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School bus drivers were "Rolling Sheriffs"

Posted Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 6:27 PM

Country school bus drivers were important in the fabric of Bootheel life of my youth.

One of the best was Gray Ridge School driver Walter Wyman.

Being that our farm house sat a mile outside of the official Gray Ridge district, it was good ol' Mr. Wyman who would "fudge" a little, and drive across Little River, the boundary between New Madrid and Stoddard counties,to keep me from freezing or getting soaked to the bone during inclement weather.

Blessed was I a few years ago when encountering Mr. Wyman the night I was privileged to be "guest speaker" at the Gray Ridge/Essex/Richland School reunion held in Dexter.

It was obvious Mr. Wyman has a bear-trap quick mind and memory when he asked: "Danny Whittle, do you remember that long ago day when you asked me to take the long slowest way to the school house, because you were in some kind of trouble??"

"Yes sir," I replied. "I'll never forget that day, for I knew that Supt. Bob Rasche knew that me, Jerry Kelly, Rueben Jones and Buddy Scowden had played hooky the day before, and that we had an appointment that day with Mr. Rasche's infamous board of education..."

Mr. Wyman and I shared a pleasant journey back down Memory Lane.

I never had a bus driver I didn't like, including my first, Mr. George Lefler, at tiny Canalou School of advanced thinking and higher ciphering. Mr. Lefler endeared himself to this little farm boy even before I was old enough to climb on that biggo bus and attend school.

Once a week, he would stop in front of our house, and hand me a sack full of marbles. Marbles were hard-to-come-by "store-bought" treasures to a poor farm boy.

So Mr. Lefler was already a "hero" in my eyes before I got to ride on his bus an official school boy.

How much power did drivers of my youth have? So much so, we students judged them as "rolling sheriffs" with absolute authority to enforce discipline and school rules.

Which beings me to driver Earl "Eagle-Eye" Jones. It's with great pride that it was I who came up with the "Eagle-Eye" title in Mr. Jones' name.

It was a real privilege later in life, after I became a newspaperman, that I got to interview Mr. Earl "Eagle-Eye" Jones about our shared bus experiences.

I couldn't wait to ask this beloved gentleman how it was that he always seemed to have "eyes in the back of his head" when it came to catching me in mischief.

"It's simple," "Eagle-Eye" shared. "When Little Danny Whittle got quiet, I knew to keep an eye on you..."

You can't tell it now, but I was judged "mischeivous" during school days of my youth.

And Mr. Earl "Eagle-Eye" Jones never missed a trick or caper that I tried to pull on his school bus.


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Mr. Whittle Walter picked up all seven of us kids from first grade till we each graduated. After I moved to NW Oklahoma many years went by but while home visiting mom and dad a few years ago,Since Walter only lived a mile from them I stopped by to see him. He called me by my name as I walked up to greet him. Your story and knowing Walter gave me a big smile.!!!!! Great story Thanks Garry Hicks

-- Posted by gdh1958 on Mon, Dec 5, 2011, at 12:04 AM

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Retired recently as world-traveled newspaperman, career made possible by late Superintendent of Schools Robert L. Rasche, about to have Bootheel life book published by SEMO State University. Loved farm life, but knew at five years old, didn't want to be a "cotton picker" when I grew up.
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