Excerpt from Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s “Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages Adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” 2005, IAI Inc. with B. Garrity-Blake, lead ethnographer/writer. A. Midgett interview recorded by Amy Glass, 1988, Southern Oral History Program. Map drawn by B. Garrity-Blake.
T. Stockton Midgett was a Coast Guard surfman who raised his family in the 1920s and 30s in a Rodanthe house fashioned from timbers of a wrecked ship. With no paved roads or bridges, Midgett saw a need for improved transportation on and off the island. In 1938 he began the Manteo-Hatteras Bus Line that ran from Hatteras Village to Manteo.
But he died of a heart attack two months later, leaving his sons - eighteen-year-old Harold, fourteen-year-old Anderson, and ten-year-old Stockton “Stocky” Midgett - to carry on the business with a Ford station wagon.
Islanders were glad to have transportation other than boat, and in the early years were not bothered by the brothers’ youth or lack of driver’s licenses. They used the bus line in such numbers that the Midgetts soon switched to larger buses. They ran the Manteo-Hatteras Bus Line for the next 35 years.
“We used to bring just about everybody that left Ocracoke to go to Norfolk. They all traveled with us – Ocracoke, Hatteras, Buxton, Avon, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo, all of them. So we got to know just about everybody in the whole area,” recalled Anderson Midgett.
Sand ruts and hard beach formed the only routes, and a wooden ferry carried vehicles from the north end of the island en route to Manteo. “That was a private ferry run by Toby Tillet and Pam Gallop,” said Anderson. “They were both Wanchese fellows with a small ferry named the New Inlet and a larger called the Barcelona.”
“We used to call our route “the 101” – hundred and one roads because there was no designated road. If the tide was out, you drove the surf. If the tide was in, you drove the bank of the beach or a dozen inside roads.” The Midgetts drove across shallow inlets cut by storms and avoided deepwater cuts by driving out into the sound. They maneuvered the bus around shipwrecks. They routinely got stuck in the sand, requiring passengers to get out and push.
The brothers worked endless hours keeping the vehicles maintained, as sand and saltwater was rough on the station wagons and school bus-type vehicles. “It wasn’t unusual to break a spring a day,” said Anderson Midgett. “Work on them half the night to get them ready for the next day. We started a little garage and kept them painted and washed down. We must have used, in thirty five years, over a hundred buses.”
The Midgetts took out loans when in need of a new bus or major repair, repaying the bank promptly. “We’d usually wear the busses out completely until they rusted right out. Everyone said we were hard drivers. You had to be hard drivers to drive on the beach.”
Villagers paid around $2.50 for a one way trip from Hatteras to Manteo, and “the fare never did go over $2.75.” Their schedule began at Hatteras Inlet, where they met the boat from Ocracoke at 8:15. They would drive north, stopping at designated stores or post offices in each village. People “knew to sit their suitcase out, and we’d stop and pick them up.” The bus reached the ferry at Oregon Inlet about four and a half hours later, barring no major delays from storms, flooding, soft sand, or breakdowns.
“Sometimes it took us eight hours and sometimes ten,” said Midgett, adding that sometimes they and their customers had to spend the night on the beach.
“We’d cross the ferry with Captain Toby, go into Manteo, make connections with the Virginia Dare Transportation company bus, turn right around and come back to Hatteras. That was a daily schedule seven days a week, and we didn’t miss many days. This taught us how to work.” Round-trip burned two tanks of gas.
The Midgett brothers transported Coast Guard personnel on liberty, students traveling to and from boarding school, and islanders in search dredge, shipyard, and other jobs. “Some really didn’t have the fare. When they come back later, they’d pay us. They’d ride with us for years and years.”
The bus line was busy during World War II, as islanders left to enlist or find work, and more Coast Guardsmen and military personnel were brought in. Despite rationing, the Midgetts were supplied with all the gas coupons they needed. As the Outer Banks became “Torpedo Junction” with Nazi U-boats lurking just offshore, Anderson Midgett and his brothers experienced the close proximity of the war first hand.
“One morning as I rounded a little turn in the beach, I saw the most tires that you could ever see. The Germans had bombed the ship off our coast that was loaded with tires bound for the Pacific - military truck tires. You could not hardly drive. One day we found a lifeboat that was bullet-ridden, with two bodies in it. Reported it to the Chicamacomico Coast Guard station when I went by. We had to keep our lights blacked out and when you were driving at night, it slowed you up. You couldn’t drive out on the surf.”
The paving of Highway 12 in the late 1950s and the completion of the Oregon Inlet bridge in 1963 made the Midgett’s route faster and easier, although there was the continued problem of over wash and “cut-outs.” The road spelled the end of the busline, however, as residents and visitors were able to provide their own transportation. The brothers moved on to their next business venture: Midgett Realty.
“We’ve been in real estate for right good while,” reflected Anderson Midgett. “But I still enjoy driving the beach.”