SUPERIOR Coach Company Ohio USA

Superior Coach Company


Superior Coach was once a school bus body and professional car manufacturer, but today it focuses on building hearses and is located in Lima in Allen County, Ohio.

superior 6 Lima, Ohio plant.


1912 Garford-trucks_1912-09_logo

Garford Motor Truck Company – logo 1912
Garford-Putilov Naval Uralets
 Russian WWI Garford-Putilov armoured car based on Garford truck 1912

Garford Motor Truck Company

In 1909, the Garford Motor Truck Company was established in Elyria, Ohio, a small town 30 miles outside Cleveland.

By June 1912, the company was awarded a lucrative contract with the United States Post Office. The first order called for 11 trucks; the following for 20 trucks, for a total of 31 trucks. “This is very significant of the practical efficiency of this most advanced commercial car.” The post office had experimented for two years “with practically every truck made.” They tried not only all the leading American trucks but the foreign trucks as well. The test resulted in the Garford being awarded first honors. The Garford proved to be the most practical truck under all conditions.

1916 Garford 4x2

 Truck of Garford 4×4 Motor Truck Company 1916
1912 Garford-truck
 Garford Motor Truck Company 1912

Superior Coach

ord Motor Truck Company

In 1909, the Garford Motor Truck Company was established in Elyria, Ohio, a small town 30 miles outside Cleveland.

By June 1912, the company was awarded a lucrative contract with the United States Post Office. The first order called for 11 trucks; the following for 20 trucks, for a total of 31 trucks. “This is very significant of the practical efficiency of this most advanced commercial car.” The post office had experimented for two years “with practically every truck made.” They tried not only all the leading American trucks but the foreign trucks as well. The test resulted in the Garford being awarded first honors. The Garford proved to be the most practical truck under all conditions.

Superior Body Company

In 1925, the company changed its name to the Superior Body Company and moved its operations to Lima, Ohio, where it occupied a new plant housing a large manufacturing facility and administrative offices. The company diversified, introducing a line of hearse and ambulance bodies (known as professional cars and becoming a major producer of school bus bodies for the U.S. and Canada as well as export markets. For its professional-car platforms, Superior signed an agreement with Studebaker, thus gaining instant access to some 3000 dealers and Studebaker’s chassis engineering. The company saw continuing success for several years and, on the strength of this arrangement, rose to a prominent position in the professional-car business; by 1930 Superior and Studebaker had the only complete line of professional cars in the North American market. In 1938, having achieved success and having established a dealer network of its own, Superior left the partnership with Studebaker and began building bodies on General Motors platforms.

Superior Coach Company

The company changed its name to Superior Coach Company in 1940. And the years that followed saw hearses styled on Cadillac, LaSalle and Pontiac chassis. By 1949, the company had added Chrysler, DeSoto and Dodge chassis to its funeral coach line, offering customers a smaller investment and lower overhead. School bus bodies were built primarily on Chevrolet/GM, Dodge, Ford, and International Harvester truck chassis. In 1951 the Lima facility was expanded and a new facility in Kosciusko, Mississippi was dedicated.

Sheller-Globe Corporation

In 1969, Superior Coach Company was acquired by an industrial conglomerate and auto parts maker, the Toledo, Ohio-based Sheller-Globe Corporation. The 1977 model year saw a major downsizing in the automobile chassis used for the professional car business. The ambulance sector switched to larger vehicles based upon van, cutaway van chassis, and truck chassis. The watershed year of 1977 also brought new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards-(FMVSS) for school buses built after April 1, which increased both costs and engineering challenges. In addition to higher costs, at the same time, a downturn in North American school bus purchase volumes began as the children of the Baby Boom completed their elementary and secondary educations.

By 1980, Superior was one of the “Big Six” school bus body manufacturing companies in the United States, competing with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Ward Body Company, and Wayne Corporation, as well as Gillig Corporation and Crown Coach Corporation (manufacturers which traded primarily on the West Coast). Bidding competition for reduced volumes became devastating to profits and even liquidity. In 1979, Ward declared bankruptcy, reorganizing as AmTran the following year which later became IC Bus.

Faced with these challenges, industry over-capacity among school bus manufacturers, and the loss of ambulance business in the professional car sector, Sheller-Globe Corporation liquidated its Superior-related investments in late 1980, and portions of its assets were sold.

 1950's Supercruiser.


