Back then . . . Schoolbus drivers owned their rides

Carolyn Cary's picture

In the mid 1950s there were six school buses in the county, all owned by farmers or small business owners in Fayetteville.

When I came to town in 1966, there were 11 school buses, 10 of them privately owned, one owned by the school board.

In the fall of 2011 there are 210 school buses on the road each day, all owned by the school board.

In talking with one of those privately-owned bus owners, Reuben Knowles, he told me that he was responsible for its maintenance and liability insurance.

When asked how much he was paid, he related that he had to deadhead from Fayetteville to Tyrone to pick up his first student. The distance between the towns was at his expense. He was paid thereafter by the number of students, and number of miles he carried them.

He carried the elementary students to Tyrone Elementary, the rest to Fayette County High School in Fayetteville, and then back to his service station.

His monthly income from all this traveling? All of $300 a month.

Needless to say, the demeanor of bus students today is far different. In the far past, an unruly student knew his Mama would be told and he would get a spanking.

One bus driver today told me a student recently told her he paid her salary, and he could do anything he wanted to and she couldn’t do anything about it.

One interesting tale from that former era: a private bus driver would honk his horn just before approaching the next house. One morning he kept honking all the way down the road due to the fact that his brakes were out.

Thank heavens it was before much traffic here, and he came out on South Highway 85 with no problems. He ended up in a ditch near Tom Kerlin Sr.’s garage.

The students piled out of the bus, Mr. Kerlin got his tractor, pulled the bus out of a ditch and promptly repaired the brakes. The students all got back on the bus and headed up the road to school.

Needless to say, all the side roads were dirt back then, and more than once, the students had to get out of the bus and push it out of the mud.

Speaking about getting to school, I always had to walk from our home in Akron, Ohio. The grade school was just two blocks away; in fact my sister now lives directly across from that school.

Our local high school was a mile past that grade school. Yes, grandchildren, I had to walk a mile to school in the rain and snow and a mile back home.

One could get their driver’s license at age 15 and a driving course was taught in high school. As I recall, it was through our Civics class. I don’t mind telling you the year — it was 1947. Our family car was a Studebaker.

My mother never learned to drive so my dad was glad to finally have someone to drive Mom to the store.

I hear you asking, did I ever wreck that Studebaker? Once. I was driving a friend in a neighborhood I was not familiar with. In the process of making a right hand turn, the curb jutted out into the street and I just didn’t see that. Oops. I went up over it and ever so slightly, and just a teensy little bit, threw it out of line. Daddy was really quite nice about it.

Shortly thereafter, Studebaker went out of business and Dad bought a Packard. Shortly thereafter, Packard went out of business.

After that he stuck to GM automobiles. I think they are still making them.

[Carolyn Cary is the official Fayette County historian and the editor of the county’s first compiled history, “The History of Fayette County,” published in 1977. She lives in Fayetteville.]