Thursday, May 30, 2013

Country Music Star Bio " Merle Haggard "

Country music star Merle Haggard was born in Bakersfield, California, on April 6, 1937. Originally a troubled youngster who served time in San Quentin prison, Haggard grew to become a country music legend. With 38 No. 1 hits and 250 original songs, Haggard remains one of the best-known and most covered artists in country music.



"I was raised in a freight car."
– Merle Haggard

Early Life


Famed country singer, guitarist and songwriter Merle Robert Haggard was born on April 6, 1937, in Bakersfield, California. The son of a railroad worker, Haggard grew up in Depression-era California. As a child, he was plagued by a respiratory condition, which frequently kept him out of school and confined to bed rest.

A rebellious teen, Haggard compiled a criminal record that included such offenses as truancy, passing phony checks, and grand theft auto. His escalating juvenile delinquency landed him in and out of reform facilities and county jails. When not serving time, Haggard pursued a love of music by playing guitar in local bars and clubs.




In March 1958, Merle Haggard was sent to San Quentin prison after being convicted for burglary and attempted escape from county jail. While serving a 2 1/2-year term, he played in the prison's country band and took high school equivalency courses. (Haggard was pardoned in 1972 by Ronald Reagan, who was then governor of California.) Upon his parole in 1960, Haggard returned to Bakersfield, where he sang and played guitar in the honky-tonks of "Beer Can Hill," the hub of the city's burgeoning country music scene.


Commercial Success


After gaining a loyal local following in his hometown, Haggard traveled to Las Vegas, where he began playing bass guitar for Wynn Stewart. In 1962, he signed with a small label called Tally Records, for whom he recorded five songs, including his debut single "Sing a Sad Song," which rose to No. 19 on the country charts. Haggard formed his own backing band, the Strangers, before signing with Capitol Records in 1965. Later that year, the band released their debut self-titled album. In 1967, their single, "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," soared to the top of the country charts. Later that year, Haggard followed the song's runaway success with, "Branded Man," his first self-penned No. 1 song.

Ultimately, Haggard's streak of No. 1 singles during the 1960s culminated with what would become his signature song and his most controversial recording, "Okie from Muskogee." Released in 1969, the song became an anthem for middle Americans whose patriotism and traditional values were under attack from Vietnam War protestors and hippies. "Okie from Muskogee" crossed over to the pop charts and earned Haggard the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year Award in 1970.


Career Highlights


Since then, Haggard has released close to 70 albums and 600 songs, 250 of which he has written himself. Among his most memorable albums were The Fightin' Side of Me (1970), Someday We'll Look Back (1971), If We Make It Through December (1974) and A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today (1977). In 1982, Haggard recorded a duet album with George Jones called A Taste of Yesterday's Wine, which yielded the chart toppers "Yesterday's Wine" and "C.C. Waterback." The following year, he collaborated with Willie Nelson to record the widely praised compilation Pancho & Lefty.

Sun Travel Trailways New Shiny MCI J4500

Sun Travel Trailways takes shine to new MCI® J4500, celebrates 20th year


SCHAUMBURG, IL — May 13, 2013 — Harnessing its own star power, Sun Travel Trailways, Beaumont, Texas, has taken delivery of its very first MCI J4500, selecting the model for its eye appeal and dependability. "So far, so, good," said Michael LaBrie, founder and president of Sun Travel. "We've run a lot of MCI D coaches because of the reliability — they're bulletproof and proven. We're expecting the same from our J4500 model."

The new J4500 brings Sun Travel's mixed-model fleet, including four MCI D-Series models, to 13 coaches. "Honestly, we're right where we need to be in terms of fleet size," said LaBrie. "Our goal is to continue to upgrade our fleet with newer models. Newer means fewer problems."

LaBrie started his company 20 years ago with a $12,000 loan from his brother to buy a pre-owned Eagle. He rented it out to church groups, earning enough income to buy an MC-9 within eight months. Even at the very start of his business, LaBrie made drivers wear a matching shirt and tie uniform. He knew that professional, courteous drivers committed to strict safety practices and well-maintained, clean coaches could get him to where he is today.

LaBrie, a Beaumont native, got his start in the bus business early. His mother was the local Greyhound General Manager, and he unloaded luggage as one of his first jobs. Eventually, his mother started working for him, arranging Sun Travel senior tours, working as a step-on-guide and establishing some of the company's superior customer service practices. "We're all about service and that's what this business is," said LaBrie. "Treat your customers the way you wanted to be treated. It works."

LaBrie joined Trailways five years ago to tap its expertise and member network. "I wanted to be a bigger part of this industry, and Trailways was the right fit for me. Most other members are family businesses and we share the same high standards."
All together, Sun Travel has 30 employees, a full three-bus bay maintenance shop.
LaBrie is active in his community and industry-related organizations, including the Better Business Bureau, United Motorcoach Association, the National Limousine Association, and the South Central MCA. He also serves as a board member for many local Beaumont organizations including Salvation Army and Some Other Place. Learn more at
The MCI J4500 is the number on selling coach in the U.S. and Canada, featuring stand-out curb appeal, and superior reliability. Its optimized powertrain consistently returns over 9 MPG cruising at 55 on-highway.

