Whether you grew up riding to school on a “cheese wagon” or only rode it a few times for field trips, we all have a memory or two of a bus driver. My first memory of the bus was winter 1979, I was a cute little kindergartner, on my way to school. The bus was headed down a small hill with a blind corner at the bottom and there was black ice on the road. My guess, (since I was only 5 and didn’t know anything about driving) is that she started to slide and ended up in the oncoming traffic lane. Coming toward the bus in the other direction was a red and white pickup truck driven by my mother. The bus collided head on into the truck. That will give you a jolt 3/4 of the way back in the bus. I looked out the bus window and saw a small red heart-shaped rock. I didn’t know we’d hit my mom, just that we’d hit something. Of course the kids and the driver knew who had been hit and they didn’t want me to see the truck. It was pretty smashed up. My mom had hit her head off the steering wheel, broke a few teeth and cut her lip. My mom went off to the hospital and they sent another bus to take us on to school.
Invariably, once or twice a winter, our bus driver, Mrs. Bruce, would slide off the road. I rode that bus with her from age 5 until I was about 14 and a freshman. She seemed to see everything and sometimes things that really didn’t happen….. Like the time my brother got kicked off for something that happened when he wasn’t even riding. We always had assigned seats and she was a stickler for the rules. I really tried to just lay low but sometimes I got yelled at and talked to off the bus. My view of school bus drivers really wasn’t good. I never thought that one day I’d be a school bus driver. Just about a year ago, that is what I became. What an eye opening experience it has been!
How did this happen? How did I become a pilot of a 73 passenger big yellow school bus? Back up a few years, to 2005, I have 6 kids ages 11 to 1 at the time. A family at church needed a sitter for their 3 month old baby, I figured I could do that. Really, what was one more?! So I started sitting for them and then later added another little boy to the group. I sat for the first family until Riley was about three, and for the other family until Kyle went to kindergarten. I watched a few other children at times as well. I took a year off and then our insurance agent and mutual friend of Riley’s family called inquiring if I might be interested in watching her granddaughter, Talena, a one year old. After a meeting with mom and baby, I decided to get back into child care. I watched Tal and eventually her little sister until Tal went to school. Another friend told her friend that she knew someone who would probably be up for watching a two and a half year old. I started to sit for Nick and a few years later he got a little sister, Rachel. I’ve been watching Nick and Rachel for almost 7 years, they have become practically family. Babysitting doesn’t pay well in monetary ways, but you can sure come to love the kids. Nick went off to school and the dollars decreased, unfortunately I have bills and my husband really felt that I should maybe get another better paying job. I really didn’t want to give up Nick and Rachel so I put it off and tried to ignore his insistence of a new job. One day I was picking Nick up from school and the guy who is in charge of the bus barn (who just happens to be Riley’s dad) says how he really needs more drivers. I joke with him and he tells me it’s just like driving my suburban! I didn’t believe him for one moment! I also told him I just couldn’t give up watching Rachel. I thought about our need for more income and filled out the application. The bus barn boss, Charles, said he thought that it would be alright if Rachel rode with me on the days that I watch her.
I got the CDL drivers manual and studied a lot for the next few months. Have you ever picked up and looked through the CDL drivers manual? Oh my goodness is there a lot of information to process and memorize! I hadn’t realized that one practically needs to be a mechanic to pass the test! You need to know what everything under the bus and under the hood is and what it does and how to check it. You need to know specific measurements of tire tread, how far to stop before railroad tracks, how far from the bus to put warning triangles in any given situation, when to use flashers and warning lights, how to load and unload students, how to parallel park, alley dock, how to keep your eyes on the road and all the mirrors including the student mirror, and many more things. If you survive the reading and studying of the manual, then you set up a time to take the written test and cross all your fingers that the studying actually stuck inside your brain! My husband, who spent several years as a substitute bus driver, offered to help me study. I’m stubborn and didn’t want his help. I went in and took the “written” test (it’s administrated on a computer and once you get too many wrong, it just ends! Yep, I didn’t pass. I did pass the part I was really worried about, the air brakes section! I had to reschedule the test to try again on the other parts. I was not happy. I came in a few weeks later and was given a real paper test, two copies of the test actually. After grading, the DMV guy went over the ones I got wrong, circled them on the second test for me to try one last time. Grrr! I did pass finally. Second step, to get an appointment for a DOT medical card that says I am fit enough to drive a commercial vehicle. Yikes are those expensive! Thankfully the school district reimburses you for that. Once I got that back to the drivers licensing, I had my learners permit. Next step, get in a bus and learn to drive! That was scary! I went out many times with a few different drivers and got my experience driving a school bus. It wasn’t too bad, a nearly empty bus. One of the drivers gave me a lot of helpful tips and tricks to make it easier. I spent the summer learning and stressing a little about whether I really could drive a bus full of children. I set up an appointment for the day before school started. (Wasn’t really my choice I would have chosen a few days before in case I didn’t pass.) I was pretty nervous, I practiced before the examiner showed up, I felt pretty good about the skills and the driving, but was pretty worried about the mechanical stuff. The first part of the test was the mechanical stuff, and of course, I was “randomly” selected to get the full bumper to bumper test. It was terrible! I didn’t know half of what he was asking me. I didn’t even get the opportunity to try the other two parts of the test: the skills and driving sections. The examiner just said to reschedule for another time in 2 weeks and then he drove off. I was SO mad! I had to sit and just cry it out before calling Charles to come get the bus.
