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Ward Body Works, Ward School Bus Mfg., American Transportation Corp. (aka AmTran), AmTran div. of Navistar, IC Corp. div of Navistar
Ward Body Works, 1933-1970; Conway, Arkansas; 1951-1970, Austin, Texas; Autobus Ward, S.A., 1947-1954; Mexico City, D.F., Mexico; Ward School Bus Mfg., 1970-1980; Conway, Arkansas; 1970-1975, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; American Transportation Corp. (aka AmTran) 1981-1995; AmTran div. of Navistar, 1995-2002, Conway, Arkansas; 1999-2002, Tulsa, Oklahoma; IC Corp. div of Navistar; 2002-present, Conway, Arkansas & Tulsa, Oklahoma
Associated Firms
Ward Transportation Service, Coachette, Diamond State Bus Co.

Although they're remembered by very few today, at one time the Ward Body Works was one of the nation's largest manufacturers of school bus bodies, ranking amongst the top 7 in total production in the early 1950s; its major competitors being Wayne, Blue Bird, Carpenter, Hicks, Superior and Thomas. After a bankruptcy it was reorganized as AmTran and after another change in ownership, IC Corp. Today the Navistar subsidiary controls a substantial share of the North American school bus market, and can trace its history back to an enterprising  young welder and blacksmith named David H. Ward (b. September 1, 1904 – d. May 22, 1985).

David Henry Ward was born to Gaylord Oscar (aka George, b.1876 in Arkansas) and Lottie P. (Orrick, b. 1876 in Arkansas) Ward on September 1, 1904, in Wolfe City, Texas. His father was a blacksmith, sawmill operator, and Nazarene preacher. All of the children of the household were schooled on the importance of independent entrepreneurship, and all started their own businesses.

The 1910 US Census lists the Ward family in Justice, Fannin County, Texas, his siblings enumerated as follows: Orbie (b.1895), Kelsy (b.1896), Ethel (b.1899), Curtis (b.1902), Willie (b.1906), Oscar (b.1907), Neal (b.1909) and Milton (b.1913) Ward. Coincident with David's completion of the 6th grade the family moved to Beryl, Faulkner County, Arkansas, the 1920 US Census listing them in Eagle, Faulkner County, Arkansas, the father and three eldest boys' occupations being listed as farmers.

At age 16 David took an entry-level postion with the local highway department as a rock crusher operator after which he became a truck driver, hauling freight between nearby Conway and Vilonia. For the better part pf the next decade Ward took whatever work was available; assisting in his father's blacksmith shop, picking cotton, working at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Greenville, Texas, and working as a welder for Williams Brothers, a petroleum pipeline contractor.  David's younger brother, Neal Ward, also was traiend as a blacksmith and ended up in Monticello, Arkansas where he developed a thriving boat manufacturing business which became knonw as Ward Bros. and later Dura Craft.

On September 24, 1928 he married Bertha Evlela Cazort (b.1908-d.1999) of Vilonia, and moved with his new bride to Conway. To the blessed union was born three children, Wanda Jean (b.1934-d.2010 m. Stephens), Charles David (b. July 24, 1939-d.March 28, 2007) and Stephen Austin Ward.

The 1930 US Census lists the newlyweds living with Bertha’s mother Martha L. Cazort in Conway, Arkansas, his occupation is listed as ‘welder’ for a ‘gas co.’ In October of 1931 Ward established his own welding/blacksmith shop in a $50 a month, 800 sq.ft. garage located in the 900 block of Harrison St., Conway, Arkansas.  Although the bulk of his work involved repairing wagons and changing horsehoes, Ward took on his first school bus job in 1933, modifying the roof of a wood-bodied school hack operated by Carl Brady.

Word got around and Ward quickly developed a reputation as the go-to-guy for truck and bus body repair and fabrication. His first all-metal coaches were constructed in 1936 for the nearby Hermitage and Greenbriar school districts. They featured bi-lateral inward-facing bench seats and included removable wire glass side windows.  His bodies developed a following and by 1939 devoted all of his efforts on building school bus bodies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ward's business increased to the point where he was forced to locate to a new 10,000 sq ft. facility located a 805 Harkrider Street, near the intersection of Oak Street.

At the onset of the War the firm was awarded a number of military contracts. One was for a variety of truck bodies for GMC 2½-Ton, 6×6, CCKW military ordnance trucks which was shared with Thomas Car Works of Hihg Point, North Carolina, 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 the Signal 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, 6×6, GMC CCKW; M7A1 Small Arms Repair Truck; M7A2 Small Arms Repair Truck

G229 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton, 6×6, GMC CCKW; M31 signal corps general repair truck

G235 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton, 6×6, GMC CCKW; M30 signal corps general repair truck

G508 - Ordnance Maintenance Truck, 2½-Ton, 6×6, GMC 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 Ward constructed several orders for military buses and also performed body repairs on army vehicles. For their efforts during the conflict Ward 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, the federal government required that all its manufacturers of transportation equipment invite the United Auto Workers to organize their work forces.

David H. Ward was a Conway School Board member from 1946 to 1958, and a longtime trustee of the Faulkner Rd. Church of the Nazarene. He considered a 1946 run for Arkansas governor on the Democratic ticket, but dropped out lacking sufficient funds, remaining active in state and local politics for the rest of his life.

Ward pursued Mexico's burgeoning school bus business in February of 1947, establishing a satellite assembly plant in Mexico City, D.F., where CKD (completely knocked down) Ward bus bodies were shipped in from Arkansas to be assembled for local consumption. By that time the Harkrider Street plant had grown to over 100,000 sq. ft., its 100 employees producing a record $1,600,000 worth of buses in 1948 alone. With the plant running at capacity Ward announced they were establishing a satellite parts plant to supply the firm with window sashes, tubing, seats and other ancillary bus parts previously purchased from outside vendors.