1964 SUPERIOR 3100-5200 a


1964 SUPERIOR 3100-5200 GMC


1964 SUPERIOR 5000 op Bedford a


1964 SUPERIOR IH-Saigon

1964-superior-international harvester-saigon

1964 SUPERIOR Traveler Colombia


1964 SUPERIOR Traveler Manila


1964 SUPERIOR Traveler Venezuela


1966 on a Dodge chassis.


1967 SUPERIOR Series (USA 10-67)


1970's era Supercruiser on GMC chassis.


1972 Superior International.

1972-superior-international harvester

1972 Superior on Chevrolet Chassis.


1974 GMC from Moffat County.


1976 Butterfly hood Superior from Ohio.


1976 International Superior.

1976-international harvester-superior

1977 and a 1979 Superiors, but with different style International Chassis.


1977 Ford Superior from Rowan County.


1977 superior line up 11


1978 International on Loadstar Chassis.


1979 Small Superior GMC 36 passenger.


1980 S series Superior International drivers area.


1980 S series Superior International outside


1986 DK conventional bus.





1928 Eckland Bros Bus of Duluth-Superior Bus Co (Minnesota)

Eckland Bros

1931-bus Fargo-Dodge Bus 1933 Superior School Bus Brochure 1935 Dodge Superior School Bus Sales Brochure 1935 Ford Chevrolet Superior School Bus Brochure 1936  Superior Metropolitan Streamline Street Car Transit Bus Brochure 1936 Chevrolet Superior School Bus Factory Photo 1936 Dodge Superior Parlor Intercity Bus Brochure 1936 Superior Pioneer School Bus Brochure 1937 Studebaker J25MB Superior Bus Photo Poster


1938 Ford Superior School Bus Ad 1946 Superior Avenue Coach Transit Bus Ad 1947 Superior Pioneer School Bus Brochure 1947 Superior School Bus Ad Wickwire Spencer Fence 1948 Ford Superior School Bus Brochure 1948 Superior Pioneer School Bus Sales Brochure 1948 Superior Transit Bus Magazine Ad 1949 Superior Reo 3000 & 3100 Intercity Bus Brochure Spanish 1951 Matchbook Superior Trip-L-Safe School Bus Lima OH Langlois Bros Los Angeles 1951 Superior School Bus Sales Brochure 1952  Superior Pioneer School Bus Pencil Eraser 1952 Superior Commutor Bus Brochure 1952 Superior Pathfinder School Bus Brochure 1953 Dodge Superior bus 1953 Ford F6 Superior Bus Factory Photo 1953 International Superior Bus Factory Photo Sheet 1953 Superior 4100 Metropolitan Coach Bus Brochure 1953 Superior Ford Pathfinder School Bus Brochure 1953 Superior Pathfinder Commuter Transit Bus Brochure 1955 GMC Superior School Bus Sales Brochure 1955 Superior 45 & 67 Passenger Superliner Bus Brochure 1955 Superior School Bus Sales Brochure 1955 Superior Superliner 73 Passenger Bus Brochure 1956 fordbus-6 1956 Superior School Bus 1956 1957 Superior School Bus Brochure 1958 Superior Pioneer School Bus Prestige Brochure 1966 on a Dodge chassis. 1966 Superior School Bus Photo Poster 1974 Superior Bus Magazine Advertisement 1975 Superior Transit Shutle Bus Van Brochure Chevrolet 1976 Butterfly hood Superior from Ohio. 1977 and a 1979 Superiors, but with different style International Chassis. 1977 Ford Superior from Rowan County. 1978 International on Loadstar Chassis. 1978 Superior Chevrolet Van School Bus Factory Photo 1979 Small Superior GMC 36 passenger. 1979 Superior Transit Bus Sales Brochure 1980 Superior Pioneer FC Shuttle Bus Brochure 1980 Superior Transit Bus Brochure 1986 DK conventional bus. logoflat sup1 WBsup157 WBwayne

CARPENTER Body Company Indiana USA 1919-2001

Carpenter logo used on some late '80s and early '90s buses.

Carpenter Body Company

Carpenter Industries, Inc.
Industry Vehicle Manufacturing
Fate Dissolved by parent company
Founded 1919
Founders Ralph H. Carpenter
Defunct 2001
Headquarters Mitchell, Indiana (1919-1995)
Richmond, Indiana (1995-2001)
Area served North America
Products School buses
Transit buses
Step vans
Employees 700+ (1997)
Parent Spartan Motors (1998-2001)
Website version)

Carpenter Body Company, also known over the years as the Ralph H. Carpenter Body Company, Carpenter Body Works, Inc., Carpenter Manufacturing Company, Carpenter Industries, Inc., and Crown By Carpenter, was a bus body manufacturer based in Mitchell, IndianaUnited States. The majority of Carpenter bodies were used for school buses.

