The city of Hibbing has lots of reasons to be proud. It's the site of the world's largest open pit mine, and home town to Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale and Rudy Perpich. But not many people know the town is also the birthplace of Greyhound. The nationwide bus company started in Hibbing with two men, and one car.
Some of the vintage buses on display in the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing. The bus on the far right is the oldest in the museum, from 1927. (MPR Photo/Chris Julin)
THIS IS A STORY ABOUT BUSES. BUT SINCE IT'S SET IN HIBBING,
iron ore plays a central role. Back in the 1910s and '20s, Minnesota's iron mines were bustling, and the town of Hibbing was on the move. Really on the move - about two miles south. The mining company wanted the ore from under the town, so houses and businesses were being lifted off their foundations and hauled down the road. During the years the town was split, people had to walk a couple miles between the two half-Hibbings, and that gave a pair of miners an idea. This was back in 1914, and one of them had a car. They hung a sign on it offering rides. The cost was 15 cents one way, round trip for 25 cents. It turned out, lots of people were eager to ride.
"They had them riding on the running board, and hanging onto the tires and everything else. They'd get as many as 15 people riding on it," says Gene Nicolelli, the director of the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing.
Nicolelli says the success of that early shuttle bus allowed its owners to buy more cars and go after them with a welding torch.
"They took cars, sliced them in half, stretched them out and put another seat in there so they could carry more people. Probably was the first stretch limo," Nicolelli says.
The bus museum has talking displays that tell the story. The two miners-turned businessmen were Swedish immigrants, named Carl Wickman and Andrew Anderson. They recruited more partners, and bought more buses. Then people in Hibbing started asking for rides to other towns, so the bus company added a route.
Gene Nicolelli is the director of the Greyhound Bus Museum. He's standing next to a bus from 1940. (MPR Photo/Chris Julin)
"It went from Hibbing to Nashwauk. So then Bovey says, 'Why don't you come here?' 'Why don't you come to Grand Rapids?'" says Nicolelli. "They just kept expanding and expanding and expanding. That's what's so fascinating about what these people did, because they're immigrants, and they were able to parlay something like this into the largest bus company in the free world."
The Greyhound museum's collection includes seven buses in mint condition. The oldest one is from 1927. Outside a bus from the 1940s, a dozen life-size mannequins in World War II uniforms stand ready to climb aboard. In a corner of the garage is a glass display case full of old, rusty bus parts.
"Flasher relays, voltage regulators, and the tire thumper. It just looks like a policeman's baton. What the drivers would do is go around the bus and hit the tire with this tire thumper, and just the sound of it would let them know whether or not they needed air," says Nicolelli.
He also points to a spot where visitors can listen on earphones to the 30 or so songs that mention the Greyhound bus.
The tour ends at an old juke box, which is full of bus departure announcements from the old days.
Greyhound got its start here in Hibbing, but these days, the museum is the only place in town you can see a Greyhound bus. Greyhound doesn't stop here any more. You can catch a ride with a smaller bus company that will take you to the Greyhound terminal in Minneapolis.