A big school ad­vance: School buses

Con­tin­u­ally ad­vanc­ing to meet stu­dents’ needs

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - JERRY NI­CHOLS Colum­nist Editor’s note: Jerry Ni­chols, a na­tive of Pea Ridge and can be con­tacted by email at joe369@cen­tu­ry­tel.net, or call 621-1621.

I spent a lot of time on school buses dur­ing my time in Pea Ridge schools. But when I started to school, al­most 72 years ago, the school didn’t own buses. As I re­call, it was at the be­gin­ning of the 19471948 school year that the Pea Ridge School bought two new Ford school buses, the first buses that were school-owned. One of the new buses ran in the area where I lived, and served the north­west quad­rant of our school district. I am not quite sure where the other new bus served, but I think it was the north­east of town area, in­clud­ing the Twelve Cor­ners Com­mu­nity.

Prior to 1947-1948, I think our bus route was the only route that was served by a real bus. The other routes were run by vehicles owned by in­di­vid­ual driv­ers who were hired by the school to pro­vide trans­porta­tion for the school kids. For our route, which be­gan on the road we call Hay­den Road to­day, the driver and bus provider was O.R. Mor­ri­son. Mr. Mor­ri­son owned the farm land on which to­day’s Pea Ridge City Park is sit­u­ated, as well as the hous­ing de­vel­op­ment which reaches west to Chap­man Street.

Mr. Mor­ri­son had in­vested in a school bus body which he mounted on his Chevro­let truck dur­ing the school year. When school was dis­missed in the spring, he would re­move the bus body and leave it be­side his barn on blocks, and would out­fit his truck with a hay bed for haul­ing hay. So the old truck was a com­bi­na­tion farm truck and school bus. I’m told that in the early days, many school kids rode to school in un­adapted trucks, with only a tarp over the stock rack to pro­tect the kids from the rains and cold winds.

In our ear­lier days, only the coun­try kids rode school buses. The town kids had to walk to school or to be dropped off by their par­ents. The rule then was that if you lived two miles or more from “town” you could ride the school bus. If you lived within two miles of the school­house, you were near enough to get to school on your own, and you couldn’t ride the school bus.

School buses also moved the com­mu­nity to im­prove the roads, and in a few cases to open new roads. I men­tioned that my bus route started with Hay­den Road, (although it didn’t have that name then). Near the state line, we would then turn west onto the lower stretch of Lu­cas Lane. A new roadbed had been made to con­nect the two ends of what we now call Lu­cas Lane. The hill be­tween the low stretch and the high stretch of Lu­cas Lane was very steep. Our new Ford bus had four for­ward gears, first, sec­ond and high; and, new to me, com­pound (or what we called Grandma gear).

Our bus driver would stop at the bot­tom of the hill, shift into com­pound gear, and we would lug up the hill to the tune of the high-pitched whine which was char­ac­ter­is­tic of the older Ford V8 trucks. Com­pound gear was for some se­ri­ous pulling, and that hill gave our bus a chal­lenge. It was so steep that the bus wouldn’t take that way with a full load, but would run the bus route back­ward in the evenings, so as to have fewer kids and a smaller load for ne­go­ti­at­ing the se­ri­ous hills and hol­lows. We also got a new road which con­nected the lower part of White Oak Hol­low with Arkansas High­way 94 West.

Lu­cas Lane, Gates Lane and the White Oak Hol­low roads are still nice gravel roads to­day, but Ark. Hwy. 94 and Looney Road have been re­ally mod­ern­ized with paved roadbeds. Parts of Mar­i­ano Road are still gravel, but most of the rest of our old bus route has fine paved sur­faces. We would hit our “home stretch” on Ben­ton County 40 (McNelly Road), merge into Ark. Hwy 94 at Black­jack Cor­ner, and take the State 94 en­trance (now Pick­ens) into Pea Ridge.

Prior to the schoolowned buses, the school had had a front drive for drop­ping off the school kids. But with the buses, the bus en­trance was moved to the back of the school­house. The old front drive was soon re­placed by a wide side­walk, which is still in place to­day. The ad­vances in the qual­ity of the school bus­ing pro­gram was just one more ex­am­ple of pub­lic school progress, in which the Pea Ridge com­mu­nity adapted to new sit­u­a­tions and sought to of­fer the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for the com­mu­nity’s kids growing up.

When the first pub­lic school opened in Pea Ridge in 1884, the school didn’t pro­vide meals. The Hot Lunch Pro­gram opened in 1941.

The school at first didn’t do vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion. Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion be­gan about 1920.

The school at first had no gym­na­sium. The first School Gym opened in 1931 as an un­fin­ished build­ing, and was com­pleted in 1936, be­ing used as it was built by vol­un­teer la­bor.

I see us as still try­ing to do the best we can for our kids, pro­vid­ing more ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties, pro­vid­ing pro­grams that help kids meet the op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges of their lives, and mak­ing us all to­gether a stronger and bet­ter com­mu­nity.

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