Fitzpatrick Finds Joy / Opportunity to Help Others with Restored Buses

A small part of the Commonwealth Bus and Trolley Fleet.
A small part of the Commonwealth Bus and Trolley Fleet.
A small part of the Commonwealth Bus and Trolley Fleet.

What kind of man runs a bus museum? Wait, you didn’t know Roanoke had a bus museum? Yes, we do!

Created not just to store old buses’ and trolleys, the “Buseum,” under the care of Beverly Fitzpatrick – mostly known as the executive director of Roanoke’s Transportation Museum – exists to serve the surface transport needs of non profits and to promote the history and efficiency of public transit.

So what kind of man? Example: at a recent regional meeting of the English Speaking Union at the Sheraton, about fifty out of town visitors needed to get to a dinner at the Patrick Henry. Since it was prom night, the group’s members had been urged to leave their cars behind. Bev himself pulled up to the Sheraton entrance in a shiny old green bus, posted a sign in its front window and turned off the engine to wait for the start time.

A few minutes later, he pressed the starter only to find the bus did not want to cooperate. Fitzpatrick pulled out a wrench and started working on the starter gear where he thought the problem lay. Simultaneously, despite grease-blackened hands, he made hurried calls for a substitute bus. After only a short delay, he drove the group downtown in a different bus in time for dinner as well as back to their hotel afterwards.

The Buseum came about when the Transportation Museum was looking for a place to take a few old buses they wanted no longer wanted. Fitzpatrick saw an opportunity and pulled together a group including Valley Metro and Abbott to form a separate preservation group known as “The Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum” that now owns 32 buses.

“So far as I know, we are the only museum that uses restored buses to transport passengers.” He also maintains that the wiring to support a trolley system in Roanoke could easily be restarted, but for the moment city council doesn’t agree.

Fitzpatrick started serving on the board of the transportation museum when he was only 15. His love of Roanoke has always been reflected in his life. He served several terms on Roanoke City Council, worked on the New Century Council, and also helped start the SMART bus line.

Jobs in banking, and development for Blue Ridge Public Television and Ferrum College paid the bills until he took over the transportation museum in 2006.  He now uses his creativity to help fund the museum.

Fitzpatrick is always looking to find more old buses so that he can get them restored and repainted at the Virginia Truck Center. He’s used to thinking outside the box. A recent inspiration had him toying with the notion of using a publicity hoax of someone trying to steal the famous 611 steam engine. He never pulled the cord on it but the idea does show his willingness to get creative.

Interested in driving an old bus? You may need to have driven a truck professionally, as Fizpatrick did in 1972. But you won’t get paid for driving for the Buseum – even when one of vehicles appears in a movie. Drivers all have to have spotless driving records and maintain their truck and bus licenses. “We ask for a donation when we supply buses to a nonprofit,” Fitzpatrick notes. They carry about 5 to 6 thousand passengers a year. That means they have to take out liability insurance for trips, a big expense in addition, of course, to fuel.

One or two of the buses now appear in exhibits at the Transportation Museum –  the rest reside in a “bus barn” awaiting repair or new paint or a job. A restored Greyhound “Scenicruiser” will soon join a Fairfax bus and few other classic city relics.

So when you see an old bus around town, it may well be Bev driving it. Wave to him and take a moment to appreciate his contribution to this railroad (and bus!) town.

– Priscilla Richardson