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

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

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

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

Upon the occasion of the new equipment display at the 1950 American Association of School Administrators' convention, executives of the nation's largest school bus body builders formed their own trade group: the School Bus Body Manufacturers Association, the February 27, 1950 edition of the Lima News (O.) reporting the election of the group's first president:

“John H. Shields Elected President Of School Bus Body Manufacturers:

“John H. Shields, president of the Superior Coach Corp., is the first president of the newly-organized School Bus Body Mnnufacturers Assn.

“The group, which represents eight major manufacturers of school bus bodies in the nation, is an unincorporated voluntary trade association formed Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J.

“Announcement of Shield's election came Monday from D.G. Russell, advertising manager of the Lima firm, who with a local delegation, is attending the annual convention of the American Association of School Administrators in the New Jersey city.

“Purpose of the new association is ‘to contribute in the public interest to the successful operation of these engaged in the business of manufacturing school coach bodies, by assisting in the solution of problems affecting the industry and the general public.’

“Other first officers of the group are A.L. Luce, general manager, Blue Bird Body Co., Ft. Valley, Ga., vice president, and Herbert S. Blake, Jr., president of the Organization Service Corp., New York City law firm, managing director.

“Companies comprising the charter membership in addition to Superior and Blue Bird are: Carpenter Body Works, Inc., Hackney Brothers Body Co., Hicks Body Co., Inc., Oneida Products Corp., P.A. Thomas Car Works, Inc. and Ward Body Works, Inc.

“Other objectives of the new association are: To promote free competition in the manufacture, distribution, sale and servicing of the industry's products; to promote the development of safety features in school coach bodies; to contribute to the safety and well-being of passengers; to collect and utilize technical and other information on school bus manufacture and to stimulate acquaintance, confidence and cordial relations among its members and throughout the industry in general.

“Formation of the association was a sidelight of the school administrators' annual session which opened Friday and continues thru Wednesday in Atlantic City.

“Supt. Gordon G. Humbert, E. J. Ward, president of the Board of Education, Howard C. Grove, Central high school principal, and Robert C. Barton, managing editor of The Lima News, are representing Lima at the convention.

“Superior Coach Corp., has its own display and also displays in conjunction with Dodge and Ford motor company exhibits. In addition to Shields and Russell, the Superior delegation includes L.A. Larsen, chairman of the board, L.H. Larsen, vice president and treasurer, D.C. Shields, manager of the school bus division, G.L. Runkle, chief engineer, G.L. Hartman, assistant chief engineer, L.J. Hentze, assistant manager of the school bus division, and William Roush and D.L. Metzger of the sales department.”

Increasing problems at its Mexico City plant and an expanding Central and South American market resulted in the construction of a new plant in Austin, Texas, the April 2, 1950 edition of the American Statesman (Austin, Texas) reporting:

“New School Bus Plant Here Will Add $350,000 Payroll by Raymond Brooks

“Ward Body Works of Conway, Ark., has bought a site here for a school bus plant which will be put in operation in January with a new payroll of $350,000 a year.

“The site is located on the Bergstrom Spur of the Missouri Pacific at the San Antonio Highway, just south of the city limits.

“This is the largest new industrial enterprise gained for Austin so far in 1950.

“D.H. Ward has built up a large bus body works business at Conway, Ark., during the last 12 years, reaching a national market. His success was recounted last month in ‘Business Week,’ which said he planned to set up a new plant in Texas. Location was not then indicated.

“Ward will continue the operation of the plant in his home town. A separate corporation is being formed for the Austin industry. The plant here will be of approximately the same size as the one already in operation.

“The site, purchased from Can Smith and associates, is in the new industrial area created when the Missouri Pacific acquired most of the Bergstrom spur. Representatives of Ward were discussing a site at the time and as soon as the rail connections were assured, the Ward plant became the first to be located in the new industrial area just outside the city and served by city utilities.

“Austin cooperation with the Missouri Pacific in this industrial development was extended approximately three years ago by a Chamber of Commerce committee headed by W.T. Caswell, and has been supplemented by the Austin Development Foundation. The City Council and former mayor Tom Miller assisted in the long negotiations.

“Ward has indicated he will visit Austin in the early future. No details of his new business operation were announced by his group. However, a building will be erected on the site, the building to have about 1 1-5 acres of floor space. An additional three acres will be paved for outdoor storage of vehicles and outdoor work space.

“A change in state school law last year made Austin the logical site for the school bus industry. Previously, each of about 1,500 school districts over the state had bought its school buses directly. Now all purchased are handled here by the Board of Control for all schools.

“The Ward operation is to fabricate all-metal school bus bodies at its plant and install them on the chassis of all makes of motor vehicles.

“The site will be fenced and a field office erected in the next few weeks. Construction of the main factory building will be started. Installation of machinery and equipment is scheduled for completion in time to start operations Jan. 1.

“It has been indicated that an Austin business man, who has been the Texas sales representative of the Ward Conway factory, will be an active figure in the new Austin industry.”

Ward hope to complete construction of the plant by eyar's end, the April 23, 1950 edition of the American Statesman (Austin, Texas) stating:

“Bus Body Plant Due To Roll By '50

“David H. Ward, president of Ward Body Works, Friday visited the site here on which grading has been started for erection of his Texas bus body plant, and announcing plans to begin operation Jan. 1.

“Ward said the plant will built and install school bus and transit bus bodies to be supplied throughout Texas and western states and for export to Mexico., Central and South America. The export business already has been started from the initial Ward plant at Conway, Ark., but will be centralized here. Ward said.

