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35th Anniversary Legacy Fleet

A Legacy of Service

The Illinois General Assembly created Pace Suburban Bus in 1984. To celebrate 35 years of service (and decades of mass transit before us), we're deploying a legacy fleet wrapped to look like buses from the past! One bus will operate out of each garage.

For much of the twentieth century, transit companies were entirely funded by fare revenue, and they lost money when technological and economic shifts changed commuters' expectations and needs. By the 1960s, car ownership and suburban growth threatened the future of public transportation. Ridership and revenue had decreased dramatically, and bus companies struggled. However, many riders still relied on transit as their only option to get to work, to shop, to see family and friends---to live their lives.

To avoid shutdowns, cities formed transit districts to distribute government subsidies to these struggling companies. The RTA was created to oversee this process and began to take over the routes of failing companies to ensure service would continue. In 1984, Pace Suburban Bus was created to help operate and manage these routes. Soon, Pace became the main provider of bus service in Northeastern Illinois.

Our service has changed a lot since 1984. We've created new connections between communities; deployed new technologies across our system; and even looked beyond traditional models of "fixed route" bus service towards a more flexible, more innovative future. Thank you for three and a half decades of supporting public transit!

Please read on to learn about Pace's predecessors represented in the Legacy Fleet, and visit our social media channels for more images. A huge thanks to Melvin Bernero and David Wilson for taking the time over the years to document and share the Chicagoland transit images seen below. Thank you to Larry Braun, Dave Tomzik, and Bob Huffman, as well as Jennifer Sieroslawski for Pace's report on "The History of the Predecessor" in 1995.


Please see images below of pre-1984 predecessor companies on the left, next to modern-day Legacy Fleet wraps from 2019.

Tom-a-Hawk Transit's 1968 Flxible Flxette on Downer Place
D. Wilson,

Aurora Transit System

Became Pace Fox Valley Division in 1987

Bus service was provided by Aurora City Lines for 30 years, before ownership transferred to Tom-a-hawk Transit/Aurora Educational Tours in 1968. The City of Aurora Transit System was formed soon after, in 1971. In the early days, buses were kept in the basement of the post office, and the water department at 649 S. River St was used as a service station.

The Flxible Flxette

Flxible Corporation was known for their ability to customize designs, like Aurora Transit System's petite "Flxette" model, represented in Pace's Legacy Fleet wrap. At 20ft in length and with a capacity of 23 passengers, the compact Flxette was designed for small cities or rural areas that did not require a typical size motor coach. Purchasing costs were minimal, using less materials in production, and Flxettes had a shorter wheelbase which eased navigation down narrow or curvy roads. Manufactured between 1964 and 1976, Flxettes could be found in cities like Fresno CA, Topeka KA, and Clarksburg TN. "It's making people happy," the advertisements said.

Thanks to J. Brophy,

1974 GM New Look at Chicago St. and Grove Ave. in Elgin
M. Bernero,

City of Elgin

Became Pace River Division in 1992

During the summer of 1933, a tornado dismantled the electric trolley lines of the Elgin-Dundee Interurban, and were thought too expensive to rebuild in the midst of the Depression. In 1935, the abandoned tracks of this and the Aurora-Elgin Interurban were removed as part of a federal public works program, and regular bus service was introduced. National City Lines began operating bus routes in Elgin, as well as Aurora and Joliet.

For years buses served the employees of numerous manufacturing industries located in Elgin, most notably the Elgin National Watch Company. Some Elgin City Line commuters would have worked for Illinois Watch Case Co., Elgin Machine Works, Woodruff & Edwards foundry, McGraw Electric Co., Illinois Tool Works, and the David C. Cook Publishing Co. Elgin was also home to three hospitals, including the Elgin State Hospital. When City Lines announced their intention to abandon service after a series of strikes, Elgin voters approved the continuation of bus service as a municipal system in 1967.

Thanks to D. Seigenthaler, Elgin Historical Museum

Highland Park Transit 801, a GM "Old Look"
M. Bernero,

Highland Park Transit

Has partnered with Pace since 1984

Early rail magnates sometimes built major attractions along their routes to increase ridership, and trains were often the only way of getting there. Ravinia Park, still served by rail and bus, was built by A.C. Frost in 1904 to support the Chicago & Milwaukee Rail Road.

