THE PIED PIPER OF MANCOS
The morning run
Well it has finally happened and I’m now herding or driving school children to and from their place of
learning. A long circular route to get to this point but now I’m fully licensed and up and running. Some
of you may remember that last year I went off in pursuit of the CDL B for driving motor coaches and
RV’s as there was a tempting advert in the local paper looking for drivers with those qualifications. All
sounded very good but on closer inspection seemed to have a sprinkling of “scaming” in the offer.
So I did drive up to Denver and go to the CDL College to take the test, but true to form the pictures in
their brochure of motor coaches were only “examples” and I ended up driving a very vintage
agricultural school bus as the test vehicle ! Of course at that time I had NO intention of driving 50-60
children to school so I hadn’t taken the extra “S” endorsement.
About June this year Brenda meets a teacher, Kelly, who tells her that the Mancos School District
are in need of a bus driver. Phone calls are made to Wes, the Transport Director, and preliminary
contacts are made but little seems to be happening as school is out until late August. However,
keeping the ball moving I get through all their bad weather driving quizzes and set off to take the
written part of the S endorsement. All good so far, now I just have to re-do the test again despite
having driven a school bus. Good thing here is Mancos are paying for it and the “where & when”
will be decided soon. Meanwhile Wes lays out cones for me to do some practice at the Bus Barn
and see if I can do some of the new skills tests that have been put in since last year which include
exciting things like parallel parking, a reverse serpentine weave, alley docking and garage
manoeuvres! Wes gives me a lot of useful tips (thank you) and we do a couple of road trips to make
sure I can actually drive the machine.
Back from Casper and time to go to Durango for the test. Nice sensible Examiner who just asks
what is different about this vehicle and what would I check in the pre trip inspection that pertains
ONLY to a school bus. Then out for the drive and of course Durango does have a railway so we know
thats coming in terms of the “crossing”. As the “skills testing” was done on the previous CDL licence
he doesn’t want to do that again, but all the practice was good fun anyway. No sooner back at the
Barn and now out with Sara for an afternoon route run to learn same and they want me to drive it the
Sara’s bus is the oldest in the fleet and is equipped with the wheelchair lift but doesn’t have any of the
new fangled 4 stage retarders that people use in lieu of brakes and it is not equipped with those auto
flick snow chains. It has a manual door mechanism which I rather like. Off we go and lesson one is
where to park this bus so that the lift will mate up with a concrete step on the sidewalk. This bus
always parks at the end of the line.
Sara’s bus complete with the wheelchair lift
Time for the lift gizmo ! With it deployed and level the pretty little girl who is a spina bifida sufferer
spins her motorized chair into position and backs on. Up she goes and on signal she reverses
herself in and positions for lashing down. Lash the back down and she motors forward and tensions
the straps while I do the front ones. When the first bus of the four in the line goes we all follow and if
you aren’t on board then tough!
Parking needs to be spot on
Our first portion of the route is a square to get the bus going in the opposite direction, turn left at the
Gingerbread house then first right to drop off the wheelchair girl at her house. Again carefully align the
coach so that the lift will deploy on concrete by her house. While I set up the lift an “aide” unbuckles all
the straps and then when she is aboard the lift I gently lower it all to the sidewalk. Back to the school,
drop off the aide, and on with the route. This one seems simple enough providing I can remember all
Monday afternoon comes and off I go with my first “load” of passengers. Well they were all duly
deposited by the roadside, nobody fell off the lift, and there hasn’t been a Police investigation for
missing children so I guess they all got home, or to somebody’s home.
Tuesday and now 3 more routes to learn. Basically as there are four routes each one covers a
cardinal direction and Sara’s was predominately to the South. Today I’m with Joe, and we will take in
the Eastbound route. I’m familiar with Joe’s bus which is the shortest of the four, has a good powerful
motor, the auto chains, and an engine retarder on the exhaust which sounds like a flock of screaming
birds when you touch the brakes. It is also the bus I did the test in.
