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Ride the Bus, if You Behave

Photo, Vashon Heritage Museum
Photo, Vashon Heritage Museum

Mr. Spaulding was a mean old man who didn’t like kids and us kids made him mean.  He wore a worn out old fedora and was our school bus driver on the Cove/Colvos run in 1949.   Hubert Spaulding lived down the worst road on Vashon, the Burma Road.  It was so steep and twisty that the school bus didn’t even go down there.  The kids who lived down Burma Road walked out.  That road was so treacherous that Mom ran our brand new Super 88 Oldsmobile over the edge.  None of the Cub Scouts she was driving home were hurt.  

Though our garage was falling down and in need of repair, Dad carefully split a hundred or more cedar shakes and built us a three sided shelter so we wouldn’t get wet waiting for the school bus. There was a favorite apple tree at the end of our peach orchard whose apples were small and hard and the skin “snapped” when you bit into it.  Then, my hunting jacket had a pouch in back where I could stuff a half-dozen apples for snacks at school and then run up the hill to jump on the bus.  Mr. Spaulding would honk his horn once if you were late and then pull out if he couldn’t see you coming.

He opened the school bus door one morning, with a deep frown on his face and a pile of white bandages on his head with his partially-torn old fedora perched on top of the bandages.  “What happened to you?” Kit Bradley asked as we climbed the stairs of the bus.  Bradleys lived right next door and we rode the bus together.  “I was splitting wood on the chopping block and a piece flew up and clipped me hard,” Mr. Spaulding said.  “Never go to chop a piece of wood with another piece lying on the block.”  

That accident has stuck with me for sixty years, though I had an accident with the ax not long after Mr. Spaulding’s.  Leaning a small log against another, I took a swing at the log and it fell over and I drove the ax clear through my boot and my Mom’s red knitted wool sock with nary a spot of blood. I was lucky and mad because my Red Wing boots were new and I kept that old wool sock in my drawer for twenty years, just to remind me.

They were calling for lots of snow, in fact, we had four feet the winter of 1949, and I’ve heard that from two people.  There was lots of snow on the ground that morning so long ago, and we glued our ears to the radio for the morning school closures and Vashon wasn’t mentioned.  “Darn,” Sister Molly said.” “We had to climb the hill to Cove Road and shiver in the cedar shake shelter to wait for Mr. Spaulding who was hardly ever late.”  We would do anything to get out of school and when Mr. Spaulding started up Joslin’s hill, the bus tires started to spin and we did our best to rock the bus by shifting our weight across the aisle, trying to drive the bus into the ditch and it happened.  We piled out of the bus to run back home, throwing snow balls at each other all the way down the hill.  I doubt that Mr. Spaulding ever forgave us and it only made him meaner.  One time, Dale Bates got thrown off the bus, just for laughing too much.

The door in the back of the bus was never opened and held a fascination for us trouble-makers who always sat in the back of the bus, the furthest we could get from Mr. Spaulding.  Maybe it was the word EMERGENCY that got our adrenalin going, as if we didn’t have enough already.  We plotted how we could get the emergency door open.  The door handle was behind the rear seat and hard to get to.  If you even grabbed the handle a loud buzzer would go off.  Joe Bianchi came up with the answer.  He had a small smoke bomb left over from the 4th of July.  It went off and filled the bus with black smoke, causing Mr. Spaulding to slam on the brakes and we tumbled out the door that was never opened.  Mrs. Bianchi was called to the principal’s office to find her son in detention.  Mr. Moore was a kind principal but he kept a two foot rubber hose under his desk, which he would haul out and slap the palm of his hand with, as he silently sat waiting for an explanation for our lack of behavior.    

Now,what could Dave Church and I have been fighting about the day he said I beat him up on the school bus taking us to Dockton for swimming lessons?  Neither David nor I can remember.