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FEATURE ARTICLE from Hemmings Motor News
1976 Crown Firecoach
Hemmings Motor News – MAY 1, 2006 – BY JIM DONNELLY
When you think about calamities in California, depending on your age, you might think of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s declaration of a budget crisis, the Hells Angels rampages of the 1960s, or perhaps ABC Sports’ Al Michaels yelling, “We’re having an earthquake!” from the broadcast booth at Candlestick Park during the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. Most people savvy about emergency management in California, however, would probably first think fondly of the unique custom fire apparatus built by Crown Coach Corp. of Los Angeles, which, due in no small part to its exposure through television and movies, remained America’s most immediately recognizable brand of fire truck for decades.
Crown was founded as a carriage- and wagon-maker in 1904, but began building buses by 1915. The largest segment of Crown’s market over the next several decades was school buses, with engines either amidships or mounted in the rear. Since the school bus business tended to be seasonal, Crown executives decided to adapt the midship-engine chassis for firefighting use, and call the resulting vehicle the Firecoach. The very first Crown Firecoach triple-combination pumper, with an open cab, was delivered to West Covina, California, and followed a technical formula that would be repeated hundreds of times henceforth: power from a gasoline-fueled, 935-cu.in. Hall-Scott straight-six engine, manual transmission, and a 1,250-gpm centrifugal pump.
Most sales were to departments in Southern California, and for years, Crown apparatus made up almost the entire fleet of the Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County fire departments, the region’s largest. An open-cab Firecoach served as the original Engine 51 on the 1970s TV hit, Emergency! But other Crowns found homes in locales as distant as New Jersey, Hawaii and even Kuwait. All could be spotted at once by their rounded, forward-leaning cab fronts and vertically stacked headlamps and fog-lamps.
The only major running changes made to Firecoaches during their history was the widespread adoption of diesel engines and automatic transmissions, and the introduction of a widebody cab in 1977. By that time, Crown’s school bus sales had trailed off considerably and the Firecoach market was no longer large enough to be profitable. Crown attempted an alliance with FMC Corp., which owns Van Pelt, another California fire-truck manufacturer, but the effort failed and the final Crown-Van Pelt pumper was delivered to Santa Monica, California, in 1985.
Today, the distinctive “devil wind fire wagons” still live in the hands of the Crown Firecoach Enthusiasts (www.crownfirecoachenthusiasts.org), a chapter of the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America (SPAAMFA) whose members own some 80 Crowns. One of the more unusual rigs is this 1976 Firecoach tractor-drawn aerial owned by Mike McDonald. Tillered aerials were seldom produced by Crown, which generally sold either midship- or rear-mounted ladders on three-axle chassis, or Snorkel and Squirt booms in a variety of lengths. McDonald’s rig is a rare bicoastal hybrid: Its 100-foot aerial ladder was produced by Maxim Motors of Middleboro, Massachusetts, another regional builder that folded around the same time as Crown. This ladder truck originally served San Diego.
This article originally appeared in the MAY 1, 2006 issue of Hemmings Motor News.
Los Angeles Times
School Bus Maker Crown Coach to Close Next March
October 12, 1990|GEORGE WHITE, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Crown Coach Inc., a financially troubled Chino manufacturer of school buses, said Thursday that it plans to cease operations March 31.
Crown has been unprofitable the past three years, and the company’s owners–Chicago-based GE Capital Railcar Services–have had it on the block in recent months. Unable to find a buyer, GE Capital Railcar has decided to shut down the manufacturing operation and sell Crown’s assets, said Crown President Bruce Freeman. It has about 270 employees.
Crown has supplied school buses to the Los Angeles Unified School District and to other Southern California school districts. However, the company has been losing business to firms that make smaller and cheaper buses, Freeman said. Crown’s buses have either 78 or 90 seats. Some of its competitors build buses with 60 to 70 seats.
“The fact is that the current and future market for our products is shrinking, and the company is no longer a competitive member of this industry,” Freeman said.
