Among the various papers and mementos that passed to me when my mother died was the bus scheduled pictured here. The card is small, about the size of a standard business card, and would easily fit into someone’s wallet. This is a case of an heirloom that was passed along, but no story has ever been attached to it. It probably was never significant enough to need a story, but it somehow survived all these years, tucked in with my mother’s papers. Even though I don’t know who the original owner was, I’ve held onto it for its historical value.
There’s a scene in the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of The Lost Ark” where the rival archaeologist brings out an ordinary pocket watch, then talks about how it is just a trinket now, but left buried in the sand for hundreds of years it becomes a priceless artifact. My little bus card is sort of like that watch. At the time, it wasn’t significant for anything other than its intended use. Now, though, 70+ years after it was printed, it can tell me a lot about the Capital District of New York in the early 1940s.
The first thing you notice when looking at the card is the bus itself. While to some extent it helps to date the schedule, what it does for me is to transport me back in time some, when city buses weren’t giant monsters prowling the streets. I can almost hear the “AHOOOGAA!!” of car horns as the bus makes its rounds, picking up and dropping off passengers as they deposit their dimes with the driver.
The next thing that stands out on the card is the name of the bus company, Albany-Schenectady Bus Lines. It appears to be a private company, available not just for daily use, but also for “Tours, - Excursions, - Charter.” The president of the company, C. Bohl, has his name listed right at the top, just before the name of the town of Guilderland, NY. Guilderland is a suburb of Albany, and Schenectady is just to the northwest of Albany. These town names give a good indication of which the towns the bus route likely covered.
Next on the card are the fare rates. I was curious to see how these rates compared to today’s rates. While it’s not easy to compare a private bus line from the 1940s to a public bus line in 2013, I could do some rough estimating. Running the fare of 10 cents through an inflation calculator, I found that in today’s economy, 10 cents in 1941 would have the buying power of about $1.57 today. Looking at the website of the Capital District Transit Authority (CDTA), I found that they sell a 10 trip pass for $13.00, or $1.30 per trip. It appears that bus fare in Albany is actually cheaper today than it was 70 years ago.
Two other things about this bus schedule stand out for me in a historical sense. The first is the phone numbers: 2-1010 and 6-1010. For someone who grew up dialing either 7 or 10 digits to make a call, it’s weird to see a 5 digit phone number. It’s a small thing, but again, it helps to bring me back in time to an era where phone service was drastically different than it is today.
The second item is the mention of the “General Electric Subway”. This one had me puzzled, since, as far as I knew, there had never been a subway system in the city of Albany. A Google search turned up information about a “pedestrian subway” that led to the General Electric plant in the city. Workers at the plant would use this underground entrance while arriving or leaving work. Apparently the entrance has been closed down for many years, and the tunnel itself filled in, but the small entrance building and stairs still remain.
Small mementos like this interest me, even if I can’t find a defined family connection. They show me everyday life as it was during the times of my ancestors. While it’s always fun to see something like an 18th century musket or a civil war cannon, items like bus schedules can give us large amounts of information about the past, and how life was at the time. It also helps when the item is dated, like this small card, so that they can be put into historical context. The rates of this bus schedule, for instance, went into effect on November 10, 1941.
Just 28 days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered World War II.