Pictured is a General Motors "Old Look," which transported many a fan to Ravinia concerts. Manufactured from 1940 until 1968, the "Old Look" is the most popular and enduring bus of its era - though this was achieved in part through lobbying cities to remove their street cars.

Many features of the GM "Old Look" helped usher in new manufacturing standards, including the aluminum monocoque body, automatic transmission, and diesel fuel power. The slanted windshield appeared in later models to reduce nighttime glare for drivers, along with air-ride suspension to improve bumpy rides. GM's Old Look was the bus standard until the debut of GM's equally defining New Look, also known as the Fishbowl, in 1959.

Thanks to N. Webster, Highland Park Historical Society; P. Niedermeyer,

A 1975 Flxible driving on Ottawa St. past the Louis Joliet statue
M. Bernero,

Joliet Mass Transit District

Became Pace Heritage Division in 1990

Joliet's first horse-drawn streetcar routes were established in 1874, some traveling through sections of swamp or over prairie ground, with spaces cleared out in the mud for tracks. After experimenting with battery power, the first electric streetcar lines were in operation by February of 1890. Bets were excitedly made as to whether the streetcars could make it over Jefferson Hill.

Continued expansion throughout the 1890's prompted the formation of a garage on S Chicago St, between St. Louis and Osgood streets, where the Pace Heritage garage remains today. Newspapers credited the demise of the streetcar to passenger comfort and operational expenses.

In mid-July 1934, two weeks before the last street car run, the Joliet Evening Herald reported "Buses, buses everywhere." Joliet City Lines operated bus routes from 1934 until 1966, in competition with Bluebird Coach Lines which eventually spread out to surrounding areas. The Joliet Mass Transit District formed in 1970 when City Lines faced financial difficulty. JMTD was committed to improving bus service for businesses, schools, and particularly seniors. Over the next decade, the monthly mileage of the JMTD nearly doubled, increasing 30,000 miles.

Thanks to H. Bigeck, Joliet Area Historical Museum; Transportation History, R. Sterling

One of NORTRAN's 1975 GM New Look buses, later acquired by Pace


Became Pace Northwest Division in 1991

As transit services began to suffer throughout the state, the Illinois Legislature passed the Local Mass Transit Act in 1959. This allowed communities to form transit districts to qualify for federal subsidies. Pooling money into a larger region enabled cities to invest in new equipment, expand service, and preserve transit jobs for all municipalities within the district.

In 1972, the North Suburban Mass Transit District was chartered by 18 suburbs of the Skokie Valley to subsidize the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad, but soon encompassed all commuter service. In 1974, the North Suburban Mass Transit District purchased United Motor Coach and for the first time, operated a bus company. They renamed their carrier "NORTRAN," and throughout the decade assumed routes in Glenview and Evanston.

NORTRAN ultimately provided service to 23 communities and became the second largest bus system in the state. In 1977, NORTRAN was given the American Public Transit Association Safety Award for improvements to their service.

RTA used 1976 GM New Look, or "Fishbowl" vehicle, which Pace acquired and used until 1993
M. Bernero,

Regional Transportation Authority

Coordinated suburban bus service prior to Pace

The Regional Transportation Authority was formed by referendum in 1974 to coordinate the federal subsidies of all transit districts in Northeastern Illinois, encompassing the six-county region of metropolitan Chicago.

When RTA separated operations into Pace, CTA, and Metra divisions, Metra retained the original RTA colors of red-orange, blue, and black seen here. Colors were chosen from a children's coloring contest in 1975. As a result, RTA buses were affectionately called "pumpkins" for their bright orange stripe and protruding "fishbowl" windshield.

McHenry County Transit

Before buses, McHenry was known for its extensive trolley system and became a popular hub for "auto-camps," where motorists would rest along dirt roads from motor-camping trips to Lake Geneva and Delavan in Wisconsin. The county's first buses arrived in 1946 from W.A.F. Transportation Co., with routes connecting McHenry to Crystal Lake and Woodstock. After World War II, United Motor Coach Company ran a route toward Chicago along US 14 with stops in small towns along the way, like Cary and Fox Grove. It provided competition with the (now) northwest line of the Chicago and North Western Railroad. As of 1981 - just a few years before Pace was formed by the RTA - farmer George Worts operated several buses in small vehicles throughout McHenry.