“The Industrialist announced that a Texas Ward Body Works Corporation will be formed. He will be president and J. Roy Jones of Austin will be vice president and general manager. Jones, an Austin business man, has for several years been Texas sales representative of the Ward Body Works of Arkansas.

“Ward, a native Texan, said he and his family will visit Austin as soon as school is out, and already he is looking forward to the entry of his children in the University of Texas.

“Austin was selected for his Texas and Southwestern site because of its educational opportunities, its fine type of citizenship and favorable features such as a lakes area, Ward said. It will be an attractive place to live for those who work in the organization, he stressed. The Wards will continue to live at Conway, Ark. and the Conway plant will continue its operation to serve its market in the North and East.

“Ward, blacksmith and horseshoer in his early days, started his school bus plant 14 years ago, with a capital of $125, and now he has 300 employees in the Arkansas plant. He has an assembly plant in Mexico City.

“The site here was the first major development on the Missouri Pacific Bergstrom Spur, and is located at the intersection of this rail line and the San Antonio Highway, just south of the city limits.”

The rest of the Austin management was introduced in the February 13, 1951 edition of the American-Statesman (Austin, Texas):

“Cowan Named Body Works Official

“The election of Ray Cowan of Austin as secretary-treasurer of Ward Body Works of Texas, and his appointment as general manager of the new Austin bus manufacturing firm, was announced Monday.

“His selection was announced by David H. Ward of Conway, Ark., president of the new Texas corporation, at the close of its first directors’ meeting. Ward, operator of the largest bus body factory in the Central West, last year selected Austin as the site for his new plant to serve the Southwest, West Coast, and Latin-American markets.

“Election of W.R. Smith Jr., Austin, as vice president of Ward Body Works of Texas also was announced. Smith is general counsel of the corporation.

“Ward said that machinery for the new plant has reached Austin, and that construction materials are on the way. Work of fencing and paving the plant’s site on the San Antonio Highway and Bergstrom Spur rail intersection will start this week, and erection of the buildings will start immediately after the end of the federal construction ‘freeze,’ now set at Feb. 15.

“The plant will embrace 51,000 feet of floor space, including the general factory building and an air-conditioned office structure.

“The Austin Area Economic Development Foundation cooperated with the Arkansas industrialist in respect to securing rail facilities and necessary utilities, and in assembling data as to Texas market and distribution facilities, labor supply and utility rates.

“Cowan, who has been purchasing executive of the State Board for Hospitals and Special Schools the past year, has resigned his state position to take up his new duties March 1. He formerly served for more than a decade as assistant purchasing agent of the State Board of Control, in charge of purchase of automotive equipment.

“He is vice president of the Association of State Purchasing Agents of the United States He served three Years in the Navy during World War II.

“Ward announced that Cowan, as general manager of the plant, will be in charge of all personnel, operating and purchasing of the new Texas corporation.

“Ward Body Works of Texas will manufacture and sell school buses, using all standard chassis. It also will manufacture transit buses.

“Formerly Each Texas school district bought its buses directly; but under the Gilmer-Aikin program, the entire Texas public school bus buying program is handled here through the State Board of Control.

“Ward previously had been manufacturing buses in Conway, Ark., for shipment to the Southwest and to Central and South America. Many of his units now are in use of Texas schools. Under the new arrangement the Austin plant will supply not only Texas, but the Southwest and the Latin American export market.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ward, who reached Austin Saturday, returned to Conway following the close of the organizational meeting of the new Texas corporation.”

The 71,600 sq. ft. Austin factory, whose 1,600 foot bus body assembly line could turn out a new bus body every 15 minutes, opened for business in March 1951. Midway through the year Ward received the news that they had qualified for a $300,000 loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (a short-lived - 1933 to 1957 - Federal Agency that supplied loans to municipal governments and small businesses), theJuly 19, 1951 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times reporting:

“Ward Body Works to Receive RFC Loan

“Washington, July 19 - (AP) – The Reconstruction Finance Corporation has approved a $300,000 loan for the Ward Body Works, Inc. Of Conway Ark.”

Officially Ward had welcomed labor unions into the plant - due to its WWII contracts - however the reality was quite the opposite, the September 28, 1951 edition of the Blytheville Courier News reporting on the United Auto Workers' latest attempt to organize the Body Works in Conway:

“NLRB Asks Conway Firm To Make Decisions

“Conway – The National Labor Relations Board has asked 158 employees of the Ward Body Works, Inc., here to hold an immediate election on unionization of the plant or ask the CIO to give up attempts to organize the workers.”

In a consequent election the Union was defeated one again, the March 7, 1952 edition of the Camden News (Ark.) reporting:

“Reject Union

“Conway, March 7 - (AP) - Employees of the Ward Body Works, Inc., here for the second straight time have rejected affiliation with the CIO United Auto Workers. The workers voted 145-54 against the union in a National Labor Relations Board election yesterday.”

After several pro-union employees were terminated the union appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, who ruled in the workers favor, the March 18, 1952 edition of the Camden News (Ark.) providing the details:

“Conway Firm To Rehire Workers

“Washington, (AP) - A Conway, Ark., manufacturing firm is to rehire three employees with full back pay under a National Labor Relations Board order released yesterday.

“The NLRB said it agreed with a trial examiner's decision that Ward Body Works, Inc., had engaged in some unfair labor practices.

“The decision was handed down on a complaint filed by the CIO United Automobile, Aircraft, Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

“Ward was ordered to stop discouraging membership in the union and threatening employees connected with union activities. Three employees, William L. Bradshaw, Leo W. Stewart and Roy L. Stevenson, were ordered re-instated by the firm with whole restitution for loss of pay. Another worker, Lea Roy Gill, is to be reimbursed for any loss of salary.”

