The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

Mark Simonson

August 13, 2012

Veteran bus drivers in area have many stories to tell

There are plenty of large passenger buses on the roads these days, but a majority of them are for charter services. Only a few are on scheduled routes, such as the Utica-New York or Albany-Binghamton routes, passing through Oneonta. Years ago, there were several more bus companies on scheduled routes, and the drivers logged a lot of miles, complete with many stories to tell.

Before its present location on Market Street, I can recall when Oneonta's bus terminal was at the corner of Main and Broad streets, where the Key Bank office is today, in the Ford block.

Before that, many will recall the terminal being in the area across from the Oneonta Theatre on Chestnut Street.

Lynn D. McKee of Cortland knew the earlier two Oneonta terminals well. McKee was a one-man company president of the Oneonta-Norwich-Cortland Bus Line. He was also the driver, treasurer, baggage clerk, maintenance man and every other job necessary to make the 180-mile daily trip.

McKee was the subject of a "Star Profile," seen in The Oneonta Star on June 19, 1961. He had arrived in Oneonta the day before for trip No. 10,504, having made the trip every day, including Sundays, since September 1932.

The blue bus he drove was his eighth, and McKee was set to surpass 2 million logged miles in a little more than a year in October 1962.

McKee had missed the trip only six times over those years, and bad weather was the reason.

"It's my franchise, and I have to keep it operating," McKee said. "I missed a trip in the early 30s. Then I got as far as South Otselic once in 1940, missed a couple of times in 1947 and went 13 years without missing. In February 1960, I got as far as Freetown and was stopped by snow, and then last Feb. 4, I never left Cortland as the snow that morning reached a depth of 40 inches right in the city."

A weekday sight in downtown Oneonta was McKee's blue bus at 12:45 p.m. He'd leave Cortland at 9:15 a.m. and get back by 5:35 p.m.

It wasn't only passengers McKee transported. Before there was the United Parcel Service, bus companies such as McKee's transported all kinds of goods, making multiple stops along the rural route.

In another Daily Star profile Aug. 27, 1987, Robert Murdock, then retired and living in Fly Creek, recalled getting behind the wheel of a bus for the first time in 1938.

In that early career, Murdock picked up men going off to World War II, and dropped them off when they came home. His bus carried workers for the Scintilla plant in Sidney, shoppers headed for the stores in downtown Oneonta, or college students in baggy pants and two-toned shoes on their way home for the holidays.

Murdock drove a variety of routes, and the buses didn't have restrooms, padded seats or air conditioning. A big bus was only 35 feet long. Luggage racks were in the back of the bus or on the roof.

"You climbed a ladder to put the luggage up and covered it with a tarpaulin," Murdock said.

Murdock also recalled carrying more than just passengers, such as bundles of newspapers from outside the region.

"One run I had came out of New York at midnight, and we used to deliver the Tribune and the Mirror," he said, bringing them into the Catskills. "When I pulled in, they were there waiting for them."

Clarence Wilber had been driving a bus for 32 years in 1987 and was about to retire. Like McKee, Wilber was also a 2 million-miles-plus driver. His route was Kingston to Utica at the time. Wilber recalled that several businesses served as pick-up and drop-off points for passengers.

Joe Clancy ran a bus stop from his grocery store on Chestnut Street in Cooperstown until 1981, and Wilber was one of the first drivers he got to know.

Clancy said all three florists in town got their flowers off the buses. Farmers got frozen bull semen, and there were steady shipments of blood from Cooperstown to Syracuse and back, for use in local hospitals.

"You would see people meet who hadn't seen each other in a long time," Clancy said. "And there were tearful goodbyes, yes."

This weekend: An abundance of unusual news from August 1937.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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