The bus that broke Sweden’s winter isolation

The bus that broke Sweden’s winter isolation

Scania-Vabis post buses broke the winter isolation of remote northern Sweden.

Motoring made rapid progress in Sweden during the 1920s – at least during the warm, dry months. But accessibility became much more difficult in wintertime. With the country seized in an icy grip, horse-drawn sleds were still the most efficient means of transport.

The Swedish Post Office, with its obligation to deliver mail and carry passengers in sparsely-populated regions, discussed three possible means of solving “this particularly important problem”. The first was specially-built motor sleds, the second to keep the roads open by means of snow-ploughs.

The third alternative – and the one adopted by the Post Office – was to build “automobiles capable of negotiating snow-covered winter roads, as well as summer roads, and of operating in thaw conditions.”

Aided by the visionary Postmaster-General Julius Juhlin and the inventiveness of the Post Office’s own technical expert Ernst Nyberg, Scania-Vabis designed and built 15 innovative post buses in 1922-1923.

Two of Nyberg’s inventions made the post bus unique. The first – track-drive and steered skids on the front wheels – was inspired by a Citroën desert vehicle. The second was a comfort feature boasted by few vehicles of the day: fresh air heated by the exhaust system was used to heat the passenger compartment. The idea became widely copied since Nyberg neglected to apply for a patent.

The post bus was instrumental in keeping the northern Swedish interior permanently open in winter. Hugo Hamilton, Speaker of the Swedish parliament is said to have remarked to the Postmaster-General: “It is a shame that you did not introduce your excellent post bus service earlier. You might have saved the state the millions it spent building expensive railways through the Norrland wilderness.”