Tractor & Construction Plant Wiki
Wayne Corporation
Former type Private
Fate Bankrupt
Predecessor Wayne Works
Successor Wayne Wheeled Vehicles
Founded Union City, Indiana, United States,1837
Defunct 1992
Headquarters Richmond, Indiana, United States
Area served North America
Industry Transportation
Products school buses
transit buses
professional cars
delivery vans
Parent Divco Corporation (1957-1968)
Indian Head (1968-1975)
Thyssen-Bornemisza (1975-1984)
Subsidiaries Welles Corporation (1925-1990)
1988 Navistar International school bus with a Wayne Lifeguard 71 passenger body owned by school bus contractor and former Wayne dealer Virginia Overland Transportation in Richmond, Virginia in 1999

1988 Wayne/International Lifeguard

Wayne Corporation was a large manufacturer of buses and other vehicles branded with the trade name "Wayne." The corporate headquarters were in Richmond, Indiana, in Wayne County, Indiana, in the United States. Wayne became a leading producer of school buses in North America.

Among innovations Wayne introduced were the first school bus application of the now popular cutaway van chassis and the first large school bus bodies featuring continuous longitudinal panels to reduce joints and improve structural integrity a number of years before FMVSS standards were required for all US school buses. After 1980, Wayne faced difficulty competing in a market with overcapacity. Declaring bankruptcy, the company discontinued operations in 1992 and the assets were liquidated.


Wayne is a name in school transportation that predates the familiar yellow school bus seen all over the USA and Canada. Beginning in the 19th century, craftsmen in Richmond, Indiana at Wayne Works and its successors built horse-drawn vehicles, including kid hacks, evolving into automobiles and virtually all types of bus bodies during the 20th century. Wayne products eventually included school buses, transit buses, highway coaches, military and shuttle buses, ambulances and even huge bus bodies pulled by tractor trailers used to haul oil field workers in the Middle East.

Among many innovations, Wayne pioneered the guard rails on the sides of all school buses today, inboard wheelchair lifts, and even high-headroom doors (a special accommodation for mobility-challenged persons requiring head and neck support from above). The company was first with a school bus based upon a cutaway van chassis, the Wayne Busette, a practical chassis design which more than 30 years later remains one of the more popular in use in the U.S. and Canadian markets. The crowning safety achievement was the Wayne Lifeguard structural design introduced in 1973, which featured continuous interior and exterior longitudinal panels. Lifeguard design helped pave the way for the all-important U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for school buses, most of which became applicable on April 1, 1977. In the years after, Wayne continued to be a leader in bus safety engineering.

Wayne went through many owners. During the second half of the 20th century, the business underwent periods under Divco-Wayne, Boise Cascade, Indian Head, and Thyssen-Bornemisza conglomerate ownership, and moved to a greatly expanded facility adjacent to Interstate 70 in 1967, where it became a familiar landmark to millions of travelers. After encountering a difficult market cycle and industry downturn due to over-capacity beginning in the early 1980s, Wayne Corporation finally closed up and went out-of-business in 1992. Several efforts to continue to utilize portions of the assets and build school buses ended in 2000.

As of 2006, thousands of Wayne buses remained in service, although the numbers are dwindling each year as new buses replace them in school and commercial operations. Some have been converted to motor homes and other uses. The former Wayne Corporation property along Interstate 70 is becoming re-utilized for a number of retail and industrial enterprises.

Early history

After starting out as Wayne Agricultural Works in Union City, Indiana in the mid 19th century, all manufacturing was centralized at Richmond, Indiana. It is important to note that most bus bodies consisted of in-house manufactured parts and purchased components manufactured by others, combined into bus bodies in assembly operations. Thus, the major two functions of the Richmond, Indiana plant were manufacturing of parts, and assembly.

Wayne bus bodies were also assembled at multiple locations of truck body dealers around the US and at a Canadian assembly plant, Welles, Ltd. in Windsor, Ontario. Kits were also shipped overseas even after all North American assembly was eventually centralized in Richmond, Indiana and Windsor,Ontario in the early 1960s.

Horse-drawn "kid hack", automobiles

Wayne's predecessor, Wayne Works, was founded in the United States of America in 1837. Wayne Works began by making horse-drawn vehicles. By 1886, and possibly earlier, it is known that Wayne Works was making horse-drawn school carriages which many people referred to as "school hacks," "school cars," "school trucks," or "kid hacks."

Beginning in the early 1930s through the 1940s, several automobile designers and manufacturers were located in Richmond. Among the automobiles manufactured there was the "Richmond" which was built by the Wayne Works, the "Rodefeld", and the Crosley.

The Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond, Indiana has a 1907 Richmond on display, along with horse-drawn "kid hack" also manufactured by the Wayne Works.

Motorized kid hack: a predecessor to the motor school bus

According to several sources, in 1914 Wayne Works mounted a wooden kid hack onto an automobile chassis, creating a predecessor to the modern motor school bus. In the bodies for school transportation the company produced through this era, passengers sat on perimeter seating, facing the sides rather than the front of the bus. Entry and egress was through a door at the rear, a design begun in non-motorized days to help avoiding starting the horses. This was possibly a precursor to the rear emergency door commonly found on modern school buses.

All-steel bodies, guard rails, transit-style chassis

By 1927, Wayne Works was building all-steel bus bodies. In the following few years, the school bus bodies began to include a group of heavy-duty "collision rails" or "guard rails" as an added safety feature.

Wayne Works was one of the earliest school bus companies to offer glass in place of the standard canvas curtains in the passenger area, long before many "school" bus companies did in the early 1930s.

Also in the 1930s, Wayne Works manufactured some transit-style school buses, that is types with a more or less flat front-end design. However, the "conventional" design, with a truck type hood and front-end (known as type C on modern school buses) was to continue to be Wayne's main school bus design until production ended in 1992.

