The Murray Hill story

The Murray Hill story- Sound transportation know-how and showmanship

When the Government of Canada, some 50 years ago, decided that commercial aviation was the wave of the future, it called in the head of the country biggest railroad and invited him to participate in a joint venture that would establish a national airline to help link the vast country together. Sir Edward Beatty, head of the Canadian Pacific, went out to St. Hubert, the small military field outside Montreal,to see what the new fangled notion was all about.

"That's no way to run a railroad!" he snorted,and turning his back on the opportunity to invest in the rickety flying machines that dared to challenge his powerful fleet of passenger trains, he left the field to the government owned Canadian National which proceeded to organize Trans-Canada Airlines, the precursor to the giant airline known all over the world today as Air Canada.

With the inauguration of passenger service in 1934, the fledgling airline was faced with the problem of getting its passengers to and from the airfield,a distance of some five or six miles "out in the country" from the metropolitan center. The taxi people weren't interested: their cabs could do much better cruising the central city area. Colonial Coach Lines, an inter-city bus company linking Montreal by road with Ottawa and Toronto, was pressed into service, but they soon opted out in the face of the scant pay dirt and scantier demand. It began to seem that Trans-Canada's dream of establishing highways in the air would come to grief on terra-firma, where getting the pioneer air passengers to the airport, and taking them home from inbound flights, was a no-go.

When the prospects looked bleakest, a derby-hatted taxi operator named Louis Samuels turned up. He had begun his career as a transportation executive some 20 years earlier, as the owner-driver of a horse-drawn caleche, taking tourists to the Lookout on Mount Royal, the hill in the center of town from which motorcars of the era were barred. Now he had progressed to the ownership of some half-dozen limousines with which he served the leading burghers of Montreal's affluent Westmount area. Affable, hard-working, and determined to offer a service worthy of his carriage-trade clientele, he had built a solid reputation for reliability among his well-heeled customers, and his Murray Hill Limousines Service, named for one of Westmounts's poshest, tree-lined thoroughfares, was the top choice not only of Montreal's VIP business executives, but also of the city's official greeters whenever a visiting dignitary came to town and required to be chauffeured about.

It was Murray Hill's proudest boast that it had provided high-class transportation for Royalty, statesmen, the stars of the stage and screen and Princes of the church, whenever they came to Canada's metropolis. Mow, Louis Samuels was ready for the air-borne multitudes of the dawning aviation age.

To fulfill its contract with the Department of Transportation,which owned the Airport, Murray Hill stretched out- quite literally - it's rolling stock. Some of the limousines were sawn in two, extended in the middle to accommodate more passengers,and these "airporters" as they were called, were soon a familiar sight as they cruised the road leading from the city's principal hotel to the distant airfield. As the business grew,Murray Hill added a couple of buses to it complement of airporters.Lumbering and uncomfortable as they were, they did vastly increase the firm's carrying capacity, and as they were required to, they dutifully met all arrivals and departures, in fair weather or foul, frequently making the trip to the airport with only a handful of paying passengers, and returning to town likewise.

When Charles Hershorn acquired the Murray Hill firm from the aging Mr. Samuels in 1952, his auditors, examining the firm’s financial record, advised him – with an eye on the meager returns on the invested capital represented by the buses – to stick to limousines, as the company’s name suggested and to “ burn those buses!”

Hershorn, a strong-minded man who believed firmly that the airlines held the key to the future of passenger traffic, ignored their advice, Instead of “burning the buses”, he turned his attention to the building of a fleet that would reflect on the ground the streamlined service that was becoming the hall mark of air-passenger accommodation. When the motor coaches available were not to his liking, he set about building his own; and developing an alliance with the Prevost Car Company, an obscure carriage-maker situated in a small Beauce County town, he began an innovative career which was to earn him a number of awards for the contribution he made to the evolution of bus design in Canada.

While continuing to update and expand the company’s fleet of limousines, it was to its motor coach operations that Hershorn devoted his most energetic attentions, and it was around his firm’s bus fleet that he built the great complex of garage and service facilities which today encompasses a complete city block in the heart of midtown Montreal. As a part of its exceptional composition, it includes a shop capable of stripping the body from a 50-passenger bus chassis and refashioning the super-structure to the company’s own design. It is from this ship that Murray Hill has produced – like rabbits from a hat- such custom-created vehicles as the Murray Hill Sunliners, Le Tram, The Golden Chariot and the Olympic Special. A completely integrated upholstery shop, operating within the Murray Hill complex, turns out airplane-type seating to provide the kind of passenger comfort which Murray Hill insists on for those who pay their way out to the Airport aboard one of its buses. And of course the facilities for mechanical overhaul and maintenance are unexcelled. The huge Murray Hill garage accommodates some 100 giant cruisers – 85 of them the company’s own – and in addition, serves as the principal maintenance depot for many American Bus lines operating into Eastern Canada. Greyhound, which operates the busy intercity service linking New York with Montreal, depends on Murray Hill’s experienced staff of motor coach mechanics and service personnel for the garaging and upkeep of its great fleet at the northern end of their many daily trips between the two major population centers.

