|Successor||Wayne Wheeled Vehicles|
|Headquarters||Richmond, Indiana, United States|
|Parent||Divco Corporation (1957–1968)
Indian Head (1968–1975)
|Subsidiaries||Welles Corporation (1925–1990)
Wayne Corporation was a large manufacturer of buses and other vehicles branded with the trade name "Wayne." The corporate headquarters were in Richmond, Indiana, in Wayne County, Indiana, in the United States. Wayne became a leading producer of school buses in North America.
Among innovations Wayne introduced were the first school bus application of the now popular cutaway van chassis and the first large school bus bodies featuring continuous longitudinal panels to reduce joints and improve structural integrity a number of years before FMVSS standards were required for all US school buses. After 1980, Wayne faced difficulty competing in a market with overcapacity. Declaring bankruptcy, the company discontinued operations in 1992 and the assets were liquidated.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Early history
- 3 Divco-Wayne Corporation 1957–1968
- 4 Wayne Corporation: an Indian Head Company: 1968–1975
- 5 The Thyssen-Bornemisza Years 1975–1984
- 6 Wayne Corporation: Richmond Transportation Corporation 1985–1992
- 7 Epilogue
- 8 Products
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Wayne is a name in school transportation that predates the familiar yellow school bus seen all over the USA and Canada. Beginning in the 19th century, craftsmen in Richmond, Indiana at Wayne Works and its successors built horse-drawn vehicles, including kid hacks, evolving into automobiles and virtually all types of bus bodies during the 20th century. Wayne products eventually included school buses, transit buses, highway coaches, military and shuttle buses, ambulances and even huge bus bodies pulled by tractor trailers used to haul oil field workers in the Middle East.
Among many innovations, Wayne pioneered the guard rails on the sides of all school buses today, inboard wheelchair lifts, and even high-headroom doors (a special accommodation for mobility-challenged persons requiring head and neck support from above). The company was the first with a school bus based upon a cutaway van chassis, the Wayne Busette, a chassis design which more than 35 years later remains one of the most popular in use in North American markets. The crowning safety achievement was the Wayne Lifeguard structural design introduced in 1973, which featured continuous interior and exterior longitudinal panels. The Lifeguard's design helped pave the way for the all-important U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for school buses, most of which became applicable on April 1, 1977. In the years after, Wayne continued to be a leader in bus safety engineering.
Wayne went through many owners. During the second half of the 20th century, the business underwent periods under Divco-Wayne, Boise Cascade, Indian Head, and Thyssen-Bornemisza conglomerate ownership, and moved to a greatly expanded facility adjacent to Interstate 70 in 1967, where it became a familiar landmark to millions of travelers. After encountering a difficult market cycle and industry downturn due to over-capacity beginning in the early 1980s, Wayne Corporation finally closed up and went out-of-business in 1992. Several efforts to continue to utilize portions of the assets and build school buses ended in 2000.
As of 2006, thousands of Wayne buses remained in service, although the numbers are dwindling each year as new buses replace them in school and commercial operations. Some have been converted to motor homes and other uses. The former Wayne Corporation property along Interstate 70 is becoming re-utilized for a number of retail and industrial enterprises.
After starting out as Wayne Agricultural Works in Dublin, Indiana in the mid 19th century, all manufacturing was centralized at Richmond, Indiana. It is important to note that most bus bodies consisted of in-house manufactured parts and purchased components manufactured by others, combined into bus bodies in assembly operations. Thus, the major two functions of the Richmond, Indiana plant were manufacturing of parts, and assembly.
Wayne bus bodies were also assembled at multiple locations of truck body dealers around the US and at a Canadian assembly plant, Welles, Ltd. in Windsor, Ontario. Kits were also shipped overseas even after all North American assembly was eventually centralized in Richmond, Indiana and Windsor, Ontario in the early 1960s.
Wayne's predecessor, Wayne Works, was founded in the United States of America in 1837. Wayne Works began by making horse-drawn vehicles. By 1886, and possibly earlier, it is known that Wayne Works was making horse-drawn school carriages which many people referred to as "school hacks," "school cars," "school trucks," or "kid hacks." As education in the United States shifted from small "one room schools" to fewer but larger multi-room schools, less children lived within walking distances. Initially, as many students who needed transportation lived in rural areas, the need was filled by adapted farm vehicles. Soon, these practices and operations evolved and expanded into today's school transportation systems.
Beginning in the early 1930s through the 1940s, several automobile designers and manufacturers were located in Richmond. Among the automobiles manufactured there was the "Richmond" which was built by the Wayne Works, the "Rodefeld", and the Crosley.
The Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond, Indiana has a rare 1907 "Richmond" on display, along with horse-drawn "kid hack" also manufactured by the Wayne Works.
According to several sources, in 1914 Wayne Works mounted a wooden kid hack onto an automobile chassis, creating a predecessor to the modern motor school bus. In the vehicle bodies for school transportation that the company produced during this era, passengers sat on perimeter seating, facing the sides rather than the front of the bus. Entry and egress was through a door at the rear, a design begun in non-motorized days to help avoiding startling the horses. This feature was retained, becoming the rear emergency exit seen on today's buses; the primary mode of ingress/egress was now through a curbside door.
