. Thomas wanted to stay in High Point.”
Robert Marks’ Personality Profile of the
Thaoms Built's new president, John W.
appeared in the December 9, 1973 edition of the High Point Enterprise:
“John Thomas Jr.: Businessman In Community
“The day begins early and ends late for
W. Thomas Jr.
He is in his small corner office at Thomas Built Buses Inc. on Courtesy
where he is president, before 8:30 a.m. It is often after 6 p.m. before
returns to his home at 504 Emerywood Dr.
“Along the way, he may have attended a
meeting of the High
Point Civil Service Commission, or a meeting of the board of trustees
Point Memorial Hospital, or Maryfield Nursing Home, or a meeting of the
of directors of the High Point office of North Carolina National Bank,
First Federal Savings and Loan Assn.
“Last Thursday, Thomas journeyed to
attended his second meeting as a member of the North Carolina Water and
Resources Board. It was an important meeting of the board. Because of
energy crisis, it voted to ease the standards for the sulphur content
oil used in North Carolina.
“Thomas was named to the state board in
November by Gov. Jim
Holshouser. He attended his first meeting of the state board
his swearing in. ‘They threw me right in,’ Thomas said.
“Plunging right in on a new task is not
unusual for Thomas.
A former member of the High Point City Council — he served one term
to 1971 — he has a wide-range of experience in the political, civic and
business life of High Point. His appointment to the Water and Air
Board is his first position in state government.
“When asked how he manages his time,
ought to ask my wife about that.’ Then, he explained the commitment
motivates him. ‘I have always felt that the businessman has the
to serve his community. I know that sounds old hat and trite, but I
that responsibility exists. ‘I realize that few businessmen have the
which allows them to devote the time often necessary to government and
service. But I believe that this can be done. In my own experience, I
that service on City Council does take a lot of time. It places a major
on time, while service on a commission can be adjusted to, because of
monthly schedule for most of these bodies. What I am saying is that the
businessman can find the place where he might be needed and where he
fully. I deplore the professional politician,’ Thomas continued. ‘These
people who come up time and time again to run for office. I think there
to be a limit on that sort of thing. We need the turnover, the new
the new ideas. No one has all the answers to the problems of the
all have to work at these problems together.’
“Thomas has been involved with High Point
all of his life.
He is one of the third generation now directing Thomas Built Buses,
his grandfather as the P.A. Thomas Car Works. The company moved from
production of streetcars to the manufacture of school buses, and now
in South America and Canada as well, and sells its buses in practically
country in the world.
“Thomas was sales manager for the company
before he moved
into the presidency. A native of High Point, he is a graduate of
School and has a degree in industrial engineering from Virginia
Institute. He enrolled in VPI after serving with the Navy during the
World War, and it was at VPI that he met Tommie Munford, daughter of
commandant of the cadet corps. She is now Mrs. Thomas. There are five
the family — John, Matt, Bruce, Chris, and Stuart, the youngest, who is
student at Westchester Academy.
“Thomas is a member of Forest Hills
where he serves as an elder, a Sunday School teacher, and a member of
“In his office at the Courtesy Road plant,
there are plaques
on the wall recognizing his service as a director of the Chamber of
and as the first president of the High Point Drug Action Council. On a
in a corner of the office is a small, mounted model of a Thomas Highway
with the inscription that this was presented to Thomas at the company's
meeting in 1972. On top of a small stack of papers on the desk itself
small book with the title, ‘Quiet Thoughts.’ It is there, obviously,
reading by the man who sits behind the desk during the busy day.”
Although safety was an oft-mentioned phrase
in each respective
manufacturer’s advertisements, aside from the adoption of ‘National
Yellow’ in 1939, no Federal legislation mandating standards were
1973, when emergency exits and window releases became mandatory.
Charles Percy pointed out in a 1973 congressional hearing on the
school administrators typically purchased school buses on bids, and
than not, the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder. Although
in particular Ward and Wayne Works, had started offering extra-safe
most school districts couldn’t justify the additional expense to
and administrators. Percy summed up the need for a Federal Safety
Standard as follows:
“So long as there are not adequate
standards, then the bids
come in for a school bus but not necessarily for a safe school bus.”
Congress finally acted and enacted a new
sets of regulations that would dramatically increase the safety of
schoolchildren. The new standards which were slated to take effect on
April 1, 1977 included; FMVSS No. 220 (School Bus
Protection); FMVSS No 221 (School Bus Body Joint Strength); FMVSS No.
Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection) and FMVSS No 301 (Fuel
Integrity - School Buses). FMVSS No. 217 (Bus Emergency
and Window Retention and Release) had already taken effect (on
Safety was foremost when Perley A. Thomas
produced his first all-steel school bus back in 1938, and the firm
continued to make safety its number one priority. Although the new
standards were estimated to increase the cost of a new school bus from
$1200-$1500, the company believed the new regulations would increase
sales over the long run as districts were more likley to replace
outdated 'unsafe' buses with new vehicles that met the new standards.
Furthermore the fiscal restraints championed by Melva Thomas Price
decades earlier enabled Thomas Built to build safer buses
profit while many of its competitors could not.
Thomas' chief engineer, James Tidings,
contributed to an Associated Press article detailing the costs involved
in producing buses that met the new regulations, the October 3, 1974
edition of the High Point
“Safety Cost Possibly Prohibitive by A.H.
Associated Press writer
“Chicago – (AP) – Safety Requirements for
next year's school
buses may push price tags beyond the reach of many school districts,
and safety officials say.
“Some school districts already are feeling
the pinch of
price hikes of 25 per cent or more in the last year, said Edward T.
