The Indy printed the school bus schedules last week, an overture to the season. The goldenrod is blooming deeply yellow and beautiful, sunshine on the hills, though it speaks of the coming end of summer. It’s color is repeated thousands upon thousands of times by the school buses that ferry millions of children to school and back again at the end of the day. Golden yellow is the perfect color of this season.
Before there were national standards for school buses kids got to school any way they could. Of course there was that mythical trek on foot through acres of primal forests, pursued by wolves, and uphill both ways. In our neck of the woods, district schools were scattered around so that no child had to walk too far, so if your grandfather said he walked 12 miles every day, it is okay to roll your eyes a little. When the schools consolidated some kids were driven in wagons, sleighs, pungs, horse drawn buses – whatever could serve. My mother’s cousin Gilbert rode his pony in the 30s– he had a hired stall downtown where the pony spent the day while Gilbert studied.
Some guys hired out to drive kids in from their area of town in a larger car or van – not really a school bus, but serving the purpose. My dad did that a few years when he was a young farmer. There were no particular qualifications beyond willingness. School didn’t start nearly as early as it does now, so you could finish the barn chores, take a bunch of kids to school and still be able to do the rest of the farm work. You had to keep track of your time in the afternoon, but that’s about it. No uniform standards existed and you took your chances or your kids’ chances. There was a horrible tragedy in Milton some 70 year ago when a train and a designated transport of kids came together; it wasn’t a bus but a hired driver and his car. Such things all over the country got people to thinking of standardization.
It wasn’t until the 30s that it was decided to codify and regulate the chariots that haul our children. It took $16,000 and two years to do it which seems both cheap and speedy to those of us who are used to so much red tape and dragging of feet. They got it done under the leadership of one Frank W. Cyr who brought together a number of specialties, including paint experts. They found out that a certain bright yellow was the most visible in the light of early morning and late afternoon. That color is now called “National School Bus Glossy Yellow.” When I was a kid I couldn’t figure out why such brazenly yellow buses were manufactured by a company called “Blue Bird.” That made no sense at all to me, but there were a number of things grownups did that seemed senseless!
When my dad was still on the mail route, he had a big Jeep that was bright yellow. Siobhan called it “Papa’s ‘Cool Bus.” She was terribly disappointed that before she started school we had moved to within walking distance of Herrick Avenue so that, alas, she didn’t get to ride a school bus. I didn’t care much for the school bus when I was young so I never considered it to be some kind of adventure, but she did. But of course there were field trips (where she might have been one of few who was excited by the trip itself.)
So it’s the time of year to celebrate National School Bus Glossy Yellow. And to remember to stop both ways when the bus stops, okay? That’s why they decided on such a visible paint job after all.