Murray Hill today

Heading the Murray Hill organization today is Paul Hershorn, at 37 years of age, the dynamic and forward-looking successor to his late father who, until his death some six years ago, ran the business with a rare combination of sound transportation know how and showmanship.

Hershorn’s second-in-command is Lorenzo (Pasquale) Calce, who, as an immigrant boy from Italy’s Caserta region, joined the ranks to become Vice-President/Operations, a position he holds by virtue of knowing as much about buses as he does about the men who run them. Hershorn and Calce make a formidable team. “He’s his father’s son,” says Calce about his young president. “And that’s the greatest compliment I can pay him!”.

Under Paul Hershorn’s direction, Calce has extended Murray Hill’s motor coach operations to cover the entire continent. His “bus-doctor” expertise is in demand from Newfoundland to California, and as a consultant of international stature, he is known to have the knack of saving buses from discard and restoring them to long and profitable use long after their original owners were prepared to write them off.

It was as an outgrowth of this “salvage” operation that Paul Hershorn developed the bus brokerage widely known as The Murray Hill Vehicle Agency. This firm, buys, sells and exchanges buses across the continent, and rare is operator who, contemplating as addition to his fleet, will failed to check what may be available through Murray hill’s “clearing house”, where he can count on an encyclopedic knowledge of what’s available to save him substantial sums.

Whenever the American Bus Association (ABA) meets in convention –, as it will in Montreal this December – Hershorn and Calce can be found meditating between the buyers and sellers in attendance. “We aren’t wheeler-dealers,” says Hershorn, “but we do deal in wheels; and our customers are some of the biggest wheels in the industry.”

In addition to its bus operations which are still centered on the ground-transportation servicing Montreal’s busy Dorval International Airport, Murray Hill operates an extensive sightseeing, tourist and convention service which makes the most of the historic city’s popularity and cosmopolitan old world charm. To match the many attractions of Canada’s metropolis, which next to Paris is the world’s greatest French speaking urban center, the Murray Hill firm fields an array of buses which has been dubbed “The most imaginatively conceived bus fleet in the world.”

When Expo ’67, the World’s Fair marking Canada’s centennial, brought upward of 60 million visitors to the shores of the St. Lawrence River from the four corners of the globe, Murray Hill’s colorful bus fleet was front and center among the attractions that awaited the throng who came from every point of the map, Albania to Zanzibar. And nine years later, when Montreal hosted in the 1976 Olympics, Murray Hill again played a starring role. The Olympic rings, was much in demand- as it still is when nostalgic sports buffs and conventioneers come to town, wanting to do their sightseeing in style.

The Murray Hill conglomerate, as re-organized and re-energized by the youthful Hershorn, now includes a charter service coach line and a package-tour business that operates a wide variety of pre-planned, comprehensive vacation trips ranging from one-day excursions to extended holidays –on-wheels operating into such distant points as New York, Atlantic City and the Florida Gold –Coast. Yet another of Hershorn’s innovations is a long-term car-leasing firm that has some 500 vehicles on lease to corporate and individual customers; and to round out his complement of companies, he recently launched a specialized garage devoted to the mechanical repair and upkeep of European sports cars. The Murray hill payroll currently covers in excess of 300 people, all of whom, from bus-jockey to expert mechanic, work to the exacting standards of their hard-driving boss.

Paul Hershorn looks forward to hosting the many business associates who will be coming to the ABA convention in Montreal early this winter. “It will be the first time our industry will be meeting formally in Canada,” he says, noting that while most of his colleagues have been to Montreal as individuals, they’ve never before been there as a body.

“It will be an excellent vantage point from which to get a fresh, new angle on the problems and prospects which face our industry,” says Hershorn. “Canada used to be called ‘the unknown country’ but as more and more people get to know it, it offers valuable perspectives on what our industry has to cope with in other areas of the Americas.”

“We operate in a country that’s bigger in geographical area than the U.S.A., but we have only a tenth as many people. So both the strengths and the weaknesses of the industry are more clearly evident in this part of the continental complex.”

“As we se things from here, bus operators are in a front line position to profit form the transportation crisis which is one of the products of these extraordinary times. Our railroads, like those in the U.S.A., are in trouble; our airlines are on the defensive; our car-drivers are being priced out of their costly transportation habits. From all this, the knowledgeable, alert and enterprising bus operator can generate new opportunities such as never before existed.”

“What we now need,” says Hershorn, “is a new attitude with our own ranks. We are no longer marginal to the transportation giants. We’re smack in the center of the developing picture. Time is on our side, and so is the public. Better bus business requires better buses, and as we raise our own standards, we’ll be raising the profile of our service to the levels it deserves.”