As the “website guy”, I am not the source of deep bus historical knowledge, but I keep asking questions that trigger fun conversations.
For example, I was trying to understand some of the confusion around the naming of our Austin “Utility Coach”.
I’m happy to report that our Pacific Bus Museum, in-house historian, Eli Bail, did a lot of work to help try to answer these questions. He worked closely with Leslie Mark Kendall, the Chief Historian, of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Presented here is Eli Bail’s history of Pickwick. He continued this with the history of Austin, which we have over on our Austin page.
– PBM Member Tom Baker
Pickwick Stages, Inc., Los Angeles (1924-1929)
Pickwick Motor Coach Works, Ltd., El Segundo (1929-1934)
The San Diego-based owner-operator association, whose touring cars loaded at the curb in front of the PickwickTheater, first ran out to the Imperial Valley. By the end of the year, the cars of Pickwick Stages ran to Los Angeles via Riverside. Now as the Pickwick Stages System, through a merger with an established line, there was service north to Santa Barbara in 1915, up the coat to San Francisco in 1918, and on to Portland in 1921. In 1925 Pickwick expanded east to Phoenix and El Paso. In early 1926 the Pickwick Stages System comprised 250 miles of route.
Early equipment consisted of stretched Pierce-Arrow automobiles with oversized radiators and specially-built bodies assembled in the Pickwick Los Angeles shops. In 1925 buffet-equipped buses with deluxe bodies on Pierce-Arrow Model Z chassis were put into service between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The buses featured two lavatories and separate compartments for ladies and smokers; all had reclining seats with adjustable headrests and meals were served en route by a steward.
An innovation of 1927 was an 18-passenger side-door stage on a stretched Pierce-Arrow chassis with a four-piece folding top for open-air sightseeing along the Apache Trail out of Phoenix. By the fall of 1928, there were 359 buses on the Pickwick roster; two-thirds of them on modified Pierce-Arrow chassis, most with well-appointed bodies. Luxury motor travel was the watchword.
The Pacific-Southwest Exposition, at Long Beach in 1928, featured two distinctive Pickwick-built buses. First was the 28-passenger observation-buffet coach featuring a raised 12-passenger deck amidships and food served by a steward from a tiny kitchen beneath it. Behind that, the last row of seats faced aft at floor level. The driver sat in a raised cupola providing an unobstructed view of the road.
The second new vehicle which debuted at that time was unique in a number of ways. The Pickwick Nite-Coach was the first sleeper bus. The 35-foot coach did not have a separate chassis, but rather a semi-monocoque all-metal body. It was powered by a six-cylinder 150-hp Sterling Petrel engine on pull-out rails, advertised that could be changed out in 20 minutes.
The bus had a crew of three and carried 26 passengers in 13 interlocking compartments accessed from an intermediate central aisle. Each compartment had dressing space, running water, a wash basin, a thermos jug, and a radio so passengers could listen to the Pickwick-owned stations in its major destinations. The seats were converted into berths by the on-board steward, and meals were prepared by a chef in a compact kitchen just Inside the entrance door. The driver sat elevated above the engine and there was a lavatory at the rear. The first five turned out went into scheduled Nite-Coach service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1929.
With a new design in hand and another on the drawing board, Pickwick found the Los Angeles shops inadequate and invested in a new plant in 1929. The Pickwick Motor Coach Works, Ltd., opened that year at 114th Street and Redondo Blvd., today Imperial Highway and Aviation Blvd. The block-square facility included manufacturing space on the first floor with the upholstery shop and engineering offices above. The on-site cafeteria served workers meals at cost while providing training for the Nite-Coach chefs.
Creativity continued and the next unique product of the Pickwick shops, announced in May 1930, was the 53-passenger Duplex Day Coach. The layout was similar to the Nite-Coach, but the seating areas were now open with each compartment holding four seats, two facing forward, and two aft. Like the Nite-Coach there was a Sterling Petrel engine forward and a lavatory aft. By mid-1931 production was at a rate of one-a-week. At least 35 intercity Duplex buses were built, some with Hall-Scott engines, all eventually to Greyhound-affiliated properties. A single 62-passenger transit bus with dual folding doors was built for a New York City operator in 1931. Both revolutionary buses were the creations of Pickwick engineer Dwight Austin, who held the design patents for the Nite-Coach and the Duplex.
Overextended, the Pickwick empire crashed as a result of the Great Depression and entered receivership in 1932. While the parent company sold off assets to pay outstanding debt, Austin continued work on the design of a second-generation Nite-Coach. The bodywork was smoother in design and after the first two were built, the upper windows were rearranged. The general layout was the same as the earlier buses, but now a Hercules HXC engine was at the rear. The transverse rear engine drove through a transmission and driveshaft set at greater than a right angle to the differential. This system, developed by Dwight Austin, became known as angle drive.
Production began in 1932 and ended in mid-1933 with at least 17 second-generation Nite-Coaches built. Attempts to float interest in organizing an enterprise to lease buses to operators, in the same manner as railroad Pullman cars, failed. The last four, held for that eventuality, were not delivered until 1934. Early in 1934, the plant of the Pickwick Motor Coach Works was auctioned off by the receiver. However, in the interim, Dwight Austin leased the plant and applied his angle drive, now patented, to the design and production of a small city bus. (see Austin)
– PBM In-House Historian Eli Bail