SIDNEY UNDERWOOD: RESCUING SCHOOL BUS HOUSES

(11/02/2022)
By Sidney Underwood 2015
When I attended the old Calhoun County High School in the late 1950's several of us boys provided a public service that was beneficial to the students of the county. It happened because there was always a short period of time between the end of football season and the beginning of basketball practice.

As a result of this down time, we had nothing to do. Because we participated in athletics, we had an abundance of energy and needed someone in authority to help us channel all that exuberance in a positive direction.

Without that supervision and left to our own devices, we might have gotten into mischief during 5th and 6th periods, the time normally set aside for athletic practice. To borrow a phrase from Steve Martin, we had our share of "wild and crazy guys" who needed to be kept busy or watched over to make sure they stayed out of trouble while school was in session.

Halloween always seemed to bring out the foolishness and daring in some young people. Individuals would do knuckleheaded stuff that they would normally have no reason to attempt during any other time of the year. The little white wooden school bus stops were frequently targeted by them. I'm sure you remember those little buildings along the bus routes. They served a good purpose on cold and rainy mornings providing shelter for students waiting to be transported to school. The structures somewhat resembled outhouses except for open fronts.

The ones that I remember were painted white. They were built in a rectangular design, perhaps 6 ft. by 8 ft. with sloping metal or composition roofs. Most were designed for standing only although some did have benches in the back and they were large enough to accommodate several students during inclement weather. If you lived out in the country in Calhoun County and rode the bus to school, you probably remember cold winter mornings trying to stay warm while waiting in one of them. Often as many as seven or eight kids would board a bus at one of those stops having already walked nearly a mile out of some hollow.

In winter months they would slip off their muddy galoshes and four buckle artics and leave them in the bus stop to be donned again on their return in the afternoon. Back in the day, you really had to want to go to school because a lot of walking was usually required. The bus stops were set on concrete blocks and secured by heavy stakes driven into the ground. Since Calhoun was mainly rural, there were many of them placed along bus routes.

It would happen every year after Halloween. Parents would call the School Board Office to complain when their child had to stand out in the rain because the bus stop had been vandalized or upset. The school maintenance men who had put the time and effort into building the structures had other duties to perform and were not in a position to respond quickly to this problem. Understandably, their patience was stretched thin when it was determined their work had been damaged or destroyed.

I knew of instances when the men in a specific area would take matters into their own hands and reset and repair those stops for the protection of the children in their community. Generally that was the exception rather than the rule. It remained a continuing hardship for other children in other areas of the county who simply wanted to go to school.

I remember the first time I was called upon to help repair the bus stops. It was 1956 and I was a lowly freshman. I was hanging around the old gym sitting on the outside steps with some other boys when Lloyd Vaughn approached our group. He told us that Troea Morrison, School Superintendent, had asked for volunteers to go out in the county to restore and reset damaged bus stops. He said that approval for this project had also been obtained from Principal, Roy J. Stump. Everyone was assured that they would not miss their bus ride home although it might happen that a volunteer would be dropped off in their neighborhood instead of returning to school if that situation occurred.

Soon we saw an Army truck approaching from the bus garage driven by Lane Roberts who was a school board employee. I was surprised to see my Dad, who was a teacher and coach, sitting on the passenger seat beside him. The two and half ton truck had been obtained at surplus by the board of education and was used mainly for heavy hauling. I remember that we boys eagerly climbed into the back of the canvas covered bed. There were two full length folding benches running the length of each side where we sat.

My memory has faded over time, but some of the young men who may have volunteered that day would include: Don Burch, Kenneth Hughes, Kenneth Jarvis, Kyle Hayhurst, Dave Hathaway, French Stump, Garrell Stump, Larry Morton, myself and others. We probably had a total of 15 or 16 boys who made that trip.

Several years later at Fort Knox, KY., I would learn firsthand that more than 40 soldiers could be transported in the back of one of those {Duce and a Half} trucks. I remember we were required to sit on the floor with our knees bent and legs spread apart staring at the back of a helmeted head of someone sitting in the space between our legs. Not really comfortable, but much better than the constant marching of basic training that we had to endure. We really appreciated the occasional ride back to the company area from a day at the rifle range.

The only time anyone complained was when someone "broke wind" and that was really bad as there was no getting away from it in that confined space and it was usually the same person who caused the problem each time. I remember that we threatened to throw him off the truck on many occasions and we should have, but we never did. When we boys were seated in the truck we saw an assortment of boards, coils of rope, metal stakes, nails and hammers and hand saws and sections of metal roofing laid out on a pallet in the center of the bed. I remember Mr. Vaughn gave instructions to Mr. Roberts to work the Russett Road area on this first day.

We were laughing and chattering away as we headed up Rt. # 7; glad to get away from school and this was going to be a big adventure. Some of the more rowdy boys leaned out over the tail gate and frantically waved and yelled at the students in the band room who were watching us go by. Naturally, they were pretending they had been kidnapped by the Army! Like I said, we were an active bunch and this was a chance to do something positive lest we get in trouble at school. I know Mr. Roy J. Stump was relieved to see us go. Our first job was at a bus stop just below Rubber Crafters. We found the little white building lying in the weeds back a short distance from the road.

