Arrow Stage Lines' refurbishment proves viable

Arrow Stages Lines’ refurbished 2001Van Hool passes muster with Globus Tours

By David Hubbard

Arrow Stage Lines went “all-in” on a total refurbishment, wanting this old T2145 to come back as close as possible to a new motorcoach.

As is the history of many of today’s major motorcoach carriers, Arrow Stage Lines, Omaha, NE, also has grown from meager but ambitious beginnings. Carl Busskohl founded his company in 1928 to work a mail contract between Norfolk, NE and Sioux City, IA. When people started asking him if they could catch a lift in his seven-passenger Buick sedan, he obliged by charging them 75 cents each way.

(Left) The refurbished driver’s area has a new look and feel. (Right) The refurbed Van Hool features new seats, new wood flooring and modern entertainment amenities.

Then came the Sioux City Journal newspaper delivery to Norfolk as well as the Old Home Bread contract, and steady business led him to buy a new 25-passenger Superior bus. He took out the 10 back seats to make room for the bread, mail and newspapers and charged passengers for the remaining 15 seats.

With demand increasing for passenger service during World War II, Busskohl began purchasing Flexible 25- and 29-passenger coaches with Chevrolet and Buick engines. Eighty years later and still family owned, Arrow Stage Lines has grown to become one of the largest motorcoach companies in the United States with operations in Nebraska, Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nevada and more than 170 motorcoaches in service.

A top client of Arrow Stage Lines, Globus Tours, is also an 80-year-old, family-run company that began with one young man purchasing a rowboat to transport visitors across Switzerland’s Lake Lugano. Today, the Globus family of brands is a global company still family-owned and steeped in Antonio Mantegazza’s original vision to enlighten travelers to destinations he knew well.

Mantegazza would eventually move onto land and go on to purchase his first motorcoach and create Globus Viaggi, a full-fledged travel business that has evolved from 33 coaches and several more companies into the worldwide Globus family of brands marketed and operated by a network of more than 32 offices around the world, carrying more than 500,000 passengers a year.

The total refurb included compliance to 2010 EPA emissions standards.

Another commonality between the two companies is their preference for new coaches. Globus requires five years or newer for its contract carriers.

In a recent fleet expansion Arrow Stage Lines purchased a mix of 11 new coaches that include Van Hool, Prevost, MCI  and Setra, as well as one 2001 T2145 Van Hool which ABC Companies refurbished.

Given its customary buying practices, what possessed the company to go the refurbishment route?

“This coach was still in pretty good shape,” says Luke Busskohl, director of marketing, Arrow Stage Lines, Omaha, NE. “With the opportunity to work with ABC Companies we decided to take a little bit of a risk. Until now we had never done anything this extensive to update our vehicles; only the usual renovations such as new engines, transmissions, cosmetic touches and newer entertainment amenities.”

Busskohl says in this case the company went “all-in” on a total refurbishment, wanting this old T2145 to come back as close as possible to a new motorcoach stem to stern, which included bringing it up to 2010 EPA emissions standards.
Led by operations manager Greg Dotseth, ABC Companies completed the Arrow Stage Lines refurbishment at its Minnesota service facility in Faribault by service technicians trained to handle the full spectrum of coach service and repair needs from a simple wheel alignment to a complex, high-end coach refurbishment.

When it arrived back from ABC Companies Busskohl showed the refurbished coach to his Globus associates who combed over it carefully and concluded that it indeed passed all its standards, adding that they could certainly use it on some of their tours.

“That was the report we wanted to hear,” he says. “But what is so appealing to us is knowing we can refurbish an older coach with new engine, transmission, floors, seating,  front cap and windshield end, new windows sides and back all for less than half the cost of a new motorcoach.”

Busskohl says viewing the 2012 Van Hool beside the refurbished 2001, knowledgeable coach operators with a critical eye will notice a few differences that are not so apparent to the average charter customer.

“The most noticeable stylistic differences are the windows,” he says. “The windows on older coaches from 1998 to 2001 were more squared out. The glass on the newer models lends a more a streamlined look. But still, through the refurbishment process, ABC Companies has really cleaned up the lines on the older models.”

For the sake of comparison, though the refurbed Van Hool has many of the same amenities, Busskohl notes the 2012 coaches equipped with leather seats are certainly more luxurious, adding that he did have the option to go with leather on the refurb.

“For all intents and purposes it looks very much like a new coach and operates as well in many respects, and our customers recognize it as a new coach,” says Busskohl.  “Nonetheless, we are going to seriously test this vehicle, give it a couple of years to see how it holds up and how it performs against the new 2012 coaches we purchased.”

What would swing Arrow Stage Lines to continue to buy new model coaches instead of launching into refurbishment full scale?

“Refurbishment is a fabulous option and a logical decision,” says Busskohl. “We can buy four coach refurbishments for the price of one new motorcoach and still deliver the same level of service. I think it might even be the wave of the future. But right now we just don’t know what is going to happen. There are still some unknowns.”

Busskohl says the company will most likely do one more refurb in the very near future. From there it will closely monitor the two coaches on the road and with its customers.

“If they play out I don’t see why we wouldn’t do more,” he says. “For the price, that would be awesome.” BR