Founded in 1919, Carpenter produced its first bus in 1923. Carpenter’s post-World War II success would lead it to become one of the “Big Six” major manufacturers of school buses in North America. After years of declining market share, Carpenter was closed in 2001 by its parent company, Spartan Motors.



1955 Carpenter school bus

1955 Carpenter school bus with GMC chassis.

Carpenter was founded in Mitchell, Indiana in 1919 by Ralph H. Carpenter, a blacksmith by trade. He began his career building hauling wagons for two cement factories located near his southern Indiana hometown of Bloomington. As his business grew, he began to expand into building horse-drawn “kid hacks” with wooden benches to transport children to school. As horse-drawn wagons became obsolete, he adapted wagon bodies for automobile chassis. Carpenter’s first true school bus was built in 1923. The first stop arms used on these buses were in the shape of a clenched fist with the index finger painted red. A combination of steel and wood replaced all-wood construction, and in 1935, a change to all-steel construction was made.

1950s-1980: Reconstruction and Expansion

1960 Schoolbus and some tulips

 1960s Carpenter school bus with GMC chassis.

On March 12, 1956, a fire broke out inside Carpenter’s Mitchell manufacturing plant. The plant was mostly destroyed. With the help of factory workers, the factory was rebuilt and expanded in just 89 days. During the reconstruction, some workers worked without pay until later compensated.

Throughout the next twenty years, the business prospered and Carpenter became one of the “big six” major school bus body builders in the United States, competing directly against Blue Bird, Superior, Thomas, Ward, and Wayne.

1980s-1995: Bankruptcy and Dr. Beurt SerVaas

Laidlaw schoolbus

 An early 1990s Carpenter Classic conventional school bus with Ford chassis.
SchoolBus Carpenter Ledgemere Transportation
A mid-1990s Carpenter Classic conventional school bus with International 3800 chassis.

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, a critical factor affecting school bus manufacturing was declining student populations; the baby boomer generation that had attended schools for the past 25 years were now on the verge of all completing their secondary education. Overcapacity and lowered demand in an bus manufacturing industry was coupled with the unstable economy of the time. The company unsuccessfully attempted to diversify into the small transit bus market. By mid-decade, Carpenter had entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Salvation came to the company in the form of an Indianapolis-based industrialist, Dr. Beurt SerVaas, who led a refinancing and revitalization program to attempt to restore the role of Carpenter in the national school bus market. Major concessions came from the labor force and production of school buses continued.

During the 1980s, Carpenter would also make major updates to its product lineup. Carpenter’s conventional-style school bus (the Classic) underwent body revisions in 1984 and 1986. While the Cadet Type B was one of the first small school buses (introduced in 1969), it was not until mid-decade that the company developed a Type A school bus (the Clipper, later the Classmate), the last among major manufacturers. The Corsair transit-style school bus, in production since the 1960s, was retired and replaced with the Cavalier. In 1991, the Cavalier was replaced by the Counselor FE and the Coach RE; the latter marked the beginning of the relationship of Carpenter with Spartan Motors.

Early in the 1990s, the company gained an additional Type A bus as Carpenter began to distribute single rear-wheel buses manufactured by Quebec-based manufacturer Les Enterprises Michel Corbeil.

Crown Coach acquisition

Crown Supercoach II

Crown Supercoach II, a design acquired by Carpenter.
Crown by carpenter logo

In May 1991, Carpenter purchased the tooling and product rights of Crown Coach, a California-based manufacturer that had closed its doors two months prior. The original intent of the company was to restart production of the Crown Supercoach Series II under the Carpenter name, but the complexity of its unibody construction proved too expensive for mass production. Introduced in 1989, the Series II had been the most updated bus from Crown Coach in 40 years.

While Carpenter would shelve the Supercoach II as a whole, it did not go unnoticed. A number of elements were carried over for the bus that was brought to market in its place. Introduced for 1992, the Carpenter Coach RE (Rear Engine) also served as the replacement for the long-running Corsair. Far more modern than its predecessor, the Coach featured a Spartan Motors chassis. In 1994, the Coach was replaced by a rear-engined version of Counselor.

1996-1999: Crown By Carpenter

First Student 132 International

CrownInternational by Carpenter Conventional

Crown by Carpenter business logo

As part of the 1991 purchase of the Crown Coach intellectual property, Carpenter inherited the rights to the Crown brand name. While the Crown-influenced Coach RE was not a success (its production lasting from 1992 to 1993), Carpenter used the Crown brand name in the late 1990s in an attempt to re-brand itself. Starting in 1996, all Carpenter buses were sold under the brand “Crown by Carpenter”.

