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A Happy P&W Bus Birthday

DONATION SPARKS MEMORIES — Stacie Fouty Upright, right, presented a check to Savannah Schroll Guz, executive director of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center in Weirton, on behalf of her father Roy Fouty’s 88th birthday Sunday. The donation to the P&W Bus No. 99 fund is because her father was a former driver for the P&W Bus line from 1955 to 1964. The donation presentation at the museum presented an opportunity for Fouty to see the museum’s P&W Bus line memorabilia and to reminisce. -- Janice Kiaski

WEIRTON — When Stacie Fouty Upright was contemplating what to get her dad, Roy Fouty, for his 88th birthday May 22, she skipped stores and shopping.

Instead, she went to the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center at 3149 Main St., Weirton, last month and made a donation to the P&W Bus No. 99 fund in honor of the former bus driver for the P&W Bus Line.

And that early birthday present gesture in April was an opportunity for Fouty to reminisce about his bus-driving days and check out the P&W Bus display on the museum’s second floor in the company of his daughter; his wife, Helen; and Savannah Schroll Guz, the museum’s executive director, who offered an update on the project as well.

Bus No. 99 was part of the fleet of the P&W Bus Co. — the Pittsburgh and Weirton Bus Co. — that operated from 1931 until it ceased operations in 1978. Its return to Weirton in the late summer of 2019 after years of standing exposed in a salvage yard near Akron was due to the efforts of Dennis Jones, the museum director at the time who had it towed to town.

The game plan since then has been to raise funds to create a permanent home and restoration space for the bus across the street from the museum. It’s parked there and under a tarp, awaiting the next chapter in her story to unfold.

Upright said she learned about the Bus 99 project through Nick Latousakis, a friend and restoration supporter, and through the museum’s Facebook page.

“I thought, wow, my dad actually drove that bus,” Upright commented. “Since they’re restoring it, and he was one of the drivers, I thought it (a donation) would be perfect (as a birthday gift).”

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 serving as president.

People rode the bus line everywhere — to work, to school, to shop as part of what was a popular and affordable mode of transportation — one that gave Fouty one of many jobs he held before retirement.

A native of Earnshaw, W.Va., in Wetzel County, Fouty first came to Weirton to work two summers during his youth.

“I heard Weirton Steel was hiring guys 16 years old for summer, so I came up here as a teenager,” he said. “I worked two different years in the mill during the summer, and I’d go back home. I had to work all my life,” said Fouty, the youngest of five. “I worked in the mason department and then I worked in the mill when they built the 14 furnace, the big one,” he said. “And I worked in the coke plant.”

After graduating from high school, Fouty returned to Weirton, hopeful he could get a job at Weirton Steel, but that didn’t pan out.

“They weren’t hiring in 1955, so that’s when I went up to the bus company and got a job driving a bus,” he said.

He reported for duty to the bus garage on Pennsylvania Avenue and had no training to undergo before taking the job behind the wheel, according to Fouty, who served as a bus driver from 1955 to 1964.

“The bus line had 55 or 60 buses,” he said, noting he didn’t work the same turn necessarily.

“Runs came up Marland Heights and Weir Crest or Weirton-Steubenville or Steubenville to Pittsburgh, Steubenville to Wellsburg and to Colliers, and every day we went to Chester and Newell on the old road,” he said.

“Whoever was oldest got the best run,” he added.

“If I had to work a Steubenville run, that was 5:15 a.m. to 3 o’clock every day,” Fouty explained. “I was on charters a lot and would go to state basketball tournaments. I took St. Anthony down to Huntington nine years out of nine because they didn’t want anyone else to take them,” he said.

“In 1957 when they opened up the Millsop Center I brought the Steelers to Weir High, and they played a pre-season game here, and I brought them up here on the bus,” he said.

One perk of driving a bus was meeting people, including his wife-to-be, but not because she was a passenger.

“She worked at Weirton Savings and Loan. I was on the run from the North End of Steubenville and back, we had bus runs every 15 minutes to Steubenville, and every time I went by I tooted at her,” he said. “This one day — I always went in there and got my checks cashed — I went in and I said, ‘Honey, you got a flat tire,’ and she was worried to death. She had to go some place after she quit work, so I said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I took it down to Firestone and got it fixed,” Fouty finished the story, then pointed out that the two have been married for 59 years.

In addition to Upright, the couple have another daughter, Alyson Degenhardt of Weirton. Fouty’s son, Roy Jr., lives in South Carolina. Their three grandchildren are Melina and Grant Upright and Alayna Degenhardt.

