Usually, here at The City Desk, we like to offer well-researched accounts of the city’s past and present, based largely upon old newspaper articles, city/university archival materials and personal accounts. We like to stay away from posting apocrypha whenever possible. Today’s topic, though, is a bit harder to nail down using such traditional means.
The idea behind it is simple, that of the public transit “Stop-Caller,” someone who would sit on the bus and call out the upcoming stops, so that passengers would have advance notice. Of course, on most transit systems these days, this is taken care of via an automated recording (when it works). Here, for a brief period (maybe) there were actually people assigned this job on specific transit routes. The thing is, no one can exactly agree as to when or why.
One version has the Stop-Callers riding along on some of the City-Suburban Transit Authority’s (CSTA) major bus routes after a particularly awful snowstorm in 1931. The reasoning being that the drivers needed to concentrate on the road ahead- this other person, usually someone from the CSTA office, whomever could be spared that also had a good sense of the route. This was said to continue every winter whenever a bad spot of weather hit, until the city hit a few years of mild winters, where the extra people were no longer needed.
There’s a slightly more contentious version of this story- that the Stop-Callers were always an official arm of the transit staff, even unionized. When management realized that it could probably save a bit of money by not having people paid to just sit on a bus all day and say street names, they cut the positions en masse. The drivers walked out in solidarity, there were massive protests and a few people were even injured in smallish riots at the old Bartsow Transit Facility down in South Arch. Of course, no one can remember exactly when this all happened.
Some would contend that those remembering the above events are confusing it with a promotion in the late 1950s which found local radio personality Don “Donny Boy” Wilkins hosting his popular “Noon-Time Express” program live from various downtown bus routes during holiday shopping seasons. Actual evidence of this story exists- You’ve all heard that recording played on WMIU-TV’s annual Classic Bloopers & Foul-Ups special they run as filler every December. The one where Wilkins talks to a little kid, who just busts out with a litany of swears (note: The uncensored version of this is available for listening in the Owen Local Broadcast Archives at the Watson University Media Library). But this isn’t the likely explanation, as it doesn’t include any sort of stop-calling whatsoever.
A call to the City-Suburban Transit Authority doesn’t do much to clarify the matter. A spokesperson said the organization has no record of these Stop-Callers, but “You know, my grandfather used to tell me a story about this one guy who’d always be on the 23 bus, shouting out the names of presidents…”
If you have any recollections that could help us out here, they would be greatly appreciated. Leave a comment, or email thecitydesk-at-gmail.com
– RJ White