Thursday, December 9, 2010

Our latest exhibit is on Russell Byrd–he was an early Pickwick Coach driver and pushed for safety standards for drivers in the industry. We have his uniform and some awards he received and interesting pictures and articles on his life.

In his 1945 memoir ‘Russ’s Bus: Adventures of an American Bus Driver, Russell Aaron Byrd detailed his career as an interstate motor coach pilot. Among his repeat customers were the big bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Ted FioRito, Jan Garber, Benny Goodman, Glen Gray, Phil Harris, John Scott Trotter and Rudy Vallee.

The multi-compartment Nite Coaches were well-suited for charter service. Byrd reports that a typical band of the era had eighteen members, including its leader, manager and porter. On a Columbia-built sleeper all eighteen can be put up in four of the five available compartments, with the fifth reserved for the band’s instruments and gear.

Byrd states: “The main thing is that the driver bring the band in on time at every stop, with a margin of safety.”

One related tale reveals that when he drove for the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, the bandleader typically popped into the driver’s compartment around 4 a.m. to “get his advice on things”. Byrd later learned the nightly discussions were of a more serious nature. Apparently Dorsey had read a report that revealed most early morning accidents were caused by drowsy drivers, and his 4 a.m. visits were time to keep his band members safe.


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