Rarely does a group of alumni from the late 1970s and 1980s gather that the topic of school buses doesn’t come up in conversation. Whether you were a rider or a driver, the stories run the gamut from brake failures to races down Garners Ferry at 30 miles per hour or even paper fights on the back of the bus. These stories are a part of Hammond lore and have become tales for the ages.
In the mid-1970s, parents formed corporations to purchase buses that would deliver students to and from Hammond each day. Owned and operated completely independent of Hammond, the buses were traditional yellow and bore no markings other than a number. Families paid monthly fees directly to the bus "companies". Most had been purchased used and were not equipped with walkie-talkies or other bells and whistles, although many a creative driver discovered a way to incorporate music into the daily drive.
Typically seniors, but often younger, drivers had no formal training but were required to have clean driving records. They learned the route and how to drive the bus by serving as a back-up driver and shadowed the senior whose bus they would inherit the following year. Students were paid roughly $165 each month, with a few of the bus “companies” known to have also paid tuition as additional incentive.
In November we asked for your stories about driving or riding a bus to Hammond. Alums were quick to respond with a recollection of their days riding those big yellow birds. Here are but a few:
I remember parking buses on the field behind the Carolina Children’s Home. We would arrive at the Children’s Home at 7:15 and like clockwork, pull into Hammond by 8:00. You haven’t lived until you’ve raced another bus up Garners Ferry in third gear at 30 miles per hour or flipped your windshield wipers to spray people beside you. In looking back, I’m surprised at that age I had such a high tolerance for children. I remember Virginia Chaplin ‘93 and Margaret Ashley ‘93 sat at the front of the bus on top of the first aid kit and opened the door at every stop.
One day, in a fairly new bus, the brakes went out going down Garners Ferry. I downshifted, and with two hands on the wheel, coasted into Putt-Putt Golf (now Staples) where we used a telephone to call another bus. The kids never knew what happened. In looking back, being a bus driver kept us well-scheduled and helped develop a sense of responsibility in us.
-Frank Robinson ‘87
I remember how fun it was to ride the bus home in the 80s. Edward Clark ‘88 was our driver, and he would sing with us! He would chant Boom-Chicka-Boom and we’d all scream out in unison. I’ll not forget those rides.
-Ashby Chase Howard
Clarke McNair ’90 and I were always getting in some sort of trouble on the bus for being loud or having paper fights. I can’t tell you the number of times Hugh James ‘81 and Michael Schraibman ‘83 made us clean out the bus as punishment. One morning, the entire bus had a huge paper fight on the way to school. We were having a great time until we arrived at the Lower School and Mrs. Sawyer stepped on the bus. She had been behind us all the way and called out a few of us specifically. We soon found ourselves sitting in her office before first period. Not a good way to start the day.”
-Gus Brabham ’90
I still remember the Hammond alums who rode my bus. I’ll never forget picking Bunny Lamotte Peacock ‘91 up for her first day of school. She had a big bow in her hair and the whole family was standing in the driveway to wave goodbye. Today, it’s hard to imagine putting a first grader on a bus with a 17-year-old driver. And although she was not on my route, I was occasionally asked to give Alice Price Adams ‘87 a ride home by her sister, a classmate of mine. One of my most memorable bus stories, however, is the day I pulled up to the Lower School and discovered I had inherited flipped windshield wipers from the previous driver. Deciding that the windows needed cleaning, I turned on the wipers and the mister. After accidentally spraying a teacher several times, I realized the wipers had been reversed. Needless to say, the Lower School teacher was less than amused.
-Hank Eddy ‘81
While yesterday’s parent-owned buses have been replaced by Hammond’s own fleet of red and white, the wheels on the bus continue to go round and round. And so do the stories.