PBM Member & former President, Ron Medaglia, wrote an excellent article, in 2017, on the history of the Pacific Bus Museum for the National Bus Trader magazine. You can view that article reprinted in BMC Bus Conversion magazine:
It is also being reprinted here, with permission, as a great summary of our PBM History.
By Ron Medaglia
In the early 1980s, a group of bus enthusiasts in southern California formed the West Coast Motor Coach Museum, a loosely knit organization in which many of the members owned their own buses. As time went on, the group began acquiring buses for the museum and new members joined from other areas in the state. By the late 1980s a group of members in the San Francisco bay area sought to have the museum move to northern California where it was thought it could become a more cohesive organization. They were aided by Museum Secretary Stephen Schwartzwald who was instrumental in moving the Motorcaoch Museum to the bay area and starting the Pacific Bus Museum.
The Pacific Bus Museum was founded in 1989 as a successor to the West Coast Motorcoach Museum. By 1991 Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of California as a non-profit corporation and the museum was granted tax-exempt status by the IRS as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation. Its first president was Richard Twinning, an avid bus collector and owner of Scenic Hyway Tours, a San Francisco tour and charter bus operator.
The early 1990s were formative years for the PBM and later became a time of steady growth of the museum. The museum hosted a number of historical bus excursions each year tracing the routes of bus companies no longer in existence. This was accomplished with the assistance of public transit agencies that succeeded these private companies. In 1992 the museum hosted the California State Bus Rally in San Jose, California. It was one of the largest Bus Rallies in the number of seated coaches on display. During this time the museum increased the size of its bus fleet through a series of acquisitions. This resulted in increased storage and maintenance expenses for the museum. Fortunately the museum was able to benefit from the assistance of the museum’s president and the resources of his bus company.
Starting in 1995 the Pacific Bus Museum began displaying buses at various transportation-related events in the San Francisco bay area. These events proved to be excellent opportunities for the museum to make contact with the public and increase its interest in the museum. Museum brochures with membership applications were created and handed out as people viewed the buses and made inquiries about the museum. The Pacific Bus Museum also began to offer bus-related items for sale at these events.
1996 was a watershed year for the museum. Early that year the museum received the donation of six historic buses that became the cornerstone of the museum’s collection. In the fall, the museum acquired its current site at 37974 Shinn St. in Fremont, California. The acquisition of this bus storage facility in the San Francisco Bay Area enabled the museum to consolidate its operational coaches at one location. Its centralized location made it practical for the museum to attend events in the San Francisco Bay Area and display its buses. On a sad note the museum’s first president, Richard Twinning, passed away during that year due to failing health.
In August of 1997 the Pacific Bus Museum along with regional tour bus company Royal Coach Tours co-hosted the Pac West Bus Rally event in San Jose, California. The bus company provided underwriting for the three-day event held at a local hotel. Both the bus company and museum benefited from the publicity and exposure generated from the event. The rally was a success for both parties with the tour bus company recouping their expenses for the event and the museum generating income from bus-related items sold at the event’s “flea market.”
The museum also initiated three new classes of memberships at higher participation levels in 1997. Membership increased by 30 percent that year due in part to the success of the Bus Rally. An “Adopt-A- Bus” program, where members contribute funds for the repair, restoration, maintenance and or storage of the museum’s buses, was instituted in 1998. A museum “Building Fund” was initiated to raise money for a permanent home for the museum’s bus and memorabilia collection. The donation of a large collection of bus memorabilia was made to the PBM in 1998. Items from the collection were auctioned to raise money for the PBM and the museum ended the fiscal year on a solid financial footing.
In 1999 the museum’s newsletter “The Paddle” introduced a new “magazine” format. A new publisher was found and a number of cost saving measures were implemented resulting in a substantial reduction in printing and mailing costs. Packets listing the PBM’s buses available for movie work were sent to a number of film/video production companies in the hopes of attracting use of the museum’s buses for their work. A new museum Internet Web site was created. A number of bus acquisitions were made in the late 1990s. Among the acquisitions were a Canadian GM 40-foot “new look” transit, a GM 35-foot RTS and a Flxible 30 foot “new look” transit.
