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The Interurban

The Interurban

It was in 1901 that the Danville Paxton & Northern Railroad was given the right to construct and operate an electric railway into Westville from Danville.  It ran one car daily along the street adjacent to what is now Georgetown Road.  They were originally allowed to operate the cars at a speed of 10MPH.  At the Memorial Bridge the track veered East to a bridge erected across the Vermilion River, ending at the Illinois Power Depot.  Today’s adults were yesterday’s children who still remember at the time they crossed the bridge, they either hid their faces in the parents’ laps or gazed downward in fascination at what must have appeared to be a hundred miles of space.

In 1903 the line was extended to Georgetown, and in 1906 it was extended to Ridgefarm.  During this period of time, as the Village grew, the lines carried two or three cars or coaches, and operated every thirty minutes.  This was in addition to hauling up to 12 cars of coal to the Illinois Power Co., and a lot of merchandise for the various business places.  The Electric Line maintained a passenger and freight Depot on the North end of the present IGA parking lot.  However, the bulk of all general merchandise was hauled in via the Big Four Railroad, or the C & EI Railroad, and the merchandise picked up at their depots by the merchants.

The Electric Line, or ‘Interurban’ as it came to be known, was a convenient way for the miners from Danville, Ridgefarm, and Georgetown to get nearer their places of work in the mines around the Westville area.  Many of today’s residents have a vivid recollection of riding the Interurban.  The Interurban was abandoned in 1936.

It All Began In Westville

This year (1973) marks the 37th anniversary of the founding of Bee Line Transit Corporation, the first stepping stone to what has become the American Transit Corp., a transportation management and holding company involved in city transit, sightseeing, suburban, school and campus bus service and car rental and leasing systems.  American Transit merged with Chromalloy American Corporation, a highly successful and diversified corporation in 1965.

In April, 1936, the Illinois Terminal System was granted authority to abandon electric car service operating between Danville, Westville and Georgetown.  Dominick “Nick” Giacoma, the operator of a local coal hauling truck, who had just the previous year negotiated a contract with the Westville School District to operate one school bus between Union Corner, Grape Creek and Westville High School obtained the financial backing of John Perona, Frank Vernick, Bert Boswell and Frank Remy to operate a bus system to replace ITS service.  With the legal assistance of the late Tom Stifler, a Danville attorney, Bee Line was granted authority by the Illinois Commerce Commission and began its operation the day following Illinois Terminal’s termination of service.  Nick then turned to a number of his boyhood friends.  John Ghibaudy, his brother Pete, Joe Mackovic and Henry DeTournay, all coal miners, along with Nick, and later his younger brother, Victor, became the bus operators.  Clint “Pop” Finley, now living in Central Park, was engaged as Chief Mechanic and Bee Line began its operation from the Bee Line garage on the corner of State and South Street.  Charles “Chuck” Brooks, a retired Westville banker, agreed to spend at least two weeks to help “set up the books”.  Chuck stayed on the job until his death some 20 years later.

The first three buses, two 21-passenger and one 25-passenger, were Modified Wayne School But type bodies mounted on one and one-half-ton Chevrolet truck chassis.  Fares were: between Danville and Kellyville – 10 cents; Westville – 12 cents; Clingan Lane – 15 cents and Georgetown – 20 cents, local city fare was 5 cents discounts and commuter tickets of 12 rides were sold at a 20 percent discount.

People of the area responded to the new, low cost service and Bee Line was on its way; that is, until two months later when the new road construction began, first between Danville and Lyons; then Lyons and Kellyville; then south Westville and Georgetown.  This road improvement almost spelled the doom of the young bus line.  Bee Line then leased the abandoned ITS electric car right of way and once the railroad ties were removed, this became the speedy way to travel to Danville.  The disaster was the countless old discarded railroad spikes, rusted to needle sharpness that were brought to the surface by the required constant road grading and thumping of the buses.  Untold number of spikes pierced the tires, ruining at least three to four tires per bus per day.  The exclusive right of way, only wide enough for a bus, required gatemen at both Lyons and Central Park to keep motorists from using the road and blocking the buses and the cinder roadway required constant watering in an endeavor to control the dust.  Even at that, the black dust was so thick that bus operators finished their nine to eleven hour shift looking blacker than coal miners after their days work.  The added cost of tires and other necessary expenses soon depleted Bee Line’s capital funds.  With the financial help of friendly bankers and a few friends who had faith in the system, Bee Line weathered the storm and the new highways became an asset to the system.

It was not long before George Vacketta became associated with the Bee Line and as the bus fleet grew additional space was needed, so but quarters were moved to the new addition of George Vacketta & Son on South State Street.  Eventually, the need for additional space necessitated the purchase of a garage and station on South Hazel Street in Danville.  In the 1960’s a new terminal garage was built on Cleveland Street and though Bee Line no longer provides bus service between Danville, Westville and Georgetown, its school buses serve the school children of Westville, Danville and Hillary from this modern facility.

From this humble beginning in Westville, with its trials and tribulations, the knowledge learned in operating the Bee Line has enabled its founder and associates to expand their transportation systems to becoming one of the leading and most progressive transit operating and management firms in the United States with over 2,700 employees and a payroll exceeding eighteen million dollars annually.

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