The boys on the bus is the title given to newspaper people who travel with presidential candiates. The phrase was made famous by Tim Crouse in his excellent book about the McGovern-Nixon campaign.

At the beginning of this year's presidential race, there were quite a few buses to choose from. The top political writers and TV commentators had first choice of which bus they wanted to take. Everyone wanted to get on John Connally's bus because it looked as if he had the best chance of beating Reagan for the Republican nomination. George Bush's bus was half-empty before Iowa, as was Howard Baker's. Bob Dole had a minibus, and if you wanted to follow John Anderson around, you could always get a ride with him in his Volkswagen.

On the Democratic side, there was a serious bus problem when Teddy Kennedy got into the race. The pundits had predicted that as soon as he challenged Carter, the nomination would be his for the asking. So all the media stars fought to get on Teddy's bus.

Before Iran, President Carter was supposed to campaign, and because he was president, as well as a candidate, two buses had been set aside for his press entourage. Then he decided to stay in the White House and send surrogates to campaign for him instead. Nobody fought to get on Fritz Mondale's bus so there were always plenty of seats.

Well, after Iowa, some of the newspapermen started to doubt that they were on the right bus. George Bush's win had given him "momentum." Connally didn't show any, so the big-shot scribes asked their editors for a transfer.

The second-team reporters who had been assigned to Bush, because no one thought he had a chance, were angered that they were being kicked off the bus just when the Bush campaign was rolling.

But that's life, they were told, and they could either climb on Reagan's bus or get off the campaign trail.

While this was going on, Teddy stumbled in Iowa. But no one wanted to get off his bus because it was still a good story as to how badly he was doing. Besides, if they did get off, there was no other bus to get on except Jerry Brown's, and you never knew if you'd be sharing it with a rock band.

So everyone took their buses to New Hampshire. The people on Bush's bus were filled with optimism -- mostly fed by George Bush. The ones who rode behind Reagan thought it was a hopeless cause.

Teddy's bus had standing room only because the big question in New Hampshire was, could a Kennedy win a primary in his own back yard?

A few more souls rode along with John Anderson, so he had to replace his Volkswagen with a van.

Well, much to everyone's surprise, Reagan clobbered Bush in New Hampshire, and every byline reporter piled out of Bush's bus and demanded a seat on Reagan's.

Once again the second team reporters protested, but to no avail. They were told to get on Anderson's bus. Since Anderson didn't have a bus they had to hire their own to follow him.

But after Massachusetts, John Anderson suddenly started catching on with the public. Immediately, many of the top correspondents on Teddy's bus said they wanted to get off and ride with the congressman.

Once again the second team reporters were told that the story was too big for them and they should take another bus. With bitterness some hailed Howard Baker's bus, and a few thought maybe Connally's bus might be worth a ride in South Carolina.

But it was to late. Both Connally and Baker had run out of gas.

So now for all intents and purposes there are three buses worth buying a ticket on -- Ronald Reagan's, John Anderson's and Carter's, if he ever takes it out of the White House garage.

You may be wondering what happened to all the second-team reporters who kept being shunted from bus to bus, as the primary picture evolved. They have just been ordered by their editors to come home -- by train.