Motorcars were a relatively new mode of transportation at the dawn of the Twentieth Century and, although automobiles had been around for several years, private automobile ownership was still something only for the rich or well established businesses…something the average Joe could only dream of. With the advent of the Ford Model T in October 1908 and its low cost and fast assembly line production the Model T changed the entire automobile industry and the world we live in. With the automobile still in its infancy, in 1909 Walter Merithew established Acme – which operated as a livery service and one of the first car rental businesses in the state of Missouri. Acme “Drive Your Self” was the rental car division while Acme Auto Livery was the livery service.
By the mid 1920’s car sales were steadily growing and roads were improving to handle the steady growth of new traffic. People were on the move and “Acme Drive-Yourself” offered an option to people who didn’t yet own a vehicle. Acme livery also offered local undertakers motorized funeral cars through their livery service.
In 1927 Acme Auto Livery Service purchased a fleet of new 1927 model Hupmobile’s. Acme was setting itself apart from other livery services by purchasing new fleet vehicles even if they were an economy line vehicle
(Above) Acme’s Livery Service consisted of a fleet of new 1927 Hupmobiles shown in this post car image.
Caption on the front of the post card reads – Six new Hupmobiles of the Acme Auto Livery recently bought from W.C. Howard Motor Co. Kansas City Mo.
The back of the post card (Below) with a stamp and post mark of August 23, 1927 was addressed to Joesph A. Butler & Son Funeral Home, 22 S. 18th St. Kansas City, Kansas. These postcards were used as an advertisement to solicit new business and this particular one reads,
“With this new equipment, appreciate your calls for funerals trips & emergency calls. Liability insurance, promptness, courtesy & service, anywhere day or night, Acme Auto Livery- Victor 1100”
What’s interesting about the fleet vehicles is that these Hupmobiles are relatively rare and not often known about these days. There really weren’t too many Hupmobiles produced compared to the large numbers of vehicles the larger automobile manufacture’s such as GM, Oldsmobile, and Buick produced, so fewer numbers of these Hupmobile’s were produced, and even fewer survived.
The Hupmobile was an automobile built from 1909 through 1940 by the Hupp Motor Company. And although the company was stricken with issues that led them to cease operations in 1940, their vehicles did leave a lasting impression in several ways. The Skylark’s grille later inspired the grilles used on Lincoln Continental models in the 1940s. Their heater technology became widely adopted in the industry. The Hupmobile dealership in Omaha, Nebraska is a prominent historic landmark. Carl Wickman, a car dealer in Hibbing, Minnesota, used an unsold 7-passenger model as the first vehicle for what would become Greyhound Bus Lines.
(Below) an early Acme Sedan Ambulance and attendant
(Below) the Acme Drive Yourself Company and garage. This photo was taken during the famous city wide tax assessment where every structure in the city was photographed and cataloged in attempt to determine tax values and create an early form of data base for the tax assessor’s office.
In 1938 Acme Ambulance service was purchased by Lawrence Vincent Hughes from then owner George Marshall. Mr. Hughes had been working for Mr. Marshall on the ambulance. When Mr. Hughes purchased the company, he moved his family into the building at 2528 Holmes. The first room to your left as your entered the home was the dispatch area. The family slept on the first floor in what was the original living room area and the ambulance employees slept on the second floor.
Lawrence V. Hughes and wife Alma “Boehm” Hughes
Like many companies under new ownership, Acme Ambulance Service with new ownership underwent some noticeable changes. With Mr. Lawrence V. Hughes now at the helm, Mr. Hughes wanted to increase business and the company’s presence within the city.
Acme like other ambulance services of the day also took advantage of the spare tire cover on their vehicles and used it to proudly display their company name as seen in this image below of Acme’s 1937 Buick.
This wasn’t enough for Mr. Hughes as he was a firm believer that to help set Acme apart it should always have a nice modern fleet of vehicles. This was difficult initially as money was tight from buying the company. All extra cash was used to pay off the loans. Here is a copy of the original promissory note Mr. Hughes signed to buy the Acme Company building back in 1938
After Mr. Hughes was able to pay off his loans and the business had become more manageable Mr. Hughes set off to make Acme Ambulance Service into a first class company. However with the turn of events into WWII the entire economy took a turn as automobiles and metal were very limited. If this wasn’t enough in 1942 Acme lost one of its ambulances in a wreck. Their 1937 Buick was badly damaged when it was involved in an automobile accident.
Notice the damaged Sterling Siren light on the front bumper and the broken Steady red light next to it.
Seen here is a fleet image of Acme Henney-Packard Funeral vehicles and Limousines. These vehicle models were operated by Acme Livery Company (Not Acme Ambulance service). Acme Livery Company at this time was still owned by Mr. Merithew and was located at 1009 Troost Ave. Mr. Hughes at the time only owned and operated Acme Ambulance Service which was a separate company.