By 1927, Wayne Works was building all-steel bus bodies. In the following few years, the school bus bodies began to include a group of heavy-duty "collision rails" or "guard rails" as an added safety feature. Wayne Works was one of the earliest school bus companies to offer glass in place of the standard canvas curtains in the passenger area; glass did not become a common feature until the 1930s.
Although not the first to introduce the type, in the 1930s, Wayne Works was among the first manufacturers to produce transit-style school buses; a body with a more or less flat front-end design. Initial production of Wayne's "forward control" bus bodies were conversions of conventional bus chassis. However, the "conventional" design, with a cowled chassis (known as Type C on modern school buses) would be the bulk of Wayne's sales until production ended in 1992.
World War II – wooden bodies and trailer buses
To conserve steel for war use, Wayne Works and other manufacturers reverted from all-steel construction to building some bus bodies with wooden components during World War II. The company also developed trailer-type bodies for military use which could transport up to 150 passengers, pulled by a truck. Thousands of military ambulance bodies were also produced. The company also did some reconstruction on older buses and trucks to extend their lives during the war years, as did other bus body manufacturers.
In 1944, as the end of World War II approached, Wayne returned to building all-steel bodies.
Welles: Canadian bus assembly
Welles Corporation in Windsor, Ontario, was named for Halsey V. Welles who founded H. V. Welles Ltd. in 1925. Originally named Warford Corp. of Canada, it was first established to distribute Warford transmissions. Expanding into after-market products primarily for Ford trucks, in 1948, Welles Corp. became the sole Canadian distributor of Wayne Works school buses.
Wayne Works began to diversify into other fields besides bus production through several acquisitions in the mid-1950s. These acquisitions primarily brought Wayne into the world of professional car production.
The company purchased Meteor Motor Car Company in Piqua, Ohio in 1954. Meteor built professional cars, such as limousines and ambulances. Two years later, in 1956, Wayne acquired A.J. Miller's professional car building company of Bellefontaine, Ohio. The A.J. Miller Company had begun in 1853 by making horse carriages and then started making automobiles in the early part of the 20th century. However, the small company found it could not compete with the larger automobile makers, so they began specializing in hearses and ambulances. Over the years the Miller hearses became known and used throughout the world.
The Miller Co. was combined with Wayne's existing professional car subsidiary, Meteor Motor Car Company, forming the new Miller-Meteor (M-M) division of Wayne. The 2 companies competed in 1956, but were doing business as a combination by 1957.
Divco-Wayne Corporation 1957–1968
In 1957, under the leadership of Newton Glekel, Divco Corporation bought the Wayne Works, a school bus builder in Richmond, Indiana, and renamed itself, Divco-Wayne Corporation. Divco-Wayne, also known as D-W, was a conglomerate involved in the manufacturing of trucks, school buses, hearses, ambulances and mobile homes, and apparently also had had an electronics section involved in aerospace technology.
Divco stands for Detroit Industrial Vehicles COmpany. Founded in 1926, Divco was well known for its pioneering delivery vehicles, especially milk trucks. From 1926 to 1986, Divco produced multi-stop delivery trucks unlike any others. Only the VW Beetle stayed in production with the same basic model for a longer period of time. Divco trucks have become popular collectible vehicles today. The company's history (including the time it was part of Divco-Wayne) has been researched in some depth by the Divco Club of America, and more information from before and after the corporate marriage to Wayne beyond the scope of this article can be found at Divco History.
During the Divco-Wayne era, the truck manufacturing of Divco-Wayne continued to be through the former Divco portion. Some Divco trucks were modified with seats and windows from the Wayne Works to produce a Divco Dividend Bus; very few of these units were built between 1959 and 1961. Virtually all bus and ambulance manufacturing was through the Wayne Corporation portion of Divco-Wayne, and subsidiary units Miller-Meteor and Cotner-Bevington.
Wayne Export was another division, and it specialized in selling disassembled Wayne bodies (CKDs) to points outside North America. The CKDs were then handled by 20 overseas distributors and assembly facilities. By 1957, Wayne bus bodies were in use in 60 different countries. In 1963, Wayne licensed the Spanish S.A. Bosuga to build in Barcelona coach bodies based on Wayne's technology and designs. These were marketed as Bosuga Wayne, utilizing mainly Pegaso and Barreiros-AEC chassis. The venture was short-lived, since the Spanish market for coach bodies was crowded.
As Wayne had become part of a conglomerate, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw the brand move into industries far removed from bus manufacturing and even the automotive industry in general.
The professional car (quoted from a leading trade association) "is loosely defined as a custom-bodied vehicle, based on passenger car styling, and used in the funeral, rescue or livery services." Such vehicles may be hearses, flower cars, service cars, ambulances, limousines, or cars specially built to combine two or more of these different functions, such as combination hearse-ambulances, sedan ambulances or invalid coaches. These body styles were all hand built. The roof, glass, and doors are all manufactured and/or modified by expert craftsmen. The commercial chassis and the front and rear clips of these cars are the only parts shared with their donor cars.
Divco-Wayne gained entry into the professional car market in the late 1950s and early 1960s by acquiring manufacturers Miller, Meteor and Cotner-Bevington. Divco-Wayne and the later parent companies of Wayne Corporation stayed in the professional car market until the end of the 1970s, when changing federal regulations caused a number of body manufacturers to close down.
Professional car manufacturers Miller and Meteor, newly combined as Miller-Meteor, were brought into the fold of Divco-Wayne as the newly formed conglomerate was developing its opportunities in this field. Although the recently combined Miller-Meteor company was initially based at Bellefontaine, Ohio, originally the home of the A.J. Miller Company, under Divco-Wayne ownership, it was later relocated to Piqua, Ohio, Meteor's old hometown nearby. The Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 was a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance.
Divco-Wayne acquired Cotner-Bevington (C-B) in 1964 and it became a subsidiary of Wayne Corporation. Comet Coach Company was based in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1959, the coach builder had sold its "Comet" trade name rights to the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford Motor Company for use on Mercury's version of the Ford Falcon, called the Mercury Comet. Starting with the 1960 model year the former Comet Coach Co. was renamed Cotner-Bevington, after the company's two founders. They moved from Memphis, Tennessee a few miles north to Blytheville, Arkansas. C-B stayed in business through the 1975 model year, building only on Oldsmobile automobile chassis and truck-based ambulances after about 1964.
Wayne's line of truck-based ambulances ("Sentinel" Suburbans starting for the 1968 model year, "Vanguard" Chevrolet vans for 1971, and "Medicruiser" Dodge vans for 1973) were built in the Blytheville facility. The Sentinel Suburbans received a headroom increase for 1971, but were only built through the 1972 model year. After that, the Sentinel brand name was used on Wayne's line of Type I (pickup chassis) modular ambulances. Body shells were produced at the Richmond, Indiana bus plant for Care-O-Van ambulance units, based upon cutaway chassis and Wayne Busette body.
The Divco-Wayne conglomerate also had a financial arm, Divco-Wayne Acceptance Corporation, which was also known as Divco-Wayne Financial, Wayne Acceptance or Financial Corporation and Wayne Financial Sales Corporation. The financing division handled customer financing and leasing arrangements as well as dealer inventory financing for other Divco-Wayne divisions.
During the earlier years of the school bus industry, the factory manufactured most of the parts used to assemble a bus body, but it was customary for these to be shipped unassembled (often by rail) to body dealers at various points around the United States and Canada, for assembly onto an incomplete truck chassis. Gradually, as highway transportation of completed buses became more practical, and school bus bodies became more sophisticated; the assembly of complete bodies onto truck chassis in the United States and Canada became centralized at locations owned by the body companies. The companies often continued to ship "kits" overseas.
By the mid-1960s, several other body companies (notably Blue Bird Body Company and Perley A. Thomas Car Works) maintained assembly plants at multiple locations in the United States. Instead of establishing multiple assembly points in the U.S., Wayne chose to replace the overcrowded and aged Wayne Works facility on E Street near downtown Richmond with a single large new plant big enough to handle both manufacturing and United States assembly. Due primarily to Canadian import tariffs, the separate Canadian assembly plant (Welles, Ltd.) had been long-established and was maintained for Canadian production.
As early as 1964 Divco-Wayne started plans for the construction of a new plant. Initially, a site was selected in Florence, Kentucky, where the company purchased an option to acquire 107 acres (0.43 km2) in an industrial park. The community in Richmond, Indiana responded to the possible loss of the plant and jobs with provision of a 100-acre (0.40 km2) parcel conveniently located near the intersection of Interstate 70 and US 35 northwest of the city.
In 1967, Wayne Corporation relocated from the former Wayne Works plant to the new site on Industries Road about 5 miles (8.0 km) northwest of downtown Richmond. The site had over 1/2 mile of frontage on Interstate 70, and acres of land for storage of truck chassis and completed buses. The new $3.5 million facility had 550,000 square feet (51,000 m2) under a single roof. It featured fully modern steel manufacturing presses, rust-proofing equipment, paint booths, and could handle assembly lines for all product lines. From 1967 until its closure in 1992, travelers along busy Interstate 70 could view what seemed to be oceans of yellow school buses outside the massive facility.
More than a few Wayne dealerships were operated by school bus contractors. ARA Transportation and Laidlaw were the largest. Others included Bus and Bodies of Plaistow, New Hampshire, Town & Country Transportation of Warren, Rhode Island, Rohrer of Duncannon, Pennsylvania, Virginia Overland Transportation of Richmond, Virginia, and School Bus Services of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. These school bus contractors, several of whom were also involved in contracting paratransit services, found having a dealership provided both a source and an input to product design at Wayne, as well as a natural outlet for sale of surplus equipment at the end of contract periods.
