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Movement afoot to restore P&W Bus No. 99 in Weirton

A PROJECT BEGINS — Dennis Jones, executive director of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center, is chairman of an undertaking getting started to restore Bus No. 99 that was part of the fleet of the P&W Bus Co., operating from 1931 to 1978. The story of how it made its return to Weirton after decades of being in Ohio and plans to restore it were presented to a group of interested supporters recently at the museum. -- Janice Kiaski

WEIRTON — It’s back from the “graveyard,” but there’s nothing spooky about a proposed effort to restore something that once roamed the streets of Weirton, Steubenville, Follansbee, Wellsburg, New Cumberland and beyond.

Bus No. 99 from the P&W Bus Co. — the Pittsburgh and Weirton Bus Co. — has come home to Weirton, where it awaits a new chapter in its history as something to see and appreciate.

The story of how the bus ultimately made its way back on Sept. 3, a game plan for its restoration and storage as well as fundraising possibilities came into view when a committee of interested supporters gathered recently to hear a presentation by Dennis Jones, project chairman and executive director of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.

A past-to-present overview began with an explanation that organized bus service started in Weirton in 1926 on a line operating from Avenue C through Holliday’s Cove, up the hill to Weirton Heights and then to the Pennsylvania state line. In 1929, the service was incorporated as the “Heights Bus Line Co.” with Mike Starvaggi, Charles Danze, William Sundale, James B. Marino and Rudolph Pozzanzini as incorporators.

In 1931, the Pittsburgh & Weirton Bus Co. was incorporated with Starvaggi as president, according to Jones, who addressed a group that included Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce President Brenda Mull; Starvaggi representatives Luke Myers and Jim O’Brien; Weirton Mayor Harold Miller; and Nick Latousakis, Ernie Mahling, Paul Zuros, Joe Stankiewicz and Bill McIntosh.

“Almost everyone who lived around our area before 1978 had some sort of experience with a P&W bus, a common sight on Main Street in Weirton,” Jones noted. Hundreds of people, he said, are sharing their experiences about riding the bus through the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center’s Facebook page, which has posted old bus photos.

The gesture also has generated interest from people wanting to help with the restoration.

People rode the bus line to work, to school, to shop — everywhere, according to Jones. “Everybody rode the bus,” he said, using a Power Point to provide a timeline of what happened to the bus and the involved story of retrieving it. “Almost every photo of Main Street from the 1950s and ’60s has a P&W Bus somewhere within the scene,” he said, showing photos supporting that.

The busline ceased operations in 1978.

For close to 30 years, Bus No. 99 was at the Starvaggi garage, Jones noted, until early 2007 when Starvaggi Industries donated it to the Ohio Museum of Transportation. Another bus – No. 136 – was donated to the Antique Motor Coach Association of Pennsylvania.

Jones said he has been trying to get Bus No. 99 returned to Weirton ever since.

In February 2007, it was delivered to a maintenance facility near Lake Milton, Ohio, where unfortunately, he said, it was stored outside for the past 12 years. A month later, Jones got his first e-mail from Mike Ondecker of the Ohio Museum of Transportation, who offered updates on the bus from time to time through 2008. That included the engine being worked on and parts removed.

“We provided photos of the bus during its time of service in Weirton along with the history,” Jones said. Ondecker visited Weirton occasionally to obtain additional materials from Starvaggi’s and to visit the Weirton museum located at 3149 Main St.

Jones contacted Ondecker in May of 2011 about the Ohio museum’s willingness to allow the bus to be hauled or driven back to Weirton to be part of the city’s Celebr8 Weirton Parade. The inquiry brought bad news of major engine problems.

Another attempt to get Bus No. 99 in Weirton came in 2016 for Weir High’s 100thgraduation celebration when Jones wrote a letter to the Ohio museum. It brought a delayed response and word that Ondecker had been ill and hospitalized.

Should the Ohio museum ever decide to part with it, the Weirton museum would have first crack, but they were inclined to keep it because of the good condition of the interior.

The summer of 2019 brought renewed effort.

“I heard nothing more until this summer when the president of the Ohio Transportation Museum called me and asked if I was still interested in the bus,” Jones noted. “He informed me that the person in charge of the bus had passed away, and they now had a big bill to pay for the storage and maintenance of the bus ($2780). If I would pay that bill, the bus would be ours. So I went up to the place where it was stored outside for the past 12 years near Lake Milton, Ohio, and paid the bill with my personal credit card.”

The next two complicated hurdles involved the title transfer and getting the bus hauled back to Weirton.

“I worked with the Ohio Transportation Museum president to have the title transferred to our Weirton museum and also spoke with Luke Myers at Starvaggi Enterprises to have a letter written to the Ohio Transportation Museum declaring the bus was originally donated to them,” Jones said of the process involved in getting the bus titled to the Weirton museum.

“The final step was to get the bus hauled back to Weirton, and it was difficult to find a hauling company locally that would do the work,” he said. “We needed a company with a lowboy trailer long enough and wide enough to hold the bus, which is 30 feet long. Also, the tires on the bus were flat and sunk into the ground about 5 inches, so before agreeing to haul the bus, the hauling companies wanted assurances that the tires were inflated and were not locked in place,” he continued.

“Although the tires are becoming dry-rotted, I asked the storage facility owner to try and pump up the tires. To do this he had to run several air hose extensions out the bus parked outside behind the garage. He was successful in getting most of the tires inflated. These were still tube-type tires, and the tubes inside the tires were still in good enough shape to hold air,” Jones noted.

Nick’s Auto Sales in Weirton hauled the bus back, Jones said

Now come plans to raise money to restore the bus and create a garage to house it on the museum lot across the street.

Briefly broached at the presentation were possibilities such as selling bus calendars, mugs and ornaments, special advertising and allowing top donors to ride the bus in future parades, for example.

The priority order for the bus’ future from her is a bus committee, security, new/better tires, the garage/museum for it, body restoration and getting the bus running.

“All of us look forward to the day the bus will once again roll down Main Street, just as it did more than 40 years ago, bringing back memories we experienced in the ’50s through the ’70s riding up and down the streets in Weirton,” Jones said.

Those interested in helping with the restoration can contact Jones at (304) 479-7266. For those wanting to making monetary donations, checks can be made payable to the Weirton Area Museum, with “Bus 99 Restoration” written on the memo line and mailed to P.O. Box 517, Weirton, WV 26062.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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