By October it has become commonplace to see children at the end of driveways waiting for school buses. It jogs the memory of former students about their own school days. Whether focussing on the savoury – or unsavoury – moments of our school days, it is easy to overlook the more mundane aspects like travelling to and from school. While some recall long walks uphill both ways, students like me travelled to school on a big yellow Bluebird bus.
When I started school in the early ‘60s, the old school house where I would have attended had been closed and students in the northeast corner of Minto Township were bussed to Mount Forest. Back then, Mr. Dan Johnson, and sometimes his brother Jack, drove us safely to and from school. They had a business in Mount Forest and many will know that Jack eventually became the MPP for our area.
For a six year old, to learn your bus driver did anything but drive a bus was quite a revelation. However, that same six year old recognized these two men standing at the back of the gym on the day of the Christmas concert so they could watch the kids from “their” bus perform. Dan and Jack always handed out a nice little bag of candy on the last day before Christmas vacation and we reciprocated by presenting them with a shoebox full of homemade baking! How they could afford to give each child a treat, I have no idea. Even a six-year old knew this was really an act of kindness.
Over the next five years, other drivers drove our route and most had to be very tough cookies. You really didn’t want to mess with them because most of us spent about two hours each day with them. They taught us discipline, respect and especially tolerance of others. We also learned about the fine line between tolerance with “chatter” and “that’s enough, everyone be quiet” when noise levels on board hit a pitch that no grown-up could stand.
In the mid-60s due to the huge influx of baby boomer children in the school system, consolidated schools like Minto-Clifford were built in central communities like Harriston. When these wonderful institutions opened, hundreds of students had access to a shiny-new multi-classroom facility with a gym and a library. Yes, these were considered luxuries especially for students fresh out of an old brick school house. I felt a little sorry for those students because they were not seasoned with travelling by bus, bus drivers or the rules that ran bus culture. There were many learning curves indeed for them – and for the army of bus drivers that would drive them!
The year that we were to begin attending Minto-Clifford, the school was not quite completed for September. Our bus driver, Mr. Jim Walls from Clifford, transported us to the old public school in Clifford. Now that school was quite an experience! – rickety, crooked stairs; old windows you could hardly open because they were so heavy; and really no place to play on rainy days. Girls had to use one door and boys another! You couldn’t play marbles with or even talk to boys because of the imaginary dividing line in the school yard. Jim would explain things like that to us on the way to and from school. One neat thing about this temporary school was a whole new set of friends from the Drew and Clifford areas. We learned that bus drivers also had children of their own because we attended at the same school as Jim’s own children. Jim helped transport us through all those transitions of that fall.
Our bus drivers rotated during the school years at Minto-Clifford, but I remember two in particular. Mr. Eldon Weber was great – he always had something funny to say and teased us good-naturedly. My dad explained that he and Eldon (who didn’t care much for Mr. Weber) were related and almost the same age. But really, how could your favourite bus driver be that old? Years later at my dad’s funeral, my sister and I were amazed to see Eldon in the visitation line-up. While he may have been there due to a kin relationship, we were just awe-struck to think “our bus driver” would come to pay his respects.
The other bus driver that we knew very well was Mr. Sandy Gillan, jovial and always wearing a tilted wool cap. We teased him terribly until he took off that cap so we could see his bald head. He was a hit with the boys and that was probably why he easily asserted his authority – you couldn’t mouth-back to a guy who had just told you how to fix a motor.
Over those years, there was one man in charge of all the buses in our area, Milton McIntosh. He was responsible for the bus routes, drivers and children. He was also a member of my church and I was confirmed with his daughter Brenda. What a very busy man he was – a farmer, a bus driver himself and then with so many trips to the head office for the school board. When the winter weather set in, it was Mr. McIntosh who decided whether buses to Minto-Clifford would be cancelled or not. Needless to say on any inclement-weather day, he was – or was not – a very popular guy! Once CKNX reported that buses were not running, we secretly said to the radio announcer, “We can thank Mr. McIntosh for this.”
When I return my thoughts to the very first day that I waited at the end of the driveway and then climbed up those high steps on to the bus, I remembered that I turned and waved to my mom. My mom said years later that when the bus drove away, she cried for an hour. What if I didn’t come back? Whether her concern was actually for my safety or for my increasing independence, I will never know. But for 12 years of my life, my safe delivery to school and home again could be credited to all those bus drivers who took the extra precaution and put up with a lot to perform their duty and keep their busload of children safe and sound.
The wheels on the bus go round and round. Please heed the flashing lights and give those bus drivers a break!