Blue Bird Body Co. of Fort Valley, Ga. The firm is one of six major
“Much of the increase in prices is due to
material costs. But officials who gathered for a National Safety
meeting in Chicago said Wednesday they expect additional hikes to
safety advances such as padded seat backs and guard railings.
“Exact costs have not been tabulated, they
66-passenger bus now costs from $14,000 to $16,000, depending on safety
specifications in a given state, Clayton said. Clayton predicted that
cost hikes would mean ‘schools in some states will be operating
“Robert B. Kurre, an engineer for the
Co. of Richmond, Ind., said in a telephone interview that it's too
measure the sales impact of price increases. He said most school
submit orders early in the calendar year for fall delivery. A spokesman
School Bus Manufacturers' Institute in Washington, D.C., agreed.
“James Tidings, chief engineer for Thomas
Built Buses Inc.
of High Point, N.C., said from 12 to 25 school bus passengers die
Government figures put the annual death, toll at 25 to 35, with some
injuries. One major change proposed by the government would require
on top, back and sides of seats on next year's models.
“‘Seat design has completely changed in
last two or
three years,’ Clayton said during a panel discussion on school bus
states already require seat back and guard rail padding and some
have made them standard equipment. He cited other recent safety
improvements, including elimination of rough interior metal edges and
safety improvements not only push prices higher, but such features as
seats cut available space, meaning districts will need more buses to
same number of children.”
The January 25, 1975 edition of the High
Point Enterprise mentioned that Thomas Built was embroiled in yet
another price-fixing lawsuit, this time in the state of Alabama:
“Alabama Sues Bus Company In Price-Fixing
“A High Point company is being sued for
conspiracy to fix
prices for school buses purchased by the state of Alabama.
“Alabama Atty. Gen. Bill Baxley filed suit
in federal court
Friday charging the local company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., and 14
manufacturers and sellers of school bus bodies with conspiracy to fix
the buses in violation of federal antitrust laws.
“The effect of the conspiracy, Baxley
has been to
increase and maintain artificially high prices of school bus bodies
by the state and local boards of education.”
In an article detailing the proposed
purchase of a fleet of
eighteen $62,500 GM Transit Coaches for the city of High Point, the
1976 edition of the High Point Enterprise mentioned that:
“Thomas Built Buses, Inc., manufactures a
school bus of
roughly comparable size which sells for about $18,000 to $20,000.
a diesel engine, which the city buses will have, a similar bus would
$25,000, according to Thomas sales representative Bill Price. A Thomas
a flat-faced front would run about $40,000, Price said Thomas makes no
transport buses except those manufactured in the firm's Ecuador plants
in South America.”
On October 17, 1976 the High Point
Enterprise published the
following article in which Associated Press staff writer Jay Perkins
detailed some of the
events that led to the passing of the new
Bus Safety Standards which were to take effect on April 1, 1977:
“First School Bus Regulations Effective
Bus Transportation Is Safest, But School Buses Unsafest Vehicles’
“Editor’s note: A major manufacturer of
mentioned in this account, is Thomas Built Buses Inc. of High Point. An
is being prepared for publication this week containing the firm's views
“By Jay Perkins, Associated Press Writer
“Washington (AP) - On Oct. 2, 1967, four
students boarded a school bus in Waterloo, Neb , for their last ride to
“They died minutes later when a Union
Pacific freight ripped
the bus apart, twisting the sheet metal skin and exposing sharp, lethal
The nine other children aboard were injured, some of them on the
Federal investigators later would label them child-lacerating ‘cookie
“Investigators from the National
Transportation Safety Board
found that the bus came apart too easily. Joints failed under too
pressure. Seats ripped from the floor. Children riding in the
portion were tossed about and ‘probably . . . struck many hard and
“It was the first time a federal agency
found fault with
the way most of the nation's 250,000 school buses are made, although
independent testing laboratories previously had reported problems.
“Yet it would be another five years
would propose the first regulation to improve school bus construction.
will be April 1, 1977, when the three federal regulations finally
go into effect.
“Why the delay? Because the National
Administration found that there weren't that many fatal school bus
despite the safely problems.
“‘We found it (school bus
was the safest
mode of transportation we had, bar none,’ says Bob Boaz, the NHTSA's
information officer. ‘We had a limited amount of funds and we're
the whole spectrum of highway accidents. So when we looked at
was no way to say 100 fatalities here should be a high priority when we
many more being killed in passenger cars. But then Congress got
involved and said
the heck with cost benefits, issue some standards, so we did.’
“The NHTSA's three regulations will have
force of law,
unless overturned by Congress.
“How effective will these regulations
One of them
designed to eliminate ‘cookie cutter’ edges, has a loophole that allows
to make a school bus's metal skin even thinner and less safe than it is
manufacturers say they won't use the loophole). Another regulation,
keeping the roof from collapsing when a bus overturns, relies on a test
even the NHTSA once said wouldn't determine if the roof were really
safe. And the
third, requiring padded bus seals and seats designed to hold children
during an accident, is not as strong as originally proposed. The
regulation specified seat backs eight or nine inches higher than they
most buses today. But school administrators argued that this might
discipline problem because drivers wouldn't be able to see children. So
NHTSA compromised with a regulation that adds four or five inches to
“Until now, there have been no Federal
school bus construction. And no state has set safety regulations as
the NHTSA rules effective next spring.
“Despite their shortcomings, the NHTSA
the six principal
manufacturers of school buses believe the regulations will produce
once the buses now in use are re placed. That will take a decade or
“Meanwhile, more than 20 million
traditional yellow school buses each school day. Fifteen to 20 are
killed and 5,000
are injured in an average year, according to federal statistics.