About MCI

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, Motor Coach Industries (MCI) is the leading intercity coach manufacturer in the United States and Canada, with sales, service and repair facilities in both countries. MCI's D-Series is the best-selling line of coaches in industry history, with more than 13,000 units built. Its J4500 coach model has been the industry's best-selling intercity coach for nine consecutive years. MCI is also the distributor of the Setra S 417, Setra S 407 and Setra parts in the U.S. and Canada. The company offers 24-hour technical support and industry-leading technician training along with the market's most extensive aftermarket parts and repair service.
Press contact: Patricia Plodzeen Public Relations, 847-283-0883; or Motor Coach Industries Marketing Department, 847-285-2035.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Continental Trailways Bus Houston - Dallas

  "Continental Trailways Red Carpet Coach Service from Houston to Dallas"

With the red carpet rolled out to the bus, hostess Linda Hulsey boards the Golden Eagle 45 minutes before departure time to put newspapers and magazines aboard and to change pillow cases and fold blankets.
If you managed to take a Continental Trailways bus from Houston to Dallas in the 1960s, chances are you had a hostess on board.
I never knew certain long-distance bus routes had hostesses, so you can imagine my surprise when I came across these photos from November 1968. In this Texas Magazine article, Houston Chronicle reporter Josie Weber and photographer Sam C. Pierson Jr. followed 19-year-old Dallas resident Linda Hulsey on the job.
What does a Continental Trailways hostess do? It’s not too different from flight attendants, apparently.

According to the article:

Linda’s duties begin 45 minutes before departure time when she arrives at the bus depot. After putting aboard her special kit containing first aid supplies, she changes the pillow cases, checks in the blankets, sprays the bus, puts soap in the bathroom and checks the card supply for passengers wanting to spend the hours playing cards in the observation lounge at the rear of the bus.
Once the call is made for passengers to begin loading, Linda helps passengers find their reserved seats.
On the morning run from Dallas to Houston, Linda offers passengers coffee or fruit juice with donuts. At midmorning she begins serving lunch, which consists of a sandwich, drink, banana, cookies and candy. On her 4 p.m. return trip to Dallas that same day, she serves dinner first and light refreshments afterwards.
It’s worth noting that this service was available only on the company’s Five-Star Luxury Service. It ran from Houston to Dallas three times a day: 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. In 1968, there were seven women who worked the Houston-Dallas route. If some had to stay overnight in Houston, they stayed at the Lamar Hotel, where a room was reserved for them.


Hulsey assists a passenger aboard a Continental Trailways bus.


Hulsey helps with an overnight case and locates the reserved seat for the passenger.


Outside the city limits, Hulsey starts serving coffee and donuts. At mid-morning she serves a sandwich and a drink.


At the outskirts of town, Hulsey starts her inventory of untouched food for her report to the central office.


Arriving in Houston at noon with the return trip to Dallas scheduled at 4 p.m., Hulsey has several hours to shop in Houston, take in a movie or rest at the Lamar Hotel where the bus hostesses have a permanent room.


Back in Dallas, Jan Petta, chief hostess (at desk), meets twice a month with the hostesses to discuss any problems and go over the cards passengers are asked to fill out. Hostesses are Paula Catina, Linda, Phyllis Fine and Debbie Hoops. The three other regular hostesses were on their scheduled runs and met with Petta the following day.



Continental Trailways hostess, April 1960.



From the April 25, 1960, Chronicle: “Here’s the new Continental Trailways terminal at San Jacinto and McKinney into which the bus company moved over the weekend. The terminal, constructed at a cost of $450,000, originally was scheduled for occupancy on April 15, but bad weather held up construction. The company has occupied the old City Hall site at Preston and Travis, which it leased from the city since 1939.”

MCI Emergency Roadside Tech Assistance

" Sound advice from MCI Emergency Roadside Assistance "

By Richard Cunningham
Supervisor, MCI Technical Call Center, Louisville, KY

Richard Cunningham
Following the two horrific coach crashes in 2011 involving the Sky Express and World Wide Tours motorcoach companies, public outcry for a safer industry prompted a number of proactive responses. Suggestions ranged from driver awareness training to stricter safety monitoring.
This year the American Bus Association (ABA) board of directors and staff initiated a rather revolutionary program to supplant the industry’s ubiquitous anger toward rogue operations.

ABA is now ranking coach operators every 90 days with regard to the FMCSA’s SAFER system database and expels any company that has an “Unsatisfactory” score. ABA allows companies showing a “Conditional” score 180 days to bring the scores up to “Satisfactory” or face removal from the membership roster. According to ABA Membership Director Roderick Lewis, by late 2012 the association had identified and immediately removed nearly a dozen companies.
ABA President and CEO Peter J. Pantuso says ABA decided to take this step to demonstrate how seriously it regards all safety issues.

“We wanted to respond by doing something more concrete and lasting,” says Pantuso. “We wanted to let the public know that if anyone boards a motorcoach belonging to one of our ABA members, they will have the assurance in knowing they are working with a well-run, compliant company with safe, well-maintained coaches and properly trained drivers.”
Lewis says ABA also found 25 companies operating in conditional status and informed them of the 180-day period to bring their scores up to the satisfactory level.
“We tell companies in this situation how they can improve their score,” he says. “ABA can and will assist in whatever way we can by working with well-established companies in the Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) and using other resources we can recommend.”
Dan Ronan, ABA’s senior director of communications, says none of the companies removed from the roster have returned to ABA.

“We take this responsibility very seriously,” says Ronan. “The fact ABA has culled out member companies proves this is a course of action we will pursue.”
He says the ousted operators are but a small fraction of companies operating in the U.S. and Canada, and represent about 3 percent of the ABA membership that has faced safety-related issues.
Judging from the calls that come into the MCI Emergency Roadside Assistance and Technical Support Call Center, we cannot say enough about reliability and systematic preventative maintenance. The tendency to ignore potential problems is clearly the greatest threat. Equipment that goes neglected can very well mean the end of a company. Though newer is usually better, the reward of routine maintenance lies in high resale values and greater equity in the equipment. As we all too often see parts going ignored until they fail, we offer these steps to ensure a more reliable and longer life for older components and equipment.

Frayed or cracked belts

Carry a full set of belts on each bus. It is unlikely the right belt will be available in Cut Bank, Montana, at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. We get calls from operators stuck for a day or more waiting for a simple belt to be air freighted. To be safe, don’t let the belts get bad enough to fail.

Noisy idler pulleys and bearings

Listen closely to idler pulleys and other belt-driven accessories such as alternators and fan clutches. Understand the noise while the engine is running as part of the post- or pre-trip inspection.

Leaking wheel seals

Do not ignore your wheel ends. The loss or lack of wheel lubricant is outright dangerous. Even the rookie vehicle inspector understands this can cause wheel bearings to seize or spin and damage a spindle or axle tube. This type of failure is extremely expensive and puts a vehicle out of service for days.

Damaged or loose battery cables and terminals

Darrin Thorpe, MCI Parts Solutions Manager, sits ready to assist from his desk at the MCI Emergency Roadside Assistance and Technical Support Call Center in Louisville, KY.

Every operator has seen new batteries ruined with the posts burned off. Replace terminals and bolts that will not tighten properly ASAP before the worst happens. This is a good summer chore; a lousy one in the winter — especially if it has to be done in an emergency in the middle of a cold, desolate parking lot.

Unfamiliarity with DPF engines

Drivers, particularly part-time drivers, must receive training on the care of EPA-mandated engines before getting behind the wheel. Every driver must be capable of performing a manual regeneration when the situation arises. Drivers as well as dispatchers need to know that any yellow “check engine” lamp that stays on can interfere with the automatic or manual regeneration process, even at highway speeds. In many cases it will cause the DPF lamp to eventually light up and shut down the engine. Never dispatch a bus with the “check engine” lamp lit. If the light comes on during a long trip, the driver may have to take pre-emptive action and have the engine checked out in the closest service center as soon as possible.

Don’t send out a broken bus on the weekend

It is expensive enough to fix equipment at home, but facing weekend rates out on the road is even worse from mechanics only trying to help, but with no experience with motorcoaches. Then add in the cost of replacement buses and wrecker services.
It is surprising how many times we hear the driver was having the same trouble the week before the weekend breakdown occurred.

More steps to take

Employ many sets of trained eyes to be on the lookout. Everyone on the front lines — drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and wash crews alike — should always be watching for problems and situations and reporting them promptly. This alone will reduce the number of breakdowns.
Operators can always call MCI’s Emergency Roadside Assistance program (ERSA) 800-241-2947 for 24/7 assistance anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.bership or has a clear-cut code of ethics about business operations.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Canadian Government Awards Contract"

Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Joyce Bateman, Member of Parliament, Winnipeg South Centre, takes questions from the press at MCI's Coach Delivery Center, where she announced a Canadian government contract to purchase four MCI J4500 coaches with an option for six more.
Ms. Bateman spoke on behalf of the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Status of Women, and the Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, QC, Associate Minister of National Defence and member of Parliament for Delta–Richmond East.

Canadian Government Awards Contract to MCI for Four J4500 Coaches with Option 

WINNIPEG, MB — May 24, 2013 Motor Coach Industries' Winnipeg plant management team today greeted Joyce Bateman, Member of Parliament, Winnipeg South Centre, at MCI's Coach Delivery Center to mark the announcement of a Canadian government contract to purchase four MCI® J4500 coaches with an option for six more.

Bateman, who spoke on behalf of the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Status of Women, and the Honourable Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, QC, Associate Minister of National Defence and member of Parliament for Delta — Richmond East, said the new coaches will be used to transport Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
"The contract supports our talented Canadian workforce and spotlights the quality of our J4500," said Bryan Couch, MCI Vice President of Operations. "We're proud to have our J4500 used in the transportation of our Canadian troops. The J4500 has been the number-one selling coach in North America for nine years running, earning a reputation for reliability, safety and comfort on our nation's roads and in the U.S. as well. This contract helps us to sustain employment opportunities here in Winnipeg and boosts MCI's position as the leading builder of inter-city coaches in North America."
MCI CEO and President Rick Heller added, "This contract comes as MCI marks its 80th anniversary and ushers in a new design era for the 2013 J4500 model. With its cleaner, more fuel efficient engine technology and other engineering advances, the J4500 is confirmation of Winnipeg's status as a hub of innovation in intercity coach manufacturing."
The new coaches are headed for Canadian Forces based in Kingston and Meaford, Ontario; Shilo, Manitoba; and Wainwright, Alberta.
For 2013, the J4500 features many model-year improvements, including dramatic new LED headlights, improved lighting throughout, a taller appearance and a host of performance updates including a more fuel-efficient, clean-diesel powertrain system. The coach also features a host of safety features, including electronic stability control, an improved tire-pressure monitoring system and fire-suppression technology.

