Bowen Motor Coaches


By: Ray F. Lucas

Type: General Entry

Published: June 2, 2021

Updated: January 19, 2022


Bowen Motor Coaches (known as Bowen Bus Lines or Bowen Bus Company, and, after 1937, Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc.) began as a loose conglomerate of bus lines owned wholly or in part by Robert Chesney “R. C.” Bowen. These bus lines originated in Texas as intrastate lines and later expanded to become an interstate and international carrier with bus tours to Mexico. The various bus lines operated under the Bowen name from 1929 until 1945.

R. C. Bowen and his brother, Temple Bowen, started a bus company in Breckenridge, Texas, in the second half of 1923. This was the start of the Bowen family’s twenty-year connection with the busing industry in Texas. In 1925 R. C. began West Texas Coaches, Inc. By 1929 the brothers owned or controlled part of West Texas Coaches, Inc.; South Texas Coaches, Inc.; Young’s Bus Lines, Inc.; and Texas Oklahoma Coaches. The same year, R. C. and Temple Bowen proposed to sell their interests in the four bus lines. The brothers sold the South Texas, Young’s, and West Texas lines to Southland Red Ball Motor Bus Company and the Texas Oklahoma line to Pickwick Greyhound Lines. After the merger with the Bowen companies, Southland Red Ball changed its name to Southland Greyhound Lines, Inc. Temple Bowen moved to the air transportation industry (see AVIATION) as one of the founders of Texas Air Transport (TAT). R. C. Bowen worked for a short time as president of Southland Greyhound while continuing to operate other bus lines and owning an interest in TAT.

By October 1930 R. C. Bowen had revived and assumed ownership of South Texas Coaches, Inc., a bus company that eventually came to own 100 percent of the stock of North Texas Coach Company; Wichita Falls Bus Company, Inc.; Roberson Bus Lines, Inc.; and 85.7 percent of Fort Worth-Corsicana-Mexia Coaches. Bowen operated these various lines under the trade name Bowen Motor Coaches.

In 1931 Bowen was operating in Fort Worth, and the next year, the company advertised its routes from Fort Worth, via Dallas, to Houston. The newly-paved highway between Dallas and Houston caused an increase in demand for the bus lines. In 1934 Bowen expanded its lines to run from Houston to Corpus Christi and other towns along the Gulf Coast. By November of that year Bowen Motor Coaches had forty buses in operation carrying 1,450 passengers and traveling 8,500 miles each day.

The increasing daily passenger and mileage totals pushed the affiliated companies’ employee list to 194 people at the end of 1936. That same year, Bowen Motor Coaches invested $150,000 to purchase fifteen new coaches, seating up to sixty people each, for use at the Texas Centennial Exposition. The company also ran tour coaches in Fort Worth during its Texas Frontier Centennial celebration, with five percent of the gross receipts going to the city. The next year, Bowen purchased exclusive ground transportation rights for wheelchairs and busses at the Greater Texas Pan-American Exposition in Dallas.

While vigorously expanding its lines in 1935 and 1936, the company also sought other sources of revenue. In 1936 Bowen began carrying mail between Victoria and San Antonio, and the next year its buses carried mail from Corsicana to Fairfield and Centerville. The company gained more postal business by contracting to carry first-class mail to points in Texas. Vacations and sightseeing tours represented another source of revenue. In 1937 the Bowen bus lines leased five Texas state parks in Bastrop, Caddo Lake, Corpus Christi, Palo Duro Canyon, and the Davis Mountains. The company conducted tours in Texas and had the guests on the tours stay at a different park each night of the five-day tour. The Bowen brothers also owned a service station at the corner of Houston and Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth and eventually built a large bus center at the same intersection.

