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“Oh, thank God and Greyhound you’re gone. That load on my mind got lighter when you got on. That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight, with the black smoke a-rolling up around the tail lights. It may sound kinda cruel but I’ve been silent too long. Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone.” Those are some of the lyrics from the song written and performed by Roy Clark, the folksy character who co-hosted Hee-Haw with Buck Owens.

Hee Haw was an American television show that began in 1969

The show’s name came from the braying noise made by a donkey. Hee Haw was a variety show styled on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Laugh-In’s humor was anti-establishment, heavy on politics and sexual innuendo. Hee Haw‘s brand of humor was from the uncultured remote backwoods, like The Beverly Hillbillies – corny.

Laugh-In showed some of the first music videos on network television, including appearances by the Temptations and the Bee Gees. Hee-Haw had Tennessee Ernie Ford and Tammy Wynette.

Fred Silverman

Yep, him again. Hee Haw had been on for two years when Silverman took over as head of daytime programming for CBS. Silverman complained about the network’s rural image, saying he didn’t want to be known as the head of the barnyard network. Execs at ABC and NBC got under his skin by saying CBS stood for “Countrified Broadcasting Station.” In what was called his rural purge, Silverman cancelled Hee-Haw and the other eight of the network’s rural-themed shows.

In 1914 a couple of Swedes named Andy Anderson and Carl Wickman started driving workers to and from the iron mines in an open seven passenger car

Two years later their Mesabi Transportation Company had five cars and carried passengers to places as far away as Duluth and Minneapolis. Competitors sprang up everywhere, most traveling only between neighboring cities. By 1925, more than 6,000 intercity bus companies existed in the United States, many with colorful names like Jack Rabbit, Golden Eagle, White Swan, and Blue Goose. The founders grew Mesabi’s business by buying up small bus companies and adding routes and in 1930 officially became the Greyhound Corporation. 

The Greyhound Bus Museum

Hibbing, Minnesota is closer to Winnipeg, Canada than it is to Minneapolis. It was chosen as the site for the museum because it was where Wickman and Anderson started their first bus service, a two mile trip. I expected it to look like a Greyhound bus station, but it looks more like a mail sorting facility.

The gift shop has hats, t-shirts, mugs and assorted kitsch

The historical collection includes 13 actual Greyhound buses from 1914 to 1982, artifacts, memorabilia, and a really creepy papier mâché sculpture of Bob Dylan in a Greyhound bus driver’s uniform, a nod to their hometown boy, Robert Zimmerman. 

Before the days of Interstate highways

Most people across the United States traveled by bus, especially those living in rural areas not served by other means of transportation. Buses were also big back in the hills where trains didn’t go.

Buses were the first choice for city dwellers, too

In the 1930s, Greyhound Bus stations were built in styles referred to as Art Deco and Streamline Moderne.

Buses in 1930 were the height of luxury travel

Greyhound’s 1930 NiteCoach was outfitted with upper and lower berths, like the railroads’ Pullman cars.

Lots of things say they’re iconic, but the Art Deco Scenicruiser really is

I don’t mean iconic in the overused sense you hear a dozen times a day, but iconic because it has a place in the history of American transportation, design, and culture. When the Scenicruiser was introduced in 1954, Greyhound was carrying more than 100 million passengers a year, riders attracted by the slogan Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us. The view from the upper deck of the Scenicruiser was elevated, just like observation cars on railroad trains.

Unlike drab and boxy double decker buses, the Scenicruiser was sleek and gave the appearance of motion

The shiny stainless steel sides gave the bus an aircraft look. The raked upper windshield was aerodynamic in look and performance.

In the newspaper and magazine business, the layout above is called a double-truck

You can see the fold in the center of the image. The ad runs across two pages that face each other, doubling its size. This changes the layout from portrait to landscape, just like your software does today on your screens. Landscape layouts are the biggest attention-getters because they fill all of both pages, which is why Greyhound chose double-trucks to introduce “a great new era in highway travel.”

At the peak of their popularity in the 1940s, interstate buses were racking up 27 billion passenger miles a year

But as the nation’s highway system expanded and cars became more comfortable, more people chose to drive between cities. At the same time, the airplane industry became the choice of people with money and people in a hurry. Because buses were the slowest and cheapest form of transportation, they began to be perceived as the conveyance of choice for minorities, the poor, and the elderly.

In 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in interstate bus travel

In 1961, Freedom Riders were groups of racially mixed civil rights activists who rode buses through the American South to protest segregated bus terminals by trying to use waiting rooms, lunch counters and restrooms.

Hundreds of Freedom Riders were arrested for trespassing, unlawful assembly, violating Jim Crow laws, and more.

Many were severely beaten by mobs, police, or both.

The Freedom Fighters drew international attention to the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Most of their sacrifices are long forgotten.

Times changed and Greyhound’s long, slow decline began

Left behind by cars and cheap air travel, buses and bus stations fell into disrepute and disrepair and the era of safe, clean, affordable bus travel died a slow death. The Washington Post said at its lowest point, Greyhound’s image was as “the chariot of absolute last resort.”

Is Greyhound still around?

I was shocked to find the current Greyhound fleet has 1,700 buses driving passengers over 5 billion miles a year in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. If you’d like to see what they’re up to these days, drop by greyhound.com, take a virtual tour, and check out their free Wi-Fi, movies and games, along with their individual power outlets, reclining leather seats, and extra legroom. Their pitch these days is “Relax and be entertained.”

Want to read more articles like this?

Click here for no-ad, no-tracking access to the hundreds of articles David has written every week since 2016. He covers lots of topics, always showing there is more to things than meet the eye.

Bonus

Greyhound buses were so much a part of the fabric of society that they have appeared in such films as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Midnight Cowboy, Sleeping with the Enemy, and more. The Greyhound bus below played a big part in the 1934 screwball comedy It Happened One Night as ace reporter Clark Gable and runaway heiress Claudette Colbert attempted to travel incognito from Miami to New York City.

It Happened One Night is one of only three films that won all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay (the other two are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs). Greyhound buses are in the lyrics of songs made famous by Chuck Berry, the Drifters, Simon and Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Allman Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Rod Stewart, Billy Joel, Kenny Chesney, Death Cab for Cutie, and dozens more. Roy Clark’s Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone reached the Billboard charts in 1970. You can click here to watch and listen to the video.

 

 

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