In 1996, Carpenter leased the former Wayne plant at Richmond, Indiana, relocating from its aged facilities in Mitchell. During this transition, Carpenter revised the body design of all of its buses. The changes included a new roof design with single-piece roof bows and revised rubrails (full-length upper rubrails). The Wayne Lifeguard would donate some of its parts to the Crown Classic, including its windshield, entry door, and driver’s switch panel.

Crown By Carpenter sold a lineup of two Type A buses (Classmate SW/DW), one Type B bus (the Cadet), one Type C bus (the Classic), and two Type D buses (FE/RE, dropping the Counselor name).

At the new location, Carpenter had the advantage of an established team. Both the leadership and workforce based at Richmond included a number of veterans of the former Wayne operations. As such, they brought considerable experience and knowledge of the plant and industry to the effort. In adapting to the equipment at the Richmond plant, a change to the techniques of welding the roof joints from the procedures used before at Mitchell would later prove vital in excluding Crown by Carpenter products from containing a crucial structural flaw. That situation was not envisioned by anyone then and would only become an issue nearly a decade in the future.

One innovation that Carpenter introduced during this period was a change to the design of its “Crown RE”, mounted on a Spartan Motors chassis. The Crown RE was the first rear-engine school bus to feature an option of a conventional rear emergency door instead of an emergency exit window typical on rear-engine school buses. To make this possible, the floor was slanted up in the last few rows in order to gain height over the engine compartment. Crown by Carpenter also produced a delivery truck loosely derived from its “Cadet” Type B school bus line.

In 1998, Carpenter was sold to Spartan Motors, a Michigan-based manufacturer of chassis for fire apparatus and high-end recreational vehicles. Starting in the early 1990s with the Coach RE, Spartan had gained entry into the school bus industry through Carpenter; a prototype built for Wayne Wheeled Vehicles never saw production. Nevertheless, major outside forces still to be faced were a supply of suitable chassis and the overcapacity of the body industry.

1999-2001: Carpenter’s name revision and final years

Carpenter bus logo from Carpenter Classic 2000 or Carpenter Chancellor

Final Carpenter logo (late 1999-2001)

After four years, Carpenter had decided to phase out the Crown name in favor of a return to just Carpenter. The company pared the product line from six buses down to two, as the company decided to focus its energy on full-size buses.

In late 1999, Carpenter unveiled a new model series to their line called Classic 2000. The Classic 2000 series, a Type C conventional, featured an overall body redesign, including an entirely new driver’s area (based even more upon the Wayne Lifeguard), as well as new rub rail mounts, a fully vertical rear body, larger rear emergency exit doors, and new roof caps. The Chancellor FE, a front-engine transit, featured all of the structural changes of the Classic 2000.

Carpenter Chancellor RE

Intended as the flagship of the new Carpenter product lineup, the 2001 Chancellor RE rear-engine Type D (transit-style) school bus was built on a Spartan Motors chassis. Its chassis featured full air-ride suspension and double frame rails for a ride similar to a motorcoach; a flat floor inside the bus was created from the double frame as well as from the fitment of smaller-diameter wheels (19″ vs. the standard 22.5″). Unlike its Crown RE predecessor, the Chancellor RE did not feature an option for a rear emergency door, opting instead for a window emergency exit traditionally seen on rear-engine school buses.

The combination of the Spartan Motors chassis with the Carpenter Chancellor body resembled (in some aspects) the massive workhorses built in California by Crown and Gillig in years past, many of which stayed in served for 25 years or longer. Only a single prototype was completed with a second bare chassis intended for display purposes. From all reports, the Chancellor was well-received, incorporating many components and features long desired by school bus operating and maintenance personnel.

In the context of the school bus industry, the Spartan Motors chassis was in reality a premium option, incorporating many of the features long sought in a school bus. However, there were several downsides to this approach which proved fatal to the effort. As one might reasonably anticipate, the extra durability came with added cost. Also, Spartan had been serving lower quantity and higher margin markets for similar products used for high-end Class A motor homes as well as fire and rescue apparatus. Although Spartan had entered the school bus market through supplying Carpenter (for nearly a decade), their production facilities were not geared up to produce a large volume under low pricing pressures, even though their products would have proved more durable in the long run. As such, Carpenter was no longer able to compete with AmTran, Blue Bird, or Thomas on price.