Continued labor problems were brought before the NRLB, the June 11, 1952 edition of the Camden News (Ark.) reporting:

“Labor Hearing Postponed

“Conway, June 11 (AP) – A National Labor Relations Board hearing on union complaints of discrimination in the laying off of employees by the Ward Body Works, Inc., has been postponed until June 24…

“The case involves the laying off of employees and other alleged unfair labor practices. About 90 workers were released from work two months ago by Ward upon completion of a Navy contract.”

The September 10, 1952 edition of the Camden News (Ark.) revealed Ward was getting into the publishing business:

“Little Rock (AP) – Articles of incorporation listing authorized capital of $50,000 were filed yesterday for the Eagle Printing and Lithographing Co. of Conway, Ark. Incorporators were listed as David H. Ward, owner of Ward Body Works at Conway, Jimmy Foster and B.A. Short, former superintendent of Conway schools and now employed by Ward. Although the company is authorized to print either a weekly or daily newspaper, Foster said that no newspaper was planned now.”

In 1953 Ward's school bus sales totalled 2,000 units, producing a record $5 million in revenue. During the year the Hicks Bus Body Co. of Lebanon, Indiana entered into an 8-10 year agreement with Ward whereby Ward would construct as many as 12,000 Hicks school bus bodies over the course of the contract, using dies, tools and other equipment supplied by Hicks. Although they would be built in Conway, the resulting buses would be badged as Hicks' bodies and sold through Hicks' network of established dealers. Consequently Hicks manufacturing operations in Lebanon were shuttered and the plant put up for sale, the firm becoming solely a distributor of school bus bodies.

Fall and winter layoffs were typical in the school bus business as explained in the following layoff notice published in the November 9, 1953 edition of the Camden News (Ark.):

“Conway Industrial Giants In Layoffs

“Conway — More than 700 workers are affected by layoffs at two industrial plants here. Dave H. Ward, president of Ward Body Works, Inc., said today his firm had laid off about 150 employees in the past two weeks because the company had caught up on its orders. Ward said the fall season normally is an off period but that he was negotiating for a foreign contract for 600 bus bodies.”

In early 1954 Ward backed out of its contract to supply school bus bodies to Hicks Bus Body Co., and Hicks sued, the Thursday, July 22, 1954 edition of the Camden (Ark.) News reporting:

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

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

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

The January 5, 1955 edition of the Camden (Ark.) News reported that Federal Judge Thomas C. Trimble had dismissed the suit claiming the contract was invalid as it was made by an out of state (aka foreign) corporation:

“Federal Judge Upholds Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ward strengthened his postion in 1956 by eliminating a number of outside suppliers through the creation of the C.S. Sash Co. In addition to supplying aluminum bus windows for Ward, excess capacity allowed it to supply the same to many of Ward's competitors. Ward was responsible for a number of improvements in bus window sashes and in1961 applied for a US Patent on a Bus Body Window - US Patent No. 3,174,194 - filed Jan. 12, 1961 issued Mar. 23, 1965 to D.H. Ward assigned to Ward Body Works Inc.

Ward also established the Ward School Furniture Company to build steel and wood chairs, desks and tables for schools and institutions, the January 20, 1956 edition of the Hope Star (Ark.) reporting on his two new business ventures:

“Ward To Enlarge Conway Firm

“Conway – (AP) – Ward Body Works, Inc., manufacturers of bus bodies here, has announced the formation of two new Conway concerns that will create more than 100 new jobs.

“C.S. Sash, Inc., will make window sashes for buses, and employ eight to ten workers. Ward School Furniture, Inc., will make chairs, desks and tables for schools. It will employ about 100 men.

“Dave H. Ward, owner of the body works, said some of the equipment from his original firm will be used in the new industries. The bus window sashes will be constructed of aluminum. The school furniture will be made of steel.”

The closing of Ward's Mexico City assembly plant and increased domestic demand for new school buses led up to the construction of an all-new 114,000 sq. ft. plant located just south of the Conway city limits on Arkansas Highway 65.

The plant's sheet metal stamping department included a cold forming mill and 16 steel presses, ranging from 1/2 to 400 ton capacity. The metal fabrication department included 3 squaring shears of 6 to 12 feet in length that could cut through a quarter inch of sheet steel. The tool-and-die department included a band-new Do-All Friction Saw, the forerunner of today's CNC machines.

In March of 1957 the firms' 170 assembly line workers commenced bus building operations at the new facility which boasted 1,500 foot long assembly line which incorporated 14 resistance welders, 75 arc welders, an inert gas welder, and a multitude of body jigs and fixtures. When assembled the bare-metal bodies were treated to numerous coats of baked on enamel before they were mated to a waiting cowl and chassis and taken on a test drive.Up to 45 bodies could be on the assembly line at any given time although the factory averaged only 100 finished bodies per week.

Most chassis arrived at Conway via rail, however drivers were often times dispatched to  truck factories in Michigan, Illinois and Kansas to drive home chassis needed to complete an order. It was not a glamorous job as the drivers were forced to sit on a box mounted to the totally eposed cowl and chassis with only goggles and a raincoat to shield them from the elements.

Although the C.S. Sash Company was successful, the Ward School Furniture Co. was not, the January 7, 1958 edition of the Hope Star (Arkansas) reporting:

“Firm Merger Is Reported Costly

“Little Rock (AP) – Merger of two Conway firms owned by the same family has been completed at a book loss of $146,000 an attorney said yesterday.

“The firms merged were the Ward Body Works and Ward School Furniture Inc., both owned by D.H. Ward of Conway, his wife and their children.

“Pulaski Chancellor Guy E. Williams had order the sale of some of the furniture company’s equipment to satisfy a $178,170 debt for which Ward Body Works had sued.

“Faulkner Circuit Clerk Wendell Bryant reported that Ward Body Works submitted the highest bid of $30,000 and the equipment was sold on that basis, an attorney for the Wards said this meant that the books of the body works would reflect a loss of $148,000 in completing the merger.”

Despite their exhaustive efforts to stay on the up and up, Ward and their Austin, Texas distributor were sued for price rigging, April 26, 1961 edition of the San Antonio Express and News:

“School Bus Makers Hit With Suits

“Four school bus body manufacturers and their exclusive Texas dealers were named defendants Friday in anti-trust suits filed in Austin and San Antonio by Atty. Gen. Will Wilson. Wilson said the suits are followup, ancillary actions to a suit he filed Aug. 16 accusing 16 Texas firms and individuals of rigging bids to fix prices on the sale in Texas of 5,100 school 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 agreements or 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 $6,780,000.

“At San Antonio, Carpenter Body Works, Inc., 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., Austin.

“Ward Body Works of Texas, Inc., of Austin, headed by Charles D. Ward of 4201 S. Congress Ave., Austin, and The Texacoach Co., of 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 penalties 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 total 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 August 1, 1959; and Carpenter Body Works and Commercial Body Corps. since Jan. 1, 1961.”

The lawsuit's resolution is currently unknown, although it's likely the distributors took the fall, receiving a slap on the wrist and a small fine.

Although Hicks Body Co. lost the war with Ward, they did win one battle, receiving a judgement of $80,150 - as reported in the October 11, 1961 edition of the Hope Star (Ark.):

$80,150 Judgment Is Awarded:

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

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

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

The July 20, 1963 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times mentioned that Ward had recived a $1.8 million contract from the US Army:

“Get Bus Contract:

“Conway, Ark, - (AP) – Ward Body Works, Inc. of Conway has received a $1,836,780 contract from the US Army Tank Automation Center at Warren, Michigan for 6 buses. The buses will be used on the White Sands Missile Base.”

In 1963 Ward filed for another a patent on a Knockdown Body - US Patent No. 3,186,755 - filed Aug. 13, 1963, issued June 1, 1965 to David H. Ward. In 1964 Ward performed the first independent side impact rollover test on a school bus, the caption on the UPI wire photo dated January 11, 1964 follows:

“Car Hits Bus For Injury Study

“Safety Test – a speeding car hits the side of school bus in test of a 1964 Ward Body Works bus on a dragstrip at Little Rock, Ark.

“Driverless Car guided by a wire hit the bus at 46 m.p.h. The bus contains mannequins so a study can be made as to injuries to the passengers.”

A second test followed whereby a Ward bus was rolled down a steep embankment, the caption on the UPI wire photo dated January 17, 1964 being:

“A 1964 School bus is rolled down a steep embankment at Conway, Ark., in a safety test of the bus' durability. The bus contained mannequins in the Ward Body Works test to show the amount of injury to passengers in case of real situation. Test was conducted Thursday (January 16).”

Ward continued to experiment with ways to improve bus safety and in 1969 published some recommendations based on their 1964 crash tests and a survey of the exact placement and quantity of rivets in its competitor's bus bodies. The study found that inconsistencies in the manufacturing process had a direct effect on joint quality - especially related to rivets - and made recommendations to various government agencies and industry trade groups that would eventually led up to the passage of national school bus safety standards in the mid-1970s.

Ward also introduced computer-aided manufacturing to the school bus business, installing an early IBM System/360 main-frame computer in the Conway plant in the mid-1960s.

Following Dave Ward's 1968 retirement, his eldest son Charles - who had worked at the plant since 1959 - took over as president, although his father remained chairman of the board.

In 1969 S.C. Sash was reorganized as Surelite Inc., expanding into the insulated and laminated glass business. They later introduced a line of auxiliary bus heaters and composite plastic control panel cabinets and wheelwell covers. 

With the Central and South American school markets now saturated with domestically built school bus bodies, Ward closed down their Austin, Texas assembly plant in late 1969, consolidating its operations into a new 15-acre, $500,000 plant located on the outskirts of Beaver Falls, a northwest suburb of Pittsburghlocated in Darlington Township, Pennsylvania . The 41,000 sq. ft. assembly plant commenced operation on July 7, 1970 using stampings, windows, seats and subassemblies supplied by Ward's Conway, Arkansas plant.

In January of 1970 Ward purchased the assets of Coachette, a small Dallas, Texas-based Type B bus manufacturer started in 1954 by Carl Graham, a former sales manager for Ford and Marmon-Herrington buses. Originally based on a 172-inch wheelbase Ford truck chassis, the 23-passenger mini-buses featured coachwork supplied by Ward's plant in Austin. Chevrolet and GMC chassis were added in 1958 and a larger 37-passenger Coachette debuted soon after. The dimunitive buses were never big sellers outside of Texas, and only 330 Coachettes were contructed between 1953 and 1969 when production ended, in part due to the closure of Ward's plant in Austin.

Ward relocated the Coachette operations into a disused S.C.Sash/Surelite building in Conway and commenced small scale production of the Ward Coachette using a Chevrolet P30 1-ton motorhome/bus chassis.

By 1973 Ward controlled 25% of the US school bus market, quite an accomplishment for a firm that had only been making buses for a quarter century. In order to keep their postion further expansion was required and the firm was recapitlized and reorganized as Ward School Bus Manufacturing, Inc.