“That's not an alarming accident rate.
accidents by travelling slowly, other drivers watch out for them, and
bus drivers are good drivers, Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., explained at a
congressional hearing in 1973. But, he added: ‘School buses are
unsafest vehicles on the road because when they are involved in an
accident, the results are often catastrophic. Today's school bus is
“Dr. Stanley J. Behrman, representing
of Oral Surgeons, told the National Safety Council in 1972 that nearly
cent of the 16,000 children treated by society members in one year were
on school buses.
“‘Injuries to the jaw caused by children
striking the metal
bar across the top of the seat in school buses many times cause
deformities and a child with a facial deformity may not achieve his
potential in the world.’ he said.
“Why then do school districts buy the
buses — those
made by attaching a riveted, sheet metal bus body to a truck frame and
purchased from an outside supplier? This type of construction, which is
half as expensive as building the bus as a unit, is used for 97 per
cent of the
school buses made today. The remaining three per cent are safer. They
mostly buses made as a unit, much like the commercial buses that carry
passengers cross country.
“Sen. Charles Percy. R-Ill, noted during
congressional hearing that school administrators usually purchase buses
the lowest bidder. ‘So long as there are not adequate standards, then
come in for a school bus but not necessarily for a safe school bus.’
said. He added that school administrators have not been trained to
“Between 30,000 and 35,000 school buses
made each year.
Most cost $12,000 to $15,000. The new regulations are expected to add
the price of each bus.
“The problems of school bus construction
were laid out in a
special report by the National Transportation Safety Board in 1971. The
found that many injuries in two Alabama school bus accidents were
caused by ‘the laceration of child passengers by exposed edges of the
sheet metal, including the ceiling.’ It concluded that the sheet metal
for the roof and sides of school buses were poorly attached to the
“There are six major manufacturers of
of school bus — Blue Bird Body Co. of Fort Valley, Ga.; Carpenter Body
Mitchell, Ind.; Superior Coach Division, Lima, Ohio; Thomas Built
Point, N.C.; Ward School Bus Co., Conway, Ark., and Wayne Corp.,
“Most of these manufacturers still use
numerous sheets of
metal to form the skin — a practice criticized by the National
Safety Board in its 1971 report. That report said the panels were
fastened. Spacing between rivets was so wide — four to 10 inches — that
it was ‘sufficient
to resist wind and weather but the joint could contribute little to
“Wayne Corp. now uses sheet metal panels
that run the length
of the passenger compartment. This eliminates many joints and produces
compartment that is much safer, federal investigators say.
“Ward has been marketing a safety bus
more than twice as many rivets to hold the sheet metal in place than in
pre-1971 buses. Other manufacturers are using better fasteners and more
than they did nine years ago.
“These changes apparently have occurred
the NTSB report and the concern of the public have made school
school bus manufacturers more conscious of safety and a bit less
about price. Less than five years ago, 95 per cent of all school buses
purchased on a low bid basis. That figure has slipped a few percentage
the bus manufacturers say.
“The principal concern about the
adequacy of the new federal
safety regulations concerns a loophole in the rule designed to keep the
sheet metal skin panels from breaking loose in an accident.
“The regulation says the joints between
panels must have 60
per cent of the strength of the panels. But it doesn't say how strong
panels themselves must be. So manufacturers can meet the standard by
the number of rivets at the joints — as NHTSA intends — or by reducing
of the panels. ‘You can make those panels out of tissue paper and meet
standard,’ said an expert in the field.
“Guy Hunter, an NHTSA specialist in
said the agency was aware of the loophole when the regulation was
decided to leave it in to give manufacturers leeway in future designs.
said the loophole can't be used because strong panels are needed to
buses rigid enough to pass the rollover test.
“Manufacturers and engineers outside
say the skin panels play little part in supporting the framework that
bus's roof from collapsing in a rollover.
“The regulation designed to keep school
collapsing when buses overturn requires each roof to be strong enough
150 per cent of the bus's weight. That's 50 per cent stronger than most
bus roofs today. But these roofs usually collapse during a rollover
not because weight is put directly on them, but because side pressures
roof columns, federal officials have said. And there is no test to
the columns can resist side pressures.
“Nevertheless, Hunter says the NHTSA has
decided that the
roof test specified in the new regulation is adequate. The seating
requires manufacturers to pad their seals, thus eliminating the bare
across the top so frequently implicated in injuries. It also requires
back of the bus seat be at least 24 inches in height to
children and prevent them from being thrown about the bus in an
“The National Education Association and
organizations have tried in the past to produce uniform bus safety
Some states have adopted some of the recommendations made — among them
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Ohio and
“Dr. Glen Featherstone, who chaired
of the National
Education Association's conferences on school bus standards, said there
several reasons why NEA's school bus recommendations were not as
effective as they
should have been.
“One is that members of the NEA
did not have the
technical expertise to argue with school bus manufacturers. Another is
conference had to adopt a middle ground because ‘you had people who
to be bothered much and you have people who want things that are very
“The third factor was cost. ‘You've got
seek a middle
ground between safety and cost. The school districts are hard pressed
money. They are really pushed to do it as economically as they can and
Details of each Federal Motor Vehicle
Standard relating to school buses follow:
FMVSS Standard No. 217 - Bus Emergency Exits
Window Retention and Release:
This established requirements for bus
release to reduce the likelihood of passenger ejection in crashes,
emergency exits to facilitate passenger exit in emergencies. It also
that each school bus have an interlock system to prevent the engine
an emergency door is locked, and an alarm that sounds if an emergency
not fully closed while the engine is running. Another portion of
217 required that yellow, white, or red retroreflective tape be applied
to mark all emergency exits, so rescue personnel can quickly find them
Standard No. 220 - School Bus Rollover
This established performance requirements
for school bus rollover protection, to reduce deaths and injuries from
failure of a
school bus body structure to withstand forces encountered in rollover
Standard No. 221 - School Bus Body Joint
This established requirements for the
strength of the body
panel joints in school bus bodies, to reduce deaths and injuries
structural collapse of school bus bodies during crashes.