From left to right: (3) 1937 Henney-Packards, (1) 1938 or 1939 Henney-Packard, (2) 1940 Henney-Packards
Packard was America’s preeminent luxury car in the Thirties. Through an exclusivity agreement arrived at with the Packard Motor Car Company in 1938, Henney became the sole North American professional car manufacturer authorized to mount funeral car and ambulance bodies on the Packard commercial chassis. Henney-Packards were considered the top of the line car during this time period and were handcrafted masterpieces of elegance with a distinctive styling that set the bar very high for competitive brands. Having a Packard was one thing, but having a fleet of them was sure to set your company apart from the others. These were expensive cars back in the day so having so many Packard’s was in fact a statement of a very successful company.
Acme Livery Service still owns and operates one of these rare 1941 Henney-Packard Hearses seen here below. After all these years the stately elegance of these Henney-Packard Hearses still stands as a testament to their quality craftsmanship and timeless beauty.
Seen below is another very rare surviving example of one of these distinctively elegant 1941 Packard 4198L Custom Built Henney Funeral Coach in immaculate condition. This particular vehicle is currently owned by Mike Burkhart of Dodge City Kansas. This is an original Kansas City car and although Mike continues his ongoing research to trace the roots of his special vehicle he has not yet been able to determine the original owner or when it was purchased new. His research however does indicate this car was originally from Kansas City and with Acme Livery Company purchasing and operating so many Packard’s during this time period it would be neat to think that Acme possibly operated this car when new.
Finally in 1945 Walter Merithew sold Acme Livery Company to Mr. Lawrence V. Hughes thus merging the livery company and ambulance service into one company. Walter Merithew however retained ownership of Acme Drive Yourself and the Acme mechanic garage and gas station which are show early in the article.
When Mr. Hughes bought the Livery Service, he moved his family out of the business to a home at 52nd and Woodland.
With the end of WWII came a huge economic boom and once again business and manufacturing were increasing at a never before seen pace. Acme like other companies began to benefit from the improved economy and before long Mr. Hughes was able to fulfill his goal of buying new vehicles for Acme, a trend that would last even today with Acme.
Seen here is a calendar that Acme Drive Yourself Company provided as advertisement in 1947 indicating that Mr. Merithew apparently sold the company to a Mr. Sandusky and Mr. Taylor.
With the end of the war, Tom Bradley returned to Acme where he had worked for Mr. Merithew before the war. Mr. Hughes welcomed Tom Bradley back to continue working for the company. Tom worked on the ambulance for several years. As the business expanded and Mr. Hughes’ health deteriorated, Mr. Hughes felt the need for a manager. He offered the position initially to his younger brother Karl, who declined the responsibility. He then offered the position to Tom Bradley who accepted it and proved to be a very capable leader.
With Tom’s leadership and with Lawrence V. and Karl Hughes beside him, together they worked diligently to expand and grow Acme as the baby-boom generation and the overall US economy was at one of its largest expansions in history. The economy was in full force which benefited almost everyone including Acme.
(Below) Mr. Hughes’s taking delivery of two new 1948 Superior-Cadillac limousine style funeral coaches at the Lima, Ohio plant
These were one of the newest set of fleet vehicles Mr. Hughes was able to purchase himself directly from the factory. He was so impressed with the trip and how warmly he was greeted by the people at Superior that it made a lasting impression. This also began Acme on a trend of trips directly to the factory to pick up newly purchased professional vehicles which can be noted in the many additional images within this story.
Mr. Hughes also enjoyed these trips outside of Kansas City to meet other business owners and to learn what was new in the industry. Acme was a pioneer in many ways when it came to professional vehicles. On one hand Acme would buy a top of the line professional car whether it be an ambulance or funeral coach and then their next purchase might be a mid price range vehicle just to give that company some business while at the same time allowing Acme to have a very diverse feet. Acme was always looking for new avenues to expand their business.
To help further the growth of Acme livery service and Acme ambulance service, Acme entered into an agreement to offer air Ambulance service and special airport limousine service. Although Acme did not actually own the airplanes, they were used on an “as need” on-call rental agreement. Helping Acme with this arraignment was Dr. McNally who besides being a medical doctor was an avid aviator and a close personal friend of Mr. Hughes.
Acme used this idea to help set it apart from other companies and was one of the first livery service companies in the region to offer such service, a trend that other companies copied and followed.
A promotional shot taken of 8 Acme professional vehicles and two air service Ambulance planes. This image was also used in promotional advertisements that highlighted their unique air ambulance service.
(Below image) From left to right, the cars, all of which are 1946-48 long-wheelbase eight-passenger sedans are as identified; Chrysler, DeSoto, Chrysler, Cadillac, (The car in the foreground, with cot)- is a Dodge, Chrysler, Dodge, Chrysler. These immediate post-war long-wheelbase Chrysler products were extremely popular as sedan ambulances. There were a number of conversion houses producing them. Chrysler made seven-passenger, long wheelbase sedans available in the Chrysler, DeSoto and Dodge product lines.
