Veteran builds tour business on passion for city

Veteran builds tour business on passion for city

June 11th, 2011 by Todd South in Business Around the Region

Chuck Wilson, the double decker bus driver, and Rufus Marye, the tour guide, are the two men who will be giving guided tours of Chattanooga. Their first day of business was Friday.

Photo by Allison Carter /Times Free Press.


A May U.S. census report showed that in 2007, veterans owned 9 percent of all businesses, or 2.4 million, in the United States, generating $1.2 trillion in business receipts.


• What: One-hour historical tour in open-top, double-decker bus

• Where: Begins in downtown Chattanooga, tours North Shore and UTC campus

• When: Wednesday through Saturday (Sundays and Mondays on holiday weekends and during the Riverbend Festival). Tours at 10 a.m., noon, 6 p.m., 8 p.m. Also available to rent for private events

• Cost: $18.75 adults, $15 military, police and firefighters, $10 ages 3 to 12, $2 under 3

• Contact: or 423-509-8484

Sitting atop his red open-top, double-decker bus, Rufus Marye rattles off detailed stories of Chattanooga's past as the bus rumbles along under the June sun.

"The lawyer for James Andrews, you know the spy during the, are you familiar with the ... ?" Marye asks.

He's pointing at the Brabson House on East Fifth Street as the bus rumbles past.

"OK, long story short, James Andrews was a spy for the Union and he stole this train called the General and got on it, and what he wanted to do was cut off the railroad line ..."

And the tales spill out, tales of Chattanooga in the Civil War, the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and the namesake of Coolidge Park as the bus weaves through downtown and beyond.

Marye said he was driving home from a dentist appointment three years ago when he noticed all of these historical sites away from the tourist-centered downtown.

So why not take visitors to these places?

While riding the one-hour route during his first day of tours Friday, Marye explained what it took to get the new business rolling.

It all came out of his combat tour to Iraq with the Tennessee Army National Guard's 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

The combat tour helped him earn nearly a year of lieutenant's pay to save for the bus.

Then he had to find a bus.

But many of the buses had original engines manufactured in Great Britain. That would make replacement parts and maintenance more expensive.

Through months of online searches he found a woman in California who had a 1960 Leyland Route Master - made in London but with an American engine.

Then the 2000 McCallie School graduate recruited a Citadel classmate to help build his website and a fellow local soldier to do some refurbishing work - fixing seats, putting in a speaker system.

He booked some private parties, renting the bus by the hour. Last weekend Marye shuttled a wedding party and guests from downtown hotels to the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.

"He was able to add a little more fun to the whole thing," said Dr. Art vonWerssowetz, father of the groom.

There are other downtown tours and transportation - Chattanooga Ducks, horse-drawn carriages, pedicabs.

But Marye argues that his bus gives visitors more of the city. And with a driver taking care of the turns, he can entertain passengers.

"I think the new double-decker bus is going to be a great way to connect all of our visitors to all of the attractions," said Steve Genovesi, vice president of marketing for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A woman jogging in front of the Hunter Museum of American Art paused to watch the bus turn around. Other heads turned as the rumbling red machine, decked with a MoonPie banner, traveled along downtown streets.

Marye's working on word-of-mouth, sight recognition and his website to bring in passengers.

And the free MoonPies given to each passenger might help, too.