A friendly tip has turned into a potential find of a lifetime for a Missouri man.
Earlier this year, High Ridge resident James Gebert was hunting for parts for a 1955 Chevrolet restoration he was doing when a tip from a friend led him to an old railroad yard near Mascoutah in Illinois.
"On the way out, I happened to glance at an old ornate building and I looked behind it and wow, there's this old bus," Gebert said. "I was just blown away that something this old and this much intact would still be available."
What Gebert is claiming is the 1936, 21-passenger 733 Series Yellow Coach bus, with "ILL 0087" lettered next to the passenger side front access door, operated in Chester as part of "Chester Coach Lines Inc.," the letters of which are barely visible on the bus's passenger side.
According to pictures posted on Gebert's "1936 Yellow Coach Bus Restoration" Facebook page, the bus was surrounded by small trees and filled with old tires when first found.
"After a little bit of persuasion, (the landowner) agreed on a price and we started the effort of cutting down the trees," Gebert said.
Trucking the bus back to Missouri and cleaning it inside and out revealed some historical significance from the days of segregation. Lettering above the driver's compartment advises white passengers are to sit from the front toward the rear, while colored passengers sit from the rear toward the front.
"That, along with the Chester lettering, didn't appear until we started cleaning the bus," Gebert said. "Originally, we had no clue where the bus came from and the lettering above the driver's compartment was not legible when we first looked at the bus."
Gebert owns Mobility Quad LLC, which builds custom handicapped equipment for clients across the country. He stated he has not decided whether he will restore the bus back to originality, or use it as a company service truck.
"Once the mobility quads are completed, it takes a month to get them delivered because customers live in remote areas," Gebert said. "I thought I really need to get a vehicle that's a touch of what we do and would stand out as a billboard.
"We didn't want to buy something new, because everybody has the new RVs. When I ran across this (bus), it was a diamond in the rough and thought I had to have it."
Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company, later Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing Company, was founded in Chicago in 1923 as part of the Yellow Cab Company. Yellow Coach was later bought out by General Motors, which merged it into GM's truck division.
"The paperwork on (the bus) and the serial number indicates a 1936 because in 1937 they went to a higher block serial number," Gebert said.
The history behind Chester Coach Lines is not immediately known and the newspaper continues to research the name. A 1938 advertisement in the Herald Tribune promotes the St. Clair Bus Line Company, with stops in Chester, Sparta, Steeleville, Percy and Cutler.
An undated Chester Public Library photo shows a Chester Coach Lines bus, which is the same type but not model of Gebert's bus, making its way through Mississippi River floodwater along Water Street.
"It's going to be a good year to year and a half for renovations," Gebert said. "I think it would be interesting to reunite it back with the city.
"If they welcome me once it's completed, I would be happy to bring it there."
As for the next step, Gebert said he plans to tear out the floor and sandblast the bus's frame. After that, he will remove its motor.
"The complete drivetrain is intact and is working," he said. "It does need to be rebuilt, and I'm not sure we're going to keep it, but something worth exploring.
"I want to document everything we do with this not only for myself, but I think it's one of the most fascinating builds."