Another image at the airport with Mr. Hughes on the left in this image standing among friends and associates
Acme’s business continued to grow as did their reputation as being the livery service that could handle livery / fleet services for large funerals. Acme’s ability to provide the top of the line vehicles and service came in handy when in April of 1950 the big news of the day was the Mafia hit of Kansas City’s alleged crime boss Charles Binaggio and his associate Charles Gargotta. This was major front page headlines across the nation and we can just imagine the paper boys standing on corners around Kansas City waving newspapers in the air while shouting “Extra, Extra, read all about it..shooting at Democratic club, two dead”
Note the prominent portrait of Harry S Truman on the wall in the background
This news story was huge and the ramifications for Kansas City were indeed just as big too. With the crime boss now out of the picture the question of who would replace him were asked along with questions of who was either brave enough or foolish enough to carry out such a hit. The local detectives were quoted in the above news article as saying; “It had to be out of town gangsters as no-one in Kansas City is tough enough or brave enough to pull such a job” Frank Collins the head detective mentions the FBI was contacted and were notified of the slayings.
Kansas City mob activity was nothing new to the FBI as the infamous Kansas City massacre at Union Station resulted in four law enforcement officers being killed (one FBI Agent) along with the gangster who was being transported, who ironically the bad guys were there to free. The Kansas City Massacre changed the FBI. Prior to this event the agency did not have authority to carry firearms (although some agents reportedly did) and make arrests (they could make a “citizen’s arrest”, then call a U.S. Marshal or local law officer), but a year later Congress gave the FBI statutory authority to carry guns and make arrests (in May 1934)
Crime Scene photo of the Kansas City Massacre
Due to the infamous mob history in Kansas City, the citizens of Kansas City had their full attention gripped on these recent murders. At the time of these killings Lawrence Hughes was also a deputy medical examiner in Kansas City and he was tasked with the body removals of Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta. Seen below is Lawrence Hughes during the removal of the body of Charles Binaggio.
As the city prepared for the funerals of Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta preparations behind the scenes were underway for what was sure to be two very large funerals. It seemed like the entire nation was gripped in some way on these two murders due to their political connections. With Lawrence Hughes at the helm and due to the nature of such a large prominent funeral it was without saying that Acme Livery Service was called in to provide their professional assistance and multiple vehicles.
In the image below which also appeared in the Kansas City Star on April 10, 1950 was Binaggio’s funeral which was attended by over 1,200 people. Lawrence V. Hughes of Acme Livery service is seen in this image at the head of the casket. The news paper clipping also indicates Lawrence’s brother Karl Hughes was at the foot of the casket. Karl also worked at Acme as Vice President and can be seen in other images throughout this story.
Lawrence V. Hughes at the head of Charlie Binaggio’s casket
Acme having the prestige of servicing such large prominent funerals only added to the company’s reputation as being the “go to” company that could service such large funerals where the need of multiple nice funeral vehicles were expected. This caused Lawrence Hughes to feel that it was even more important now to always have the nicest most modern fleet of professional vehicles available at all times.
In 1953 Acme hired a professional photographer to once again take pictures of their fleet for promotional purposes. These images below are of some of their new 1953 fleet taken at the base at the Liberty WWI memorial in Kansas City. Shown in these “fleet shots” of Acme’s rolling stock: three 1953 Superior-Cadillac Landaulet funeral coaches and four 1953 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 nine-passenger sedans.
Lawrence Hughes is seen in the picture (below) third from the left along with Acme staff members posing next to their new vehicles.
Acme would continue to purchase new Cadillac’s as well as other vehicles.
In 1954 Acme Ambulance service purchased an almost matched pair of 1954 Superior-Pontiac long-wheelbase ambulances. Superior began building Pontiacs at its Mississippi bus plant in 1953 and this provided a new trip destination for Acme to pick up new vehicles. Acme operated their ambulances in an all white color scheme the entire span of their ambulance service after Lawrence V. Hughes purchased the company.
Notice the ambulance on the left has the rear quarter panel window blocked out. This car on the left is a rather rare Pathfinder model. This was an inexpensive version of the standard Pontiac Regency which was developed at the end of the 1954 model year. Originally intended for South American export markets, the Pathfinder ambulance was a significantly de-contented version of the Model 2546 ambulance. They were made available for domestic consumption after dealers found out that they were available and demanded the opportunity to have access to this entry-level offering for sale in North America. The car on the right is a “standard” model 2546 ambulance. In 1954, Superior produced 195 Pontiac-based professional cars of which 47 (or 23.6%) were ambulances.
1954 Superior-Pontiac long-wheelbase ambulances
This same image above was then used in promotional advertisements which were sent out around town, below is just one example of these many advertisements Acme used.
In 1955 Acme provided limousine vehicles for the Walt Disney Company for the production of “When I grow up, boy airplane pilot, girl air hostess” This was a collaboration between Disney productions and TWA Airlines which was based in Kansas City and owned and operated by Billionaire Howard R. Hughes (no relation).
(Below) This is an image sent enclosed in a letter to Lawrence Hughes of Acme by Gordon McLean of Walt Disney Productions showing the young Disney actress who starred in the production. The young actress is on the front row in the wide striped shirt as she sits in and participates in one of the air hostess training sessions given by a TWA flight attendant.