By that time the Conway assembly line had been substantially upgraded and connected to a next generation IBM System/370 main-frame computer. Also introduced in 1973 was the all-new Type C (conventional) Ward Volunteer school bus. The coach featured an all-new body that featured safety advances made possible by the firm's pioneering work in school bus crash-testing. Ward’s most popular school bus line, it could be used with chassis from any major manufacturer and was updated in 1980, 1986, and 1988. Aside from safety upgrades and a redesigned windshield, the modern-day CE-series IC Type C school bus shares numerous components found a 1988 Volunteer. 

Although safety was an oft-mentioned phrase in each respective manufacturer’s advertisements, aside from the adoption of ‘National School Bus Yellow’ in 1939, no Federal legislation mandating standards were enacted until 1973, when emergency exits and window releases became mandatory. Illinois Senator Charles Percy pointed out in a 1973 congressional hearing on the subject that school administrators typically purchased school buses on bids, and more often than not, the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder. Although several firms, in particular Ward and Wayne Works, had started offering extra-safe ‘superbuses’ most school districts couldn’t justify the additional expense to budget-minded voters 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.”

On October 17, 1976 the Associated Press distributed the following article in which Jay Perkins explains the long overdue Federal School Bus Safety Standards which were to take effect on April 1, 1977. The first Federal Safety Standard relating to school buses - FMVSS No. 217 (Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release) had already taken effect (on September 1, 1973). The next four implemented were FMVSS No. 220 (School Bus Rollover Protection); FMVSS No 221 (School Bus Body Joint Strength); FMVSS No. 222 (School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection) and FMVSS No 301 (Fuel System Integrity - School Buses).

“By Jay Perkins, Associated Press Writer

“Washington - (AP) – On Oct. 2, 1967, four sleepy-eyed students boarded a school bus in Waterloo, Neb., for their last ride to class.

“They died minutes later when a Union Pacific freight ripped the bus apart, twisting the sheet metal skin and exposing sharp, lethal edges. The nine other children aboard were injured, some of them on the exposed edges. Federal investigators later would label them child-lacerating ‘cookie cutters.’

“Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found the bus came apart too easily. Joints failed under too little pressure. Seats ripped from the floor. Children riding in the disintegrated portion were tossed about and ‘probably... struck many hard and sharp surfaces.’

“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 before the government would propose the first regulation to improve school bus construction. And it will be April 1, 1977, when the three federal regulations finally agreed upon go into effect.

“Why the delay?

“Because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration felt there weren't many fatal school bus accidents.

“‘We found it (school bus transportation) was the safest mode of transportation we had, bar none,’ says Bob Boaz, the NHTSA' s public information officer. ‘We had a limited amount of funds and we're dealing with the whole spectrum of highway accidents. So when we looked at priorities, there was no way to say 100 fatalities here should be a high priority when we had so 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 the force of law, unless overturned by Congress. How effective will these regulations be? One of them, designed to eliminate ‘cookie cutter’ edges, has a loophole that allows manufacturers to make a school bus's metal skin even thinner and less safe than it is today. The builders say they won't use the loophole.

“Another regulation, aimed at keeping the roof from collapsing when a bus overturns, relies on a test that even the NHTSA once said wouldn't determine if the roof were really safe. And the third, requiring padded seats designed to hold children in place during an accident, is not as strong as originally proposed. The original regulation specified seat backs eight or nine inches higher than they now are.

“But school administrators said this might create a discipline problem because drivers wouldn't be able to see children. So the NHTSA compromised with a regulation that adds four or five inches to present seatbacks.

“Until now, there have been no federal regulations governing school buses. And no state has set safety regulations as strong as the NHTSA rules effective next spring.

“Despite their shortcomings, the NHTSA and the six principal manufacturers of school buses believe the regulations will produce safer buses, once the buses now in use are replaced. That will take a decade or more.

“Meanwhile, more than 20 million children ride those traditional yellow school buses each school day. Fifteen to 20 are killed and 5,000 are injured in an average year, the government reports. That's not an alarming accident rate. The buses avoid accidents by travelling slowly, other drivers watch out for them, and school bus drivers are good drivers, Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wisc., told a 1973 congressional hearing. But he added: ‘School buses are probably the unsafest vehicles on the road because when they are involved in an accident, the results are often catastrophic. Today's school bus is shoddily constructed...’

“Dr. Stanley J. Behrman, representing the American Society of Oral Surgeons, told the National Safety Council in 1972 nearly 10 per cent of the 16,000 children treated by society members in one year were injured on school buses.

“Why then do school districts buy the unsafe buses - those made by attaching a riveted, sheet metal bus body to a truck frame and motor purchased from an outside supplier?

“This type of construction, which is about 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 are mostly buses made as a unit, much like the commercial buses that carry passengers across the country.

“Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill., noted during a 1973 congressional hearing that school administrators usually purchase buses from the lowest bidder. ‘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,’ Percy said.

“Between 30,000 and 35,000 school buses are made each year. Most cost $12,000 to $15,000. The new regulations are expected to add $1,200 to the price of each bus.

“The NTSB reported in 1971 that many injuries in two Alabama school bus accidents were caused by ‘the laceration of child passengers by exposed edges of the bus interior sheet metal, including the ceiling...’

“There are six major manufacturers of the body-on-frame type of school bus - Blue Bird Body Co. of Fort Valley, Ga.; Carpenter Body Works, Mitchell, Ind.; Superior Coach Division, Lima, Ohio; Thomas Built Buses, High Point, N.C.; Ward School Bus Co., Conway, Ark., and Wayne Corp., Richmond, Ind.

“Most of them still use numerous sheets of metal to form the skin - a practice criticized by the NTSB in the 1971 report, which said the panels were poorly fastened. Spacing between rivets was so wide - four to 10 inches - that it resisted ‘wind and weather but the joint could contribute little to structural strength.’

