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Thomas Built Buses
Type Public
Predecessor Perley A. Thomas Car Works
Founded 1972
Headquarters High Point, North Carolina, United States
Industry Bus manufacturing
Products School buses
transit buses
Employees 1,600+
Parent Daimler Trucks North America,LLC
Divisions Thomas Dennis Company LLC (defunct)

Thomas Built Buses, Inc. is a bus manufacturer based in High Point, North Carolina, United States and a subsidiary of Daimler AG.

Perley A. Thomas: streetcar and bus pioneer

Perley A. Thomas (1874–1958) was a native of Canada and a millwright (specifically in woodworking), by trade. He worked for a subsidiary of the famous streetcar manufacturer J. G. Brill and Company, in Cleveland, Ohio, early in the 20th century, and attended night school courses in structural engineering at Case Institute of Technology then moved south to work for another streetcar builder at its High Point, N.C., location in 1910. Thomas became chief engineer, draftsman and designer for the company, using both his mechanical skills and his experience as a skilled woodworker. When the streetcar industry began to turn from wooden to steel construction, Thomas was able to make the switch, but his employer, Southern Car Company went out of business in 1916.

Perley A. Thomas Car Works

Perley A. Thomas streetcar

In 1917, Thomas founded Perley A. Thomas Car Works, Inc., his own streetcar building company using the former facilities and many employees of the Southern Car Company. During the next 20 years, Perley A. Thomas streetcars were built and delivered to communities all across the United States, including New Orleans, where they operated on the Desire line made famous by Tennessee Williams' 1947 Broadway play and later film of the same name, A Streetcar Named Desire.

A transition to buses: the 1930s

The national trend in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s was toward use of personal automobiles rather than riding public transportation. As streetcar ridership decreased, less costly buses were often used in substitution by the companies operating the service. Orders for new streetcars and renovations began falling off.

Just as he had made the transition from wooden to steel streetcar building, Thomas and his workers at High Point also made the transition to building buses successfully. In 1934, Duke Power of South Carolina had Thomas build 10 transit buses. In 1936, Thomas ceased production of streetcars and launched a new product: the school bus. The same year, the company built 200 wooden-bodied school buses for the state of North Carolina, beginning a long tradition with that state which continues to the present day.

In the early days of the school bus, Perley Thomas and his company's reputation for design innovation and quality manufacturing helped transform the industry. In the United States, many school buses in the 1930s were nothing more than flatbed truck chassis with wooden sides and a canvas roof, and had few or no safety devices.

In 1938, the company introduced the first welded all-steel bus body. In 1939, Dr. Frank W. Cyr of New York, who became known as "The Father of the Yellow School Bus", hosted a 7 day long national conference of industry and school leaders which established 44 important safety standards and the yellow color for school buses all across the United States.

1961 Thomas school bus on an International Harvester chassis.

The company became a major school bus body builder in the post-World War II period. By 1980, it was one of the big six school bus body companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Company, Superior Coach Company, Ward Body Company, and Wayne Corporation.

Thomas Built Buses

Thomas Built Buses, Inc. was incorporated in 1972 as the successor to Perley A. Thomas Car Works. Previously dependent upon truck chassis made by other companies for its bodies (particularly Ford, Dodge, GMC, International Harvester and even Volvo), in 1978, Thomas introduced its first bus chassis and began producing its popular Saf-T-Liner transit-style bus for school and commercial use. In 1980, the company began to manufacture a smaller conventional school bus on a cutaway van chassis, the Thomas Minotour. It entered the commercial public transit bus market in the 1980s, developed the Thomas Vista school bus, a modified conventional design providing improved front-end visibility for drivers, and its MVP line, a less expensive version of its transit-style school bus in the 1990s.

By the end of the 20th century, Thomas was one of only three principal builders of large school buses in the United States. It is still based in High Point, and in 1998, was acquired by the Freightliner Group of Daimler AG. Thomas employs over 1,600 people worldwide.

In 2004, Perley A. Thomas, founder of the Thomas streetcar and bus building companies, who died in 1958, was among the first inductees into the Raleigh-based, North Carolina Transportation Hall of Fame.

In 1996 Thomas launched the FS-65 conventional school bus which had different options for engines. The original options were Caterpillar and Cummins. Later, a Mercedes-Benz engine was offered as an option. The FS-65 was used throughout many districts around the US. The last FS-65 was produced and delivered on December 13, 2006 to O'Brien Bus Service, Inc. of Maryland.[1]

In 2009, Thomas launched a new Type A design geared specifically towards the activity bus market called the MyBus. [2] It is available in 3 sizes on a GM chassis[3].


Model Name Image Years In Production Configuration Chassis Supplier Notes
Current Production Models
Minotour Thomas-minotour-school-bus.jpg 1980-present Type A Ford E-Series
Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana (1997- )
Chevrolet Van/GMC Vandura (1980-1996)
MyBus 2009-present Type A Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana The MyBus is a product aimed at the MFSAB (activity bus) market.
The MyBus comes in single or dual rear wheel configurations.
Saf-T-Liner C2 Durham School Services 01089.jpg 2004-present Type C Freightliner C2[4] The C2 is the highest-capacity Type C school bus currently available.
Saf-T-Liner EF ThomasEF.jpg 1991-present Type D
Thomas Built Buses
Saf-T-Liner HDX Thomas School Bus Bus.jpg 2001-present Type D
Thomas Built Buses
Models Out of Production
Mighty Mite TBBMightyMite.jpg 1980s-early 1990s Type B General Motors P-30 The Mighty Mite was marketed in between the Minitour and the Vista in terms of size and capacity.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the name was used on the smallest-capacity versions of the Thomas Conventional.
Vista Thomas Vista.jpg 1989-1998 Type C GM chassis (1989-1991)
Navistar 3600 chassis (1992-1998)
The Vista combined design elements of both Type C and Type D buses in its layout.
Some of the Vista's design was later used again in the C2
Thomas Conventional
Thomas/Freightliner FS-65
1980sThomasFordSheffield.jpg 1974-2007 Type C Chevrolet/GMC B-Series
Dodge D-300
Ford B700
Freightliner FS-65
International Harvester Loadstar
International Harvester S-Series
International 3700/3800
GM chassis dropped after 1991, Ford chassis dropped after 1997, International chassis dropped after 2000.
Versions with the Freightliner chassis were called the Thomas FS-65
Saf-T-Liner ER 1990sThomasMVPER.jpg 1972-2003 Type D rear-engine Thomas Built Buses The Saf-T-Liner ER was replaced by the Saf-T-Liner HDX.

Commercial Buses

North Carolina Contract

Until the early 2000s, Thomas Built Buses was the exclusive provider of school buses to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, who was the school bus purchasing agent for all public school districts in North Carolina. Thomas Built technically bid on the buses, but because the state had a policy of purchasing goods built in-state before purchasing from out-of-state vendors (Thomas Built Buses are manufactured in High Point, North Carolina), Thomas Built won the contracts. Somewhere around the time of the merger of Thomas Built and Daimler, complaints began to roll in from county bus garages that the quality of Thomas Built Buses had gone down and that they were spending too much of their transportation budgets on repairs and other parts. The state finally allowed the districts to order from other manufacturers, although only one manufacturer was approved by the state: the International Chassis (IC Corporation) division of Navistar. Thomas has seemed to have since corrected their quality issues, and NC still buys far more Thomas Built Buses than IC.

See also


External links

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