By Phil James
For those who grew up in rural areas, recollections of riding the school bus usually were interwoven with other school day memories. If you lived near the beginning of the driver’s route, you had to be at your bus stop earlier than others, with the benefit of preferred seating: front seat, back seat, aisle seat, window seat. Otherwise, you hoped that your best friend had been able to save you a place; or, at least, that the last seat had not been taken, which would require you to stand up and hold on the best you could all the way to the schoolhouse.
For students from the time pre-dating motorized buses, different memories came forth: “Allie Critzer drove the wagon—it was a covered wagon—to Greenwood School when we lived up at Critzer’s Shop,” Margaret Rea Price recalled some time ago while visiting with her younger sister Susie Pearle. “Coming back to [US Route] 250 there’s a long hill coming up through there. When there was snow on the ground, or it was raining and real muddy, everybody had to get off at the foot of the hill and walk to the top of the hill, and then get back on the bus.
“I rode from up there at Critzer’s Shop to Greenwood School,” Margaret Price continued, “with a blanket over my lap and a lantern sitting under there to keep my feet warm.”
Ella Williams Smith recounted in her memoir Tears and Laughter that, “Greenwood had the first bus in Albemarle County.” Owned by Chet Critzer, it operated along a five-mile route between his home near Afton and the school at Greenwood.
Money raised by the educationally minded Greenwood Community League covered the cost of Critzer’s covered-wagon services for seven years until the school’s first motorized school bus, a converted Ford Model-T truck, became available in 1918. As rustic as those transportation modes may seem today, most kids then and now probably would agree that it still beats the alternative.
The first half of the 1928-29 school year had been an eventful one at Crozet High School. On March 1, 1929, Volume One, Number One of The Centurion, a newspaper “Published by the C.H.S. Class of 1931” (a.k.a. the sophomore class), reported several of the high points of the 300-member student body, and a few of the concerns of the faculty.
As the country’s financial concerns increased, it seemed that, from the top down, everyone was being called upon in one way or another to contribute to the needs of their school and community. The CHS Valentine Supper and Entertainment had cleared $63. A student-led candy sale was hoped to offset the cost of installation of hot water in the school kitchen; only $15 of that $54 cost had been funded by the School Board.
Jean Clark reported that volunteers were serving soup at the school on Wednesdays and hot cocoa on Fridays for 5¢ a cup. UVA Professor Winston Wilkinson was offering violin classes in the school library for $5/month, “an opportunity that ought not to be missed, to get one of the best violin teachers in the State for so small a sum.” Robert Goodman reported that the Boy Scouts, Troop #1, of Crozet was meeting in the room over the Bank of Crozet. The school’s newly formed Future Farmers of America group had elected officers, their goal being “to teach the boys a better and more economical way with which to farm in the future.”
Not too surprisingly, school bus etiquette was among the issues that got some coverage by the student press. A few weeks earlier, it had been necessary for Principal Robertson to hold “a heart to heart talk with the boys and girls of the High School Department,” bringing to their attention some “sins of commission as well as of omission.” These included matters of decorum, such as eating in school, cutting line, tardiness and a lack of serious attitude to school work.
But it was during another called meeting with “the boys who ride on the school buses” when Principal Robertson got down to some serious business. Centurion reporter Bob Poats summarized Principal Robertson’s lecture for the newspaper. (Try to stay inside the bus; these five points could make for a rough ride…):
A Talk on Behavior on Buses” [Reported by] Bob Poats
“On Wednesday afternoon Mr. Robertson called a meeting of the boys who ride on the school buses. A letter was read reporting the different kinds of conduct on the bus. The following points were emphasized by Mr. Robertson, and failure to observe the rules, he said, will mean punishment and getting put off the bus for keeps:
(1) Smoking: it is dangerous as some one may be set on fire from flying sparks. The panic following might hurt more than one child badly.
(2) Swearing: swearing, especially in the presence of girls, is never the mark of a gentleman.
(3) Riding on the outside of the bus is dangerous and prohibited at all times.
(4) Fast Driving: Mr. Robertson said he was surprised to learn how frequently our buses were driven too fast for safety, and said bus drivers would be punished and have their jobs taken away from them if they offended again.
(5) Scuffling on the bus is dangerous because it keeps the driver from watching his own job as well as he ought to. In one case already an accident was narrowly averted.
He asked that our buses be made ‘five pointers’ by carefully observing the five rules given.
And the parents said—Amen.
Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2012 Phil James