About Motor Coach Industries

Motor Coach Industries, with manufacturing facilities in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Pembina, North Dakota, is the leading intercity coach manufacturer in the United States and Canada, with sales, service and repair facilities in both countries. Reliability driven, MCI is dedicated to building expertly engineered coaches with high-quality components; the latest safety and security features; and unsurpassed parts availability and service. MCI builds the industry's best selling J4500 coach and the popular D-Series coaches renowned for low cost of operation and considered the workhorse in the industry. MCI is also the distributor of the Setra S 417, Setra S 407 and Setra parts in the U.S. and Canada.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Challenges of Keeping & Improving Drivers


The challenge of
finding, keeping and improving drivers

If you're having a hard time finding drivers, you're not alone. A quick March search of revealed more than 250 jobs available. revealed more than 800. And a search came back with more than 2,000 open positions. To be fair, they're not all tour and charter positions (some are school bus and van-specific), but as Minnesota Coaches' Joe Krois says, "I don't know if there's any company that won't tell you it's a challenge to find drivers."
Minnesota Coaches has it better than a lot of companies. Based in Duluth, where a combination of a moderate standard of living and a limited amount of high-paying jobs can make coach driving more attractive than in some markets, Minnesota Coaches has the additional advantage of running a school bus fleet. Krois says that the company that he runs with his father and brother typically plucks its tour and charter drivers out of its school-bus driver pool, where he can spot drivers who are friendly and show initiative as well as being able to handle the vehicle.
"I try to hire from within," says Krois. "I hire as much on personality as driving skills, and I will take regular school bus drivers and put them through training."
So what are some of the challenges facing operators?
Hours and lifestyle challenges are big ones.
It's not always an easy job, often entailing long hours, stretches of time away from home, and a knack for customer service.

It's common for coach drivers to come from the ranks of the retired. Take Deb Cunningham, who drives for Escape Coach Lines in Alberta. It's actually her second time around as a driver, having retired more than 10 years ago from another driving job at Laidlaw, where she worked her way to the top of the seniority list. She was valued for her ability to train others and administer driving tests, and she prides herself on her customer service focus.

"Customer service is the most important thing," says Cunningham. "When people come on board, it's like the bus is your store. Your store has to look clean, and customers have to appreciate what they're getting. And you have to do what the customers want you to do. If they want to see that little mountain over there, or to see that building over here, you have to be prepared to tell them about it and do it with a smile."

Women underrepresented

Cunningham stands out among her fellow drivers for a reason beyond her training expertise and passion for customer service: She's a woman. Though women are well-represented in the ranks of school bus drivers, relatively few of them work as tour and charter drivers. And for many operators, that may represent a hiring opportunity.
Krois isn't sure why, noting that one of the women who drives for his company is one of the best drivers he's ever seen. He doesn't believe there are physical barriers, noting that passengers' bags are seldom very heavy, and the women he's worked with are just as able to handle them as men are.

Where driver pools come from

So where do operators find their drivers? Word of mouth, of course, is a favorite hiring tool. Krois says he especially likes hearing from retired firefighters, EMTs and military service personnel, many of whom come to him after being referred by a friend who has also worked in that profession. and other jobs sites, along with newspaper ads, can bring in the applicants as well. Minnesota Coaches additionally likes to park a big yellow school bus in front of its offices with a big "now hiring" sign. Krois says it's highly effective, and since his motor coach drivers usually come from within the ranks of his school bus crew, it works for both sides of the business.

Getting hiring help

In addition, insurance companies can be highly helpful. Lancer Insurance Company offers a wide array of resources for motor coach operators in an effort to both provide top customer service and to help operators avoid claims. Many of them focus on driver training and behavior.
Randy O'Neill, director of communications for Lancer, says that it's not uncommon for operators to call the insurer or insurance agents for guidance in hiring drivers, from obtaining basic how-to resources to querying them on how to check out the driver, including any possible criminal records.
Lancer helps operators by offering some very detailed driver training videos, on-site safety checks, and guidelines on how to set up an incident response system that will train company management and drivers to properly respond to any potential accidents.

For the purposes of hiring drivers, Lancer offers a guide* that includes detailed information such as how to not violate equal-employment guidelines, sample interview questions, a new-employee checklist, how to deal with driver documentation, how to implement substance-abuse testing and even templates for evaluating road skills. The company also offers suggestions for establishing medical standards and procedures such as designating a company physician and suggesting the keeping of secure files.

Says O'Neill, "Your drivers become you when they sit behind that wheel. And with over 40 passengers seated behind them, and a $5 million liability policy riding along, you really want to check them out before you hand over the keys."
Lancer has even created a driver recognition program, helping operators to deal out a little positive reinforcement for a job well done.

Keeping them happy once they're hired

Says Krois, "I don't pretend to be the cheapest guy on the block, but I do try to bring the most value, with the best quality and the best service." And that means paying his drivers as well as he can, and treating them like the valuable assets that they are. He says it's not uncommon for him or one of his family members to essentially wait up for a driver who has had to stay out late into the night because of a bad winter storm, and the Krois family keeps a close eye on staff, trying to make sure that drivers are neither overworked nor underused. "We're a business that cares," says Krois.
Lancer, too, offers tips on retaining drivers, starting with the admonition that employers should let employees know about any potential negatives, such as odd hours, that a new hire might encounter. The company also suggests monitoring turnover and making wise use of exit interviews to figure out if drivers are leaving because of factors the employer can control at least in part, such as pay, opportunity and a positive work environment.

Remembering the rewards

Krois notes that many drivers who come in just looking for a little part-time "fun money" to supplement their pensions end up driving pretty much full time. And it's usually because they find out they love the job. From the opportunity to see the country to the excitement of regularly meeting new people, it can be a job with a high level of satisfaction.

