Driving school buses for 38 years has educated George Bartley.
Bartley, 58, owns G & L Buses in Marion Township, near Jacksonville, his garage next to his childhood farm. Carrying Bellefonte Area School District children, first for his parents’ business and then his own, he has discovered people often don’t stop for flashing lights. He also has learned patience, resolve and the importance of keeping to his word.
Now, after four decades, he’s a teacher as well, showing the ropes to the younger of his two sons.
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[My parents] started in 1960 with one bus, and then they slowly grew as the district needed them. Then in 1974, I graduated in 1973 and helped on the farm here. ... They needed drivers, so I got my license and drove for them until 1986, when a contractor over at Lamar retired and I took his four buses over.
Why did you go into business for yourself?
Well, I wanted something for myself. But I continued to drive for [my parents]. [The Lamar contractor] had his own drivers, so I kept them. So I drove for my own parents, and in 1989, my father died and my mother kept the buses she had. Then she and I worked together, and then in 1996, she decided to retire. So then I took over some of the buses she had. Then she continued to drive for me until last year, when she passed away. She drove the same run for 48 years.
What’s kept you doing it for so long?
I just like to do it. You’ve got to like kids to do it.
What’s the best thing about being a driver?
I don’t know, I guess it’s your own business and you like to make it work.
What’s the toughest part of the job?
The traffic. I’ll give you an example. Jacksonville Road, I wouldn’t say it’s the worst road, but it’s one of the bad ones. People go through your red light. Why, I don’t know, but they do. That sets you on end some days.
But there are times when we’re coming home in the evening, we stop the whole way down from Bellefonte down, you might get 75, 80 cars behind you. We try to pull off once in a while when we can. It’s crazy.
Does that make you nervous as a driver?
[Not] for me, because I’m used it. You put somebody new on there, it makes them nervous. When the weather gets bad, it really gets bad because then [car drivers] come flying up there, then they lock it up and go up in people’s yards, and down over the bank. I mean, I’ve seen it.
Can you recall a particularly tough day?
Oh yeah, we’ve had some. I would say one of the worst ones, up here next to Fort Bellefonte [Campground on Jacksonville Road], there’s a white house that sits there, we had a stop there. We had a kid come across the road. I don’t know, a car came up and then got right there, locked it up and the kid was already coming the road. And the kid actually grabbed the mirror and hugged himself next to the fender of the bus, and the car just missed him and went up in the yard and hit a tree. Our [school district] transportation lady was with us that day, just to ride the bus. And she about come right out of the seat. ... And there’s nothing you can do. You’re just sitting there. What do you do? You can’t do nothing.
How does that make you feel as a driver?
You don’t have time to think about [the car driver]. You’re concentrating on that kid. You’re not worrying about [the car]. That’s what [people] tell us lots of times: When cars go through your red light, why don’t you get the license plate numbers? You can’t get that license number when they’re going this way and you’re worrying about the kid. I know it sounds foolish, but you can’t do it.
I imagine it makes you angry.
Oh it does. And most of them are the same people every day. You see the same cars every day. ... And a lot of them are parents on the same road. It’s sickening.
What would be your message to the community?
Slow down. They know when we’re out there. The same time every day, we run the same schedules. [State Route] 64 [in Walker Township] is another crazy place. We run both valleys. ... It’s the same way. People hate to get behind a school bus. They won’t leave 5 minutes early, and then they have to stop the whole way, and they pass you anywhere. It’s crazy over there.
Do you have an approach to keeping order on your bus?
Well, most of the time the kids aren’t too bad for me. ... If you make your voice sound a little harsh, you don’t have to be mean or anything. Most of the time they’ll pay attention to a man more than a woman.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. That’s just the way it’s always been. ... And if you say you’re going to write them up, you do it. You don’t say I’m going to do it and don’t do it. Then they know they’ve got you it. But if you show you mean business ... You’ll have a couple of them who will try anything — they always do.
How do you deal with serious incidents?
They seem to come and go. When I do have a problem, and the district don’t like you to do it, but occasionally we have to do it, we take the whole load back to school. We haven’t done that for a couple of years.
Have you got any presents over the years?
Some. The ones who don’t like you, you’re not going to get anything. But you get some. ... Usually gift certificates for restaurants, or boxes of candy.
By now, you’re probably hauling children of people you used to ride your bus. What do you think of that?
It makes you feel good. It’s just a way of life for me. I get the buses ready in the morning. My son and I do all the mechanical work. That’s what we’ve always done.
How long do you think you’ll continue?
Well, as long as I can, or until the school district gets rid of me. Hopefully, that won’t happen. My youngest son, he’s with me, and he takes interest in this. His wife drives for me, too.
Sometimes you have to put your foot down on the bus. But do you also see yourself as a friend to kids?
Oh yeah, there’s many times when kids in town here, they know we fix stuff all the time. And they need a motorcycle fixed, they’ll come up. ‘Yeah, we’ll help you.’ You’re not always a bad guy.