In 1967, the Divco-Wayne conglomerate was sold by Newton Glekel to Boise Cascade, a company which was primarily seeking the housing manufacturing subsidiaries. Boise Cascade resold Wayne and its subsidiaries to Indian Head, Inc., another conglomerate. About the same time that Divco-Wayne was sold to Indian Head, the Divco portion was separated and divested. Production of Divco products was to continue until 1986.
Wayne Corporation: an Indian Head Company: 1968–1975
Divco-Wayne had formed a union and had expanded into a moderate sized-conglomerate, with all facilities basically within 500 miles (800 km) of Wayne's Richmond, Indiana base. In contrast, Indian Head was already a large and diversified corporate conglomerate when it purchased Wayne Corporation and its subsidiaries in 1968. Indian Head Inc. acquired Wayne Corp., which its history recorded as "maker of school buses, ambulances, hearses, professional cars" from Divco-Wayne. The Wayne acquisition included:
- Welles, Ltd, (the Canadian bus assembly plant)
- Miller-Meteor in Piqua, Ohio
- Cotner-Bevington in Blytheville, Arkansas
In 1969, the new Indian Head logo and corporate type face were introduced in the company's Annual Report. Also that year, Indian Head purchased Machinery Corp. and United Vintners, part of Hublein Co. Inc. There were 18,700 employees, 60 plants (5 glass container companies, 5 metal and automotive companies, 12 specialty textile firms and the start of an Information Technology division) located in U.S., Canada and the Netherlands. The multi-industry acquisitions continued.
Indian Head's roots were in the textile industry, which was in decline in the United States in the mid and late 20th century. The owners of Indian Head eventually realized that they could earn more money doing almost anything else, and basically said so in testimony before the United States Congress.
Indian Head roots: textiles
In February, 1953, Indian Head Mills Inc had been formed by James Robison, formerly the division head with Textron. He purchased Nashua Mfg Co. and the Indian Head brand name. Nashua became Indian Head Mills Inc.
Robison's credo as CEO became a legend in the business world. His one basic company policy for Indian Head was that if both parties didn't benefit from the deal, he didn't want to do it – "Integrity: play it straight, forthrightly and honestly; admit mistakes and correct them; we will not welsh, weasel, chisel or cheat and we will not be party to any untruths, half truths or unfair distortions." Under Robison, Indian Head Mills had greatly expanded the textile lines, primarily through acquisitions. In 1960, Indian Head Mills was ranked among the best USA firms.
In 1961, founder Robison took on the US government, saying cotton mills were getting a raw deal and that the US Congress should desert the cotton price support program. Robison asserted that it was costing taxpayers $500/yr each to subsidize cotton crops, and that the textile industry, one of the largest and most important in the country, had been seriously weakened through erosion of capital values, loss of employment, inadequate research, and the lagging modern growth of synthetic fibers.
Between 1954 and 1962, Indian Head Mills had added 11 established, unrelated specialized companies. In 1962, it decided to get out of textiles and to get into just about anything else where return was higher.
In 1964, it purchased Metal Products & Auto Parts. In 1965, the company purchased Detroit Gasket & Mfg. Co. In 1966, it acquired Demco (Detroit Engine & Machine Co.), Roxboro, Street and Pyramid Mouldings Division.
Finally, in 1966, the word "Mills" was removed from the corporate name, which became Indian Head Inc. As a conglomerate its lines now included auto bumpers, power steering parts, licenser's of Banlon finishes and panty hose for Fruit of the Loom, Rudi Gernreich and Pucci. In 1967, Indian Head began buying glass companies specializing in beverage bottles: It purchased Obear-Nester Glass, Northwestern Glass, Pierce Glass, Laurens Glass, MGM Brakes and Mason.
New-Generation School Buses
The late 1960s and early 1970s led to the development of new platforms suitable for use for small school buses. Additionally, to improve the basic structural integrity of full-size school buses, Wayne engineers went back to the drawing board and changed how school buses were constructed with an all-new body design.
In the early 1970s, the principal platform for school buses smaller than conventional types but with more than 4 wheels was the truck chassis in widespread use for commercial delivery work: the step van. These were commonly known as "step vans." Within the school bus body industry, this type were often called 'P' chassis. In addition to Wayne, Blue Bird, Carpenter, Superior, Thomas, and Ward each developed school bus bodies based upon 'P' chassis produced by either General Motors, Ford, or both.
Wayne's body product for the step van chassis was called the Papoose. The front-end of the design of the Papoose was designed to afford maximum visibility and use flat glass, resulting in an appearance which was not aesthetically pleasing. It was described by some observers as "severe," and the funny-looking little bus had other nicknames even less kind.
In addition to its unusual appearance, the Wayne Papoose faced another disadvantage in the Wayne product line. The market was highly competitive with all five other major school bus body builders participating, making it a commodity. Wayne's marketers wanted something more radical to differentiate a small capacity Wayne product from its competition.
