Driven by history: Man rebuilds family bus

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Driving a bright yellow school bus has been a part of daily life for several generations in the Anthony clan at Elida. An important part of that heritage was recently reclaimed from the prairie dust of eastern New Mexico and has found a home inside the Anthony barn.

Fred and Molly Anthony of Elida have recently become the talk of the area parade circuit with the nearly-completed restoration of their 1926 International school bus. For the Anthonys it’s more than an antique vehicle though. It’s a part of their family history going back to Fred’s grandfather John W. Anthony, who built the bus on a farm truck chassis. He operated it for a short time beginning in 1932 in the Wylie School District of Abilene, Texas.

“I started thinking about it years ago,” Fred Anthony said of restoring the bus. “It’s been a thing for the Anthony family to do buses.”

Besides his grandfather’s rather brief experience in the business, Fred’s father, John T. Anthony, began contracting school bus services in Elida in 1947. Fred got his start in 1957 and he and his wife, as well as younger generations of Anthonys, are still driving buses for Elida Schools today.

The story of the 1926 bus is special to the extended Anthony family and the vehicle’s history is varied and long. Fred Anthony enjoys telling the story to anyone who’ll listen, though.

“It’s good every time I hear it,” joked Fred’s brother Ronald. “I could sit and listen to it again sometime,” he said, reaching for his hat to leave the warmth of his brother’s home and go work cattle.

John W. Anthony and his wife Ollie arrived in the Elida area in 1902 by covered wagon, according to Fred. He said that times were tough for his grandparents when they first arrived and John W. had traded a good team of mules and borrowed some money to buy 60 head of cows. They kept the cows through a calving season, expecting to sell the calves for enough to pay off the note. When the cattle shipped to Kansas the price was $6 for the pairs, as opposed to the $21 price he had paid for the mother cows.

The couple left Elida in 1924 and ended up in Abilene where some of their children lived and operated the McMurry Filling Station. While they were there the truck was acquired and used either for farm work or hauling lumber, Fred says. At the height of the Great Depression, when an opportunity arose in 1930 to get the school bus contract, John W. bought materials and built the school bus body himself. Records the Anthonys have, including the bill for the materials and the contract with the school district, show he would have almost broken even the first year.

The Anthonys soon moved back to Elida and by 1935, according to Ronald, the school bus body had been removed and the vehicle was back in action as a farm truck. The Anthonys used it for various jobs around the ranch, including hauling feed bundles, and according to the family, its service was long and hard.

“I can’t say that I actually ever remember driving it as a kid, but a dozen or more people have told me that was the first truck they ever drove,” Fred said.

The bus body was set out beside the old ranch house and converted to a sewing room for a time. It also spent time as a chicken coop and storage area.

Fred finally started restoring the bus in the late 80s or early 90s. The body was mostly gone but they had enough for a pattern and with just a few modifications from the original, the bus is now probably nicer than it was new, Fred said. The only difference was the second build cost a lot more.

The materials list showed that the highest priced item was a 1X12 pine board that cost $8.

“I can tell you there’s not a part in that truck now that’s less than $100,” Fred claimed.

Fred and Molly admitted that a lot had changed in the bus business since Fred’s grandfather tried it out. These days the list of training and certification the Anthonys have to keep up with is long and includes everything from evaluation of terrorist threats to fingerprinting and first aid training.

“Lots of times, back then, the juniors and seniors would just drive the bus on the last part of the route,” Molly said.

The Anthonys said they had lots of help restoring the bus. Henry Sales of Clovis rebuilt the engine, and needed a couple of years in rounding up all the parts. Walter Wells of Portales worked on the body.

“I just think they did a wonderful job,” Fred said. “It was a chore, but to me it was one of the most rewarding experiences.”

The Anthonys say the bus may not command an extremely high price in the world of antique car collectors but Fred feels the job is museum quality and it’s the oldest restored bus he knows of anywhere.

“This one wouldn’t have much commercial value,” Molly said. But its special because that’s the way grandpa built it.”