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Horse Drawn School Buses
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
May 5, 2008
Ken Rudolph

One day I was visiting with a friend and I mentioned riding a horse drawn school bus from 1924 to about 1932.  He said I should write my memory of that and give it to the Historical Society.  I decided that was a good idea as there are not very many people around who had that experience.  So this is my story.

I started first grade in September of 1924.  About a year or so before that the district where I live was consolidated with the Annandale district.  But for that I would have gone to a country school.  It is about three and a half miles from my home to the school in Annandale.  The only way to get there was by horse drawn school bus.  It was about an hour ride so it was necessary to get up pretty early to get there.  As I remember it, the school bus held probably around 20.  The seats were along both sides of the bus and not facing the front like they are in the motor buses.  The door to get in was at the back end.  There was a door on the left side in front, but that was for the driver and not the students.  The first driver that I remember was George Maurice who lived in Annandale.  Now when I look back on it, I realize that he really had to get up early to get out to my home by around 7:30 a.m.

I was one of the first ones to get on the bus in the morning.  It wasn't bad during the warm weather, but the bus was not heated in winter.  The buses had blankets in them and also foot warmers.  The foot warmers had a little drawer in them where charcoal could be burned for heat.  They were wrapped with heavy blanket material so they wouldn't burn our overshoes.  There weren't enough for everyone, so my folks always heated what we called a soapstone.  It was probably about 7 by 10 inches or so and a little over an inch thick.  It was heated in the oven and then when ready to use it was put between a couple pieces of thin boards and they were tied to it with twine.  Like the blanket on the other heater, it was necessary to have the boards there or it would certainly burn our overshoes.  With the foot warmers and the blankets, we were fairly comfortable.  The bus was fully enclosed so the wind couldn't get to us.

There was a windshield and a little slot below that for the lines to come into the bus for the driver to control the horses.  It worked out well.  There were several buses going out all different directions from town.  We had to pay attention to make sure we got on the right bus after school   It didn't take very long to learn that part as nearly all the kids riding were from the farm and were able to recognize horses.

In the warm weather the buses were on wagons and, as I remember it, they were all high wheels.  When the snow came, the buses were taken off the wagon and put on sleds.  We always liked that because the buses were much lower then.  It just seemed like they looked better and it was easier to get into them. 

In those days the roads were not kept plowed.  Whenever it snowed they just drove over the new snow.  Consequently, the roads kept building up.  By late in the winter the roads were so built up that we were actually riding several inches above the road.  This was not a problem until spring.  When it started to warm up and the snow started to soften, it could create a problem.  I remember one time when it softened enough that one side of the sled cut through the built up snow.  I remember Anita Martinson screaming that we were tipping over.  We didn't, but it was really scary.  When the roads got to that condition, it was time to put the buses back on the wagons again.   When we came out of school and saw the buses on wagons, we felt that winter was pretty well over.

The bus route took us from my home straight south around the east side of Lake John and then into town on what is now County Road 38, which runs past what is now Southbrook Golf Club.  Highway 55 was just being built at that time and was not blacktopped yet.  It was just a nice gravel road.  In nice weather sometimes when we crossed it, some of us boys would jump out and walk the highway to town.  By us boys I mean Harold Blowers, Walter Olean, Ralph Johnson and possibly others I don't remember now.  That way we could beat the bus to town. 

Quite often we would get a ride as most traffic in those days was local people who knew what was going on.  That way we would be in school for quite awhile before the bus got there.  We could just sort of hang out and not have to worry about school starting right away.  I don't remember too much about that, but I have a feeling we might have gotten into a little mischief during that time.  NO!  That couldn't be!

I think I was in the 8th grade or maybe a freshman when we finally got motor buses.  What a great change that was.  Yes, it was a special time and kind of nostalgic when I think about it.  I wouldn't want to go back to it, but I am really glad that I had the experience.  (All the names mentioned are deceased now except for Anita.  I am not sure about her.)

Ken Rudolph