Standard No. 222 - School Bus Passenger
Seating and Crash
This established occupant protection
requirements for school
bus passenger seating and restraining barriers, to reduce deaths and
from the impact of school bus occupants against structures within the
during crashes and sudden driving maneuvers.
Standard No. 301 - Fuel System Integrity -
This specified requirements for the
integrity of motor vehicle fuel systems, to reduce the likelihood of
fuel spillage and
resultant fires during and after crashes.
Standard No. 131 - School Bus Pedestrian
Safety Devices – wasn’t implemented until May 5, 1991.
This standard establishes requirements for
devices that can be
installed on school buses to improve the safety of pedestrians in the
of stopped school buses. Its purpose is to reduce deaths and injuries
minimizing the likelihood of vehicles passing a stopped school bus and
pedestrians in the vicinity of the bus.
Surprisingly, compulsory installation of
seat belts in
school buses has yet (as of 2015) to be made a Federal requirement,
enacted legislation that requires them; California, Florida, Louisiana,
New York and Texas. However only one state, New Jersey, mandates
Although privately, Thomas' management knew
the regulations were good for business, they were reluctant to support
the controversial rules in public due to possible backlash from the
public. Their official 'rebuttle' to the October 17, 1976 Associated
Press article supporting the regulations, appeared in the October 24,
1976 edition of the High Point
“Thomas Adapts Buses To Safety Rules by
Enterprise Staff Writer
“High Point bus manufacturer John W.
is not entirely
pleased with new school bus engineering standards set to go into effect
1, but he is, nonetheless, proceeding with changes to accommodate the
“Thomas, president of Thomas Built Buses,
Inc., said in a
recent interview that he believes the new federal regulations are
‘The industry is not sold on the benefit of these standards,’ he said.
that school bus makers and state pupil transportation experts first met
regulate themselves in 1939, and have met periodically ever since to
the standards Thomas said he has complete confidence in the safety of
“Public awareness of the dangers in school
transportation has grown tremendously in recent years, Thomas said.
late 1960s, Thomas said no thorough research had ever been done on
resistance to impact.
“At about that time, traffic safety
researchers at the
University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) began to study the
structural strength during impact. Greater knowledge soon brought on
for safer cars and buses. The new standards, which grew out of these
congressional demands for action, cover three areas: seat design,
strength of the outside metal
skin, and the roof's resistance to collapse. The rules allow a
reduction in the
tensile strength of the metal skins, but Thomas said his company does
to take advantage of it.
“Thomas said the greatest changes
anticipated locally will
be in seat construction. The new engineering innovations, which will
taller seatbacks and more seat padding, will be implemented soon at the
plant he said.
“In spite of the inconveniences, Thomas
admits that there
are some advantages in the federal rules. He said that in the past the
multitude of state bus standards created production problems. The
then, Thomas said, was for manufacturers to build all their buses to
specifications of the toughest state.
“At one time, for example, New York State
far more resistant to impact than other states. At Thomas, engineers
the bumper designs for buses shipped everywhere.
“Thomas said that to meet the government
rules, ‘It may well
require some additional people, a minimum of people.’ He said his
company will either procure the
added labor within the existing work force, or hire a few extra workers.
“Prices for Thomas buses will rise by
of the regulations. A recent Associated Press article stated that
buses, the type manufactured at Thomas, are inferior to buses built as
unit. Over 95 per cent of America's school districts use the
“Thomas disputes the AP writer's
remains that they're not safer, and the record supports it.’ He said
are more body-on-frame accidents than transit bus accidents because
transit buses are used in America.
“In the future, Thomas said bus makers
shrinkage in the school bus market that has little to do with federal
regulation. School districts, which are highly dependent on local
taxes for revenue, are strapped financially. Their response, Thomas
been to buy less of everything, including buses.
“That, coupled with a decline in the
is forcing the school districts to reduce purchases of new buses. Old
being used longer, Thomas said, and the more expensive new buses —
increased in cost 35-40 per cent in the last 3-4 years — are not being
“The result, Thomas said, is a reduction
market from the usual 30-35,000 buses a year, to around 26,000 now.
“‘The market is very depressed now,’
High Point firm has responded by penetrating the specialty bus market
churches and other groups, and by selling more buses in Latin America
“Thomas is confident that his firm will
depressed market, and will go on to prosper. He said that although he
the new federal rules ‘this kind of thing affects businesses greatly.’
“‘We have been inundated with the bigness
said. ‘I have a lot more faith in people that I do in government,’ he
April 27, 1977 edition of the Statesville Record &
Landmark published an Associated Press article that implied increased
school bus safety started with better educated school
“Quality Of School Transportation Depends
Heavily On Local
Officials; Survey On Accident Statistics Show Buses Have Good Safety
“Editor’s note: Every school bus accident
about the safety of the buses, especially when children are injured.
the second of four reports on North Carolina school transportation, The
reports on statistics which may show that buses are safer than many
“By David Tomlin, Associated Press Writer
“RALEIGH (AP) - A child is safer from
serious injury on a
school bus than he would be in his family's car, an Associated Press
North Carolina accident statistics shows.
