Around the end of August, school buses will be on the roads again carrying children back and forth to school. Why, some kids have to rise before daylight to be able to catch the bus. Some might have an hour ride to get to their school.
Not only school bus drivers but bus mechanics work hard to keep the buses maintained and as safe as they can for our kids. Adult bus drivers are given training to operate their buses and have to know their routes. Both jobs carry great responsibilities without a lot of pay.
Talking about pay, seems my dad, back in the ‘30s, drove a school bus for $7 a month. He said it won’t much but he had to ride the bus to school anyway and why not make a little money. His bus route carried him all around the Covington and Capel’s Mill communities and ended up at Ellerbe.
Dad said that some of the roads his route carried him on were unpaved. Why, when it had rained or snowed, the dirt roads were so bad that his bus would get stuck. You have to remember, back then there were no cellphones and few rural people had phones at all. If his bus was running late, someone with the school had to retrace the bus route to find out what was wrong. Dad said that sometimes the local farmers would hitch-up their mules and pull the bus out of the mud. Dad said it might be 12 or after when he got to school. To tell you the truth, I think he liked that part of his job.
As time went by, the pay scale for drivers rose slowly. Juniors and seniors were still allowed to drive the buses. Why, back in the ‘60s, when I attended high school, about half the boys in agriculture class drove buses. As far as pay, we were paid a whole $30 a month — no matter how long it took to run your route.
Around 1968, when my wife started driving a school bus, the pay had jumped to a $1 an hour. She said some of the drivers made enough to make a small car or truck payment. Wow!
Things have changed since my bus-driving days, yessiree. Why, only adults are allowed to drive buses today. I reckon with so much traffic and safety concerns, it might be a good thing. Several other things about the buses have also changed including automatic transmissions and air conditioning. Back in the day, you shifted them gears and let the windows halfway down.
Another thing that has changed that I don’t really agree with and that is, when I drove a bus, we picked up every school-age kid in the neighborhood and took them to the grammar school or high school. Older brothers and sisters looked after the little ones. Not so today as the same age kids are carried to their own schools.
I drove bus No. 2 and had two routes to pick up before school took in. My first route took me north up Hwy 220 till I reached the Ellerbe school district line (yes, we had five school districts in Richmond County then). My second route had only about two stops. It’s hard to believe but most of the school kids would be waiting at Slack’s Grocery.
Never did have much trouble on my bus — well, a little hollering now and then. I knew every kid on my bus and when I gave them a hard look back through the mirror, they would calm right down. If you did have a situation you couldn’t handle, you just turned the bus around and headed back to school for the principal to handle. Most of the time, the principal just had to step on the bus and things got real quiet.
Well, that’s my story on school buses. Please folks, as this new school year begins, keep a sharp eye for our school kids and don’t drive by a school bus with its stop sign out.
J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club and the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies.