The Unsung Hero

And here I am not talking about the drivers. Oh no I am talking about the riders that come with us on the special needs bus. These people are the ones that take a huge share of the responsibility from the driver. They spend a lot more time with the kids then everyone knows and develop a different sort of relationship with the children. They are one of the first people who the child will see in the morning along with the driver and can set the whole day up for them. If they are in a bad mood the child will pick up on this and the whole day could be ruined. If they pick up on a good mood then the day could be one of a better ones.

My rider today needs to get an award for something and since i know that there isn’t one for this I will simply write about it and put the event out there so that someone reads this.

It was a fairly normal day, sun was shining, birds singing etc as we head out to collect the children for the day. All was good until we got to the half way point. The poor child that was getting on had to be dragged away from a puppy that he was playing with. He was not happy about this and started screaming and yelling at everyone near him. Parents had to drag him onto the bus and I was very close to telling them that I would not let him ride with us due to his behaviour but my rider sprung into action and started talking to him but not about the puppy. All through the trip she would talk to him about anything and everything that caught his eye. It kept his mind off the puppy and managed to calm him down within a few minutes. Even when she had to get up to help other children on she would always tell the child what she was doing and keep talking to him while she was making sure everyone had their seat belts on. When we finally reached the school he was the first to be offloaded and as we handed him over to the lady that would be working with him at the school my rider explained what happened during the ride in. The school worker was very understanding and continued to talk as they walked into the school.

At the end of the day I was waiting to load my children to take the tired boys and girls home and he was one of them. As he found his seat I asked the worker how his day had gone and if there was anything that we needed to look out for on the ride home.

“No nothing. He had a really good day today”

I was amazed. He was screaming, yelling and generally not happy on the way in but yet with a little bit of attention from my rider his day had gone from the possibility of a bad day to a good day. Its amazing what that can do.

I made sure that the following morning I told my rider what had happened and that he had a good day and she was very pleased. I have a lot of respect for anyone that chooses to ride the bus and look after these children. They do a wonderful job and can save someones day and yet these riders often do not get noticed and fall through the cracks.

I have had several in my time being a school bus driver and have had riders that go from one side to the other. I get riders that do not have any interest at all in the kids and have little to no interaction with the children all the way up to the one I have now that makes the trip to school fun.

To all the riders out there that care for the kids you transport. As a driver I want to say a very big “Thank You” i truly am thankful for all the hard work you do to make my job easier.

 

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Temperature

In case you hadn’t guessed by now I have moved over to the USA and life is a lot different for me. Not only am I having to drive on the other side of the road as well as getting used to the money I have to deal with extreme temperatures.

I am talking about -30 deg F and lower in winter to 110 deg F in the summer. It can be quite a shock when you walk outside from your comfortably heated/air-conditioned house to the outside world. But I have to work in it and deal with the temperatures. Not only is it my own comfort but it is the comfort of my passengers as well. All of the buses that I drive have wonderful heaters it is just a matter of getting them to work quickly and effectively. This comes with practice and a lot of trial and error.

It was almost a month into my first winter driving the bus when I figured out what one of the switches on my dash did. It was a coolant pre heater. I had never heard of these before so I went to find the mechanic and asked him what it was.

“It warms the coolant for you engine and heaters quicker than just running the engine on its own.”

It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I had been starting the bus way earlier than I needed to if I would run this heater. The following day at pre-trip I hit the switch and watched the temperature rise and within five minutes I had warm air coming out of the vents and by the time I collected my first student I had a nice warm bus for them to ride in. It was a wonderful moment for me. I felt great about it. The kids were warm when they arrived at school and this made it a better day for them.

Sadly the other side of the year we can do nothing about it. There are days here where the temperature can reach over 100 deg F in the summer and some of the kids elect to go to summer school. It is only three half days a week but it is in the summer and the buses can get very warm. We do everything that we can to help the kids out. Fans go on to move the air around, the windows get opened as far as we can, even the roof hatches get opened to form a type of scoop for air flow. The schools are great and will hand out water when needed and even go so far as to close the schools when the temperatures are too high to be safe. A lot of them do not have air conditioning and are brick-built so they hold the heat really well. Great in winter but not so good in the summer.

Me,  I deal with the heat in my own way. Shorts and short sleeve shirts are the dress of the day and staying in the shade as much as possible. I have also found out that the fans we have at the front of the bus are great for air movement and turbocharging the warm air straight into your face but not so good at cooling you down on the hottest days. The best thing that I found is to have it pointed away so the warm air is blown away from my face and I get air movement. But the best thing I have found is just to keep drinking water. I know everyone says that in the hot weather but it really does help. I make sure that I always have on the bus with me a flask of water and It has helped in more ways than one.

