John T. Cyr & Sons, Inc./Cyr Bus Line is a full service transportation company and tour operator. A family owned and operated company, John T. Cyr & Sons, Inc./Cyr Bus Line features a fleet of modern school buses and deluxe motorcoaches, available for both charter and lease.
One hundred years ago, John T. Cyr and and his oldest son, Joseph, left their jobs to form John T. Cyr & Sons, a freight-livery business in Old Town. The exact date they started the business has been lost to history, but to do it, they needed a trucking license, which was approved by the Old Town City Council on May 21, 1912.
John, 53, had been employed at the Jordan Lumber Company in Old Town, while Joseph, who was 24 or 25, worked at the Old Town Woolen Mill. John had four other sons. Albert, 19, was a full partner in the venture but remained at his job as a weaver in the woolen mill until he joined the company sometime in the 1920s. The two youngest sons, Arthur and Harvey, were 8 and 4 when John T. Cyr & Sons was founded but started working for the company when they grew up. Only Clinton, 21, was never part of the family business. He was a weaver at the woolen mill and later joined the Old Town Fire Department.
John T. Cyr & Sons remained a family business throughout its 100-year history. John was the proprietor until his retirement in 1930 at the age of 70. He died in May 1934. Joseph, who had been the nucleus of the company during its first two decades, took the reins after his father retired, but died suddenly from “shock” at the age of 46 in August 1934. During the remainder of the 1930s and the 1940s, the company was run by three youngest sons, Albert, Arthur, and Harvey. Harvey assumed sole ownership of the company in 1951, and when he died in 1967, his son Joe took over as president. Joe remains as president and owner of JohnT. Cyr & Sons to this day, although he has stepped back from some of the day-to-day management responsibilities.
* * *
John and Joseph started out with two horses, hauling lumber from the woods to Old Town Canoe Company and canoes from the factory to the railroad depot. The company’s original location was on South Water Street behind Jordan Lumber Company in a building that had been owned by William Bean and operated as a livery for many years. However, early records indicate that the Cyrs maintained a stable at the family homestead at 15 Bosworth Street on French Island in Old Town. The Old Town Enterprise reported in 1913 that “John T. Cyr & Sons, who keep a livery stable on Treat & Webster Island [French Island] lost a valuable horse, which they recently purchased of Bar Harbor parties. It dropped dead in the stable.” Despite this minor setback, the company soon grew into a 32-horse livery stable, complete with a horse-drawn hearse. In addition to hauling lumber and canoes, the Cyrs provided taxi services, did some mail runs, and rented horses and wagons.
Several participants in the French Island oral history project, Nos Histoires de l’Ile, recalled that family members had rented horses and buggies from the Cyrs.
“My mother lived up on the farm on Pushaw, and my father lived on the Island …I know daddy used to rent a horse and buggy from Cyr’s—Cyr’s on the Island here. And he ‘d go see my mother in the wintertime.” —Pauline Baillargeon
“In the winter time we used to go on sleigh rides at the University of Maine …we’d hire a and buggy from Mr. Cyr on the Island …And we’d go skiing.” —Yvonne Currier
The company had several different locations in downtown Old Town during its first decade. According to an ad in the 1918 Old Town High School yearbook, the Sachem, the company’s address was 125 Main St., in Old Town, “near the watering trough” (near the present city bandstand and waterfront parking area), and its services included livery, feed, and sale stable. Later, the operation was consolidated on French Island, and from 1926 to 1980, the address was always listed as 15 Bosworth Street.
The 1920s saw several developments that helped shape the long-term future of John T. Cyr & Sons, including the shift to motorized transport and the addition of student transportation to the company’s list of services. The company purchased its first motor vehicle in 1922 and added at least two more vehicles later in the decade. Cyr started transporting students for the City of Old Town during the period, and in 1930 and 1931, the company had a contract to bus students from Stillwater and Gilman Falls into Old Town for $20 a week. Because the number of students from Gilman Falls was increasing and could no longer be transported comfortably in a passenger car, the city asked Cyr “to secure a combination truck and bus body large enough to meet the need.”