Father of the Yellow School Bus

Most Wayne school buses turned the now familiar yellow in 1939. In April of that year, Frank W. Cyr, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City who became known as the "Father of the Yellow School Bus," organized a conference that established national school-bus construction standards, including the standard color of yellow for the school bus. It became known officially as "National School Bus Chrome," and informally as "school bus yellow". The color was selected because black letter on that hue was easiest to see in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon.

The conference met for seven days and the attendees created a total of 44 standards, including specifications regarding body length, ceiling height and aisle width. Cyr's conference, funded by a $5,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, was also a landmark event inasmuch as it included transportation officials from each of the then 48 states, as well as specialists from school-bus manufacturing and paint companies. The conference approach to school bus safety, as well as the yellow color, has endured into the 21st century.

World War II - wooden bodies and trailer buses

Wayne Works reverted to building some bodies with wooden components. The company developed trailer-type bodies for military use which could transport up to 150 passengers, pulled by a truck. Thousands of military ambulance bodies were also produced. The company also did some reconstruction on older buses and trucks to extend their lives during the war years, as did other bus body manufacturers.

In 1944, as the end of World War II approached, Wayne returned to building all-steel bodies.

Early traffic warning lights, stop arms

By the post-World War II era, most states had laws requiring motorists to stop for school buses while children were loading or unloading. The standardized yellow color of the school bus beginning after the 1939 conference helped, as did warning lettering usually painted in large black letters on school buses. Despite these efforts, many accidents occurred when traffic was not aware that the hazard existed, and children on foot were struck by other vehicles. Several devices were under development to help school bus drivers warn other motorists.

Around 1946, one of the early (and possibly the first) systems of alternating traffic warning lights on school buses was used in Virginia. In those days before plastic lens technology had advanced, and transistors had yet to be invented, an alternating system was created by using sealed beam headlight bulbs with the lenses colored red, and a mechanical motor and solenoids to alternate the high and low beam filaments in the single bulb fixtures mounted at the front and rear of the bus. School children and drivers were subjected to a loud tick-tock noise from the flasher motor as it was operating. Activation was through a mechanical switch attached to the door control.

Around this time, some states began specifying a mechanical stop arm which the driver could activate to swing out from the left side of the bus to warn traffic. These had a sign bearing a warning message.

In later years, flashing lights were added to the stop arms, mechanical flasher devices were replaced by electronic ones, and the front and rear warning lights were increased from two to four and eventually eight (in most states). Plastic lenses were developed in the 1950s which offered greater visibility and significantly lower costs than the early systems which used colored headlight bulbs. Strobe and LED technologies were still in the future as big changes took place at the Wayne Works.

Welles: Canadian bus assembly

Welles Corporation in Windsor, Ontario, was named for Halsey V. Welles who founded H. V. Welles Ltd. in 1925. Originally named Warford Corp. of Canada, it was first established to distribute Warford transmissions. Expanding into after-market products primarily for Ford trucks, in 1948, Welles Corp. became the sole Canadian distributor of Wayne Works school buses.

In 1963, under Newton Glekel, Divco-Wayne acquired Welles Corp. Ltd., and incorporated it as a new subsidiary division of Divco-Wayne.[1]

Wayne Works begins to diversify through acquisitions

Wayne Works began to diversify through acquisitions in the mid 1950s.

The company purchased Meteor Motor Car Company in Piqua, Ohio in 1954. Meteor built professional cars, such as limousines and ambulances.

Two years later, in 1956, Wayne acquired A.J. Miller's professional car building company of Bellefontaine, Ohio. The A.J. Miller Company had begun in 1853 by making horse carriages and then started making automobiles in the early part of the 20th century. However, the small company found it could not compete with the larger automobile makers, so they began specializing in hearses and ambulances. Over the years the Miller hearses became known and used throughout the world.

The Miller Co. was combined with Wayne's existing professional car subsidiary, Meteor Motor Car Company, forming the new Miller-Meteor (M-M) division of Wayne. The 2 companies competed in 1956, but were doing business as a combination by 1957.

Divco-Wayne Corporation 1957-1968

In 1957, under the leadership of Newton Glekel, Divco Corporation bought the Wayne Works, a school bus builder in Richmond, Indiana, and renamed itself, Divco-Wayne Corporation. Divco-Wayne, also known as D-W, was a conglomerate involved in the manufacturing of trucks, school buses, hearses, ambulances and mobile homes, and apparently also had had an electronics section involved in aerospace technology.


Main article: Divco

Divco delivery truck.

Divco stands for Detroit Industrial Vehicles COmpany. Founded in 1926, Divco was well-known for its pioneering delivery vehicles, especially the milk trucks. From 1926 until 1986, Divco produced multi-stop delivery trucks unlike any others. Only the VW Beetle stayed in production with the same basic model for a longer period of time.

Divco trucks have become popular collectible vehicles today. Divco's rich history (including the time it was part of Divco-Wayne) has been researched in some depth by the Divco Club of America, and more information from before and after the corporate marriage to Wayne beyond the scope of this article can be found at Divco History.

During the Divco-Wayne era, the truck manufacturing of Divco-Wayne continued to be through the former Divco portion. some Divco trucks were modified with seats and windows from the Wayne Works to produce a Divco Dividend Bus. But very few of these units were built between 1959 and 1961. Rather, virtually all bus and ambulance manufacturing was through the Wayne Corporation portion of Divco-Wayne, and subsidiary units Miller-Meteor and Cotner-Bevington.

Professional Cars

The professional car (quoted from a leading trade association) "is loosely defined as a custom-bodied vehicle, based on passenger car styling, and used in the funeral, rescue or livery services. Such vehicles may be hearses, flower cars, service cars, ambulances, limousines, or cars which are special built to combine two or more of these different functions, such as combination hearse-ambulances, sedan ambulances or invalid coaches. These body styles are all hand built. The commercial chassis and the front and rear clips of these cars are the only thing they have in common with their factories of origin. The roof, glass, and doors are all manufactured by expert craftsmen."