Thanks to C. Pfannkuche & N. Roozee, McHenry County Historical Society

A 1966 GM New Look beside a 1957 GM "Old Look"
M. Bernero,

South Suburban Safeway

Became Pace South Division in 1984

As Chicagoland's last remaining farms were sold off throughout the 1920's-1950's, the south suburbs were developed rapidly. Paul O. Dittmar formed what would become South Suburban Safeway in 1927 to connect commuters in Harvey and Blue Island to the L at 63rd and Halsted, and 119th and Vincennes. Safeway began acquiring faltering interurban routes and experimented with cross country service to New York. Dittmar even designed an early bus for this purpose, called the Dittmar DMX.

In 1933, express routes from the Loop were added with stops in Dolton, South Holland, Thornton, and Chicago Heights. In the 1940s, Safeway added more local shuttles, from Blue Island to Robbins, Harvey to Phoenix, Chicago Heights to Calumet City, and Altgeld Gardens public housing in Chicago to Roseland Mall. Although outside Safeway's service area, no other provider would serve Altgeld; it ended up being Safeway's most popular route, with 14 buses in service.

Safeway met a new demand for commuter service in 1964 with the "Dan Ryan Flyer," after dramatic population growth in the preceding decade. By 1969, South Suburban Safeway was the largest of 8 suburban carriers.

Suburban Transit 147, a 1975 GM New Look bus
M. Bernero,

Suburban Transit

Became Pace Southwest Division in 1984

James Betinis became the manager of a bus company by accident - he won two buses in a poker game in 1937. Not really knowing what to do with them, he eventually loaned a bus to his friend, Rev. Loras Welch, for the transport of St. Gerald's parishioners to their relocated church.

Betinis slowly added paid routes throughout Oak Lawn, and Suburban Transit was born. When Betinis had the garage repaint the new fleet, he was so stunned by the turquoise and pink colors chosen that he drove his car into a wall in fury. Much to his surprise, the colors attracted a great deal of attention and were good for business.

Betinis was a beloved manager, providing a free charter service for community organizations and cultural events. He gave employees turkeys and hams on holidays, and even held square dances for their families on Sundays!

Images of Suburban Transit buses appear in iconic images from the 1967 Oak Lawn tornado, considered the deadliest in Chicago's history. Over a third of Suburban Transit's buses were destroyed in the aftermath.

A 1951 GM "Old Look" outside the United Motor Coach garage
Photographed by R. Kunz

Collection of M. Bernero,

United Motor Coach

Became NORTRAN in 1975, which later became Pace Northwest Division in 1991

United Motor Coach was founded in the 1890's by Dr. Edward A. Manuel, a veterinarian who operated a livery stable with horses for hire. The Des Plaines History Center has many images of Manuel's first horse-drawn buses, some of which transported passengers to turn-of-the-century hayride parties. Over time, the stable was converted from horse-drawn vehicles to motor coaches. Upon his death in 1931, Manuel's company had a fleet of stream-lined buses that covered 41 miles of routes, the largest service area of any bus company in the Chicago suburbs. The National Safety Council ranked United Motor Coach third in the nation for fewest lost-time accidents: zero in 250,000 hours. At their peak in the 1960s, United Motor Coach employed 165 people, operated a total of 3.7 million miles, and served 6 million riders, including students from Maine East High School using UMC school buses. The family-owned business eventually became the publicly-run NORTRAN in 1975.

Thanks to K. Fairburn & P. Mohr, Des Plaines History Center

Waukegan-North Chicago Transit bus 119, a 1969 GM New Look
M. Bernero,

Waukegan-North Chicago

Became Pace North Division in 1984

Before buses, Chicago's North Shore and surrounding towns were known for the extravagant dining cars of the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad. It was owned by Samuel Insull, an apprentice of Thomas Edison and business magnate, who was instrumental in bringing electricity to Chicago and rural areas of Illinois as president of Commonwealth Edison.

Insull created Marigold Bus Lines in the 1920's to replace streetcars as feeders to the rails. Streetcar lines were completely removed in 1947, and Waukegan-North Chicago Transit offered bus service through the 1970's under several different managers -including William J. O'Brien of West Towns. in Oak Park, Greater Lake County Transit District, and the RTA.

