This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 1, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Before I stopped subscribing to a daily Houston newspaper a number of years ago, my favorite comic strip was Crankshaft, a cartoon character who happened to be a public-school bus driver. I knew several school bus drivers who reminded me of him, though, as a kid I usually didn’t have to ride those old yellow buses. That is, until I attended Blinn Junior College in Brenham, and later when I taught at Wharton County Junior College.
Back in the 1950’s, Blinn had a fleet of yellow school buses to transport college kids living at home in the surrounding areas to college every day. I was living with my parents in Giddings back then, and I daily rode a little short, yellow box of a school bus to Brenham. The driver, very unlike Crankshaft, was a college student who received free tuition for driving the bus. We jokingly, but affectionately, referred to our bus as “Old Yellow.”
While more privileged university students would have looked down their noses at riding Old Yellow (which looked like a high school bus) with a 40 mph governor on it, those of us who did, knew how much money it saved our parents and us, and were happy to be able to get at least a two-year education. We were thankful for Old Yellow!
One of the delights I remember about the Blinn bus rides was the fun we had on the way to school, especially the joke-telling in German. Most of us were German or Wendish-German kids whose parents and grandparents spoke German at home, and we knew the language well enough to tell jokes “auf Deutsch”. Our bus driver, who tried to make us follow the bus-rider’s rules (like no cursing or vulgar talk, no smoking, etc.), was Irish American, and did not understand a word of German. So, we delighted in telling very off-color jokes in German, which seemed much funnier in German than in English; and we would practically fall out of our seats laughing at the jokes. I guess our laughter was contagious, because our bus driver would laugh out loud with us though he didn’t understand a word of our jokes. The fact that the jokes were so risqué made his laughter even funnier to us.
One of my not-so-delightful memories is being taught how to chew tobacco by my buddies on the bus. The bus rules did include no spitting tobacco on the floor or seats of the bus, but they didn’t say, “no chewing.” I had to make the bus driver stop so that I could get off the bus to regurgitate. It wasn’t funny, but even the bus driver thought it was. That was the first and last time I ever attempted to chew tobacco! God taught me a lesson that day!
By the time I was hired to teach at Wharton County Junior College, I had had plenty experiences riding Old Yellow to Blinn College every day for two years. Once again, catching a yellow bus, this time running from East Bernard to Wharton, was a money-saving experience, as faculty members could ride free. Married, totally broke from attending graduate school, expecting our first child, and living in an apartment in East Bernard, we could afford only one car, and it was old and in much need of repair. Having had such a fun experience riding Old Yellow during my Blinn years, I felt really blessed to ride free to Wharton to teach my classes.
However, things had changed since the 50’s. I was now a 40-year-old man and a teacher, and so I was “invisible” to the student riders. Not only did the students ignore me, they usually seemed grumpy, unhappy with the version of “Old Yellow” they were riding. There was none of the laughter and joking that we shared on the bus to Brenham. The bus was an old clunker, and the ride did seem bumpier than Blinn’s Old Yellow, and the seats were not comfortable, but, hey, it didn’t cost a cent! The dollars I saved riding it could be spent on the precious baby we were expecting in December.
I’m not sure what year WCJC and other junior colleges discontinued the bus service that helped so many students get to a college campus, but young people were more and more wanting to drive their own car to the campus, a trend already beginning when I rode that WCJC bus. As for me, I am very thankful for Old Yellow, the free bus.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher and LCMS pastor, and author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.