Wayne Professional Cars

A 1973 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance
Ecto-1, a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance

Professional Car builders Miller and Meteor, newly combined as Miller-Meteor, were brought into the fold of Divco-Wayne as the newly-formed conglomerate was developing its opportunities in this field. Although the recently combined Miller-Meteor company was initially based at Bellefontaine, Ohio, originally the home of the A.M. Miller Company, under Divco-Wayne ownership, it was later relocated to Piqua, Ohio, Meteor's old hometown nearby. The Ghostbusters' Ecto-1 was a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance.

Bosuga Wayne

In 1963 Wayne licensed the Spanish S.A. Bosuga to build in Barcelona, Spain coach bodies based on Wayne's technology and designs. These were marketed as Bosuga Wayne, and equipped mainly Pegaso and Barreiros-AEC chassis. The venture did not last long, since the Spanish market of coach bodies was already crowded.


Divco-Wayne acquired Cotner-Bevington (C-B) in 1964 and it became a subsidiary of Wayne Corporation. Comet Coach Company was based in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1959, the coach builder had sold its "Comet" trade name rights to the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford Motor Company for use on Mercury's version of the Ford Falcon. Starting with the 1960 model year the former Comet Coach Co. was called Cotner-Bevington, named after the company's two founders. They moved from Memphis, Tennessee a few miles North to Blytheville, Arkansas. C-B stayed in business through the 1975 model year, building only on Oldsmobile automobile chassis and truck-based ambulances after about 1964.

Wayne's line of truck-based ambulances ("Sentinel" Suburbans starting for the 1968 model year, "Vanguard" Chevrolet vans for 1971, and "Medicruiser" Dodge vans for 1973) were built in the Blytheville facility. The Sentinel Suburbans received a headroom increase for 1971, but were only built through the 1972 model year. After that, the Sentinel brand name was used on Wayne's line of Type I (pickup chassis) modular ambulances. Body shells were produced at the Richmond, Indiana bus plant for Care-O-Van ambulance units, based upon cutaway chassis and Wayne Busette body.

Manufactured Housing, Electronics, Financial Services

Divco-Wayne Corporation manufactured housing brands included Kozy, Elcar, Star, and National. Electronics and aerospace products were offered through D-W Electronics, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Divco-Wayne conglomerate also had a financial arm, Divco-Wayne Acceptance Corporation, which was also known as Divco-Wayne Financial, Wayne Acceptance or Financial Corporation and Wayne Financial Sales Corporation. The financing division handled customer financing and leasing arrangements as well as dealer inventory financing for other Divco-Wayne divisions.


Wayne Export was another division, and it specialized in selling CKD (completely knocked down) Wayne bodies to points outside North America. The CKD's were then handled by 20 overseas distributors and assembly facilities. Wayne bus bodies were in use in 60 different countries by 1957.[1]

Wayne Corporation moves to a new plant

During the earlier years of Wayne and other school bus body manufacturers, the factory had manufactured most of the parts used to assemble a bus body, but it was customary for these to be shipped unassembled (often by rail) to body dealers at various points around the United States and Canada, for assembly onto incomplete truck chassis. Gradually, as highway transportation of completed buses became more practical, and school bus bodies became more sophisticated, the assembly of complete bodies onto truck chassis in the United States and Canada became centralized at locations owned by the body companies. The companies often continued to ship "kits" overseas.

By the mid 1960s, several other body companies (notably Blue Bird Body Company and Thomas Built Buses, Inc. maintained assembly plants at multiple locations in the United States.

Instead of establishing multiple assembly points in the U.S., Wayne chose to replace the overcrowded and aged Wayne Works facility on "E" street near downtown Richmond with a single large new plant big enough to handle both manufacturing and United States assembly. Due primarily to Canadian import tariffs, the separate Canadian assembly plant (Welles, Ltd.) had been long-established and was maintained.

As early as 1964 Divco-Wayne started plans for the construction of a new plant. Initially, a site was selected in Florence, Kentucky, where the company purchased an option to acquire 107 acres in an industrial park. The community in Richmond, Indiana responded to the possible loss of the plant and jobs with provision of a 100 acres parcel conveniently located near the intersection of Interstate 70 and US 35 northwest of the city.[1]

In 1967, Wayne Corporation relocated from the former Wayne Works plant to the new site on Industries Road about 5mi northwest of downtown Richmond. The site had over 1/2 mile of frontage on Interstate 70, and acres of land for storage of truck chassis and completed buses. The new $3.5 million facility had 550000 sqft under a single roof. It featured fully-modern steel manufacturing presses, rust-proofing equipment, paint booths, and could handle assembly lines for all product lines. From 1967 until 1992, travelers along busy Interstate 70 could view what seemed to be oceans of yellow school buses outside the massive facility.

Some dealers were also contractors

More than a few Wayne dealerships were operated by school bus contractors. ARA Transportation and Laidlaw were the largest. Others included Bus and Bodies of Plaistow, New Hampshire, Town & Country Transportation of Warren, Rhode Island, Rohrer of Duncannon, Pennsylvania, Virginia Overland Transportation of Richmond, Virginia, and School Bus Services of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. These school bus contractors, several of whom were also involved in contracting paratransit services, found having a dealership provided both a source and an input to product design at Wayne, as well as a natural outlet for sale of surplus equipment at the end of contract periods.

Breaking Up Divco-Wayne 1968

In 1967, the Divco-Wayne conglomerate was sold by Newton Glekel to Boise Cascade, a company which was primarily seeking the manufacturing subsidiaries. Bosie Cascade resold Wayne and its subsidiaries to Indian Head, Inc., another conglomerate. About the same time that Divco-Wayne was sold to Indian Head, the Divco portion was separated and divested. Production of Divco products was to continue until 1986.