Waukegan-North Chicago Transit bus routes were identified by colors. WNCT's "Red" evolved to Pace Routes 561-564. The "Green" route on Washington is now Route 572. The "Orange" route formed a one way loop from downtown Waukegan, operating southwest via Dugdale, south via Lewis, east via 10th, north via Jackson, and east via Grand.

Thanks to B. Vandervoort,

Participants on a 1968 Omnibus Society Association fantrip pose in front of West Suburban 424, a 1965 GM "Old Look"
D. Wilson,

West Suburban Transit Lines

Wrapped "legacy" bus visible in Naperville

West Suburban served the south and western suburbs from 1965-1973. Formed by Ben D. Kramer, who purchased Bluebird Coach Lines and moved operations into the former garage of Leyden Bus Lines in Lombard, routes extended to Wheaton, Addison, Franklin Park, Chicago, River Forest, Bellwood, and Elmhurst.

Many remember Bluebird for their distinctive bright blue buses and friendly bird logo. Bluebird was formed in 1934 by A.W. Beaurline in Joliet, to replace the Chicago & Joliet Electric interurban street car lines with buses. Routes 5 or 6 connected commuters from Joliet, Lockport, and Argo to Chicago via Highway 53 and 66.

Bluebird's service area became vast, using their base in Chicago to extend operations through Lyons, Hinsdale, and Aurora via Ogden Ave (Routes 1 and 4). This provided fierce competition to multiple bus agencies in disparate regions, including West Towns, City Lines, and South Suburban Safeway.

West Suburban continued Bluebird routes 2, 3, and 5-7, connecting Chicago to Joliet and Brookfield Zoo, as well as Hillside and Oak Brook shopping centers via Roosevelt and Washington Blvd. West Suburban ceased operations in 1973; several other organizations, including the Joliet Mass Transit District, resumed service in 1975.

Thanks to B. Vandervoort,

In 1943, West Towns began using "wartime" Fords, pictured here with a UP train
M. Bernero,

West Towns Bus Company

Became Pace West Division in 1984

West Towns Bus Company evolved from the Cicero & Proviso Street Railway Company, which served Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Maywood, Cicero, Berwyn, Lyons, Riverside, Brookfield, and LaGrange. Many of today's street medians in the western suburbs exist to cover the tracks of former West Towns street cars; you'll notice this along Pace's 310 and 320 routes, for example, which still follow much of the Madison Avenue street car service.

West Towns served many employees of General Electric in Cicero, who after work returned home to newly built Chicago-style bungalows. With such premier destinations on the route, including the world-renowned Brookfield Zoo, Hawthorne Racetrack, and various forest preserves, West Towns charged the highest bus fares in the country. In iconic images of the West Towns street cars' final days (CERA Archives), cars were adorned with "I quit tomorrow" banners, accompanied by a parade of new GM buses beside them.

West Towns was continuously plagued by financial hardship due to a tendency to purchase used or old equipment, but fulfilled a real need in the community and remained privately owned until 1985.

Thanks to R. Berlinksi and F. Lipo, Oak Park River Forest Museum
The Chicago and West Towns Railway, J. Buckley

An "Old Look" Wilbus in a Wilmette field
M. Bernero,

Wilmette Wilbus

Became Pace North Shore Division in 1995

Cities throughout Chicagoland feared the end of public transit, after a lengthy series of transit strikes were prompted by low ridership and a failure to pay employees. Evanston Bus Company folded in 1972, and routes were resumed by CTA and the People's Action Group of Evanston, who temporarily provided a "People's Cab and Jitney Service." Around the same time that Glenview Bus Co. ceased operations in 1974, three Northwestern University MBA students researching how bus companies could financially sustain themselves with fares were hired by the Village of Wilmette to manage a new North Shore bus system, called Wilbus. By 1977, the Village government oversaw operations, continuing Wilbus service for 20 years. The company was known for its especially friendly and courteous drivers. Despite its name, Wilbus routes extended to Kenilworth, Winnetka, Northfield, Glenview and Skokie. In 1995, Wilbus became Pace's North Shore Division.

Buses were "New Look" models, also called Fishbowls, from both General Motors and Flxible Corporation. So popular was GM's 1960 New Look that other companies manufactured buses of the same style and name.

Thanks to K. Hussey-Arntson & P. Leary, Wilmette Historical Museum


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