Farewell to Two-Million-Mile Safe Driver Ernie Nieman
The average American driver travels about 14,000 miles a year. Between getting a license at 16 and turning over the car keys at, say, 86, he or she drives about 980,000 miles in a lifetime—and has three or four accidents, according to industry experts.
In contrast, last June, Ernie Nieman accomplished what only three other professional bus drivers in Indian Trails’ 110-year history have done so far: He reached two million miles of driving a motorcoach without a preventable accident.
For more perspective, two million miles equates to 80 trips around the Earth or four trips to the Moon and back. For motorcoach drivers, it means averaging 50,000 miles annually for 20 years just to reach one million miles.
Ernie, who many group charter customers know well, recently retired from Indian Trails. He earned his first million-mile safe driving award back in 2005. Last December, he and other staff members were recognized at our annual Service Awards Dinner, where he was also the recipient of a Golden Wheel Award for his years of service.
“Reaching two million miles before I retired was one of my goals,” says Ernie, who suspected he was getting close to that milestone last spring.
Ernie started driving part-time while running a barber shop he had owned for more than a decade. He liked driving much better than cutting hair.
Ernie joined us in 1990 after running into fellow driver Carl Briggs at a ball game. Although he had been driving part-time for another bus company, he found himself intrigued by what Carl had to say about Indian Trails.
Some Places He's Gone
In his 29 years with us, Ernie has taken group charter buses to every state in the continental U.S. except California, Oregon and Washington, as well as through much of Canada. Over the years, he’s also piloted daily runs from cities in Michigan to Chicago and back, and then northbound to St. Ignace.
Among his favorite charter trips early on were those offered as part of the “Michigan Lakes & Mackinac Island” summer package by Tauck Tours. These eight-day excursions gave folks from all over an opportunity to explore the wonders of northern Michigan. This included a stay at the Grand Traverse Resort and Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel, stops at the Music House Museum, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Frankenmuth, as well as the Ford Rouge Factory and Greenfield Village, a wine-tasting event, and a Detroit city highlights tour.
At the other end of the spectrum was a memorable trip to New Orleans a few months after Hurricane Katrina. “I took a group of volunteers there who’d signed up to help with the ongoing clean-up efforts,” he recalls. “Even though there was rebuilding going on, you could see that the devastation had been terrible. There was still much to be done.”
Why Indian Trails Was His Perfect Fit
Though Ernie came to us as an experienced bus driver, he still had to go through the same four-week intensive training as all of our new drivers.
“In my previous job, they put me behind the wheel and had me drive from Alma to Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and back, and then to Midland with one of the owners,” he recalls. “The next day, I was on my own. At Indian Trails, there’s a lot that’s covered before you ever get into the driver’s seat. Passenger safety is always number one.”
For Ernie, one of the best perks of being an Indian Trails’ driver was the autonomy he felt he had while out on the road.
“I like driving, being on the move and working with people,” he says. “There’s independence to it, almost like you’re self-employed without the expenses. But you’re still accountable.”
As he gets used to retirement, Ernie values the years he had with us and the friendships he forged with his fellow employees.
“I really didn’t know too much about Indian Trails and how long it’s been around when I first started. But early on, I remember seeing all these pictures that dated back decades and decades. They treat their employees very well and are so considerate. I’ve really enjoyed it all.”
How Indian Trails Has Thrived for 110 Years—and Where We’re Headed Now
Currently in its third generation of family ownership, and having been in operation for more than a century, Indian Trails knows a thing or two about how to survive—and indeed thrive—despite periods of great adversity.
As other bus transportation firms continue to fall by the wayside, our company—owned by five female descendants of the founders—is going strong and poised for further growth.
What are Indian Trails’ keys to success? Besides the group charter service you’re familiar with, what are our other lines of business and how are those evolving?
You’ll find those answers and more in Busline magazine’s in-depth, look behind the scenes through the eyes of Indian Trails President Chad Cushman. It’s the cover story of their January/February 2020 edition.
Featured Destination: Traverse City
Travel+Leisure magazine called it “One of America’s Favorite Small Towns.” Midwest Living dubbed it the “Greatest Midwest Town.” And TripAdvisor named it the number two small town travel destination in the United States.
