The company behind Wayne school buses had a history firmly rooted in farm implements and equipment.
A 1932 Ford school bus with an unidentified body.
Nearly every country kid at one time or another probably rode to school on a Wayne school bus. Even though Superior, Carpenter, Blue Bird, Thomas and a few others made bus bodies, Wayne was number one for many years. The firm’s history, however, is firmly rooted in farm machinery.
In 1837, a foundry was started in Dublin, a tiny town a few miles west of Richmond, Indiana, along what was then known as the National Road (now U.S. Route 40), by John Whippo and brothers Caleb and James Witt. Powered by a 2-horse treadmill (there was no water power in Dublin), the factory produced stoves and agricultural implements such as scythes, grain cradles and reaping hooks.
Through the 1840s, ‘50s and ‘60s, the modestly successful firm went through a number of owners, partnership changes and name changes, while continuing to make stoves and small farm implements, most of which were sold in the surrounding areas of Indiana and nearby western Ohio. In 1868, Davis, Lawrence & Co., as it was known at the time, built its first vehicle, a Conestoga wagon.
Then, on Jan. 20, 1871, Davis, Lawrence & Co. was reorganized as Wayne Agricultural Co. A contemporary catalog lists the firm’s products as coal stoves, mowers, reapers, grain drills, hay rakes, seeders, corn planters, cultivators, platform scales and fence-making machines. The company employed a workforce of 60 to 75, and produced $150,000 worth of farm implements in 1871.
By the end of 1873, the company increased its capital to $100,000 and hired more workmen. With the increased business and 100 men now on the payroll, the little factory in Dublin was getting cramped and the search for better facilities began. The nearby city of Richmond, Indiana, made an offer, which was accepted (although some Wayne stockholders objected) and a new factory was built.
Some of the disgruntled stockholders wanted to sell their shares, so the Dublin firm was dissolved in 1875, and all its assets were bought by Richmond stockholders, although the old name was retained.
An 1882 Wayne catalog lists the company’s products as the Richmond Champion grain drill, the Richmond broadcast seeder, the Champion 1-row corn drill, the Indiana walking cultivator, the Richmond Royce self-rake reaper, the improved Richmond mower and Moon’s patent lever fodder-cutting box. The catalog has a page of testimonials from users of the Royce self-rake reaper. A Gardner, Kansas, dealer named Abram Cramer wrote: “The Royce reaper is rapidly gaining ground here. The heavy machines were death on horses this last summer. One farmer drove four horses to a Kirby (a competing reaper). His horses gave out while cutting flax. He then hired a Royce. The Royce went right along with two horses and did the very best kind of work. I sold a carload last year, and have bought another carload for the coming season, and expect to sell twice that number.”
During the 1890s, the Wayne Works, as the firm was then known, started to make carriages and buggies in addition to farm wagons and implements. Then, in 1892, came the event that would change the company drastically. The Kingsville school district in Ashtabula County, Ohio, asked Wayne to build a special wagon to haul kids to and from school. Called a “school car,” the enclosed bodies had windows all around, a bench along each side for seating and a rear entry door.
The school car business wasn’t large at first, but Wayne continued to make other horse-drawn vehicles along with its farm machinery line. A bad fire in 1902 destroyed a large portion of the works, but the loss was insured and the plant was soon rebuilt.
Beginning in about 1904, the Wayne Works began building the Richmond automobile and continued the endeavor until 1917, when it withdrew from the car business. Competition from International Harvester Co. and other big manufacturers had begun to eat away at the farm implement business, but Henry Ford, of all people, came to the rescue of the Wayne Works when he introduced the Model T truck in 1917. That launch opened a whole new market for the Wayne folks.
The Model T truck was at first mostly sold as an engine and chassis. Wayne engineers designed a variety of commercial bodies and cabs for Ford and other truck chassis builders. They also took one of their horse-drawn school cars, reinforced the wooden body with steel and mounted it on a Model T chassis. Four padded bench seats were mounted lengthwise in the body and the familiar rear entrance was accessed by attached steps.
At about that time, the topic of transportation to rural schools in the U.S. was receiving a lot of attention and, strangely, even money. Wayne Works was there, with the solution in its motorized school car. Of course, during World War I, the company built field ovens and ration carts as well as hand grenades and machine gun ammunition, but after the armistice, the school bus business took off. By 1920, the company’s farm machinery production was halted.
Wayne also made a complete line of cabs and commercial bodies for the Model T. In 1922, the company introduced the Wayne touring home, which it said, “Opens the Doors of the World.”
Anticipating the recreational vehicle market by a few decades, this coach included a built-in 56-by-76-inch bed on one side of the rear compartment that could be easily folded out of the way during the day, as well as a small kitchenette with what appears to be a gasoline or alcohol stove. Wayne claimed it could easily be changed over from eating and lounging to sleeping in just a few minutes. There was also a water bag for drinking water, built-in cabinetry and kitchen utensils. Toilet facilities were, apparently, behind a nearby tree.
In 1930 Wayne Works announced the first all-steel school bus body and in 1936 streamlined bodied buses began rolling off the line at the Richmond plant. During World War II, Wayne built the bulk of the ubiquitous Dodge ambulances used by the U.S. military.
In the mid-1950s, Wayne bought a couple of Ohio commercial car companies that built Cadillac hearses and ambulances. Then, in 1956, Divco Corp., which then controlled about three-quarters of the dairy delivery truck business, and Wayne Works, Inc. merged, forming Divco-Wayne Corp.
The next three decades brought lots of change in company ownership and product lines, although school buses were predominant. In the 1980s, Wayne began to suffer big losses. In 1992, Richmond Transportation Corp., Wayne’s owner at the time, filed for bankruptcy.
History is fascinating. FC