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The Alton Transportation Company Mega Bus

Updated: We have featured a number of historic buses over the years but none that were as odd as this one. The “Motor Coach Transportation” Volume 3-4, of 1926 reported that the Alton Transportation Company was a subsidiary of Chicago & Alton Railroad which began operating in 1862 with a run between Chicago and Alton, Illinois located on the Mississippi River.

At some point, probably in the late-1910s to early-1920s, the Railroad decided to run a bus line and apparently designed and constructed this No.2 Bus in the Company shops in a manner that followed locomotive practices. It was built upon two four-wheeled trucks with the front one rotating on a pivot that handled the steering of the unusual machine.

The bus rider’s compartment construction is similar to that of a passenger train car and the drivers compartment and the water-cooled power plant was located above the front truck. It appears that the engine powered a generator that supplied current to run one or more electric motors mounted in the rear truck.

We are hoping our readers can lead us to more information or the construction details of this behemoth. Share with us interests you in this hand-painted glass plate lantern slide courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Update: Thanks to reader Steve Bogdan for the following information about this unusual bus:  This particular vehicle was built in 1925 by the Versare Corporation in Albany, NY. The rear wheels on each 4-wheeled truck were driven by an electric. A 100-hp Waukesha engine drove the generator.

Editors note: learn more about this Versare Bus at Coachbuilt.com.

12 responses to “The Alton Transportation Company Mega Bus

  1. This reminds me a lot of the “Galloping Goose”. I searched the archives, and didn’t see it. In the late 20’s, the Rio Grande built 6 of a similar unit, only with rail wheels, and was meant to use the existing mining rails as sort of a mass transit for the Rocky Mountains. They were a hodge podge of Buick, Pierce-Arrow, and Wayne bus bodies and a small freight box but was 20 years too late. By the 30’s, most mining had dried up, and many of the towns along the railroad had been abandoned. When you look at what locomotives did around the turn of the century, these massive, labor inducing behemoths to move one rail car, simply astounds me. The Galloping Goose solved all those problems, but again, was too late. I believe only one exists today at the Colorado Rail Museum in Golden.

    • Howard, thanks for mentioning the Galloping Geese. Around five (maybe with one replica) still exist. One is at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, one is in Ridgway, one is in Dolores, and another is in Telluride. They were used during the 1930s to avoid the expense of operating steam locomotives.

    • Six of the seven Geese survive – #1 is gone, although it has been re-created.

      Geese #2, #6, and #7 are preserved at the Colorado Railroad Museum and are operational.

      Goose #3 was sold to Knott’s Berry Farm and is operated regularly during off-season periods when park attendance is low.

      Goose #4 was on static display in Telluride, Colorado, but was restored to operation in Ridgway, Colorado, as of June 2012 and moved back to Telluride on May 2013.

      Goose #5 was bought by the city of Dolores, Colorado and restored in 1998. It is now operated from time to time on the Cumbres and Toltec and Durango and Silverton tourist railroads, as well as at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

    • Thanks, you guys, still kind of new to Colorado, but fascinated with the rail system they had here. The Rio Grande had a station here in Salida, was this neat Art Deco building with ornate wood benches, after the last train went through in the 80’s, they came in, AT NIGHT, without anyone knowing about it, and demolished the building in 1985. By morning it was gone, and outraged the locals. They never even asked the city if they wanted it. Salida had a huge rail facility ( all gone now) and I bet the Goose came through regularly.
      Perhaps David could do a story on them.

  2. Wonder if they could swap the rubber tires and wheels for railroad gear and run it on tracks. Steel wheels and rubber roads, anyone?

  3. This particular vehicle was built in 1925 by the Versare Corporation in Albany, NY. The rear wheels on each 4-wheeled truck were driven by an electric. A 100-hp Waukesha engine drove the generator.

  4. That Coachbuilt site certainly tells all. I was particularly interested on how it turned. Rather than a 4 wheel steer, the whole kit and kaboodle pivoted. Sure looks like a lot of engineering went into that. I’ve driven just about everything with a motor, but looking at this gives even me some apprehension. It must have been a beast to maneuver.

  5. All smaller railroads were having to come up with less costly ways to continue daily passenger service during the post WWI era as increasing private car ownership reduced ridership throughout the 1920’s. Many turned to internal combustion-powered vehicles such as this behemoth, or gas-engine railcars with baggage and passenger compartments as well as home-built units exampled by the famous Galloping Gooses of the Rio Grande Southern . They also had mail contracts to fulfill as they served thousands of small towns. Running a steam locomotive with crew and a handful of passengers plus mail became a money loser without a more economical vehicle to fill the job.

  6. Budd manufactured a diesel-powered railcar some time in the 50’s. They could be coupled together or run as a single unit. I think the motive power was a GM Diesel, maybe a pair of them, slung mid-ships with attached generators driving electric motors in the axles. I rode in one in the mid-50’s – a single unit – between Boston to Albany. What I remember most is the “rocking” motion, if you were prone to seasickness that would be most uncomfortable. I think that if there were more than one unit in a “train”, that motion would be moderated.

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