In no time, we had it back on the foundation and secured. Some roofing nails soon had the metal top back in place where it had been jarred loose. We were in high spirits as we climbed back onto the truck and travelled on toward Russett.

The next job was at the beginning of the Enon Straight. This was near a long pedestrian swinging bridge that stretched across the river. In the distant field on the other side stood a white two story farmhouse. I remembered as a little kid on Sunday afternoons watching small airplanes, scary looking open cockpit Stearman bi-planes and Piper Cubs, using the field below the house as a landing strip. I remember that one of the pilots was named Stoneking from Gilmer County. I think the pilots offered rides for a small fee, but no one in my family was brave enough to try it.

Mr. Roberts slowed the truck to a crawl and we eased past the spot where the bus stop should have been. We could see scattered concrete blocks in the weeds, but not the structure itself. With the truck backing slowly everyone peered out over the embankment toward the river. Finally stopping, we all jumped out onto the ground. One boy observed that it would be the first time in history that someone had the nerve to steal a bus stop.

After several minutes of looking around, the structure was discovered partially hidden about 30 ft. down over the hillside caught against a tree. One look and everyone realized that retrieving it would be a real challenge. Damn those Halloween hooligans anyway! After the men conferred, it was decided that some agile individual would have to slip slide down over the embankment, attach ropes to it and find a way to climb back up to the road.

Then we would see about pulling it up. We would solve one problem at a time. Someone asked if the truck had a winch? It didn't. The men decided not to use the massive bumper as that would entail blocking much of the road. This was not going to be easy like the first one.

Someone, I'm thinking it was Larry Morton, volunteered and went down the slippery bank holding onto the ropes that the rest of us secured at the edge of the berm. I remember that I didn't want to go down there, but someone had to do it. Once the building was tied off twice, Larry climbed back up pulling himself hand over hand grasping the ropes. Now, the real work was at hand and everybody including the adults grabbed the ropes and two groups of boys and men started pulling.

Slowly, the structure started lifting upward toward us, but if we let up, it would drift downward. The darn thing would not release from the tree and the best we could do was yoyo it up and down causing much aggravation. Finally, on the count of three, with a coordinated mighty heave from both groups, the thing broke loose and we inched it slowly upward with much straining, grunting and cursing. Once back on the edge of the road, it was inspected and noted that several boards impacted by the tree needed to be replaced.

I mostly watched as several of the older boys demonstrated remarkable carpentry skills. Boards retrieved from the truck were measured for length, sawed and hammered into place. Muscle power set the structure back on the foundation blocks and a few heavy swings of the sledge hammer set the spikes in the ground. Someone remarked that we had a good crew of boys and Mr. Olen Barrows should have been there to take a picture of us for the Calhoun Chronicle. Someone else said that we would have made Roy J. Stump proud if he had seen us do something good for a change!

We journeyed on up the road through Russet to the Gilmer County line. We passed several bus stops along the way that had escaped being harmed by local hooligans. I remember that we stopped and inspected each of them, sometimes just making small adjustments when we would use wooden shims to set the structures level.

By now it was time to turn around and head back to school. That was the end of the first day of our public service. Over the next several days, our group reset and repaired maybe ten or twelve of those stops. None were nearly as difficult and challenging as the one pulled up the hillside by ropes on the Enon Straight. That public service was a long time ago and my memory has faded as to the names of all the boys who worked hard to reset the bus stops. If I failed to mention your name, please forgive me, you know who you are and how much the other students appreciated your efforts.

In today's society, it would be difficult to do something like that because of the possible liability issues arising if someone was injured. Back then, no one gave that any thought and we just climbed on the truck and spent several afternoons doing a good thing. But, you have to understand that it was a very different time. Most of the boys in our group lived out in the country and were familiar with and had used hand tools before.

I don't see those structures today. Possibly they do still exist. In Wood County there are a few commercial structures with advertisements on them along bus routes. They look to be made of fiberglass or similar material, each one displaying a sponsor's name which is usually a Lumber company.

Here is an interesting thought: Someone should find and refurbish one of the original structures and set it up at the Calhoun Park's Heritage Village at Mt. Zion. I think bus routes were first established in the mid 1930's in Calhoun County and, as a result, those first little buildings appeared. I have been told that the very first ones were unpainted and had doors. That was before my time and I'm sure they are all gone by now. The bus stops of my youth in the 1950's were always painted white and did not have doors and were scattered throughout the county. In fact, there may have been a bus stop just below the community of Hur at the four-way intersection during the 1950's. Bob Weaver would be the one to know about that.

They definitely represent a part of our rural heritage and one of them should be preserved for future generations to see as they reflect an earlier time not just in Calhoun County, but in rural America as well.