Walt Disney was fond of Kansas City as the city always held a special place in his heart. This was because Kansas City is where Walt Disney got his start and opened his very first professional cartoon film studio in 1922 at the age of 20. The building which housed Walt’s Laugh-O-Gram studio still stands today and is located at 31st and Forrest Street.
(Below) is the letter sent to Lawrence Hughes of Acme by Disney Corporation thanking him for the limousine service he provided
Acme offices and garage located at 2528 Holmes Street is where Acme operated the livery and ambulance service. This location served the company well for many years. The only issue with Acme’s location is there never seemed to be enough space in the garage to fit all the cars.
With their ambulance service, Acme used a wide variety of vehicles and Mr. Hughes was not opposed in operating a variety of car manufactures for their ambulance fleet.
(Below) is Acme’s all white 1957 National Plymouth Custom Suburban station wagon ambulance conversion. Larry V. Hughes purchased this vehicle locally in Kansas City and his wife and son Larry B. drove this original station wagon directly to National Body Manufacturing Company located in Knightstown Indiana where it was converted into the ambulance seen below. Acme then returned to take delivery of this vehicle when the conversion was completed. This National Ambulance is not to be confused with National Hearse & Ambulance Company, a Toledo, Ohio firm, they are different coach manufactures. This image below is a rare vehicle indeed.
Seen below is Acme’s 1958 Desoto standard-wheelbase sedan ambulance conversion pulling into St Joseph’s Hospital in Kansas City which was located at Prospect Ave. at Linwood. Again Acme operated an all white fleet of ambulances regardless of what manufacture or coach builder the ambulance was produce by.
Below is the same 1958 Desoto Comet ambulance where attendants are removing a patient.
Again in 1958 Lawrence Hughes goes to the factory to take delivery of three new 1958 Superior-Cadillac Landau funeral coaches. In this image below Karl Hughes (Lawrence’s brother) is on the far left while Lawrence is on the far right. Acme again has new model vehicles which keep their fleet as current as possible and offers their clients the nicest funeral cars available.
By 1960 Acme was continuing to grow and Lawrence Vincent Hughes wife, Alma Boehm Hughes worked in the Acme office and kept everything running smooth as seen in this image below taken in June of 1960. Alma simply went by the name “Boehm” which is noted in many of the images within this article.
Like all small businesses when Lawrence V. Hughes originally bought Acme he worked the ambulance 24/7 while his wife “Boehm” answered the phone and ran the office. Lawrence’s brother Karl had joined the team in the mid 1940’s.
(above) Alma Boehm Hughes – 1960 Acme Office
(Above) Exterior of the Acme Office –June 1960
Lawrence Vincent Hughes son Larry B. Hughes graduated from college in 1960 and began working at Acme fulltime which officially started his 45 year career with the family firm. Since both father and son both went by the name Larry they referred to Jr. as “Larry B” to differentiate the two. Larry “B” had worked his way through high school and college working on his father’s ambulances to earn money and to learn the family business. He enjoyed the work and looked forward to now officially being a fulltime employee.
As the 1960s ushered in a new decade of style and culture Acme was right there to embrace it all. By 1961 automobiles were drastically redesigned and more refined. Gone were the large tail fins that defined the late 50’s and only a few models still had very mild remnants of fins. There was a new young fresh atmosphere across the entire country but in terms of funerals and ambulance service people still expected the best. Acme didn’t disappoint and led the way once again during the 1960’s starting with Acme taking delivery of their new fleet vehicles early on.
Below Left to right, Lawrence V. Hughes, Boehm Hughes, Karl’s little son Jimmy Hughes , a young but tall Larry B. Hughes, and Karl Hughes of Acme Livery Service once again at Superior plant in Lima Ohio posing in front of their new (3) 1961 Superior-Cadillac Sovereign Landaulets.
Below A Superior Sales associate hands a young Larry B. Hughes the keys to the new car
Wasting no time Lawrence V. Hughes of Acme Ambulance also traveled to Kosiusko, Mississippi in June 1961 to take delivery of three new 1961 Superior-Pontiac Consort ambulances for the Acme fleet.
“These interesting photos below were taken at the Superior Coach Corp’s Southern Division plant in Kosiusko, Mississippi — where Superior built its Pontiac chassised ambulances: Superior-Cadillac’s were built exclusively at the company’s home plant in Lima, Ohio. The short-wheelbase, high-headroom Consort was a mid-1961 model year introduction, which makes these pictures of particular interest as these are rare images. Note the other Pontiac chassis in the background”. – Walt McCall
Above left to right, Boehm Hughes, Glenn Pittser, and Larry V. Hughes and the introduction of the new 1961 Superior-Pontiac Consort ambulances
Above left to right, Superior Sales man handing Larry V. Hughes keys, Glenn Pittser, Boehm Hughes with their (3) new 1961 Superior-Pontiac Consort ambulances
(Below) one of the newly delivered 1961 Superior Pontiac Consorts ambulances in front of Acme offices in Kansas City Mo. with ambulance staff standing in front of vehicle. Notice the Acme name on the building.
