My Life as a School Bus Driver, Part II

As a bus driver in my earlier years (see Part I here), I quickly learned it was not an easy job that involved just driving the bus.  It was all the responsibility of the bus driver to be certain that the bus was running smoothly and safely, and that responsibility is as important today as it was then.

In my day, all our buses were stick shift. So, for me, it was not that difficult to learn because, back then, most cars were stick shift also. The shifting pattern was different, and there were more gears, but the idea was the same – push in the clutch, make the shift, apply the gas as you let the clutch out, and off you go!

Bus drivers did not just come out of their nice warm houses or warm cars and jump into warm buses and begin their routes, either.  It did not matter if it was spring, summer or winter; bus inspections were a MUST.  Drivers had to check engine oil and all engine fluids, check the exterior for damage that may have occurred during the night or weekend, make sure the brake pressure had built back up from the night before, and check that all lights were working and intact.  Next, we checked the interior of the bus for any damage that may have occurred overnight or on the weekend.

On several occasion the buses were vandalized.  I remember a time when we used to park our buses at the elementary schools that we drove from to pick up and take home the students. Over the weekend at one of the elementary schools, the buses were severely vandalized. Windows were broken in most of the buses and fire extinguishers were set off inside of the buses. Then, and in other instances, we had to borrow buses from a neighboring school district to do our bus runs.  The sad truth is that a lot of damage was done to the buses when the drivers parked them in the parking lots of the elementary schools.

When I began driving, I kept the bus at my home.  I had a rolled up rug next to the driver’s seat. At the end of the day, I would take the rug, roll it out on the ground to lay on, and crawl under the bus with pliers to bleed the air brakes until all the air had been emptied from the air chamber. In the morning, I had to make sure the air pressure had built back up. If there was no air, I had no brakes … yikes!  When there was a problem, drivers would call the bus garage, by the house phone, and mechanics would either fix it on the spot or bring us another bus to drive.

If our buses broke down after we left our storage to begin our route, we either sent a student to the door of a nearby house to ask a resident to call the bus garage, or we had to flag a motorist down. In those years, most of the time a motorist would stop and try to assist.

When I first began driving a school bus, I had the Vo-Ed run from RHS to Auburn Career Center.  Remember, I was young then, probably about 23 or 24 years old, so I was not much older than the students were.  We had a good relationship with each other … they would play their little battery operated radios on the bus if they kept the volume down.  One of the older boys said that he had an old car radio and wondered if he could bring it and connect it up on the bus.  Well, that sounded cool, but I had to ask permission first.  I spoke with my supervisor, and he gave me permission to allow the student to do it and then my boss would have a mechanic check it out.

WOW! When I told the boys they were so excited — did I mention the boys rode one bus and the girls rode another bus? So, the radio was mounted, and I had control of the station and the volume next to my seat. If they were too loud, I turned the radio off.  If the music was not appropriate, the station was changed.  Did I mention that we had speakers in the rear of the bus as well?

Believe it or not the radio idea turned out to be the best “student control” mechanism ever — too loud or bad behavior — OFF IT WENT! When I drove the bus for these students, I never ever had a problem with their behavior.

Loretta Walker Vandervort (l) and Lorene Walker Siebold (r) — RHS bus drivers on Halloween in the 1970s.

I also had an elementary run in the Leroy area, and the students dearly loved the music….especially during Halloween when Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers came on the radio with “Monster Mash. On   Halloween, the drivers would dress up in Halloween costumes because the students did as well and we wanted them to know that we could have fun too.  They really enjoyed seeing us being something else besides MEAN OLD BUS DRIVERS! They would get such a big kick out of seeing us all dressed up.

Even in bus line up at night at Riverside/JRW the students enjoyed seeing us all dressed up as did the teachers. Can’t be serious all the time!  Parents of students would be out at the bus stop with their children and camera in hand to take their pictures as they boarded the bus. Somehow, they would also take our pictures as we sat behind the wheel of that big “YELLOW BUS.”  It was truly a sight to behold.

The photo shows much fun we all had!

My final comment:  I have never ever regretted becoming a bus driver.  It was the best time of my life, and I met many, many wonderful people along the way, from superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, students, policemen and custodians and other school staff.  As a driver one might wonder how or why so many wonderful people could be met…because while transporting students, a driver might have to deal with unexpected situations: a sick child, fights, homesick children, etc. Still, I enjoyed the job and was happy to be a part of the system.

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