Vicky Henry, Tammy Fraser and Dawn Whitehead check the fluids in a bus during bus driver training at Texico High school. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
In the Texico high school parking lot, To and From Bus Company owner Brent Queener directed the men and women who operate Texico’s buses. He watched as drivers parallel parked and maneuvered tight turns, the wheels of their awkward rectangles tracing invisible serpentine lines across the lot.
In the weeks before the school starts on Aug. 23, drivers in the district, like most bus drivers in the state, must complete eight hours of inservice training, Queener said. Then students can settle into the seats of the iconic orange-yellow school buses.
Bus drivers, their names sometimes displayed in their vehicles, sometimes not, shuttle children from their homes to school, and back, week in and week out.
It is a job Queener loves.
“I get to missing the kids in the summer,” Queener said.
Six years ago, Queener gave up operating heavy farm equipment for buses. The bulk of his rural route is one county road, designated only by the letter “E.” Queener describes it as one might an old friend, the kind just as endearing for her faults as for her charms.
“I run the route straight west of Texico,” he said. “Last year was an interesting year from the start of school on. I was fighting muddy roads through day one and on.”
The bus business, for Queener, is a family affair. His father bought the company in the 1980s. It was passed down to his brother, and later to him. Operating the Grady branch of To and From Bus Company is his cousin.
Queener, however, is not a stereotypical business man. His musings betray a softer side, a mentality that reflects the small town in which he works.
About 40 children climb on and off his bus on any given school day, he said. But his route doesn’t feature bus stops as do most suburban neighborhoods, where kids congregate on street corners for a ride to school. The students that ride his bus get front-door service. Queener even receives phone calls from parents when their children are sick, or unable to attend school.
“It’s funny when you get a second- or third-grader that learns the route. They are the first one to come up and tell you that you forgot someone,” Queener laughed.
Bonnye Black, a Texico To and From bus driver, is glad to have had “the opportunity to work with Brent,” she said. “On rainy and snowy days, he personally checks the routes. I appreciate that. It gives me confidence.”
Although she has been driving school buses for more than five years, the same thought pitter patters through her mind every time she gets behind the big wheel.
“When I get in (the bus), I consider how many lives my driving affects — that for sure keeps me on my toes,” said Black, 47. Driving the massive vehicle was once daunting, she added, remembering her first time behind the wheel with an “oh, it was scary” squeak. The gravity of the job hasn’t faded, but Black said she doesn’t let it intimidate her. Her driving skills sealed after years of experience, she has adopted the nature of a seasoned teacher.
The students on her bus have assigned seats, according to grade level, she said. It is a system she thinks fosters courtesy among riders.
“When I hear a noise, I can just look back, and know where students ought to be, know right away where that noise came from. If there is a spot with trash, candy wrappers and such, I know who is responsible. And then they can help me clean up the mess,” Black said.
The industry is a “behind-the-scenes business,” said Texico Superintendent R.L. Richards, but those who make the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round, he said, deserve more credit.
“They are the first and last people to see the kids,” Richards said. “Depending on the attitudes of the drivers are the attitudes of the students, at school and at home.”
On Wednesday, the Clovis School District officially launched their fleet of buses, the service provided by Adair Transportation. That company, too, is family operated. Manager Cory Adair is a fourth generation bus driver.
Compared with To and From Bus Company, Adair is a giant: it operates 34 buses, many of its drivers running double routes, said Adair, who fielded about 250 calls Wednesday from curious parents and school officials. At the close of one of the company’s most hectic days, Adair didn’t hesitate at all when asked about the more enjoyable aspects of his job.
“It’s the kids, of course,” Adair said, wrapping up his first day back on the road.