Indian Head: 1968-1975

Divco-Wayne had formed a union and had expanded into a moderate sized-conglomerate, with all facilities basically within 500mi of Wayne's base at Richmond, Indiana. In contrast, Indian Head was already a large and diversified corporate conglomerate when it purchased Wayne Corporation and its subsidiaries in 1968.

Indian Head's roots were in the textile industry, which was in decline in the United States in the mid and late 20th century. The owners of Indian Head eventually realized that they could earn more money doing almost anything else, and basically said so in testimony before the United States Congress.

Indian Head roots: textiles

In February, 1953, Indian Head Mills Inc had been formed by James Robison, formerly the division head with Textron. He purchased Nashua Mfg Co. and the Indian Head brand name. Nashua became Indian Head Mills Inc.

Robison's credo as CEO became a legend in the business world. His one basic company policy for Indian Head was that if both parties didn't benefit from the deal, he didn't want to do it - "Integrity: play it straight, forthrightly and honestly; admit mistakes and correct them; we will not welsh, weasel, chisel or cheat and we will not be party to any untruths, half truths or unfair distortions." Under Robison, Indian Head Mills had greatly expanded the textile lines, primarily through acquisitions. In 1960, Indian Head Mills was ranked among the best USA firms.

In 1961, founder Robison took on the US government, saying cotton mills were getting a raw deal and that the US Congress should desert the cotton price support program. Robison asserted that it was costing taxpayers $500/yr each to subsidize cotton crops, and that the textile industry, one of the largest and most important in the country, had been seriously weakened through erosion of capital values, loss of employment, inadequate research, and the lagging modern growth of synthetic fibers.

Between 1954 and 1962, Indian Head Mills had added 11 established, unrelated specialized companies. In 1962, it decided to get out of textiles and to get in to just about anything else where return was higher.

In 1964, it purchased Metal Products & Auto Parts. In 1965, the company purchased Detroit Gasket & Mfg. Co. In 1966, it acquired Demco (Detroit Engine & Machine Co.), Roxboro, Street and Pyramid Mouldings Division.

Finally, in 1966, the word "Mills" was removed from the corporate name, which became Indian Head Inc. As a conglomerate its lines now included auto bumpers, power steering parts, licenser's of Banlon finishes and panty hose for Fruit of the Loom, Rudi Gernreich and Pucci. In 1967, Indian Head began buying glass companies specializing in beverage bottles: It purchased Obear-Nester Glass, Northwestern Glass, Pierce Glass, Laurens Glass, MGM Brakes and Mason.

Wayne Corporation: an Indian Head Company

1969-1975 Wayne/International school bus (retired)

In 1968, Indian Head Inc. acquired Wayne Corp., which Indian Head history recorded as "maker of school buses, ambulances, hearses, professional cars" from Divco-Wayne. The Wayne acquisition included Welles, Ltd, the Canadian bus assembly plant, Miller-Meteor in Piqua, Ohio, and Cotner-Bevington in Blytheville, Arkansas.

In 1969, the new Indian head logo and corporate type face were introduced in the company's Annual Report.

Also in 1969, Indian Head purchased Machinery Corp. and United Vintners, part of Hublein Co. Inc. There were 18,700 employees, 60 plants (5 glass container companies, 5 metal and automotive companies, 12 specialty textile firms and the start of an Information technology division) located in U.S., Canada and the Netherlands. The multi-industry acquisitions continued.

Papoose: an odd-looking commodity

In the early 1970s, the principal platform for school buses smaller than conventional types but with more than 4 wheels was the truck chassis in widespread use for commercial delivery work: the step van. These were commonly known as "step vans." Within the school bus body industry, this type were often called 'P' chassis. In addition to Wayne, Bluebird, Carpenter, Superior, Thomas, and Ward each developed school bus bodies based upon 'P' chassis produced by either General Motors, Ford, or both.

Wayne's body product for the step van chassis was called the Papoose. The front-end of the design of the Papoose was designed to afford maximum visibility and use flat glass, resulting in an appearance which was not aesthetically pleasing. It was described by some observers as "severe," and the funny-looking little bus had other nicknames even less kind.

In addition to its unusual appearance, the Wayne Papoose faced another disadvantage in the Wayne product line. The market was highly competitive with all five other major school bus body builders participating, making it a commodity. Wayne's marketers wanted something more radical to differentiate a small capacity Wayne product from its competition.

Busette: the first cutaway school bus

By the early 1970s, Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors were all manufacturing many models of passenger vans. The Dodge passengers vans of Chrysler had a maximum seating capacity of 14 persons plus the driver, and came to be commonly known as 15 passenger vans, joined by similar sized models by the other manufacturers years later. Conversions for these for personal motor homes became very popular, drawing the interest of recreational vehicle manufacturers.

Soon, the so-called "Big 3" (Chrysler, Ford, and GM) were working on even bigger models of their popular light-duty van products, but intended these chassis solely for use by second stage manufacturers.

Second stage manufacturers build such products as bus and truck bodies, motor homes, and other specialized vehicles. Neither their products, nor the first stage portions (which are called "incomplete motor vehicles") are fully-compliant with FMVSS requirements for a complete motor vehicle. Neither portion can be licensed or operated lawfully without the other.

For these larger models, featuring a van front end and cab design, the body ended immediately behind the driver and front passenger seats, and usually was covered by temporary plywood or heavy cardboard material for shipment to the various second stage manufacturers. It was soon known by the name cutaway van chassis in recognition of this feature.

Along with development of the failed Papoose product, Wayne had also been experimenting with an expanded "cutaway" van chassis with dual rear wheels. It molded the donor-vehicle’s cab and chassis to a small (3-4 row) passenger bus body that rode over the 1-ton chassis dual real wheels.[1] As a light duty vehicle, a bus body built upon the incomplete cutaway chassis could be marketed and serviced by automobile dealers, a major advantage in comparison to bus body products built upon a "p" chassis such as the Papoose.