Joe’s bus which I did the test in
The convoy leaves the yard at 0705 and we set off on our loop. I think the pick up run in the mornings
may be the easier of the two trips as your pax are standing by the roadside or waiting in cars with their
parents, the evening runs are more problematic as either a load more children arrive for in town drop
offs or others are no shows as they are playing sport or going home with someone else….. and to
further complicate things for the “new boy” some of the route order changes which I assume is to give
a more equalized student time on the bus.
With all the advice on NEVER EVER reverse a school bus, etc, it seems that on all our rural routes
there are about 4 turn rounds which require some extensive reversing! On these county dirt roads I’m
already wondering what this will be like in the snow? No wimpy snow days off here in this School
I now need to do the Drug Testing, which in my case couldn’t ever be a problem as I have NEVER
seen a drug, pot or anything else. The same organization also does the DOT medical and again the
School district pays for all of this. A very slick visit and in and out in no time flat and now round to DMV
for another photo for the new all singing and dancing licence.
Wednesday and today I’m with Cathy whose bus takes the number 3 spot in the line up and we are
off for all the northbound students. Seems like a simple enough route until we get back into town and
pick up all the local children. Likewise the afternoon run has a lot more stops in it and some changes
to the route. Oh well I’m sure I will get familiar with it. Cathy’s bus is of the newer type with auto snow
chains, a four stage retarder, and the newer front end look with the more modern hood.
Cathy’s bus with the modern look
Thursday and the last day of route proving and I’m with senior driver Sharon on the fleet’s newest bus.
This bus motors! Again, snow chains, retarder, bells and whistles for everything, a more modern front
end and generally nicer inside with a modern dash and steering wheel. It is the longest of the four and
of course with a big coach on a standard chassis it has a lot of tail swing so I need to watch where the
back end goes on the corners. This route changes quickly on morning and evening runs so I might
need to go on this one again as with four routes to remember with only one outing on each the brain is
fast reaching memory overload!
We also have an array of cars for special uses and a smaller school bus for mini outings. The good
old Chevy Suburban is used at the moment for taking a “special needs” student to another school in
Cortez and I’ve been on this run a couple of times already. There is also a new Ford Aztec with all
wheel drive but I think the teachers drive this one themselves for conferences.
The Suburban for the special needs run
Eventually when I’ve been through the new boy routine I might get to go on some of the Activity Runs
and transport some of the sports teams to their opponents venues. For this we have two bigger
buses which are more akin to travel coaches and we do have runs to Denver and Albuquerque which
can be a good 400+ miles each way. At the moment I’m the “Sub” so I get to drive a route bus while
the others are away on activity schedules…….. but my time will come!
3 “Sub” runs this week and a look at Sara’s morning route. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this eventually
but the knowing, who, when and where is a bit confusing as some only travel on certain days, and
might not be on the bus in the evening.
With the morning route run out of the way I’ve now seen all 4 routes in both directions so now its
trying to remember all the stops and the turn round points and who goes where. The afternoon solo
run is on Cathy’s route and by departure time I have 35 onboard. After the first 3 stops in town I’ve lost
about 20 so the noise levels are going down and one little girl is acting as my “aide” and reminding
me of who gets off where today. When she gets off another older boy takes over the duties and we
complete the route about 7 miles short of the full distance as he is the last. Quick reverse in a country
lane and regain the main road and back to the Bus Barn where I’m the first to arrive.
All lined up at the school for the afternoon run
Same route today so I’m better mentally prepared and everything should be a little slicker with all the
signals, bells and whistles! On the learning curve the door switch can be a problem as it is a rocker
switch and I must have touched it the wrong way about twice yesterday. What I discovered here is
that with all the 8 way ambers on as the door opens the lights change to red and the stop sign
comes out, but if fumbling “new boy” hits the door button the wrong way then ALL the lights go out and
I’m back at square one!
The apprenticeship continues…………
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