The years from 2000 to 2009 were a time of growth and expansion for the PBM. Among the high points of this decade was the acquisition of an iconic symbol of bus transportation and the PBM becoming an operating museum. Historic bus excursions continued to be held each year and the size of the bus collection increased but as time went on the focus of the organization began to change and finding a permanent home for the museum became an important goal.
There was substantial interest during this time in the museum acquiring a GM PD 4501 Greyhound Scenicruiser. In 2003, the museum acquired one to add to its collection. Work started first with putting the bus in good running order and then moved on to restore it back to its 1960s Greyhound Golden Anniversary livery. Funding for the acquisition and restoration of the Scenicruiser was raised through donations from the membership and other interested individuals. The restoration donations were raised through successive annual appeals to the membership. Each appeal was focused on donations for specific work to be completed on the restoration. This approach enabled the museum to proceed with the restoration with tangible results. As of 2017, the exterior restoration is complete while work continues on completing the restoration of the interior. (Update: The final restoration was completed in time for the 2023 Open House.)
In 2004, the PBM was asked to become part of a group being formed to promote the historic Niles district of Fremont. The Pacific Locomotive Association, Inc., operators of the Niles Canyon Railway, was completing the extension of their tracks into the Niles area as part of an expansion of their operations in Niles Canyon. People in Niles were eagerly awaiting the railway’s arrival. In 2005 the group adopted the name “Golden Spike.”
The Union Pacific railroad tracks created a barrier for passengers between the adjacent Niles Canyon Railway train stop and downtown Niles. Working together the Golden Spike group presented a plan to the City of Fremont in 2005 to have the PBM restore and operate a vintage bus to shuttle passengers from the train stop directly to the historic shopping district along Niles Boulevard, approximately one-third of a mile away. Without the shuttle passengers would have to traverse a crude walkway under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Crossing the busy UP tracks at grade was not allowed.
The city of Fremont approved the Golden Spike plan in 2005, which provided funding for the restoration and operation of the vintage bus and for volunteers to assist with people visiting Niles and boarding the trains and the bus. Chosen for the shuttle was the PBM’s 1958, General Motors TDH 4512. Originally delivered new in 1958 to the then Sacramento (California) Transit Authority as fleet number 128, this GM TDH 4512 was sold in the early 1980s to the Associated Students of University of California in Davis, California where the bus was used for a number of years to shuttle students around the university campus. When the PBM acquired the bus in 1997, it was physically and mechanically sound.
During this time PBM business member American Stage Tours of Concord, California became interested in partnering with the PBM as plans to operate the vintage bus began to take shape. With funding for the bus approved, an agreement was worked out between the museum and the tour bus company for the operation of the vintage bus. The bus was leased to American Stage Tours and would be operated as part of their fleet. Operation of the train shuttle and any charters would be handled through AST. The bus would be driven by properly licensed museum members who would become employees of AST.
Restoration of the vintage bus was completed in January 2006 and included new tires, batteries, flooring and re-chromed bumpers. The bus was painted by long-time PBM member Coach Specialties Company in Alameda, California in a distinctive “art deco” look inspired by designs seen on city buses in the 1930s and 40s including San Francisco’s Market Street Railway buses of that era. To complete the look the name Niles Coach Lines was applied to the bus.
The operation was set up to carry passengers from a parking area in the heart of the Niles district to the nearby train boarding area and scheduled to arrive in time to meet inbound trains arriving from the east end of Niles Canyon. When the trains arrived in Niles, passengers disembarked from the trains and boarded the vintage bus for a ride to the main part of Niles. This scenario was duplicated as many as four times a day depending on the number of trains trips operated on Sundays.
Train shuttle operations began in February 2006. Initially operations were scheduled on the first and third Sundays of each month during the spring and fall and weekly during the summer. The bus became an instant hit with the train passengers and people in the Niles community. Within a short time the vintage bus became an attraction in itself along with the trains and visiting the historic Niles area.