“Oddly enough, the same statistics
that a child is
far more likely to be involved in an accident on a bus than in a car.
“But the AP analysis showed all vehicles
mostly cars, had a serious injury every 1.8 million miles they drove
School buses, on the other hand, drove more than 3.5 million miles for
“The safety gap between school buses and
many times wider when you consider that each mile of school bus travel
represents 30 or more passenger miles, which is another way of saying
school buses carry more people farther with fewer serious injuries than
other means of travel.
“Moreover, buses scored better than most
other kinds of
transportation on brake failure as a cause of accidents. Out of every
reported accidents in the state in 1975, for example, 2.25 were caused
defective brakes. For school buses the figure was 0.35.
“It is difficult to know how North
other states on school bus safety. The data offered by the National
Council is unreliable, since each state has different criteria for
incidents it will report.
“But entries in a national school bus
had an average of 15.92 accidents for every million miles they drove.
Carolina's rate in the 1975-76 school year was 12.61.
“None of this is especially surprising,
according to Dr.
Patricia F. Waller of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety
“‘You would expect school buses to be
safer,’ she said. They
drive in daylight on weekdays, safe times when there is little fatigue
alcohol on the road. They travel familiar routes, they are clearly
bright colors, their speed is limited mechanically to 35 miles per hour
strict laws protect them from unsafe practices of other drivers.
“In short, there is no statistical support
for the view that
school buses are any more dangerous than common sense says they ought
“Why, then, is the school bus system the
target of periodic
outbursts of public criticism?
“‘It's just so emotional,’ said James
of Thomas Built Buses, Inc., of High Point, which makes about 6,000
buses each year. ‘The worst thing In the world that can happen is for a
to get hurt.’
“School buses carry a priceless cargo, and
which that implies is keenly felt by workers at almost every level of
school bus transportation system.
“‘I don't want to feel like negligence on
our part or on the
part of a driver had anything to do with a kid getting hurt or killed,’
Harrington Morrison, school transportation supervisor for Harnett
“Since 1955, when the state shed control
the buses to
avoid being hamstrung by school integration lawsuits, each county has
own school bus maintenance program. The state foots the bill and plays
strong advisory role, but the authority and responsibility are the
“Mechanics and transportation supervisors
are hired by local
school boards, which also determine how many buses they will buy and
how they will be maintained.
“Each school principal is in charge of
selection and general management of his own bus system.
“The state, with the power of the purse
statutes, keeps track of costs in each county and rides herd on
with monthly bus inspection reports from the counties and a thorough
of each bus by a state expert.
“But the quality of school transportation
depends heavily on local officials, most of whom seem to prefer it that
“‘You get a nut sitting behind a desk out
here, you'll ruin
a county,’ says Harnett County school superintendent Robert A. Gray.
‘You get a
nut sitting behind a desk in Raleigh, he'll ruin a whole state.’
“All the same, the way the system is set
means that some
counties will have better preventive maintenance for their buses than
because they hire a supervisor more carefully or because their
supervisor is a
“The Associated Press polled supervisors
random around the
state and discovered several areas in which maintenance procedures vary.
“In some counties — Pitt and Cumberland,
example — a mechanic
climbs into every school bus every day, or every two days at most, to
brake pressure and steering.
“In others, it may be a week or two
although drivers are supposed to report even the smallest maintenance
“In Yancey County, where 15-year-old Lisa
paralyzed in a wreck last November, each bus is checked every other
bus that crashed was due for a check the same day. Driver Jim Edwards
notice a drop in brake pressure because he was a substitute — the third
in that particular bus in two days.
“Differences in maintenance quality also
show up at the
state level in cost studies which show 14 or 15 counties spending more
they should on maintenance. State school transportation director Louis
says cost overruns often coincide with sloppiness in other areas.
“The age of the buses is another area in
which some counties
may fare better than others. The state replaces all buses after 12
boards buy any buses they need to expand their systems. In Yancey
County, the board
decided it couldn't afford three new buses for the new Mountain
School right away. Instead, officials asked for, and got, state
put three retired buses back Into service until the system could afford
ones. Lisa Haney was hurt in the oldest of the three. The other two are
“A total of 187 retired buses are in
“Most mechanics and supervisors polled by
the AP insisted
old buses, well maintained, are as safe as new ones, maybe safer. But
Simmons, in charge of Yancey County school bus maintenance, disagrees.
“‘Any vehicle on the road 11 or 12 years,
especially on our
roads, running mostly in lower gears, is literally worn out from one
end to the
other,’ Simmons says. ‘You spend so much time keeping it running, you
have time for preventive maintenance.’
“Another consideration, Simmons noted, is
that school bus
manufacturers only began installing dual brake systems 10 years ago. On
buses, if the brake system fails, there is no backup. Now Simmons
In 1978, Thomas' High Point factory
constructed 6,000 school buses in a
400,00o sq. ft. facility situtated on 125 acres of land, several of
which were paved over to store buses waiting for delivery.
order to meet the upcoming FMVSS Thomas engineers redesigned their
conventional Saf-T-Liner school bus bodies, which were now distinguishable from earlier units by their sloping front ends,
designed so the bus driver could better see children passing in
front of the bus. They also introduced 2 transit-style (flat face)
buses, the Saf-T-Liner EF and ER (EF=Engine Front,
ER=Engine Rear), which utilized the first Thomas-designed
Thomas introduced a cutaway van-based school
bus called the Minotour, which could accommodate
up to 30 passengers. Although it's been substantially redesigned, the
Mintour remains in production today, 35 years after it introduction.