Cunningham, who advises drivers (and anyone who works) to do their jobs with the same level of devotion that they would invest in a hobby, says, "You learn about so many people and different cultures. I've got more places to stay in this world. People give me their addresses and say things like, 'If you get to Germany, come visit me and I'll give you a tour.'"
She recounts one trip a number of years ago that included an elderly man from England. He had never traveled much, if at all, and he had saved up for a long time for his trip through the Canadian Rockies. He and Cunningham hit it off. She received a letter from him afterward, letting her know how much he had appreciated her driving and people skills. It made her feel great. And then, not long after, she got another letter, this time from his wife. The gentleman had died. It had been his last trip, and his widow wanted Cunningham to know that she had made a huge difference in making it a special one for him.

She says she defies anyone to think that driving a coach is a "lowly" job. "People come from all over the world, and for a lot of them, this bus trip is all they can afford and something they'll probably do only once. And they're putting their lives in your hands. So if you're feeling bad, or like you don't have a life, come ride with me for a week. Then tell me you're just a bus driver."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Henry County man builds buses for the stars



Henry County man builds buses for the stars

Bobby Easter's customers include country music entertainers, a gospel group from the region and even a Canadian hockey team.


Bobby Easter stands inside a 2005 MCI bus recently sold to a Canadian hockey team. Easter said that many churches that once relied on 15-passenger vans to carry congregation members now buy buses that hold more people, and have a bathroom and luggage space.]

Bobby Easter says it over and over, "I love buses." He even had one tattooed on his right upper arm with the names of all of his grandchildren.

Bobby Easter uses a code to open the door of a 2005 bus used by Larnell Starkey & The Spiritual Seven Gospel Singers.

The shell of a MCI DL3 bus that is being completely refurbished and will be either a charter or church bus. It was recently given a new coat of exterior paint in the spray booth. Two seats are left for passengers to sit when the bus is being test driven. Easter will design the interior and have it installed.

This MCI 2006 entertainer bus was used by Barbara Mandrell and then by Casting Crowns and is one of Bobby Easter's fleet. It sleeps 12 and includes two living areas, one in the front and one in the rear. Many music groups rely on their tour buses for "a home away from home."

Bobby Easter had a copy of the cover for the 10th album produced by The Easter Brothers, "Don't Overlook Your Blessings." Bobby Easter is the young boy in the picture.

Bobby Easter's has a field of about 300 buses, waiting for their rebirth, along Fairystone Park Highway (Virginia 57) just outside of Bassett. Easter said he's sold about 60 of them.

Photo from GoogleEarth

An aerial view by Google Earth shows hundreds of used buses parked at Easter's Bus and Coach Sales' main location off the Fairystone Park Highway in Henry County. The company's inventory also includes used buses parked elsewhere along the highway, as well as off U.S. 220 in Franklin County and in Mount Airy, N.C., and Maiden, N.C.

Bobby Easter grew up lullabied by bluegrass gospel and the diesel chuffing of the Easter Brothers’ tour bus.
He was 6 months old in 1961 when his mother left him and his two older brothers and their musician father, Edd Easter. Father and sons moved from Danville to live with Edd’s mother in Mount Airy, N.C.
After Edd remarried, the family moved to Woolwine in Patrick County.
A constant throughout these transitions was the tour bus that the boys often thought of as home.
“One thing these Easter males had in common was that they were spending a lot of time sitting on the same bus, riding from gospel show to gospel show,” reports an online iTunes history of the Easter Brothers.

Bobby, now 51 years old, bought his first used bus in 1979 for $5,500 from a man in Greensboro, N.C. It was a General Motors 4104, described by many bus aficionados as the most popular highway coach of all time. He kept the bus about six months, fixed it up a bit and then resold it for $15,000.
“And I thought, ‘Hello.’ Then it kind of escalated,” he said. “All the Easters have wound up having a bus. I just went overboard.”

About 30 years ago, Bobby Easter and his wife, Karen, founded Easter’s Bus and Coach Sales and Easter’s Auto Sales in Henry County. Last week, Bobby Easter said the company inventory included about 500 used buses, “more or less.”

He buys used buses from a host of sources, including transit or charter bus lines that have gone belly-up . He occasionally acquires dozens of coaches in one deal. Sometimes the buses are simply refurbished. Other times, “seated buses” are converted into entertainer coaches, with bunks and couches, a bathroom, a kitchen, satellite TV and more.

Music performers who have bought or leased buses from the business have included, among others: Rascal Flatts, Barbara Mandrell, Casting Crowns , the Lonesome River Band, the Statler Brothers, Mel Tillis and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Easter’s Bus and Coach Sales has sold buses to customers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as to buyers in Guatemala and Puerto Rico. Easter said the highest price he has ever gotten for a bus was $750,000.

Edith Davis is vice president of operations for Danville-based Bosman Coach, a charter bus company that has purchased several motor coaches from Easter.
“He’s been a good person to work with and very understanding,” Davis said. “We’ve never gotten a bus from them that we had to do any major work on.”

Hundreds of used buses are stashed at Easter’s Bus and Coach Sales’ main location along the Fairystone Park Highway near Bassett. About 50 are parked off U.S. 220 in Franklin County between Rocky Mount and Martinsville on land the Easters own. More are stored elsewhere, including in Mount Airy and Maiden, N.C., Easter said. About 50 buses are being leased by customers, including entertainers.

Tim Hall , Henry County’s administrator, acknowledged in an email that officials occasionally field complaints that the parked buses are an eyesore.
“We receive periodic complaints regarding the buses, particularly along the Virginia 57 (Fairystone Park Highway) location,” Hall said. “Members of our staff have a fairly consistent dialogue with Mr. Easter to make sure he is complying with the regulations under which he’s supposed to operate.”
As a youth, Easter’s upbringing emphasized music. He dropped out of high school.
“My grades weren’t good,” he said.