I had one of my kids get on my bus looking a little unwell and as the ride went on (they were one of the last off BTW) my aide comes up to the front when we are dropping another child off and tells me that this one does not look at all well and she thinks that it might be the start of a heat related illness. Well the first thing that I thought of was my drink. So I reach down and look and see that i have a little over half left and about two-thirds of the route left to run. I take a drink and hand it to my aide,  after wiping the rim off of course, and say to her to make sure that the child takes small sips only until they get off the bus. They managed to make it last until the childs stop. While I was driving I had radioed the base and asked them to call the childs parents and meet us at the stop as they usually just wave from the window. They bought out a glass of water and helped them off the bus. 

I saw the childs parents again a couple of days later and they thanked me for what I did. It turned out that the child was dehydrated and shortly after they arrived home and drinking a lot of fluids they felt a lot better.

Inspired

Last week I started my regular school bus run, as usual, by picking up my aide at the High School and because we had some free time before the first collection we started talking about different things and the topic rolled around to blogs and the like.

“What sort of blogs do you read then?” I asked

“Oh all sorts” she said “I liked one called TWM Drivers Weblog”

Stunned face!

“He used to write a lot but has stopped because of a bad internet connection I think. I wish he would write some more stories.”

Well what can I say. I was looking for a reason to get back here and write some more and there it was. Suddenly all these ideas for posts started to form in my head. All the experiences that I have had both in and out of the drivers seat would make for some good reading I hope, 

Today I sat down with the computer and tried to access my email and my blog account and after a long 30 mins of trying different password combinations and filling out several password recovery forms I have got back into everything that I had. Email, twitter and of course this blog are now active again and I can start all my writing here again. Even writing this has given me ideas on how to continue this blog and all the fun things that I can say here. 

Thank you to everyone that has stayed with me for so long. I know that it has been ages between one post and the next but, like I said earlier, I was lacking in inspiration. 

Now I can continue my blog, I hope that you will all still enjoy reading it and if you have any questions for me or any ideas on posts please leave me a comment or email me. Details are on the About page.

My First Overnight Trip

Being a motorcoach driver now as well as the school bus I get chance to do longer trips with the teams. These can include overnight stays and even all night drives.

I have already done a couple of trips on the coach but this was to be my first overnight. I was to drive with the guy that trained me (also a state trooper WIN) and it was a BIG trip.

We would leave our home base on Thursday evening and travel to Brookings SD, about 60 miles. Not that far I can hear you say… well wait a moment that is just the first leg.

From there we were to travel to South Bend, IN. Now that’s a heck of a trip. 740 Miles and 11 hours 53mins without stops. That’s why we needed two of us. We have to trade-off the driving. And we needed to.

The drive down was not as fun as it should have been. We had to deal with bad road conditions but we are both skilled drivers and nobody noticed it when we made mistakes. I didn’t cover as much as I should have done during my stint behind the wheel, but I got us to the changeover point in one piece.

Now you may be asking why we are going to South Bend. The more internet savvy of you will already have googled it and discovered that it is the home of Notre Dame.

That’s right this bus driver has gotten to go to Notre Dame.

This is one of the perks of being a driver. I am getting to visit placed that I would never normally get to see. Yeah i also have to go to places that I visit every day but you take the rough with the smooth and sometimes you get a really good deal on things. The company that I work for look after you while you are away and they look after their customers very well so that they come back.

I had been talking to other drivers about the trips and had heard all sorts of stories from the good to the bad and had decided that I would just ask questions and not really listen to any horror stories that they may use to try to scare me off and they had plenty of them. Usually during the snow the bus would end up in the ditch and this did not help me at all as the snow was really starting to come down. But the day we had to leave things seemed fine.

I had been given the day off by my boss and was very happy about this. We left for Brookings and the weather was not the best but better than it had been. By the time we had arrived it was snowing nicely and we had wind to deal with as well. While we loaded the passengers and their baggage I asked my co driver how we would run the trip down. He said the he would do as much driving as he could and then hand over to me and take a nap then when he was back awake he would take over as soon as I was ready. I decided to take a short nap and that way I would be fresh for the drive.

The change over happened at Albert Lea, MN. It was still snowing but the roads were good. Once I started into Iowa , though, that soon changed. I was constantly battling the wind and the roads went from bad to worse. I was always aware of my cargo and played it safe. Some points along the way I was only doing 30 instead of the 55 that you can do. That didn’t stop other car drivers from passing me at high-speed. I always stayed aware of the other drivers and drove at the speed that I thought was safe.
My stint at the wheel was very tiring and I was very happy to see the changeover point. I didn’t think that I would sleep at all on the coach but after that driver I was so tired it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
My co-driver drove the rest of the way and we arrived safe and sound at the hotel. We both thought that we were done for the day and lay down on our beds for a well-earned nap. How wrong we were!
About 10 minutes later the was a knock at our door and the group leader informed us that we were moving hotels as they had found bed bugs in all the other rooms. YIKES. We both leapt off the beds and grabbed our bags and moved hotels. fortunately we found another hotel close by that was willing to accept the group and stayed there for the weekend.

