ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – In late-September, Roanoke – and the world – lost a true southern gentleman, Roanoke’s real bus man, Harry Lee Messimer.
Messimer died on Sept. 29, 2020, at the age of 91 and was known around the community for his love of buses.
The love he had came from driving a bus for a total of 55 years for a total of two million miles.
Anyone who knew Messimer would likely agree that he was one of the most wonderful men they ever had the pleasure of meeting. Harry considered everyone as a friend.
After serving four years in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Harry chose bus driving has his job – despite his previous experience of driving a truck and figured that driving a bus would be easier. In fact, Messimer actually commented that he would rather drive a bus than a car anytime.
In 1956, Messimer went to work for Greyhound. He retired after driving 31 years and 1.5 million miles.
Even after all that driving, Messimer wasn’t ready to just stop driving as just four days after retiring from Greyhound, he was hired by Abbott Trailways and drove another 24 years and more than half-of-a-million additional miles.
Working for Greyhound, Harry spent the first part of his career running between Knoxville, Tennessee and Roanoke.
He loved this area so much that he moved his home here and ended up taking one of the Roanoke-to-D.C. routes.
In the mid-50s, some of the old buses were from WWII and were really nice. In 1951, the double-decker scenic cruiser came out which was designed for scenic tours and for freight.
Bus companies made more money transporting freight than passengers until UPS came along.
Messimer loved the open road and was delighted with the opportunity of meeting new and interesting people every day. He particularly loved Nashville, Tennessee.
When doing Greyhound tours, Nashville was one of his stops. He always enjoyed visiting the old Ryman’s Auditorium – even if a show was booked, the bus driver always had a seat. Sometimes, the seat was a simple folding chair right by the stage.
Back in 1961, one of Messimer’s most poignant times was when he was a Freedom Riders bus driver.
He made runs to transport people, demonstrators and protestors to marches in Washington, D.C. and down to Alabama and Louisiana.
Messimer shared memories of being “kind of sad and scary,” saying that he knew that when you took off with a load of people, you might die.
Drivers stayed with their group in D.C. until their passengers finished demonstrating – sometimes four or five days and then took them back home.
While driving for both Greyhound and Abbott, Messimer went everywhere. Out west, up north and everywhere in between.
Formerly from Elizabethton, Tennessee, he enjoyed his later years living in Salem. Messimer enjoyed sharing his experiences from the road while volunteering as a docent at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke and often admitted to missing his many adventures on the road.
At the museum, Messimer created an audio tour and extensive exhibit of his own personal memorabilia from his bus driving days – known as the Harry L. Messimer Bus Collection.
In the Rail Yard at the Virginia Museum of Transportation, is the Dodge Brothers school bus which was donated by Messimer.
The bus us unique for having bench seating that runs the length of the bus along the side walls as well as down the middle of the bus.
Older children would sit along the windows and the smaller children would sit back-to-back along the middle section which was used by Roanoke County as well as the City of Salem.
When Messimer was at the museum, he could be found proudly standing at the entrance of his collection, greeting people, and sharing the stories of his heydays with Greyhound and Abbott.
He was a kind, gentle man who offered a warm welcome into his life and love of transportation.
Information in this story was submitted on behalf of the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
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