(Below) In December of 1962 Mr. Hughes on behalf of Acme once again went to Superior Coach to take delivery of three new 1963 Superior-Cadillac Sovereign Landaulet funeral coachers in the new-car delivery room at the plant in Lima, Ohio. During this time period Acme purchased many of their Superior funeral coaches through Ralph Mullen’s Superior Sales of Kansas City and often on multiple vehicle purchase orders Ralph Mullen would accompany Lawrence Hughes to Lima Ohio and help drive the vehicles back to Kansas City.
3 – 1963 Superior-Cadillac Sovereign Landaulet funeral coachers (LtoR) Lawrence Hughes, Boehm Hughes, and Jack Bidwell.
As Acme continued its growth Lawrence V. Hughes was active in many facets of funeral and ambulance service and the associations that represent the industry. Mr. Hughes made many friends in the industry and probably a few enemies along the way but those who didn’t like Mr. Hughes were probably on the receiving end of his business out performing theirs.
On September 17, 1964 Acme Livery provided vehicles and drivers to the Beatles while they were in Kansas City for the Kansas City leg of their second US invasion Concerts. It was Jerry Hughes (Lawrence’s son) who actually drove the Acme limousine the Beetles rode in during their stay in Kansas City. Jerry worked with Acme for only 6 months before venturing off on his own career path but having the family connection to the company and enjoying lending a helping hand whenever needed, Jerry was always only a phone call away to help his brother (Larry) and his Uncle (Karl) when they needed anything, which was usually extra drivers.
The Beatles in limo in Boston, Mass. on Sept. 12, 1964, five days before arriving in Kansas City. Photo by Curt Gunther/Courtesy Steve Gunther (Some Fun Tonight)
The Beetles were not the only music group to use the services of Acme Livery Service, during the 1960’s while the Beach Boys were on tour and performing in Kansas City they also requested Acme’s limousine services however their special request was not for a limousine but rather a van which fit their beach going image. Acme didn’t disappoint and luckily Acme owned a white customized van which proved to be the perfect vehicle for the special request.
In 1965 Kansas City played host to the American Ambulance Association Convention and Acme Ambulance Service via Larry Hughes was forefront at this event as Mr. Hughes played Co-Chairman. Along with familiar names from all around the country this particular convention was the who’s who of American Ambulance service providers. This year seemed to be the pinnacle of old school Ambulance operators who were on hand with a list including well know operators including Fred Ruggiero from the Bronx, New York, Stephen Rossini of Brooklyn, New York, and Gordon Johnson of Hess & Eisenhardt. Bob & VeVe Randle and his brother Bill, of Miami along with Walter Schaefer of Los Angeles. Mrs. Bill Randle and the Jim O’Neil’s are also present. This truly was a gathering of great Ambulance professionals.
The new 1965 Amblewagon was on display at the 1965 Ambulance Association of Americas convention and provided by Automotive Conversion Corporation.
(Below) the National Convention photo page
(Below) Lawrence Hughes, Bill Goodhue, Ken Thompson, & Sandy Goodhue at the 1965 National Ambulance Convention
(Below) Lawrence Hughes standing behind table of attendees at the 1965 National Ambulance Association Convention in Kansas City MO
Also in 1965 Acme purchased a new 1965 Superior – Cadillac 3–way funeral coach which is still owned by Acme as of this writing.
While Acme and Physicians Exchange were the two largest ambulance and Livery services in Kansas City both owners (Eugene Desaulniers of Physicians Exchange and Lawrence V. Hughes and Larry B. Hughes of Acme) were good friends and often helped each other out. This friendship even extended to them sharing equipment between companies when the need arose.
In February of 1968, Lawrence Vincent Hughes died of a heart attack.
On April, 2nd 1969 Acme supplied 12 Limousines for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s funeral in Abilene, Kansas. Larry B. Hughes and Glenn Pittser were two of the drivers as well as 10 soldiers from a local army base. Ralph Mullen’s Superior Sales of Shawnee Mission Kansas provided the actual new 1969 Superior Sovereign end-loading landaulet Cadillac funeral coach and assisted in arraigning may more additional limousines for all the dignitaries and heads of state. Ralph Mullen’s called upon people he knew from as far away as Wichita Kansas and other surrounding towns and together with Acme they were able to amass numerous professional cars for this historic presidential funeral as 25 limousines were initially requested but the need for more cars continued to grow as the funeral arraignments took shape. The final number of livery cars was so large that the count was lost. Also in the funeral procession were numerous Secret Service vehicles and the then current President Nixon’s limousine.
Seen in this image below the casket is carried from the funeral train in Abilene, Kansas. Larry Hughes is pictured in the crowd of men to left in this image.
