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The Fageol Safety Coach – A Breakthrough in Bus Design

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  • An early Safety Coach run by the Blue Goose Flying Squadron line in 1922.

It may look awkward and a little odd to modern eyes, but the Fageol Safety Coach was a major milestone in the evolution of intercity bus design. It was just one of a long line of innovative and unconventional ideas of the four Fageol brothers during their long association. Before the Safety Coach, buses had been built on conventional truck frames. Their high center of gravity made them extremely prone to rollovers and high floors provided a steep climb for boarding passengers.

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  • “Automotive Industries” of May 11, 1922 photo shows the Fageol trademark hood louvers along with a door for each seat

These two problems were eliminated by the double drop frame design of the Safety Coach. Extreme kick-ups over each axle lowered overall height to only 76 inches with a floor only 21 inches from the ground. A wide 64 inch track contributed to previously unheard of  stability on turns at highway speeds. Initially power was applied by a single overhead cam Hall-Scott four cylinder engine and a Brown-Lipe four speed gearbox with an overdrive top gear. Coupled to a specially-built, quiet running Timken worm gear differential with a 5.4 to 1 ratio 50 mile an hour highway speeds were easily achieved.

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  • Early fabricated rear frame kick up – Laminated wooden wheel centers and cast aluminum brake shoes -Later cast steel kick up and air brake hardware 

The icing on the safety cake was the first use of air brakes on a motor coach. Developed by George Westinghouse in 1869 for railroad use, aside from providing smooth, progressive application and low operator effort on heavy vehicles, his design was almost entirely fail-safe. They functioned in a way that, should an air leak develop, braking force would be applied unlike hydraulic systems that lose effectiveness when fluid pressure drops.

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  • Diagram showing air brakes on a Fageol chassis and a complete description of their operation from “Automotive Industries” of November 30, 1922

An oft repeated story implies that a Fageol Safety Coach may have led to the naming of the best known brand in intercity bus transportation today. Observing the rapid passage of one in Wisconsin, a person remarked that it was as swift as a greyhound dog. This was apparently overheard by a Mr. E.J. Stone who repeated it to Ed Eckstrom who was in the process of buying Stone’s bus company.

Eckstrom in turn incorporated the idea into advertising for his Safety Motor Coach line. His company was eventually acquired by the Hibbing, Minnesota based Motor Transit Corporation which became the Greyhound Corporation in 1929. You will find many more interesting bus and truck photos on The Old Motor. Top photo courtesy of the W.B. Fageol Collection.

14 responses to “The Fageol Safety Coach – A Breakthrough in Bus Design

  1. What timing! I discovered that a Fageol Safety Coach was used in Mt. McKinley National Park last century and I’ll be posting some photos of it on our museum blog next Monday. Apparently it was brought to Fairbanks and sat in a lot deteriorating for many years. Once the snow melts this spring we’ll start hunting for its remains.

  2. This Fageol appears also to have a pair of Westinghouse air shocks, which would have smoothed the ride for the passengers. However, without front wheel brakes, emergency stops would likely have been leisurely and perhaps accompanied by the dreaded side slip as the rear wheels locked with their high pressure pre-balloon tires.

  3. 1.
    The Porche race car was under the sponsorship of the Twin Coach Company, raced in SCCA by Lou Fageol, son of one of the original Fageol Motors founders and noted Gold Cup unlimited hydroplane driver.
    2.
    Many Fageol Safety coaches were used to transport the visiting public from the train station to and from the lodge. A few years ago, a Fageol coach was depicted on the wall in the lower level of the visitors center. Additional photographs of this service may be located at the university library in Fairbanks.

    3.
    The forward end of the front leaf springs was attached to a sliding piston. The piston then traveled vertically actuating the “shock” air spring. They are Cleveland-Gruss pneumatic shock absorbers, also known as air springs. A Schrader valve on top allowed the air reservoir pressure to be maintained at the desired level.
    4.
    The rear brakes of the vehicles were quite effective. The Timken four shoe brake package was used. The large diameter drums provided a surprisingly short braking distance on decent road surfaces. The service and emergency brakes were adequate for a loaded coach traveling at 50 mph without any “dreaded side slip” of the 38 by 7 tires. At least they were on my 1924 model safety coach.

    • William, are you saying “many” Fageol safety coaches were used in Mt. McKinley National Park? Robert Sheldon had the only automobile concession there at the time, and he only had one Fageol. His daughter is still alive and remembers the coach well.

    • I’m writing a book on industrial designer Wilbur Henry Adams, who worked with the Fageol Brothers on the Divco-Twin milk truck and the postwar Twin-Coach line. The scant company archive at Kent State has no information on him; all I have to go on are his extant drawings and newspaper stories of the time. Is there anyone out there who might know more about his association with the company, and which vehicles he is responsible for? I’d love to know how the two came to work together.

      Thanks for any help you might offer.

  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&list=UU0Pbemd1e0XaFbP3XVPbnTQ&v=fFODkegkEdU

    Here is a video showing a 1929 Fageol double deck bus that was discovered intact in a barn. It is being restored in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The person who posted this video on You Tube has no clue what the history of Fageol was or anything about the Fageol brothers.

    By the way, I have a 1951 Fageol Twin Coach 45-S bus in my historic transit vehicle collection.

    • The Fageol double decker being restored or possibly now restored (no update) by Honest Charley at Chattanooga, has a unique semi enclosed body (roof over seats but an open aisle) which was originally owned by Gray Line but operated from new by Tanner Motor Tours of Los Angeles. I don’t know when it was disposed of but it was apparently bought by a Hollywood movie props company, then at some point sold to Richie Clyne , co-owner of the Las Vegas Imperial Palace Auto Collections . For a long time it appears to have languished in the open besides the old fire station at Goldfield, NV, before its recent belated change of fortunes. Tanner ran another, more conventional, open top bodied Fageol double decker, which featured in the 1943 Laurel and Hardy movie, The Dancing Masters. If anyone knows more about the history of the Fageol at Chattanooga I would be very grateful to hear from them.
      Hats off to the guys at Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum for rescuing the Mt. McKinley National Park Fageol in the nick of time.

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