Busing Industry

By: Jack Rhodes

Type: General Entry

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: January 19, 2022

Texas inventor and transportation pioneer W. B. Chenoweth inaugurated the era of intercity bus travel in Texas on October 29, 1907, by operating his six-cylinder "motor driven stage coach" from Colorado City to Snyder. He abandoned this line and another operation from Big Spring to Lamesa before leaving the bus business. The first regularly scheduled, successfully maintained, and more or less permanent intercity bus line began operations in Texas between Luling and San Marcos on March 1, 1912. The operator of this bus service was G. J. (Josh) Merritt of Fentress.

The period before, during, and after World War I saw considerable growth in the Texas busing industry, spurred in part by the passage of the Federal Highway Act in July 1916. Immediately after the war the discovery of oilfields near such Texas towns as Ranger, Breckenridge, Eastland, Mexia, and Desdemona provided new interest in the bus business. Pioneer drivers who were able to develop routes that survived the decline of the oil boom included Ed Abbott, Louis Hardy Creamer, George Wellington (Bill) Hyde, O. C. and W. L. Murphey, Walter E. Nunnelee, and Clarence E. Roberson. The owners and operators soon began to realize the value of organization in order to protect their bus routes from unscrupulous "wildcatters" who might attempt to divert their passengers.

The Fortieth Texas Legislature passed the Motor Bus Law with an effective date of June 15, 1927. The law quickly became known in the industry as the Beck Bus Law of 1927, in honor of its chief architect, Representative Walter H. Beck of Fort Worth. The law gave authority over the state's bus lines to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which immediately organized a Motor Transportation Division, with Mark Marshall as its first director. The law and subsequent amendments and court interpretations provided Texas bus owners with a definition of the rights and responsibilities of motor carriers and set forth expectations for the industry in terms of punctuality, safety, insurance, and other needs of the traveling public. A principal provision of the law was the authority granted to the Railroad Commission to establish certificates of convenience and necessity, or "franchises," which would guarantee a given company the exclusive right to transport passengers between fixed points. The commission issued certificate number one to Walter E. Nunnelee of Tyler for his operation from Tyler to Marshall.

The Beck Bus Law provided a grandfather clause for those bus owners who could demonstrate continuous service over a given route as of January 11, 1927. Most of the pioneer operators filed their certification papers under this clause. Clarence Roberson stated his original date of operation from Fort Worth to Stephenville as August 8, 1921. O. C. and W. L. Murphey attested that Sun Set Stages had been in continuous operation from Abilene to Ballinger via Winters since August 15, 1923. Walter E. Nunnelee began operations on September 8, 1922.

R. C. Bowen of Fort Worth and Guy J. Shields of Austin soon organized other operators into the Texas Bus Owners Association and incorporated the association under state laws on March 24, 1928. The first meeting of the board of directors of the TBOA was held on April 4, 1928, at the Jefferson Hotel in Dallas; the directors elected Guy J. Shields president, Fred Freeman of Denton vice president, and R. C. Bowen secretary-treasurer. On April 20, 1928, the TBOA appointed Joe C. Carrington, then secretary of the Cuero Chamber of Commerce, its secretary-manager.

Carrington used his organizational and entrepreneurial skills to lead the TBOA through its initial years. He organized support through the chambers of commerce around the state, conducted training sessions for ticket agents, produced a comprehensive set of bus timetables, coordinated safety programs and public-relations events, worked with the Motor Transportation Division to eradicate wildcatters, developed a code of ethics for the bus industry, and began a house publication, Motor Transportation in Texas. By the end of 1928 the Texas intercity bus industry carried 4,744,867 passengers annually over a highway network of 31,000 miles. Total operating revenues for the industry in 1928 amounted to $6,412,483.

Further developments in the industry before World War II included the founding of the Kerrville Bus Company by Hal and Charlie Peterson in 1929; the sale of three lines by R. C. Bowen to the emerging industry giant, Southland Greyhound Lines, also in 1929; the formation of Airline Motor Coaches in 1930, Central Texas Bus Lines in 1933, Arrow Coach Lines in 1935, and Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma Coaches in 1939.

The Texas intercity busing industry suffered some economic reversal during the Great Depression but rebounded vigorously during World War II, when tire and gasoline rationing encouraged motorists to take the bus. Military installations around the state played a large part in the economic prosperity of the bus lines despite the inability of the owners to acquire sufficient parts, drivers, equipment, and mechanics to keep all of the routes functioning properly. After the end of the war, M. E. Moore founded the Continental Bus System, with corporate headquarters in Dallas, on December 12, 1945. In 1946 all of the franchises of pioneer operator R. C. Bowen were consolidated into Lone Star Coaches and then merged into the new Continental Bus system. On December 9, 1947, all of the Moore and Bowen interests formed the nucleus of the new Transcontinental Bus System (Continental Trailways), with national operations headquartered in Dallas. A symbolic historical transition occurred in the industry on January 1, 1949, when coaches of the Texas Electric Bus Line replaced the interurban rail cars of the Texas Electric Railway between Waco and Dallas.

The postwar optimism of the bus owners did not materialize, and both ridership and revenues entered a period of sustained decline after the war. Most of the small lines ceased operation altogether in the 1950s or sold out to the larger networks of Trailways and Greyhound, which merged in 1987. The Greyhound Corporation sold its bus operations in toto to a group of investors headed by Fred Currey of Dallas in 1986. The entire operation of the Kerrville Bus Company, including Painter Bus Lines, was sold to Fred Kaiser of Kerrville on July 15, 1988. As of 1989 the Texas intercity bus industry was heavily dominated by Greyhound. Other companies still in operation were Arrow Trailways of Texas, Central Texas Trailways, Kerrville Bus Company, Sun Set Stages, and Texas Bus Lines; Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma Coaches; and a few smaller operations.

Jack Rhodes, Intercity Bus Lines of the Southwest (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988). San Antonio Express News, July 30, 1988. Oscar Schisgall, Greyhound Story (Chicago: Ferguson, 1985). Thomas Urbanik II, Intercity Bus Industry in Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas A&M University, 1982).

Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s

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

Jack Rhodes, “Busing Industry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/busing-industry.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
January 19, 2022