The Wheels of the Bus

On the surface, it was a simple exercise in logistics. Get country kids to school in town. Monday through Friday. Then get 'em home again.

I entered kindergarten in the fall of 1962 and rode the country school bus for four years before we moved to Wichita. In Plainville, Kansas in the early '60s, there were two rural school bus routes. One bus went north and west, ours went south and east. Kindergarten though 12th grade. Each bus held about 50 young souls. Do the math.

The place was lousy with kids. Postwar baby boom in full bloom across the land. Two generations ago.

Bacon and eggs for breakfast with leftover bacon grease actually collected in a canister designed for that specific purpose. Dad would depart to work the farm, leaving Mom at home with our younger brother, still a toddler. Monday was wash day, Tuesday was ironing, you get the picture.

My sister, Viki, (two years older) and I would cross a grass pasture to catch the school bus with Aunt Linda at our grandparents' home. One soggy day, my shoelace broke just as the bus was pulling up. So I hopped from the house on one good shoe, dodging mud puddles with Aunt Linda holding my hand. The kids on the bus found this amusing. Most embarrassing moment of my young life.

Once on the bus, Aunt Linda repaired my shoelace and my reputation. As a popular high school ingénue, in the politics of the rural Plainville school bus, Linda Ordway had the juice.

All the farm kids rode the bus. Some of us were deposited at the Plainville Grade/High school while others were dropped off at Sacred Heart.

I remember asking a Catholic kid my age why they had their own school. How come there's no Lutheran School or Baptist School?

"On account of there's so many of us."

Made sense to me.

Maybe the Diocese and the school board worked a deal. You haul our kids to town and we promise not to proselytize the protestant kids along the way.

Rural religious rapprochement.

Ray Welch was the driver. The town florist. On occasion, Ray'd pull over at the Apco filling station on U.S. 183 and all the kids on the bus would get treats. I always chose Bit-O-Honey. Vik invariably opted for a bottle of Grape Nehi. At age eight, she was proud of the resulting purple tongue and eager to show it off.

I wonder now if Ray sprung for the goodies.

Ray would alternate his direction. One day he'd head south. We were the first kids dropped off this way. The next day, he'd head east and we'd be the last kids off. More often than not, when we'd go "the long way," I'd be asleep by the time we got home. Aunt Linda would wake me up and steer me off the bus.

Rural culture. Benevolent bus driver plays fair by alternating his routes. Every now and then, candy for the kids. Just because they're kids and he's a nice guy. The older ones look out for the younger ones. Parents don't worry.

These underlying values drove the logistics of getting farm kids into town. They were never talked about out loud.

You didn't have to. Everyone feels that way, right?