“Wayne Corp. now uses sheet metal panels that run the length of the passenger compartment. This eliminates many joints and produces a safer cabin compartment.

“Ward has been marketing since 1971 a safety bus containing more than twice as many rivets than in pre-1971 buses. Other manufacturers are using better fasteners and more rivets than they did nine years ago.

“The principal concern about the adequacy of the new 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 the panels themselves must be. So manufacturers can meet the standard by doubling the number of rivets at the joints - as NHTSA intends - or by reducing the strength of the panels. ‘You can make those panels out of tissue paper and meet the standard,’ said one expert.

“Guy Hunter, an NHTSA specialist in school bus construction, said the agency was aware of the loophole when the regulation was issued, but left it in to give manufacturers leeway in future designs.

“He also said the loophole can't be used because strong panels are needed to make the buses rigid enough to pass the rollover test.”

Standard No. 217 - Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release:

This established requirements for bus window retention and release to reduce the likelihood of passenger ejection in crashes, and for emergency exits to facilitate passenger exit in emergencies. It also requires that each school bus have an interlock system to prevent the engine starting if an emergency door is locked, and an alarm that sounds if an emergency door is not fully closed while the engine is running.  Another portion of FMVSS 217 required that yellow, white, or red retroreflective tape be applied so as to mark all emergency exits, so rescue personnel can quickly find them in darkness.

Standard No. 220 - School Bus Rollover Protection:

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 crashes.

Standard No. 221 - School Bus Body Joint Strength:

This established requirements for the strength of the body panel joints in school bus bodies, to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from structural collapse of school bus bodies during crashes.

Standard No. 222 - School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection:

This established occupant protection requirements for school bus passenger seating and restraining barriers, to reduce deaths and injuries from the impact of school bus occupants against structures within the vehicle during crashes and sudden driving maneuvers.

Standard No. 301 - Fuel System Integrity - School Buses:

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 vicinity of stopped school buses. Its purpose is to reduce deaths and injuries by minimizing the likelihood of vehicles passing a stopped school bus and striking pedestrians in the vicinity of the bus.

Surprisingly, compulsory installation of seat belts in school buses has yet to be made a Federal requirement, although several states have enacted legislation that requires them; California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas, although New Jersey is the only state that mandates their use.

In 1976, Ward built a President-based front-wheel-drive prototype school bus using a modified International bus chassis that filed to make it to production.

By the late 1970s the majority of baby boomers had completed their secondary education, greatly reducing the number of new school buses required. The nation's school bus builders, which had already been reduced from 20 to 6 during the previous two decades were forced to reduce production to stay in business, and the already slim profit margins were further reduced. Of the remaining six firms (Blue Bird, Carpenter, Superior, Thomas, Ward and Wayne), Superior and Ward were in the most trouble with Ward in the worst shape due to their excessive debt service, owing a reported $21.5 million to creditors (its successor, MBH Inc., claimed to have assumed $11 to $12 million of the debt).

On July 18, 1980, the Ward family closed down the entire operation putting 1,100 workers in Arkansas and Pennsylvania out of work. One week later, (July 25, 1980) the Wards filed for protection from their creditors under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Charles Baker, who presided over the case, later stated:

“(The) proceedings established that the Ward family members had sold assets or borrowed heavily to keep the company operating. As a result, he said, the evidence was that the Wards had no money and 'the personal guarantees of the Ward family are barely worth the paper they are written on.”

Dave Ward had been an active participant in the Arkansas Democratic party and Arkansas Governor Clinton was determined to get the firm's 1,100 employees back to work, convincing a group of Midwest businessmen that purchasing the firm’s assets might be a wise decision. The three investors, Thomas E. McLarty (wealthy Arkansas car dealer and friend of the Gov. - his son served as Clinton's chief of staff 1993-1994), J.W. 'Buddy' Benafield (a realtor and former Little Rock mayor) and brothers Richard L. and Robert E. Harmon (Kansas City, Mo. bus operators and distributors) formed a holding company, MBH, Inc. with each partner owning a 1/3 share in the firm (the Harmon’s share was split between them). MBH established an operating company, American Transportation Corp. aka AmTran, to get the plants up and running, and on August 21, 1980, the Conway plant reopened, a little more than a month after it was shut down by the Wards. American Transportation Corp. adopted the name AmTran in February of 1981 although the firm's buses continued to use the Ward brand name due to its established brand identity.

Although they were no longer invovled on the manufacturing end, David H. Ward’s son,Stephen A. Ward, remained in the business as Ward Transportation Service Inc., the regional distributors for Ward and later International/IC Corp school buses. Another spin-off, Demographics, was founded by Dave's son Charles to handle mass mailings for the Democratic Party. It was later reroganized as the Conway Communications Exchange and today does business as Acxiom. 

In 1985 AmTran introduced 2 new coaches to supplement Ward's existing product line;the Vanguard, a Type-A cutway van built on a choice of GM or Ford 1-ton chassis; and the Patriot, a full-size semi-forward control Type C coach equipped with a sloped nose of the type normally found on Type B mid-sized coaches. Ward's  standard Type C coach, the Volunteer, remained basically unchanged as did the President, Ward's Type D transit-style front-engined coach which was offered on International, GM and Asia-Smith chassis.

