Go back with me in time to the years during and after World War II when every family did not own a car, and compare that to today when two or three cars are parked in every carport or at every house. Cars were scarce during and after the War, and gasoline and tires were rationed. Being an opportune businessman, Mr. Neal Arnold opened a City Bus Line in our little town. His brothers, Clyde and Herman, were in business here, too. I have been unable to find records that indicate the exact date that business was started, but Jody Lee, the historian at the Comer Museum has information about the location as early as 1934. The bus schedule you see was in The Sylacauga Advance dated February 28, 1946. Thanks to Ray McDiarmid for this treasure, and B. B. Comer Library for its archives.
The business was located first in a metal warehouse that faced East on Reynolds Street and Third Street near the old Sylacauga Post Office and the A& P. Notice the telephone number at the bottom of the ad: Phone 13. This was the day when a telephone, especially a private line, was a luxury. B. Pitchford in her article of July 24, 2001, said that in 1939 there were only 650 numbers in the area, with 5 operators and two servicemen.
Sylacauga Taxi Company had a location in the City Bus Line building so that folks who rode into town from outlying areas could hire a cab to complete their business. That telephone number was 7. The business operated from this area for quite some time and later moved to the building where the Thrift Store is now. Trailways Bus started there a little later. Mrs. Pitchford noted that Mr. Johnny Stone was the mechanic and driver for the Bus Line. Lon Rudd was another driver’s name that came up in my research along with Dewey Riggins, and Mr. Murray Simmons, father of Sylacauga busiessman Charlie Simmons.
One person who responded to my request for firsthand information about the Bus Lines was Becky Hughes Brooks. Becky rode the bus from B.B. Comer School to the home of Margaret Gunther behind Sylacauga Hospital. Mrs. Gunther taught Becky piano. The bus route picked up people on the corner where the First National Bank was located, across from People’s Drug Store. With no air conditioning, the ride was long and hot with numerous stops; and sometimes before the long trip started, someone would go across the street to the Drug Store and bring back Becky a fountain Coke with the extra nickel her Mother had given her. Becky rode the bus for 2 years about 1953-54, sitting in the seat right behind the nice driver who looked after her. Her Mother arranged all of this because she wanted her daughter to be a pianist, and that she is! Becky Brooks has played piano and taught others to play for many years. She comments, “I made many friends riding that City Bus.” With the convenience of travel today, we can make a trip from B.B. Comer School to Coosa Valley Medical Center in 5 or 6 minutes .Becky’s Mom would remind her as Mamas still do on long trips today to be certain to go to the bathroom before she left the school.
Riding the bus was the only way for some to visit grandparents and other relatives in the days when cars were few and far between. Sometimes the grandparents lived just across town, but that trip was not within walking distance. William Lloyd Liveoak rode the bus from downtown Sylacauga to visit his grandparents, Isaiah and Anna Robinson who lived on Thomas Hill in the Five Points area. This was in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Sometimes, as in the case of Elvie Walker it was a longer trip. Elvie said, “I rode the bus to Sycamore to visit my great grandparents, John and Loni Cleveland.” Sandra Dale Sims remembers riding to her grandparents’ house on Oak Street for weekend visits. She only needed a nickel for this trip.
A common reason for riding the bus was to buy groceries. When Bobby Clifton and I married in 1960 we walked to Jitney Jungle on Fort Williams from our little house on Spring Street to get our groceries. Robert White had a different story: “I rode the bus from Sycamore with my Dad to go grocery shopping at Hill’s Grocery in Sylacauga.” Shelia White’s story was a family affair. She said, “I was too young to know the driver’s name. My mother, aunt, cousins, and I rode the bus downtown every two weeks to shop. My stepdad got paid on a two-week schedule.” Linda Williams Haynes said, “I rode the bus to Sycamore and Cyco.”
In recent days we have become spoiled because we have been able to jump in the car and make several trips a day to town or even to Birmingham or other nearby destinations. I hope that you will reflect on this information about a time, not so very long ago when people did not have that convenience. During this week of celebrating our country’s independence, I hope you will treasure such stories of entrepreneurship that have made our country great. People who see a need and come up with a way to meet that need have started many businesses across our great land. So wave your flag for democracy, and be thankful to live in this U.S.A, established by hard working people who believed in Almighty God. See you soon with more stories next time about the Sylacauga City Bus Line.