The bus stops here
On April 26, 1963, another chapter in the annals of Nevada County transportation history came to a close. On that date, The Union reported the event with a story headlined: “Last Bus at 8 Tonight Will Sever Historical Landmark and Rupture 63 Years of Inter-city Transportation.”
Construction began in 1874 on the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad. In 1901, the Nevada County Traction Co., the street car, began service between Grass Valley and Nevada City. In 1922, Joe Spence began driving a motor bus between the two towns.
The Narrow Gauge hauled its last regularly scheduled train on July 10, 1942; the trolley line ceased operations after a severe snowstorm in January 1924; and now Spence called it quits.
According to Spence, the line began losing money around 1953, when insurance premiums for the passenger carrier climbed as profits dwindled. He claimed that he had been hauling people for nothing for some time before the shutdown. Occasionally, a passenger would drop a little something extra in the fare box in an effort to help.
For years, residents of the Twin Cities had depended on the bus for daily transportation to work, shopping and, in the case of a few students, to Mount St. Mary’s school. The public school districts maintained their own bus systems.
Spence also carried a few packages, including the daily “dispatches” from The Union’s Nevada city office (where the Utopian Stone store is located today) to the Grass Valley main office at 151 Mill St. On occasion, Spence was required to wait at the corner of Pine and Broad while The Union’s reporter finished up a story, then ran it out to the waiting bus.
Joe also picked up and delivered visitors and nurses during the day shift to the Nevada County Hospital on Willow Valley Road.
The Nevada City-Grass Valley Bus Line fleet consisted of two aging, mid-1940s vehicles as well as the all-important passenger franchise issued by the State of California. Reports of the day said that Spence had offered the bus line as a package for the sale price of $5,000. There were no takers.
I rode Joe’s bus on that last day and witnessed the sadness in the faces of many of his longtime regular passengers. There was even a tear or two; one passenger, however, seemed almost indifference to the occasion. Spence was jovial in the face of his impending forced retirement. He joked with his regulars and the curiosity seekers alike.
Joseph B. Spence died July 6, 1979. He was 86, and had owned the bus line for 32 years.
Regularly scheduled public transportation between the two cities was again established when the Tanner brothers, Gary and Dan, began the bus service they called “Tanner’s Trolley” with a multi-passenger, late model Ford van.
On March 12, 1970, the biweekly Nevada City Independent, in a front-page story with a picture, said: “We congratulate and thank both Gary and Dan … for providing much needed … transportation between Nevada City and Grass Valley. Welcome to Tanner’s Trolley.”
The van operated seven days a week with a shortened Sunday schedule, 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. A half-hour was allowed for the trip, with the van departing Nevada City for Grass Valley on the half-hour and Grass Valley back to Nevada City on the hour. The day’s first trip left Nevada City at 6:30 a.m.. with the last return trip at 9 p.m.
The service did not survive long. Again, a victim of dwindling and unsubsidized revenue. The Tanner brothers went on to other rewarding careers; Dan was Nevada County veterans service officer for more than 20 years until his retirement a few years ago. For many years. Gary was a library technician for the Nevada County Library System. He died in March 2001.
The familiar Gold Country Stage has been the basic public carrier for some 25 years, according to transit systems supervisor Virgil Wong. “We have 11 routes and 20 vehicles that cover some 335,000 miles annually,” he said. The fleet contains gasoline, diesel and compressed natural gas-powered coaches.
The first three Gold Country stages, around 1977, were blue diesel- powered Mercedes buses that served mainly Grass Valley and Nevada City. Today, Gold Country stages can be seen in Auburn, Colfax, North San Juan and Camptonville.
by Bob Wyckoff
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