Seen below in this rare Xeroxed photo static image is the funeral procession of President Dwight D. Eisenhower moving through the streets of downtown Abilene, Kansas (at Third and Buckeye Streets) Ralph Mullen is seen driving the new 1969 Superior Sovereign end-loading landaulet Cadillac funeral coach followed by a fleet of limousines provided by Acme Livery Service. The route was lined on both sides by an Army street honor cordon of 10 officers and 720 enlisted men.
Additional images of this historic funeral show several more of the professional vehicles that took part in the procession.
As the 1970’s were ushered in again Acme was in the forefront leading the way with its fleet of vehicles. Nothing changed except the body styles of the vehicles and the haircuts and attire of the day.
In December of 1971 the Kansas City Star featured and article on retiring Acme Ambulance driver Glenn Pittser’s. The article claimed over Mr. Pittser’s 33 year Acme career that he hauled an estimated 50,000 patients, and probably drove over a million miles. I found it interesting they used the term “Hauled” as back in the day that’s basically all ambulances did, was transport (or hauled) patients.
Quote: The $15,000 dollar 1972 model ambulance he drives is equipped with oxygen equipment, complete first aid supplies and suction equipment to keep breathing passages clear. It also has extra stretchers to haul up to four patients, special supports to immobilize victims with back injuries and a nicely unheard of in 1938 air conditioner
In 1972 Eugene Desaulniers, Larry Hughes, and Hadley Reimel are shown below (second Row) in a Newspaper clipping titled “Emergency Charter”. This was a charter flight which carried local Kansas City officials, along with police, fire and ambulance officials to Jacksonville Florida to view a new emergency medical care delivery system.
In December of 1972 another beloved US president passed away and again Acme Livery Service was there to assist in another prestigious Presidential Funeral. This time Acme supplied on contract a new funeral coach to Carson’s funeral home of Independence, Missouri for President Harry S. Truman’s funeral.
The below images are views looking out from a car towards the George C. Carson Funeral Home in Independence, Missouri, near the corner of Lexington Avenue and South Fuller Avenue. These photos were taken in August of 1972 as part of the covert planning for the funeral of former President Harry S. Truman. (Donor: Terry Van Meter, U. S. Cavalry Museum, Fort Riley, Kansas)
Although Acme Livery Services provided a new S&S Cadillac Victoria Landau funeral coach for the presidents funeral an older model funeral coach and limousine are seen in the Funeral Home drive in these earlier images above which were taken 4 months prior to the actual funeral. Seen below is the new S&S Cadillac Victoria Landau which was used in the Truman Funeral to carry the body to its final resting spot.
Such historical events are a testament to the rich diverse history of Kansas City and not many livery services in America can claim to have serviced such a wide range of clients including a Hollywood movie production, two prominent presidential funerals, music groups one of which were the Beetles on one of the most famous concert tours in world history, and the unfortunate dark side of the criminal underworld which is fascinatingly woven into Kansas City history.
Mr. Hughes and Acme Livery Service were never one to boast about such special clients or their role in such events. During the research for this article Mr. Hughes had to be reminded by a family member to mention Acmes’ role in the presidential funeral of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Hughes simply said “Ah yea that funeral, I hadn’t given thought about that one in several years”
When asked how he could ever be so laid back regarding such a memorable and important historical funeral he participated in, his reply is what could be said defines his professional character and the foundation of Acmes business practice which still stands to this day. Paraphrasing Mr. Hughes, he replied, “I always treated every client with the exact same level of quality service with the best and newest cars possible, the only difference in any service was simply the number of vehicles we provided, other than that everyone was treated the same, our high standards dictated this regardless of who the person was” – Larry B. Hughes
(Below) Acme is again seen taking delivery at Superiors Lima Ohio plant in the new-car delivery room. This time it’s in the form of three 1974 Superior-Cadillac Sovereign Landaulets and two 54″ Rescuer Ambulance.
(Below) two new 1974 Superior-Cadillac 54″ Rescuer Ambulances. Note the names on the name boards are different for some reason as one reads “KC Ambulance” while the other reads “Acme Ambulance”. Again both ambulances were all white as the Acme Ambulance fleet had always been.
1974 Superior-Cadillac 54″ Rescuer Ambulances
In 1976 Acme purchased their last Cadillac ambulances. This was the end of the era of passenger based professional cars for Acme which operated these vehicles until 1978. In 1977 Acme purchased their first modular Superior ambulances and these van / truck based ambulances took some getting used to in terms of operating. The ambulance attendants joked that these new van ambulances rode rougher than a cattle truck. The attendants who were assigned to work on the old Cadillac’s also joked that since the Cadillac’s rode so smooth they didn’t have to stop when administering an IV, which the van drivers often had to as those first truck and van based ambulances were so rough often times the driver had to actually stop the van ambulances so the attendants could start an IV.
By the late 1970’s Acme Ambulance Service would cease to exist. In 1978 Lawrence Hughes met with Eugene Desaulniers of Physicians Exchange and Hadley Reimel of Independence, MO. At the city’s request, the three men combined their Ambulance operations and formed Ambulance Services Incorporated. Acme Livery Service would continue to operate their livery service separately while ASI (Ambulance Services Incorporated) would operate the ambulance service out of a different facility.
