CHARLOTTE TRANSIT HISTORIC RECOLLECTIONS
by Earl Gulledge
A Silverside moves through the Square in the 1970s
City Coach Lines officially assumed Charlotte's bus operations from Duke
Power sometime in the first half of 1955. Duke buses had been gray with a
black stripe. City Coach introduced their new colors - white with a green
stripe - on a shipment of GM TDH 35-foot models in the summer of that year.
Numbered 1021 through 1034, these were 41 passenger models with single seats
on the driver side for more standee room. They were notable for the "GM Air
Ride Coach" lettering above the standee windows on each exterior side.
Numbers 1035 through 1042, which were 45-passenger models of the same
length, supplemented these buses.
City coach also introduced the first
40-foot models, which were 102 inches wide and carried 51 passengers.
These were numbered 1001 through 1014 and were assigned to the highest
density lines: Route 7, Biddleville - Second Ward, and Route 1, Mt. Holly -
Providence Road. City Coach quickly disposed of all non-GM equipment, which
by that time was limited to Ford "cracker box" buses. They carried no more
passengers than some of the uptown shuttle buses of today. By then they ran
on peak hour only routes such as 15A, South Tryon - Burton Street. City
Coach continued the Duke practice of assigning the same buses to each route.
Each driver drove the same bus daily except when maintenance work
necessitated a substitute.
Duke buses always displayed advertising placards on the interior upper
sides of its buses. City Coach soon tapped into the revenue potential of
exterior advertising as all buses carried side, rear, and front placards as
soon as new paint was applied to each coach.
father drove number 791, a 32 passenger GMC, about 1950. Prior to the
general availability of hydraulic transmissions about 1948 Duke ordered a
variety of coaches. Afterwards it purchased GMC (known as Yellow Coach until
1943) models only. The 680 series were 36 passenger manual transmission
coaches some of which I rode to school in the fall of 1961. Duke apparently
ordered one consecutive numerical series for its entire system. Charlotte
had number 550 but I recall no other numbers until about the 670 mark,
excepting the Ford buses. The gasoline models continued through at least
830, which served the State Street route with 828 and 829. The
were put in service in early 1950 and were numbered 844
through 855 - 32 passenger models. The next order carried from 856 through
889 - 36 passenger models.
In the early 1950's Duke also ordered its first
35-foot, air ride models - 890 through 899. My father drove both 892 and
897 which served the new high density Route 16, York Road - Double Oaks.
Numbers 912 and 913, also 35-foot models but without air ride, also served
Charlotte. The missing numbers apparently went somewhere else in the Duke
Both Duke and later City Coach had a large commitment to busing school
children. Many children of the 1950 -70 period were bused - but on public
transit. I rode regular route Number 2 to Ashley Park School. Many schools,
probably high schools but perhaps some others, had regular school hours only
routes assigned. At least 5 or 6 buses were assigned to Harding High School
when I attended there. Duke had
tickets for school children. The older buses would always draw the
school assignments. The ridership was significant. In 1961 City Coach
transferred about a dozen Mack buses from its Jacksonville operation. They
were used as I recall only for school routes.
The last of the GMC "old look" buses finished there service in the school
pool in the 1970's, by then equipped with side mounted stop lights similar
to school system models. City Coach made other significant changes. Gone
were the electric fare boxes which drivers periodically emptied by
automatically sorting change. In their place were new sealed and numbered
units, which were emptied by authorized personnel at the end of the day. New
too were the telephones at the "end of the line " locations from which
drivers had direct lines to the garage and through which they reported
My earliest memories of the Duke system were that my
father drove the South Tryon - Elizabeth Route about 1950. The South
Tryon end of the line was at the top of Cliffwood just a block off Tryon.
That route turned at the Square. Its successor route,
Number 6, Elizabeth - North Charlotte which ran until about 1957 also
turned at the Square. To eliminate the turning movement Elizabeth was paired
with Oaklawn and North Charlotte paired with Selwyn Avenue.
Some routes during the early 1950's had peak hour service at ten- minute
or less intervals. Routes such as Number 4, Park Road - Belmont were
supplemented by Route 4A, Parkwood - Avondale during peak hours. As
ridership declined during the second half of the 1950's some routes were
dropped while others were added. The chess game of
bus route changes reflected our changing city. Number 13, Smallwood -
Cumberland became Cumberland - Wesley Heights (extended into Ashley Park
during its peak hours only run). The later years "Charlottetown" route is a
successor of the "Cumberland " route. Green Street - Oakhurst, Route 2, and
became Coliseum - Green Street. Later the Green Street was exchanged for
Ashley Park. In 1950 Route 12 was North Tryon - South Boulevard. By October
1953 it swapped numbers with 11, South Boulevard - Hutchinson Avenue. The
State Street - Midwood Route 10 disappeared by 1959. Likewise, Number 9,
Wilmore - Eastover become the new Number 10, Midwood - Wilmore as Eastover
was dropped for peak hour service by Route 1 (At that time Eastover
ridership consisted mostly of domestic workers so peak hour service was
entirely adequate). At one time Routes 1 and 8 followed the same path but
from opposite directions on the west side. Interestingly, Route 1 – Mt.