John and Joseph remained the backbone of the company through the ‘Twenties, but Albert decided to leave the woolen mill and work full-time for the family business. In addition, the two youngest sons, Albert and Harvey, had reached the age where they could help out, as well. In 1926, Harvey, now 18, was part of Cyr’s taxi service, driving a “public car.”
The 1930s were a tumultuous decade for John T. Cyr & Sons. The patriarch, John, had retired by 1930, relinquishing the reins to Joseph, but both men died in 1934.
After several years of declining health John died at the age of 74 in May 1934. He was recognized as a longtime resident of Old Town who had run a livery stable in town for many years, and his obituary in the Old Town Enterprise described a well respected man: “Mr. Cyr had a wide acquaintance in the city and section, and was well liked by many friends, who mourn his passing. In his family he was a most devoted husband and father, and a greatly loved grandfather.”
A few months later the company was dealt another devastating blow with the death of Joseph at age 46 when he died of a “shock” on August 7, 1934. The Old Town Enterprise reported: “The many friends of Joseph T. Cyr are sorry to learn of his death, which occurred Tuesday morning at his home on Bosworth St. Mr. Cyr was proprietor of the John T. Cyr & Sons trucking business… [He]was long identified with the trucking and taxi business in this city.”
At the time of his father’s death, Harvey Cyr had been in Grand Isle, Maine, teaching school and working summers in Old Town in the shipping department of Old Town Canoe Co. The deaths of his father and his brother no doubt influenced his decision to return to Old Town and rejoin Albert in running the family firm. In 1937 Harvey was living at 15 Bosworth St. and helping run the business, which was then advertising its services as, “…trucking, taxi, gas and storage.”
By the late 1930s, the Cyr fleet included passenger buses with a seating capacity for about 30 passengers, and the company was providing bus service throughout the area. Regular Cyr bus routes in 1939 included Old Town, Great Works, Milford and Bradley. The buses were also available for charter. Cyr began running specialty trips around this time and continued to do so into the 1940’s. Some of the trips were to Trenton and Green Lake. The cost was $1 and passengers would meet at the garage. The day-long excursions to Green Lake meant a day of sun and swimming at Jenkins Beach. Trips to Trenton were primarily to dig clams at Hancock Point.
A former French Island resident who was interviewed for Nos Histoires de l’Ile, recalled one of the charter trips to Trenton:
“… I used to go with my father on a Cyr bus to Hancock Point in Trenton to dig clams …I remember that the aisles were full of wash tubs.” – Albert Michaud
In the 1940’s the company was still trucking and also had a limousine service. Two of John T. Cyr & Sons drivers about this time were “Spike” Richards and George Veazie.
During the World War II, the U.S. Military gave Cyr a contract to transport German prisoners of war to the detention camps that were located in the remote wilderness areas of Aroostook, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. Cyr buses also hauled back some very happy Germans at the end of the war so they could go home.
In 1945 Cyr buses had a waiting room for passengers at 33 No. Main St. in Old Town. and by 1949, a new bus route provided service between Old Town, Eddington, North Brewer and Bangor.
Harvey, Albert and Arthur were managing John T. Cyr & Sons in 1949, with Albert as listed president and Harvey as treasurer. Harvey gradually began buying out the interests of his two brothers in the company, and he became the sole owner of John T. Cyr & Sons in 1951.
Harvey continued to run the taxi and bus services and started increasing the company’s focus to school busing in the later 1950’s and into the 1960’s. In addition to running the company, Harvey often drove one of the buses.
Eugenie Nadeau Wollstadt, whose history of French Island (in conjunction with the Nos Histoires de l’Ile oral history project) included a chapter on John T. Cyr & Sons, recalled waiting for the school bus to take her from French Island to St. Joseph’s School during the late 1950s: “There was no greater treat than to see the bus door swing open and reveal the smiling kind face of Harvey Cyr behind the wheel,” she wrote.
Harvey’s son Joe joined his father in the company in 1962 after graduating from Old Town High School and attending the University of Maine at Farmington and Husson College. Initially, he spent one day in the office and four days in the shop as a mechanic, then two days as a bookkeeper and three days in the shop. By the time his father died in 1967, Joe was running the business by himself, with help from a couple of key people—a 7-day-a-week, 24 hour-a-day job.
His three brothers and three sisters weren’t as involved in the business as he was, so his mother offered him the opportunity to buy the business for $25,000. For the next five years, he paid his mother $125 a week, which was about what his father had been earning in those days.
“It worked out pretty good,” Joe said.
At the time, John T. Cyr & Sons had 12 buses, a couple of cars, and two dump trucks. Joe operated the dump trucks for a little while but eventually got rid of them to focus full time on school buses.
Not long after assuming the reins at John T. Cyr & Sons, Joe lost a school bus and garage in a fire in the summer of 1970. The fire also destroyed an apartment over the garage but managed to spare the neighboring house which was only 14 inches away. Despite the fire, the business started growing. In 1976, Joe made his first big move, buying the company that had been providing bus service for the Brewer schools, and in 1978 the Bangor contract came up for bid.
“I didn’t really want to go into Bangor,” Joe said, “I had to buy 25 or 30 new buses that year, and I hated to borrow money. I still don’t like being in debt. But I said to myself that if I don’t do it, somebody else will get it, and then they’ll be in my backyard, and going after us. So I bid it, and made a living despite the fact that the price of gas went from 60 cents a gallon to nearly a dollar. It turned out well—we’re still [in Bangor] and since then, we’ve acquired a number of other contracts.”
In 1980, John T. Cyr & Sons ended its 68-year-long sojourn on French Island in 1980. French Island had been the site of an urban development grant in the 1970’s and 1980’s. One of the project’s goals was to relieve the housing congestion on the Island and it resulted in the relocation of the Cyr company to the Industrial Park on Gilman Falls Ave. in Old Town. On October 29, 1980, a procession of Cyr vehicles drove from French Island through Old Town to their new home on Gilman Falls Avenue.
A few years before the move, Joe branched out into the MotorCoach business, purchasing a 15-year-old coach for $15,000 in 1976. He’d never driven a MotorCoach before, but he drove it home.
He was planning to do a lot of senior citizen tours, but the seniors lost their funding, so the coach just sat. “We only put 10,000 miles on it that year,” he said.
Joe bought his first new MotorCoach in 1983, and together with his wife Suzanne, the Cyrs began to offer their own tour packages. The company started getting some business from the University of Maine, the coach business started growing, and Joe started buying coaches, one or two per year. In 1984, the Bangor & Aroostook went out of the coach business, so he bought four buses that year—two new and two used. In 1990, Cyr Northstar Tours became a division of John T. Cyr & Sons.
One of the fun things about the coach business is deciding on the color schemes for the exterior of the buses.
“In 1986, we started buying German buses, which were the first ones to be completely painted,” he said. “U.S. buses were silverside—painted half way down, with the bottom half being aluminum or stainless steel. It didn’t take long before I realized that if you had several different colors, everybody thought you had a new bus, even if it was an old one.”
The vibrant colors of Joe’s coaches have helped Cyr Bus get a lot of publicity.
“It’s gotten us on the covers of a lot of magazines,” Joe says.
In 2005, when the German bus manufacturer, Setra, came out with a new coach with a Mercedes engine and an automatic manual shift, Cyr Bus was the first U.S. customer.
The school bus and charter services have flourished under Joe’s guidance, and Cyr Northstar Tours continue to put together their own tour packages.
John T. Cyr & Sons currently has over 300 vehicles, including 22 motor coaches, 250 school buses, and other vehicles. The company provides school bus service to 13 school districts serving 25 communities and charter services to a long list of customers, including the University of Maine, Husson University, and Colby College.
Cyr buses travel about 3 million miles a year throughout the state of Maine and much of the United States and Canada. They have come a long way since the dollar trips to Trenton and Green Lake and farther still from the humble horse and buggy operation of 1912.