In the early 1970s, Wayne designed another small school bus, one even smaller than the Papoose. The Busette, as the product line was named, was unique because it was one of the first school buses to be built on a cutaway van chassis. Previously, small school buses were adaptations of full-size vans or large SUVs (such as the Chevrolet Suburban or International Travelall). The Busette featured dual rear wheels on the rear axle, which provided extra stability and capability over conversion vehicles. Introduced in 1973, the Busette (and its Transette commercial variant) would set a precedent for how all small buses are designed-not just school buses. The Busette and Transette also were among the first small buses to be fitted with wheelchair lifts.
In the early 1930s, Wayne was one of the first school bus manufacturers to introduce guard rails and all-metal construction into school bus design. While safer than wooden body construction, riveted metal body panels posed some problems of their own. In a crash, a weak point of the body was identified as the joints where body panels were fastened together. In 1967, safety engineers at Ward Body Works of Conway, Arkansas (a competing bus manufacturer) subjected one of their school bus bodies to a multiple roll test, and noted the separation at the joints. Ward noted that many of their competitors were using far fewer rivets and fasteners. This resulted in new attention by all manufacturers to the number and quality of fasteners.
After the Ward rollover test brought new light to the importance of joints, Wayne engineers felt a new approach was necessary. In their own tests, no matter how many fasteners were used, the joints were always the weak point under high stress loads. They also noted how the continuous guard rails used on the sides tended to spread the stress from a point of impact, allowing it to be shared and dissipated at portions of the body structure further away.
As opposed to simply adding more fasteners, Wayne engineers proposed eliminating the body panel joints entirely; essentially, the entire side of the bus would have to be formed from a single piece of metal. The roof panel would be manufactured in the same fashion: one piece, cut to length. Fasteners would only be needed for the interior structure, the guardrails, and at the rear of the bus. In 1973, Wayne introduced the new design, branded the Lifeguard. Although Wayne needed specialized equipment to manufacture the Lifeguard's body panels, the design also reduced overall body weight and man-hours required for assembly.
In the years after Wayne introduced the Lifeguard, competing body manufacturers also began to use larger side panels and a lesser number of joints. However, none had become as progressive as Wayne's use of the full-length panels when the focus on structural integrity resulted in the joint requirements of the all-important U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, most of which became applicable on April 1, 1977. After that date, most manufacturers including Wayne added special structural adhesives to other fasteners at body joints.
Indian Head and Thyssen
In 1973, Indian Head established a joint business venture with Thyssen-Bornemisza Group N.V., a Dutch holding company. That year, Indian Head sold off its pantyhose, cotton yarn and commission finishing divisions. The next year, it acquired Tri-Wall Containers, leading international manufacturer of heavy-duty shipping containers.
In 1975, the rest of Indian Head Industries was sold to (and folded into) Thyssen-Bornemisza, a conglomerate based in Monaco, which was owned by one man: Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Years 1975–1984
It seems that most of what one can learn about Indian Head after the Thyssen-Bornemisza acquisition is very limited. As a privately owned entity, there were no requirements for annual reports or public filings. However, what can be found seem to indicate that Thyssen spent much of the next 8–10 years selling off or closing its North American investments.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the portions of Thyssen-Bornemisza which formed the Wayne Corporation went through a period of decline.
In 1982, Thyssen sold its Textile Specialties Group to Hanson Trust, an English holding company which had established a group of companies called Hanson Industries. This group was renamed Carisbrook Industries. At time of sale, Thyssen was operating in 274 locations in 27 countries and 29 U.S. States.
Wayne Professional Cars: RIP
The professional car industry was negatively and profoundly impacted by three factors in the late 1970s. At the time, many units served as both ambulances and funeral vehicles, called "combinations." Combinations disappeared from general service in the late 1970s. The downsizing of America's biggest luxury cars, beginning with the 1977 model year, forced major changes upon professional car builders, who were dependent upon car frames purchased from General Motors and Ford Motor Company to begin their conversion processes.
- Regulatory Changes
At the same time, changes in the federal ambulance regulations governing minimum width, headroom and equipment levels generally required larger vehicles. These were part of the 1973 National EMS Systems Act, which was passed by Congress in 1974, and implemented four years later (in 1978), required that communities receiving federal funds for their programs had ambulances that met new federal specifications. Three design styles meet the criteria and are still in use today:
- Type I uses a 1 ton truck chassis with a modular compartment
- Type II has a heavy duty van body with a raised roof
- Type III has a cutaway van chassis with a modular compartment.
Passenger-based vehicles were purposely excluded from legislation and the last American-made automobile-based ambulance was built in 1978.
- Change in EMS Providers
Ambulance service in many areas had often been rendered by the proprietors of funeral homes, and professional (combination) cars were often equipped for dual use. Despite high visibility, this activity was not a major profit center for funeral directors. Rising insurance costs and the increased skill levels required of ambulance personnel combined to motivate funeral home operators to leave first the emergency medical transport business, and eventually, the non-emergency medical transport business.