This was a familiar dilemma, the same one which earlier had helped seal the fate of the Crown and Gillig coaches on the West Coast, as well as the entry of competitor Blue Bird into the mass-transit market during the 1970s. It was also similar to the situation which faced HARSCO BMY (parent company of Wayne Wheeled Vehicles) operation some years earlier, where a lesser quantity of higher quality products (at a correspondingly higher price) had also been the plant’s historical output.


2000 Carpenter Classic bus

 A Carpenter “Classic 2000” conventional school bus viewed close up

Carpenter had been struggling for almost 20 years when it ended school bus production in 2001. During the economic times around the millennium, lower initial capital costs seemed to trump longevity as a selling factor. When it was time for purchasing decisions, financially pressed districts and contractors tended to select lower-cost products with shorter life cycles. Spartan Motors, by then the owner of the company, did not see a solution to the market dilemma and felt the projected continued losses would exceed the value to their business plan, voted to end its venture.

Epilogue: Structural Issues

Carpenter New Life Christian Fellowship Biddeford

A late 1980s Carpenter school bus on an International chassis, now in use as a church bus.

On March 20, 2003 in Alachua County, Florida, an 83-passenger Carpenter school bus rolled over onto its roof, causing the roof to collapse down to the seat level. At the time, no passengers were on board and the driver survived the accident. Later inspection of the vehicle revealed numerous broken and defective welds in the roof and pillar structure.

Inspections of Carpenter school buses in various parts of the country revealed cracked and broken welds in the roof structures. The problem was not confined to Florida where it was first found. It was determined that the defective welds could cause the roof to collapse in the event of a rollover. Not all Carpenter buses had the broken or cracked welds. The problem was confined to buses built at the Mitchell plant prior to its closing in late 1995.

Normally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would have conducted a full-scale investigation and if a defect determination were made, would have ordered the manufacturer to conduct a safety recall. However, since Carpenter was no longer in business, there was no one that NHTSA could hold accountable to develop a remedy for this problem.

However, NHTSA was concerned about this problem, and issued several advisories regarding certain Carpenter buses. NHTSA has indicated that virtually all of the production of Carpenter and Crown branded products from the Mitchell plant could potentially have the same flaw. Due to differences in construction techniques, Crown by Carpenter and Carpenter buses built at the Richmond plant from 1996 to 2001 were not included in several advisories issued. The School Bus Information Council offered additional information about Carpenter buses and the NHSTA advisory.


Carpenter produced a product lineup of both small and full-size buses. Like other school bus manufacturers, the company also produced commercial, shuttle, and transit bus derivatives of their school bus designs. The Carpenter Cadet, introduced in 1969, was one of the first Type B school buses; during the Crown by Carpenter era, a modified version of the Cadet was marketed as a delivery van.

With the exception of “Classic”, its Type C conventional and “Coach”, its Type D rear-engine transit style (influenced by Crown Coach), most Carpenter school buses derived their model names from themes in education (Classmate, Cadet, Counselor, Chancellor) while many transit-style Carpenters derived their model names from common team names (Corsair, Cavalier).

Carpenter Bus at Smithsonian Institution

1936 Carpenter Bus at Smithsonian Institution Antique Dodge Schoolbus 1936 Carpenter-Dodge Bus A 1936 Carpenter school bus, built on a Dodge chassis, on display at the National Museum of American History.

The Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC has a thirty-six passenger school bus built by Carpenter Body Works in 1936 on a chassis made by Dodge in 1939. The bus carried students to the grade school in Martinsburg, Indiana from 1940 to 1946, and was owned and driven by Russell Bishop during that period. It was later used as a traveling grocery store until 1962.

The bus has a streamlined steel body painted double-deep or “Omaha” orange with black trim. It was restored by Carpenter in the early 1980s under the supervision of Ollie Eager, who was Carpenter’s plant manager in 1936, and John Foddrill, who worked in the Carpenter plant in 1936. The bus has replacement seats that do not match the originals exactly. The originals were black upholstery.

1920 Carpenters E 1920s Durham 1920 Carpenters S 1920s Durham

1920 Carpenters E Durham

1936 L UTE Carpenter 1946 R Ford Mulder 1936 1940s Carpenter Conventionals Carpenter Cadet school bus with a Ford logo in the grill. Carpenter Coach Carpenter GMC Cuba Carpenter Mack Costa Rica Carpenter -Studebaker Bus Carpenter_body_works_logo carpenter_bus_logo SchoolCarpenter