Wilsonville church starts charter bus service
With the sudden closing of Gillespie-based Cavallo Bus Lines in June 2018, Pastor Steve Martin of Life Harvest Church in Wilsonville saw an opportunity.
Martin, who worked for Cavallo for eight years as a driver and trainer, spoke to the board at his church, and a plan was set in motion. The church purchased one of the former Cavallo buses and started a subsidiary management company, Harvest Coach, to offer charter bus services, as well as trips. The church previously had a bus that they used for church trips, but this was seen as an opportunity to offer a service to the community, as well as a way to relieve Martin from having to drive for three other bus companies as he had been doing since Cavallo closed, which did not mesh well with his schedule at the church.
The bus has been repainted, though it does not yet have its lettering. The sides of the bus will say “Harvest Coach.” The back will have “Harvest Coach” and the phone number, as well as the phrase, “Life’s a journey, enjoy the ride.”
Their first trip, to see Christmas lights in the Belleville and Alton areas, was offered in December, with about 23 people in attendance. “Response has been amazing,” said Martin.
By having less overhead than traditional charter bus companies — the bus service is based out of the church and thus does not have its own utility bills, for example — the company can offer trips at a more affordable price. “We have the ability to price it just a hair lower, which gives more people the opportunity to take a trip,” said Harvest Coach General Manager Wyman Markle.
“We wanted to keep our trips affordable,” said Martin. “We feel like we’re in a range that people can afford a little easier.” Trip prices always include at least one meal and are all-inclusive unless otherwise specified, including any shows or accommodations; a portion of the price goes back to the church to help support it.
“We’re a full-fledged bus company now,” said Martin. “We have one bus, but we’re a bus company. We can do charter work for individuals and businesses; we’re hoping to do work for schools or Red Hat Lady clubs.” They will do both single-day and multiple-day trips. “I think that it’s going to take off and be a pretty big success. It’s going to help with the income of the church.”
Currently, the bus service has four employees: Pastor Martin; his wife, Brenda; and Markle and his wife, Freda. So far, they’ve been using Facebook to get the word out about their service and the trips they offer, but they’re hoping to expand their reach.
Upcoming trips include to the Taste of St. Louis on Feb. 16; Sikeston, Mo., on Feb. 23; a “50’s Flashback” trip to Starved Rock Lodge in Oglesby on March 11; Kimmswick, Mo., on March 30; the American Passion Play in Bloomington on April 6; Arthur (Amish settlement) on April 13; a Johnny Cash tribute at Starved Rock Lodge on April 17; a mystery trip on May 4; the communities of Moonshine and Casey on May 25; and to Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., from May 29-31. Attendees may be picked up at the church for each trip; additional pickup locations may be available in Litchfield, Glen Carbon or Springfield, depending on the trip. Most trips will be focused on destinations within Macoupin, Madison and Montgomery counties, but there will be others farther away, such as to theme parks.
Trips that are popular with the community will be repeated, and others will be added to the lineup over time. “We’re hoping by the end of this year we’ll have a lot of 2020 trips planned and ready to go,” said B. Martin.
For more information, search for “Harvest Coach” on Facebook, call (217) 835-3100 or stop by the church (located at 409 North Sawyer Street in Wilsonville) between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day; messages may also be sent to the Facebook page at any time.
Staff at Harvest Coach in Wilsonville, a subsidiary of Life Harvest Church, include, from left, Wyman Markle, Pastor Steve Martin and Belinda Martin; not pictured is Freda Markle.