Collector’s Weekly, April 1, 2010
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Crown Coach Corporation (1932-1991)
Posted by crownsupercoachman Thursday, January 11, 2007 – 09:33, Tehachapi News
Crown Coach Corporation was California’s specialty builder of school buses and other specialty coaches. Crown called their masterpiece the Crown Supercoach.
Crown completed their first bus in 1932. An all metal body with safety glass windows. It was rectangular in appearance. The cost of such units was very high during the Depression time, so in 1935 Crown brought out some school bus bodies on a commercial truck chassis These were called Metropolitans or Metros for short. It had simple bodies on a commercial truck chassis.
The same year Crown put out a larger and stronger model it was manufactured more than the 1932 model, now known as the Crown Supercoach, it had air brakes and carried 76 elementary students and 67 high school students.
Crown made the first underfloor engine school bus in 1937. The seating capacity increased to 79 students it was the largest school bus of that time. The engine was moved to the rear in 1940, with altered body work allowing two emergency exits and more headroom. In 1947, the school buses changed back to underfloor engines. In 1950 Crown changed some body features to a more rounded shape which adds extra strength, the resulting appearance was almost unchanged except for window sizes for the next forty years.
All Crown vehicles had gasoline engines until 1954 when the engines changed to diesel engines.
After the 1950 structural changes, Crown put out a line of sightseeing coaches using horizontal sliding side windows, some had a raised floor which allowed more room for baggage underneath. They were availible in 32′, 35′ and 40′ lengths. Some of them had dual rear axles and carried 33 to 57 passengers. The majority of them had underfloor engines but the rear engine was availible in the longest units. Crown’s last intercity coach was filed in 1980.
Crown then started making fire engines. Crown called these fire engines Firecoaches. Crown’s first Firecoach was a pumper built in 1949 which was used as a demonstrator until production was begun by a newly formed division in 1951. Thanks to their durability and huge brakes, these Firecoaches were popular in the mountain areas. Custom equipment was availible later, including ladder trucks, telescoping arials, and combination ladder- water towers. Crown Firecoach production ended in 1981, except for cab and chassis units for another buyer. It appears that about 880 Crown Firecoaches were built.
In the early 50′s Crown put out a line of Security Jail Coaches. These coaches had bars on the windows. These bars were made of 90,000 pounds per square inch (psi) ultra high tensile steel. These prison coaches came in 35′ or 40′ lengths. Approximately fifty of these were made.many are still in use, even at 25 to 30 years of age!
The understructure of a Crown Supercoach is an all metal body formed of 90,000 psi ultra high tensile steel, which creates a superstructure of pure muscle from one end to the other. There is an extra strong roof structure consisting twenty two roll bars on a 36 foot bus and twenty six roll bars on a 40 foot bus. Each roll bar is made of twelve gauge steel. A roll bar is placed every seventeen and a half inches.
The steel used by Crown is twice as durable as the 45,000 psi steel used by manufacturerstoday.
The outer shell of a Crown Supercoach is made out of the highest quality heat treated aluminum, every where you look in a Crown Supercoach you will see heavy duty button rivets holding the shell on to the understructure
Crown’s vehicles were guaranteed to last at least twenty years or reach at least 100,000 miles
Crown’s vehicles had the largest (10 inch) brakes in the coach industry. They probably still do!
In 1990 districts would rather buy the less durable, smaller, lighter, and cheaply made units produced elsewhere. General Electric thought the operation was unprofitable, after unsuccessfully seeking a buyer during 1990 Crown had to close their doors on March 31st 1991, on May 21st, 1991, all of their machinery was sold at auction.
The Tehachapi Unified School District’s Transportation Department currently has seven Crown Supercoaches. (five that are running) Bus #15 is a retired bus from 1973 which has over 400,000 miles on it. It has quadrupled Crown’s guarantee of 100,000 miles. Bus #18 is a bus from1985 and is going to be retired, it has over 220,000 miles on it it has doubled Crown’s guarantee. and five are still in daily use (6, 7, 8, 9, and 22) TUSD has had many Crown Supercoaches in the past (10 speeds, 5 speeds and automatics)
Crown Supercoaches are the the Safest Coaches Ever Built!!!