When I ran across these shots of this Gräf und Stift Austrian Post bus from the 1950s at the Cohort (posted by T Minor), I had to stop and savor the flood of memories it triggered of riding in buses like this one as a little kid. And not just in the bus itself, but also in a trailer bus that one of them was towing. Now that was something different, and not something one sees in the US; but it’s still being done done by Post buses 60 years later.
These were one of three common types used by the Austrian Post to provide service to every little town and village on a daily basis, hauling the mail and passengers. The smallest one was the Steyr 380, which I’ve already covered here. They were powered by a four cylinder diesel with 85-90 hp.
The Steyr 380 stayed around the longest, because it could navigate some of the extremely narrow and hairpin curved roads in the Alps that the modern buses were simply to big for. I seem to remember reading about some of these being used well into the 80s on a few remote routes, if not into the early 90s. The ones used on the scenic routes had a giant sunroof and additional glass. This was in the pre-global warming era. Now it’s air conditioning.
The Gräf und Stift 120 OGL was one of two larger buses. The “120” in its name refers to its horsepower, from a very durable inline six diesel. This design dates back to 1937, and was built in large number during the war, to be used in Germany, as it was held in high regard.
Here’s a short video that gives you a good sense for how these noisy old-school diesels sounded like, as well as the distinctive ta-da, ta-da horn that was sounded on the many blind hairpin curves. One could hear their horns echoing off the valley walls when we used to spend summer vacations in a little Alpine village.
That was my signal to run past the back yard to watch the bus appear ’round its last curve as it made its daily trip into Ladis. That was also the cue for my father to take his daily stroll to the old hotel in the center of the village to buy the fresh newspapers that the post bus brought and was our only contact with the rest of the world.
There was also a “Glockner” version of the G&S 120 bus, to be used on the famous high Glockner mountain route. It had a shorter wheelbase, and the sunroof and extra glass. It also had an auxiliary transmission in addition to the standard five speed, to better handle the mountains. But the venerable 120 PS motor was simply overtaxed, so most of them were re-powered with a newer 145-150 hp G&S engine.
I’m not sure this romantic rendering is of any specific brand, but it gives a sense of the role these buses played. They were not only the vital link for mail and passengers in the mountains, but made the Alps accessible to tourists, who back then rarely arrived in their own cars.
Here’s a couple of vintage snapshots of the parking lot at the top of the Grossglockner road, with a view of the famous mountain. There’s a slew of post buses and a few cars. It would seem that the Post had something of a monopoly on this route, or maybe it was just by far the cheapest way to get there.
The third bus make was the Saurer, built by the Austrian branch of the legendary Swiss truck builder. These appear to be the same size as the G&S 120; in fact the bodies may well be essentially identical. The Saurer had a 130 hp diesel.
During the summer tourist season, trailers were hitched to the back of these buses, although only down in the valleys. I can’t find a picture of an Austrian one, but here’s a German MAN with a passenger trailer. I remember the first time I got to ride in one; that was a big deal. I was a major bus fanatic in my Austrian years (up to age seven).
Here’s how this rig looks from the back. Needless to say, these rigs probably never exceeded 35 or so mph.
And post buses in Austria and Switzerland are still hauling trailers like that today.
Here’s one just a bit outside Innsbruck, and probably right about where I rode in that post bus trailer 60 years ago.
But back then I was at the front window of the trailer, listening (and inhaling) the big Gräf und Stift diesel’s noisy exhaust, wondering if it was going to make it up that next rise in the road. It did, slowly; and with plenty of smoke.
If you want to see what it’s like to drive or ride in a modern Post bus, here’s video of one at work in Switzerland.