Growing revenues and increases in employees and buses led to duplication of efforts in the multiple bus lines under the Bowen Motor Coaches trade name. On May 28, 1936, R. C. Bowen, Temple Bowen, and L. C. Eastland incorporated Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc. The next year, R. C. Bowen petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for authority to merge his various bus lines into the new corporation. The lines folded into the new corporation were South Texas Coaches, Inc.; North Texas Coach Company; Wichita Falls Bus Company, Inc.; and Roberson Bus Lines, Inc. Consolidation transferred the assets and liabilities of the various companies to Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc., saving costs for maintenance and running the various companies. Once consolidated, the companies would be dissolved as independent entities. The Interstate Commerce Commission approved the plan, and Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc. became a reality in December 1937.  

Even before the new company was approved by regulators, labor issues appeared. In June 1937 newspapers reported that Bowen drivers had unionized under the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. Two months later, R. C. Bowen signed a six-month contract with the Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America. The union contract guaranteed an eight-hour workday, time and a half for overtime, across-the-board pay raises of five percent—to supplement a fifteen percent wage hike Bowen had previously agreed to—and recognized Amalgamated as the sole union representative of the Bowen operators, dispatchers, mechanics, and shopmen. In February 1938 the bus line and Amalgamated signed a new one-year labor contract. The next month, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen filed a complaint against Bowen with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and alleged that Bowen had impermissibly formed an employer-controlled labor union, then dissolved the employer-led union, and allegedly encouraged the drivers to unionize with Amalgamated. The local NLRB division did not hear the case until April 1939 and, after three weeks of evidence and testimony, issued an intermediate report that the bus company had committed unfair labor practices and interfered with the unionization efforts of the Brotherhood. The NLRB final ruling threw out four of the five charges filed by the Brotherhood but found Bowen violated the National Labor Relations Act by trying to coerce its employees not to join a union. As a remedy, the NLRB ordered a new union election. The NLRB filed a petition with the U. S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to enforce its ruling. The appellate court denied the NLRB petition to enforce its ruling and found that Bowen Motor Coaches had not committed any unfair labor practices and that Amalgamated was the union chosen by the employees.

Despite the allegations of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and the vacated NLRB ruling, labor negotiations between Bowen and its employees moved smoothly, and the company focused on expansion of routes and equipment. In 1940 the company purchased twelve air-conditioned motor coaches. That same year, the Interstate Commerce Commission granted approval for Bowen to begin service to Big Bend, the Davis Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns for tours. The company had previously offered tourist trips across Texas and to Mexico. Bowen also planned regular routes to Mexico through McAllen and Laredo, Texas—making it an international bus carrier.

International events soon affected Bowen operations. As the nation prepared for war, activities increased at military airfields near Fort Worth. Bowen Motor Coaches added routes to its schedule to accommodate soldiers, airmen, and refinery workers. The bus line also began a policy in mid-1941 to allow U. S. servicemen in uniform to travel at a reduced rate when the servicemen paid for their own travel. That same year, the Bowen Motor Coaches entered an agreement with the U. S. government to carry men chosen by the Selective Service to military induction centers at half-rates. During World War II, the city of Wichita Falls imposed a tax on the Bowen bus route between the city and a local military base. After a legal challenge by Bowen, a county court ruled the tax invalid since it mandated rates lower than those set by the Texas Railroad Commission. In 1944 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the city of Wichita Falls could tax the bus route.

Even before his ultimate loss in the Texas Supreme Court over the municipal taxes, R. C. Bowen began to divest himself of his busing business. On December 18, 1943, Bowen sold Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc., to a group of Texas and Arkansas investors led by M. E. Moore (owner of Tri-State Trailways) for the sum of $3,000,000. The all-cash deal kept the headquarters of the company in Fort Worth and the 1,523 employees in place. Moore became the company’s new president.  

All was not rosy for Bowen Motor Coaches after its sale. Labor issues arose in 1944 and necessitated an order by the War Labor Board for arbitration between the unionized workers in San Antonio and the company. Drivers walked off the job for a day after the discharge of a San Antonio employee angered them. Drivers in Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Houston, and Wichita Falls went on a wildcat strike over back wages in mid-January 1945. The Tarrant County Labor Congress voted in favor of a resolution supporting the strikers. The wage dispute centered on whether the bus lines deducted Christmas bonuses in December 1943 from retroactive wage payments due to drivers and mechanics. Bowen Motor Coaches announced the Christmas bonuses, totaling $40,000 to $50,000, on the same day R. C. Bowen announced the sale of the company to M. E. Moore.  

