The legendary bus line’s roots are celebrated at a Minnesota museum, and its former fleet vehicles once made popular bus conversions for FMCA members.
By Marion Amberg
Looking for a museum that will take you places? Then make the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, Minnesota, your next stop. The museum traces the “pedigree” of Greyhound Lines to this small city in northeastern Minnesota. It boasts a fleet of vintage coaches, including a 1948 Greyhound Silversides motorhome conversion donated by an FMCA member.
Museum founder Gene Nicolelli, 82, said, “This is a piece of little-known Americana. A Swedish immigrant with a car that wouldn’t sell evolved into the largest bus system in America today.”
As with many icons, several stories recounting Greyhound’s earliest days exist. One, as told by the museum, begins with another Hibbing legend: rusty joints. “I believe there’s iron under me,” town father Frank Hibbing said while prospecting the area for iron ore in January 1893. “My bones feel rusty and chilly.”
There was so much iron, in fact, that a village sprang up near the open-pit mine “” but a little too close, unfortunately. When the expanding mine began to encroach on the village, residents jacked up the town and rolled it two miles downhill to Alice (now present-day Hibbing). It was a long trek to work for the miners, but a stroke of ingenuity would change that.
After seven years of laboring for a Hibbing mining exploration company without a raise, Andy Anderson was fed up. The Swedish immigrant talked Charles Wenberg, an Aetna dynamite salesman, into jointly buying the local Hupmobile (car) dealership, and soon after told his boss, “I quit.” Unfortunately, Anderson’s dream of prosperity lost air faster than a flat tire.
“The public was more interested in taking demonstration rides than in buying a Hup,” Mr. Nicolelli explained. “They were afraid their one car would wear out before it sold.”
One day Charles’ father offered a solution. “Charge for the ride!” he said. And in mid-May 1914, Andy and Charles posted a sign on their touring car-turned-jitney: “Hibbing to Alice 15 cents.” They reaped $11.50 the first day (a pretty penny at the time), $7.40 the second day, and $20 the third day.
There was one problem, however. Charles already had a full-time job, which left all the driving to Andy. The Swede persuaded Carl Eric Wickman, another Swedish immigrant, to leave his mining job as a diamond drill operator and take Charles’s place behind the wheel.
Rider demand was so high that miners squeezed into the seven-passenger Hupmobile any way they could. They sat on each other, stood on the running boards, and clung to the back bumpers. Riding the Hup (or “Snoose Line” as it was called) had its perils.
“Many miners chewed snoose [Swedish for snuff] and if they spit into the wind, the people behind them had to dodge or get splashed,” said Mr. Nicolelli, adding that women weren’t able to board the bus because of their clothing style and the Hup’s small doors.
The jitney line added another car and driver but still couldn’t meet rider demand. The bus pioneers then decided to “stretch” their car. They cut the frame in half, welded a new piece of frame to the body, and added more seats to accommodate 12 riders. Of course, the outdoor “seats” were still available.
Tracking The Hound
As the jitney service expanded, fare wars broke out between the Hup bus and the owners of a Studebaker bus. In 1915, the two lines incorporated as Mesaba Transportation Company, and by 1918, the entity “” the largest transit service in the Iron Range area “” was running 18 buses. Only a greyhound could keep pace with what happened next.
In 1922 Andy and Carl parted company. Andy stayed in Hibbing as president of Mesaba Transportation, and Carl bought into Orville Caesar’s Superior White Bus Lines in Duluth, Minnesota, and began expanding regionally. In 1925 Carl and Great Northern Railroad formed the Northland Transportation Company when the railroad invested $2.5 million in buses for upper Midwestern towns without rail service.
National expansion soon followed. In 1926 Carl and a group of former partners joined forces to create Motor Transit Corporation, and three years later the Chicago-based conglomerate changed its name to Greyhound Corporation. Carl later served as Greyhound’s president for many years.
How did Greyhound get its name? As the story goes, the manager of a bus line was driving through Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, when he noticed that the reflection of his gray-painted bus in store windows looked just like a greyhound, prompting him to have “Greyhound” lettered on his fleet. Motor Transit adopted the Greyhound name, and the rest is history.
The Big Story
“What the railroad did for our country on steel rails, Greyhound did on rubber in making transportation available to all of America,” said Mr. Nicolelli. The Italian’s passion for telling this story began in 1973 when he was elected chairman of the Hibbing Citizen Committee, which had been formed to revitalize the town. Several years earlier, as a district manager for a national food chain, he converted Hibbing’s old Greyhound depot into a grocery store.
“I remembered the building once had a metal plaque affixed to an exterior wall declaring Hibbing as the birthplace of Greyhound,” he said. “I thought it would be nice to reattach the plaque.”
Mr. Nicolelli began researching the plaque’s whereabouts and the history of Greyhound. He also began dreaming of a museum that would honor the town’s role in national transportation.
After 25 years of fundraising and umpteen setbacks, the dream became reality. On July 10, 1999, scores of bus dignitaries and retired drivers attended the dedication of the 10,000-square-foot museum on Greyhound Boulevard, the very road the Hupmobile had rumbled up and down to transport miners to work. The historic plaque is mounted on a pylon.
For visitors who’ve ever traveled by Greyhound, the museum is déjí vu. A ticket agent in a re-created 1930s bus depot greets visitors (don’t be fooled; the gent’s a mannequin). Then a tunnel, echoing with auto sounds from the 1900s, takes visitors back in time and into the museum itself.
