Four drivers, 106 years of experience

Feb. 13, 2013 @ 06:42 PM

Every day, there are 315 school buses that transport 26,400 Union County Public Schools students to and from school, traveling 28,000 miles a day. Four of those drivers, with a combined 106 years of experience, share their passion for their job.

Three long-time UCPS bus drivers share their stories in honor of the American School Bus Council’s Love the Bus (LTB) campaign. Below are the stories of John Paul Hinson, Carol Rushing, Shirley King and Sissy Stroud.

One thing they all agreed on, riding on a school bus is about the safest way to get students to school. None could remember an incident where a student was injured in a school bus accident.

UCPS bus routes are divided into regions, the Northern Region, Southern Region, Western Region and Eastern Region.

John Paul Hinson – Northern Region

John has a long history with the Union County Public Schools Transportation Department. He was a bus driver at the early age of 16, when high school students were allowed to drive school buses. (That practice ceased in 1985, and the age raised to 18 years old.)

“The first bus I got was a Chevrolet, number 67,” he said. “It had seats where the kids sat with their backs to the window. Down the center, they sat back to back. It was a straight drive, no power steering and very little padding on the seats. It had a gas engine, not diesel like they are today.”

After he graduated from Unionville High School, John took a job on Aug. 1, 1955, as a gas truck driver with the school system. He later became a mechanics helper. He worked for what was then called Union County Schools.

Hinson worked as a mechanic for 45 years, keeping the buses in tip top shape. There were only about a dozen schools in the county at the time, including Unionville, New Salem, Wesley Chapel, Fairview, Benton Heights, Monroe High School, Western Union, East Union and Marshville.

“During that time it was first through 12th grades,” he said. “They didn’t have elementary schools back then.”

John drives in the Northern Region of Union County, taking children to and from Hemby Bridge Elementary, Porter Ridge Elementary and High, and Piedmont Middle and High.

John says the biggest change in buses today is the safety factor. “Now they have padded seats behind and in front of the students. The newer buses are a lot safer.”

John said after spending 45 years as a school bus mechanic, he rarely feels the need to go under the hood. “I just let them figure out what’s wrong if there’s a problem,” he said, grinning.

Carol Rushing – Northern Region

Carol, who also drives in the Northern Region, has been a bus driver for 33 years. She began driving the bus for concern for her kindergarten-age children.

“Watching the 16-year-olds drive the bus with my kids on board led me to be a bus driver,” she said. “I saw some unsafe driving. I would see them raise their hands like on a roller coaster when they were going down hill. They would pull out in front of other vehicles right in front of my house.”

Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer and took a job with the school system so she could drive her children to kindergarten. This gave her the peace of mind she needed. She was even allowed to take her youngest, a 3-year-old, along for the ride.

Now her children are grown, but she continues to drive a UCPS school bus. “Now I’m driving my grandchildren,” she said.

That special bond she has with her bus riders, however, extends far beyond just her grandchildren.

“The kids are so proud when they get to talk to you. Some of them don’t have parents who listen to them at home. I say hello to each one of them when they get on the bus and say goodbye when they get off. I’d be rich if I had a penny for every time I said, “hello and goodbye.”

Shirley King – Western Region

Shirley began her career on an Exceptional Children’s Bus in the mid 1980s, a decision based on a mother’s need.

“I have twins and my daughter was born with cerebral palsy. She started school at 3 years old. And putting her on that bus tore my insides out. I just drove her myself for a while. When I had to put her on the bus, she would cry all day and I would cry all day. She was just a tiny little thing.”

In order to have the best of both worlds, Shirley decided to take a job as a school bus monitor so she could be with her daughter. She also substituted at Wolfe, the school where her daughter attended.

Then in the mid 80s, she was given a bus route of her own. She now drives in the Western Region.

She does have one request of the general public. Be more considerate of school buses, especially special needs school buses.

“I wish people could understand that it takes about three minutes for our students to load on the bus. Some motorist get so irate, they’ll blow their horns. They need to realize these are special kids. They can’t just run and get on the bus. It takes time, like to get their wheel chairs secured.”

Sissy Stroud – Eastern Region

Sissy began driving a school bus in the early 80s. She drives in the Eastern Region of the county. “I had a small child and I wanted to be home with him. I knew if I drove a school bus, I could spend my summers and breaks with him.”

It didn’t take long, however before she became hooked. “I just love it. I love my children. It’s always been more than a job to me.”

She began driving a regular school bus, but after eight years, she decided to take an offer to drive an EC bus. This was a role that required special training, including CPR and first aid.

“We went through lots of training,” she said. “We have children with special needs. Some are in wheel chairs, so you have to know how to put those wheelchairs on the bus so they will be safe. Then there are numerous health issues that we have to be trained to deal with in case something should go wrong.”

Sissy said she also has developed a relationship with the parents. “When they see that you enjoy what you do and that you care for their children, it makes it so much easier for them to send that child off on the school bus,” she said. “I have had some great parents through the years.”

Sissy said that driving the EC bus has had a major impact on her life. “I had never been around EC children. It’s so rewarding. It really has changed my life.”

This Valentine’s Day and throughout the month of February, North Carolina and schools have been invited to participate in the American School Bus Council’s Love the Bus (LTB) campaign.

The American School Bus Council created the campaign in 2007 to encourage schools to hold activities that highlight the safety of our school bus transportation system and to recognize the many dedicated bus drivers who take our students to and from school safely.

 

• This article was written by Deb Coates Bledsoe, Union County Public Schools Communications Coordinator and provided courtesy of the UCPS Communications Office.