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School Bus Drivers Provided Adventure

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  

Sometimes I even surprise myself at where I get an idea for a column. Terri has been sick and I took Shelby to catch her school bus, and as I looked at that well constructed vehicle, it brought back memories.  

After my parents divorced, we moved back to Papa Badley’s farm which started at the Lafayette county line and went toward Springdale. I was no stranger to the farm, as I had been going there as long as I can remember. I would ride behind Papa on his saddle mare, Bessie, as he oversaw the farm.

I was starting the third grade and I learned I would have to ride a school bus to Camp Ground. In those days, you could buy a truck with no cab and many did because it was cheaper and safer to use in the woods cutting timber. They could also be fitted with a school bus body.  This one was a Chevrolet, as I recall, and the school bus body was a home made affair. It had bench seats running down each side, and a bench seat with no back in the middle.  The seats were covered with what people referred as “oil cloth” and had a thin padding of some kind.  

Our bus driver was Ernest House. He had been a farmer and timber cutter and the school routes were awarded to the lowest bidder. At that time, the bus turned around at Miss Ola Martin’s house –  just inside the Lafayette line. Later Papa got them to come to the road that led to his house so I wouldn’t have such a long walk. I don’t remember much about that year except that I didn’t like it.  

The next year the driver was Morris Holt, but he left mid-year to move to Arizona and Paul Reynolds took over the route.  He was married to Garfield Moore’s daughter from the Jumper’s Chapel community and an all around good guy.  He drove until the early days of World War II.

Our next driver was “Preacher” Boles, who only drove for a year before Edgar Black took over the route.  His bus was different in as much as the cab was separated from the bus part but had a boot in between much like pickup campers. This allowed him to hear and observe the kids.  

I think he and Paul Reynolds were my favorite drivers over the eight years I rode a bus. Mr. Reynolds was driving the day of the O’Tuckalofa tornado, and he parked at Palestine Church until the worst had passed. John Ashford, the Higgins family and I were the only kids left on the bus on that unforgettable day.

Some of the early bus riders when I started were Carlton, Maifred, Charles, and S. F. Martin; Dorothy Maynor; Anita Coleman; and Tom and John Henry Ashford.

As time went on the Martins and Tom Ashford graduated, and Anita Coleman moved after their house burned. Even though some of the roads have changed, I can still run that route in my mind. I’d like to take  you though the bus route as Paul Reynolds would have run it.

He lived near Jumper’s Chapel and would come down the Delay road and pick up J.B. Goodwin; then double back and turn toward the Old Oxford road and pick up Howard, Effie Pearl, and Atlas Earl Tutor.  Next he would go north, on the Old Oxford Road, and pick up John and Minnie Lee Ashford; turn around at the Palestine Cemetery and head north and pick up the Higgins family and me; turn around to the Old Oxford road traveling a couple of miles before turning right to go to  Edgar Carr’s house to pick up Maxine.

Then he would turn around and pick up Aubrey, Clinton and Elizabeth Vick; the Crumby twins, Hollis and Wallace;  and Mildred, Janie Ruth, and John Lynn.  Next he picked up Hester, Freck, and Billy Samuels before heading back to the Old Oxford road.  Then he drove to where it became Boyd Street, and for one year he picked up Cerise and Gaylon Booker and J.T. Gann.  Then he drove to North Main and turned at the high school and drove toward Camp Ground.  The last stop was to pick up  Annette Sartain, before heading on to school.

In the eight years I rode a Camp Ground bus, we never had a heater and it was always a home made bus body.  The only factory all-steel bus at Camp Ground was driven by Mr. Henry Henderson. The buses we had in those days wouldn’t be allowed on the road today.  

I heard of one driver in Panola County that drove a bus for seven years without a windshield wiper and no  antifreeze – he drained the water out each night.  

One bus that always seemed to be ahead of us had dual tires with the fabric showing for an entire school year.  That having been said, I don’t recall a single accident involving a school bus for the entire eight years I rode one.  

Some of the drivers I remember at Camp Ground were Mr. Garner, Mack Dickey, “Wildcat” Wilbourn, Henry Hayles and Henry Henderson.  I can’t end this narrative without a personal note.  When the Camp Ground school was consolidated in 1921, one of the first drivers was Papa Badley, who drove a school wagon until the mid-20s when they became motorized.      

One of his riders was my aunt, Elizabeth Cooper, and another was Richard Carlisle, grandfather of Attorney Rick Carlisle.  Richard was one of Papa’s favorite people and he would let him drive the wagon from time to time. It had a wagon sheet like the ones you have seen in the western movies, and he fashioned a curtain from burlap to hang in front to keep out the wind with holes cut for the lines to come through.  

He would have Nannie heat several bricks to spread through the wagon to create some heat until enough kids could get in and get warm from body heat.  I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.  I wasn’t around in the school wagon days, but my information came from Papa.  Let me hear from you at either my email address  or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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