On tour with the “Grey Line”
Some of the most opulent man-made vehicles were the transporters of the rich and adventurous. We could elaborate on the virtues of Pierce-Arrows, Packards, and endearing Peerless cars with custom work. We could dwell on special order designs for Cadillac and Lincoln, Stearns and Stutz, and a chevron of other names that have traced automotive advancement. We would also pontificate on the beautifully executed results by specialist design houses of absolute character. One could imagine the unique pieces, true unique creations and the rare survivors covetedly collected today. We could add the multi-million dollar automobiles that furthered the cause of automobile creation. Even if we mentioned all of that, we’d be remiss to neglect to mention the greatest posh customs ever taken on the road.
Hence this episode.
In 2011, the Gray Line of motorized circuits reached its centenary. Its humble beginning dated back to March 1910, a time when America’s roads were rough at best; basic and ornate, in general; and sometimes impassable. But the fever had taken hold of the Americans. It was a wanderlust, an inner longing to see the land, to see what lay beyond the sunset and beyond the mountain. This temptation was destined to grow as the demand for personalized automobile transportation also increased. From 1910 to the 1920s, Americans discovered travel and the nation would never be the same.
Gray Line’s vision was orchestrated by Louis Bush, who took an old Mack truck chassis and made it into something special. He limited sightseeing to the Washington, D.C. area, and decided to paint the unit blue and gray, colors popularized in American history during the Civil War. It wasn’t long before 1926 shone its light and other major cities were added to the touring roster. There was New York, a magnet for trips to the East. In the Midwest, Chicago has set its sights, and the automotive capital of Detroit isn’t far behind. New Orleans turned south as Los Angeles and San Francisco beckoned tourists to realize their charm. Add in international locations such as Toronto and Havana, and you get a better sense of the meaning behind wanderlust. The demand for custom-designed buses to experience these luxury locations was on the rise.
All of this continued to mature as Harry J. Dooley took over the reins of directing the post-World War I economy and exploded even further. He received the title of “father” of the tourism industry.
To capture the feel of this advancement in the 1920s, let’s stop here and there.
For the novice, personalized appointments were conducive to touring. An exterior view of the landscape was surrounded by a canopy and topped with a decorative railing, as if it were an observation deck at the back of a train. Drawstring curtains adorned each side window pillar as open windows invited quaint scents to invade passengers’ lives. Buses were more than a means of transportation; they were magical rides to vistas unknown to many travellers. It was a time when traveling was an opulence, but more and more people were discovering it.
Side-mounted spare tires added a sleek air to the exterior of the bus, and chunky whitewall tires dressed up the trick. A wide range of stopovers appealed to travellers. On a road trip to San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, visits were made to Muir Woods, San Quentin, La Honda, Stanford University, Petrified Forest, Santa Cruz, and Del Monte. There were deluxe versions of western tours and smaller ones. For example, the Golden Gate Park, Cliff House and Presidio, or “Thirty-Mile Drive Tour De Luxe”, offered magnificent views of San Francisco from the top of Twin Peaks. In 1927, it was a simple fare of $2.50. Passengers were picked up and returned to the hotel at no additional cost – tremendous value in the Roaring Twenties.
Bus building activity had become a notable aspect of motorized progress. Magazines were published on the subject, travel guides were published, and design work gained momentum. Not all buses were packed with ultra-comforts, but (as in the more recent era of custom vans and motorhomes) builders and designers wanted a little extra that they could offer customers with an edge. so distinct that business has turned to the most innovative manufacturers.
Drawing on top tourist destinations, the Santa Rose and Petrified Forest Tour, called Trip #6 in a 1927 booklet by The Gray line. The fare was $10.50. This tour appealed to “the true nature lover” once the half hour drive over the Golden Gate was over. Regions rich in orchards and vineyards beckoned. “This is the Valley of the Moon, made famous by Jack London,” said the editor of The Gray Line. “It was in this region that on June 14, 1846, the famous bear flag was raised proclaiming the Republic of California.”
The less we forget, farmers liked to go on rounds. Seeing Sonoma County’s rich poultry country (which in 1927 was producing more than $6 million in poultry revenue a year) had to spark new ideas among these traveling farmers. It was the site of the nation’s largest hatchery, “an incubator factory hatching 165,000 chicks at a time”.
At the lowest cost, there was a “See Chinatown After Dark” tour for an affordable $1.50. Near the top there was a $12.50 fare to see Santa Cruz and Del Monte, a two day bus tour. Even more could be seen on a three-day, $47.50 plan, including meals, as runners explored the great lengths of California. The Gray Line has been clever in partnering with the State Railroad Commission in also encouraging tourists to join a train tour in a luxury lounge car with “individual seats, reserved for everyone. trip, with hotel accommodation and meals in the best hotels. on the Pacific coast.
For thousands of first time travelers, The Gray Line was their first experience of long or short tours.
Experience in buses designed to provide a degree of comfort and peace of mind was a strong taste of the maturing luxury car field and how, when incomes permitted, it was on the minds of many to renew their discoveries in classic personalized frames, behind the wheel of their own automobile.
Once people got into touring, there was no stopping the rush of innovation in classic custom design vehicles.
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