The labor issues did not prevent the bus company from expanding. In 1945 Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc., purchased the Creamer Bus Line, headquartered in Waco and Temple. The new owner of Bowen, M. E. Moore, owned other bus lines that were members of the Trailways Transportation System (National Trailways Bus System) which formed in 1936. Trailways was (and still is) an organization of independently-owned or operated motorcoach companies. Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc., had been affiliated with the Trailways system since at least 1940. Later in 1945 Moore merged Bowen with Tri-State Trailways to form Continental Bus System. Bowen Motor Coaches, Inc., ceased to exist as an independent entity on December 10, 1945.

In 1947, three of the oldest bus companies in the western portion of the United States—Santa Fe Trail Transportation Company, Continental Bus System, and Dixie Motor Coach Corporation­—merged to form Transcontinental Bus System (Continental Trailways), with M. E. Moore as president. By 1964 Continental Trailways, headquartered in Dallas, had become the second largest bus system in the United States with a footprint in thirty-three states and Washington, D. C. Bowen Motor Coaches played a significant role in the growth of the busing industry in Texas at a time when highway development, automotive advancements, and a growing tourism industry contributed to the personal mobility of residents of the Lone Star State.

Abilene Reporter News, November 13, 1943. Austin American, September 18, 1929; August 13, 20, 1930; July 30, 1945; December 19, 1945. Austin American-Statesman, October 13, 1927; September 16, 1929; May 28, 1936; March 19, 1937; January 17, 1945. Big Spring Daily Herald, January 17, 1945. Bowen Motor Coaches brochures—“Seeing Houston with Bowen Motor Coaches—The Centennial Line”; “See Mexico by Motor Bus—The Modern Way.” Bus Transportation 2 (November 1923). Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming), June 28, 1964. Civil Aeronautics Board Reports: Economic Decisions of the Civil Aeronautics Board: June 1946 to March 1947, Vol. 7 (Washington, D. C: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948). Corpus Christi Caller-Times, November 13, 1937. Corsicana Semi-Weekly Light, July 30, 1937; May 6, 1941; June 23, 1944. El Paso Evening Post, January 27, 1930. El Paso Times, August 24, 1944. Fort Worth Record-Telegram, October 11, 1930. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 9, 1930; April 26, 1931; November 21, 1932; September 17, 1934; November 26, 1934; February 24, 1935; August 15, 1935; October 5, 1935; December 12, 1935; March 26, 1936; October 13, 1936; December 26, 1936; July 1, 1937; August 18, 1937; November 24, 1938; October 12, 14, 1939; August 2, 1940; January 23, 1941; September 25, 1941; December 18, 1943; February 25, 1944; December 9, 1945; June 22, 1947. Interstate Commerce Commission, Interstate Commerce Commission Reports, Motor Carrier Cases, Vol. 5 (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1937–1938). Kilgore Daily News, February 16, 1938. McAllen Monitor, January 17, 1939; December 19, 1943. Larry Plachno, Trailways 80 Years Strong (1936–2016)—Trailways Celebrates 80 Years, February 2016 (80th-Article-National-Bus-Trader-L-Plachno.pdf (teamtrailways.com), accessed May 26, 2021. National Labor Relations Board v. Bowen Motor Coaches, 124 F.2d 151 (U.S. 5th Cir. 1941) (https://www.anylaw.com/case/national-labor-relations-board-v-bowen-motor-coaches/fifth-circuit/12-22-1941/l4OAPmYBTlTomsSBc2Hu), accessed May 26, 2021. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 9, 1937. Shreveport Times, September 19, 1929. Victoria Advocate, September 16, 1936; April 18, 1939.

Categories:
  • Business
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders
  • Transportation and Railroads
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ray F. Lucas, “Bowen Motor Coaches,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bowen-motor-coaches.

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June 2, 2021
January 19, 2022

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