Ambulance Services Inc was granted the first city wide ambulance service contract. By the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s Ambulance Services Inc had over 100 employees and a large fleet of modern state of the art modular and van ambulances purchased through MCC (Mid Continent Conversion) Company / Stratus Ambulances of Kansas City Missouri which was owned and operated by Gene Knisley.
Acme Livery Service continued growing and purchasing new model funeral vehicles and again as the 1980’s were ushered in Acme Livery Service continued to lead the way.
In 1983 alleged Kansas City Crime boss Nick Civella died and while Sebbeto Funeral home was tasked with his funeral arrangements and funeral service, it was Acme Livery Service that provided the fleet of vehicles for this historic funeral. No fewer than 10 professional cars were used in this funeral and a nice new Superior-Cadillac hearse.
In 1984 Acme placed a nine car order with Armbruster-Stageway. Below is Larry B. Hughes, President of Acme Livery Service taking delivery of four new 1984 six door limousines which were part of the nine car order. These cars were sold to Acme Livery Service by Ralph Mullen’s Superior Coach Sales, Shawnee Mission, Kansas. Ralph Mullen’s Superior and Acme Livery Service had an incredible working relationship for many years. As Acme ordered and purchased many of their vehicles Ralph Mullen’s would often accompany Larry Hughes to Lima Ohio to take delivery of new professional vehicles. Often in such large orders it was much easier and more cost effective for the client to arrange pick up of the vehicles. The savings then allowed the client to justify a small little get away or “mini vacation” as Mr. Hughes would describe. He enjoyed taking along friends or employees on such trips and enjoying 2-3 days while being able to have a tax write off on all the expenditures including hotel rooms, meals, and travel.
In 1984 Acme placed a nine car order with Armbruster-Stageway
During the 1980’s Acme Livery Service also began purchasing vehicles from Southwest Professional Vehicles out of Dallas Texas. The Myer family had purchased Southwest Professional Vehicles in 1981 from Gordon K. Allen. Mr. Myers and his son Sean developed a close professional relationship with Larry Hughes and Acme Livery Service over the years of selling professional cars to Acme Livery Service.
In November, 1989 the matriarch of Acme Livery Service Alma Boehm Hughes (Lawrence V. Hughes’ wife) died. Her passing left an incredible void due to her loving and maternal instincts and direction over the many years. It was only fitting that Acme provide the funeral vehicles for her funeral. For Acme this was probably the most important funeral they had serviced, more so than even the presidents and music stars they had served.
Acme was a respectably large and fairly loyal customer for the products emanating from Accubuilt’s Lima production facility. Annual buyer’s were highly respected and appreciated by both the powers that be in Lima and the various dealers they purchased these vehicles through. Fleet sales of this type were profitable “icing on the cake” for any builder or dealer and never taken for granted.
These are direct factory sales numbers from Accubuilt regarding vehicles Acme purchased during the 80’s and early 1990’s and where they were purchased through.
1982 3 Superior Mullen Superior Sales RWD
1983 4 Superior Mullen Superior Sales RWD
1984 6 Superior Mullen Superior Sales RWD
1986 4 Superior Mullen Superior Sales FWD
1987 3 Superior Mullen Superior Sales FWD
1988 4 Superior Superior Southwest FWD
1989 4 Superior Superior Southwest FWD Hi-Roof
1990 3 Superior Memphis Coach FWD Hi-Roof
1991 4 S&S Midwest Automotive FWD Hi-Roof
1992 4 S&S Midwest Automotive FWD Hi-Roof
1993 3 S&S Midwest Automotive FWD Hi-Roof
1986 6 Superior Mullen Superior Sales FWD
1987 5 Superior Mullen Superior Sales FWD
1988 5 Superior Southwest FWD
1989 5 Superior Southwest FWD
1990 5 Superior Memphis Coach FWD
1991 5 S&S Midwest Automotive FWD
1992 5 S&S Midwest Automotive FWD
1993 5 S&S Midwest Automotive FWD
In 1993 Acme Livery Service is seen below taking delivery of several of their new fleet vehicles. These S&S Victoria model F450 funeral cars retailed for $62,686. These (5) funeral coaches totally $250,000.00 dollars were the first part of a larger vehicle order which Acme was accustom to placing each year.
Trips to the factory were no longer as frequent because with the large number of vehicles Acme was purchasing each year the vehicles were simply mass delivered on multiple car carriers to Acme’s front door. These Sayers & Scovill’s were sold to Acme by Lloyd Hatfield of Midwest S&S Auto Sales of Kansas City.
Karl (left) and Larry Hughes (right) at the old Acme office in November of 1992.
In 2006 Larry Hughes after 45 years of working and managing Acme Livery Service sold the company to Sean Myers owner of Southwest Professional Vehicles. Larry Hughes sent this letter (below) to announce the transaction. The content of the letter indicates that Larry’s family connection to Sean Myers and his family was the guiding decision to pass the torch on so that Acme could continue its long history of professional service to Kansas City
When Mr. Myers purchased Acme Livery Service in 2006 Acme was operating a fleet of 16 limousines and 14 funeral coaches.