During the days my co-driver and I were not needed that much so we were able to do a little bit of sightseeing and if the weather had been better than we would have done more. I was amazed at the place and took whatever chance I could get to look around. I was not able to get into the football stadium but was able to walk around the outside of it.

The basketball team that we brought down made it to the first round of playoffs and that took place in the main arena. It was quite a sight to walk in there and see it. Everything was laid out just so and you could tell that if something had been moved the caretaker would know straight away. Sadly the team did not win that game. But it could have been partly to do with the fact that they had only 15 minutes of rest but their opponents had not played anyone since 9am that day (it was now 6pm. We asked if they wanted to travel back that night as that was the plan if they went out that day. The group leader thought about it for a few moments and firmly said that he would prefer to travel the following morning. So we set a departure time and turned in for the night.

The trip back was a compete contrast to the ride down. The weather was good and the roads smooth. Everything went according to plan and we arrived back at the home base safe and sound.

I picked up a lot on that trip, little tricks for starting the coach in cold weather. How to park it in a confined hotel parking lot (they really need to think when they lay them out) and finally that my co-driver has a thing for Starbucks coffee.

Coach Driving

The company that I work for isn’t just a school bus company. It
also runs coach tours and, of course, that means that many of the drivers can double up and drive the motorcoaches as well. This had always been something that I wanted to do since I started with them. I talked to my boss about it and he told me that I would have to watch some videos about it and then take a written test on the rules. Following that I then have to take my boss out for a drive so he can make sure that I wasn’t going to run into anything and to make sure that my driving was smooth enough.

The videos were the usual safety things and repeated some points over and over again but I got a lot of useful information from them anyway. Having got through those I met up with my trainer for the coach and went out driving.

The coachs that they have are very similar in height, width and length to the busses I drove in England. The only major difference is that they have a twin rear axel. This can be lifted to reduce the turning circle. My trainer was very impressed with my driving and said so to my boss and that I was ready. So after a short lesson on the log book (more later on that) we scheduled the driving test and I was sent home with a test paper on the regulations.

Fortunatly the test paper was an open book so I was able to look up the regs I needed to answer the questuon and after a long night working on it I passed it in and went out with my boss to drive.

I was very nervious about this, as you can imagine, I wanted to impress him and make sure that there was nothing that he could find that would stop me from driving coach. While we drove he started to ask me about England and why I moved over. Slowly I started to losen up and my driving got more and more relaxewd to such a point that he leaned back in his seat and put his feet up on the one next to him.

After about an hour of driving we returned back to base and after putting the coach away and logging the miles he took me to one side and told me that he was very happy with my driving and would do the paperwork needed to make me a coach driver. Needless to say I was thrilled and very excited. I would now get to see more of the states and as an added bonus get paid for it.

Pre Trip

So the first thing that I have to do every day is to check my bus over. In the UK this was a simple thing to do and didn’t take very long and didn’t really mean much as the bus was always checked out when it came back anyway. Here with the school bus it is a very important part of the day and means a lot. You can loose your licence to drive bus if you don’t have that days pre trip inspection completed and on the bus. It’s that important.

It may seem to some drivers to be a pain in the backside to do but if you get the pattern down it should not take very long at all to do. Yes you have to check everything all the way round the bus from the washer fluid to the exit door at the back but everything that is on the list is very important and needs to be working. There are things that won’t get fixed right away, interior lights, but if you report that your headlight isn’t working then it needs to be fixed straight away. The company that I work for are very good at fixing the bus and have set up a very regular schedule for oil changes etc. On average my bus goes in for service about every two months and that is very frequent.

I have found my fair share of faults, everything from a minor light bulb being out right the way up to my stop arm not working. Both of those got fixed right away.

I always do my checks the same way. I check under the hood first. Then start the bus and listen to it. I know that sounds strange but sometimes on start-up you can hear problems. Once it is running I start checking all my switches. The lights, the heaters etc. Then I move to the inside. Every seat on my bus has a belt so those get checked as do the tie downs for the wheelchairs. The emergency exits are checked and secured. Then its time for the exterior. I check all the body work for damage and make sure that all the clearance lights are working. I run the wheelchair lift and check the duel wheels at the rear. Finally I check the stop arm and crossing arm.

There is a lot more to the check than what I have written there but those are the highlights. It is a very detailed check and covers all of the important areas. I enjoy the time that I spend doing them as it gives me time to get into the right frame of mind for the day ahead. I know that sounds a little silly but it works for me.

There are stories going around of drivers that fail to do the checks and they usually end up with the driver being fired so for the sake of a small part of my day I will always be doing the checks.

 

Its Back

Ok so I said that I would do this again so here it is

Ask The Driver has returned.

I am going to leave the questions open for two weeks this time so that ,hopefully, you will have time to read this and think of a question for me.

You can contact me via email, twitter and leaving a comment here. If you do use twitter please use the hashtag #askthedriver so I can find them.

I will look through them all and pick a few to answer on Jan 14th 2012.

Have fun.