At the same time, just as the chassis they were built upon became smaller, the higher level of services rendered by emergency medical services (EMS) personnel at the pre-hospital level required more space and equipment than was available in professional cars. Fortunately for patients, this came at the very time that extended wheelbase vans and cutaway-type vehicles became more readily available. In the early 1970s Wayne introduced a full line of non-car-based ambulances; the Type III Medi-cruiser was based on the popular Dodge B-series van Tradesman panel van, the Care-O-Van was a Type II ambulance and the Type I Guardian, an early version of a 1-ton truck-based modular ambulance. By the late 1970s, government standards and practical necessities were combining to make professional car-based ambulances unsuitable for virtually all EMS transport work.
For 1977, the Cadillac commercial chassis was downsized to reduce vehicle weight and fuel consumption. That year, the Cadillac Division built 1,299 of these special, lengthened units; of that total, only 21 Lifeliner Cadillac ambulances were manufactured by Wayne's Miller-Meteor subsidiary. For 1978, Cadillac's commercial chassis production further declined to only 852 units; Miller-Meteor received orders for only 4 ambulances. There were no 1979 Miller-Meteor ambulances. On December 13, 1979, the company, with roots tracing back to 1853, closed its doors. There would be no 1980 Miller-Meteor products. The company laid-off 252 employees and terminated the contracts of their 34 North American distributors. By the late 1970s, as the situation became critical, Wayne Corporation, the parent of M-M and C-B, and Wayne's Thyssen owners chose not to invest heavily in either firm as would have been required in the uncertain futures of the diverging professional car and ambulance building industries. There were no buyers for either subsidiary as a going business. In 1980, Cotner-Bevington ambulance product line was sold to Gene Knisley, owner of Mid-Continent Conversion Co., which was an ambulance and medicar builder in Kansas City, Missouri. The C-B plant in Blytheville, Arkansas was closed. A few years later, the rights to the Miller-Meteor name were acquired and resurrected by another professional car builder in Norwalk, Ohio which in 2004 was producing a line of funeral coaches and limousines on Cadillac and Lincoln chassis under the Miller-Meteor brand name.
Rabbitransit: 41-MPG Taxi
About the time of the 1979 energy crisis, Wayne's Engineering Department experimented with creation of a stretch conversion of the diesel-powered Volkswagen Rabbit which was under manufacture at VW's Westmoreland Assembly Plant near New Stanton, Pennsylvania. The "Rabbitransit" vehicle would have the potential to transport a large number of passengers (8–12) with very efficient fuel consumption in comparison with other automobiles. In a 1979 news article, Wayne president Dwayne Shields described the project:
"The Rabbitransit has a 104½” wheelbase, 10 inches longer than the regular VW Rabbit...it comfortably seats four passengers plus driver. Headroom in the passenger compartment is four inches (102 mm) higher and the interior is reportedly spacious with plenty of legroom...structural strength of the VW has been beefed up with additional strainers and bows. Yet, even with the added steel structures, the vehicle weighs only 190 pounds than the original...Wayne kept the weight down by making a number of parts changes using lightweight vacuumed-formed plastic techniques...gas consumption has been very close to that of the VW Rabbit which is 41 mpg, according to the EPA rating for the 1979 five-speed, fuel-injected diesel vehicle...
"...by the time the two prototype mini-taxis were built, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards required that such vehicles undergo expensive testing procedures...to make mini-taxis viable from the standpoint of cost, it became evident...they should be built from the ground up, rather than a modification of a completed vehicle...and VW officials indicated it would be some time before they would be in a position to supply components for this type of assembly." 
The mini-taxi project was dropped by Wayne. For potential liability reasons, the frequently seen "Rabbitransit" at the Richmond plant could not be sold for highway use and it was later destroyed.
The End of The "Big Six"
In 1975, when the ownership of Wayne Corporation shifted from Indian Head to Thyssen, Wayne was one of six major school bus body builders in the United States. It is important to understand and review the market at this point to appreciate some of what happened next in Wayne's history.
Wayne apparently enjoyed some profitable years in the late 1970s, buoyed by sales of its smaller Busette and Transette product lines. By 1980, the company was one of the "Big Six" school bus body manufacturing companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Works, Superior Coach Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., and Ward Body Works; the Big Six were joined by Crown Coach Corporation and Gillig Bros., manufacturers which traded primarily on the West Coast.
A downturn in North American school bus purchase volumes began in the late 1970s as the children of the Baby Boom completed their elementary and secondary educations. Bidding competition for reduced volumes became devastating to profits and even liquidity. In 1980, Ward declared bankruptcy, reorganizing as AmTran the following year. Perhaps even more foretelling, in 1980, the Sheller-Globe Corporation industrial conglomerate closed its huge Superior Coach Company plant in Lima, Ohio. Sheller-Globe had reportedly been unable to find a buyer for its large enterprise.
Although not publicly reported (as corporate ownership under Thyssen was private), it is likely that Wayne and Welles began incurring losses around 1980 or 1981, and these continued into 1982. By 1983, Wayne dealers and union leaders were told that the annual losses at Wayne/Welles were reportedly in the millions, and the Thyssen owners were poised to end the relationship and financial hemorrhage, by sale or shutdown.
