Crossing the Desert in an Armchair

 

 

The Nairn Transport Company operated a tourist bus route between Damascus and Baghdad between the 1920s and the 1950s. The company was founded in the by two brothers from New Zealand, initially operating as a mail service and eventually evolving into a passenger service line that was marketed to western tourists.

 

The route was advertised in a brochure that proclaimed “Crossing the Desert in an Armchair!” The brochure shown here, published around 1935, promoted the service offered during that period, between Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Haifa. It is part of the Transportation Library’s collections.

 

 

The photograph shown here is part of the William Luke Photograph Collection. Luke was a bus industry executive and the founder of Bus Ride magazine. His collection of over 4,500 photographs of buses, acquired primarily as editor of Bus Ride, represents at least 60 countries from around the world and dates back to 1880, with the bulk dating between 1980 and 1999. A second collection from the same donor, the William Luke Transportation Collection, comprises over 6,200 local transit maps, time tables, transit tickets, postcards and other materials from 98 countries and 38 U.S. states.

We were delighted to find a hand-written note from Luke on the back of the photograph that read “This is a very special picture. It shows one of the U.S. built bus units by Marmon. It was in operation by the Nairn Transport Co.” It goes on to refer to an article on Nairn in the October 1983 issue of Bus Ride. The article was written by a former Nairn passenger, Betty Dodds, who traveled from Baghdad to Damascus on the route in 1935. She describes her trip, including the bus: “the bus was an ACF and most comfortable, especially since I had two seats to myself;” the included box lunch: “Nairn had provided a box lunch of sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and fruit with soda water;” and a stop in Rutba Wells for dinner: “After dinner someone wound up a Victrola and we had a few dances.” The author goes on to describe a series of breakdowns, after which the bus was eventually met by one of the Nairn brothers, who arranged for a second bus to tow the coach the final miles of the trip.

 

Further Reading

Betty Dodds. “A 1935 Bus Adventure on Nairn Transportation.” Bus Ride 19, no.6. (October 1983): 72.

John Murchison Munro. The Nairn Way: Desert Bus to Baghdad. Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan Books, 1980.