HOW IT BEGAN
On July 15, 1948, Ivan DeNure opened the doors of the modern new Quonset type garage on King Street in Chatham to launch the city’s brand new bus company, Chatham Coach Lines. Ivan had won a new 10 year contract with the city to provide bus services six days a week from 6:00 am to midnight.
Ivan started with six new Fitzjohn City Liners and three used Twin Coaches purchased from the Toronto Transit Commission.
Fares were 10 cents or 14 for a dollar for adults and 5 cents or 24 for a dollar for children. The initial routes covered Richmond, King, Brock, Delaware and Queen streets.
“The transit service was an instant success giving the residents of Chatham for the first time a safe and reliable means of transport throughout the city.” (from A Trip Back in Time, a history of the bus industry in Kent County)
Chatham Coach Lines became a part of the city of Chatham with one of its first charters being run to take the Chatham Hadleys and their fans to Wigle Park to play baseball against the Windsor Cardinals on August 21, 1948.
In 1949, DeNure acquired Thames View Bus Lines adding school bus services with their first four school runs: Prairie Siding, Northwood, Mull and Fletcher.
He also added a service between Chatham and Merlin for 50 cents one way or 90 cents return. New routes were also added to the new Orchard Heights subdivision built as part of the post war housing boom. To accommodate the growth, Ivan added another Quonset garage.
In 1950, Ivan DeNure applied to be licensed to run charters from the Chatham area to Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Approval wasn’t easy and Greyhound opposed the application. But through perseverance and a few visits to court, Ivan secured the running rights operate in the States. Chatham Coach bought another City Liner bus, a new Flexible Highway Coach and a used Courier Highway coach when they were approved in order to meet the increase demands. Most families didn’t own cars in the early 1950’s and buses were a very important means of longer distance transportation as well as for going to work, shopping, going to various events near and far.
In 1954, the Tabernacle Alliance church was the first to start using DeNure’s buses to pick up area church goers. Chatham Coach buses were also hired to provide a city service to and from the well-attended Hi-Neighbor dances at the Kinsmen Auditorium on Saturday nights.
School trips were also growing both in the charter business and the regular daily service. In 1952, DeNure purchased two new Reo school buses to support the growing need for school transportation. A year later, he bought three more Reo Gold Comet school buses before the new school year started. Business was growing.
In the mid 1950’s, Ivan expanded his company with new coaches and by purchasing Blue Star Coach Lines in Ridgetown and buying the running rights from Greyhound to operate a bus service from Chatham to Goderich.
The success of the school and charter businesses were being held back by increasing losses in the City Transit business. In spite of fare, route and schedule changes, the increase in car ownership by 1956 reduced ridership dramatically. An agreement with the city changed the deal to a per mile subsidy with all fares going to the City of Chatham. After the increase in Chatham’s size in the late 1950’s, the city negotiated with Ivan to extend the service range and extend Chatham Coach’s contract for another 10 years. When the city expanded its boundaries in 1959, Chatham Coach Lines expanded its service range to the new Stacey and Simonton subdivisions. As well, the industry was changing with new signs and flashers brought into law around this time made it illegal to pass the bus when it was stopped with flashers on.
In the summer of 1962, a new generation of DeNures were learning the family business – Ivan and Evelyn’s two boys, Reg and Ken. Ken was a member of the Key Club, a high school service club sponsored by the Kiwanis. Ken organized a bus charter for the club to attend the Key Club International Convention in Long Beach, California. Ivan DeNure drove the bus for the three week long trip.
In the 1960’s, the industry was changing and coach companies started to grow and consolidate. Chatham Coach bought MacDonald’s 13 school buses and runs in 1965. They also bout the Faith Apostolic Church property across the road in 1966 to expand the parking and facilities for their growing business. And by this time, Reg DeNure had become responsible for most of the daily operations of Chatham Coach Lines and Ken ran the newly acquired MacDonald’s operation in Blenheim.
Both the city bus business and the charter business grew in the mid 1960’s. Chatham Coach ran a virtual shuttle to Montreal for Expo 67 traveling over 3 million passenger miles. When Kent County Board closed the rural schools, Chatham Coach Lines was there to provide the school transportation. By 1968, the company had grown to more than 100 buses, 80 of which were used in school transportation which travelled around 3800 miles a day during the school year.
The DeNures continued to innovate starting Carefee Tours in 1968, a bus based tour company run by Ken offering full package trips from a few days to a month in length and included accommodation, transportation and events along the way. One of their regular trips was to Detroit where Carefree Tours had 41 seasons tickets for the Red Wings at the Olympia. In one week in 1970, Carefee Tours hosted over 2000 area residents traveling nearly three quarters of a million passenger miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Quebec to Mexico, Ottawa to Washington and Point Pelee to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
In 1971, the DeNures’ acquired Gryp Bus lines in Merlin, Cameron Coach Lines in Wallaceberg, and Turner Bus Lines in Wallaceberg making it the largest school bus company in the county. They also opened their own body shop when Reg DeNure purchased Nelson Turner’s garage on King Street East. Reg also started a limousine service in 1971 to cater to weddings, funerals, airport trips and other special occasions.
New buses were acquired to keep up with the growth including three new 33 passenger GMC City Buses. Reg DeNure ran a contest to name the new buses complete with cartooned ads and free rides for the public. In 1972, Chatham Coach expanded service again by providing new service routes to both the Windsor and London airports. Also, around this time, Chatham Coach Lines started and expanded service to handicapped residents with new wheelchair buses. The demand grew to the point of requiring a schedule and it also expanded to support hearing handicapped with a new service to the Robarts School in London.
By 1972, Chatham Coach Lines was delivering over 7,000 students safely to and from school with a fleet of 110 school buses. In 1973, Chatham was one of the first in the area to move to the new era of student transportation with the purchase of 60 new Blue Bird school buses. The new chassis were built by the International plant in Chatham and the buses featured a brand new automatic transmission that would save the company operating costs as well as provide a smoother ride.
By 1974, Chatham Coach Lines school bus fleet had grown to over 130 vehicles serving Chatham, Wallaceberg, Merlin and Blenheim. The company had 35 full time and 200 part time employees. Also this year, Reg DeNure bought County Bus Lines in Belle River and expanded the companies facilities. Carefree Tours outgrew its space in Chatham Coach Lines offices and Ken DeNure took it to new facilities as it continued to grow. Two years later, a new travel company called Good Time Travel was founded by Pat Bonvarlez and Brenda DeNure, Reg’s wife.
Chatham Coach Lines grew again in 1977 when they acquired United Trails operations in Windsor along with some of its fleet and its charter rights. A year later, Reg DeNure purchase the now closed BF Goodrich tire store in Chatham changing the name to the Tread Centre. He bought the business to keep a tire store in the area and to streamline some of his rolling rubber costs.
In the fall of 1981, the Blenheim division separated from the parent company and Ken DeNure became to owner and operator of Blenheim Bus Lines serving the Blenheim and Merlin school areas with a fleet of 29 school buses.