Beaufort’s Greyhound bus station reached the end of the line Tuesday.
Buses will still make four stops a day in Beaufort, but it will now be at the Sunhouse convenience store on Trask Parkway.
The last trip scheduled out of the old station nearby was the 9:50 p.m. southbound bus. Customers will now have to buy their tickets online, print them out and have them in hand to climb aboard the blue and silver coaches headed north to Detroit or south to Miami, and countless points in between.
It also marks the end of the line for a remarkable piece of Beaufort history. Tuesday was the last day on the job for ticket agent Curtis “Pogo” Eldred.
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Since 1962, Eldred has seen the buses come and go. He has loaded them and unloaded them with car parts shipped from Savannah or proud parents arriving for a Parris Island graduation. Like no one else, he has made connections to points all over Beaufort’s heart and soul.
“It’s a lot of memories,” Eldred said on his last day. It came one day after he turned 77, and one day before he would start looking for another job. “I could tell you stories all day.”
There was the time an inebriated man tried to get on a bus with four paint cans filled with oysters. He set them down on the bus steps, when the all-powerful driver informed he couldn’t bring those oysters on board. The drunk man said, “Yeah, I can.” The driver gave him to the count of three to remove the oysters. Then he kicked them out into the parking lot.
“I wished he hadn’t done that,” Eldred said. “Cleaning up all those oysters was horrible.”
One day a man came to the window and asked to buy a bus ticket.
“OK, where do you want to go?” Eldred asked.
“How the hell should I know, you’re the one working here,” came the reply.
He picked up the phone one day to hear a lady fussing at the answering machine. She complained to Eldred she’d been talking to that other guy for 20 minutes and he wouldn’t answer any of her questions.
The worst memory by far was the brutal murder on a Sunday morning of his fellow ticket agent, Al Evans. He was beaten and shot in an apparent robbery, still a cold case.
“That could have been me,” Eldred said. “A lot of people thought it was me.”
In 1980, he was named an “Honorary Military Policeman” of Parris Island for nabbing an AWOL recruit trying to escape with $1,400 he had stolen from 70 victims.
Eldred said he turned in hundreds of AWOL recruits over the years.
Room No. 10
Eldred knows the feeling. He graduated from boot camp at Parris Island on the Marine Corps’ birthday in 1958. He was ready to see all that the globe had to offer.
“Hell, they sent me to the air station,” he said. It was across town. They turned him into a cook and gave him the nickname, Pogo. As soon as he was released he went to work at the Greyhound station, then on Scott Street, with $6.32 in his pocket.
Like the drivers, he stayed at the Beaufort Hotel, in what is now the Beaufort Inn. For $13.50 per week, Room No. 10 came with a bed, a dresser, a sink and a pole to hang his wash on.
“I’ve worked here for 54 years,” he said on his last day, “and I’ve worked for only two people. They both gave me a job, and I believe in loyalty to bosses. I say business goes where it’s wanted and stays where it’s well-treated.”
Eldred was hired by W.T. Fickling, who was a young Greyhound employee in Columbia when they offered him the Beaufort job. He went on to open a Burger King, Maryland Fried Chicken and develop with partners the Jean Ribaut Square anchored by Kmart and including his former wife Bonnie’s Fashion Hub store.
Fickling, who ended up owning and operating 28 Burger Kings after leaving Beaufort, said the Greyhound bus station was a thriving business in those days.
Business was always driven by the Marine Corps, he said.
Eldred said that, during the Vietnam War, Parris Island had three graduations per week. For each one, nine Greyhounds lined up across from the Iwo Jima Memorial to haul new Marines to their next camp after they got 10 or 15 minutes with family.
In the old days, Beaufort had nine departures daily. People sometimes thought the town was on fire with all those big Detroit Diesels puffing smoke and clipping the curbs on the tight squeeze at the corner of Bay and Scott streets.
The last bus of the day often woke people up when it rumbled into town at 2:10 a.m.
The Terminal Grill next to the depot was open 24 hours a day, serving hungry travelers or late-night revelers from the Tap Room, the Blue Room or The Yankee Tavern.
That old location is now the Greyhound Flats at the Beaufort Inn.
It hasn’t been a bus station since 1968, but long before the last Greyhound pulled out, and long before it was an accepted thing to do, Fickling integrated the waiting rooms, restrooms and water fountains.
“I was a young, 21-year-old new kid in town, I guess,” he recalls.
Next, the Greyhound station was located on Boundary Street, in the building now occupied by Beaufort Dog. It was next to Sam Stokes’ garage, where dances were held next to the carnival site during the grand Decoration Day celebrations by African-Americans each Memorial Day.
Handwriting on the wall
John Rials eventually took the franchise from Fickling, who said the murder of his agent was enough for him.
“The internet put us out of business,” Rials said. “People can buy discounted tickets online, and when they do that we don’t get anything. We saw it coming. The handwriting has been on the wall for a couple of years. I made 35 to 40 percent less this January than last January. It was a sinking ship. It’s the same in small towns across America.”
He will continue to sell tickets at Parris Island on government contract. But the personal service, which prompted a local woman to send Eldred a card last week with $40 in it, has left the station.
On the last day, eight former recruits who looked young enough to be Boy Scouts were at the bus station because they were being sent home from Parris Island. Eldred tossed them a few decks of cards and ordered them to be back at 7 p.m.
His job was never all day, every day. He has come and gone throughout the day, like the buses, for 54 years.
He liked it when people would see him around town and say, “There goes Greyhound.”