Thursday, July 12, 2012

Public Transport Today? No, But We Once Had Joiner's Bus

A post from Metscan today about public transportation got me to thinking on the subject.  I, living in a rural setting, have no access to public transportation. It would be nice to have it. Unless you live on the East or West Coasts in the U.S., or in a large American city with a rapid rail system, you are stuck with using your car for everything.

Once upon a time in Northern Alabama, however, there was an option. The Joiner Transit Company Inc., based in Florence, Ala., was established in 1939. I have no idea if the company still exists, but I do know they no longer have bus service into rural areas. Back in the day, the late 1950s and early 1960s, Joiner had two weekday bus runs into this area -- one early morning, which delivered workers to the J.T. Flagg Knitting Mill in East Florence.

Credit: National Museum of American History. Weaving at the White Oak Mill in Greensboro, NC, 1909.

According to my mother, many people in the area were lucky to have jobs at the cotton "knitting mill, as it was called. It had its beginnings in 1893, when cotton was king in Alabama, and it underwent several ownerships and names, until it closed down, maybe in the early 1960s, due to foreign competition.

Joiner's Bus looked something like this. Image credit: India Travel Blog 

The Joiner's bus made another run around noon, and it was this one I am most familiar with. My grandmother, Mommie Howell, loved to catch the bus to town, where she would shop around and have her noon meal at the Woolworth’s or Scott’s Five-and-Dime lunch counter. She was already into her 70s at the time, but a fiercely independent woman who didn’t want to report her every coming-and-going to her adult children. Mother said oftentimes she would stop by for a visit, find the house empty and a note on the kitchen table saying she had taken the bus to town. How Mommie Howell loved those “Five and Ten Cent stores," as she called them. There were three of them side by side in Florence.

Typical customers at a Woolworth's lunch counter. This photo is from 1987. Credit: News Tribune Attic.

A typical Woolworth's lunch counter

I recall a few times I was permitted to ride the bus to town with Mommie, and after I was a young teenager, my sister and I were allowed to make the trip alone.

A couple of cute stories I often heard told back then: An elderly lady was boarding the bus and her underpants slipped down around her ankles. Undaunted, she simply pulled them up under her skirt, rearranged them around her waist and continued up the steps, acting regal and as if nothing unusual had happened.

Another story is from my sister’s friend Becky, who regularly rode the noon bus from her home in Florence up to Anderson to visit her grandmother, Mae Mamma Howard Beasley, who owned and operated a little café in Anderson. The driver would tell Becky to have Mae Mamma fix him a hamburger and he’d pick it up after he traveled up the road a bit further, circled around and again passed through Anderson. Everyone around knew Mae Mamma’s hamburgers were the best. I still recall how those hamburgers smelled; nothing like hamburgers cooked today.

Shoppers traveling into town could catch the last bus home, which returned to the area around 5 p.m.

The bus route thrived during those days. Families owned one vehicle, which oftentimes was driven by fathers to jobs and the family had no way of going anywhere except on the bus. But more prosperous times arrived in the 1960s, a second or third car was affordable and the bus service no longer served the need of rural people.

Times have changed. The likelihood of having transportation such as this available again is remote. Americans love their cars! Even most children no longer ride the free buses to school. The chances of having a fast rail service built in this country that would connect all points also will never happen. Too expensive. The oil lobby. The automobile industry lobby. Too many hurdles ever to allow us to have the efficient transportation systems that are widely available in other parts of the world.

So I suppose I'll just have to live with my memories of the Joiner Bus line!

What are some of your memories of your youth? Perhaps things that existed then that are no longer?


  1. You make the old bus sound delightful. And those pictures sure make it look cool to eat at the Five and Dime counter.
    Very few cities can afford a superior public transportation system these days, especially when building it from scratch. What's sad is how quickly the buses and trams get worn down and vandalized. But that's not just an American problem - my cousin went on the Czech Republic Subway when it was new, and just a year later, when we were there together, it had all this graffiti. But it sure is cheaper to use the public transportation in the other countries that I have visited, than in the US.

