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Column: School bus experiences

Posted: October 1, 2018 3:45 p.m.
Updated: October 2, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Provided by Harvey Teal/

The school bus the writer rode to Midway School during the 1930s.

On a morning in early September 1934, an older brother and I left our home on what is now Teal Road and walked one-half mile to Porter Road. There, we boarded a school bus headed for Midway School. A picture of that bus accompanies this column. The bus was a Model “T” Ford with pull down shades and its battery sitting on the running board. The driver was C. L “Buddy” McGuirt.

By modern day standards, it was a primitive vehicle. Today, one might fear to ride in it at all. I’m sure I had ridden in something besides a mule-drawn wagon before that morning, but after wracking my brain, I could not remember doing so. That was my first experience with a school bus at Midway School.

For the next nine months, I rode that bus to school where I experienced a number of things. I had three or four illnesses during the year. My 1st Grade teacher, who retired after the end of that year, caused me to fear her. She made a remark to one student that if he did not stop misbehaving, she was going to hang him by his heels out the window.

An image of hanging upside down out the window haunted me. All year, the comment lingered with me in her class. A time or two I lingered and loitered behind to miss the school bus. I dreaded going to school. My mother tried to quiz me as to why I did not like school, but she got very little from me. Consequently, I did poorly and had to repeat the 1st Grade.

The next year, under the guidance of Miss Neva Shannon, I grew to love school and learning and have never stopped. Today, at age 90, I still enjoy learning new things. This dear lady set me on the right path to a successful future.

Let me recount one of the memories of riding the bus that remained lodged in my brain all these years. About 1938, when I was about 10 years old, I remember riding along what is now Teal Road when we passed a group of African-American children walking to school. I remember thinking that was not “fair” and they ought to be able to ride also. It was not fair or just, and was a terrible by-product of segregation.

Some of the adult bus drivers I remember were Floyd Horton, a Mr. Anderson and C. L. “Buddy” McGuirt. By the time I entered the 9th Grade in 1943, during WWII, high school students were driving S.C. school buses. One could get a driver’s license then at age 14. In late summer, at age 15, my father took me to get my driver’s license and I began driving a Midway School bus that fall.

The three Midway School bus routes all lay on dirt roads except for a short distance along paved U.S. 1, on which Midway School was located. The Kershaw County “chain Gang” maintained these dirt roads. They used road scrapers to smooth the road a little and to fill in pot holes and eroded spots. They cleaned ditches and trimmed bushes along the road. We often had to maneuver through deep sand ruts and climb steep clay covered hills, which became very slippery after a rain.

We had learned to drive over these roads and had learned to manage these road conditions very well. There was one hill on my route on Porter Road that gave me problems. It lay opposite my friend, Donald Holland’s, family farm. They called it “Nelson Hill.” Several yards from the top of the hill, white chalky clay covered the road.

One rainy afternoon, I slowly approached the hill. I thought I had enough speed to reach the top but I did not. About 15 yards from the hill top, the rear wheels began to spin in the clay and and my forward progress came to a dead stop. After spinning the rear wheels several time without success, I decided to slowly back down the hill and take an alternate route over some tenant house roads on the Holland farm. The rear wheels began to slide toward and into the ditch near the bottom of the hill.

I got Donald’s father to bring his tractor and pull the rear end of the bus back on to the road. I finished backing down the few yards left on the hill, took the alternate route through the Holland farm, and delivered the remaining school children to their homes.

That was all to the incident except for one matter. An older gentleman happened by while the bus was in the ditch. Seeing a school bus in a ditch driven by a youth caused all sorts of images of calamity to crowd his mind. When I explained to him that no one was hurt and we slipped into the ditch at no more than 5 miles an hour while trying to back down the hill, he was mollified. Besides, he could see the situation was then well in hand.

During those war time years, we had many problems keeping the buses running due to unavailability of tires. Often we would run a bus with one tire on one of the rear wheels instead of the dual tires called for. Our superintendent, J.H. Murphree, was a “hands on” man in keeping the buses running. He and two or three of us drivers often could be seen changing tires from time to time. In war time, you had to make do with what you had.

I remember only one training session provided by the state for us youthful drivers. In Camden, highway patrolmen critiqued us as we drove around some Camden streets. That was not very practical, as we never came within 10 miles of streets while driving on our bus routes around the Cassatt community. I passed their test and only got criticized for not picking up trash in the bus left by the school passengers.

At the time, I earned a dollar a day, $20 a month, $180 a year and $540 for the three years I drove a bus. Little did I know at that time that, 36 years later, my retirement pay from the state would be increased handsomely for driving a school bus. Beginning in 1986, my retirement pay has been increased a few thousand dollars a year for my state service of driving a school bus.

I enjoyed my years as a bus driver and the opportunity it afforded me to learn how to interact with students, teachers, parents and the school administration. I was able to demonstrate that as a youth of 15-18, I had successfully assumed and performed those adult responsibilities.

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