aka: Ward Transportation Services, Inc.
IC Corporation, formerly Ward Transportation Services, Inc., is a school bus manufacturer that started in Conway (Faulkner County). In 2008, the company had a sixty-two-percent share of the North American school bus market. The company was often technologically innovative and, in 1936, was the first to produce a steel-bodied school bus. IC Corporation also began offering hybrid technology in its buses.
IC Corporation was founded in 1933 by blacksmith David H. Ward as Ward Body Works, a company that originally made school bus bodies from wood. The name was later changed to Ward School Bus Manufacturing, Inc., a subsidiary of Ward Industries, Inc., and then to Ward Bus Company. In 1968, the company was handed over to Ward’s son Charles. By the 1970s, the company was the largest school bus manufacturer in the world, with twenty-five percent of the market share by 1973.
By 1980, however, increased consolidation in the school bus manufacturing industry, poor manufacturing quality, and low productivity, as well as poor company leadership (for example, spending federal loan monies on extravagant business ventures) forced the company into bankruptcy. It was subsequently sold by the Ward family and reorganized under new owners as the American Transportation Corporation (AmTran), although the company was still known locally by the Ward name. Family member Steve Ward, as a member of the dealer council that advised the manufacturing company on product and marketing issues, was given exclusive rights to sell AmTran buses within Arkansas.
In 1991, AmTran began building chassis (engine, frame, and running gear) and school bus bodies at the Conway site. Prior to this time, the chassis were shipped to the Conway site from separate truck manufacturers to be assembled. In 1995, the company was purchased in entirety by Navistar International Corporation/International Truck and Engine. In 1999, a new plant was scheduled to open for operation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which drew upon many of the personnel from the Conway facility. In 2001, the company was again renamed, this time to IC Corporation, which remained a subsidiary of Navistar.
In 2008, IC Corporation employed approximately 1,500 workers at its 160-acre, 750,000-square-foot Conway facility, with an output of thirty-three to thirty-eight buses per day. The factory produced a variety of school bus types, including conventional, forward, and rear engine models. The facility also produced a series of small buses, as well as chassis for United Parcel Service. Diamond State Bus Company, a school and commercial bus dealership in Conway, is the Arkansas dealer for IC Corporation buses. In November 2009 company officials announced multiple lay-offs effective January 2010. While the plant continued to manufacture some school bus parts, actual bus assembly was done at the company’s plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 2017, IC operations in Conway were acquired by DBG, a metal products supplier based in Canada, which announced its intentions to establish its American headquarters there.
For additional information:
Beck, Barry. “Ward Industries, Inc.: A Historical Study.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 16 (Winter 1974): 67–83.
Aaron W. Rogers
The first two school buses that I rode on in junior high and my freshman year of high school were Ward. They both had four-speed dual axle manual transmissions. The thing that I loved the most about both of them is that they had multicolored seats. We referred to the first bus when I was in junior high as Disco Dorothy in honor of its wonderful driver, Miss Dorothy Anderson.
I was employed at Ward Bus from 1958 and retired as President, CEO, and Chairman of AmTran & IC Corp. in 1993. I also negotiated the sale of AmTran to Navistar/International.
My mother and uncle lived around the corner from the Ward family in Conway, and I think I went to school with their son. I remember going to visit my grandparents and my aunt/uncle/cousins (the Jumper family) in Conway when my sisters and I were little, and we knew we were there when we saw the Ward school bus company with all the school buses in the parking lot.
David Ward lived in Dermott, Arkansas, and he made his first car in 1930 at Ford Garage. He is my great-great-uncle.
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