In 1870, Major Jonathan W. DeCamp originated the idea of operating a stage service between Roseland and Newark via the Newark-Mount Pleasant Turnpike (known today as Mt. Pleasant Avenue). Jonathan had returned from the Civil War where he served with distinction, earning promotions until he achieved the rank of Major before he was honorably discharged from the Union Army in 1865.
He returned to New Jersey and operating the family farm-when he formed his idea. Major Jonathan DeCamp built a covered wagon, hitched it to a team of sturdy horses, and started his stagecoach line. At the time a round trip from Roseland to Newark took an entire day.
A Burgeoning Enterprise
As populations increased and towns grew larger in northern New Jersey in the postwar era, people migrated westward from Newark over the mountains, using old Indian trails converted into primitive roads. Along these routes, new housing was built. Villages and towns developed with populations that wanted to travel to the urban center in the region, Newark, New Jersey. Newark was a central hub, an industrial center as well as one of the commercial centers in the New York metropolitan region. People needing to make the journey back and forth to Newark were looking for an alternative means of travel- something convenient and inexpensive.
A Family Business
The northeastern New Jersey urban development in the late 19th and early 20th century fostered growth for the fledgling DeCamp transportation business. Major Jonathan’s son, Benjamin, known locally as “Cap,” had established himself as Livingston’s village blacksmith. But with the growth of the transportation business, “Cap” DeCamp joined his father’s transportation business in 1878. He began a separate stagecoach route between the General Store and the Post Office in Livingston, to the Orange Post Office. He carried passengers at 25 cents each along with the mail between the two towns.
At first “Cap” made a single round trip daily, but with increasing demand he doubled the service, making two round trips a day. His long, canvas-topped stagecoach was usually painted a cream color and equipped with two full-length parallel benches on either side. It had a driver’s seat and at the rear, an entrance with steps to help passengers climb on-board.
An Important Team Approach
Regular runs called for a team of horses that wore bells to alert patrons when the stage was approaching. The sound was melodious and easily discernable in those quieter times-a welcoming musical jingle that added a warm sense to the peace and tranquility.
The horses too, were considered more than faithful animals, but a vital part of the DeCamp transportation business. Because of their important role, they were kept in barns at the rear of the DeCamp family home and well cared for. Equipment too, was carefully maintained and included blankets for both man and animal during cold weather.
Starting the Motor Age
After Benjamin’s death in 1905, his son Robert took over the stage line. Robert, who had made his mark as a well-known harness maker, added a new service with a route to Caldwell. Then, in 1909, he undertook a step that not only revolutionized the DeCamp business, but also forever changed the transportation industry-he acquired a motorbus.
Built along the lines of an open-air trolley car, the first DeCamp motorbus was large and awkward to maneuver. It also struggled to climb the arduous slopes of the First Mountain. At times passengers had to get out and walk and sometimes even help push the bus over the top the hill! Therefore, the first DeCamp motorbus only supplemented the trusty stagecoaches that were driven by Robert and by Ira and Walter King, two of the early transportation lines employees.
New Management and Improved Technology
After Robert’s death in 1917, his younger brother, Ralph D. DeCamp, who was practicing dentistry in Orange and later was on the Essex County Board of Freeholders, faced a crossroads: whether to continue his dental career or enter the family business. After much thoughtful consideration Ralph gave up his practice and took over the ownership and management of the DeCamp transportation business.
Motorized buses continued pushing their way onto the scene. Ralph saw the end of the horse-drawn stagecoach rapidly approaching and planned accordingly. Again, timely and innovative thinking was rewarded when two “up-to-the-minute” new motorbuses were obtained. The people of Livingston were pleasantly surprised to see these “new fangled horseless wagons” large enough to comfortably carry eight people and capable of navigating the streets of their town. Ultimately the picturesque, original horse-drawn coaches made their final trips and an era ended.
Pushing Forward in Modernization
Ralph DeCamp saw the future clearly and continued adding more motorbuses to the line, until in 1923 he had a fleet of eight buses. In the spring of that same year Ralph introduced the first motor bus service between Morristown and Newark. In 1928, with the opening of the first tunnel connecting Manhattan to New Jersey, he inaugurated the first motorbus service between Orange and New York City. An Upper Montclair to New York line followed shortly thereafter.
Ralph also recognized that, just as the DeCamps had cared for their horses in earlier years, it was also important to maintain proper servicing for his motorized vehicles. Working on the buses in an old barn wasn’t practical if the line was going to maintain the level of dependable service he was determined to provide. Thus, a modern, central garage was established in Livingston.
