Back to the
(by Jim Shulman)
Can you remember riding on the
As a youngster, Saturdays were very special. It was the time when my mother would take us (kids) downtown on the bus for shopping, lunch at one of the five and dime counters and sometimes a movie. One of the highlights of our excursions was the bus trip itself. We delighted in putting the coins in the clear glass part of the coin box on the bus and watching the driver, in his uniform and official cap (See Picture 2..) , flick the money down out of sight into the bottom metal section and every once in a while turn a crank to churn the coins. If we gave him a quarter, fifty cent piece or a dollar, he'd reach to his coin changer near the steering wheel and give us our change which we'd then put in the box.
Drivers would sometimes stand up and crank a lever at the top front of the bus which would change the destination on the outside sign. I was impressed how he could read the route name through a small hole with only part of the backside of the letters visible. Then we were off and could experience a predictably, but fun, bumpy ride with squeals, gears grinding and rumbling noisy engines.
I remember reading all the ads on the large cards posted all along both sides near to the ceiling of the bus. I can still picture the Doublemint Gum ad, a product which I never tried until I was well into my teens. When the busses were ever crowded and people had to stand, there were leather straps to hold. These were attached to a long pipe like bars suspended from the ceiling. As a kid, I knew I could never reach them, but also knew I could always hold onto the handles on the backs of the seats. My favorite seats were the ones over the tires giving less leg room and perfect for a kid with shorter legs!
Soon we were near our stop, so it was time to pull the string running above the windows on both sides. A special treat that we would love. The bell would ring, and we were let out the front side door even though most busses had a rear side door as well.
Saturdays we rode the hourly Dawes Ave. Bus to and from
As a child, my favorite bus driver was Herman "Gabby" Garbowit who always had a smile and would share gum or snacks with his passengers. One time Gabby stopped a bus in front of my Kool Aid stand on
The Trolleys of the Berkshires and their demise
Throughout the United States, the Great Depression largely contributed to the demise of trolley systems. Following the depression, gasoline became more available and automobiles became more acceptable to the public. However, few families could afford their own cars in the 30s so the door was opened for busses to operate within urban areas and interurban, between towns and cities. It was a natural move for the trolley companies to make the transition from electricity to gas, trolleys to busses. Although some trolley companies did keep electric lines operating by having trackless trolleys that were simply busses run by electricity from the overhead wires used by the trolleys. (If the driver made too wide a turn, the bus would become disconnected from the lines and he would have to get out to reattach to the wires.) A handful or so cities still operate trolleys and/or trackless trolleys to this day.
The Berkshire Street Railway Company
When it came to the transition to gasoline powered busses the Berkshires were right in stride with the rest of the
Berkshire Trolleys helped build the Golden Gate Bridge!
By the 1930s the BSR converted their trolley routes as much as possible to be serviced by busses. All of the trolley runs ended by September 1932. In 1933 most of the overhead lines were removed and rails were either pulled up for scrap metal or buried under asphalt. Almost all of the trolleys were taken to
The Transition to Busses
In 1930, the Berkshire Street Railway began buying busses that held 21 passengers. The first busses were four Yellow Coach manufactured models and then twenty-one Studebaker models. These early busses looked like what we might describe today as old school buses. (Picture 7. shows the very first bus and Picture 8.shows many of these early busses picking up skiers at the railroad station in the mid 1930s.) The BSR stored its busses in the old trolley barns located on
The Bus Routes
By 1930 the interurban bus routes ran from Pittsfield as far north as Bennington (24 miles) and then to Great Barrington (15 miles) in the south, paralleling the railroad's Housatonic River line. Over the years the
Park Square - Dawes Avenue
Park Square - Chapman's Corner (Remember Tom's Variety Store on Holmes there)
Park Square - Plastics Avenue
Park Square - Hillcrest Hospital - Churchill Street
Elm Street- Benedict Road
Lake Avenue North - Lake Avenue West
Richmond Road - West Pittsfield - Lanesboro
Dalton Town Line - Pittsfield Country Club
In addition BSR busses were used over the years for public school transport and charter services. As I mentioned, I used to ride them three to four days a week in the late 50s from South Jr. High to
Over the years the Berkshire Street Railway either bought or leased 183 busses in toto. In 1947 after acquiring seven new vehicles, the BSR was in its hey day with a total of 78 operating busses and three trucks. There were 145 employees with 100 drivers. (Picture 10 shows the busses in the hey day.) Over the years the BSR bought busses from many different manufacturers. These included vehicles made by the Yellow Coach Company, Studebaker, Erskine, Packard, Mack, Twin, Chevrolet, Ford, ACF, Beaver, GM, and Brill. (A complete roster appears in Pictures 11. and 12.) (Pictures 13. - 20. show many of the different styles and makes of the busses.)
The company continued to buy gasoline busses up until 1951 and did not convert to purchasing diesel busses until then. However, only two years later, in 1953, the last busses were purchased. By then the Railroad lost interest in the bus company and with more suburban areas growing further from the bus routes and the post WW II boom, automobiles began to replace busses among the
What happened to those blue busses?
Ironically the busses went the route trolleys did only 30 years earlier. Trolleys were replaced by busses that in turn were replaced by automobiles. The Berkshire Street Railway busses were old and tired when the company went bankrupt in 1963. The newest of the company's busses were already ten years old which is considered very old for a vehicle by today's standards.
Some of the earliest retired BSR busses may have been used for homes in the late 40s and early 50s. As a kid I remember two or three old BSR busses on the ride over
So once again those of us who traveled the Berkshires or
Motor Coach Age. February 1968, Vol. XX, No. 2. Published by the Motor Bus Society, Inc. (
Special thanks to Kinsley Goodrich and Nancy
Milne for assistance.