By Rachel Gilliam
9:46 PM EST, December 7, 2012
Sitting on the TV in Betty Curtis’ living room is a framed poem called “A Bus Driver’s Prayer.”
“Please help me to watch all five mirrors, two dozen windows, eight gauges, six warning lights, six dozen faces, three lanes of traffic and to keep a third eye open for wobbling bicycles and daydreaming pedestrians,” the poem reads.
When you’ve been driving a school bus for nearly 50 years, like Curtis, that poem takes on special significance.
“After I got started on it, I enjoyed it, and I kept on driving,” Curtis said.
Her driving career began in November 1963. At the time, Curtis’ son, Danny Ledford, was 13 years old and she wanted a job that would allow her to still spend time with him. Initially, Curtis said she planned to quit after her son graduated, but she loved the job so much, she just kept on driving.
“When I get out and drive the school bus, it makes me happy. I enjoy it and I enjoy the children,” Curtis said.
Her tenure with Clark County Schools began at the old bus garage on Maryland Avenue near what was then the Victory Heights School. Since that time, Curtis has driven morning routes, afternoon routes and mid-day pick-ups. She has driven for field trips, ball games and band trips. She can drive a standard shift bus, a modern automatic bus and anything else with an engine and a steering wheel.
“There’s been a lot of changes since I started,” Curtis said.
Her first bus, already old, and would probably be unrecognizable to most students today. There was no radio to communicate with other drivers or the garage, and gears had to be shifted manually. Students sat in one long row along the side of the bus.
“I’ve had a lot of good memories on the bus,” she said.
Now only a part-time driver, Curtis sticks with an afternoon route, starting at Central Elementary, then heading down Mount Sterling Road, Cabin Creek Road, Ecton Road, Little Stoner Road and Goshen Road.
With a few minor tweaks, it is the same afternoon route she has driven her entire career. Now the route includes children and grandchildren of students she used to drive. In an ideal world, she would still be driving multiple times a day, but she wants to be able to drive for as long as possible, and slowing down seemed like the best way to ensure a long career. In 1965, she divorced her first husband, Molene Ledford, and eventually remarried to Virgil Curtis. Her son graduated, married and had a daughter of his own.
And Curtis kept on driving. She likes to think the children on her route are the best behaved. There is discipline on her bus. She loves the children, but she also expects them to have manners. Before she went to part-time driving, coaches and teachers would often request her as driver for their trips. When the freshman boys basketball team complained having to ride on Curtis’ old bus when other kids were riding newer models, then-coach Larry Dixon told the players, “They have a better bus, but we have a better driver.”
Her career is ironic given that the Winchester native never attended high school because of a lack of transportation. In fact, she had never been on a bus before she started driving. During her years at Hickman Street School and Belmont Middle School, she walked because there were no buses for students in the city limits at that time.
Although she has scaled back her driving, she has no plans to call it quits. As long as her health permits, she will keep on driving. “They say I’m older than anybody out there, but I don’t know about that,” Curtis said.
Contact Rachel Gilliam at email@example.com.