“Everybody was riding the buses in those days,” Fouty noted. “We never had an empty bus – jam packed,” he said, noting a bus typically held 35 passengers, he estimated, but typically some stood when seats were full. The passenger total could then be as high as 45-50. It was affordable transportation. “You got five tokens for 25 cents, I think,” he said.

On Saturdays, passengers went to Steubenville to attend Mass at St. Peter’s “because it was an early Mass. People wanted to go to church and then go out. We had to put double buses on at night to take them to church and bring them back from there.”

Fouty said he enjoyed being a bus driver. “People treated you nice,” he said.

It could be tough driving in the winter, though, he added, of some white-knuckle moments descending Marland Heights hill when road conditions were snowy or icy.

No matter the weather, “Colliers was the worst route — going through that little tunnel. You had to hit her straight or you’d be rubbing sides. It was narrow,” he said of what was called “the rat hole.”

The buses were well maintained, according to Fouty. “They took care of them every night. They washed those buses every night and sterilized them and they were in the right position, the 5 o’clock bus goes out, the 5:15 bus out, the 5:30 goes out, they were all lined up ready to go,” he said.

“We had the best bus service,” Fouty said.

Seeing the museum display brought back a lot of memories, Fouty agreed. “You see stuff like this and what it is today compared to before, it makes you sad,” he said.

Fouty drove a bus when Weirton’s downtown was thriving, he said, and when people didn’t necessarily own cars, relying on public transportation instead to get around.

His wife recalled how Main Street would be “packed with people,” especially on a football night when patrons were headed to Frank’ s Duquesne Bar. “That was the best place to go — they had the best sandwiches and it was jam packed,” she said.

A Korean War veteran, Fouty said it’s “nice” to know P&W Bus No. 99, one of the fleet line that he drove, will be restored and that a birthday gift on his behalf will aid in that effort.

While Fouty worked as a bus driver, he and his wife also owned and operated the predecessor to the Weirton Bus Co. — the P&W Bus Terminal. His work history also included being a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy; joining the National Maritime Union and working on boats embarking from Pittsburgh; remodeling homes; and ultimately being hired at Weir Cove Moving and Storage where he worked close to 29 years before retiring.

In August, the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center hosted a Get on the Bus with Us! banquet and celebration at the Serbian Picnic Grounds to raise funds to create a permanent home and restoration space for P&W Bus No. 99.

“Even though it looks like activity has been stagnant, a great deal of work on this project is actually going on behind the scenes,” Schroll Guz wrote as a recent update on the Facebook page.

“Since last year, we’ve raised nearly $30,000, which is absolutely phenomenal, and we cannot adequately express our gratitude to all those who are supporting this tremendous project. We are working to make your individual investments go as far as possible and have the greatest impact.

“The project is, as you can probably imagine, complex — first, we have been gathering quotes, many of which — with the rising cost of building materials — have been significantly higher than anticipated, and for this reason, we’ve had to regroup a bit and seek other bid sources. Additionally, we are faced with other costs, including the unexpected but necessary demolition of the building adjacent to the proposed bus building land parcel, a building donated to the museum in 2017,” she continued, referring to what was the American Red Cross building. “The demolition, while unforeseen and costly, may be a blessing in disguise, as it will allow us some additional space once demolished,” Schroll Guz added.

“The wheels are definitely moving forward, and we are hard at work behind the scenes on this project. This is part of the reason we’ve temporarily altered our public hours, so that we can focus on our many ongoing restoration projects, principal of which is getting No. 99 out of the elements and into that promised forever-home. This is part of our official mission to preserve our history and culture for future generations, but it’s also part of that cornerstone of downtown revitalization we’ve been talking about.”

Donations toward the project are appreciated, according to Schroll Guz.

People can donate through PayPal or Square (https://weirtonareamuseum.com/support/.)

Another option is to send checks to Weirton Area Museum & Cultural Center at P.O. Box 517, Weirton, WV 26062. “We will send you a donation receipt, as we are a 501(c)(3) organization, and your donation is tax-deductible,” she noted.

“We’ll be celebrating all of our sponsors and donors to date later this year,” she added.

Upright’s donation is unique in that it is connected to an actual P&W bus driver, according to Schroll Guz, who said plans are to continue initial rounds of interviews with anyone who had served as a driver to be part of a documentary.

“In November 2020 we did our first round of interviews but stopped because of a spike in COVID and some of the drivers are older,” she said, adding, “It’s time to begin again.”

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