I rescheduled, and I studied even more. Still to this day, I think its crazy that you have to know all that mechanical stuff! I promise that if something happens to the bus, I’m not climbing under to try to fix it! I took the test again and since I live in a small town, we only have one examiner. I thankfully only had to know things on one side and only in the front of the bus, plus tire questions. I just passed. Then the skills test I did a little better in that section and moved on to the driving section which included a student pick up and drop off. We headed out for the road test I thought I was doing fairly well, I made it over the railroad tracks and remembered to put the flashers on, have the window open, look and listen for a train. I was checking my mirrors, then he asked me to do an emergency stop on the side of the road. I failed to put on my flashers and he used the opportunity to tell me that I would fail if I continued to not watch all my mirrors! WHAT? I said: “I thought I was checking them.” He said “I NEED to see you turning your head to check the drivers side, the student mirror and the passenger side mirror.” Pretty much constantly checking the mirrors. I pull back into traffic and finish the driving test. I pass by the skin of my teeth, but I pass! Then he tells me I can bring it in and get a license in a few days because they don’t do them on that particular day of the week, only the testing! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I let the boss man know that I’ve passed but I can’t get my license here in town today. He call the examiner’s boss and lets us know we can travel to Sidney (an hour away) and get it tomorrow. I head home to let my husband and my friend know I passed we all decided a celebratory lunch was in order. I did ride along with the sub driver on the route that would be mine that afternoon.
The next morning, my friend and I head to Sidney with Rachel and the little boy she was watching. I put the drivers licensing into my phone and tell it to take us there…… we wind up on a road with a wheat field on either side of us! I give in and call the boss and see if he has better directions, he does. We were close. Got there and gave her the paperwork, they tell me I’m missing papers. Not happy. Finally the head lady arrives and finds all my papers and gets everything in order. They take my picture and soon hand me my fresh off the presses CDL. We prepare to leave, when she chases us down and asks for the license back. UGH! Turns out she needed to put that I can’t drive a stick shift commercial vehicle. WHAT THE HECK??? I can drive a stick shift car or pickup just not any big rigs. (Good thing all of our school buses are automatic!) She reissues me my CDL and we finally leave.
Rachel and I are ready to give this bus driving a try, well Rachel is ready, I’m a little nervous to have a bus full of potentially unruly children ages 5 to 18 behind me! The sub says she will ride with me for the first few runs. I’m telling ya, it was petrifying! These kids hadn’t had a steady driver for at least a year and were use to just doing whatever! That wasn’t going to fly with me! It’s s very distracting to have kids moving around and standing while the bus is in motion as well as it being very dangerous. The responsibility of getting all those children safely to their destinations is real! I’m not gonna lie, I returned after every run for the first 2 weeks drenched in sweat. I had to get a handle on their naughtiness. I tried to let the older kids have the back and the little ones in the front, but the older kids were terrible about staying seated before the bus came to a complete stop. After asking nice and then yelling at them to stay seated and continually being ignored, I did something about it!
