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History of the Woodland Bus Company

Woodland Bus Co. 1934-1952 by Cecil Herbert

In 1934 Dad (W.H. Herbert) was working in Gig Harbor at the John Dower Lumber Company as a truck driver/crane operator, earning about $80.00 a month.

My Uncle Russell (R.E. Smith) was driving buses for the Tacoma Bus Company, that operated several bus routes from Tacoma out to various communities, including Midland-Collins-Summit View-Woodland and the Willows. The driver pay then was about $4.00 a day. The drivers went on strike, demanding $6.00 a day. The bus company declined the raise in pay and filed for abandonment of the bus routes. Uncle Russell and several bus drivers for the Tacoma Bus Co. decided to split up the routes and apply to the then Washington Department of Public Works (W.D.P.W.) who regulated all of the bus routes in the state. Application was made to the agency by R.E. Smith and W.H. Herbert—D/B/A Woodland Bus Company. After several months the application was granted.

Cecil Herbert

Cecil Herbert shares his extensive knowledge of Pierce County bus history, at the March 2005 SHHS general meeting. His sister Marilyn Burnett accompanied Cecil. Cecil and Marilyn’s uncle, father and mother owned and operated the Woodland Bus Co.

During a drivers’ strike for higher wages in the 1930s, The Tacoma Bus Co. shut down, leaving outlying areas of the county such as American Lake, Fort Lewis, Dupont, Steilacoom, Woodland, Lakota Beach, Dash Point etc. with no bus service and the drivers without a job. The enterprising unemployed drivers formed their own bus companies to serve these areas. One of these new businesses was the Woodland Bus Company with routes connecting Tacoma, Midland-Collins-Summit View-Woodland and The Willows.

In November of 1934, Mom and Dad moved from Gig Harbor to a house on Woodland Road. On December the 11, 1934, the new bus company started operations with a 1923 White 33-passenger bus, purchased from the Longview Public Service Co. for $900.00.

The communities served were Tacoma to Midland-Collins-Summit View-Woodland-The Willows. The company was totally operated by Dad and Uncle Russell—Uncle Russell as main driver, and Dad as a driver and mechanic. An old three-stall garage, located next to the Woodland Grocery was leased for $1.00 per year. Business was slow getting started but picked up fairly rapidly.

In 1935 the company, was able to purchase a new bus, an International C-40 33-passenger bus, with a body built by Modern Auto Body Works of Tacoma. The bus was delivered and put into service in late 1935. As 1935-1936 went by, business was stable enough for the company to purchase another new bus. The new bus ordered was the same model as the one purchased in 1935. The new bus was delivered and put into service in the late summer of 1937. From 1937 to early 1941 business went along at a fairly steady pace. By late 1941 when World War Two broke out and gas rationing started, all transportation companies were deluged with crowds of riders. Small transportation companies were unable to purchase new buses, and had to patch the old ones and keep them running to handle the crowds. The Woodland Bus Company was no exception. Some older buses were purchased from other bus companies. Dad and Uncle Russell would work 15-hour days to keep the buses running.

A new bus garage was built during the war, located on property Mom and Dad had purchased in about 1936. The old garage building still stands at about 105th and Woodland Road. After World War Two (about 1945) the then U.S. Office of Defense Transportation allowed small bus companies to purchase new buses. An application was made to the O.D.T, to purchase a new Ford 29-passenger transit bus. The application was approved, and the new bus was delivered in late 1945.

Business leveled off after the war ended. Another new Ford transit bus was ordered, delivered and placed in service in late 1946. From 1946 to 1949 business remained steady. One day in 1949 Uncle Russell came to me with an offer to sell his interest in the bus company. I had just turned 21 and had been doing service work on the buses. I jumped at the chance and purchased Uncle Russell’s interest in the bus company. I worked with Dad running the company until I was called into the military in November of 1950. Dad stayed with the business until 1952. The company was then sold to Stan Ratcliff. Later Stan also purchased the Waller Road-Summit Bus Company-Flossie Howell, and then merged the two companies. Stan operated the two companies as Woodland Bus Company for a number of years. The company changed hands a couple of times until it became a part of Pierce-Transit operations.