That’s Traverse City, located in the northwest tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (i.e., the “mitten”)—or simply “Up North” to many Michiganders. As the state’s best known and loved four-season vacation destination, the Traverse City area should be on your radar for a future group charter trip. Once you visit—even if only for a week—you’re apt to be counting the days until you can return.
Other towns find it tough to compete with Traverse City because the area offers so much in the way of natural attractions. Situated on the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, it’s a scenic wonderland of rolling hills, forests and fields, rivers and inland lakes, farms, orchards and vineyards. Add to that an amazing abundance of opportunities for outdoor recreation, music, art, culture, festivals, shopping, gaming, food, drink, lodging, and more.
All of this can present somewhat of a challenge for folks who arrange charter bus trips: How do you create an ideal itinerary for a group of, say, 50 friends when the number of great places to visit is overwhelming?
“Do your research,” advises Theresa McNamara, Indian Trails’ charter sales manager. “Then choose no more than three or four places to visit per day, and give yourself enough time—maybe a week—to experience them all. After that, sit back and relax as our professional driver takes you from one site to another in a luxury motorcoach.”
To give you a start on the research, here are some things you should know about Traverse City:
Water and sand are huge draws for tourists. This should be no surprise, since the town is located at the southern end of Grand Traverse Bay, which is divided in half by the Old Mission Peninsula (the “little finger”). Across the bay to the west of Old Mission is the Leelanau Peninsula, with the resort towns of Empire, Glen Arbor and Leland on its western (Lake Michigan) shore, and Northport at its northern tip.
The enormous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore extends along Lake Michigan from Crystal Lake north beyond Glen Arbor. The National Park Service calls it “a place in which to play, dream, refresh, and create.” The viewers of ABC’s Good Morning America said it is "The Most Beautiful Place in America."
Sleeping Bear Dunes offers miles of sandy beach, spectacular views from bluffs that tower 450 feet above the great lake, lush forests, clear inland lakes, and profoundly beautiful landscapes along a 64-mile curve of sweeping vistas. There are miles of trails to explore on hikes, plus the paved Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, a multi-use pathway that runs from the northern end of the park to just south of Empire. It’s a special place where time slows down and people can connect with nature and one another.
Much of the Traverse City experience generally is about spending days in, on, and around the water. The area boasts dozens of public beaches in town, at surrounding lakes, and on Lake Michigan. In fact, there are so many beaches that it may be hard to choose a favorite place to wear your bathing suit. And there’s more to it than swimming, beachcombing, and sunbathing. If you can float it, you can find it in Traverse City — from stand-up paddleboards to surfboards, kiteboards, kayaks, canoes, and jet skis. Be sure to check out the many watersport opportunities available. Consider a voyage on the Tall Ship Manitou, too.
Speaking of sailing, the historic Mission Point Lighthouse is a Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula icon. It helped guide mariners through West Grand Traverse Bay from 1870 until 1933, when it was decommissioned. Located at the north end of picturesque M-37, the lighthouse offers visitors a peek into the past. Guests can enjoy self-guided historical tours, climb to the top of the tower, visit the quaint gift shop, picnic in the surrounding park, explore miles of unspoiled trails, and stroll the beach.
Another top attraction in the Traverse City area is the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, one of the biggest historic redevelopment projects in the nation. Head there for unique shopping and dining experiences. Formerly known as the Traverse City State Hospital, a mental asylum, the Village is comprised of dozens of buildings spread over 63 acres that have been reinvented as shops, restaurants, and residences. Among the eateries you’ll find there is Trattoria Stella, named Michigan’s best Italian Restaurant by MLive. It’s also one of five Traverse City restaurants that sources local foods year-round.
On many must-visit lists, too, is Front Street, the downtown district where “you’ll find more than the usual t-shirt and fudge shops” (but don’t pass up the latter, either). Downtown Traverse City offers 150 shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants. For example, the Michigan Artists Gallery sells contemporary works by “the best of award-winning Michigan artists,” including folk art, sculpture, hand-colored linoleum prints, ceramics, jewelry, regional landscapes and photography.