Wayne's initial prototype was built on a Ford Econoline cutaway van platform and had dual rear wheels. With four rows of seats behind the driver, it was named Busette. The overall weight was kept down by maintaining a 63" headroom, which facilitated seating for up to 24 children, but limited standing room for most adults. The experimental unit (on Ford) was well-received. However, due to differences in cutaway floor construction of Chrysler, Ford, and GM products, body production for Ford cutaway chassis was deferred by Wayne until 1981.

Initial Busette production began in 1973 on Chrysler's Dodge chassis. Chevrolet and GMC brand-names were added the following year. A makeshift arrangement with the right side cab door provided entrance on basic models. However, soon a more conventional school bus door and step well was added as an option.

Busette proved to be a very popular Wayne product. School bus versions of the Busette were widely accepted by Head Start and Special Education programs. The dual-rear wheels design was favorable when compared to 4 wheel van-based school buses due to greater stability. The low headroom made the small school bus seem less big to drivers transitioning from smaller passenger vans.

In 1975, a higher headroom version for adult transportation was developed called Transette. Essentially it was a Busette with higher headroom, a walk-in door, nicer seats, fancier and larger side windows, standee windows, and air conditioning. The prototype was introduced to the dealer organization in the fall of 1975 at the Annual Wayne Dealer Sales Meeting, held that year at Richmond, Indiana. Dealers were very enthusiastic about the new Transette product. In early 1976, the prototype Transette was introduced on a nationwide tour, and orders began rolling in. One market for which the Transette proved exceptionally well-suited was car rental shuttles at airports. Within a single year, Wayne Transette minibuses became the primary small shuttle vehicle for all the major rental car companies: Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, and Dollar rent-a-car organizations each had many units at or near most of their US airport locations.

Busette and Transette minibuses offered wheelchair ramps and electro-hydraulic lifts recently developed by accessibility product pioneers Don Collins, a former Wayne Dealer, and founder of Collin Industries which grew into a major small bus builder, and Ralph Braun, a mobility-challenged man who started Braun Industries with products developed in his garage in Winamac, Indiana. Transettes became especially popular in small town transit and paratransit dial-a-ride type services in the US.

The marketers were especially pleased, both with the popularity of Busette and Transette, and that none of the other five competing school bus manufacturers developed a product based upon the cutaway chassis until the Thomas Minotour appeared in late 1979.

Lifeguard design: a quantum leap in structural safety

A weak point and location of structural failure in catastrophic school bus crashes was well-known to be joints, the points were panels and pieces were fastened together. Longitudinal steel guard rails had been in use since the 1930s to protect the sides of buses, but behind them on the sides and on the roofs, all manufacturers were combining many individual panels to construct a bus body.

Around 1967, safety engineers at Ward Body Company of Conway, Arkansas had subjected one of their school bus bodies to a multiple roll test, and noted the separation at the joints. Ward noted that many of their competitors were using far fewer rivets. This resulted in new attention by all the body companies to the number and quality of fasteners.

Simply increasing the number of fasteners (rivets, screws, and huckbolts) was not enough to satisfy Wayne engineers. In their tests, no matter how many fasteners were used, the joints were always the weak point under high stress loads. They also noted how the continuous guard rails used on the sides tended to spread the stress from a point of impact, allowing it to be shared and dissipated at portions of the body structure further away.

Instead of trying to figure out how to make the fasteners do a better job, they stood back and wondered of the design features of the guard rails could be expanded. The result was a revolutionary new design in school bus construction: Continuous longitudinal interior and exterior panels for the sides and roofs.

Branded the Lifeguard, the new school bus design used Wayne's huge roll-forming presses to make single steel pieces which extended the entire length of the bus body. The concept was that by reducing the number of joints, the number of places where the body could be anticipated to separate in a catastrophic impact was reduced in a like amount. The "Lifeguard" design reduced overall body weight, the number of fasteners used, and man-hours required for assembly. However, it required the very large roll-form presses and special equipment to handle the panels. A more practical problem was the panels had to be cut to exact length for each bus body order, which varied with seating capacities and from state-to-state. This created a marketing disadvantage as the Wayne factory required greater manufacturing lead time than when parts were more interchangeable between orders under older panel technology.

Shortly after Lifeguard was introduced, Wayne held a nationwide contest soliciting ideas to improve school bus safety, with a new Lifeguard school bus as the grand prize. The winning entry was submitted by a school bus driver in Goochland County, Virginia, whose district received the new school bus. Her idea was to install sound baffles in the ceiling of school bus bodies to help reduce driver distraction. Compact forms of such equipment were later developed used by Wayne and other school bus manufacturers when diesel engines (and their greater noise) became commonplace in the 1980s.

Benefits of Lifeguard design proved

The benefits of the Lifeguard design were proved in several potentially catastrophic collisions. For example, in 1982, at Petersburg, Virginia, a 1973 model Wayne Lifeguard school bus transporting 41 elementary school children was struck broad-side at an intersection by a fire truck which had gone through a red traffic signal without stopping while responding to an alarm.

The school bus was rocked violently, but after the fire truck literally bounced off of it (rather than penetrating the body), the driver was able to regain control and bring it to a safe stop. The fire truck was spun 180o and its front was demolished. All 3 firefighters were hospitalized. The bus driver and all children were transported to the hospital as well. One child on the bus had suffered a broken arm; the rest were mostly scared but uninjured.

Later examination of the school bus revealed that the impact of the massive fire truck had failed to overcome the great strength of the Wayne Lifeguard construction and the guard rails. It also revealed how well made the Lifeguard was and the quality of materials and workmanship. Investigators were amazed to discover that despite a bulge of several inches on the longitudinal interior panel, there had been no all-the way through penetration of the passenger compartment whatsoever, no joint separation, and no sharp edges created. Instead, they found the substantial impact stress had been shared over a widespread area along the entire structure of the passenger compartment "box", protecting the occupants as intended by the design.