In 1984, following significant concessions by its unionized workers, members of United Auto Workers Local # 721 which were intended to make the company more efficient, Wayne Corporation (and its Canadian subsidiary, Welles, Ltd.) were sold by Thyssen to new owners.
Wayne Corporation: Richmond Transportation Corporation 1985–1992
In late 1984, Richmond Transportation Corporation (RTC) was formed by Jack H. Dekruif, a Corona del Mar, California-based industrialist, and several officers who had served at Wayne for many years under the Indian Head and Thyssen ownership. RTC acquired Wayne Corporation and its Welles subsidiary in Canada in February, 1985. Terry G. Whitesell was named President of RTC. A civic leader in Richmond, Indiana, his prior responsibilities at Wayne included sales, marketing, and purchasing over a period of more than 15 years. Whitesell was well-known within the company, its dealer and supplier networks, and the industry.
Although as industrialist investor, Dekruif had a track record of liquidating troubled businesses, he was persuaded to allow the new organization to operate and compete. Several successful years followed. The Chaperone and Chaperone II products on cutaway van chassis did well, and several Wayne dealer-contractors were expanding, most notably Laidlaw. In the fall of 1986, the company was preparing to launch an initial public stock offering (IPO) when "Black Monday" struck the stock market that October, forcing cancellation of the IPO.
The company's economic fortunes also seemed to go downhill from that point. School bus contractor Laidlaw, then an operator of 30,000 school buses in the U.S. and Canada, and its own Wayne dealership, split its 1986 school bus body production orders between Wayne and Amtran. In May 1987, a major fire destroyed the Canadian (Welles) plant on Drouillard Road in Windsor, Ontario. A bitter strike occurred at Wayne's Richmond, Indiana plant in the spring of 1988. The strike lasted only 30 days, but several major orders were lost. The Welles plant was replaced by a newer facility. In conjunction with the City of Windsor, property was bought on the former Sheller-Globe plant site on Marentette Street.
By the late 1980s, the company's best hopes lay in its newest product, a transit-style (type D) school bus named the Lifestar. The first production versions were introduced in 1986. Featuring the same side-panel construction as the Lifeguard. Lifestar was to be targeted for the school bus market. Unlike its largest competitors (Blue Bird and Thomas), Wayne did not have the manufacturing equipment or capacity to build chassis in-house; consequently, chassis from an outside supplier was crucial. Supply problems outside of the company's control led to the use of several suppliers for the Lifestar over its production run.
Falling behind the competition
For the 1988 model year, competitor Blue Bird introduced its TC/2000, a transit model much less costly than its famous All American, which had always been marketed as a premium product offered with front engine and rear engine models. The TC/2000 was also marketed directly against the Lifestar. By the middle of the 1990 model year, officials at bus manufacturer AmTran projected the TC/2000 alone would capture a full 10% of U.S. school bus market.
Wayne continued to struggle for market share in 1990. In April 1990, it was announced that the Welles plant in Canada would close in mid-June 1990.
In early 1991, Navistar International Corporation, manufacturer of the International-brand school bus chassis announced that it had purchased a one third interest in American Transportation Corporation (AmTran), the manufacturer of Ward school bus bodies, and one of Wayne's long-time competitors. This was seen by many industry observers as an ominous sign for Wayne's future, as Navistar was the company's largest supplier of both conventional (Lifeguard) and transit (Lifestar) chassis. Wayne had no major alliance to guarantee a source of chassis, nor any in-house capacity to do so.
Richmond Transportation Corporation (RTC) was forced to declare bankruptcy in August, 1992. Assets were sold by a federal bankruptcy judge at auction that fall.
After the bankruptcy of Richmond Transportation Corporation in August 1992, Wayne Corporation effectively ceased to exist. During its liquidation, the product rights and many of the assets of the company (aside from the company itself and its liabilities) were purchased by a subsidiary of Harsco Corporation. Re-organized as Wayne Wheeled Vehicles (WWV), production of the Chaperone, Lifeguard, and Lifestar were transferred to a facility in Marysville, Ohio to supplement production of military trucks.
In June 1995, after an attempted sale of the company fell through, WWV was closed down by its parent company. At the time of its closure, Wayne was in the process of launching the RD-9000, a rear-engine school bus. Featuring innovations that would have been new to the school bus industry, the RD-9000 was never mass-produced; some features were eventually adopted by competitive builders, but only in the next decade.
While initially shuttered after the closure, the large Richmond factory would play a key role in the future of a major competitor to Wayne late in the 1990s. Additionally, part of the Lifeguard and the Busette designs were adopted by competitors as well.
In 1980, following the collapse of the professional car industry and growing overcapacity among school bus body manufacturers, Superior Coach Company of Lima, Ohio was shut down by its parent company Sheller-Globe. The next year, Mid Bus was formed by three former Superior employees; along with seven co-workers, they began manufacturing small school buses in a different facility in Lima. While full-size buses still retained the Superior name, the company debuted a small bus named Superior by Mid Bus. A conversion of a full-size van, it also added a raised roof, reinforced body sides, and school bus windows. In 1987, the "Superior by Mid Bus" name was dropped in favor of "Mid Bus".