I had just picked up the middle schoolers and we were heading to the first drop off, I noticed kids standing and not listening, so I pulled the bus over, parked it and got up out of the drivers seat. I faced the students and we had a one sided conversation! I asked them all to stand. they pretty much thought I was crazy and didn’t want to stand then. I said: “Come on, you seem to love to stand while the bus is moving! Everyone stand!” Finally, I had their attention. I asked them to remain standing until I told them they could sit. Then I explained that the reason they need to remain seated if for their safety and not because I want to be a jerk. I also told that I wasn’t here to be their best friends and they didn’t have to like me, I was here to get them to and from school safely. I made them a promise too. Since it was one whole bus stop that was continually standing about a block before I stopped the bus, I told them if I saw even one student from that stop stand before the bus was was completely stopped, the entire bus stop would be assigned to the front of the bus. I asked them to sit down, returned to the drivers seat fastened my seat belt and carried on with my route. They were good for about a day and they someone stood up too soon! That afternoon, I had sectioned off the bus by bus stop. Oh were they less than pleased when they got on! Soon I had personalized seats within the sections for those who were still having a hard time following the rules. The seat assignments remained that way for the rest of the school year. Some students made other unwise decisions and got themselves removed from the bus for certain periods of time. They learned a valuable lesson: I was serious about the rules and I made good on my promises!
I have had a few memorable experiences in this first year of driving, some that other drivers who have been driving for 20+ years haven’t had!
I was just starting feel comfortable and no longer coming home a dripping mess of sweat, when the first snow fell! Now my route includes in town stops and some more rural ones on a stretch of very bumpy dirt road with a railroad crossing and stops on a two lane highway. I was not looking forward to driving in the yucky wet slick snowy conditions. The advice given to me was: take it slow. Ok I can do this! I do my pre-trip inspection and back out ready to beat this snow. (In the back of my mind though, I can see still Mrs. Bruce sliding off into the ditch, and I pray that I can keep the bus on the roads.) All goes fairly well, I make my last pick up and head to the stop light. Make my right turn to go up and over the bridge, I think I’m taking this turn slowly, when the back end of the bus swings and we are sideways in the road! The kids are all whooping thinking that was totally cool! Meanwhile, I’m white knuckling the steering wheel and coaxing the bus into the proper direction. Mission accomplished and we make it safely over the bridge. I complete my drop offs at the high school, middle school and the grades three through fifth school without a hitch. Make my last pick up and continue to the other grade school. I approach the turn for the school road, I feel like I’m taking the turn nice and slowly. The line of cars coming down the hill is solid, no breaks for the intersection. I make the turn, only the bus has a mind of its own and it doesn’t want to turn right, it would rather just head straight toward the line of traffic! I’m standing on the break as best as one can seat belted with the wheel cranked and I am just sure I will collide with the pickup in front of me! The guy in the truck is sure of that as well. Finally, at the very last second, er inch, the bus stops! Whew! I make the turn and head up the hill to drop off those kindergarteners through second graders without another incident. By this point I’m pretty sure I’m DONE driving! But I’m almost always up for a challenge so I don’t quit!
So, I had the oldest bus in the fleet but would be getting a new one sometime around Christmas or after Christmas break.
This is old two parked out in front of my house sometimes if I have extra driving it’s easier to just bring the bus home.
My new bus did arrive and they got it all ready for me. It was so nice to have a much quieter ride 😉. I was soon to have an eventful week.
Posted on Facebook January 13, 2017:
“Because I’m tired of this crazy bus week….. Tuesday my bran-new bus refused to go faster than 5 mph, so I had to go start the, cold sitting out in the snow, old bus. It fires up and I head out to the first stop, where the students inform me it has a flat! I call it in and it’s decided that I just drive slowly and keep on trucking. Make it to my second to last pick up and this group of students really look worried, so I step out to have a look at the flat and realize that I have 2 flats and there’s no way I can go any farther. I call for a rescue. Buses come and take my students to their respective schools. The bus gets new tires in time for the afternoon run. Today I pick up the high school kids and head off to grab the middle schoolers, but the bus has other plans. The gages go crazy and I attempt to call the boss man but my radio chooses to not let me hear him reply and then the bus just quits on a hill! Thankfully another bus was behind me and called me a rescue! The rescue bus has been having its own troubles so I cross my fingers and finish the run. Only I hadn’t ever driven this bus and I can’t get it moving! Turns out the pedal has to be nearly to the floor to get it moving! Finish the route and have to park in an unfamiliar spot, I got ‘er parked. (Yay me) Boss man asks me if I’m ready to bye done with this bus week, I told him: “I quit!” He said I can’t quit until someone is there to replace me or I’m dead! So guess I don’t really quit 😏. I find out that the alternator went out.
Discussing the week at dinner, and it has been decided that it all went bad after I changed my earrings…. putting my Irish earrings back in right now!”