He said he wishes he had stayed and gotten a diploma.
“I think I would have had more self-esteem if I had got that,” he said.
He moved to Nashville, Tenn., and worked as a staff musician at the Grand Ole Opry for about a year and a half. Easter said that even though he “can’t read a lick of music,” he can play more than a dozen instruments — including the banjo, Dobro, mandolin, piano and steel guitar.
Edd Easter left school early, too.
Bobby said it seems God gave the family musical ability to help them compensate for a lack of formal education.

“It was either play music or starve,” he said.
When Easter left Nashville and returned to Woolwine, he said some people likely figured he would never amount to much. But then he met Karen at the store where she worked in Collinsville.
“After I met Karen, I thought, ‘I’m going to make something of myself,’ ” he said.
He and Karen have been married more than 33 years. Daughter Melissa Easter-Calfee, 32, works in the family business. Daughter Michelle is 29. Bobby and Karen have four grandchildren.
Easter-Calfee said her father’s casual clothes can be deceiving.
“Looking at him, you wouldn’t know he was a businessman,” she said. “How he dresses, you wouldn’t think he had anything.”

Easter acknowledged he feels most comfortable around customers in similar attire.
“The man in the suit scares me. But the man in bib overalls or jeans — he’s going to buy a bus,” he said.
Karen handles finances for the business, makes decorating decisions for bus makeovers and much more.

“I can put deals together,” Bobby Easter said.
Average annual revenue for the auto and bus businesses totals “probably about $6 million,” he said.
Larnell Starkey & The Spiritual Seven Gospel Singers, based in Wirtz, has toured in buses purchased from Easter’s Bus and Coach Sales.
Dar Alexander is CEO of Dar Records and handles bookings and sometimes plays keyboard for The Spiritual Seven.
She said she has bought four buses from Easter’s, including one seated bus and three entertainer-style buses.
“We can’t survive without our buses,” Alexander said. “They are our home away from home. We consider it a blessing to have been working with Mr. Easter. He’s been a lifesaver for us. We don’t want to deal with anybody else.”
She said she has referred several other gospel groups to Easter’s “as we have traveled across the United States.”
Meanwhile, it’s clear that Bobby Easter’s affinity for buses has been inherited by at least one grandchild.

Sage Calfee was 9 years old when he overheard his grandfather muse out loud that someone should go out on the lot and fetch a refurbished bus that had been sold to a hockey team in Canada.
Easter said he did not pay much attention when Sage said, “Papa Bobby, I’ll do it.”
A few minutes later the 45-foot bus pulled up out front, with Sage at the wheel.
Photos taken during Bobby Easter’s childhood nearly always feature a bus somewhere in the frame.
The cover photo for the Easter Brothers’ “Don’t Overlook Your Blessings” album reveals a boyish Bobby. He stands stiffly, appearing somber and slightly canted in his double-breasted blazer, posed amidst smiling kin in front of the Easter Brothers’ bus.

Today, Bobby Easter’s tattoos include a banjo on one forearm and a guitar on the other. He rolled up the right sleeve of his black T-shirt to reveal the tattoo of a bus scribed with his grandchildren’s names.
“You’ve got to have a bus wherever you are,” he said.

Greyhound Taps Airline Pricing Models


Greyhound Taps Airline Pricing Models to Boost Profit

The Express unit, pitched between the traditional brand and the BoltBus unit that FirstGroup runs in the northeastern U.S., increased passenger numbers 10 percent last year, faster than the old Greyhound, and serves 900 cities after entering markets as far apart as California, Louisiana, Delaware and Canada.

Greyhound (FGP), the iconic U.S. bus brand, has turned to pricing models used by the airline industry as it seeks a ticketing system capable of boosting profitability by charging more for travel during peak periods.

FirstGroup Plc (FGP), the U.K. company that owns Greyhound, will spend as much $40 million on computerized yield-management technology to replace Greyhound’s flat-rate charging plan, and has engaged a U.S. carrier to help with the design, Chief Executive Officer Tim O’Toole said.
“No longer will a trip on Greyhound cost the same on July 17 as the day after Thanksgiving,” O’Toole said in a telephone interview from London. “Pricing will be much more dynamic.”
Yield management was introduced in the airline business in the 1980s, when Robert Crandall, CEO of American Airlines, began employing mathematicians to develop models able to predict demand during given time periods and price tickets accordingly. It has since become a critical tool for most of the world’s carriers, as well as in other businesses such as hotels.

O’Toole declined to say with which airline Dallas-based Greyhound is working as it bids to lift its $1 billion in annual sales. The plan also includes an airline-style loyalty program.
Founded in 1914, Greyhound operates 1,700 buses to 3,800 destinations and carries almost 25 million passengers a year -- making it 10 times the size of its nearest rival -- yet lacks a system able to analyze who is getting on where and when.


Rights Offer

FirstGroup, which acquired Greyhound via the $3.4 billion purchase of Naperville, Illinois-based Laidlaw International Inc. (FGP) in 2007, has already applied yield-management tools at the Greyhound Express service introduced in late 2010 with routes serving Chicago and other cities in the U.S. Midwest.
The Express unit, pitched between the traditional brand and the BoltBus unit that FirstGroup runs in the northeastern U.S., increased passenger numbers 10 percent last year, faster than the old Greyhound, and serves 900 cities after entering markets as far apart as California, Louisiana, Delaware and Canada.
“You’re selling seats on a bus,” O’Toole said. “The trick is to take your management system and graft it onto the bigger Greyhound, which requires a lot of computer work. You need algorithms to constantly be balancing the business.”
The introduction of yield-management technology comes as O’Toole seeks to steady FirstGroup following the loss in October of a 5.5 billion-pound contract to run Britain’s West Coast rail line, one of the busiest in Europe, after the U.K. Department for Transport discovered flaws with the bid-assessment process.


