by CHARLES SEATON
When Wiley Pearson and a group of friends decided to follow
in the footsteps of Elvis Presley's Blue Suede Shoes, they
chose to make the excursion via a privately-escorted
The trip, which they named the Elvis Presley Heritage Tour,
took them through-out the South where they visited Civil War
battlefields, took in minor-league baseball games, ate
southern BBQ, enjoyed the hospitality of Memphis, Tennessee
and, of course, Elvis' home, Graceland. "Traveling like this
enabled us to visit with each other, make plans, sightsee and
just enjoy the company of old friends," Pearson explained.
For most of us it's a chore to ride across town by bus -
much less cross-country - but Ed Lonsbary's Private Motor
Coach tours has boosted bus travel to another level. Rather
than sharing a vehicle with 50 other tourists, PMC customers
get an entire 40-foot coach to themselves and benefit from the
attentions of owner/operator Lonsbary. Think high-end
motorhome with your own guide, chauffeur and, when the need
"Personal escorted travel is a trend that's growing,
especially among baby boomers," observed Lonsbary, who
acknowledged that the downturn in the economy had slowed some
segments of the travel market. "People are still investing in
high-end travel, though - the type of travel where someone
else does the driving and worries about the vehicle," he
noted. "I'm finding that the people who are attracted to what
we offer want to be separated from the masses and in charge of
their own itinerary."
From the outside, Lonsbary's luxury highway coach looks
like any other long-distance bus you'll see running the
interstate, but the inside is something else again. Named
"Patty's Charm" after Lonsbary's wife, it's a fully-outfitted
converted coach boasting style, warmth and all the comforts of
Patty's Charm features a living room, kitchen, bathroom and
a queen-sized bedroom. Also, it has one more amenity: Lonsbary
himself, a gregarious and knowledgeable 56-year-old retired
marketing executive who has created a thriving business out of
making people's travel dreams come true. He founded the
company in 1999.
Changes and Choices
Lonsbary aims to serve a market of families and small
groups whose members want the convenience of ground
transportation without facing the inconvenience of driving
themselves in a cramped auto or a rented van.
For seven weeks last summer, Mimi Cocks enjoyed Alaska's
pristine beauty and sparkling waters from Juneau to Skagway. A
return customer, Mimi traveled nearly 10,000 miles throughout
Alaska and western Canada.
Aside from pleasure trips, Private Motor Coach also caters
to business groups headed for conferences, meetings or trade
shows. Private Motor Coach has also provided transportation
for music groups, including the Preservation Jazz Band, and
Fabulous Gunslingers, a country/rock band. In fact several
local businesses around Private Motor Coach's original home
base of Pittsburgh, PA, have taken advantage of this unique
In addition to working with his clients, Lonsbary is
considering taking his business to the next step by becoming
the mobile home base of a television travelogue program. "We'd
like to do something that would really make people excited
about leisure travel - all the things there are to do and see
during a road trip," Lonsbary said.
Before he kicked his first bus tire, Lonsbary invested six
months researching the viability of a personal tour business.
"I dug out everything I could, studying the market and
examining the feasibility of what I wanted to do," Lonsbary
commented. "I was able to determine that the market for
personal escorted motorcoach tours is out there. Now, I'm
working to make certain that the market is aware of me and
what I have to offer, too."
Pearson said they discovered Private Motor Coach through
the firm's website, which overflows with photographs and
testimonials from customers. "Ed's website was absolutely
great," he said. "It was discovered by one of our group and we
all looked at it and decided that that was the way we wanted
Now, for most of us, driving any vehicle larger than a
rented panel truck can be intimidating. So instead of just
jumping behind the wheel, Lonsbary prepared for his CDL
driving test by taking a full course at a truck driving
school. In order to further sharpen his skills and become
familiar with the handling idiosyncrasies of a 40-foot bus, he
hired a retired Greyhound driver. "I wanted to start off with
a foundation of professionalism and build on that," Lonsbary
That pursuit of professionalism was rewarded in 2001 when
Lonsbary and wife Patty accepted the Motor Coach Industry
Vision award from the United Motorcoach Association. The
prestigious award acknowledges a strong commitment to safety,
excellence in operation and service, marketing innovation,
product development and social responsibility.
The slogan of Private Motor Coach is "Anytime, Anywhere,"
and Lonsbary has lived up to it transporting a wide spectrum
of leisure and business travelers any place they want to go
from Alaska to Central America.
Private Motor Coach can count among its customers several
passengers, either elderly or infirm, for whom it would have
been difficult if not impossible to travel by automobile or
"Adult children tied to careers and the demands of their
own youngsters can't simply pick up and go get Mom or Dad in
some far-off city," Lonsbary pointed out. "We frequently
respond to the growing need of families looking for safe,
accompanied travel for aging and ailing parents."
At the Hub for Adventures
In 2001, Lonsbary moved his firm's base of operation west
to Whitehouse, TX. He selected the town, which is about 95
miles east of Dallas, because of its "strategic geographic
location, to better serve travelers seeking to explore the
United States, Mexico and Central America," Lonsbary added.
The Texas location puts him no more than two "deadhead" days
away from any point in the country.
Ron Arslanian, one of the members of Pearson's group, said
they had considered renting an RV and dividing the driving
chores, but balked when they considered the high rental fee of
a motorhome and the added stress of driving it themselves.
"The cost of renting an RV and then having to drive it kind
of defeated the idea of being on vacation," said Arslanian,
who added that the trip was so pleasant the group was
considering another vacation with Private Motor Coach. "We
traveled more than 2,200 miles and the time went by quickly.
We purposely chose not to sleep on the bus, just use it for
travel. But we had every amenity we could possibly want."
Private Motor Coach, Inc. offers fully escorted personal
excursions throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central and
Daily rates for renting the private coach run from $500
to $700 plus fuel and mileage, and do not include
miscellaneous charges (parking, tolls, etc.). For further
information: Tel: 800-936-5265 or 903-839-6262; Website:www.privatemotorcoach.com.
• The Patty's Charm motor coach can accommodate six
to eight travelers during the day and two to four overnight.
• Food is not included in the daily travel rate, and
Lonsbary does not cook (or make beds).
• Rates for "deadhead" days (when the bus travels empty to
or from pick-up/drop off points) run about $200 per day plus
fuel and mileage.
• Because of scheduling, it is advisable to make
reservations six months to a year in advance.