The new bus was gone for awhile as they tried to figure out what was up with it. I’m not sure they ever figured it out but I got it back and it’s been good (knock on wood). hWe are about a month into the 2017-2018 school year. I decided that to start the year right, I would send home the bus rules and have parents and students sign and return the bottom half. The new kids are learning the rules and the kids from last year are happy to have no assigned seat, yet. I’ve also implemented a new way to know when it’s safe to stand. The kids need to listen for the sound of the air brake being applied. It makes a ppchttt sound that is pretty loud. When they stand before I’ve pulled it, I just look at them and tell then to sit, then I pull the brake on and give them a nod. They are learning, it’s nice. We’ve already had a few field trips. They present new challenges: teachers and students who haven’t ridden my bus and don’t understand my seriousness for the rules. Teachers who don’t understand that my job is mare than just driving from point A to point B. I try and give them the opportunity to ride herd on their students, but often they just don’t pay attention. When I need to reprimand I start out in a nice tone, but often they don’t listen and I have to breakout my scary “bus driver voice”. That usually gets everyone’s attention.
Recently, I had a busload of fourth graders and three teachers. We were returning to their school from the high school after listening to a concert. It’s a daily short drive, we hadn’t gotten even half way back and I had a few kids who didn’t think they needed to remain seated. I asked nicely a few times and then busted out “the voice”, they still stood hung over the seats. I pulled over and had a little one sided conversation. I pained that because they were choosing to not follow the rules, we would put all the buses behind for picking up students after school. I told them that on my bus we sit and stay seated until the brake has been set and that his bus would remain parked until all butts were planted in the seats and faces forward. Then we waited as the two students I was really addressing finally got the hint and sat properly. When we arrived at the school, one of the teachers talked to the busload of kids and told them it was important for them to sit right so the driver could pay attention to the road.
On Monday, I was visiting with a friend and she told me that one of the teachers on that bus ride was angry and sure that the driver was out of line and needed to just spend more time with her eyes on the road and less on the mirror. My friend told the teacher that it is the driver’s responsibility to keep everyone on the bus safe and if students are not following the rules it is up to her to correct the problem. I also told her that I have to be checking the student mirror and my other mirrors constantly. Personally I hate it when the teachers stand up either to get after student or just to talk to them. What are they teaching them? That it’s ok to stand on the moving bus! It’s not ok ever, you don’t know when I may have some reason to apply the brakes sharply and if you’re standing when that happens, well it’s not going to be pretty. If something happens to anyone riding my bus, guess who’s going to be responsible? The teacher that was failing to keep her class in line or who might have been standing herself, or the operator of the bus? Yep you guessed it, the driver! So remember: my bus my rules, if you don’t like it, choose another bus! Or simply follow the rules! I just wish it was standard that school buses came with seat belts.
Here’s my most recent bus adventure:
I’ve got the lunch run this week. I get to the bus barn, start the lunch bus, it’s was kinda not wanting to start, but that’s fairly normal for old mini 2. I give it a few mins to run and then take off. I notice that it doesn’t really want to run the radio, but figure it should be fine sitting and running while I load the warmers. I arrive at the middle school, back up to the doors and get the lift down. The lunch ladies roll the first warmer onto the lift and I start the slow accent, when the bus dies! I say: “Hummm that can’t be good.” The lift is just barely moving so I stop and step onto the bus. Attempt to restart the bus and it just clicks! I try to call the boss man on his cell, no answer, I try the radio but with the bus dead, the radio is also not working. I try the office number and it say the number has been changed! WHAT THE HECK?! The lunch ladies have walked away by this point, I guess they figured it wasn’t their problem. So I try his cell again and again, finally I get an answer. I inform him that the bus has died and he says: “again? Ok I’ll come see what I can do. I’ll bring the other mini and we’ll load up on it.” So, I bring the lift back down and wait. Boss man arrived and sees that I’m not crazy it won’t start. He attempts to give it a jump but it’s not having any of that. The other mini arrives and we load up and head to the grade school to deliver lunch. We get it all unloaded and I walk towards the bus barn and give my daughter a call. She said she saw the lunch bus on the bridge holding up traffic! They were hooking it up to a pickup to tow back to the barn!
Turns out it’s the alternator.
#busbriverlife #busadventures #neveradullmoment
In the morning we (the twins and Nick and Rachel) take a selfie before we head out on the route. Lunch bus Sometimes I have a helper with the sweeping!