Dodge School Buses
Ted Finlayson-Schueler sent us an advertisement for a Dodge Brothers school bus from 1929, which boasts that “Dodge Brothers school buses are built and sold as complete units. Chassis and body alike are constructed according to the Dodge Brothers standard of quality — and each is built for the other.” (Another, 4-page ad is at the bottom of this page.)
The next earliest example we could find was from 1934, and was listed on the Bus Explorer site, which we recommend to bus lovers. The 1934 model had a Dodge Brothers chassis, a Graham Brothers chassis, and a Wayne All Steel Coach Company chassis; that 1934 was used for 22 years, and is now in the Churchill County Museum.
Another early bus showed up in 1936, with the body built by Carpenter Body Works; the Dodge chassis of this particular model was built in 1939, but Carpenter had been making bus bodies since 1933. Currently in the Smithsonian collection, it was used in Martinsburg, Indiana, and survived as a traveling store through 1962. In the 1940s and later, Superior Coach used Dodge chassis for its buses along with other brands.
In the 1960s and 1970s, numerous Dodge-based buses were built by Blue Bird (now part of Cerberus), Ward, Wayne, Superior, Thomas, Collins, U.S. Bus, and Carpenter. At the time Dodge was a full line manufacturer making medium and heavy duty commercial trucks as well as cars and light pickups. However, the crisis of the late 1970s/early 1980s hit Chrysler’s medium truck line with a vengeance.
J.P. Joans provided us with information on the 1968 Dodge bus chassis, which was used by Superior Coach (Ohio), Perley A. Thomas Car Works (North Carolina), Wayne Works (Indiana), Ward Body Works (Arkansas), Blue Bird (Georgia), and Carpenter Body Works (Indiana), which by then had at least 34 years of experience. Two chassis were available, the S500 and S600, with four wheelbases. The S500 was rated for 48 pupils with the 197 inch wheelbase, 54 with 221 inches; the gross vehicle weight varied between 15,000 and 22,000 pounds, depending on the package. The S600 was available in 60 and 66 pupil lengths, with wheelbasese of 240 and 258 inches respectively, and gross vehicle weights of 20,000 to 24,000 pounds. The maximum body length ranged from 22 feet, 2 inches on the shortest S500 to a full 29 feet on the longest S600.
Three engines were available, starting with the 225 cubic inch slant six, pumping out 140 gross horsepower at 3,900 rpm, with bimetal connecting rod bearings and Stellite-faced exhaust valves with Roto-Caps to protect against carbon buildup. The LA 318 was introduced in 1968, and was 10% lighter than the prior 318 but made more power, with the same gas mileage, on regular gas instead of premium. It featured a hardened, shot-peened crankshaft, trimetal main and connecting rod bearings, Stellite-faced exhaust valves with rotators, and stainless steel head gaskets; the 318 was standard on S600.
Optional with both chassis was an engine that had been dropped from car use in 1966, the 361 V8. This engine was rated at 186 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and included induction-hardened crankshaft journals, trimetal main and connecting rod bearings, hydraulic valve lifters, sodium-filled exhaust valves with Roto-Caps, and a chrome-alloy cast-iron block. Despite the illustration, engines were not chrome-plated and fully painted.
Key features of the 1968 Dodge chassis included:
- Standard driveshaft guards, to protect pedestrians and occupants in case the driveshaft was damaged
- Gas tank outside the body, aft of the loading door, so that in case of a fire, students would not be endangered within the body
- Exhaust pipes extended beyond the rear to carry fumes away, and aluminized mufflers for greater life (standard on 361 V8, optional on others)
- Rugged full-floating axles with hypoid or spiral-bevel drive for quiet operation, made by Eaton or Rockwell.
- Two-speed axles (as an option)
- Large, hydraulically-activated clutches with 11-13 inch single plates
- Four-speed New Process Model 435 synchronized manual transmission standard across the board, with an optional Allison MT30 six-speed automatic optional on S600
- Carbon-steel frame side rails and box sections, with alligator-jaw crossmembers
- Vacuum-hydraulic brakes with dual braking standard, with 1,000 cubic inch vacuum reserve tank optional (and full air brakes optional on S600)
- Standard 70 amp-hour battery with optional relocation to the frame side rail
- Long and wide semi-elliptic leaf springs in front had double-wrapped eyes at the stationary end for safety
- Worm and roller steering standard, witih optional power steering
- Ergonomics matching the standards of the School Bus Manufacturers Institute
- Optional rear shocks, standard front shocks
- Variable-rate rear suspensions with cam brackets that automatically adjust spring rates to the load
- Transmission-mounted parking brake controlled by an Orschein lever adjusted from the driver's seat, completely independent of the service brakes for safety
- Full-flow, replaceable element oil filter and oil bath air cleaner
Schools were also advised that the Dodge Sportsman wagon could be used for both kids and cargo; the Sportsman came with two wheelbases, 90 inch (213 cubic feet of space) and 108 inch (252 cubic feet). Maximum cargo weight ranged from 3/4 to a full ton; both had extra-wide double doors on the right side and rear for easy loading or handicapped entrance. Several seating arrangements were available. Features of these vans included a heavy duty rear axle, large breaks, fifteen-inch wheels, and slant six or V8 power.
Wayne Corporation’s Busette was the first school bus built on a van chassis; it had dual rear wheels, and had better seating capacity than standard vans or conversions (Dodge maxed out at 14 passengers). While a prototype used the Ford Econoline, the production units exclusively used Dodge chassis in 1973, with GM added in 1974, and Ford not showing up until 1981.
The following advertisement (4 pages) was supplied by Ted Finlayson-Schueler - thank you!
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