Editor's note: This is the 115th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington landmarks.
HUNTINGTON - On Oct. 1, 1971, drivers and mechanics at the Ohio Valley Bus Co. went on strike. Nobody expected a quick settlement, but few expected the strike to drag on for nine months and end only after creation of a new public agency which took over local bus service.
In 1937, what had been the Ohio Valley Electric Railway Co. junked its last streetcars and became Ohio Valley Bus. By the early 1950s, the company was operating a fleet of 80 buses on more than a dozen routes in the Huntington area, including adjacent parts of Kentucky and Ohio.
But Ohio Valley was already beginning to encounter the financial problems that ultimately would spell its demise. In a 1954 newspaper interview, Leonard Samworth, the company's president and general manager, complained that as more and more people bought automobiles the company's ridership had declined more than 50 percent over the past five years.
Steep ridership declines continued throughout the 1950s and '60s, and the company found it tougher and tougher to operate at a profit.
The company's employees, too, were having a tough time, and so when their union contract expired in 1971, the drivers and mechanics went on strike, demanding improved wages and benefits. As the marathon strike dragged on, it became clear this wasn't just another work stoppage but truly a day of reckoning for local transit - one that heralded a change every bit as fundamental as that when the streetcars of yesteryear gave way to buses.
It was a change by no means unique to Huntington. The 1960s and '70s saw privately owned bus companies all across the nation come to the end of the line. Squeezed by increasing costs and declining ridership, the companies could no longer turn a profit for their owners. With private bus companies across the nation calling it quits, many communities turned to public - i.e., tax-supported - transit systems. Thus it was that a group of concerned citizens hatched the idea for what in 1972 would become the Tri-State Transit Authority (TTA).