Bus Stop Classic: 1946 Kaiser Articulated Bus – The First Fully Articulated Highway Bus

(first posted 2/13/2012. Revised 12/27/2019)   This bus is a milestone, the first genuine articulated high-speed highway bus. And it was highly advanced in other ways too, with a magnesium body, supercharged diesel, air conditioning, and more. This is a truly groundbreaking design, but like all of the following articulated highway coaches, it was not deemed successful. Articulated buses have become practically ubiquitous as transit buses, but they have repeatedly struck out on the highway.

Here’s Henry J. Kaiser at the wheel, and enjoying that expansive view through the unusually large windshield for the times. Henry was a truly remarkable character, a classic American success story, having left home at thirteen with five borrowed dollars in his pocket to seek his fortune. Times have changed indeed.

Here’s a video of Henry greeting passengers, and of the bus in action, including passing on a good old three-lane highway, something that was eliminated some time ago. And it featured 1+2 seating, and refreshments were served, so it was clearly intended for a premium service.

Ray at classicbusdepot.com gives this thumbnail sketch on the Kaiser bus:

In 1946 Kaiser built a 60-foot articulated over-the-road coach was constructed as a speculation and operated between Los Angeles and San Francisco by Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., a member of the National Trailways association. The body was constructed of a magnesium-aluminum alloy. A 6-cylinder Cummins diesel engine was mounted beneath the floor of the forward section, with a separate air-conditioning unit under the floor in the rear. There was space for 378 cubic feet of baggage in under¬floor compartments. Suspension was the so-called “Torsilastic” system of rubber bonded between the walls of concentric tubes, a design pioneered by Twin Coach and later used by Flxible and Bus & Car (on the Silver Eagle). The pilot was never duplicated; it operated in regular service until 1951.

The Kaiser Bus was a contract job between Kaiser Engineers and the Santa Fe Railroad.  Like other western train lines, Santa Fe used buses to connect various areas rather than run regular train service between the cities.  Buses were cheaper to operate on the low volume lines.  They went into service during 1946-47.

As far as is known, all the buses were scrapped during the 1950’s.  Their heavy % content of magnesium helped enhance their salvage value.

The bus ended its life in Trailways livery, operated until 1951 and then scrapped for its alloys.

Note: there were articulated transit buses going back to this 1937 Alfa Romeo 110 AM-Macchi transit bus (and even earlier), but these were mostly only articulated in the horizontal plane, but were rigid otherwise. Link to post below:

Related reading:

Automotive History: The First Articulated Transit Buses – 1938 Twin Coach and 1937 Alfa Romeo 110 AM-Macch

1958 Kassbohrer Setra Continental Trailways Super Golden Eagle Articulated Bus  PN

Prevost H5-60: The Articulated Highway Coach, Take Three  JB

GMC PD-4501 Greyhound Scenicruiser: Everyone’s Favorite Bus Except Greyhound and GM  PN