D. H. “Dave” Ward founded Ward Body Works in Conway, Arkansas in 1933 when he “lowered the roof of a wooden bus for Mr. Carl Brady of the Southside Schools”. Southside Schools were located about 15 miles north of Conway. Later in the 1930s, the company produced its first all-metal body bus as steel replaced wood as the predominant body material in the industry. In the 1960s, Ward School Bus Manufacturing, Inc. was responsible for many notable innovations including use of computers in manufacturing (using IBM 360s), safety advances, and manufacturing process improvements. In the 1970s, Ward opened an assembly facility in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, but this plant was closed in 1975. In 1976, Ward built a prototype Type D transit school and commercial bus on an International Harvester chassis with front-wheel drive and tandem rear tag axles; it did not enter production.
AmTran: New Player, Established Brand (1980-1990)
In July 1980, Ward Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; at the time, the family-owned company had $21.5 million in debt. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was instrumental in forming a group (MBH, Inc.) that purchased the assets of Ward Industries. MBH was an acronym for the first letters of the last names of each of the 4 investors: Thomas E “Mack” McLarty, J.W. “Buddy” Benafield and two Kansas City brothers, R.L. “Dick” Harmon and Robert Harmon. McLarty and Benafield each held ⅓ ownership; the Harmon brothers together held the remaining ⅓ ownership.
In 1981, American Transportation Corporation started to do business as AmTran Corporation (a shortened version of American Transportation). Rather than be forced to build a new brand identity in the highly competitive school bus market, the Ward name was retained throughout the 1980s due to its established brand identity. AmTran’s non-school bus products (commercial bus derivatives of school buses) bore the AmTran brand name from 1981. In 1983, the Harmon brothers, two Kansas City-based school bus contractors, purchased a controlling interest of AmTran. The Ward family held no stake in AmTran, instead handling the product distribution, owning a school bus dealership in Conway, Arkansas into the 2000s.
Product-wise, AmTran did not change many things from the Ward product lineup. Early in the 1980s, AmTran ended production of its Type B product to introduce the Ward Patriot. Although technically a Type C, the Patriot combined design elements of Type B, C, and D buses. It was available in both the same passenger capacities as its Type B predecessor as well as the full-size Volunteer conventional. Although it was not a success, the Patriot heavily influenced the later Thomas Vista.
In 1987, the structure of the AmTran body design was changed to add an extra rubrail right below the window line. Much of the structure is still used in today’s IC Bus product lineup.
(Thanks to Wikipedia for allowing the use of company history)
Mid 80’s Volunteer on International Chassis.
Magnolia Schools Volunteer CS.
Ward 1990 Volunteer, Greenville, TX.
Ward Patriot, 1989.
Chase County 1990 Volunteer, on GMC 6000 Chassis.
1995 Amtran Genesis.
1996 Volunteer CS.
Kent City, Genesis.
Volunteer Driver area.
1999 Amtran RE. ( In 1999, the Genesis received further design modifications and was re-branded the AmTran RE.)
1999 Genesis FE.
1994 Volunteer on Ford Chassis.
1995 Genesis from Hays School District.
Chesterfield County 1997 Genesis FE.
1980 Volunteer on GMC Chassis.
More To Come!