In addition, while in the neighborhood, you could take in a movie at The State Theater—the first in Michigan to show a talking picture. Restored in 2007 at the urging of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, it’s the home base of his annual film festival. However, you could also catch the Traverse Symphony Orchestra in action, often at the beautifully restored City Opera House. Or, watch a play at the Old Town Playhouse, which has been entertaining audiences with live community theater dramas, musicals, comedies, and classics for 60 years.
As Traverse City Tourism says, “It’s always event season in Traverse City.” How will you know what’s happening when you plan to visit? Just check the events calendar. When arranging a group charter, too, you’d be wise to book accommodations early if your trip will coincide with one of Traverse City’s two major festivals.
Naturally, since the area is the largest producer of tart cherries in the U.S., its most famous event is the National Cherry Festival. During the first week of July when it takes place, the city’s population swells from about 15,000 to 500,000. The event features parades, fireworks, midway rides, an air show, live music, a pie-eating contest, an arts and crafts fair, classic car show, and, of course, cherries galore.
The Traverse City Film Festival, which runs for a week at the end of July/beginning of August, is one of the Midwest’s largest film festivals. Celebrating “Just Great Movies,” it was founded in 2005 by filmmaker Michael Moore to bring movies and filmmakers from around the world to Northern Michigan—including “rare, indie films and documentaries that often don’t make it to the popular ‘mega-plexes.’” It offers more than 100 movies screened at 10 different venues in and around town, including free, family-friendly classics at Traverse City’s Open Space—a giant, inflatable outdoor screen overlooking Grand Traverse Bay.
Named one of America's top five foodie towns by Bon Appétit magazine, Traverse City has a passion for food. That’s little wonder, considering its rich agricultural resources and penchant for creating menus with local ingredients. As Traverse City Tourism, which serves as the region’s convention and visitors’ bureau, notes:
“Traverse City restaurants range from the simple to the swanky … Our unique cuisine borrows freely from other regional styles and relies heavily on imagination, boldness and spunk. Capitalizing on fresh ingredients from nearby farms and orchards, our restaurateurs seem to be on a mission to showcase the best of what the area has to offer.”
Wine & Beer Tastings
Few places other than Traverse City publish an events calendar that never ends based on wine alone. That’s because there are so many vineyards and wineries in the region, (which also makes it easy to visit to one or more for tastings).
If you charter a bus for a wine tour, you may decide to visit wineries on the Traverse Wine Coast, which encompasses both the Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula. Most have a tasting room where you can sample a variety of wines. Some charge a small fee for the tasting, and may apply the fee to the cost of any bottles you buy. Others give samples free of charge. A few offer gourmet dining and/or overnight stays, such as an inn or bed & breakfast.
On the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, you could potentially visit more than two dozen wineries, while the Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail offers 10. Among the latter is Chateau Chantal, with spectacular views of the surrounding area from its 65-acre perch high atop a ridge. It combines a winery, vineyards, bed & breakfast, residence, home sites, and winding roads into a memorable experience of “Up North” hospitality.
Continuing out Mission Rd. (perhaps en route to the Mission Lighthouse) your group may want to stop for lunch at the Old Mission General Store and soak in the days-gone-by atmosphere. Purportedly, four presidents were brought there by Henry Ford. The antique establishment also doubles as a little post office.
Love beer? If so, then you’re in the right place again. Some 30 microbrewers in the Traverse Bay area each bring a different style to the tap in a fun and refreshing way. There are ample opportunities to sample their craft brews year-around. You can even explore some breweries and taprooms on a kayak, paddle board, or bicycle through Paddletc.com or Kayakbrewerytours.com. Lest we forget, there’s also Traverse City Beer Week, Nov. 13-20, 2020, with events such as an IPA Challenge and a 5k Run.
