A farmer from Fairton, Kenneth Sheppard bought charter operating authority from a family member, Bridgeton native Milton Sheppard, and purchased a retired Greyhound bus to start Sheppard Bus Service in 1952. Ken’s farm on Rockville Road became the depot, parking buses where grazing cows once pastured. Ken Sheppard won his first contract that same year supplying three (3) school buses to Fairfield Township Schools. In 1954 Sheppard Bus Service started contracting six (6) school buses for Seabrook Schools with the help of his best friend and Upper Deerfield resident, Jud Turner, using Jud’s farm as a staging area to service the District. Maria Sheppard started as a bus driver for the Seabrook Schools in the mid 1960’s before marrying Ken in 1968. She was the matriarch behind the scenes that made the budding upstart school bus company successful. Whether sewing seat covers with her Singer sewing machine, driving school routes, writing payroll checks, and most importantly keeping up with driver relations, a kind of HR department before its time. Maria Sheppard was a big part of Kenneth Sheppard’s success.
With the emergence of large, national school bus companies in the school bus industry, Ken Sheppard sold the pupil transportation part of his business to Laidlaw Transit of Ontario, Canada in 1988. However, the international company did not want the charter business. Ken and Maria Sheppard continued to operate three (3) motorcoaches in the late 1980’s into the early 1990’s.
In 1991, Ken and Maria’s son, John Sheppard, graduated college and moved back to Fairton to join his Mother and Father’s business. Sheppard Bus Service began growing its motorcoach operations during the 1990’s, mostly with Atlantic City charters. With the purchase of our first brand new motorcoach in 1994, more than forty (40) years after starting in business, the company began growing and establishing business in the Philadelphia and NYC markets. The motorcoach operation peaked in 1998, operating twenty-six (26) motorcoaches at two locations, the “Farm” in Fairton and a small terminal in Hammonton, NJ. As the company grew in the 1990’s, John Sheppard hired at the timeJohn’s Fiancee’, Kelly Sockwell, to manage bookings, collections, and payroll which allowed John to buy equipment and seek work. In 1994, six (6) years after Ken Sheppard sold the pupil transportation business, Sheppard Bus, now managed by John, was awarded their first school contract to operate seven (7) school buses for Deerfield Township Schools. From 1994 thru 1999 the couple grew the school bus fleet to over 180 units through the competitive bid process with most of the growth in Cumberland County. John and Kelly married in 1998, andsoon after had four children. Only time will tell should a third generation of Sheppard’s decide to carry on the Family business.
From 2000 and Beyond
The company opened a Millville terminal in 2006, but the “Farm” on Rockville Road in Fairton was still the main operation and administration facility. However, the Hammonton facility was closed as the Atlantic City business climate started to decline. Sheppard Bus Service purchased the Laidlaw Transit terminal in Deerfield Township in 2008 and currently uses that facility to maintain the bulk of the fleet operating in Cumberland County. Our Millville location maintains school equipment and houses our commercial fleet which has downsized to ten (10) units as the casino industry and motorcoach tours in New Jersey and surrounding markets have never recovered from 2008. The pupil transportation segment of Sheppard Bus Service has never stopped growing exponentially. By 2009 we outgrew our humble beginnings on Rockville Road and purchased the mold shop formerly of Wheaton Glass adjacent to our Millville depot to house our administrative staff and allow space for classroom training and meetings. The “Farm” is still an active site of Sheppard Bus Service as a storage facility and additional work space as the need arises.
Although we operate and lease over 600 school vehicles around the State of New Jersey, Kelly and John manage a large company of 700+ employees supplying transportation services to schools, senior groups, civic organizations, and church congregations that all are part of our home in Cumberland County.