integration of wheelchair lifts, creating a lift module that was
compatible with the entire Thomas Built range, which could be
constructed using a full flat floorfor dedicated wheelchair
use. They also introduced a
latch that prevented
entrance doors from being opened accidentally and offered enhanced security against intruders when left unattended.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a
pronounced consolidation of
the north American bus manufacturing business and by 1985 Thomas'
realized additional capital would be required to maintain the firm's
current postion in the market. Certain directors and shareholders, primarily older,
extended members of the Thomas family, were unwilling to give up their dividends to finance the
expansion and wanted out. That left four options:
recapitalize the firm through a public stock offering; sell the firm
outright; merge their operations with that of a competitor; or have a
third party buy out the uninterested shareholders, keeping the current
The board preferred the latter, bringing in
Odyssey Partners, a Manhattan-based investment group, to initiate,
organize and capitalize the process. The new owner-managers included 5
members of the Thomas family; John
Jr., James Thomas, William E. Price Jr., Perley A. (Pat) Thomas,
Albert Thomas and 3
non-family members; W.P. Duncan, Morris Adams and Roger Chilton.
Odyssey Partners provided the capital to buy out the hostile
shareholders, keeping a number of those shares for their trouble and
distributing the rest amongst the new management as desired.
In 1989 Thomas introduced a
snub-nosed version of the Saf-T-Liner called the Vista, which mated the appearance of a conventional
Saf-T-Liner at the rear with a foreshortened front end that greatly
improved visibility and maneuverability by mounting the driver's seat
engine rather than behind it. The Vista used
Chevrolet-GMC chassis from 1989 to 1991 and International chassis from
1992 to 1998
when it was discontinued.
1992, only 7 years after Odyssey's 1985
management buyout, an all new slate of officers took over from the
third generation of the Thomas'. John W. Thomas Jr. retired and his son
John W. Thomas III, became president and his other son Chris took over
as manager of fleet/contract sales. William E. Price Jr.'s son, Robert,
became national sales manager; James Thomas's son-in-law, Doug
Harrison, became vice president of manufacturing; and
Albert Thomas's son, Bradley, was appointed purchasing agent.
1993 a CNG-powered Thomas
Built bus made a 35-day,
3,500-mile journey from North Carolina to California to demonstrate
infrastructure was already in place to make Compressed Natural
Gas/propane a viable alternative to diesel/gasoline technology.
The following year they introduced an electric-powered bus with a
60-mile radius, but the technology would become viable for another two
decades, and even then only as hybrid-electric (with an on-board
Between 1933 and 1996 the firm's official
history estimated Thomas, High Point's largest
industrial employer, had constructed more
300,000 units. In 1994 the company was awarded the largest
in its history, a $104 million bid to manufacture 2,000 buses for the
Carolina school system. In 1995 they produced more
than 8,000 buses in High Point and another 2,500 in their plant in
Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Between 1990 and 1995, total annual
production for both the
United States and the Canadian operations topped 10,000 units.
The High Point
operation covered more than 184 acres in seven buildings with 686,000 square feet under
while the Canadian operation utilized 225,000 square
feet of factory space on a 60
acre site - the two operations employing 1,500 people.
By 1996 the number of competitors in the
school bus market dropped
to just four
major players; Thomas had 34% of the market;
Blue Bird, 33%;
Carpenter, 11%; and Amtran (formerly Ward), 9%. The remaining 13
percent was split between a dozen small firms, most of whom
Class A cutaway van minibuses.
Once the Mexican plant got
up to speed, it produced 4 buses per day, daily production at High
Point averaged 18 per day, and at Woodstock, 18 per day.
In 1996 Thomas
established an assembly plant in
Monterrey, Mexico that produced 4 buses per day, the firm's High
Point plant averaging 36 per day, and Woodstock, 18 per day. Mexican operations were discontinued in 2001
and the plant converted over to assemble buses for Marco Polo, a
Brazilian manufacturers long associated with Daimler Trucks, NA.
In 1996 the firm's offical biographer, Clint Johnson, detailed the steps required to assemble a new Thomas Built bus:
“It is not hard to imagine what it is like
inside the Thomas
Built Buses factory in High Point. It is noisy. Holes are being drilled
sheet metal. Wheel wells are being sawed out of other pieces of sheet
The top caps of buses are being stretch-formed. More than a thousand
moving around one huge building.
“There are 64 stations in the Thomas Built
factory with a
schedule of moving each bus to the next station every twelve and a half
“The bus floor starts as a flat sheet of
steel with two
raised areas that will become the wheel wells. Steel bow frames are
the outside of the floor with several inches of the frame extending
floor. While most other bus manufacturers do not extend their bow
the level of the floor, Thomas Built Buses has determined that these
act as a barrier, keeping smaller vehicles from running underneath a
“Once the frames are welded in place, the
front and rear
caps are welded onto the bus. The frame, now mounted on roller wheels
ride rails placed on the floor of the factory, is pushed to another
station. This station is where the side walls are riveted in place and
steel for the wheel well is cut away. The bus body is beginning to take
“As the body advances through the factory,
plywood is placed
over the floor for sound deadening and insulation. More insulation is
the sides and ceiling, even inside the bow frames if the bus is
delivery to a school district in a cold climate.
“Once the body has been insulated and
windows installed, it
is ready to be lifted onto one of several styles of chassis. Thomas
has been building its own rear-engined chassis since 1977 and its own
front-engined chassis since October 1994. The diesel engines from
Caterpillar come in four different horsepower ratings, depending on
of the country the bus will operate. Conventional chassis are
Navistar or Ford and are delivered daily to the Thomas Built factory.
