Union Army Maj. Jonathan W. DeCamp returned home to New Jersey in 1865, after serving with distinction and honor in the Civil War.
In 1870, while operating the family farm, Maj. DeCamp had an idea. He built a covered wagon, hitched to it a team of sturdy horses and started a stagecoach line. This day-long line provided service from Roseland to Newark via the Newark-Pleasant Turnpike (known today as Mt. Pleasant Avenue).
A Burgeoning Enterprise
As the population grew during the post-war era, people migrated westward from Newark over the mountains. Old Native American trails were converted into primitive roads and , along these routes, villages and towns were built, booming with residents who wanted to travel to the region’s urban center.
Newark was a central hub – an industrial focal point, as well as one of the commercial centers for the New York metropolitan area. Townspeople were in need of a convenient and inexpensive way to make the journey back and forth to Newark.
A Family Business
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, urban development in northeastern New Jersey fostered growth for the fledgling DeCamp transportation business. To help with an increase in demand for transportation, Maj. DeCamp’s son, Benjamin “Cap” DeCamp, joined his father’s business in 1878.
Cap DeCamp, who had established himself as Livingston’s village blacksmith, began a separate stagecoach route between the general store and the post office in Livingston to the post office in Orange. Along with the mail, “Cap” transported passengers for a quarter per person between the two towns. What started as single day, roundtrips soon doubled because of more demand.
The long, canvas-topped stagecoach was usually painted a cream color and equipped with two full-length parallel benches on each side. The stagecoach included a driver’s seat and steps at the rear for passengers to climb on board.
An Important Team Approach
Regular runs called for a team of horses wearing bells to alert patrons to the approaching stagecoach. The sound was melodious and easily discernible in those quieter times – a welcoming jingle adding warmth to the established peace and tranquility.
The horses were considered more than just faithful animals – they were a vital part of the DeCamp’s transportation business. Because of their important role, the DeCamp horses were kept in barns behind the DeCamp family home where the horses’ care was the family’s utmost priority.
Starting the Motor Age
In 1905, following the death of Cap DeCamp, his son Robert took over the stage line.
Robert, who was a well-known harness maker, added a new service to the business – a route to Caldwell. It was four years later, when Robert made a decision that would not only revolutionize the DeCamp business, but transform the transportation industry: he bought a motorbus.
The first DeCamp motorbus supplemented the trusty stagecoaches driven by Robert DeCamp and Ira and Walter King, two of the company’s early hires. Built along the lines of an open-air trolley car, the first DeCamp motorbus was large and awkward to maneuver. It struggled to climb the arduous slopes of First Mountain. At times, passengers had to get out and walk or sometimes help push the bus over the top of steep hills.
New Management and Improved Technology
Following Robert DeCamp’s death in 1917, his younger brother, Ralph D. DeCamp, a practicing dentist in Orange, faced a crossroads: Should he continue with his dental practice or make a move into the family business? After much consideration, Ralph gave up his practice and took over ownership and management of the DeCamp transportation business.
Motorized buses continued to become a larger part of the transportation scene. Ralph saw the end approaching rapidly for the horse-drawn stagecoach era and planned accordingly. Such timely planning was rewarded when two “up-to-the-minute” new motorbuses were obtained. The townspeople were pleasantly surprised to see these “new-fangled horseless wagons,” which were large enough to comfortably carry eight people and capable of navigating the streets of the town. Ultimately the picturesque horse-drawn coaches were parked and an era ended.
Pushing Forward in Modernization
Ralph D. DeCamp could clearly see the future of the transportation business and continued adding more motorbuses to the line. By 1923, Ralph had a fleet of eight buses.
In the spring of that same year, Ralph introduced the first motorbus service between Morristown and Newark and just five years later, with the opening of the first tunnel connecting Manhattan to New Jersey, he inaugurated the first motorbus service between Orange and New York City. In addition, an Upper Montclair to New York line shortly followed.
Just as the DeCamp family had cared for their working horses in earlier years, Ralph recognized the importance of maintaining proper servicing for his motorized vehicles. Working on 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, so a modern, central garage was established in Livingston.