In the years after Wayne introduced the Lifeguard in the 1973 model year, competing body manufacturers began also using larger panels and a lesser number of side panels and joints. However, none had become as progressive as Wayne's use of the full-length panels when the focus on structural integrity resulted in the joint requirements of the all-important U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, most of which became applicable on April 1, 1977. After that date, most manufacturers including Wayne added special structural adhesives to other fasteners at body joints.

Indian Head and Thyssen

In 1973, Indian Head established a joint business venture with Thyssen-Bornemisza Group N.V., a Dutch holding company. That year, Indian Head sold off its pantyhose, cotton yarn and commission finishing divisions. The next year, it acquired Tri-Wall Containers, leading international manufacturer of heavy-duty shipping containers.

In 1975, the rest of Indian Head Industries was sold to (and folded into) Thyssen-Bornemisza, a conglomerate based in Monaco, which was owned by one man: Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Years 1975-1984

It seems that most of what one can learn about Indian Head after the Thyssen-Bornemisza acquisition is very limited. As a privately-owned entity, there were no requirements for annual reports or public filings. However, what can be found seem to indicate that Thyssen spent much of the next 8–10 years selling off or closing its North American investments.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the portions of Thyssen-Bornemisza which formed the Wayne Corporation went through a period of decline.

In 1982, Thyssen sold its Textile Specialties Group to Hanson Trust, an English holding company which had established a group of companies called Hanson Industries. This group was renamed Carisbrook Industries. At time of sale, Thyssen was operating in 274 locations in 27 countries and 29 U.S. States.

Wayne Professional Cars: RIP

The professional car industry was negatively and profoundly impacted by three factors in the late 1970s. Many units served as both ambulances and funeral vehicles, called "combinations." Combinations disappeared from general service in the late 1970s, when a downsized Cadillac commercial chassis appeared. The downsizing of America's biggest luxury cars, beginning with the 1977 model year, forced major changes upon professional car builders, who were dependent upon car frames purchased from General Motors and Ford Motor Company to begin their conversion processes.

At the same time, changes in the federal ambulance regulations governing minimum width, headroom and equipment levels generally required larger vehicles. These were part of the 1973 National EMS Systems Act, which was passed by Congress in 1974, and implemented four years later (in 1978), required that communities receiving federal funds for their programs had ambulances that met new federal specifications. Three design styles meet the criteria and are still in use today:

  • Type I uses a 1 ton truck chassis with a modular compartment
  • Type II has a heavy duty van body with a raised roof
  • Type III has a cutaway van chassis with a modular compartment.

Passenger-based vehicles were purposely excluded from legislation and the last American-made automobile-based ambulance was built in 1978.[1]

Ambulance service in many areas had often been rendered by the proprietors of funeral homes, and professional (combination) cars were often equipped for dual use. Despite high visibility, this activity was not a major profit center for funeral directors. Rising insurance costs and the increased skill levels required of ambulance personnel combined to motivate funeral home operators to leave first the emergency medical transport business, and eventually, the non-emergency medical transport business.

At the same time, just as the chassis they were built upon became smaller, the higher level of services rendered by emergency medical services (EMS) personnel at the pre-hospital level required more space and equipment than was available in professional cars. Fortunately for patients, this came at the very time that extended wheelbase vans and cutaway-type vehicles became more readily available. In the early 1970s Wayne introduced a full line of non care based ambulances; the Type III Medi-cruiser was based on the popular Dodge B-series van Tradesmen panel van, the Care-O-Van was a Type II ambulance and the Type I Guardian, an early version of a 1 ton truck based modular ambulance. By the late 1970s, government standards and practical necessities were combining to make professional car based ambulances unsuitable for virtually all EMS transport work.

Some professional car builders made the transition and continued to build hearses and stretch limousines based upon the smaller luxury car frames, but their ambulance business of this type was gone. The skills and equipment needed to convert vans and build modular boxes for ambulances were significantly different, and these markets were won over by other specialized builders.

About the time of the 1979 energy crisis, Wayne's Engineering Department experimented with creation of a stretch conversion of the diesel-powered Volkswagen Rabbit which was being mass-produced at VW's Westmoreland plant near New Stanton, Pennsylvania. The "Rabbitransit" vehicle would have the potential to transport a large number of passengers (8-12) with very efficient fuel consumption in comparison with other automobiles. In a 1979 news article, Wayne president Dwayne Shields described the project:

"The Rabbitransit has a 104½” wheelbase, 10 inches longer than the regular VW comfortably seats four passengers plus driver. Headroom in the passenger compartment is four inches (102 mm) higher and the interior is reportedly spacious with plenty of legroom...structural strength of the VW has been beefed up with additional strainers and bows. Yet, even with the added steel structures, the vehicle weighs only 190 pounds than the original...Wayne kept the weight down by making a number of parts changes using lightweight vacuumed-formed plastic techniques...gas consumption has been very close to that of the VW Rabbit which is 41 mpg, according to the EPA rating for the 1979 five-speed, fuel-injected diesel vehicle...

" the time the two prototype mini-taxis were built, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards required that such vehicles undergo expensive testing make mini-taxis viable from the standpoint of cost, it became evident...they should be built from the ground up, rather than a modification of a completed vehicle...and VW officials indicated it would be some time before they would be in a position to supply components for this type of assembly." [1]

The mini-taxi project was dropped by Wayne. For potential liability reasons, the frequently seen "Rabbitransit" at the Richmond plant could not be sold for highway use and it was later destroyed.

By the late 1970s, as the situation became critical, Wayne Corporation, the parent of M-M and C-B, and Wayne's Thyssen owners chose not to invest heavily as would have been required in the uncertain futures of the diverging professional car and ambulance building industries. There were no buyers for either subsidiary as a going business.