By the end of the 1980s, Mid Bus sought to compete with larger-scale school bus manufactures; the company sought expertise in developing a product based on a cutaway van. In 1990, Wayne Corporation discontinued Busette production in favor of its newer Chaperone model; additionally, the company was closing the Welles plant in Canada, where Busette production had been located. Mid Bus entered into an arrangement with Wayne to take over Busette production in its own facility in Ohio. Not only did the use of an existing design lower development costs, but the popularity of the Busette (especially among Head Start agencies) allowed for an existing customer base.
Crown by Carpenter
- See Also: Crown By Carpenter
In May 1991, Carpenter Body Works of Mitchell, Indiana purchased the tooling, intellectual, and product rights of Crown Coach Corporation, a California-based school bus manufacturer that had closed that year. While Carpenter had originally planned to restart production of the Crown Supercoach Series II, its high cost and complexity of production would cause that proposal to be shelved in favor of its own design.
In 1995, Carpenter began a series of major changes within the company in order to regain lost market share. To modernize its production facilities, Carpenter moved out of its aging facilities in Mitchell, Indiana and leased the shuttered Wayne facilities in Richmond, moving its corporate headquarters there. By moving to the Wayne facilities, Carpenter had the asset of combining its own team with former Wayne Corporation employees. Both the leadership and workforce based at Richmond included a number of veterans of the former Wayne operations there; as such, they brought considerable experience and knowledge of the plant and industry to the effort. Nevertheless, major outside forces still to be faced were a supply of suitable chassis and the overcapacity of the body industry
As part of the move, Carpenter unveiled major changes for its 1996 product line. On the outside, the body now wore full-length guard rails above the wheels. Under the skin, the body was redesigned with single-piece roof bows; new welding procedures allowed by the equipment at Richmond strengthened roof joints (unlike a crucial structural flaw later found in Mitchell-produced buses). Inside the bus, Wayne tooling was used to update certain areas of the Carpenter buses; on conventional buses, Carpenter re-used the driver control panel and windshield from the Wayne Lifeguard; all full-size buses would use Wayne entry doors.
The company considered the transformation so extensive that it changed its name and company logo. Resurrecting the first half of the Crown Coach name, Carpenter was now known as Crown By Carpenter and used its own version of a logo introduced by Crown Coach in the late 1980s. In an effort to further diversify its product line outside of school buses, the company introduced a delivery truck loosely based on its Cadet bus products.
In 1998, Carpenter was acquired by one of its largest chassis suppliers, Spartan Motors of Charlotte, Michigan. Spartan Motors was a chassis supplier known for high-margin, low-volume markets; some examples include chassis for fire apparatus and luxury motorhomes (Spartan was a supplier for certain models of the Blue Bird Wanderlodge, for example). During the economic times around the millennium, lower initial capital costs for school buses seemed to trump their longevity. When it was time for purchasing decisions, financially pressed districts and contractors tended to select cheaper products with short life cycles. This was much the same dilemma faced by Wayne Wheeled Vehicles parent company Harsco-BMY, where a lesser quantity of higher quality products (at a correspondingly higher price) had also been the plant's historical output.
Carpenter had been struggling for almost 20 years when it too finally ended school bus production in 2001. Spartan, by then a ⅔ owner, did not see a solution to the market dilemma and felt the projected continued losses would exceed the value to their business plan, voting to end the venture.
Future of the Plant
|This article is outdated. (November 2010)|
The former Wayne Corporation plant, after standing idle for a number of years, was purchased by a group of investors in 2005 with the intention of using the plant and surrounding property for a business park. The investors intended to use the large plant to house a number of smaller companies, rather than looking for a single, large corporation. At the end of 2006, the property along Interstate 70 was becoming re-utilized for a number of retail and industrial enterprises. Included was construction of new retail businesses such as restaurants and service stations near the busy Interstate highway exit which had been known for over 25 years for the massive bus factory and acres of yellow school buses and chassis of Wayne Corporation.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wayne school buses.|
- Wayne Papoose school bus (1971–1973)
- Wayne Lifeguard school bus (1973–1995)
- Wayne Busette school bus (1973–1990)
- Wayne Transette bus
- Wayne Transette XT bus
- Wayne Chaperone school bus (1985–1995)
- Wayne Chaperone II school bus (1985–1995)
- Wayne Lifestar school bus (1986–1995)
- Wayne RD 9000 school bus (1995 prototype only; never mass-produced)
|Wayne Corporation Timeline|
- Wayne County Historical Museum – main page
- The old Wayne Works circa 1921
- A horse-drawn kid hack at the Wayne County Historical Museum
- Frank Cyr, Father of the Yellow School Bus
- Divco Club of America
- The History of Miller-Meteor
- STN 100 Years of the School Bus
- U.S. DOT, NHTSA, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for School Buses (FMVSS)