Friday, August 1, 2008

Take the Bus

VMT will debut another new exhibit soon. In fact, the Lawrence Gallery has already unofficially opened, though it still needs some finishing touches—narratives and signage are not complete yet. It showcases The Messimer Collection, an exhibit on bus transportation, along with a feature on the Virginian, Roanoke’s other railroad. Volunteers have done much of the work on the project.

The museum gratefully acknowledges retired Greyhound driver Harry Messimer for the donation and installation of his collection which features artifacts and memorabilia spanning over 75 years of Greyhound history.

The Messimer Collection features the top dog of the 20th century highways. Begun in the rugged iron ore country of Hibbing, Minnesota in 1914 by a Swedish entrepreneur named Carl Wickman, Greyhound Bus Lines would become the largest bus line in the history of the nation.

For 15 cents a ride, Wickman transported miners from the Oliver Iron Mines in Hibbing to the new residential town of Alice. Wickman’s first year profits were $8,000. Over the years his company would reach revenues of $1.045 billion with a fleet of over 3,500 coaches.

In 1921 Wickman’s coaches were nicknamed greyhounds because of their sleek profile and gray paint. By 1929 the galloping greyhound had become the company’s official logo. During WW II the bus line began to train women drivers due to the demand for men in the military. Those female drivers, along with their male cohorts, transported troops coast to coast.

The collection includes signs, photos, toy buses, ticket stubs, magazine clippings, safety and service awards, hats, belt buckles, maps, calendars, promotional, promotional items and memorabilia that were sold at station gift shops.

Historic items from Trailways, the rival that Greyhound finally ran down, and local fixture Abbott Bus Lines also have displays. In addition, visitors can learn about industry labor issues, the connection between Greyhound and Trailways and the train industry, and the role buses played during the war and civil rights movements.

We will let you know the official opening date and provide details of the Virginian exhibit a little later. Meanwhile, come run with the big dogs. The Lawrence Gallery offers an express cruise down memory lane.

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