For 1977, the Cadillac commercial chassis was down-sized and smaller, to reduce vehicle weight and fuel consumption. The Cadillac Division built 1,299 of these special, lengthened units. Wayne's Miller-Meteor subsidiary built only 21 Lifeliner Cadillac ambulances that year. For 1978, Cadillac's commercial chassis production further declined, to only 852 units. Miller-Meteor received orders for only 4 ambulances. There were no 1979 Miller-Meteor ambulances. On December 13, 1979, the company, with roots tracing back to 1853, closed its doors. There would be no 1980 Miller-Meteor products. The company laid-off 252 employees and terminated the contracts of their 34 North American distributors.[1]

In 1980, Cotner-Bevington ambulance product line was sold to Gene Knisley, owner of Mid-Continent Conversion Co., which was an ambulance and medicar builder in Kansas City, Missouri. The C-B plant in Blytheville, Arkansas was closed.

A few years later, the rights to the Miller-Meteor name were acquired and resurrected by another professional car builder in Norwalk, Ohio which in 2004 was producing a line of funeral coaches and limousines on Cadillac and Lincoln chassis under the Miller-Meteor brand name.

Wayne and Welles Buses

In 1975, when the ownership of Wayne Corporation shifted to Thyssen, Wayne was one of six major school bus body builders in the United States. It is important to understand and review the market at this point to appreciate some of what happened next in Wayne's history.

Wayne apparently enjoyed some profitable years in the late 1970s, buoyed by sales of its smaller Busette and Transette product lines. By 1980, Wayne was one of the big six school bus body manufacturing companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Company, Superior Coach Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., and Ward Body Company, as well as Gillig Bros. and Crown Coach Corporation (manufacturers which traded primarily on the West Coast).

A downturn in North American school bus purchase volumes began in the late 1970s as the children of the Baby Boom completed their elementary and secondary educations. Bidding competition for reduced volumes became devastating to profits and even liquidity. In 1979, Ward declared bankruptcy, reorganizing as AmTran the following year. Perhaps even more foretelling, in 1980, the Sheller-Globe Corporation industrial conglomerate closed its huge Superior Coach Company plant in Lima, Ohio. Sheller-Globe had reportedly been unable to find a buyer for its large enterprise.

Although not publicly-reported (as corporate ownership under Thyssen was private), it is likely that Wayne and Welles began reporting losses around 1980 or 1981, and these continued into 1982. By 1983, Wayne dealers and union leaders were told that the annual losses at Wayne/Welles were reportedly in the millions, and the Thyssen owners were poised to end the relationship and financial hemorrhage, by sale or shutdown.

In 1984, following significant concessions by its unionized workers, members of United Auto Workers Local # 721 which were intended to make the company more efficient, Wayne Corporation (and its Canadian subsidiary, Welles, Ltd.) were sold by Thyssen to new owners.

Wayne Corporation: Richmond Transportation Corporation 1985-1992

In late 1984, Richmond Transportation Corporation (RTC) was formed by Jack M. Dekruif, a Long Beach, California-based industrialist, and several officers who had served at Wayne for many years under the Indian Head and Thyssen ownership. RTC acquired Wayne Corporation and its Welles subsidiary in Canada in February, 1985. Terry G. Whitesell was named President of RTC. A civic leader in Richmond, Indiana, his prior responsibilities at Wayne included sales, marketing, and purchasing over a period of more than 15 years. Whitesell was well-known within the company, its dealer and supplier networks, and the industry.

Although as industrialist investor, Dekruif had a track record of liquidating troubled businesses, he was persuaded to allow the new organization to operate and compete. Several successful years followed. The Chaperone and Chaperone II products on cutaway van chassis did well, and several Wayne dealer-contractors were expanding, most notably Laidlaw. In the fall of 1986, the company was preparing to launch an initial public stock offering (IPO) when "Black Friday" struck the stock market that October, forcing cancellation of the IPO.

The company's economic fortunes also seemed to go downhill from that point. School bus contractor Laidlaw, then an operator of 30,000 school buses in the U.S. and Canada, and its own Wayne dealership, split its 1986 school bus body production orders between Wayne and Amtran. In May 1987, a major fire destroyed the Canadian (Welles) plant on Drouillard Road in Windsor, Ontario. A bitter strike occurred at Wayne's Richmond, Indiana plant in the spring of 1988. The strike lasted only 30 days, but several major orders were lost. The Welles plant was replaced by a newer facility. In conjunction with the City of Windsor, property was bought on the former Sheller-Globe plant site on Marentette Street.

Lifestar: Wayne's hope for the future

By the late 1980s, the company's best hopes lay in its newest product, a transit-style (type D) school bus named the Lifestar. Like its older sister the Lifeguard, it featured the continuous longitudinal interior and exterior panels for the sides and roofs.

Until 1973. Wayne had built a rear-engined model (on a Chevrolet chassis that year), but after that time, production of transit-style models had been limited to military and GSA (federal government) orders. These were comparatively expensive, special order units.

Lifestar was to be targeted for the school bus market. Wayne did not have the manufacturing equipment or capacity to build chassis in-house. Therefore, identification of an appropriate chassis from an outside supplier to meet engineering, volume, and cost considerations was essential to the project, and future of Lifestar.

Rear engine design

The company developed but did not place into production a rear-engine transit prototype program which was built at the Welles plant in Canada, where many Wayne experimental projects had been done over the years. A rear-engine model would have been more costly than one with a front engine, and less likely to achieve volume production. Competitors in that market were the Blue Bird All-American RE and the Thomas Saf-T-Liner, each a premium product with an in-house chassis produced for their respective manufacturers.

Front engine design

A front-engine transit program for Lifestar was more successful than rear-engine development efforts, and eventually saw production with the Chevrolet/GM S-7 chassis, the International 3900 chassis, and the Asia Motors chassis imported from South Korea by Asia-Smith.

