Jackson Center, PA
On the road again
“The first thing I wanted to do was have a steering wheel in my hand,” said Chuck Oakes. “I lived to drive.”
And drive he did indeed: buses and tour coaches for countless hours and countless miles, sometimes with his wife Patti along as tour hostess.
Born in 1928, he grew up on a farm in Jackson Township. He attended elementary school in Jones School, a one-room school a quarter mile from his home, and Mercer High School.
There he met a girl named Patti Reagle.
“It was her red hair that drew my attention,” Chuck said.
But he appreciated a lot more than her appearance. According to Chuck, she was – and still is – “the greatest woman who ever lived.” Neither of them ever dated anyone else. They got married on March 26, 1948.
For the first few years, they lived on the family farm, then moved to an apartment in Jackson Center. In 1953 they built a house on the farm, where they still live.
After graduating from high school, Chuck worked at Cooper Bessemer for three months, then on the farm for about a year. Then he got a job at Westinghouse in Sharon
A few years later he took advantage of an opportunity to make some extra money. He started driving a Grove City Bus Lines shuttle between Stoneboro and Westinghouse before and after work.
“But I gave it up,” Chuck said, “because in the winter there was no heat in the buses, and it was bitter cold.”
That, however, was far from the end of Chuck’s bus driving. He had the opportunity to continue it in the late 1960s.
“A guy named Frank Troup was driving a shuttle bus from Stoneboro to Westinghouse for Anderson’s Coach and Travel. He was going on vacation for a week. He knew I had driven a truck a little bit for my uncle on the farm, and that I had driven bus for Grove City Bus Lines. He asked me to fill in for him.”
On Labor Day (Chuck can’t remember the exact year), he went up to Anderson’s Coach and Travel garage in Greenville for training – which lasted all of twenty minutes.
“Lyle showed me all around the engine compartment,” Chuck said. “He drove the bus a couple of miles up the road to Oakes and McClelland parking lot and stopped. He told me to drive it back to the garage. He showed me a few more things about the bus, and told me to take it home.”
Chuck drove the shuttle that week and another week in December.
The bus was a far cry from today’s comfortable motor coaches.
“I’ll never forget that coach. You could throw a cat out through it any place.”
There was no automatic transmission and no power steering.
“On those bitter cold mornings, you’d brace your foot on the floor and tug the wheel with both hands. When you got out on the road, you went way out wide because you couldn’t get it turned. But we never had a lot of trouble with those coaches breaking down.”
Frank Troup retired at the beginning of the next year, and Chuck took over the route. The bus left Stoneboro at 6:15 a.m., picked up passengers along Route 62 and in Hermitage, and took them back home after work.
“When I started driving there weren’t too many passengers, and not too many at the end. In the middle I had maybe 35 or 40.”
After two or three years, Chuck began driving other trips for Anderson’s.
“One Sunday morning Mrs. Anderson called me and said they needed a driver for a bingo trip that afternoon. It might have been up to one particular Catholic church in Erie, or maybe to Coitsville, Ohio. I drove it, and from there things blossomed out. They had bingo trips every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons.”
Chuck continued to drive the shuttle and trips for Anderson’s – and for his wife.
“We didn’t have a company name,” Patti said. “People just new us as Patti and Chuck Oakes. Someone might mention a place they’d like to go. I’d figure out the costs and make the arrangements. We’d lease a bus from Anderson’s. Chuck drove and I went along as tour hostess.”
Patti also served as a tour guide on Anderson tours.
Through the years Anderson’s kept upgrading with newer coaches. Still, there were difficulties.
“It was O.D. Anderson’s thinking that a clutch should never go out of a vehicle. When the older ones started going bad, instead of putting in a standard clutch, he talked the mechanics into putting in a stiffer one. It was so hard to push down that my left leg would actually get to bouncing when we were doing shuttle work. You hardly ever got your foot off the clutch because you were just moving from light to light.”
In the summer of 1984 the news got out that Westinghouse was closing down.
“We knew it in June or July,” Chuck said. “I met Lyle by chance one Saturday morning at the garage. He wanted to know what I was going to do when Westinghouse closed. I looked him in the eye and said, I’m going to work for you.”
When December came, Lyle invited Chuck and his wife Patty to the Anderson full-time employees Christmas Party. Chuck started driving full time in January, 1985.
“I drove wherever they sent me. There were lots of trips I really didn’t want to go on, but I don’t believe I ever turned one down.”
This conscientious commitment earned him a gold watch for being named an Employee of Distinction by the Pennsylvania Bus Association.
Chuck drove many long trips, including three trips to Denver: two ski trips and Pope John Paul II’s visit to a huge World Youth Day rally in April, 1993. According to some estimates, as many as 186,000 people were there. Anderson sent out more than a dozen coaches.
It was a team effort, with two drivers on each coach. One slept while the other drove. The coaches didn’t have a berth for a sleeping driver, so they removed the rear seats to provide a place for an improvised cot. Chuck’s co-driver, John Sinclair, brought a mattress from home.
“Some of the other drivers slept on boxes and whatever,” John said. “We probably had the most comfortable bed on that trip.”
Unfortunately, the two drivers didn’t get to use it on the way home.
“On Sunday, the last day of the rally, the weather was so hot that many people got sick. One of our passengers, a girl, became dehydrated,” John said. “We took her to a hospital, and they put her on an IV for six hours. We were ready to leave for the trip back before the doctors wanted to release her, but her mother didn’t want to pay $300 for an airline ticket to get her back home. We told the doctors she would have a comfortable bed to ride on, so they said she could come back with us if she kept drinking a lot of fluids.”
Although the long trips were interesting, Chuck preferred the shorter trips. Those gave him more time to be with his family and to serve in the Franklin Center Presbyterian Church. He taught Sunday School for more than twenty years, served as president of the Mercer County Sunday School Association for ten years, and was a member of the Board of Directors of the State Sunday School Association. He served as Clerk of Sessions (church secretary) for 37 years.
Patti taught Sunday School for 52 years.
Chuck and Patti have two sons, James Norman (born August 19, 1950) and Donald Charles (May 18, 1953). James, who was a diabetic from age 3, passed away in 1990, when he was just forty years old.
They also have four grandchildren: James’s sons Justin, Jeffrey, and Adam; and Donald’s daughter Kelsey.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007