Great Golf Courses
Greater Traverse City has several championship golf courses designed by golf greats, such as Arnold Palmer’s Manitou Passage and The Legend; Jack Nicklaus’s The Bear, host of the Michigan Open since 1985; Antrim Dells and A-Ga-Ming, designed by Jerry Matthews; Tom Weiskopf’s award-winning Cedar River course, named one of the best in northern Michigan by the readers of “Michigan Living”; and Gary Player’s The Wolverine. Other awesome area courses include Hawks Eye, Lochenheath, Elmbrook, The Crown, Pinecroft and Champion Hill. You can compare them all at this site, and then reserve your tee time.
For kids of all ages, there are two 18-hole putt-putt golf courses at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Park in Traverse City. In addition, the park offers a rope course, bumper boats, kiddie go-carts, and a video game den.
More Arts, Culture & Entertainment
Within Traverse City proper, the ever-changing exhibits at the Dennos Museum Center on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College feature historical and contemporary work. Its permanent display of artwork by the Inuit people of the Canadian arctic is one of the largest in the world. In fact, there’s an abundance of artists and galleries in and around the city—enough that your group could easily plan an entire day touring them.
Eight miles north on U.S. 31, you’ll find the Music House Museum, with “a unique collection of instruments that provide guests with a walk through the history, the artistry and the engineering of automated music.” Forbes magazine called it one of the ten reasons to visit Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. A docent guides 90-minute tours of the collection, which spans the period from the late 1700s to 1950.
Thirteen miles out of town is the renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts, which hosts over 750 concerts, visual art exhibits and theater and dance productions annually. Its summer music festival is on par with Tanglewood, Wolf Trap, Ravinia, and Santa Fe, only more relaxed.
If gambling serves as entertainment, then your group may want to try its luck at the Leelanau Sands Casino (about a half hour north in Peshawbestown on the Leelanau Peninsula), or at the Turtle Creek Casino (in Williamsburg, 10 miles east of the city).
Both casinos are properties of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, which has nearly 600 guest rooms and condos, five restaurants and lounges, three championship golf courses, a 7,000-square-foot spa, and a private beach on the bay.
For bicycling enthusiasts of various skill and conditioning levels, the TART Trails Network offers multi-use trails in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, as well as a cross-town bike route.
Beyond Front Street downtown and the Village of Grand Traverse Commons, the area has a wealth of shopping venues, including malls with familiar anchor stores and food courts.
But if you're looking for a different kind of shopping experience, says the local CVB, “try one or two of the picturesque freshwater port towns that surround Traverse City. … the villages of Elk Rapids, Bellaire, and Alden are wonderful places to find unique treasures ... [and] laid-back little villages like Suttons Bay, Lake Leelanau, Empire, Glen Arbor, Leland and Northport are chock-full of charming shops, dramatic views and cozy little eateries. (Don’t miss Leland’s famous Fishtown district, a collection of old fishing shanties that are now shops and galleries.)”
You should know that the local experts at TraverseCity.com stand ready to assist with your trip itinerary, lodging, etc. Just contact Sarah Barnard, Director of Conference Services, at [email protected] or 231-995-3910.
Once you finish your research and draft an itinerary for your group, just call Indian Trails toll-free at 800-292-3831 and ask to talk with a charter sales consultant. We’ll help make your trip a reality.
Help Wanted: Motorcoach Drivers
Do you have a friend or family member who’s looking for a rewarding career? If so, please let them know that Indian Trails, Inc., currently has openings for professional drivers. Indian Trails operates Michigan's newest and largest fleet of motorcoaches, and our business is thriving.
Our full-time drivers earn an average of $55,000 a year. They also receive:
- Sign-on bonus
- Nine paid holidays
- 401K with employer contribution
- Medical, dental and other benefits
- Paid time off starting in the first year
- Meal allowance on multi-day trips
- Paid accommodations for multi-day trips
- Annual travel passes on Indian Trails scheduled routes
No professional driving experience is required. Indian Trails provides a comprehensive 4-week PAID training program, plus help in getting a Commercial Driver’s License. More details and an online application can be found here and here.
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Happy Valentine's Day!
Roses are red, violets are blue, for group charter trips to wherever you choose, we’ll take you there! Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Indian Trails! We love serving you all year long. Wishing you and your sweeties all the best and safe travels always!