DAILY NEWS JOURNAL, GREG TUCKER, 9/8/2013
The mules were retired after only 12 months; the local bus company struggled along for a decade; but the inter-city service carried several generations and rewarded its founders.
The Murfreesboro Street Railway was incorporated in 1892 by P. P. Mason, B. L. Ridley and T. B. Fowler. The equipment consisted of eight mule-drawn rail cars, 24 mules, a garage and barn on West Main and about 2 miles of track. The total investment was about $65,000.
Mason was a successful attorney (serving as city attorney for a decade) and owner of the Mason Court building at the corner of East Main and Spring Streets. He also owned an opera house on the west side of the square which later was home to the original Princess Theater. Judge Ridley, a Confederate veteran and attorney, was part of the local judiciary before the Civil War. Thomas B. Fowler was a businessman and former Circuit Court clerk.
From the garage on West Main, the tracks went east to circle the Square. Eastbound traffic went around to the south of the Courthouse; westbound circled to the north. Tracks extended out East Main to the Union University property where they turned north on what is now University Street. At the southeast corner of the old hospital property (University and Lytle), the mule-drawn cars turned west on Lytle then went north on Highland.
From Highland, the tracks turned west on Bell Street and then turned north at the Bell and Academy intersection. At what was then known as Cow Alley (today’s Oak Street), the mules headed west to Maple Street (Lebanon Pike) where a turntable was installed on the corner of W. Y. Elliott’s property.
The rail cars ran for a year and “never was there a day when the income met the operating expense.” (See Henderson, “The Story of Murfreesboro” (1929), p. 122.) The enterprise was a total loss and was abandoned on Jan. 1, 1894.
Undaunted by their street car failure, Mason and Ridley planned a railroad connecting Murfreesboro and Woodbury. They secured track right of way and property for sidings and stations, but abandoned the project when prospective users and investors showed little interest. Mason also opened a soap factory in 1895 that produced only 10,000 pounds of soap before the Enterprise Soap Factory in Nashville “flooded” the county with their product at a price less than one-half of Mason’s manufacturing cost.
In this same period, Mason and Ridley with other investors started the Murfreesboro Waterworks, a successful private utility, and Mason financed and built the city’s first sewer line running from the Tennessee College along College Street to Lytle Creek.
Another Murfreesboro intra-city mass transit venture was launched in March 1941 by Carl Walling and R. L. White. Walling was a Murfreesboro businessman who owned both a flour mill and an oil company. White worked for the Murfreesboro Electric Department. Granville S. Ridley served as attorney for the start-up company that had to satisfy new state regulations relating to public transportation.
The city franchise given to the company required three cross-town bus routes forming a “grid” that would provide local transportation to every city neighborhood. The fare was to be five cents with two cents additional for transfers. The new company was named the Murfreesboro Coach Company with offices at the corner of East Main and the Square.
Due in part to wartime shortages (cars, tires and gasoline), the bus company survived through most of the 1940s, although a new owner, Edwin L. Baskin, was struggling to pay the bills in 1947. By 1950, the city bus system had met the same fate as its mule-drawn predecessor.
Thirty years after failure of the street rail line, three local entrepreneurs merged two motor coach ventures to establish the county’s first successful inter-city passenger service.
James Cason had a garage at 209 Maple Street, from which he was running a fleet of four Reo sixteen-passenger buses. Ephraim “Eph” Hoover was at the same time running seven-passenger Studebaker sedans to and from Nashville. In 1923 Edward “Pluck” Miller, Hoover’s brother-in-law, bought into the Hoover business with a $3,000 investment. The brothers-in-law, doing business as the Miller Safety Coach Lines, set up their station in the Jordan Hotel just off the square on East Main. The fare to Nashville was 50 cents.
The two bus firms ran the same route on very similar schedules. Although both were busy, neither was particularly profitable. In the mid-1920s the two companies merged forming the Union Transfer Co. with garage and ticket office at 209 Maple St. Service to Shelbyville, Knoxville, Columbia, Birmingham and Huntsville was added to the Nashville route. The Reo and Studebaker equipment was replaced with 28-passenger White coaches.
(The Woodbury/Murfreesboro route was left to the Blanks & Blanks Bus Line operating out of Cannon County. In 1928 the men’s basketball team, sponsored by the Cannon County bus company, had a 28-2 record and was the state “City Y Champs.”)
Hoover and Miller in the meantime had also launched a trucking firm. Prior to 1930, the brothers-in-law agreed to swap Hoover’s interest in the bus company for Miller’s interest in the fledgling truck operation. (The Hoover Truck Lines subsequently became one of the largest American trucking firms.)
In 1930, Miller and Cason sold the bus company to Consolidated Coach Co., a part of what became the Greyhound Bus Lines, for $1 million, according to C.B. Arnette in “From Mink Slide to Main Street” (1991), p. 186. Cason retained title to the Maple Street property with the Greyhound company as his tenant. Ebby Miller remembers that after all accounts were settled, his father made about $180,000 on the bus company sale.
Robert Stroop remembers riding the Greyhound in the war years. “They could put three buses at a time in the old garage on Maple Street but they had to back in,” recalls Stroop. “There was a black garage attendant that would guide the drivers hollering ‘Come on back, come on back!’” Passengers bought tickets in the small office and loaded in the garage.
In the early 1950s the bus company moved to 209/211 West Burton. Among the Greyhound drivers in those years was Truman Jones, Sr. His son remembers picking his father up after work at the Burton station. “Passengers boarded from the sidewalk in front of the ticket office,” remembers Jones. Ralph Puckett recalls that the Trailways bus shared the Burton terminal with Greyhound before the Knoxville-based Trailways carrier was taken over by the larger bus company.
The venerable Greyhound brand is now owned by FirstGroup, Inc., based in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Rutherford County Historian Greg Tucker can be reached at [email protected].