Mexican Foray

Aberdeen, Scotland-based FirstGroup said yesterday it would raise 615 million pounds from a three-for-two rights offer, helping it to retain an investment-grade credit rating, remove balance-sheet constraints and ease spending plans.
The company plans to invest 1.6 billion pounds over the next four years across five divisions that include First Student, operator of more than 50,000 yellow school buses in the U.S. Some of that money will go towards an overhaul of its information technology systems.
Greyhound, which already has routes in Canada, is gearing up to commence operations in Mexico after becoming the first U.S. bus company certificated there, O’Toole said.
“We’ve always moved people in partnership with Mexican bus lines, but now we can actually go into Mexico,” he said. We’re completing a terminal and we’ll be initiating the service soon.”
The first route will start this summer, with 10 buses running from Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, to Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city, about 140 miles away.


Leather, Wi-Fi

The Greyhound brand was introduced to Britain in 2009 as FirstGroup sought to tap demand from motorists no longer willing to get behind the wheel on crowded roads.
The U.K. buses, given women’s names from American songs including “Sweet Caroline,” “Peggy Sue” and “Jolene,” have more in common with the Bolt fleet and are fitted with power sockets, leather seats and air conditioning. Passengers get a complimentary newspaper and free wireless Internet access.
Similar upgrades will be soon rolled out across the main Greyhound fleet in the U.S., according to O’Toole.
“You’ll notice the old Greyhound white bus being replaced by a blue and gray one,” he said adding that the makeover will include features such as wi-fi access. “I hope we’ll make substantial progress over the next two years.”
FirstGroup shares fell 30 percent yesterday after it halted dividend payments to focus on the rights offer, saying the next award will be for the six months ending March 31 next year.
Chairman Martin Gilbert will also leave when a successor has been found, after 17 years on the board.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Washington State Commercial Division



Washington state troopers to team with truckers to ticket aggressive four-wheelers

Washington State Patrol troopers:

Washington State Patrol troopers will team up with the trucking industry May 20-24 to nab four-wheelers driving aggressively around big rigs as part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks Project.

Troopers will ride along with truckers to look for motorists who are driving unsafely around big trucks. When a trooper spots a car speeding, cutting others off or driving aggressively around a truck, the trooper will radio ahead to fellow officers to stop the motorist.

“We continue to see passenger car drivers as the main cause of most truck involved collisions,” said Capt. Jason Berry, commander of the Washington State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Division. “People need to understand they have to give these big trucks plenty of space. When there is a car-versus-truck collision, there’s a good chance the people in the car will be injured.”

Washington began the Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks Project in September 2012. In the first weeklong drive-along troopers contacted a total of 485 drivers; 280 tickets were issued and troopers conducted 18 commercial motor vehicle inspections. In a second ride-along week in December 2012, troopers contacted 502 drivers; 286 car drivers and 23 commercial motor vehicle drivers received tickets for driving aggressively around other big trucks.

Most collisions involving commercial motor vehicles that occur in King County happen on the interstate and state routes, according to the Sammamish Review. Troopers will patrol Interstate 5 from Seattle to Federal Way, Interstate 90 from Seattle to North Bend, Interstate 405 from Bellevue to Tukwila, state Route 167 from state Route 18 to I-405, and state Route 18 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — the times when most collisions occur.
The project is funded with a grant from the FMCSA. The grant is part of a program directed by Congress in 2004 to educate passenger car drivers on how to share the roadway safely with commercial vehicles.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

This Week LifeStyle In Luxury MotorCoach


Welcome to the place we call home, Northwest Michigan

New friends, steady growth and continued success have marked the past year at Hearthside Grove luxury motorcoach resort, located in one of the most beautiful destinations anywhere — Northwest Michigan.

Most remarkable about the evolution of this Class A community in Petoskey, Mich., is the emergence of its personality. A community gains its charm and identity when its residents form connections to each other and their environment, when it starts to matter about what happens here and they find themselves longing to come back, season to season. This transformation at Hearthside Grove, from developing lots to developing relationships, has been evident to us over the past season.
Once they arrive, visitors and lot owners are finding it hard to leave, with many making a purchase decision to carve out their home up north. They discover hidden treasures and activities to fill days with excitement and new experiences. Lingering evenings are set against a backdrop of cozy outdoor fires, clear Northern skies and the stories and laughter that mark a shared traveling lifestyle coming together at Hearthside Grove.

Our first two years of success are continuing through subsequent phases of development, which will bring our total lot count to 114 for the 2010 season. The license plates among our cadre of caravaners continue to span the coasts east to west and borders north to south.
Nationwide, the word is out about Hearthside Grove. Not only has this publication itself won a number of national awards, but those who’ve stayed for a day or a month are telling friends, family and fellow travelers about all there is to find at the top of Michigan’s mitten.

Here, we boast of the pure, turquoise-blue waters at the junction of two Great Lakes, recreational inland rivers and lakes, and a blue-ribbon trout stream. Our communities are one-of-a-kind in shopping and dining, from quaint Harbor Springs to Petoskey’s storied Gaslight District and the upscale Village at Bay Harbor. Charlevoix’s petunia-lined streets, the always-awe-inspiring Mackinac Bridge, the thrill of finding Petoskey Stones and the friendliest people you’ll ever meet have drawn resorters and tourists to our shores for centuries.