Karl J. Hughes passed away on July 24, 2006 at 89 years of age
In 2007 Acme Livery moved into their current location after extensive remodeling. With the remodel there’s just a nice historical presence to the building and the new location lends itself to the historic company which occupies it. However like their old location Acme Livery Service still never seems to have enough room in their large garage for all their vehicles. This lack of garage space which has always been a constant issue was partially solved by a business plan which Larry Hughes initiated when he was operating Acme.
This plan consisted of strategically placing several of their newest funeral coaches and limousines at funeral homes around the greater Kansas City area which are operated by their regular contract clients. This allowed the actual funeral homes to have the cars on site both for presentation and necessity thus elevating parking spaces in the Acme Livery Service garage.
As of this writing in September 2014 Acme Livery Service operates of fleet of over 40 professional vehicles with the majority of the vehicles being 2014 models. The acme garage can accommodate about 30 vehicles however around 20 vehicles proves to be the sufficient number which allows ease for maneuvering, parking, and accessing the vehicles and even then it can be challenging. It’s also very common to drive by the Acme garage and see several of their professional vehicles parked along the street on any given day as regular operations are underway which makes these vehicles much easier to manage and access.
Seen below are images inside the Acme garage and a few of the many vehicles Acme operates, as the images clearly show there is never enough room under the round-top to fit all the cars.
The Acme Porter standing in the garage entrance
The Acme Livery Service office and garage image below taken in 2014
Professional Car buffs might also find it neat that on Google Street view of Acme Livery Service located at 501 East 33rd St. Kansas City, Missouri one can see professional vehicles parked outside during business hours, indicating the business is very active.
In 2012 while working together designing the new Cadillac XTS Sean Myers and Richard Lester came up with the idea of resurrecting the Armbruster – Stageway name. By 2013 they had filed the proper papers and had claimed the abandoned trademark name thus resulting in them re-launching the famed Armbruster – Stageway name. Since that time Acme Livery Service has proudly been using the new Armbruster – Stageway professional vehicles which are today one of the best manufactured professional vehicles available. Owning and operating Acme Livery Service has given Mr. Myers the ability to know firsthand the needs of the modern livery service and this in turn has helped Armbruster-Stageway create these modern masterpieces which are referred to as “professional” vehicles.
Below is Armbruster-Stageway Cadillac Crown Landau operated by Acme Livery Service. This photo was taken in front of Kansas City Union Station
More Armbruster – Stageway vehicles operated by Acme Livery Service.
Acme Livery Service today is over 100 years old and still going strong and continues to grow. Acme has never lost touch with its roots and even offers the use of a few select vintage professional cars. Acme vintage inventory includes an 1882 S&S horse drawn funeral coach, 1939 Cadillac business sedan, a fully restored 1941 Henney-Packard Nu 3-Way hearse, 1953 Cadillac Formal Limousine, a 1959 Superior Crown Royal Combination, and as already mentioned a 1965 Superior- Cadillac 3-Way hearse which was purchased new by Acme in 1965, a 1970 Miller-Meteor end loader, 1972 Daimler hearse (British), 1976 Miller Meteor Cadillac funeral coach, and a few other older vehicles that are not yet considered “vintage” automobiles at this time, but given a few more years they will be.
In this corner of the garage are parked some of the vintage professional cars and in the forefront is the Black 1965 Superior 3-way table car purchased new and still in service by Acme. In the back is the White 1970 Miller Meteor end loader, both are all original cars.
Today Acme Livery Service still proclaims the same liability insurance, promptness, courtesy & service, anywhere day or night; just as their 1927 post card advertisement, the only thing that’s change is their address and phone number.
A special thank you is extended to Acme Livery Service, Sean Myers, and the Hughes family for all their assistance in providing the many images and information herein. Tom and Laura a special appreciation is extended to you both for all your hard work in digitizing the many older images herein.
The images contained in this article are property of the Hughes family and / or Acme Livery Service / Armbruster-Stageway (Copyrighted) and may not be used or duplicated without prior written permission.
A special thanks to Mike Burkhart for the image of his 1941 Henney – Packard Funeral Coach.
A very special thank you also goes to both Walt McCall and Tom McPherson for their valued assistance in identifying various vehicles and providing additional information for this article.
Eugene D. Desaulniers, 87, of Kansas City, MO, passed away July 8, 2014. Eugene had owned and operated Physicians Exchange Ambulance Service up until its merger with ASI (Ambulance Services Inc.) ASI was a joint partnership with Larry B. Hughes (Acme Ambulance) and Hadley Reimel. After ASI was acquired by the city Eugene worked for the IRS and then for Acme Livery Service in the office up until the week of his passing. Eugene was part of the Acme family for many years and his recent passing leaves an indelible mark both on Acme Livery Service and Kansas City history. A special posthumous thank you is extended to Eugene for is early assistance on this article.