Holly and Route 11 – North Tryon have the same designations as they did 50
The term "peak hour" meant the same as it does today - morning and
afternoon commuter rush. Most routes even added additional buses during
Saturday morning to accommodate shoppers to the uptown district. Ridership
dictated the shifts of the drivers. Morning and afternoon straight shifts
handled the basic day's requirements. Peak hour only drivers worked the
so-called split shift while swing shift drivers (fewer in number) worked
from about 10:00 AM until about 4:00 PM.
In 1955 ridership was a true melting pot of people. The post-Korean War
era was just beginning and it would not be kind to public transit in most
cities, Charlotte included. In 1955 many professional people rode the bus.
By 1960 there was a difference. The rapid suburbanization of the city and
the availability of two cars in many families significantly reduced
ridership and the demographics of those who rode. In a move, which
paralleled the railroad experience of a decade earlier, new bus designs and
the availability of air-conditioned coaches attempted to counter the sharp
decline in ridership.
Bus service in the 1950' and 60's was an integral part of one's daily
life. During all of my childhood I lived directly on a bus route. I went to
school on a bus, dated on a bus, and even brought groceries home from uptown
markets on a bus - and so did most of my friends. In fact, one could tell
time by the passing of the local bus. It was quite exciting to have attended
a late evening movie and then watch perhaps 25 - 30 buses leave together
Square at 11:30 PM.
Kress, W. T. Grant, F.W. Woolworth, and McLellans offered shelter, food,
and places to amble away idle time. Bus patrons could be seen carrying a
variety of goods - clothing, housewares, dry cleaning, and groceries.
The Duke Power bus garage (which still exists and it used for other
purposes) was originally built as a car barn for streetcars. Its paint shop
building, with trolley tracks still in place, today houses two 35 foot “silversides” coaches acquired by the CMHPC. City Coach moved to its new
garage at Brevard and 11th Street in 1957. The residents on the corner would
not sell their house and lived therein surrounded by buses for many years.
That garage was demolished in 1997. Duke also had some non-direct
competition in the 1950's. One, possibly more, private bus companies served
specific outlying communities. Sharon Coach Company, whose two or three
buses were gray/white with a black stripe, provided service to the
Sharon/Pineville area. Their uptown terminus was a small, old building
located to the west side of the Peace Building on West Trade. Today bus
riders enjoy a sparkling transit center, which provides shelter and a
variety of other amenities, duplicating on a smaller scale the offerings of
the mid-century uptown. In times past folks simply awaited their rides at
the uptown (downtown then) square. The last of the older mercantile
establishment disappeared when Belk and Woolworth closed in 1987-88 to make
way for the Bank of America Corporate Center. City Coach began maintaining
both Greyhound and Trailways coaches once the new garage was open in 1957.
Prior to that time Trailways serviced its coaches in a building behind and
to the west of the surviving former terminal on West Trade. Greyhound
actually used a small building on West Bland Street, which is still there
The Historic Landmarks Commission has preserved two
I can remember only one strike by drivers, which took place in September
or October of 1958. Many drivers drove cabs during the strike, which lasted
about two weeks. My father drove a black and white 1955 Chevrolet for
Victory Cab Company (Yellow, Baker, and Red Top were the other cab
operators). Lastly, I can recall no robberies of bus drivers either on or
off duty. City Coach drivers held no fare box money but carried $100 of
company operating funds. My father walked home many times at night from our
neighborhood bus stop with no thought of being robbed. However, about 1955 a
driver named Perry was assaulted by a man with a hatchet on the Oaklawn
route. He ducked and apparently was only superficially injured as passengers
wrestled the man to the floor of the bus.
The first of the "new
look" GMC buses arrived in Charlotte in the fall of 1959 and were
numbered 1043 through 1048. The next groups, 1049 through 1054, were the
first air-conditioned coaches and were placed in service in the spring of
1960. All future equipment would be air-conditioned. The "new look" or
silversides as they are sometimes called continued to be ordered by City
Coach until Charlotte Transit was formed about 1976. Included were a number of
40-foot coaches, which were 102 inches wide. The new
GMC "RTS" design was instrumental in drawing new riders when introduced
In 1983 new Flxible coaches (then owned by Grumman) 136 through 175 were
added to the fleet. They were followed in the late 1980’s by Mann coaches
176 through 215, by GM RTS II numbers 216 through 225, and by Flexible
coaches 226 through 266. All were 40 foot coaches. In a departure from
usual practice, ten
55 foot articulated Mann buses were purchased from
Atlanta, rebuilt and served a number of years.
2001 AND BEYOND
A renewed interest in public transit, strong job growth, and the infill
of new uptown housing has placed new demands on our bus system. Expanded
routes, service to downtown Matthews for instance, longer hours of service,
and cross town service have required new equipment. In 1998 twenty new
Gillig 40 foot coaches, 701 through 720, were added followed the next year
by new Nova 102 inch wide coaches, 800 through 914.
The Charlotte Transit logo has been replaced by
CATS – Charlotte Area
Transit System while the exterior advertising of the past fifty years is
gone. Bicycle racks have been added to the front of each bus. The Transit
Center has in some ways replaced the “Square” of years ago by providing a
central transfer point. As this revision goes to press CATS has begun
service to several adjacent cities such as Rock Hill and Concord. Different
to meet changing demands but still a viable and necessary means of
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