It’s an area that has appealed to our own family for generations. We have long served travelers with first-class service, our most enduring endeavor. From establishing Kilwin’s Chocolates as a national franchise and churning out its renowned fudge and confections to developing the award-winning KOA Kampground in Petoskey (repeatedly recognized as one of the best in the nation), our family has made a name by meeting the needs of others in unparalleled style.
When we opened Hearthside Grove in 2007, the same principes guided us, that all of our guests are part of the family.

We walk the recreational walk, enjoying the luxury motorcoach lifestyle, camping and partaking in all the generous outdoor arena has to offer, be it skiing, golf, beach-combing or biking, all within a ready radius of Petoskey.

As a family, we believe the Petoskey area is among this country’s most special spots. Making an investment in Hearthside Grove is a natural progression in our long history that began when Wayne and Lorene Rose, Kirk and Craig’s parents, moved north from Troy, in 1974.
We are proud to present a community that is changing the way the RV industry experiences motorcoach destinations, with this five-star resort situated amidst a rich landscape of unspoiled beauty complete with all the services expected from a revered resort region.

The path from the past has shaped this direction for our future, and our roots are growing deeper into the pastoral Northern Michigan landscape with each new generation.
We hope you’ll join us and stay awhile, too. We look forward to hosting you and your family and showing you why Hearthside Grove can be a place to call home.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Greyhound YO! Boston-NYC Chinatown



Greyhound starts YO! Bus today to fill Boston-NYC Chinatown void
New Chinatown bus: YO! Bus, a Greyhound subsidiary, begins running discount bus service Thursday between Boston's South Station and New York's Chinatown.
Can Greyhound fill a void left by Fung Wah Transportation's problems with federal highway safety officials?

YO! Bus, a discount bus service subsidiary of Greyhound Lines Inc., starts a Boston-to-New York Chinatown route today with six daily round trips. A one-way ticket to New York is priced at $12 to $20 each way, and sold at The buses will feature leather seats, Wi-Fi and power outlets, according to a news release. The website is published mostly in English, with a few phrases in Chinese.

Unlike Greyhound's other discount subsidiary, BoltBus, YO! will drop off and pick up passengers in Chinatown at 2 Pike St., between East Broadway and Division Street. A news release from the company announced New York tickets are sold at INT Travel at 98 East Broadway, according to the release.

YO! will be competing with Lucky Star Bus for the Boston to Chinatown discount bus trade.
YO! Bus service continues to Philadelphia via a New York-Philadelphia route launched in December.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Company Steers Towards Comeback Route


Greyhound Hopes To Steer Toward A More Stable Future -- Bus Company Starts Comeback Route

DALLAS - Lee Boyd, a big, affable ex-Marine, has had what you might call some tough breaks lately: He's between jobs, he lost his truck in a divorce and his right hand is bandaged from a bull-riding injury.

Boyd is leaning against a wall in the downtown Dallas terminal of Greyhound Lines Inc., waiting for a bus to the suburb of Mesquite, where he plans to ride bulls in a rodeo. The 32-year-old has ridden his share of buses, too.
"I like it because it'll get me where I need to go," Boyd said. But, he added: "If I had my choice, I'd either drive or fly."

Greyhound, like Boyd, has had its share of hard knocks. Intercity bus ridership has dropped steeply since the 1960s as air travel has grown more popular, and Greyhound, the only national bus line, is struggling to avoid bankruptcy through a financial restructuring.
Some question whether Greyhound has a future at all.
But many who have looked closely at the bus company say there is a real, continuing demand for national bus service - if Greyhound can overcome what they characterize as self-inflicted management problems.

"This company was successful for 50 years, and then people tried to change it," Greyhound bondholder Chriss Street said. "They tried to become the airline of the road."
Greyhound, he complained, has added an expensive, computerized reservation system and overcentralized its management to the detriment of its bread-and-butter business of getting people wherethey need to go cheaply and on time.
That has taken place while those with little money, a key component of Greyhound's customer base, have become more numerous, Street said.

"Riders are out there," he said. "There's nothing wrong with not being affluent. It's a fact of life for most people. Greyhound provides the ability to get from here to there at a very low price."
People are still riding the bus. Greyhound alone carried 15.4 million passengers last year.
But "The industry has a problem. People don't particularly want to get on buses unless it's their only option," said Gerald Connor, president and chief executive of Connor, Clark & Co., which holds more than 18 percent of Greyhound's stock.

Greyhound has been faulted for focusing so sharply on cutting costs that service was hurt and revenue lost. It's also been criticized for competing, instead of cooperating, with the smaller regional carriers with whom it shares passengers.

Bill Steele, president and chief executive of Raleigh, N.C.-based Carolina Coach Co., said riders benefited when Greyhound and regional carriers created a seamless national bus system in the late 1980s.

The carriers operated from the same terminals and shared a national timetable.
Steele said he hopes to return to that era of more cooperation - and business - under Craig Lentzsch, who took over Tuesday as Greyhound's chief executive. Lentzsch, well-known in the industry, was an investor in the 1987 buyout that took Greyhound private and remained there until 1989.
"If Greyhound responds with good management, I expect to see the business rebound," Steele said.
Ray Neidl, an analyst at Furman Selz, worries about competition from low-cost, startup airlines. But Fahnestock-Christopher analyst Allan Roness says there are several factors working in Greyhound's favor.

Many people don't fly; the elderly population, which favors buses, is growing; airlines someday must raise prices and won't be as competitive with Greyhound; and buses go some places airlines don't, he said.