Siloam Springs Herald Leader

Another tale from the school bus

- DOUG CHASTAIN Random Recollecti­ons

I’m a school bus driver. There are certain perks attached to the job. And there are certain liabilitie­s as well. That’s true with any job, of course, although I suspect the difference between the perks and liabilitie­s in school bus driving is much more pronounced than in many other profession­s.

Let’s take, for example, the heating systems on modern buses. (I didn’t pick this subject at random, which will soon be evident.) On cold winter mornings, the five-yearold diesel bus I now drive warms up to a comfortabl­e temperatur­e in about 20 minutes. It wasn’t always that way. When I first started bus driving, 44 years ago, the gas buses we drove took an hour to warm up, and even then it wasn’t a “comfortabl­e” warmth. Certain areas of the bus were still ice cold, while the front floor heater was giving my left leg second degree burns.

And there were other liabilitie­s.

One bitterly cold winter morning a long time ago in Benton, I was heading back to town with my students, finally getting warm(er) after an hour on the road, when I heard a sound from behind me. A sound that strikes terror in the heart of every driver who has ever climbed behind the wheel of a “cheese wagon.” Someone was retching. I looked in the rearview mirror, and quickly identified the unfortunat­e student who was giving in to nausea. It was a big old country boy. And apparently he had had a big old country breakfast, because at the moment I looked up in the rear-view mirror, he unloaded it — all of it — on the floor of my bus.

I knew what was coming next.

Within seconds, I heard another student retch. And it was at that moment I was faced with two wretched choices: Open the windows to let in fresh air in and disperse the smell, or keep them closed and suffer through the dreaded “barf-o-rama” that would surely follow. It was a no-brainer.

“Kids!” I yelled. “Open the windows NOW!”

The response from the students was immediate. They knew the stakes. Within seconds every window on the bus was down, and we played “freezeout” the rest of the way to school, bundled up and shivering in the cold. But the strategy was successful. No one else threw up.

After I deposited the kids at their various schools, I took the bus back to the shop, parked it on the side of an incline on the parking lot, and washed it out with a hose. It was an hour before I could feel my hands again. But the bus floor was clean.

Perks and liabilitie­s. Every job has them. And some of the liabilitie­s of being a school bus driver are “off the charts.” (It is extraordin­arily sobering to realize that you literally have the lives of 60 young people in your hands.) At the same time, driving a bus has given me some of the most profoundly rewarding experience­s of my life. Which is why I am still behind the wheel after 44 years.

Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and is currently a largevehic­le transporta­tion specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (Okay, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenanc­e technician at Camp Siloam. (Yeah, he mows the lawn.) You can contact him at dougchasta­ The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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