Parked in a place of honor is a replica of the ancestral Greyhound: a five-passenger, blue 1914 Hupmobile. “The original Hup was a seven-passenger version with two rear-facing seats,” Mr. Nicolelli said, noting the right-side steering wheel. “The Hup sold for $800 to $1,200 in 1914. We acquired this one from a collector for $12,000!”
Audiovisual exhibits recount the history of Greyhound, while wall-to-wall cases are filled with drivers’ hats and uniforms, rare photographs, and hundreds of model buses. Now showing in the bus theater (a mockup bus with real bus seats) is “The Greyhound Story: From Hibbing to Everywhere.”
Seven coaches, lined up as though they’re ready to board passengers, are showcased next door in the coach hall. Visitors can climb aboard the vintage buses, which include a 1927 “White,” a 1947 “Battle of Britain,” and a 1969 “Buffalo.” Honoring Greyhound’s patriotism during World War II, a bevy of mannequins dressed as military men and women prepare to board the 1948 Silversides.
A Growing Fleet
Another seven vintage buses are located in the outdoor display area. “Not all of the buses came from the Greyhound fleet,” Mr. Nicolelli said, “but most of the models were once used by Greyhound.” With the exception of the Hupmobile, all buses were donated.
Restoring a bus to its vintage days couldn’t be done without tons of volunteer elbow grease. For example, the 1936 Super Coach “” the first bus with a rear engine “” took several men approximately two years to restore. All buses are painted to replicate Greyhound’s original liveries.
And every bus has a story to tell. Caricature cutouts of greyhound dogs hold placards for each vehicle, listing its origin, model number, seating capacity, fuel economy, and other facts.
Outside a converted motor coach, the greyhounds mimic life on the road with a cookout. This is the 1948 Silversides bus conversion once owned by Pat and Bunny Covington, F171528, and used by their family.
Three nearby buildings with clever faí§ades not only tell another chapter of Greyhound’s history but also house the outdoor buses during the winter. One sports the faí§ade of a 1930s art-deco-style terminal, and another simulates an early bus “flag stop.” A third replicates a 1916 shop where “Snoose Line” buses were built and repaired.
“We’re always looking for historical buses to add to our fleet,” said Mr. Nicolelli, adding that the museum hopes to acquire a bus used by Mesaba Transportation in 1916. “A post-World War II Flxible Clipper is high on our wish list.”
The Greyhound Bus Museum: From Hibbing to everywhere and then back to Hibbing. Now that’s a road trip!
Hibbing, population 16,509, is 200 miles north of the Twin Cities, accessible from there via Interstate 35, U.S. 53, and State Route 37. The Greyhound Bus Museum is located at 1201 Greyhound Blvd. (follow the signs) and open from mid-May through September. Hours are Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. RVers may camp overnight in the museum parking lot. For more information, visit www.greyhoundbusmuseum.org or call (218) 263-5814.
Other Area Attractions:
Bob Dylan’s boyhood home. From the time Bob Zimmerman was 7 years old (1948) until he graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959, he lived at 2425 Seventh Ave. E., a street now named Dylan Drive. The home is not open to the public, but you can take a look as you drive by.
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the North,” the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine (1 mile north of the bus museum) is the world’s largest operating open-pit mine. From the scenic overlook, the 240-ton-capacity trucks (about the size of a small two-story house) look like toys.
See the “town that moved” at the Hibbing Historical Society & Museum, located at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue East, where you can learn much more about the “world’s richest village.”
For more information about these and other attractions in the area, visit www.ironrange.org or call the Iron Range Tourism Bureau at (800) 777-8497; (218) 749-8161.
A Prized “Family Heirloom”
A 1948 bus conversion displayed at the Greyhound Bus Museum represents a beloved piece of family history to Bunny Covington, F171528, and her children. Bunny and her husband, Pat, spent many years traveling with their five children in the PD3751 “Silversides” bus, creating lasting memories. After Pat died in September 2006, Bunny and her family decided the heirloom deserved to be donated to the Greyhound Bus Museum.
The bus was built specifically for Greyhound by General Motors Corporation. It traveled many miles across the United States until it was sold to the Fergus Falls (Minnesota) Bus Company and was used in that area.
In 1968 Pat Covington bought the bus from Faribault Bus Company in Faribault, Minnesota (now ABC Bus Companies Inc.). He and a friend converted the coach to include couches, bunk beds, a shower, a galley, and more. It was one of three buses the Minnesota couple converted over the years.
“In the summertime we used it to show (the children) different parts of the country,” Bunny recalled. The family traveled to states such as Texas, Florida, Colorado, Louisiana “” “The kids got to see a lot,” she recalled. Pat would change the destination sign on the front of the bus to whatever city the family was headed toward.
Now the PD3751 is a grand example to museum visitors, demonstrating how a retired transit bus can be given a new life.
The Covingtons’ bus wound up at the museum through a string of coincidences. Bunny and Pat belonged to FMCA’s Midwest Bus Nuts chapter, and the couple met fellow Minnesotan Gene Nicolelli, founder and director of the Greyhound Bus Museum, when he spoke at a chapter rally. “We had gotten to be friends with him,” Bunny said. “After my husband died, my son, Bill, talked to Gene and asked if they’d be interested.”
So, Bill Covington, F171528S, delivered the venerable vehicle to the Greyhound Bus Museum in April 2007. Since that time it has been on display outside the museum and was proudly shown in a local parade last July . . . a happy ending for one FMCA family’s pride and joy.
“” Peggy Jordan, Associate Editor