    1. I remember the every Friday special at the Woolworth's lunch counter: a banana split for 19 cents. One of those old-fashioned concoctions in the long glass dish, three scoops of ice cream (vanilla, choc. & strawberry, of course) with all kinds of fruit sauces, nuts, chocolate syrup and topped with a cherry!

  2. I grew up in a small town with daily bus and rail links to the city. People commuted to work, shop or for school. These days, and for similar reasons, the trainline is closed, the bus has disappeared, and cars are the only way. The highway has not kept pace, and is now under extensive re-construction. It was on this old and unsafe road that we were involved in a head-on collision last year when a fast-driven truck crossed the centre line and crashed into us. Transport in this country has been underfunded for years, which is why accidents happen.

    1. Oh dear Patricia; so sorry to hear you were involved in such a mishap. I trust all is well now. I miss the bus, do you?

  3. Have enjoyed the history of the Joiner's bus,never knew you could have meals in Woolworth's,it was just a store over here.

    Our Woolworth's closed down about 5yrs ago,have your's disappeared also? Ida

    1. Hello Ida
      No, all the Woolworth's have disappeared here as well. There was a song before my time: "I Met my Million Dollar Baby in the Five and Ten Cent Store," which was in some way about Barbara Hutton, a Woolworth heir. Are you familiar with Barbara Hutton?

  4. What wonderful memories of Joiner's Bus! You could set your watch by the time it passed by certain points every day.
    After high school when I was going to Larimore Business College I rode into town with Daddy as he went to work, then if my schedule conflicted with his, I would ride the "dinner bus" home or the afternoon one as my schedule dictated. No car here, my entire year of school there consisted of riding with Daddy or Joiner's Bus and just waiting sometimes for hours to catch my ride home.

    1. Hello Sissy,
      And you say you don't remember the old stuff! You do and I am so glad YOU reminded me that the noon bus was called the Dinner Bus! I had completely forgotten that. Had also forgotten that you often road Joiner's Bus home from your college classes.I imagine you spent as much time on that bus as anyone! THANKS!

  5. I´m late in commenting ( you know why ), but I must tell you, that I really enjoyed this memory post. You master writing stories!
    I don´t ever remember seeing a similar old bus over here. But we did have old ones.
    I went to school in Hki, my family lived at the time some 35 km´s west from the town. Busses went by about once an hour, and the trip lasted at least an hour.
    Where I got on, all the places were already filled, and I had to stand throughout the trip. Sometimes both skies and skates had to be taken along + the heavy sack of school books.
    During the winter, the bus was quite hot and it was exhausting to make the trip daily back and forth. Usually I left home before 7 am, and was back home after 4 pm.
    However, I got to read a lot of Nancy Drew mystery stories during those trips.
    Naturally, at that time, there were no streetlights on the curving roads. School also on Saturdays. No motorways at that time either. Often, the bus had difficulties on the icy roads, so I was late arriving to school.
    When younger, we spent the winter months in Hki, I lived with my grandparents and got to use the tram, just like all my classmates. I felt equal and happy.
    Later, in my teens, I had a big crush on a boy, who attended a different school, but used the same bus that I. I deliberately " waited ", as I knew his school hours, to get the same bus with him, and my heart bumped of anxiety, as I waited, if he would appear. Sometimes he did, sometimes not.
    Unfortunately, he never had any interest in me ; ).
    A few years ago, I heard that he killed his wife and then himself!

    1. Thank you very much, Mette. Oh, I see you have vivid memories of the buses as well. I loved Nancy Drew mystries, too. Wow, did you always have school in session on Saturdays? That is a sweet story, the crush on the boy and waiting to see if he would appear. I think in the end, it's best he had no interest in you!! Just one question: the taking of skates and skis to school: was that for sports?

  6. Sanda, yes is the answer to your question. I hated skiing and skating, but we had to take them for our sports hours.
    When I finally finished " that " school, I left my skis there. No regrets.

  7. The Photo of a yellow,blue and orange nose bus above is from my native city Shillong. only 1 or 2 plying today. These buses the nostalgia of many. Its beautiful


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...