One of the highpoints of the vintage bus operation was the numerous remarks received from older passengers commenting on when they rode buses like these when they were much younger. Many younger people had never ridden a bus like this before and were offered a chance to experience what bus travel was like from a by-gone era. 2006 was also Fremont’s 50th anniversary as a city and 128 was chartered for monthly historic tours of the area on days the train shuttle was not in operation.
Based on the success during the first year, funding was provided for a second year of operation for the vintage bus train shuttle with more dates of operation scheduled in 2007. AST’s regular maintenance of the TDH 4512 enabled the bus to be operated without problems throughout 2007. Also in 2007, the vintage bus operation was expanded to operate during the Christmas holiday season for the railway’s Holiday Train of Lights. Overall in 2007 there was an increase of 25 percent in ridership over 2006. Opportunities for chartering the vintage bus increased in 2007 highlighted by another tourist railroad chartering 128 on several occasions to shuttle passengers to their “Thomas the Tank Engine” event. The vintage bus proved to be popular with riders and was chartered for the event again in 2008.
The third year of the vintage bus operation for the Niles train shuttle began in March 2008. The railway expanded its train schedule during the year and with it the vintage bus schedule was expanded. Because of the success of the vintage bus operation the PBM received funding to restore a second GM “old look” bus for the Niles train shuttle that was initially used as a back up for 128 and also for planned future expansion of the train shuttle to the nearby Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station.
In 2009 a second PBM bus was added to operate on the Niles Train Shuttle. A 1957 GM model TDH 4801 nearly identical to the original bus was restored and completed just in time for the Holiday Train of Lights operation that had increased to two trains a night. With two vintage buses in operation the additional passengers were handled with ease. In 2010 the second bus was used to begin an additional route to the trains from the Fremont Bay Area Rapid Transit Station. Anticipated ridership on the new route did not develop and it was discontinued in 2011.
From 2011 thru 2013 the vintage buses were operated on a rotating basis for the Niles Train shuttle and in charter service as needed. Sadly after seven and one half years of operation the Niles train shuttle ceased running when the funding ran out in 2013. The lease agreement with the bus company ended in December of that year.
2009 was the first year for the museum’s Open House in Fremont where 12 of the museum’s buses were all on display along with five visiting buses. The event also included a BBQ and bus memorabilia flea market. Since then the Open House has become an annual event and has grown to include as many as 34 buses, approximately half of them were visiting buses, a larger flea market and a raffle. It is now the museum’s biggest event of the year.
Changes to the museum’s bus collection occurred from time to time in the 10-year period from 2000 to 2009. During this time six buses were acquired. In addition, each of the museum’s buses was assessed periodically by the Acquisitions Committee based on their condition and their historical value to the museum. As a result, eight buses were sold or traded and all went to good homes.
Between the years 2010-2017 the size of the museum’s bus collection increased by almost a third. Thirteen buses were acquired, all of them donated to the PBM. Five buses were deemed non-essential to the collection. Good homes for four of them were found and were sold off. The fifth bus was scrapped and its engine, transmission and wheel rims were sold for parts. Also during this time the film and media work utilizing the museum’s buses began to increase.
In 2015 the museum was approached by Restoration shop at the San Jose History Park with a proposal to restore the museum’s oldest bus, a 1932 Twin Coach model 15. The restoration shop is run by volunteers. They have restored a number of antique automobiles dating back to the early 1900s, many of which are on display at the history park. Funding for the Twin Coach restoration came from the special fund for this bus that the museum started in 1998.
After 20 years at the museum’s present location in Fremont, California the PBM was able to obtain a lease on the building being occupied in 2016. It is now the permanent home. Another milestone for the museum was reached in 2017 when the museum membership reached 200 members.
Going forward the Pacific Bus Museum continues to grow and evolve expanding its outreach efforts in the northern California region with bus displays at various transportation-related events and participation in parades. Efforts continue to enhance the museum’s bus collection by focusing on acquiring buses from a broader period of bus travel and also expanding its bus memorabilia collection.
To Be Continued…