In 1983 the Harmon's bought out  their partners and in 1990 sold a 1/3 share in the firm to bus chassis manufacturer Navistar/International, the December 19, 1990 AP Newswire reporting:

“Navistar Buys Stake in Bus Company

“Conway, Ark. (AP) — Navistar International Corp.’s purchase of one-third interest in American Transportation Corp. could mean 400 new jobs over five years, officials said. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed in the announcement Tuesday. Brothers R.E. Harmon and R.L. Harmon of Kansas City, Mo., will retain two-thirds ownership in the Conway company. The deal will allow the two companies to work toward adding the manufacture of bus chassis to production of bus bodies at the plant, officials said. James C. Cotting, Navistar chairman and chief executive, said the company wanted to strengthen its leading market share position as a chassis supplier to the school bus industry. ‘It’ s too early to set specific dates, but we will make positive changes immediately.’ said Jerry D. Williams president and chief executive officer of AmTran. ‘It will be 14 to 18 months before any significant personnel changes will be realized.’ AmTran currently has 850 employees and will have as many as 900 workers during the peak period in the summer. The company has produced an average of 6,000 buses per year for the past four years. Production is expected to more than double in the coming five years with the integrated line, officials said. AmTran should start manufacturing chassis in six to nine months, with large-scale production in 12 to 18 months, Williams said. AmTran began operations in 1933 as Ward Industries Inc. and became AmTran in February 1981. Navistar, formerly International Harvester, has been a major supplier to the school bus industry for more than 70 years.”

At the time of the sale Navistar obtained an option to buy the remaining two-thirds from the Harmons and in April of 1995 Navistar exercised their option, becoming the sole owner of the American Transportation Corp.

In 1990 the Type D Senator was replaced the President, which in 1992 was rechristened the AmTran Genesis, the first bus to drop the Ward trade name.In 1991, AmTran began building complete Type D buses - chassis (engine, frame, and running gear) and bodies - at the Conway site using components sourced from Navistar/International. The semi-forward control Patriot was dropped in 1992 and in 1996 AmTran introduced their first rear-engined Type D coach, the AmTran RE.

AmTran dropped their GM-based Type A buses in 1996 and in 1997 introduced a substantially revised Type C coach as the AmTran CE, abandoning the Ward Volunteer moniker. In 1998 AmTran dropped Ford as a supplier of Type C chassis, at which pointNavistar/International became AmTran's exclusive school bus chassis supplier.

The following year (1999) AmTran announced plans to build new plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma that would produce an all-new International-branded Type C school bus. When the plant opened in 2001 it employed 400 employees, it now employs 1,200.

The Conway plant became a dedicated Type D bus plant, the AmTrans Type D coach becoming the International FE (front-engine) and International RE (rear-engine). A final name change took place in 2002 when the company began operating as the IC Corp. (div. of Navistar), with new 'IC' badges and logos for the entire product line.

As of 2008, IC Corporation employed approximately 1,500 workers at its 160-acre, 750,000-square-foot Conway facility, with an output of thirty-three to thirty-eight buses per day. The factory produced a variety of school bus types, including conventional, forward, and rear engine models. The facility also produced a series of small buses, as well as chassis for United Parcel Service.

In November 2009 company officials announced multiple lay-offs effective January 2010. While the Conway, Arkansas plant continues to manufacture some school bus parts, all bus assembly is done Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The June 6, 2012 edition of the Daily Herald (Chicago, Ill) celebrated the Tulsa plant's 100,000th school bus:

“Navistar Marks Bus Milestone

“LISLE — Navistar Inc. and IC Bus marked a milestone with the 100,000th bus built in its Tulsa, Okla., plant. The plant employs more than 1,200 workers who manufacture 50 to 75 buses a day—up significantly from 400 employees in 2001 when the plant opened. The 100,000th bus was presented to Student Transportation Inc., North America’s third-largest provider of school bus transportation services. ‘This plant demonstrates our commitment to the school bus industry by building quality, state-of-the-art product,’ said John McKinney, president of Navistar Global Bus and IC Bus. ‘Because of the hard work and dedication of our Tulsa employees, IC Bus is far and away the industry leader not only in pure sales volume, but more importantly in product quality.’”

Dave Ward Drive in Conway (also known as Arkansas Highway 286) is named for the bus company founder.

Located on the south side of Interstate 40 at 450 S. Amity Rd., Conway, Arkansas, Ward Transportation Service, Inc., was recently purchased by the Memphis-based Summit Truck Group and renamed the Diamond State Bus Co. Summit operates 31 commercial truck and bus dealerships in Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

© 2015 Mark Theobald for

Appendix 1 Patents:

1961 Patent: Bus Body Window - US Patent No. 3,174,194 - filed Jan. 12, 1961 issued Mar. 23, 1965 to D.H. Ward assigned to Ward Body Works Inc.

1963 Patent: US Patent No. 3,186,755 filed Aug. 13, 1963, issued June 1, 1965 to David H Ward.








Joe Mosby - Ward had idea and ran with it, Log Cabin Democrat, November 6, 2009 edition

Barry Beck - Ward Industries, Inc.: A Historical Study, Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter 1974 issue

Robert B. Colborn - Bus Bonanza from Blacksmith's Shop, Business Week, March 11, 1950 issue

John Henry - Arkansas' 'Auto' Plant Still Going Strong After 75 years, Arkansas Business, June 30, 2008 edition

Harold B. Johnson - A History of Dave Ward and His Company, Arkansas State Teachers College M.S.E. thesis, pub. 1960.

Toby Manthey - Maker of School Buses Lays Off 170 in Conway, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 27, 2009 issue

Joe McGee - Ward Body Works: Conway's First Big Industry, Log Cabin Democrat, June 21, 1955 edition

Ward Body Works, Inc. - Ward, the Champion of Transportation: Designed for the Safety of Your Children, pub. 1954

Fay Williams - Are You Crazy as Dave Ward?, Arkansas Democrat, October 21, 1951 edition

Fay Williams - Arkansans of the Years, vol. 2, pub 1952

Franawiki – Dave Ward, Honors College at the University of Central Arkansas

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