A New Home
The first DeCamp garage was built on South Livingston Avenue next to what was then Central School. The fine, modern, brick building was probably all Ralph thought he’d ever need when the garage was first built. However, he was wrong. By 1926, the expanding business needed a much larger base of operations, so an even larger garage capable of harboring and servicing as many as 40 buses was built at 49 West Mt. Pleasant Ave. in Livingston.
Ralph was 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 Ralph died in 1939, his sons, Robert and Stuart, who joined the business in 1927 and 1929 respectively, took over the management along with their mother, Edith.
Following the principles passed down by their father, 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 family business: what was now known as “Bus Route 144,” the Caldwell-Roseland-Livingston-Pleasantdale to Newark run.
As the number of riders grew, more equipment was added because of the increase in business, thus creating the need for yet another expansion of garage facilities. With the opening of New Jersey Route 3 and the Garden State Parkway, it was obvious the center of business had shifted to the north. With that realization, the DeCamps acquired garage space in nearby Clifton.
Under the leadership of Robert and Stuart DeCamp, the company grew to a fleet of 175 motor coaches and 250 employees, even in the face of changing needs and times.
After the end of World War II, the northern New Jersey population increased as people migrated into the suburbs. Farmland turned into housing developments accessible by new interstate highways. Small villages and towns grew exponentially as the Baby Boom introduced a whole new generation and modern developments created a growing demand for transportation services. Small New Jersey hamlets and country towns were expanded with an influx of new families. Because of the demands for additional housing and more businesses, the hamlets stretched to accommodate increasing populations.
Even during a time of new and exciting growth, the transportation industry took a beating. Independent carriers couldn’t afford to replace equipment, and many went out of business entirely. Supported by its long business tradition and inspired by a strong sense of family purpose, DeCamp still struggled to survive.
Not sure where this fits in – we went from the 1940s to the 1970s and now back in post-WW2. Thoughts?? I edited the structure anyway.
The Modern Era
When Stuart DeCamp passed away in 1978, his heirs wanted the business sold – a move that would have ended more than a century in the transportation business for the DeCamp family. In 1979, buffeted by adversity, DeCamp relocated to a 1930s-era bus garage in Montclair 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 again in 1982, when a settlement was reached with Stuart’s family. However, Robert DeCamp’s son, Robert, Jr., and daughter Suzanne, both employed by the business, were determined to stay put and the company’s present-day success is in large part the result of their commitment.
Streamlining for Competitiveness
The 1980s was a time of restructuring and modernizing for DeCamp. Streamlining routes led to the elimination of 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 both commuter services and ticketing and the company introduced a new charter sales effort.
In 1991, after 64 years in the family business, Robert DeCamp, Sr., retired from his active role with the company and passed along management responsibility to his daughter, Suzanne, and son, Robert Jr. In the fall of 1997, more change was on the horizon for DeCamp. Suzanne decided to retire from the business and explore other opportunities. Her brother, who had spent more than 30 years in the family business, bought Suzanne’s holdings and took primary control of DeCamp.
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 changing time. Commuter and charter operations require nearly constant adaptation and flexibility. DeCamp strives to provide the best service each day and, while there are many modern obstacles, the company believes there are many new opportunities and are very optimistic about the future.
Since 1870, DeCamp has weathered many changes. Today, many operating regulations equate to legal and additional administrative challenges. In addition, the cost of doing business has increased tremendously over the years. Yet, even with a plethora of challenges, a DeCamp motorcoach is still more economical, efficient and environmentally friendly than a group of individuals in cars making the same trip.
Today’s motorcoach is certainly a far cry from the DeCamp’s original stagecoach with hard wooden benches and iron-rimmed wheels. With significantly more power, the motorcoaches provide year-round climate control and a smooth, relaxing ride with plush seating and other amenities.
DeCamp is the oldest, privately-owned and operated bus company in the State of New Jersey. Our loyalty to family, passion for the transportation industry, and commitment to innovation have provided the energy that keeps us moving forward as a leader today. Our simple, yet unyielding focus remains: To provide safe and comfortable passage for our passengers.