From taxicab to limousine
Jim Bell and I had become friends. We were about the same age and both worked hard. He spent much time at the Taxi office and I was teaching school and driving taxi. By this time I had given up working at the 7-11. On the occasional Saturday that I did not drive taxi he often invited me to go with him to Lake Mead and ride his boat. We would sit and chat on the peaceful pristine lake. On one such ride I expressed to him that admittedly I knew little about the transportation business in Las Vegas but it seemed to me that more business existed than was being addressed. He prodded me and I suggested that his uncle might want to purchase the only limo company in Las Vegas and put more limos on the street. I explained that the number of limousines was not limited by medallions as were the taxis. A company could put as many limos on the streets as the traffic would bear.
Jim was more interested in having a quiet beer than in listening to my limousine lecture and finally said, “Why don’t I set up a meeting with you and my uncle and have you explain this to him. He has been in Vegas much longer than I have and has a better handle on those kinds of things.”
The meeting was set and I explained the circumstances from my point of view to Uncle Vic, including what I had learned about licensing. Vic listened intently and asked me several questions, some of which I knew the answer to, others about which I speculated, and some that I just did not know. It did not take him long to see that I was not attempting to separate him from his money with some harebrain scheme, but had a sincere interest in the commerce and development of Las Vegas. He was impressed that I’d done my homework and asked if I could research public records to find out a few more things. By my doing so instead of him, suspicions would not be aroused and others would likely not tread on this potential bonanza.
I discovered that the limo company was owned by Bob Weeks, who several years after selling the business, was convicted of killing his girlfriend and given a life prison sentence. Bob was a fast talking personable chap who typified the stereotypical image of what a Las Vegas businessman must be like. Vic, on the other hand was much more reserve and low key. Despite the fact that his name was painted on about one-third of the taxis in Las Vegas and most of the ones in Reno, few people knew who he was.
Vic bought the limo company and the certificate that came with it, probably for more than Bob thought it was worth since he had only four limos. Vic started with the four limos but soon added another 12 then 12 more, and finally, after another 12, until the fleet reached 40 and the business seemed to plateau. Vic asked me what I wanted for the idea and I said, “For you to be successful and for me to drive limousines.” He gave me a substantial bonus and I became one of the first limo drivers in the new company. Instead of paying a portion of the book as the cabbies received their earnings, limo drivers were paid an hourly wage. That meant that during those evenings when business was slow, we still got paid, and when business was good, we made much better tips than taxi drivers. It was a win-win for limo drivers.
The limousine service was ok, but not the big moneymaker that Vic had anticipated, at least in the beginning, but that all changed about 1972 or ’73. Taxi companies were unionized in Las Vegas and the union called a strike during a very busy time in tourist season. They anticipated that after a day or two of the transportation system being crippled, companies would cave in. The taxi union did not even give the limos a second thought and that was bad for them and great for Vic. Limousines were largely unregulated and once they were the only means of transportation in Las Vegas due to the strike, usage spiked. Vic added even more limos and business was so brisk that every single limo was on the street with none held in reserve for breakdowns. He scoured the country for used limos and purchased all manner of previously owned cars, including my personal favorite – one that had been completely redone inside in purple! He asked if I could find him drivers and I contacted every schoolteacher I knew, as the strike occurred during summer vacation. He added cars and drivers and we worked 12-14 hour shifts. Business surged and the strike lasted for several weeks. When it ended taxi drivers got most of what they wanted and limos were firmly entrenched as a mode of tourist transport in Las Vegas.