“Once the bus body and the chassis have
together, the bus then rolls forward into a large painting booth where
familiar yellow paint is applied. Once the paint is dry, the stop
warning lights and other safety devices are added to the bus.
“Seats, also manufactured by Thomas Built,
are added to the
bus at this point. The seat frames are welded by robotic machines, the
aspect of the assembly operation that is not performed by human
the seats are added and a final inspection made, the buses are then
another Thomas site where final preparation such as painting the name
school district is completed. Once the bus is complete, school
send their own drivers or hire a "drive away" company to deliver the
bus to its final destination.
“The manufacturing of a single bus, from
start to finish,
from first weld to final sweeping of the inside, takes about two weeks.
production schedule in early 1995 called for the completion of 36 buses
day working on a single shift, five-day week in High Point. The
produces 18 buses per day.
“The company has kept several
the days when streetcars were built on the same site as today's modern
Once the day's goal has been met, the employees are free to leave,
an incentive to work quickly and efficiently. Haste does not lead to
however. Each department inspects its own work, meaning that at least
inspections of each bus are completed before it leaves the factory.
employee is trained in at least one other job so if one part of the
line is short due to illness or vacation, other employees can fill in
manufacturing is not slowed.”
In 1997 Thomas commenced the use of the
FS-65 school bus chassis on the Thomas Saf-T-Liner FS-65. All
Freightliner FS-65 chassis
wore Thomas bodies between 2001 and 2007 when the bus was discontinued.
FS-65 is easily distinguishable from a regular Saf-T-Liner by its
windshield – the standard Saf-T-Liner used a smaller 2-piece
The 1990s marked a decade of acquisitions for Freightliner,
which had become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz, AG, in 1981. In
1995 Freightliner purchased American LaFrance and the chassis division of Oshkosh
Corp., the latter re-christened as Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. In 1997,
it acquired the heavy truck division of Ford Motor Co., which was re-launched
as Sterling. Coincident with Daimler’s ‘merger’ with Chrysler (DaimlerChrysler)
in 1998, Freightliner acquired Thomas Built from the Odyssey Group. They added
Western Star Trucks in 2000, and in 2003 launched Unimog North America.
1999, Thomas Built opened a new plant
Point to build its popular Minotour bus. They also ormed a joint venture with
bus maker, Mayflower Corporation, to build a super low floor transit
bus for the
North American market to be distributed by Orion, a division of
Commercial Buses N.A. In early 2000, Thomas built a new facility in
Jamestown, N.C., to build the SLF 200 super low floor bus. Orion was a reorganization of Ontario Bus Industries, a
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada firm founded in 1975 to manufacture transit buses
for the government of Ontario. Business expanded into the United States during
the 1980s and a plant was established in Oriskany, New York to handle the final
assembly and testing of US-bound vehicles. Privatized in 1993 as Orion Bus
Industries, both operations were acquired by Daimler Chrysler in 2002 and
renamed Orion International joining Setra and Thomas-Built as subsidiaries
of DaimlerChrysler Buses North America, and after 2008, Daimler Buses North America.
The March 7, 2001 edition of the Gastonia
Gaston Gazette (NC) announced Thomas was eliminating 125 jobs at the
High Point plant:
“High Point Bus Maker To Cut 150 Jobs
“High Point —Thomas Built Buses will cut
jobs over the
next year, but the company's president says most of those employees
have a good
chance of being rehired.
“The lost jobs will shift to a plant
operated by Thomas'
parent company, Freightliner, in Gaffney, S.C., which will soon take
manufacturing of two bus chassis styles.
“Thomas Built President John Thomas III
Monday the bus
maker will likely be able to absorb most of those employees back into
force because of growing demand for the company's transit buses.
“Most of the new jobs would be created at
Jamestown plant, which currently employs more than 110 workers. The
said last summer it had plans to employ at least 300 workers at the
it was at full capacity.
“Thomas said the facility being vacated by
transfer will be occupied by other Thomas Built manufacturing sectors.”
Shortly after Freightliner announced they
were adding the production of a
Mercedes-based delivery van to its Gaffney, South Carolina plant, the
March 23, 2001 Gastonia Gaston Gazette (NC) reporting:
“Freightliner adds commercial van to its
plant in Gaffney,
S.C., by Thomas J. Monigan, Gazette Business Editor
“Freightliner LLC announced Thursday that
van called ‘Sprinter’ will be assembled and marketed at its Gaffney,
plant in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz.
“‘We'll start producing them in May of
spokeswoman Debi Nicholson said from the Mid-America Truck Show in
where the Sprinter was unveiled. ‘It was introduced in Europe in 1995
become the biggest-selling van there. In Europe it's sold under the
Mercedes-Benz badge, but here it will be sold under the Freightliner
“According to a company statement,
Freightliner will be
making its first major expansion into the lighter-duty segment of the
American commercial vehicles market, which has a volume of about
annually in the U.S. and Canada.
“‘This year we'll produce 5,000 or 6,000
Nicholson said. ‘And in the first full year, we expect 20,000 a year
“Nicholson said she knew of no immediate
hiring plans, but
‘as we get into increasing production, we would hire accordingly.’
“Nicholson said primary uses for the
Sprinter would be
parcel delivery by companies, passenger transportation by
airports and shuttle services, as well as light construction.
“‘It can handle a full range of service,
from utilities to
landscaping,’ she said.
“According to the company statement, the
Sprinter will be available
in three basic configurations — cargo van, passenger van and cab
chassis - with
three wheelbase lengths, two overall weights and two roof heights. It
powered by a Mercedes-Benz five-cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine
a five-speed automatic transmission.
