Leibensperger Bus Transportation

Leibensperger Bus Transportation

For 50 years, a yellow Leibensperger bus was a familiar sight for generations of school children and their families in the Allentown, East Penn, Northampton, Salisbury, and Southern Lehigh school districts.

The former Leibensperger School Transportation Inc. of Lower Macungie Township started with a single car back when students still attended class in small rural schoolhouses.

“My dad started the bus business in 1937 with a 1936 Hudson Terraplane,” says Ray Leibensperger. “That’s when they broke up the eight-room school houses into four rooms and transported students from one four-room school to the other four-room school, and that’s how they started. My dad drove in the morning, and my mother drove in the afternoon.”

When he returned home from the Korean War in 1952 with the rank of technical sergeant in charge of a 30-vehicle motor pool, Leibensperger was ready to join the family business. Trained as a mechanic at Fort Knox, he acquired three school buses from a transportation business in Macungie after the owner was killed in an automobile accident.

“So I bought his three buses, and with my dad and his three buses we re-continued with the East Penn School District for many years,” he says. “That’s how I started in the bus business.”

Leibensperger buses remained a fixture on Lehigh Valley roadways until 1987, when the company was purchased by Laidlaw Transit Inc. (It was eventually sold to First Student Inc.).

Leibensperger still keeps the family name alive with his Leibensperger Transportation Sales business in East Texas, which he started in 1971. The business, which he operates with his son, Russ, sells school buses and parts, wheelchair lifts, mini buses and provides repairs services.

When Leibensperger sold the bus company in 1987, he had 220 vehicles in his fleet and 210 employees, most of them drivers.

“Way back when I first started, you were looking for somebody who could handle a larger vehicle,” he recalls. “Then you trained them, but you didn’t have to go through the training program that you have today. Now you need criminal history checks, and you have to take a test. It takes a month to get a driver on the road.”

Drivers would always get close to the kids and families on their routes and hear about sports and extracurricular activities and what was going on in their lives at school and at home. It was part of the Leibensperger tradition.

“The drivers often got Christmas presents,” Leibensperger says. “You got to know people because you saw them every day, like your own family, really. Some drivers told me they’d drive buses even if they wouldn’t get paid.”

Bus safety has changed significantly since the time he entered the family business, although the boxy designs have remained fairly consistent. Stop sign arms, gates, to prevent children from walking too close to the bus, and rollover protection features are some of the key improvements he’s seen over the years.

“The safety of a school bus is almost better than an airplane,” Leibensperger says. “When you see a school bus crash, you don’t see that many injuries. They’re designed so that if you roll over you’re okay. It won’t collapse. The bus must withstand the weight of another school bus on top.”

Asked why school buses aren’t equipped with seat belts, he stresses that the seats are designed ergonomically, so they slide into the cushioned, energy-absorbing seatbacks in the event of a crash. Seat belts on a school bus, which are required in some states, can be hazardous because children can trip on them, he notes.

At one time, Leibensperger could tear apart a school bus and overhaul it as second nature. “Now it’s strictly computer; you plug in it and it tells you what’s wrong,” he says with a sigh. “They last longer, but I would have trouble working on them.”

Leibensperger, who turns 89 in August, clearly enjoys doing business, although he’s thinking about easing out of his sales business in a year or so. He reports for work every day, manages his rental properties, and looks forward to his daily golf outings at Brookside Country Club in Macungie.

Nevertheless, he’ll admit that he misses his old school bus business, as if he’d start it right back up if he had the chance. His school buses logged over a million miles and took up to 72 children to school and home again every day.

“If I had stayed in it, with the same districts, I’d now have three times as many buses,” he says. “That’s just how much these districts have grown since 1987. It’s unreal.”

But the cost of insurance became too high and he decided at the time to get out of the business.

“It was a great, great business,” Leibensperger says. “I wish I hadn’t sold it in 1987.”

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