HIBBING, Minn. (WCCO) — When you take a walk with Gene Nicolelli, you’d think he was a retired bus driver — not a former grocer.
The Hibbing native is obsessed with a local story that left a national mark.
As he passes an antique Hupmobile on display, Nicolelli points out, “the first one has got a seven-passenger seats. They even got a jumper seat.”
The year was May of 1914 and the folks of Hibbing were stranded without transportation. That’s because the discovery of a rich vein of iron ore underneath the city forced the town to relocate.
For a mere 15-cent fare, workers would climb aboard the Hupmobile, for the jaunt between old Hibbing and the town of Alice.
“Very few women could ride in them. Because they had hoop skirts, and look how small the door is. They couldn’t get in,” Nicolelli said, with a laugh.
That’s when the eventual Greyhound Bus company was born. Eventually, Greyhound buses grew in size and capacity as the company expanded routes across the iron range.
“See the bigger towns, that’s where the railroad went. Then they’d get off the railroad and get onto the bus to the smaller towns,” Nicolelli said.
What’s clear is that no bus company transported more people to more places in North America than Greyhound. And because the company started business in Hibbing, it’s a story that deserves to be told.
And Nicolelli made sure it would. More than 30 years ago, Nicolelli hatched the idea. He’d gather an assortment of artifacts and Greyhound history and build the museum. From a case of model buses revolving around a former jewelry display to the actual wool uniforms the drivers wore.
“If you weren’t dressed as they wanted you to dress they’d give you demerits — dock your pay,” Nicolelli said.
To stretch a buck and the museum’s budget Nicolelli created his own artwork and built the display cases. But the heart of the museum is as authentic as it could get.
“I make the statement that what railroads did on steel, Greyhound did on rubber,” he said.
Nineteen actual Greyhound buses from decades past are on display in buildings out back. They help capture the evolution of these silver coaches from 1927 to the modern era of the iconic Scenic Cruiser.
Museum mechanic, Rick Horman, says it gives visitors a greater sense of the past.
“It’s a lot of memories from when they used to ride the Greyhound,” he said.
Nicolelli pours through books and the Internet, carefully choosing the silver hounds that will someday rest in the museum. He gets offers of donated buses from around the country.
One man’s desire to keep history alive — on the walls and in the garages.
Pointing to a photograph in a Greyhound book, Nicolelli adds, “This one here is a 1941 — ours is a 1938.”
Laughs mechanic Horman, “As they say on the good old slogan, leave the driving to us, take Greyhound. Maybe it’s the other way around.”
Over nearly a century of service, memories are bound to get a little clouded.
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