The initial production of Lifestars were of a front engine (FE) design. At first, the product was totally dependent upon the S-7 chassis developed by General Motors, and offered through Chevrolet and GMC dealers. One of the larger Wayne bus dealers, Milton H. Smith, a truck and bus dealer and school bus contractor based in Plaistow, New Hampshire, imported some chassis for Lifestar bodies branded "Asia-Smith" which had been assembled inouth Korea]] with U.S. manufactured components. However, the Asia-Smith chassis were not received well in U.S. markets and many sat at the Indiana plant for an extended time awaiting body orders. Meanwhile, GM's S-7 chassis were not initially available in large numbers, and after no other body companies indicated that they would also produce bodies for it, in 1989, Wayne suffered an additional setback when General Motors announced discontinuation of the unprofitable S-7 product line. Shortly later, GM exited the retail portion of the conventional school bus chassis business as well, discontinuing its B-6 product line, except for a private label arrangement worked out with Blue Bird to produce gasoline-powered chassis solely for Blue Bird bodies.

In late 1989, Navistar International introduced a chassis which could be used for a Lifestar body. Wayne Lifestar production on the International 3900 chassis began in 1990 and continued until 1992.

Ruinous chassis competition

Other body companies also expressed interest, and AmTran (formerly Ward Body Company) developed a product based upon it, the Ward Senator. However, AmTran was also working on a rear-engined model using the 3900 components to be fully assembled at its Conway, Arkansas plant utilizing Navistar mechanical components. That concept promised substantially lower costs than chassis assembled at the Navistar plant at Springfield, Ohio, and in comparison, would put the Wayne Lifestar with the Springfield chassis at a significant price bidding disadvantage in the marketplace.

Competition: overcapacity for bodies, lack of in-house chassis

For the 1989 model year, competitor Blue Bird introduced its TC-2000, a transit model much less costly than its famous All-American, which had always been marketed as a premium product offered with front engine and rear engine models. By middle of the 1990 model year, the TC-2000 product alone was projected to capture a full 10% of U.S. school bus market by AmTran officials.

Wayne continued to struggle for market share in 1990. In April, it was announced that the Welles plant in Canada would close in mid-June 1990.

In early 1991, Navistar International Corporation, manufacturer of the International brand school bus chassis announced that it had purchased a one third interest in American Transportation Company (AmTran), the manufacturer of Ward school bus bodies, and one of Wayne's long-time competitors.

This was seen by many industry observers as an ominous sign for Wayne's future, as Navistar was its largest supplier of both conventional (Lifeguard) and transit (Lifestar) chassis. Wayne had no major alliance to guarantee a source of chassis, nor any in-house capacity to do so.

The following year, Richmond Transportation Corporation (RTC) was forced to declare bankruptcy in August, 1992. Assets were sold by a federal bankruptcy judge at auction that fall.

Postscript: Wayne designed products, legacy

Superior by Mid-Bus

Several small companies rose from the end of school bus production by industrial conglomerate Sheller-Globe's Superior Coach Company in Lima, Ohio. In 1981, Mid Bus was formed by 3 former Superior employees, and along with 7 co-workers, they began manufacturing small school buses nearby. About 10 years later, Wayne Corporation decided to discontinue Busette production, which had moved to the Welles plant in Canada, in favor of its newer Chaperone. An arrangement was made with Mid-Bus to resume production of the Busette, which was still a favorite of Head Start agencies into the 1990s. The Busette production helped Mid-Bus gain expertise with cutaway chassis for school bus applications.

Wayne Wheeled Vehicles

Wayne Wheeled Vehicles
Fate Dissolved
Predecessor Wayne Corporation
Founded 1992
Headquarters Marysville]], Ohio, United States
Area served North America
Industry Transportation
Products school buses
Parent Harsco Corporation

After the bankruptcy in 1992, Wayne's other product rights and many assets (but notably not the corporation and subsidiaries themselves with pensions and other liabilities) were purchased at liquidation auction by BMY, a military truck assembler owned by steel giant Harsco Corporation. BMY management had been looking for a secondary product line to fill in slow periods between military truck orders. Several Wayne products were produced and sold for a brief time between 1993 and 1995 under the brand name Wayne Wheeled Vehicles (WWV) at the BMY plant in Marysville, Ohio.

RD 9000: Ahead of its time

In 1995, WWV unveiled a prototype of an all-new transit-style school bus called the Wayne RD 9000, featuring many innovations never before seen in school buses.[2] However, between several lost bids for more military trucks and questionable profitability of the WWV production, BMY shut down completely and closed the Marysville plant in 1995. The RD 9000 never entered mass production. Most of its groundbreaking features were eventually adopted by the other school bus builders, but not until 5–10 years later.

Crown by Carpenter

In the early 1990s, Carpenter Industries (formerly Carpenter Body Company) of Mitchell, Indiana purchased the tooling and product rights to build Crown coaches, long a product of a defunct U.S. bus builder in California. Around 1995, Carpenter leased the former Wayne plant at Richmond, and moved from its aged facilities in Mitchell, Indiana. At the former Wayne plant, they began producing Crown by Carpenter buses and delivery trucks. Carpenter had been struggling for almost 20 years when it too finally ended school bus production in 2000.

Future of the Plant

The former Wayne Corporation plant, after standing idle for a number of years, was purchased by a group of investors in 2005 with the intention of using the plant and surrounding property for a business park. The investors intended to use the large plant to house a number of smaller companies, rather than looking for a single, large corporation. At the end of 2006, the property along Interstate 70 was becoming re-utilized for a number of retail and industrial enterprises. Included was construction of new retail businesses such as restaurants and service stations near the busy Interstate highway exit which had been known for over 25 years for the massive bus factory and acres of yellow school buses and chassis of Wayne Corporation.


  • Wayne Papoose school bus
  • Wayne Lifeguard school bus
  • Wayne Busette school bus
  • Wayne Transette bus
  • Wayne Transette XT bus
  • Wayne Chaperone school bus
  • Wayne Chaperone II school bus
  • Wayne Lifestar school bus
  • Wayne RD 9000 school bus (prototype only; never mass produced)[3]


External links

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