A New Home
The first garage was built on South Livingston Avenue in Livingston next to what was then called Central School. It was a fine, modern, brick building and probably all Ralph thought he’d ever need when he built it. But in that respect he was wrong. By 1926 the expanding business needed a much larger base of operations. So a huge new garage, capable of harboring and servicing as many as 40 buses, was built at 49 West Mt. Pleasant Avenue in Livingston.
Ralph was also actively involved in local business and politics. He joined the Livingston First National Bank’s Board of Directors and was elected a Freeholder in Essex County where he served for many years. When he died in 1939, his sons Robert and Stuart, who had joined him in the business in 1927 and 1929 respectively, took over the management along with their mother, Edith DeCamp.
Following the principles laid down by their Dad, the DeCamp brothers continued expanding both services and facilities. Bus routes operated to Journal Square in Jersey City and from many communities of North Jersey into New York. The only line relinquished was the one that fundamentally started the business; now called Bus Route 144, the Caldwell-Roseland-Livingston-Pleasantdale to Newark run.
As ridership grew and equipment added for the increased traffic, another shift in garage facilities was necessary. Realizing that the center of business had shifted north, especially with the opening of New Jersey Route 3 and the Garden State Parkway, the DeCamps acquired garage space in Clifton.
Under the leadership of Robert and Stuart DeCamp, the fleet grew to 175 motor coaches and a staff of 250 employees! But once again, the times and the needs were changing. In the 1970’s, businesses began relocating out of New York City and employees moved with their employers.
Following World War II, the population in northern New Jersey increased as people moved to the suburbs. Farmland turned into housing developments accessed by new interstate highways. Small villages and towns grew in size as the baby boom introduced a new generation. And all these new developments created a growing demand for transportation services as well. Small New Jersey hamlets and country towns were expanded with the influx of new families. Reeling in the demands for more housing and new businesses, the hamlets stretched to accommodate increasing populations.
However, the transportation industry as a whole took a beating during this period. Independent carriers couldn’t afford to replace equipment and many went out of business. Supported by its long business tradition and inspired by a strong sense of family purpose, DeCamp struggled to survive.
The Modern Era
Stuart DeCamp passed away in 1978 and his family wanted the business sold, a move that would have ended over one hundred years of transportation history for the DeCamp family business. In 1979, buffeted by adversity, DeCamp relocated to a bus garage in Monclair built in 1931 that was formerly operated by the Public Service bus company. The fleet was reduced from 150 buses to 73, and two routes (the 77 and 32) were sold.
The pressure to sell increased in 1982 when a settlement was reached with Stuart’s survivors. However, Robert had his son, Robert, Jr., employed in the business since 1968, as well as his daughter, Suzanne, since 1979. Both were determined to stay in business and our success today is in large part the result of their success.
Streamlining for Competitiveness
The 1980’s ushered in a new period of restructuring and modernizing for DeCamp. Streamlining routes led to discontinuing Route 145/146 from Morristown to Newark, the sale of Route 22 from Caldwell to Journal Square and the repurchase of former route 32 from Nutley to New York. Computers were added to aid in commuter services and ticketing and a new, highly visible charter sales effort was introduced.
In 1991 Robert DeCamp, Sr., retired from an active role after 64 years in the family business and passed along the responsibility of managing the company to his daughter, Suzanne, and son, Robert, Jr. In November of 1997, change came again. In an extremely increasing competitive marketplace, Ms. Suzanne Decamp decided to retire and explore other opportunities. Robert, Jr., with a succeeding family and over thirty years of his life invested in Decamp tradition, bought out his sister’s holdings.
A Stable Company and Bright Future
Since 1997, a new management team led by Robert DeCamp, Jr. as president has guided the company through another time of change. Commuter and charter operations require nearly constant adaptation and flexibility and DeCamp strives to provide the best service each day. While there are many new obstacles, we also believe there are many new opportunities and are optimistic about the company’s future.
Since 1870, DeCamp Bus Lines has weathered many dramatic changes. Today, many operating regulations provide legal and additional administrative challenges. In addition, the cost of doing business has also increased tremendously over the years. And yet, a DeCamp Bus Lines motor coach is still more economical, more efficient and more environmentally friendly than a group of individuals driving cars to make the same trip.
Today’s motor coach is certainly a far cry from our original stagecoach with its hard wooden benches and iron-rimmed wheels. Significantly more powerful, they provide year around climate control and a smooth, relaxing ride with plush seating and numerous amenities.
DeCamp is the oldest privately-owned and operated bus company in the State of New Jersey! Our loyalty to family, passion for the industry, and commitment to innovation have provided the energy that keeps us moving forward as a leader still today. And our simple, yet unyielding focus remains: to provide safe and comfortable passage for our passengers.