So how does one sell 2,000 school buses to a single buyer?
By By Suzanne Digmon
Atmore native Ted Clayton retired from the school transportation and bus industry in October of 1997 after serving 35 years with Thomas Built Buses. Recently, the National Association for Pupil Transportation selected Clayton to join its Hall of Fame.
"I've known him over 65 years…this is a good guy," Doc Sutton Jr., one of Clayton's high school classmates and friends said.
Born and raised here in Atmore, Clayton remembers helping out in the Ben Franklin Dime Store, which his father, Edward Theodore Clayton Sr., owned. "I grew up sweeping the aisles," he said. When he was old enough to drive, he and his friends liked to cruise in "old iron sides". He remembered, "We had an old Oldsmobile, about a 1938, and the fender was knocked off, so we called it Iron Sides."
As a teen-ager, Clayton played the center position on the undefeated Blue Devil football team in 1950. He graduated from Escambia County High School in 1953, then continued his education at the University of Alabama. "He's an avid Alabama fan," Sutton added.
Clayton served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and soon after became enmeshed in the school transportation and bus industry.
"When I was in my mid-twenties, J.E. Everette called me and said that he was being promoted and would be moving to North Carolina. We met at Buster's Restaurant and he offered to fly me to North Carolina for an interview," Clayton said. "They hired me on the spot."
He worked with Thomas Built Buses here in Atmore for a few years, but later moved to North Carolina. "I left Alabama in about '65 or '66. I got a promotion at the home office in North Carolina and stayed in that industry for 35 years," Clayton recollected.
After retiring, he and his wife of 40 years, Charlotte, "were glad to come back to South Alabama." In the years since, the former vice president of sales and marketing has been working part-time at Marriott's Grand Hotel Resort and Golf Club, which he says is "a good experience." It's a pretty tranquil existence, a far cry from the hectic pace of school transportation.
His mind, however, is never very far from the school transportation scene. "I'm no different than anyone else in the business," he says. "I have that yellow chrome in my bloodstream."
That's why it's so surprising that Clayton was astonished that he had been selected to enter the NAPT Hall of Fame. "This really caught me by surprise," he said. "I am so honored and appreciative."
So is the industry.
He gave more than 4O safety and product related presentations to state, provincial and local conferences up and down both coasts – "From Nova Scotia to Key West, Fla. and from Arizona to British Columbia as well as many points in between" he said.
Clayton remembers working in the early 197O's to develop vendor support for the fledgling NAPT conference and trade show. He also served on a variety of committees to promote school bus safety with the State Directors Association, the National School Transportation Association and Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference. "I worked closely with a lot of state and provincial directors to try and improve product safety as well as the overall safety of the industry," recalls Clayton.
"My travels included calling on school transportation personnel in all Canadian provinces and every state in the United States, with the exception of Alaska," said Clayton. "These travels offered me the opportunity of meeting many fine people and establishing lifelong valued friendship."
Clayton was also a two-time chairman of the School Transportation Section of the National Safety Council. He was active in the council for more than 2O years and received the organization's Distinguished Service to Safety Award, which is the council's highest honor bestowed on an individual. It recognizes outstanding service to the safety. In addition, Clayton was named an honorary lifetime member of NSC for his career-long dedication to safety.
He has done volunteer work with the United Way, YMCA, Youth Focus, Youth United and Big Brothers and Sisters. Clayton fondly remembers working with a team at Thomas Built Buses to win the largest school bus order in the history of the industry. "South Carolina ordered 2,000 buses," said Clayton. "The order cost $103 million."
Now retired and living in Fairhope with his wife, Clayton enjoys spending time with his five grandchildren. He fishes a little and plays some golf, too. The Claytons have four children who are all grown up now. "Our oldest child was born in Atmore. We had one in North Carolina, and the other two were born in Georgia," he said.
The eldest, Jennifer, is married to Jeff Jones and lives in Dothan with their three children. Their second child is named Edward Theodore Clayton, III, and lives in Marlow, near Fairhope. He has started his own business, called ETC Home Services. He had his wife, Angela, have two children.
Daughter Ashley Nicole Clayton is not married, but has spent the past year in Nepal in the Peace Corps. "She is a compassionate, giving person," her father said. The youngest Clayton offspring, Robert Daniel Clayton, is also single and currently lives in Gulf Breeze.
"We're truly blessed," Clayton remarked.
Clayton's old comrade, Doc Sutton, speaks highly of his lifetime friend, "He doesn't like to toot his own horn…He has a wonderful personality and many, many friends. He was an important man in his company, and a good guy."