“There will also be four-wheel anti-lock
disc brakes, driver
and passenger air bags, and impact-absorbing interior panels and sheet
for increased driver and passenger safety.
“Approximate cost of either model was not
“Freightliner LLC, headquartered in
Portland, Ore., is the leading
manufacturer of commercial vehicles in North America. The company
produces and markets
Class 3-8 vehicles under the Freightliner, Sterling, Western Star,
LaFrance, Thomas Built Buses and Orion Bus nameplates.
“Freightliner, which has a truck
manufacturing plant in Mount
Holly, is a DaimlerChrysler Company, the world's leading commercial
a Sprinter-based type A cutaway school bus seems like it would make a
great Thomas product, the not insignificant weight of the Thomas school
bus body exceeded the rated capacity of the Sprinter 1-ton chassis.
Even if it was viable, the additional cost of the Sprinter cutaway -
approximately $10,000 over a comparable Ford or GM unit - made it a
non-starter in the school bus business. However several third parties
introduced some very attractive Sprinter cutaway shuttle buses and
motor homes, albeit with much lighter Fiberglas coachwork.
after Freightliner announced that Thomas Built was considering a move
to Gaffney as well, the April 26, 2002 edition of the Shelby Star
“Gaffney Bids For Bus Plant
“High Point stands to lose one of its
“HIGH POINT (AP) — High Point officials
working to keep
Thomas Built Buses in the area after the bus company said it was
expanding or improving outdated facilities.
“The company, which is one of the oldest
employers in High
Point, has received a bid from Gaffney, S.C., to move, sources told the
“Thomas Built is a subsidiary of
Freightliner LLC of
Portland, Ore., and a part of DaimlerChrysler AG of Stuttgart, Germany.
“John Thomas III, president of Thomas
Buses, said no
projects have been approved, but the company is considering expanding
improving outdated facilities. ‘A move to Gaffney is certainly
would be logical to look at, but like I say, at this point, I would say
would be premature to say that we are or we are not moving down there,’
“At stake for High Point is the Thomas
which is the third-largest employer in the city with 1,625 jobs. High
home to the corporate headquarters of Thomas Built Buses and
facilities for a full line of vehicles for the commercial transit,
and specialty vehicle markets.
“Freightliner also operates its Custom
Chassis Corp. in
Gaffney, producing vehicle chassis for Type. A motor homes, commercial
buses, school buses and commercial delivery vans. The Gaffney facility
built in 1995.
“Thomas Built started in 1916 when Perley
Perley A. Thomas Car Works for the manufacture of streetcars.”
County became very concerned about the potential loss of their largest
industry and after much discussion offered the firm $450,000 in
incentives to stay. They were joined by the City of High Point who
offered $4.5 million, North Carolina kicked in $8.5 million and
Randolph County and the neighboring city of Archdale pledged another
$750,000, the June 22, 2002 edition of the Shelby Star
“Thomas Built gets money for staying
“Greensboro — The Guilford County
approved a plan to pay Thomas Built Buses $450,000 for deciding not to
High Point, joining four other governments that have promised cash to
“The commissioners, however, were the only
elected board who
were not unanimous on the issue. Three Republicans voted Thursday
paying the company money.
“The company plans to build a $34 million
plant on the
Guilford-Randolph line, adding 178 employees. The company had
threatened to put
the new plant in Gaffney, S.C., which instigated a flurry of
deal-making on the
part of North Carolina governments.
“The state will pay the company incentives
million; the High Point City Council voted Monday to pay it $4.1
Archdale City Council and Randolph County commissioners both voted
to pay $250,000 and $500,000, respectively, to the company.”
Thomas Built Buses invested a reported $39.7
million in the plant, which produces 22 units per day, with the
capability to double the output when necessary.
A 1.2-kilometer automated conveyor system takes the bus about 75
stations of the assembly line by the
robot-operated paint shop to final finish line. Latest technologies are
the combination of adhesive and self-drilling rivets compounds used.
Even in appearance, the Saf-T-Liner C2
differed from previous
school buses. A very large, undivided windscreen and a steep, strongly
rounded bonnet ensure
visibility. A steering angle of up to 55 degrees and a modern,
driver's workplace with mirror-free fittings and plenty of storage
facilitate the driver's work. The combined riveted and glued
has been found in tests than twice as durable as a pure rivet
joint. On-board diagnostics helps in maintenance and repair.
Low emission levels that meet the US
standard EPO 2004, and
a high torque characterize the frugal MBE 906 engine from
provides up to 250 hp. Optionally, the Saf-T-Liner C2 with a
engine available. In addition to the Saf-T-Liner C2, which is
built on a
Freightliner chassis, and the Minotour, Thomas offered its old-style
FS-65 chassis into 2006. The redesignedSaf-T-Liner HDX,
replaced the older
Saf-T-Liner ER and HD in 2002.
Freightliner divested itself of American LaFrance in 2005, and
in 2007, Cerberus Capital Management purchased the Chrysler assets from DaimlerChrysler
necessitating a name change for Freightliner’s parent company to Daimler AG. In
2008 Freightliner was renamed Daimler Trucks North America and after Daimler AG closed down its North American Bus
Division in 2012, Thomas Built joined Western Star and Freightliner as subsidiaries
of Daimler Trucks, North America. Distribution of Setra buses (built in Germany
by EvoBus GmbH) was taken over by MCI (Motor Coach industries) and Orion
International was disbanded and its plants in Mississauga and Oriskany closed
Today the Thomas Built Bus subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America operates
two manufacturing plants in
North Carolina and employs over 1,600 people worldwide.
© 2015 Mark
Theobald for Coachbuilt.com
Appendix 1: Thomas Built videos: